In honor of the latest “Star Wars” movie being released this week, let us give some advice to our handicappers by quoting lovable space renegade Han Solo:
NESN.com’s panel of expert pickers got a little big for their britches last week and began tooting their horns about how they’ve nailed most of their picks against the spread this season. Fittingly, they then all went out and laid an egg. The football gods are always watching.
Here’s how the standings look so far:
Ben Watanabe: 106-89-4 (Last week: 5-9). Took some underdogs like Houston, Tennessee and Dallas, and was laughably wrong.
Mike Cole: 103-92-4 (Last week: 3-11). That’s not the way to keep the heat on the leader.
Ricky Doyle: 92-103-4 (Last week: 7-7). Chalk up his .500 week as proof holiday miracles are possible.
Let’s take a spin through this week’s picks. (All lines, as always, courtesy of OddsShark.)
THURSDAY, DEC. 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) at (-1) St. Louis Rams (5-8), 8:25 p.m. ET
Ricky: Rams. In theory, this could be the final professional football game ever played in St. Louis, as the Rams finish with back-to-back road games and owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the team to Los Angeles. As such, there should be some emotion swirling at the Edward Jones Dome. I’ll roll with it.
Ben: Bucs. The Rams’ only weapon is running back Todd Gurley, and Tampa has held four of its last five opponents to 87 yards or less on the ground.
Mike: Bucs. All the numbers say Tampa here, as the Bucs are 6-3 against the spread in their last nine and 5-2 ATS in their last seven road games while St. Louis is 1-4-1 ATS in its last six.
SATURDAY, DEC. 19
(-3) New York Jets (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9), 8:25 p.m.
Ricky: Jets. It takes a lot to stand out as the worst team in the NFC East. Congratulations, Dallas.
Ben: Jets. This is officially the second “Thursday Night Football” game of the week, and it’s on Saturday. That makes about as much sense as taking the Cowboys.
Mike: Jets. The Packers fired up the blitz machine against Matt Cassel, which slowed the Cowboys’ offense. No one likes blitzing more than Todd Bowles.
SUNDAY, DEC. 20
(-8.5) Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-9), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Chiefs. If Ryan Mallett slept through this game, would anyone blame him? The Chiefs are one of the hottest teams in football while the Ravens are playing out the string with a depleted offense.
Ben: Ravens. As a loose rule, Baltimore doesn’t get blown out, last week’s beatdown against Seattle being the exception. Oddsmakers are getting a little aggressive with K.C.’s lines, as evidenced by the Chiefs’ failure to cover an 11.5-point spread against San Diego.
Mike: Chiefs. I like to pay attention to the trends, but when a team’s two quarterbacks are Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett, as Baltimore’s will be Sunday, that changes some things.
Houston Texans (6-7) at Indianapolis Colts (6-7), 1 p.m.
*No line as of Wednesday morning
Atlanta Falcons (6-7) at (-3) Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Jaguars. I’ve developed some bedroom eyes for that Jacksonville offense. Don’t tell anyone.
Ben: Jaguars. The Falcons’ defense is dog food — make that “cat food” — and the Jags’ offense should have another field day.
Mike: Jaguars. The Jags are one of the best bets in recent weeks — 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven — while the Falcons haven’t covered in their last five games.
Chicago Bears (5-8) at (-5.5) Minnesota Vikings (8-5), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Bears. Only one of Chicago’s last five losses — a six-point overtime loss to San Francisco in Week 13 — has been by more than three points.
Ben: Bears. It will be sunny, clear and not too cold Sunday in Minny, so Jay Cutler should be able to move the ball well enough even if Chicago’s D can’t rein in Adrian Peterson.
Mike: Bears. The home team has won six of the last seven games between these two teams, but 5.5 points feels like an awful lot for the Vikings to cover after they’ve come back to Earth in recent weeks.
Tennessee Titans (3-10) at (-15.5) New England Patriots (11-2), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Patriots. Only the 49ers have surrendered more sacks this season than the Titans. It could be a long day for Marcus Mariota, given how well New England’s defense is playing.
Ben: Patriots. Gronk’s back, Bill Belichick has figured out the offensive line and the Pats are at home. And it’s the Titans.
Mike: Patriots. I’d probably take the Patriots by 25.5.
(-5) Carolina Panthers (13-0) at New York Giants (6-7), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Giants. This is the week Carolina loses. I swear.
Ben: Panthers. The good folks over at OddsShark tell me 71 percent of the early bets came in for Carolina, and I’m among them.
Mike: Panthers. The only thing the Giants can do right now is throw the ball, which should be neutralized by a Panthers team that’s held opposing quarterbacks to a league-best 69.6 passer rating.
