NFL WEEK 13: We’ve hit December, which means temperatures are dropping and the NFL season is heating up… something tells me we’re in for a fun ride these next six weeks.
The playoff picture seems hopelessly jumbled at the moment, especially when you consider the extra Wild Card berth in each conference this season (it’s now all four division winners plus three Wild Card teams per conference), but December brings clarity, and we’re going to see the true Super Bowl contenders emerge while the pretenders fall by the wayside. That all starts this week, and we have a terrific slate on tap, with a few games looking like potential playoff eliminators and others like potential playoff previews.
Our own winning streak ended last week, as Jacksonville was the only one of our three games to cash, but that only means it’s time to start another one. With that in mind, here’s what’s in the plans for Sunday:
Tennessee Titans @ Philadelphia Eagles (PHI -4.5, 44.5)
Recommendation: Tennessee +4.5 at 1.91
I know they keep on winning, but the Eagles aren’t playing as well as they were earlier in the season, and they just might be ripe for the picking. Look at their last three games: a 32-21 loss to Washington, a 17-16 win over a Colts team that has lost 5 of 6, and a 7-point win over Green Bay that saw the Packers put up a season-high 33 points. Things get a bit tougher this week with a Tennessee team coming to town that had won 7 0f 8 prior to last week’s 20-16 setback against Cincinnati, especially since the Philly defense has struggled against the run lately, surrendering 131 rush yards per game in the team’s last 4 contests, and the Titans have a fully healthy Derrick Henry and an offensive line that will be boosted by the return of center Ben Jones from concussion protocol.
Defensively, the Titans have been nearly impossible to run against, ranking 3rd in the NFL in allowing just 84.5 rush yards per game and 3.9 yards per attempt. That means Jalen Hurts is going to have to win this one with his arm, and though he has proven capable of doing so on occasion, making the Philly offense one-dimensional is the goal of every defense that faces them, and the Titans are the type of team that can pull it off. I expect a tight, relatively low-scoring game here, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Tennessee were to win outright. That said, taking the 4.5 points feels like the smart move.
Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -9, 39.5)
Recommendation: Baltimore -9 at 1.93
I’m nominating this one for the bloodbath of the week: Denver is a terrible team with a washed-up quarterback and a first-year coach who is all but guaranteed not to see a second. After getting thumped in Carlina by the lowly Panthers last week the Broncos have now lost 7 of 8, scoring 16 points or fewer in each of the last six losses. And the defense, the strength of the team, has collapsed up front and is now getting routinely gashed in the run game, surrendering 185 rushing yards to Carolina last week despite the Panthers ineptitude in the passing game– in other words, they knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop it. They should know what’s coming this week as well, because Baltimore is an unapologetic smash-mouth, run-first team. The Ravens rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing and QB Lamar Jackson is the league’s most dynamic threat, so this will be a test unlike any the Broncos defensive front has experienced this season. I expect them to fail this test, just as they have failed many others these past three months. The Ravens had won 4 straight before a disappointing 1-point loss in Jacksonville last week, and I fully expect them to get back on track with a resounding win over one of the league’s sad sacks.
Washington Commanders @ New York Giants (WAS -2, 41)
Recommendation: Washington -2 at 1.94
The NFC East is unexpectedly the best division in football this year, and both of these teams would be playoff-bound if the season ended today. But we still have six weeks left, and the way the Giants have been playing lately I’m not sure they’ll be in the playoff picture once January rolls around. The G-Men have lost 3 of 4, with the only win in that span coming over the lowly Texans, and the losses haven’t been pretty– a 14-point defeat in Seattle, a 13-point loss to Detroit, and an 8-point loss against Dallas. They’ve been struggling to put up points now that defenses have been keying on Saquon Barkley and the running game, as the Daniel Jones-led passing attack has been anemic once again, producing just 180 ypg through the air (28th in NFL).
The strength of the Washington defense is the front seven, and that group has been tough to run on all year, ranking 3rd in the NFC in rush yards allowed. Offensively the Commies have found a groove with QB Taylor Heinicke at the controls; Heinicke’s mobility and fearlessness have made him more than just a “game manager”, and he’s been helped greatly by the emergence of rookie RB Brian Robinson, who is coming off the best game of his young career, an 18-carry, 105-yard effort in last week’s win over Atlanta. The potent Washington rushing attack will now face a Giants defense that has been porous against the run, surrendering 5.2 yards per attempt (31st in NFL), so this sure seems like a juicy matchup for them. These are teams headed in opposite directions and I expect that trend to continue on Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals (KC -2.5, 52)
Recommendation: Cincinnati moneyline (to win) at 2.21
In what is perhaps the week’s most compelling matchup, the AFC West-leading Chiefs travel to Cincinnati for a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. The Chiefs have won 5 straight and 7 of 8, so betting against them on the moneyline is always a risky proposition, but something tells me they’ll be stepping into a hornet’s nest this week, as the Bengals seem to be peaking and Joe Burrow will finally have all of his weapons at his disposal… the first time you could say that since October. The loss of Ja’Marr Chase changed everything about the offense because he is normally the guy defenses key on, and he is certainly Cincinnati’s most dangerous deep threat. But Burrow and the offense found ways to get it done anyway, scoring 30 points or more in 4 of their past 5 wins and winning 5 of 6 overall. Now Chase is back, as is Pro Bowl RB Joe Mixon, who missed last week with a concussion, and the Bengals should be ready to roll against a Kansas City defense that is vulnerable in the secondary. The Cincy defense has been tough this year, ranking in the top-half of the league in every major statistical category, and though they surely won’t be able to stop Mahomes & Co., they should be enough of a speed bump to give Burrow a fair shot to win a shootout. I like his chances.