Now, we’re getting somewhere.
After a few weeks of relatively small swings in the numbers, Week 10 finally pushed the scales heavily in one direction – favorites. An incredible 10-3 against the spread, favorites have now helped set up a solid trend that should return back to form in the coming weeks. Make no mistake, underdogs will be big in the near future.
Included in the 10-3 record by favorites were massive primetime blowouts – Green Bay over Chicago, Philadelphia over Carolina, and Cleveland over Cincinnati, although the Browns were actually the underdog in that game. This marks the sixth consecutive week – and ninth out of ten weeks – where a favorite has won a night game by at least two touchdowns. This certainly appears to be a consistent trend all season, and it has been wildly evident by Thursday Night Football featuring most of the favorites cruising to victories. But, like most patterns, the further it deviates from the mean, the more likely it is to snap back into place.
This belief holds true for Week 11, as a whole, where we go heavy into the underdogs, expecting the majority to help balance out the direction of the past few weeks.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team and an asterisk denotes one of the week’s most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 3-2 (Season: 30-28)
All Picks Against Spread: 9-4 (Season: 80-66-1)
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-5)
Both AFC East contenders entered Week 10 with the potential of improving to 6-3 with ‘statement wins,’ but they each left disappointed. Neither the Bills losing to the streaking Chiefs nor the Dolphins falling in Detroit on the final drive are unacceptable losses, but Miami and Buffalo had their chance to solidify themselves in the playoff race and both failed.
Now, the loser of Thursday Night’s game will likely be out of the hunt, altogether.
The cloud that has hovered over each of these two teams all season has been the critique of their schedules and their inability to separate themselves from the pack. Neither have fallen flat on their face against poor teams – a combined 6-1 against teams with losing records – but only four of their ten combined wins have come against teams with winning records. Every week, we ask for one of these teams to prove they are contenders, but it seems to never be sustained for an extended period of time. However, if one team has historically shown a pattern of petering out as seasons go on, it’s the Buffalo Bills.
Since 2011, the Bills’ combined record from Week 9 of any season until Week 17 is 7-20. In this same stretch, Miami is 15-14. Perhaps this is the year where Buffalo continues to hold on throughout the back end of their schedule, but already at 0-1 since Week 9 and with the incredibly average Kyle Orton – now 38-37 lifetime – no metric seems to indicate that 2014 is any different from the past. In addition, Buffalo has beaten Miami in four of their last five contents, including Week 2 in Buffalo.
Miami is due to return the favor as badly as Buffalo is due to fall off the map. The Dolphins win by ten and cover.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (-3)
It is always worth a second look when a team was just destroyed on national television and has a worse record than its opponent, yet is favored in its next game. It is debatable whether any team looked worse than the Chicago Bears in Week 10, and the last time the Minnesota Vikings took the field – two weeks ago – they had just beaten the Redskins for their second consecutive victory.
Neither of these teams are any good, and neither have any hope for the remainder of the season. The Vikings have actually been the more promising squad, at times, but the Bears cannot drop another disappointing game in front of their home crowd. While the Bears’ defense is reaching disastrous levels of historic proportions, the Vikings are ill-equipped to take advantage of Chicago’s deficiencies. Moreover, Minnesota’s defense – ranked 19th in turnovers – is equally incapable of capitalizing on the Bears’ carefree nature with the football.
If Chicago ever wants to get back on track, the Vikings are the team they need to beat.
The Bears win by a touchdown and cover.
Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns (-3)
Cleveland’s ‘Coming Out Party’ on Thursday Night Football opened eyes across the country, and people are now starting to take notice that the Browns are legitimate contenders for a playoff push this season. At 6-3, they now sit atop the AFC North and look to extend their division lead with a win against the Texans on Sunday.
The Browns have the table perfectly laid out for them, as the visiting Texans have turned the quarterback reins over to Ryan Mallett. Cleveland’s top-ten defense in both turnovers and points allowed should thrive against the inexperienced Mallett, and relying on the three-headed monster that is the Browns’ running game will limit their own giveaways against the Texans’ opportunistic defense.
Most importantly, the high-flying Browns have already suffered a letdown game this season when they lost to the Jaguars. They will not allow themselves to get caught sleeping again.
Cleveland wins by ten and covers.
Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
Two games congruent with their style of play – the Chiefs narrowly escaping Buffalo with a victory despite trailing by ten points going into the fourth quarter and the Seahawks blowing out a weaker opponent at home via constant doses of Marshawn Lynch rushes and Russell Wilson read options – lead to an excellent inter-conference matchup on Sunday.
