Time to take on the point spread again. Our season results are 7-3-2 after going 2-2 last week, our first non-winning weekend.
It's hard to believe given the lines that the Patriots have had, usually two touchdowns or more, but New England has been perfect against the spread. This Sunday, they're giving 16 1/2 to visiting Cleveland. I wouldn't bet against them but with that kind of spread, the Pats could be ahead by three touchdowns with 90 seconds left to go and give up a meaningless touchdown just to burn the clock. Actually, the better pick in that game is the over-under at 48. The Patriots have been averaging more than 35 all by themselves.
OK, moving on to games that at least we think are beatable.
Baltimore at San Francisco (3): A more conciliatory Trent Dilfer (left) will quarterback the 49ers. He claims his animosity for Brian Billick and the way he was treated here after the Supe got in the way the last time he played against Baltimore as the starter for Cleveland. The implication is that he'll be more focused this time, filling in for the injured Alex Smith. But this is less about Dilfer or even the struggling 49ers offense than it is about the Ravens, especially the defense. The Ravens just haven't looked like themselves in terms of pressure and takeaways. I find it hard to believe that the injured Trevor Pryce, as effective a pass rusher as he was last year, made that much of a difference. If the Ravens can't dominate this 49ers offense, there's more trouble in paradise than most of us realize. Pick: Ravens, giving 3.
Carolina at New Orleans (-3): The Saints have turned from Cinderella into one of the ugly step-sisters. They're 0-3 in the standings and 0-3 against the spread. Some of that has to do with an NFL-worst minus-8 in takeaways/giveaways. The good news is that they've had a bye week to get themselves straightened out and they're at home against a divisional opponent that's struggling itself and didn't have the benefit of time to regroup. David Carr is likely to start at QB for Carolina, and it's taking him longer to fit in there than I expected. If New Orleans QB Drew Brees protects the ball, the Saints will be OK. Pick: Saints, giving 3.
Tampa Bay at Indianapolis (-11), O/U (45): Weird matchup. These teams have played just twice in the last 10 years. Both teams are riddled with injuries but none will have more impact than the one to Tampa Bay's OLT Luke Petitgout. That leaves a matchup of his replacement, Donald Penn, against speed pass rusher Dwight Freeney. Yikes. This is a game in which the Colts can easily put up their usual four touchdowns or so and Tampa Bay, because of QB Jeff Garcia, will fight back gamely but lose and probably not cover. Pick: The over, 45.
Chicago at Green Bay (-3): I've become a Cheesehead -- at least as far as picking against the spread is concerned. I'm of a belief that the Bears' offensive problems are rooted in personnel and systemic. They have no effective running game without Thomas Jones and they have no quarterback to pick up the slack. They're minus-7 in takeaways/giveaways mainly because of the QB problems, and that's not going away. Keep the ball from return specialist Devin Hester and I'm not sure the Bears can score except maybe on defense. On the other side, Brett Favre is reborn and the Packers have a pretty good defense of their own. Plus, this game is at Lambeau. Pick: Packers, giving 3.
Photo credit: Associated Press