One week following a relatively widespread massacre, the National Football League took some time off. Week 8 featured a relatively balanced mix of outcomes across the board, from favorites and underdogs to ‘obvious’ and ‘trap’ games, and there was even the always-boring three-point push.
The tide has, indeed, begun to shift, as the same favorite that were cruising to victories are gradually starting to slow down, but there is currently a bigger force at play delaying a bigger movement and impacting the spreads — major injuries. Big-name players appear to be getting hurt at an alarming rate, and many teams wait before announcing both the status and return date for their athletes. As such, the spreads have frequently stalled longer than usual, as there is a level of uncertainty added to too many games.
As we enter the halfway point of the season, the expectation is that the picture of each team begins to get clearer. With that, the proper spreads can be assigned, and the right assessment can be made. For now, the seesaw battle should continue.
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. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2015 Season: 34-20 (Last Week: 4-3)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 65-51-3 (Last Week: 7-6-1)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-10)
If a checklist existed for selecting which team will beat or cover the spread in a specific game, the Bengals might not receive a single mark in their favor. A division favorite with a history of rarely leaving the pack giving double digit points to a rival frequently known to play ‘spoiler’ is a team normally avoided.
There is nothing ‘normal’ about the 2015 Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati has made the postseason for four consecutive seasons, and five times in the past six years. During that stretch, the team has not lost fewer than five games, yet has only once won the division by more than one game. As it stands right now, the undefeated Bengals have a three-game lead on the Steelers with a head-to-head victory as a tiebreaker.
The Bengals are on a mission to roll through the regular season and turn the playoffs into something special. While division games usually create an opportunity for a misstep, nothing has stood in Cincinnati’s way, so far. As Cleveland turns to its backup quarterback on a short week, the Bengals look to take advantage.
Cincinnati wins by three touchdowns and covers the large spread.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-3)
Both the Dolphins and Bills have ranged from dangerous to disappointing throughout the first half of 2015. Now, with each sitting at 3-4, the loser of Sunday’s matchup will be buried further in the AFC East.
In reality, neither team has proven to be worthy of threatening the division. Miami saw a noticeable boost when it changed head coaches, but the euphoria wore off when the team traveled to New England. Buffalo suffered a relatively similar fate, jumping out to a fast start with a new head coach, only to come crashing back to earth in the weeks that followed.
Despite the similar records, Buffalo’s moments of greatness have outpaced Miami’s, as the Bills 3-point differential for the season vastly outweighs that of the Dolphins, sitting at -19. What’s even more concerning for Miami is that it still holds a negative point differential even after thrashing the Titans and Texans in back-to-back weeks by a combined 46 points.
When the Bills and Dolphins met in Week 3, Miami hardly showed up. Only six weeks later, the Bills are coming off a bye that followed a heart-breaking, international loss. They have the blueprint in place to beat Miami, again.
Buffalo wins by a touchdown and covers.
St. Louis Rams (+2.5) at Minnesota Vikings
In the battle between two franchises trying to prove their legitimacy, The 4-3 Rams travel to Minnesota to face the 5-2 Vikings. Both teams trail their respective divisions by a single game in the loss column, yet neither one was the consensus preseason pick to come out on top. In addition, both squads feature top-four scoring defenses and bottom four offenses in yards gained. Neither has lost since its bye week and, quite frankly, a scoreless tie is not out of the realm of possibility.
The emergence of rookie running back Todd Gurley has been the biggest catalyst for a Rams team on the rise, and St. Louis now ranks in the top-ten for rushing yards despite running the ball fewer times than half the league. This trend should continue, as Minnesota’s defense has faced the seventh-fewest amount of rushing attempts, but allows the 15th-most yards per game on the ground.
Behind Gurley, the Rams’ defense, and with the proper utilization of dynamic wide receiver Tavon Austin — leading the team with six touchdowns — St. Louis is poised to win its third consecutive game. The Rams win by four, beating the spread.
Washington Redskins (+14)* at New England Patriots
It finally happened. The New England Patriots finally dismantled a hot team wire-to-wire. Indeed, the Patriots had previously crushed the Jaguars and Cowboys, but the remaining three wins had been by eight points or less. In Week 8, New England pressed its foot on the gas and never slowed down.
As the Patriots host their third consecutive home game, the Redskins return to the football field two weeks after completing one of the most dramatic comebacks of the season. Washington has consistently played better than its 3-4 record, with an average team that doesn’t particularly do anything exceptionally well.
The don’t do anything extraordinarily poorly, either.
