Against the Spread: 2011 NFL Picks: Week 10

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- After my own personal bye week, I'm back with my Week 10 NFL picks against the spread. I'm thinking I can improve this week; I wish I could say the same for the New England Patriots defense.

Last week, my column was M.I.A. as I was in San Francisco all week long for an investment conference. I hate it when work gets in the way of NFL wagering. But I'm back this week with my picks against the spread, hoping to turn the tide on what has been a miserable showing so far this season. The record currently stands at 15-23 with two ties, good for a miserable winning percentage of 37.5% in the 40 games I've picked so far. Hopefully the week off will do my picks some good.

Andy Dalton, quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals

If you're feeling like me, you're not alone. I'll describe the symptoms: You have a hard time guessing the lines, you have no idea how to characterize some teams, and you feel completely lost when a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers travels on the road to play the Cincinnati Bengals when the line is +3. It turns out that the professionals in Vegas feel the same way.

"It's been a strange year," says Bryan Leonard, a professional sports handicapper with Pregame.com who is also part of the Tuesday Group, a collection of professional bettors in Las Vegas who get together to handicap the games each week.

"It usually averages out, but it's not working out," Leonard says. "I'm throwing my arms up in the air. It's been such a tough year and I don't know of anyone who is gambling and is making the money we used to make. This year, you know Green Bay is going to win and you know Indianapolis is going to lose. Everything else is a crapshoot."

Leonard cites a bad beat he had last weekend with his pick of the Buffalo Bills over the New York Jets. "In the NFL, you can usually figure out where it will be within a point," he says. "But last week, with Buffalo/Jets, the line moved all week long, and the Jets still killed them."

Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site PredictionMachine.com, had a similar bad beat last weekend. His Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

"If you want to talk about a bad beat situation, look at the Patrick Peterson 99-yard touchdown in overtime," Bessire says, referring to the play that won the game for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9 and covered the 3.5-point spread against the St. Louis Rams.

Given the recent upheaval in the global equity markets due to volatility sparked by the European debt crisis, Bessire is more than happy to stay in the realm of NFL probabilities. "One major difference between the sports market than the financial market, is that the sports market is so definitive. It's either a win or a loss," he says. "The immediacy of the sports market allows you to move on and shake it off."

With that, I'll try to shake off my own record and move on to the picks for Week 10 of the NFL season. As I'll remind you through the entire season, these are for entertainment purposes only. As always, I have enlisted the help of PredictionMachine.com's Paul Bessire, who offers analysis of the data his model provides for the games I've picked this week.

I have also collected commentary from Bryan Leonard, whose analysis focuses on the spread movement by Vegas oddsmakers to determine where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These trends prove to be critical for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value.

Read on for the first game pick for tonight's game, where the Oakland Raiders travel to play the San Diego Chargers. And as always, I encourage you to leave comments below with your favorite picks against the spread this week.

Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers (-7)

The return of Thursday Night Football gives NFL fans an intriguing game to watch between two division rivals that aren't playing inspired football.

Tied atop the AFC West division with a record of 4-4, the Chargers and Raiders will face off tonight with first place on the line. Whether either team deserves the distinction of division leader is a different conversation, as some NFL fans are looking on the AFC West with the same disdain as they viewed the NFC West last season. You'll recall that no team in the NFC West had a winning record by the end of the 2010 campaign. No one wants to see a repeat of that in any division this year.

There is a clear answer as to why both of these teams have been miserable: Sub-par quarterback play. Chargers QB Philip Rivers has more interceptions (14, leading the league) than touchdowns (11) this year. Rivers has also been sacked 19 times and has fumbled seven times. Those aren't inspiring statistics for a quarterback some called an MVP candidate at the start of the season. Meanwhile, the Raiders lost somewhat-reliable quarterback Jason Campbell to injury, forcing management to scramble and overpay for Carson Palmer, who looks every bit as unprepared to start a professional football game as one might expect an out-of-work quarterback to look.

Injuries are nothing new to either team, particular Oakland. The Raiders will turn to running back Michael Bush again this week as Darren McFadden still recovers from an injury. While McFadden's absence is notable, the key issue for Oakland to overcome is Palmer, who has looked horribly unprepared to play NFL-level talent; He has thrown 6 interceptions in only two games so far this season.

