USA TODAY Sports

NFL Week 10 preview & picks - Midseason Madness

The playoff picture takes shape

Seth Dunlap
November 08, 2018 - 8:08 pm
Categories: 

November could be the most critical month on any NFL calendar.  The late season divisional games in December get more publicity, but often it’s the games of the preceding month that hold more importance. 

The reason for this is simple – head-to-head playoff tiebreakers are often determined in these inter-division games.  Take the Saints-Rams showdown last Sunday.   With their 45-35 triumph, New Orleans now hold the tiebreaker over Los Angeles for playoff seeding, which means if the two teams finish with the same record – a very distinct possibility, as both teams currently have one loss – then it’s the Saints who would have the advantage for seeding in the NFC.

This is just as important when determining Wild-Card playoff berths.  Those tiebreakers are usually determined well before the end of the season when teams battling for those spots play each other before the divisional scrums take over around the holidays. 

Those Wild-Card battles are shaping up to be real fights, especially in the NFC when you have at least five teams – the Packers, Seahawks, Panthers and some combination of Philadelphia/Washington and Minnesota/Chicago – vie for just two spots into the playoffs.

Right now, the Seahawks and Packers look to be fighting uphill battles.  Those two teams will actually play each other next Thursday night in what will be a critical showdown, and likely defacto elimination game, for both teams.

So enjoy the NFL mid-season madness.  It’s just beginning to get really fun.

Now, on to the picks!

 

Panthers @ Steelers (-3.5)

The traditional Thursday night stinkers are taking the rest of the month off and giving way to some real intriguing football games between some of the league’s most prominent franchises – as fans have been constantly reminded this season by those incessant Fox television promos.

That stretch starts this week with a separation game between team’s looking to put distance between themselves and other playoff contenders in their respective conferences.   The Panthers are one of the league’s surprise teams and typically Ron Rivera’s teams travel well.  They’ll need to be again this year, as they play four of their next five games away from Charlotte.   So far it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the Panthers on the road, with a win in Philadelphia but one score losses at Washington and Atlanta. 

They’re facing a rejuvenated Steelers unit on a short week.   Pittsburgh has reeled off four consecutive wins and now sit atop the AFC North with a win already under their belt against second place Cincinnati.   Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t reported to the team, and it looks less and less like he will with every passing week.   Bell's agent reportedly found a loophole that would minimize the damage should he decide not to report to the team this season.  If he doesn’t by next Tuesday, it’s probably not happening. 

Pick: Steelers 30, Panthers 24

Against the Spread: Steelers (-3.5)

 

Saints (-5.5) @ Bengals

One of the most over-used, and usually incorrect, sports adages is describing road games played by the NFL’s upper class as “trap games”.   Too much of that is being thrown around when discussing the Saints trip to Cincinnati.  Not sure how this could be a “trap” game for New Orleans when they’re on the road playing a team that’s 5-3 and has made the playoffs six times in the past decade. 

The Bengals are a legitimately good football team.  It’s commonplace to see good teams beat great ones throughout the NFL season.  Great is the only way to describe the Saints now, after their consecutive wins against the Ravens, Vikings, and Rams, with the first two being on the road.   Last week’s knee-capping of Los Angeles in front of a national audience has the rest of the country finally realizing with Picks HQ has known since August – that the Saints should be the favorite to win the Super Bowl this February. 

It certainly would be no surprise here if the Bengals upset the Saints at home.  Many expect them to keep it close with an offense that is averaging nearly 28 points per game.  However they’ve been beaten handily by three best teams on their schedule this season, losing to the Panthers by 10, the Steelers by seven, and in Kansas City by 35.

Pick: Saints 34, Bengals 24

ATS: Saints (-5.5)

 

Patriots (-7) @ Titans

Another game where some analysts are recklessly throwing around the phrase “trap game” in describing the Patriots trek to Nashville.  

Anybody who has actually paid attention to NFL football the past 15 years knows that Bill & Tom don’t fall into “traps”.  That’s especially true against the AFC South. In his 17+ seasons as the starter for New England, Tom Brady has played 32 games against teams in the AFC South.  He’s lost six times.   The Titans have beaten him once.  

That’s an absurd level of dominance in a league that thrives on – and promotes – its parity.  The Patriots also easily dispatched the Titans in last year’s playoffs, winning 35-14 in Foxboro. 

Don’t expect an upset here, but the Tennessee defense is playing like one of the best units in the league.  They have allowed an NFL-low 141 points, and haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 26 points all season.  The Titans are a sneaky good play against the spread here.

