I have to be fair. If I point to an average record in a difficult week as a ‘win,’ then I must point to good record in an ‘easy’ week as a ‘breakeven.’ Such is the task laid out before us.
We aim to win, and I frequently comment that staying afloat in weeks where others sink is just as valuable as winning weeks. It’s true. But, we have to acknowledge when a week was inflated.
Like last week.
Look at the teams that covered their respective spreads. The Chiefs are an ‘easy’ pick. So were the Ravens. Dallas was playing against a backup quarterback and won by eight points, where the spread never reached that number. And, of course, the Patriots are a team to which most people turn on any given week. They covered, too.
The point is that we turned in a winning week when it was imperative to do so. But, more specifically, we kept pace where others could have gained ground. Now, we can look for those who benefited from an ‘easy’ week to take false positives too far.
And we can capitalize.
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: 36-31-2 (Last Week: 4-2)
(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: 83-76-3 (Last Week: 9-5)
(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)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Everyone, back off.
I take exception to the bandwagon-piling that I am seeing regarding the Atlanta Falcons. Because I was the driver of the bandwagon in the preseason. Sure, it crashed and burned. Sure, everyone else fled to safety. Sure, I was left alone and refused to remove my seatbelt. Still, now that it has been returned to its upright position and the fire has subsided, I’m still in here. And I don’t appreciate how crowded it’s become.
In fairness, it’s really not that crowded. Even if the Falcons win four or five more consecutive games, it won’t mean anything in the grand scale of the season. But, the point is that people are now starting to take Atlanta seriously. They are starting to chase the Falcons.
Which means that we have to leave them to tend to the bandwagon. It’s not drivable in this condition, anyway.
To put it in more eloquent terms, it’s too late for the Falcons. For the past two weeks, they didn’t play like this was the case, but it was for the majority of the season, and it remains the case, now. But, of course, there is the midseason push that helps correct some of the over-extension.
And we have been patiently waiting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to do the same.
The Falcons were high on my list of ‘possible surprise teams,’ but so were the Buccaneers. They had a new head coach and an offense that could win some games. Like Atlanta, Tampa Bay simply hasn’t been able to make it all work.
The reality is that the Buccaneers are like the Falcons. They just didn’t play the same games over the last few weeks.
While Atlanta was returning a punt for a touchdown, Tampa Bay was having an interception get caught by its own player behind-the-back, and then shoveled into the arms of the defender. One of these outcomes was good. The other bad. Neither are reasonable nor sustainable.
The Falcons still have major concerns about their offense – which exclusively features a passing attack and no run game – while the Buccaneers rank sixth in the league in points-per-game and yards-per-game, offensively.
Had this game been played earlier in the season, Tampa Bay would almost certainly be favored. The fact that it will take place after the Falcons won back-to-back games while the Buccaneers lost by three scores at home is the only reason why they’re getting points.
We know better.
The number is off because the rush of support is misplaced. It’s too late.
Tampa Bay wins by a field goal and beats the spread.
Confidence Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4.5)
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns
I’m going to stand by something I wrote in last week’s column: “In fact, is it that impossible to think that, with the Dolphins on-deck, Cleveland might go on a run and get it back into the conversation of, at least, respectability?”
I meant what I wrote. I do believe that the Cleveland Browns are about to go on a run that brings them out of the basement of the AFC and into the middle-of-the-pack.
But, I also didn’t expect the pendulum to, again, swing so violently.
I should have. We’ve seen this setup before. A team with soaring expectations fails to meet them, people bail, then the team starts playing well and the bandwagon fills again. Look to the 49ers of this year after how beloved they were entering last season. The Browns are similar.
What we can’t overlook or forget is that Cleveland obviously has flaws. And, much like the Raiders with a double-digit spread, last week, are we going to expect the Browns to demolish a team?
The Miami Dolphins remain dreadful, and I won’t cite a win against their division rivals in the Jets or a backup quarterback in the Colts as reason for excitement. In truth, there is no reason for excitement. But, the team is no longer giving up on the prospect of winning. And, it’s not impossible to believe that the injury to the league’s top quarterback draft prospect might now give Miami even less of an incentive to lose. This doesn’t mean the Dolphins will magically start winning games. But it does mean they can compete.
The bar was set exceptionally low but, after four consecutive games of scoring no more than ten points, Miami has now scored at least 14 in each of the last six games. In addition, after allowing no fewer than 30 for the first four games, the Dolphins are averaging 23.67 points-allowed-per-game over their last six matchups. The two highest scores allowed were also against the Bills, a division opponent.
Cleveland had a brutal stretch to start the season and is now in the middle of the ‘soft part’ of its schedule. It gets another win as it knocks off the Dolphins, but only by six points as Miami beats the spread.
Prediction: Miami Dolphins (+10.5)
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!