NFL picks against the spread: Vic Tafur’s Week 12 predictions


We’re all trying to be like Jimmy Garoppolo. Look your best, keep up a positive attitude and don’t make the really big mistake.

The 49ers quarterback has done better with the turnovers of late — a career-best three straight starts without an interception — and is surrounded by the league’s best set of playmakers, none more dangerous than the underused, underappreciated Deebo Samuel. Samuel had seven catches for 57 yards and three carries for 37 yards and a touchdown in the 38-10 win over the Cardinals in Mexico City on Monday night. He ranks eighth in the NFL and first among wide receivers with 8.7 yards after catch per reception.

The explosive Samuel could be one of the key players to watch down the stretch and one of the big reasons is because defenses can’t key on him. They also have their hands full with Christian McCaffrey — 8.8 YAC/reception — and George Kittle (fifth among tight ends with 6.7 YAC/reception).

Our picks are also hard to key on. We had another losing week and while we remain confident, there really is no rational reason to be. There are more close games than ever this season, and we have consistently been on the wrong side of them. Will our luck change? We were 2-1-1 on best bets and this week, we are riding with the 49ers over the Saints, the Ravens over the Jaguars and the Texans and Cardinals to hang tight against the Dolphins and Chargers, respectively.

Last week: 5-7-2 against the spread.

Season record: 74-85-7 ATS (Plays of the week are 11-14-3)

All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.



NFL Week 12 expert roundtable: A busy Thanksgiving, Bengals-Titans and QBs in need of a win

We want to ride the Lions with another best-bet designation, but cornerback Jeff Okudah has a concussion and their two starting guards haven’t practiced yet this week either. They are embracing the national stage Thursday and the value with the Lions the last three weeks has been their improved defense. The Lions rank 14th in defensive EPA per drive (0.08) and 13th in points allowed per drive (1.9) since Week 9. They ranked last in both categories the first eight weeks.

Aidan Hutchinson is tied for fourth among all rookie defenders and first among rookie defensive linemen in splash plays (19) and will be asked to chase down a hobbled Josh Allen. Over the first eight weeks, Allen led the league in EPA/dropback when pressured (0.21) by a large margin. He is 13th in EPA/DB when pressured (-0.19) since Week 9. The Bills not named Allen are running the ball better, which also gives us pause.

The pick: Not a best bet, but Lions +9.5

Player Props that Pop: We finally have a full menu to work with, thanks to the Turkey Day games. We’ve been on a roll lately with the few options available to us on Wednesdays (Aaron Rodgers was an easy under last week) and we start off here with Jared Goff over 245.5 yards.

The Cowboys are coming off a dominating performance in Minnesota while the Giants are really banged up. Plus, their run defense won’t have much of an answer for Tony Pollard or Ezekiel Elliott, while their blitz-crazy ways feed right into Dak Prescott’s mouth. He has completed 74 percent of his passes with no turnovers when blitzed.

Since Prescott’s return in Week 7, the Cowboys rank first in points per drive (3.05), fifth in EPA per drive (0.90), and sixth in play-to-play success rate (48.7%). Kellen Moore is hitting all the right buttons.

But … I am going with the better coach and with Saquon Barkley as the Giants seek to avenge an earlier loss to the Cowboys. He’s had an MVP-type season before last week and I think he will shine in the spotlight on Thursday against a Cowboys defense that is much better against the pass than the run.

The pick: Giants +10

PPP: Barkley rushing and receiving over 99.5 yards.

I do get personally vested in this stuff. It took me seven weeks (and seven wins, lol) to get over Kirk Cousins turtling up against the Eagles and I backed the Vikings in a good spot as a home underdog to the Cowboys. They lost by 37 points and Cowboys players were saying that Cousins was visibly shook in the first quarter.

So, now what?

Since 1940, 284 teams have won eight or more of their first 10 games. The Vikings (minus-3) are the only one with a negative point differential through 10 games (via Stathead).