Pick: Patriots 27, Titans 22

ATS: Titans (+7)

 

Washington @ Tampa Bay (-3)

Washington has been treating this NFL season like Theon Greyjoy treated those Ironborn soldiers on the beach outside of Dragonstone.

They were beaten down by the Colts in Week 2, but recovered to dominate the Packers the following week.   After their Monday night humiliation in New Orleans, they beat back the Panthers and took control of the Ironborn fleet . . . err the NFC East division race.

Washington still gets disrespected by the sports punditry and certainly by the sports betting public, most of whom are almost certainly going to overreact to last week’s home loss to the Falcons. 

Are people really still on board this Tampa-is-good-with-FitzMagic storyline?  That was supposed to fizzle out a month ago.

Pick: Washington 23, Tampa Bay 20

ATS: Washington (+3)

 

Dolphins @ Packers (-10)

The Packers season hangs in the balance here.   They already have five non-wins on their resume (four losses, one tie), and have lost three of their past four games, and four of their past six.  With a short-week trip to Seattle looming, followed by a road game in Minneapolis, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that the Packers playoff hopes would completely evaporate with a loss here.

Luckily for them they get a Dolphins team that will still be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill.   Unfortunately for the Packers, that Miami offense has been relatively efficient with Brock Osweiler under center, averaging over 21 points per game including a 31 point effort last month against the formidable Bears’ defense.  

The Packers have faced two supposedly-inferior teams at home this season, beating the Bills 22-0 and sneaking by the Rams 33-30.  Even their game against Buffalo wasn’t as dominating as the score might suggest. They are also coming off brutal back-to-back slugfests against the Rams and Patriots.   The Pack could make a Bills-like statement on Sunday, but it’s more likely that we’ll see a comfortable Green Bay win that’s closer than most people expect.

Pick: Green Bay 30, Dolphins 23

ATS: Dolphins (+10)

 

Seahawks @ Rams (+10)

The Rams finally lost on the field last week in New Orleans, but they’ve been a disaster against the spread since early October.  They are 1-4 ATS in their last five games, and this is another line that seems a bit too high against what is a better-than-advertised Seahawks team.

That’s a long way of explaining that the Rams haven’t been nearly as dominant as the casual fans might think since September ended.  The Rams are like the anti-Billie Joe Armstrong.

Still, it must be at least a little scary to be a Seahawks coach trying to prepare for what undoubtedly will be an angry Rams team.   The Seahawks had a hard time beating the Rams when they were bad.  Are they really going to beat them in this spot?

This is also the biggest underdog Russell Wilson has been in his career.   I smell back-door cover or surprisingly-competitive game.

Pick: Rams 34, Seahawks 26

ATS: Seahawks (+10)

 

Cowboys @ Eagles (-6.5)

There would be no sweeter headline for Philly sports fans on Monday morning than “Eagles end Jason Garrett era in Dallas.”   Surprisingly, that would be only the second-worst headline this week for Cowboys fans after “Dez signs with Saints.”

With the Eagles rested coming off their bye, and Cowboys looking more dysfunctional by the week, this has the potential to get ugly . . . real ugly.  Oh, and the last two times these teams played when the Eagles weren’t resting their starters, Philadelphia won 37-9 and 27-19. 

An Eagles win coupled with a Washington loss would also vault Philadelphia back into a tie for first place in the NFC East.

Note:  This is a perfect example as to why you should shop the lines a bit if you’re actually betting these games.  You could get the Eagles at -6.5 at the Mirage on Thursday afternoon, when nearly every other brick-and-mortar or online sports book had them at -7. 

Pick: Eagles 30, Cowboys 20

ATS: Eagles (-6.5)

 

OTHER GAMES

Lions @ Bears (-6.5)

Pick: Bears 27, Lions 20

ATS: Bears (-6.5)

 

Cardinals @ Chiefs (-16)

Pick: Chiefs 37, Cardinals 17

ATS: Chiefs (-16)

 

Falcons (-5.5) @ Browns

Pick: Falcons 28, Browns 20

ATS: Falcons (-5.5)

 

Bills @ Jets (-7)

Pick: Jets 23, Bills 13

ATS: Jets (-7)

 

Chargers (-9.5) @ Raiders

Pick: Chargers 31, Raiders 20

ATS: Chargers (-9.5)

 

Giants @ 49ers (-3.5)

Pick: 49ers 23, Giants 20

ATS: Giants (+3.5)

 

Last week straight up:  8-5

SEASON STRAIGHT UP:  62-27-1

 

Last week against the spread:  8-5

SEASON ATS:  53-50-2

 

Comments ()