Too many NFL coaches are cardboard cutouts. It’s as if being boring, conservative and clueless about game management is in style. But Jim Harbaugh has a bolder style.
Harbaugh is a West Coast version of Rex Ryan. He’s got the in-your-face arrogance and tiger blood of Charlie Sheen.
He’s also got the San Francisco 49ers winning at a rate no one could have imagined. A year after finishing 6-10, the 49ers are 11-3 and in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll is a fiery gambler like Harbaugh, and that’s what takes their personal rivalry — one that began in Southern California-Stanford games — to the next level.
The Seahawks, while rallying to get to 7-7, have covered nine of their past 11 games. They have been especially good at home under Carroll.
Marshawn Lynch’s tough running has revitalized the Seattle offense and provided the balance to help quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Lynch has rushed for 1,011 yards, piling up 748 since Week 9, the most in the league over that stretch.
The San Francisco defense has a 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, but Lynch is a definite threat to bust through that barrier. All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, out since Dec. 4 with a hamstring injury, is expected to return to strengthen the 49ers.
As hot as Harbaugh had his team running for the first three months of the season, San Francisco is showing a few warning signs of wear and tear. Frank Gore has not cracked 100 yards rushing in any of the past six games, and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn Jr. might not play.
Still, I’ll go with the 49ers as 2½-point road favorites today because they have been a go-with team all season at 11-2-1 against the spread.
Harbaugh still is coaching efficient play out of quarterback Alex Smith, and San Francisco’s defense is rock solid.
The 49ers are not in the best spot, after grinding out a victory over Pittsburgh on Monday, but Harbaugh has pushed all the right buttons so far.
Four more plays for Week 16 (Home team in CAPS):
■ Raiders (+2½) over CHIEFS: It might be time for a reality check in Kansas City, where coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Kyle Orton are being hailed as the new kings after knocking off Green Bay. But this pick is based mostly on a trend. The road team is 16-2-1 ATS in the past 19 games in this AFC West series, and the Raiders are 7-0-1 ATS in their past eight trips to Arrowhead Stadium.
■ Broncos (-2½) over BILLS: It took the New England duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to stop Denver’s hot streak. The level of competition drops dramatically in this spot. Buffalo has turned into a dumpster fire while losing seven straight. It’s not going to be pretty, but Tim Tebow should find a way to get the Broncos back in the win column.
■ Giants (+3) over JETS: Expect this neighborhood rivalry between mediocre teams to be decided in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. In that case, the Giants’ Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Mark Sanchez of the Jets in pressure situations. The Giants will come out of the visitors’ locker room, so that’s a positive, because they stink as home favorites. But they have recorded wins at New England, Philadelphia and Dallas.
■ Chargers (+2½) over LIONS: What worked last week is worth trying again. San Diego is 23-2 in December with quarterback Philip Rivers as the starter, so I’ll follow that trend and one more. Detroit is 2-7 ATS in its past nine games.
Last week: 4-1 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at 702-387-2907 or email@example.com.