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Here we are again this year, back for more NFL picks. It is with great pleasure that I take the reins from Jeff Pasquino after writing a guest edition last year. As someone who has won and lost their fair share of money on the NFL (and many other sports), this is bound to be a fun and unpredictable ride. Join me, won’t you?
As with the format in previous years, this article will help those of you who compete in confidence pools and in ranking selections, which may come in handy on those Las Vegas trips. Games are rated based on preference for both the point spread and other angles (such as totals or over/unders) with 1-3 “Stars”, which basically highlight the best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars are not preferred one way or the other, but will still be covered, discussed and a winner will be predicted for those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools.
Last week produced a decent result with a 9-7 finish to take the overall winning percentage for the season to 52.4%. It’s fine, but we can do better. This part of the season can be very tricky for gamblers to gauge; will certain teams give up and turn what looked like a promising bet into a dud? Perhaps some might start younger players with an eye on 2020? These are legitimate concerns and something to pay attention to throughout the week. Be wary of sudden line moves – sometimes Vegas picks up tidbits before the public.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
(Thursday) NY JETS at BALTIMORE (-14.5) (Over/Under 45)
The final act of Thursday Night Football for the 2019 season will feature the presumptive league MVP, Lamar Jackson, so we can’t be too fussy as a football populace. Spare a thought for Sam Darnold, who has quietly played solidly over the past few games and profiles as one of the league’s up-and-comers at the positions. A night game in Baltimore is always a tall task, regardless of the experience of the opposing team’s quarterback; this spot, against a juggernaut Ravens team, is particularly unedifying for the Jets.
A short week compounds the team’s problems, with the defense that gives up 25.8 points per game on the road likely to be without their key piece, Jamal Adams. Preparing for the Ravens 10 days out from a game is an unreasonable ask; to do so with a four-day turnaround may have Adam Gase pulling his hair out. The NFL world will bask in the creativity of the Baltimore offense, marvel at Jackson’s continuing feats of athletic wonder and nod along as the Jets fall to another defeat. Vegas has tempted us with this line, but the half-point makes it a stay away. Lean to the Jets getting the 14.5.
Pick: New York
NEW ENGLAND (-10) at CINCINNATI (Over/Under 40.5)
The narrative will continue to percolate this week around the NFL cognoscenti’s conversations about whether this is truly – finally – the end of the Patriots dynasty. Talking heads and radio personalities will fill the airwaves with proclamations of the doom of this franchise. And through it all, Bill Belichick will grumble something incoherent, followed swiftly by ‘We’re on to Cincinnati’. Isn’t it somewhat fitting that the Patriots are ‘on to Cincinnati’ this week after losing to the Chiefs, exactly like the last time this happened (and, according to some, the sky was falling)? History has a way of repeating itself, as much in the NFL as any other walk of life. Recent history makes poor reading for the New England defense, which has surrendered 20 points on average over the last three games; on the season, that average is 12.9.
The visit to Cincinnati will ease the burden after a tough week for the Patriots, and it is worth noting that they control their own destiny for a bye. So, in summary, they are right on track. The Bengals might offer some resistance; their defensive front is a nasty unit that could win some battles up front against the Patriots’ undermanned offensive line. Andy Dalton will struggle to find his receivers against an elite defensive backfield, however, and the chances are the talent tells as this game wears on. Since 2003, the Patriots are a league-best 41-17-0 against the spread after a loss, with an average margin of victory of 11.4.
Pick: New England
TAMPA BAY (-4 to -3.5) at DETROIT (Over/Under 47.5)
Four touchdown passes, three interceptions; it’s all in a day’s work for Jameis Winston. To his credit, he has moxie and determination about him that could endear him to Bruce Arians just enough to buy him another stint as the Buccaneers starter next season. Officially eliminated from playoff contention now, the Bucs can enjoy themselves over the final few games and build some momentum going into 2020, regrettably (for them) an all-too-common refrain towards the end of their campaigns. Vegas makes them a comfortable road favorite, a mark that is probably deserved based on the differing fortunes of these franchises.
The David Blough diehards were devastated with the performance on Sunday, but it wasn’t altogether unexpected against a fearsome Vikings front seven. The Lions have a major decision to make in the coming weeks – whether to keep or cut ties with Matt Patricia, who has been without his starting quarterback for several weeks. Detroit have been able to put up a good fight against above-average teams this season. The Bucs may not neatly fall into that category, but regardless this one feels like a bit of a toss-up. It is tough to trust Tampa Bay considering how turnover-prone Mr. Winston is, so take the points.
