The theme for any handicapper worth a grain of salt is to keep doing what you do, even when a rough patch hits. Fortunately, we didn’t stray from that theory after Weeks 10 and 11 were not very kind – our first two weeks of sub-.500 play in our best bets.
Rebound we did – and in a big way with our top three picks all hitting and an 11-4 mark against the spread for Week 12 to get our overall percentage for the season above .540 (which is sort of the low-water mark for our yearly goal).
With that, diving into Week 13 seems like it could be one of the toughest of the year, and that certainly is the case if you remain alive in your knockout pool. Many of the league’s best teams are playing another very good team and the not-so-great teams are playing other duds.
So as we rely on our detailed analysis, while entertainment is always a goal, winning is No. 1. And as we always do in this space, we’ll have fun, but explain why we like each pick and let you make the final decision.
(But we’ve been incredibly good with our teasers this season, so I wouldn’t bet against me in that spot if I were you. Wink, wink.)
Any comments, questions, gratitude or hate mail is welcome at [email protected].
NOTES: All spreads, money lines and over/under totals (as of Tuesday) are provided by Caesars Sportsbook. We started the season with a mythical bankroll of $1,000. Our totals for the past week and the season are at the bottom of this column.
THE WEEK 13 BEST BETS
HOME TEAM in CAPS
Byes: Arizona and Carolina.
1 / Teaser, Cleveland -1 over HOUSTON and BALTIMORE -2 over Denver
WHEN: Both games Sunday at 1 p.m. THE BET: $24 to win $20.
Teaser explanation: At most books, a bettor can parlay two teams in a “teaser” and get 6 points of cushion for each bet. However, it costs -120 to play and – like a parlay – both legs must hit to cash the ticket.
Isn’t it funny how the NFL works? It just so happens Deshaun Watson can return to the league the same week his new team battles his old one that had him sit all through the 2021 season. (For good reason, obviously.)
Although it is tough to figure out how he will mesh with his Browns teammates, one thing we know for certain: The Houston Texans are the worst team in the NFL. Yes, worse than the Saints. Worse than the Broncos. Worse than the Panthers – no matter who plays quarterback.
Another thing we know without a doubt: The Texans are abysmal against the run. Like historically bad, abysmal. If Cleveland had an awful coaching staff, I’d say this might not matter as much, but one can bet Kevin Stefanski is going to ease Watson back in and use the holy heck out of Nick Chubb.
That’s enough for me to at least take the Browns in one-half of my weekly teaser leg. (I don’t feel nearly as confident with the spread, but if you have to pick one, you simply cannot bet on Houston here.)
SCORE PREDICTION: Browns (-7) 23, Texans 13. (Under 47.)
Speaking of bad, even the Broncos’ defense is getting frustrated with their offense and Russell Wilson. And it is affecting the way they play.
Baltimore has been anything but good since returning from the Week 10 bye, but don’t get too caught up in that fluky loss to Jacksonville last week – they outgained the Jaguars by nearly 100 yards. The two games before that against the Panthers and Saints, they gave up just 448 combined total yards and 16 points.
While I don’t think there will be a ton of points scored, the weather in Baltimore this weekend is too perfect for me to take the under in best bets, and the Ravens haven’t played well enough on offense for me to take them against an 8-point spread. But I will take them in a teaser to basically win the game, as they have not lost back-to-back contests all season long.
SCORE PREDICTION: Ravens 16, Broncos (+8) 9. (Under 38.5.)
2 / Kansas City at CINCINNATI over 52.5
WHEN: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. THE BET: $22 to win $20.
This is a rematch not only of this past January’s AFC championship game (and would anyone be surprised if this is the AFC title game once again?) and a rematch of a 34-31 shootout won by the Bengals in Week 17. One should expect this game to match the intensity and high-flying offensive performances we have seen as of late from both teams.
Last week, Kansas City did exactly what they needed to do to get out of their 26-10 win over the Rams without getting anyone hurt or showing any new wrinkles. Cincinnati has continued to just do what they do. And this week, they should get Ja’Marr Chase back to help on offense.
This game is way too tough to take a side in best bets, although until the Chiefs show me they can figure out how to slow down Joe Burrow, we will take Cincy.
Should be one of the more fun games of the season to watch.
