That's more like it.
While underdogs didn't run away with Week 11, they made a discernible dent in the favorites' dominance of recent weeks. Going 8-6 against the spread, underdogs helped revert what was becoming a top-heavy trend against them back towards its norm.
It's not done yet.
Our Week 11 picks highlighted mainly underdogs, acknowledging that everything would not fall into place in just one week. We expect this to be accurate, as Week 12 will include another heavy dose of the 'underdog medicine.' Again, the trend is not completely reversed, and the antidote may not be so blatantly apparent to the tune of all underdogs beating the spread in one week, but we will continue to lean towards one side until the league shifts back into place.
That is, until the playoff picture comes into focus and those teams that need wins will find ways to get them.
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: 6-1 (Season: 36-29)
All Picks Against Spread: 11-3 (Season: 91-69-1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6)* at Chicago Bears
No one is really buying back into the Bears just yet, right? That whole 'beat the 4-6 Vikings by eight at home in a feverish attempt to save everyone's job for another day' game could be explained away by, well, the fact that the Vikings are now 4-6 and played in Chicago where the Bears could not afford another loss, lest heads may roll. That hardly sounds like a valuable win.
At first glance, Tampa Bay's victory over the sinking Redskins seems equally unimpressive to that of the Bears', but the Buccaneers were in control of their victory for the entire game. Had anyone actually tuned in to watch the Buccaneers at any point on Sunday, they may have actually been fooled into thinking a decent team was on the field. Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans has burst onto the scene – now seven touchdowns and nearly 800 yards in only nine games – and exploded for a two-touchdown, 209-yard campaign with veteran quarterback Josh McCown under center.
If the name 'Josh McCown' sounds familiar, it's probably because he was the backup quarterback who held a 3-2 record with 13 touchdowns and only one interception in five starts last season. For the Chicago Bears.
It is worth noting that, before Jay Cutler returned from injury last year, there was a legitimate debate as to whether or not McCown was more suited than Cutler to lead the Bears through the end of the season.
Chicago has looked terrible all year, and its home win against the Vikings sets up for another crushing disappointment from its suddenly optimistic stance. Tampa Bay has played better of late, dropping two of its last three losses by less than a touchdown before winning in Week 11. The Buccaneers win by a touchdown and beat the spread.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons (-3)
Think back to the preseason, look at the names on each roster, and try to decide which of these two teams is 6-4 while the other is 4-6. Outside of Ohio, few people would have correctly placed the right record with its respective team. In fact, after watching both teams play their first eight games, the disparity in performance was so great that Cleveland would have easily been the favorite had this matchup occurred a few weeks prior.
Has that much really changed in a week or two?
No one bought into the Cleveland Browns for a long time. The expectation was that the same team that had struggled in Cleveland for years would somehow find a way to squander its position atop the AFC North this year. Finally, after a nationally televised thrashing of the Bengals, people started to believe.
They were quickly reminded why it took so long to jump on board.
The quick change from 'Cinderella Team' to 'Browns of the past decade' did not happen solely based on their loss to the Texans in Week 11. Instead, that was merely a confirmation that they had been playing above their heads for too long. Their top-ten scoring defense still allows the eleventh-most yards per game and ranks second-worst in rush yards allowed.
While Cleveland may very well be approaching the beginning of a potential downslide, the Atlanta Falcons suddenly find themselves atop the putrid NFC South. With enough weapons to actually win games, it is surprising it has taken so long for them to get on track, but now with a lead to protect and a home game on the slate, the Falcons have the edge.
Atlanta wins by six and covers.
Detroit Lions (+7)* at New England Patriots
Prior to Detroit laying an egg in Arizona, the formerly 7-2 Lions had been stealing games in dramatic, unsustainable fashion. While the Patriots' run of five double-digit wins in six games seems unlikely to continue forever, so too did the tightrope-walking Lions' four-game win streak.
Now that Detroit has been dealt a loss, the team can step back, reassess, and attack New England with a defense that still ranks at the top of the list in both points and yards allowed. The Lions still have not allowed an opponent to score more than 24 points all season.
With a defense that keeps its team in every game, the Lions simply need to break through with an offense that appears to be under-performing when considering the weapons it touts. The Patriots' defense has put together an overall solid campaign, but one of its statistical weaknesses is a secondary that has allowed the tenth-most passing touchdowns in the league. A Lions team that ranks tenth in passing attempts per game, but has the seventh-fewest receiving touchdowns in the league is due to break out and allow those numbers to converge.
