Justin Fields, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Jacoby Brissett, Tom Brady, Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes. Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Trey Lance …
It’s been a record year. When Sam Howell and Nathan Peterman start on Sunday, that will make for 66 different starting quarterbacks in the NFL this season. According to the NFL, that marks the most starting QBs in a single season in league history, excluding the 1987 strike season. Bet you didn’t appreciate that you were a part of that magic.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Daniel Jones, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Jared Goff, Aaron Rodgers, Baker Mayfield, Mac Jones, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Jameis Winston, Geno Smith, Mitch Trubisky, Davis Mills, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Cooper Rush …
Eleven quarterbacks have played in all of their team’s games, while both the Rams and Cardinals have used four starters. Baker Mayfield has started for both the Panthers and Rams, while magician/Cardinals quarterback David Blough became the first player to star in two “Hard Knocks” series in one year (thanks to his preseason stint with the Lions).
Brian Hoyer, Taylor Heinicke, Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, Deshaun Watson, PJ Walker, Colt McCoy, Kyle Allen, Bailey Zappe, Trevor Siemian, Joe Flacco, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins, Tyler Huntley, Sam Darnold, Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Mike White, Sam Ehlinger, Brock Purdy, Jeff Driskel, Desmond Ridder, Brett Rypien, Gardner Minshew, Trace McSorley, Nick Foles, Joshua Dobbs, Skylar Thompson, David Blough, Jarrett Stidham, Nathan Peterman, Sam Howell.
What does all of this have to do with us? Most of these guys stink and I guess it’s another reason why it’s tough to pick winners against the spread. (Surely, it’s not me …)
I did go 3-1 with the best bets last week so we have an outside shot of finishing above .500 there. We’re rolling with four underdogs, the Browns over the Steelers, Rams over the Seahawks, Lions over the Packers and Commanders over the Cowboys
Last week: 8-7 against the spread.
Season record: 117-133-5 ATS (Plays of the week were 3-1 last week and 23-26-3 overall)
All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.
What a finish to the season for Jarrett Stidham. The fourth-year quarterback makes his first NFL start and throws for 365 yards against the vaunted 49ers defense, and now gets a nationally televised showcase against the Chiefs. Did we mention he is a free agent this spring?
Stidham’s 10 dropbacks out of the pocket were a season high for the Raiders. Josh McDaniels didn’t like Derek Carr like that. Stidham was 5-for-7 for 120 yards, two TDs, two first downs and zero sacks on those plays. Josh Jacobs and/or rookie Zamir White will continue to help take the pressure off of Stidham.
The Chiefs, though, will be able to once again outscore the Raiders. Patrick Mahomes — even if he is struggling with mechanical issues — can throw on the Raiders’ secondary, much less everybody else, and the Chiefs will be able to run on the Raiders after that defense lost linebacker Denzel Perryman.
The pick: The Chiefs never blow out teams anymore. Raiders +9.5
Derek Carr fiasco a far cry from Unitas, Peyton or even Matt Ryan: Sando’s Pick Six
The Titans have lost six games in a row and can still punch their playoff ticket with a win here. That’s pretty incredible. The Jaguars put up 36 points in the teams’ first meeting and Trevor Lawrence has caught fire as the Jaguars have won five of six games down the stretch. The Titans were missing a lot of defensive starters that day, but they’re back and Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson is out this time.
Apparently, I am a sucker for Mike Vrabel and the toughness that he has instilled in his team over the years. Of course, picking the Titans means I am riding with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. But he is plenty warmed up. Last week, with Dobbs starting, the Titans passed on 58.8 percent of early down plays in the first 28 minutes as running back Derrick Henry was resting up for this game.
The Jaguars rank third in pressure rate (36.9 percent) but 28th in sack rate (5.1 percent), so there is some hope for Dobbs. Last week, against the Cowboys, he was 6-for-17 for 93 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, two sacks and four first downs when pressured.
The pick: Titans +6.5
The playoff-bound Buccaneers are not going to rest their starters because Tom Brady doesn’t like to tarnish the league’s competitive spirit. That doesn’t mean that he will play the whole game, though. This point spread is therefore wonky, but the Buccaneers aren’t really that good with their starters, so we’ll take the Falcons and the points. You like to hear that Arthur Smith has total buy-in when you take a home underdog in the final week.
Plus, the Bucs are likely relieved to have won their division last week and might just take a big exhale.
By the way, Brady leads the NFL in completions (477) and attempts (716) for the second season in a row. Before coming to Tampa, he’d never led the league in completions and only once before led the league in attempts (516 in 2017). He has also taught the Bucs something. If he plays in Las Vegas next season, he can get a senior-citizen line pass at the buffets and magic shows.
