Back 'Skins in must-win clash


Win or lose tonight, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has made a sensational first impression for the Washington Redskins.

His coronation would come in leading the Redskins (9-6) past the Dallas Cowboys (8-7) in an all-or-nothing clash for the NFC East crown. For the opposing quarterback, Tony Romo, it's either win or face the critics at the end of another failed season.

In the same situation a year ago, Romo and the Cowboys folded on the road against the New York Giants, who took the division and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Las Vegas handicapper Mike Scalleat said he expects this NFL regular season to end in similar fashion, and he's backing RG3 and the Redskins as 3-point home favorites. The line is 3½ at some sports books.

"I can't side with Romo in a must-win game," Scalleat said. "Romo has been hot lately, and he's due for a bad game. Home teams are typically strong in the last week, and in a must-win game, I think you've got to go with the home team.

"The Redskins have the better coach and a better running attack, and that will be important if the weather is not that good."

Griffin has passed for 3,100 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions, and also has 752 yards and six scores on the ground. Alfred Morris has piled up 1,413 yards rushing to boost coach Mike Shanahan's offense.

Washington has won six consecutive games, including 38-31 at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, when Griffin dazzled with four touchdown passes.

Scalleat is 45-32-3 in the LVH SuperContest and used the Redskins, Dolphins, Colts, Vikings and Saints as his five plays for Week 17.

A fourth-place finisher in the SuperContest in 2007, Scalleat scouts the rest of today's schedule:

■ New York Jets at Buffalo (-3½): This is an ugly game to try to handicap. Mark Sanchez is back in as the Jets' quarterback, and he has been a turnover (17 interceptions, seven lost fumbles) waiting to happen this season. With two offenses that don't scare anybody, I lean under the total of 39. At minus-3, I probably would go with the Bills. But I don't have an opinion on this one.

■ Miami at New England (-10): For the Patriots to move up in the AFC and get a first-round bye, they need Houston to lose at Indianapolis in an early game. If the Texans win, this is not a big game for New England, and maybe coach Bill Belichick will sit some starters. I don't know if Belichick would do that, but it's possible. The Patriots won the first meeting 23-16 on Dec. 2, and they have not covered a lot of games (8-7 against the spread). This line looks too high, and it could come down to if Houston wins. I like the Dolphins.

■ Baltimore at Cincinnati (-2½): The Ravens clinched the AFC North title last week. The Bengals are the No. 6 seed in the playoffs no matter what. Baltimore's defense is still banged up, and linebacker Ray Lewis won't play again this week. I would go with Cincinnati at home, but it's not a game I'll bet.

■ Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-6): The Steelers are 7-8, so coach Mike Tomlin will want to finish the season on a positive note. Third-string quarterback Thad Lewis will start for the Browns, who have no motivation. Pittsburgh's play is so inconsistent, it's a hard team to figure. But I'll go with the Steelers because they lost the first game at Cleveland and will play hard to finish .500.

■ Houston (-7) at Indianapolis: It's going to be an emotional game for the Colts with coach Chuck Pagano coming back. The place is going to be electric, and I think the home 'dog can hang in and win the game. Running back Arian Foster (irregular heartbeat) will play for the Texans, but they have had trouble scoring lately.

■ Jacksonville at Tennessee (-4½): These teams are a combined 7-23, so there's no reason for the offenses to hold anything back. It appears running back Chris Johnson will play for the Titans, who allowed 55 points at Green Bay last week. Both defenses are terrible. I'm going to recommend over the total of 42.

■ Philadelphia at New York Giants (-7): The Giants need to win and get a lot of help to make the playoffs, but it's not going to happen. I can't lay this many points with the Giants, who didn't show up the past two weeks. It's probably Andy Reid's last game as Eagles coach, and several guys are playing for jobs next year. Michael Vick is returning at quarterback, and I think Philadelphia will play well. I'll take the points with the Eagles.

■ Chicago (-3) at Detroit: I have a feeling the Lions are going to find a way to finish on a positive note. The Bears (9-6) can get into the playoffs if they win and the Vikings lose in the afternoon. But their defense is banged up, and beating a terrible Arizona team last week didn't prove much. Detroit is 4-11 after losing seven straight games. Matthew Stafford needs 305 yards passing to reach 5,000, and Calvin Johnson is 108 yards receiving from 2,000. I like the Lions to go out with a win.

■ Green Bay (-3½) at Minnesota: The Vikings lost the first meeting by nine points, but Christian Ponder threw two costly interceptions and Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards. Minnesota (9-6) is in the playoffs with a win, so expect a great effort from the home 'dog. The Packers are trying to secure a first-round bye in the NFC. I like the Vikings. I think the game is a little more important to them. Peterson could have another big game against the Green Bay defense.

■ Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-3½): This game means absolutely nothing to the Falcons, the top seed in the NFC at 13-2. Atlanta coach Mike Smith said he's going to play his starters, but he might not play everybody. The Buccaneers fell apart, but they have a rookie coach and he'll try to get them to bounce back. I think Tampa Bay could cover the number.

■ Carolina at New Orleans (-5): I can't see the Panthers stopping the Saints. Drew Brees has seven touchdown passes with no interceptions in the past two games. New Orleans is another team looking to finish 8-8. I've been on Carolina a lot lately, but I don't think Cam Newton can score enough to keep up with Brees.

■ Kansas City at Denver (-16): Look under the total (42). Peyton Manning will get the Broncos out to a lead, then they will slow it down and go to the ground game to run the clock. I can't see the Chiefs scoring more than 10 points.

■ Oakland at San Diego (-7): Is either team going to show up for this game? The Chargers know this is the end for coach Norv Turner. Their win over the Jets last week doesn't mean anything. The Raiders have players auditioning for jobs, and it's a division rivalry, so I'll lean to the underdog. But it's not a play for me.

■ Arizona at San Francisco (-16½): The 49ers are a half-game behind Green Bay for the No. 2 seed, and they can clinch the NFC West. After the blowout loss at Seattle, coach Jim Harbaugh will motivate his team to bounce back. I can't see the Cardinals, who are starting fourth-string quarterback Brian Hoyer, scoring much. I might look under the total (39), but I won't bet Arizona.

■ St. Louis at Seattle (-10½): The Rams are tough as underdogs for coach Jeff Fisher, and they are 6-1 ATS on the road. St. Louis is 7-7-1 straight up and 4-0-1 in the division. I would consider playing the 'dog getting this many points, but I hate to bet against the Seahawks, who are 7-0 ATS at home.

COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

 

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