Detroit's defense holds the Patriots down while the offense does enough to pull out a field goal victory in a tight contest. Lions beat both the Patriots and the spread.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+14)* at Indianapolis Colts
The league's third-highest scoring offense versus the worst scoring defense; this could quickly turn into a bloodbath.
The Colts just suffered a Sunday night blowout at the hands of the powerhouse New England Patriots, and look to rebound in exactly the same fashion they did last time they lost a nationally televised game – by demolishing the Jacksonville Jaguars the next week. Perhaps, the schedule-makers must have known that Indianapolis would need the same powder-puff team following their Week 2 Monday night and Week 11 Sunday night games. Fortunately for the Colts, someone obliged.
In their previous four meetings – including Week 3 in Jacksonville – the Colts have beaten the Jaguars all four times, with 17 points marking the slimmest margin of victory. Pure dominance.
In football, nothing is ever so one-sided.
The Jaguars are terrible, and the Colts will win the game outright, but Jacksonville has had two weeks to prepare for Sunday's matchup while Indianapolis' focus was clearly set on New England throughout last Sunday night. Familiarity, desperation, and preparation should all lead to an inspired Jaguars team that gives the Colts a surprising fight.
Jaguars lose by a touchdown but beat the spread.
Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles (-11)
How will each team respond? What will the Eagles do one week after the spotlight shone on them getting obliterated by the Green Bay Packers? Will the Titans be able to outperform their 2-8 bodies for a second-straight week?
For the large majority of three quarters, the Tennessee Titans played their best brand of football against the Steelers. Even after a quick 10-0 deficit thanks to an interception return for a touchdown, Tennessee put together a 24-3 run and led in the fourth quarter before ultimately collapsing for a loss. Virtually everything the Titans did for the middle portion of the game was perfect. Virtually everything else the Titans have done all season is not.
The Eagles were crushed by the Packers in Week 11, but Green Bay easily looks like one of the best teams in the league. The last time Philadelphia hosted a poor team from the NFC South, the Eagles won by 24.
Philadelphia bounces back in a big way by crushing the Titans by 20 and covering the large spread.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (+9.5)*
Stop us if you've heard this story before. A team goes on a virtually uncontested two-game explosion of at least 40 points in each contest, then travels to play a significantly weaker team. The last time this happened, the Pittsburgh Steelers got caught napping against the New York Jets.
No, the Minnesota Vikings will not upset Green Bay, as the Packers look consistently better than the Pittsburgh squad to which we are comparing them. But Minnesota falls into the exact same category as the aforementioned Jets, coming off a loss and now facing a team on a tear. In fact, the Vikings have two more points in their favor, as they had actually been playing well prior to their loss in Chicago – 2-1 record with a one-point loss in Buffalo and have the always-favorable spread of receiving more than a touchdown at home.
Green Bay wins by a touchdown by Minnesota beats the spread.
Cincinnati Bengals (+2)* at Houston Texans
Alright, Cincinnati, it's time to quit messing around. Are you going to repeat as AFC North champion or fail to show up at gametime again?
Sunday's victory in New Orleans went a long way to clear the recent memory of the Bengals getting waxed at home by the Cleveland Browns, but beating the Saints doesn't mean the same as it has in recent years. In reality, beating the Texans on Sunday would also do little to make believers out of the Cincinnati doubters, but Houston is currently not a place where winning teams could afford a loss – visiting teams with winning records are 2-0 at NRG Stadium this year.
Houston continues to be a takeaway machine, but that remains its overwhelming strength. Even with a defense ranked in the top-ten for points allowed, the Texans give up more yards per game than all but two teams in the National Football League. Riding high on recovered fumbles and a solid debut by a quarterback in his first career start are nice ways to win one game, but a risky proposition when attempting to be sustained over the long haul. Cincinnati has the recent pedigree and healthy playmakers in rookie Jeremy Hill and wide receiver A.J. Green to pull out a game it cannot afford to lose.
Cincinnati hands Houston its third home loss, winning by ten and beating the spread.