The Patriots will be able to get pressure against Cousins, and their run defense should also keep Dalvin Cook moderately quiet. But I don’t have much confidence in Mac Jones or the Patriots offense and we’ll side with the home team coming off an embarrassing loss. It will be a good measuring stick for coach Kevin O’Connell. While the Vikings have the NFL’s worst red zone defense, (allowing TDs on 71.4 percent of red zone drives), the Patriots have the NFL’s second-worst red zone offense (scoring TDs on 42.9 percent) of red zone drives.

The pick: Vikings -2.5

PPP: Mac Jones under 231.5 yards passing.



Why the pass rush will be key for the Patriots against the Vikings

Can Kirk Cousins and the Vikings bounce back from last week’s blowout loss to the Cowboys? (Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today)

You can’t put much stock in the Bucs’ win over the Seahawks before their bye week, as the Seahawks were at a huge disadvantage due to the start time of the game in Munich and outplayed the Bucs once they woke up. But the Browns defense is a lot worse than it should be and the 3-7 team is in a weird spot, with their season over but Deshaun Watson back from suspension next week.

The Bucs have staggered all season, but the schedule is pretty easy from here on out. They face three NFC South games and a Christmas night game at Arizona after this one, with the only really tough games being at San Francisco and home against the Bengals.

The pick: Buccaneers -3.5

The Bengals offensive line looked good for once in a big win over the Steelers last week and this will be another formidable test for a unit that struggled the first two months of the season. Even during their hot streak, I haven’t been impressed with the Titans secondary and Joe Burrow will have to carry the water as the Titans are pretty good against the run.

As we have noted, the Bengals run defense is much better with defensive tackle D.J. Reader back in the fold. In his first game back, the Bengals had an 84.4 percent defensive success rate with him on the field against the Steelers, compared to 46.7 percent with him off. A whopping 21.4 percent of their runs with him on the field didn’t advance past the line of scrimmage.

We had the Titans over the Packers last week, and the inspiring Mike Vrabel is 9-5 overall and ATS as a home underdog. But we’ll take the Bengals riding some improvements in the trenches … and wait, are they playing Ja’Marr Chase’s walk-on music?

The pick: Bengals -2.5



NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, 49ers enter conversation as serious Super Bowl contenders

This looks like an easy one on paper, and the point spread has already been bet up by four points in four days. The Dolphins were blazing hot, having won four straight before a bye week cooled their engines. After this game, they have three straight road games against the 49ers, Rams and Bills. So, there is no way they are not looking past the lowly Texans, who just got pounded by the Commanders.

That loss cost QB Davis Mills his starting job, and it had to be done. The Texans rank 31st in EPA/drive, 30th in points per drive (1.45) and were even bad on the scripted stuff to start the games. Houston went three-and-out on 55 percent of its first two possessions of games — the highest rate in the NFL.

We have total faith that new QB Kyle Allen and Dameon Pierce can lose by less than 13 against a hopefully flat Dolphins team. The Texans defense has some potential young playmakers and they do play hard and have been more competitive (throw out last week) for Lovie Smith. Through 10 games under David Culley last season, the Texans had a point differential of minus-121 despite being plus-2 in turnover margin. This season through 10 games, the Texans’ point differential is minus-71 despite being minus-2 in turnover margin.

The pick: Texans +13.5

Zach Wilson also got benched this week. He was not playing well and acted like a brat, which was the dealbreaker because the Jets really, really weren’t too hot on going with Mike White or Joe Flacco. They probably could have won with Wilson this week as the Bears should sit QB Justin Fields and his separated shoulder. Fields played through it last week but stopped running, which is like Liam Neeson stopping from making his three vigilante movies a year. Nothing makes sense anymore.

The Bears defense has been much worse since they traded away a bunch of guys, and yet this feels like a field-goal game. I think Matt Eberflus is a pretty good coach and David Montgomery has a big day catching passes from Trevor Siemian (if Fields is out) so I will take the points in the inflated spread.

