We did it!
We have reached the midpoint of the 2017 NFL season. But, more specifically for this column, we have reached the midpoint of our ‘Rebound Season.’
At the time of this writing, these picks sit atop the leaderboard at NFLPickwatch.com – there appears to be a few picks missing, but the winning percentage is still tied for the best among experts. This is, after all, the position where this column finished in both 2014 and 2015 – then, with XN Sports. A wild, poor 2016 sent panic waves for many, but it was ill-advised. 2016 was a down year for the entire industry. It was dominated by favorites and ‘easy plays,’ none of which are sustainable.
Of course, I type these words with the risk of getting ahead of myself. We are only halfway through the season. We know how fickle the National Football League can be, and a sudden losing week is always a possibility. But, the goal is to slowly and steadily produce winning sets of picks. Halfway through the year, that’s exactly what has happened..
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 – 2017 Season: 25-20-2 (Last Week: 3-2)
(2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (3-Year Total: 183-158-7)
All Picks Against Spread – 2017 Season: 66-48-5 (Last Week: 7-6)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Week 9 Picks Against the Point Spread
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (PK)
The Atlanta Falcons are learning firsthand what the Panthers experienced last year. That is, it is extremely difficult to repeat as conference champions. The Panthers cruised through the NFC in 2015, lost in the Super Bowl, and struggled through 2016. The Falcons cruised through the NFC in 2016 – at least, in the back half of the season – lost in the Super Bowl, and are currently fighting-and-clawing for every win in 2017. The latest of such wins was a five-point victory against the Jets in which the Falcons committed an incredible amount of blunders, yet survived. The 4-3 Falcons are currently not deserving of a winning record.
True to its form from last year, Atlanta does own a top-five offense in yards, but it ranks 15th in points-per-game. This suggests a positive correction is in the works for the Falcons, where they will start to score enough to justify how much they move the football, but it may not happen on Sunday. The Panthers have allowed the fifth-fewest point and second-fewest yards-per-game in the league.
Carolina is not without its own issues. The offense ranks 20th or below in nearly all major statistical categories – points, yards, net-yards-per-pass-attempt, yards-per-rush, etc. – and the front office just made a rather inexplicable decision by trading away wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. His 59.4 receiving-yards-per-game led the team prior to the trade. As noted in the Bills’ writeup, adding Benjamin sends the message that Buffalo is trying to win now. Wouldn’t Carolina trading away Benjamin suggest the opposite?
Taking any move at face value is dangerous, and we should reserve the right to wait before judging. While we can assume the aforementioned ‘message,’ we can’t yet see what else is at-play. The reason why an organization would acquire such an asset is obvious. This does not mean it is equally as clear as to why he was dealt from Carolina’s side of the story.
Whatever the narrative, it is impossible to count out the 5-3 Panthers, right now. In fact, it is important to note that Carolina has achieved a relatively impressive record without offensive production. It doesn’t need Benjamin. Nor did it need Greg Olsen – who was injured two games into the season. The Panthers win when they can slow down an offense and, surprisingly, they face a Falcons team that is averaging just 16.5 points-per-game over its last four games.
Finally, let’s not be fooled by the nonexistent spread. The last five matchups have been decided by at least seven points and, if we remove the lone seven-point margin-of-victory, the average margin balloons to 25.3 per-game. When a team wins in this matchup, it wins big. And, after Carolina took the first two in this five-game span, the Falcons won the next three consecutive meetings. But, there’s a reason why the Panthers are small favorites on Sunday.
The Falcons are still declining, and Carolina is the better team.
The Panthers win by eight points and cover the spread.
Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants (+3)*
It is armageddon for the New York Giants. Their best player is injured. Their offense inept. Their record atrocious. Fans are calling for the coach’s head. And, in walks the hotshot team from Hollywood with the league’s second-best scoring offense. Yet, the Giants are only getting three points.
People, we have been down this road before. We’ve seen this time-and-again. Say it with me: “it’s a ‘trap.'”
Of course, it’s a ‘trap.’ The Rams are 5-2 while the Giants are 1-6. Through seven games, the Giants have scored a total of 112 points. In their three September games, the Rams scored 107. New York’s injury list, according to Pro-Football Reference, is four times as long as Los Angeles’ – go to both; I linked them because it’s so entertaining. The Giants’ last game included 177 yards of total offense – at home. The Rams traveled to Europe and tallied 425 total yards.
It’s a ‘trap.’
The Rams and Giants could not possible be in more opposite positions, yet the spread remains small. This is as textbook as it gets for what we track, and there is a perfect explanation behind it. The Giants and Rams are both coming off bye weeks that will stop their respective trajectories. New York has had two weeks to prepare for Sunday – and erase an embarrassing start to the year – while the Rams can no longer build off their raging momentum. A metaphorical ‘reset button’ has been pushed, and the Rams are poised to suffer while the Giants recover.
The Rams are also allowing the sixth-most yards-per-rush and second-most rushing touchdowns in the league. The Giants are among the league’s worst at running the football, but may finally be committed to a single back in Orleans Darkwa. Again, the extra preparation time will bode will for the reeling Giants.
The ‘trap’ catches Los Angeles, and the Giants win by two points, beating the spread.
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch – and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks.