Today's Free Picks for
Posted Friday, December 14 at 12:45 PM EST and updated Sunday at 12:00 PM EST.
This year we’re changing it up a little bit from what regular readers are used to. We have always posted our NFL writeups and selections on Friday and that will not change.
What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criterion we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday.
We’re intent on providing our readers with the best possible selections and doing so on Sunday instead of Friday just makes more sense. Again, we’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on Friday but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST.
NFL WEEK 15
Green Bay +5½ -108 over CHICAGO
1:00 PM EST. This is being billed as a "revenge" game for the Bears, as they look to avenge their Week 1 loss in Green Bay. As you may remember, Chicago stormed out of the gate and had the Packers on the ropes on their home field. The Bears led 17-0 at half-time and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had been injured and his return was not certain. We all know what happened in the second half, as Rodgers led his team all the way back with a 75-yard catch and run by Randall Cobb for the game tying touchdown being the cherry on the Bears shit sundae. The Pack and Bears have been on decidedly different paths since that opening night, as Green Bay struggled to the point where former coach Mike McCarthy was fired late-season, while Chicago is at the top of NFC North with a 2½-game lead on the Vikings with just three weeks to go. A high profile primetime win over the mighty Rams last Sunday night was the statement game the Bears were looking for, but with that win comes a distinct role reversal for these two franchises, as it now the Bears that are spotting points in the driver's seat with the pooch Packers chasing.
Chicago has won seven of its last eight games, which is impressive enough on its own, but when you consider it also has a 7-1 record against the spread over that time, the Bears have been one of the best bets in the market over the last two months. However, the Bears were outgained in victories over the Bills and Lions and that 23-16 victory in Detroit on Thanksgiving could easily have been a loss if not for a couple of untimely Matt Stafford interceptions. The biggest reason for Chicago's success this season has been its defenses ability to turn the ball over and while a +13 differential in takeaways looks impressive on paper, those game-changing plays cannot be counted on from week to week. Now, that doesn't mean that the Bears won't win that battle again here against the Packers, but with Aaron Rodgers having thrown just one interception this season, one of those two extremes is likely to give. If we knew who was going to get the bounces, picking winners in the NFL would be infinitely easier, as most of these games come down to turnovers and penalties. The Packers defense isn't nearly as impressive with just seven interceptions this season, but that they've been able to hold opponents to under 25 points the last five weeks without turning the ball over makes that unit's performance even more impressive. At the end of the day, this is still a passers league and there is no comparison when lining up Rodgers against Mitch Trubisky, who without Matt Nagy as coach wouldn't last two weeks as a starter. Aaron Rodgers taking back significant points is not a bad ticket to have. Recommendation: Packers +5½ -108
Arizona +9½ -108 over ATLANTA
1:00 PM EST. In December, a team's mindset is everything and we have to wonder what the Falcons are going to have left here after racking up their fifth straight loss last Sunday in Green Bay. The Dirty Birds are usually right in the thick of things this time of year, so this uncharted path into the offseason is new for Matt Ryan and company, but if last week's effort in Wisconsin is any indication, the four-win Falcons will be moving up the draft board rather than down it. Head coach Dan Quinn said his team lacked "focus" and after racking up 13 penalties and a pick-six, it's hard to argue with that assessment. Quinn also said this week that he was going to be evaluating "everything" to make sure he does anything he can to "get it right." Quinn, too, is no doubt being evaluated here, as Atlanta is just two years away from that epic meltdown in the Super Bowl versus New England but it appears this regime has peaked, which put Quinn and his staff on the hot seat. Matty Ice just signed a new five-year $150-million contract extension back in May, so you know he's not going anywhere. Sure, Quinn was extended for three years as well, but that was before this team embarrassed themselves this season. If the Falcons are in fact a "dead" team, and the coach's messages are falling on deaf ears, don't think that GM Thomas Dimitroff won't save his own ass first. He was there long before Quinn and has a long time working relationship with ownership that goes back 10 years.
