Last week, I wrote about how important it is to tread water when things get rough. We did so, again. But, “rough” waters aren’t made from results. They’re made from the shifts in trends. Subtle at first. Then violent.
There’s a shift happening. We’re about to see it. In fact, it usually happens around this time of year. Because, after four or five weeks, we finally can erase last year’s perceptions and actual build a new foundation. The sample size is finally getting large enough so that we can trust what we see.
And then it will get knocked down.
This is the time of year when we hear people complain that, “You can’t figure out the NFL.” This is the time of year when people will pick the Bears to crush the Raiders or the Chiefs to obliterate the Colts and then stand confused when the final score shows otherwise.
And this is the time of year when people give up on teams or suddenly buy into new ones.
Which means that this is the time of year we prepare to get ahead of the next wave.
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 – 2019 Season: 20-12-1 (Last Week: 3-2)
(2018 Season: 63-48-4) (2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (5-Year Total: 299-254-15)
All Picks Against Spread – 2019 Season: 42-35-1 (Last Week: 7-8)
(2018 Season: 137-118-12) (2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (5-Year Total: 689-604-42)
Seattle Seahawks at Cleveland Browns
This is my sixth year of writing picks publicly. In the prior five, we have had only one losing season. And that one season was the only one in which I received emails asked if I were biased. Never before. And not since.
I take pride in that. Not because I’m not biased, but because everyone has some level of bias to them. I don’t even hide mine. I just don’t let it change my thinking. When we lose, people assume it is due to some sort of bias. When we win, that assumption disappears. But, the biases don’t.
Here’s an example.
I love Russell Wilson. I think he is truly one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I enjoy watching him play. I enjoy watching him succeed. He’s both phenomenal and underrated. And I never hide my fandom for him.
I don’t like Baker Mayfield. At all. I think he is truly one of the most overrated quarterbacks in recent memory. His style-of-play does not fit in the National Football League. He’s both struggling and overrated. And I never hide my disdain for him.
Now, imagine a game in which the two of them meet. Imagine Russell Wilson and his 4-1 Seattle Seahawks are traveling to face Baker Mayfield and his 2-3 Cleveland Browns. This is a no-brainer, right? Seattle will easily cruise to a victory just based on the merits of quarterback play, alone.
Now, imagine we can adjust for this ‘no-brainer.’ To make it fair, we can challenge Seattle to not only win the game, but win by a certain amount of points. We can set the number to be whatever we feel is reasonable for the margin-of-victory at the end. Let’s call this a “spread.” I don’t know why. It just came to me.
What would we pick for the spread? Three points? Seven? Maybe fourteen is a little much since Seattle is playing on the road and has a beatable run defense compared to Cleveland’s rushing offense that ranks seventh in touchdowns and tenth in yards-per-carry. Let’s set the spread around six points. Why not? It’s our number and I clearly like Wilson and dislike Mayfield.
What about you? What number would you pick? Four? Forty? Maybe you like Mayfield even less than I do.
Whatever the fictional group we would poll, it is hard to imagine that the number wouldn’t be tilted in Seattle’s favor. After all, I just went through the exercise admitting that I have a bias. There will be more of me out there. And, if they were in hiding, they absolutely will show up with more fervor after watching the Browns look horrible, again, on national television. If they needed any other push, there it is.
But then we step out of the way. We realize we don’t have all the answers. So we ask one other group to set the number for us. A group that consists of professionals who make odds. Let’s call them “oddsmakers.”
What say, you oddsmakers? How many points should the Seahawks be giving to the Browns on Sunday?
It’s the Browns who should be giving the points.
At least, that was the initial comment. It has since changed due to the overwhelming support the Seahawks are undoubtedly receiving.
Perfect. We have further confirmation that biases are not only everywhere, but also having an impact. Which is exactly the point. I, too, have biases. I just try to point them out and not let them get in the way.
Cleveland wins by four points and beats the spread.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns (+2)
Washington Redskins at Miami Dolphins
This is why the National Football League is so great.
This is why I genuinely love writing about it.
And this is why I pick every single game against-the-spread.
Because, in what other universe would a game between the 0-5 Washington Redskins and 0-4 Miami Dolphins be exciting?
I would argue that this might be the most exciting game of the week. At least, the most exciting to break down. Because we have storylines that are not only easy to read, but powerful.
Let’s start with Washington. Some have argued that this team might actually be worse than the Dolphins. I’m not so sure, but it’s a fair conversation. By basically every metric, the Redskins are atrocious. And they’re 0-5. No one’s surprised. And no one was surprised when the team fired its head coach. Which brings us to our first storyline.
Head coaches in their first game with a team have mixed results, but I generally lean on it as a positive shift. Teams don’t typically fire their coaches after good outcomes – unless they’re the Titans – so any move from one head coach to the other is usually a reaction to negativity. But, there’s something else buried within each coaching change that is undeniable – the new coach’s drive to win.
All coaches want to win – although I’ll argue against that in a moment – but some are willing to wait for the wins. They’ll lose the battle now to win the war later – this always seemed like the plan of Cleveland’s Hue Jackson when the team was stockpiling picks and losing seasons. But, an interim head coach has no such desires. There might not be a “war later.” The battle is now. There will be no questioning if Washington wants to win.
There is questioning if Miami wants to win.
This is where the argument wavers in terms of coaches always pushing for wins. Surely, head coach Brian Flores is struggling with the backlash of a team clearly not interested in competing in 2019, but he is constantly being limited in what he can do. The team is trading away pieces to ensure that its plan works, and the 0-4 record is confirmation that it is. But, if the Dolphins are looking at the schedule and their future draft position, they actually have a threat looming: the Washington Redskins.
The Jets will win more game than the Dolphins, this year. So will the Steelers and Giants. But, if the Redskins were to lose on Sunday, they might sneak into the top spot of the Draft. Miami, which has laid out the future in anticipation of drafting first overall. Each of the aforementioned teams are on Miami’s schedule. None poses a bigger threat to the goal than Washington. At least, not until Cincinnati comes to town in Week 16.
The two teams are both headed for terribly bad seasons, but they have different approaches heading into Sunday’s game. The Redskins will get their first victory of the year, winning by ten points and covering the spread.
Confidence Pick: Washington Redskins (-3.5)
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 2018 with an accuracy of 56.8% for his confidence picks. His 5-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 689-604-41!