(EV) Buffalo Bills (6-7) at Washington Redskins (6-7), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Bills. Washington is 0-9-1 in its last 10 games ATS versus AFC East opponents. The Bills should be able to run the football against a Redskins rush defense ranked 29th in the NFL with 4.6 yards allowed per carry.
Ben: Redskins. Matt Jones might have the lowest football IQ of anyone of the planet — including natives in the deepest, darkest jungle who have never heard of football — yet even with him, the Redskins still are less likely to beat themselves than the Bills are.
Mike: Redskins. Because Washington has been a good home team? That work?
(-3) Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Oakland Raiders (6-7), 4:05 p.m.
Ricky: Packers. The Raiders’ offense — a unit that was firing on all cylinders earlier this season — looked very bland again last week despite Oakland’s win over Denver.
Ben: Packers. Oakland’s had some difficulty covering at home (2-4 ATS at O.co Coliseum) and Green Bay gets a warm-up before a tough two-week stretch to end the regular season.
Mike: Packers. … just as long as Khalil Mack doesn’t kill Aaron Rodgers.
Cleveland Browns (3-10) at (-16) Seattle Seahawks (8-5), 4:05 p.m.
Ricky: Seahawks. So many points, yet so understandable. OddsShark score prediction models think Seattle will win 38-9, which seems about right, given how dangerous the ‘Hawks are right now.
Ben: Seahawks. Hey, great job against the Niners last week, Johnny Manziel. But Seattle’s D will be a harder nut to crack, both for you and your team’s run game.
Mike: Seahawks. Cleveland finally figured out its running game, which is the good news. The bad news, of course, is Seattle’s allowing just 3.6 yards per rush this season.
Denver Broncos (10-3) at (-5.5) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Steelers. Pittsburgh scored 30 points against Seattle (No. 3 in the NFL with 18.1 points allowed per game) and 33 points against Cincinnati (No. 2 in the NFL with 17.6 points allowed per game). Can the Steelers enjoy more offensive fireworks against the Broncos, who are tops in the NFL with just 17.3 points allowed per game? Maybe. Maybe not. But they should score enough to cover, given that Denver has scored only one offensive touchdown in its last two games — against teams with beatable defenses (Chargers and Raiders), no less.
Ben: Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is battling Russell Wilson for the season’s second-half MVP, and Pittsburgh is 3-1 ATS in its last four games.
Mike: Steelers. We saw a few weeks back against Seattle that Pittsburgh has options, even if you take away both Antonio Brown. (Hello, Markus Wheaton.) The Seahawks won that game in a shootout, but Seattle’s offense is much better than Denver’s right now.
Miami Dolphins (5-8) at (-1) San Diego Chargers (3-10), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Dolphins. Give. Lamar. Miller. The. Football.
Ben: Dolphins. The Chargers, at home. ‘Nuff said.
Mike: Dolphins. Lamar Miller blew up Monday night against New York, and there’s no reason to believe Miami won’t try to replicate that success against the NFL’s sixth-worst rushing defense.
(-4.5) Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) at San Francisco 49ers (4-9), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Bengals. A former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback hasn’t won an NFL game since 1987. That changes this week unless AJ McCarron decides to play with his feet.
Ben: Bengals. The Niners just let a bad quarterback (Johnny Manziel) hide by making his running backs look superhuman, so invest in Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
Mike: Bengals. Nope, that line’s not big enough to trick me into taking the 49ers.
(-3.5) Arizona Cardinals (11-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Cardinals. If an actual eagle faced an actual cardinal, I’d absolutely go with the more patriotic bird. Presumably, that’s not happening Sunday night in Philadelphia, though, so give me the Cardinals, who are less likely to lay an egg on national TV.
Ben: Cardinals. If I actually was laying money down, I wouldn’t touch any game involving the Eagles. They’re as unpredictable as a Jersey bro at Xfinity Live! after a Flyers game.
Mike: Cardinals. Arizona doesn’t always make it pretty, but it finds ways to win. A late field goal makes it a cover.
MONDAY, DEC. 21
Detroit Lions (4-9) at (-3) New Orleans Saints (5-8), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Saints. Monday nights just aren’t what they used to be.
Ben: Lions. I suppose I need to go with the team that employs Megatron against the defense that gives up almost 280 passing yards per game on average.
Mike: Saints. Neither of these teams have anything to play for, so I’ll take the Saints, who are 7-2 (4-1 at home) on Monday night since 2010.
Thumbnail photo via Andrew Innerarity/USA TODAY Sports Images
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