Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror and that means the NFL is about to get really interesting. In fact, one of my friends is a casual football fan and doesn't even begin watching football until Thanksgiving because he claims that's "when the real football starts." Yeah, he's weird, I don't know why I'm friends with him either.
Nevertheless, there's big games across the board that will have an impact on the playoff picture. Divisional rivalries are on the schedule as well as games that will impact the wild-card race. We're breaking down six games with similar point spreads. By talking through the games, you might find information or an angle you hadn't considered beforehand. All betting lines are as of Friday afternoon and courtesy of BetMGM.
Would you rather back Steelers or Browns as a 3.5-point underdog in a divisional game?
The Pittsburgh Steelers head to Cincinnati, where the Bengals are 3.5-point home favorites over the Steelers. Elsewhere, the Cleveland Browns are 3.5-point road underdogs in Baltimore against the Ravens. Which divisional road underdog are you backing?
Greg: Joe Burrow snapped his five-game interception streak at Las Vegas but I’m not sure that he’s out of the woods yet when it comes to the mental mistakes he’s been making this season. The majority of them have come in the clutch, either when he’s trying to seal away a one-score lead or when he’s attempting to overcome a single-score deficit. I like his game overall and I think he’s going to end up being a great quarterback, but this could be a matchup where Mike Tomlin bottles him up if the Steelers get enough of their players back on defense. Every single person I know is all over the Ravens this week, which makes me believe that Cleveland is going to win that game straight-up. Baltimore’s numbers against the run look good, but if you dive deeper, all the teams with stud running backs have had big days against them. The way to really beat the Ravens, though, is through the air against a secondary giving up the second-most deep plays in the NFL. If the Browns can connect on the deep ball in between pounding it on the ground, they’ll win this game. Unfortunately, that would involve Baker Mayfield acting like a competent quarterback, so I’m going to do what he can’t and pass. I’ll take the Steelers to cover.
Pete: I'm not going to disparage the good name of Baker Mayfield like Greg just did, but Mayfield has been playing through a torn labrum since Week 2. In recent weeks, he's added on heel, groin and knee injuries. There's no denying that this current version of Mayfield is a bottom tier quarterback in the NFL. Seriously, Mayfield should not be playing games in his current physical state. If the Ravens can even slightly slow down Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, they'll win this game with ease. Just think about it from a physical standpoint. How do you compensate for an injury to your non-throwing shoulder as a quarterback? More emphasis on your lower body. How can you drive and plant with your lower body when you have a knee, groin and heel injury? You can't. The Steelers gave a valiant effort against the Chargers and should get bodies back on defense. I can see Pittsburgh keeping it close, I can't see a Mayfield-led Browns keeping it close. Give me Pittsburgh.
Would you rather lay the points with Bucs or Chargers as a 3-point road favorite?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Indianapolis where the Bucs are 3-point favorites over the Colts. Los Angeles heads to Denver where the Chargers are laying 3 points on the road against the Broncos. Which road favorite are you backing?
Greg: Tampa Bay may be the absolute worst matchup you could find for the Colts. Jonathan Taylor has been looking like a demigod, but the Bucs are holding backfields to 56 rushing yards per game and they get Vita Vea back this week. On the other side of the ball, Indy’s defense is allowing the most passing touchdowns in the NFL, and you probably already know which QB leads the league in that category this year. It pains me to say this, but I’m starting to get the feeling that Brandon Staley isn’t as sharp as we thought. He abandoned fourth-down analytics after their 4-1 start, he won’t let his sensational quarterback air it out, and his team ranks last in rushing defense simply because he won’t put more than five or six men in the box. It’s truly confounding. Denver is basically built to run all over this type of defense. I’m laying the points with Tampa this week.
Pete: Oh no, I agree with Greg on back-to-back picks. If anyone is ever going to slow down Jonathan Taylor, it's the Buccaneers. Thankfully Taylor has carried my fantasy team to a point where I have some cushion and could afford a bad week. This is the highest total of the week on the board at BetMGM, which means the oddsmakers aren't expecting the Colts to do much in the way of stopping Tom Brady. Will an offense built around running the ball be able to keep up especially when you factor in the rushing defense of Tampa Bay? I'm not so sure. Seems like the Colts might be a dog with fleas. The Chargers almost blew a three score lead in the fourth quarter against Ben Roethlisberger last week and Justin Herbert is covering up a lot of flaws on this team. Out of the bye week, rookie Javonte Williams might have an increased role and he could run wild in this game. Give me the Buccaneers.
Would you rather take the Dolphins or Football Team as the home team in a game with a short spread?
The Miami Dolphins are a 1.5-point home underdog against the Carolina Panthers. Elsewhere, the Washington Football Team is a 1.5-point home favorite against the Seattle Seahawks. Which home team are you backing?
Greg: Is this the Washington team we were promised before the season started, or is it just a two-game fluke? The crazy part is, they’re winning without key guys like Montez Sweat and Chase Young. Taylor Heinicke is one of the funniest quarterbacks in the NFL to me. He has no arm strength and he’s not that accurate, yet he plays like a gunslinger and his self-confidence is through the roof. Once you believe you’re good, you sometimes start playing like it, even if you’re not. Philosophy courses should be devoting entire chapters to him. Heinicke is the next Ship of Theseus. The Panthers are too talented for this Dolphins team, both offensively and defensively. Miami’s entire offense is short passes to Jaylen Waddle, Myles Gaskin, and Mike Gesicki, then relying on them to rack up the YAC. Carolina’s defense is too quick for that to work. I’m betting on Cam and CMC against a subpar Dolphins D. Give me Washington.
Pete: We have to disagree here, right? So we have the Dolphins and the Football Team; two teams who came into the season with raised expectations after impressive years last year. Both teams have miserably failed in meeting those expectations but both teams have also shown signs of life in recent weeks. The similarities between these teams are striking. I'm not going to begin to try and figure out which team has actually turned a corner and which one is a fluke stretch, so we look to their opponents. Carolina has just turned to Cam Newton while Seattle just got Russell Wilson back from injury. We thought Newton was done as an NFL quarterback but he's actually fared pretty well in his first two games back. We thought Wilson was one of the best quarterbacks in the league but he's been putrid since returning. This is where I'll fade the narrative. I'm gonna back Russell Wilson to get back on track after a decade-plus of exceptional play while also betting Cam Newton starts regressing after he showed he's no longer an NFL starting quarterback over the past few seasons. I'll take the Dolphins to keep rolling.