With the regular season nearing the finish line, this is the time to start backing teams with something to play for and going against those whose playoff races are all but over. It's not just contenders: Teams such as the Bucs, Falcons and Broncos are just a few who are out of the running but have players and coaches who need a strong finish.
Underdogs had another winning week, going 9-6-1 against the spread in Week 13. They are 107-81-4 for the season.
My most confident picks ATS this week are the Patriots, Titans, Bengals, Steelers, Bucs and Falcons. Avoid Chargers-Jaguars, which is the definition of a "stay-away game."
1 P.M. GAMES
GAME OF THE WEEK
49ERS (10-2) AT SAINTS (10-2)
Saints by 2; O/U: 44.5
San Francisco is featured in the marquee matchup for the third straight week. After a dominant win over Green Bay and a last-second loss at Baltimore, it now gets New Orleans in what could be an NFC Championship Game preview. This should be another thriller. I lean San Francisco because its relentless pass rush should get to Drew Brees and its linebackers and secondary could contain Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas better than any team has this season. The 49ers allow an NFL-low 134.3 passing yards per game. The 49ers not only have 10 wins, they have the two best losses of the entire NFL season: walk-off, field-goal defeats to Seattle (in overtime) and Baltimore, both fellow 10-2 teams. Look for George Kittle to make big plays in the passing game and as a blocker in the run game as the 49ers are on the right side of a late kick this time.
The pick: 49ers
DOLPHINS (3-9) AT JETS (4-8)
TV: Ch. 2
Jets by 5.5; O/U: 45.5
The NFL is a week-to-week league. Just ask the Jets, who went from a 34-3 win over six-win Oakland to a 22-6 loss at winless Cincinnati. Just ask me, too: From 12-2 ATS in Week 12 to 3-12-1 in Week 13. The Dolphins last week played their best game of the season in a 37-31 win over the Eagles. Brian Flores getting three wins out of this supposedly historic 0-16 team is one of the best coaching feats in years. The Jets won't get swept by Miami (I think), but I'll take the points with Ryan Fitzpatrick and a Dolphins team that already knows it can beat the Jets.
The pick: Dolphins
RAVENS (10-2) AT BILLS (9-3)
Ravens by 6; O/U: 44
Not only did Baltimore win a possible Super Bowl preview with San Francisco last Sunday, later that night it moved into the AFC's top seed after New England lost. The belief here is that the Ravens will win out (after this, they host the Jets on TNF, are at Cleveland and host Pittsburgh). Still, this number feels a bit inflated. If the game were in Baltimore, the line suggests the Bills would be double-digit underdogs. That doesn't sound right. While Lamar Jackson will be hard to stop, Sean McDermott — the most underrated coach in the NFL —had an extra few days to game plan for him after an impressive win at Dallas on Thanksgiving.
The pick: Bills
BENGALS (1-11) AT BROWNS (5-7)
Browns by 7.5; O/U: 41.5
Cleveland's outside shot at a wild card ended last week. "Pittsburgh Finished It" T-shirts, anyone? It's hard to envision the Browns having any juice for this game. Andy Dalton and the Bengals will be loose now that the 0-16 talk is not hanging over their heads.
The pick: Bengals
BRONCOS (4-8) AT TEXANS (8-4)
Texans by 9; O/U: 42.5
This is the ultimate trap game. A week after a huge SNF win over the Patriots and a week before an important division matchup at Tennessee, Houston welcomes a four-win Broncos team. Drew Lock won his debut, and the rookie QB and first-year coach Vic Fangio want to finish with a flourish, so I expect this to be a single-digit loss.
The pick: Broncos
COLTS (6-6) AT BUCS (5-7)
Bucs by 3; O/U: 47
Tampa Bay is feeling good after double-digit wins at Atlanta and Jacksonville produced its first winning streak. Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians are motivated to finish a losing season on a high note. The Colts appear to be done as injuries have helped drop them to .500 after a 5-2 start.
The pick: Bucs
PANTHERS (5-7) AT FALCONS (3-9)
Falcons by 3; O/U: 47
Atlanta won at Carolina, 29-3, just three weeks ago. The Panthers fired Ron Rivera two days after a shocking loss at home against the Redskins essentially ended their season. You have to wonder how much the Panthers have left in the tank.
The pick: Falcons
REDSKINS (3-9) AT PACKERS (9-3)
Packers by 12; O/U: 41.5
Green Bay could win this game by 20-plus but I'll take all those points with a team that could expose the Packers' biggest flaw: run defense. Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson could have big days, chew up clock and leave Aaron Rodgers on the sideline just enough to earn the cover.
The pick: Redskins
LIONS (3-8-1) AT VIKINGS (8-4)
Vikings by 12.5; O/U: 43
Minnesota is 0-2 ATS as double-digit home favorites this year, and barely escaped against Denver after falling behind 20-0 in Week 11. The Vikings did win by 12 at Detroit when Matthew Stafford was playing, but this still feels like a couple points too many.
The pick: Lions
4 P.M. GAMES
LOCK OF THE WEEK
CHIEFS (8-4) AT PATRIOTS (10-2)
TV: Ch. 2
Patriots by 3; O/U: 48.5
It's that time of year: No, not Christmas music starting to play on the radio (that's so Week 12). No, it's "Tom Brady and the Patriots dynasty is over" time! Anyone who follows this league closely knows that's not the case, as Brady and the defending champs feed off all the doubters. Yes, the Pats looked bad in a SNF loss at Houston, but they'll bounce back at home, where they've won 21 straight games. What better way to change the narrative than the offense clicking in a sound win against the Chiefs? Expect Sony Michel and James White to dictate tempo against a Chiefs defense that can't stop the run (30th ranked at 141.3 yards per game). The Pats' secondary will contain Patrick Mahomes just enough as (hot take alert!), Brady will post better numbers in the QB matchup and the Pats will score 30 or more.
The pick: Patriots
TITANS (7-5) AT RAIDERS (6-6)
Titans by 3; O/U: 47.5
The Raiders have the look of a cooked team after back-to-back 31-point losses at the Jets (34-3) and Chiefs (40-9). The Titans are just plain cooking, riding the arm of Ryan Tannehill (5-1 as starter) and legs of Derrick Henry (496 yards, 5 TDs and 7.29 yards per carry over the last three games). I don't see a letdown for Tennessee after its thrilling win at Indy or a trap spot with Houston on deck. In a must-win spot, Oakland will hang around for a half or so, but Mike Vrabel's grinders (sorry, Coach Gruden) will be too much to handle.
The pick: Titans
STEELERS (7-5) AT CARDINALS (3-8-1)
Steelers by 2.5; O/U: 43.5
Pittsburgh is winning with defense — fifth in yards (317.2) and sixth in points (18.8) allowed per game. It will be the difference again in a low-scoring game as it holds on to the AFC's sixth seed thanks to a big game from Minkah Fitzpatrick (pick-6?).
The pick: Steelers
CHARGERS (4-8) AT JAGUARS (4-8)
TV: Ch. 5
Chargers by 3; O/U: 43.5
The Chargers continue to find new ways to lose, so why back them as road favorites? The Jags have lost four straight by at least 17 points, but Gardner Minshew should provide a boost.
The pick: Jaguars
SEAHAWKS (10-2) AT RAMS (7-5)
TV: Ch. 4
Pick 'em; O/U: 47
If Greg Zuerlein makes that 44-yard field goal at Seattle on TNF in Week 5, the Rams win by two instead of losing by one and this is 9-3 vs. 8-4 and not 10-2 vs. 7-5. Seattle has mastered the art of the close win — nine by single digits, five by four or fewer points. Seattle opened as 3-point favorites and are now underdogs. Why? Because this is the Rams' season, and betttors realize this is a must-win spot at home and in prime time. Give me the Rams to win by a point or three. Redemption for Zuerlein?
The pick: Rams
GIANTS (2-10) AT EAGLES (5-7)
Eagles by 10; O/U: 46
Don't overthink this one. The Giants have lost eight straight and can't stop anyone, allowing 31 or more points in five of those games. As underachieving as the Eagles have been, they'll spoil Eli Manning's return as the angry birds make up for that Miami meltdown.
The pick: Eagles
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold)
92-96-4 overall, 7-6 best bets
Last week: 3-12-1
Dolphins Eagles 49ers Bills Bengals
Broncos Bucs Falcons Redskins Lions
Patriots Titans Steelers Jaguars Rams
Last week: 8-7-1
Dolphins Eagles Saints Bills Browns
Texans Colts Falcons Packers Vikings
Chiefs Raiders Steelers Jaguars Seahawks
Last week: 6-9-1
Jets Giants 49ers Ravens Browns
Texans Colts Falcons Packers Lions
Chiefs Raiders Cardinals Jaguars Seahawks
Last week: 7-8-1
Dolphins Giants Saints Bills Bengals
Texans Colts Falcons Packers Vikings
Patriots Titans Steelers Chargers Seahawks