Week 13 in the NFL has all the makings of a wild slate.
First place in five of the eight divisions are separated by a game or less, putting a huge emphasis on every contest the rest of the way. Things will get even crazier when you consider December is upon us, and the weather won’t improve any time soon.
This week’s a weird one, though, as there are no divisional matchups. No worries, though, as there are plenty of can’t-miss showdowns starting Thursday night. Perhaps the best news? The Cleveland Browns are off this week.
Here’s how the NESN.com NFL picks crew fared last week and for the season.
Mike Cole: 9-6-1 (72-98-7): The blind squirrel found a nut last week.
Andre Khatchaturian: 6-9-1 (76-94-7): Rough week, and now Mike’s on his heels.
Ricky Doyle: 9-6-1 (80-90-7): Another big week should wrap this up for Ricky.
On to the Week 13 picks, with lines courtesy of our amigos at OddsShark.
(-3) Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings, Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys. Love that the line is down to 3, which is probably a trap of some sorts, but Dallas has been able to control the clock against everyone this season, so why would that change now? And if they build a lead, Sam Bradford ain’t coming back.
Andre: Cowboys. Dallas’ biggest weakness is that they don’t force turnovers and they allow 5.9 yards per play (27th in the NFL). But that won’t matter against Minnesota. Dallas wins because they lead the league in time of possession, five-minute drives and 10-play drives. I don’t think Minnesota has enough to keep the Cowboys off the field.
Ricky: Cowboys. It didn’t take a genius to see Minnesota’s early-season success was a product of their defense playing out of its mind. With that level proving unsustainable and an offense that consistently struggles to move the football, we’re seeing the Vikings for what they are and it isn’t all that pretty.
Los Angeles Rams at (-13.5) New England Patriots, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Rams. Just too many points, in my humble opinion. A late score gets the Rams a backdoor cover.
Andre: Patriots. All of this talk about the Patriots defense being a weakness will be put to rest when New England shuts down the hapless Rams, who managed to accumulate just 247 yards against the Saints defense in Week 12. The Pats are also 5-1 in their last six games ATS when favored by double-digits. I’ll also take Bill Belichick against a rookie quarterback any day of the week.
Ricky: Patriots. This is a lot of points, and Jared Goff gave Los Angeles a reason for optimism last week despite the Saints trouncing the Rams in New Orleans. But I’m still not betting against the Patriots in this particular situation, as it’s hard to imagine the Rams’ offense keeping pace with the hosts’ offense, even with New England’s obvious defensive flaws.
Detroit Lions at (-5.5) New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Saints. At some point, the Lions losing in the fourth quarter of literally every single game is going to catch up with them. It might be here against a Saints team that’s especially good in the first half at home (17 points per game), a team that might build a lead too big even for Matt Stafford and the Lions to erase.
Andre: Lions. Any time you give me the Lions with that many points, I’ll take them. All of their games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and they are more than capable of being in a shootout against the Saints. Matt Stafford has 12 touchdowns and just one interception in the last seven games and he has faced some tough defenses in that span (Rams, Texans, Vikings twice, Jaguars).
Ricky: Saints. The Lions don’t exactly get after the quarterback — 25th in the NFL with 20 sacks, last with 41 QB hurries — and the Saints have done a good job of keeping Drew Brees upright. If Brees has time to throw, he’ll make you pay, and New Orleans’ running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower is proving just as dangerous of late.
(-1.5) Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. Both teams are dead, so let’s take the points and the home team.
Andre: Eagles. Philadelphia is in the middle of the pack in sacks but they’re third in defensive hurries with 87. Andy Dalton has been sacked 32 times this year (second-most) and he hasn’t performed particularly well in the last three weeks against solid defenses (Giants, Bills and Ravens). Not having A.J. Green isn’t going to help either.
Ricky: Bengals. The Eagles are 1-5 on the road, where they’re averaging 4.9 yards per play and giving up 6 yards per play. The banged-up Bengals hardly instill confidence, but I like them here.
