It’s hard to ignore it anymore. After weeks of preparing for the imminent swing in action, Week 10 struck suddenly. It wasn’t enough that an unprecedented eleven underdogs beat their respective spreads, but ten won outright.
Now, people have taken notice.
The continually tempting spreads had done little to deter those willing to make the ‘easy pick,’ however, with back-to-back weeks where the most popular teams failed in overwhelming fashion, it appears as if the tide has settled. Many games are now following the standard three or seven point spread, while twelve of the fourteen home teams are favored.
Quite frankly, it appears as if less bait is being dangled this week, as a massive amount of fish were caught in the previous two.
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: 43-24 (Last Week: 5-2)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 81-62-3 (Last Week: 7-7)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-3)
Under normal circumstances, a matchup between the 2-7 Titans and 3-6 Jaguars would be unwatchable, with the exception that the potential first overall pick in the following year’s draft might be on the line. Indeed, if the loser of this contest fails to win another game all season, such an outcome might be possible. But what if the winner placed itself firmly into a division race? As impossible as it may sound, the latter of the hypothetical situations is actually the reality.
Both the Titans and Jaguars have had their moments of brilliance in 2015, albeit fleeting. Tennessee opened the season with a win, only to drop six consecutive games before shocking the Saints in Week 9. Similarly, Jacksonville won in Week 2, then waited until late-October before winning two of its last three games.
The Jaguars have three wins by a combined eight points, the latest of which via an impossible, miracle ending in Baltimore that included a defensive penalty as time expired. Jacksonville has yet to do anything impressive, let alone cover a spread as a favorite. Still, the Jaguars have played the more consistent brand of football — only two losses have been by a margin of defeat greater than one touchdown — and have the matchup in their favor.
While Jacksonville’s defense is generally weak — 19th in the league in yards allowed, third-worst in points allowed — it is surprisingly effective against the run, allowing the fewest yards per attempt in the league. The Jaguars’ pass defense is suspect, but Tennessee sits in the bottom-half of all passing statistics with an overall offense that produces the third fewest yards in the league.
Conversely, Tennessee’s defense has found success to the tune of the fifth-fewest yards allowed, but opponents also throw the ball fewer times against the Titans than any other team. Why? Because opponents are typically trying to run out the clock en route to a win.
Teams that do throw the ball against Tennessee have success. Jacksonville is one of those teams.
The Jaguars take the lead and don’t look back, winning by ten and covering the spread.
Denver Broncos (+1)* at Chicago Bears
A few short weeks ago, the 7-0 Broncos had just completed a thorough beating of the formerly undefeated Packers. Quarterback Peyton Manning, playing at a level far worse than his career average — as an easy statistic, his passer rating is currently the lowest of his career — was only a small reason for the success of the team, as the defense — allowing the fewest yards and third-fewest points-per-game — was arguably Denver’s biggest strength.
Let’s take a trip down an imaginary road. Pretend that the Broncos signed and started a free agent quarterback in the beginning of the year by the name of Meyton Panning. He has no accolades. No history. Only the results of nine previous games, during which his team won seven, despite posting horrific numbers. This same quarterback is starting in Week 11 against the Bears. Does this change anyone’s outlook on the game?
The real Peyton Manning that lined up under center for most of 2015 is actually anything but the real Peyton Manning. Therefore, his contribution to the team was no more than a historic back story, which is the only thing that separates himself from the fictional aforementioned character. Yet, when Manning was the likely starter for the game, the Broncos were favored — by as many as five points, on some websites. Of course, the Peyton Manning of old is worth a large swing in the spread if he misses a game, but, again, this is not the case.
Meyton Panning is starting the game. Just with the nickname ‘Brock Osweiler.’ Osweiler still has the same dangerous weapons at his disposal, as well as the defense that has been so valuable, all season. When facing a suddenly hot — but still flawed — Bears team, why should the 7-2 Broncos, without a tangible step backwards, be getting any points at all?
