Week 14: Eagles at Cowboys
Anyone who bets the NFL consistently is bound to develop a team or two that haunt them throughout the course of the season.
For Talking Points this season, the identity is no mystery — it’s the Houston Texans. The blog has now picked the wrong side on five straight Texans’ games, and the team could single-handedly be blamed as the reason for a sub-.500 record on “plays.”
Talking Points has pitted “plays” against the Texans in three of their last four games — and Houston covered in all of them as part of a nine-game straight-up winning streak. The most recent example was last week, when the Texans spoiled the chances of a 3-0 week in plays with a 29-13 victory over the Browns as 6-point favorites.
The blog still wound up with a passable showing, going 2-1 on plays and 8-8 on overall, but like most other weeks this season, it was hard not to think what-could-have-been without the Texans.
Let’s continue to battle the Texans and every other team below with Week 14 picks. The season record picking every game now stands at 98-84-9. Picks are separated in three confidence categories and listed in rough order of certainty. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Philadelphia Eagles plus-3.5 at Dallas Cowboys Can’t pass on taking in excess of a field goal with the more talented team. Less than a month ago, the Eagles were 7.5-point favorites against the Cowboys ahead of a 27-20 loss at home. An 11-point shift in that short of a time frame without any major injuries is extremely rare and almost always unjustified, especially in this case where Dallas’ four-game win streak has come by a total of 20 points.
Jacksonville Jaguars plus-5 at Tennessee Titans A preposterously over-inflated line apparently swayed by results instead of underlying efficiency. The only thing really separating these two teams are their performances in close games, as Tennessee has gone a fortunate 4-2 in contests decided by less than a touchdown while Jacksonville is an unlucky 2-5.
Kansas City Chiefs minus-6.5 vs. Baltimore Ravens This is a chance to buy low on the best team in football. The Chiefs haven’t covered a closing number in a month — they pushed plus-3 in the 54-51 loss to the Rams on Monday Night Football — which has seemingly pushed the market too far against them. There’s no reason they shouldn’t lay more than a touchdown to the Ravens.
Indianapolis Colts plus-4.5 at Houston Texans Old habits are hard to kill. Bottom line is, the Texans are outperforming any reasonable expectation, and at some point, that will catch up to them. The first meeting between these two teams was among the most evenly-matched of the year —the Texans won 37-34 as time expired in overtime as 1-point favorites despite coach Bill O’Brien’s best attempts to bungle it — and there’s no reason to expect this to be any less competitive.
Chicago Bears plus-3 vs. Los Angeles Rams Might be a reach at plus-3, but would pounce on the Bears in the possibility that an extra half-point gets added to this line. The Rams have played a difficult schedule but one thing that’s been missing is a lot of difficult defenses. The Bears are giving up only 4.9 yards per play —.4 yards stronger than any Rams’ opponent on the year.
Green Bay Packers minus-5.5 vs. Atlanta Falcons Determining how a team will respond to a coaching change is an inexact science at best, but if there was ever a situation that needed new direction, it was with the Packers. Mike McCarthy had visibly grown stale with the players in addition to his reliably atrocious strategic decisions. Now Green Bay gets a fresh approach with interim coach Joe Philbin against the NFL’s worst defense by DVOA.
San Francisco 49ers plus-5.5 vs. Denver Broncos The Broncos are the antithesis to the Texans as the blog has ridden them at least seven straight weeks — during which they’ve gone 6-1 against the spread — but a gambler must know when to jump off of a team. That looks like now with Denver, as it's gone from neglected to embraced by the betting public to inflate its spreads — The Broncos haven’t previously been favored by more than a point on the road this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers plus-8 vs. New Orleans Saints Number looks right, but the Saints are in a bubble-burst scenario after its 10-game winning streak — and nine-game covering streak — ended last Thursday in a 13-10 loss at Dallas. More importantly, Tampa Bay sits fourth in the NFL in gaining 6.5 yards per play meaning that if it doesn’t keep up with New Orleans, there are always backdoor possibilities.
Cleveland Browns plus-2 vs. Carolina Panthers Two teams headed in different directions, as injuries have really piled up to take their toll on the Panthers as they’ve dropped four straight. The Browns, meanwhile, have looked energized since Gregg Williams took over, even in last week’s 29-13 loss to the Texans where they played effectively but were undone by a minus-4 turnover margin.
New England Patriots minus-7.5 at Miami Dolphins Miami has drawn some early action here, but it seems misguided as the Dolphins are a lot worse than their 6-6 straight-up record indicates. The Dolphins haven’t outgained an opponent on a per-play basis in nine straight games, including being at a 2.8 yard per play and 240 total yard disadvantage in a turnover-aided 24-21 win as 3.5-point favorites over the Bills last week.
Cincinnati Bengals plus-14 at Los Angeles Chargers Rarely ever interested with giving two touchdowns in the NFL, let alone with a team that has the league’s smallest home field advantage and is at the peak of their market perception. Although Cincinnati has been dreadful in a four-game losing streak, it still has more talent than a team typically taking this many points.
Oakland Raiders plus-11 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Here’s part two of, “close your eyes, swallow hard and pick the big underdog.” Contrary to popular belief, the Raiders do not appear to have quit on the season as they’ve covered two of their last three with the only spread loss coming by a single point in a 34-17 defeat at Baltimore as 13-point underdogs. The Steelers are too beaten up to lay this many points on the road.
Buffalo Bills minus-3 vs. New York Jets Pick would switch to the Jets if the field goal becomes unavailable, and a half-point is added everywhere in town. At a decent number, however, it’s hard to forget the way Buffalo punished New York 41-10 last month.
New York Giants minus-3.5 at Washington Redskins Value is fully extracted from the Giants off of their four-game covering streak, but must wait at least another week before initiating a fade on them. Laying a bad number with New York is still preferable to backing a Washington team being led by Mark Sanchez at quarterback.
Detroit Lions minus-2.5 at Arizona Cardinals Line trimmed from as high as minus-3.5 on last week’s look-ahead numbers. Not sure the Cardinals’ 20-17 win over the Packers as 13.5-point underdog merits a swing of a full point.
Minnesota Vikings plus-3.5 at Seattle Seahawks Tough spot where statistics say Seattle, but gut says Minnesota. Let’s switch things up and go off of instincts for once. Stock on the Vikings seems incredibly low even though their last four losses have arguably come to the four of the five best teams in the NFL — the Patriots, Bears, Saints and Rams.