It’s Thanksgiving, and I can’t remember when an NFL season has felt this wide open approaching December. There’s no true Super Bowl favorite, with several contenders from each conference having a serious chance. That’s great for the sport and its fans, and it makes picking games even more interesting.
Underdogs cooled down a bit last week, going 7-8 against the spread (ATS). They still lead, 89-73-2, for the season.
My most confident picks ATS this week are Pittsburgh, the L.A. Rams and Minnesota. There’s no true "stay-away" game, but Jets-Houston and Atlanta-Jacksonville shouldn’t have you rushing to place wagers.
GAME OF THE WEEK
L.A. RAMS (7-3) AT GREEN BAY (8-3)
TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.
L.A. Rams by 1; O/U: 47
This rematch of last year’s divisional round (32-18 Packers win at Lambeau) could be a preview of the NFC Championship Game. Aaron Rodgers is battling a toe injury, and Matthew Stafford isn’t 100%, so the under could be a sneaky play here. It’s usually unwise to go against Rodgers when the spread is this small, but I really like the Rams here. They had two weeks to prepare for this game, and Sean McVay will have them ready after back-to-back humbling losses in prime time to the Titans and 49ers. The Packers’ injuries are just too much to overlook, and they’re probably wishing their bye was Sunday and not next week. The setbacks on the offensive line are especially concerning with Aaron Donald and Von Miller in town. This will be close, but the Rams get back on track to stay on the heels of the idle first-place Cardinals.
The pick: L.A. Rams
1 p.m. GAMES
PHILADELPHIA (5-6) AT GIANTS (3-7)
TV: Fox, 1 p.m.
Philadelphia by 3.5; O/U: 45.5
Talk about two teams trending in different directions. The Eagles have won three of four and with a win here they’re a wild-card contender. Philly, fresh off its first home win, is 4-2 on the road and the way that offense has turned things around the last month has been impressive. The Giants hope for the same after firing Jason Garrett, but it may take a week or 20 with this franchise. The Eagles lead the all-time series, 88-86-2. This will be close, but in the end Jalen Hurts makes the bigger play than Daniel Jones.
The pick: Philadelphia
JETS (2-8) AT HOUSTON (2-8)
TV: CBS, 1 p.m.
Houston by 2.5; O/U: 44.5
It’s the Clash Of The Titans beaters! These two bottom-5 teams somehow both beat 8-win Tennessee. Houston did it last week and as a result is favored for the first time all season. Tyrod Taylor could be the latest to have success against the Jets’ dismal defense but I’m going with the visitors, who should get a boost from Zach Wilson’s return. There aren’t many instances when the following statement is true but the Jets are the better team and will get their first road win.
The pick: Jets
TENNESSEE (8-3) AT NEW ENGLAND (7-4)
New England by 7; O/U: 43.5
If you had to explain to someone who has never watched the NFL just how unpredictable this league is, start with the fact that Tennessee, 7-0 vs. 2020 playoff teams, has lost to the two-win Jets and Texans. The Patriots are a big step up in class, and my first thought was to make them my lock of the week. I still like them, but not as much because the line has moved significantly (Pats -2.5 to Pats -6.5). That usually means you should side with the underdog, but I can’t do it. New England’s defense has been phenomenal in fueling a five-game win streak as the first-place Pats have allowed 6, 7 and 0 points the last three weeks. Bill Belichick doesn’t have to take away the Titans’ biggest weapon, Derrick Henry, because he’s already out.
The pick: New England
TAMPA BAY (7-3) AT INDIANAPOLIS (6-5)
Tampa Bay by 3; O/U: 53
The Bucs snapped a two-game skid, enjoying a second-half laugher against the Giants on MNF. Things are about to get much more serious. Don’t look now, but here come the charging Colts, winners of five of six and fresh off a 41-15 stomping of the Bills. Frank Reich’s club, led by powerhouse back Jonathan Taylor, is built for January and will be a dangerous out if they make it. Tampa Bay is 2-3 on the road (0-5 ATS) and looked vulnerable in its last two losses at New Orleans and Washington. This will be a close game in the fourth quarter, and the Colts are a live ‘dog.
