If the Los Angeles Rams get a top-two seed in the NFC, they’ll have earned it.
The NFC’s first-place group of the Rams, New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles is weird and was entirely unpredictable. And in a fun scheduling quirk, the Rams play each of the surprise first-place teams in the final seven weeks.
They got the Vikings last week and lost, which makes their final two first-place showdowns even more important. The Rams get the Saints at home this week. Then on Dec. 10 they host the Eagles. Since the first tiebreaker for playoff seeds is head-to-head results, the implications of those Rams games are clear.
The Rams not only have to worry about a top-two seed, they’re still not as clear in the division race as the Eagles are in the East or the Vikings are in the North. The Seahawks look like they’re fading due to injuries after Monday night’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but they’re just a game back of the Rams. Seattle also won at Los Angeles earlier this season and get the Rams at home on Dec. 17 (yet another tough game for the Rams).
Because of the tough schedule, the Seahawks being right behind them and the loss to the Vikings last week, you’d think the Rams have some urgency this week against the Saints. New Orleans also has two key injuries: Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Even if they play, it’s hard to believe they’ll be 100 percent. Lattimore in particular has been a huge part of the Saints’ defensive turnaround. He’s probably the favorite for defensive rookie of the year, and probably needs to be in the NFL defensive player of the year conversation. If Lattimore is out with an ankle injury, that’s a huge blow.
For all those reasons I’m picking the Rams as a 2.5-point favorite. They’re a SuperContest pick as well. It should be a great game, one of many for the Rams as they head down the stretch.
Here are the Week 12 against-the-spread NFL picks:
Bills (+9.5) over Chiefs: I understand why this line is so high, but it still feels too high. This is Tyrod Taylor at quarterback for the Bills, not Nathan Peterman. The Chiefs are scuffling a bit, and I like the Bills with all those points. (The spread is 11.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Panthers (-4.5) over Jets: I wonder if the Jets, who didn’t look good in Tampa Bay last week, might be fading a bit. I’ll take the better team here and hope to avoid a backdoor cover.
Dolphins (+16.5) over Patriots: Here it is, our highest spread of the season to date. I’m still baffled how Miami was once 4-2. I can’t say I love picking the Dolphins against the Patriots, but I’m not picking a 16.5-point favorite in the NFL. (The spread is 17.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Broncos (+5) over Raiders: If you want to believe that Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin randomly got their first rest day of the season a day after defensive coordinator Ken Norton was fired, that’s fine. I’m not buying it, though. The Broncos have their own issues, which makes this game nearly impossible to pick, but the Raiders’ reaction to Norton’s firing is worrisome.
And here are the rest of the picks …
Vikings (-3), Cowboys (+1), Redskins (-7.5) (picked Thursday): Of all the things we saw on Thanksgiving, I think the Cowboys’ ineptitude was the top headline, but the one that needs more attention is how good the Chargers looked. That’s their second straight blowout win in a row, and they’ve won five of seven. They’re still the AFC wild-card contender I like the most.
Buccaneers (+10.5) over Falcons: The Falcons are starting to get it going, but I’ll reluctantly take the Bucs. It might be a bit of a letdown spot for Atlanta after two enormous games against the Cowboys and Seahawks.
Browns (+9.5) over Bengals: Let’s check OddsShark for all the reasons we should not be picking the Browns. The Bengals have won and covered six in a row against the Browns with an average margin of victory of 22.7 points. The Browns have failed to cover in eight of their last nine games, and that’s with Vegas making them big underdogs most week (yes, the Browns failing to cover last week was harsh, as they gave up a defensive touchdown to the Jaguars in the last two minutes). And as we know, the Browns are 0-10 with a league-worst minus-159 scoring margin. There’s no good reason to pick the Browns to cover but I’m doing it anyway. One of these weeks they have to actually cover the spread, right?
Colts (+3) over Titans: If Jacoby Brissett was fully healthy, I’d pick the Colts with a lot more confidence. But he’s in the concussion protocol, and while I’m assuming he plays, maybe he’s not quite as sharp. Still, I haven’t seen anything in weeks from the Titans that would lead me to lay points with them on the road.
Bears (+14.5) over Eagles: Again, it’s not that I love the Bears, but in general give me any NFL favorite catching more than two touchdowns. There are a surprising amount of large underdogs this week.
49ers (+7.5) over Seahawks: Seattle is capable of scoring a lot because Russell Wilson is playing well, but all of a sudden their defense is capable of giving up a lot of points now too. This doesn’t seem like the same Seattle team after the injuries, and the spread seems too high for them.
Jaguars (-5) over Cardinals: I do not like taking the Jaguars laying this many points on the road. However, Blaine Gabbert against that Jaguars defense?
Packers (+15) over Steelers: Why was this game not flexed out of the “Sunday Night Football” spot? It stinks, because this would have been a fantastic game if Aaron Rodgers wasn’t hurt. I’ll just assume the Steelers play down to their competition and the Packers find a way to cover.
Texans (+8) over Ravens: Baltimore might be the right side here, but I still don’t trust their offense.
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