Holiday season is a magical time for most of us. For children, it’s a time to look forward to a bearded Rex Ryan coming down the chimney to make your material dreams come true. For adults, aside from the frantic house cleaning and decorating, it’s a time for family to come together and watch the movies that remind us of our childhood. Speaking of movies, even the most realistic holiday movies tend to have an element of magic about them, unless they are based on a true story (think original “Silent Night”) or they are an action movie masquerading as a Christmas movie (“Die Hard”). However, for any of you thinking of putting any money down on some NFL action this holiday season, go ahead and suspend your magical thinking and just stick to what has gotten you through 14 weeks of NFL gambling.
Tier 1: No Upset Specials Here (Season Record: 3-3)
Chiefs -3 over Chargers
Rams -4 over Seahawks
Packers -4.5 over Ravens
The Rams put the NFL on notice on Monday Night Football with a convincing win over the Cardinals, even more impressive with several key players in Covid protocol. Russell Wilson may have returned to form against the Texans last week, but that was the Texans. Aaron Donald and Von Miller will have “Russell Hustle and Bustle” scrambling more for his life than for extra yards. Last week, I wrote that the Chiefs were finally starting to look like Super Bowl contenders and that the Packers were playing like the best team in football. Those both held true on Sunday, and I don’t expect either of those things to change this week. Justin Herbert did have a throw for the ages last Sunday and the Chargers have made me look silly two weeks in a row, but the holiday season didn’t magically cure my obstinance and I’ll roll with the Chiefs over the Chargers. Also, you can bet Pat Mahomes and Justin Herbert combine for 7+ touchdown passes at 4-to-1 currently, jump on that while you can. As for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers still owns the Bears, and I don’t expect him to have trouble with a Baltimore team that has been decimated by injuries. Even if Lamar plays on Sunday, he will not be 100% and I don’t think he will be as effective punishing the Packers’ defense with his legs.
Tier 2: No Superdogs Here (Season Record: 4-1)
Dolphins -10 over Jets
Cardinals -12.5 over Lions
Cowboys -10.5 over Giants
Two weeks ago, I threw all the big favorites into the second tier and just banked on the teams being motivated enough to cover some fat spreads. Sometimes, you have to return to what got you here. I don’t see any of the underdogs winning these games. The Jets still suck but did manage to stay within a score of the Dolphins when they played in New York a few weeks ago. They won’t fare better taking their “talents” to South Beach against a Dolphins team playing much better since their first meeting. The Cardinals are reeling after their Monday night loss, but I think they bounce back and put away a tanking Lions team by two touchdowns. The Giants are one of two teams getting the “Dubya” treatment this week. I’ve bet on the Giants as underdogs two weeks in a row, last week mostly on the presumption that they could stay within double digits of a team with 10 players out, and two weeks in a row they have let me down. They ain’t gonna fool me again.
Tier 3: Stuck in the Middle (Season Record: 3-3)
Colts -2.5 over Patriots
WFT +7 over Eagles
Broncos -2.5 over Bengals
Vikings -3.5 over Bears
Apologies for the lazy tier title. Sometimes they come to me and other times I resort to lazy cliches, which is probably why this is still being delivered to your inbox freely. I hate betting against Bill Belichick, especially in December. However, I think this Patriots team does well with teams they can bully, and they won’t be able to bully the Colts offensive line or Jonathan Taylor. Besides, we need to invoke a one-week embargo against Matthew Judon after he blasphemed macaroni and cheese. Washington let me down last week, but they scratched and clawed to get back into a game they probably had no business being in, and I think they will at least play the Eagles tightly. The Bengals are the second team getting the “Dubya” treatment this week after two straight letdowns. Burrow and the Bengals passing game could certainly do some damage in the thin air of Mile High, but he also leads the NFL in interceptions and Pat Surtain will be lurking. The Vikings didn’t exactly earn my trust last week, but they did do enough to hold on and they have a long week to prepare for a Bears team coming off a disappointing Sunday night loss. Look for Dalvin Cook to run wild and go ahead and bet “Either Dalvin Cook or David Montgomery to rush for 100+ yards” at even odds.
Tier 4: A Little More Magical (Season Record: 4-1)
Saints +10.5 over Buccaneers
Raiders -1.5 over Browns
Steelers +1.5 over Titans
Don’t love any of these picks, but here goes nothing at rationalizing them. Tom always seems to struggle with the Saints, and he tempted fate last week. With Kamara back, I expect New Orleans to keep this at ten points or fewer. The Raiders opened this week as six-point underdogs and somehow have become point and a half favorites. I say “somehow”, but the reality is Cleveland has several players in Covid protocol who expect to be unavailable for Saturday, including Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and three other offensive starters. Kevin Stefanski has also tested positive and is carrying out his head coaching duties virtually for the time being. Picking the Steelers as home dogs probably borders on believing in the “magical” sports movie storyline. Playoff team coming to Heinz Field. Last ride for Big Ben. Let the gunslinger pull a few plays out of his rear end for the game-winning drive. But here’s why it’s not so magical: the Titans are without Derrick Henry or A.J. Brown, the Steelers still have playoff aspirations, and a daunting home crowd can still exercise some influence over this game with playoff implications on the line.
Tier 5: Bad Teams with Good Line (Season Record: 3-3)
Falcons +9.5 over 49ers
Panthers +10.5 over Bills
Texans +3.5 over Jaguars
The Jaguars finally did the inevitable and dumped Urban Meyer, setting up our second sports movie moment for the week: team dumps its evil, abusive, player-kicking coach and rallies behind an interim coach to win the game! Cries and hugs all around! Right? Wrong. The Jaguars are just trying to get to next year at this point and a loss to the Texans puts them one Lions accidental win away from having the number one pick in consecutive seasons and the opportunity to either trade or bring in a dynamic pass rusher to pair with what they are building on offense around Trevor Lawrence. Neither the Falcons, nor the Panthers, are good teams. In fact, I had some particularly harsh words for the Panthers last week and they did nothing to prove me wrong. Josh Allen isn’t fully healthy though, and the Bills have no running game outside of him. I think the Panthers defense is just good enough to keep this within 11 points. Similarly, I think Atlanta’s offense is just good enough to stay within 10 points of this San Francisco team, even if they might be peaking and getting healthy at the right time. The 49ers have finally figured out how to incorporate Brandon Aiyuk’s diverse skillset, Deebo Samuel should be coming back and George Kittle is still a beast. We will be watching San Fran closely in the weeks to come as a dangerous team come playoff time.
Season record: 17-11
Prop Bet Record: 1-2
Cover Photo Courtesy of Buddha Records/Yellow Label