It's difficult for a team to lose a game that drops its record to 4-5 and walk away from that game looking like a playoff-caliber team, but that's what the Seahawks did on Sunday. For the second time this season, the Seahawks dropped a one-score contest against the now 9-1 Rams. The loss pretty much secures the NFC West title for the Rams. And it put the Seahawks in a precarious position.
And yet the Seahawks still look like a playoff-caliber team. They're 4-5, but two of their five losses have come against the Rams by a combined seven points. Another one-score loss came on the road against a now 6-3 Bears team. They also lost to the Chargers by eight points and the Broncos in Denver by three points.
DVOA agrees that the Seahawks are actually good. They're the eighth-best team by Football Outsiders' metric. They've got a better point differential than winning teams like the Vikings, Panthers, and Redskins. The offensive line is suddenly a strength. Russell Wilson has thrown 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Doug Baldwin says he finally feels healthy for the first time this season. They're leading the league in rushing yards per game. Despite gutting the defense in the offseason, they slot in at 10th in defensive DVOA.
Their playoff position, though, remains hazardous. SportsLine's latest projections has the Seahawks falling just short of clinching the sixth seed in the NFC. And so, on Thursday night, the Seahawks face a must-win contest against another team that could be in play for the final wild card spot in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers find themselves in a similar position. They're 4-4-1, projected to just barely miss the playoffs, and facing a must-win game on Thursday night.
With the first of my best bets this week, I'm taking the Seahawks to beat the Packers and keep their playoff dreams alive. I'm not sure they'll win that sixth seed in the end, but they're good enough to remain in the race.
Last week: 2-3
This year: 30-19-1
Seahawks -2.5 vs. Packers
It's not that I think the Seahawks are substantially better than the Packers. But with the game being played in Seattle on a Thursday night, I'm going to favor the home team to beat the team that was forced to travel on a short week. The Packers haven't looked like a good team for much of the season and their win over the Brock Osweiler-led Dolphins doesn't change that. In a battle of two former NFC frontrunners who are now fighting to simply remain alive in the playoff race, give me Wilson and the Seahawks to prevail at home against Aaron Rodgers and the banged up Packers.
Chiefs +3.5 at Rams
Nope, I'm not backing off my Chiefs. In what might be the game of the season between the 9-1 Chiefs and the 9-1 Rams, I'll take the better team. That's the Chiefs, who are the league's best team by DVOA and point differential. Of course, here's where it's worth noting that the Rams are second in both categories, so it's not like the Chiefs are significantly better than the Rams.
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But I don't think the Chiefs should be 3.5-point underdogs against any team. And it's not like the Rams have some kind of home-field advantage. Heck, with the game now being played in Los Angeles instead of Mexico City, the Chiefs' chances might've actually improved.
It’s not fair that the Chiefs get a home game with the Monday Nighter moving to Los Angeles.— Michael Salfino (@MichaelSalfino) November 13, 2018
I'm expecting this game to be a tight one regardless of who wins. So if you're telling me the Chiefs only have to lose by a field goal to cover, I'll take them every time.
Don't underestimate just how much of an impact Cooper Kupp's season-ending injury will have on the Rams.
During the three games without WR Cooper Kupp (DEN included as he had 0 catches), the #Rams offense ranked 22nd in pass success rate (41%). They rank 2nd in all other weeks (57%).— Fabian Sommer (@suuma810) November 14, 2018
Falcons -3.5 vs. Cowboys
I wanted the Falcons at -3, but the line moved to -3.5 by the time I woke up on Wednesday, which is a real bummer. I'll still take the Falcons because I'm not buying what the Cowboys displayed against the Eagles on Sunday night, when they went into Philadelphia and knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs. I also think the Falcons are better than what they did against the Browns last week, when they left Cleveland with a 28-16 loss. In short, I don't want to overreact to the events of last week.
