This week's prognostication missive should be titled: "How To Sound Cocky, And Yet Stay Humble." For that is the lament of many a gambler -- always act as if you know what you are doing or saying, while at the same time being on guard to let one's ego get in the way of a nice winning streak.
Back-to-back strong weeks of 10-4 during Week 10 and 12-3 during Week 11 have assisted my record of picking winners.
All signs point to Week Nine as the one week of the 2013 regular season that killed me: 5-8 picking winners and a humiliating 1-6 picking against the spread. Since that week, I have also gone a respectable 6-4-1 against the spread.
PICKING THE WINNERS
New Orleans at Atlanta
NY Jets at Baltimore
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Tampa Bay at Detroit
Minnesota at Green Bay
Jacksonville at Houston
San Diego at Kansas City
Carolina at Miami
Chicago at St. Louis
Indianapolis at Arizona
Tennessee at Oakland
Dallas at NY Giants
Denver at New England
San Francisco at Washington
*winners in bold
PICKING AGAINST THE SPREAD
New Orleans -9.5 at Atlanta
OK, so I get that this is a downer season for the Falcons. But in a way this is their Super Bowl, a game during which they can falsely prove to themselves that they are not this bad. What is it for New Orleans? Perhaps a week that is too short for the correct focus on a lesser opponent, and an attitude born after a huge home win against San Francisco. I still think the Saints will prevail, but the number is too steep for me, given these circumstances.
PREDICTION: New Orleans 31, Atlanta 23
NY Jets at Baltimore -4
I feel that sometimes a large part of running the football week in and week out in the NFL is the knowledge that you have had some reasonable success recently. I am not predicting the second coming of the early to mid-1960s Packers, but feel maybe the Ravens can attain the necessary balance on offense. I am expecting nothing short of an angry, fired-up and focused Ravens defense, which will help quarterback Joe Flacco's field position all afternoon.
PREDICTION: Baltimore 29, NY Jets 13
Pittsburgh at Cleveland -1.5
When there are a lot of teams bunched together at 4-6 and 5-5, and they play lots of close games against each other in their own division, I feel the cream usually rises to the top. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may seem to a lot of folks like spoiled milk, but the reality is he has played some spirited and fine football during the past 5-6 weeks. Browns quarterback Jason Campbell played well enough to beat a Ravens defense that was finding itself. But, during this pitched battle, Campbell is more likely to recede from being the quarterback he'll need to be in order to beat a scratching, clawing Steelers team Nov. 24. The Steelers are in a do-or-die mode. The Browns are in a let's-win-a-game mode. That isn't enough this time of year.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 23, Cleveland 13
Carolina -4.5 at Miami
What I said earlier about the Saints' mental focus applies to the road team during this game. True, the Panthers won't have the shortest week (four days in between games), but they finished up their stirring victory against the Patriots Nov. 18, and have probably been in a self-congratulatory mindset ever since. They are meeting a Dolphins team that showed character with a win against a tough Chargers squad last week. I think good teams on their way to becoming very good teams often need a beat down in midstream to regain focus. I like the Dolphins during this game to pull off an upset, and, failing that, to play well enough for the Panthers to be able to only eke out a victory.
PREDICTION: Miami 23, Carolina 19
Tampa Bay at Detroit -8.5
The Lions are not a great team. They have a flaw in their makeup somewhere. Conversely, the Buccaneers are not a horrible team. Tampa Bay's foibles were exaggerated earlier during the season, in part because of coach Greg Schiano's running off of quarterback Josh Freeman. But the Bucs have a pulse. The Lions are probably good enough to win this game in their home dome. But the give is too high for me against a Bucs squad that forced overtime in Seattle Nov. 3.
PREDICTION: Detroit 29, Tampa Bay 23
Indianapolis at Arizona -1.5
You have to love the story of Colts coach Chuck Pagano, combined with more than a little bit of Andrew Luck on Indianpolis' side. But, hey, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer have teamed up nicely in the desert and present a unique home advantage. There's something new brewing with these Cardinals. This is a squad that seems to have built nicely on the foundation former coach Ken Whisenhunt laid down. Luck is smart enough to know he has to start fast, but that is easier said than done down in Tempe, Ariz.
PREDICTION: Arizona 27, Indianapolis 23
Denver -3 at New England
I love the perfect storm brewing in Foxborough, Mass., for the home team during this one. It's not impossible for a Bill Belichick-coached team to lose two in a row to high-profile opponents, but I would bet against it happening here. When it comes to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, I look at one mitigating circumstance -- how cold is it? Temperatures in New England are supposed to be in the low 30s during the day Nov. 24, but could drop 10 degrees that night. Manning is quick at getting rid of the ball, but I think in cold temperatures, he won't be as accurate as he was when he was younger. It would not shock me to see Manning knocked out of this one early.
PREDICTION: New England 27, Denver 16
San Francisco -6 at Washington
Call this stretch of three home games at the Redskins' FedEx Field, "Mike Shanahan's Last Stand." But, as coach speak teaches us, you have to win one game at a time -- the one you are playing. Shanahan is an unusual coach, and he has built an unusual team in Washington, D.C. It's not a team that plays defense at a high level. Meanwhile, this game is a huge one for the 49ers, who are in a surprising dogfight for a wild-card playoff berth. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III should put up points, but San Francisco counterpart Colin Kaepernick may be able to complete some passes against the porous 26th-ranked pass defense in the NFL.
PREDICTION: San Francisco 37, Washington 28
101-61 picking winners (12-3 last week)
29-35-2 picking against the spread (3-3-1 last week)