At this point in the season, whether it be because of an injury or a benching, backup quarterbacks often step into the spotlight. You’ve seen it the last two weeks with Mike White and the Jets. Now, it’s Brock Purdy for the 49ers and Tyler Huntley for the Ravens. You should of course consider that when making picks, but all three teams have strong defenses, so they can win without a star signal-caller.
This is the last week of the byes (six teams are off) before the final stretch of the season. Underdogs went 6-9 against the spread (ATS) last week and are 102-88-5.
My most confident picks ATS are Kansas City, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Detroit. Stay away from Baltimore-Pittsburgh.
1 p.m. Games
PHILADELPHIA (11-1) AT GIANTS (7-4-1)
Philadelphia by 6.5; O/U: 45.5
The Eagles were my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. But after an 8-0 start, they looked human the last month and I was confident the Titans would beat them as road underdogs last week. Oops. With Minnesota and Dallas still close enough to challenge for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, Philadelphia won’t let up, especially not in a rivalry game. The Giants’ season is basically going to come down to next week’s prime-time game at Washington. Jalen Hurts and receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are a huge mismatch for this Giants secondary. The Eagles have scored 29 or more points in six games, and Big Blue just doesn’t have the offense to keep up.
The pick: Philadelphia
JETS (7-5) AT BUFFALO (9-3)
Buffalo by 9.5; O/U: 43.5
When the teams met in Week 9, the Bills were 11.5-point road favorites and that spread seemed off to me. Now, Buffalo is home and this line seems a couple points too high as well. The Bills weren’t at full strength in the first meeting, a 20-17 Jets win as the defense picked off Josh Allen twice in his worst game of the season. The Jets won with Zach Wilson at quarterback, so the Mike White-led offense should have a much better chance to keep pace with the Bills if this rematch is in the higher 20s. My only pause in backing the Jets is that a flu bug has hit the locker room. I’ll still take the points for a few reasons: The Jets are 4-0 after a loss, White has extra motivation after last year’s 4-INT, back-to-the-bench loss against Buffalo and this team is in the middle of a playoff race.
The pick: Jets
HOUSTON (1-10-1) AT DALLAS (9-3)
Dallas by 16.5; O/U: 44.5
The Texans’ last four games: 55 points. The Cowboys’ last four quarters: 54 points! That included a 33-point fourth. This spread would have to be at least 20 for me to even consider taking Houston.
The pick: Dallas
MINNESOTA (10-2) AT DETROIT (5-7)
Detroit by 1.5; O/U: 51.5
The Vikings are 10-2 with a +10-point differential because they’re 9-0 in one-score games. Vegas has this line correct, though, because the Lions have played much better than their record suggests. Like the teams’ last four meetings (margins of 2, 2, 2, and 4 points), this is a toss-up. The Vikings won the Week 3 meeting, 28-24. The Lions led 14-0 in that game and afterward an emotional Dan Campbell took blame for attempting a field goal up 24-21 instead of trying to seal the win with a first down. I made a mental note of that because I think it will factor into the latest down-to-the-wire matchup. One more thing: Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win. You think Campbell has played that up to his team all week?
The pick: Detroit
JACKSONVILLE (4-8) AT TENNESSEE (7-5)
Tennessee by 3.5; O/U: 41.5
The Titans have won the last five meetings. Derrick Henry has run for 1,143 yards and 14 TDs in 11 games (nine wins) against the Jaguars. This is a good spot for Tennessee to bounce back at home after losses to Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
The pick: Tennessee
BALTIMORE (8-4) AT PITTSBURGH (5-7)
Pittsburgh by 2.5; O/U: 36.5
The Steelers have been the better team over the last few weeks, and with Lamar Jackson out, Pittsburgh should take another step closer to contending for a wild-card spot and extending Mike Tomlin’s streak of never having a losing season. Tyler Huntley has filled in for Baltimore before, though, and this will be a defensive struggle in which 13 or 16 points might be enough to win. This is a toss-up in a fierce rivalry, and it could be so tight that even a 2.5-point spread may come into play.
The pick: Baltimore
CLEVELAND (5-7) AT CINCINNATI (8-4)
Cincinnati by 6.5; O/U: 47.5
How’s this for a weird stat? Joe Burrow is 3-0 against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City . . . but 0-4 against the Browns. That includes a 32-13 loss at Cleveland on Halloween night. Ja’Marr Chase didn’t play in that game. Neither did Deshaun Watson, who was rusty in his return last week as the Browns won with two defensive touchdowns and one on special teams. The Bengals have won four in a row (all covers) since that Browns loss and look like a team ready to make another Super Bowl run.
The pick: Cincinnati
4 p.m. Games
TAMPA BAY (6-6) AT SAN FRANCISCO (8-4)
San Francisco by 3.5; O/U: 37.5
If you pick NFL games based solely on the quarterbacks, Tom Brady vs. Brock Purdy might be the easiest one you’ll ever make. But it’s not as simple as that, of course. So, Mr. Seven Super Bowl Rings is an underdog against Mr. Irrelevant (the last pick in this year’s draft). What’s relevant is that San Francisco has the NFL’s best defense and Kyle Shanahan’s offensive game plan will allow Purdy to thrive like he did last week by quickly getting the ball to Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. Brady’s Bucs have been a major disappointment and won’t be in position for another late comeback this time.
The pick: San Francisco
LOCK OF THE WEEK
KANSAS CITY (9-3) AT DENVER (3-9)
Kansas City by 9.5; O/U: 43.5
Patrick Mahomes’ first NFL start was a win at Denver in the 2017 regular-season finale. He has since beaten the Broncos eight more times and there’s no reason to think he won’t improve to 10-0. KC scored 41 and 44 points, respectively, in the games following its first two losses. Even if KC scores in the mid-20s, it should be enough to cover against a Broncos offense that has scored more than 16 points just twice this season.
The pick: Kansas City
CAROLINA (4-8) AT SEATTLE (7-5)
Seattle by 4; O/U: 44.5
Sam Darnold vs. Geno Smith! Someone reading this might own both of those Jets jerseys. Seattle needed a late TD to beat the undermanned Rams last week and Carolina, off a bye, has played hard for interim coach Steve Wilks. Seattle also has a huge TNF game vs. San Francisco up next, so it’s only natural if it has one eye toward that matchup.
The pick: Carolina
MIAMI (8-4) AT L.A. CHARGERS (6-6)
TV: NBC, 8:20 p.m.
Miami by 3.5; O/U: 51.5
Tua Tagovailoa (No. 5 overall) and Justin Herbert (No. 6) will forever be linked by the 2020 draft. Tagovailoa’s Dolphins won the 2020 meeting against Herbert’s Chargers, and Miami is much improved since then. Its high-octane offense was stopped by San Francisco, but L.A. has one of the worst defenses and is on pace to break a record for most yards allowed per carry, currently at a whopping 5.4. L.A. loses another close game in prime time.
The pick: Miami
NEW ENGLAND (6-6) AT ARIZONA (4-8)
TV: ESPN, 8:15 p.m.
New England by 1.5 O/U: 43.5
Arizona is off its bye and should be motivated to finally produce some good tape for the in-season “Hard Knocks.” The Patriots have struggled against mobile quarterbacks (losses to Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields and Josh Allen). Enter Kyler Murray. In New England’s Week 7 MNF game, Fields ran all over the field in a 33-14 win.
The pick: Arizona
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold; all picks against the spread)
101-89-5 overall, 4-9 best bets
Last week: 8-7
Las Vegas Philadelphia Jets Dallas Detroit
Tennessee Baltimore Cincinnati San Francisco
Kansas City Carolina Miami Arizona
88-102-5 overall, 5-7-1 best bets
Last week: 5-10
L.A. Rams Philadelphia Jets Dallas Minnesota
Jacksonville Baltimore Cincinnati San Francisco
Kansas City Seattle Miami New England
91-99-5 overall, 4-9 best bets
Last week: 9-6
L.A. Rams Philadelphia Buffalo Dallas Minnesota
Tennessee Baltimore Cincinnati Tampa Bay
Kansas City Seattle Miami New England