After a strong 8-4 ATS record in Week 10, I followed up with an even better 9-3 ATS mark in Week 11, hitting my first 6* play of the year in the process. Pittsburgh didn’t make it easy, but a win is a win. Hopefully the good times keep rolling this week.
My picks this week are headlined by a pair of 5* selections, making this one of my stronger cards of the season. Let’s get to it.
Raiders @ Bengals: There’s no doubt that the Raiders are a bad football team with a ton of deficiencies, but should the Bengals really be favored by more than a touchdown against anyone? I don’t think so. Cincinnati is going to pose some matchup problems for Oakland, but the Bengals have a number of deficiencies of their own. For starters, their secondary stinks. Leon Hall is a solid cornerback, but Terence Newman is starting on the opposite side of the field and will struggle mightily against Oakland’s speedsters Denarious Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both Moore and Heyward-Bey shouldn’t have much trouble using their speed to separate from the 87-year old Newman. The Raiders have become a pass-heavy offense and with Carson Palmer playing his former team for the first time since being traded away, he’ll definitely be looking to take some shots down the field. On the other side of the ball, Oakland has been absolutely terrible as of late. The Raiders have had trouble getting after the quarterback all season and have opted to drop players into coverage instead of sending blitzes on passing downs. After being shelled for 135 points in the last three weeks, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will be forced to try something different and will likely dial up the pressure. Andy Dalton has played very well in the last couple of weeks but he’s struggled monumentally in the past when facing five or more pass rushers. The Bengals have converted only 31% of their third downs this season, so there’s definitely an opportunity for the Raiders defense to finally get off the field. A.J. Green will undoubtedly be a major factor against a horrendous defense, but teams rarely get blown out in three consecutive weeks, so I’ll side with the Raiders to keep things close. Bengals 27, Raiders 21
[UPDATE: Not much has changed here. I still don't have any faith in the Bengals to cover more than a touchdown. Oakland would be on my card today if they weren't playing a 1:00 game on the East Coast.]
Steelers @ Browns: After watching the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, it’s difficult to have any confidence in this team, but I can’t help but back Pittsburgh in this spot. After all, Dick LeBeau is 17-1 against rookie quarterbacks and made Robert Griffin III look like a pile of trash three weeks ago. Brandon Weeden is still a work in progress and his tendency to make terrible decisions and force balls into coverage will have Pittsburgh’s defensive backs salivating all afternoon. Cleveland will have to get Trent Richardson involved heavily in their offense but it won’t be easy to do so against a Steelers front seven that is stout against the run, yielding just 3.8 yards per carry this season. Simply put, I don’t see Cleveland moving the chains all that frequently here. As for Pittsburgh, it’s hard to envision them doing so either, but this isn’t new territory for them. With all three of their running backs finally healthy, offensive coordinator Todd Haley will employ a game plan that is predicated on running the ball and having Charlie Batch throw high percentage passes. Pittsburgh isn’t going to light up the scoreboard but they should have decent success moving the ball against a Cleveland defense that gives up 125 yards per game on the ground and nearly 250 yards per game through the air. The Steelers have this game sandwiched in between their meetings with the Ravens, but now that they’ve fallen two games behind Baltimore, so this game becomes a must-win situation. Steelers 17, Browns 9
[UPDATE: I'm still extremely confident in the Steelers. I'm a little worried that 75% of the action in this game is coming in on Pittsburgh but I'm convinced that they're the right side.]
Bills @ Colts: I usually love betting on teams that are coming off of a blowout loss but I won’t do so in this situation. I think a regression is in order for the Colts as they’ve drastically overachieved against an easy schedule this season, while the Bills slowly seem to be rounding into form. Buffalo comes into this week on extra rest after having scraped by the Dolphins at home last Thursday night, and their defense seems to be steadily improving. Buffalo limited Miami to just 184 total yards of offense and forced three turnovers on defense last week. Andrew Luck has been outstanding in his rookie season but he does have the propensity to turn the ball over, and the Colts are one of the worst teams in the league in turnover margin at -9. Indianapolis will still be able to put up points here, but can their defense do enough to win them the game? I’m not quite sure they can. The Bills utilized C.J. Spiller very effectively in his start at running back last week and the Colts just don’t have the personnel to contain the former Clemson product. Spiller leads the NFL with an average of 6.6 yards per carry and will feast on Indianapolis’ shoddy run defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven that he can be effective when working out of manageable situations and he shouldn’t face too many third-and-longs on Sunday afternoon with the presence of the shifty Spiller in the backfield. There’s a common feeling amongst NFL fans that the Colts are a must-bet team at home, but their last two home victories have come by a combined seven points over the Browns and the Dolphins. Both of those games could have easily resulted in losses. I strongly feel that the Colts are going to falter down the stretch so I’ll gladly fade them in the favorite role. Bills 28, Colts 24
[UPDATE: The sharps are betting the Bills on Sunday morning. It looks as though I'm not the only one that thinks the Colts are due for a regression.]