The pick: Bears +6



Rosenblatt: Jets’ Zach Wilson benching is a bold decision — and the right one

The Jets’ move to Mike White at quarterback won’t make much of a difference this week against the Bears. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

Remember when Marcus Mariota was 6-0 ATS? Well, he and the Falcons are 0-4-1 since, including last week’s push against the Bears. That slide should continue, as Washington’s defense gets a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and is pretty stout against the run, which is Atlanta’s bread and butter.

For all of Mariota’s leadership strengths and athletic ability, bad things happen when he is forced to throw the ball a lot. He just lost Kyle Pitts to injured reserve and hasn’t been able to take advantage of the other playmakers that Atlanta has — 18.5 percent of Drake London’s targets have been off target, the seventh-highest rate among players with 40-plus targets.

Washington is a playoff contender now — yeah, that’s right — and wins for the sixth time in seven weeks.

The pick: Commanders -4.5 

How bad is the Broncos offense? The Panthers are rolling Sam Darnold back out there, and I am not sure which team has the quarterback edge.

Russell Wilson’s pocket awareness and decision-making cost them a win last week against the Raiders, and the Panthers defense is a lot better than the Raiders. Denver also cut Melvin Gordon III for his fumbles, but Gordon was their best healthy running back by far.

It’s hard to roll with Darnold, but maybe he is a new man with this offensive line. The Panthers have allowed pressure at NFL’s second-lowest rate (25.8%) and the Broncos pass rush is not what it was a month ago. Darnold only needs to put up 17 points — the Broncos are 1-5 when an opposing team scores 17 points. Everybody thinks Nathaniel Hackett is getting fired at some point, and this game will further make the case that waiting until after the season is pointless.

The pick: Panthers +2

The Ravens didn’t cover for us last week but they easily could have. They did win their fourth game in a row (2-2 ATS) and their resurgent defense should be able to pressure Trevor Lawrence into some mistakes, while their run defense should also be able to bottle up Travis Etienne Jr.

The Jaguars had lost six of seven games going into their bye week, and their only hope is the Ravens continue to trip over their own feet. They have the worst red zone efficiency (52.6 percent) of any Baltimore team since 2018, down from 66 percent the last three seasons.

The pick: Ravens -4

The Cardinals started off well Monday night against the 49ers, but it sure looked like some of the defensive players quit at the end of that game. Red flag? Sure. But the 49ers are a physically dominant team. The Chargers? Not so much. Their defense never got over Joey Bosa’s injury and besides not getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback they also are a little soft against the run. James Conner should have a big day for the Cardinals regardless of who is playing quarterback. The Chargers rank 24th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency metric.

Mike Williams is hurt again and didn’t practice Wednesday, and it’s become clear that Justin Herbert needs both Williams and Keenan Allen healthy to be elite:

• His numbers with both (30 dropbacks): 81.5 percent completion rate, 8.85 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT, 56.7 percent success rate
• With either (324 dropbacks): 66.7 percent completion rate, 6.91 YPA, 12 TD, 5 INT, 44.4 percent success rate
• With neither (125 dropbacks): 66.4 percent completion rate, 5.66 YPA, 4 TD, 2 INT, 45.6 percent success rate

Yeah, I do think Herbert is just a tad overrated, and he is 7-12 ATS as a favorite of three points or more.

The pick: Cardinals +3

Justin Herbert hasn’t been as good when he doesn’t have both Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. (Robert Hanashiro / USA Today)

As I said earlier, I am throwing out the Munich result as the Seahawks were playing at 6:30 a.m. local time and they came on strong late in that game. Geno Smith just may be the real deal. The Seahawks have had an extra week to prepare for a Raiders team that is not very good defensively and needed overtime to get past an injury-riddled Broncos team that has taken away their head coach’s play-calling and late-game time management duties.

