Merry Christmas everyone, I hope everyone enjoyed a joyous time with their friends and loved ones. With Christmas, we have one of the better sports weekends of the year. It is near the end of 2020, the year has seemed like a decade in and of itself. But the 2020 football season has treated the column well - we have gone an astounding 51-33-2 on the year and are looking to finish the year strong once again.
We have an exciting five games to breakdown and another pick for late Saturday, and as a quick reminder: If you’re gambling this weekend, make sure to do it with our friends at MyBookie. Use promo code “TORRES” and MyBookie will double your first deposit. You want to bet $25 on the Packers on Sunday, MyBookie will give you $50 to play with. It’s the best deal in sports gambling.
One Note before we start: Understanding Narrative Street:
When betting the last few weeks of the NFL, narratives often become more of a factor than the analytics we typically use. So I have to go back to my roots as a journalist, to see which team has the most to play for as far as motivation. This often leads to more “square” plays than usual, but that is totally fine by me. It’s extremely important during this part of the season to look at transcripts of recent press conferences to see what set of minds the teams are at, specifically the teams that aren’t in playoff contention anymore. The more reading and investigating you do, the better your bets will be.
Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Spread: Miami (-2.5)
The Dolphins have been money for us all year. The Dolphins have a league best 11-3 ATS record and are 20-10 ATS since Brain Flores has taken over. The Raiders have lost four out of their last five overall, with their one win coming from a miracle Hail Mary against the Jets. The Raiders are rolling out back up QB Marcus Mariota and the former Oregon star does have something to prove. But the Dolphins just faced a mobile quarterback in Cam Newton last week, which should help them prepare for this one.
The Raiders offense will have a huge test going against the Miami defense that ranks number one in the NFL in scoring and turnover percentage. Mariota has struggled with ball security and throwing interceptions throughout his entire career. Not to mention that the Raiders' defense has been abysmal this season - two reasons you just can't back the Raiders in this spot. Vegas ranks 29th overall in defensive DVOA and they rank 31st against the run. Last week the Dolphins ran for 250 yards on the Patriots defense, and a ground and pound strategy should have similar success in this spot here.
This is a must win spot for this Dolphins team. I love the Dolphins in this spot giving up slightly less than a field goal. Call me “Joe Public” . I don’t care, use common sense, take the Dolphins here.
The pick: Dolphins -2.5
Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
Spread: Pick 'Em
Talk about narratives: The Steelers have fallen down a damn cliff. From being the last undefeated team, to losing three straight and at risk of losing the division. This, while the Colts have been rising, winning five of their last six games. Phillip Rivers looks like a competent quarterback for the first time in a minute. This is a must win for both teams and should be a fun game to watch.
While we have been high on the Colts and low on the Steelers for the entire year, we are going to flip and pick the Steelers here. This is the ultimate buy low spot in Pittsburgh. The entire world watched the Steelers lose embarrassingly to a tanking Bengals team with Ryan Finley at quarterback. The Pittsburgh offense was bad, averaging a 39 percent success rate against one of the worst defenses in football. When everyone is down on the Steelers, we are going to buy in here. Mostly because we are betting against Phillip Rivers up against one of the best defenses in football. The Steelers held the Bengals to just 4.1 yards per play last week and held the Bills to 4.2 yards per play in the first half. The Steelers still rank 1st overall in defensive DVOA and they still lead the NFL in pressure rate.
Now they will face a Colts offense with an immobile quarterback, below average skill position players, and they will be missing both of their offensive tackles. Specifically, the Colts offense has been less efficient without Anthony Castanzo in the lineup. While Indy's defense has been good and the Steelers offense has been bad, the Colts have been susceptible to explosive passing plays and that is the only way the Steelers have been able to move the football.
I would love to see an AFC North deciding matchup with the Steelers and Browns next week, but unfortunately the Steelers avoid that dreadful matchup taking care of business against the Colts here.
The pick: Steelers Pick 'Em
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs
Spread: Kansas City (-10.5)
The Chiefs somehow settling for push against the Saints, somehow ruined a third straight week with four wins on the card. The Chiefs have really been on cruise control. They have not covered a number in their last six games, despite scoring over 30 points in four of those contests.
In this one, we get the mismatch of the century between Patrick Mahomes and the Atlanta Falcons defense. The Chiefs rank first in offensive DVOA, second in scoring, and first in yards per play. They will be going against a Falcons defense that ranked 29th in yards per play, 28th in passing defense, and 28th in red zone touchdown percentage. With Patrick Mahomes looking to put on more MVP numbers in the closing weeks, this is a perfect smash spot for him. It is also a perfect week for points, it is going to be a sunny 55 degrees in Kansas City.