The pick: Indianapolis
LOCK OF THE WEEK
PITTSBURGH (5-4-1) AT CINCINNATI (6-4)
Cincinnati by 4; O/U: 44.5
The Bengals were my "lock" last week and they made me look good. I also picked them when these two teams met in Week 3, and again, they made me look good. Now, my "lock" is against them. The Steelers are going to win this game. Last week, while dealing with injuries, they battled back from 27-10 down entering the fourth quarter before falling 41-37 to the Chargers These teams are evenly-matched in the crowded AFC North, so getting more than three points is huge. History also says to side with Mike Tomlin’s guys: The Bengals haven’t swept a season series from Pittsburgh since 2009 and Ben Roethlisberger is 24-9 all-time vs. Cincy.
The pick: Pittsburgh
CAROLINA (5-6) AT MIAMI (4-7)
Carolina by 2; O/U: 42
The Dolphins have won three games in 14 days after they went seven weeks without tasting victory. That’s the NFL for ya. Still, I’m not convinced Miami is any good. Carolina has had an up-and-down season and I expect it to get back to .500 in what should be a close finish.
The pick: Carolina
ATLANTA (4-6) AT JACKSONVILLE (2-8)
Atlanta by 2; O/U: 46
The Falcons haven’t scored since a first-quarter field goal in a 43-3 loss at Dallas two weeks ago preceded a 25-0 dud on TNF vs. the Patriots. So, you know what that means? Matt Ryan & Co. will move up and down the field and put up 30 this week.
The pick: Atlanta
4 p.m. GAMES
MINNESOTA (5-5) AT SAN FRANCISCO (5-5)
San Francisco by 3; O/U: 49
This is a big one for NFC wild-card positioning after both won two in a row to get to .500. If you read my column every week, you’ll know that I’m pro-Vikings this year, a team that could easily be 7-3 if a play or two went their way late. Minnesota beat the Chargers in L.A. two weeks ago, so that’s a confidence-booster. Kirk Cousins has arguably the best 1-2 punch at wide receiver in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and after beating the Packers, expect the Vikings to keep it going with a win. The 49ers are 2-11 in their last 13 games in Santa Clara, so the home-field edge isn’t there.
The pick: Minnesota
L.A. CHARGERS (6-4) AT DENVER (5-5)
L.A. Chargers by 2.5; O/U: 47.5
They split last year’s meetings (31-30 Broncos, 19-16 Chargers) and this one has the potential to be another nail-biter, a trend with the Chargers for some time now. Let’s keep this pick simple by taking the better QB, better coach and better team (wearing the better uniforms).
The pick: L.A. Chargers
CLEVELAND (6-5) AT BALTIMORE (7-3)
TV: NBC, 8:20 p.m.
Baltimore by 3.5; O/U: 47
Baker Mayfield is 2-4 against Baltimore and that was without a bad shoulder. Lamar Jackson (4-2 vs. Cleveland) is 9-5 in prime time with 25 TDs to just 5 INTs. These divisional rivalry games tend to be close, but this is asking a lot for the visitors who barely escaped the winless Lions at home last week.
The pick: Baltimore
SEATTLE (3-7) AT WASHINGTON (4-6)
TV: ESPN, 8:15 p.m.
Washington by 1.5; O/U: 46.5
This may sound weird but what’s the logic in backing Russell Wilson and Seattle at Washington? This isn’t a vintage Seahawks team, and you shouldn’t pick games based solely on reputation. Taylor Heinicke has been nearly flawless in back-to-back wins over Tampa Bay and Carolina. With a chance to assert itself into the NFC wild-card picture, expect Washington to stay hot.
The pick: Washington
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold)
85-78-2 overall, 6-5 best bets
Last week: 6-9
Chicago Dallas New Orleans Philadelphia Jets
New England Indianapolis Pittsburgh Carolina Atlanta
L.A. Rams Minnesota L.A. Chargers Baltimore Washington
Last week: 4-11
Detroit Dallas Buffalo Giants Jets
New England Indianapolis Pittsburgh Miami Atlanta
Green Bay San Francisco L.A. Chargers Baltimore Washington
Last week: 2-13
Detroit Dallas Buffalo Giants Jets
New England Indianapolis Pittsburgh Carolina Jacksonville
Green Bay Minnesota L.A. Chargers Baltimore Washington
Last week: 6-9
Chicago Dallas Buffalo Philadelphia Houston
New England Tampa Bay Pittsburgh Carolina Jacksonville
Green Bay Minnesota L.A. Chargers Baltimore Seattle