1. New Orleans Saints (+5.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This pick has nothing to do with the teams and everything to do with the number. The Saints and Bucs are a fairly even matchup, with both clubs being well above average. We can split hairs and call Tampa Bay the third-best team in the NFL while New Orleans is 7th or 8th, but no matter where it shakes out in your own personal power rankings I would argue that 5.5 points is too large of a spread.
Both of these teams came out flat in Week 8; it took overtime for the Saints to squeak out a 26-23 win over the Bears, and it took the refs picking up a flag on a two-point conversion to give the Bucs a 25-23 win over the Giants. At the end of the day neither team looked very good, and neither covered their respective spread.
Perhaps they were both guilty of looking ahead to this matchup? Who knows. All I know is the Saints have kept on winning, albeit unimpressively, without their star receiver Michael Thomas, and the Bucs keep on chugging against one of the weaker schedules in the NFL. At any rate this is the most important game of the season for both of these 2-loss teams, and the winner will be the favorite to come away with the NFC South crown.
I don’t necessarily like the Saints to win, but this feels like a field goal game in either direction. I’m not sure how the Bucs got bet all the way up to a 5.5-point favorite, because given the lack of home field advantage and the fact that this game means so much, Bucs -3.5 should have been the high-water number. Tampa is getting too much respect in this spot against a team that has dominated the division for a really long time.
Score prediction: Bucs 27, Saints 24
2. Arizona Cardinals (-4.5) vs. Miami Dolphins
This is kind of a weird one and I think you could make a case for either side, but to me it’s all about Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. In last week’s win over the Rams he went just 12-22 for 93 yards and a touchdown, which registered a QBR of 25.1 (where 50 is considered average). His 4.2 yards per attempt was significantly below the 7.5 YPA average, and his ability to run (which is a supposed to be a huge part of his game) was nonexistent (2 carried, 0 yards).
Now, obviously, you expect a top-5 pick to get better as he goes along. And it’s also true that by virtue of a comfortable 28-17 win — that featured a fumble return TD, a punt return TD, and an interception that was brought back to the Rams’ one yard-line — they didn’t need Tua to do very much to win. Such a comfortable win in the box score, in a game that the Dolphins were 3.5-point underdogs, may be the reason this line is merely 4.5 instead of, say, 6.5.
I’m not super high on the Cardinals, but my perception tells me that Arizona -4.5 would have been the right number if Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing QB rather than Tua. With the Miami rookie starting his second career game — and first on the road — I would bet this all the way up to Cardinals -7 and feel pretty confident about it.
Score prediction: Cardinals 26, Dolphins 17
3. Buffalo Bills (+3) vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are one of those teams that always burns me — no matter if I’m picking them or picking against them — but I’m going to buck my own history and dance with the devil again. In this spot it’s easy, because I actually think the Bills might be the better team heading into the colder months.
Buffalo’s stock fell during a three-week stretch where they had to play the Titans on a weird Tuesday (42-16 loss), the Chiefs the following Monday (26-17 loss), and the Jets the following Sunday (18-10 win). They failed to cover the spread in all three contests, and it’s just strange scheduling that they were forced to play back-to-back games on short rest.
Last week they beat the Patriots, 24-21, in a kitchen sink game that New England absolutely had to have. Still, the Bills didn’t cover. That’s four straight losses against the spread for a team that I happen to think remains the 4th-best team in the AFC (behind KC, PIT, and BAL). If the AFC weren’t so stacked in 2020 this is a club I think could make a run at the conference championship. That’s how high I am on them.
In this spot they get to face a west coast team playing the early game on Sunday, and the Bills get them at home catching three points to boot. I know Russell Wilson is the man and the Seahawks are one of the best teams in the NFL, but this might be a spot where Buffalo feels a little disrespect for being a 6-2 team that’s a home underdog.
Score prediction: Bills 27, Seahawks 23
4. Los Angeles Chargers (PK) vs. Las Vegas Raiders
This is all about the Chargers being underrated and the Raiders being overrated. Chargers QB Justin Herbert has made it a habit in 2020 to have second half leads only to see it all come crumbling down. Los Angeles has blown games to the Chiefs, Saints, Bucs and Broncos in matchups they conceivably could have (or should have won).
The Chargers are just 2-5 on the season, but even if they went 2-2 in those four games they would be sitting at a respectable 4-3 on the year; if luck broke completely in their favor, and they were able to hold on in all of them, they would be 6-1 and we would be talking about Herbert not only in the Rookie Of The Year discussion but also as an MVP candidate.
The Raiders are coming off a grueling 16-6 win at Cleveland in a game where running back Josh Jacobs carried the ball like a million times. This might be a letdown spot for Las Vegas, and they might be running into a team that feels like they should be a lot better than their record indicates.
Score prediction: Chargers 23, Raiders 17