Time tends to move a bit faster when things are going well.
For the past eleven weeks, I had been so consumed with working toward the goal of getting these picks to their level of success from 2014 and 2015 that the season, itself, has blown right past my eyes. It wasn’t until now, in reflection of my first losing week of the season – I am extremely proud of this – that I can begin to look ahead to how it will close. Which means we can look ahead, beyond this column, to how the teams will close their respective seasons.
The bye weeks are now officially behind us. Every team has ten games under its belt, and the numbers are starting to sort themselves out. As are the playoff positions. And, as it turns out, many of the division leaders are holding dominant leads relative to past seasons. This also means that an abnormally large number of teams are on the brink of elimination. At least, in the division. But, if they lose, the chance to claim a Wild Card berth might still follow.
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: 32-28-4 (Last Week: 2-3-1)
(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: 86-67-7 (Last Week: 5-8-1)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Week 12 Picks Against the Point Spread
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-10)
The Bills failed us. No, they lied to us. They told us that Nathan Peterman was ready to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. They told us he was better suited to lead a team to victory than Tyrod Taylor. They told us he wasn’t terrible.
Maybe the Bills didn’t use these phrases exactly as I claim, but the hidden message behind their action was not too difficult to decipher. The team clearly felt it was enough of a playoff contender to trade for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, but also felt its starting quarterback was holding it back.
Now, the Bills will review the tape and realize that all of its quarterback play is holding the team back.
Sunday was as bad a debut as possibly for the rookie Peterman. He threw five first-half interceptions that resulted in a loss before halftime. The final thirty minutes were merely a formality. But, the final thirty minutes did not include Peterman suffering for his errors. Instead, the Bills made another quarterback change back to Tyrod Taylor.
I have been rough on the Houston Texans for their handling of the quarterback position since head coach Bill O’Brien took over, and I frequently knocked how quickly he pulled the plug on the Tom Savage experiment – only to be forced back into it due to an injury. The same downgrade needs to be applied to Buffalo and its new head coach, Sean McDermott. If he is trying to light a metaphorical fire under his team by benching Taylor, he essentially threw lighter fluid onto the existing flame by turning back to him. He didn’t light a fire that got his team moving. He lit a fire that incinerated it in the process.
Of course, the Bills were the talking point of Week 11. They emerge as the laughing stock which, by normal standards, would lead to a ‘bounceback’ setup. Unfortunately for Buffalo, they are traveling to one of the most difficult places for a visiting team to win to face a Chiefs team that returned from its bye week to lose to the Giants. The formerly 1-8 Giants.
Kansas City had jumped out to such a hot start, this season, that it still holds a two-game lead over the Chargers and Raiders in the AFC West. But, the lead has dwindled with a 1-4 slide. Now, questions are being asked. People are doubting the Chiefs.
While most of the league’s better teams run the risk of failing to weaker division rivals who have established a gameplan against said team that occasionally works, the Chiefs – and head coach Andy Reid, in particular – handle AFC West teams well. It is the non-conference opponents that give them trouble.
Of the Chiefs’ four losses, two were from the NFC East. In 2016, Kansas City lost only four games. One was to the NFC South’s Buccaneers. And, as a side note, it beat the Falcons via a blocked extra point returned for a touchdown. Stepping back one more year, the 11-5 Chiefs suffered a 1-3 fate against the NFC North.
Not only can the struggles against non-conference opponents explain the losses by Kansas City, but it can highlight just how dominant the Chiefs have been in the remaining games. Still with a top-seven offense in both points and yards and with the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins in the coming weeks, another hot streak is about to start for Kansas City.
The Chiefs win by seventeen points and cover the large spread.
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5)*
It was only a matter of time.
The Saints have completely eviscerated any doubts about how it could possibly rebound from its 0-2 start and still make the playoffs by barreling through the next eight teams in what-is-now an eight-game winning streak. “Barreling” is the operative word, as the Saints were routinely blowing teams out in the process. That was, until they hosted the Redskins.
Washington was, statistically, the best offense the Saints had faced during the eight-game span, and it proved how to beat the Saints by jumping out to a lead and keeping the pressure applied throughout. Unfortunately for the Redskins, said pressure did let up just a bit at the end, and New Orleans pulled off one of the most impossible come-from-behind wins imaginable.
The winning streak continued.
The winning streak against-the-spread did not.
We always care more about the latter, not just because it is the focal point of this column, but because the spreads are designed to adjust according to a team’s path. It was refreshing to see the metaphorical net grow so wide that it caught the Saints.
Now, even after a victory and against a team coming off a loss, we find the Saints as underdogs. What are we to make of this revelation?
As evidenced by last week’s outcome, we can trust the spread, once again.
Last week, the Rams were eventually overmatched with a young quarterback against a truly elite defense, but Sunday will not present the same issues for Los Angeles. Instead, it will bring a battle of offenses. Washington just showed how beatable the Saints’ defense still is, and the Rams – ranked second in points and fourth in yards – are easily capable of finding the same holes. Only, Los Angeles also ranks sixth in the league in points allowed.
New Orleans is a perfect 6-0 when allowing 28 points or fewer – really, it is 17 points or fewer, which is remarkable, as it has yet to allow between 18 and 28 points, all year – and 2-2 elsewhere. Transitioning from Minnesota’s defense to New Orleans’ and playing at home will put the Rams in the latter category, where the offense will shine, once again.
Los Angeles wins by six points and covers 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.