Over the past few weeks, I have mentioned that spreads are getting incredibly close to what we are seeing reflected in the final scores of games. It makes sense. We now have three-quarters of a year’s worth of data at our fingertips, and it can be concluded that, in a head-to-head game, the Vikings are roughly 13 points better than the Lions, while the Buccaneers are three points better than the Colts. It’s impressive. But it shouldn’t be surprising.
And it is definitely telling.
I always write about “reading the spreads.” It’s the job. The whole job, really. What I see and what you see sometimes differ from what the rest of the football-watching world sees. It’s important to stay grounded, and the spreads can help do that.
This week, the spreads tell another story. It’s one we haven’t seen often, this year, but has been shown often in the past. That is, the spreads need to protect those who make the odds from being over-exposed. Number are large in some matchups. Still, we see some risks being taken. They are just as enticing as ever.
This week, we have the opportunity to play both sides of the equation.
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: 45-37-3 (Last Week: 3-1-1)
(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: 109-94-5 (Last Week: 12-2-2)
(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)
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Since the start of the season, I have been all over the regression for the Chicago Bears, as well as the support for the Green Bay Packers. The two were featured heavily in my season-long picks, and we had the opportunity to exploit the incorrect perceptions of each team on Opening Night.
Now, three months later, the Packers and Bears will meet again. But, the roles have been reversed. In essence, order has been restored. As a result, the pendulum has swung too far.
The Bears and Packers are, personnel-wise, roughly the same teams that met on Opening Night. Despite constant conversation about Chicago benching quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the same pieces are still on the chess board. But, because of how each team’s record has diverged over the course of the season, the spread is vastly different than the one we saw in Week 1.
Again, records may say otherwise, but neither team is as different as the spread suggests.
Chicago remains a relative disappointment, but its defense is still excellent. The Bears have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league and rank sixth-best and third-best in net-yards-per-pass-attempt and yards-per-rush, defensively.
The Packers have maintained a steady output on both sides of the ball in terms of scoring, but are dangerously entering a worrisome territory. And, if we penalized the Bears prior to their regression, we have to do the same for the Packers.
Green Bay ranks 13th in both points scored and points against, but 23rd in yards gained and 22nd in yards allowed. Digging deeper, they also have a plus-39 point differential, which ranks them sixth in the NFC behind the 49ers, Vikings, Rams, Saints, and the 6-7 Cowboys.
The Packers cannot survive like this for much longer.
Green Bay’s saving grace is that Chicago’s offense is constantly in a state of turmoil. Even in wins, it struggles to find effective drives on a regular basis. This is where the Packers’ opportunistic defense – which also ranks sixth-best in takeaways – can win the game. We just can’t overlook the gravity of overall regression.
The Packers win an tough, back-and-forth battle by a single point – probably a last-second field goal – but the Bears beat the spread.
Prediction: Chicago Bears (+4.5)
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Over the past few weeks, I have repeated the same things about the Tennessee Titans. And then, to drive the point home, I have been repeating the fact that I am repeating the same things about the Tennessee Titans. Apparently, it feels like it’s never enough.
Now, it is. Because, as much as I have bought into the Titans and continued to highlight where they are doing well, I have also touched upon an element of the game that needs to be taken into account: luck.
“Luck” is an unfair term, and I hesitated to type it. But, I only use the word because I specifically have been on-board with the Titans. Meaning, I am not downplaying Tennessee. I am simply pointing out that we have ridden them to success and were dealt a good hand. This even extended to the spread, as they were constantly undervalued.
Now, the Titans are overvalued. Which means that, if we benefited from some good fortune and the spread being favorable, then we have to be careful when both turn against us. Because, one could easily argue that the “luck” I mentioned was created by Tennessee’s talent – such as blocked field goals at key times. This is true. But we can’t argue that the spread now views the Titans favorably. This had not been the case.
The end result is that the Houston Texans – reigning division champions – now visit Tennessee as underdogs
The fact that the Texans are visitors on Sunday plays a role in the number, but we also have two lopsided games from Week 14 that probably had the biggest impact. Houston suffered the worst ‘upset’ loss of the week when it allowed 38 points to rookie quarterback Drew Lock and the Broncos, while the Titans might have had the most convincing win – at least in the second half and on the scoreboard – rolling through the Raiders by 21 points. This also marked the fourth consecutive game – all wins – in which Tennessee scored at least 31 points.
Houston has also been somewhat maddening in that their inconsistency, this year. They rank well offensively in most categories, but also scored seven points against the Ravens a few weeks ago and have failed to amass 300 yards of offense in two-of-their-last-four games. At the same time, they have eight games in which they allowed no more than 24 points, but six in which the opponent reached at least 30 points. It’s feast-or-famine with the Texans.
Through the inconsistency, however, there is one common trend that Houston follows. The Texans are 1-4 when committing at least two turnovers and 7-1 when turning the ball over no more than once. Most importantly, the one loss with one giveaway was a two-point defeat at the hands of the Saints. Put another way, the Texans fall apart when they give the ball away and stay competitive when they don’t.
Over the last seven games – in which Tennessee made its push in the division via a 6-1 record – the Titans have created more than one turnover only twice.
Houston takes back its lead of the AFC South – at least, for now – winning a close game by two points and beating the spread.
Confidence Pick: Houston Texans (+3)
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!