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Against the Spread: 2010 NFL Picks: Week 7

<I>TheStreet</I> picks five NFL games against the spread in Week 7.

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- If you're losing money picking NFL games against the spread through the first six weeks of the season, you're likely not alone.

"Sports books have been doing well because of the amount of dogs covering and the public has been taking mostly favorites up to this point in the season," says Richard Gardner,

Bodog's sports book manager

. "However, the last couple of weeks the bettors have got some redemption with some key road favorites covering such as the Jets and Saints last week."

That sounds like the sort of redemption I need, as my 2-3 pick performance in Week 6 has left me at the .500 mark with an overall record of 15-15. As always, I offer my picks for five NFL games based on the matchups that I find compelling. Of course, these are for your enjoyment and shouldn't be taken as advice.

The Dallas Cowboys

In my Week 6 picks, I went strictly with underdog picks after a wave of favorites struggled to cover point spreads in the first few weeks of the NFL season. By my count, only five underdogs beat the spread last week, with three of those teams winning their games outright. Week 7 may bring a reversion back to the trend of underdogs outperforming.

"There are eight games this week with a 3-point line. In four of those, we think the underdog will win outright," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site

. The Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down matchups as it simulates each game 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

Bessire says that points appear to be at a premium across the board this week, which means that underdog upset wins are very likely to happen. The vast number of slim spreads is noteworthy as it can be taken as a sign of the parity that exists in the NFL during this young 2010 season. With so many home teams favored by only 3 points, Vegas is saying that many teams would be evenly matched on a completely neutral field, which makes it tough for bettors to pick a team.

"We are seeing a league that has more parity than we've ever seen," Bessire says. "There are very few teams that we can count on to play at a certain level every single week. There are very few teams that can be a 13-point favorite or 13-point underdog this year."

The story for bettors in Week 7, then, is not to find confidence in picks against the spread but instead confidence in underdog teams that will likely be straight-up winners.

"When you have 3-point lines, it's essentially about finding the winners," Bessire says. "Even if the favorites win as expected, it would likely be a push on a 3-point line. The value this week is finding the few lines where the favorite isn't favored by enough and then finding value in betting the money line by finding where the upsets are likely to occur."

With that in mind, it's on to my picks for the slate of games in Week 7. Once again, I've enlisted the help of's

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Paul Bessire.

This week, I've added commentary on each game from CEO Mickey Richardson

. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by his odd makers and a look at where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These are necessary tools for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value based on betting trends.

Read on for the first game preview, the Monday Night Football matchup between the

New York Giants

and the

Dallas Cowboys


New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3)

Raise your hand if you expected the Cowboys to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

You're certainly not alone. With quarterback Tony Romo and a host of other offensive stars, many predicted the team would run away with the NFC East division. Instead, we have a turnover-happy offense that still manages an average of 400 yards per game. The defense has also been pretty strong, allowing an average of just 180 passing yards to opposing teams. Penalties have been the biggest issue for the Cowboys, who are now 1-4 after losing to the Vikings in Week 6. In their four losses, the Cowboys are penalized an average of 89 yards per game.

The Giants, on the other hand, have forced 17 turnovers on defense, giving the team a turnover differential of +4. The Giants also have an impressive point differential total of +16, compared to -9 for the Cowboys. In addition, New York feasts on teams with losing records, like the Panthers and Lions. While the Cowboys may be better than both, their record has not measured that out.

Bessire's Take

: "I get why Dallas would be favored, but I don't think that is actually appropriate. There is a reason that the Cowboys struggle and it comes through in the numbers. One way that we review a team's yards allowed per play is to look at that team's penalties and penalty yardage in conjunction with opponents' running and passing plays. The Cowboys may only give up 4.2 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per pass, which are both about average. But combined with penalty yards, that would yield a total of over 6 yards per play. That's because 17.5% of all plays that go against the Cowboys are penalties at an average of over 8 yards per penalty. The point is that Dallas cannot be viewed in the context of a typical team with pass and run offensive and defensive metrics and turnover margin because they commit so many penalties. The Giants are a good enough and disciplined enough team to keep this within a field goal game. They're even likely to win." Take

: "Our odds makers opened with Dallas as a 3-point favorite, expecting the Cowboys to prepare hard for this Monday night event. Both teams have a huge public following. However, Dallas has failed to live up to this year's expectations and the sharps are banking on this team to pull it together. The action so far has been on both sides. The early money leans more to the favorite with the current price at -125. The line should close -3 with the pros slightly on the Cowboys."

The Pick: Giants +3

. The Cowboys have played so miserable that it's hard to believe they're laying 3 points, even at home. Vegas still believes in this team, it appears. The Giants are likely revved up for their first division game of the season to prove they're the best in not only their division by the entire NFC. Eli Manning has had lots of success passing to Hakeem Nicks (pictured above), and that connection likely won't be stopped by the Cowboys defense. Like with the Giants' previous visit to Texas this year, I'm expecting an upset victory.

