TSN Football Expert Chris Schultz returns with his weekly NFL picks every Thursday.
Locks Of The Week
Minnesota (-2.5) at Carolina
With a win over the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the VIkings are now the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Vikings are on the road for the third week in a row but if they can take down the Panthers it could pave the way for them to finish 14-2 with games remaining against the Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears to close out the season. Both defences rank in the Top Six in points allowed per game but the Panthers are coming off a poor performance last week when they allowed 31 points and 400 total yards in a loss to the New Orleans Saints. If Minnesota can hold Matt Ryan and the Falcons to nine points in Atlanta, then they should be able to do the same against Cam Newton and the Panthers offence. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes should be able to lock down Devin Funchess the way he did Julio Jones last week. If the Vikings can slow down Newton and the Panthers’ run game, then they should be able to win and cover on the road. I’ll take Minnesota to cover.
Los Angeles Rams (-2) vs. Philadelphia
The Seahawks’ win over the Eagles on Sunday Night Football keeps the pressure on the Rams atop the NFC West. Los Angeles is one game up on the Seahawks with four games to go and while Seattle currently owns the tiebreaker via their Week 5 win over the Rams, the two teams will meet again in a crucial Week 15 matchup. The Rams will need to avoid looking past a tough test this week as they host an Eagles team that is coming off its first loss since Week 2. This week’s contest will match up the top two picks from the 2016 NFL Draft as first overall pick Jared Goff takes on second overall pick Carson Wentz. These teams are pretty evenly matched so the game will likely come down to which quarterback does a better job protecting the football and putting up points. The Rams will have a big home field advantage with the Eagles’ travelling across the country for the second week in a row. I’ll take the Rams to win and cover in what should be a close contest.
New York Jets (-1) at Denver
It’s incredible to see how much the Broncos have regressed this season. It wasn’t that long ago they were 3-1 heading in to their bye week and looking like a legitimate contender in the AFC. Since then Denver has dropped eight in a row while cycling through the three quarterbacks on their roster with some terrible results. Trevor Siemian will get the start at home this week and could be in tough against a Jets team that just upset the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13. Josh McCown led an offence that scored 38 points and totaled 488 yards of total offence while controlling the football for 42:49 against the Chiefs. A similar performance should lead to a Jets win over the Broncos in Week 14. I’ll take New York to win and cover on the road.
New England (-11) at Miami
I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to betting against the Patriots. New England has won eight in a row, including each of the last four by 18 points or more. That win streak includes a 35-17 win over the Dolphins two weeks ago. While they won’t have tight end Rob Gronkowski due to a one-game suspension, the Patriots will once again have plenty of weapons available against the Dolphins. Running back Rex Burkhead is the latest breakout star for New England. Burkhead had a pair of touchdowns in New England’s 35-17 win over the Buffalo Bills last week and could be in line for even more touches this week with Gronkowski out. The Patriots ran for 190 yards in the first meeting against the Dolphins so there is a good chance they will commit heavily to the run game once again on Monday Night Football this week. Gronkowski’s absence will force offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to get more creative so it will be interesting to see what kind of game plan he develops for this contest. It will be very difficult for the Dolphins to maintain the belief they can compete with this New England team and battle back if they fall behind early. The Patriots have registered at least 10 wins in 15 straight seasons. They will hit that mark again with another lopsided win over the Dolphins on Monday night.
New York Giants (+5) vs. Dallas
The Cowboys are walking into a potential trap game in New York this Sunday. The Giants are well out of contention but they should be inspired to play spoiler with Eli Manning starting at quarterback. Manning’s return should motivate the entire 53-man roster and the unique circumstances could provide a substantial boost for New York at home. There is almost always a renewed energy when a coaching change occurs and I expect that will happen to the Giants when defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo takes over as the interim head coach. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are coming off an impressive win over the Washington Redskins and their playoff hopes will be on the line this weekend. If the offence plays to its potential, Dallas should find a way to win a close game. However, the Giants should be able to keep this game close with an inspired effort. I’ll take the Giants to cover the five points as home underdogs.