Houston Texans at (-6.5) Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Packers. I liked the Packers’ matchup last week, and I like it even more this week. Green Bay’s defense showed signs of life against a mediocre Eagles offense on Monday, and they should have similar success against Brock Osweiler and Co. Oh, and Aaron Rodgers’ passer rating over the last six games? 104.1.
Andre: Packers. Green Bay’s pass rush is underrated. They’re fifth in the league in sack percentage and Brock Osweiler under pressure isn’t a recipe for success. Side note: Where the heck is DeAndre Hopkins? Zero touchdowns in his last six games.
Ricky: Packers. If the Packers can bottle up Lamar Miller and make Houston’s offense one-dimensional, they shouldn’t have a problem covering at home with Aaron Rodgers playing the way he is right now.
Kansas City Chiefs at (-3.5) Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. The Falcons’ offensive line is sneaky leaky, which is bad news given how Justin Houston played last week. It’s even worse news if Dee Ford returns.
Andre: Chiefs. The Chiefs lead the league in takeaways, turnover differential and have Justin Houston, who looked better than ever in Kansas City’s win over Denver with 10 tackles and three sacks. The Chiefs also don’t turn the ball over (just three giveaways in the last seven games) and we all know how important ball security is for the Chiefs’ success.
Ricky: Chiefs. The Falcons already lost Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant for the season. Now, it appears they’ll be without one of their better pass rushers, Adrian Clayborn, for some time. Count on Marcus Peters to lock down Julio Jones and for the Chiefs’ inconsistent offense to do enough to possibly sneak out of Atlanta with a win.
Miami Dolphins at (-3) Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Miami keeps finding ways to win, but this is a big test, especially against the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense. The Fins could have even more trouble scoring given some injuries on the offensive line and to receiver DeVante Parker.
Andre: Dolphins. The Dolphins lead the league in defensive hurries with 83 and Cameron Wake is a beast with 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the past six games. Miami has 11 takeaways compared to just two giveaways during their six-game winning streak.
Ricky: Ravens. For whatever it’s worth, these teams have stunk against the spread in December recently: Miami is 5-15 ATS in its last 20 December games and Baltimore is 0-11 in its last 11 such contests. Someone has to jump out of the loss column in this one, though, and we’re betting it’ll be the Ravens, who should be able to take advantage of the Dolphins’ banged-up offensive line and neutralize Miami’s typically explosive rushing attack.
(-5) Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Broncos. Denver now finds itself on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, and it needs this win in a bad way. Expect the Broncos to take advantage of the the NFL’s worst team in terms of turnover differential.
Andre: Broncos. Here’s the only thing you need to know about this game: Jacksonville has the second-most giveaways in football this year with 22 and the Broncos have the third-most takeaways with 20.
Ricky: Broncos. See above. It’s going to be a long afternoon for Blake Bortles, who keeps proving he’s not a good NFL quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers at (-1) Chicago Bears, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bears. Don’t watch this football game.
Andre: Bears. For a bad team, the Bears aren’t that bad. They have the fifth-best yards per play differential and they’re going up against the Niners who have the worst yards per play differential.
Ricky: 49ers. San Francisco’s unbelievably bad run defense — the Niners have allowed an NFL-worst 5.1 yards per carry and 171.8 rushing yards per game — almost steered me toward Chicago. Then, I remembered Matt Barkley is playing quarterback for the Bears. And Colin Kaepernick, regardless of what you think of his philosophical views, is playing very well under center for the 49ers.
Buffalo Bills at (-3) Oakland Raiders, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Raiders. Rex Ryan’s team already went to California and won a game this season, but that was against the Rams, who turned the ball over three times, including a pick-six. The Raiders probably will take care of the ball a little better than that.
Andre: Raiders. Looks like Derek Carr is going to be OK after that injury scare. What’s interesting is that according to ESPN Stats & Info, Carr’s deep ball numbers improved after the injury. While the Bills rely on a heavy pass rush (33 sacks, second), the Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in the league, led by Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn. Carr has only been sacked 13 times this season.
