Week 15? Where did the season go? As hard as it is to believe, we are only a few weeks away from a new year (thankfully) and the end of the NFL regular season. The bad news: the season is almost over. The good news: we get NFL games on Saturday! They aren’t great games, but they are games we can watch and bet on. What else can you ask for? The byes are gone, so we get Thursday football, Saturday football and a full slate on Sunday. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. A week ago, the question was whether or not the Steelers would go undefeated. Now the question is “are the Steelers good?” Life comes at you fast, especially in the NFL. With only three weeks left in the regular season, let’s get to the picks.
Chargers (+ 3.5) over Raiders
Despite the gulf in records, these are two similar teams, and they’re both flawed. If not for the Jets’ ridiculous blitz a couple of weeks ago, the Raiders would be on a four-game losing streak and completely out of the postseason picture. The Jets’ 40-3 loss Sunday in Seattle is even more of an indictment of the Raiders’ performance two weeks ago. Rookie of the year front-runner Justin Herbert has regressed a bit in recent weeks, but he should be able to get back on track against a Raiders defense that struggles to stop anyone. Giving up 68 combined points to the Jets and Colts in the last two weeks, it’s hard to lay over a field goal with the Raiders. Aside from their disaster against the Patriots, nearly all of the Chargers’ losses have been by one score, and they lost by 10 in Buffalo in a game that ended with them having three plays from the Bills’ 1-yard line. These teams played in November, with the game ending as the Chargers threw two incomplete passes from the 1-yard line, both in and out of the hands of the Charger receivers, as the Raiders won 31-26. The Chargers are in most every game, and I expect this week to be no different. Take the points in what should be a close one.
Patriots (+ 2.5) over Dolphins
Bill Belichick is 27-5 against rookie quarterbacks as Patriots coach, and he recently dismantled Justin Herbert in a 45-0 bloodbath. This week he gets Tua Tagovailoa with extra time to prepare, coming off a Thursday night loss to the Rams. The Patriots are certainly not easy on the eyes, but Belichick after a loss, with extra rest, getting points against a rookie quarterback is too good to pass up. I doubt it’ll be pretty, and the Under might be worth a look as well with the Dolphins decimated at the skill positions. Running back Myles Gaskin likely will miss the game with COVID-19, tight end Mike Gesicki is out, and wide receiver DeVante Parker left Sunday’s game against the Chiefs with an injury. Points will be hard to come by, so I like the Patriots.
Chiefs (-3.5) over Saints
I’m still trying to figure out how the Chiefs did not cover last week against the Dolphins. Up 30-10 and going in for more points, the Chiefs committed their fourth turnover of the day. Some garbage-time window dressing by the Dolphins made this game look much closer than it was and got their backers to the window. The Chiefs have failed to cover in five straight, despite winning all five games straight up. The Chiefs resemble the vintage Golden State Warriors teams in so many ways — they seem to have a different gear, but also an on-off switch. The Warriors were famous for sleepwalking through the first half of a regular-season game before realizing they were losing and might need to play hard for a few minutes. Halftime deficits were often turned into third-quarter routs as the Warriors would go on runs that felt like avalanches. The Chiefs have the same firepower but possess the same shortcomings. In New Orleans, I expect the fast, artificial surface to be a major advantage against a Saints team that looks limited at quarterback for all of Taysom Hill’s uniqueness and versatility. Last week the Saints trailed 17-0 against an Eagles team that was beaten up in the secondary and saw their late comeback fall short. I thought they might deploy backup quarterback Jameis Winston to better exploit the Eagles’ weakness, with Winston being the much better deep thrower. They stuck with Hill and rallied but never got even. Hill has had his moments, but I am not sold on him as a starting-caliber player. His presence also has really hurt Alvin Kamara, who before Drew Brees’ injury was as close to an MVP candidate as any non-quarterback could be. The Chiefs are due for a game in which they flex their muscles and remind us they are still the best team. I’m betting on it being this week.