Broncos @ Chiefs: It’s easy to peg this game as a blowout, but that’s what a lot of people expected when Kansas City traveled to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. The Broncos were 7-point favorites in this spot before last week’s games were played. Now that number is up to 10.5 in some spots. I want no part of this inflated line. The public has been quick to write-off the Chiefs and get aboard the Manning-train, but Arrowhead is a tough place to play and the team put up an inspired performance against the Ravens there. If Kansas City can slow the game down with the run and sustain some long drives, they could frustrate Peyton Manning and make him force some throws down the field. One of the few positives for the Chiefs this season has been the play of safety Eric Berry. After suffering a season-ending injury in Week 1 of last season, Berry finally looks to be back to full strength and he’s again making plays on the ball. The team’s pass-rush duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston can beat you with speed off the edge or with their power game. Peyton should be seeing plenty of those two, throwing him off his rhythm. Practice reports from the week are favoring the Chiefs as both Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin have been full participants, while Champ Bailey has been absent this week. One final note that is especially relevant in an article like this is that home underdogs getting more than eight points are 20-1 ATS in their last 21 tries. Denver is a legitimate contender for a bye in the first round of the playoffs so John Fox won’t let the Broncos blow this game, but the Chiefs should give them a little trouble. Broncos 24, Chiefs 17
[UPDATE: I have ZERO confidence in the Chiefs to beat this number, but I can't go against a double-digit home dog. It just isn't in my blood.]
Titans @ Jaguars: The NFL gave us a solid slate of Thanksgiving games and the downside is that we get some stinkers like this on Sunday. At least we won’t have to suffer through any more of Blaine Gabbert for the year. Tennessee is coming off of their bye and I think the week off gives them a real advantage in this one. While the Titans caught up on some much needed R & R, the Jags suffered a deflating overtime loss to the Texans. Chad Henne shredded the Texan secondary in that game, but as we saw on Thursday and for many years before he arrived, that group is nothing without Johnathan Joseph. Jacksonville fans may have Henne set up as the man who will right the ship, but he’s not the going to turn this team around. Henne has just 36 touchdowns in 40 career games, compared to 38 interceptions. The fact that this game is in Jacksonville doesn’t help the team’s cause either, as they’ve actually played worse at home than they have on the road. With five home games to date, the Jaguars have not lost by fewer than 17 points in any of them, getting outscored by an average of 31-9. Arriving in Jacksonville is a rested Tennessee squad that was really starting to figure things out before the break. The Titans have just 16 sacks on the season, but seven of those sacks came in the three weeks leading into the bye. Derrick Morgan is the most dynamic player along the defensive line for Tennessee, and he has finally started to show why the Titans invested a first-round pick in him. Chris Johnson has shown that he can take over games in the past, and he’s starting to get back to that elite level. Johnson has rushed for 652 yards in the last five games, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. With defenses forced to respect the run, Jake Locker can be more effective both as a passer, and as a runner. Action on the Titans is pushing the spread up but it’s tough to make a case for backing the Jaguars right now. Road favorites coming off a bye are 26-4 ATS in their last 30 games. Titans 31, Jaguars 13
[UPDATE: The Titans hit -4 on Saturday afternoon but there was some buyback on the Jags and the line is down to 3.5. I locked in my play at -4 yesterday, but if this line hits -3 (which it likely won't), I'll double up on Tennessee.]
Vikings @ Bears: As of the time I’m writing this it sounds like Jay Cutler will play and Percy Harvin won’t, so some 6.5’s are popping up with the Bears favored to win. My initial lean is towards the Vikings, but with so much still to be determined I will hold off on making a pick until more information becomes available. Check back on Sunday morning for my prediction on this game.
[UPDATE: This line opened up at Bears -7 and has since been bet down to Bears -6. I think that that's too many points. Minnesota is coming off of their bye week and Chicago is on a short week. That's enough for me to lean with the Vikings +6, even without Percy Harvin.]
