Well, that's one way to bounce back.
One week removed from our worst performance of the year, we turned everything around and had a killer rebound: 11-2 against the spread. Even we never expected a success rate like that. In fact, we don't aim for perfection each week. We aim for steady gains over the course of the season.
We aim for trends, traps, and opportunities.
We never expect anything –- rules or methods –- to be close to 100 percent efficient, but we look for 'bundles' of games that tend to stick out. For example, the Chargers and Browns were two of the most supported teams all week, and the Redskins were getting back Robert Griffin III. As a result, perception drove these into the category of 'easy picks.' All three teams failed to cover.
What was possibly the best result of Week 9 as a whole, however, was how the overall trend of the league remained relatively unchanged. While we saw a few traps develop, favorites were still only 7-6 against the spread. After Week 8 tilted in the direction of favorites to the tune of 9-6, we expected underdogs to gain back some of their losses in the coming weeks. With a relatively steady Week 9, the edge still belongs to the underdogs going forward.
With another light schedule of games –- six teams are on their bye week –- we expect another relatively quiet week before approaching the home stretch. There are some marquee matchups of playoff hopefuls like the Dolphins and Lions or Chiefs and Bills, but Week 10 is eerily similar to last week.
With that, we prepare ourselves for a worthy encore.
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 and an asterisk denotes one of the week's most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 3-2 (Season: 27-26)
All Picks Against Spread: 11-2 (Season: 71-62-1)
Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)* at Buffalo Bills
The Chiefs have quietly slid back into the AFC West race on the heels of a three-game winning streak. Granted, two of the three wins came against the Jets and Rams, but Kansas City has still won five of its last six games. Beating equally unimpressive teams in their last two games -– Jets and Vikings -– the Bills have also improved to 5-3, and appear to be getting even less respect than the Chiefs.
Both teams have ridden their top-ten defenses to this point in the season, but the edge in most of the matchups tends to go to the Chiefs. Ranked second in the league in points allowed despite causing the second-fewest turnovers, the Chiefs sack the quarterback at a higher rate than any other team in the NFL. Conveniently, Buffalo allows the fifth-most sacks per pass attempt.
At 5-3, both teams have valid reasons to believe they are playoff contenders, but the Bills have a history of disappointing as the season drags on. Kansas City is streaking right now and, by almost all metrics, is the better team. The small spread is favorable in the sense that it is balanced -– it's tough to 'trap' a game with two 5-3 teams -– yet small enough to cover. The Chiefs win by a touchdown and cover.
Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions (-2.5)
With their 37-0 bashing of the Chargers on Sunday, the Dolphins should have finally opened some eyes. They dominated San Diego the entire game and now head to Detroit on the heels of a three-game winning streak. Across the board, Miami is creeping up the rankings, and it now features the third-best defense in the National Football League.
Too bad the Lions are ranked first.
Narrowly escaping their last two games with a win -– each by one point -– the 6-2 Lions caught a much-needed break with the placement of their bye week. It would have been an extremely difficult task for Detroit to avoid a letdown after consecutive dramatic wins, and, at the time of this writing, the extra week off appears to be enough time for wide receiver Calvin Johnson to recover from his ankle injury enough to play against Miami.
Miami's win against the Chargers was certainly enough to get people's attention, but Detroit looks more like the team with a brighter future. Factor in Lions head coach Jim Caldwell's 2-1 record after a bye week, and we have the better performance going to the Lions.
Detroit wins by four and narrowly covers.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets (+4.5)*
We almost bit last week.
The Jets have been a trap waiting to happen each week. Not because they are terrible, but because people still believe they shouldn't be as terrible as 1-6, 1-7, and now 1-8. For this reason, they continue to get support in the picks, but their performances have led to continual disappointment. Finally, last week, we caught wind of this and went against them.
Now, we are back.
There is no more love for the Jets from anywhere at this point in the season. No one expects them to suddenly show up and put up a fight against anyone, especially the quarterback from Pittsburgh that has had two historically great weeks in a row. No one is taking the New York Jets this week.
That's why we are.
We use the same example time and time again -– a team can only reach so far past their limitations before snapping back into place. The Steelers are playing at as high a level as possible while the Jets somehow turn out performances worse than the week prior. These two paths will not go on infinitely.
The Steelers will run into a wall against either the Jets or Titans in the next two weeks. Those two games -– both on the road -– are so obviously 'easy wins' that they will get caught napping in one, maybe not to the tune of a loss, but certainly not coasting to wins. Our belief is that it happens now, against the team most recently embarrassed -– the Titans were mercifully on a bye last week while the Jets had lost another game by halftime.
