Every week is a new opportunity when it comes to picking games against the spread. Last week, there were so many inflated spreads due to lopsided matchups that we only needed competitive efforts from a handful of teams in order to benefit. Unfortunately, they missed. But, the reality is that they didn’t miss by much.
The Bengals had four chances to score a touchdown at the end of their game and beat their respective spread. The Browns ended up falling one point shy of their spread. And the Steelers – granted, with help from Miami – ended up less than two points away from the final spread for the game.
The real takeaway from these close misses – in fairness, we had some close wins, too – is that the spreads are starting to become eerily accurate. This is not surprising, as it happens every year – except possibly the one outlier of 2016 I always cite. The only debate is to when it will happen.
Regardless, we made progress in the beginning of the year because we could lean on preseason expectations and how they differed from those of other experts and fans. Now, we have eight game’s worth of data at our fingertips, and the spreads to help guide us into the second half of the season.
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: 28-22-1 (Last Week: 3-3)
(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: 61-59-1 (Last Week: 6-9)
(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)
Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers
I’ve always been a big proponent of jumping back into a streak as soon as it is snapped, but we might have extracted all of the value we could get from quarterback Kyle Allen and the Carolina Panthers. Prior to this week, I loved picking Carolina against-the-spread on a near-weekly basis because the football-watching world was slow to buy into Allen. The numbers remained reasonable.
Last week, the Panthers went into San Francisco and were absolutely obliterated. It should come as no surprise to any of my longterm readers that this outcome barely moves the needle for me. I have no less faith in Carolina as I did before, nor do I have more faith in the 49ers. It was just one game that happened to unfold in a completely lopsided manner. But, there is incredible value in seeing that it did impact people. Only, not in the way that I would have expected.
Snap judgments being as prevalent as they are in the National Football League, I was wholly expecting the Panthers to be buried by football fans after their implosion in San Francisco. It didn’t happen. In fact, from the start of the week until the time I began typing these words, the spread has actually gotten bigger. Why?
The only explanation for the Panthers remaining so favored – more in the eyes of the football fan than the spread – is that people have so heavily bought into the 49ers that a team losing to them – on the road – is an acceptable outcome. It doesn’t change the outlook for a team. And rightfully so. But, not because the Panthers lost to the 49ers. Because they lost a game. One game. Period.
The good news is that the reaction has allowed us to not have to make a decision. Because the spread increased, we don’t need to determine if we should buy into the Panthers as a rebound. We can treat them as if their streak is continuing and has now reached the point where we would have to step away, anyway. At least, for a little while.
It also helps that the team benefiting from this spread is the Tennessee Titans, to which I frequently refer as ‘the most overlooked team in the National Football League.’ No one believes in the Titans. Ever. Which means they usually have solid value.
It’s no secret as to how Tennessee wants to win games. It has allowed the ninth-fewest yards-per-game and fourth-fewest points-per-game. But, the obvious move that has allowed it to win back-to-back games is the change at the quarterback position from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. Do I think Mariota was the problem? Absolutely not. But the team clearly found something in Tannehill that it likes. And, if I go back to what I wrote about the Titans in the preseason, one of the reasons why I picked them to win so many games was because they had a viable option in their backup quarterback. With the potential that Tannehill would start games, it didn’t lower any projections for Tennessee. Now, we are seeing that unfold in realtime.
Carolina has, indeed, found something in Kyle Allen, but his stretch of winning games needs to breath before it can continue. With the Panthers allowing the second-fewest yards-per-rush, the Titans have the perfect matchup to move back over .500 while cooling off the Panthers for a second consecutive week.
The Titans win by a field goal and beat the spread.
Prediction: Tennessee Titans (+4)
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
Allow me to recycle my most commonly used phrase, but in a different format than what we’ve seen in the past. You know the one. It’s about the results being what we expected. Or something like that.
Normally, I refer to a specific game. But, here, we can actually apply “what we expected” from a zoomed-out view.
We expected the Philadelphia Eagles to be good. We expected the Chicago Bears to regress heavily. Taking it one step further, we also expected the Buffalo Bills to be far worse than 6-1.
If we simply apply these expectations – valid in their own right – to what happened in Week 8, then nothing should surprise us as we enter Week 9. That is, the Bills and Bears were in position to lose, and the Eagles were in position to win. All three outcomes aligned with the season-long expectations.
When the Bears and Eagles meet on Sunday, it will be after both teams have taken the necessary steps to approach their end results. Which means that the numbers are now closer to being accurate.
Including the spread. Which, when I started writing this blurb, had shrunk.
Another number worth monitoring can be found in the matchup between the Eagles’ defense and the Bears’ offense. Both of these units have been widely criticized, and for good measure. But, the teams’ respective strengths are still intact. The Bears’ defense – seventh-best in yards-per-game and net-yards-per-pass-attempt, while fourth-best in yards-per-rush – has a distinct advantage over an Eagles’ offense that ranks 21st, 20th, and 14th in the same categories, respectively.
Philadelphia is capable of putting together an offensive day every time it takes the field, but the Bears’ defense remains their best route to a victory. It also remains their best chance to beat the spread. Despite a losing record, Chicago actually has a positive point differential. It’s better for the Bears to be getting points – and playing a close game – than giving – and being asked to dominate.
Philadelphia still has the brighter future for 2019, and it will head into its bye week with a 5-4 record. But, the Eagles win by only single point, as Chicago beats the spread.
Confidence Pick: Chicago Bears (+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!