“All I want for Christmas is another 11 win week.”
Happy Holidays to everyone who read the column this year. Hopefully you found it entertaining and useful as you tried to navigate the stormy waters of NFL gambling (for amusement purposes only!).
In Week 15 we had another great week with the picks, going 11-4 for the second week in a row. But this week I’m changing up my handicapping angles and looking more at playoff positioning and who has motivation, and also who is just hoping for the season to end. At this time of year you’ll have teams playing 100% in order to secure a division title, a bye week, or even to just stay alive for one more week. While other teams who have already been eliminated are just going through the motions, trying out young players, and trying not to get hurt. We have to keep that in mind as we try to pick some winners.
There are some great matchups with direct playoff implications this week (Bengals/Steelers, Giants/Ravens, 49ers/Seahawks) so it will be a fun week of football. We have a Saturday night game this week, but no game on Thursday and no Monday Night game. So it’s 16 games in 24 hours. I love this time of year.
Stay in the loop. I usually tweet out some picks on Sunday morning, so follow me on Twitter (@Fantasource) to get the latest.
Let’s hope Santa delivers another weekend of winners…
Last Week: 11-4
Season Record: 105-85-3
Saturday, Dec. 22nd
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions (+3 1/2, O/U 50 1/2)
Detroit is riding a seven game losing streak and I don’t see it ending here. Last week the Lions went out to Arizona and got blown out 38-10.
Atlanta needs one more win to clinch the top seed and get some rest in Week 17, and for that reason I think the Falcons will get a win on the road this week.
The Falcons had a big 38-0 win at home against the Giants last week and I think that continues this week with a win on the road to clinch the top seed. I’ll lay the 3 1/2 and say the Falcons win by at least a touchdown.
Pick: Falcons -3 1/2
Sunday, Dec. 23rd
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers (-12 1/2, O/U 46)
I watched the Titans/Jets Monday Night game this week, and that was enough to convince me to not bet on the Titans for the rest of the season. The Titans looked pretty bad, and lucky for them the Jets (I mean, Mark Sanchez) looked even worse. Chris Johnson had a pretty good game, but that was about it.
We look for motivation in these late season games, and the Packers sure have some. They need to win to stay alive for a #2 seed and more importantly a first round bye in the playoffs. The Titans are 5-9 and really have nothing to get motivated for.
Laying 12 1/2 is a lot of points, but I think the Packers will be focused and handle their business this week at home with a big win against a bad Titans team.
Pick: Packers -12 1/2
Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers (-8, O/U 46)
I can’t lay over a touchdown with the Panthers, not even against the Raiders. I mean this is one of the games this week where neither team has anything to play for. Both of these teams are just riding out the season. Carolina is 5-9. Oakland is 4-10.
Carolina is the better team, so I expect them to win. But getting over a touchdown? I’ll take the Raiders. The Panthers may win 24-20 or something like that. Take the points.
Pick: Raiders +8
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-4 1/2, O/U 41 1/2)
Buffalo is still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but they need a lot of help to get into the postseason so it’s only a matter of time before the Bills’ season is over.
What about the Dolphins? Miraculously they are still alive, too. And just like with Buffalo, they have a tough path to the postseason. A Cincinnati win will eliminate Miami from the playoffs. And of course, whoever loses this game is out regardless of the Cincinnati result.
But enough about scenarios, who do I think is going to win this one? I’m going with Miami on the (relative) strength of their defense. Last week the Bills gave up 50 points to the Seahawks, a few weeks ago Miami played Seattle, they won and only gave up 21 points. Not a great comparison, but it gives me a gauge on how these teams play against common opponents.
I’ll lay the points and take Miami here.
Pick: Dolphins -4 1/2
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4, O/U 43)
I’m not sure what to make of the Steelers, they’ve lost four of their last five games and last week at Dallas they gave away a very winnable game late in the 4th quarter, and then lost in overtime. But I still think they can pull one out here.
Cincinnati is hot, they’ve won five of their last six games, albeit against some weak competition (KC, Philly, San Diego, Oakland) and they are still in the mix for the AFC North division title if they win and the Ravens lose this week. And a win this week will clinch them at least a wildcard spot.
Pittsburgh is still in contention in the AFC North, but their path is a little more challenging. They need to win out and hope the Ravens lose their last two games. But the most pressing issue this week is that a loss to the Bengals will eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention.
With all that said, I like the Bengals. I think they are playing well lately, plus when I watch Pittsburgh it seems like they are still trying to figure it out and that’s not a good spot to be in this late in the season. Ben is back from injury, but it may be too little, too late.
