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Jaguars should run with limping Giants

Perceptions of NFL teams can change dramatically in a short period of time. New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is trying to fight the perception that his team is hitting another late-season slide.

At the same time, the Jacksonville Jaguars want to be viewed as contenders in the AFC South.

Both teams are 6-4, but the Giants are slumping going into today’s game against the Jaguars. New York is a 7-point home favorite, and the total is 44.

A few weeks ago, the Giants were in the discussion as the league’s top team. That changed after a 33-20 loss to Dallas and last week’s 27-17 setback at Philadelphia.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been short-handed without leading receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith.

"The Giants have got injury problems. The injuries at wide receiver have taken a lot out of the offense," said Bruce Marshall, a handicapper for The Gold Sheet and VegasInsider.com. "It’s not the same offense Eli had early in the year. The Jaguars are catching the Giants at the right time."

But Jacksonville needs to keep Giants defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora away from quarterback David Garrard, who has 17 touchdown passes.

One way to slow the pass rush is to get productive carries from running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who has 878 yards on the ground.

"Garrard is having a very good year, and Jacksonville is underrated," said Marshall, who recommends the underdog. "Until the Giants get healthy again, I’m not sure they can get over the hump."

Marshall (goldsheet.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 12 schedule:

■ Minnesota (-1½) at Washington: I thought Brad Childress might get the boot as Vikings coach, and it happened after the 31-3 loss to Green Bay last week. But the bigger problem is Brett Favre, who has thrown a league-high 17 interceptions. Minnesota (3-7) has even deeper problems than Favre. We lean to the Redskins in The Gold Sheet, but the Vikings’ coaching change to Leslie Frazier makes this game tricky.

■ Pittsburgh (-6½) at Buffalo: The Bills have shown something, winning their past two and scoring 49 points against Cincinnati, so I’m impressed. Wide receiver Steve Johnson, who has 52 receptions and nine touchdowns, has turned into a good go-to target for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Pittsburgh offensive line has a few problems. I don’t think this is going to be an easy game for the Steelers. There’s enough evidence Buffalo can compete, so I would take the points.

■ Tennessee at Houston (-6½): Rookie quarterback Rusty Smith from Florida Atlantic is starting for the Titans. This thing has unraveled internally in Tennessee with the Vince Young situation. The Titans’ season is about to go down the drain. But I don’t know if I trust the Texans, who have taken so many close losses that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a Dr. Phil game with a lot of emotional things going on with Tennessee. It’s not my favorite game.

■ Carolina at Cleveland (-9½): The Browns appear to be going back to Jake Delhomme at quarterback, and I’m not a big fan of him. Nonetheless, I’m less of a fan of what is going on in Carolina, where coach John Fox will be out after the season. The Panthers are 1-9, and eight of the losses were by double digits. You have been able to bet against Carolina with impunity. There is little evidence to support the Panthers, who don’t have an NFL quarterback.

■ Tampa Bay at Baltimore (-7½): It took me awhile to come around on the Buccaneers, but I like this team. The defensive front is better, LeGarrette Blount (441 yards rushing, 4.4 per carry) is a great find at running back, and Josh Freeman has emerged as an efficient quarterback. He has 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions, so he doesn’t make mistakes. Tampa Bay has covered seven in a row on the road. The Bucs are a go-with team.

■ Philadelphia (-3) at Chicago: You can ride Eagles coach Andy Reid again. I can’t believe the current version of Michael Vick is that much better than the old one, but he has complementary weapons who are fast, and speed kills. Vick is grasping Reid’s offense. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is not getting sacked as much now, and Chicago’s defense is functional. But the Eagles have a few more playmakers than the Bears, and that should make the difference.

■ Green Bay at Atlanta (-2): This is a potential NFC title game showdown. Both teams are on four-game winning streaks. The Packers’ defense has allowed just 10 points in the past three games. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 18-1 at home as a starter. Green Bay will test Atlanta’s home-field dominance, but I like the Falcons a little here. I would not be surprised to see Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

■ Miami at Oakland (-2½): The Raiders are 2-11 against the spread in their past 13 as home favorites. The Dolphins have been better on the road than at home. I don’t think Tyler Thigpen is a huge drop-off from Chad Henne as Miami’s quarterback. Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall (hamstring) is out. I’m kind of neutral on this game, but I’m reluctant to lay points with the Raiders. I’ll look under the total (38).

■ Kansas City (-2) at Seattle: Unfortunately, the Seahawks probably are going to win the NFC West by default. Seattle is a deeply flawed team. But the Seahawks have something going at home — they are 10-4 ATS in their past 14 — and Matt Hasselbeck gives them something at quarterback. I’ll look at Seattle and over 44½.

■ St. Louis at Denver (-4): The Broncos need to establish Knowshon Moreno and the run because that makes quarterback Kyle Orton that much better. Orton has passed for 3,023 yards and 17 touchdowns with six interceptions, and he has helped Denver put points on the board. I’m not sure you can trust the Rams on the road. My stronger recommendation is over the total (44).

■ San Diego at Indianapolis (-3): I might be the only guy in the world recommending the Colts, but that’s part of the reason. The Chargers beat a flawed Denver team Monday, and it looks as if tight end Antonio Gates might be out again. Indianapolis is tough at home and coming off a loss. San Diego is leaky on defense, so quarterback Peyton Manning will have chances to do something. Chargers coach Norv Turner provides no motivation for a team. You’ll get a kamikaze effort out of the Colts, and Manning will get revenge.

Compiled by Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.

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