HOUSTON at TENNESSEE (-3) (Over/Under 48.5)
One of the standout games among the 1pm EST kick-offs, the high-flying Titans will look to continue their momentum against their division rivals. Oddly, this is the first clash of these teams this season – and they will face off again in two weeks’ time in a scheduling quirk that will provide a highly entertainment coda to the season. Ryan Tannehill has gone a long way to securing his role with the team next season, leading an offense that has averaged 38.3 points per game over the last three. Not to be outdone, the Titans defense is finally rounding into form and limited the Raiders offense despite missing their top two cornerbacks.
The Texans dropped a stink bomb at home against the Broncos last week, with many players undoubtedly trying to fend off the stench as they turn to this week. A loss to Denver at home is a blip; falling to the Titans would be a huge blow. The fact that Vegas has the Titans as a short home favorite speaks to the respect for Houston’s talent; Deshaun Watson can take over any game. The Achilles heel for the Texans is their defense, a unit that has managed to cobble together some performances, doing just enough to complement the offense. Getting sliced and diced by a rookie quarterback, though, is a reason for concern. The Titans should stay hot here – three points is not enough to discourage a bet.
DENVER at KANSAS CITY (-11.5) (Over/Under 46.5)
The Broncos can throw the kitchen sink at the Chiefs in this game, safe in the knowledge that they have absolutely nothing to lose – and yet delivering a black eye to their division rival would be sweet for them. Drew Lock is making John Elway look like a very shrewd talent evaluator after his first two starts, but to expect this to continue would be a mistake. Rookie quarterbacks go through growing pains; Lock will be no different. The Chiefs defensive backfield has been causing havoc lately and they will be full of confidence after their excellent performance in New England. It is possible the Chiefs defend Courtland Sutton the same way they did Julian Edelman, forcing Lock to make throws to other players.
Patrick Mahomes II played a veteran game in New England, not getting flustered in the face of adversity – and even delivering a resounding rallying cry of encouragement to his teammates on the sideline in a moment captured by CBS cameras. The Chiefs are giving up only 14 points per game over the last three, so Mahomes should be able to rely on the ground game and some controlled passing to keep things going. Underrating the Broncos would be a mistake, however, and even with a rookie quarterback 11.5 points seems steep.
MIAMI at NY GIANTS (-3.5) (Over/Under 48)
When the 2019 season ends, the Dolphins brass will look back and evaluate things. What they will agree is that this was a team with a fighting spirit that was desperately short on talent in key areas, but nothing that a chock full of first-round draft picks can’t solve. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a pleasure to behold every week; the man never knows when to give up on a play, sometimes to his detriment. In this dead rubber game, Fitzpatrick will keep slinging it – and the Giants probably won’t have much of an answer.
But then, will the Dolphins have an answer? Unlikely, so Vegas has correctly tabbed this as a reasonably high scoring affair with a total of 48. On Monday Night Football, Eli Manning staged a mini-career revival of sorts, rallying his team and battling into overtime as he continued to sling it downfield with the Manning posse watching on from the stands. There is a looseness about the younger Manning that has some eerie parallels to the man on the other team this week, Monsieur Fitzpatrick. These two have nothing to lose, so expect an entertaining, if scattershot, game.
PHILADELPHIA (-6) at WASHINGTON (Over/Under 40.5)
The slugfest with the Giants on Monday Night Football will not have done the Eagles any favors, not least because of the injury bug that bit them hard. A report emerged that backup quarterback Josh McCown was prepared, if called upon, to play some receiver. Yes, you read that correctly – wide receiver, Josh McCown, what is going on? A short week, combined with the extra overtime hits, makes this an excellent spot for the home team.
And yet the Redskins are, in so many ways, helplessly unequipped to contend with even a mediocre NFC team like Philadelphia. Defeating the Panthers and keeping it close with the Packers will give them confidence, though, so this is not one to simply file as a straightforward walk in the park for the Eagles. If Carson Wentz can limit the unnecessary hits he is taking and the ground game and defense can become a bigger factor, this should be a grind-it-out win. Six points is a little steep, but Washington are unlikely to score too many points, making the task easier for the birds.
SEATTLE (-5) at CAROLINA (Over/Under 48.5)
The Seahawks were comprehensively dealt with by the Rams on Sunday night, an ominous sign for a team that looked untouchable a few weeks ago when they knocked off the 49ers. Russell Wilson has been under siege for much of the season, but he has been able to produce magnificent downfield plays to compensate for it. The Rams shut that down, for the most part, as the Seahawks’ only touchdown coming on a pick-six. This week things might go a little more smoothly against a Carolina defense that hasn’t provided much in the way of resistance of late.
The Panthers suffered another embarrassing reversal last week in Atlanta, a defeat that proved they are further away from competing in the NFC than they previously would have thought. This is a team plagued by questions about the future, not a good mindset for players to be in as they play out the string. Still, this is a prideful, veteran-laden team that will not lay down without a fight. If the Seahawks survive the initial surge from the Panthers, though, it should end up being a comfortable win.
