Week 12 Picks

Posted: 11/29/2015 by levcohen in Football

This week is characterized by the predicted closeness of most of these matchups. Including the three Thanksgiving games, just three out of the 16 games on week 12’s slate have spreads that are greater than 5 points (the first of the three big favorites, Green Bay, lost at home to the Bears. Sign of things to come?). And while this is due largely to a good number of even matchups this week and the fact that New England and Carolina both play (or played) supposedly tough (not in Carolina’s case, as it turned out) road games, it also has to do with the state of the NFL this season. I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: there are really only four teams we can all agree are legitimately good in New England, Carolina, Arizona, and Cincinnati (the latter two are the two 4.5+ point favorites today). Kansas City, once the owners of a 1-5 record, might actually be the fifth best team in football. We can debate the merits of Seattle and Pittsburgh, of Green Bay and Denver, but it would be a real debate, because those teams have huge holes. The lack of consistently good teams might be common, but I can’t remember it being like this. I compared this year’s Week 11 Football Outsiders DVOA ratings with last years’ and discovered a few interesting things. The top four teams in football this year are all better than last year’s #2, but there are just 12 teams with a positive rating right now after there were 17 at this point last season. The most bizarre thing? Last year, 14 of the top 15 teams had winning record, with the 5-5 Bills serving as the outlier. 17 teams in total had winning records. This season, just seven of the top 15 are above .500, and just nine in total are above .500. That’s probably the weirdest thing about this season; just 28% of the league is better than .500 at this point, while a large segment (25%) is 5-5 and the remaining 47% is below .500. What does that mean? Probably what I started out by saying: there are a few really good teams this year, but the vast majority of the league is pretty mediocre, hence the conservative point spreads.

*= upset pick

New Orleans Saints (4-6, 4-5-1) at Houston Texans (5-5, 5-5):
Spread: Texans favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: This is tough for me because I’ve been picking against both of these teams pretty much all season long. This is is a really unpredictable game, as the Saints normally put up a lot of points while Houston has given up just 29 points in their last three games, all wins, after holding an opponent under 20 points just once in their first seven games. In the end, I trust Houston’s defense and New Orleans’s lack of defense just a bit more than Drew Brees, especially since the Saints are on the road. Texans win 31-24.
Texans cover

Minnesota Vikings (7-3, 8-2) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4, 4-6):*
Spread: Falcons favored by 2
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: This one is pretty simple for me. I just think the Vikings are a better all-around team than the struggling Falcons. They should rebound from a disappointing home loss against Green Bay to take them back atop the NFC North in what is an important game for both NFC playoff hopefuls. Vikings win 23-17.
Vikings cover

St. Louis Rams (4-6, 4-5-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-2, 8-1-1):
Spread: Bengals favored by 10.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: This looks like a lopsided matchup. The Rams are hapless, especially on the road, while the Bengals are great at home. But while I’ll pick the Bengals to win handily, there are two reasons that I’m wary to lock them up. The first is that they are the Andy Dalton Bengals, the same team that has blown a number of seemingly easy games over the past few years (see: Texans, MNF this year). The second is that the Rams have already beaten the Seahawks and Cardinals this year, and they’ve shown the ability to upset great teams recently. I’ll take the Bengals 27-10, but Cincinnati needs to be careful.
Bengals cover

San Diego Chargers (2-8, 3-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6, 6-4):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars: Favorites. That’s not something we normally see, but it’s happened for the second straight time, both because the Jags have improved and because they have played two-win teams in consecutive weeks. And just because it doesn’t seem right that the Jags are being given this much credit, this game has to be close, right? The Chargers stink; their only win in their last nine games was a three point victory over the Browns. But you don’t have to be good to keep a game with the Jaguars close, which is why I’m going to take Jacksonville 27-24.
Jaguars cover