New York Jets (+4.5) at Buffalo Bills
It's just too easy to keep picking against the Jets. They do almost everything wrong on and off the football field – it's debatable whether their bottom-five scoring defense and offense are more embarrassing than their 'snap decision' to trade for Percy Harvin immediately following a nationally televised loss – and they have become a laughing stock throughout the football-watching nation. Then, just as they were pronounced dead on the spot, they beat the Steelers and headed off into a bye week.
Have they turned a corner? Absolutely not. In fact, the Jets needed nearly every single break they could have received in order to hold off the Steelers in the end. They remain a team in shambles and now head to Buffalo to face a Bills franchise desperately trying to avoid yet another late-season disappointment.
Rex Ryan holds a 7-4 record against the Bills in his tenure as head coach of the New York Jets, however, in these eleven games, only four were decided by one possession. It has certainly been a back-and-forth series, with the Bills now owning a 3-1 edge in their last four games, but the fact that so few have actually been competitive is somewhat of a surprise. But what would be more of a shock: the 5-5 Bills suddenly avoiding what has historically been the worse half of their season – now a combined 7-21 from Week 9 of all seasons since 2011 – or the Jets avoiding a season-series sweep against Buffalo? Don't forget, even without Percy Harvin on the roster before the season began, many people actually thought the Jets would be competitive this year. Wrong as they were, 2-9 would certainly not have crossed too many people's minds.
With an extra week of preparation, the Jets win their second-straight game in an uncharacteristic close matchup with the Bills. New York wins by a field goal and beats the spread.
St. Louis Rams at San Diego Chargers (-4.5)
At this point, would it shock anybody if the Rams beat yet another team with a winning record? It seems as if St. Louis, 4-6 on the season, only plays its best brand of football when placed in an impossible situation. Entering Week 11, two of their previous four games had featured wins against the Seahawks and 49ers. These were definitely impressive victories, but division games tend to provide a more unpredictable outcome. When the Rams then went on to beat the AFC West leading Denver Broncos, there was no such explanation of the upset. The Rams simply outperformed their opponents from Denver.
Just like when St. Louis traveled to Arizona after its upset win in San Francisco, the Rams' moment has passed and they will now descend back down to earth.
San Diego returned from their bye week to end its three-game losing streak with a touchdown victory over their rivals from Oakland in Week 11. The Chargers didn't look dominant – at least, not as dominant as they had appeared after opening their season 5-1 – but got back in the win column and now aim to build some momentum going into the home stretch of the season. Had the Rams not caught everyone's attention for the third time in five weeks, the Chargers could have easily overlooked them. Instead, St. Louis will face a Chargers team on high alert and desperate for a win in a division race that may have already passed them by.
Chargers win by two touchdowns and beat the spread.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5)
Now is the time for the Seattle Seahawks to make their move. The Cardinals have proven to be every bit worthy of their league-leading 9-1 record, even with the absence of their starting quarterback for portions of five games this year. Their three-game lead on the rest of the NFC West would appear safe if it weren't for the Seahawks having two cracks at the Cardinals in their final six games. If Seattle wants any chance at a home playoff game, it must defend its turf on Sunday against the visiting Cardinals.
Seattle has suffered some difficult losses, but three of the four have come against teams with winning records. They clearly aren't the same club that dominated the NFC with a 13-3 record last year, but they are easily one of the most complete teams in the league.
had in his starts. For any given game – especially the first emotional attempt after Palmer was officially listed as 'out' for the season – momentum is enough to carry the Cardinals to a victory, but speed bumps are to be expected. The same way the Seahawks had to suffer through playing a tough Chiefs team on the road, the Cardinals will have the same experience in Seattle.
The Seahawks win by ten and cover, keeping their dreams of another NFC West title alive.
Miami Dolphins (+7.5)* at Denver Broncos
Losers of two of their last three games, the Denver Broncos finally return home to end a three-game road trip. Their homecoming gift? The Miami Dolphins and their top-five defense.
The Denver Broncos are an incredibly fascinating team to watch. They appear capable of winning every single game they play, yet somehow revert to ineptitude for large stretches of play. Evidence of this could be found in their most recent disaster in St. Louis, where they possessed the football eleven times – excluding the two drives at the end of each half – yet managed only seven points. It's one thing for a team to struggle, but the Broncos are an offensive powerhouse that are prone to boom-or-bust for an elongated period of time.
