December 20th, 2015 (9:25 AM ET)
There are 3 NFL Sunday picks!
1) Take San Diego Chargers at -1 spread against Miami Dolphins for 3% of the bankroll.
This is not only the final Chargers home game of the season but could very well be the last time they play in front of this crowd ever! Those that don't believe this fires up a team don't know Phillip Rivers well. As captain and QB, Rivers will want to go out on a high and will be demanding maximum effort from his teammates. The veteran quarterback has played his entire career in San Diego and will be determined to end on a winning note. In the backfield, RB Melvin Gordon has not had the season that many expected of the rookie but he's growing in confidence and recently promised big things to come in the future. We wouldn't be surprised if the speedy combination of him and Woodhead caused problems for Miami today.
Neither of these two teams will be making the playoffs or is playing well. However, while both come into this game off a defeat, the home team is much more likely to bounce back. That's because the Bolts have known for awhile that they will not be making the postseason while the Dolphins still had a mathematical chance as recently as last Monday when they took on the Giants at home. They had their good and bad moments in that game but ultimately did what they've often done this season which is fail to finish strong and fall short. That eliminated them and may well have cost Dan Campbell the chance to remove his 'interim' tag and remain as head coach next year. After that deflating narrow home loss, they had to fly coast to coast to play a game in San Diego and that does not bode well for them.
The Chargers' defense has played much better over the last two weeks, it is the offense that has let them down. The absence of one of the best wide receivers in the league, Keenan Allen was always going to impact them. Now that Inman and company have built somewhat of a rapport with Rivers however after quite a few snaps and a couple of games, we expect them to fare better against a Dolphins defense that is underperforming. Suh was the big offseason acquisition and that has not worked out well. Not only is he not performing as the level he is capable of but he's created some friction in the locker room with some of his comments and antics. This Miami team isn't the most united right now and the injury to their best pass rusher, Cameron Wake all but derailed their season.
There are rumors that Mike McCoy may not be around as head coach much longer if they fail to show some kind of progress over the next few games. The truth is that he's done a solid job overall and has had some unfortunate injuries to deal with this season. Nonetheless, with his job perhaps on the line, we expect him and his players to be extra motivated to put in a good performance today. Rivers has consistently shown his ability to read the secondary and make changes when necessary and has had an excellent season despite the Bolts' struggles. Look for him to connect with TE Antonio Gates on important downs. On this afternoon, we expect this squad to put in one of their better performances of the season and get a W in what is their final home game. There is a reason the 3-10 Chargers are favored in this contest. And at this short spread, all they have to do is win for us to get a cover or at least a push. Go against the fading Dolphins as their long trip to West coast does not end well.
2) Take Cleveland Browns at +14.5 spread against Seattle Seahawks for 3% of the bankroll.
Laying 14.5 points in an NFL contest is an extremely risky proposition. Although they are not something that can be counted on, backdoor covers and late scores are incredibly common in this league and something that needs to be taken into consideration when spotting a team this many points and something that we intend to take advantage of.
The Seahawks are playing at an extremely high level recently and there is no doubt the betting public has taken notice to that fact. They are coming off of 2 completely lopsided blowout victories which has severely skewed perceptions. We had stated that Seattle is a quality team, even when they were just 4-5 on the season and many were doubting them but now that they have won 4 in a row, they are a bit overvalued and many have forgotten the fact that this is still a team that has some issues.
This version of 'Legion of Boom' is not as dominant as they have been in recent years. We saw earlier this season how shaky the Seattle defense was without Kam Chancellor on the field and he will likely once again be out of this contest. Chancellor had been held out of practice all week to heal some nagging injuries and to rest. The fact that they may not truly "need" him on the field against what should be a perceived "easy" game against the Browns means that the team may take the cautious approach and hold him out of this contest. Even if Chancellor does play, he likely won't be at 100% and giving it his all which could be the different in holding the score within the two touchdown spread.
Not only has the defense struggled somewhat this season, but CenturyLink Field hasn't been as nearly a guaranteed win as it has been in years past. The Seahawks were nearly unbeatable at home the last few seasons, but have already accrued two defeats on their home field this season! Chances are they will pick up the victory over the Browns, but will they do so in another blowout fashion; we don't believe they will. The Seahawks are no doubt a bit overconfident coming into this matchup after two blowout wins on the road and thinking that the Browns should be another "easy" win, but they have key injuries that are piling up and are widely going unnoticed.
As if missing star RB Marshawn Lynch wasn't bad enough, Pete Carroll looked like he had a solid backup in Thomas Rawls but he is now out for the season! Seattle is now looking at laying more than two touchdowns without an established running back! On top of that, big off-season acquisition, TE Jimmy Graham is also out while veteran WR Ricardo Lockette was lost earlier in the season. While Wilsson is used to this Seattle offense and can do well in Graham's absence, Rawls was performing very well as Lynch's backup and he'll be sorely missed this afternoon.
This is also a letdown spot for Seahawks since their next 2 games are against not only division opponents in the Rams and Cardinals but two teams that have beaten Seattle this season and they will no doubt be looking for revenge against. They will surely be more motivated for those two games that the one that sits right in front of them. Their goals for this contest will be to simply pick up the victory and come away as healthy as possible. Pete Carroll does not care if his team wins by 10 or 20. We don't believe they will be looking to pile up the points against a non-conference opponent they have no bad blood with. They will instead focus on avoiding injuries while simply getting the W. The margin of victory is unlikely to be as great as many people think given the managerial tendencies and this particular scheduling spot.