With Kansas City scoring a million points, the Falcons offense will be forced to keep up. The Falcons already pass the ball at the fifth highest clip in the league, and with a receiving core of Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones they should be able to put up points. Kansas City has let teams have a lot of offensive success in the second half, and I believe we get that scenario here. I don’t trust the Chiefs to cover, but the over 53 seems like a very safe play.
The pick: Over 53
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams
Spread: Seattle (-1)
This is another perfect buy low spot on the Rams. After losing 23-20 to the Jets, everyone is selling on Los Angeles. In reality this is the perfect matchup for the Rams. Since Sean McVay got to LA, the Rams have won five out of six against Seattle. McVay knows how to pick their defense apart. These teams played in November and the Rams controlled the entire game, leading by two scores most of the way. If the Rams take care of business against the Jets, the Rams are probably favored by 2.5 or maybe even three on the road.
We know the formula with Goff, if he's pressured, Goff is bad, when he is clean in the pocket Goff is good. Although Seattle leads the league in sacks over the past five weeks, they struggle getting to the quarterback without sending five or more. Goff is surprisingly completing 64 percent of his passes against the blitz this season, and Goff is very familiar with Seattle’s scheme. Seattle has been killed against slot receivers all year, and Cooper Kupp should have himself a game.
Defensively, the Rams rank fourth in overall DVOA and are the best team in the NFL against the pass. They allow the lowest rate of explosive plays in the NFL, and the explosive passing game is a center point of Seattle’s offense. Jalen Ramsey can take away D.K Metcalf, and Donald can single handedly provide pressure on Wilson from the interior.
This is one of my favorite bets of the year, take the Rams.
The pick: Rams ML
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers:
Spread: Green Bay (-3)
This may be the Sunday Night Football game of the year. Expect points, lots and lots of points. The Packers can clinch the No. 1 seed in Lambeau and a big performance can allow Aaron Rodgers to jump to the top of the MVP race. There is nothing better to cap off the Christmas weekend than an excellent Sunday night football matchup. Well, there is one thing, I don’t think this is going to be a magical Christmas weekend game to remember for the Packers.
Insert Derrick Henry into the chat, the Titans' monster running back who is going to have himself a game. The Packers rank 21st in rush DVOA despite facing the easiest schedule of rushing offenses, and they have to face King Henry who has run for 1,621 yards this season and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns. The Packers defense is weak at the point of attack, and we have seen the Packers defense get killed by rushing offenses- look up Raheem Mostert’s performance in the NFC championship game.
The Packers will have success against this Titans defense that ranked 27th in DVOA as well. We have documented how bad the Titans defense is. But when you have a game with 23 degree weather, scattered showers, and 10-20 mile an hour wind- I’ll take the team with the better running game.
The Titans are more public than I would like, but Tennessee is the pick for Sunday night.
The pick: Titans +3
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Spread: Buffalo (-7.5)
Let's go on a trip down narrative street. The Bills are coming off their first division title in over two decades, and now they face Bill Belichick and the Patriots on Monday Night Football, in what is essentially a meaningless game if the Steelers win against the Colts. Even if the Steelers lose, the Bills can move up from the three seed to the two seed, but the second seed does not have much significance without the bye. If the Steelers lose, it opens up an opportunity for a surging Baltimore team to become the seventh seed. Let me ask you a question: Would you rather face Phillip Rivers, or Lamar Jackson? I’m assuming it would be the former, and you can make an argument that coaches don't think about these scenarios, but I can guarantee you Sean McDermott knows- he definitely knows.
On the other side, you have a Patriots roster full of guys who are essentially playing for their jobs. On defense, the Patriots had multiple opt-outs, so these young starters are getting their last chance to put out good film. What better way to prove you belong in the NFL than by shutting down the top Bills offense on Monday Night Football. Then you add the fact Josh Allen has not had a QBR above 50 when facing the Patriots over the course of his career. The Patriots pass defense ranks 8th in pass DVOA, and it also looks like Stephon Gilmore will return to the New England lineup this weekend.
Then you have the Patriots offense, which has been abysmal throughout the year. This is essentially Cam Newton’s last ride and his last chance to prove he is a starting QB in the league. In his press conference, he admitted it, saying he won’t be playing for anyone next year if he continues to put on the same film week after week. This run heavy New England offense should have success against a Buffalo defense that has struggled to defend the run all year long. In the spotlight of Monday Night Football, I think we see a vintage Cam Newton type game. Bill Belichick is going to stake a claim that he is not done yet and is ready for vengeance next year.
I simply do not see the Patriots dynasty collapsing in one year, and Monday night will show 2020 has been more of a road block than a structural collapse of the team. I typically do not back teams that aren’t in playoff contention, but I have sold myself on the Patriots narrative here. The Patriots will kill every teaser and money line parlay on Monday night football. Give me Bill Belicheck and the points.
The pick: Patriots +7.5
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive
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