It had to end somewhere. The streak of non-losing weeks in our picks against the point spread had reached mid-November but, alas, in Weeks 11 and 12, the numbers finally caught up. Not just to us, however. And therein lies the value.
For starters, the back-to-back losing weeks only cost us seven games in the record. Still, we sit a whopping 15 games above .500. This is critically important to note because we just held on during a massive downturn in the trends. One that is unavoidable. One that is unsustainable.
Prior to Week 11, underdogs were thriving. This is, not surprisingly, why this column was, too. By the time Monday Night Football began in Week 12, favorites were an absurd 12-3 against-the-spread.
Twelve-and-three. And, without question, a large majority of these twelve wins were considered ‘easy.’ They were popular. They were reminiscent of last year when it was a ‘no-brainer’ to pick the Patriots or against the Browns, every week. But, if we look closer, we can accept that this had to happen. No season can continually be so one-sided. So, favorites won. The ball bounced in that direction.
New England covered by a half-point. So did Tennessee. The Giants gave the Redskins three free points, and Washington covered. Tevin Coleman scored a meaningless touchdown in Atlanta to give the Falcons the cover. And Joe Mixon pushed the Bengals 14 points ahead of the Browns. That these happened at all is acceptable. That they all happened on the same week is simply amazing. Not bad. Just amazing.
In fact, it is a good outcome, because we can now move past the quick-burst of favorites succeeding in the same week. We can target underdogs to make their move, yet again.
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: 35-31-4 (Last Week: 3-3)
(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: 92-77-7 (Last Week: 6-10)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Week 13 Picks Against the Point Spread
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears (-3)
I almost did it. I almost made a mistake. I almost went against myself.
In fact, here is a sneak peek as to what I started writing before giving it a second thought:
“I hate playing into hype, and it is even worse when spreads are involved.”
The “hype” to which I was referring is the excitement surrounding new 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, named as the team’s starter after an injury to C.J. Beathard. One would think that following Beathard – who followed Brian Hoyer – and taking over a 1-10 team would leave absolutely no pressure on the quarterback. Not Garoppolo. Not the former heir apparent to Tom Brady. Not the man who has thrown a total of two passes for the 49ers, yet is likely to receive the franchise tag, this offseason. There is nothing but pressure for Garoppolo on Sunday.
The move to start Garoppolo was as obvious as anything we have seen in the National Football League. The 49ers stashed him away after trading for him, but needed an opening. A late-game injury to Beathard forced Garoppolo into action and, two passes later, he had thrown an interception. Even if Beathard miraculously healed overnight, the job is Garoppolo’s. So, when the news became official, the spread barely budged. It had already moved down a single point from its open, and drifted only another half-point, but it didn’t need to move from there because, again, this was expected.
This also tells a story.
Even with Garoppolo confirmed to start, the 49ers are getting a field goal worth of points. They are the underdogs to a team that just lost 31-3. And, we already established that Garoppolo is entering a pressure-packed role, so it is not as if the news will go overlooked. Basically, not only can you buy into Garoppolo on Sunday, but you can get him at a discount.
No thanks. Not right now.
Perhaps, Garoppolo will be as good as the trade market perceived him to be over the last calendar year. But, to date, he has made exactly two previous starts and thrown fewer than 100 passes. In his career. This is the smallest of small sample sizes.
Meanwhile, the 49ers’ defense is allowing the fifth-most points and yards in the league, while the Bears are coming off their worst offensive performance of the season – a three-point showing against the 10-1 Eagles. Conveniently, the 49ers have allowed the third-most rushing yards in the league, while the Bears have tallied the eighth-most, offensively.
Chicago spoils Garoppolo’s first start with San Francisco, as the Bears win by six points and cover the spread.
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (+7.5)*
What a world.
The Los Angeles Rams fired their head coach, had no offense of which to speak, and were mocked mercilessly for bringing a losing franchise west to Hollywood. The Arizona Cardinals were bitten by an injury bug, incredibly impressive in point differential anyway, but still finished the season with a losing record. The offseason led to turnover for the Rams, while giving the Cardinals a break before heading into a ‘rebound’ year.
Fast-forward to December, and the Rams are road favorites by more than a touchdown worth of points to the Cardinals.
Following the two teams weekly, it isn’t hard to understand why the spread is so large and lopsided. It is because our opinion has been reshaped over the past few months. Through injuries to the Cardinals. Through outstanding performances by the Rams. We have reached this point on purpose and, while we can no longer question the legitimacy of the Rams nor the downtrend of the Cardinals, it would be ignorant to assume nothing will change. That the two teams will continue heading in opposite directions. Especially after the last meeting between the two franchises defined their current directions in dramatic fashion.
Since the international embarrassment that was a 33-0 blowout loss to the Rams, the Cardinals have hovered around .500 while sorting through quarterback options and appear to have landed on Blaine Gabbert after an impressive win against the Jaguars. During this last 4-game span, Arizona scored at least 20 points three times. In the last two games – both started by Gabbert – Arizona scored at least 21 points. By comparison, the Cardinals failed to score more than 18 points in five-of-their-first-seven games. Last week’s 27-point showing was the second-highest total by Arizona, all year. And, it came against the league’s top defense – still – in both yards and points allowed.
The Rams rebounded beautifully against the Saints after a tough road loss in Minnesota the week prior, and they now find themselves in dangerous territory. After beating the Saints, the Rams travel to Arizona, then host the currently-10-1 Eagles. The matchup is undoubtedly circled in Los Angeles’ locker room. Which, by extension, means that Los Angeles is at risk to overlook the Cardinals.
As noted earlier, the Rams are every bit deserving of their praise, but the torrid pace at which they were performing has predictably slowed down. After three consecutive games in which Los Angeles scored at least 33 points, it scored only 33 points over the last two weeks, combined. The Rams also allowed only 11.4 points-per-game during the five-week stretch that preceded Week 11’s loss in Minnesota. In the following two games, the Rams allowed 24 and 20 points, respectively.
Los Angeles will continue its pursuit of a division title or, at worst, Wild Card berth in the coming weeks, but Arizona is thoroughly overlooked by both the Rams and the spread. The Cardinals’ yardage statistics – offensively and defensively – are far better than their scoring numbers, facilitating the correction even more. Revenge from the blowout will help.
Arizona wins by a field goal and beats the large 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.
Photo Credit: By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons