One of our sister blogs includes a good old weekly “NFL Power Rankings,” not too much more elaborate than WagerBop’s ratings of top MLB clubs throughout the baseball season. It’s fun to pick between teams like Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee for who gets the #1 ranking each Wednesday.
Only 1 problem in Week 11 – nobody in the NFL deserves a #1 ranking. My oh my, did the “best” teams of The Shield ever lay a bunch of eggs last weekend.
The Arizona Cardinals were perhaps the worst offenders, losing to Carolina 31-10 in what resembled a preseason effort from the NFC West leaders. However, the Cardinals also have the most alibis in place among Super Bowl hopefuls who fell to average teams. Kyler Murray is still ailing, backup Colt McCoy was knocked out of the Carolina game, and DeAndre Hopkins and Chase Edmonds represent 2 other missing skill players. Carolina’s use of Cam Newton and a suddenly healthy Christian McCaffery stunned an unprepared Big Red defense, putting pressure on HC Kliff Kingsbury to find a way to beat Seattle.
The L.A. Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost, the Buffalo Bills can’t score enough TDs to erase a mid-season slump, and the Baltimore Ravens whiffed on a glorious chance to ascend in the rankings by losing to Miami. Tennessee looks very dangerous, but the Titans haven’t been dominant enough to warrant a #1 ranking.
So I left things tied at the top, figuring that would offend the least amount of partisan NFL fans. But from a gambling POV, it’s never been more apparent that coaches are adjusting to a loooooonnng NFL season by taking shortcuts with game-day roster moves, involving 3rd-string players more than ever before in the hopes of producing a team that peaks in the postseason. Vince Lombardi’s formula for a championship team involves starting fast, finishing fast, and coasting in between. That’s a nice reassuring thought for those spectators who can’t believe their eyes as the Cardinals and Rams get blown-out by losing teams, and the Bills lose 9-6 to the Jaguars.
Ironically enough, the NFL’s modern-day “Lombardi” – Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots – is taking advantage of the Top 10’s troubles to mount a winning streak and get contention. The Hoodie has farmed enough National Football League victories to know how to make hay while the sun shines.
New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons (Thursday Night Football)
When it’s Belichick coaching against a troubled opponent, the math usually adds up to a New England victory. Beantown didn’t have to face a rejuvenated Christian McCaffery or Cam Newton on November 7th, and it showed as the ailing RB was held to minimal gains while New England picked off QB Sam Darnold 3 times. Cleveland’s interim backfield earned a few more 1st downs vs. New England in Week 10, but the Patriots successfully rushed the pocket and punished the Dawgs’ QBs in a 45-7 romp to get to 6-4.
Thursday’s match-up looks much the same. Cam Jones is still a young QB and the Patriots are far from perfect, but TNF’s (-8.5) point-spread favorites have momentum on their side. Atlanta is in the doldrums following a 40-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys, as Dirty Bird faithful begin to contemplate whether aging QB Matt Ryan is still the man for the job.
The Pats are too fundamentally sound for Ryan to expect a “renaissance” outing in prime-time. However, the Atlanta defense will probably stiffen in a last-ditch effort to save a campaign that’s quickly falling behind in the NFC South.
Recommended Pick: Under (47)
Sunday, November 21: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Do the Buffalo Bills deserve a (-7.5) line based on a single solid week? Buffalo appeared to snap into form with a blow-out win over the New York Jets in Week 10. But the Jets are clearly running out of spoiler’s mojo, making the Bills’ upcoming game with Indianapolis a truer test of whether Josh Allen’s cast has shaken its swoon. Indy hasn’t lost a game by more than 12 points, calling a wide spread into question.
Recommended Pick: Colts (+7.5)
Sunday, November 21: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
It’s a fact that NFL match-ups behave more like FBS meetings than ever, but when exactly does the new trend tend to show on the betting board? Look no further than Tennessee’s kickoff with visiting Houston on Sunday, for which a cautious, conservative point spread of (-10) doesn’t represent Tennessee’s real superiority, but its penchant for winning tight. Almost as if the Titans were Michigan or Michigan State, taking on Northwestern.
The Houston Texans would be a 2-TD underdog against any other 8-2 team. The struggling club has lost every game since defeating the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, and with exception of losses to New England and Miami, every defeat has been by double-digits. Tennessee’s prohibitive (-450) moneyline odds spell out the Titans’ likelihood to beat the Texans outright, but will the favorites pull away without Derrick Henry?
A funny thing happens when a cupcake is outplayed on the road. They usually lose by 14 points or more. Tennessee has cleaned up its penalty woes from last season, which could lead to a scenario in which the Titans are better, more disciplined, and in shorter down-and-distance throughout a battle with a disenchanted foe.
Recommended Pick: Titans (-10)
Sunday, November 21: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Arizona is only a (-2.5) favorite with McCoy likely to start for the Cardinals again at CenturyLink Field. Though the Cards flourished on offense with McCoy behind center in Week 9, defenses have already adjusted to the catch-and-run tactics that buoyed the backup against San Francisco. FanDuel’s bright (48.5) O/U line on the Seattle-Arizona game is prompted by star power as QB Russell Wilson begins contributing for the Seahawks again. However, the Seattle offense has looked tired and sloppy in 2 out of 3 recent games.
Recommended Pick: Under
Sunday, November 21: Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs
The enticing match-up of QBs Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott has O/U lines on Kansas City vs. Dallas soaring at (56) points even, a number which could prove to be more exaggerated than the total on Seattle vs. Arizona. Yes, the Chiefs have gotten their offense on the right track and the ‘Boys aren’t faring badly with the ball either, but bookmakers and the gambling public may overlook what defense has meant to each turnaround.
Recommended Pick: Under (56)
Sunday Night Football: Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers
Given the L.A. Chargers’ development with Justin Herbert taking snaps, it would be understandable if the Bolts were a slight favorite over the Steelers on Sunday. Pittsburgh’s line of (+5.5) points instead gives the Black & Gold nearly a TD, which is not near respectful enough of how the Steelers are fighting every single opponent to the finish. Pittsburgh’s worst road defeat so far is a 10-point loss at Green Bay.
Recommended Pick: Steelers (+5.5)
Monday Night Football: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“Reversion” is a handicapping tactic that’s associated with Premier League contenders. But it happens in all sports that championship-level clubs snap back into prominence after slumping for a brief period, and bookmakers try to anticipate it before it happens.
That’s a big reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are (-11) point favorites over the visiting New York Giants on Monday Night Football, even though Tampa is on a 2-game losing streak and the Big Blue have played 3 decent games in a row, winning twice.
The new Brady Bunch is expected to rally against a set of beatable opponents in late fall, but soft schedules are no substitute for execution and consistency, and the Bucs’ 2 consecutive losses include 4 uncharacteristic INTs from Tom Terrific. Tampa Bay’s vaunted ground game has produced just 124 yards over the last 8 quarters.
It’s time for gamblers to “revert” to common sense. New York has only lost by more than 3 points once on the road, to the high-powered Dallas Cowboys. 17-week seasons are especially challenging for coaches like Tampa Bay’s HC Bruce Arians, who must protect his aging QB at all costs, and wait patiently for the offense’s body blows to bear fruit. It’s highly unlikely that the Bucs will rediscover a crushing ground game in a week’s practice, turning MNF into a potential game of field goals with a modest winning margin.
Recommended Pick: Giants (+11)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.