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Craven's Corner: Betting on five NFL games with playoff implications

New Orleans Saints quarterback returned from injury last week. The Saints are battling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South title and face the Minnesota Vikings this week.

December is treating Craven’s Corner well. A 5-2 weekend moved our record this month to 16-4. Overall, we're 62-43-3 on the season. Most of our winnings came during the college football regular season, which ended last weekend with the conference championship games. An 8-1 record in December on NFL games has moved our professional record to 29-23-3. We’ll concentrate solely on the NFL this week. 

NFL

Saints -6.5 over Vikings: Simply put, the Saints care more about this game than the Vikings. New Orleans is in a divisional race with Tampa Bay. The Vikings are statistically eliminated from the playoffs. The Saints are on a two-game skid after the three-point loss to Kansas City. Drew Brees played well in his first game back from injury, passing for 234 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. Buy the half point if this line reaches seven by Friday. 

Raiders +3.5 over Dolphins: The NFL boasts a solid triple-header of NFL games on Saturday. The Dolphins travel to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders in the nightcap. Miami has won three of its last four. The only loss came against Kansas City. I’m a big believer in the future of the Dolphins, but going on the road as a favorite is never easy in the NFL. The Raiders are a scrappy squad capable of winning this game. We only need the Raiders to lose by three points or less. 

Steelers +2 over Colts: We back home underdogs. Pittsburgh is in the middle of a meltdown. The offensive line isn’t playing well and Big Ben is aging in front of our eyes. The Colts and the Titans are tied for the AFC South lead. But, readers of this column are aware of my apprehension to bet on Colts quarterback Philip Rivers. This feels like one of those games that the Steelers find a way to win despite evidence suggesting the Colts should roll. 

Seahawks ML (-125) over Rams: This might be the game of the weekend. The NFC West is on the line when these two teams clash in Seattle. We’re taking the Seahawks because we picked them to win the division before the season started. Quarterback Russell Wilson is the best player in this game. Seattle is favored by 1.5 points, but I suggest forgoing those points and taking Seattle to win outright. 

Packers -3 over Titans: Green Bay is another squad we picked to win a division before the season and that looks like money we can begin spending even if it hasn’t reached our bank accounts. Aaron Rodgers is playing at an MVP level, and the running game is helping create balance that Green Bay rarely achieves on offense. Tennessee isn’t an easy out, but an opportunity to secure home-field advantage early in the playoffs should help Green Bay win by at least three at home. 

How to bet

A quick refresher: Betting looks difficult, but it’s easy to grasp. A negative number denotes the favorite. The number after the negative represents how much money you’d need to bet to win $100. So, a -265 favorite would require a $265 bet to win you $100. Conversely, a positive number is the underdog. The number following the positive represents how much money you’d make on a $100 bet. So, a +265 bet means $100 earns you $265.

As for point spreads, the team with the negative number is a favorite. For example, Oklahoma was a -2.5 point favorite over Texas in October. The Sooners needed to win by at least 3 points to cash. Texas needed to lose by 2.5 points or fewer.

We’re using BetMGM.com as our general sports book. Remember that lines fluctuate based on bets and are subject to change before kickoff.