It is only fitting for one of the wackiest NFL seasons in recent memory to conclude with a few wacky scheduling quirks – and, by extension, oddities against the spread. After this week, a full ‘Sunday’ schedule of games will be played on Saturday – Christmas Eve – followed by the new standard of division-only games on New Year’s Day. With arguably the last ‘normal’ week in front of us, we find that there is absolutely nothing ‘normal’ about it.
Three games feature double-digit spreads, while 14 of the 16 matchups pair two teams within the same conference against each other. Playoff positioning – and clinching scenarios – can be found in nearly every matchup and we are, once again, in store for another fantastic slate of games. The interesting twist, therefore, is the timing of such games.
Three-of-the-four Primetime games – four because the Jets and Dolphins square off on Saturday night – include spreads of at least six points. Meanwhile, ‘traps’ are strewn throughout Sunday’s action, where there are simply far too many for every team to escape. Pinpointing which will hit is always the key to success, but we are finally entering a week that does not shy away from ‘traps.’
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 – 2016 Season: 42-49-3 (Last Week: 2-4-1)
(2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2016 Season: 95-106-7 (Last Week: 6-9-1)
(2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (+6.5)*
Even though the 7-6 Green Bay Packers still have work to do – they trail Detroit in the NFC North by two full games – the comeback is officially complete. Three consecutive wins after four consecutive losses places Green Bay back in the playoff conversation, despite needing a combination of stellar play and help from others before entering the actual playoff picture. It did, however, make strides in announcing its presence to the NFC by destroying the Seahawks in Week 14.
Perception always drives the number of points given from one team to another, and Green Bay is one of the franchises most affected. When the Packers are struggling, people tend to overreact – hence Aaron Rodgers’ famous “R-E-L-A-X” speech – and Green Bay becomes the underdog. As soon as the team starts winning, the number inflates dramatically. Conversely, the Bears are almost always on the receiving end of the point spread, constantly beaten down in the NFC North.
Naturally, taking the 3-10 Bears at face value completely negates the positives for the team.
Since handing the starting job to quarterback Matt Barkley in Week 12, the Bears are 1-2 with a six-point loss to Tennessee – that included a dropped touchdown pass with seconds remaining in the game – and a three-points loss in Detroit – in which the Bears led with minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The entire Bears’ organization appears rejuvenated, and the defense has remained quietly outstanding, all season – seventh-best in the league in yards allowed. As an added bonus, star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be returning from his four-game suspension and has three games left on his contract – incentive to close the season strong is palpable.
Green Bay does, indeed, need to keep its foot on the proverbial gas pedal, and losing in Chicago is downright unacceptable, but walking all over the Bears is no longer a guarantee. The Packers eek out a win, beating the Bears by two points, but Chicago beats the spread.
Tennessee Titans (+5.5)* at Kansas City Chiefs
In a direct response to the challenge we issued Tennessee in last week’s column, the Titans did, indeed, “show us something.” Entering Week 14 with the most difficult statistical schedule of the three AFC South teams vying for the title, the Titans knocked off the defending champion Denver Broncos and remain one-of-two teams tied for the division lead at 7-6. Now, they head to Kansas City on the second leg of a back-to-back pairing against members of the AFC West. This time, they face the more difficult opponent.
On national television, Kansas City displayed exactly what has made head coach Andy Reid’s tenure with the team so special – outstanding defense and an uncanny ability to win games. It’s that simple. Especially in cold weather with an undeniable home field advantage, the Chiefs are the prototypical atypical machine. They win.
When Tennessee comes to town, it will be greeted by frigid conditions and a defense that has allowed more than 19 points only five times, all year. The 2016 version of the Titans currently relies on the team’s offensive production and, like the Raiders in Week 14, will have a rough road ahead. At least, in terms of beating the Chiefs. Remaining competitive is an entirely different discussion.
In what was easily the worst passing performance of the season for quarterback Marcus Mariota – 88 yards on six completions – the Titans, as usual, relied on their rushing attack to the tune of 180 yards on the ground, last week. A similar gameplan would work against a Chiefs defense that has allowed at least 99 rushing yards in eight consecutive games and eleven times, overall. Obviously, Kansas City does not mind this sort of attack, as the Chiefs are 9-2 when allowing at least 99 yards on the ground to opponents.
Counter-intuitive? No doubt. But it also helps explain the final piece of the puzzle – the Chiefs’ lack of desire to destroy teams. As noted already, they simply win.
Prior to an eight-point victory against the Raiders – that included a defensive stop in Kansas City territory – the Chiefs had played five consecutive games decided by five points or fewer. They have scored at least 30 points in a game only twice since Opening Day – one of which was in overtime – and tallied only 21 points against a poor Raiders defense in sub-freezing temperatures. Reports indicate that it should be at least 15 degrees colder on Sunday than it was last Thursday night.
Kansas City does hold down Tennessee’s offense enough to win the game, but only by a field goal as the Titans beat the spread.