SCORE PREDICTION: Bengals (+2.5) 36, Chiefs 34.
3 / Indianapolis +11 over DALLAS
WHEN: Sunday at 8:20 p.m. THE BET: $22 to win $20.
For a brief time, I considered taking this as my overall best bet of the week, as I truly think this could be one of the biggest upsets of the season. However, I then remembered Matt Ryan is the Colts quarterback, and, well … I got a little wishy-washy.
That being said, I still like this enough to take the Colts getting double-digit points against a team that could be getting a little big for their britches. Exactly who are the Cowboys to be laying 10 or more for the second consecutive week?
Indy has a rushing defense in the middle of the pack, and they’re fifth in the NFL in defending the pass, which means it will not be an easy night for Dak Prescott against a rejuvenated Colts team that has been playing decent for Jeff Saturday.
I am not advising anyone to take the Indy money line at +430, but I will put a few bucks on it. I certainly don’t see this game as a blowout.
SCORE PREDICTION: Colts 23, Cowboys 19. (Under 43.5.)
4 / Green Bay -4 over CHICAGO
WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m. THE BET: $22 to win $20.
As I type this, I cannot be certain whether Aaron Rodgers is playing quarterback for the Packers or if Justin Fields will ride the bench once more. But reading through the tea leaves tells me that will be the case. (If you were running the Bears, would you even consider running out your franchise quarterback in a meaningless football game? Meanwhile, if you’re running the Packers, why wouldn’t you get every ounce out of Aaron Rodgers before he moves on? And besides, that decision is going to be completely left up to Rodgers.)
Even if neither plays – or in the worst-case scenario – Fields plays and Rodgers doesn’t, this feels like a bargain. The Bears simply cannot stop Green Bay, no matter who plays quarterback. Did you see what Mike White did to that defense last week?
The Packers have won seven in a row in the series and 22 of the past 25. In each of those seven wins, Green Bay has won by at least seven points and by 10 or more in the past five.
Although the Pack knows their season is done, they will play with pride here and – for at least one week – make themselves feel a little better about the Great Trainwreck of 2022.
SCORE PREDICTION: Packers 35, Bears 20. (Over 43.5.)
5 / LA Chargers -2 over LAS VEGAS
WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m. THE BET: $22 to win $20.
While I get the Chargers have underachieved this season, are we suddenly believing the Raiders are back to the team we thought they were before we saw any evidence back in August? I most definitely am not.
The line for this same game in Los Angeles in Week 1 was Chargers -3.5, and that was when many oddsmakers and pundits believed they were a Super Bowl contender. Meanwhile, the Raiders were one of the worst teams in the league just two short weeks ago. So the spread between these two has only changed about 2-3 points since the opening week of the season? Ridiculous. (Can you say value?)
In the first game between the two on Sept. 11, Derek Carr threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. On the other side, Justin Herbert passed for 279 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and barely a hair on his head was breathed upon.
Las Vegas has the seventh-worst pass defense in the NFL, and their defense as a whole has collected just eight total turnovers, including the two they got last week.
A bet on the Raiders is a severe overreaction after two road wins against one really bad team (Denver), which was lucky, and the one last week in which Seattle’s defense failed to show up (which they tend to do).
I’m not sure these teams are all that close, and the Chargers have a whole lot more to play for than the Raiders.
SCORE PREDICTION: Chargers 30, Raiders 23. (Over 50.5.)
(No bets for the following)
Thursday at 8:20 p.m.
NEW ENGLAND (+4) 24, Buffalo 22: There isn’t a tougher game on the slate this week to dissect than this one. Neither team has an advantage – or disadvantage – of playing on a Thursday, as both played on Thanksgiving last week away from home. Bill Belichick is 14-5 in his career on Thursday nights and 9-2 at home, while Sean McDermott is 4-1 – all on the road.
However, one thing stood out when going through this game with a fine-toothed comb. During their midseason slide last year when the Bills proved they were mere mortals, it was close to this same time when they lost to New England, 14-10, before blasting them out of the water both late in the regular season and then in the playoffs.
While I fully expect the Bills to snap out of this funk just in time to choke again in the postseason, I am not sure they are quite done yet with the mediocrity. A get-right game next week on extra rest at home against the Jets?