Kansas City is not only hot – winners of six of their last seven games and currently riding a four-game winning streak – but actually looks to be getting better each week. The Chiefs’ defense has not allowed more than 26 points all season – including three straight games under 14 points allowed – and quarterback Alex Smith hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 5.
In every way, a letdown for Kansas City is likely, and in years past, the Seahawks would be a prime culprit for the crime. But this is not last year’s Seahawks team.
Fantastic in all aspects of the running game – offensively and defensively – Seattle is solid, but not stout, in all other areas of play. They are also a vulnerable squad on the road – 2-2 away compared to 4-1 at home – and are in for a dose of their own medicine when they travel to Kansas City on Sunday. As loud as home games are in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium is the only other home field in the league that compares. In fact, the two fanbases tend to go back-and-forth as titleholders for the ‘League’s Loudest Stadium.’ For a rare moment, the Seahawks will not gain an advantage from crowd noise.
Kansas City made a solid statement by beating the Bills on the road last week, but their home field advantage will be in full-force as they try to knock off the defending Super Bowl Champions who have been prone to stumble at times this season. Kansas City continues its hot streak and opens some more eyes with a four-point victory on Sunday, covering the spread.
Cincinnati Bengals (+7)* at New Orleans Saints
As deflating of a loss the Bengals experienced when getting embarrassed on Thursday Night Football by the Browns, the Saints might have had them topped in Week 10 after completing an improbable comeback only to allow the 49ers to do the same, then lose outright in overtime. Both teams are looking for a rebound victory, but neither one is convincingly better than the other.
The 4-5 Saints, despite leading their pathetic division, have been a massive disappointment all year. They are second in the league in offensive yards gained, but have the fifth-most turnovers and a below-average defense. Quite frankly, the Saints appear to be living off their reputation and the struggles of the NFC South more than anything else.
The Bengals looked absolutely dreadful on Thursday night, but the Browns deserve some credit for forcing Cincinnati into its second-worst offensive performance of the year, as well as the obvious struggles quarterback Andy Dalton faced with what appeared to be a strong wind. Dalton tallied only 86 passing yards and three interceptions on 33 attempts. Remove the Cleveland defense – sixth-best in points allowed – put the Bengals indoors and suddenly we have a different game.
New Orleans has only one win against an opponent with a winning record – a Sunday Night Football victory over the Packers – and has shown to be much more vulnerable than in years past. Cincinnati rights its ship by going into New Orleans and coming out with a field goal victory, beating the spread.
Denver Broncos at St. Louis Rams (+9.5)*
This could get ugly early. Peyton Manning leads the second-best scoring offense into St. Louis to escape the elements and play in a dome where Manning is nothing short of dominant. In 90 games inside a dome, Manning is a mere 62-28, and averages 261.2 yards, just over two touchdowns, and less than one interception per game. Simply put, he is deadly indoors.
The Rams are a terrible team, by all accounts, but they have played surprisingly well against better teams as of late. In their last four games, St. Louis has a win against the Seahawks and 49ers each, and took a lead against the Cardinals into the fourth quarter before imploding via two Arizona defensive touchdowns on consecutive possessions. Furthermore, head coach Jeff Fisher finally pulled the plug on quarterback Austin Davis and is giving veteran Shaun Hill the start. While Hill is nothing to write home about, a midseason quarterback change could provide a quick spark to an otherwise sputtering offense. At least, for a brief time.
Denver wins on Sunday, and probably carries a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter, but the favorable spread at home, coupled with their inspired play against solid opponents gives the Rams the edge in the pick. Denver wins by a touchdown but St. Louis beats the spread.
San Francisco 49ers (-4) at New York Giants
The Giants’ skid can’t last forever. Losers of four straight games, New York has looked pitiful of late, getting outscored by an average score of 34-16. The loss of wide receiver Victor Cruz has certainly hurt an already struggling offense, and the last-place defense – in yards allowed – is playing every bit as terribly as their ranking.
San Francisco is coming to the east coast at the right time. After avoiding what would have been their first three-game losing streak under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the now 5-4 49ers are suddenly alive in the NFC playoff hunt. What’s more, the Arizona Cardinals just lost their starting quarterback for the remainder of the season and, while extremely unlikely, the 49ers may be see a stumble in the desert as a potential opportunity.
The 49ers could certainly be due for a letdown after their dramatic overtime victory in New Orleans, but their season hung in the balance in Week 10, and failing to capitalize on a struggling Giants team this week would certainly erase all gains.
