“Don’t close your eyes, again.” Not only should this be the slogan for the teams that fell hardest in the beautifully laid traps of Week 9, but it should be the single-most prevalent thought entering the encore.
For weeks, this column has touted the collapse of teams that were covering one game after another with ease. That ended in Week 9. And it continues now.
Amazingly, Week 10 is not necessarily designed to give underdogs a decided edge, but it is wrought with intentionally deceptive spreads. Sometimes, it’s not about identifying the upsets as much as it is the opportunities for gain.
Opportunities are everywhere in Week 10, as the perception around a given team still hasn’t quite fallen back to earth.
Rest assured, it will.
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: 38-22 (Last Week: 4-2)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 74-55-3 (Last Week: 9-4)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-2.5)
As if the Thursday Night Football showdown between the Bills and Jets needed any more fuel added to the fire, Buffalo’s head coach — formerly New York’s — named IK Enemkpali a captain for the game. If IK’s name sounds familiar, it is because he is the one who punched Jets backup quarterback Geno Smith in the jaw in the preseason, thus forcing New York to give Ryan Fitzpatrick the starting job.
The return of Rex Ryan to MetLife Stadium had clearly been circled on the calendar by both teams when the 2015 schedules were released, but Ryan never fails to miss an opportunity for fireworks — even on the field, as Buffalo is the most penalized team in 2015. The decision to mirror IK’s cheap shot with one of his own is another indication that Ryan views Week 10’s matchup as something extraordinary.
So do the Jets.
Since the news broke about Thursday’s captains, current Jets players have not only spoken out against the move by Rex, but against the head coach, himself. This was one of the most beloved figures in the Jets’ organization for years, yet ties have completely been severed.
The stirring of the proverbial pot has little impact on the game itself, but it is an attempt at an alternative method for Ryan to beat the Jets. Probably because his team isn’t capable head-to-head.
The Jets — still with the top ranked rushing defense and behind what should be a feverish crowd — send their former head coach home with a loss. New York wins by ten and covers.
Detroit Lions (+11.5)* at Green Bay Packers
Absolutely nobody would want to be in the position that the Detroit Lions face entering Week 10 — traveling to Lambeau Field to face a Packers team coming off back-to-back losses and now tied with the Vikings for the division lead. The Packers will not only be seeking their first win since October 18th on Sunday, but will be looking for blood, in the process.
Considering that the one-win Lions hit rock bottom in London — losing by 35 points on an internationally televised game — the best recipe for a recovery is via extra preparation. Coming off a bye week to face a difficult division opponent will provide Detroit the focus and extra time required to play a competitive game.
The last two times the Lions had extended time between games — Opening Day and eight days between Weeks 3 and 4 — they lost by five points and three points, respectively. In addition, the Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since 1991, but each of the last five matchups in Lambeau have been decided by twelve points or fewer, three of which by a combined thirteen points.
The Packers win by a touchdown, but Detroit beats the spread.
Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams (-7)
Two weeks ago, the Rams were giving more than a touchdown worth of points to a divisional opponent. At the time, the large spread seemed unreasonable for a St. Louis team rarely considered such heavy favorites. The Rams won by three touchdowns.
In the week that followed, St. Louis lost a sloppy game in Minnesota — to an under-rated, efficient Vikings team on the rise — while the Bears beat the sinking Chargers on national television. Even with the disparity in outcome, the spread in Week 10’s matchup remained large.
Instead of over-reacting to the most recent week’s action, the difference between the Bears and Rams, over the course of the season, held firm. The Rams are simply a better team than the Bears, and will be looking to rebound against a Chicago team on short rest. After all, almost every matchup favors St. Louis except their passing offense, which is barely utilized — the Rams have the fewest passing attempts in the league.
St. Louis wins by two touchdowns and covers.
Carolina Panthers at Tennessee Titans (+4.5)*
Isn’t it the same question asked every week, “If one team is so decidedly better than the other, why is the spread so small?” The answer is simple: it’s a trap.