With two weeks to prepare for arguably the best opponent Washington will face all season, the Redskins and their top-ten passing defense will slow down New England’s high-flying offense just enough to stay within the large spread.
The Patriots win by ten, but Washington beats the spread.
Tennessee Titans (+8)* at New Orleans Saints
How easy it must be to forget. Have the Saints — a formerly 1-4 team in the first five games following a 7-9 season — rectified everything? Have the failures — losses in Arizona, Carolina, and Philadelphia by an average of nearly ten points per game coupled with a home loss to their division rivals from Tampa Bay — been washed away that easily?
Are the Saints suddenly as good as everyone expected them to be?
In New Orleans’ three-game winning streak, the Saints have had the good fortune of facing the Falcons, Colts, and Giants, who rank 24th, 27th, and 32nd in the league against the pass. The Saints’ offense runs through quarterback Drew Brees –as New Orleans has attempted the third most passes — while ranking third in the league in passing yards. It is no accident that the Saints won three consecutive games against the right three teams.
Tennessee is not the right team for the Saints. In addition to the Titans allowing the third-fewest passing yards, teams attempt the fewest plays through the air against them. Their defense ranks fifth in the league in overall yards allowed, and has given up more than 20 points in a game only three times, all season, including once since their Week 4 bye.
The Titans’ offense has been a complete disaster, all season, as it has scored the second-fewest points in the league. As a result, the organization — currently suffering from a 1-6 start to 2015 — fired head coach Ken Whisenhunt following Week 8’s loss in Houston. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the same jolt that the Dolphins received when firing Joe Philbin should not be expected to last more than one game, as Miami’s starting point was higher than Tennessee’s entering the year. They will, however, receive the benefit of a new regime and the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota on Sunday.
One week after the Saints and Titans scored a league-high 52 and a league-low six points, respectively, both teams snap back to the mean. With an under-rated defense, the Titans actually pull off the upset, edging the Saints by a single point and beating the spread.
Green Bay Packers (-2) at Carolina Panthers
The Green Bay Packers looked as inept for much of their Week 8 game in Denver as the Panthers looked dominant for the first three quarters against the Colts. Taken out of context, this disparity carries the risk of perception — that is, suggesting that Green Bay, not Carolina, is the flawed team.
As the Panthers coasted to a 7-0 record, the reality behind their incredible start to 2015 is that not one of the teams they beat currently has a winning record. Nearly every opponent is under-performing, and Carolina — indeed, with a solid defense and a fantastic running attack — is taking advantage.
The Green Bay Packers may have lost in Week 8, but traveling to Denver to play a primetime game against Peyton Manning coming off a bye week is incredibly difficult. Green Bay was bound to lose eventually, and the Broncos’ top-ranked defense was too much for the Packers to handle.
The benefit of how each team played in Week 8 allows for the spread to be small and the perception to be tilted. The Panthers have a solid defense, and it appears possible for comparisons to be drawn between Carolina and Denver, but Green Bay has actually allowed fewer points per game than the Panthers. Even more incredibly, Carolina has the higher-scoring offense.
The records and statistics are off-balance, and it corrects on Sunday. Green Bay wins by ten and covers.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+7)* at New York Jets
How quickly the Jets have fallen apart. Entering Week 7 with a 4-1 record, New York has now lost back-to-back games and its starting quarterback to injury. Reports state that Ryan Fitzpatrick will play on Sunday — had he not, Week 8’s glimpse into what Geno Smith brings to the table was terrifying for Jets fans — but how effective will he be on a team that suddenly looks dangerously vulnerable?
The Jacksonville Jaguars return from London — and their bye week — with the same low expectations that generally follow the team — that is, a large spread against them. Yet, in Week 7, the explosiveness of the young Jaguars was on full display as Jacksonville beat the Bills overseas.
Until the Jaguars win games on a regular basis, they will continue to be the punching bag for both the league and the football-watching public. The reality is that the Jaguars offense is so talent-laden that they should be better, right now. The team’s defense — allowing the second-most points in the league — is the glaring weak spot, but how will the Jets be able to take advantage when an already average offense is led by a quarterback with one good hand?
They won’t. The Jaguars win by six and beat the spread.
Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)*
All it took was back-to-back wins against the now 2-6 Chargers and injury-laden Jets for the Raiders to get recognition. Suddenly the toast of the town, Oakland is finally playing to its potential, led by second-year quarterback Derek Carr and rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. The duo looks to be the future of a franchise that has swung-and-missed, for years, and whispers are growing louder that the Raiders might even be able to make a move in 2015.
Not so fast. At least, not yet.
The Raiders’ 4-3 record should neither be an outright surprise nor a reason to project a path of continually winning. They are a solid team that should win more games, but, like most teams new to the pressures that come with raised expectations, the Raiders are susceptible for disappointment. When they travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday, they will be facing a Steelers team that feasts on over-performing franchises.
Even without running back Le’Veon bell for the remainder of the season, the Steelers will start quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a full game under his belt. The Raiders’ defense is a significant step down from that of the Bengals, and Pittsburgh will do to Oakland what it did to San Francisco in Week 2 after a tough loss: win big.
Pittsburgh wins by three touchdowns and covers.
Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (+7)*
The San Francisco 49ers have officially reached rock bottom. Now 2-6 and scoring a total of nine points in their past two games combined, the 49ers have benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert. In addition, San Francisco traded away longtime tight end Vernon Davis.
While the moves of the past week won’t send the 49ers into a playoff position, they did alter the spread. Originally, the game opened with the Falcons giving three-and-a-half points to the hometown 49ers.
Why? With the worst scoring offense in the league facing a team that had just suffered a heart-breaking overtime home loss, how could the number have been so small?
As always, a trap was in the works. The 49ers were bound to get out of their offensive funk simply by regressing to the norm, while the Falcons were likely going to play their typically close games against weaker opponents — Atlanta has one a game by more than six points only twice, all year.
The spread jumping as high as it did only provides a bigger cushion for the 49ers. Atlanta still wins by a field goal, but San Francisco beats the spread.
New York Giants (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As the Giants flutter through the average NFC East by refusing to either win or lose enough games to determine a direction, they have formed a noticeable pattern. The opposing quarterbacks in the team’s four losses were Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, and Drew Brees. In the team’s four wins, the opposing quarterbacks were Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and Matt Cassel.
The Giants’ greatest weakness is their pass defense — allowing more yards than any other team — yet teams without establish quarterbacks fail to take advantage. Coming off a loss where New York scored 49 points and led by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the Giants will not allow Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers to outplay them.
New York wins by seventeen and covers.
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts (+5)*
It is always noteworthy when a team plays a primetime game and the spread for the next game moves immediately following the outcome. However, it is even more eye-opening when the change is smaller than anticipated.
One day after the Broncos handed the Packers their first loss of the season, the Colts played arguably the ugliest game of the season, only to stage an epic comeback that led to an overtime loss. Originally opening at three points, the spread nudged slightly, and now sits at five.
Like the spread in the game between the Falcons and 49ers, why was it so tantalizingly small from the beginning? Weren’t the previously 6-0 Broncos vastly better than the Colts? If anyone could win in Indianapolis, wouldn’t it be Peyton Manning?
As the Broncos proved in Week 8, their top-ranked defense — both in points and yards allowed — is so suffocating that the team’s offense barely has to break a sweat. Good thing, too, as the Broncos, despite a plethora of talent on offense, rank 17th in yards gained. Denver may actually not be able to win a shootout.
The Colts break through the seemingly impenetrable Denver defense, winning by six and beating the spread.
Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5) at Dallas Cowboys
As the Eagles prepare for their third consecutive primetime game, they return from their bye week to face a Cowboys team spiraling out of control. Again, Dallas will attempt to win its first game of the season without quarterback Tony Romo, and, again, Philadelphia will try to make a statement in the NFC East.
The Eagles’ bye week was perfectly placed for a team still trying to employ the gameplan laid out by head coach Chip Kelly during the offseason. The added bonus is that the two-week preparation period will be utilized against a familiar opponent that already beat them earlier this season.
Philadelphia will not fall to 0-2 against the Cowboys in 2015, as the Eagles are still every bit a contender in the NFC East. Philadelphia wins by a touchdown and covers.
Chicago Bears (+4) at San Diego Chargers
As the Chargers watch their season go down the drain, the Bears are making every attempt to turn a previously embarrassing 0-3 campaign into a respectable effort. While wins have generally eluded Chicago, the Bears’ last four games have features two three-point losses and two victories. Comparatively, the Chargers have an even mix of blowout and close losses on their resume.
San Diego’s strength is its prolific offense, leading the lead in yards gained, but, in parallel with Chargers’ teams of the recent past, the ability to put points on the scoreboard is still a struggle. When they face the mirror of the Bears defense — that is, top-ten in allowing yards, but fourth-worst in limiting points — the Chargers will find a small edge.
The Chargers’ bleeding will stop on Monday night, and they will go into their bye week with a win. However, the Bears have not made it easy for an opponent since late-September, and the trend will continue again. San Diego wins by a field goal, but Chicago beats the spread.