The pick: Falcons -4
It’s impossible to predict how the Bills will bounce back from that awful scene on Monday night, though there has been great news about Damar Hamlin’s recovery. The Patriots, while the defense can be tough on certain days, have fallen short all season long against top teams.
The pick: Bills -7
Bills’ Hamlin making ‘remarkable recovery,’ communicating by writing
Nathan Peterman behind a very bad offensive line. That doesn’t sound like a winning formula, with the Bears taking a knee and resting Justin Fields, and for us winning means losing by fewer than eight points.
Chase Claypool, whom the Bears traded a second-round pick for, won’t be much help. There have been 111 receivers who have run 90-plus routes since Week 9 when the Bears acquired Claypool. Among that group, Claypool ranks 75th in yards per route run (1.12), 104th in yards per target (4.8) and 104th in first downs per target (21.7 percent).
The Vikings, though, may determine they have nothing to play for, as the only way they can claim the No. 2 seed in the NFC is if the 49ers lose to Blough and the Cardinals in the afternoon window. Plus, the Vikings haven’t covered in four straight games when they were trying and Justin Jefferson now has a thing that apparently can slow him down.
(Flips a coin.)
The pick: Vikings -7.5
Lamar Jackson (knee) missed his 13th straight practice and John Harbaugh won’t even take questions about a possible return date anymore. That’s not good. Since Week 13, when Jackson exited with his injury, the Ravens rank 22nd in third-down conversion rate (33.9 percent) despite being 10th in average distance to go on third down (6.4).
It’s hard to know how the Bengals will bounce back from Monday’s canceled game, but it doesn’t seem like the Ravens defense will slow down Joe Burrow or that the Ravens offense can keep up. And it seems like Zac Taylor is the right coach to get them to put their best foot forward.
The pick: Bengals -7
Dehner Jr.: Zac Taylor shows nation humanity Bengals have long valued, admired
Talk about pressure. The Bears are resting Fields, so the Texans have to lose here to secure the No. 1 pick in the draft. No more funny business, Lovie Smith!
Smith has done a good job this season. The Texans have lost by an average of 11.08 points per game, compared with 17.15 points per game last season. Smith’s defense ranks 14th in points allowed per drive (1.87) — last season, it was 27th (2.39).
The Texans have not won a home game all season, and Sunday is no time to start. Let Sam Ehlinger make some plays, wink, and not only will you get the first pick, but you also may convince the Colts to bring back the overwhelmed Jeff Saturday for another season.
The pick: Colts -2.5
The Dolphins still have playoff hopes, despite having lost five games in a row. Turns out there is a pretty big dropoff from Tua Tagovailoa to Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson. The Dolphins’ explosive pass rate with Tua was 21 percent. With Thompson/Bridgewater, it’s 15 percent. (Tua’s 21 percent would rank first in the NFL, while 15 percent would rank ninth.) Mike McDaniel has to own some of the team’s skid as well.
Mike White is playing hurt for the Jets, and I am not sure how good he is healthy. He was downgraded to limited at Thursday’s practice, raising the possibility of another Zach Wilson start. Plus, the Jets defense — which has bailed out the offense all season — is having problems stopping the run all of a sudden.
The pick: Dolphins -2
Brady and the Bucs were begging to get knocked out of the playoff this season, and these two sorry outfits couldn’t do it. Sam Darnold is playing his best ball and it’s still not very good for the Panthers. Plus, the Saints got cornerback Marshon Lattimore back last week and he was a big reason they beat the Jets.
The Panthers’ secondary is so bad they had to bring in Josh Norman off the street. They’re 12th in success rate against the pass in zone coverage (55.8 percent) but 27th against the pass in man coverage (51.8 percent). And they’re facing a big-time, big-name coaching search despite the players’ pleas to retain interim coach Steve Wilks.
Andy Dalton may pull a Brady and play till he is 46, at this rate.
The pick: Saints -3.5
The Steelers have a chance to finish with another winning season under Mike Tomlin thanks to rookie Kenny Pickett leading game-winning drives the last two weeks. He is getting more out of his improvised plays:
• With three-plus seconds to throw from Weeks 1-10: 5.15 YPA, 20.8% first-down rate, 20.4% sack rate.
• With three-plus seconds to throw since Week 11: 5.53 YPA, 28.4% first-down rate, 9.2% sack rate.
The Browns defense, though, is playing its best ball of the season. Plus, Deshaun Watson — who made a huge leap last week — is using more designed runs to help get him going again after his suspension, and the Browns would love to play spoiler against their hated rival.
The pick: Browns +2.5
The Chargers may not play their starters for long, especially if the Ravens lose in the early window to clinch the No. 5 seed for Los Angeles. So Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack may not get to jump on Russell Wilson too much. And the Chargers won’t blitz as much as they did against the Rams.
Wilson — who may be waiting for Jim Harbaugh to save him — has set a career high for sacks taken (53) despite missing two games. His sack rate (10.4%) is the second worst of his career behind only the 2018 season, when he set his previous career high of 51 sacks. Wilson has been sacked on 28.8 percent of his pressured dropbacks, up from 21.3 percent of pressured dropbacks his previous three years in Seattle.
Austin Ekeler, however long he plays, and Joshua Kelley should run for enough yards to hold off Wilson, who has actually played better in two of his last three starts.
The pick: Chargers -2.5
Jalen Hurts is almost assuredly back to knock some rust off, while the Giants may not play their starters long as they are locked into their playoff spot.
The Eagles’ running game will obviously get a boost with the return of Hurts. With him, they averaged 2.77 yards before contact per carry, had a 50.6 percent success rate and were running into boxes of eight or more 37.2 percent of the time. Without him, that dropped to 0.95 yards before contact per carry, a 33.9 percent success rate and running into boxes of eight or more 46.9 percent of the time.
This number has flown up to 14 points, which I think is just disrespectful to Giants backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
The pick: Giants +14
Is there nothing that Brock Purdy can’t do? He even showed some nifty moves to avoid sacks last week against the Raiders. The rookie’s 14.9 percent sack rate under pressure is the sixth lowest in the NFL. Purdy leads all QBs in completion rate on third and fourth downs (72.7%) and ranks 11th in passing success rate in those situations (43.8%).
That all said, the 49ers sleepwalked through a win over the Raiders last week, and there is no reason to think they won’t do it again against the Cardinals, who they blasted in Mexico earlier this season. Plus, there might be a weak link at cornerback.
Blough for the cover!
The pick: Cardinals +14
Geno Smith and the Seahawks blew out the Jets last week, with Kenneth Walker III running wild and Tyler Lockett making a surprise early return from his injury. Fifty rookie RBs have rushed 190-plus times in a season since 2000. Among that group, Walker ranks 10th in explosive run rate (11.1%). There was some bad news, as the Seahawks lost talented linebacker Jordyn Brooks.
Meanwhile, remember when the Rams were close to cutting Cam Akers for some mysterious reason? He has bounced back and is one of 14 running backs to rush 100-plus times since Week 11. Among that group, he ranks:
• First in success rate (45.7 percent)
• Fifth in yards after contact per carry (2.99)
• Fourth in EPA per rush (0.07)
• Second-lowest rate of runs for 0 or negative yards (12.4%)
Neither of these teams is good at stopping the run, with the Rams’ defensive line especially in bad shape. But we will take Mayfield and the points in what should be a high-scoring game.
The pick: Rams +6
The Commanders have had a rough month, down to Ron Rivera not knowing his team could be eliminated from the playoff race last week and some injuries to the secondary. Washington is now 0-6 at home in December and January regular-season games under Rivera. No other team has gone winless in these months over the past three seasons.
A week after benching Taylor Heinicke for Carson Wentz, Rivera is going with “intriguing” rookie Sam Howell. Howell might get lucky as the Cowboys have forgotten how to sack the quarterback. Dallas’ three sacks since Week 14 rank last in the league. The Cowboys still rank first in pressure rate (44.9%), so it might just be bad luck. Sorry, Sam.
Good news for him, though, is that the Cowboys play down to their level of competition and have a turnovers issue, so the rookie will have a chance to drive his team to a win at the end.
The pick: Commanders +7
One of the problems with how the league set up this weekend’s games is that if the Seahawks win, the Lions will have nothing to play for on Sunday night. Which is a shame because their offensive skill players and run-defense improvement has made them a legit team with a lovable, wild coach.
I think the Seahawks will win … and so will the Lions. It seemed Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were celebrating a week early — they don’t even think he has to play well now for them to win. And their defensive improvement may be a little exaggerated. Since Week 13, the Packers defense is 12th in points allowed per drive (1.74) and eighth in EPA per drive. From Weeks 1 through 12, Green Bay ranked 24th in points allowed per drive (2.13) and 17th in EPA per drive.
But during this current hot streak, the Packers’ opponents have ranked 12th (Dolphins), 22nd (Rams), 24th (Vikings) and 26th (Bears) in weighted offensive DVOA.
Did we mention that the Lions are fired up and that Dan Campbell is 14-4 ATS as an underdog of more than four points?
The pick: Lions +4.5
— TruMedia research courtesy of NFL editor Aaron Reiss.
(Graphic: John Bradford / The Athletic; photo of David Blough: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)