Giant momentum killers

Steve Macfarlane -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

What is it with the Minnesota Vikings' late-season slides? Last year, the Vikes started the season with six straight wins and looked like a lock to make the playoffs.

Cue the New York Giants.

A 29-17 loss to New York sent Minnesota into a tailspin. The Vikings won only three games the rest of the way, backing out of the post-season with an 18-17 loss to Arizona in Week 17.

This year, the Vikes started with five wins in their first six games.

Cue the New York Giants.

An embarrassing 34-13 loss to the Giants in Week 8 was the first of three straight for the Vikings, who have won just a pair of games since and are barely holding onto an NFC wild-card spot.

Did someone in New York put a curse on the Vikings?

Here are this week's picks.

* PITTSBURGH -10 AT N.Y. GIANTS: The Giants have it in them to keep it close. Then again, so did crosstown rival New York Jets and they failed miserably last week. Steelers 23, Giants 12.

* CAROLINA +4 AT ATLANTA: Historically, the Panthers have struggled in Atlanta. If Carolina wants to make it back to the post-season party, they'll need to shake the Georgia Dome jinx. Panthers 21, Falcons 20.

* SEATTLE +6.5 AT N.Y. JETS: Jets defensive back Reggie Tongue was burned by Jerome Bettis' halfback pass last week and will seek revenge against his former team this Sunday. The final score, though, will be determined by the ability of the defence Tongue left behind to stop New York running back Curtis Martin. Jets 26 Seahawks 20.

* DALLAS +12 1/2 AT PHILADELPHIA: The only thing you can be sure of about this game is Nicollette Sheridan won't be making another pre-game appearance. If the Falcons lose tomorrow, the Eagles will have nothing to play for with home-field advantage locked up for the playoffs. Eagles 35, Cowboys 24.

* SAN DIEGO -9 AT CLEVELAND: The Chargers may have to rely on their ground attack but neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow can stop star running back LaDanian Tomlinson. Browns fans may be grateful for white-out conditions that prevent them from seeing the on-field beating their team takes. Chargers 28, Browns 13.

* BUFFALO Pick AT CINCINNATI: Even if the Bills win their last three games and go 10-6 for the season, they may miss out on the playoffs. That won't stop them from trying. The Bengals will have a tough time stopping running back Willis McGahee. The Bills won't lay out the welcome mat for Bengals backup QB Jon Kitna. Bills 31, Bengals 17.

* JACKSONVILLE +3 AT GREEN BAY: December is a terrible month to visit Green Bay, especially when you're used to the weather in Florida. The Jags need a win to keep pace in the AFC. Packers 23, Jaguars 20.

* HOUSTON +1 AT CHICAGO: Chicago is a different team without linebacker Brian Urlacher leading the defence. Houston has enough talent on both sides of the ball to win an away game in cooler weather late in the season. Texans 24, Bears 17.

* NEW ORLEANS +7 AT TAMPA BAY: New Orleans' underachieving offence came to life against the Cowboys last week but the speedy Bucs defence should bring them back to reality. Buccaneers 28, Saints 19.

* ST. LOUIS -1 AT ARIZONA: Emmitt Smith is reportedly unhappy with the way Arizona's o-line has been coached. The Cardinals' only star player speaking out against the boss can't be a good sign. Neither is losing to the San Francisco 49ers, overtime or not. Rams 23, Cardinals 21.

* DENVER -1 AT KANSAS CITY: Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, fresh off a 100-plus-yard, two-touchdown performance as a backup, gets his first start. Looks like the former first-round pick finally took off the diapers, coach Vermeil. Chiefs 31, Broncos 30.

*TENNESSEE +2 1/2 AT OAKLAND: Chris Brown, turf toe and all, could do enough damage in the first couple of quarters to put the game out of reach before sitting out the entire second half. Oakland will be forced to play catch-up with their passing game. Titans 38, Raiders 30.

* BALTIMORE +7 1/2 AT INDIANAPOLIS: Indianapolis' offence has enough talent to overpower Baltimore's bruising defence. The Ravens offence, despite QB Kyle Boller's four-TD performance last week, won't be able to keep pace. Colts 28, Ravens 20.

* NEW ENGLAND -9 1/2 AT MIAMI: Ricky Williams says the Dolphins' troubles aren't his fault. Miami finished 10-6 last season with Ricky and are 2-11 without him so far this year. Is this kid on drugs? Patriots 30, Dolphins 10.

- - -

UPSET OF THE WEEK

* MINNESOTA -3 AT DETROIT: If only rookie running back Kevin Jones had been healthy all year to take some pressure off Detroit's soft-spoken quarterback Joey Harrington. Both should have a field day against a mistake-prone Minnesota defence. Lions 27, Vikings 24.

- - -

WEEK'S BEST BET

* SAN FRANCISCO +4 AT WASHINGTON: Clinton Portis is finally getting the hang of the Redskins offence and coach Joe Gibbs has figured out who his workhorse is. The passing game is improving as a result. Redskins 31, 49ers 7.

- - -

CHECK THE RECORD

Last week: 12-4 straight up; 7-9 against the spread. Season: 130-78 straight up; 99-98-7 ATS. Best Bet is 9-5 after Denver edged Miami. Upset of the Week is 7-7 after Tampa Bay lost a close one in San Diego. Best Bet and Upset picks are straight up.


Photos