Week 12 brings a set of anomalies unique to this time of year. In addition to three games on Thursday — as part of the new Thanksgiving tradition — all 32 teams will be in action on a weekly basis for the remainder of the year. With each franchise’s bye week in the past, everyone will be on equal footing for the final six games.
For the first eleven weeks, a large focus was placed on the groups of favorites and underdogs, ‘popular’ and ‘unpopular’ picks, and spreads that read as ‘traps.’ Using those methods, we have now ascended to the top of the NFLPickwatch Against the Spread standings for the second-consecutive year — in 2014, this column finished first among all experts against the spread for the combination of the regular season and postseason.
With playoff implications to be taken into consideration for each matchup, the focus begins to shift towards the new six-game season upon us. Of course, we will always watch for the times when perception drives the spread, but there is now more at stake in each contest.
This is the time for teams to carve their path to the top.
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: 46-26-1 (Last Week: 3-2-1)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 89-67-4 (Last Week: 8-5-1)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Philadelphia Eagles (PK)* at Detroit Lions
Isn’t it amazing how quickly the tide shifts on certain teams? A few short weeks ago, the Eagles were 4-4 and staring at a favorable schedule that included the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Lions — at the time, a 1-7 franchise. Two Eagles losses later, Philadelphia is now considered a sinking ship.
Why? At 4-6, the Eagles have clearly been a disappointment, but they remain a single game behind the Giants for first place in the NFC East. In addition, Philadelphia is likely suffering from the fallout that came from a 28-point home blowout loss to the Buccaneers, however, Tampa Bay has steadily been improving. In reality, the Eagles are no worse for wear than the rest of their division, and are in far better shape than their opponents on Thursday.
Detroit finally broke through after a dismal 1-7 start to the tune of back-to-back wins, but this is hardly cause for celebration. The Lions failed to reach the 20-point barrier for the fourth consecutive game and, despite allowing only 29 points in their last two games, combined, they have the fourth-worst scoring defense in the league. Detroit also has a non-existent running game — last in the league in rushing yards — while allowing the most rushing touchdowns to opponents.
Philadelphia — eighth in the league in yards gained on offense — breaks through against a Lions team with a -89 point differential — third-worst in the league. The Eagles win by seventeen and cover.
Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys (+1)
Under normal circumstances, a 10-0 team traveling to face a 3-7 squad would be as straightforward as a layup. Of course, there is nothing normal about the 2015 Dallas Cowboys.
From the return of quarterback Tony Romo last week to the two-game deficit in the division to the national presence that is the Cowboys, everything is encapsulated in the small spread. Not only does such a spread in a matchup featuring two teams seven games apart in the standings suggest a ‘trap,’ but the Cowboys were actually favored when the game first opened.
In Week 11, the Broncos opened up as a one-and-a-half point favorite, only for the spread to move against them when news broke that Peyton Manning would miss the game. Denver won by two points. On the same night, the Bengals lost their game by a field goal, beating the four point spread. The same spread that opened at two-and-a-half points, but moved following the Bengals Week 10 loss.
As always, when a spread moves because of perception, we take notice. What pushes it over the edge is how small the number was from the onset.
On the field, Romo’s presence is arguably worth more than his health. Dallas accumulated its second-highest rushing total of the season in Week 11, and will need to utilize a similar gameplan against the Panthers — it is almost impossible to pass against Carolina, but its rushing defense ranks closer to the middle of the pack. In addition, the Panthers have the third-highest scoring offense, but rank 15th in yards, suggesting that they have turned drives into points at a potentially unsustainable rate.
The Cowboys shock the Panthers, handing them their first loss of the season. Dallas wins by a field goal and beats the spread.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-9)
One week changed everything. The Chicago Bears were creeping back towards a .500 record entering Week 11 while the Packers were sputtering. As the Bears lost a home game to the Broncos — and backup quarterback Brock Osweiler — the Packers regained control of the NFC North with a win in Minnesota.
Order has been restored.
As far as trends go, the ebb-and-flow that the Bears and Packers experienced over the past few weeks is natural. Green Bay’s losing streak was nothing more than three losses that happened to occur in consecutive games, while the Bears, experiencing a 4-2 stretch, were playing relatively over their heads.
Green Bay often gets praised for its prolific offense — once again, ranked in the top-ten for scoring — but the team’s defense — eighth in points allowed — is a large reason for success. When Chicago brings its 21st-ranked scoring offense to Lambeau Field for a nationally-televised game, it will be thoroughly over-matched.
The Packers are an unfathomable 14-1 in their last 15 home primetime games. The Bears are not prepared to reverse the tend. Green Bay wins by two touchdowns and covers.
Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons (-2)
Unofficially dubbed the ‘Jekyll-and-Hyde Matchup of the Week,’ the Vikings and Falcons meet one week after devastating home losses. For the Vikings, losing to the Packers in Week 11 undid months of climbing the ladder of the NFC North. For the Falcons, losing to the Colts without quarterback Andrew Luck following a bye week is a stark reminder that the team has not yet returned to the upper echelon.
To think, at times, each of these teams looked like it could be worthy of a first-round bye.
The Vikings had previously won five consecutive games entering Week 11, but, of the team’s seven total wins, only the 5-5 Chiefs have a non-losing record. Perhaps Minnesota’s 7-3 record is inflated by weak opponents. While Atlanta only has two wins against opponents with non-losing records, the Falcons are not receiving the benefit-of-the-doubt following their three-game losing streak. It appears as if Minnesota is being considered a ‘bouceback’ candidate, while Atlanta is expected to topple.
Atlanta’s top-ten offense — fourth in yards — will face Minnesota’s stingy defense — also top-ten, and third in points allowed — but the mismatch of the game actually occurs on the other side of the ball. Minnesota has the fourth-worst offense in yards, while Atlanta’s defense is in the upper-half for both points and yards allowed. Furthermore, the Falcons have allowed the fewest yards to opposing running backs. Minnesota has the fifth-most rushing attempts in the league.
Atlanta gets back on the winning track, beating the Vikings by six and covering the spread.
St. Louis Rams (+9)* at Cincinnati Bengals
At least, the Bengals’ back-to-back losses appear to have been forgiven. That is, the spread in their Week 12 matchup with the Rams remained high, even though the Bengals have lost consecutive regular season games for the first time since November of 2013. Most likely, this is due to their opponent — St. Louis, currently on a three-game losing streak — more than anything else.
While the Rams continue to sink — outpacing the Bengals with three losses, including a 24-point home blowout by the Bears — they will easily be cast aside by the rest of the league. Isn’t that when St. Louis plays its best football?
With a 2-1 record — including an overtime loss — against the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Vikings, respectively, the Rams have generally risen to the challenge of facing a top-notch opponent. Little should change when St. Louis brings its rushing attack — sixth-best in yards-per-attempt — to Cincinnati to face, conveniently, the sixth-worst rushing defense in yards-per-attempt.
With little else to help the Rams move the football, the Bengals will come away with the victory. But the Bengals won’t cruise. Cincinnati wins by six, and St. Louis beats the spread.
Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans (+2)*
In most years, the Raiders experiencing a three-game losing streak would be anything but newsworthy. For the early part of the season, however, it appeared as if 2015 would be different. As of now, it’s not.
Like many franchises suddenly thrust into a new position brought about by raised expectations, the Raiders have been unable to deliver to the higher standard. Even more disappointing than the three-game skid is that Oakland had an opportunity to right the ship against the previously 2-7 Lions.
With the Raiders unable to defeat a two-win team on the road in Week 11, why should they be able to do it in Week 12, especially when this week’s opponent features a better defense and has extended rest? In addition, with last week’s loss, the Raiders fall to 2-16 in their last 18 ‘early’ road games.
