Winter may be coming, but December is here. We’ve got many more things to consider when calling games now that the calendar has flipped to its final month. Weather, obviously, will start to play a role in game outcomes. Dome and warm climate teams may struggle with the conditions more than the acclimated teams. Next, playoff chances come into focus. Amazingly, only four teams (the Lions, Jets, Jaguars, and Texans) have no realistic playoff path, so every game that doesn’t include two of those teams becomes a must-win. And, perhaps most importantly, fatigue. The college regular season is over, so now is the time for the “rookie wall” to start kicking in. We’ve never had a Week 18 before. Speculation about how teams would deal with the extra game will soon yield to reality. The teams that had early byes have played six straight weeks and have six more to look forward to. Everyone’s hurt. Most are injured. You not only have to be good, but you also have to be mentally strong to win games in December.
December is also the time for us to use the additional information we’ve gathered to finish the regular season strong. With that said, we’ve got eight more chances to improve our record this week. So let’s get to it.
(Standard disclaimer – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines.)
I broke out of my two-week malaise, posting a solid 7 – 4 record in Week 12. I consider anything above a 55% win rate to be a solid week for the record. ELO continued its struggles, coming in at 5 – 6.
Game of the Week – Buffalo at New Orleans: Maybe Taysom Hill is still recovering from his concussion and ankle injury, but Sean Payton is actively harming his team by sticking with Trevor Semien. The QB change will happen this week. The outcome may not.
Last week, Tampa Bay at Indianapolis: Called out the overdue Carson Wentz game-killing mistake. I just didn’t expect he would need to get them all out of his system in one game.
New York Jets at Houston: This is why you never bet games between two bad teams.
Philadelphia at New York Giants: Talk about outsmarting yourself. Philly had gotten itself back in the playoff picture on the back of its run game, so naturally, they decided to try and throw the ball all over the yard and expose their Achilles Heel to their opponent. Brilliant coaching, there, Nick Sirianni.
Carolina at Miami: It’s Tua time! Or, more correctly, Miami’s defense has started to play like the unit we expected at the outset of the season and isn’t putting the offense into deficit mode in the first half of every game, and Tua’s able to play within himself in positive and neutral game scripts.
Tennessee at New England: A.J. Brown having to go to IR left the Titans with no actual offensive weapons, and they still kept it close for almost three quarters. Although, a possible playoff preview, I would expect a different outcome if they do run into one another again.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: Shame on me. I bought into the “division rivals that win on their opponent’s home field usually lose the rematch” narrative. The Pittsburgh team I expected doesn’t work here anymore.
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver: Not only was playing in Denver going to be tough for the Chargers but facing a team that actually wants to run the ball and play defense is a bad matchup for them.
Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay: Tough loss for the Rams, who have now dropped three in a row. They get a reprieve with the Jags this week before a brutal five-week stretch of games to end the year. They legitimately may miss the playoffs.
Cleveland at Baltimore: This week’s nominee for Ugliest Game of the Year. Lamar looked like he was still feeling the effects of his illness, but Baltimore proved what everyone already knew, that if you can slow down the Cleveland running game, you can completely stymie their offense.
Upset of the Week- Chicago at Detroit: Oh, Detroit. Despite all the penalties and losing your best player early in the game, you still had a shot at getting your first win. So sad, but at least the cover eased the pain.
Last week: My picks, 7-4; Analytics, 5-6
Season: My picks, 39-45-1; Analytics, 44-40-1
Game of the Week and Upset of the Week
Editor’s Note: Joel turned this article in on Thursday afternoon, but I messed up and didn’t publish til Friday.
Dallas at New Orleans – Analytic Line: NO (+1.5), Vegas Line: NO (+6.5), PL: NO (+3.5)
Back-to-back Games of the Week for the Saints! This line has pushed Dallas’ way with the news that Alvin Kamara and both starting tackles won’t play for New Orleans. I still like them to hang with Dallas, who’s dealing with their own COVID outbreak and will be without their head coach. Yes, I’m aware that’s probably addition by subtraction. Taysom Hill should give the Saints’ offense a dimension they’ve been sorely missing (i.e., a playmaker), and the D can keep Dallas close.
Make It A Parlay
Tampa Bay at Atlanta – Analytic Line: ATL (+7.5), Vegas Line: ATL (+11), PL: ATL (+8.5)
Last week I said Tampa’s end of regular season hot streak would be starting. It’s not stopping here. I expect Atlanta will be one of the teams with no path to the playoffs by Monday.
New York Giants at Miami – Analytic Line: MIA (-5.5), Vegas Line: MIA (-4), PL: MIA (-5.5)
Like Atlanta, I expect the Giants playoff chances to be near-dead after this week. They didn’t win the game so much as Philly lost it last week. On the other hand, Miami has a legit shot at the playoffs after their disastrous start.
Philadelphia at New York Jets – Analytic Line: NYJ (+4.5), Vegas Line: NYJ (+7), PL: NYJ (+6.5)
The Jets didn’t even play well in winning against the Texans. Philly has to realize A.) How profoundly stupid their gameplan was last week, and B.) The easiest way to beat the Jets is to run the ball down their throats—the thing they do best.
Indianapolis at Houston – Analytic Line: HOU (+8.5), Vegas Line: HOU (+10), PL: HOU (+8.5)
If Indy doesn’t take care of business here, they’ll also be waving goodbye to their playoff chances. Not this week.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh – Analytic Line: PITT (+3), Vegas Line: PITT (+4.5), PL: PITT (+5.5)
At this point, I’m comfortable betting against the Steelers and taking my lumps in the one or two games they manage to cover from here on out. So not going to chase that moving target.
San Francisco at Seattle – Analytic Line: SEA (+1.5), Vegas Line: SEA (+3.5), PL: SEA (+3)
I really want to take Seattle here in a last-gasp effort to save a dying season scenario, but going cross-country back home after playing on Monday Night against one of the hotter teams in the league is too much to go against.
New England at Buffalo – Analytic Line: BUF (-1.5), Vegas Line: BUF (-3), PL: BUF (-3.5)
Get out of here with this “New England is going back to the Super Bowl” nonsense. They’ve played one of the softest schedules in the league, and they have gotten a lot of teams in bad spots (Atlanta without Calvin Ridley and Cordarrelle Patterson and Tennessee without A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, and Derrick Henry in the last two weeks alone). Buffalo hasn’t been all that consistent, but they’re straight-up better than New England.