It's the Friday before the NFL Playoffs begin, and I'm not here to waste your time. This afternoon newsletter is packed to the gills with NFL picks to get you through the entire weekend. I've also included two picks for tonight, and a couple more soccer picks.
You've earned them. I hope they're all winners, like these stories.
- BOLD PREDICTIONS
Let's dive in.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
Warriors at Spurs, 7:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN
- Key Trend: Golden State is 4-15 ATS on the road, and 1-7 ATS as a road favorite this season.
- The Pick: Spurs +9 (-110)
Do you think the Spurs playing a nationally televised game will lead to a better performance? I'm telling myself that it will. And even if it doesn't, there's still too much value on the Spurs in this matchup. This game will be played at the Alamodome as part of San Antonio's 50th anniversary as an NBA franchise., but honestly, I'm not sure how big of an advantage these Spurs get at home anyway.
What I'm more interested in is how the Warriors will look. Stephen Curry returned from his shoulder injury in Golden State's 125-113 loss to the Suns on Tuesday night. He looked like you'd expect for a player who had missed so much time: rusty. He scored 24 points but shot only 36.3% from the field. While the return gets the attention, after a long layoff, you sometimes see players struggle more in the second game, as they don't have their legs back underneath them yet, and there isn't the same adrenaline rush of "The Return."
Plus, it's not as if this Warriors team has been a juggernaut. They've lost three straight and are only 20-21 on the season. That includes a dismal 3-16 mark on the road. Against the spread, they're only 4-15 ATS on the road and 1-7 ATS when favored on the road, failing to cover by an average of 7.9 points per game.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: Unlike last night (when I was right and it was wrong), the Projection Model and I are the best of friends here.
💰 The Picks
🏀 College Basketball
Michigan State at Illinois, 9 p.m. | TV: FS1
The Pick: Michigan State +6.5 (-110) -- If you think being horribly wrong about last night's Ohio State/Minnesota game would keep me from betting Big Ten basketball again tonight, well, you were almost right. Seriously, I was so shaken by Minnesota's upset road win over Ohio State as a 15-point dog that I was hesitant to include this one tonight, but thought better of it.
This is a tough matchup for Illinois, even if the Illini have bounced back from a rough patch in their last two games. While they're solid defensively, they're getting cooked from three when they lose. It's the one weak spot of the defense this season, and it's one Michigan State can exploit. The Spartans have shot 37.8% from three this season, which ranks 31st nationally. They don't shoot them often, but with their struggles scoring inside and Illinois' ability to defend the interior, the Spartans will change their approach a bit tonight. I don't know that it'll be enough to win, but it should make things uncomfortable for the home team.
🏈 NFL Playoffs
The Pick: Jaguars +1.5 (-110) -- Sorry. I cannot bet the Los Angeles Chargers as a road favorite in an NFL playoff game, even against a Jacksonville team I don't hold in high regard.
Yes, the Chargers are 7-2 ATS on the road this season, including 3-1 as a road favorite, but this is one of those times that looking deeper into the trend tells a different story. The Chargers have been favored on the road against Houston, Cleveland (before Deshaun Watson's return), Atlanta and Arizona. It covered all of them except the Arizona game, where it won but didn't win by enough.
I don't like Jacksonville much, but the Jaguars are better than those teams, and they've played better over the second half of the season. They've won five straight. The competition hasn't always been the fiercest, but it hasn't been a cakewalk, either. Also, do you remember earlier this season when Jacksonville went to Los Angeles and beat the Chargers 38-10? We're not likely to see a similar margin of victory this weekend, but we could easily see another Jacksonville win.
The Pick: Bills -13.5 (-110) -- Don't overthink this. The Bills are one of the best teams in the league, one of the Super Bowl favorites, and may have that whole "team of destiny" thing working for them. Miami is a team that lost five straight before pulling off an 11-6 win over the Jets last week to keep its tenuous grip on a playoff spot.
The Dolphins will not have Tua Tagovailoa in this game. Skylar Thompson will start. Miami may also be without Raheem Mostert. Having Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at receiver will always make Miami dangerous, but the gap between the two quarterbacks in this game is as wide as the average January temperatures in these two cities. The pick here is Buffalo -13.5, but I'll also be exploring some alternative lines. Buffalo could be the Georgia to Miami's TCU here.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. | TV: USA
The Pick: Over 2.5 (-145) -- Well, this is an odd predicament. Every time I've featured a pick involving Manchester United in this newsletter, it's been in some crisis. This current iteration of Manchester United, however, is not. In fact, it's very good. United has won eight straight and 15 of its last 18, with the lone loss being a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa. Of course, if we extend the sample size to 19 matches, it's two losses, and the second loss was a 6-3 thumping by Manchester City on Oct. 2.
I do not think City will deliver the same kind of beating this weekend, However, I believe the high-scoring affair we saw in that match was no fluke, and we're due for more goals being scored this weekend. Nor do I hate the idea of United winning because City has been in a kind of funk (for City) lately, particularly defensively, where it's conceding more often than usual, but that's why the over is so enticing.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. | TV: Peacock
The Pick: Under 2.5 (+100) -- I think Tottenham is getting out of its defensive funk. I do not have a lot of data to support this, but from what my eyes have seen, there's reason to be optimistic. Everything Antonio Conte teams do is built on a foundation of defending first. In that aspect, Tottenham was lost before the World Cup break, and it was still struggling to find it in the first few matches after. However, Tottenham shut down Crystal Palace 4-0 last week, but more than the four goals it scored, the lack of chances conceded stood out. This week, the 1-0 win over Portsmouth in the FA Cup wasn't impressive, but the result seemed intentional. I don't put it past Conte that all he wanted to do was win 1-0, and the rest of the match was used as a defensive training exercise.
And it's one the team could use with Arsenal this weekend because even without Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal has been a potent team. A potent team Newcastle flustered a bit, and I won't be shocked to see Tottenham adopt some of the same "tactics" Newcastle used in that match to annoy Mikel Arteta and Arsenal. We may see more red cards than goals in this match.