Tennessee’s weak offense is aided by Oakland’s non-existent defense, and the Titans win their third game of the year. Tennessee wins by four and beats the spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3)* at Indianapolis Colts
It might be time to buy into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If anything, it is certainly time to sell the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite entering the season with one of the league’s best quarterbacks, the Colts have managed to turn Andrew Luck’s starts into a dismal 2-5 campaign. Even more surprisingly, the Colts are a perfect 3-0 in Luck’s absence, led by veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
Regardless of what the record implies, the Colts are not an undefeated team with Matt Hasselbeck under center.
Tampa Bay had suffered from turnovers in the early part of the season, but it appears to have rectified this issue — the Buccaneers have a combined seven giveaways in their last six games, compared to ten in their first four. The team’s offense is heating up, and the passing game — now sixth in the league in net-yards-per-attempt — faces a favorable matchup in Indianapolis — the Colts have allowed the fourth-most passing yards in the league.
Indianapolis has stayed alive without Andrew Luck for far too long, and the surging Buccaneers are the one to put an end to this unlikely run. Tampa Bay wins by six and beats the spread.
Buffalo Bills (+5) at Kansas City Chiefs
Anyone with a flair for the dramatics can envision how this will play out. The Kansas City Chiefs, previously 1-5 and five games behind an undefeated Broncos team, are making moves toward potentially completing a historic comeback. With an unbelievably ‘easy’ schedule to close out the season — Buffalo, San Diego, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Oakland twice — how can Kansas City not count on another handful of wins?
Probably because nothing in the National Football League is as easy as it looks.
Like all teams across all sports, the Chiefs are neither as bad as their four-game losing streak nor as good as their five-game winning streak. With a top-ten scoring offense and defense — and entering 2015 with a promising squad — Kansas City is closer to the ‘good version’ of itself, but it is still imperfect.
Like Kansas City, Buffalo is a team on the rise, and will be coming off a primetime road loss to the Patriots in what concluded as a one-score game. With a top-ten scoring offense of their own, why are the Bills so easily forgotten in the AFC playoff picture?
Buffalo rebounds from its nationally-televised loss with a victory against an over-extended Chiefs team. The Bills win by a field goal and beat the spread.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (-3.5)
In what feels like an eyeblink, the New York Jets have turned a 4-1 record into a 5-5 campaign. Making matters worse, each of their last four losses have been against AFC opponents — and teams with which the Jets will likely battle for a Wild Card spot. With this New York’s cold streak coming at arguably the worst possible time, at least the Jets will be hosting a familiar opponent in the midst of its own 1-3 skid.
The Jets have seen a clear drop-off in production in the second half of their ten games, as they have broken 23 points only once in their last five matchups. By comparison, New York scored at least 27 points in three of its first five contests.
For every aspect of the game that the Jets don’t necessarily dominate — but still represent relatively well — the Dolphins are average, at best. Miami’s single-greatest strength is its running game, ranked fourth in yards-per-attempt, but the Jets’ rushing defense is outstanding, allowing the fewest touchdowns and third fewest yards on the ground.
New York has already proven capable of beating Miami earlier in the season, and will use this opportunity to rebound again. The Jets win by ten and cover.
New York Giants at Washington Redskins (+2.5)*
In what has become one of the most average divisions in football, the Redskins and Giants both enter their Week 12 matchup with realistic aspirations of an NFC East title. While the Giants were idle in Week 11, the Redskins saw their chances at a playoff berth shrink with a 28-point loss in Carolina. Then again, every team that has played Carolina has experienced a similar result — a loss. Therefore, why should the Redskins be held accountable?
When these two teams met in Week 3, the Giants were still seeking their first win. A 32-21 New York win later, the Giants had effectively salvaged their season. The eleven-point win does not completely tell the story, however, as the Giants only put together one drive that resulted in a touchdown in the first three quarters.
