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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) SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) at TENNESSEE (Over/Under 44.5)
The 49ers are surging right now, and the bandwagon appears to be filling up. In another stage of the regular season, the Titans would undoubtedly have been giving points here – at home, versus an inferior opponent. It was a no-brainer just a few weeks ago. Now, it is Kyle Shanahan’s team that is being tagged as the road favorite against a number one seed contender in the AFC. This is a classic case of the team nobody wants to play, a little bit reminiscent of the 2007 New York Giants team that went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Titans are positioned in the third seed of the AFC playoffs, but last week’s slip-up in Pittsburgh was not one that the players and coaches will be keen to review. The game appeared to be in hand, but despite limiting the Steelers offense to a paltry yardage total, Ryan Tannehill simply couldn’t overcome the deficiencies around him. The ground game is still strong, though, and will be relied upon here. This is an excellent bounce-back spot for the home team. While they may not win outright, getting +3.5 is too good to pass up.
(Saturday) CLEVELAND at GREEN BAY (-7.5) (Over/Under 45)
Nick Mullens huffed and puffed but he couldn’t manage to muster enough offense against the Raiders in an unusual Monday evening game. The Browns are now mired at 7-7 in a crowded AFC playoff field – all the way down at the 12th seed – and face the reality that winning the AFC North may be the only way to book a playoff berth. The task is a titanic one this week, however, raising the possibility that their race may be run.
Green Bay survived the analytics-inspired decision by Baltimore to go for two points in a wild game last Sunday, taking their record to 11-3 and setting them up as the team to beat in the NFC, if not in the league overall. Aaron Rodgers is at the peak of his powers but took a beating last week. He will need his dependable tackles back to hit full stride. While the Browns defense has some playmakers to cause problems, Rodgers is not one to shy away from a challenge.
Pick: Green Bay
(Saturday) INDIANAPOLIS at ARIZONA (-1) (Over/Under 49.5)
The second match-up of the Saturday double-header sees the high-flying Colts take on the nosediving Cardinals – two teams very much going in opposite directions. What the Colts have in their favor is a physical, fast style of play on defense and an efficient, grind-it-out offense led by Jonathan Taylor. The two complement each other very well and did so to great effect against New England last week. Currently locked into the fifth seed, Indy has a chance to go even with the Titans in the standings.
Arizona should be a public favorite this week. After all, they did not click their fingers and become an afterthought team overnight. There is definitely something amiss with them, however, and Kliff Kingsbury has his hands full to re-energize his charges before this tricky test. The line move here – from Arizona -5 to Arizona -1 – typically means we should avoid the number here if possible. The better team here is clearly Indianapolis, and they should have the speed and nous to put the clamps on Kyler Murray.
TAMPA BAY (-11.5) at CAROLINA (Over/Under 45)
The Saints appear to have the Bucs’ number in the Tom Brady era. Fortunately for the Bucs, they haven’t had any such problems dealing with a lackluster Carolina team. The injury to Chris Godwin will keep him out the rest of the regular season, so it appears Brady will have to muddle through with a cast of lesser lights. However, with a week of practice to drill them, the Bucs should be fine. Currently locked in as the third seed, the bye appears to be a bridge too far – but a morale-boosting win here would be just the ticket.
The Panthers have shown little to be excited about all season, and one can’t help but wonder if owner David Tepper will have lost faith in Matt Rhule by the end of the season. The Cam Newton offense is a shadow of what it used to be, and the former number one overall pick has completely lost his spark. Defensively, there are some signs of encouragement, but that side of the ball can’t make up for the offense’s ineptitude.
Pick: Tampa Bay
NY GIANTS at PHILADELPHIA (-10) (Over/Under 42)
The Joe Judge era in New York is going nowhere fast. With the news that Daniel Jones will miss the remainder of the season, it is another offseason of soul-searching and questions for this storied franchise as it desperately tries to climb out of a funk. Mike Glennon – or perhaps even Jake Fromm – will be tossed to the wolves (or Eagles) this week, and this version of the Giants is deserving of being a 10-point underdog.
Philadelphia has a short week to prepare for this game, having knocked off Washington on Tuesday night to go to 7-7. Now, with the playoffs beckoning in a crowded NFC, the pressure is on Nick Sirianni’s team to get to a winning record. Jalen Hurts produced some moments of magic in the Tuesday game, but it was the performance of the offensive line that really stood out. That type of physical mentality should stand them in good stead here.
