Prior to the Week 13 slate of games, the trend had been creeping towards underdogs after an explosion of favorites in Week 10. Two straight weeks of underdogs getting the edge had set up a nice rebound by favorites in Week 13. It never came to fruition.
We entered this week with the expectation that our previous assumption still held true - namely, that favorites making a playoff push would dominate the week. With that, we began to consider each matchup as clear-cut and one-sided, sticking to a plan formulated prior to games now one week removed.
But, isn't that exactly what we constantly preach to avoid?
Nothing is obvious. Nothing is easy. The moment we scoff at the Jaguars or the Jets beating the spread two straight weeks is the moment we fall victim to a trap. Once each game began to reveal itself its true nature upon further inspection, the edge for the week swung convincingly towards the underdogs.
This is exactly what we want.
One website, NFLPickwatch.com, tracks picks against the spread by 40 experts throughout the industry. Entering Week 14, our picks rank second overall, and highest among all experts that pick every single game. But we have reached this point through one mindset - take nothing at face value.
We expected the favorites to take control last week. We expected that, when it didn't happen in Week 13, Week 14 would pick up the slack. Once we were willing to revise our thought process, we are thrilled to have been proven wrong. Therefore, we will be taking the points in nearly every game.
Be careful, favorites.
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: 7-1 (Season: 47-33)
All Picks Against Spread: 9-7 (Season: 108-83-1)
Week 14 NFL Picks
NFL Week 14 picks: Look for the Steelers to bounce back in Cincy
Pittsburgh Steelers (+3.5)* at Cincinnati Bengals
How can anybody place any faith in either of these two teams? The Pittsburgh Steelers are the embodiment of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, while the Bengals refuse to run away with the AFC North in convincing fashion. Cincinnati is not only lucky to have survived in Tampa Bay, but also fortunate that all three of its divisional pursuers lost their Week 13 games.
Therein lies the problem for the Bengals.
Cincinnati has finally created some separation between itself and the rest of the AFC North and, with four games remaining for each team, could see every other division opponent fall off the map in the coming weeks. It would potentially start on Sunday against the Steelers.
If Pittsburgh loses, its then 7-6 record would place the team over two games behind what would become the 9-5-1 Bengals. The Steelers would need to win out to catch the Bengals while having Cincinnati lose each of its remaining three games – the third of which would be Week 17 in Pittsburgh. For all intents and purposes, the Steelers’ chance for a division title would end with a loss on Sunday. For a team that hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season playing in a division that has seen such intense competition with parity throughout, it seems almost inconceivable that AFC North’s second seed would be out of the race with three games remaining.
The Steelers win by a field goal in Cincinnati, beating the spread.
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns (+3.5)
What to do with the Cleveland Browns? Once 6-3 and with an opportunity to grab the reigns of the crowded AFC North, the Browns have dropped two of their last three games and made the change from quarterback Brian Hoyer to rookie Johnny Manziel. Still, the question is valid – what to do with the Cleveland Browns?
The vague cloud that hovers over this game, obscuring our analysis, does not necessarily render any assessment useless. Rather, it forces us to look elsewhere for the answers. Rather than compare the Browns’ defense to the Colts’ offense, we look strictly at the numbers provided to us.
When the opening line for this game came out, there was no resolution as to the Browns’ starting quarterback this week. Yet, even with a blank space under center, the Colts were giving only three-and-a-half points. This number is by design. Johnny Manziel is such a polarizing figure that the low spread leaves opposers of Manziel flocking to the Colts. Those who support Manziel had yet to receive confirmation of his status for the game, and therefore were reluctant to back the Browns. Without a clear-cut direction, the ‘safe’ pick was the Colts.
If you have read this column more than once, you know where we are going with this.
The spread — opening with uncertainty and remaining steady even with the announcement of Hoyer as this week’s starter — tell the only story we intend to read. Indianapolis wins by a field goal. Cleveland beats the spread.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+9.5)* at Detroit Lions
While it won’t mean anything by season’s end, no two-win team has played better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially lately. Since the team’s Week 7 bye, the Buccaneers have a pathetic 1-5 record, but have only been outscored by ten points during that stretch. They have constantly knocked on the door of breaking through with another win, yet fallen short nearly every time.
Of all the opponents Tampa Bay could face that would be least likely to pull away in a given game, Detroit might be the best fit. In the team’s last six games, only their Thanksgiving matinée against the Bears featured a Lions’ double-digit win. Furthermore, Detroit touts an incredible defense — fewest points allowed and second-fewest yards allowed in the league — but a bottom-third scoring offense. In fact, besides the Thanksgiving win, the Lions have only broken the 24-point barrier one other time this season — Opening Night against the Giants. Tampa Bay has not allowed more than 27 points in a game since Week 6.