The previous meeting was nothing more than a microcosm for the Giants’ season. Frequently playing to the level of their opponent, they have teetered around .500 into their Week 11 bye. The reality is that New York is an average squad with moments of greatness while the Redskins are an average squad with an expectation of failure.
This should not be the case. In their last seven games, the Redskins are 3-4 with losses to the 6-4 Falcons, 5-5 Jets — New York improved to 4-1 at the time — 10-0 Patriots, and 10-0 Panthers. Their team statistics have taken a hit across the board due to the incredibly difficult level of competition, but the Redskins have totaled at least 350 yards of total offense in all four of their wins. The Giants have allowed the second-most yards-per-game in the league.
Washington wins by a field goal and beats the spread.
San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.5)
It happens so rarely, but whenever the Jacksonville Jaguars are favored in a game, it deserves a second look. Considering the Jaguars have only given points three times since the start of 2013, their 2-1 record against the spread technically gives them the best winning percentage in that span. Obviously, the numbers are skewed by a small sample size, but that only further illustrates how infrequent such an occasion is.
The expectation surrounding the San Diego Chargers is that an end to their prolonged losing streak is imminent. Furthermore, a 4-6 Jaguars team coming off an ugly victory appears to be a reasonable enough opponent for the sputtering Chargers. Unfortunately for San Diego, such an assumption is based more on the history of the two franchises rather than their 2015 performances.
Jacksonville has seen its offensive output slow down in the past two weeks, despite securing back-to-back wins. On the season, the Jaguars rank 23rd in yards and points, and 16th in passing yards. In their past two games, they averaged only 283 total yards and failed to reach 220 passing yards in either contest.
While San Diego searches for a cure for its woes, Jacksonville rediscovers its offensive prowess against a Chargers team allowing the third-most net-passing-yards-per-game. The Jaguars win by ten and cover.
New Orleans Saints (+3)* at Houston Texans
The Saints and Texans are currently in the middle of two remarkable seasons. The Texans, utilizing three different starting quarterbacks over the course of the season share the lead in their division with a 5-5 record. New Orleans, a complete disappointment for the second consecutive season, are six games behind the division-leading Panthers.
In all likelihood, the Saints’ season is already over. At 4-6, the team would probably need to win out in order to secure a playoff berth. For a team that is currently two games under .500, such an outcome seems unlikely.
They will, however, take the first step on Sunday.
New Orleans’ biggest weakness has clearly been its defense, ranked dead last in both points and yards allowed. The team fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan as it went into its bye week, and the organization will have had two weeks to prepare a new gameplan. Thankfully for the Saints, the Texans and their eighth-worst scoring offense isn’t up to the task of exploiting New Orleans’ defense, anyway.
The Saints win by ten and beat the spread.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (+10.5)*
Considering how this column holds sacred a few key rules, the notion that a division team can give double-digit points on the road is eye-popping. Of course, over a given length of time, the Cardinals have proven to be far better than the 49ers — the difference in point differential-per-game equates to 23.3 — but in a specific circumstance that includes a Cardinals team playing its best football of the year coming off back-to-back primetime games, the opportunity for a ‘letdown’ is palpable.
The hurdle for San Francisco has been its atrocious offense — ranked last in both points and yards. There is no question more valid than, “How will the 49ers move the football at all?” Each week, it has been asked, and, quite frankly, there is no valid response. With an average offensive output of fewer than ten points-per-game in their past four games, the fact that the 49ers have managed anything on the scoreboard is remarkable. Then again, the offense has eclipsed the 300-yard barrier in each of its last two games. These are also the two games started by quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
In the end, the Cardinals are multiple classes above the 49ers, and Arizona will win the game. There are just too many points to give to a team that has a 40-point loss to the Cardinals on the resume, playing at home, and with the familiarity that a division opponent naturally brings.
