Happy New Year, though sadly, that means we’re winding down on the football calendar, entering the penultimate week of the campaign. Let’s make the most of it while we still have regular season football.
Overall Record*: 33-26-1, +8.47 units
*Each over/under graded to win 2 units; everything else for 1 unit
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans
Boom! Right here is the type of matchup John Madden would prefer to broadcast. Two surging, very talented defenses squaring off in what is a vital game for each squad’s’ playoff position in the AFC.
Not only that, we’re probably going to get some muddy weather based on the Sunday morning forecast. All the makings of low-scoring action reside in Nashville.
First, both defensive units are a sight to see right now. There’s no defense that is hotter than the Dolphins, who actually are No. 1 defensively in the NFL in fewest points (11.7) and yards (256.6) allowed per game since Week 9. During this time, of course, they’ve pulled off a historic seven-game win streak after beginning the campaign 1-7. Clearly, the defense is the driving force behind their ascension.
Tennessee’s D is also running strong. Following the bye week — which came after their first back-to-back losses of the season — the Titans have won two of three, as their defense limited opponents to below 20 points in each contest. Contrast that to the first 12 games, in which they notably accomplished this just four times, and they haven’t been better.
So, we’re getting two defenses at the top of their game — while each is drawing a favorable matchup and conditions for a good showing. At least based on what the offenses have been showcasing as of late.
With Derrick Henry (foot) out the last eight weeks, Tennessee has topped 20 points only twice. The current iteration of the running game is far from intimidating and, really, so is quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Yeah, this is a revenge game for the former longtime Dolphins signal-caller. If anything, though, that just gives the defense an extra edge, having seen Tannehill in practice so often for several years and therefore wielding a familiarity.
Helping Miami’s cause of shackling their old leader is the tough weather. Tannehill does not hold an encouraging track record playing in such conditions, registering a poor 68.0 passer rating when the temperatures hover at 40 degrees or below. He’s not good in precipitation, too.
Miami, meanwhile, is cruising on offense during the winning streak. That’s evident in how they’ve cranked out at least 20 points on the scoreboard in six straight.
However, I see that number as being right around their ceiling for this particular assignment given the environment they’ll be playing in. Tua Tagovailoa has looked sharp the last two months but in addition to this matchup being one of his toughest tests to date, the harsh conditions can play a role keeping his play down to earth.
In his lone game as a pro in these cold temps last year, Tagovailoa threw three picks. That combined with the Titans’ tenacious, bully-like style will create havoc and minimize the offense’s outlook.
Being right below that key number of 41, I recommend buying a half point to be protected in the event of a 24-17 score. Pick: UNDER 41 (-120)
Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Spread: Raiders +8/Colts -8
Fortunately for Indy, the NFL’s recent change in policy granted the opportunity for Carson Wentz to come off the COVID list after clearing protocols this morning.
That certainly beats the alternative of having to start Sam Ehlinger under center.
Still, I like the Raiders to at least hang around in this encounter. Let’s factor in that Wentz hasn’t practiced all week and after dealing with COVID, there’s no question he is way out of routine entering Week 17. Vegas possesses a defense that can capitalize and make things difficult.
Most importantly, the Raiders have improved considerably against the run as of late. This solid play, along with the defense getting closer to full strength today, figures to help prevent Jonathan Taylor from another monster showing.
The Raiders on offense, meanwhile, have been a true Jekyll and Hyde group of the league. Five times this year they’ve cleared 30 points on the scoreboard. Five other times, though, they didn’t top 14.
Given the extra sense of urgency with their playoff lives on the line, I think we’ll get something closer to the better version of this team. Derek Carr is still having a nice season, as evident in his 94.8 passer rating, and he’s getting an opponent whom he’s mastered as of late. These two clubs have actually met in each of the prior three seasons and the 30-year-old engineered at least 27 points in each. Pick: RAIDERS +8 (-110)
Jaguars +17 —> +30
Buccaneers -14.5 —> -1.5
Cardinals +6.5 —> +19.5
Packers -13 —> PK
There are a handful of enormous favorites on the slate this week but only a pair of them stick out enough to me for a teaser.
Obviously, Tom Brady against the Jets is a no-brainer. Even with numerous key Bucs players dropping left and right lately, the only thing that matters is Brady getting to visit his old punching bag for possibly the last time. Who knows if he’ll ever see the lowly Jets again for the rest of his career?
After Kirk Cousins landed on the COVID list this weekend, it became academic to include the Packers as the other heavy favorite simply needing to win. With Sean Mannion leading Minnesota onto the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field containing single-digit temperatures. Enough said.
We’re also attaching two underdogs, each of a different kind. Jacksonville, of course, is the perennial underdog no matter who lines up across from them. But 30 points? We just need them to lose by 30? Really?
The Jaguars are a wretched football team but even this is a task they are capable of not fumbling. Thirty points they’re getting.
And while taking on the Mac Jones-led Pats. I’m willing to trust those Jags here.
Arizona is also being deployed in this teaser, taking part in a very important affair at Dallas that they could very well win despite their struggles as of late.
Except the beauty is that we only need them to not lose by 20 or more points. The same team that began the year 7-0 and was getting all adulation. The Cardinals may have fallen off since then but they’re still a playoff-level bunch worthy of trust.
Kyle Pitts Over/Under 47.5 Receiving Yards
One trick to securing player props this time of year is identifying milestones or incentives that a player is shooting for.
For instance, Antonio Brown is close to bagging another million if he hauls in a certain number of receptions, yards and touchdowns in his two remaining games.
We’re gonna eye another spot instead; this in the form of a season rookie record.
No freshman tight end has logged more receiving yards in their first campaign than — get this — Mike Ditka, who accumulated 1,076 yards through the air in 1961 (and that was in 14 ballgames). He’s also the only rookie at his position to surpass the vaunted 1,000-yard plateau.
Well, Pitts is currently sitting pretty with 949 yards, needing 128 more across these final two weeks to surpass the legendary former Bears coach. Pitts knows this and so does quarterback Matt Ryan. They were asked about it, after all.
The Falcons, obviously, can’t just worry about record-chasing, as this is still a meaningful bout for their postseason aspirations. However, the matchup being a December date in Buffalo points to a points-chasing game script nevertheless.
Most likely, the Bills are going to win this game decisively. That means Matty Ice would have to throw more frequently playing from behind, and guess who he’s going to be looking for most frequently?
Right, Pitts, especially while Calvin Ridley remains out for mental health reasons.
If Atlanta does pull off the big upset (they’re 14.5-point underdogs, by the way), Ryan’s fingerprints would be all throughout, and that, too, indicates plenty of work for Pitts ahead. Plus, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also consider that the former Gator has topped this minuscule total of 47.5 yards in his last four outings.
Either way, Ditka’s going to be following this record-breaking pursuit by the Pro-Bowler thinking one thing: Come on, man! Pick: OVER 47.5 Yards (-115)