The Cardinals’ goose is cooked as well, but this is not news in the desert, as Arizona has been down in the dumps all season. Last Sunday, the Cards lost to the Lions and when those dopes on Fox picked the Red Birds, we tweeted this, "Fox panel on Cards as upset pick of week. You can start unloading on Lions now and that's no joke either. They can't wrap their heads around an upset and only take underdogs that are +2½ or less." As we wrote in our Week 14 preview, the Cards were in a tough spot after upsetting the Packers in Green Bay, as that upset was about as big as they get. One week removed from that and a loss later and Arizona figures to be sharper here, although they played a very decent game last week despite the score. The Cards proved to be a tough out in Green Bay and are capable of stepping up again here. The Falcons are going to have to play a near flawless game just to cover this significant number and if they are not "focused," the Cards could potentially win this game outright. Recommendation: Cardinals +9½ -108
Tennessee -2 over N.Y. GIANTS
1:00 PM EST. After hitting what appeared to be rock bottom earlier this season, the Giants are on the comeback trail after winning four of their last five games. A 40-16 blowout victory over the Redskins in Washington last Sunday actually flatters the home side, as the G-Men went with many of their backups after storming out to a 40-0 lead. Rookie runner Saquon Barkley went over the 1000 yard rushing mark last week and was the first Giant to post that number in six seasons. When you mix in his 78 receptions for another 629 yards through the air, Barkley is easily the most dynamic first-year running back since Adrian Peterson. Barkley is likely the cornerstone of many fantasy football team's that are in the hunt this weekend, but the extra attention that comes from that very popular by-product of the NFL only makes the spotlight on him and the Giants even brighter. New York has likely played itself out of a top-five draft pick and a couple of more wins just might knock it out of the top 10. On paper, the Giants have played their way back into the playoff conversation, but do not get sucked up in that narrative. According to Football Outsiders, the G-Men have just a 1.4% chance to make the playoffs. They'd have to win out and get a ton of help. For a team that already took all the crap that comes with being a bottom feeder, these wins now are in spite of their future. New York was outgained in wins over the Bears (68-yards) and Tampa Bay (151 yards) and won both of those games by just a field goal. A 27-23 Monday Night Football win over the Garoppolo-less 49ers is nothing to be proud of and neither is embarrassing Mark Sanchez and the Redskins. Now we're not suggesting the Giants should be mailing it in the rest of the way, but their price is no doubt inflated here against a Titans team has proven to be a tough out.
While we are mindful of not paying a premium on teams that are coming off a huge primetime win, a 30-9 drubbing of the Jaguars at home on a short week isn't going to carry much weight in this market. However, that game could have turned on a couple of plays, but fortunately for us, the luck was on our side last Thursday night. The Jags had all the momentum after a Tennessee special teams blunder that led to a safety and then they picked off Marcus Mariota, but failed on a fourth down attempt to cash in on that turnover. You've seen the next play 100 times already, as Travis Henry racked up more yards on one play than he did in the two months prior. The Titans went up 13-2 and never looked back. With a loss earlier this season to Buffalo, a pair of double-digit losses the last month to Houston and Indy, as well as that stinker against the Jets in Week 13 where the Titans had to steal a win on the last play of the game, it's going to be easy to discount Tennessee’s status as a contender, but this line says they've got a shot to win it so that where our lean is here. Recommendation: Titans +1 -107
JACKSONVILLE -7½ -105 over Washington
1:00 PM EST. Whose stock is lower? Jacksonville is coming off a Thursday night disgusting performance against the Titans in a game they lost 30-9. The Jags looked and played like they would have rather been anywhere else on the planet besides in Tennessee to play a football game. Meanwhile, the Redskins lost something like 120-10 to the Giants with Saquon Barkley racking up about 1000 yards for the day. We would have to say that Washington’s stock is lower than Jacksonville’s but that doesn’t mean we want us some Washington.
Before this past Sunday, Josh Johnson hadn't thrown a pass since 2011. The Redskins were down 40-0 to the Giants at home and put Johnson in to start the fourth quarter. He played decently against the third-and fourth-string defensive units the Giants had thrown out there but it was garbage time yards and points. For the ‘Skins, the hits keep coming. We now know that Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez may have played their final NFL snap. Time is a flat circle. Less than a year after the Washington Redskins said goodbye to the infamous Kirk Cousins and his massive contract, Mark Sanchez compiled a 0.0 rating through three quarters in the Redskins 40-16 blowout loss to New York Giants. If the Giants wanted to, they could have finished with a 60-0 victory. Josh Johnson is likely Washington’s starter here but he’s on his fifth NFL team and hasn't completed more than 20 passes in any season since 2009. Yeah, this should go well. The Redskins were never a top passing team with Alex "game manager" Smith, but at least his low yardage did not come with turnovers. Now, the Redskins are losing the ball much more than scoring with it. Frankly, we’re not sure how it can get much worse for the ‘Skins. Despite their down season as a whole, the Jaguars still rank fourth in the NFL in defensive pass efficiency so if Johnson can keep this game close on the road, then so be it but we’re not going to overthink this one. The G-Men were a steal against the Redskins last week and the Jaguars are a steal this week against a fifth string (might as well be 10th string) QB. Recommendation: Jacksonville -7½ -105
PITTSBURGH +2½ -102 over New England
The Steelers dug themselves a hell of a hole by losing outright in Oakland as a double-digit favorite last Sunday and now they have the Ravens breathing down their necks for the top spot in the AFC North. That loss likely did a ton of damage to those survivor pools that are still in play and in the market, a loss to the Raiders will do nothing to raise your stock. However, as a buy-low option, the Steelers have got to be one of the better plays on the board, as they've dropped three straight games (including a high profile collapse against the Chargers on SNF) and also lost five in a row to these Patriots, which will be a fact the pundits will eat up when breaking down the Xs and Os of this game. Injuries will also be a hot topic, but the status of running back James Conner does not matter, as he himself has proved by filling in for Le'Veon Bell, that the Steelers system deserves a lot of the credit for their running back's success.
