NFL FORECAST: Underdog Giants merit wager against unbeaten Packers

A month ago, coach Tom Coughlin was the life of the locker-room party after the New York Giants’ upset victory at New England. A guy who gets accused of taking the fun out of the game was all smiles that day.

But the past three weeks have been about as pleasant for Coughlin as for Herman Cain. The Giants’ postseason hopes are in serious jeopardy because of a three-game losing streak.

Coughlin still has a chance to get things turned around, however. The Giants can’t handle prosperity and tend to fail a lot in the favorite’s role, but against long odds, they have done some of their best work under Coughlin.

Against the undefeated Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Giants will need to play a near-perfect game in New York, and Eli Manning will need to man up and back up his talk that he’s an elite quarterback.

The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers lets his play do the talking. He has completed 71.8 percent of his passes for 3,475 yards and 33 touchdowns. He plays with a controlled fire and rarely burns his team with mistakes, throwing only four interceptions.

Manning has issues in both areas. He often looks lackadaisical, and his decision making is lacking at some crucial times.

During the three-game slide, New York’s offense did not score a touchdown in the first half of any of the games. With a shot to stop that futility streak Monday at New Orleans, Manning threw a weak pass that was picked off in the end zone. In what was a scoreless game, the Giants lost control and got hammered, 49-24.

After Drew Brees and the Saints torched the Giants for 577 total yards, New York defensive coordinator Perry Fewell ripped his unit for a lack of effort and energy. Fewell promised to put the heat on Rodgers. While that sounds good, I’m not completely buying it, especially with defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle) out.

Still, we know the Giants are capable of slowing Rodgers and the Packers because they did it to Tom Brady in the 24-20 victory over the Patriots on Nov. 6.

Manning needs more help to move the Giants’ offense, and it appears running back Ahmad Bradshaw is set to return. If Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs get the running attack rolling, Manning can be more effective.

The proposition on the Packers (11-0) to finish the regular season 16-0 is currently “Yes” plus-160 and “No” minus-190 at Lucky’s sports books. This looks like their toughest remaining test.

The Giants are home underdogs for only the second time in the past four seasons, and Coughlin is most dangerous as a ‘dog. The line is 6½ at most books, but 7 is available at Coast Casinos, Lucky’s and Stratosphere, and more 7s should pop up as the betting public backs Green Bay on game day.

I’ll take the 7-point underdog and try to beat the Packers, who are not quite perfect (8-3) against the spread.

Four more plays for Week 13 (Home team in CAPS):

■ BEARS (-7) over Chiefs: In his first NFL start, Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie was initially shaky. But he settled down and played well in the second half of a 25-20 loss at Oakland. Chicago has covered five of its past six games. Kansas City quarterbacks Tyler Palko and Kyle Orton won’t do much against the Bears’ defense.

■ DOLPHINS (-3) over Raiders: Oakland’s offense still is without injured running back Darren McFadden. The Raiders are 5-0 ATS on the road, but this is their third trip in four weeks, and they go to Green Bay next week. Matt Moore has improved as a quarterback, and the Dolphins are getting it done defensively since their 0-7 start.

■ Bengals (+7) over STEELERS: Pittsburgh is having trouble putting away games as Ben Roethlisberger and the offense break down. The underdog role has been a good fit for Cincinnati, which is 4-1-1 ATS. The Bengals’ defense should keep them within striking range.

■ JAGUARS (+3) over Chargers: On a Monday night in late October, Jacksonville upset Baltimore as a 9½-point home underdog. San Diego has failed to win or cover six straight. Maybe the Chargers will show up for this one, but coach Norv Turner inspires no confidence.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 30-26-4

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at 702-387-2907 or myoumans@reviewjournal.com.

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