The Raiders are averaging -6.21 defensive EPA per game — the fourth-worst defense Derek Carr has played with in his career. They should be able to slow down Kenneth Walker III though, as the Raiders have allowed explosive runs at the seventh-lowest rate (7.2%)

It was a nice win for Carr, after an emotional week. He and Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs are certainly capable of outscoring the Seahawks, but I am not sold that the offense will take off now because they made some plays late against the Broncos. The Seahawks are the better, rested and more prepared team.

The pick: Seahawks -3.5

The Rams are waving the white flag. The defense made Andy Dalton look like Tom Brady last week and Matthew Stafford is not playing this week. Bryce Perkins is the new Rams QB and he is your guy if you want to gamble on a team trying to score late to cover a huge point spread. It opened at 10, is now at 15.5 and I won’t be surprised if it hits 17.

I will take points as the Chiefs have nothing to play for, having all but clinched the AFC West last week with the win over the Chargers. They feast on third-and-long, but they won’t be in third-and-long this week. The Chiefs have previously been favored by 14 points or more five times with Patrick Mahomes. They’re 5-0 but … 2-3 ATS.

The pick: Rams -15.5

We are thankful to the Rams for making the Saints look good this week and for this number not skyrocketing after the 49ers’ dominant performance in Mexico. Since acquiring McCaffrey, the 49ers are fifth in points per drive (2.78) and fourth in EPA/drive (0.95). The Saints don’t pressure the quarterback or stop the run particularly well — and it won’t matter what hints Trent Williams drops.

Dalton really struggled against the Ravens’ and Steelers’ pressure the previous two weeks, and the 49ers defense makes those two look slow. The 49ers are allowing 1.49 points per drive, which stands as the lowest average by a San Francisco defense during the Shanahan era.

I don’t know if the 49ers have emerged as the NFC favorites yet, but this is not even a speed bump.

The pick: 49ers -9.5

The Packers are done, and that win over the Cowboys was more about Dallas taking a nap up 14 points. Rodgers just doesn’t have time to throw and when he does, his receivers stink. And, he hasn’t been as accurate as he has in the past. Maybe a broken thumb has something to do with that.

Green Bay also can’t stop the run. The Packers have surrendered a league-worst 11 drives of 80-plus yards.

The Eagles, meanwhile, haven’t covered the spread three weeks in a row, with close wins over the Texans and Colts sandwiched around their only loss, to the Commanders. Jalen Hurts won’t be bothered by the Packers’ blitzes, as he has six touchdowns against one interception against extra rushers.

The Eagles have the defense — and the coordinator, according to Nick Sirianni — to frustrate Rodgers and they have addressed their run-defense issues by adding Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh. The Eagles’ 67.9 percent success rate vs. the run in Week 11 was their second-best mark of the season. On the 18 snaps that either Joseph or Suh were on the field, the Eagles allowed just 2.83 yards per carry and 0.72 yards before contact per carry — less than half of the 1.65 yards before contact the first 10 weeks.

The pick: Eagles -6.5

We obviously all owe Jeff Saturday an apology. We said he had no business being a head coach, but he beat the Raiders and almost beat the Eagles. Apparently, everyone has been lying when they say coaching in the NFL is tough.

He has relied heavily on the run, as the Colts have an early-down pass rate in the first 28 minutes of 41 percent, making them the seventh-most run-heavy offense in the NFL the last two weeks. That is not a great plan against the Steelers, who rank fifth in success rate (64.3 percent) and are stuffing 21.8 percent of runs at or behind the line of scrimmage — the seventh-highest rate in the NFL.

Matt Ryan was under siege by the Eagles last week and I expect more of the same from T.J. Watt and company. I have been building a case to bet the Steelers here but there is no value in that point spread. And the Steelers have too many questions to get no value. Gus Bradley’s defense will make it hard for rookie Kenny Pickett, and I certainly don’t want Pickett and less than a field goal on the road.

Saturday gets no respect!

The pick: Colts -2.5

— TruMedia research courtesy of NFL editor Aaron Reiss. 

(Graphic: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photo of Deebo Samuel: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)


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