The folks in Vegas were on their game last week as I posted a 6-7-3 mark against the spread. 96-116-11 is my record for the season. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Happy Holidays everyone!
Colts at Ravens (-13.5) – All Baltimore has to do for a return to the playoffs is beat the Colts and Bengals and have Buffalo lose one of its final two games.
This is a huge amount of points to swallow, but the Colts are just plain bad. Baltimore’s only loss in the span of more than a month was in Pittsburgh as time expired. Other than that, they have ran the ball and played defense to beat teams into submission. Indianapolis certainly isn’t in a position to stop that trend. Despite being pesky all year long, it seemed their last bit of fight went out the window in the second half of last week’s loss. Bal 31 Ind 13
Vikings (-9) at Packers– Now eliminated from playoff contention, the Packers made the wise decision to shut down Aaron Rodgers for the rest of the year. Even so, Brett Hundley had some good moments while Rodgers was out injured.
Minnesota is not a flashy football team, but they are very complete. The Vikings still have everything to play for as they try to secure home field advantage in the NFC playoffs, but the Packers would love to make life difficult by hanging a late-season loss on their division rival. That will not happen, but the Packers as 9.5 point underdogs at Lambeau Field is one of the stronger best of the week. Min 27 GB 24
Falcons at Saints (-5.5) – The three horse NFC South race will likely be down to two after this one. Atlanta’s inconsistency is still concerning. They ran Tampa Bay out of the building for most of the game last Monday night and still had to rely on a missed field goal to escape with a win. This team is good, but not as good as New Orleans or Carolina.
The Saints got a little too cute at the end of the game in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Do not expect Sean Payton and Drew Brees to make the same mistake twice. Mark Ingram and Alvin Karmara will both be healthy for this matchup. This is a key difference from a few weeks ago. The Saints approach to winning football games is safer and more consistent. NO 28 Atl 21
Bills at Patriots (11.5) – The fact that a team like Buffalo is holding down a playoff spot speaks to what a dismal year the entire AFC is having. Buffalo will need to win at least one of its final two games to end the longest ongoing playoff drought in major American pro sports. Ever since Nathan Peterman briefly became the starter, this team has not played well.
To their credit, they have still managed to find ways to win, which is more than most of their counterparts can say. Even so, they do not have the firepower to go on the road to New England and trouble the reigning Super Bowl champions who got a huge but controversial win to take control of the entire conference last week. NE 31 Buf 17
*Browns at Bears (-6.5) – Unless Pittsburgh is in a situation where they can rest starters next week, this is Cleveland’s last best chance to avoid going winless. This pick has nothing to do with scheme or matchups.
It has everything to do with the fact that Chicago is not a good team and that the Cleveland defense is on pace to give up over 100 points less than the 2008 Lions who became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Browns have played too hard and been so close to win so many times this year to go winless. Somehow, they will find a way. Cle 17 Chi 14
*Broncos at Redskins (-3.5) – As the season winds down, the game of quarterback musical chairs continues in Denver. It will be Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch this week.
Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Broncos, their defense has given up just four touchdowns this month at two of them were off short fields created by turnovers. Combine that with the fact that Washington’s offensive line has been held together with duct tape all year long, and the Broncos are well-equipped for a minor upset here. Den 20 Was 17
Lions (-4.5) at Bengals- It has all but been confirmed that this is the last home game for Marvin Lewis as Bengals head coach. Lewis never could get the franchise over the hump, but he made football relevant in Cincinnati again. For that reason, it would be nice to see his players play hard, send him out a winner, and muck up the playoff picture in the process. However, Cincinnati has been outscored 67-14 in their last two weeks. Thus, there is no reason to think that will happen. Det 28 Cin 17
Chargers (-6.5) at Jets– The Chargers laid an egg in a big game last week. A pattern that has become all-too-familiar to that fan base over the last 15 or so years. They still have miniscule playoff hopes and having Philip Rivers under center ensures that this team will continue playing hard.