The Pats are still the Pats and although they were the victims of what's being dubbed the "Miami Miracle", that loss did nothing to discredit them in a market that adores them when it matters most. Truth is, New England doesn’t warrant being favored in Pittsburgh. Tom Brady threw for 358 yards and three touchdown against the Fish but that was his best effort since before midseason. Brady came into Week 14 with only four touchdown passes over his five previous games and even experienced two games without any TD passes - both on the road. New England is also just 3-4 on the road with ugly losses to Detroit, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Miami. One of those four teams has an outside chance of going to the playoffs and three of those four teams are hot garbage. The Patriots three road wins came against the Bears 38-31 (lucky to win), Buffalo and the Jets. Seriously, is that the road résumé of a team that deserves to be favored in Pittsburgh?
The Steelers mounted a comeback against the Raiders that should have sent the game into overtime but Chris Boswell slipped and missed his final second field goal. The Steelers tried out kickers this week but it looks like Boswell survived. Now, as the Steelers prepare to host the Patriots in a game with major playoff implications, their stock is low and there is chaos surrounding them. From inconclusive X-rays that kept Ben Roethlisberger on the bench in Oakland, to kicking tryouts, problems with the running game and former Steelers such as Rocky Bleier publicly ripping the team for its three-game losing streak. The only way out is to stare down the dragon that the Steelers continually fail to slay. The presence of the Patriots -- marking a brutal, upcoming three-game stretch that could keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Steelers had the Patriots dead to rights a year ago when Jesse James’ sure TD was overturned in one of the most controversial calls in history. Imagine that -- the Patriots getting a call going their way. Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger would get picked off in the end zone to seal the Patriots 27-24 win.
In any event, the Steelers last three losses were all games they were in a position to win but failed. They could have just as easily gone 3-0 over that span (all one score losses) and then there would be no controversy but results carry so much more weight than the ingredients. Recency bias and latest results have the Patriots wrongly billed as the chalk.
That said, the Patriots are not invincible but they’re quieter than the Steelers. The Steelers are a bunch of weed-smoking divas and Big Ben, who points his finger when they lose, might be the biggest diva of them all while Tom Brady is the polar opposite in that when his team loses, he takes the blame. He’s pure class with the talent and football IQ to back it all up. Big Ben has talent too, obviously, but lacks those same intangibles and puts his foot in his mouth at just about every press conference.
Finally, there’s the coaching mismatch. Bill Belichick against Mike Tomlin is equivalent to Bill Gates versus Homer Simpson in a game of scrabble. It is those intangibles that may have us backing off the Steelers here but if we’re looking for value in the numbers, Pittsburgh a dog at home to this beatable edition of the Patriots would be the way to go and we just might do it. Recommendation: Pittsburgh +2½ -102
Philadelphia +13 -110 over LOS ANGELES
6:20 PM EST. When the Eagles opened this week as a +9 point pooch in this Sunday night showdown in Los Angeles, we had to scour Twitter to see if there was something the oddsmakers knew that we didn't, as that was a significant number to post after both teams were coming off of high profile losses. When word surfaced that quarterback Carson Wentz was going to miss this week and likely the rest of the season with a back injury, it all sunk in that those in charge of setting the lines had a good idea that was the situation and preemptively acted accordingly. Now when the Wentz news hit the mainstream, this line instantly went up and we’re suggesting that the oddsmakers had a pretty damn good idea that Wentz wasn’t playing and set the number at +9.
Again, the original number had already accounted for the fact that Nick Foles was going to start and so this price is even more inflated than it already was. It wasn't that long ago that Foles was called upon to start the biggest game of his life and one of the most important in franchise history and as we recall, he passed that Super Bowl test with flying colors taking home the MVP. Foles had a lot to prove that day and he still does here, as this is his chance to make a case to be a starting quarterback next season and as we've seen with the many injuries around the league, there is a lack of quality at the league's most important position. This line is disrespectful to both the Eagles and Foles and it would not be a shock if they responded as such.
The Rams have clinched the NFC West and even with that loss to the Bears, they still have a full two-game lead over the Bears for one of the two Wild Card Weekend byes. L.A. closes out the year with games against the Cardinals and 49ers and so their path to the number one seed is also easier than that of the Saints, who are also 10-2, but face the Panthers twice and the Steelers to close out their season. The Rams should be able to sleepwalk their way to one of the top two seeds. As L.A. has proven all season, a win and a cover are two different things and when given the opportunity to run up the score, the Rams have not taken it. If they break out to a big lead here, it would be no surprise if Sean McVay calls off the dogs and if the Eagles bring their best, the Rams are going to have to play error-free football to cover this number. A lousy turnover or bad call from the officials is all it takes to rip up a ticket when laying this kind of lumber. Taking back this pile of points would be the prudent play. Recommendation: Eagles +13 -110
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NFL Picks for Week 15 (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)