Detroit beats the Buccaneers at home by a touchdown, but Tampa Bay beats the spread.
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
New York Giants (PK)* at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
File this game in the ‘potential trap’ folder, but part of the reasoning behind taking the Giants on the road against a terrible team is the fact that they just played — and lost to — a terrible team on the road. Last week, we pegged the Giants traveling to Jacksonville as a ‘trap’ where the Jaguars had every right to consider Sunday’s matchup the most winnable game on their schedule. Surely, Tennessee will do the same, but New York will not get caught sleeping twice in a row.
The Giants have proven to be absolutely abysmal, and the current seven-game losing streak on which New York is riding has now trumped last year’s low watermark of six consecutive losses. Obviously, nothing is a given for a three-win team, but the Giants need to end their skid, and someone must be the sacrificial lamb.
The Giants win by ten and cover.
(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins (-3)
As ugly as the Dolphins’ Monday Night Football win in New Jersey looked, at least they were fortunate enough to escape with the victory. The same could not be said of the Baltimore Ravens, who led the Chargers, at home, by six points before allowing a last-minute touchdown in a heart-breaking loss. Under normal conditions, the loss by Baltimore would put the team in a perfect position for a ‘bounce-back candidate,’ but the Dolphins are coming off a lull, themselves.
Since blowing out the Chargers 37-0 in Week 9, Miami has lost to the Lions and Broncos, narrowly beaten the Jets, and only has a 13-point victory against the Bills upon which to hang its hat. Quite frankly, the Dolphins have looked great in losses, and poor in wins. However, the last time the team was asked to win a ‘statement game,’ Miami responded with the aforementioned Chargers’ blowout.
A loss for either team will surely spell the end of any division title hopes, but may even cripple its ability to grab a Wild Card berth, as the winner would hold the tiebreaker. Quite frankly, this matchup is probably a make-or-break game for the loser. Once again, the Dolphins were the team most recently successful in such conditions, while the Ravens have proven unable to win key games such as the Week 5 loss in Indianapolis, Weeks 8 and 9 losses in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and Week 13 against the Chargers.
Miami keeps its Wild Card hopes alive with a six point home victory, covering the spread.
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
New York Jets (+6)* at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota has quietly made a name for itself as the team that is a slight cut above the other weaklings. The Vikings have been competitive in each of their last six games, losing to the Bills, Bears, and Packers by a combined 12 points while beating the Buccaneers, Redskins, and Panthers. In fact, all five of Minnesota’s wins have come against teams with losing records, and the Jets appear to be ripe for the picking.
Indeed, New York has proven to be one of the worst teams in the league, playing inspired football in one game only to get lambasted in another. Sunday’s game in Minnesota has all the makings of a similar outcome, until considering the following: Minnesota, at 5-7, is also a bad team.
It has been largely documented that the Jets cannot stop anyone through the air — they have allowed the second-most passing touchdowns, yet recorded the second-fewest interceptions in the league — but the Vikings might be the one team incapable of capitalizing on this weakness. Minnesota — third-worst in passing yards and passing touchdowns — has broken 250 passing yards only twice since Teddy Bridgewater took over the reigns under center. In addition, Bridgewater has eight passing touchdowns on the year, with no more than two in any given game.
The Jets obviously have their struggles on offense — third-fewest points scored and fourth-fewest yards gained — but their defense is absolutely capable of holding down the Vikings’ offense. The one strength of the Jets is a rushing defense that has allowed the third-fewest yards in the league.
In what will otherwise be slap-fest that might actually result in nothing more than field goals for either team, the Jets win by three and beat the spread.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers (+9.5)* at New Orleans Saints
When was the last time a bad team went on the road to play a better divisional opponent and beat the spread? The Week 11 Raiders at Chargers; the Week 9 Rams at the 49ers; the Week 8 Redskins at Dallas. Oh, so, all the time.
At 5-7, the Saints are only a tiebreaker behind the Falcons for the NFC South lead. New Orleans smells blood in the water against a sputtering Panthers team, and can correct what has been a terrible season with a few more wins and division title. Most teams don’t have that opportunity with only five wins before December. Most teams don’t have the pedigree of the Saints.
New Orleans will hold serve at home and beat the Panthers, but Carolina enters this game as one of the worst teams in the league. They tend to play the Saints tough, and have the benefits of a large spread. Dare we even mention that, at 3-8-1, the Panthers may actually play this game like they are still mathematically able to win the division. Because they are.