Vegas is telling bettors that the Chargers could avenge two ugly losses to the Raiders last season by beating up on the depleted team this week. According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted a line of Chargers -6 on Nov. 6, and that line has slowly ticked higher to -7.

With the line now a full touchdown, PredictionMachine.com's Bessire says bettors will want to work in your potential fraud expectations. Specifically, he notes the way the Chargers have played well against teams like the Patriots, Chiefs and Chargers only to lose each game on a dumb fumble or interception at crucial moments.

"Some people think the Chargers are legitimate and they should be covering more often than they should," he says. "The Chargers do so many things right to win games, but they can't even cover. San Diego should win this game by a touchdown or more, but they've found ways to not win nearly as convincingly as they should. Save for our 1-7 against-the-spread record picking Chargers games so far, I love the Chargers against this weak Raiders team."

Pregame.com's Leonard agrees that San Diego has not played up to expectations for a long time. "In terms of personnel, they should crush Oakland. But you can say that in any game they've played this season," he says. "You have to rely on defense and San Diego probably has the best defense on the field. But San Diego would be very happy to win the game straight up, which is worrisome with the 7-point line. I might take a look at the under, but I would probably stay away."

The Pick: Chargers -7. I'm already prepared to lose this pick as I think I've picked San Diego games wrong every year for the last half-decade. But honestly, I see a San Diego team with an offense powerful enough to put up big points and a defense that could get jumpstarted by intercepting a few lame duck throws by Carson Palmer. The Chargers win this game, it's just a matter of whether it's a push or cover, in my opinion.

New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)

Speaking of the previously horrid NFC West, it would appear that the San Francisco 49ers are the league's new Rodney Dangerfield in that the team can't get no respect.

Perhaps it's an overreaction to the Giants' win over the Patriots last weekend (more on that in a bit), but this line seems far lower than it should be. The Giants are one of those teams I've had a hard time figuring out. They win in games they should lose, like the one against New England on the road, and they lose what should be easy wins at home, like the horrendous game against the Seattle Seahawks.

It's stunning that the 49ers, who have been one of the most remarkably consistent and stable teams in the NFL this year, would only be favored by 3.5 points. On a neutral field, do you really believe the 49ers are only a half-point better than the Giants? I don't, and here's why.

According to the proprietary DVOA statistical measure developed by the folks at Football Outsiders, which is used to determine the value of a team over the average, we can see that the 49ers ranks fourth overall in the entire NFL. While the offense is ranked a tepid 21 out of 32, San Francisco's defense is the fourth best in the league by the statistical measure. The Giants aren't far behind, ranking fifth in weighted DVOA overall, but the offense and defense are ranked eighth and ninth overall.

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted the line on this game with the 49ers as 3-point favorites before quickly moving the line to 3.5 points. I believe this line should be higher, even though both teams looked similarly matched in terms of win-loss record and DVOA measures. The Giants have played an easy schedule, toppling the Rams, Cardinals and Dolphins on their way to a 6-2 record. The 49ers, meanwhile, are 7-1 after beating the likes of the Bengals, the Bucs and the Lions.

Like me, Prediction Machine's Bessire was surprised by the 3.5-point line. "The linesmakers or the public may see these are pretty even teams, but San Francisco is a notably better team," he says. "When you go back and look at the schedule, the Giants have had one of the easiest schedules, they caught the Patriots at the right time. But they're not catching the 49ers at the right time. SF is legitimate and can win this game."

Pregame's Leonard also believes the 49ers are the right side to lean on. "San Francisco continues to be overlooked. The general public likes teams that score a lot of points and they overlook teams that play good, strong defenses," he says. "The public doesn't realize that the teams that play defense have value. You should look for a defensive team not giving many points or getting points."

The Pick: 49ers -3.5. This is probably my favorite pick of the week. The Giants will get a lot of public attention after taking down the Patriots last week. But they have not played a team with a defense even remotely as good as the 49ers. However, I'm sure I'll be pleading at the television on Sunday for Alex Smith and Frank Gore to power the San Francisco offense and score more points.

Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys (-5.5)

In Week 8, I had losing picks in games involving both the Bills and the Cowboys, so how could I pass up the opportunity to get a pick wrong in a game that features both teams?

