It didn't occur to me until Wednesday how tough this slate looks. Not from picking games, but from the actual matchups. As noted by friend of the program and Football Outsiders head honcho Aaron Schatz (always buy/read FO), there's just a single game this week between teams with a winning record.
That's no big deal, because bad matchups happen all the time. But it got me thinking about the issues the NFL might face down the stretch this season with the expanded playoffs in terms of interest surrounding certain games. If all the good teams are playing bad teams this week, the NFL is really leaning on parity to create playoff chaos this week.
Maybe it happens and we get some wild upsets. But there's some fuglies out there this week, and there's a bigger problem looming for Week 17. With the pandemic rendering homefield advantage a fraction of itself, are teams with a division title in hand going to battle for seeding in the final week? I think about the Steelers and Bills in the No. 2 and No. 3 seed -- will Buffalo trot out its starters to try and secure the No. 2 seed when the No. 3 seed is basically the same thing anyway? Risking the health of Josh Allen or Tre'Davious White or Stefon Diggs or Tremaine Edmunds -- or, really, any other starter -- so you can potentially get a later-round playoff game in Buffalo instead of Pittsburgh? It hardly seems worth it.
Would we be looking at a different situation if there were only six seeds? Maybe it's just a random year where there's huge separation in terms of the division winners and the teams fighting for a wild-card spot. But it feels like the next three weeks could be kind of diluted from a quality-of-play perspective. Week 16 will be Christmas-time football so it might not matter, but Week 17 feels like it could be a total stinkbomb. Here's hoping I'm wrong about that ... and right about some picks.
Pete Prisco, Kenny White and R.J. White join Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to break down all the games and make best bets. Give it a listen below and be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform:
L.A. Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas (7-6)
Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET (Fox)
The natural wear and tear of an NFL season is taking hold on this Thursday matchup. The Raiders are down a TON of defenders -- Jonathan Abram, Clelin Ferrell and Damon Arnette are already ruled out -- with potentially more injury report attrition on the way. The Chargers aren't exactly healthy though. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler are all questionable right now. If those guys can go it's a huge leg up for the Bolts and Justin Herbert. I'd lean their way pretty heavily right now pending the final injury report.
The Pick: Chargers 24, Raiders 21
Best Bets: Chargers +3 (unless everyone is out on offense)
Buffalo (10-3) at Denver (5-8)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
If only the Broncos had managed to lose in Carolina, this would be a perfect sell high/buy low spot in this game. I still really want to like Denver here though. Buffalo is on a shorter week and coming off two HUGE wins, and everyone will be looking to back Josh Allen again. The Broncos defense is dinged up, so that's a concern. But I trust Vic Fangio to keep cooking up a new cocktail that limits the offense he's playing even without his full personnel.
The injury report looks pretty favorable for guys like Garett Bolles, Bradley Chubb and Jerry Jeudy. Running backs don't matter, but I definitely want Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay out there, because you need to run on the Bills to beat them. Here's a wild stat: Stefon Diggs has seven touchdowns in seven games against Vic Fangio defenses. The yardage totals vary but he consistently found the end zone against Chicago while both were in the NFC North. I'd definitely look his way in terms of props here and for DFS purposes. I'm gonna hold my nose and take the Broncos because it's too many points.
The Pick: Bills 24, Broncos 21
Best Bets: Stefon Diggs anytime TD
Carolina (6-7) at Green Bay (8-5)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
Big time Frozen Tundra game here as it's going to be like 25 degrees in Green Bay on Saturday night. No wind though! The Panthers should get D.J. Moore back for this one but will be missing Christian McCaffrey again. I have a hard time imagining how Carolina stops either Davante Adams or Aaron Jones here. Aaron Rodgers understands with two more really good games he's probably taking home some MVP hardware, particularly if he looks sharp in this game. So the Packers will get theirs and probably be holding a lead of somewhere between 10 and 14 points with five minutes to go.
It basically comes down to whether or not you trust Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers to come through the back door. I do, so I'll back them here tentatively. The Over is the best play though. And Davante Adams first TD at +500 and anytime TD (whatever the number, he's scoring here).
The Pick: Packers 31, Panthers 24
Best Bets: Over 51.5, Davante Adams first TD (+500) and anytime TD
New England (6-7) at Miami (8-5)
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Imagine going back in time and telling someone in early 2018 or 2019 the Dolphins would be *favored over the Patriots in December* regardless of where the game was played. That's probably the right line, though, considering how well Miami has played and how poorly the Patriots have looked. But you can run on the Dolphins and the Patriots can at least run. The other thing the Pats can do? Make life very difficult for young quarterbacks. As good as Tua Tagovailoa has been for stretches this year, I'm not entirely sure he's up to the task of handling a Bill Belichick defense. This game screams Under at anything 40 or higher.
