Second-guessing is a big part of picking NFL games. Last week was a prime example. A 9-7 record is fine, but it felt as if it could’ve been 12-4 had a few big plays gone my way, especially after a 3-0 start on Thanksgiving. The NFL and NBC are going to feel as if they missed an opportunity this week, too.
Kansas City-Cincinnati. Miami-San Francisco. Tennessee-Philadelphia. Jets-Minnesota. Week 13 is stacked with intriguing matchups. So why didn’t the NFL flex the Indianapolis-Dallas game out of prime time? Put Jeff Saturday’s team on Saturday! (end rant)
Underdogs went 8-8 against the spread (ATS) last week and are 96-79-5.
My most confident picks ATS this week are Tennessee, Miami, the Jets and the Giants. Stay away from Green Bay-Chicago.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
KANSAS CITY (9-2) AT CINCINNATI (7-4)
TV: CBS, 4:25 p.m.
Kansas City by 2.5; O/U: 52.5
Don’t look now, but Joe Burrow and the Bengals are starting to play like the team that made last year’s Super Bowl. And their schedule is giving us flashbacks to that remarkable run: After a close win at Tennessee (just like last year’s divisional round win), it gets Kansas City next. Only this AFC Championship Game rematch will be in the Bengals’ backyard. This is the epitome of a toss-up game between two talented teams with great quarterbacks. It’s tempting to take Patrick Mahomes and the revenge factor, but there’s something about Burrow and this Bengals team. They beat KC twice last year and are expecting top receiver Ja’Marr Chase to return. All the pressure is on Mahomes and KC to make up for last year’s meltdown, and that could be a factor in a close game.
The pick: Cincinnati
MIAMI (8-3) AT SAN FRANCISCO (7-4)
San Francisco by 3.5; O/U: 46.5 (4:05 p.m.)
Last week the 49ers shut out the Saints, ending New Orleans’ streak at 332 consecutive games. They wouldn’t shut out this Dolphins offense if they had 332 tries. Led by the NFL’s highest-rated passer in Tua Tagovailoa and No. 1 receiver in Tyreek Hill, Miami is hot. It has won five in a row since Tagovailoa returned and is 8-0 in games he starts and finishes. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, the 49ers offensive coordinator last year, returning to face mentor Kyle Shanahan is one of many storylines, as is San Francisco probably wishing it hadn’t traded Jeff Wilson to Miami now that it’s hurting at running back. This is only the second elite offense San Francisco has faced (it lost, 44-23, at home to Kansas City). I expect McDaniel to have a master game plan as the Dolphins win a fun, high-scoring game.
The pick: Miami
1 p.m. Games
JETS (7-4) AT MINNESOTA (9-2)
Minnesota by 3; O/U: 44.5
Looking at the Jets’ schedule the last few weeks, this game always struck me as a winnable one . . . and that was before Mike White gave the offense a huge spark. The Vikings’ record is misleading, as their seven-game win streak that got them to 8-1 was full of close victories. A bounce or two doesn’t go their way and this could easily be 7-4 vs. 7-4. Dominant teams don’t lose 40-3 at home. The Jets have an elite defense and now White is leading a FUNctional offense. Vegas knows the Jets are underrated and the Vikings are overrated, hence the point spread. The Sauce Gardner vs. Justin Jefferson matchup could determine this game. The Jets are 6-0 when scoring at least 18 points. Make it 7-0.
The pick: Jets
WASHINGTON (7-5) AT GIANTS (7-4)
Washington by 2.5; O/U: 40.5
If the playoffs started today — five words that you’ll be hearing often — all four NFC East teams would be in. Take that, AFC West! This feels as if it will be a throwback NFC East game, a “first to 20 wins” battle. Washington has won six of seven, most of which were close, including last week when it needed a late, end-zone INT off a tipped ball to hold off Atlanta. The Giants are getting healthier, and they’re too well-coached to lose three in a row. Somehow, some way, Brian Daboll’s guys get it done at home.
The pick: Giants
LOCK OF THE WEEK
TENNESSEE (7-4) AT PHILADELPHIA (10-1)
Philadelphia by 4.5; O/U: 44.5
There are so many reasons to like the Titans in this matchup that I don’t know where to start. Tennessee is 20-11 straight up and 22-9 ATS when it is an underdog of three or more points in the Mike Vrabel Era. When the spread is four or more, Vrabel is 13-3 ATS. The Eagles’ biggest flaw is stopping the run, something Derrick Henry and the Titans can expose. This matchup reminds me of Washington’s win at Philly on MNF, when it had the ball for over 40 minutes and ran it 49 times. Vrabel thrives in these situations and should have a smart game plan to stop former Titans receiver A.J. Brown. The best way to stop Jalen Hurts and the high-flying Eagles is to keep them on the sidelines, and I expect the Titans to follow the Commanders’ blueprint and win outright.
