Oddsmakers' fine line makes Ravens game difficult to call

November 26, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Have to admit I was feeling pretty good about myself after going 10-5-1 last week against the spread and improving my record picking games involving the Ravens to 9-1, but the NFL will humble you in a hurry.

I delivered a resounding -- as in a resounding thud -- 0-for-3 performance in the Thanksgiving games, and by the time the Kansas City Chiefs finished off the Denver Broncos late Thursday night, I was wishing that I was among the millions of fans who don't subscribe to the NFL Network.

What's up with the Broncos, who were supposed to have one of the league's best defensive teams until the San Diego Chargers trampled them in the second half last Sunday night? They're starting to look like the perfect first playoff opponent for the Ravens, who defeated them for their first playoff win on the way to the Super Bowl in the 2000 season.

Of course, it's no secret that I'm a different guy picking games involving the Ravens, but the pressure will be on today when the rebounding Pittsburgh Steelers visit M&T Bank Stadium. The oddsmakers have the Ravens posted as a three-point favorite, which means they think these teams -- minus the home-field advantage -- are an even match.

For once, I agree, which makes this the toughest game of the year to call. If I could get the right odds, I would play this game right on the spread, with the Ravens winning -- perhaps in overtime -- on a field goal by Matt Stover. I'm thinking 20-17. Since I am required by law (Man Law?) to pick one team, I'm going to go with the Ravens to stay on a roll.

Steelers at Ravens (-3): After facing Vince Young and Michael Vick in back-to-back weeks, the Ravens' defense will be happy to have a stationary target, but Ben Roethlisberger is coming around. This should be a head-banger. Ravens.

Panthers (-4) at Redskins: Jason Campbell made a good first impression last week against Tampa Bay. The Panthers might end up making an impression on him this week, and not in a good way. Panthers.

Texans at Jets (-4 1/2 ): Got to think the Jets have some points left over from last week. Jets.

Cardinals at Vikings (-6 1/2 ): The Cardinals are 0-4 on the road this season, and there is little reason to believe they won't be 0-5 after an afternoon in the noisy Metrodome. Matt Leinart looked OK against the Lions at home last week, but that probably was his good game for the month. Vikings.

Saints at Falcons (-3): The top divisional matchup of the day pits two teams coming off one-sided losses. This is where we start finding out if the Saints really are a big-time playoff team. Their schedule is nasty the rest of the way. Falcons.

49ers at Rams (-4 1/2 ): The Rams are in full retreat with five straight losses, and the 49ers are playing over their heads at 5-5. That situation has got to rectify itself sooner or later, because the Rams are a better team. Rams.

Jaguars (-3) at Bills: Last week, Donovin Darius became the eighth defensive player the Jaguars have lost to injury this season, yet they still rank fifth in total defense. That should be enough to handle the Bills, even in Buffalo. Jaguars.

Bengals (-3) at Browns: Carson Palmer finally is cooking, which should be enough to outclass a team that is playing for little more than pride. Every game is now a must-win for the Bengals, who have a chance to trim the Ravens' lead to one game Thursday night if things fall their way. Bengals.

Raiders at Chargers (-13 1/2 ): Based on the recent offensive performance of the Chargers, they should be about a 40-point favorite against the lowly Raiders, but that's why this is my counterintuitive play of the week. Raiders.

Giants (-3) at Titans: The Titans have proved that they can bust a big spread like no other team in the NFL, but this isn't a big spread. The Giants are a vastly superior team and will show it with a double-digit win on the road. Giants.

Bears at Patriots (-3 1/2 ): The best game of the week and a really difficult one to read. Back-to-back road games should wear on the Bears, who scored just 10 points against the Jets last week. Patriots.

Eagles at Colts (-8 1/2 ): The people selling NBC's Football Night in America would have you believe this is a major matchup, but maybe they made their commercials before Donovan McNabb went down. The Colts, coming off their first loss, will make this look like a one-sided track meet. Colts.

Packers at Seahawks (-9): Even if Brett Favre plays, he won't be at full strength because of an elbow injury, and the Packers don't figure to be competitive. If newly signed backup quarterback Todd Bouman has to play, it could get really ugly. Seahawks.

My normal disclaimer applies. These picks are not meant as an encouragement to gamble, which should be obvious by my 81-76-6 (.516) overall record against the spread, which is within the margin of error for someone flipping a coin or dripping a fountain pen on the schedule.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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