Forget the action on the field. The really impressive performances this NFL season have come from NESN.com’s panel of pickers. (Well, two of them, anyway.)
Another strong week by NESN.com’s Mike Cole catapulted him within one game of leader Ben Watanabe, and the veteran duo now stands a combined 40 games over .500 against the spread on the season. That’s quite an impressive feat, given that Las Vegas sets spreads intending for players to lose as often as they win.
What we’re saying is, these guys aren’t just flying blind here. Seriously, take a spin around the Internet and see if you can find many experts who have had as much success in 2015. You won’t.
Take a peek at the standings with four weeks to go:
Ben Watanabe: 101-80-4 (Last week: 6-8). In Brady and Belichick he trusted, unfortunately.
Mike Cole: 100-81-4 (Last week: 8-6). These last few weeks are going to be mighty interesting.
Ricky Doyle: 85-96-4 (Last week: 5-9). It’s really not getting any better.
Let’s run through this week’s slate.
THURSDAY, DEC. 10
Minnesota Vikings (8-4) at (-7.5) Arizona Cardinals (10-2), 8:25 p.m. ET
Ricky: Cardinals. OddsShark’s prediction-scoring formulas are picking a potential 33-13 result in favor of Arizona. I think that’s a little excessive, but covering 7.5 points seems reasonable given how the Vikings have looked when really tested this season.
Ben: Cardinals. Minnesota is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games despite Sunday’s blowout loss to Seattle, but Adrian Peterson’s questioning the coaching staff and the Cards are giving up as much as nine points in some places, so this seems like a steal.
Mike: Cardinals. We’ve seen the Vikings struggle against good teams — they lost to Green Bay and Seattle by a combined 48 points at home — so there’s not a whole lot of reason to take them in the desert on a Thursday night.
SUNDAY, DEC. 13
Atlanta Falcons (6-6) at (-8) Carolina Panthers (12-0), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Panthers. This pick mostly is about Atlanta’s ineptitude. The Falcons haven’t covered in their last eight games after starting the season 4-0 ATS.
Ben: Panthers. The Falcons have lost five straight by a combined 21 points, so it’s not like they’re being bashed. Still, Carolina has been reliable ATS, including recently covering a similar spread against a better-than-Atlanta Washington squad.
Mike: Panthers. Don’t know if it’s subconscious or what, but I can’t talk myself into going against the Panthers when the spread’s in single digits.
Washington Redskins (5-7) at (-3.5) Chicago Bears (5-7), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Bears. Washington has the NFL’s worst road run defense this season, allowing 156.8 yards per game. Seems like a good time for the Bears to make use of both Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford.
Ben: Redskins. The Bears do have that Thanksgiving win over Green Bay, but they’re 6-17-1 ATS in their last 24 at Soldier Field (including 2-4 ATS there this season) and, unlike Washington, have nothing to play for.
Mike: Bears. The Redskins are atrocious on the road — 0-5 this season — and Chicago has been good ATS lately (4-1 last five) aside from last week’s slip-up.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at (-3) Cincinnati Bengals (10-2), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Steelers. The Bengals are the NFL’s best bet this season (10-1-1 ATS), but Ben Roethlisberger is healthier and the Steelers’ offense is in a much better place than it was when Pittsburgh scored just 10 points in the teams’ Week 8 showdown at Heinz Field.
Ben: Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offense is humming, and the Steelers historically have success at Paul Brown Stadium, where they’re 9-2 ATS in their last 11.
Mike: Steelers. The Bengals might win this game, but the Steelers’ offense has found its rhythm — 36 points per game in its last four — which should keep things just close enough to cover.
(EV) San Francisco 49ers (4-8) at Cleveland Browns (2-10), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Browns. Uhh …
Ben: Niners. Because they’re not the Browns.
Mike: Niners. Love that Vegas doesn’t even care about this one.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), 1 p.m.
*No line as of Wednesday morning
San Diego Chargers (3-9) at (-11.5) Kansas City Chiefs (7-5), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Chiefs. Maybe this goes against my better judgment, as 11.5 points seems like a lot despite how well Kansas City is playing of late. I simply have no confidence in San Diego’s ability to score points against good defenses, though, especially after the Chargers’ three-point clunker last week against Denver.
Ben: Chiefs. This seemed like too many points to pass up at first. Then I remembered the Chiefs won by 30 in San Diego just three weeks ago and have won five of their last six by double digits.
Mike: Chiefs. Eleven-plus points seems like a lot, and then you look at the Kansas City defense and how quickly it whooped up on the Raiders last week, and you feel a little better about laying the points.
