Evidence is mounting to prove the New England Patriots are slipping. Bill Belichick is making game-management mistakes, and his defense is middle of the pack. As for Tom Brady, his touchdown numbers are down and interceptions are up.
One of the most stunning losses of the Belichick era — the miracle in Miami — was the result of errors made by the coach.
So here’s the hot angle of the week: The Patriots are 20-0 against the spread off a straight-up loss when a ‘dog or small favorite of -3 or less. Of course, the Patriots are 2½-point favorites at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Steelers are slipping, too. After three consecutive losses, Pittsburgh is in danger of missing the playoffs. Mike Tomlin, never an ace in the area of game management, is more flawed than ever. As for Ben Roethlisberger, he’s banged up with a rib injury and tossing picks at a higher rate while the running attack disappears.
If going strictly by the numbers, it’s tough to say there is value in laying points with the Patriots on the road. But the spot and coaching matchup point to New England. Belichick has won five in a row and six of the past seven against Tomlin, mostly because Brady knows how to pick apart Tomlin’s weak defensive schemes.
While both teams have plenty of problems, Pittsburgh might have more. The Steelers, 10-point favorites, fell 24-21 at Oakland last week and some signs indicate a drama-riddled team is coming apart at the seams.
Still, Roethlisberger should put up big numbers against a New England defense that ranks No. 23 in the NFL in yards allowed (372.5). Even on a day when Brady passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns, the Patriots broke down on defense and failed to finish off the Dolphins.
It’s not a bad idea to put Pittsburgh on a 6-point teaser at plus-8½. (I played a Steelers-Vikings-Ravens teaser.) My straight bet here is on the Patriots because it’s Belichick and Brady off a loss with Tomlin on the other sideline.
Four more guesses for Week 15 (home team in CAPS):
* VIKINGS (-7) over Dolphins:
After a miracle win, it looks like a good time to fade Miami. The Dolphins are 2-9 ATS in their past 11 as road ‘dogs. The motivational angles favor Minnesota, which fired its offensive coordinator in an effort to shake up a stale offense. The pressure is squarely on coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins as the Vikings fight for a playoff spot.
* COLTS (-3) over Cowboys:
With a sweep of Philadelphia, Dallas has assumed control of the NFC East race. The Cowboys’ overtime victory over the Eagles was huge for their big three playmakers. Dak Prescott completed 42 of 54 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns, Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 113 yards while adding 79 yards in receptions and Amari Cooper had 10 catches for 217 yards and three scores. Dallas is 5-0 straight up and ATS since Nov. 11. But sitting on a cushion in the division, the Cowboys could be facing a flat spot in Indianapolis. The Colts (7-6) are back in the playoff picture and should be playing with more urgency. Andrew Luck passed for 399 yards (199 yards to T.Y. Hilton) and two TDs to stop Houston’s nine-game win streak. Indianapolis coach Frank Reich has done outstanding work while getting his team to recover from a 1-5 start. This is a better spot for the Colts.
* Packers (plus-5½) over BEARS:
Remember when a limping Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay back from a 20-0 deficit to stun the Bears 24-23 at Lambeau Field? The first Sunday night game of the season was a classic, but the NFC North rivals headed in opposite directions after Week 1. The Packers (5-7-1) are barely breathing in the playoff hunt, and the Bears (9-4) have a stranglehold on the division. Green Bay has Rodgers and history on its side, but not much else. The Packers have won eight straight at Soldier Field and are 15-3 against Chicago since 2010. Rodgers always inspires hope, and bettors fear laying points with Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Packers are 0-6 on the road. The Bears are 6-1 straight up and ATS at home after their defense was dominant in a 15-6 victory over the L.A. Rams. It seems easy to play the favorite and give up on Green Bay, but maybe Rodgers has a big game in him.
* PANTHERS (plus-6) over Saints:
Drew Brees was not sharp in his past two games as the New Orleans offense totaled only 38 points. Carolina is 0-5 straight up and ATS in its past five as Cam Newton has slumped and dealt with a bad shoulder. But the Panthers are 5-1 at home this season and this is the now-or-never spot for a wounded home ‘dog on Monday night.
Last week: 4-1 against the spread