Denver wins by six and beats the spread.
Indianapolis Colts at Atlanta Falcons (-6)
Was it that long ago that the Falcons were 5-0 — then 6-1 — and battling for a top seed in the NFC? With back-to-back losses against Tampa Bay and San Francisco — both of whom currently own losing records — the Falcons suddenly looked far more vulnerable than the nearly flawless team that opened the season. Thankfully for Atlanta, the team’s bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Colts — returning from their own bye week — will be without quarterback Andrew Luck for the next few games, at least. Surprisingly, Indianapolis is only 2-5 with Luck, but 2-0 in his absence. While a team is built on more than one position, how long can the Colts realistically last without their most important asset?
Even if Indianapolis is capable of treading water in the coming weeks, their glaring weaknesses plays right into the hands of Atlanta’s strengths. The Falcons have the fifth-best passing offense and lead the league in rushing touchdowns, while the Colts allow the fifth-most passing yards, and the seventh-most rushing touchdowns.
Atlanta gets back to its winning ways, beating the Colts by fourteen and covering the spread.
Oakland Raiders at Detroit Lions (+2)*
In what is a rather impressive shift in perception, the Oakland Raiders, despite back-to-back losses and a 2-4 record in their last six games, are road favorites against a team that just upset the Packers in Green Bay. Granted, the 2-7 Lions are not the type of squad to instill fear in the hearts of their opponents, but are the Raiders — currently on pace for their 13th consecutive non-winning season — prepared to rebound and begin trending upward?
The Lions returned from their bye week to shock their division rivals in Green Bay in Week 10, but will be at a far worse disadvantage when hosting the unfamiliar Raiders on Sunday. They will, however, be facing a defense that allows the second-most passing yards-per-game and a franchise that is 2-15 in its last 17 ‘early’ road games.
Detroit had played well enough in the early part of the season to deserve better than an 0-5 record, and the Lions are likely suffering from the stigma that a two-win team brings to the table. The Raiders — while two games better in the standings — earned their four wins against the 2-7 Ravens, 2-8 Browns, 2-7 Chargers, and in a home game against the now 5-4 Jets after quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured.
Detroit follows up its Week 10 upset with a home win against the Raiders, winning by six and beating the spread.
Dallas Cowboys (PK) at Miami Dolphins
Is it that easy? Is the return of Tony Romo all it takes to turn the Dallas Cowboys into a winning team? Of course not. But it does have farther-reaching implications than a sudden boost of talent in one position.
Similar to how one prolific hitter lengthens a lineup in baseball via protection, the presence of Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant allow the offense, as a whole, to be more dangerous. Romo likely won’t be asked to put the ball in the air on more occasions than necessary, but the clear upgrade in talent he brings — when compared to either of his backups that have combined for an 0-7 record in his absence — opens up the gameplan. Most notably, it allows the Cowboys’ running game to flourish against a defense that allows the second-most rushing-yards-per-game in the league.
Miami has clearly taken strides towards improving upon the dismal 1-3 start that the team endured prior to firing its head coach, but the road to recovery is rarely smooth. In essence, the Eagles were an injured quarterback and an ill-timed interception away from beating Miami in Week 10, thus rewriting the narrative of the now 4-5 Dolphins.
As the Dolphins host a Cowboys team with a revitalized offense, they will be over-matched by a franchise that is looking to rebound from rock bottom. Miami should understand how powerful this effect is, as the team was carried to back-to-back wins by a similar ‘changing of the guard.’
Dallas wins by a touchdown and beats the spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles (-5.5)
In what is suddenly a matchup between two teams potentially heading in opposite directions, the Buccaneers and Eagles will meet with identical records and similar paths. Both 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, and now 4-5, neither team has allowed itself to be completely knocked out for the season, nor has it made a move towards the top of the standings.
Tampa Bay has won two of its last three games, with the final score of a 14-point loss to the Giants looking worse than the performance, itself — New York scored a last-second touchdown on a fluke lateral that put the game out of reach. Conversely, the Eagles, losers of two of their last three games, were one errant throw away from likely knocking off the Dolphins in Week 10.
In addition to the team’s most recent loss, Philadelphia was dealt a potentially fatal blow when its oft-injured quarterback, Sam Bradford, was knocked out of the game. Reports suggest that Bradford is not necessarily ruled out for Sunday’s contest, but the reality is that the offense should run in a similar fashion, whether Bradford or backup Mark Sanchez is at the helm.
In 2014, Sanchez filled in for starter Nick Foles, and led the Eagles to four wins in his first five starts, before losing three of the team’s final four games. His 4-4 record was an indication that he eventually leveled off, but Sanchez still put together a respectable campaign — a 64.08 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions — running a similar offense. Against a passing defense in Tampa Bay that has allowed the second-most touchdowns through the air, why shouldn’t an Eagles quarterback have success on Sunday?
Tampa Bay has scored more than 26 points only twice, this season, and has four games in which it scored 18 or fewer — including the team’s last two. Philadelphia is built to put up points and, when it does, the game will be out of reach.
The Eagles win by fourteen and cover.
Washington Redskins (+7)* at Carolina Panthers
It’s going to keep happening, every week. The Carolina Panthers will likely be favored on a weekly basis, the spreads will get larger, and this column will continue to pick against them. Now a perfect 9-0 on the season — 7-2 against the spread — the Panthers will, again, appear to be over-exposed.
The Redskins will be coming off a 47-14 thrashing of the Saints in Week 10, and travel to Carolina to face a Panthers team that continues to compile unimpressive victories. Of the Panthers’ nine wins, only the 6-3 Packers currently have a winning record, and the combined winning percentage of Carolina’s nine previous opponents is a mere .427.
Washington torched New Orleans’ worst-ranked defense in Week 10, while holding the now-seventh-best scoring offense to 14 points. Their recent history may suggest that the Panthers are a much harder opponent for the Redskins, but Carolina ranks tenth in yards allowed and only 16th in yards gained. The Panthers are nearly impenetrable through the air, but sit in the middle-of-the-pack in rushing defense. After four consecutive games of fewer than 90 yards rushing, the Redskins have broken 150 rushing yards in each of their last five contests.
Even with some favorable matchups, the scale is still tilted in Carolina’s favor. With a perfect season to protect, the Panthers are not likely to sleep on a Redskins team that has proven to be one of the sneakiest in the league. Playing this game in Washington might have yielded a different result, but the Redskins are 0-4 on the road in 2015.
Carolina wins by four, but Washington beats the spread.
St. Louis Rams at Baltimore Ravens (-1.5)
In one of the most improbable completions to a football game, the Ravens led their Week 10 matchup with basically no time left on the game clock — although a defensive penalty extended Jacksonville’s opportunity — only to lose a heart-breaker by a last-second field goal. If the Ravens needed to define a microcosm of their season, the 2-7 franchise should look no further than last week’s conclusion.
As always, a loss — no matter how dramatic — hurts the team’s image via its record. While the Rams were getting stunned by the visiting Bears, the Ravens were on the verge of winning their third game, only to leave with another defeat on the resume. With that, this week’s game opened up with a smaller spread — even, according to some websites — only to move towards the Ravens.
One of the main reasons why Baltimore allowed a game-winning drive to the Jaguars was because Jacksonville’s solid passing attack was up to the task of exploiting Baltimore’s horrific secondary. Luckily for the Ravens, not only do the Rams have the worst passing game in the league, but they attempt the fewest passes, as well.
Still struggling to reverse course on a season-to-forget, the Ravens rebound from last week’s crushing defeat to beat the Rams. Baltimore wins by a touchdown and covers the spread.
New York Jets at Houston Texans (+2.5)
How bad is it for the Jets that, as of this writing, they remain hopeful that starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can play on Sunday, despite the fact that he underwent thumb surgery no more than ten days prior to his next game? If one wanted a read on how the Jets view their backup quarterback Geno Smith, look no further — they want Fitzpatrick playing.
The main storyline surrounding the matchup is the return of Fitzpatrick to Houston, although, this time, as a visitor. Make no mistake, this is actually no longer about the former Texans quarterback facing his old team, as Fitzpatrick will likely be a shell of himself — or he will be out, altogether.
Instead, the suddenly vulnerable New York Jets, heading down a dangerous path, will be facing a Texans team that shares a division lead, just handed the Bengals their first loss, and appears to be coming together at the right time. Considering how valuable a healthy Fitzpatrick has proven to be for this Jets team, the near-guarantee that he won’t be operating at full capacity is crippling.
Houston has absolutely no semblance of a running game — ranking last in the league in yards-per-attempt — thus negating New York’s stingy rushing defense, while the Texans’ defense has been impenetrable, of late — allowing twelve combined points over the past two weeks. Houston had no issue keeping a deep Bengals’ offense — fifth in scoring — out of the endzone, and should have a much easier task with the Jets — twelfth in scoring — on Sunday.
The Texans win by six and cover.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (+3)*
When it comes to how teams perform against the spread, is there any franchise more like the Saints than the Kansas City Chiefs? Whenever either team was looking to stop its skid, it somehow found a way to perform worse. Finally, when the trend was reversed, disappointment followed via losing against the spread. At least, this is what happened with the Saints. It is what will now happen with the Chiefs.
Toying with the back-and-forth of two different Chiefs teams that show up at random, this recent iteration has won three consecutive games by an average of a little more than twenty points-per-game. This is the same team that lost five consecutive games earlier in the year.
Adding to the expectation that Kansas City is about to revert back to the mean is that its opponent is returning from a bye week after losing a nationally televised game to the Bears — who entered the matchup at 2-5. Not only are the 2-7 Chargers still waiting for a chance to rebound, but they have suffered an abnormal amount of close losses, tallying six by one score or less.
San Diego — with the fourth-best overall offense in yards gained — is ready to break its losing streak in a divisional game at home. The Chargers win by four and beat the spread.
Green Bay Packers (+1) at Minnesota Vikings
Is this it? Is this the end of the Packers’ dominance? Are we really prepared for Green Bay to concede the NFC North division to the Vikings?
Teams suffer from losing streaks and bad losses all the time — after all, it is what makes the National Football League so enticing. These bad stretches aren’t always an indication of a team’s future outlook, but rather randomized losses over a small sample size. In fact, these same Packers lost a nationally-televised game in Seattle to start 2014, fell to 1-2, were pronounced ‘dead,’ then went on a 12-2 run to end the season.
The Packers may have stumbled, but they need to be completely washed away before such wild proclamations are made again. With that, Green Bay can erase a month of suffering it endured during its current three-game losing streak on Sunday as, not only would a win stop the skid, but move the Packers back to the top of the NFC North where they will control their own destiny down the homestretch.
What’s equally important to Sunday’s matchup is how the Vikings will react to their newfound success. Are they ready to survive the slings-and-arrows that tend to find those at the top of the mountain? Are they that different from the Raiders and Rams in the early part of this season, sudden favorites who could not live up to the task?
Green Bay is not only one of the most decorated franchises of the last decade, but also among the most consistent. The division is routinely theirs to lose, and it will take a special squad to supplant the Packers from their perch. As good as the Vikings have become, they haven’t proven to be ready to take the next step, yet.
Green Bay wins by a touchdown and beats the spread.
San Francisco 49ers (+13) at Seattle Seahawks
Not so fast, Seattle. While the Seahawks had previously been capable of dismantling teams — especially at home — the 2015 version has not followed suit. With a mere four total wins, the Seahawks have only won a game by more than three points twice. One of which was a 17-point victory against San Francisco.