I expect the Bengals to be able to move the ball on the Steelers, QB Andy Dalton, WR AJ Green and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis should be able to get a win on the road and clinch a playoff spot this week.
I’ll take the Bengals and the four points.
Pick: Bengals +4
New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (+14 1/2, O/U 48 1/2)
At first I thought, “wow, getting 14+ points at home? Gotta take the Jags.” Then I looked into it a bit further. Since 2005, home teams getting 14 points or more are only 2-6 against the spread. So it’s not as much of a lock as I was expecting.
Factor into that the Patriots lost last week at home against the 49ers, so they are looking to get back on track before the playoffs.
New England put up 34 points against the #1 defense in the league. Now they play the 31st ranked defense? Um ok. Would you be surprised if they scored 50 points?
I just don’t see the Jags being competitive in this game. I hate laying this many points on the road, but I can’t see how the Jags get up for this game, and I don’t see how they can keep it close.
Patriots 38-10, how’s that sound? They’ll probably call off the dogs in the 4th with game well in hand, to try to rest and avoid injury but I don’t think the Jags can even muster a backdoor cover.
In a bounce back game after a loss I’ll lay the big number and take the Pats.
Pick: Patriots -14 1/2
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (+6 1/2, O/U 41 1/2)
The Chiefs are in for a beating this week. The Colts have been feasting on bad teams all season and a win this week will clinch the Colts a playoff spot. There is no way the Chiefs will get in their way.
The Colts’ weakness is their defense, but if you’re playing Kansas City then having a bad defense isn’t really a problem. The Chiefs have no offense at all. KC has scored 14 points or more only twice in the last ten games. I mean, they got shut out by the Raiders last week 15-0. The Raiders. The team with the 30th ranked defense. That’s all you need to know about KC.
I’m seeing 31-10 in my head, and that means I’ll lay the 6 1/2 and take the Colts. If I could make something a ‘best bet’ this would be it.
Pick: Colts -6 1/2
New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys (-2 1/2, O/U 51 1/2)
I’ll take the points here because I like the Saints to win this week. New Orleans had a big win last week at home over the Bucs 41-0, so they may be due for a letdown. They also are 6-8 and not going to make the postseason. So why would they show up here, on the road, against a motivated Dallas team who is fighting for the NFC East division title?
The Saints are playing for pride at this point. This whole season was tainted by the Bountygate scandal and I expect them to play out the season at 100% and playing spoiler would make them very happy.
This should be a high scoring game, but I think Drew Brees and the Saints passing game will be too much for the Cowboys. And I expect New Orleans to win this straight up.
Pick: Saints +2 1/2
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (+6 1/2, O/U 44 1/2)
Another week without knowing if Redskins QB Robert Griffin will be playing. I’m handicapping this game as if he will start, but as of Thursday we still don’t know.
The line is Redskins -6 1/2, and that line seems to assume RG3 will play. But you know what, I’m taking the Eagles here.
This is a big game for the Eagles, and not for standings, or playoff positioning or draft order. This is probably the last home game of Andy Reid’s long career as Eagles head coach. Andy sure looks like he is gone after this season. I think the players know that, and I think the fans know that, too. It’s been a rough season for the Eagles, a very disappointing 4-10 record, injuries to Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson and Lesean McCoy and a few coaches have even been fired along the way.
But this is the Redskins, and this is an NFC East rivalry. The Eagles should be able to muster one last push to get a win, yes it will be a meaningless win in terms of the overall season record, but it will be a win in Andy Reid’s last home game as Eagles coach.
I’m throwing stats and trends out the window and going with a hunch that the Eagles will come out to play for their coach and send Andy off with a win.
Pick: Eagles +6 1/2
St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3, O/U 43 1/2)
The Bucs had such promise this season, at one point they were 6-4 and looking like they would be making a playoff push, but then they dropped 4 in a row and their season is over. And last week, they went to New Orleans and got shellacked 41-0.
The Rams have been playing decent lately, winning three of their last four games on the strength of their defense. And I think the defenses will be the difference here. I think this will be a low scoring game, and the difference maker could just be the Rams rookie kicker Greg Zeurlein.
I’ll take the Rams and the 3 points, but I think they really can win this game straight up.
Pick: Rams +3
New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens (+2 1/2, O/U 47)
Two of the best teams in the league, and both lost last week. The Giants were embarrassed at Atlanta 34-0. The Ravens also lost, at home, 34-17 to the Broncos.