Pick: New York
LA CHARGERS (-10.5) at HOUSTON (Over/Under 47.5)
The AFC playoff picture is crowded, but the Chargers are in there. Brandon Staley’s fourth-down play-calling has gotten a lot of attention over the past few days after the loss to the Chiefs, but the coach is committed to his ways. As Bruce Arians famously said, "no risk it, no biscuit." It is unlikely Staley will need to take quite so many gambles against a feisty but feeble Houston outfit this week – but isn’t this exactly the type of game the old Chargers would blow? Watch out.
Davis Mills has been surprisingly productive for a rookie. Indeed, last week he looked more suited for the league than his counterpart Trevor Lawrence at times. The Los Angeles defense gave up plenty of yardage to the Chiefs, but they were effective in spurts and only caved in once the injuries hit. This feels like a too-close-for-comfort affair for the visitors.
DETROIT at ATLANTA (-4.5) (Over/Under 44)
It will be intriguing to see how the Lions respond after knocking off the Cardinals in one of the upsets of the season. That victory has Vegas high on their chances here, apparently; they are getting just +4.5 points. Jared Goff has a few more games to put together to impress head coach Dan Campbell, but with a draft class lacking in a premiere quarterback, he may be stuck with Goff for another season.
The Falcons are on the outside looking in and would need an end-of-season winning streak to seal a playoff spot. The plan for the home team will be to get out to an early lead and tee off on Goff for the remainder of the game. Neither of these teams inspires much confidence, so perhaps the less said, the better.
BALTIMORE at CINCINNATI (-2.5) (Over/Under 44.5)
The Bengals and Ravens are tied on the same record (8-6), making this something of a playoff game between these AFC North rivals. Cincinnati holds the head-to-head tiebreaker based on a beatdown they doled out to Baltimore earlier in the season, but things have changed since then. Zac Taylor’s team is relying more now on a suffocating defensive brand of football to stack wins.
For the Ravens, the script has flipped as well. While Lamar Jackson could return this week, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tyler Huntley take the snaps again – and maybe even create a bit of magic. Huntley’s performance last week against the Packers was highly encouraging and should give the rest of the Ravens hope for an upset here. It is tough to trust Cincinnati in must-win spots; take the veteran side.
LA RAMS (-3) at MINNESOTA (Over/Under 49)
In an unexpected Tuesday evening affair, the Los Angeles Rams eventually overcame the lesser Seahawks – though they made hard work of it. It is not entirely surprising to see these division foes canceling each other out blow for blow, of course. Cooper Kupp continued to be the savior for Matthew Stafford, producing clutch catch after clutch catch. The test will be a different one against a desperate Minnesota outfit this week.
The win over the Bears on Monday night was far from pretty, but that’s how head coach Mike Zimmer likes it. At this point, the Vikings have a 33% chance to make the postseason, according to the New York Times’ playoff simulator. Considering the up and down nature of the season, that is not half bad for the home team. Kirk Cousins will have his hands full against the Rams pass rush, but Minnesota is the team that needs it more.
JACKSONVILLE at NY JETS (-2) (Over/Under 41)
Few would have predicted that Trevor Lawrence’s debut season in the league would be littered with such controversy. Even with Urban Meyer out of the picture, the Jaguars have a lot of rebuilding to do. Last week’s performance against Houston was not encouraging, and now they have another eminently winnable game against the Jets. Could the second time be a charm in the post-Meyer era?
For the Jets, it is a sense of déjà vu. Yet again, they are circling the drain and providing very little hope for next season. At times Zach Wilson has been passable as an NFL quarterback, but those moments have been too few and far between to get Jets fans truly excited. In a battle between the first and second picks in this year’s NFL Draft, we should be hoping for fireworks. Instead, we may get a disappointment.
Pick: New York
BUFFALO at NEW ENGLAND (-2) (Over/Under 43.5)
The Bills didn’t quite wow us last week against the Panthers, but they showed enough to be encouraged. The key to avoiding a game script like we saw in windy western New York a couple of weeks back is to get the Patriots out of their comfort zone. That, of course, is easier said than done. Weather conditions shouldn’t be much of a factor this time around, so it will be a case of Josh Allen’s athletic marvel against Bill Belichick’s defensive prowess.
Even when he was backed into a corner last week, Mac Jones impressed. He continued to fire bullet passes against a Colts defense that was teeing off on him time and again. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels admitted this week that a different tack than the run-heavy strategy of last time may be required. That sounds to me like a shot across the bow to the Bills. Defensively, New England should fancy their chances of putting the clamps on the Buffalo offense. This should be more than -2 in New England’s favor.