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints (-13)

My wife, who grew up outside of Cleveland, has warned me over and over again: The Browns will break your heart. She delivered this weekly spiel again after my underdog pick of Cleveland in Week 5 was wrong. Last week, I reluctantly took her advice and picked the Steelers to cover the 13.5 point spread as favorites over Cleveland. Finally, I was not disappointed.

That said, I'm about to have my wagering heart broken again by the Browns. Cleveland is on the road again after last week's 28-10 loss to Pittsburgh. They're underdogs by nearly two touchdowns again, this time to the Saints.

The quarterback position was a key reason for that Browns' loss to the Steelers. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger returned against a familiar rival, while Browns rookie Colt McCoy was essentially thrown to the lions in his debut. Even so, Cleveland's offense put up the most total yards against the Steelers defense than any other opponent in 2010. Three turnovers on offense, though, also sank the Browns chances of covering the spread.

New Orleans, meanwhile, saw their offense have a breakout week against the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 6. The Saints rushed for 212 yards, thanks to the efforts of Chris Ivory. To me, the Saints are nowhere in the same class as the Steelers, which is why I'm eager to jump on the Browns again. The Saints pass the ball well, but they're inconsistent when running the ball after injuries to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. The New Orleans defense has also been wildly inconsistent, although it has performed well over the last two weeks.

Bessire's Take

: "Chris Ivory's running ability shocked the Buccaneers last week. Don't expect that to happen to the Cleveland to be taken off guard in the same way or for Ivory to have as much success. Furthermore, Colt McCoy did not look nearly as bad as many thought he would last week against Pittsburgh. The numbers definitely do not suggest that the Browns should be favored to win this game, but 13 points is a lot for an NFL game. Look for Drew Brees to have one of the best days in fantasy football for any player in Week 7, but for the Saints to win by 7-10 points as opposed to two touchdowns." Take

: "The volume on this event has seen nothing but two-way action. The pros took the value and pushed the Saints from a 14-point favorite down to 13 points. expects the public to fade the pros late in the week to close the spread at 13.5. This matchup will also bring heavy teaser volume to the table with the pro/public teasing the favorite down to 7 points."

The Pick: Browns +13

. I'm ready for you to break my heart again, Brownies. I was wrong in my pick against the Saints last week, but I can't honestly believe they're as good a team as the Steelers. Cleveland's record may stink overall, but their defense is decent and I expect injured running back Peyton Hillis (pictured above) to play Sunday and do well against a Saints defense that hasn't been able to stop the run.

New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers (-3)

Don't look now, but here come the Patriots.

New England's win at home against the Baltimore Ravens last week came thanks to a classic fourth-quarter comeback from Tom Brady, who connected with Deion Branch (pictured above) for a huge touchdown. Even after two turnovers, the Patriots still rallied to win against a Ravens team that nearly everyone still considers as better than New England.

The Chargers, on the other hand, have been a nightmare for the betting public, going 2-4 against the spread and 2-4 overall. San Diego typically gets off to a slow start, but this year the team has lost all four road games it has played to a crop of teams that hardly represent the NFL's elite. Special teams have been a big weakness for the Chargers, who have allowed six touchdowns on the defense/special teams.

Bessire's Take

: "I'm not sure we could be further away from having a strong opinion on this game. San Diego is at home and significantly better than its record. New England, especially on defense, does not look nearly as good as its record. The Chargers have all of the key statistics we look for -- yards-per-pass for and against, yards-per-rush for and against -- but they are 2-4. More importantly, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Legedu Naanee, the top three receiving threats for San Diego, are banged up. That being said, New England has one of the worse pass defenses in the league and Philip Rivers barely skipped a beat after losing wide receiver Vincent Jackson, safety valve LaDainian Tomlinson and left tackle Marcus McNeil from last year's offense. It's one of just two games that is not playable for us in Week 7." Take

: "The Chargers opened a 3-point flat favorite and the smart money loaded up on the underdog pushing the price to +105. We should note that while San Diego has been sloppy this year, at home the team posted two wins by a margin of 25 and 31 points. This stat has not impressed the pro punter. Clearly, the pros combined with the public to indicate that New England is the right side. For every four Pats wagers, there is one on San Diego. Expect to see the closing number -2.5, -125 in order for to even out the risk. Going off the number -3 creates a tremendous hedge opportunity for the pros as it is the most common number to land in the NFL."