Falcons @ Buccaneers: I’m convinced that the Atlanta Falcons are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. The team is 9-1, and last week overcame SIX TURNOVERS to beat the Arizona Cardinals. For years they’ve been under appreciated, but Mike Smith and Matt Ryan just keep churning out wins. Ryan is in the middle of a breakout season and has become a true leader both on and off the field for this Atlanta team. He was doing a good job of limiting turnovers before the clusterfuck in Arizona, so I don’t think that will be a problem this week against a poor Tampa secondary. Ryan is completing 67.5 percent of his passes and has shown an ability to throw outside the pocket that can rival just about anyone in the league. It’s no secret what the team has been able to do at the Georgia Dome since he was drafted, but he’s really stepped up his game on the road this year, throwing for 318.4 yards per game, 14 touchdowns, and just three interceptions while compiling a 109.8 quarterback rating. Of course, Ryan won’t be the only player in this game. I’ve been really impressed by the play of Atlanta’s safeties this season. Thomas DeCoud has become one of the better center-fielders in football at the free safety position, and partnered with William Moore, he should be able to limit Josh Freeman’s attempts at stretching the field. It’s no surprise that Tampa has been able to establish a solid running game under Greg Schiano. Even with the losses of Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks, Doug Martin has been able to run wild over the last few weeks. I expect Mike Nolan to stack the box and limit his opportunities to make big plays. Tampa has won five of their last six, but the combined record of those opponents is 16-34. This game will be a step up in class. The Bucs have covered in only nine of their last 32 home games, while Mike Smith is 31-16 ATS as a favorite. Falcons 26, Buccaneers 23
[UPDATE: The Falcons remain one of the most heavily backed sides on Sunday afternoon, but I just can't put any faith in the Bucs just yet. Their five wins in six games is a farce if you look at the quality of opponents they played. And when faced with a similar situation a month ago, the Bucs fell 35-28 to the Saints at home.]
Seahawks @ Dolphins: I backed the Dolphins and got burned last Thursday. As I mentioned earlier, road favorites are 26-4 in their last 30 games coming off a bye, so it’s not a hard decision to back the Seahawks here. Miami has been solid against the run, but Marshawn Lynch can wear a defense down like no other back in football. Paul Soliai has been a big reason for Miami’s success against the run, but he’ll go up against one of the league’s most underrated centers in Max Unger. Ryan Tannehill has thrown five interceptions in his last two games, and now he has to face a Seahawk defense that has been great at getting to the quarterback. The team subs in a defensive package on passing downs that features Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones. Irvin brings pressure off the edge, while Jones is great at coming right up the middle and not allowing the quarterback to set his feet. Miami’s offensive line had trouble with Buffalo’s defensive line last week, so this game surely won’t be a cake walk for them. Russell Wilson has played better at home than he has on the road, but he’s gotten better as the season has progressed, and will be facing a Miami defense that has struggled against the pass this season. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have established themselves as the clear top-2 receivers in the Seattle passing game, and they should do enough when called upon to keep the chains moving. Also, don’t overlook the fact that the Dolphins play the Patriots next week, marking head coach Joe Philbin’s first date with Bill Belichick. Seahawks 21, Dolphins 13
[UPDATE: The Seahawks are also receiving a ton of public action on Sunday morning. Seattle is far more talented than Miami but they historically don't travel very well, so I'm going to lay off, even though this could end up in a blowout.]
Ravens @ Chargers: This game should come with some type of disclaimer, because the books are obviously trying to lure you into backing the Ravens. I recommended Baltimore as a pick a few weeks back when they went on the road to play Cleveland. They won, and covered, but boy did they look bad in doing so. This team just does not travel well. This is their second road game in a row which is always tough, and they have to travel all the way to the West Coast. Baltimore is a despicable 2-10 ATS on the West Coast. If that isn’t bad enough, this game is sandwiched in between a pair of meetings for the Steelers. Joe Flacco has turned the ball over five times in five road games this season, tossing only three touchdowns while putting up a 65.2 quarterback rating. The way this guy travels, I wouldn’t trust him to throw a softball into a peach basket at a carnival, let alone throw into an NFL secondary. Ray Rice is one of the most electrifying backs in football right now, but San Diego’s run defense is one of the better units in the league and I think their linebackers will be able to contain him. When the team traveled to San Diego last season, they were sent back home with a 34-14 loss at the hands of the Chargers. This season, they make the trip with plenty of bumps and bruises. Check out the Baltimore injury report. Yikes. Some people may say that San Diego is playing for their postseason lives, but I think they know the true impact of last week’s loss to Denver. The team should loosen up some now, and that could mean big things for Philip Rivers in the passing game. Danario Alexander has established himself as the new go-to receiver on the team, hauling in 12 balls for 230 yards and three touchdowns over the last two weeks. He gives Rivers another option in the passing game, attracting some of the targets that used to go to Antonio Gates, who just can’t seem to get open anymore. Maybe file this number under the category of stats someone dug a little too deep for, but team’s favored the week after playing Mike Tomlin’s Steelers are 10-31 ATS. Chargers 30, Ravens 17
[UPDATE: Nothing's changed here. The Ravens are the worst 8-2 team in the history of football and are in an absolutely terrible spot.]