San Francisco wins on the road by a touchdown and covers the spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7.5) at Washington Redskins
Each week, they get worse. A complete mess at the quarterback position and an overall doubt for the direction of the franchise. Wait, which team are we talking about here?
Both the Buccaneers and Redskins have been massive flops this season, and the only reason to keep tuning in to any of their games is to assess what each team has for the future. Between the two teams, five different quarterbacks have started at least one game, and, not surprisingly, they all share a combined record of 4-14. At least, someone has to win on Sunday.
The only discernible difference between Tampa Bay and Washington is the largely improved play of the Redskins’ defense. After allowing an average of approximately 37 points per game for a four-game stretch, Washington has clamped down, limiting opponents to an average of 21 points per game over their last three. It is worth noting that these three opponents were the Titans, Vikings, and Cowboys with an injured Tony Romo for a significant portion of the game.
The Buccaneers have absolutely nothing going for them right now, but four of their last six games have been decided by six points or less. While they probably won’t break through against the Redskins, they certainly won’t be intimidated by a 3-6 squad from Washington, either.
Tampa Bay loses by a field goal but beats the spread.
Atlanta Falcons (+2)* at Carolina Panthers
It was only a matter of time before the Atlanta Falcons realized they weren’t the worst football team on the planet. Then again, their Week 10 victory was against the lowly Buccaneers, so it’s probably best if the Falcons pump their brakes before speeding into Carolina too hastily.
Thankfully for Atlanta, their upcoming division game against the Panthers seems to feature a franchise in as much disarray as most of the division, itself. In fact, the 3-6 Falcons – three games under .500 in mid-November – are only one game out of first place in the NFC South.
That was actually painful to type. But it remains true, and the Falcons are certainly aware of their striking distance.
A team led by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Steven Jackson looks much more capable of turning a season around than a Carolina Panthers team whose last win was over one month ago. Against the Bears. And even though Atlanta’s defense allows the second-most yards per game in the league, how is Carolina’s eighth-worst offense going to move the ball?
Atlanta wins by a touchdown on the road, beats the spread, and actually brings some interest to the NFC South race.
Oakland Raiders (+10)* at San Diego Chargers
Sorry, Oakland, it just keeps getting harder for you. We keep assuming that, eventually, you will win a game – and we do believe this – but the wait must be unbearable. Sure, for the rest of the nation outside Oakland, no one cares that you’re winless, but cheer up. It will change. We think.
San Diego has quickly fallen apart. From 5-1 to 5-4, top of the AFC West to ninth in the conference. A loss by 3, then 14, then 37. There is only one question to be asked.
Will it stop?
The bye week is the perfect opportunity to reassess one’s team and break a skid, but, as we tend to write almost every week, the Chargers are prone to streaks. The belief is that the Raiders are the perfect opponent against which to rebound, but history shows that San Diego’s rivals from Oakland are no pushovers.
In their past five meetings, only once did San Diego win by double-digits, despite posting a 4-1 record in these games. Oakland had no conceivable chance to beat Denver last week, but San Diego appears to be a much more favorable opponent. It is worth noting, however, that as streaky as the Chargers are, they are equally as dangerous as they go deeper into a season – 41-15 in their past eight seasons from Week 11 until the end of the year.
San Diego grabs a much needed win against the Raiders, but only by a touchdown as Oakland beats the spread.
Philadelphia Eagles (+5.5)* at Green Bay Packers
It may take a while to convert people after what they witnessed for years in New York, but Mark Sanchez is a good quarterback capable of winning games in the National Football League. And, if the next progression of thought turns towards the talent of the rest of the Eagles, that is only a further indication of how solidly built Philadelphia’s football team truly is.
Green Bay completely erased any bad taste from their loss in New Orleans in Week 8 by publicly humiliating the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. The Packers continue to send the same message year after year, and it is difficult to disagree: Green Bay is dangerous.
What we saw from the Eagles on Monday Night Football as they punished the falling Panthers provides hope that we may get an epic showdown at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Had Philadelphia looked lost without their starting quarterback, Sunday’s game in Green Bay would have appeared to be hopeless. While we cannot fully believe anything that comes from a victory against Carolina, we can expect the 7-2 Eagles to remain playing at a high level.
As we tend to write weekly about the Eagles, their only two losses this season have come by a combined nine points via a few key plays. They have shown little to believe that any team is currently capable of blowing them out, and Green Bay still has a very pedestrian defense. There is nothing to indicate that the Packers will pull away from the Eagles on Sunday. In fact, there is nothing that truly indicates why the 6-3 Packers should beat the 7-2 Eagles at all.
