This column is all about three letters: ATS. As in against the spread. Picking games straight up is easy, but when you start to factor in the betting line, it’s a whole new ballgame.
For example: Two games that back that up this week are the Bears at Lions and Falcons at Rams. Detroit and Atlanta will win, but covering? Don’t be so sure. Ask yourself this: Do Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan really care if they lead their teams to 3-point wins or 10-point wins? They have no interest in covering, just winning.
To go along with ATS, this week will feature a lot of ATG picks, as in “Against the Grain.” There are a number of intriguing games in which it might pay to go with a gut instinct. Remember, a better team isn’t always the bettor team when you’re picking ATS.
Favorites had another winning week, going 11-4 ATS. Underdogs still have the season lead at 93-89-9. Expect a lot of close calls in Week 14 with some surprising results.
COWBOYS (11-1) AT GIANTS (8-4), 8:30 p.m.
TV: Ch. 4; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)
Cowboys by 3.5; O/U: 47.5
The Giants’ 20-19 win over the Cowboys in Week 1 was a long time ago, so let’s refresh everyone’s memory. Remember how that game ended? Terrence Williams inexplicably stayed inbounds, costing Dallas a chance to attempt a long field goal with a couple of seconds left. Cowboys fans should be thanking him now. Dallas has won 11 in a row since that game, and as we’ve seen so many times before, the pressure of an undefeated season can take a toll on a team. So much has changed since that Week 1 thriller. Victor Cruz caught the winning touchdown pass that game; now, he had to meet with Ben McAdoo to address why he had zero targets on Sunday against the Steelers (you think the coach looked his way during the meeting?) Dak Prescott (0 TD passes) and Ezekiel Elliott (51 yards and a TD on 21 carries) were pretty much held in check by the Giants defense in the opener, but the dynamic rookies have taken the league by storm since. Prescott has thrown 19 TDs to just two INTs, and Elliott leads the NFL with 1,285 rushing yards and is second with 12 rushing TDs. Expect those versions to show up in the rematch as Dallas and its dominant offensive line keep the Giants’ defense on the field on long drive after long drive. The loss of Jason Pierre-Paul is a big setback. While you can make the argument that the Giants have more to play for, Dallas will clinch the NFC East with a win. Getting revenge against a division rival while clinching at their building is about as big of a motivation as you can get. Elliott has an Emmitt Smith kind of game as the Cowboys turn a close contest at the half into a 7-to-10-point win.
The pick: Cowboys
JETS (3-9) AT 49ERS (1-11), 4:05 p.m.
TV: Ch. 2; Radio: ESPN (98.7)
49ers by 2.5; O/U: 43.5
Do we really have to pick this game? The 49ers have lost 11 in a row and the Jets are coming off a 41-10 loss to the Colts. Normally, when a team gets embarrassed, especially on national TV, it shows up the next week. With Bryce Petty getting the nod for the final four games, maybe he can stop the Jets from free-fallin’ knowing it’s his job the rest of the way. In an impossible game to handicap, look for any sign. Like this one: A Jets win makes them 4-9 . . . after beating the 49ers.
The pick: Jets
1 p.m. GAMES
BRONCOS (8-4) AT TITANS (6-6)
Titans by 1; O/U: 43.5
Is Tennessee a contender or a pretender? We’ll get our answer this week. If the Titans want to take that next step, this is a game they have to win. The Titans have the NFL’s third-best rushing attack and their defense is improved. “ATG” alert: Don’t assume Denver will win because of experience. The Broncos’ uncertainty at quarterback is also a reason to lean to Tennesee. The bye last week was perfect timing for the Titans, who will use the extra preparation and the extra motivation — staying tied atop the AFC South — to make a statement against the defending champs.
The pick: Titans
TEXANS (6-6) AT COLTS (6-6)
Colts by 6.5; O/U: 46.5
It’s gut-check time for the Texans. From 6-3 and in control of the AFC South to 6-6 and in a three-way tie with the Colts and Titans. Houston won the first matchup in overtime despite being outplayed in Week 6, storming back from a two-TD deficit in the final minutes. Expect another close game with so much on the line. This feels like an intense, down-to-the-wire game, maybe 19-16 or 20-17. This line jumped a couple points after the Colts’ big win over the Jets, so cash in on the inflated line by taking the points.
The pick: Texans
STEELERS (7-5) AT BILLS (6-6)
Steelers by 3; O/U: 46
Pittsburgh is riding a three-game win streak and its offense is clicking at just the right time. Everything says to stay on the Steelers’ bandwagon, but “ATG” thinking says to jump off this week. Buffalo probably needs to win out if it wants even a shot at the last AFC wild-card spot, and will play mad after blowing a 24-9 lead at Oakland last week. Going with a gut-instinct feeling here: Bills find a way to win on a late field goal.
The pick: Bills
CARDINALS (5-6-1) AT DOLPHINS (7-5)
Dolphins by 2; O/U: 43.5
Arizona kept its season alive with a big win over Washington last week while Miami lost by 32 at Baltimore. That’s one reason you should take the Dolphins. When a team is a no-show the week before, it tends to show up the next week. Another reason to lean Miami: Arizona is 0-4 in 1 p.m. starts this season, losing at Buffalo, Carolina, Minnesota and Atlanta by a combined 50 points.
The pick: Dolphins
REDSKINS (6-5-1) AT EAGLES (5-7)
TV: Ch. 5
Redskins by 2; O/U: 47
Redskins coach Jay Gruden was seeing red after his team’s loss in Arizona last week. “This is the hottest I’ve ever seen him,” defensive end Chris Baker told ESPN. When a coach calls out a team in front of the media, it’s a smart bet to jump on that team the next week. Washington is now on the outside looking in for the playoffs, and should get back on track against a Philadelphia team that has completely unraveled after a 3-0 start. The Redskins ran for 230 yards in their Week 6 win over the Eagles, and should control the tempo again.