Last week, the previously-undefeated Broncos were giving five points to a Colts team coming off one of its ugliest games. Denver lost. The previous week, the flawless-looking Packers traveled to Denver, gave the Broncos points, and lost by 19 points. Perhaps small spreads coupled with perceived disparity in talent should not be ignored.
Every week, the Panthers win. Every week, there is a new narrative. At 8-0, Carolina is obviously one of the best teams in the league, but its wins have been nowhere near as spotless as its record. Of the Panthers’ eight opponents, only the Packers have a winning record, and, when the two teams met, Carolina nearly lost a 20-point halftime lead.
Tennessee shocked New Orleans in Week 9 with an overtime victory, but, even after completing the road upset, the Titans’ offense is still in the bottom-six for both points and yards gained. It is simply not good enough to carry Tennessee to another victory. Tennessee’s defense, however, will slow down the Panthers enough to keep the game close throughout.
Carolina, playing its first road game in four weeks, beats the Titans by a field goal, but Tennessee beats the spread.
Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles (-6)
If the Philadelphia Eagles are going to make a legitimate push for the NFC East title, the next stretch of games is critical for success. After beating the Cowboys in Dallas, Philadelphia will host the Dolphins and Buccaneers in consecutive weeks, then travel to Detroit for Thanksgiving. The losses must be limited, especially with the Patriots still in the Eagles’ future.
Philadelphia began the first leg of their post-bye tour with arguably its most complete game in Week 9. Granted, the Eagles needed overtime to beat a Cowboys team without Tony Romo, but whatever Philadelphia wanted to prepare during its Week 8 bye appeared to work on Sunday Night Football.
The Eagles were able to beat an average defense in Dallas. It should have no problem knocking off a Dolphins’ team ranked second-worst in rushing yards allowed. Once the game tilts, it won’t come back. Miami only has one loss by fewer 13 points, as its average margin of defeat is an astounding seventeen points-per-game. Philadelphia’s average margin of victory is nearly fourteen points-per-game.
The Eagles win by seventeen and cover.
Cleveland Browns (+4.5)* at Pittsburgh Steelers
After a while, something has to give. How long can the Steelers survive without either of their top-two quarterbacks? Injured yet again, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will almost certainly not play in Sunday’s divisional game — although current reports argue that it isn’t a complete guarantee. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger’s presence is only a small piece of the puzzle, and one that hasn’t fit perfectly all season, at that.
The Steelers appear to have been bit by the injury bug worse than any other team — running back Le’Veon Bell will miss the remainder of the season after an injury in Week 8 — and have been playing with fire. Of the team’s four wins since Roethlisberger’s first injury, Pittsburgh has only once beaten a team by more than six points.
Conversely, the Browns had been routinely knocking on the door prior to Week 7, after which it lost three consecutive games by double-digits. Not coincidentally, starting quarterback Josh McCown has struggled to stay healthy since Week 7, when he injured his shoulder in St. Louis.
The starting job is McCown’s to lose, and he will be under center in Week 10, as long as he is healthy. Regardless, the Browns have been explosive enough, at times — they averaged 26.2 points-per-game from Weeks 2 through 6 — to outpace the hobbled Steelers — excluding Week 10, the Steelers averaged a mere 17.3 points-per-game from Weeks 3 through 8.
Cleveland upsets the Steelers in Pittsburgh, winning by a six and beating the spread.
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1)*
It is easy to see the train of thought when assessing the Dallas Cowboys. Losers of six consecutive games, the law of averages is beginning to work in their favor. Surely, they can’t lose forever. There must be a win on the team’s schedule in the near future.
Tampa Bay? Is that you?
Why should it be? Why should the Buccaneers, averaging 26.4 points-per-game since Week 4, be the team to lose to the Cowboys without quarterback Tony Romo. In fact, wouldn’t Tampa Bay say the same thing about the Cowboys? Were the Buccaneers not a fluke touchdown away from losing a one-score game to the Giants in Week 9?