The pick: Tennessee
CLEVELAND (4-7) AT HOUSTON (1-9-1)
Cleveland by 7; O/U: 46.5
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out why this matchup has been hyped. Deshaun Watson makes his Browns debut against his former team (what timing!). He hasn’t played since January 2020, and this is the one-win Texans’ Super Bowl, so this game will be anything but elementary.
The pick: Houston
DENVER (3-8) AT BALTIMORE (7-4)
Baltimore by 8.5; O/U: 39.5
The Ravens reverted to their early-season ways by blowing a fourth-quarter lead in last week’s 28-27 loss at Jacksonville. That won’t happen against the Broncos, who average an NFL-worst 14.3 points per game and look like a team that can’t wait for this nightmare season to end.
The pick: Baltimore
PITTSBURGH (4-7) AT ATLANTA (5-7)
Pittsburgh by 1.5; O/U: 42.5
The Steelers are sixth-best against the run (104 yards per game) and can slow the Falcons’ No. 4 rushing attack (160 ypg). Mike Tomlin gets another win as he keeps fighting to avoid his first losing season.
The pick: Pittsburgh
JACKSONVILLE (4-7) AT DETROIT (4-7)
Detroit by 1; O/U: 51.5
Both teams have played better than their 4-7 records suggest. The Jaguars haven’t won on the road since Week 3, though, and unlike on Thanksgiving, Detroit will be on the right side of a close finish.
The pick: Detroit
GREEN BAY (4-8) AT CHICAGO (3-9)
Green Bay by 3; O/U: 44.5
Both teams are banged-up. That includes Aaron Rodgers, but he’s going to play and that’s good enough for me: Rodgers is 23-5 all-time vs. Chicago, including a 27-10 win in Week 2.
The pick: Green Bay
Other 4 p.m. Games
SEATTLE (6-5) AT L.A. RAMS (3-8)
Seattle by 7.5; O/U: 40.5
The Seahawks haven’t won in nearly a month (loss to Bucs in Germany, bye, OT loss to Raiders). This is the perfect time to visit L.A., which has lost five in a row under coach Sean McVay for the first time. The hurting Rams (16.2 ppg) won’t be able to keep up with a motivated team trying to stay in the playoff picture.
The pick: Seattle
L.A. CHARGERS (6-5) AT LAS VEGAS (4-7)
Los Angeles by 1; O/U: 50.5
After back-to-back overtime wins, the Raiders host the Chargers in a rematch of the epic 2021 season finale that also went to OT. Las Vegas won that game, 35-32, to make the playoffs and keep L.A. out. If the Raiders win, they can get to 6-7 four nights later against the other L.A. team. The Chargers won this year’s first meeting, 24-19, in Week 1 but this should be even closer. The Raiders have some mojo and it will carry over(time).
The pick: Las Vegas
INDIANAPOLIS (4-7-1) AT DALLAS (8-3)
TV: NBC, 8:20 p.m.
Dallas by 10.5; O/U: 43.5
Jeff Saturday had a memorable debut as Colts interim coach, but after back-to-back close home losses, this will get out of hand as the Cowboys’ pass rush and run game will dominate.
The pick: Dallas
NEW ORLEANS (4-8) AT TAMPA BAY (5-6)
TV: ESPN, 8:15 p.m.
Tampa Bay by 3.5; O/U: 40.5
Tampa Tom Brady had been 0-4 against New Orleans in the regular season before the Bucs’ 20-10 win in Week 2. The Bucs are a hard team to figure out, but I’ll fade Andy Dalton in prime time (6-20 straight up for his career).
The pick: Tampa Bay
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold; all picks against the spread)
93-82-5 overall, 4-8 best bets
Last week: 9-7
Buffalo Jets Giants Tennessee Houston
Baltimore Pittsburgh Detroit Green Bay Cincinnati
Miami Seattle Las Vegas Dallas Tampa Bay
83-92-5 overall, 5-6-1 best bets
Last week: 10-6
New England Jets Giants Philadelphia Houston
Baltimore Atlanta Detroit Chicago Kansas City
Sa Francisco Seattle L.A. Chargers Dallas Tampa Bay
82-93-5 overall, 4-8 best bets
Last week: 9-7
Buffalo Minnesota Washington Philadelphia Cleveland
Baltimore Pittsburgh Detroit Green Bay Kansas City
San Francisco Seattle L.A. Chargers Dallas Tampa Bay