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Against the Spread: 2010 NFL Picks: Week 8

<I>TheStreet</I> picks five NFL games against the spread in Week 8 and takes a deeper look at potential blowout games.

Updated with correct line on Kansas City pick

BOSTON (

TheStreet

) -- When it comes to picking NFL games against the spread, it's hard not to gloat when you go 5-0 in a week with your best picks.

After sweeping last week with correct picks of Cleveland, Seattle, New York Giants, New England and Carolina, my record for picks against the spread stands at 20-15. While I want to parade out a

great performance in Week 7

, it's the only really strong week I've had this season. And, of course, anything can happen in the weeks ahead.

Instead, I wanted to examine one of the standouts from the previous week and learn about finding more inefficiencies in the way oddsmakers set lines for NFL games. One big theme last week was the blowout.

Colt McCoy (Cleveland Browns)

The most obvious that comes to mind is the way the

Cleveland Browns

, led by rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, marched into New Orleans to beat the Saints 30-17. While a 13-point margin of victory for an underdog is impressive, the blowout is even more impressive considering the Browns were 13-point underdogs. In essence, the blowout margin totals 26 points. That's made even more impressive in that it came on the road against the Super Bowl champs.

"Blowouts typically have two things in common: turnovers and explosive plays," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site

PredictionMachine.com

. 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.

Teams most likely to be blown out are those that lose the turnover battle and allow opponents to complete big plays on offense, Bessire continues. "When one team has a significant advantage in one or both of these categories, a blowout is far more likely than usual."

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Bessire says that several games in Week 8 look like potential blowout victories. Among the games he's targeting for blowout potential are the Patriots over the Vikings, the Steelers over the Saints, the Buccaneers over the Cardinals, and even the Jon Kitna-led Cowboys over the Jaguars.

Interestingly, Bessire also sees blowout potential by both the favorite and the underdog in games between the Colts and Texans and the Titans and Chargers, as both teams in each game fit the mold.

Another trend in Week 8 once again involves games with spreads of 3.5 points or less, which forces those bettors to essentially root for an outright winner. Nine games in Week 7 sported a line around three points, six of which saw the underdog beat the spread. Of those six underdog wins against the spread, four were outright winners. This week, another eight games are hovering around the 3-point-spread area, which could once again mean big things for underdog picks.

With that in mind, it's on to my picks for the slate of games in Week 8. Once again, I've enlisted the help of

PredictionMachine.com's

Paul Bessire.

I've also collected commentary on each game from

Bookmaker.com CEO Mickey Richardson

. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by his oddsmakers 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 Sunday afternoon matchup between the

Tennessee Titans

and the

San Diego Chargers

.

Tennessee Titans at San Diego Chargers (-3.5)

Norv Turner is going to get fired. Right?

The San Diego coach finds himself in the hot seat after the Chargers, which are at the top of the league in offense and defense stats, have a paltry 2-5 record. While San Diego managed to shore up its terrible special teams unit over the last two weeks after allowing several touchdowns in the weeks prior, the offense turned the ball over four times in the Week 7 game against New England. If there is a team most likely to find itself in a blowout situation due to turnovers and big plays, the Chargers often find themselves on both sides of the coin.

Meanwhile, the Titans dismantled what had been perceived to be a great Philadelphia Eagles team last week, even as Kerry Collins (pictured above) stepped in under center for an injured Vince Young. Last week was only the second time all season where the Titans offense was held to under 100 yards rushing, the only other time resulting in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even so, the Titans took advantage of turnovers and handily beat the Eagles.

Bessire's Take

: "This game could just as easily end up with either team blowing out the other. In this case, San Diego's offense can be so explosive that I understand why the Chargers are favored and how they could ultimately win by double digits or more. However, there is a reason San Diego has a losing record. The Chargers have already turned the ball over 18 times in seven games and have played horrendously on special teams. Often times, turnovers and big special teams plays are signs of fluke games. There comes a point in the season though when that is the norm for the team, and I think we have reached that with San Diego. With either quarterback, Tennessee currently looks like a top five team in the NFL. It doesn't hurt that the Titans also have the best all-around special teams in the AFC and are winning the turnover battle. We like Tennessee to keep this game close."

Bookmaker.com Take

: "So far this matchup proves to be handicapped correctly by the Bookmaker.com odds makers with an opening line of San Diego -3.5. The volume has been light on this event and Bookmaker.com is seeing nothing but two-way action. It is doubtful this number will run in either direction, however shoppers could see flat 3 points by the time it closes."

