Before we get to the picks, my heartfelt condolences go out to anyone who had Adam Gase as “first coach fired” or “next coach fired” (raises hand) after Bill O’Brien was dismissed by the Texans. I guess going winless doesn’t doesn’t take you as far as it used to. With Matt Patricia getting fired by the Lions, it’s a good time to talk about coaches, considering most of my losses this year haven been on the wrong end of coaching mismatches (I’m looking at you, Anthony Lynn). While Raheem Morris has done a good enough job to warrant keeping the Falcons job, some terrific jobs will be available in January. Justin Herbert, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence likely will all need new coaches. If one of the big-time college coaches is thinking of making the leap, now is the time. Whether it’s Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley or a team talking itself into Jim Harbaugh’s three consecutive NFC title-game appearances as enough of a reason to take a chance on the former 49ers coach, we could see some big splashes at season’s end. As we flip the calendar to December, let’s get to the picks.
Lions (+ 3.5) over Bears
If you read this column regularly, you know I had a love-hate relationship with the Lions early in the season. I loved betting them and hated myself for doing so. The last few weeks I saw the light and started to successfully bet against them, but ... I’m baaack. With Patricia being mercifully let go, I assume the Adrian Peterson infatuation will be a thing of the past, as D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson provide much more explosiveness. Kenny Golladay and Swift are likely to return to the lineup this week, giving Matthew Stafford some much-needed firepower for a Lions team with 10 days to rest and prepare. The Bears are 5-6, which doesn’t sound too bad until you remember they started 5-1. One of those five wins was against the Lions on opening day, as the Bears overcame a 23-6 fourth-quarter deficit and survived when Swift dropped a pass in the end zone in the final seconds. The Lions should be motivated to avenge that gut-wrenching loss and are more likely to play inspired ball under interim coach Darrell Bevell. This Bears team should not be laying over a field goal against anyone other than the Jets or Jaguars, so take the 3.5.
Browns (+ 5.5) over Titans
With the Giants and Jets still ahead on their schedule, winning this game could ultimately push the Browns to being an 11-win team, as weird as that sounds. Myles Garrett should be back for this matchup, which features teams fairly similar in talent and style. Both teams run the ball at an elite level, which favors the underdog in a game when the clock will constantly be running. Neither team is very good on defense, but at 5.5, as long as the Browns stay within 10, the back-door cover is very much in play. The Browns will run the ball, shorten the game and do enough to stay within the number in what should be a fun, competitive game. A little sprinkle on the moneyline + 225 might be worth a shot as well.
Rams (-2.5) over Cardinals
As I mentioned, I have lost a lot of games picking teams with inferior coaches. I will not make that mistake in this one, as Sean McVay vs. Kliff Kingsbury is a mismatch to exploit. Kyler Murray has been dealing with a sore shoulder and didn’t look completely healthy Sunday against the Patriots. He has run for only 46 yards in the last two games since injuring his shoulder, and he threw for a mere 170 yards against a mediocre Patriots defense. Despite a subpar performance, Murray had his team in position to win. The Cardinals just needed a couple of yards to run out the clock and kick a game-winning field goal as time expired. They failed to convert, missed the kick and later called a timeout on defense before a third down that ultimately helped the Patriots move the ball into field-goal range for their own game-winner. Ouch. This matchup is even enough in terms of talent, but the Cardinals do not have the pass rush to make Jared Goff uncomfortable, nor do they have the better coach. The Rams will win this one and send the Cardinals to .500 with their third straight loss.