As the calendar continues to move toward Christmas, it’s getting to be crunch time in the NFL. Some teams are in the playoffs already, like the Falcons who won convincingly last night. Others are already out of the playoffs like the Lions who have fallen off the grid this season after showing potential last year. The really interesting teams to me are those on the fringe of the playoffs and are looking to secure their ticket to the postseason. There are several games where those teams meet which should make for great playoff atmospheres and hopefully exciting games.
After three straight weeks of 8-8, it’s time for me to get some momentum heading to the playoffs. As always, for my picks I’m using the spreads from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em which uses half points to prevent pushes and doesn’t account for late-week shifts in the line. Home teams are represented in all CAPS. These are the picks I’m making for Sunday’s 15 NFL games:
DALLAS COWBOYS (-3.5) over New Orleans Saints
Tony Romo and the Cowboys may be putting it together in time to save their coach’s job and get Dallas into the playoffs. New Orleans is just about out of the playoffs and had been stumbling until a big win last week over visiting Tampa. The Saints have struggled to a 2-5 record on the road this year but Dallas hasn’t exactly torn it up at home going just 4-3 straight up and 1-6 against the spread at home. They’re 0-5 at home as the favorite against the spread. The Cowboys offense is playing as good as it has all year with DeMarco Murray back from injury and Tony Romo playing efficiently. They’ve won five of six while the Saints have lost three of four. This game would be a lot more interesting if they just declared the winner would get the rights to Sean Payton next season but aside from that there’s still plenty of compelling storylines to watch as the Saints head to big D
Tennessee Titans (+12.5) over GREEN BAY PACKERS
I’d like to state up front that I don’t have much hope that the Titans actually win this game even coming off their win over New York. What I do think is likely, is a solid cover from a team that has been playing better with Jake Locker developing under center. It’s just too many points to give for Green Bay who has won just three games all year by 13 or more. The Packers lack of a running game and ability to stop the run allows teams like the Jags, Lions, Bears, and Vikings hang in there with them and lose by only singe-digits.
Indianapolis Colts (-6.5) over KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Colts incredible turnaround suffered a small setback last week as Houston beat their division rival 29-17 to wrap up the division. Indy looks to bounce back as they travel to Arrowhead. The Chiefs are a mess. Our Fansided brethren at ArrowheadAddict.com have them covered from every angle, and unfortunately for them it’s not a pretty picture. Hopefully they can get better through the draft because this game will only help them close in on the #1 overall pick.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (-4.5) over Buffalo Bills
The Bills have lost three of their last four and were demolished by the Seahawks in a “home” game in Toronto last week. The Dolphins had lost five of six before cruising past the Jaguars last week. Miami will be looking to avenge their 19-14 loss in Buffalo on Thursday night earlier this season, and I think they’ll be able to get the win at home by at least a touchdown. Ryan Tannehill has looked like the future in Miami while Ryan Fitzpatrick may be nearing the end of his run in Buffalo. Pick the quarterback who is on the rise in this one.
San Diego Chargers (+2.5) over NEW YORK JETS
Neither team is worth a pick after their performances the last few weeks. With the Jets on a short week though coming off a tough Monday Night loss in which they literally fumbled the game away, I think San Diego is the less horrible option. The Chargers looked good two weeks ago when they beat the Steelers; the Jets haven’t looked good since week 1. Both teams are done, but the Chargers should get the win.
Washington Redskins (-4.5) over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The Redskins will have RG3 back under center and the Eagles are already looking to next year. Phily has lost nine of their last ten and only two of those were within 4. Washington beat them during that stretch 31-6 at RFK and will now invade the Linc looking to avoid their division-rival’s attempts to spoil their playoff chances.
Cincinnati Bengals (+4.5) over PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The Bengals are maddeningly inconsistent and have dropped nine in a row to their division-rival Steelers and Ravens. Cincinnati has won five of six and could have easily won all six if they hadn’t given the Cowboys their game two weeks ago. Dallas moved on from their win in Cincy to beat Pittsburgh last week handing the Steelers their fourth loss in their last five. Big Ben is struggling with the offense and they haven’t won a game by five points or more since week 8 against Washington. The Bengals are frustrating at times and seemingly lack leadership, but I can’t give 4.5 with the Steelers in their current state so I’ll take Cincinnati to keep it within five.