Let's also not forget that Pete Carroll likes to rely on kicker Steven Hauschka and often settles for field goals instead of touchdowns to ensure that his team simply picks up the victory. That could go a long way in ensuring that the Browns have an opportunity to cover this spread with a single score. Even if Seattle does have a huge lead at half time or going into 4th quarter, there's always a chance for a backdoor cover when laying this many points.
The Cleveland Browns may be one of the worst teams in the league, but they will be motivated to take to the road and play a team that has appeared in back to back Super Bowls. This is unquestionably a big game for them to prove to people that they can be competitive against the best the league has to offer. Every player wants to measure themselves up against them and so this game means more to them than some other teams that are out of the running.
Not only will the players be motived, but the staff will be as well since coach Pettine and others want to keep their job for next season. His job is in jeopardy but after winning last week, an inspired display in Seattle could go a long way toward convincing upper managemnt otherwise. On the field, QB Jonny Manziel, former Heisman Trophy winner who has led this Cleveland team to 2 of their 3 wins also has a point to prove. While we are not fans of Manziel on or off the field, he is being given a chance and just like last week, he's keen to do well to cement his spot in the starting lineup. He's messed up enough times that he knows this is now his chance to impress and keep the quarterback job. Otherwise he'll be on the bench again next season with his career quickly heading south.
Manziel did well last week and may do so again today against a defense that is suddenly very arrogant and again may be missing a couple key players. Not only that, but just like Russell Wilson, he does have quick legs and has the ability to scramble and make something happen out of nothing. In that sense, he's harder to contain since he's a dual-threat QB. One additional attribute he does possess is his ability to play in high-pressure games since he experienced plenty of them in college and is used to having the spotlight on him. He has a lot of flaws but one thing he's not, and that is afraid. Being brave is part of being a good QB and Maziel for all his flaws, has that attribute. He won’t have an easy time against the Seahawks and still makes questionable decisions at times but he does give this team a chance to stay within this generous spread.
With Manziel, Pettine and some others hoping to keep their job, look for Cleveland to play better football than many other teams with no playoff aspirations do this week. People have seen Seattle deliver some blowouts recently but this situation is different given the scheduling spot, motivation level, and injuries. Isaiah Crowell had a breakout game for the Browns last Sunday and finally has a bit of confidence heading into this game. The betting public is all over the former champs but we believe they'll have losing tickets on their hands at the end of the game while sharps take advantage of this inflated spread and cash out with the unfancied underdogs.
3) Take Minnesota Vikings at -5.5 spread against Chicago Bears for 3% of the bankroll.
The Chicago Bears are no strangers to playing closely contested games this season. They have dropped three games by exactly 3 points; have a two point loss on their resume and even managed to lose a game in overtime! For the most part, Jay Cutler and company have been competitive, yet lack the mindset and playmaking ability to finish games. That has become evident over the last two weeks having watched them lose back to back home games against the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. This is a game that we doubt will be closely contested as this situation favors the home side.
Kicker Robbie Gould missed a short range FG attempt which would have won the game only for Chicago to eventually lose in OT against the lowly 49ers! The normally reliable veteran then missed a critical shot in their loss to Washington last week which would have tied the game. That result pretty much summed up the entire Bears season this year and now being out of the running for a postseason spot, they don't have much to play for and we believe that will be the difference. The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, come into this contest with everything to play for. After dropping their last two games, they need a solid showing to bounce back and keep their Wild Card spot while maintaing pressure on the division leading Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings last took the field on Thursday 12/10 in a narrow defeat in Arizona and should be well rested heading into the contest. Let's not forget that the Vikings have one of the best weapons in the NFL in running back Adrian Peterson. While the Bears have been solid against the pass this season, they have been vulnerable to the ground game. Peterson is the league leader in rushing yards at 1,251 yards on the season, and is in a unique position with three games remaining to achieve some impressive milestones. In terms of yards gained on the ground, the 30-year-old can turn in one of five best seasons in NFL history among running backs that are at least 30! What makes him due for a bounce back here is that he's been held to less than 70 rushing yards in the past two games . He is only 169 yards away from Priest Holmes’ fifth-best performance by a 30-year-old (or older) running back. He also needs just 240 to tie Barry Sanders in that category and 385 to pass Corey Dillon. The former Oklahoma Sooner is also on pace to move ahead of Fred Taylor for 16th on the league’s all-time rushing list. Finally, he can also become just the eighth running back in NFL history to win three or more rushing titles!
Peterson has been a workhorse for this team for a number of year and we expect them all to do what they can to allow their workhorse to achieve these milestones. He has been somewhat bottled up by his standards recently, failing to crack the 100 yard mark in three of his last 4 games. Granted two of those games have comes against elite level defenses in the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. Against a somewhat soft and suspect Bears run defense, he should find success and we believe we will see a heavy dose of AP in this contest. When he's not getting the ball in backfield and is resting on the sidelines, Matt Asiata and McKinnon have provided useful alternatives.
The last time these two teams met on Nov 1st, the Bears played a nearly perfect game and yet still managed to come up 3 points short. Jay Cutler was impressive as he went 20 of 33 for 211 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The Vikings however were able to completely bottle up the backfield and held to Bears to just a mere 97 rushing yards on 25 attempts. Chicago amassed just 308 total yards and scored only 20 points despite not turning the ball over a single time and that game was played at Soldier Field! The Nov 1st meeting shows just how well the Vikings can contain the Bears offense. Cutler does not historically perform well in winter as the temperature drops. Minnesota has learned a lot over the last few games and barring a late backdoor cover by the Bears, the Vikings should have no problem winning comfortably as we foresee them having a double-digit lead at times.
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