Do yourself a favor if you’re determined to bet it because you have nothing else to do, make it for a quarter of a unit or less. Even the sharps are very divided on this one. (Mabel likes Buffalo, of course.) (Over 43.5.)
Sunday at 1 p.m.
MINNESOTA (-3) 29, NY Jets 24: Well, Mike White is going to turn out to be the savior for the New York Jets. Wait, didn’t they try that once before? Oh yeah, it didn’t work out too well.
Truth is, in four games last year with one of them truncated by injury, he did throw for 953 yards and five touchdowns, but he also tossed eight interceptions. And while the Vikings’ defense is nothing special, it certainly is better than the one White played against last week. (Over 45.5.)
Tennessee (+5) 23, PHILADELPHIA 20: By now, regular readers of this column must think I have Titans paraphernalia strewn all across my home. Some weeks, I look for reasons to pick against them, but then I come back to who they are and what they do – and generally, they simply cover way more than they don’t (8-3 ATS this season).
The fact is the Eagles (6-5 ATS) have had the easiest schedule in the NFL, and their actual 10-1 record is highly inflated. And when it comes down to the analysis, Philly will be forced to pass in this game, while the Titans should be able to run at will. I trust Derrick Henry way more than I trust Jalen Hurts – even with AJ Brown’s revenge factor lingering. (Under 44.5.)
Pittsburgh (-1) 30, ATLANTA 26: Here’s one of those lines that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and you regulars know I love to go with the side of no sense. I get Atlanta hasn’t been very good as of late and that the Steelers are improving and are a much better team with TJ Watt, but enough to be favored on the road?
I won’t play this on my weekly card, and other than the weird spread, I am taking the Steelers because of the team’s turnover differential. One can expect the Falcons to do what they usually do and cough it up at the worst time – just as they did last week at Washington and in a couple other games this season.
I like the over more than I like the Steelers, and surprising to some, this could be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. (Over 43.)
Washington (-2.5) 19, NY GIANTS 12: Another one I was completely up in the air on, and I was even more confused when I see that both the sharps and Mabel are on the G-Men. I have been behind the Giants as much as anyone, but I am baffled why even the people who have hated them all year are taking them now.
Washington didn’t play all that well against Atlanta, but not only have they had New York’s number as of late, but their defense has also been dominating and should be able to limit Saquon Barkley. And if it’s all on Daniel Jones, that’s enough to have me taking the road less traveled. That being said, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from this potential snoozefest. (Under 40.5.)
Jacksonville (-1) 25, DETROIT 19: First, it incredibly pains me to take the Jaguars in any game at any time (especially as a favorite), because they can make you look so foolish. That, and I swore like a month ago I wouldn’t touch them again this season.
However, while I won’t even play this if all other 14 games get canceled, if you’re going to take a side, Jax is the play. This simply is not a good matchup for Detroit, and they are coming off an emotional loss to Buffalo – a game they likely should have won, while the Jags are flying high.
Aunt Mabel is taking time out of her fruitcake-baking schedule to run to Harrahs and put her Social Security check on the Lions (she still doesn’t know how to use that iPhone 4), which is more than enough to make me feel even better about my decision. (Under 51.5.)
Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO (-4) 31, Miami 25: One might think in a game where the No. 1 defense has been so dominant as of late if I am picking them to win and cover, I would have the under coming through. However, the Dolphins can and will find ways to score with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle doing their thing, as the pupil (Mike McDaniel) gets his first shot at his teacher (Kyle Shanahan).
What means more to me in my analysis is that the 49ers should be able to move the ball at will, and Christian McCaffrey could have one of his best games of the season against a super-shoddy passing defense and one that allows 4.5 yards per rushing attempt.
If Miami had any kind of running game to throw the Niners off the scent of Tua, I might be more inclined to take them, but San Francisco seems to be in mission mode now, as they begin to run away with the NFC West. (Over 46.5.)
LA RAMS (+7.5) 21, Seattle 18: Hey, you longtime readers of this column, remember when I used to have that Golden Rule of not taking a road favorite in a division game? Yeah, that has kind of gone by the wayside this year as advantages for home teams continue to dwindle.
Here, although it certainly plays a part – not because the Rams have a big bonus at SoFi Stadium; their home field is almost nil – Seattle has been traveling all over the world the past few weeks with one short stop at home. That has me concerned this mediocre team that was playing over its head is ready to continue to come back down to Earth.
