When picking games against the spread (ATS), the O/U can sometimes stand for Overvaluing/Underestimating teams. Putting too much stock into favorites and not taking underdogs seriously enough is why Vegas continually wins. While the advice here normally would be to not take too many favorites in one given week, you also shouldn’t go against your gut and take a team you don’t think can cover just for the sake of picking underdogs. That’s the equivalent of not answering “C” three questions in a row on a multiple-choice exam because you think it’s a trick.
With six of the lines right around a field goal, there’s a strong chance the point spread won’t be a factor in about half of the games. This is going to be a favorites week, especially road favorites, so don’t be afraid to go chalk. After underogs ruled the first month-plus, favorites have dominated ATS the last three weeks, going 9-4-1, 8-4-1 and 7-4-2. That 24-12-4 stretch has cut into the lead for the underdogs (67-57-6 for the season).
My most confident picks ATS: Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Lions and Saints. Two games to avoid: Vikings-Redskins and Bengals-Titans.
JETS (4-5) AT BUCS (2-6), 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 2; Radio: ESPN (98.7)
Jets by 2.5; O/U: 43.5
The Jets are one of the NFL’s feel-good stories. The Bucs? You’ve got to feel bad for their fans. After a preseason full of hype on “Hard Knocks,” Tampa Bay hasn’t showed any fight . . . unless you count Mike Evans shoving a Saints defender last week. The Bucs will be without their suspended star receiver. Jameis Winston, who instigated the tussle, is out with a shoulder injury. That sets up a Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Josh McCown matchup, pitting two quarterbacks against their former teams. Fitzpatrick went 10-6 and 3-8 in his two seasons as a Jet. McCown was 1-10 in his one year with the Bucs. He’s a big reason the Jets are a surprising 4-5, having completed 70.4 percent of his passes and throwing for 13 touchdowns. The Jets are coming off a nice win over the Bills last Thursday night. Teams that win on TNF are 5-2-1 ATS the next week, according to OddsShark.com. The Bucs are Team Turmoil and you shouldn’t take them just because they’re home and desperate. The Jets will be motivated to get to 5-5. Their defense — a social-media sensation after the #JetsDancetoAnything hashtag took flight on Twitter (the Bar Mitzvah one is my favorite) — will blitz Fitz. And McCown? He will do what he couldn’t do while a Buc: Win a game in Tampa.
The pick: Jets
GIANTS (1-7) AT 49ERS (0-9), 4:25 p.m.
TV: Ch. 5; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)
Giants by 2.5; O/U: 42
When the schedules were released, this game was a gimme for the Giants. The 49ers being winless isn’t all that surprising. That this line opened with them FAVORED? That this game could be a battle for one of the top draft picks? Well, that tells you everything you need to know about how wacky of a season it’s been. The Giants are a big, blue 1-7 after a brutal 51-17 loss to the Rams. That kind of defeat can test a team’s pride, and the belief here is that the defense will regroup against the perfect opponent. (Pick-6 prediction: Janoris Jenkins, reinstated after his suspension, takes one to the house). The 49ers were competitive early on, but have lost their last three games by scores of 40-10, 33-10 and 20-10. Hey, at least they get a “10” for consistency. All jokes aside, expect Eli Manning & Co. to get the last laugh and win comfortably.
The pick: Giants
1 P.M. GAMES
SAINTS (6-2) AT BILLS (5-3)
Saints by 3; O/U: 46.5
Buffalo is 4-0 at home (3-1 ATS) with wins over the Jets, Broncos, Bucs and Raiders. None of those teams are as good as the 6-2 Saints, who went from 0-2 to a legit Super Bowl contender thanks to a stingy and opportunistic defense. New Orleans is allowing 15 points per game during its six-game win streak. The Saints are 5-1 ATS during that run, missing a 6-0 mark when they won by eight as a 9.5-point favorite. Drew Brees now has a defense that can do its part, and while Buffalo has been a good story the first half of the season, it won’t have enough to slow down New Orleans. Saints win a competitive game and stay hot in cold Buffalo.
The pick: Saints
VIKINGS (6-2) AT REDSKINS (4-4)
Vikings by 1.5; O/U: 42
This is a tough one. Washington just won at Seattle, but it’s still dealing with a number of injuries. The Redskins’ two home losses were by 13 and 14 points to Philadelphia and Dallas. Minnesota, another top NFC team, is rested after the bye and riding a four-game win streak. The Vikings find a way to win a close one thanks to their stellar defense (16.9 ppg, 282.1 ypg allowed).
The pick: Vikings
BROWNS (0-8) AT LIONS (4-4)
Lions by 11; O/U: 44
After a dominant win at Green Bay, Detroit’s reward is a cupcake at home against the Brownies. Cleveland has lost by an average of 12.5 points in its four games away from Ohio, and this one won’t be close, either.