St. Louis Rams (+3.5) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Bucs have collapsed losing their last four and last week apparently quitting on their coaches in a 41-0 debacle in New Orleans. There’s plenty of unrest in Tampa, but their actually the favorites as the host the Rams. St. Louis dropped a tough home game last week to the Vikings and Adrian Peterson, but should be able to bounce back against the Bucs. Jeff Fisher has this team heading in the right direction and the team seems to have rallied behind him unlike the mutiny that the Buccaneers are reportedly experiencing. Take the points and the underdog Rams in this one.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (-8.5) over Oakland Raiders
The Panthers are only 5-9 but have dominated in three of their last four games. Unfortunately the one loss was to the hapless Chiefs, but they looked good last week in a total stomping of the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders meanwhile have only beaten the Chiefs (twice) since week seven. Their four wins have come over the Steelers, Chiefs, and Jaguars so I don’t see them winning this game. The only question to me is whether Carson Palmer can engineer a backdoor cover and possibly close in on Cam and the Panthers late. I don’t think he’ll be given the chance though, since the Cats pass defense has been so bad that Newton should be able to pile on touchdowns as he and the Panthers roll to a win at home.
New England Patriots (-14.5) over JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
The Patriots will be angry and ready to rip apart their opponent on Sunday. That’s bad news for a Jags team that appears ready to upgrade to a quarterback who can’t get any reps over Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy. The Jags are 2-12 and have lost at home by more than 14 points to the Texans, Bengals, Bears, Lions, and Colts. Expect Tom Brady and the Pats to add their name to that way-too-long list this weekend in Jacksonville.
HOUSTON TEXANS (-7.5) over Minnesota Vikings
I’m sorry to rain on the parade of the Adrian Peterson coronation, I really am. Just a reminder that the Vikings quarterback is still Christian Ponder and the way teams have been able to score on Houston is to throw the ball. I hope Peterson gets the yards and ultimately the record, but I don’t think he and Minnesota will be within a touchdown of the Texans.
DENVER BRONCOS (-13.5) over Cleveland Browns
The Browns have lost by 13 points or more exactly two times this year, and Denver has won four games by that margin or more. Denver is so hot right now though, I can’t take the Browns even with that many points. Remember last week the Broncos went on the road and crushed by 17 a Ravens team that has beaten Cleveland twice this year. Last week against the Redskins the Browns allowed Kirk Cousins to put up 38 on them while losing by 17. This game will be ugly and over early. I wish there was a way to take the underdog in this since as a Pats fan I’d like to see Denver go down, but there’s no way that’s happening in Mile High this week.
Chicago Bears (-5.5) over ARIZONA CARDINALS
Both of these teams are as inconsistent as any teams in the league. The Bears have dropped five of six and have struggled offensively failing to reach 20 points in any of those losses. Chicago’s defense hasn’t played as well as they did earlier in the season but will face a turnover-prone Cardinals team that finally got a win last week against the Lions. Arizona started the year 4-0 before dropping nine in a row. Last week the Lions turned the ball over and let Arizona score a season-high 38, but I don’t see the Bears letting them get more than 14 this week. Since I think Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte will be able to get Chicago at least 20 against Arizona’s D, I’ll give the points and take the Bears. Chicago is in a must-win game while Arizona has nothing much to play for as we head into the last two weeks of the season.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (+2.5) over New York Giants
The Ravens have been struggling to be sure dropping to 9-5 after getting knocked around the last three weeks by the Steelers, Redskins, and Broncos. They’ll need to get things turned around especially on offense if they want to keep up with a Giants offense that can score points in a hurry. The Giants have been having their own struggles getting beat by the Redskins and hammered by the Falcons in their last two road games. On the year they’re just 3-4 on the road. Both teams are desperate for a win, struggling on defense, and coming off bad losses. I’ll take the Ravens and the points since the game is in Baltimore and the Giants have been anything but road warriors so far this season.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (+1.5) over San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks and Niners close out the week with a great Sunday Night matchup. The spread on this has drifted from two points in either direction to a straight up pick’em game. The Niners are on a short week and the game is in Seattle. The Seahawks are 6-0 (straight up and against the spread) at home and are starting to score points in bunches. The last two weeks they’ve scored 108 points and the Patriots showed last week in the second half that this Niners D is beatable. The kind of team that San Francisco struggles with is a physical, run-first team like the Rams. The Niners are 0-1-1 against St. Louis this year and couldn’t win on the road in St. Louis. Seattle’s offense and home-field advantage are better than St. Louis’s so I’ll take the ‘Hawks at home to win by 10.