Latest posts by Mario Mergola (see all)
- NFL Picks: 2018 Divisional Round Picks Against the Point Spread - Jan 12, 2019
- NFL Picks: 2018 Wild Card Picks Against the Point Spread - Jan 4, 2019
- Week 17 NFL Picks Against the Point Spread - Dec 28, 2018
It was only a matter of time before the league pulled the rug from under the collective feet of the football-watching world. As detailed in last week’s column, favorites — and, more accurately, ‘popular’ picks — were enjoying an unprecedented run of success. With that, a trap was set for those ill-prepared for a sudden change.
Change it did.
Arizona, New England, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Denver entered Week 6 as favorites receiving most of the public support. Only the Bengals covered their spread, while Arizona and Atlanta lost outright.
The resetting of the league, last week, yielded six of our seven confidence picks to beat or cover their respective spreads, but it should slow down in the coming days. One violent swing usually is offset by another, and the shift in the direction of underdogs in Week 6 — 8-6 against the spread — coupled with the success of ‘trap games’ will provide a more balanced week ahead.
*Confidence Picks – 2015 Season: 24-16 (Last Week: 6-1)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 48-41-2 (Last Week: 9-5)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Seattle Seahawks (-6) at San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks’ attempt at a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance might have reached its end. The 2015 Seahawks have proven to be the weakest version that the franchise has produced in three seasons, and Week 6’s home loss against the Panthers is startlingly telling — Seattle had previously not lost a home game since October of 2014. The season appears, once again, to be on the brink.
San Francisco has played some of the worst football possible for a handful of games, however, every once in a while, the team shines. Thankfully for Seattle, the 49ers will be playing on a short week after pulling off a home upset win against the Ravens. The pitfalls of the 49ers — that is, the lowest scoring offense and seventh-worst scoring defense — remain intact, and the recent victory does little more than mask the warts.
In 2014, favorites had a decided advantage in Thursday night games, aided largely by the inability of underdogs to gameplan properly for an ‘upset.’ The same has not yet been the case in 2015, as underdogs currently hold a 3-2-1 record against the spread on Thursday Night Football. Seattle — led by a head coach with a Super Bowl and two conference championships to his name — is far better suited to prepare for a short week, as compared to 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula, about to coach the eighth game of his career.
The Seahawks prove they aren’t dead yet with a ten point win, covering the spread.
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (+5.5)* – London
The Jacksonville Jaguars are the punching bag of the football-watching world. Even when the team features more actual on-field talent than it has in years, the Jaguars still disappoint, and prove their detractors right. With only one win, Jacksonville has been more of a failure than usual, as even the spreads have not yet captured the team properly — the Jaguars are 2-4 against the spread.
Buffalo performed an early-season magic show, looking like one of the best teams in the league, despite an over-rated defense and a quarterback that did not belong starting games. Finally, the league has figured out the Bills, as Buffalo is 1-2 in its last three games with a one-point come-from-behind win in Tennessee.
The natural assumption is that Buffalo will rebound from its home loss against the Bengals in Week 6 with a thrashing of the Jaguars, but the Bills’ flaw plays right into the hands of the Jaguars’ strength. Teams throw more pass attempts against the Bills than any other opponent, and Buffalo has allowed the ninth-most passing yards in the league. Jacksonville throws the sixth-most pass attempts, ranks fifth in touchdown passes, and has two dangerous wide receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Indeed, the Jaguars’ defense is terrible, but how will the Bills offense — 27th in yards gained — take advantage?
Jacksonville wins by a touchdown and beats the spread.
Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) at Detroit Lions
It had to happen eventually. The Detroit Lions won a football game. Now, they can return back to irrelevancy.
Detroit will be heading to London for the last of the International Series games following its Week 7 matchup against the Vikings. The four teams that played in London this season — Jets, Dolphins, Bills, and Jaguars — all lost the game prior to their trip. Detroit, a 1-5 franchise in disarray, will have an uphill battle trying to fight off the desire to fall asleep in the game sandwiched between the team’s first win and an international travel assignment.
Minnesota takes advantage of everything working against the Lions, winning by two touchdowns and covering.
Atlanta Falcons at Tennessee Titans (+4)*
In the same way that it was impossible for the Lions to lose forever, the Atlanta Falcons were destined to take a step backwards. Atlanta had been tearing opponents apart, avoiding one potential letdown after another, before finally getting handed its first loss in Week 6. While the team’s standing within the division suffered numerous hits — the defeat was at the hands of a division opponent the same week that Carolina improved to 5-0 — the loss is somewhat forgiven — the Falcons lost in New Orleans, where the Saints had previously been 13-1 in primetime games.
The bigger issue for Atlanta is that, while it had bludgeoned an injured Cowboys squad and a 2-4 Houston team — at home — the Falcons have won their other three games by no more than six points — the biggest of which was an overtime win. The Titans, coming off a crushing defeat at the hands of the rejuvenated Dolphins, are every bit capable of slowing down the Falcons — Tennessee has allowed the third-fewest yards in the NFL.
