Eric Christian Smith / AP
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Week 13: Chargers at Steelers
If having a surplus of playoff contenders is key to an exciting finish of an NFL regular season, then the next month could really deliver.
While divisional races appear less suspenseful than normal — sports books have taken down half of the division futures as a byproduct of the AFC West and NFC East being the only leagues without a team currently holding a 1-game lead — contenders galore exist for wild-card spots.
Six AFC teams are currently within one game of the final wild-card spot. Five NFC teams are separated by 1.5 games or less for two wild-card berths.
Meaningful matchups always produce more betting action, and barring several major surges and collapses, there will be plenty leading up to the playoffs.
Talking Points hopes it can land on the right side of most of them, with pressure mounting off a poor 5-10 Week 12 performance picking every game against the spread. The blog’s overall record for the year stands at 90-76-9.
Read below for this week’s picks, separated into confidence categories with attached records as always. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Jacksonville Jaguars plus-4 vs. Indianapolis Colts Taking a small step back might be necessary before fully burying Jacksonville as one of the most helpless teams in the NFL. Yes, the Jaguars have lost seven straight but the last four have all come by six points or less. That includes a 29-26 defeat against Indianapolis where they were a smaller underdog, plus-3, in this same matchup on the road.
Cleveland Browns plus-6 at Houston Texans Browns’ power rating is weighed down by early-season performance but they’ve looked like a different team since the firing of Hue Jackson and promotion of Gregg Williams to interim coach, with their only loss coming to the Chiefs. The 8-3 Texans remain the most overachieving team in the NFL as Football Outsiders calculates their expected wins at 6.4.
New York Jets plus-8 at Tennessee Titans By the vast majority of metrics, these teams are evenly matched, including yards per play where they’re dead-even on defense and the Titans are .1 yards better on offense. There’s no reason either team should be giving more than a touchdown, let alone the one coming off of a short week after a second-straight 17-plus point defeat.
Washington Redskins plus-6.5 at Philadelphia Eagles Washington has been resourceful in overcoming injuries all season, and now has extra time to prepare around quarterback Colt McCoy coming off of a Thanksgiving game where it played decently in a 31-23 loss to the Cowboys as 7.5-point underdogs. Philadelphia has only beaten one team by more than six points all year.
Minnesota Vikings plus-6 at New England Patriots Bill Belichick factor is minimized in this spot with Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer having shown many of the same overachieving tendencies, including going 49-25-1 against the spread. The pick is much more difficult at 5, but some sports books are still sitting as much as a point higher, which puts value on the more-talented Vikings.
Atlanta Falcons pick’em vs. Baltimore Ravens Bookmakers made a mistake by opening the Ravens as high as a 3-point favorite, but the market quickly corrected with action on the Falcons. Still might be slight value on the home team, which played much better than the 31-17 final score indicated as 13-point underdogs to the Saints last week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers plus-3.5 vs. Carolina Panthers Tampa Bay’s edge on offense — it’s gaining 6.6 yards per play to Carolina’s 6.1 yards per play — nearly makes up for its disadvantage on defense — the Panthers have given up 5.8 yards per play to Tampa Bay’s 6.4 yards per play. The Panthers do not deserve to lay more than the key number of three points.
Denver Broncos minus-4.5 at Cincinnati Bengals Only the Raiders, Cardinals and Bills have worse point differentials than the Bengals — and that was with Andy Dalton at quarterback. There’s some fatigue with Dalton, but he’s a far better option than Jeff Driskel, who’s taking over due to injury.
New Orleans Saints minus-7 at Dallas Cowboys Only interested in picking against the Saints, which have now covered nine in a row, going forward if the point spread is severely inflated. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, with the number right where it should be based on both teams’ profiles.
Los Angeles Chargers plus-3.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers Extra half-point makes the Chargers the pick. If anything, the Chargers have been slightly better than the Steelers — with a plus-88 point differential to the home team’s plus-67. No reason therefore exists for a point spread higher than a field goal.
Miami Dolphins minus-4.5 vs. Buffalo Bills Difficult to evaluate the Bills right now with their offense showing signs of life during a two-game win streak. If Buffalo really has evolved on that side of the ball, then this line is too high. It’s easier to remain skeptical, however, by virtue of how much the Bills have struggled to move the ball for most of the year.
Kansas City Chiefs minus-15 at Oakland Raiders The Chiefs have played one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL, and still managed to beat three opponents by more than 15 points. They can beat the Raiders almost as badly as they desire, which means taking the underdog is not a realistic option.
New York Giants plus-4.5 vs. Chicago Bears Could end up being a value price if Chase Daniel starts a second straight game in place of Mitchell Trubisky, as looks likely. The switch had no effect on the betting line ahead of the Bears’ 23-16 win over the Lions on Thanksgiving but Trubisky still gives them the best chance to win.
San Francisco 49ers plus-10 at Seattle Seahawks Taking double digits is always more appealing with a competent coach, and Kyle Shanahan is among the NFL’s most underrated. The Seahawks continue to be slightly overvalued because of their good fortune in turnovers and close games.
Arizona Cardinals plus-14 at Green Bay Packers Sitting at 4-6-1 straight-up and against the spread with a negative point differential, It’s time to accept this year’s Packers as the middling team that they are. A middling team shouldn’t lay two touchdowns on the betting line.
Los Angeles Rams minus-9.5 at Detroit Lions Rams covered easily in their first three games of the season, when they were at their healthiest. This figures to be the closest they’ve been to full-strength since, coming off of a bye week to take on a mediocre-at-best Detroit team.