To the rest of the football-watching world, we know Carolina’s season has been over for weeks. But division underdogs often rise to the occasion and put their opponents to the test, especially late in the season when they can play the role of ‘spoiler.’
Carolina loses a close game by four, but beats the spread.
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
St. Louis Rams (-2.5) at Washington Redskins
Finally. After playing a boatload of teams with winning records, the Rams finally had a chance to explode against the hapless Raiders. And explode they did. 52-0, scoring in nearly every way possible, the Rams continued their string of solid play, improving to a 5-7 record that clearly does not do the team’s recent successes justice.
St. Louis had not been the only team playing better entering Week 13, as Washington’s previous five games had included two wins, and only one double-digit loss. The Redskins officially made the switch from quarterback Robert Griffin III to Colt McCoy and, for a brief period of time, looked like they would hang in their game in Indianapolis. That thought proved to be short-lived.
St. Louis, a team on the rise, clearly playing for pride – and doing well at that – goes into Washington and beats the Redskins by ten, covering the spread.
(Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (+5)*
Even though the Jaguars may have ended their game against the Giants with more points on their side of the scoreboard, they were largely outplayed by their opponents from New York. At the same time, Houston – really, J.J. Watt – was putting away the Tennessee Titans with relative ease.
The only team in the National Football League with a record of 6-6, the Houston Texans actually sit behind a large majority of the AFC playoff hopefuls – of the 16 AFC teams, six are 7-5. Through nothing short of a miracle, the Texans can make the playoffs this year. But for a team that just encountered a second quarterback change – this time, back to the original Ryan Fitzpatrick after the injury to Ryan Mallett – is the Houston arrow pointing up or down?
Since the end of September, the Texans have a total of three wins, two of which came against the Titans. While the Jaguars are probably worse than the Titans, is there any reason to believe the Texans are significantly better? Apparently, that’s the perception, as Houston is receiving the same treatment as the Giants did last week, even bumping the spread up from the opening line of four. As popular as it is to simply ‘pick against the Jaguars,’ that’s how easy it is to counter conventional wisdom.
Texans win by a field goal. Jaguars beat the spread.
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos (-10)
With two straight wins following their loss in Miami, the Buffalo Bills have pulled themselves back into the AFC playoff picture. With an absolutely brutal schedule ahead — Denver, Green Bay, and New England in three of their final four games — the Bills will have to steal wins against teams with better records to stay afloat. The first of these nearly impossible tasks in Sunday afternoon in Denver.
The matchup that will make-or-break Buffalo’s ability to stay in the game is the Bills’ top-five defense – allowing the second fewest points in the league – squaring off against the obviously prolific Denver offense led by quarterback Peyton Manning. The real mismatch, however, exists when Buffalo’s average offense clashes with a Denver defense that is currently allowing the third-fewest yards per game.
Buffalo may be fighting for its playoff life, but Denver is returning home after playing four road games in five weeks, losing two. More importantly, the Patriots’ loss in Week 13 keeps the Broncos’ dream of home field advantage throughout the playoffs alive.
Denver wins by two touchdowns and covers the large spread.
(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals (-1)
What a difference two weeks makes. Had these two teams met in Week 12 instead of Week 14, it would have featured the 7-3 Chiefs at the 9-1 Cardinals. Instead, both teams have combined for four losses over the past two weeks. Naturally, when they meet on Sunday, someone’s skid will end.
Neither team has been impressive of late, but the Cardinals had been due to take a step back ever since quarterback Carson Palmer was knocked out for the remainder of the year. Kansas City had no such excuse.
Arizona has proven it is certainly capable of winning with backup quarterback Drew Stanton – a 3-3 record in his six starts this season – but the bigger boost to the Cardinals is that they are returning home after a two-game road trip. Arizona is a mere 6-0 this season at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals get back on track with a touchdown win, covering the spread.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders (+8)*
We have our rules and we stick to them. As always, we take the points at home when they are greater than or equal to a touchdown. To review, the last three underdogs to receive at least seven points at home – Oakland and Minnesota in Week 12 and St. Louis in Week 11 — all beat the spread. Two of those teams even won their games outright, although we won’t go that far this week.
Oakland has been absolutely dreadful this season, winning it’s first game in Week 12, then basically closing up shop and going back into a shell. Granted, the Raiders had virtually no chance to follow up their emotional victory over the Chiefs with a win in St. Louis – in fact, the Rams were one of last week’s confidence picks – but they didn’t even show up to the game. As bad as the Raiders are, a loss like that sends shockwaves through the organization. They will, at least, compete at home.