I was very high on the Bills earlier this season after the strong start for Buffalo, having won with picks on the Bills against the Chiefs and Patriots. Since then, I've had bad beats by picking Buffalo over the Giants and the Jets while also picking the Redskins to cover during their game against Buffalo in Toronto. The problem I've had is that I've overvalued the Bills offense and defense.

Buffalo has been extremely opportunistic on defense, forcing 20 turnovers in eight games. The Bills offense, though, was exploited against the Jets last weekend. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for less than 200 yards against the Jets, while New York was also able to keep Fred Jackson to fewer than 100 rushing yards. The rest of the season doesn't get easier for the Bills as they are set to face some brutal defensive units. The task of winning is made more difficult by the fact that Buffalo plays five of its final eight games this season on the road, starting this week in Dallas.

The Cowboys have one of the best defenses in the NFL, ranked 12th out of 32 in DVOA through the first nine weeks of the season. The Cowboys' strength has been its pass defense, while the team has faltered in stopping opposing running backs. Dallas will have a challenge this week against one of the top ranked offenses in the Buffalo Bills, a team that can throw well and run the ball well.

However, Vegas is high on the Cowboys. According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted this game with the Cowboys as 3.5-point favorites. Since then, the line has steady moved higher, touching the key level of -6 before ticking back lower.

Prediction Machine's Bessire thought the line was too high on first blush until he crunched the numbers. "The Cowboys have the talent advantage and they will run all over Buffalo," Bessire says. "That team needs to be opportunistic and they're better at home. A touchdown spread is appropriate. The Cowboys should win this convincingly. The Bills offense cannot get it going."

Meanwhile, Pregame.com's Leonard says he doesn't have a play on this game, although he wonders about Dallas' ability to win big against good teams.

"Dallas has not shown the ability to win by a big margin, expect against the Rams and Seahawks," Leonard says. "On paper, these two teams are closer to being even than Dallas being a favorite. The 5.5 line is a bad number, so I'm leaning Buffalo. I prefer to pick Dallas as an underdog in games, not as a 5.5-point favorite."

The Pick: Bills +5.5. Buffalo is probably roping me in as a sucker again. I'll be honest, I do worry about Buffalo's ability to move the ball, especially against a decent Dallas defense. But I have to remind myself that of the Cowboys' four wins this season, two were against the horrible Rams and Seahawks offenses while the other two were marginal wins against the 49ers and Redskins, who don't have good offensive units. The Bills can score points. Maybe they don't win this game, but Buffalo surely beats the spread.

New England Patriots at New York Jets (-1.5)

I can't believe I'm fully prepared to pick against my beloved Patriots again.

As a fan of the laundry, New England has been a complete embarrassment this year. However, I've successfully picked against the Patriots numerous times this season, most notably in the team's losses to Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Last weekend's loss to the Giants, like a replay of the 2008 Super Bowl, was soul crushing. It sounds defeatist to say it, but the Patriots just aren't very good this season; A loss to the Jets this week would be the team's first three-game losing streak in almost a decade.

It's been a tale of two seasons for both the Patriots and the Jets. It seems so long ago that the Patriots looked like a juggernaut in trouncing Miami and San Diego by a combined 28 points. Then again, there was that three-game stretch where the Jets were outscored by 36 points in three road losses to the Raiders, Ravens and Patriots.

Now, the tables have turned. The Patriots defense hasn't improved enough as the offense has faltered; Dallas, Pittsburgh and the Giants have held New England to 20 points or fewer in the past few weeks. The Jets, meanwhile, have shored up their defense against the Chargers and Bills and have figured out how to run the ball better on offense.

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton originally had the Patriots as 2.5-point favorites over the Jets. However, following last Sunday's games, the line has swung the other way in the Jets' favor, perhaps rightfully so.

Prediction Machine's Bessire doesn't see too much value in this game. As it turns out, this game has the least certainty according to his model. That has Bessire steering clear of this game.

"This is the quintessential strength versus strength with the Jets defense against the Patriots offense," Bessire says. "The Jets have gotten a little better and the Pats have gotten a little worse. But it's about the Patriots playing a tougher schedule against teams with better defenses than they were at the beginning of the season. They're a very effective offense but now they've played teams coming in with better defenses with a better game plan. Sanchez is going to have to make one or two plays to win this game."

