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Here we are again this year, back for more NFL picks. It is with great pleasure that I begin my third season writing this column. 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.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
(Thursday) PITTSBURGH at MINNESOTA (-3) (Over/Under 44.5)
The saying goes that football is a game of inches, and that was certainly the case on Sunday as the Steelers outlasted the Ravens after a failed two-point conversion. The result, despite a so-so performance from Ben Roethlisberger, leaves Mike Tomlin’s team at 6-5-1 and on the edge of the playoff picture. The AFC is full of teams in and around Pittsburgh’s level; from this point, it will be about which teams can put together a bit of positive momentum.
The Vikings know a little bit about the power of momentum, but it went decidedly against them on Sunday in Detroit as they lost to their previously winless division rival. The injury to Adam Thielen puts the offense on the back foot, and it remains to be seen what happens with Dalvin Cook. On a short week, the edge usually goes to the home team, but laying three points with the Vikings is a tricky proposition.
LAS VEGAS at KANSAS CITY (-9.5) (Over/Under 49.5)
The Raiders dropped a heartbreaker last week despite the solid effort of Derek Carr. Offense was hard to come by, and they came out on the wrong side in one of those either-or games. At 6-6, they are a team that has been a coin flip every week. If there is anything we can rely on in this clash, however, it is that the Chiefs manhandled the Raiders in their meeting a few weeks ago. So comprehensive was the mauling that Kansas City’s offense was widely hailed as being revived, alive, and kicking once again.
The script is unlikely to be flipped here; in fact, it could end up being a different one entirely. Since Week 6, the Chiefs have gotten their act together defensively and have routinely stuffed opponents. That pattern was repeated last week on Sunday night against the Broncos. Kansas City’s offense is still in low gear, but the defense has very much picked up the slack. Perhaps that is what they need: less Mahomes magic and more Mahomes matriculation. Laying almost 10 points at home, the points spread tax is back but seems a little rich to jump on.
Pick: Las Vegas
NEW ORLEANS (-6) at NY JETS (Over/Under 43)
The Saints are well back in the NFC playoff race but could find a way to put a run together and book an improbable berth. That is, of course, if they can get their key offensive linemen and Alvin Kamara healthy again. This has been a campaign of "if only" for New Orleans; after all, they’ve knocked off some heavyweights along the way. In another year, things could have been different. As it is, they have the lay-up that is the Jets this week.
While Zach Wilson has shown decent progress – at times – his overall play continues to put the Jets in jeopardy. The infrastructure in New York is not yet where it needs to be for Wilson to prosper. Anything but a Saints victory here would be a shock, but this might be a nice game for Robert Saleh to show off his defensive acumen and create a game plan to shut down Taysom Hill. The +6 points is tempting, but only to a point.
Pick: New Orleans
JACKSONVILLE at TENNESSEE (-10.5) (Over/Under 44)
The Trevor Lawrence rookie campaign will go down as one of the most disappointing from a number one overall pick in quite some time. There is very little to get excited about when dissecting the Jaguars’ fortunes, and who knows whether Urban Meyer will even be there next season. Overall, it is a hot mess and there is little reason to believe, even in Tennessee’s somewhat weakened state, that Jacksonville can put up much of a fight.
The Titans will come off the bye in a healthier state, but how much healthier is the question. Still occupying the number two seed in the playoff picture, their destiny is very much in their hands. If Derrick Henry can return as expected for the playoff run, suddenly they would be a very feisty team indeed. Until then, they will have to make do with the players they have, overcoming the injury bug and stacking some more wins. Expect a focused team off the bye to demolish the Jaguars.
BALTIMORE (-2) at CLEVELAND (Over/Under 42.5)
Despite the loss in Pittsburgh, the Ravens are in a good position to make the postseason and cause problems when they get there – perhaps. John Harbaugh’s team has not exactly been on fire lately, and even the recent victory over the Browns took a couple of miracle plays by Lamar Jackson. The quarterback has been far from his best lately, with accuracy issues creeping in and affecting the offense’s rhythm. The Browns defense has the players to cause confusion for Jackson. Could this be a banana skin type of game where the Browns can level up the season series?