The Pick: Patriots 17, Dolphins 14
Best Bets: Under 41
Chicago (6-7) at Minnesota (6-7)
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Honestly don't have a great feel for this game whatsoever. Kind of feels like an Over where Mitchell Trubisky keeps working his way towards a franchise tag/massive contract extension. The Vikings can't rush the passer at all, so he should have time to throw to open receivers. The Bears defense is still good, but not quite as elite as it was earlier in the season. I think the Vikings can cook a little on offense as well -- literally, with Dalvin Cook able to exploit this defense for some chunk rush attempts. Chicago gave up just under 120 rushing yards per game over its six-game losing streak before limiting Duke Johnson and Buddy Howell to around 65 yards last week in a blowout win over Houston. Feels like a monster Allen Robinson game. Give me the Bears if I'm catching points.
The Pick: Bears 28, Vikings 24
Best Bets: Allen Robinson Overs
Detroit (5-8) at Tennessee (9-4)
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
This game feels pretty unfair. The Titans are currently -10.5 in some spots, but that number is going to swing wildly depending on what the status of Matthew Stafford ends up being. If he plays, maybe it stays the same, and the Titans are a smash spot because the Lions have no defense, everyone on the Lions is banged up and Stafford could be pulled to save his long-term health. Frank Ragnow, Detroit's starting center, is playing with a FRACTURED THROAT. That's some wild stuff.
It's pretty unreal how gutty the Lions are -- it's unfortunate they didn't get it to lay it on the line until after Matt Patricia was fired. This could have been a good team. But it might be too late with everything they've dealt with. This might be a name-your-number spot for the Titans given the massive disadvantages on both sides of the ball.
The Pick: Titans 38, Lions 15
Best Bets: Derrick Henry Over rush yards (literally any number)
Jacksonville (1-12) at Baltimore (8-5)
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Another game where it's just hard to find a spot where the underdog even storms through the backdoor. The Ravens' M.O. used to be snuffing out tomato cans and the Jags are a walking Bloody Mary. Gardner Minshew is frisky, I guess. James Robinson is awesome. He might end up being good in this game. But the Jags defense is toast. How Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards (plus Mark Ingram?) don't run for 250 yards here is beyond me. They can do whatever they want on offense, assuming they're willing to just lean on the ground game and get out of Dodge with a win.
I would love the rush yard props here but I'm worried the Ravens won't run Lamar as much as he has the last few weeks. It's possible they're gearing up for a playoff run and just want the offense to be humming. If that's the case, Jackson could go nuts here.
The Pick: Ravens 31, Jaguars 14
Best Bets: N/A
Houston (4-9) at Indianapolis (9-4)
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Hope everyone tailed that Jonathan Taylor Over rushing yards last week! Cashed that bad boy early and the yards kept flowing. The matchup is even better this time around, with Taylor getting the worst rush defense in football and Indy starting to feel itself on offense. The Colts will want to limit Philip Rivers down the stretch and give Taylor plenty of confidence as they head into the playoffs.
There's a lot of temptation to take some T.Y. Hilton Overs here because of how badly he's torched the Texans in the past. I'd probably look at anytime TD (maybe like +150?) or Over on receiving yards if it's low enough. I think the Colts have their way here but a full touchdown against Deshaun Watson just feels like a little too much because of the backdoor option.
The Pick: Colts 28, Texans 24
Best Bets: Jonathan Taylor Over rush yards (75 or less)
Tampa Bay (8-5) at Atlanta (4-9)
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Atlanta quietly worked its way into the top half of the league in defensive DVOA over the last few weeks. It's the offense that's been a problem for the Falcons, with Matt Ryan and Co. failing to break 20 points (!!) in three of their last four games. The lone exception? The 43-point "explosion" against the Raiders where the offense still looked terrible. This might not be the spot for them to get back on track, although this is a revenge game for both Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter, two of the more recent Bucs coaches to be fired by Tampa Bay.
I don't think either team will be particularly explosive here -- the Bucs have cracked 30 points just once since the start of November. It feels like it could be a shootout, but the reality is this game should be played in the 20s. We'll take the Under as a best bet and pinch our nose on the Falcons keeping it close. No freaking clue what to expect from any of the specific players in this game in terms of props.
