THE MAD SCRAMBLE is on as all but the worst of the National Football League teams battle for playoff berths and home-field advantage.
Nevertheless, with the final bye week out of the way and all teams equal again in number of games played, this is a good time to sort things out.
The team that has me feeling out of sorts is the Indianapolis Colts. Every year there is a team that is impossible to get a grip on. This year, for me, it is the Colts. In reviewing my team-by-team record for the season, it became painfully obvious that I have a blind spot when it comes to the Colts.
My overall record in games involving the Colts is 2-11 against the point spread. The only times I was right was when I picked against them in their two games with the Bills. That gave me a 2-5 mark picking against the Colts and an 0-6 record when I went with them to win or beat the point spread.
On the other hand, I have developed a feel for the Raiders, Browns and Bears, with a record of 9-4 in games involving each team. My record is 7-1 picking the Raiders to win or cover the spread. It's 7-2 with the Bears. My success with the Browns came from picking against them, rolling up a 9-2 mark. I am 8-2 going against the Broncos and 4-0 against the Lions.
Not surprisingly, I have run into my biggest trouble when I felt moved to cast my lot with the league's worst teams. Besides being 0-6 picking the Colts, I am 0-5 backing the Patriots, 0-2 with the Browns, Broncos and Buccaneers and 1-3 with the Jets and Saints.
For the record, I have selected the Bills to win more times than any other team (11), compiling a record of 7-3-1, and have gone against them the fewest times (2). I split those games. (I can't believe I really took the Browns with the points against the Bills.)
Last week I got healthy with a 10-2 mark (88-89-2 overall). My best bets were 2-0 (15-13-2 overall and 5-0-1 in the last three weeks).
Washington over NEW ENGLAND ( 13) -- Although the Redskins edged the Bears last week, they didn't cover the point spread, keeping intact their record of alternate winning and losing weeks. This is their week to win, and the Patriots surely are the team to win against. You have to go back five weeks to find the last time the Patriots lost by less than two touchdowns.
Minnesota over TAMPA BAY ( 6) -- The Vikings took a slight detour on their comeback route last week against the Giants, but they can resume their playoff drive against the Buccaneers, who are coming off their bye week with a new coach but the same old players. Late-season coaching changes don't produce victories.
Best of the rest
Atlanta over CLEVELAND (pick) -- Certainly, neither team deserves to be favored in this game. The Browns are so bad right now that they probably can't prevent the Falcons from winning their first road game in two seasons.
Indianapolis ( 3 1/2 ) over JETS -- Let's face it, neither team should be favored in this game, either. That makes the Colts a good choice, even though I am always wrong about them. They beat the Jets, 17-14, in Week 11, and the Jets are a notoriously poor bet as home favorites.
Pittsburgh ( 3) over NEW ORLEANS -- The Steelers are my long-shot choice to be the Bills' opponents for the AFC championship. Obviously, they can't get there without beating teams like the Saints.
San Diego ( 1) over DENVER -- The Chargers stopped the Broncos, 19-7, in Week 10 and had an extra week to prepare for this game. The Broncos have the longest current losing streak against the spread -- six games. Once nearly invincible at home, they are 0-5 against the spread at Mile High Stadium this year.
Rest of the bets
Buffalo ( 3 1/2 ) over GIANTS -- According to the accounts coming out of New York, this game doesn't mean much to the Giants. They have clinched their division and play the Cardinals and Patriots in their final two games. They know they can afford a loss to the Bills. Several Giants players have been talking about their sense of relief after coming back to win last week. Sounds like a letdown in the making. This is the game when the Bills remove any lingering doubts about their Super Bowl prospects.
MIAMI over Seattle ( 5) -- The Seahawks have turned their season around, but the Dolphins aren't about to let the Bills out of their sights. The Miami comeback against the Eagles delivered a strong message.
KANSAS CITY over Houston ( 3 1/2 ) -- The Oilers can be awesome, but their massacre of the Browns was more or less meaningless. They are still shaky on the road. The Chiefs can't afford to let up in their battle to win the AFC West.
Phoenix ( 4 1/2 ) over DALLAS -- The Cardinals have a four-game winning streak against the spread. The Cowboys' three-game streak was interrupted by their bye. The Cardinals won their first meeting this year, 20-3. This game will be decided by a field goal. That gives the Cards a pat hand.
RAIDERS over Cincinnati ( 6 1/2 ) -- The Bengals have lost to some terrible teams this season and have been terribly inconsistent. Quarterback Boomer Esiason is questionable for this game with a groin injury. Safety Rickey Dixon is out with a broken leg. The Bengals could be in for a long day.
PHILADELPHIA over Green Bay ( 9 1/2 ) -- The Eagles come home after two losses on the road to AFC East teams. The last time they were home they blasted the Giants. Watch for another eruption against the Packers, who will be playing without quarterback Don Majkowski again.
Chicago over DETROIT ( 3) -- It was just two weeks ago that the Bears beat the Lions in overtime, 23-17. This one boils down to a very good team coming off a tough loss playing against a team that has its moments but needs a bigger point spread here.
RAMS ( 5 1/2 ) over San Francisco -- The 49ers might be out for revenge against the only team to beat them this season. But they have too many injuries to their defense. They still might beat the Rams, but it will be a struggle and it will be close.