It looks more and more like Matthew Stafford will be back, and if he is, not only do I think the Rams cover, but they win outright. They haven’t lost to the Seahawks at home since 2017 and just once since 2013.
As bad as the Rams have been the past few weeks, I get it’s tough to remember they actually have a decent defense. And their secondary should be able to do enough against the Seahawks’ better-than-average receiving corps. (Under 41.5.)
Monday at 8:15 p.m.
New Orleans (+3.5) 23, TAMPA BAY 19: As tough as it is to pick a game between two really good teams, I think it’s even tougher to pick between two bad teams sinking faster than my bank balance during the holidays.
Remember when this had the potential to be one of the biggest games of the season with the NFC South race on the line on one of football’s grandest showcases? Yeah, good times. Well, sadly, it still could have major impacts on the division title, but I’m not even sure many fans of either team want to watch.
Put all that aside and whatever biases you might have, and when it comes down to straight-up analysis, I know this might be hard to believe, but I think the Saints are the better football team. Sure, the Bucs are better at quarterback (Tom Brady still is d-o-n-e) and at wide receiver, but as much as Saints fans might dislike Dennis Allen, he is a MUCH better coach than Todd Bowles. No, really, I am serious. Stop laughing. You are hurting my feelings. REALLY!
And with the strong possibility Marshon Lattimore is returning this week – you knew he wasn’t going to miss another chance to piss off Mike Evans – the defense could be in the best shape they have been in since September. The Saints also could see the return of Pete Werner, Payton Turner and PJ Williams.
The Bucs don’t even pretend to try and run the football any longer, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be very successful here with a banged-up offensive line that has their top lineman in All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs out for at least three or four weeks. Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen is on IR, guard Aaron Stinnie was lost for the season in August, and guard Luke Goedke is questionable.
There’s a reason the sharps have been pounding New Orleans at -6 (late Sunday night) to -5 and -4 on Monday and even some at -3.5 now. There’s nowhere near the value there once was, so I am not putting anything on it, but the Saints almost unfathomably could be right back in the thick of things in the South when they win this game Monday night.
This crappy division deserves utter turmoil.
(P.S. As tough as the Saints’ road schedule is the rest of the way, the Bucs’ next two games after this one are at San Francisco and home for Cincinnati. In other words, if they lose here, they could be 5-9 heading into their Christmas Day game at Arizona.) (Over 40).
HOW WE DOIN’?
Note: TIES ARE NOT COUNTED IN MY RECORD, which could result in a different total of games in the “straight up” and “against the spread” categories, as well as with totals.
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Week 12 best bets: 3-2 (+$37). Season best bets: 38-21 (.644; +$226.50 on season). Week 12 all picks against the spread: 11-4. Season all picks ATS: 94-79 (.543)
STRAIGHT UP (no spread)
Week 12: 12-3. Season: 104-74 (.584).
Week 12: 8-7. Season: 97-81 (.545).
(click on week to view)
Week 12: 3-2 best bets (+37); 11-4 ATS; 12-3 straight up; 8-7 over/unders.
Week 11: 1-3 best bets (-$81); 5-7 ATS; 9-5 straight up; 7-7 over/unders.
Week 10: 2-3 best bets (+$16); 7-7 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.
Week 9: 4-1 best bets (+52.40); 9-2 ATS; 9-4 straight up; 5-8 over/unders.
Week 8: 4-1 best bets (+$69); 9-6 ATS; 13-2 straight up; 6-9 over/unders.
Week 7: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-9 ATS; 6-8 straight up; 9-5 over/unders.
Week 6: 4-1 best bets (+$62.60); 9-5 ATS; 8-6 straight up; 6-8 over/unders.
Week 5: 3-2 best bets (+$2); 10-5 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders
Week 4: 4-1 best bets (+$37); 9-6 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 10-6 over/unders
Week 3: 3-2 best bets (-$5); 5-11 ATS; 8-8 straight up; 8-7 over/unders
Week 2: 4-1 best bets (+$57); 7-9 ATS; 9-7 straight up; 12-4 over/unders
Week 1: 3-2 best bets (-$15); 8-8 ATS; 6-9 straight up; 10-6 over/unders