between the lines

Here comes The Gauntlet.

NFL Week 13 features the second of three straight games in what the San Francisco 49ers considered their most difficult stretch of the season. They pounded the Green Bay Packers 37-8 in their opening leg last Sunday and face New Orleans next week.

But Sunday? It’s the game of the week, maybe of the year, in the NFL as San Francisco visits the scorching Baltimore Ravens, who devoured the Los Angeles Rams 45-6 Monday Night.

The Ravens, 9-2, opened as a 6-point favorites against a team that’s 10-1.

A couple of other games pack less marquee punch but are good matchups: The 10-1 New England Patriots visit the 7-4 Houston Texans as a 3-point favorite: and the Seattle Seahawks, a surprising 9-2, host the 8-3 Minnesota Vikings Monday Night as a 3-point favorite.

What about the Eagles? What about them? They are only 5-6 but still hanging around in the NFC East because the Dallas Cowboys have not put them away yet. The Eagles are a 9-point favorite when they visit the Miami Dolphins, who went cold after being the league’s hottest team against the spread. The Dolphins have dropped two straight after covering the number five weeks in a row.

The quarterback gamble

Former quarterbacks like Michael Vick are weighing in on the troubles of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. What a difference a couple of years make. Two years ago, at this time, he appeared invincible, and the Eagles were the best team in the NFL. He was then injured and has not been the same since. Wentz looks average. He does need to silence critics this week, and he probably will.

What’s happening in the NFL bears further witness against signing quarterbacks to multi-year contracts. Remember the 49ers viewing Jimmy Garoppolo as the future of their franchise a couple of years back? He looks good now, but an injury he suffered last year killed their whole season. It doesn’t take much for good quarterbacks to get hurt.

Look at it another way: The Pittsburgh Steelers are better than the Eagles, at 6-5, and they have a third-string quarterback nobody heard of in Devlin Hodges, who threw a deep ball last week that looked as good as anything Wentz has tossed in the last couple of years.

The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts are thriving at 6-5 with backup quarterbacks. It’s all about the system and the offensive blocking.

Eagles backers are back ... for this week

Eagles bettors were prophetic last week, them at a season-low 14 percent at 1 point according to Matt Stetz, the COO of Rush Street Interactive, which operates Play Sugar House in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The gamblers were correct because the Eagles did not cover in a 17-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

This week, the bettors have returned en masse and back them at -9 against the Miami Dolphins on the road. With the Eagles money line at -435, that game will offer more attractive options via prop bets.

To get in on the action go PlaySugarHouse.com.

Stetz added that the Steelers are not being backed by bettors in that area as a 2-point home underdog against the Cleveland Browns in the rematch of their helmet-swinging fiasco game a couple weeks back. The Browns won that 21-7 and are on a three-week roll now.

Hodges, whom the Steelers have rallied around, has been named the starter for Pittsburgh this week. The Steelers hold the final spot in the AFC playoff chase, but the Browns could supplant them by winning this game.

Stetz said the Seahawks are getting 76 percent of the action for the game against Minnesota.

The New England Patriots obtained 86 percent of public support against Houston.

But what’s the biggest outpouring of sentiment he’s seen this year?

“The Packers,” he said of Green Bay, visiting the New York Giants as a 6.5-point favorite. “They are getting 97 percent of the bets.”

Wow.

Last week’s takeaways

Some teams are simply better as underdogs. The Detroit Lions went from losing a 35-27 shootout to the Dallas Cowboys to dropping a 19-16 clunker to the one-win Washington Redskins last week when they were favored by 3.5 points.

The Atlanta Falcons flopped as a 4-point favorite against Tampa Bay. In fact, the Falcons have not covered as a favorite this entire year.

The left side of the Tennessee Titans line looked explosive in blocking for running back Derrick Henry, who busted off a long game-breaking second-half touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans could be an emerging team, but bear in mind midweek news that said he was battling injuries. The line on this game has moved from Indianapolis -1 to -2.5.

This week’s lines and over-unders

Lines courtesy of DraftKings

Eagles -9 AT Miami, 44.5

Baltimore – 6 vs San Francisco, 47

Cleveland -2 AT Pittsburgh,

Green Bay -6.5 AT New York Giants, 45.5

NY Jets -3.5 AT Cincinnati 41.5

Carolina -9.5 vs Washington 39.5

Indianapolis -2.5 vs Tennessee, 43.5

Jacksonville -1 vs Tampa Bay, 48.5

LA Rams -3 AT Arizona, 47.5

Kansas City -9.5 vs Oakland, 51.5

LA Chargers -2.5 AT Denver 38.5

New England -3 AT Houston, 45.5

Seattle -3 vs Minnesota 45

This week’s picks

Selections, against the spread, are excerpted from Beat the Degenerates, which I co-host with Brian Cahill and Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City. The show is 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays on Newstalk 1400-AM, WONDRadio.com and 92.5-FM. Catch the next one 5 p.m. Dec 4

Bontempo: Seattle

Cronick: Los Angeles Chargers

Cahill: Cincinnati

Dave Weinberg, Press of Atlantic City Eagles best writer and Warren “Professor” Prosser, WOND producer: Eagles

Da Kipster, aka Pickett Russell, general manager of Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall: Green Bay

Dan Skeldon, meteorologist: Tampa Bay

Ky Carlin, WOND sports correspondent: Chicago, Thursday against Detroit.

Tom Sullivan, general manager of McCullough’s Emerald Links, which provides $25 gift certificate to listeners with correct picks on Beat the Degenerates: Chicago

Last week’s results

Winners: Bontempo and Weinberg, with Seattle. 

Winner: Cahill, with Dallas.

Winner: Skeldon with Tampa Bay

Losers: Cronick with New Orleans, Da Kipster with Chicago, Carlin with Oakland, listeners with Houston, Sullivan with Atlanta.

Good luck with the picks this week. I hope you get some bread against the spread.

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