Arizona wins by a touchdown, but San Francisco beats the spread.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Seattle Seahawks (-4)
It is almost as if the Seattle Seahawks have been playing postseason games for the past calendar year. Nearly every contest appears to carry an extra weight, and Sunday’s meeting with the 6-4 Steelers, coming off a bye week, is no different.
While the Seahawks’ 5-5 record indicates mediocrity — and, compared to their 2012, 2013, and 2014 counterparts, this year’s iteration is an inferior product — Seattle’s performance in high-leverage games suggests that the team is still capable of winning when it matters most. In addition, it is a popular notion to dismiss moral victories in the National Football League, but it is common for a team to break through after weeks of close losses.
The five teams that have beaten the Seahawks this season have a combined winning percentage of .755, and only one of their losses against these powerhouses has been by more than a touchdown. Even though the Steelers will be coming off a bye week when heading to Seattle, nothing should intimidate the Seahawks, especially at home.
Seattle has allowed the second-fewest yards-per-game, as well as the second-fewest yards through the air. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd in yards allowed. The Seahawks make a statement on Sunday, winning by a touchdown and covering the spread.
New England Patriots (-3) at Denver Broncos
The perfect storm is brewing for the New England Patriots. The perfect ‘trap’ may also be in the works.
After Denver proved that it was capable of winning games without quarterback Peyton Manning, it restored faith in a franchise that looked like it might be on the brink of collapsing. At the same time, the Patriots had shown vulnerability in back-to-back weeks, only to win, in the end.
Inexplicably, the spread for the Sunday Night Football matchup moved dramatically from five to three points halfway through the week. This always acts as a ‘red flag,’ as there is no clear-cut reason for such an action. Normally, the movement would indicate that a trap is about the catch the team that lost the points — in this case, New England. While we will enter the game with caution, the most likely catalyst for the move was the confirmation that Peyton Manning will miss the game. If anything, the shift is actually suggest that the Broncos are two points better without a future Hall of Fame quarterback. That, or the perception is that Osweiler is the better option.
The strength of the Broncos has clearly rested in their defense, which gives the team a realistic chance to stop the Patriots. After all, Denver ranks second in the league in points allowed. But which team ranks first? Of course, it’s the New England Patriots.
While the two defenses appear to be equal and, thus, offset one another, the reality is that the New England offense is far superior to that of Denver’s. Brock Osweiler — despite the support — is not likely to have back-to-back solid starts — or any starts, for that matter, as Sunday will be his second career start. Therefore, the Broncos will have a nearly impossible task putting points on the board.
New England wins by six, covering the spread.
Baltimore Ravens (+2.5) at Cleveland Browns
What a mess these two teams have become. While disappointment is nothing new for a Cleveland franchise on the brink of clinching its eighth consecutive losing season, the Ravens are a catastrophic disaster, punctuated by season-ending injuries to quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett.
The Cleveland Browns have played such a horrible brand of football that a win — or, at least, a well-played game — is in the works in the near future. In addition, Cleveland gets a boost by giving the starting quarterback job back to Josh McCown. Despite McCown’s 1-6 record, the Browns’ offense performed much better under his command than backup Johnny Manziel‘s, as Cleveland went 1-3 from Weeks 3 through 6 — when McCown was in his healthiest state — with all three losses by one possession. Manziel has started three games for a 1-2 record, including two 21-point losses.
Baltimore will turn to longtime Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub in the absence of Flacco, and Schaub will have to contend with the same lack of offensive firepower that has doomed the Ravens, to date. They do, however, rank eleventh in the league in total yards, and will be facing a Browns team that allows the third-most yards and points in the league.
Cleveland needed a bye week to reset itself after suffering five consecutive losses, and will finally stop the skid with a win on Monday night against an injury-ridden Ravens team. However, Baltimore has yet to lose a game by more than eight points, and is 2-1 with a near-impossible two-point loss in its last three games. Considering how the Browns will be unable to stop any sort of offensive attack from Baltimore, the Ravens will keep the game close throughout.
The Browns win by two points, but Baltimore beats the spread.