Atlanta will have extra time to prepare for its trip to Tennessee thanks to a Thursday night game in Week 6, and the Falcons will survive with a field goal win, but the Titans narrowly beat the spread.
New Orleans Saints (+4.5)* at Indianapolis Colts
The matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints will bring ‘inconsistency’ to another level. The Saints have looked like a completely failing franchise for months, yet have put together two inspiring performances for wins. The Colts, led by one of the best quarterbacks in the game, have actually played to a 1-3 record with Andrew Luck, and 2-0 without him.
Both the Colts and Saints have proven capable of catching fire on offense, while allowing opponents to torch their respective defenses. The difference, however, is that New Orleans’ pass attack has remained stellar while Indianapolis’ has suffered. Naturally, the injury to Luck has diminished some statistics, but the offense has holes.
New Orleans will have an extra few days for head coach Sean Payton to prepare, and will be traveling to a dome that is conducive for quarterback Drew Brees. At no point will the Saints be out of the game, and their passing attack should help put them over the edge.
New Orleans wins by four and beats the spread.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (+2)*
There is ‘rock bottom,’ and then there is the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs. Absolutely nothing has gone right for the Chiefs following their Opening Day win in Houston and, considering how the Chiefs almost blew a 27-6 lead, even that game needs to be called into question.
Like Detroit, the Chiefs will be heading to London after Week 7’s game. Unlike Detroit, Kansas City still has unfinished business in the United States. The Chiefs are on the verge of losing their sixth consecutive game, and playing at home against a still injured Steelers squad may be the last chance the team has to secure its second win for weeks.
Pittsburgh has played exceptionally well in the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — 2-1 with an overtime loss — but the team is still over-extended. The possible emergence of third-string quarterback Landry Jones is largely being judged through the prism of a few late game passes in Week 6 — especially the broken play that led to wide receiver Martavis Bryant‘s second touchdown reception — and there is a clear disconnect between the small sample size and reality.
Kansas City wins by six points at home, beating the spread.
Cleveland Browns (+5.5) at St. Louis Rams
In 2014, the Cleveland Browns sustained a stretch of football during which the team lost two games by a combined five points, won two games by a combined three points, then exploded for a three-touchdown victory. In 2015, the Cleveland Browns have sustained two losses by a combined six points — one in overtime — and a win in overtime, by a field goal, in their last three games.
The Cleveland Browns are due for an explosion.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, they have the misfortune of traveling to St. Louis to play a Rams team that is coming off its bye week. Head coach Jeff Fisher is excellent at gameplanning, and his team’s mid-ranked rushing attack should see a nice boost when it takes on a Browns’ defense currently allowing the most rushing yards in the league.
The Browns are simply too tough to beat easily, and, while they are not likely to have their offensive outburst appear this week, they keep pace with St. Louis throughout the game. The Rams win by a field goal, but Cleveland beats the spread.
Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins (-4)
It is extremely dangerous to take what the Miami Dolphins did in Week 6 at face value. Indeed, they blew out the Titans in Tennessee for the first win of new head coach Dan Campbell‘s career; but it was, after all, the first game of a new head coach’s career. The second game carries significantly less fanfare.
What allows the Dolphins an exemption from a possible letdown against the visiting Texans is that the team we saw in Week 6 from Miami is the team we should have seen, all year. Their offseason was excellent, and the foundation had already been solid.
Normally, a change of head coaches is due to an underperformance, but the Dolphins looked like a disassembled mess. Now that the players appear to have bought in, the same expectations of a winning record should not be completely out of the question. In addition, Houston is still a whirlwind of uncertainty — especially at quarterback — and the Dolphins are not in a position to overlook any opponent.
Miami wins by ten and covers the spread.
New York Jets (+9) at New England Patriots
It had to happen like this. The New England Patriots are running through opponents on a weekly basis, surprising few, while the New York Jets have already matched last season’s win total. Questions have quickly arisen as to when — if, at all — the Patriots will lose their first game, and the Jets are hitting their stride at the right time to be the most capable combatant.
It won’t matter.
The Patriots never overlook the Jets, even in New York’s worst seasons. New England has found a way to top the Jets in eight of their last nine meetings. However, of the eight victories, the Patriots have only won three by double digits.
More of the same is in store for Week 7’s showdown, as the Jets will send their best squad in years to New England. New York’s top-ranked scoring defense will slow down New England’s top-ranked scoring offense, but it won’t be shut down completely.
New England wins by six, but the Jets beat the large spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Redskins (-3.5)
The Washington Redskins are suffering the same fate as the Cleveland Browns. That is, their record is aligned with the expectations of many, but their level of play has far surpassed their output. Two of the team’s four defeats have been by a touchdown or less, and their two blowout losses came on the road — ironically, both in MetLife Stadium.
