Just one week ago, the introduction to my NFL picks against the point spread column focused on how long it has taken to reach the point where playoff clinching scenarios must be considered when assessing games. Now, they are littered throughout this article.
As football fans, we should be grateful for how Week 14 unfolded. The teams with big leads in their divisions either locked up their respective titles or will easily in the coming weeks. But, the rest of the races grew tighter. The Chargers and Chiefs both won, and they will play against one another. Detroit and Green Bay won, and the latter is reportedly getting back Aaron Rodgers. And, of course, the Patriots lost, the Steelers won, and the two will battle for the edge in the race for the AFC’s top seed. Which can also be won by Jacksonville! The same team who knocked off the Seahawks.
It doesn’t end there.
Last week, we had a snowstorm completely derail reality, the Browns almost win a game, and a double-digit underdog pull off an outright win on Monday Night Football.
This week, we get football on Saturday, a handful of teams trying to save their seasons, and can’t-miss matchups in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. With three weeks to go in the regular season, we are bound to see chaos somewhere along-the-line. And with the way the schedule is playing out, we are in store for unparalleled entertainment, this weekend.
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: 40-39-4 (Last Week: 3-4)
(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: 106-94-8 (Last Week: 8-7-1)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Week 15 Picks Against the Point Spread
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (+9)*
Between future predictions and past results, the Philadelphia Eagles could fill up an entire column, on their own. With a thrilling win in Los Angeles, last week, the Eagles clinched the NFC East, completing a surge to the top of the division that blew past two playoff participants from last year. Personally, the Eagles were arguably my best pick from the preseason as a surprise division winner, and I had been tracking them with anticipation of this moment. Then disaster struck.
I wrote about the mirroring of this year’s Eagles to last year’s Raiders a few times, and I continually tied it into my pick of Oakland to win its division prior to 2016. Again, I was heavily invested in this outcome, and proud when it came to fruition with a 12-4 campaign, albeit as a Wild Card team. Then disaster struck.
Amazingly, both the Raiders of last year and the Eagles of 2017 had almost the same unfortunate incident cut them down. After flipping their respective divisions on their heads with explosive, playoff-bound seasons, both teams lost their quarterbacks for the remainder of the year in December. This forces us into another personal favorite rule of mine.
I mentioned it twice in last week’s column – and, with the season winding down, injuries piling up, and playoff races out-of-reach, it will be a frequent argument in the weeks to come – but a quarterback does not matter to the outcome of a single game as much as many would think. I usually add the caveat of “unless it’s Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc.” This is true. For a single game, it doesn’t always matter. The issue, therefore, is deciding when it does matter. Because, if it doesn’t matter for one game, by definition, it must matter for others.
At the risk of dedicating nearly the entire column, this week, to the Philadelphia Eagles, we need to lay the groundwork for the remainder of the season. There is about to be a massive overhaul in both the expectations and perception of the Eagles. Let’s be at the forefront of this movement so we can capitalize on it through January.
Remarkably, after news broke that Carson Wentz would, indeed, miss the rest of the year, the general tone around the Eagles was somber, but not catastrophic. To my surprise, the current perception is that the team will still be able to function and compete for a championship without Wentz. The former is true. The latter is not.
Losing Wentz almost certainly means losing a chance at a Super Bowl. Quarterbacks lead teams to victories in the playoffs. But, this is a discussion for another day. It is a bookmark. For now, this current belief that “the Eagles are so good that they don’t need Wentz” can be used to our benefit. And, it’s not because we can project if the comment is true. It’s because we don’t need to make any rash decisions, right now.
When the Eagles travel to New Jersey to face the ever-sinking Giants, they will be asked to cover a massive spread for a road team in the division. By rule, we will be taking the points. Which means we will be indifferent to the outcome of the game, and only be using it as a springboard for the perception of the team in the coming weeks.
Sunday is a new season for the Eagles. A blank slate. Get your notebooks out, because we will be looking back to this game in order to look forward.
In the end, the Eagles do beat a Giants team that can’t complete a game. But, it isn’t a blowout, as defensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach Steve Spagnuolo is auditioning for the team’s head coaching position on-the-fly, and his job was made a bit easier with Wentz’s injury.
Philadelphia wins by six points, but the Giants beat the spread.
Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) at Oakland Raiders
I was asked an interested question, the other day. “With only 4 weeks left in the NFL, Which non-playoff team poses a great threat to beating a team with a good record?” I proudly accepted the challenge and dug in, providing as detailed an answer as possible.
To spare the lengthy read, I concluded that the Cowboys were a worthy enough opponent to knock off a playoff hopeful. There is now a problem. Dallas is the team with the better record trying to hold off a Raiders squad looking to complete an ‘upset.’
We often look for indicators in odd places, but sometimes, the stranger the connection, the more powerful it is. In the case of the Dallas Cowboys, it is the comparison to the Green Bay Packers and their performance in Week 14. Indeed, the Packers were thoroughly outplayed by a Browns team that should have beaten them, but they pulled out the win in the end. It was, by all accounts a ‘must-win.’ It was also more important than what the standings would display.
Last week, the Packers were playing under the assumption that Aaron Rodgers would be returning for the next game. It was, therefore, the last game they had to win without their superstar.
This week, the Cowboys are playing with the guarantee that Ezekiel Elliott will be returning for the next game. It is, therefore, the last game they have to win without their superstar.
Like a handful of teams – ironically, including the Packers – the Cowboys are alive in the hunt for a Wild Card berth at 7-6. Is it likely they run the table and make it into the playoffs? Probably not. But, is it impossible? No, and that is where the looming return of Elliott gains its power.
The Cowboys are not yet dead, and the calvary is arriving shortly. Whatever happens next week will be moot if Dallas can’t take care of its business on Sunday night.
We are running the risk of overlooking two factors when considering the value the Cowboys bring. The first is the manner in which they beat the Giants, last week. The 20-point margin-of-victory is far-from indicative as to how the game actually unfolded. It was a tight contest for the better part of four quarters, and a few late scores makes the game appear to be a blowout. The second issue we face is simply that we are ignoring a Raiders team that also needs to win and also is alive in its respective playoff race. We cannot disrespect one side of a game without breaking it down.
Let’s break it down.
The Raiders are a shell of the team we saw in 2016. Their once-prolific offense is incredibly mediocre, and the last time it scored more than 27 points in a game was in a desperation battle with the Chiefs in which the Raiders had multiple attempts at the end zone with untimed plays due to penalties at the end of regulation. Outside of that, Oakland has scored more than 27 points just one other time. The defense is relatively effective against-the-run, but is a non-entity when teams throw against it.
We can now conclude that we aren’t selling the Raiders solely because we are buying the Cowboys. We are selling the Raiders because they are declining and the Cowboys are, at worst, stable. If Dallas can turn upward, next week’s battle with the Seahawks becomes a lot more interesting.
The Cowboys win by six points and cover 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.