49ers @ Saints: I imagine the big story from this game will come at 3:55 PM ET when a reporter asks Jim Harbuagh who his starting quarterback will be and Harbaugh does this. Whether he’ll admit it or not, we all know Colin Kaepernick gets the start here. Before we all get aboard the WildKaep bandwagon, let’s not forget that he’s only made one start, and that he’ll be making the first road start of his career on short rest. As poor as New Orleans has been defensively, they have received a much needed boost with the return of Jonathan Vilma, and they’ve been much better at home, where there will certainly be a hostile Superdome crowd ready to greet the rookie quarterback. The Saints have little room for error as they look to claw their way back into the playoff picture. They are trying to downplay the revenge angle after San Francisco eliminated them from last year’s playoffs, but it must be fresh in their minds. Drew Brees will lead the Saints’ offense against a very tough Niners defense. With the way Houston has struggled of late, and the way San Fran beat up Chicago on Monday, it’s tough to make a case that the 49ers don’t possess the best defense in the league. However, Brees is as good a decision-maker as there is in the game today. He’ll take what the defense gives him and spread the ball around to all his receivers. He knows there is no room for error the rest of the way. Darren Sproles is expected to be activated for this game, but he’ll certainly return to a reduced role with the emergence of Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram. Brees is 5-0 ATS as a home underdog with New Orleans. Saints 27, 49ers 24
[UPDATE: Sharp money coming in on the 49ers on Sunday morning. I don't really have a strong opinion on this game but it's tough for me to turn down Drew Brees as a home dog. The Saints are a publicly backed underdog though, so the 49ers could be the right side.]
Rams @ Cardinals: It feels like only yesterday that these teams were playing one of the least entertaining Thursday night football games in league history. That’s not a game Danny Amendola wants to remember. He’s recovered from the injury he suffered in that game, but he’s listed as doubtful for this one. He’s been targeted 23 times in two games since the team’s bye, so his absence will be felt. The Rams are coming off a blowout loss and you just know Jeff Fisher gave it to the troops this week. Steven Jackson has been running like his old self since the bye, and if he continues to run that way, it will take a lot of pressure off of Sam Bradford. Arizona will start Ryan Lindley at quarterback, so they’ll look to get their running game involved as well. Beanie Wells is slated to return, and LaRod Stephens-Howling has run well of late, but St. Louis has been good at stopping the run this season, limiting opponents to just 4.1 yards per carry. Arizona ran well last week, but did so against an Atlanta team that ranks 31st in the league against the run. The Cardinals forced six turnovers last weekend and still could not pull off the upset. A loss like that has to be tough, especially coming out of the bye. Worse yet, it was their sixth consecutive loss. Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t looked like himself lately, dropping some balls that he normally catches. If he’s not right, what chance does Arizona have? Everything else aside, I just can’t get over the fact that Ryan Lindley is favored in an NFL game. Rams 17, Cardinals 16
[UPDATE: It doesn't appear as though Danny Amendola is going to play, but I still like the Rams in a bounce back spot here. I normally don't bet totals but the under might be worth a look in this game. I don't know where the points are going to come from.]