Head coach Rex Ryan, dating back to his time as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, is 5-8 against the Steelers, including two playoff losses. The Jets haven't scored more than 25 points all season and the Steelers haven't scored less than 30 in the past three weeks. Everything is pointing to a Steelers blowout.
Except the spread.
At only 4.5 points, the spread is begging people to go with Pittsburgh.
Jets lose by a field goal and beat the spread.
San Francisco 49ers (+4.5) at New Orleans Saints
Largely due to a goal-line fumble from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers dropped a heartbreaking game to the Rams, at home, on Sunday. What's even more surprising is that they enter this game against the Saints as the team more in disarray, even with the Saints' 2-4 record a few weeks prior. Now, New Orleans, at 4-4 and atop a pathetic NFC South, is the team in control.
In Jim Harbaugh's first two seasons with the 49ers, his teams never lost back-to-back games. They were the ultimate bounce-back candidates, and this became a dependable characteristic for his resilient teams. Between this year and last, the exact opposite has occurred. Every time the 49ers have lost one game, they've lost two.
They have not, however, experienced a three-game losing streak under Jim Harbaugh. In addition, Colin Kaepernick has played twice in New Orleans, winning one by ten and losing one by a field goal.
The 49ers win by four and beat the spread.
Atlanta Falcons (PK)* at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is it a trap? Maybe. Is it unwatchable? Unless you are into fantasy football, yes. Is it sad? That's probably the most accurate description.
At 2-6, the Atlanta Falcons are actually only two games behind the division leading Saints. What's even worse is that the 1-7 Buccaneers are only three games out.
Sad. The NFC South is just plain sad.
Neither team is actually 'in the hunt,' but the mathematical striking distance means that teams like the Falcons will be going into 'playoff mode,' where every game is their last -– for head coach Mike Smith, facing a second-straight embarrassing year to go with his 1-4 playoff record, it might be. Smith is, however, 5-1 in his career coming off a bye week. In fact, even with last year's nauseating 4-12 performance, the Falcons managed to win their post-bye game. Against the Buccaneers.
Atlanta gets back in the win column with a two touchdown victory and covers.
Tennessee Titans (+10) at Baltimore Ravens
Back-to-back divisional losses by the Ravens have now sent them to the bottom of the crowded AFC North. They return home, after losing by 20 in Pittsburgh, to take on a 2-6 Titans team coming off a bye week. Surprisingly, in Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt's six career games coached coming off a bye week -– all as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals -– his teams are a dismal 1-5.
Tennessee has been atrocious and unwatchable for most of the season and Baltimore has abused teams like the Panthers and Buccaneers following losses, but the recent struggles of the Ravens should not be overlooked. Baltimore's only two wins against opponents with winning records are division games against the Steelers and Browns. Just as telling as those wins are, the Ravens have also lost to the Bengals -– twice -– the Colts, and the Steelers, all of whom are over .500.
The Ravens beat the Titans on Sunday, but not in the way they have taken out their frustration on bad teams in the past. Instead, the Titans hang with the Ravens until the end, losing by a field goal and beating the spread.
Dallas Cowboys (-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars
At the time of this writing, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has flown with the team to London, but is still questionable to play. Luckily for the Cowboys, they shouldn't need him.
Dallas, without Romo, just suffered its worst loss of the season -– identical in score to the first time it played an NFC West opponent, at home, against the 49ers to open the season. They have dropped two games in a row, but the antidote for the Cowboys should come in the form of the drug that has cured many teams for the past decade -– playing the Jaguars.
Jacksonville is flat-out awful. Scoring the fewest points in the league but allowing the third-most, there is nothing the Jaguars do particularly well. Like all teams, they are certainly capable of showing up to the field, but it isn't very likely.
The Cowboys need to use this opportunity to prey on a weaker opponent and get back in the win column heading into their much needed bye week. Dallas wins by ten and covers.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (+11.5)*
We write it every time, and we will stick with it every time. We will always take the points when it is more than a touchdown at home. Double digits is outrageous. And a divisional game is insane.
Yes, the Raiders are the worst team in the league. Yes, they are incapable of winning this game. Yes, Peyton Manning just suffered his biggest regular season loss since he joined the Denver Broncos.
We don't care. We aren't asking Oakland to win. Just beat the spread.
We mentioned it last week, and it is worth repeating: the middle of Oakland's schedule is so tough that they probably aren't seeing a win until after Thanksgiving. But there is no way the Raiders go winless, and there is no way they don't turn on their desperation afterburners and fight each team until the end. Evidence of this could be found in their most recent games, losing by 11, then 10, then six. Their last game, in Seattle, even provided the Raiders multiple times to bow out, yet they didn't.
The same happens on Sunday. Denver wins by a touchdown but Oakland beats the spread.
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-7)
If the Rams are good at one thing, it's the ability to pull off upsets within their division. Two of their last three games have featured wins against the Seahawks and 49ers.
Arizona, right now, is playing a much better brand of football than any of their NFC West counterparts.
The Cardinals went into Dallas last Sunday and left with a much-needed road victory, especially with the absence of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Arizona has proved to be resilient and effective, winning games easily and with the help of some miracles, and the Cardinals now set their sights on a potential first round bye.
The spread is a little large for a divisional game for our liking, but the best thing that could have happened to the Cardinals is that the Rams won last week's game in San Francisco. It is extremely unlikely for a formerly 1-4 Rams team to win in Arizona after the upset they just completed in San Francisco. They have maxed out their 'upset quota' for the time being.
The Cardinals win by ten and cover.
New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks (-9)
There's no denying it any longer: the Giants are simply bad. The loss of wide receiver Victor Cruz has proven to be devastating for the team's offense, and the defense has gotten worse as the season has progressed. The small glimmer of hope that appeared during their three-game winning streak has since been snuffed out, and all that is left is the stark reminder that this team is facing its 15th loss in its past 25 games.
Luckily for the Giants, Seattle has failed to recapture the dominance with which they tore through the NFL last season. The Seahawks are, by no stretch, a struggling football team, but they have not been putting away opponents like they did last year. In their first eight games, only two were double-digit victories, and the only home blowout was back on Opening Night against the Packers.
That changes on Sunday.
The Giants offense is simply not good enough to keep pace with the Seahawks, and once they pull away, they are gone for good.
Seattle wins by two touchdowns and covers the spread.
Chicago Bears (+7.5)* at Green Bay Packers
Rock bottom. Just when it seemed it couldn't get worse for the 3-4 Bears -– coming off a 13-point loss, at home, against the Dolphins -– Chicago traveled to New England and came home in pieces. Patriots 51, Bears 23, and it wasn't even that close.
Green Bay, disappointed in its own right with a 21-point loss to the Saints on Sunday Night Football, now plays host to the same primetime game when the rival Bears come to town.
Once again, the Bears appear to have been pronounced dead.
Once again, we will take the opportunity to revive them.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is outstanding following a bye week, with a 7-1 record in his eight career games. Bears head coach Marc Trestman won his only post-bye game last season, but the Bears, as an organization, are also 7-1 in their last eight games following a bye.
Where the Bears truly succeed under Trestman, is in the spotlight. In his 24 career games, seven have been played at night. The Bears are 6-1 in these games, including a 2-0 record this year. Equally as valuable, neither team appears to suffer a glaring disadvantage on the road. The Packers beat the Bears in Chicago last year, then the Bears returned the favor. The Packers already beat the Bears in Chicago this year, as well.
Chicago is already facing a lost season, but cannot suffer another embarrassing defeat –- this one, on national television. Adding confidence to the pick is that this primetime game appears to have the majority of people thinking Green Bay is the 'obvious choice.'
Chicago shocks the Packers, winning by a field goal and beating the spread.
Carolina Panthers (+6) at Philadelphia Eagles
The Panthers are in an all-out freefall, following an anticlimactic tie game with three straight losses. Somehow, Carolina is able to lose five of its first nine games and still be less than two games out of first place in the NFC South.
The Eagles were well on their way to solidifying themselves as one of the NFC's top two teams in search of a first round bye when quarterback Nick Foles was knocked out of the team's Week 9 game with a broken collarbone. Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez stepped in and filled Foles' role nicely, throwing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in only 22 attempts. Sanchez did add two interceptions, but one bounced off the hands of a receiver and into those of the defender -– indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Now that we have seen Michael Vick and Geno Smith take their share of snaps in New York, it's not outrageous to think that Mark Sanchez was the best quarterback to appear on a Jets' roster in the past five years. The issue, however, is that Sanchez is prone to turn the ball over and Carolina's defense, while down on the year, is still opportunistic -– eighth-best in causing turnovers.
If Nick Foles were healthy, the Eagles would likely roll to a victory on Monday night. While the Panthers appear to have nothing working for them so far, they might have finally caught a break by facing Sanchez instead of Foles.
Ultimately, the collective team that is the Eagles is still better than the Panthers, regardless of quarterback, but the Panthers won't allow this game to get away from them so quickly. The Eagles win by a field goal, but Carolina beats the spread.
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