Tennessee Titans (3-9) at (-7.5) New York Jets (7-5), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Jets. Tennessee can be pesky. Who else has a quarterback that can rip off an 87-yard touchdown run? New York remains stout against other teams’ rushing attacks, though. I’ll air on the side of ball security — Jets (23 takeaways, plus-four turnover differential), Titans (24 giveaways, minus-eight turnover differential) — and say the Jets win by a touchdown and a field goal.
Ben: Titans. Don’t underestimate the Titans’ ability to be competitive. Four of their last five games have been decided by less than a touchdown.
Mike: Titans. This number almost certainly will drop, as OddsShark says 60 percent of the early bets are coming in on the Titans. Luckily, we get to lock it in at this number.
(EV) Buffalo Bills (6-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Bills. Big game for both teams. The Eagles’ ability to force turnovers will be mitigated by the Bills’ knack for hanging onto the football with Tyrod Taylor running the offense. Philadelphia also has problems stopping the run, and LeSean McCoy has looked rejuvenated of late.
Ben: Bills. Philly’s flying high, forcing turnovers, scoring on special teams and generally feeling optimistic about life under Chip Kelly. In other words, there’s virtually zero chance they win this game.
Mike: Bills. I’m not saying the Eagles will take it easy this week, but you have to worry about a letdown game after beating New England. Also: Taylor’s next road interception will be his first of the season.
(EV) Detroit Lions (4-8) at St. Louis Rams (4-8), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Lions. Kurt Warner’s not walking through that door.
Ben: Lions. Only the weird optics of Thursday’s loss prevent Detroit from being favored by at least a field goal, right? In a pick ’em, never take the Rams.
Mike: Lions. Vegas is telling us the Lions are the better team on a neutral site, and I’m here to tell you the Rams don’t have a quarterback. They also haven’t covered since Nov. 1.
New Orleans Saints (4-8) at (-3.5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Bucs. I have a hard time picking the Saints any week nowadays because I know they’ll have to score like 1,000 points just to keep it close.
Ben: Bucs. Beating the spread against Carolina last week might be the high point of the second half of New Orleans’ season.
Mike: Bucs. This is my “What am I missing?” special this week. The Bucs have offensive weapons, and the Saints simply have no defense. Seems simple.
Seattle Seahawks (7-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-8), 1 p.m.
*No line as of Wednesday morning
Oakland Raiders (5-7) at (-8.5) Denver Broncos (10-2), 4:05 p.m.
Ricky: Broncos. Denver is 8-1 ATS in its last nine games against AFC West opponents. Oakland, meanwhile, has fallen off a cliff, losing four of its last five contests after such a promising run.
Ben: Raiders. The Raiders have hit a rough patch, but they’ve been a reliable cover on the road this season. As a bonus, they’re 7-2 ATS in their last nine at Mile High.
Mike: Broncos. It’s tough to go against the Denver defense right now. The Broncos are allowing just 14 points per game over the last three weeks, and forcing six turnovers in that span. They’re also 8-1 ATS in their last nine divisional games.
Dallas Cowboys (4-8) at (-7.5) Green Bay Packers (8-4), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Packers. Both teams are coming off incredibly sloppy wins. But a Matt Cassel-led offense at Lambeau? I can’t do it. Here’s to hoping the Packers suck less this week.
Ben: Cowboys. The Packers’ problems aren’t enough to make them lose at home to the bedraggled Cowboys, but they are enough to make this a one-possession game.
Mike: Cowboys. Pretty much exactly what Ben said. Aaron Rodgers’ miraculous Hail Mary conveniently covered up how awful the Packers were for much of that game Thursday night.
(-3) New England Patriots (10-2) at Houston Texans (6-6), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Patriots. Just can’t wrap my head around the possibility of New England losing three straight.
Ben: Texans. Houston did just lose to the Bills, but Tyrod Taylor has better weapons and a more reliable line right now than Tom Brady does.
Mike: Texans. When more than two-thirds of the money is going on the road favorite, take the home team with the points and don’t look back.
MONDAY, DEC. 14
(EV) New York Giants (5-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-7), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Giants. Imagine if the Giants didn’t beat themselves time and again.
Ben: Giants. You’ve got to be kidding me, putting this in prime time. I guess Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. could make a play or two, and that’s all that’s necessary to win this game I won’t watch.
Mike: Giants. New York still has something to play for, which is good enough reason to take them. I guess.
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images