That all depends on the effectiveness not only of the Browns defense, but of Baker Mayfield. Having the week off to rest his shoulder injury will help, but he will still be favoring it and taking hits on it. In other words, the injury is not going anywhere. The Vegas sharps are demonstrating their lack of faith in Cleveland by making Baltimore the early road favorites, but that seems a little off base. There’s fight left in this dog yet.
ATLANTA at CAROLINA (-3) (Over/Under 43)
Two NFC South also-rans will duel it out on Sunday for the chance to remain relevant in the playoff picture. Tampa Bay will waltz to the division title, but Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule have their own dance to navigate. The recent meeting between these teams saw the Carolina defense strangle the life out of the Falcons, a pattern that has been repeated in recent weeks as Matt Ryan has consistently struggled.
The bye week proved to be eventful for Carolina, with offensive coordinator Joe Brady getting his marching orders and Christian McCaffrey being ruled out for the season (again). The football gods have not been smiling down on the Panthers recently, but this appears to be an ideal spot for them to bounce back. Expect Chuba Hubbard to get plenty of work, with Cam Newton contributing in fits and starts as well against his hometown team.
DALLAS (-5) at WASHINGTON (Over/Under 49)
It may seem like a distant memory at this point, but the Cowboys beat the Saints on Thursday night last week to reaffirm their credentials as a team to be reckoned with in the NFC. It wasn’t that the victory in New Orleans recalibrated opinions; more specifically, it reminded us of what Mike McCarthy’s team (whether he is on the sideline or not, apparently) is capable of. The return of CeeDee Lamb was a major factor in the resurgence, and he will be a handful for the Washington secondary this week.
If the season ended today, Ron Rivera’s team would be the sixth seed in the playoffs at 6-6. While that is an interesting coincidence from a numerical point of view, the more noteworthy thing is how well the Football Team is playing of late. It is not always pretty – it never is with Rivera’s teams – but they find a way to get it done. Knocking off the Cowboys would be the win of the season if they could pull it off. It may take a Taylor Heinicke miracle, but the five points seems tempting here.
SEATTLE (-7.5) at HOUSTON (Over/Under 43)
Seattle’s fighting spirit came back last week in a tight victory over the 49ers as their dominant run against that particular franchise continued. The season will not have a happy ending for the Seahawks – there may be wholesale changes to come, in fact – but that will not bother them this week. Facing the lowly Texans and their associated laundry list of problems will put Seattle’s issues into perspective somewhat. Expect Russell Wilson and the passing game to build a lead before leaning on their ground game to finish it out.
Houston will offer resistance to a point, but Tyrod Taylor’s feistiness can only take them so far. Seattle’s defense has been subpar on many occasions this season, so it is within the range of outcomes for Houston to keep it close. Then again, the talent gap is such that it should be a walk in the park for Seattle. Let’s not get carried away with a plucky home underdog.
DETROIT at DENVER (-8) (Over/Under 42.5)
At least they won’t finish winless. The sigh of relief from the Motown faithful on Sunday was mighty and long overdue, as the Lions broke a winless streak dating back to late last season. Much of the blame rests on how the Vikings played them in the final moments, but they won’t care one iota. The test for Detroit will be turning around this week and focusing on Denver. Typically, we see a letdown after a team produces a memorable win like that.
The fact that the Broncos are laying eight points, and not the usual seven, is taking that trend into account. Even at the 12th seed currently in the AFC playoff picture, at 6-6 they are not out of it. If they can get over their inconsistencies and put together some solid performances, the prize is waiting for them. The Lions should be easily swept aside, but eight points is too much to cough up.
NY GIANTS at LA CHARGERS (-10) (Over/Under 45.5)
The Chargers draw the Giants on a good week and, after besting the Bengals, L.A. has a great chance to go to 8-5 and all but secure a wildcard berth. There will be the usual boisterous contingent of away fans in the stands to blunt the Chargers’ homefield advantage, but the 10-point spread reflects how much more talented they are than the G-Men – and that should tell on the field.
Joe Judge’s team will trot out Mike Glennon once again at quarterback, which could mean a feeding frenzy for the Chargers’ fired-up defense. The Giants’ best chance might be to play it close to the vest, rely on their defense, and let the Chargers make the mistakes they seem to have hardwired into their DNA. Why does this game feel like it will come down to a last-second field goal?
