I am no longer required to consider games involving the likes of Oakland, the Jets, the Giants, Kansas City, and Philadelphia.
“Happy New Year” never seemed so meaningful.
This week’s picks (home team in caps):
Cincinnati (+4½) over HOUSTON: The Bengals go to Houston in the wild-card round for the second straight season; last year, the Texans advanced with a convincing 31-10 victory. Backing Houston this week doesn’t make any sense, though. The Texans are talented and at some point over the last month I sensed they were going to figure things out and close strong, but it never happened. Houston finished 1-3 straight up and 1-3 against the spread; time has run out on assuming it is a legitimate threat just because the playoffs have arrived. The Bengals finished 7-1 overall and 7-1 against the spread. That’s a team that has figured things out. Risking $110 to win $100.
GREEN BAY (-7½) over Minnesota: At first glance, this seems to be a large chunk of points to lay for a team that does not seem to have a championship-caliber running game or defense. But once I realized the Vikings were 0-3 against the spread on grass, and just 3-5 against the spread on the road, I began warming up to Green Bay. Risking $110 to win $100.
BALTIMORE (-6½) over Indianapolis: The Colts began the season 0-3 against teams that did not qualify for the postseason, but rallied to finish with an 8-3 mark against non-qualifiers. This tells us Indianapolis made it to the playoffs not just on a wave of emotion, but by winning games against average to below-average clubs. Are the Colts ready to take the next step, on the road against a veteran playoff regular? I’m not betting on it. Baltimore has struggled recently and seems to be hanging on to its season with both fists, but it should be able to run the ball on Indianapolis’s 29th-ranked rush defense. Risking $110 to win $100.
Seattle (-3) over WASHINGTON: I’m beginning to think Russell Wilson is the second coming of Doug Flutie; he just doesn’t have the Heisman Trophy or the Miracle in Miami. But he does make winning plays, and he has the benefit of being supported by a physical running game and a physical defense. Risking $110 to win $100.
Last week: 4-0, plus $500. Season: 33-31-1, plus $227.