Before losing to the Browns, the Falcons were beginning to look like the kind of team that could sneak into the playoffs as the NFC's sixth seed. They'd won three games in a row. The Cowboys, on the other hand, were playing poorly enough that serious questions about Jason Garrett's job status were being raised.
I think we'll see the Falcons' offense play well at home and the Cowboys struggle to keep pace on the road against an offense that is still averaging 27.1 points per game even after last week's debacle in Cleveland. The Cowboys, even after their 27-point outburst in Philadelphia, are scoring just over 20 points per game.
Chargers -7 vs. Broncos
I've been saying for a couple weeks now that I think the Chargers are the second-best team in the AFC. Their two losses have come against the Chiefs and Rams. They should be able to take care of business against a Broncos team that has lost six of its past seven games. Look for Melvin Gordon to run all over the Broncos, who are allowing the seventh-most rushing yards per game and the eighth-most yards per rushing attempt.
Unfortunately for their Super Bowl hopes, they're stuck in the same division as the Chiefs, which means they'll probably slot in as a wild card team.
Bears -2.5 vs. Vikings
My editors are beginning to notice that I've been picking the Bears every week, but since there's no rule against picking very good football teams every week, I'm not going to stop now. The Bears, in case you missed it, are a very good football team. The only problem is that the Vikings are too. The Vikings are good enough to beat the Bears.
But I still think getting the Bears at -2.5 is good value.
The Bears are at home. They're also the better team. Wipe away what you thought about the two teams before the season and look at what they've both done since the season began. The Bears own the better record, the better point differential by a whopping 77 points, and the better DVOA ranking (fourth compared to 14th). As of right now, they're just better. And if your response is that the Bears haven't beaten anybody good, ask yourself who the Vikings have beaten. You can't find a great team on their list of wins either. What the Bears have done, especially after their rocky opening to the season, is beat bad teams by a lot of points, which is what good teams are supposed to do.
At worst, they should be three-point favorites over the Vikings because they're at home. But they're not. They're only 2.5-point favorites. I can't pass that up. The Bears are 5-2 against the spread when they're favored. I'm not going to stop picking a good team that is winning a ton of games and covering the spread in the process.
I believe the Bears will beat the Vikings because their pass rush will affect Kirk Cousins, who loves to give the ball away.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has fumbled the ball 21 times (8 this year) since last season: most among all qualified QB's.— Robert Zeglinski (@RobertZeglinski) November 14, 2018
He'll be going up against a Bears defense that has generated the second-most takeaways and the fifth-most sacks (only one sack behind the four co-leaders, though) in the league. And guess who's back for the Bears: Khalil Mack.
#Bears tape: Khalil Mack beats the TE chip and then the OT for the sack.— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) November 12, 2018
Pretty ridiculous. Enjoy.#DaBears @ChicagoBears pic.twitter.com/6uuX2Zt78B
On the other side of the ball, Mitchell Trubisky continues to improve every week -- something I also pointed out last week before he proceeded to submit his most-impressive outing of the season in a big win over the Lions. For all of the crap Trubisky has received this year (plenty of it deserved), he's still on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards, nearly 34 touchdowns, and slightly more than 12 interceptions, and rush for more than 550 yards and five touchdowns. Statistically, he's outperforming Cousins.
I'm not saying Trubisky is a better quarterback than Cousins, but the Bears' offense -- from the play-calling to the collective talent -- is better than the Vikings'. Just take it from Mike Zimmer, who seems to be having difficulty game-planning for the Bears' offense.
Mike Zimmer, speaking to reporters in Minnesota, estimated the Bears have 800 plays in the playbook for each game. Said Matt Nagy: “Nah. It’s more like 750.”— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) November 14, 2018
Bears win by a field goal, because they're the better team on both sides of the ball, and because they're at home.
Listen to Will Brinson, Pete Prisco and R.J. White break down every game against the spread on Friday's Pick Six Podcast, including a major disagreement on the Vikings-Bears game: