Quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants has stressed...

Quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants has stressed that he and his teammates can't take the 0-11 Cleveland Browns lightly. Credit: Jim McIsaac

When the weather gets colder, the NFL season heats up. With three weeks left in the regular season and so many

teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot, it makes you just want to break out into song, doesn’t it?

Hit it!

“Oh the weather outside is frightful

But the games are so delightful

And if you’ve no place to go

Watch RedZone! Watch RedZone! Watch RedZone!”

Lions-Giants, Steelers-Bengals, Patriots-Broncos and Bucs-Cowboys are the best matchups. While some teams have everything to play for, others are counting down the days till the end of the season, so take advantage of the motivation factor against the spread (ATS).

Favorites went 10-5-1 ATS last week, continuing a strong stretch, and are now 99-98-10. They’ve overtaken the underdogs, and should rule again this week.


DOLPHINS (8-5) AT JETS (4-9), 8:25 p.m.

TV: Ch. 4, NFL; Radio: ESPN (98.7)

Dolphins by 2; O/U: 37.5

It’s the battle of backup quarterbacks as Bryce Petty and the Jets welcome Matt Moore and the Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill’s injury is a setback for Miami, but Moore is probably one of the more serviceable backups, posting a 13-12 career record. The Dolphins have a shot at a wild card, and it’s hard to see a Jets team that fell behind 14-0 at 1-11 San Francisco last week doing much to stop a motivated team. Miami has a solid defense, and earlier this season intercepted Philip Rivers four times in the fourth quarter alone. What will they do to Petty? This spread is a couple of points lower without Tannehill, so take advantage of the smaller number.

The pick: Dolphins


LIONS (9-4) AT GIANTS (9-4), 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 5; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)

Giants by 4; O/U: 40.5

If Sunday is the only day you can go Christmas shopping but want to stay home and watch this one, guess what? You can check off your shopping list from 1-3 p.m, head back to your couch and watch another competitive fourth quarter between two teams that can’t do enough of putting their fans on the edge of their seats. Of the Giants’ 13 games this season, 10 have been decided by seven or fewer points, and five of them were by three or fewer. The Lions? They’ve won a record eight games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter. The Giants’ defense slowed the Cowboys last week and should have success again as Matthew Stafford will have to wear a glove on his throwing hand after injuring his middle finger last week. Still, Stafford is a fighter, and the Giants’ offense hasn’t been able to put away most opponents this season. Both teams are likely to make the playoffs, so expect another close contest, a 16-13, 13-10 kind of game. Giants find a way to win, but Lions cover.

The pick: Lions


1 p.m. GAMES



Steelers by 3; O/U: 44

The Steelers are peaking at just the right time, and they should win out with a remaining schedule of at Cincinnati, home vs. Baltimore and at Cleveland. They’ll be the team no one wants to see in the playoffs and could be poised for another Super Bowl run. But first, they have to take care of business against one of their biggest rivals. These teams don’t like each other — remember last year’s feisty playoff — and the Bengals would love nothing more than to play spoiler in this one. Unfortunately for Cincy, the Bengals don’t have the firepower to match Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense. Le’Veon Bell, who last week rushed for a franchise-record 236 yards and added three touchdowns, is making a late-season run at MVP. The Bengals allow the eighth-most rushing yards per game (119.1), and Bell should have a big day as Pittsburgh runs its win streak to five games. The Steelers have won 11 of the last 14 matchups in the series, including a Week 2 win and last year’s wild-card playoff. The Steelers are closing in on a division title, and there’s no way the Bengals will slow them. Steelers 34, Bengals 17. (Note: One of the most confident “lock of the week” picks of the season).

The pick: Steelers

EAGLES (5-8) AT RAVENS (7-6)

Ravens by 5.5; O/U: 40

The weather forecast calls for 100 percent chance of rain in Baltimore on Sunday . . . and 100 percent chance of reign for the Ravens. The Eagles are 2-8 overall after a 3-0 start, and have lost six straight on the road. Carson Wentz is going to be in for a long day against one of the NFL’s best defenses. The Ravens need to win to keep pace with the Steelers, and will be extra motivated after Monday night’s loss on national TV. Bet the under, and don’t be surprised if the Ravens post a shutout.

The pick: Ravens

PACKERS (7-6) AT BEARS (3-10)

Packers by 3.5; O/U: 39

Expect Chicago to give Green Bay everything it has as it tries to hurt a division rival’s shot at a playoff run. Also expect Aaron Rodgers and the resurgent Packers to win their fourth straight. Rodgers is 13-4 against the Bears with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Look for Rodgers to hit some big plays downfield as Green Bay wins by 7 to 10 points.

The pick: Packers

JAGUARS (2-11) AT TEXANS (7-6)

Texans by 6; O/U: 39

Houston’s win at Indy last week was its biggest of the season. Now, against a 2-11 team, you might think the letdown theory could be in play, but it won’t be. Not in Week 15. Not when another win moves you closer to a division title. The Texans are 5-1 at home, and their defense might outscore the Jaguars’ offense in this one.

The pick: Texans

TITANS (7-6) AT CHIEFS (10-3)

Chiefs by 5.5; O/U: 41

A few weeks ago, this spread probably would’ve been a touchdown-plus. Now, the Titans are fighting for a division title after last week’s statement win over the Broncos. Tennessee loves to run the ball, and play hard-nosed “D”, which sounds like Chiefs football, doesn’t it? Kansas City is on quite a regular-season run — 20 wins in its last 23 — but often needs a big play or two on defense or special teams (see: wins over Panthers, Broncos, Falcons and Raiders). The Chiefs’ offense is solid, but not explosive, and that usually means close games. The Titans average 144.5 rushing yards per game, third best in the NFL. They should be able to control the clock and move the ball against the Chiefs, who allow the sixth-most yards on the ground at 122.9. If the Titans win, it wouldn’t be that big of a surprise, and getting this many points feels like an early Christmas gift.

The pick: Titans

COLTS (6-7) AT VIKINGS (7-6)

Vikings by 4; O/U: 45.5

This is a must-win for both teams, so expect a close one. Minnesota wins with its defense while Indianapolis needs Andrew Luck to do it all. The Vikings, at home, should win, but it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Colts won, either. Anything over a three-point spread just feels too high. Take the points.

The pick: Colts

BROWNS (0-13) AT BILLS (6-7)

Bills by 10; O/U: 41.5

If the Bills had held on at Oakland two weeks ago or didn’t let Pittsburgh run all over them in the snow last week, they would be the easy pick this week. Now, with their playoff hopes dashed and Rex Ryan on the hot seat, why would they be up for this game? Of course, no one wants to lose to an 0-13 team, but it’s hard to see the Bills being motivated to run up the score. Take the points . . . and hope the Browns don’t give any away.

The pick: Browns

4 p.m. Games

PATRIOTS (11-2) AT BRONCOS (8-5), Ch. 2

Patriots by 3; O/U: 43.5

This is the toughest game to pick this week. The Patriots want to stay in the No. 1 spot in the AFC but the Broncos need this one way more. With the Chiefs and Raiders on tap, the defending champs could finish 0-3 and miss the playoffs. Denver’s defense will bring it, just as it did in last season’s AFC Championship Game, when it turned back Tom Brady. But even if it holds the Pats to 17-20 points, will Trevor Siemian and the offense do enough to win? The revenge factor is too big to ignore, and you have to think Brady and Bill Belichick will be extra-motivated against a team that beat them twice last season, including one that ended their dream of another Super Bowl trip. Brady pads his MVP case as the Pats make it 7-0 on the road.

The pick: Patriots


Raiders by 3; O/U: 49.5

The Raiders will have had almost 10 days off after losing at frigid Kansas City last Thursday night. Back in sunny California, expect that extra preparation to show as Derek Carr bounces back from his worst game of the season. Oakland won a wild one over San Diego, 34-31, in Week 5. But it’s hard to see the Chargers scoring that many points without Melvin Gordon, who is likely to miss the game. Carr and the Raiders will hit the 30-point mark for the eighth time this season.