The pick: Lions
PACKERS (4-4) AT BEARS (3-5)
Bears by 6; O/U: 38
Chicago is one of the best bets at home with a 3-0-1 ATS mark, including outright wins over the Steelers and Panthers. Its feisty defense held its own against Drew Brees in the dome in Week 8, and should have no trouble against Brett Hundley. The Packers are 0-3 since losing Aaron Rodgers. Chicago, off a bye, gets some payback for Green Bay’s 35-14 win in Week 4.
The pick: Bears
CHARGERS (3-5) AT JAGUARS (5-3)
Jaguars by 3.5; O/U: 40.5
Jacksonville is going to the playoffs, folks. Its defense, the biggest reason for the turnaround, is allowing an NFL-low 14.6 points per game. In the Jaguars’ five wins, they’ve allowed 7, 7, 9, 0 and 7 points. The Chargers had a bye last week and are always competitive, but they’ll have trouble moving the ball. The under is a good play here, too.
The pick: Jaguars
STEELERS (6-2) AT COLTS (3-6)
Steelers by 10; O/U: 45
The Steelers have a tendency to play down to inferior teams, but after a bye week, you have to think they’ll show up. They’ve won three in a row, and are too talented for this to be a close game. Indy had a nice win at Houston last week, but this final score could resemble last year’s prime-time Thanksgiving matchup, when the Steelers beat the Luck-less Colts, 28-7.
The pick: Steelers
BENGALS (3-5) AT TITANS (5-3)
Titans by 4.5; O/U: 40.5
Tennessee has won three in a row and is also 3-0 straight up in its last three home games. Cincy has shown itself to be a stay-away team the last three weeks, barely beating the Colts at home and losing by a combined score of 52-21 in two road games.
The pick: Titans
4 P.M. GAMES
LOCK OF THE WEEK
COWBOYS (5-3) AT FALCONS (4-4)
Falcons by 3; O/U: 49
The Cowboys have won three in a row and look like one of the NFC’s best teams. The Falcons? They’ve lost four of five, and don’t look playoff-ready after last year’s Super Bowl run. Something’s just not right with Atlanta, and how many times can you pick a team because you’re waiting for last season’s version to show up. The Falcons are 1-2 in their new stadium, the two losses to the Bills and Dolphins. The Cowboys are an upgrade in talent. As good as they’ve been putting up points — 28, 30, 31, 40, 33, 28 in the last six games — they’ve also delivered on defense (10, 19, 17) after the bye. If not for that “Hill” Mary TD last week, the Chiefs (28.1 ppg) would’ve been held to 10 points. Dallas’ pass rush (27 sacks, third-best) will get after Matt Ryan. After a 3-0 start, Atlanta is averaging 16.6 ppg, and that won’t cut it against Dak Prescott (9-3 road record) and Dallas. Even with Ezekiel Elliott not playing, Alfred Morris will be up for the challenge. Dallas wins outright and gets to 6-3 before next week’s Sunday night showdown against the Eagles.
The pick: Cowboys
TEXANS (3-5) AT RAMS (6-2)
Rams by 11; O/U: 46
If Deshaun Watson were playing, this would have the potential to rival the Texans’ back-and-forth thriller in Seattle. But he’s not, and the Texans are not the same team. Tom Savage has produced just 14 points in six quarters. That won’t cut it against the Rams, the NFL’s highest-scoring team (32.9 ppg).
The pick: Rams
PATRIOTS (6-2) AT BRONCOS (3-5)
TV: Ch. 4, 8:30 p.m.
Patriots by 7.5; O/U: 46
New England is allowing fewer than 13 points per game during a four-game win streak. Denver’s four-game losing streak started with a stunning loss to the Giants on Sunday Night Football. There won’t be another SNF upset in Denver. Tom Brady & Co. roll as the Pats improve to 13-5 after the bye week during the Bill Belichick era.
The pick: Patriots
DOLPHINS (4-4) AT PANTHERS (6-3)
TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Panthers by 9; O/U: 40
This is the third straight prime-time game for Miami, which hasn’t looked as good as their 4-4 record. Carolina hasn’t looked as good as 6-3. Cam Newton & Co. win, but it’s hard to lay this many points with an inconsistent Panthers team.
The pick: Dolphins
Staff Standings and Picks (Best Bets in Bold)
55-71-6 overall, 2-7 best bets
Last week: 5-6-2
Jets Giants Saints Vikings
Lions Bears Jaguars Steelers Titans
Cowboys Rams Patriots Dolphins
54-72-6 overall, 5-4 best bets
Last week: 6-5-2
Jets Giants Saints Redskins
Lions Bears Jaguars Colts Titans
Falcons Rams Patriots Panthers
61-65-6 overall, 3-6 best bets
Last week: 8-3-2
Jets Giants Saints Redskins
Lions Packers Jaguars Steelers Titans
Cowboys Texans Patriots Dolphins
52-59-5 overall, 4-4 best bets
Last week: 4-6-2
Jets 49ers Saints Redskins
Lions Packers Jaguars Steelers Titans
Falcons Rams Patriots Dolphins