Each football season carries its own individual story. We try to uncover it with each passing week when making our NFL picks against the point spread. 2017, in particular, had been incredibly reliant on trends – to our benefit – until the last few weeks. But, at one point in the year, we can start to abandon past histories and start looking to the finish line.
2017’s finish line might actually be closer than we thought.
Each team only has four games remaining in its schedule. One-quarter of the season still remains for every single franchise yet, in the early weeks of December, we are not talking, writing, or reading about playoff races.
The AFC East is all-but-guaranteed to go to New England. The same is true for the NFC East and the Eagles and the NFC North and the Vikings. The Steelers are only a game behind the “guaranteed” pace for the AFC North, but it would take a monumental collapse for things to change. Again, we have four full weeks remaining in the year, and we can basically hand half of the divisions to their current leaders.
Amazingly, even the Wild Card chases are not that competitive. Certainly, we see two teams that will lose the AFC West inserted in the Wild Card picture, but they are all one full game behind Baltimore for the final spot. The NFC might feature some drama with the 7-5 Falcons on the outside, looking in, but it would likely take a run by one of the 6-6 teams to add some fuel to the fire.
Otherwise, if the 2017 season wants to wrap up its playoff push early, so be it. If that’s the case, we don’t need to look to the narrowing weeks. We can continue to rely on the matchups, numbers, and patterns that got us here.
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: 37-35-4 (Last Week: 2-4)
(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: 98-87-7 (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 14 Picks Against the Point Spread
San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans (-2.5)
I write, almost weekly, about how eager I am to sell the Texans on a weekly basis but, when faced with dissecting one of the ugliest matchups of the weekend, I can’t overlook that, for once, Houston isn’t the worst of two teams in a given game. At 4-8, it is two full games better than the 2-12 49ers. Then again, we would be wise to accept that this week’s San Francisco squad is not the same as the team from the first eleven games.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the 49ers won their second game of the season, last week, and did so with a new quarterback at the helm. Jimmy Garoppolo made his first start with the team and, in playing into the hype, led San Francisco to a victory. Let’s pump the brakes on the bus to Canton.
Garoppolo is given the same treatment as nearly every other former backup quarterback to a superstar. That is, the assumption that learning under someone like Tom Brady – or just, osmosis from being around him – will undoubtedly produce a future star. It isn’t true. At least, it isn’t to be taken as gospel. Might Garoppolo be good? Yes. Will he unequivocally save the 49ers? Absolutely not.
As we approach Garoppolo’s second start with San Francisco, it is clear that he is the key to victory. If he truly is as “ready to be a franchise quarterback” as most argue, he should have no problem in Houston. But, that is the only way the 49ers will win. After all, they were 1-11 without him, and the only victory was a home blowout against the reeling Giants. And, if we are buying into hype, alone, then, by definition, we are not buying into skill, matchup, or circumstance. We are not buying into the 49ers.
Houston remains forced into playing Tom Savage under center but, out of nothing but sheer necessity, the Texans are allowing Savage to fly. It isn’t smooth, but he isn’t nosediving. Last week, Savage attempted a whopping 49 passes, and completed 31 of them for 365 yards. Before that, he had another 37 attempts against a fantastic defense in Baltimore. San Francisco has faced the fifth-fewest pass attempts, but ranks 25th in net-yards-per-pass-attempt.
The Texans win by six points and cover the spread.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+4.5)*
The circus has arrived in The Big Apple and, this time, it is not the Dallas Cowboys and their never-ending list of drama. Instead, the New York Giants, frequently regarded as one of the “classiest” organizations in the sport, that lead the charge of chaos. Let’s recap the last week or so.
New York fell to 2-9 because, as stated countless times in this column – dating back to last year – the team was incredibly over-extended in 2016 and regression was long overdue. The squad’s primadonna wide receiver missed nearly the entire season and, when he was active, highlighted arguably the worst offense in the sport. More weeks passed. More losses accumulated. The team then visibly quit during a blowout loss to the Rams, and then became the first victim of the San Francisco 49ers.
Somewhere in the organization that was not, reportedly, the owner’s office, the decision was made to bench the team’s franchise quarterback who was in the midst of one of the longest consecutive starts streak in history. The team lost. The next day, it fired the head coach. And the general manager.
Now, the Giants are turning back to Eli Manning. He is the starting quarterback, once again. Day 1 of a new streak begins on Sunday.
Throughout this ordeal, we could not have asked for a more telling indicator. The same one that inched up barely in preparation of last week’s game – the ended up being perfectly accurate. The same one that has crept down since its open.
Even with the laundry list of insane factors, the spread between the Giants and Cowboys has gone down since opening at six points. And, it is not because of Eli Manning’s talent compared to Geno Smith’s.
It is, however, due to the incredible home field advantage the Giants just secured by making the swap back to Manning.
No matter what the actual on-field metrics show, there was a universal outrage toward the move from Manning to Smith, and the Giants were quick to not let Manning stand on the sidelines at MetLife Stadium with a clipboard in his hand. Had that been the case, the crowd would have arguably been against New York – especially with how well Dallas draws in northern New Jersey. Now, it has its rallying cry. Nevermind that move is completely contradictory to the lie that was spun during Manning’s benching. All is forgotten.
The other swap that was made prior to Sunday’s divisional matchup was the temporary promotion of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to the role of interim head coach. Spagnuolo was one of the most respected members of the Giants’ staff in his last tenure as coordinator, and he will certainly be looked upon favorably by the team in the wake of the recent disaster. Make no mistake, there will be no ‘quitting’ on Sunday.
Dallas performed exactly as it should have in Week 13, exploding at the perfect time for its second-biggest blowout win of the year. It needed to ‘correct’ from a horrible streak well beneath its average, and it did so in a big way. Now, it can back to struggling offensively in the face of a defense that shut it down twice in 2016 and without running back Ezekiel Elliott carrying the workload.
The Giants win by four points and beat 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.