We’ve reached the end. Technically, not the end of the regular season, but the end of the competitive portion of the regular season. Because, when next week arrives, we may not have a clue as to which team will even show up on the field.
Therefore, it is critical to make up as much ground as possible in Week 16, both for us against-the-spreads and the teams still fighting for playoff berths.
Of course, just because a team needs to win a game or two does not necessarily mean it will happen. But, if we look to the overall landscape of the season as it approaches its close, we can paint an estimated picture of what will appear.
Certain teams that have been outstanding for the duration of the season are no worse for wear based on one or two bad outings, while other teams have fought their way into the playoff race and might actually belong in the hunt.
As always, it is our job to decipher which team fits which characteristic, and it is where we can find our advantage.
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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 – 2018 Season: 52-41-4 (Last Week: 4-2-1)
(2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (4-Year Total: 236-206-11)
All Picks Against Spread – 2018 Season: 116-99-9 (Last Week: 8-7-1)
(2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (4-Year Total: 552-486-30)
You can’t look anywhere without seeing questions about the New England Patriots.
“Is this the end?”
“Can this team make a Super Bowl Run?”
“What’s wrong with the Patriots?”
The latter of the three is my personal favorite.
If New England goes on to win its final two games – against the Bills and Jets – it will need just a little help to secure a first-round bye. Perhaps it doesn’t get the help. Instead, it falls to the 3-seed and hosts the last AFC team to make the playoffs and, if the Patriots win, they would travel to either Houston or Kansas City – both of whom New England already beat.
Quickly, we may not be asking if anything is wrong with the Patriots.
Is this scenario not likely? Is it not entirely plausible that New England simply got caught by a Steelers team that is talented enough to win a home game against New England?
And, would any of this conversation take place if one of the three Dolphins players who touched the ball in the crazy-lateral-play that won the game was tackled before the end zone? It seems as if this point is being forgotten. As is the fact that New England led Miami with seconds remaining and only lost because of a nearly-impossibly unfortunate ‘circus play.’ In an alternate universe, we are not discussing the downfall of New England. We are discussing its seeding in the playoffs. As we should.
The Buffalo Bills played an admirable game against the Patriots when these two teams went head-to-head in Week 8, but it was also on national television in a hostile environment. As we have cited many times, New England is nearly unstoppable at home in December under this current regime, and the Bills will not be the team to break this trend.
The Patriots win by twenty points and cover the spread.
Prediction: New England Patriots (-12.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
The National Football League has done an excellent job of creating compelling matchups toward the end of any season. It started with making every Week 17 game a battle between two division opponents, but it has taken it one step further by having a handful of divisional matchups, this week. In doing so, it forces teams to play the role of ‘spoiler’ on potentially two occasions. In the case of the Detroit Lions, Sunday is the only game in which it can play ‘spoiler,’ as next week’s trip to Green Bay is essentially meaningless.
Detroit, itself, is the ideal ‘sleeper’ team. It has been dreadful on offense for a long period of time – 17 points or fewer in four consecutive games – and just lost to the Buffalo Bills. For the casual fan, picking against the Lions will be easy.
As will picking the Minnesota Vikings, fresh off their season-high 41-point outburst. Games like that catch people’s attention. And move the spread.
Taking into account the image of both teams, the number of points given from the Vikings to the Lions should be relatively high. At first, it wasn’t. At least, not in a significant way.
Since its open, the spread has moved from four-and-a-half-points to five-and-a-half points, and it is almost certainly due to the new love for Minnesota. This is furthered by the Vikings currently holding the sixth seed and with control of their own destiny. Again, the Lions will not so easily concede defeat.
As Detroit’s offense has weakened, its defense has strengthened. Over the last five games, the Lions are allowing an average of 17.8 points-per-game, while holing opponents to fewer than 85 rushing-yards-per-game. This plays nicely into the narrative for a close game, as the Vikings will almost certainly try to replicate their incredible success running the ball in Week 15, while the Lions’ defense is comparatively better against the run than the pass.
Where Minnesota gets its ultimate edge is the strength of a defense that is returning to last year’s form. The Vikings have allowed no more than 25 points since Week 8, and they now rank fourth-best in the league in yards allowed. Even with some positive correction for the Lions, Minnesota will be able to keep Detroit contained. It is worth noting, however, that the Vikings have allowed at least 17 points in five consecutive weeks, which is the avenue through which the Lions can stay within striking distance.
Minnesota wins by two points, but the Lions beat the spread.
Confidence Pick: Detroit Lions (+5.5)
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. His 4-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 552-486-30!
Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr, C.C 2.0