The pick: Raiders


Cardinals by 2.5; O/U: 50

On paper, both teams have enough talent to be playoff-bound. Instead, they’ll be on the outside looking in. Arizona will be happy to play at home after falling to 1-5 on the road. Its top-ranked defense should be able to limit New Orleans, which after scoring 49 points in Week 12, was held to 24 total points the last two weeks. Look for David Johnson to have a big day as the Cardinals win comfortably. (Note: If we had two best bets, this would be the second one).

The pick: Cardinals

49ERS (1-12) AT FALCONS (8-5)

Falcons by 14; O/U: 51.5

Imagine you play for the 49ers. After winning Week 1, you entered last week having lost 11 in a row. Then, your team jumps out to a 14-0 lead at home against a 3-9 Jets team, and somehow fails to hold a 17-6 advantage late in the fourth quarter and loses in overtime. How pumped would you be to fly nearly cross country to play Atlanta? Didn’t think so. In addition to it being a 1 p.m. start for a West Coast team, the 49ers’ NFL-worst defense (30.2 points and 415.3 yards allowed per game) has to deal with the Falcons and their NFL-best 32.9 points per game to go with 402.3 yards. Atlanta just scored 42 at Los Angeles and could do the same against another California team this week. Lay the points, and circle the winner when it’s 24-0 in the first half.

The pick: Falcons


BUCS (8-5) AT COWBOYS (11-2), Ch. 4

Cowboys by 7; O/U: 47

If you thought the “Tony Romo Watch” was gaining steam this week after Dak Prescott played his worst game of the season, it will reach a boiling point if the rookie quarterback turns in Dak-to-Dak stinkers. Prescott is 11-2 as a starter, and has earned the right to keep playing. He looked out of sorts from the start last week against the Giants, and you have to think he will bounce back as Dallas returns home. This game was flexed into the Sunday night slot after the Bucs’ second-half resurgence. Tampa Bay has won five in a row and has its eye on a playoff spot. The Bucs’ defense is playing inspired football, allowing 12.8 points per game during the win streak. This spread feels way too high considering how well the Bucs have been playing, and usually that could mean it’s a trap set by Vegas. Still, the Bucs are too hot right now to pick against with this big of a spread. Dallas is playing its third straight prime-time game, and hasn’t looked like the NFC’s top seed the last two weeks. Tampa Bay will be able to score against a suspect secondary and keep this close.

The pick: Bucs



Redskins by 6.5; O/U: 50.5

Those of you tuning in to watch a football game might feel as if you’re watching a sitcom. Call it “Two Brothers and a Cousins,” as the Grudens — coach Jay on the Redskins’ sideline and broadcaster Jon in the booth — gush over quarterback Kirk as he picks apart the Panthers defense. The Redskins need to keep winning to keep pace in the playoff race, and playing on Monday night is an added advantage as they’ll know exactly where they stand. This is the Redskins’ first home game since Week 11, and Cousins will throw a party for the home crowd.

The pick: Redskins









Staff picks and standings (best bets in bold)


Record: 110-88-10 overall, 9-5 best bets

Last week: 10-5-1

Dolphins Lions Steelers Ravens Titans

Texans Colts Packers Browns Patriots

Raiders Cardinals Falcons Bucs Redskins


Record: 104-94-10 overall, 8-6 best bets

Last week: 10-5-1

Jets Giants Steelers Ravens Chiefs

Texans Vikings Packers Bills Broncos

Raiders Cardinals Falcons Bucs Redskins


Record: 113-85-10 overall, 5-8-1 best bets

Last week: 7-8-1

Jets Giants Steelers Ravens Chiefs

Jaguars Vikings Packers Bills Patriots

Raiders Saints Falcons Bucs Redskins


Record: 94-104-10 overall, 8-5-1 best bets

Last week: 9-6-1

Jets Giants Steelers Ravens Chiefs

Texans Vikings Packers Browns Patriots

Raiders Cardinals Falcons Cowboys Redskins

More football news