The Pick: Chargers -3.5

. San Diego has been a losing proposition for weeks, but I feel good about the pick this week for several reasons. The Chargers do well containing the rush and they're explosive on offense. The Titans are getting a lot of attention after last week's win against Philadelphia, but bettors have to remember they've faced fairly mediocre offenses in the Raiders, Cowboys, Jaguars and even the Giants, who played terrible in Week 3 against Tennessee. I find it hard to believe San Diego will lose twice in a row at home.

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)

Three months ago, this looked like the most boring game of the Week 8 slate.

However, even though Buffalo is winless at 0-6, the Bills are a fairly exciting team to watch, thanks to the emergence of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (pictured above). Fitzpatrick carries one of the best quarterback ratings in the league and has allowed the Bills offense to compete with NFL heavyweights like the Patriots, Jets and Ravens. The Bills defense, though, has been their Achilles heel, forcing only six turnovers all season while allowing an average of 379 yards per game. Teams that run the ball have found great success against the Buffalo defense.

That's bad news for Buffalo, considering Kansas City -- at the unlikely record of 4-2 -- averages more than 175 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Matt Cassel may not be performing at the same caliber he did in New England when he stepped in for an injured Tom Brady two seasons ago, but running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have steamrolled the front lines of opposing defenses. The Chiefs defense also has held up well, forcing at least one turnover in all but one game this season.

Bessire's Take

: "We actually think that 7.5 point line is appropriate, which is great news to me because it takes the pressure off having to sweat out another Bills game against the spread. Most would point to San Diego and Dallas as two teams that are frustrating to root for because they are inconsistent and underachieving. The Bills are similarly inconsistent and overachieving. Ryan Fitzpatrick has his passing offense playing well for Buffalo with seven touchdowns and just one interception in the last two games, but Kansas City is the significantly better team, especially at home in Arrowhead Stadium. We like the Chiefs to win by about eight points, yet Fitzpatrick still ranks as one of our top fantasy quarterbacks for the weekend."

Bookmaker.com Take

: "Bookmaker.com opened the Kansas City Chiefs as a 9 point favorite late Sunday evening and the early money came fast and heavy on the Bills dropping the line a quick 2 points and then settling at 7.5. KC has one of the most impressive home records in the NFL, however the smart money says take the points. Expect the line to fluctuate from 7 to 7.5 until post time."

The Pick: Chiefs -7.5

. The Bills' offense scares me a little when picking the Chiefs to win by more than a touchdown, only because Fitzpatrick can throw well against almost any defense in the league. If this line were still at 9 points, I'd take the Bills and points, but at 7.5 points I feel relatively comfortable laying the points on a favorite with a better turnover margin, a positive yards-per-play differential and a solid special teams unit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals (-3)

In the Yahoo! Pick 'Em league for

TheStreet

readers, I had selected Tampa Bay to cover the 2.5-point spread at home against the Rams last week. Needless to say, the pendulum swung very quickly from euphoria to despair after the Buccaneers scored the go-ahead touchdown to take a 1-point lead but failed to convert the 2-point try.

Even if it weren't a winning pick for me last week, I like this Tampa team. Raheem Morris isn't in the same class of coaches as Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan, but he has done a tremendous job coaching the Bucs and keeping them disciplined. Quarterback Josh Freeman (pictured above) may not be an elite quarterback in the same way that Morris isn't an elite coach, but this season he's done enough to win. The defense forces turnovers and the offense rarely makes mistakes.

Arizona, meanwhile, is having a crisis on offense. The Cardinals have put both Derek Anderson and Max Hall in the quarterback spot with mixed results on offense. After racking up 378 total yards in Week 1, the Cards offense hasn't gained above 270 total yards in any game. Arizona's defense has done its job forcing turnovers but the unit still gives up an average of 368 yards per game. The offense, though, has coughed the ball up 19 times through six games, giving the team a turnover margin of -7.

Bessire's Take

: "The Cardinals are a mess right now. Tampa Bay's numbers are not off the charts, but they are probably better than you think and they find ways to win. Looking at the numbers, we think Arizona will gain more total yards in this contest (306 yards to 298 yards), but turnovers ultimately cost the Cardinals the game. Arizona has 11 lost fumbles and eight thrown interceptions on the season in just six games. Tampa Bay has generated 10 interceptions and four fumble recoveries, also just in six games. On the flip side, Josh Freeman has only thrown three interceptions on 199 attempts this season. Protecting the ball has kept them in so many games late. Other than with turnovers, these teams are very similar."

Bookmaker.com Take

: "With all the parity in the NFL the number 3 seems to be the number of choice for the Bookmaker.com oddsmakers. The Cards opened -3.5 was quickly pushed to 3 flat by the smart money. This game should close at 3 with a slight lean to the Buccaneers."

