After a 3-1 week in which we missed a perfect set of picks by half a point, we came back immediately with a 4-0 sweep! That brings us to a nice 7-1 run in the last two weeks.
We take our step at exactly the right time.
This is not unusual. It’s often difficult to find value as the season progresses because the odds makers adjust and close the gap between perception and reality, but we generally end up seeing a nice increase. This is because all 32 teams are on duty in the final weeks of the year, which gives us a wider range of options. The task now is to focus on the handful that can deliver again.
The previous picks in this weekly BettingPros column are 28-23-1 in the season. The rest of my picks against the spread and my historical records can be found on Sporfolio.com.
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Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals UNDER 43 (-110)
The standout storyline of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals will be the return of Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton to Cincinnati. As a result, the expectation will be a “game of revenge”.
On the surface, I love it. Revenge is an important element of the sport, and the idea of Dalton dominating his former team is fun.
Deep down, it’s an opportunity for a mistake with the over-under.
The value of the name carries weight in NFL picks, and ‘Dalton versus his former team’ has value. The reality is that Dallas has scored less than 20 points in six of their last seven games.
No problem! The defense of the cowboys is cruel!
This is true. Dallas ranks last in terms of points allowed per game. The problem is, Cincinnati’s offense was utterly incompetent. The Bengals have scored a total of 43 points in their last four games. Cincinnati took a broken game last week to avoid a shutout.
Both teams have their ways to scoring – Dalton for Dallas and the Cowboys defense for Cincinnati – but both should help clear the “over”. These two specific forces are unlikely to be at work in the same game.
Prediction: Cowboys / Bengals UNDER 43 (-110)
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers -3 (-115)
I’ve written an article on NFL selection for the past six years. During that time, I’ve repeated two sentences so many times that my readers are likely to get sick. Lucky me, as I wrote a couple of times for this BettingPros column.
And I can do it again!
Really, I can repeat both.
We expected it.
It was a division game.
The Denver Broncos were playing against the Chiefs on national television. The spread was massive and the general expectation was that Denver would be slaughtered by Kansas City.
It did not happen.
There are a few reasons why and how the Broncos competed to the point where they beat the spread, and those reasons were detailed in last week’s column. For this reason, it’s important to emphasize that Denver’s expertise shouldn’t come as a surprise. Really, we shouldn’t be overreacting.
The good news is that we know others will. People will watch the Broncos perform and be impressed. Moderately maybe, but impressed nonetheless.
And the Carolina Panthers? We have already forgotten about it.
Carolina was last on the field two weeks ago when they lost an incredibly heartbreaking game to Minnesota. The panthers now come into play at 4-8 and afterwards.
All of that and they are preferred in the game.
There is a reason.
Denver, in particular, will be overrated as an underdog, while the Panthers brace themselves to get active again and covertly cover the spread.
Forecast: Panther -3 (-115)
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles OVER 42.5 (-114)
I’ve written that in several places now, but the Philadelphia Eagles, who are moving from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts in the quarterback position, have almost nothing to do with Hurts. Wentz became such a problem as a passerby that his lack of confidence to throw the ball permeated the whole offensive. Pain, simply because it is not Wentz, changes mentality.
Could the fight hurt? Absolutely. The Saints’ defense is the second best in the league in yards allowed. The over-under is small, however, and even in games that Wentz started, Philadelphia has scored 16 points in every single matchup this year.
On the flip side, when the Eagles can’t move the ball, it gives the Saints additional opportunities to single-handedly achieve the “over”. At this point, Philadelphia as a whole is likely to lose the ability to graduate, clearing the way for New Orleans to get a high score.
Prediction: Saints / Eagles OVER 42.5 (-114)
Pittsburgh Steelers +1.5 (-110) on Buffalo Bills
From time to time two teams play their respective games, which must lead to a change in perception. If we’re lucky, these two teams will meet next week.
We are happy.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to Washington, were exactly what we needed for the football world to sell heavily in Pittsburgh.
The Buffalo Bills winning a compelling game on national television are exactly what we needed in order for the football world to buy Buffalo strong.
And here we are.
It was easy to argue against the Steelers’ offer for a perfect season. People downplayed the team’s place in history for weeks. Even so, the Washington loss was pretty unexpected – at least when compared to some of the other options on the map. Now that it happened, we’re sure to have a “tell yourself” effect.
We see this effect directly in the spread.
Originally, the Steelers were preferred to the Bills. Now Pittsburgh is getting points. It’s a classic overreaction that we can target.
We also can’t forget that Buffalo’s defense takes 21st place in yards, paving the way for Pittsburgh’s relatively mediocre offense to get the ball moving. Of course, the Steelers thrive defensively and can flex their muscles on a primetime stage immediately after failing to keep their unbeaten season alive.
And you will get points.
Prediction: Steelers +1.5 (-110)
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Mario Mergola is a noted writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros, and the content creator and publisher of Sporfolio. More information about Mario can be found in his archive and follow him @MarioMergola. He was also one of the industry leaders in NFL against the spread picks in the past 6 years.