Tampa Bay actually opened as an underdog, and the line has shifted towards the Buccaneers, despite Dallas getting the overwhelming support. Not only is the spread increasing in Dallas’ favor, but it aligns with the popular theory that ‘this is the Cowboys’ win.’
It isn’t. Tampa Bay, on the rise but ill-prepared to beat better teams, knocks off the Cowboys, winning by a touchdown and covering.
New Orleans Saints at Washington Redskins (+1)*
The writing on the wall had such undeniable lasting power that it may have been mistaken for cave paintings — the Saints were destined to lose a heart-breaker. For the better half of the past decade, New Orleans was an offensive powerhouse that would bludgeon its way to victory. Since the start of 2014, however, a different version of the Saints — that is, one with a losing record — has donned the team’s jerseys.
Like most franchises that have achieved prolonged stretches of success, the Saints are susceptible to public perception driven by history. It is easy to remember how good the Saints were, but difficult to accept how disappointing they have become.
The opposite is true for the Washington Redskins.
A combined 10-28 since the start of 2013, the Redskins are commonly overlooked during periods of good football. The same was true for the weeks leading up to the team’s bye, where Washington, at 3-4, had a total point differential of -20, equating to less than a field goal loss per game. When the Redskins returned to action, the Patriots unleashed their typical attack and won by 17.
All this does is make the Redskins look worse than they have played. In reality, the 4-5 Saints, with a point differential of -27, might be the worse team. Washington will be hosting the Week 10 matchup — the Redskins are 3-1 at home, while New Orleans is 1-3 on the road — and has yet to allow a 300-yard passer.
The Redskins win by four and beat the spread.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
Prior to the team’s bye week, the Ravens finally put an end to their horrible skid with a win against the hapless Chargers. As a reward, the Ravens were given two weeks to prepare for the Jaguars.
In years past, ‘preparing for the Jaguars with extra time’ would have been the punchline to a joke. Instead, there are no laughs in Baltimore, as every game is critical for a team that has basically eliminated itself from playoff contention. And, in reality, Baltimore has earned its 2-6 record by simply playing poor football for the first half of the year.
The Ravens won’t finish the season with too many wins, but a home loss to the Jaguars would be unacceptable for a team with its back to the wall. Jacksonville is always a threat to sneak in with a late score and beat the spread thanks to its aerial attack, but wide receiver Allen Hurns appears to be less than 100 percent. If the Jaguars can’t keep pace through the air and take advantage of a weak Ravens secondary, they won’t even be in the game.
The Ravens win by ten and cover.
Minnesota Vikings (+3) at Oakland Raiders
Something is awry. How is Oakland, coming off a loss in Pittsburgh, three-point favorites against a 6-2 Vikings team with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater cleared to practice? Indeed, the Raiders are a good football team — in fact, arguably the best squad the franchise has produced in years — but the Vikings are better.
With Green Bay looming in Week 11, Minnesota could potentially be staring at a ‘trap,’ where it looks past the Raiders and gets caught napping. But, while the Vikings may be in prime position for a letdown, they lack the experience — and, therefore, consequence — of recognizing how good they have become. Quite frankly, Minnesota won’t under-estimate Oakland because it still has something to prove. Furthermore, if the Vikings end up losing in Week 11 to the Packers, coupling that with a loss in Week 10 would likely end any chances for a division title.
The Vikings are the wrong matchup for the Raiders, as Minnesota ranks sixth-best against the pass, countering Oakland’s eighth-ranked passing attack. While Minnesota rarely puts the ball in the air — the fourth-fewest passing attempts in the league — the Raiders’ pass defense is the worst in the league.
Minnesota wins by a field goal and beats the spread.
Kansas City Chiefs (+6.5)* at Denver Broncos
When these two AFC West rivals square off in Week 10, it will be as victims of wild swings in perception. The Chiefs went from a team consistently on the verge of winning any given game to a completely lost franchise to winners of back-to-back contests prior to a bye week. Denver won games early in the year in rather unimpressive fashion — including a ridiculous victory in Kansas City in Week 2 — only to beat the Packers, be crowned by the football-watching world, then lose in Indianapolis.