The Pick: Buccaneers +3

. I'm leaning with the smart money. I'm not thrilled taking a road team that has to fly to the opposite side of the U.S., but I agree with Bessire's point of the turnover margin. The Bucs have a +6 margin for turnovers and the Cardinals have a -7 turnover differential. Even with home-field advantage, I have a hard time believing the Cardinals should be favored by 3 points against Tampa.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-5.5)

Revenge is a dish best served at home in Lucas Oil Stadium.

After a surprising loss in Week 1 to the Texans on the road, the Indianapolis Colts are no doubt wringing their hands in anticipation for this Week 8 matchup. Tight end Dallas Clark has been lost for the season to injuries and several other key Colts players on offense are out, but Peyton Manning (pictured above) can always find a way to win. The Indy offense has tallied an average of 409 total yards per game, so while key injuries may slow the team down, they're still likely to be high performers.

The Texans had last week off but return now to one of the toughest schedules down the stretch. Six of the last 10 games of the Texans' season will be played on the road, starting in Week 8 at Indy. Houston had the extra week to prepare for the familiar foe, but there are still outstanding questions related to the Texans team. The defense continues to be a weak spot, allowing a whopping 410 total yards per game to opposing offenses. In addition, the defense has forced only six turnovers all season. The team may be rested, but is the defense capable of limiting Peyton Manning?

Bessire's Take

: "One of the most common outcomes we saw in the 50,000 simulations was 34-24 as a win by the Colts this time at home on Monday Night. And actually, the Colts win the same way that the Texans won in Week 1, but using their greatest offensive strength to exploit the opponent's greatest defensive weakness. At the time, we did not know how good Arian Foster and the Texans' running game could be. It caught the Colts and everyone else by surprise. This week, while Peyton Manning and company are not going to catch anyone by surprise -- even without Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Austin Collie and others -- they should be able to move the ball easily up and down the field against the Houston secondary that ranks second-to-last in the NFL against the pass. Offensively, the Texans are as healthy as they have been for several weeks, so they should be able to put up points as well. It could only take one or two stops by the Colts defense all game though to win this by a touchdown or more."

Bookmaker.com Take

: "The Monday Night event always brings in the volume especially with Indy having a huge public following. In the early action some of the sharps took the dog at 6 points taking the price down to 5.5. However the public seems to be matching the volume and keeping this point spread steady. Bookmaker.com will probably close this game with Indy the favorite by 6 points."

The Pick: Colts -5.5

. I'm going to put it plain and simple (and borrowed from ESPN's columnist Bill Simmons): Never bet against Peyton Manning in a night game. I learned that lesson the hard way in picking the Giants at the Colts during a night game earlier this season. I will not make that mistake again.

Washington Redskins at Detroit Lions (-3)

Believe it or not, the Lions are favored against Donovan McNabb (pictured above) and the Washington Redskins. The only other time this season the Lions were the favorite was a home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Lions have done well against the spread this year, covering five times in six games. This week, quarterback Matthew Stafford returns from an injury while the Redskins are playing their second road game. While this scenario would typically have me pull the trigger on a Lions pick as favorite, I have a hard time picking a team that has difficulty running the ball and stopping the run.

Meanwhile, the Redskins aren't a particularly inspiring pick, either. However, the defense has been opportunistic, forcing six turnovers last week in a game at Chicago. McNabb has done enough to win, and the running game has improved for Washington. It still appears Vegas doesn't quite know what to make of the Redskins, as the point spread in Washington games has topped 4 points only once.

Bessire's Take

: "For the seventh time in eight weeks, the Redskins are a 'no pick' according to our numbers. The line only favors Detroit by 2.5 points, and we have the Lions winning by just 1.5, which upholds my theory that Washington, as the epitome of parity in the NFL this season, should not be more than a four-point favorite or underdog against any team in the NFL, anywhere."

Bookmaker.com Take

: "Once again Bookmaker.com opened Detroit as a one point favorite and the early money quickly pushed the spread to 3 and then settling at 2.5 in the middle of the week. You can expect Detroit to close 3 (-115) with Bookmaker seeing an overwhelming headcount on the favorite, for every 3 wagers on the Lions there is one on the Skins."

The Pick: Redskins +3

. If you got in on Detroit as a one-point favorite, that was probably a good bet. But as the spread has climbed to three points, it becomes too tough to believe that even if Detroit wins this game, they do it by more than a field goal. I don't love this pick, but again, if you're looking to capitalize on value by picking a 3-point underdog, this could be a worthwhile bet this week.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston

.

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