Both teams are rejuvenated after Week 10 wins, and the Eagles must now certainly feel like they can win the NFC East with or without Nick Foles under center. Their defense, while average in many areas, creates turnovers and sacks the quarterback among the best in the league. Indeed, a dogfight certainly favors the experienced and decorated Aaron Rodgers, but we have now seen what Chip Kelly has done with his team over the past two seasons – an overall record of 17-8 – and he is quickly becoming one of the league’s most adaptable head coaches.
The Eagles go into Lambeau Field and win by a field goal, beating the spread and sending notice to the rest of the NFC that they are not slowing down.
Detroit Lions (+1.5) at Arizona Cardinals
Admittedly, some of the luster on what could have been the game of the week was lost when news broke that Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer would miss the remainder of the season. Suddenly, the NFC’s top team looks extremely vulnerable, and they received no favors by hosting the 7-2 Lions in their first week post-Palmer.
Detroit continues to be one of the toughest teams in the league, sporting a top-ranked defense and refusing to go down without a fight, no matter the odds. They have now won three consecutive games in which they trailed with less than two minutes left. There’s something to be said about pulling out close games week after week.
The Lions smell blood. Cardinals backup quarterback Drew Stanton has done well when filling in for Palmer on multiple occasions this season – 2-1 record with three touchdowns and no interceptions – but he is clearly a cut below his veteran mentor. If there’s one team against which you want your full squad, it’s Detroit. Arizona will not be able to get by this one on the arm of Drew Stanton.
Detroit wins by six, beats the spread, and moves into the top seed in the NFC.
New England Patriots (+3)* at Indianapolis Colts
Among many things, some of what New England does well are the following: primetime games, games in which they are underdogs, rise to the occasion, and, well, football in general. The Patriots, once again, will be on full display when they take on the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday Night Football.
Both the Colts and Patriots have morphed wildly from the teams that started the season. A combined 1-3 after two weeks, there was actually public concern – premature as it may have been – that neither team would make the playoffs this year. Now, even with one guaranteed to tally another loss this week, Indianapolis and New England should each be hosting a game in January.
The one criticism of the Patriots early in the season that wasn’t completely off-base was their uncharacteristic inability to pile points on the scoreboard – they failed to break the 20-point mark in three of their first four games. Had they met the Colts during this stretch, they likely would have lost a shootout. However, the Patriots have since returned to their dominant form, and again look like the league’s top team after their victory over the Broncos.
New England has been excellent as an underdog this year – 2-0 with an average margin of victory of 24 points – and historically great after a bye week – 9-2 in their last eleven post-bye games. Give head coach Bill Belichick an extra week of preparation, give quarterback Tom Brady a dome – 10-2 record, 26 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions – and give the Patriots points, and we’ll take New England.
Patriots win by a touchdown and beat the spread.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans (+6)*
Talk about your matchup between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Tennessee opened the season with an impressive win in Kansas City, but has since done everything possible to prove how much of an anomaly the upset really was. They have quickly reverted back to the ugly, disastrous team that most people expected to see.
The real story here is the Pittsburgh Steelers. In last week’s picks column, we absolutely loved the Jets to beat the small spread against the streaking Steelers. We even indicated that, with two ‘easy’ games on their schedule in the next two weeks, they were likely to stumble in one. Admittedly, we didn’t expect the Jets to win, but we certainly were ready for the Pittsburgh pullback.
The obvious expectation is that the Steelers burn LP Field to the ground, lighting up everything in Tennessee in a fit of rage to rebound from their unacceptable loss in New Jersey. But the question is always worth asking: is this too obvious?
As always, we shy away from picks that tend to jump off the paper – there’s a reason why the National Football League sports their ‘Any Given Sunday’ mantra – but even we have to admit that the Steelers are the safer pick. Even the early forecast calling for snow showers and a low of 22 degrees appears to be in the favor of a cold-weather team from Pittsburgh.
With everything pointing to a blowout by the Steelers, we still can’t take the bait. We opened this column by explaining how dominant favorites have been on primetime games, and we believe that trend will dwindle in the coming weeks. It’s very easy to look back on this game on Tuesday and laugh about how badly the Steelers pounded the Titans, but it’s equally conceivable that we stand around the water cooler – ‘discuss on Twitter’ is probably the more accurate representation in this era – about how the inconsistent Steelers – with a loss to the Browns and an ugly win in Jacksonville – simply aren’t that good.
Pittsburgh escapes Tennessee with a win, but only by a field goal. The Titans beat the spread.
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