It doesn’t matter in the NFL if you’re the best team in September, or even October. Ask the Kansas City Chiefs.
If you’re working through some issues those first couple months but get out of it without digging too deep of a hole, you’re in good shape. That’s the case with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons were 4-4 and didn’t look like last seasons’ NFC champs. The offense was nothing like it was last season, even with mostly the same personnel. Then, suddenly, everything turned around.
The Falcons have won three in a row, are 7-4, and have looked like last season’s team. They put up a season-best 516 yards last week in a 34-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has seemingly figured some things out (like, “just get Julio Jones the ball as much as possible”).
The Falcons project as the type of team that could make a run in the NFC playoffs, but they have to make it first. The battle for NFC wild-card spots will be fierce. Even the Dallas Cowboys aren’t totally dead after Thursday night’s win. Atlanta needs to keep winning, and their schedule is brutal. They play the Vikings this week, and among their final four games are two against the Saints and one against the Panthers.
The Vikings are first up, and they’re very good. The defense plays at a championship level, and there’s a lot of talent at the skill positions. But this is a tough spot for them. They have practically clinched the NFC North title, and have to go play at a hot Falcons team that is playing for its playoff life. Minnesota doesn’t want to lose, since they’re in line for a first-round bye, but they could afford a loss. The Falcons, with that upcoming schedule and a tough fight ahead to get in the playoffs, can’t really afford to lose.
That’s why I’m picking the Falcons, who are minus-2.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em and minus-3 in the Westgate SuperContest. It’s nothing against the Vikings. I just like the Falcons, who are getting hot at the right time.
Here are the against-the-spread picks for Week 13 of the NFL season.
Chiefs (-3.5) over Jets: The Chiefs are in a slump, but let’s not overreact. They’re the superior team to the Jets, who might be running out of gas. And if the Chiefs lose this, well, it’s really time to panic. (The line is minus-3 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Saints (-4) over Panthers: I’d feel better about this pick if I knew cornerback Marshon Lattimore would play, and be close to 100 percent. If he is playing and takes out Devin Funchess, who else will catch the ball for the Panthers? Even without Lattimore, I think the Saints should win at home.
Cardinals (+7) over Rams: The Cardinals are tough to predict, but last week’s win over Jacksonville was a good one. I’m not buying into the Blaine Gabbert hype, but I still think they can give the Rams a game. (The line is plus-7.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Seahawks (+6) over Eagles: The last time the Seahawks were a home underdog? Oct. 14, 2012, according to OddsShark. And they beat the Patriots 24-23 in that game (the “U Mad Bro?” game). The Seahawks haven’t lost three home games in a season since 2008, when Pete Carroll was coaching Mark Sanchez at USC. I know the Eagles have looked great. I know the Seahawks’ injury issues. I also know that I’m not ready to take a road favorite at Seattle. (The line is plus-5.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
And here are the rest of the picks …
Redskins (-1) over Cowboys (picked Thursday): Whoops. On the Cowboys’ suddenly revived playoff hopes, they need some help starting right now. If the Falcons and Panthers win this week, the Cowboys will be three games behind Carolina and two games and the tiebreaker behind Atlanta for a wild-card spot. With four games to go, that’s not happening.
Patriots (-10) over Bills: The Patriots have covered the spread five weeks in a row, are 40-6 in their last 46 December games and are 24-3 in their last 27 games against the Bills with an average margin of victory of 16.3 points according to OddsShark. And the Patriots are looking like we expected the Patriots to look. I’m not jumping in front of that train.
49ers (+3) over Bears: I really think Jimmy Garoppolo plays well and the 49ers get a nice boost from that. The Bears have been much better at home, but I think the 49ers get a win here.
Packers (off) over Buccaneers: Yet again, I’m buying in the “Brett Hundley has turned a corner!” stuff. Didn’t work out the last time, when they got shut out by the Ravens. There’s no way I’d pick a Packers game the rest of the season if I didn’t pick every game.
Texans (+7.5) over Titans: I can’t believe how soft the Titans’ schedule has been lately. Here’s another game they should win easily, yet they’ll probably need a fourth-quarter touchdown to pull out a three-point win that’s far tougher than it should be. That’s what they do.
Broncos (pick) over Dolphins: To think, a few months ago this game looked like it would be pretty fun. I’ve seen Brock Osweiler, and I’ve seen Paxton Lynch, and while Trevor Siemian might not be great he’s better than either of the other options for Denver.
Jaguars (-10.5) over Colts: The first three times Jacksonville lost this season, they came back with a blowout win. The combined score of those three games after a Jaguars loss was 101-16. One of those games was a 27-0 win at the Colts. The Jaguars will bounce back again.
Lions (+2.5) over Ravens: The Lions are 4-1 on the road this season. That might not mean a ton, but it means they’re at least confident on the road, and I’ll trust them to outscore the low-flying Ravens offense.
Browns (+15) over Chargers: One of these weeks, the Browns have to cover. Amazingly, even with everyone in the world (including Vegas) knowing this is the worst team in the NFL, the Browns have failed to cover in nine of their last 10 according to OddsShark.
Raiders (-8.5) over Giants: You have to assume, from the outpouring of support for Eli Manning, that the players within the locker room also are confused and/or upset about how Manning was treated. They had already shown signs that they don’t want to play for coach Ben McAdoo anymore. I think this might be an epic lay-down by the Giants.
Bengals (+5.5) over Steelers: The Steelers look like champions at home, and they’re not the same team on the road. It’s scary to back the Bengals, but you could have worse strategies than fading the Steelers on the road.
Last week: 7-9
Season to date: 94-78-5
SuperContest: 3-2 last week, 32-25-3 season to date
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