Miami has now won four of its last five games, and finds itself back in the AFC playoff picture. For weeks, questions have been asked about the legitimacy of the Dolphins, but their resume has continued to improve throughout the season – they have not yet lost to a team that currently has a losing record. While victories over the Bills, Jaguars, and Bears may be downplayed, a win in Denver would absolutely silence all critics.
It won't happen, as the Broncos still feature a stout defense – fifth-best in yards allowed – while obviously touting their prolific top-five offense. But Miami has proven to be a much better team than originally believed. In fact, their only two double-digit losses came in Weeks 2 and 3, when the Dolphins were still trying to find their footing.
Miami loses a tough game on the road by a field goal, but beats the spread.
Washington Redskins (+8.5) at San Francisco 49ers
This is dangerous territory for the Washington Redskins. At 3-7 and losers of their last two games against the Vikings and Buccaneers, the Redskins are spiraling out of control. Now, as a follow-up to their thoroughly embarrassing home loss to the previously 1-8 Buccaneers, the Redskins will have to travel to the west coast to face a 49ers team that entered 'backs against the wall' mode a few weeks ago.
In 'salvaging their season,' the 49ers pulled off an absolute miracle in overtime in New Orleans, followed by a road victory against the Giants in which New York's Eli Manning threw five interceptions. Wins are wins, but these weren't exactly the type of dominant performances that propel a team to the playoffs.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they return home to host yet another franchise in disarray when the Redskins come to town. As always worth recognizing, however, a terrible team that appears to look worse each week is due to put it all together at one point. Washington's defense had been playing better prior to it's loss against the Buccaneers – no more than 23 points allowed in three straight games, as one of Arizona's touchdowns was via an interception return – and San Francisco's offense has yet to crack the 30-point barrier themselves – the 49ers' only game with 31 points came via their own interception return for a touchdown, ironically in the same week as Arizona's.
With the Washington Redskins at rock bottom and the 49ers beating poor teams, San Francisco looks like it is getting too much love too quickly. The 49ers win by a field goal, but Washington beats the spread.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+3.5)
Did no one watch the Giants play the 49ers on Sunday? Did anyone catch the note where Eli Manning threw another five interceptions? Can anyone explain how a rested Dallas team is supposed to come into New Jersey on Sunday Night Football and only need a handful of points to cover the spread?
Maybe it's Tom Coughlin's 11-10 record against the Cowboys. Or Jason Garrett's 1-2 record after a bye. Or the unlikelihood of the Giants having two six-game losing streaks in consecutive years.
Or it's a trap.
It continues to sound like a running joke to those who dislike the Dallas Cowboys, but their struggles in the second half of their seasons is not without its validity – the last time the Cowboys posted a winning record from Week 8 until the end of the season was 2009. Dallas is prone to disappoint and the Giants are unlikely to continue to slide forever. Their record since Week 8 of each season from 2010 is a more respectable 20-17 overall, including a 7-3 close to a 2013 season that started 0-6.
The extra week of rest for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo should aid greatly in healing the back injury that kept him out of the team's Week 9 loss in Arizona, but New York is one of the few teams against which Romo has not necessarily thrived. In his 18 career games against the Giants, he averages approximately 223 yards and less than two touchdowns per game.
The Giants had numerous chances to beat the visiting 49ers on Sunday and continually gave it away. When their hated rivals from Dallas come into town on national television, they will not miss the opportunity to put a dent in their season.
The Giants pull off the upset, winning by a field goal and beating the spread.
Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints (-3.5)
Copy and paste. Change a few words and numbers. Voila.
Prior to Week 8, the Saints had suffered a tough loss before hosting a primetime game against a team with a winning record. In this sentence, 'Week 8′ becomes 'Week 12.' Going into this game, the Saints had won eleven consecutive primetime games at home, seven following a loss. The Saints promptly won by 21.
You get the point.
Throughout any struggles the Saints have incurred in recent memory, they remain dangerous in their own home and deadly in night games. The Ravens have the obvious advantage of an extra week of preparation – head coach John Harbaugh is 5-1 coming off a bye week – but the Saints' offense remains among the best in the league. While the team has certainly underperformed all year, a quick turnaround into a contender in their weak division should surprise no one.
New Orleans wins by six and covers.
Follow Mario Mergola on Twitter: @MarioMergola