The Pick: Buccaneers 24, Falcons 21
Best Bets: Under 50.5
Seattle (9-4) at Washington (6-7)
1 p.m. ET (Fox)
What a test this will be for the Washington Football Team. We're still TBD if WFT will have Alex Smith and he could be a GTD. Dwayne Haskins would change my outlook on this game a LOT. If Haskins plays, I want all of the Terry McLaurin Overs. Haskins locks in on him like crazy. I like that prop even if Smith plays.
I like Washington a lot less with Haskins, though. He's more turnover prone and won't be as conservative in terms of the gameplan, it doesn't feel like. No Antonio Gibson, which appears likely, is concerning as well. I still think Seattle will try and run the ball here and won't be successful. This Washington defensive line is legit and will cause problems for Seattle regardless of how they attempt to let Russ operate in the kitchen. I think Washington can keep it close.
The Pick: Seahawks 24, WFT 21
Best Bets: Terry McLaurin Over receiving yards
San Francisco (5-8) at Dallas (4-9)
1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Monster game for Brandon Aiyuk coming in this one, as he's been a target hog for Nick Mullens with Deebo Samuel hurt. Aiyuk isn't popping up on "best rookie wide receiver" leaderboards but he deserves to be mentioned among the best of this incredible young class. He's explosive in space and a cornerstone for Kyle Shanahan moving forward. Jeff Wilson could be set for a huge game as well.
The Pick: 49ers 28, Cowboys 13
Best Bets: 49ers -3, Brandon Aiyuk Over receptions/receiving yards
Philadelphia (4-8-1) at Arizona (7-6)
4:05 p.m. ET (Fox)
Crazy how Jalen Hurts' first two matchups as an NFL starter end up with him facing two of the better rushing quarterbacks in the league in Taysom Hill and Kyler Murray. Murray is obviously a much better passer than Hill and appeared to be getting MUCH healthier based on his performance last week. He ran the ball more effectively and was slinging it around to DeAndre Hopkins.
There's a chance this blows up in my opinion, but I actually think it ends up staying a low-scoring game.
N.Y. Jets (0-13) at L.A. Rams (9-4)
4:05 p.m. ET (Fox)
This line is stupid. But what are you supposed to do here with Adam Gase, who was last seen attempting multiple field goals inside 30 yards as a 16-point dog on the road while sitting at 0-12? You can't possibly back the Jets. They can't score against a bad defense, and the Rams are an elite defense.
My biggest concern here is the Rams get a 17-0 lead, quit trying to really score while pounding the ball and the Jets go stumble into a field goal or something. Think the Under is firmly in play here. Would love to grab Cam Akers Over but it also feels like Sean McVay could trick us and feed Darrell Henderson. But Akers' volume is definitely intriguing from a prop perspective.
The Pick: Rams 31, Jets 10
Best Bets: N/A, maybe Akers over rush yards
Kansas City (12-1) at New Orleans (10-3)
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Is Drew Brees playing in this game? We've seen some seriously conflicting reports out there about his status. If Brees plays, it dramatically changes everything about this game and makes the Saints significantly more appealing against the spread.
I also think if Brees play it might help make the Under a nice play if the number climbs. I don't think Sean Payton is going to crank up the offense to run a bunch of plays with Brees all banged up. If Brees plays, hammer the Alvin Kamara Over receptions prop at anything less than eight. It's not fun fading Patrick Mahomes, but the Saints should be able to hang here with a full offense in tow.
The Pick: Chiefs 27, Saints 24
Best Bets: Kamara Over receptions (if Brees plays)
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
People are pegging this as a Freddie Kitchens Revenge Game now that Jason Garrett's been ruled out with a COVID-19 situation. But isn't it more accurate to call it a Browns Revenge Game (on Freddie Kitchens)? They fired him, but it's not like he can be that mad over getting canned given the situation. They're the ones who should be looking for revenge after Kitchens nearly derailed Baker Mayfield.
Baker vs. one of his old coaches? Give me the Browns all day. You can pass on the Giants defense and I think we'll see a ton of play action here. Jarvis Landry in the slot should dodge James Bradberry so give me his over on receptions as well.
The Pick: Browns 28, Giants 17
Best Bets: Browns -4.5, Jarvis Landry Over receptions
Steelers (11-2) at Bengals (2-10-1)
Monday, 8:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Steelers would be in serious danger of losing the division if the Browns had found a way to win on Monday. Now they're in pretty good shape to lock up the division. Just don't lose to Brandon Allen/Ryan Finley on Monday night.
This is a ton of points, but I'll take Pittsburgh to exorcise some demons after a two-game losing streak, especially given just how bad the Bengals really are. James Conner might be due for a big game here against a horrific defense.
The Pick: Steelers 28, Bengals 9
Best Bets: Steelers -13