The pick: Redskins
BEARS (3-9) AT LIONS (8-4)
Lions by 7.5; O/U: 43.5
The Lions have won four in a row and seven of eight, but they’re not a sure thing to cover this first place vs. last place matchup. One of Chicago’s wins was against Detroit in Week 4, and John Fox will have his team ready to play spoiler against a division foe. “ATG” alert: The Lions are on a 5-0 roll at home, but the wins are by 1, 3, 3, 7 and 3 points. The 2-10 Jaguars played them close the whole way in Week 11, so there’s no reason why the Bears can’t keep this division matchup close enough to cover.
The pick: Bears
LOCK OF THE WEEK
VIKINGS (6-6) AT JAGUARS (2-10)
Vikings by 3; O/U: 39.5
The Vikings need to win to stay in the wild-card hunt, and after limiting the Cowboys’ offense, they should dominate the Jaguars’. Here’s everything you need to know about this game: Minnesota is second in the NFL with 22 takeaways and Jacksonville is tied for the most giveaways at 25. Blake Bortles will giveth, and the Vikings’ defense will taketh away. The under is also a strong play.
The pick: Vikings
BENGALS (4-7-1) AT BROWNS (0-12)
Bengals by 5.5; O/U: 42
A funny thing happened on the way to 0-16 for the Browns: Hue Jackson gave a brutally honest take on his team’s struggles after the Giants’ loss: “Being 0-12 is probably the hardest thing ever,” the coach said as he appeared to hold back tears. Then, Cleveland had its bye week, which was long overdue for a team that desperately needed it earlier in the season. The Browns are bad but they’re not 0-16 bad, and with Robert Griffin III starting you can bet Jackson will have his team motivated against their in-state rival. The Bengals are a shell of their former selves, and if the Browns play with the desperation an 0-12 team should have, they could win this game. “ATG” alert: Terrrelle Pryor has a monster game as the Browns not only cover but win: Browns 20, Bengals 17
The pick: Browns
CHARGERS (5-7) AT PANTHERS (4-8)
Panthers by 1; O/U: 48.5
We won’t bore you with a bad tie joke . . . KNOT! If there’s one highlight that best sums up the Panthers’ Super Bowl hangover, it’s Derek Anderson throwing a pick on the first play of the game as Cam Newton looks on as result of a punishment for not wearing a tie. Philip Rivers, a no-tie man himself, has kept San Diego in every game. It’s hard to back Carolina, which appears to have thrown in the towel . . . or is it a pocket square?
The pick: Chargers
4 p.m. GAMES
SAINTS (5-7) AT BUCS (7-5)
Bucs by 2.5; O/U: 51.5
Don’t look now, but the Bucs are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Winners of four straight, they’ll have to work hard for this one against a division foe. Tampa Bay held Seattle to five points, but expect Drew Brees to match Jameis Winston early on in a high-scoring contest. With co-NFC South leader Atlanta playing at the same time, that could be a little extra motivation for Tampa Bay. Mike Evans, the NFL’s leader in targets, is the difference as the Bucs don’t stop here.
The pick: Bucs
FALCONS (7-5) AT RAMS (4-8)
Falcons by 6; O/U: 45
The Falcons average an NFL-best 32.2 points per game. The Rams average an NFL-worst 15. Still, don’t expect a rout. In fact, don’t be surprised if this one isn’t decided until the final minutes. “ATG” alert: The Rams are returning home after a pair of blowout losses on the road, and this is the perfect setup for a team to show up in front of its home crowd. Falcons win, but Rams cover.
The pick: Rams
SEAHAWKS (8-3-1) AT PACKERS (6-6)
TV: Ch. 5
Seahawks by 3; O/U: 45.5
Seattle is a different team on the road, going 2-3-1. That includes being held to 3 points at Los Angeles, 6 points at Arizona and 5 points at Tampa Bay. Losing safety Earl Thomas is a huge setback for Seattle. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will exploit that missing link and find a way to win to keep pace in the playoff chase.
The pick: Packers
RAVENS (7-5) AT PATRIOTS (10-2)
Patriots by 7; O/U: 44.5
Joe Flacco spoke to the Baltimore coaching staff about opening up the offense last week, and what do you know, Joe was on to something. Flacco threw for 381 yards and four TDs as the Ravens eclipsed 30 points for the first time all season. New England will win, but Baltimore will show up in prime time. Plus, Flacco and coach John Harbaugh have had some playoff magic in New England. This is too many points to pass up.
The pick: Ravens
Record: 100-83-9 overall, 8-5 best bets
Last week: 9-6
Cowboys Jets Titans Texans Bills
Redskins Dolphins Bears Vikings Browns
Chargers Bucs Rams Packers Ravens
Record: 94-89-9 overall, 8-5 best bets
Last week: 10-5
Cowboys Jets Broncos Colts Steelers
Redskins Dolphins Lions Vikings Bengals
Panthers Bucs Falcons Seahawks Ravens
Record: 106-77-9 overall, 4-8-1 best bets
Last week: 10-5
Cowboys Jets Broncos Colts Steelers
Redskins Cardinals Lions Vikings Browns
Panthers Bucs Falcons Seahawks Patriots
KIMBERLEY A. MARTIN
Record: 85-98-9 overall, 7-5-1 best bets
Last week: 8-7
Cowboys Jets Broncos Colts Steelers
Redskins Cardinals Lions Vikings Bengals
Panthers Saints Falcons Packers Ravens