It’s time for our weekly look at survivor pool strategy, advice, and predictions. This week’s theme is straightforward — intriguing gambles. Anyone can make an obvious pick — like the Packers at home against the Vikings, or New England at Miami. It takes creativity and bravery, though, to go off the board and take a calculated risk. Gambling doesn’t always pay off in survivor pools, but sometimes you just have to jump in and go for it. If you do gamble and win then you usually have some nice bragging rights. Here are five intriguing gambles on the schedules this week:
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Carolina at Kansas City - The Panthers are 3-8 and are very likely five weeks away from looking for a new coach. That doesn’t make for a very attractive team to pick — especially on the road. This is an exception, though. The Chiefs are lousy right now. They showed some spark against the Broncos on defense, but it wasn’t enough because they have shown countless ways to sabotage themselves. Carolina looked solid against a bad team on Monday night, and they should carry that confidence into this game — and enjoy similar results. I can’t think of a single reason to believe in the Chiefs right now, so they can make a generally underwhelming team like this seem attractive.
Cleveland at Oakland - It must be truly depressing to play for the Raiders. The death of Al Davis was supposed to signal a new era, but it has turned out to just be more of the same. They don’t have a quarterback worth a damn. They are fighting in the media and quitting on the field. The coaching is a mess. Depth is a major issue. There just isn’t much to like. Cleveland isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but they are definitely the more likeable team here. There are issues — the bizarre end of the Holmgren era this week is sure to be a bit of a distraction, for example. They are a young team that is playing tough, though, and the changes in ownership have create a sense of hope — a very rare feeling in this city. The Raiders have really bottomed out when they can make the Browns look good, but that is precisely where they are. The Browns are, shockingly, a decent pick in the right circumstances.
Dallas vs. Philadelphia - Dallas is a tough team to like — especially on defense recently. Compared to the Eagles, though, they are a dominant force. It has been a while since a team has fallen so short of their preseason expectations, but there is really nothing to like about the Eagles right now — especially on the road. There are not many situations in which you could justify picking the Cowboys, but this is one of them.
New Orleans at Atlanta - The Saints got manhandled last weekend, while the Falcons are at home and have a shiny 10-1 record. In almost all cases, picking a 10-1 team at home against a team with a losing record would be a total no-brainer. That’s not the case here, though. The Falcons are by far the luckiest team in the league, and they are far from as good as their record. New Orleans isn’t as bad as their record, either. They lost badly to San Francisco, but there is no shame in falling short of the best team in the NFC. New Orleans had played well leading up to that game, and I expect them to bounce back and play well again here. This is a game they absolutely must win, and I expect them to be able to channel that desperation into something positive. If they play like they have at their best this year, then they are absolutely capable of pulling off the win here — and I am willing to bet that that is the most likely outcome.
Jacksonville at Buffalo - I bleed Maize and Blue, so it is no surprise that I have a giant man-crush on Chad Henne. Over the last two weeks I have felt very vindicated as people have seen what I have known all along — Henne is a very capable quarterback who deserves to be a starter in this league. He has looked very good the last two weeks, and as a result his Jaguars have played by far their best football. I expect that trend to continue, because I think his matchup against the Buffalo defense is a very good one. Trusting Jacksonville on the road is a risk, but they are a perfect 5-0 against the spread away from home, so they are more competitive than most people think. Combine that trend with the Henne factor and you have a spot worth gambling on.
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