With the roller coaster ride each team has experienced in 2015, the final story has yet to be written for either. The Broncos’ 7-1 record comes with some baggage, while the Chiefs are not nearly as bad as a 3-5 franchise.
Between the divisional familiarity, the two-week preparation time for Kansas City, and the reality that the two squads are not miles apart, Sunday’s game will allow each to revert back to the mean. After all, the Chiefs were on the verge of beating Denver — at least, taking the Broncos to overtime — before a last-minute collapse doomed them.
This time, Kansas City finishes what it started. Denver has thrived thanks to a top-ranked defense — in yards and points allowed — and is fifth-best in creating turnovers. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Kansas City has committed the third-fewest turnovers.
The Chiefs complete the road upset, avenging their Week 2 loss, winning by a field goal and beating the spread.
New England Patriots at New York Giants (+7.5)
When it comes to picking games against the spread, some teams refuse to follow the rules. Then again, some matchups have such powerful built-in storylines that it is dangerous to ignore them.
As far as non-conference rivalries go, the Patriots and Giants have one of the strongest. Responsible for two Super Bowl losses and the end of the pursuit for perfection, the Giants have been a thorn in New England’s side for years. While players and coaches normally change frequently enough to discount prior histories, this is not necessarily the case for the stable franchises of New York and New England.
Until the Patriots lose — so far, it seems impossible — the spreads for the games will remain astronomically high. Often times, it hasn’t mattered — New England is coming off a seventeen point win as 14-point favorites — but giving a touchdown worth of points on the road is always concerning. Especially against a team that has historically played well in such a matchup.
The Giants have yet to beat a great quarterback, and their defense is a far cry from those of the past. With that, New England will walk into and out of MetLife Stadium undefeated. But the Giants have played exceptionally well prior to the end of their games.
The Patriots win by four, but New York beats the spread.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-2.5)
By now, it seems like the reality has finally set in — the Arizona Cardinals are every bit as good as they were, last year, while the Seattle Seahawks are not. Currently, the NFC West is Arizona’s to lose, while Seattle is still trying to find the magic that was so prevalent for the past few seasons.
If it’s an extra boost that the Seahawks need, they will receive it in droves on Sunday night. As documented time and again, Seattle simply does not lose at home in primetime — with Week 4’s Monday Night Football win against the Lions, the Seahawks’ home primetime winning streak was extended to ten games. Perhaps the Cardinals are the team best suited to put an end to this dominance. Or perhaps the Seahawks, returning from a bye week, are ready to make a dent in their division deficit.
Arizona has been utterly dominant, this season, and ranks second in the league with a point differential of 110. It is worth noting, however, that all six of its wins have come against teams currently with a losing record. While Seattle is in the same position — proving how poor some of the competition has been throughout the league — only one of its four losses have been by a margin of defeat greater than four points.
The Seahawks continue their success in primetime home games, winning by a touchdown and covering the spread.
Houston Texans (+11.5)* at Cincinnati Bengals
How fortunate are the Cincinnati Bengals to not only have eleven days between hosting back-to-back primetime games, but to face opponents that enter their respective games with a combined record of 5-10? Maybe this is a reward for Cincinnati refusing to drop to the level of its competition, as its perfect 8-0 record also comes with a flawless 7-0-1 record against the spread.
The red flag is raised.
Week after week, the Bengals continue to prove that they deserve one of the top two seeds in the conference, but no squad is completely perfect. A team winning half of its games by at least thirteen points is not only unbelievable, it is unsustainable. The National Football League is not conducive for unchallenged dominance.
Cincinnati is clearly the better football team, and, with weapons available in all aspects of the game, will pull out a win, but not with ease. Houston goes toe-to-toe with Cincinnati, losing by a field goal but beating the spread.