I think the Giants will be the ones to get it done this week. Yes, it’s on the road and the Ravens can clinch the AFC North with a win, but I don’t think the Ravens are the better team here.
This is a spot where Eli will step up. The Giants were a no-show last week in Atlanta, and they know that they need to win here to stay alive in the playoff race. I don’t know all of the scenarios but a loss here would drop New York to 8-7 and possibly eliminate them from the NFC playoff race.
The line is under a field goal so I like the Giants to win and cover the 2 1/2.
Pick: Giants -2 1/2
Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans (-7 1/2, O/U 43 1/2)
I hate betting against Adrian Peterson, especially when he is playing like he has for the past few weeks. Wow, forget Comeback Player of the Year, AP is putting up a good case for MVP. He went over 200 yards last week and has 576 yards rushing over the past 3 games. Impressive.
Houston has a pretty good defense and I think they will be able to contain Peterson on Sunday. Not saying they will hold him to 40 yards running, I just think they’ll just keep his stats at ‘normal’ levels, no 175 yards rushing or anything like that.
Houston needs only one more win to clinch the #1 seed in the AFC, so they know this game is important to let them use Week 17 to rest up and get healthy for the playoffs.
The Viking defense isn’t that great, so they may have trouble shutting down all of the Texans weapons. I like the Over in this game, and I think the Texans will win by 10+ to get the cover at home and clinch the top seed in the AFC.
Pick: Texans -7 1/2
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos (-13, O/U 44 1/2)
Denver wins this one, of course that is easy to say since they are huge favorites. But this is another scenario (like the Patriots game) where a big favorite is in a ‘must win’ game for playoff seeding. The Broncos need to win out to get a first round bye week, or hope for a Patriots loss in the final two weeks.
Peyton Manning knows this and will play accordingly. Will they win by 2 touchdowns? Yeah, I think they will. I don’t see them leaving anything to chance, they will throw the ball early, jump out to a big lead and cruise.
I don’t think the Browns are ready for the Broncos pass rush either. Cleveland has the 27th ranked offense, now they have to go to Mile High and hang with the Broncos? Not gonna happen.
The Browns just gave up 38 points to the Redskins, so I’ll lay the 13 here and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Broncos win by 20+.
Pick: Broncos -13
Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals (+5, O/U 36 1/2)
I’m doing it again. I’m going with the Cardinals. In a battle of two great defenses, I’ll take the points.
Chicago has the #2 ranked defense in the league, and Arizona is #3. So yeah, it’s going to be a battle. Probably low scoring, probably boring, and probably the type of game where one play will decide it all.
This is also a game of two baaaad offenses. Neither team has been scoring lately. The Cardinals have only scored over 20 points once in ten weeks. The Bears have scored over 17 points only once in the last 6 games.
So in that case I’ll take the 5 points and hope for a low scoring game to get the cover with Arizona.
Pick: Cardinals +5
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (+1, O/U 39)
This one is the game of the week, without question.
Seattle comes into this game off of back-to-back games where they scored over 50 points. And the 49ers just knocked off the Patriots on the road last week. Two great teams, two great defenses, NFC West battle.
But I think the home field advantage gives the Seahawks the edge here. Seattle is 6-0 at home this year, both straight up and against the spread. And based on the past few weeks it seems like rookie QB Russell Wilson is really making his case to be regarded as one of the best QB’s in the league.
The 49ers have a rookie QB of their own, Colin Kaepernick, and he has been playing well lately also. But I think this is a tough spot for him. Another tough road game, playing against a great defense, it may just be too much.
It will be a great game, but I think Seattle will win this game and clinch a wildcard spot.
Pick: Seahawks +1
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets (-2 1/2, O/U 40 1/2)
Goodbye Jets. You blew a perfectly winnable game last Monday night and now you’re eliminated from the playoff race. But hey, I’m still going with the Jets again this week. Why? Well, they’re finally letting their best QB start.
The Chargers were also eliminated from the playoffs last week after losing to the Panthers. But honestly, it felt like they got eliminated weeks ago. It’s been a brutal season for the Chargers and I have a feeling that they just want it to end.
I like the Jets for one reason, Greg McElroy. The new QB led them to a victory a few weeks ago against the Cardinals. Then they rewarded him by sticking him back on the bench. Well, I guess since Mark Sanchez AND Tim Tebow both look like they are headed out of town after the season, they may as well see what McElroy can do. And the Jets defense is 9th ranked in the NFL, so they should be able to keep the Chargers score low.
I’ll lay the 2 1/2 and say that the Jets get a home win, and finally give their fans something to cheer about for next season.
Pick: Jets -2 1/2