The 49ers are a complete mess, ranking last in the league in offense for both points and yards. Managing to score against the vaunted Seahawks defense seems impossible, but this is not the case of a non-conference team coming to town on a random Sunday. The 49ers, returning from their bye week, coming off a win, and with only two other games played since their loss to Seattle, will have the best possible opportunity to put forth a solid effort.
San Francisco is completely overmatched on both sides of the ball, but inspiration can be found in the gameplan utilized against the superior Falcons in Week 9. Despite a clear imbalance of talent, the 49ers looked aggressive and prepared under backup-turned-starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert. With two weeks to focus on a division rival, the same level of planning should be expected.
In the end, Seattle uses brute force to win by a touchdown, but San Francisco beats the spread.
Cincinnati Bengals (+4)* at Arizona Cardinals
There is no matchup more eye-opening than a primetime contest featuring two teams that just played nationally-televised games with split results. When the Cardinals — winners of Week 10’s Sunday Night Football game — host the Bengals — losers of Week 10’s Monday Night Football game — it will combine collective perceptions driven by a mass audience.
When the Cardinals eventually pulled away from the Seahawks in Week 10, it sent a message that Arizona was ready to take the next step. As the Bengals were kept out of the endzone in a home loss to the Texans, the opposite belief — that is, that Cincinnati is still a risk — became prevalent.
As always, the imbalance between the observation one game allows and the foundation built over the course of a season is noteworthy. Had the Cardinals and Bengals met last week, it would have involved an undefeated Cincinnati team and the 6-2 Cardinals, losers of two of their last five games.
Even with the Bengals’ loss, Cincinnati’s point differential of 83 equates roughly to a nine-point-win-per-game. Arizona’s point differential of 117 is actually second in the league, but, not only is this an opportunity for regression — the Bengals fell victim to this fate in a similar position as Arizona is in, right now — the Cardinals have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
Cincinnati is one of the most complete, well-rounded teams in the league, ranking first in scoring defense and fifth in scoring offense. Getting points against a Cardinals team due to return back to earth is merely a formality.
The Bengals win by a field goal and beat the spread.
Buffalo Bills (+7)* at New England Patriots
If ever a team deserved to give more than a touchdown worth of points, wouldn’t it be the undefeated Patriots — with a history of continuing winning streaks — at home on national television against a head coach that they have routinely beat? If any game could have justified a double-digit spread, this is the one.
Yet the number sits at seven, begging the first glance to be the last. Should the Patriots beat the Bills by more than a touchdown? On the surface, yes. Will they, no. Especially not with how well Buffalo is currently playing.
Few teams could follow up an emotional road victory against a divisional opponent with another, but the Bills are in an exceptional position. There was an undeniable galvanizing effect that occurred when Ryan’s team helped him avenge his firing with a win against the Jets. In addition, the desire to beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots runs almost as deep as the fervor with which the Bills played in Week 10. There will be no ‘letdown’ by Buffalo.
As the Patriots needed a last-second field goal to keep their perfect season alive in Week 10, some weaknesses were finally highlighted. Namely, the New England pass defense remains a risk — allowing the eleventh-most yards-per-game — and the Patriots’ running game is virtually non-existent.
While New England has technically allowed the fewest yards-per-game on the ground, it has also seen opponents run the ball the second-fewest times in the league, most likely because the Patriots have built a big enough lead where their pursuers must abandon the run. New England actually ranks eleventh in defensive rushing yards-per-attempt.
After reaching the 30-point milestone in five consecutive games, the Patriots failed to do so in back-to-back contests. Buffalo is still searching for its defense to be as dangerous as advertised, but it might be receiving a gift when it faces a New England offense that will be without wide receiver Julian Edelman and has noticeably slowed down.
With a surprisingly effective offense — sixth-best in points — Buffalo is on the verge of a season-changing upset. It happens, as the Bills win by a field goal and beat the spread.