Ricky: Raiders. Is this a sucker’s bet, seeing as how we’re relying on a quarterback who’s coming off a discloated finger that forced Oakland’s offense to operate exclusively out of the shotgun down the stretch in Week 12? Perhaps. But Derek Carr showed no ill effects of the ailment as the Raiders defeated the Panthers, and the Bills, meanwhile, have seen their red-zone defense go from tops in the NFL to 19th over Buffalo’s last five games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (-3.5) San Diego Chargers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Bucs. Tampa Bay is forcing turnovers at an insane rate, getting at least two takeaways in five of their last seven games, winning all five. San Diego, meanwhile, has turned it over at least twice in seven games this season.
Andre: Chargers. Hey, Mike. You forgot to mention that the Chargers are pretty good at forcing turnovers, too. They’re second in the league in takeaways with 23. There’s a lot to like about the Bucs, but I think they fall flat after two big wins against the Chiefs and Seahawks.
Ricky: Bucs. Figuring out what you’re going to get from either of these teams on a weekly basis is almost pointless, especially now that Tampa Bay’s defense has cleaned itself up in recent weeks after looking like garbage at the beginning of the season. The Bucs are in the playoff hunt and really need a win, though. Plus, you’re giving me more than a field goal? Sure.
Washington Redskins at (-2.5) Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Redskins. The Cardinals’ overall defensive numbers look good, but things are starting to fall apart as they’ve allowed 30, 20, 30 and 38 points in their last four games. Don’t expect that to change against a high-powered Washington offense.
Andre: Redskins. I’m in love with Washington’s offensive line. Kirk Cousins has only been sacked 14 times this season and if he gets protection, I can see him making plays. The Redskins have also been putting pressure on quarterbacks all season long with 28 sacks (7th) and Arizona’s line is very shaky as their quarterbacks have been sacked 33 times this season (third-most).
Ricky: Cardinals. It’s been a disappointing season in the desert, and the Redskins’ offense can put up points. But I can’t stop imagining David Johnson going off against a terrible Washington run defense that ranks 31st in the NFL with 4.7 yards allowed per carry.
New York Giants at (-6) Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. The Giants are technically one of the NFL’s hottest teams, although they’ve been winning against clubs like Cleveland, Los Angeles and Chicago. While I’m still not sold on Pittsburgh, the Steelers are averaging 28.3 points per game in the six full games they’ve had Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Andre: Giants. The Giants are for real. They allow just 5.1 yards per play (7th) and after struggling to force turnovers in the early part of the season, they’ve forced 11 in the last five weeks and have a plus-five turnover differential in that span.
Ricky: Giants. The Steelers have won back-to-back games following their four-game losing streak, but keep in mind those victories came against the lowly Browns and a Scott Tolzien-led Colts team. Granted, you also could make the case the Giants have beat up on bad teams during their six-game winning streak, but New York’s defense passes the eyeball test, and Eli Manning should find success against Pittsburgh’s questionable secondary. This spread seems a little high.
Carolina Panthers at (6.5) Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Panthers. The Seahawks should win this game, but Carolina gets after the quarterback (third in sacks), which is how you beat most teams in the NFL.
Andre: Panthers. What Mike said.
Ricky: Seahawks. Seattle’s offense scored just three points — three! — in a 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 12. The unit was performing well in the weeks leading up to that matchup, though, so don’t panic. Defensive studs Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas, as well as starting center Justin Britt, are expected to return for Seattle this week, while Carolina again will be without its defensive leader, Luke Kuechly.
(-2.5) Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Colts. The Colts will get a boost from the likely return of Andrew Luck, but facing the Jets doesn’t hurt, either. There’s also a little revenge factor here after the Jets stomped Indy on a Monday night last season.
Andre: Jets. The Jets defense has been excellent as of late. They’ve allowed just 4.7 yards per play in the last three games. Andrew Luck has also been sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL. I think the Jets resurgent defense puts pressure on Luck, forces a few turnovers and wins at home.
Ricky: Jets. I’d feel better about this pick if the Jets’ supposed No. 1 cornerback, Darrelle Revis, actually wanted to play football. But either way, I’ll take the home team and the points, especially with New York’s defense showing life and Indianapolis’ knack for letting Andrew Luck get punched in the mouth every week he plays.
Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images