Ideally, through 14 weeks of football, you'd think that you'd know exactly what to expect out of every team. Tendencies have turned into trends, and the contenders have separated themselves from the pack (and vice versa).
However, with some divisions locked up, you just never know who's going to play for those contenders. Peter King was awfully convincing this week in saying that the Colts won't be putting Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Jeff Saturday and Robert Mathis through too much work, and though the Saints are stating publicly that they're gunning for 16-0, you just can't know for sure.
So it's important to be smart, and it's important to not outsmart yourself. That makes sense. Right?
(Home team in caps.)
Indianapolis (-3) over JACKSONVILLE
So this is how we have to get the week started? Seems about right.
You have to think this line was determined based on the anticipation of Jim Caldwell sitting his stars. What makes it tougher is the Week 1 matchup between the two teams in which the Colts came out winners by just two points.
Still, it's hard to shake the memory of the Jaguars gaining just 217 yards from scrimmage last week against the Dolphins. I know the Jags have played the Colts tight recently (three of the last five meetings were decided by three points or fewer), but I've made a habit of picking against the Colts this year, and it's just not working out. It's time for a change.
NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Dallas
It's simply impossible to bet on Dallas right now. Just impossible. Don't even give me the "Cowboys are playing for their playoff lives" line. It just doesn't matter.
Also, I believe the Saints when they say they're aiming for 16-0.
New England (-7) over BUFFALO
Last week, I was appalled by the 13.5-point spread for the New England-Carolina game. I said the Pats just don't look like a two-touchdown team these days. Seven points seems more like it.
DETROIT (+12) over Arizona
How in the world do you try to predict what will happen to a team that just handed the ball to the other team seven times in one game? Seven times. Seven! Just look at the Cardinals' drive chart. It is simply unbelievable.
This pick isn't so much an endorsement of the 2-11 Lions as much as it is a punishment for the Cardinals. Did we all forget what they did last December?
TENNESSEE (-3) over Miami
This one wins the award for "Game You Thought Would Be Horrible Eight Weeks Ago, But Now Seems OK To Watch."
Cleveland (+2.5) over KANSAS CITY
I'm sorry, fine folks of Kansas City, but are the Chiefs really a favorite? Am I seeing that properly? The same team that's been outscored the past two weeks at home 60-23?
Look, I know we're talking about the Marrons de Cleveland here, but at least they've shown some improvement this year. Sort of. Wait a second. Does this game really need to happen?
Houston (-10) over ST. LOUIS
I mentioned in the introduction that by now, you pretty much know everything about every team. Not so with the Texans. They've been the weekly question mark. A three-game winning streak is followed with a four-game losing streak. A lackluster loss to Jacksonville is followed with a 34-7 thrashing of the Seahawks. You just don't know what you're getting with the Texans.
Fortunately, with the Rams, you know exactly what you're getting, and it's usually not so good.
Atlanta (+5) over NEW YORK JETS
This one's too soon to call, since Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are moderately important cogs in the Falcons' offense. As is Mark Sanchez for the Jets.
What has been most intriguing about Sanchez's absence are Kellen Clemens' statistics. Two weeks ago, he came in when Sanchez got hurt, and he went 1-for-2 for 14 yards and took three sacks. Last week, getting the start, Clemens went 12-for-23 for 111 yards … and the Jets won 26-3.
As for what's going to happen in this game with unnamed starters? Let's pick against the Jets, because that's always the more fun route.
PHILADELPHIA (-9) over San Francisco
Is anyone else scared by the Philly offense? As long as Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Co. can limit themselves to fewer than seven turnovers, they just might be OK.
BALTIMORE (-10.5) over Chicago
When the Ravens win, they really win. Last week, they demolished the Lions 48-3 for their fourth double-digit victory of the season.
Plus, you've got Jay Cutler on the road. He's completed a fair number of passes on the road this year (63 percent), but he's thrown eight touchdowns to 17 picks, and the Bears have gone 1-5. Cutler's career numbers in December aren't exactly spectacular, as he has a 6-10 record. If you want to put your money on him, feel free.
DENVER (-14) over Oakland
I'm usually leery of the 14-point spread, but Charlie Frye? He just may make those fun folks in Oakland yearn for the days of Bruce Gradkowski. Guy was a winning machine. Frye, on the other hand, has thrown 33 passes in the past three seasons. And he's facing a Denver defense that allows the second-fewest yards per passing attempt in the NFL.
Cincinnati (+6.5) over SAN DIEGO
The run just has to end somewhere for the Bolts, and with an angry Carson Palmer coming off a 97-yard passing performance against the Vikings, the time is now.
Green Bay (+1.5) over PITTSBURGH
Let me get this straight. You can lose to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns during a five-game losing streak, and you're still a favorite over a team that's been nothing if not solid all season? Seems like some easy money right here.
SEATTLE (-7) over Tampa Bay
The Seahawks are another team with no identity, and last week's shellacking in Houston was just the latest instance. But just as the Rams bailed us out in the Houston pick this week, so too do those Buccaneers. Thanks, Tampa.
Minnesota (-7) over CAROLINA
If the Panthers couldn't beat a lethargic Patriots team last week, how are they going to contain the Vikings? With Adrian Peterson rediscovering his stride last week, Carolina's 26th-ranked rushing defense just might play a factor here.
New York Giants (-3) over WASHINGTON
Am I a believer in the Giants? No, of course not. But we're talking about a Redskins team that is 0-4 in the division, has just one quality win all season and has nothing to play for. The G-Men will confuse New Yorkers for at least one more week.
Last week: 12-4