On the other hand, Pregame's Leonard can't find a reason to argue against riding the Jets this week.

"With the way NE has been playing, boy," Leonard says with a hint of surprise. "Dallas gave a blueprint on how to defend Brady and company. The offense just isn't outscoring the opposition like they were earlier in the season. The Jets probably have the best defense the Patriots will play. I think the Jets defense can hold New England down. The Jets are playing with confidence now that they're back in the race."

The Pick: Jets -1.5. As a fan, I hope Bill Belichick comes into this game with a scheme the Jets have never seen before, taking the season series against New York to humble Rex Ryan a bit. But as a realist, it's obvious both of these teams are headed in opposite directions. The Jets have some swagger back while the Patriots are searching for some heart. I doubt they will find it this weekend in New Jersey; They would have better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-13.5)

The Green Bay Packers are a train steaming down the tracks, mowing over sharp bettors who have consistently bet against the champs this season. So if you would, please hand me a blindfold and a cigarette, as I'm about to step on those same tracks again.

Vegas oddsmakers can't seem to set some lines high enough this season. Take the New Orleans game against the Indianapolis Colts, where the margin of victory was 55 points. Or, more appropriately, think of the Packers game where they played host to the Rams as 14.5-point favorites and still covered.

That has been the story this year for the Packers. After battling injuries last year and muddling through some terrible games, Green Bay has been healthy and has steamrolled every team they've played so far. The undefeated Packers have a point differential total of +89, the highest margin in the NFL. Football Outsiders have Green Bay ranked as the top offense using DVOA. This team is unstoppable.

Once again, the Green Bay Packers will play host to an inferior NFC team with an abysmal record coming off of a bye week. However, I don't see the game following the same script as the Packers/Rams game a few weeks ago. Instead, I see Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson leading the offense effectively enough to keep this game within two scores.

Lost in all the love for Green Bay is how the defense have played relatively poorly. While the Packers put up a massive number of points each week, the Green Bay defense is ranked 22nd in DVOA, as the team has been subpar at stopping teams from throwing and running the ball. Of course, Minnesota hasn't been much better but still ranks ahead of Green Bay at 20th overall in defense DVOA.

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted this game on Nov. 6 with the Packers as 12.5-point favorites. The line briefly rose to 14 points but has hung around 13.5 points since. If Minnesota can come off the bye week and cover that line, it'll be by having running back Adrian Peterson make big plays against a surprisingly weak Packer defense.

"The defense is prone to both making and giving up big plays," Bessire says of the Packers. "In a matchup of a great passing team against a great running team, the passing team usually wins out and it should, yet both Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson should have big days in what should be another shootout between these two NFC North teams>"

Pregame's Leonard, though, refuses to step in front of the Packer freight train.

"I'm with the public on this one, and It's not often I lay too many points in the NFL," Leonard says. "The main reason is that these two teams played in Ponder's first game, and GB didn't have any film on him. Now GB has film on Ponder. I don't want to step in front of Green Bay. I keep getting crushed when I see value in playing against Green Bay. When I think the game is going to close at 14 and I can lay 13, it's something I would do and buy back the other way to get off of it."

The Pick: Vikings +13.5. I'd be happier to get this as Vikings +14 or +14.5, but I'll settle for this line. I keep believing that the Packers are due for a dud game, like what we saw with the way New Orleans crumbled against the Rams. Maybe the Packers don't choke this week, but I don't expect the Vikings to lose by more than a touchdown.

Although I've given my five picks against the spread for Week 10, I thought I'd also add in my selections for the other games this week. I won't include these in my overall record, but instead I'm just merely adding them as a bonus. Again, please leave your comments below with your picks this week and why. Have a great weekend.

Home team in all caps

  • Houston -3 over TAMPA BAY
  • MIAMI -3.5 over Washington
  • St. Louis +2.5 over CLEVELAND
  • CINCINNATI +3 over Pittsburgh
  • Jacksonville -3 over INDIANAPOLIS
  • CAROLINA -3 over Tennessee
  • ATLANTA pk over New Orleans
  • PHILADELPHIA -14 over Arizona
  • KANSAS CITY -3 over Denver
  • Detroit +3 over CHICAGO
  • SEATTLE +6.5 over Baltimore

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Robert Holmes.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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