CHICAGO at GREEN BAY (-5) (Over/Under 41)
The Bears have a decision to make on one Mitchell Trubisky. The oft-criticized quarterback has strung together a few good performances, enough to make even the most hard-hearted critics reconsider. When Trubisky uses his legs, which he did often last season on their playoff run, he is a very dangerous prospect for defenses. There appears to be a little more pep in his step as well, which has helped tremendously. There is still the sense that he will shrink on the big stage, and this clash in Lambeau Field certainly qualifies. Chicago is still alive in the playoff hunt, but their schedule over the last three (at GB, vs. KC, at MIN) is brutal.
The Packers haven’t exactly been lighting the league on fire of late. Yes, they are taking care of business when they should, but they are certainly among the second tier of NFC playoff contenders by most experts’ reckoning. The home crowd was restless at times last week as they struggled to put away the Redskins; this week the pressure is ratcheted up a few notches against a division rival that they barely defeated back in Week 1. That game was a poor one for Trubisky, while Aaron Rodgers struggled against the Chicago pass rush. It could be a similar story here. The Bears get the slight nod as the five-point line feels a little much for two evenly matched teams, despite what their records may say.
MINNESOTA (-3) at LA CHARGERS (Over/Under 45.5)
Since 2014, the Vikings have covered the spread as an away favorite just 52.6% of the time. There is no doubt they are more comfortable in US Bank Stadium, but a jaunt over to L.A. won’t do them any harm – and at this time of year it will be welcome. It is strange that Vegas has made the Vikings just three-point favorites considering the contrasting fortunes of these teams. When you scan through the rosters, however, the talent gap isn’t that large. There may also be some lingering Kirk Cousins doubters among the Vegas line setters that affected this number.
The Chargers offense got back on the horse last week – and in some style. Minnesota’s defense is a strong unit, but they are not immune to giving up chunk plays in the passing game. The numbers back that up, with the Vikings giving up 14.2 points per game at home compared to 23.4 on the road. The opportunity is there for a Chargers upset but placing faith in a team that has failed to finish games is not a smart bet to make. Expect offensive fireworks to go off, no doubt ending in a Chargers-gonna-Charger mishap.
JACKSONVILLE at OAKLAND (-6) (Over/Under 45.5)
The Raiders are not officially dead yet in the playoff hunt, but they basically are. Jon Gruden’s team has played with passion and power this season, but they have been sorely lacking in talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. As rebuilding processes go, he and Mike Mayock have done a stand-up job. This game will be especially poignant as it will be the Raiders’ final home game in Oakland before they make the move to Las Vegas. There will be an added incentive, therefore, for the Raiders players to go out on a high – and they couldn’t ask for a better opponent.
The argument could be made that Jacksonville are playing like the worst team in the league. Over the last three games they have given up an average of 38.3 points per game, their quarterback situation is in flux, their offensive line is not cohesive and their defense is, well, absent. There should be opportunities for their offense to get back on track against Oakland’s defense, but the story here ends only one way. Vegas could hardly have made this line high enough but laying the six points in this spot is more than palatable. Just win, baby.
CLEVELAND (-2.5) at ARIZONA (Over/Under 46.5)
Tumult and controversy seem to follow the Browns everywhere this season. Within moments of the victory over Cincinnati, reporters weren’t fixating on the performance but on the comments Baker Mayfield made about Odell Beckham Jr and the training staff. The cloud that hangs over the team is real and is undoubtedly playing on the minds of some players in an essentially lost season. A strong finish would go a long way to keeping head coach Freddie Kitchens in situ, but there are questions about his tenure and the team’s discipline that won’t sit well with general manager John Dorsey.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are smoothly heading towards the end of the season, unburdened from the pressures of potential head coaching openings. They have no general malaise about their franchise like their opponents this week. While neither team has anything to lose per se in this game, the Cardinals have been on a skid and will be keen to give their home fans something to cheer about. The health of Kyler Murray – he hasn’t looked right since sustaining that soft tissue injury – remains a concern but catching points at home against an arguably comparable team talent-wise seems like a good bet.
LA RAMS at DALLAS (-3 to pick) (Over/Under 47)
The wild swing in the line for this high-stakes clash is fascinating, with the implication being that a lot of money has come in on the Rams. This is a classic overreaction by the market, which is usually a good time to go with the team that was originally the favorite. The truth is that Dallas are not as putrid as they have shown recently, while the Rams are not as stellar as they showed us last week; it is somewhere in the middle. The chatter in Dallas around Jason Garrett’s future is a major distraction, certainly, but a three-point tilt seems a bit too much.