Pick: New York
BUFFALO at TAMPA BAY (-3) (Over/Under 52.5)
The Bills were battered and bruised by the Patriots’ rushing attack on Monday night, as Bill Belichick, like a savvy Madden player, kept mashing the same buttons. The funny thing was that the Bills couldn’t stop it – at least not consistently enough. The result relegates Buffalo to the seventh seed and, with the tiebreaker in place, unlikely to overcome the Patriots for the division title at this point. It doesn’t get any easier this week as they travel to Tampa Bay, where curiously they are getting just three points.
On paper, the Bills are still living off their 2020 reputation. While the team has grit, they are simply not at the same level. Josh Allen is not making the same wow plays. Tom Brady and the Bucs, however, have been doing nothing but making short work of teams, getting into their groove at just the right time. Grab the -3 while you can.
Pick: Tampa Bay
SAN FRANCISCO at CINCINNATI (-1) (Over/Under 47)
This flexed game is an intriguing clash between playoff hopefuls, as the 49ers look to shrug off their loss to the Seahawks and get their season back on track. George Kittle put on an absolute show last week and could dominate Cincinnati’s porous defense, a unit that was giving up yardage for fun last week. The play of Jimmy Garoppolo is concerning, but Kyle Shanahan will not be going away from him. Occupying the 7th seed in the NFC playoffs, the 49ers should be quietly confident of causing problems here.
For the Bengals, the mantra this week will be execution. A couple of plays got away from them last week, notably the bobble by Jamarr Chase, and they quickly found themselves in a hole they could not escape from. The key will be getting Joe Mixon grinding out yardage early on and taking advantage of each possession given how much the 49ers possess the football. Expect an incredibly tight affair; in that situation, it is best to take the points.
Pick: San Francisco
(Sunday Night) CHICAGO at GREEN BAY (-13) (Over/Under 44)
The Bears are in primetime for what feels like the ninth time this season. It could end up being the farewell ceremony for Matt Nagy as head coach depending on how aggressive the Chicago front office wants to be. It remains to be seen whether Justin Fields can return from injury, but the Bears could use his mobility in a match-up like this against a sturdy Packers front seven. Andy Dalton’s limitations were exposed by Arizona in an embarrassing display last week.
Whoever the Bears roll out at quarterback, it is unlikely to matter much in the face of the consistency of Green Bay. Well rested off the bye, this is an ideal opportunity for the Pack to reassert themselves and prepare for the playoffs. A bye is still within their reach given that they have the tiebreaker over the number one seed Cardinals; expect no mercy here against their division rival.
Pick: Green Bay
(Monday Night) LA RAMS at ARIZONA (-3) (Over/Under 52)
The Rams got back on track last week in a predictably ho-hum game against the moribund Jaguars, but that tells us very little. What will be revealing is how they perform against a Cardinals defense that few are talking up. They should be, however; this is a unit that routinely bamboozles quarterbacks and has been instrumental in their surge to a 10-2 record. L.A.’s execution has to be crisp to avoid the Red Sea overwhelming them.
As for the Cardinals, they recorded an impressive victory in sloppy conditions against the Bears. If they continue winning, of course, they will not have to leave the comfort of their domed stadium for the playoffs. That should be the focus for the final weeks of the season – taking care of business and locking up what could be a ticket to the Super Bowl if all goes according to plan. A healthier Kyler Murray is in an excellent spot here.
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.
This week, we will focus our bets around the following lines:
- 1 TAMPA BAY (-3) vs. BUFFALO
- 2 ARIZONA (-3) vs. LA RAMS
- 3 WASHINGTON (+5) vs. DALLAS
- 4 CAROLINA (-3) vs. ATLANTA
With these likes in mind, here are the Week 14 selections:
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.61-1 ODDS)
- WASHINGTON (+5)
- CAROLINA (-3)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.42-1 ODDS):
- ARIZONA (-3)
- TAMPA BAY (-3)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- 4-TEAM MONEY LINE (7-1 ODDS)
- ARIZONA – FOR THE WIN
- TENNESSEE – FOR THE WIN
- TAMPA BAY – FOR THE WIN
- WASHINGTON – FOR THE WIN
- CAROLINA – FOR THE WIN
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Washington, Carolina
Last Week / Season
- LAST WEEK: 6-8
- SEASON OVERALL: 86-106-1
- BEST BETS: 24-28
- PICKS OF THE WEEK: 24-33
Good luck this weekend!
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