Miami Dolphins (4-6, 4-6) at New York Jets (5-5, 4-5-1):
Spread: Jets favored by 4.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Neither of these teams is any good, but I can’t pick a team that only beat the current iteration of the Eagles to win by a point (as the Dolphins did immediately before Philadelphia got thrashed by Tampa and Detroit). Then again, the Jets lost to the Eagles, but that was before they had totally quit on their coach and their season. In all seriousness, I trust the Jets to take care of business here after losing four of five. Jets win 20-14.
Jets cover

Oakland Raiders (4-6, 5-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-8, 4-6):*
Spread: Raiders favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I have lost all confidence in the Raiders, especially since they are 0-3 against the spread as a favorite. The Titans are capable of scoring against terrible defenses, as evidenced by the 34 points they put up against New Orleans. Besides, when two terrible teams play each other… take the home team. Titans win 23-20.
Titans cover

Buffalo Bills (5-5, 5-4-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-5, 5-5):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 4.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: These teams are both pretty good and legitimate AFC playoff contenders. In fact, along with the Steelers, I think they should be considered the favorites to win the AFC wild cards. The Bills have been excellent on the road this season, going 3-2 straight up and 3-1-1 against the spread. But I can’t pick against the Chiefs right now, not after they’ve won four straight by an average of 23 points, including wins against Pittsburgh, Denver, Detroit (which seems a bit better after three straight Lions wins), and San Diego (by 30). I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I think they’ll keep doing it here. Chiefs win 19-13.
Chiefs cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5, 6-4) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5, 5-5):*
Spread: Colts favored by 3
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: The Buccaneers are playing really well recently, and they have a fairly easy game against a Colts team that is without quarterback and leader Andrew Luck. Why not pick an upset here? Buccaneers win 28-24.
Buccaneers cover

New York Giants (5-5, 6-3-1) at Washington Redskins (4-6, 4-6):
Spread: Giants favored by 1
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: The Giants have been pretty impressive recently, and I like Eli Manning and their offense here against a pedestrian Redskins’ defense. Washington has won their last four home games, but those were games against the Eagles, Rams, Buccaneers, and Saints. I think the Giants are slightly better than those teams. Giants win 31-27.
Giants cover

Arizona Cardinals (8-2, 6-4) at San Francisco 49ers (3-7, 4-6):- Lock
Spread: Cardinals favored by 8
Over/under: 46
My prediction: The Cardinals are great, and the Niners might still be the worst team in football. I feel pretty confident about locking this one up and don’t expect the Cardinals to have a letdown against a divisional opponent. Cardinals win 30-14.
Cardinals cover

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4, 6-3-1) at Seattle Seahawks (5-5, 3-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: These teams are very even. They’re ranked fifth (Seattle) and seventh in DVOA, and it’s set to be a very intriguing game, one I’m excited to watch. If I had any confidence in Seattle’s offensive line, I’d pick the Seahawks to win by multiple scores, since I think their defense will do a pretty good job against Pittsburgh’s offense. But I don’t, and the Steelers are 3-1 against the spread on the road. With that being said, I still just get the feeling that the Seahawks are going to win this game. Barely. Seahawks win 21-20.
Steelers cover

New England Patriots (10-0, 5-3-2) at Denver Broncos (8-2, 5-5):
Spread: Patriots favored by 2
Over/under: 43
My prediction: This has all the makings of New England’s first loss. They’re on the road against the top defense in football, and they are suffering through serious injury concerns, both on the offensive line and with the skill-position group. But am I going to pick Brock Oswiler to beat Tom Brady here? I’m not. Patriots win 24-14.
Patriots cover

Baltimore Ravens (3-7, 1-7-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-8, 4-6):
Spread: Browns favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Um. Worst Monday Night Football game of all-time? Probably. ESPN probably didn’t think Baltimore would be 3-7 coming into this game. But they are, and they just lost their quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries. Luckily for them, they get to play a team that might just be as bad as they are this week. Unfortunately, they still won’t win. Browns win 27-20.
Browns cover

Upset picks:
Buccaneers over Colts
Titans over Raiders
Vikings over Falcons

Lock of the week:
Cardinals over Niners


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