Credit must go to the Rams for reviving their season with such panache and style against a quality opponent like Seattle, but the team is just 16-16-1 (50%) against the spread after a win under Sean McVay. This will be a huge test for the Cowboys, but Dak Prescott has shown an ability to keep pace in high-scoring games this year – and this game fits the bill. Nothing but a win will do here for the Cowboys; every slip-up gives the Eagles another in. Last week the Cowboys were three points better than the Rams; now they are a pick ‘em. The logic there is fishy.
ATLANTA at SAN FRANCISCO (-11) (Over/Under 46.5)
Atlanta took care of business in convincing fashion last week at home, sweeping aside their ailing division rivals Carolina with ease. Reaching half of the 40 points they scored last week in San Francisco seems like a pipe dream, however, so Matt Ryan may need to subsist on halted drives, making some tight-window throws along the way. Dan Quinn may get the ax at the end of the season, but his team is fighting hard – that much is obvious. How much of a fight are they likely to mount against a red-hot team that is gunning to secure the number one seed?
In some ways this is a good spot for Atlanta, especially catching 11 points. Then you look at the underlying statistics for the 49ers – 8-4-1 against the spread this season with an average margin of victory of 12.9 points. Suddenly the 11-point line doesn’t seem so outlandish. Much like the Texans and the Broncos last week, though, this is a classic let down spot for the home team, who face tough NFC West games in the next two weeks against the Rams and Seahawks. Trap game? Oh yes.
(Sunday Night) BUFFALO at PITTSBURGH (-1.5) (Over/Under 37)
The flexed Sunday Night Football clash sees the Bills, who rarely get their primetime fix, take on the Steelers, a team used to the limelight. The Bills are currently locked into the fifth seed, while the Steelers are the sixth seed, but this feels like a bigger occasion for the road team. After all, with how much of a swoon the Patriots are enduring, it is still possible that Buffalo could draw even with them in the win column and perhaps overtake them when they meet again. For the Steelers, this will be an excellent showcase for their defense and the legions of Duck fans, but they will not be any better than the fifth seed. They have nothing to lose, really.
Sometimes pedigree can be a decisive factor in these primetime affairs, so using that logic it is advantage Steelers. The Bills offense will struggle to gain momentum against a defense that is routinely strangling the life out of opponents and making their offenses look pathetic. Josh Allen has kept the interceptions to a minimum of late, but that script could easily flip. Vegas still isn’t giving the Steelers enough respect.
(Monday Night) INDIANAPOLIS at NEW ORLEANS (-8) (Over/Under 45.5)
After what should be a highly entertaining Sunday slate, Monday Night Football delivers a more routine affair as the Saints host the Colts. Previous iterations of this clash would have pitted Drew Brees against Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning; now, it is a different story with Jacoby Brissett doing his level best to prop up an offense missing its primary playmaker in T.Y. Hilton. If the speedster returns, suddenly things become a lot more interesting; it could even move the line a half-point or so. Overall, though, Vegas has this line correct.
The Saints may have fallen to the 49ers in a game of the season contender last week, but they still have everything to play for. Securing a bye is especially important for them, a team that feeds off its home crowd like few others. Overtaking the Packers for the number two seed is the priority, and they can take a step in the right direction to finish off their season in the Superdome on a high. Expect Sean Payton to emphasize the running game, a weakness of the offense in recent weeks.
Pick: New Orleans
Once again this year this article will give out not only the Best Bets but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 Star scale. The more stars, the bigger the emphasis on that side of the game.
Playoff places will be won and lost over the next few weeks, and time is running out for the teams on the bubble. Week 14 proved to be a mixed bag for yours truly, but there is no better way to bounce back than with a clean sweep. With a lot of efficient lines this week – and few open to teasers – we are going to focus on the best spreads:
- 1 PITTSBURGH (-1.5) vs. BUFFALO
- 2 TENNESSEE (-3) vs. HOUSTON
- 3 CHICAGO (+5) at GREEN BAY
- 4 MIAMI (+3.5) vs. NY GIANTS
With these likes in mind, here are the Week 15 selections:
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- 2-TEAM SPREAD BET (2.5-1 ODDS)
- MIAMI (+3.5)
- CHICAGO (+5)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- 2-TEAM MONEY LINE BET (1.89-1 ODDS):
- PITTSBURGH (-135)
- TENNESSEE (-155)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- 3-TEAM SPREAD BET (4-1 ODDS)
- PITTSBURGH (-1.5)
- TENNESSEE (-3)
- CHICAGO (+8) – 3-POINT TEASER
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Chicago, Miami, Dallas
Last Week / Season
- LAST WEEK: 9-7
- SEASON OVERALL: 109-99 (52.4%)
- BEST BETS: 27-26 (50.9%), last week 2-2
- PICK OF THE WEEK: 36-29 (55.3%), last week 2-3
Good luck this weekend!
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