San Francisco’s season, once again, hangs in the balance. After losing to the Seahawks on Thanksgiving night, the 49ers’ chances to win the division have basically vanished, but a loss to Oakland should close the book. It won’t happen, but neither should a blowout. In San Francisco’s last three games, the team has scored an average of 12 points. While one of the 49ers’ opponents was Seattle and it’s currently thriving defense, the other two teams were the 3-8 Redskins and 3-8 Giants. Their biggest margin of victory since Halloween was a whopping six points.
San Francisco wins by a touchdown, but Oakland beats the spread.
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Seattle Seahawks (+1)* at Philadelphia Eagles
While the matchup between the Browns and Colts has a spread largely influenced by perception, no two NFC teams are more sensitive to this treatment than the Seahawks and Eagles. Every conversation about how legitimate of a contender Philadelphia really is starts and ends with quarterback Mark Sanchez. Those who believe in ‘The Sanchize’ consider the Eagles a top-notch team. Those who don’t expect a fall-off every time he takes the field.
Then there’s the Seahawks. Ask yourself one question — how many points would you be comfortable giving if this game was in Seattle? Three? Seven? Ten? Why? Because everyone believes the Seahawks are monsters at home. We all know they are difficult to beat in Seattle, but we perceive they struggle on the road.
Ask the 49ers how much the Seahawks struggled on Thanksgiving.
Philadelphia and Seattle both made large strides in their respective division races, but the pressure to keep winning rests solely on the defending Super Bowl Champions’ shoulders. They cannot and will not slow down. And while the ‘Mark Sanchez Factor’ can drive the spread in any direction, the Seahawks leaving home almost always moves the points in their favor. We tend to trust the teams whose reality stays intact – the Seahawks are good, regardless of the fact that they are better at home — despite perception — “The Seahawks can’t win road games.”
Seahawks win by a field goal and beat the spread.
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
New England Patriots (-3.5) at San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers enter Week 14 with a one-game lead on virtually everyone in the AFC for the fifth seed in the conference. Their slim edge over the other teams is a necessity at this point, as San Diego has an army of top competition to face in its final four games. It starts Sunday night against the Patriots.
New England hardly ever loses back-to-back games — the last time it happened was September 2012 — and after a thrilling showdown in Lambeau Field on Sunday, the Patriots look to rebound like they seemingly always do. With a small spread, and the expectation that New England will walk into San Diego and obviously win, a trap may be brewing. Acknowledging this, we proceed with hesitation.
The Patriots just had their seven-game winning streak snapped, but now their reputation as a ‘bounce-back machine’ is in jeopardy. All streaks come to an end, and all trends eventually reset. Considering this is a primetime matchup, everything that happens on Sunday Night will be on full display. But that’s exactly why the Patriots will cover.
This season, New England is 2-2 against the spread on night games. Both wins came as the underdog, and both losses — against the spread only — came as the favorites. The interpretation of these numbers suggest that the public tends to overvalue the Patriots or write them off too quickly. Perhaps the three-and-a-half point spread is more to ‘trap’ those backing the Chargers, trying to capture the underdog where a field goal loss would be enough. Because New England has shown a history of following losses with wins, and fighting an 0-2 record against the spread as favorites in night games, the Patriots will again come out on top.
New England wins by four and narrowly covers.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Atlanta Falcons (+12) at Green Bay Packers
With Green Bay’s home win over the New England Patriots in Week 13, the Packers moved into the consensus top pick for most Power Rankings — including ours. No team has been more dominant of late — four straight wins, eight in their last nine games, and an average margin of victory of more than two touchdowns since Week 4 — Green Bay is now in a wild race for the NFC’s top seed.
Speaking of wild races, the 5-7 Atlanta Falcons are a tiebreaker ahead of the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South title. While Green Bay has been tearing apart opponents, Atlanta has quietly put together a solid string of three wins in four games, with the only loss coming via a last-second field goal due to terrible clock management. Granted, of Atlanta’s five wins – all season – the team’s only victory against a team with a winning record was Week 13’s home win against the Cardinals.
In any other season, a 5-7 Falcons team would be nothing more than a potential ‘spoiler’ in Monday night’s game against the playoff-bound Packers. But, given the circumstances, the Falcons have every reason to believe their season has not been wasted. They are no longer a sputtering bunch fighting for a top pick in next year’s draft. They are an actual division contender with purpose.
Considering the talent at key positions — especially quarterback, as Matt Ryan has the fifth-most passing yards this season — a 3-1 Falcons team seems a lot more realistic than the 2-6 team they displayed before their Week 9 bye. The only problem for Atlanta is that the league’s worst defense — in yards allowed — has almost no chance to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ top-ten offense.
Atlanta hangs in to the end, but loses by a field goal, beating the spread.