Packers @ Giants: New York looked terrible heading into their bye week. Eli Manning threw his last touchdown pass 10 days before Halloween, and has thrown 99 passes since, four of which were picked off. However, when the Giants appear to be at their worst, it’s usually not long before they’re at their best. The team is coming off their bye, and they know that this is a real statement game for them. For two straight weeks they’ve had to listen to critics, particularly Eli (can quarterbacks really suffer from dead-arm?), so they would love nothing more than to shut them up. Eli gets the Packers at the perfect time as the Green Bay injury report features names like Matthews, Woodson, and Shields. Still, I expect offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to dial up heavy doses of the running game, while keeping things simple for Eli through the air. An added benefit of establishing that running game is that it will leave Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense on the sidelines. The Giants will need to keep him on the sideline if they hope to win. Their secondary has been a weak point this year, allowing 258 yards per game. James Starks struggled to run the ball last week, and if Green Bay can’t solve that problem this week, New York’s pass rushers will be able to pin their ears back and get after Rodgers. The Giants have been able to generate pressure with their front four though, especially in the weeks heading into the bye. With Green Bay’s offensive line playing poorly, having allowed 33 sacks on the year, those Giant pass rushers could throw Rodgers off his game. The extra week allowed the Giants to get healthy, while Green Bay could use another bye week of their own to heal up. In the end, I think it will be the Giants that come up with more big plays when they need them. Giants 31, Packers 24
[UPDATE: No change here. One thing I've learned about the Giants in the past is that when people begin to doubt them, they play their best football. I'll be sitting at home rooting for the Packers (I'm a big Cowboys fan), but I really think New York is going to win this game.]
I lost my survivor pick when New England blew it at home to Arizona in Week 2, but I’ll continue providing my insight on a week-to-week basis. Last week, I went with a risky play and chose the Bengals on the road against the Chiefs. It turns out it wasn’t much of a risk after all as Cincinnati proceeded to stomp Kansas City 28-6. My other choice would have been the 49ers which would have also won easily, but I’d much rather have San Francisco left to pick from than Cincinnati.
Here are the options that most people will be tempted with this week:
Cincinnati vs. Oakland
Indianapolis vs. Buffalo
Denver at Kansas City
Tennessee at Jacksonville
Seattle at Miami
Out of the five games mentioned above, I’ve already used the Bengals, Broncos, and Seahawks. That leaves me with a choice between a 3-point home favorite: the Colts or a 3-point road favorite: the Titans. In almost all instances, I’d be more likely to go with the home team but I truly feel as though Tennessee is more likely to win their game this week so I’ll hold my nose and roll with the Titans over the Jaguars.
If I had all teams available to me, my selections would be in this order: Broncos, Bengals, Titans, Seahawks, Colts.
Week 1 – Houston Texans – W 30-13
Week 2 – New England Patriots – L 20-18
Week 3 – Dallas Cowboys – W 16-10
Week 4 – Green Bay Packers – W 28-27
Week 5 – New York Giants – W 41-27
Week 6 – Atlanta Falcons – W 23-20
Week 7 – Oakland Raiders – W 26-23 (OT)
Week 8 – Denver Broncos – W 34-14
Week 9 – Seattle Seahawks – W 30-20
Week 10 – Pittsburgh Steelers – W 16-13 (OT)
Week 11 – Cincinnati Bengals – W 28-6
Week 12 – Tennessee Titans –
AGAINST THE SPREADSHEET
Week in and week out, you will get a look at my spreadsheet which shows my confidence in each selection.
The ‘Strength of Pick’ column indicates how confident I am in my selection with 1 being the most confident and 14 being the least confident.
The ‘Initial Reaction’ column indicates my confidence when the game lines were first released.
The ‘Mid Week’ column indicates my confidence on Wednesday.
The ‘Final Selection’ column indicates my final picks against the spread.
It’s one thing to show you a table indicating who I like in each game, but it’s another thing to actually show you where I’m throwing my money down.
I rate my plays on a scale of 3* to 6* with a 6* play qualifying as my top play. I would estimate that 1 out of every 25 plays earns a 6* distinction, with approximately 50% of my plays earning a 3* distinction.
I’m going to dial it back to three plays this week. I was extremely close to going with another 6* play this week but I settled for a pair of 5* plays instead.
5* San Diego Chargers +1 (-110) – Pinnacle
The spread has swung around and now San Diego is favored in many spots. This is a game where you definitely want to do some line shopping, because I can assure you there are still a bunch of places where you will find San Diego listed as the underdog. Baltimore’s struggles on the road, particularly on the West Coast, make them the perfect team to turn around San Diego’s fortunes.
5* Pittsburgh Steelers -1 (-114) – 5 Dimes
I won my first 6* play of the season last week on the Steelers. I’m going right back to the well for this pick. It’s not often you’ll see me pick two 5* games in the same week. I wasn’t afraid to back Byron Leftwich last week, and I don’t think Charlie Batch is much of a downgrade. Dick LeBeau is going to chew Brandon Weeden up and spit him out.
3* Tennessee Titans -4 (-103) – Pinnacle
I don’t think much explanation is necessary when picking against the Jaguars. Tennessee is coming off a bye, and road favorites coming off a bye have been very profitable the past couple of season.
Good luck this week!