The Pick: Patriots +3

. As a Patriots fan, I hate making this pick. I remember a regular season game a few years back where New England lost 30-10 to the Chargers in San Diego. Even though I suspect the New England defense will be overpowered by a Chargers team that still manages to gain an average of 432 yards per game, the Patriots are superb on special teams and should exploit that weakness in the Chargers. If the goal is to pick a 3-point underdog to win outright, this is a top choice.

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers (+3)

After I incorrectly picked Oakland as an underdog to beat the 6.5-point spread last week, I swore I would not pick another Niners game in my column this season. So much for that.

The problem I have picking this game is that I can't make heads or tails of this San Francisco team. I often find value in picking against them. At 1-5, the Niners are favored to travel east and beat the Panthers, who were off last week, by 3 points. San Francisco has lost all three road games it has played this year, including a trip east to Atlanta. Like most West Coast teams, the long travel east has been met with bad results. In 2009, the team's lone visit to the East Coast ended in a 27-13 loss to the Eagles.

Of course, the Panthers are considered to be the NFL's worst team right now at 0-5, but Carolina's straight-up record can be deceiving considering the caliber of teams they've played this season, like the Giants, Saints and Buccaneers. I see a team that runs the ball well on offense and plays great pass defense. Its weakness is in the offensive passing game and the defense's ability to stop the run. In Week 5, the Panthers defense gave up a staggering 218 rushing yards to the Bears and running back Matt Forte.

Bessire's Take

: "We like the upset in this scenario. Neither of these teams is as bad as its record. Carolina has played a moderately tough schedule and has a pretty good defense. The Panthers' defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards-per-pass allowed and eighth in fewest yards-per-rush allowed. This team is winless because of its offense. The team had the bye week last week to integrate Steve Smith and Matt Moore back into what should be a significantly more effective offense. San Francisco may have gotten a win last week, but this is clearly not the NFC West winning team that many, including us, projected. This defense is not of the caliber we thought it would be. The 49ers rank 20th in pass defense efficiency and 11th in rush defense efficiency. Both offenses are getting better, but the Panthers have the greatest cause for optimism with their best playmaker and veteran QB back in the fold. Carolina has the significantly better defense in this game and home-field advantage. Watch for the upset Sunday." Take

: "The 49ers opened as a 2.5-point favorite and was quickly pushed up to 3 points by the smart money even though San Francisco is a road favorite. So far this year, San Fran seems to be a weekly choice with the pro bettor. The wiseguys feel Singletary and company can produce with or without the spread in their favor. should close this game at 3 with a slight lean to the Niners."

The Pick: Panthers +3

. After a week off, quarterback Matt Moore (pictured above) and returning wide receiver Steve Smith hope to provide the offensive spark the team needs. Depending on which Niners team lands in Carolina, the Panthers and coach John Fox could notch their first victory of the season on Sunday.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-5.5)

If there is one game to wager on this week, this may be it.

The Seahawks have improved mightily from last year, when Seattle was blown out twice by Arizona. The Seahawks are tough to play at home, as the stadium is considered to be the loudest in the league. That home-field advantage has resulted in a lop-sided Week 1 win against the 49ers and an upset victory over the Chargers. While the offense hasn't put up very impressive numbers, the Seattle defense has been great, preventing five opponents from rushing for more than 90 yards.

The Cardinals had Week 6 off to prepare for the Seahawks, but the Arizona defense may be no match for Seattle running back Justin Forsett, who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. One of the Cardinals' biggest strengths has been touchdowns by defense and special teams units, although the team still has an overall turnover differential of -3.

Bessire's Take

: "Seattle has been a bit of a difficult team to figure out this season. No matter how you look at them though, the Seahawks are a great team at home. With the best NFL home-field advantage and a young team, Seattle has put together two significant upsets at home already this year. After seeing what Pete Carroll could do with an NFL defense coming out of a bye week, when the Seahawks had six sacks, nine QB hits and eight pass deflections on the road against the Bears, we should see rookie Cardinals' quarterback Max Hall struggle in his true "Welcome to the NFL" game. We do not really love Seattle's offense, but the defense has performed as one of the better all-around units in the league. The Seahawks' defense and special teams may combine for more points than the Cardinals offense this week." Take

: "The hometown Seahawks opened as a 6-point favorite and are currently 5.5 at Don't be fooled on this half-point move because 5 points is the deadest number in the NFL. odds maker have moved the number according to the money and the slight price drop means nothing to the pros. It is more predictable for the public to push this number up to 6.5 points and have the pros buy the extra half point for the underdog. This is a way for the book to increase volume and write two-way business with as much juice as possible."

The Pick: Seahawks -5.5

. No team enjoys traveling to Seattle to play the Seahawks on their home turf. The crowd noise will likely rattle Max Hall, who still has yet to throw a touchdown but has two interceptions in three games. The Seahawks play extremely well at home and will likely have revenge on their minds after two embarrassing losses to the Cardinals in 2009.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston


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