Oakland (+4) at Kansas City
The AFC West looks a lot different now than it did through the first five weeks of the season. Kansas City has dropped six of its last seven to concede a substantial division and are now square with the Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers, all at 6-6. Early season Rookie of the Year favorite Kareem Hunt had only 63 yards from scrimmage in last week’s loss to the Jets and the Chiefs defence allowed 488 total yards of offence and 38 points to a Jets offence that has averaged just 22.2 points per game this season. This might be the week that Kansas City finally stops the bleeding and bounces back with a win at home. However, considering what we have seen from these two teams in recent weeks I think the Raiders should be able to at least keep this game close. I’ll take Oakland to cover as a four-point underdog on the road.
Cincinnati (-6) at Chicago
The Bengals are coming off a tough, physical loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and will be without one of their top players in linebacker Vontaze Burfict this week. The Bears have dropped five in a row however, so this should still be a favorable matchup for the Bengals. Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who threw for just 102 yards in last week’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers, has thrown for more than 179 passing yards only once in eight games this season. Andy Dalton and the Bengals offence should be able to score enough points to beat Trubisky and the Bears at home. I’ll take Cincinnati to win and cover at home.
Cleveland (+3) vs. Green Bay
Time is running out for the Browns to win a game and avoid a 0-16 fate. It will be interesting to see how Cleveland performs against a Packers side that is basically playing for its season. The Packers are in a must-win situation with a chance to keep their playoff hopes alive with Aaron Rodgers potentially set to return in a couple of weeks. However, Brett Hundley has really struggled at the quarterback position and it’s hard to trust the Green Bay offence after narrowly escaping with an overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. Wide receiver Josh Gordon is an outstanding playmaker that provided an immediate spark for the Browns in his return following a two-year absence last week. The Browns have a difficult schedule to close out the season so they will throw everything they have at the Packers looking to pull off the upset at home. The Packers should find a way to win this game on the road, but I’ll take the Browns to keep it close and cover as a three-point underdog.
Tampa Bay (+1) vs. Detroit
Both of these teams are coming off tough losses. The Buccaneers let a lead slip away on the road in last week’s 26-20 overtime defeat to the Packers while the Lions were blown away in a 44-20 road loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Lions’ defence was completely exposed by the Ravens last week and will be in tough again without the threat of a legitimate pass rush. Matthew Stafford has had some special moments this season but he completed 20 consecutive passes against the Ravens and it didn’t matter because the Lions’ defence couldn’t force any stops. The Bucs have the home advantage in what should be a close game. I’ll take Tampa Bay to win and cover.
Los Angeles Chargers (-6) vs. Washington
The Chargers have strung together three straight wins to climb into a three-way tie for top spot in the AFC West. Following blowout wins over the Bills and Cowboys, Los Angeles let the Browns hang around for a bit before securing a 19-10 win last weekend. The Chargers need to continue to push forward with the Redskins in town this weekend ahead of a Week 15 showdown with the Chiefs. While Phillip Rivers and company have performed at a high level, the Chargers’ defence has also been excellent based in large part thanks to an explosive pass rush led by defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. One thing to watch out for is the way that the Chargers line up Bosa and Ingram on the same side of the line on third-and-long situations. The LA pass rush should be able to take advantage of a suspect Redskins’ offensive line and get after quarterback Kirk Cousins. Bosa and Ingram have combined for 20 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, and 37 quarterback hits this season. I think those numbers continue to go up in a win and cover versus Washington Sunday.
Tennessee (-3) at Arizona
The Titans are turning a corner as they head into the final stretch as a legitimate AFC playoff contender. The Titans have won six of their last seven with their only loss over that span on the road to the Steelers on a short week. Running back Adrian Peterson’s status is in the air as he continues to deal with a neck injury. Peterson is 36 yards away from moving past Jim Brown for 10th on the all-time rushing list but if he can’t play then it will limit the Cardinals’ offence. The Titans will be playing with a sense of urgency as they look to keep pace with the Jacksonville Jaguars atop the AFC South. Tennessee will host the Jaguars in a key Week 17 showdown but that game won’t matter nearly as much unless they are able to keep pace to the season finale. I’ll take the Titans to win and cover against the Cardinals.
