Youmans: My five best bets for NFL Week 14

December 10, 2022 08:04 PM

While almost all NFL head coaches attract criticism from time to time for game-management and play-calling blunders, Bill Belichick stays above the fray. Well, that was accurate until now, because Belichick is no longer untouchable.

For the first time in the Belichick era, which dates to 2000 in New England, the Patriots appear to be poorly coached.

Of course, most of the weak coaching is happening on the offensive side of the ball, and Belichick deserves the blame for putting a defensive coach, Matt Patricia, in charge of calling the plays. New England ranks 20th in scoring offense (20.8 PPG) and is tied for last in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on just 12 of 32 trips inside the 20-yard line. There are an assortment of numbers that show how bad the Patriots are on offense and the numbers are not lying.

It’s wrong to throw the blame at quarterback Mac Jones, who has not played especially well in his second season yet has not been put in a position to succeed. Jones is still developing and is not good enough at this early stage to overcome coaching shortcomings.

Is there any hope for Belichick’s seemingly hopeless experiment with Patricia and his dull pencil? The answer will be revealed Monday night.

Jones and the Patriots get to take their shots at a poorly-coached Arizona team that ranks 31st in scoring defense (26.8 PPG). The Cardinals have lost four of their past five — beating only the hapless Rams — while allowing an average of 32 points in the losses.

Arizona does have a mobile quarterback in Kyler Murray, an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins and the type of speed that can give Belichick’s defense a lot of problems. Murray is elusive and similar to the Bears’ Justin Fields, who embarrassed the Patriots on Monday in late October.

For those who still believe in Belichick and his defense, which ranks No. 7 by allowing 18.8 PPG, it’s tempting to play the Patriots as short road favorites. With his back to the wall and facing a far inferior coach (Kliff Kingsbury), Belichick would always win this type of game in the past.

Of course, the Patriots of the present are stuck with an offensive coaching predicament that Belichick should have fixed several months ago, but his ego got in the way.

It’s not easy to bet on the Patriots and expect positive results, but I’ll try it one more time because it’s also an anti-Arizona play.

Pick: Patriots -1.5

Four more plays for Week 14:

STEELERS (-1) over Ravens: Since the return of outside linebacker T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh has won three of four games while allowing an average of 14.3 points in the victories over the Saints, Colts and Falcons. It’s obvious that New Orleans, Indianapolis and Atlanta are not led by elite quarterbacks, but neither is Baltimore. The Ravens are 0-4 in their past four games without Lamar Jackson as the starting quarterback, and the dropoff to backup Tyler Huntley is significant. The Steelers (5-7) are steadily improving in several areas and their outlook is suddenly optimistic with a relatively soft schedule down the stretch.

Texans (+17.5) over COWBOYS: A week after Dallas dropped 33 fourth-quarter points on the Colts, there’s no mystery why this line is so high. Houston has the worst team in the league. However, two factors can help the underdog stay within the inflated number — the Texans are going back to original starting quarterback Davis Mills, and the Cowboys could be excused if they overlook this opponent with much bigger games on the horizon. I hate betting on terrible teams, but the Texans (1-10-1) have lost by more than 17 points only once this season.

CHARGERS (+3.5) over Dolphins: The last time the Chargers were home ‘dogs, Patrick Mahomes needed to work some magic to rally the Chiefs to a 30-27 comeback victory. Miami’s recent five-game winning streak came at the expense of five sub-.500 opponents. The Dolphins crashed back to reality a week ago, when Tua Tagovailoa struggled in a 33-17 loss at San Francisco. Some will say Justin Herbert is overrated, but he’s the best quarterback the Miami defense has faced since September.

Buccaneers (+3.5) over 49ERS: It’s painful to watch a Tampa Bay offense which has not scored more than 22 points in any of the past eight games. Tom Brady is not making many big plays through the air despite having an array of big-play receivers, but he’s not playing poorly, and he’s 41-17-1 ATS in his career as an underdog. San Francisco ranks No. 1 in scoring defense (15.8 PPG) and Tampa Bay ranks fifth (18.3), so this matchup figures to be a low-scoring grinder similar to most of the Buccaneers’ games.

Last week: 1-4 against the spread

Season: 32-28-5

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