Bryce Petty and the Jets surprisingly gave New Orleans a fistfight last week. New York has been a good bet as an underdog this year. They have managed to beat Kansas City and Jacksonville while covering against teams like New England and Atlanta. The Los Angeles pass rush will be too much for the Jets to overcome. They will not win, but their season-long trend of playing talented teams tough will continue. Lac 24 Nyj 21
Rams (-6.5) at Titans- Tennessee is still very much a part of the AFC playoff conversation. Thus, this is the worst possible time for them to be playing their worst football of the year.
Ever since about October, Mike Mullarkey has struggled to get his team to play well on both sides of the ball at the same time. Two weeks ago they gave up just 12 points and lost. Last week, they scored 23 points and still came up short. If you are not playing well, the Rams may be the last team you want to face at the moment.
Even if the Titans manage to contain Sean McVay’s high powered offense, there is no indication that the offense can score enough points to win. This means that Tennessee is also in trouble if this game turns into a shootout. Either way, the Rams coast here. Lar 30 Ten 20
Dolphins at Chiefs (-10)- After teasing the entire Miami fan base by leading an upset of the mighty Patriots, the grumpy and inconsistent version of Jay Cutler made a return last week in Buffalo. With Miami now needing nothing short of a miracle to reach the playoffs, he is probably wishing he would have kept his broadcasting gig.
Miami’s cause is not helped by the fact that Kansas City is finding some of its early-season form after routing division rivals to reestablish control of the AFC West. The Raiders and Chargers offenses have been held under 20 points in recent weeks by the Chiefs. Miami’s offense is not as good as those offenses. Add in the fact that Kareem Hunt has put up consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing, and this game could get ugly. KC 34 Mia 17
Bucs at Panthers (-10) – Carolina has scored over 30 points in four of the last five games, but the defense has allowed teams to make things interesting late in the games. The Bucs are still fighting hard despite a season that started with such high hopes turning out to be a disaster. The pattern continues and Tampa Bay gets a garbage time touchdown to cover the spread, but the Panthers clinch a playoff spot. Car 30 TB 23
Jaguars (-4) at *49ers– Jacksonville is a legitimate contender that will cause problems for any opponent in the AFC playoffs. This pick has more to do with San Francisco and Jimmy Garoppolo. The former Tom Brady understudy is still undefeated as a starting quarterback in his career. In his three starts with San Francisco, he has limited turnovers while shredding three solid defenses. This is just a case of a team running into a hot quarterback. As good as it is, the Jacksonville defense has not ran into many of those this year. SF 24 Jac 17
Giants at Cardinals (-3.5) – Two bad teams are doing battle for nothing but pride in this one. For the NFL to have so few meaningless games this late in the season is a great thing. The Giants have looked a little more presentable since Eli Manning got his job back, but not much. They are ready for the offseason.
Meanwhile, Arizona is still plugged in despite not finding the end zone in a little more than two games. They managed to beat Tennessee and nearly knocked off Washington on field goals alone. They will break the touchdown drought and smother the Giants. Ari 21 Nyg 13
*Seahawks at Cowboys (-5) – This is the sucker bet of the week. Both teams need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The public is down on Seattle. It is understandable after last week’s surprising blowout. Meanwhile, the public is high on Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott returning to the fold this week.
With Dallas being at home and a relatively small favorite, Vegas is begging you to take Dallas. So, the only logical thing to do is go the other way. If Seattle was not so experienced in situations like this and did not have Russell Wilson at quarterback, I would bail on the Seahawks too, but that is not the case. Sea 24 Dal 20
Steelers (-9.5) at Texans- The only thing to worry about here is Pittsburgh’s strange struggles with bad teams on the road this year. They lost outright to Chicago and failed to cover against Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. Also, Antonio Brown is a massive loss in the short term and possibly long term as well. Despite all that, it is difficult to get around the fact that Houston is a four win football team that is likely going to have to start T.J. Yates at quarterback again this week. Pit 34 Hou 17
Raiders at Eagles (-9) – If the Eagles defense plays like they did last week, Nick Foles will be the least of their worries come playoff time. Foles showed last week that he is very capable of keeping the train on the tracks.
The Raiders found another very creative way to lose a football game last week. With their playoff hopes now all but gone, it is hard to imagine Oakland providing much resistance here, even though they have the talent to do so. If Oakland was playing like they did last year, this would be a fun one, but they aren’t. Phi 38 Oak 24