Pittsburgh (-5) vs. Baltimore
Six days after the Steelers dramatic comeback win over the Bengals in a violent AFC North showdown, Pittsburgh will host the Ravens in another key division game. The Steelers will really miss Ryan Shazier at linebacker and their depth will be tested against Baltimore. The Ravens, meanwhile, will be missing cornerback Jimmy Smith, which is a substantial personnel loss in its own right. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Ravens’ defence is able to consistently get pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and slow down the Steelers’ passing attack. No team relies more on a star tandem than the Steelers do with Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, so the Ravens are well aware of what they will need to do to slow their offence down. I think this will be a close game that could very well be decided by a field goal. I’ll take Baltimore to cover on the road.
Risky At Best
New Orleans (-1) at Atlanta
The Falcons will be playing with a sense of urgency at home after being held to just nine points in a loss to Minnesota last week. They will however, face another difficult defence with the Saints in town, especially if cornerback Marshon Lattimore is in the lineup. Atlanta’s top-ranked third-down offence went just 1-for-10 against the Vikings and will need to be better on that crucial down in order to move the ball effectively this week. The Falcons need to get wide receiver Julio Jones more involved after he was held to just two receptions for 24 yards in last week’s loss. On the other side of the football, rookie running back Alvin Kamara will be featured as Mark Ingram is questionable to play because of a toe injury. Kamara has averaged a ridiculous 7.0 yards per carry while rushing for 606 yards this season. I think Kamara and an improved defence give the Saints the slight edge on Thursday Night Football.
Buffalo (-4) vs. Indianapolis
The Bills are taking it one day at a time when it comes to the quarterback position as Nathan Peterman started the week taking first-team reps in place of the injured Tyrod Taylor. If Peterman does get the start, I expect Buffalo to do everything they can to move the football on the ground with running back LeSean McCoy in order to take some of the pressure off of the rookie fifth-round pick. Peterman had a disastrous NFL debut but he should learn from that experience and be better for it. Meanwhile, the Colts continue to rely on Jacoby Brissett with Andrew Luck’s long-term future in question. While Brissett has shown some positives, he can’t carry this Colts’ team the way a healthy Luck is capable of doing. Buffalo should benefit from the home field advantage and should be motivated to bounce back from last week’s blowout loss to the Patriots with their season essentially on the line. I’ll take the Bills to win and cover at home.
San Francisco (-3) at Houston
Jimmy Garoppolo looked good in his debut for the 49ers, especially against pressure as he went 9-for-12 for 115 yards against the Bears’ blitz. Garoppolo didn’t have a touchdown but he did just enough to help set up five field goals in a 15-14 win. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his second start for the 49ers against a Texans’ defence that is missing so many key starters. The Texans, meanwhile, are missing their franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. Houston has dropped five of its last six without Watson and will be a three-point underdog at home against the 49ers this weekend. I’ll take Garoppolo and the 49ers to get the job done and cover on the road.
Jacksonville (-2.5) vs. Seattle
One week after beating the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, the Seahawks have to go on the road and face one of the toughest defences in the NFL. Russell Wilson deserves to be in the MVP conversation for carrying the Seahawks’ offence this season but he faces a tough test against a Jaguars’ defence that leads the league in sacks. The Jaguars have the weapons to absolutely dominate the Seahawks’ offensive line and keep Wilson on the run. After last week’s big win over the Eagles, I wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle suffers a bit of a letdown. This will be a huge test for Jacksonville as they try to pick up another signature win and keep pace with the Titans atop the AFC South. I’ll take the Jaguars defence to carry them to another big win at home. Jacksonville will pick up the victory and cover as a small favorite at home.