Washington is returning home prior to their week off, and facing a Buccaneers squad coming off a bye week of their own. The last time Tampa Bay had extra time to prepare, it lost by four touchdowns on Opening Day, negating all advantages one would assume a bye week brings.
The Redskins have played too well for too long, and finally face their first opponent with a losing record since September 20th. Washington wins by a touchdown and covers.
Oakland Raiders (+4)* at San Diego Chargers
How would the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers look if a few moments had played out differently? The Chargers were a missed — then made — field goal away from losing to Cleveland, and trailed the 1-5 Detroit Lions by eighteen points late in the first half on Opening Day. Maybe 0-6 is a stretch, but the Chargers are far closer to a winless team than one deserving such support.
The Oakland Raiders are in a similar boat, but with the perfect storm behind them. Oakland has lost the tough games — in Chicago via a last second field goal and a heart-breaker at home to the Broncos — and has had two weeks to dwell on its mistakes. The division seems out of reach with the Broncos currently undefeated, but the Raiders are trying to prove they are no longer the same pushovers from Oakland.
Consider the fact that the spread has actually moved away from San Diego despite the Chargers growing in popularity — the same happened for the Eagles in Week 6, and they paid off with a 20-point win — the Raiders are being hurt by their reputation.
In reality, Oakland is the better team. The Raiders win by a touchdown in San Diego, beating the spread.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-3.5)*
Rarely do losses stick with a team for longer than a few days. Under normal circumstances, the action of the previous Sunday needs to be forgotten in order to prepare for the week ahead. That is, unless the open to the 2015 was so devastating that the remnants lasted into the third game of the season.
After the Giants lost their fourth quarter lead in Dallas in Week 1, closing out games became such a point of emphasis that the team made a note to not slip up when entering the fourth quarter of their Week 3 win against the Redskins. New York had seemingly rectified its 0-2 record by winning three consecutive games and vaulting to the top of the NFC East, only to drop a hideous Monday Night Football game in Philadelphia.
The reaction of the fans and analysts have been so negative towards the Giants that the spread, following the game, moved two points in favor of the Cowboys. The nationally televised debacle was such an eye-opener that the five-and-a-half points the Giants were originally giving wasn’t enough.
It was, however, an accurate depiction of the difference in talent.
In addition to the fact that the Giants have unfinished business with the Cowboys — that is, specifically to not allow any semblance of a close game — Dallas is still lost without quarterback Tony Romo. The team, as a whole, is solid, but it has not yet been enough to win without Romo.
New York wins by a touchdown and covers.
Philadelphia Eagles (+3.5)* at Carolina Panthers
What did it? Was it the Panthers’ road win in Seattle? Was it how ugly the Eagles looked in the Monday Night Football win against the Giants? What tilted the scales so heavily in the favor of the Panthers that their spread has gone up since opening at less than a field goal of points?
Whatever the reason, the 5-0 Panthers are simply giving too many points to an Eagles team that might finally be hitting its stride. Had each team started the season on more even footing, it would not have been unreasonable for the road Eagles, not the home Panthers, to be the favorite.
Philadelphia and head coach Chip Kelly have pushed all of the proverbial chips to the center of the table during the past offseason, during which a massive overhaul of personnel took place. For the first few games of the season, it looked as if the Eagles were still trying to execute the plan that was laid out months ago. With back-to-back wins, Philadelphia has ascended to the top of the division. What makes the Eagles even more intriguing is that they looked anything but perfect in their last victory. Winning on ‘off games’ suggests that the team is still in the process of improving.
The Panthers completed an improbable comeback victory in Seattle in Week 6, and return home with a perfect 5-0 record. Their defense has been stellar, to date — ranked seventh in both points and yards allowed — but they have yet to face an unconventional offense like that of the Eagles’. Teams like the Jets and Panthers, routinely featuring stout defenses, are more prone than others to getting caught out position when facing an Eagles squad that does not play a typical style of offense.
Philadelphia wins by a touchdown and beats the spread.
Baltimore Ravens (+7.5) at Arizona Cardinals
Are the Arizona Cardinals really the best team in the National Football League? Their league-leading 88-point differential tends to think so. Are the Baltimore Ravens the worst team in the league? At 1-5, and coming off a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it is difficult to argue otherwise.
Despite Baltimore’s dismal record, the team has yet to lose a game by more than six points. It’s offense — even with limited options in the passing game — ranks ninth in points scored and eleventh in yards gained. The Ravens have the fourth-most passing attempts in the league, and will have no issue playing from behind and keeping the game close.
Arizona had previously looked incapable of falling asleep against weaker teams, but with two losses in three weeks, there now exists a blueprint that exploits the Cardinals. Baltimore doesn’t have the defense to outright beat the Cardinals, but they are not the doormat that their position in the basement of the AFC implies.
Arizona wins by six, but Baltimore beats the large spread.