Pick: New England
CHICAGO at SEATTLE (-6.5) (Over/Under 44)
A battle of two franchises on the fringes sees the Bears take on the Seahawks, with both teams looking towards next season already. Russell Wilson looked a bit off at times in the Rams clash, and if there is any edge here it probably lies with the Bears due to the extra day of rest. That said, we are splitting hairs; there is little to be hopeful about from Chicago’s perspective.
That goes some way to explaining why the Seahawks have been installed as 6.5-point home favorites. Perhaps the homefield advantage they have built their brand on isn’t completely dead – certainly not in this spot. Despite that, the talent gap between these teams is not enough to justify that lofty spread. Swallow your fear and bet the Bears to cover.
PITTSBURGH at KANSAS CITY (-8.5) (Over/Under 46.5)
There has been a little bit of line movement on this game as money has poured in on the Steelers. After all, they remain one of the classic "public teams," much like the Packers. While Pittsburgh still has a pulse, they are something of a zombie team these days; not aware that they’re on their last legs and waiting for the inevitable final blow that will put them away for good. Expect a game effort from Pittsburgh, but it is hard to see the offense mustering much against the Kansas City defense.
Indeed, the Chiefs have routinely limited opposing offenses to a paltry number of points over the past 10 weeks or so. The pattern is clear: against lesser attacks like Pittsburgh, the pressure-based defense deployed by Steve Spagnuolo should prosper. If you don’t fancy the spread here, the under 46.5 looks very appealing. If Pittsburgh gets to 20 points, it would be a major upset.
Pick: Kansas City
DENVER at LAS VEGAS (-1) (Over/Under 41.5)
Two 7-7 teams face off in what could have easily been a battle for the top of the AFC West – if only the Chiefs hadn’t been so consistent. The Broncos and Raiders have put together great performances this season; it is that consistency that has eluded them. Drew Lock will likely be the starting quarterback for the visitors, news that should give some encouragement to the Raiders defense.
While Derek Carr wasn’t spectacular against the Browns, he nonetheless did enough. Back at home, the trends favor the home team to go out with a bang and put their division rivals away. It seems that the Vegas sharps are shrugging their shoulders at this game, making their hometown team only slight favorites. The Lock factor could be key.
Pick: Las Vegas
(Sunday Night) WASHINGTON at DALLAS (-10.5) (Over/Under 47.5)
Garrett Gilbert did his level best to knock off the Eagles in a rescheduled game last week, but it wasn’t enough to get the Football Team over the hump. Now, just a handful of days later, Ron Rivera’s team faces a tough test against the Cowboys. At 6-8, the game is almost up for Washington; it seems their little winning run was just to reel us in and didn’t have any real substance.
For Dallas, the current second seed in the NFC, things are looking up. Even as their vaunted offense struggles a bit, their defense has stepped up. There are still valid concerns around Dak Prescott and how recovered he really is from his calf injury, but as long as they keep winning it will fade into the background. Laying the 10.5 points doesn’t seem advisable, so a slight edge has to go to a last-gasp Washington team here.
(Monday Night) MIAMI at NEW ORLEANS (-3) (Over/Under 39)
The Dolphins are on quite a run, but this game represents their biggest challenge to their winning streak. The stunning result that the Saints produced against the Bucs – a shutout of the Tom Brady-led offense – was a stark reminder that when they turn it on defensively, they can cut the legs off any attack. The Miami offense has been a steady unit, but one has to wonder how they will fare in the pressure cooker of the Superdome.
The Saints, meanwhile, have an excellent chance to finish out the season strongly – perhaps with a three-game winning streak – to go to 10-7. That would likely be enough in the NFC to clinch a spot in the tournament. The fact the Saints are only laying three points here feels like a trap. Don’t buy into it.
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.
This week, we will focus our bets around the following lines:
- 1 NEW ENGLAND (-2) vs. BUFFALO
- 2 INDIANAPOLIS (+1) at ARIZONA
- 3 MINNESOTA (+3) vs. LA RAMS
- 4 NEW ORLEANS (-3) vs. MIAMI
With these likes in mind, here are the Week 16 selections:
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.61-1 ODDS)
- NEW ORLEANS (-3)
- MINNESOTA (+3)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.42-1 ODDS):
- INDIANAPOLIS (+1)
- NEW ENGLAND (-2)
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: New England, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans
Last Week / Season
- LAST WEEK: 10-6
- SEASON OVERALL: 103-119-1
- BEST BETS: 27-33
- PICKS OF THE WEEK: 27-38
Good luck this weekend!
Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org