Nobody will have a tougher eight-day stretch this NFL season than the San Francisco 49ers.
First up was a trip to the East Coast and an early start against the Baltimore Ravens. In a physical, entertaining game, the 49ers lost on a field goal on the final play.
The reward for that tough loss is a trip to the Superdome to face the 10-2 New Orleans Saints. There’s no time to rest in the NFL.
Here is what’s at stake for the 49ers: Win and they’ll be 11-2 and still in line to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC with three games to go. Lose, and they could be a game behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, looking at the No. 5 seed and a road game on wild-card weekend. Stakes are high for the Saints too, even though they’ve already won the NFC South. If they win, they’ll have wins over the Seahawks and 49ers and will be hard to dislodge from the top seed in the NFC. Lose, and they’ll be in danger of falling behind the Green Bay Packers and giving away a first-round bye.
San Francisco has been one of the NFL’s best teams all season. The 49ers have an elite defense and running game, and the passing game has the ability to put up big performances. It’s a team without many big flaws. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl. But the road is very tough from a wild-card spot. The 49ers might need to win Sunday to avoid that.
Both teams have urgency, but I’ll pick the 49ers as 2.5-point underdogs, even in a very, very tough travel spot. They have been more consistent this season. The Saints have been prone to strange performances. Their last two games at the Superdome, they were blown out by a bad Falcons team and needed some breaks to squeak by a Panthers team that just fired its coach. Either way, it could be a classic.
Here are the picks for Week 14 of the NFL season, with spreads from BetMGM:
Cowboys (-3) over Bears (picked Thursday): Talent means nothing if you don’t care enough. The Cowboys seem entirely checked out. What an embarrassing performance.
Bills (+6) over Ravens: This is a lot of respect being shown to the Ravens, and it’s deserved. They’re a very good team. But the Bills proved something themselves at Dallas last week. Josh Allen is playing very well and they have a good defense. At very least this should be close.
Redskins (+12) over Packers: Washington isn’t very good but it looks like the Redskins can at least run the ball well. It gives them something to lean on. And maybe if they can keep Aaron Rodgers off the field for a majority of the game, they can keep it reasonably close.
Broncos (+9) over Texans: Denver is 6-2 against the spread in its last eight games, and have covered four of five. The Broncos aren’t good but they are better than the market gives them credit for. Drew Lock had a promising debut. The Texans are coming off a huge win over the Patriots and could have a letdown against a team everyone expects them to beat.
Bengals (+7) over Browns: Now that the Bengals got their one win, the urgency might wane a bit. But they are a much more competent team with Andy Dalton at quarterback, and the Browns aren’t good. I’m also not certain how healthy Baker Mayfield is after banging his thumb.
Panthers (+3) over Falcons: I don’t know that the Panthers necessarily come to life after Ron Rivera was fired. But it’s tough to get behind Atlanta as a favorite.
Vikings (-13) over Lions: I don’t love taking favorites giving this many points, but the Vikings usually play well against bad teams. The Lions bring practically nothing to the table considering their defense is in shambles and I don’t yet trust that David Blough is going to be a capable NFL quarterback.
Dolphins (+5.5) over Jets: The Jets are maddening. And they simply can’t be trusted anymore, especially not as a favorite.
Buccaneers (-3) over Colts: The offensive injuries have really set the Colts back. You can never feel too comfortable with the Bucs because Jameis Winston could go on a turnover binge, but they have played pretty well and the offense can move the ball.
Jaguars (+3) over Chargers: Two reeling teams. The Chargers have a lot of talent but that doesn’t matter much. They’re going back on the road after a crushing loss that eliminates all tiny hope of a rally this season, and I’m not sure how they get up to play the Jaguars.
Patriots (-3) over Chiefs: The Chiefs are going to get hot still at some point this season. But this is a Patriots team coming off a loss with everyone questioning them, and you know what that means.
Cardinals (+2.5) over Steelers: The Cardinals are one of many inconsistent NFL teams. It’s a tough matchup against the Steelers defense, but I trust them to score more than I do a shorthanded Steelers offense.
Titans (-3) over Raiders: The Raiders have been really bad the last couple weeks. The Titans are going the other way, having played very well since Ryan Tannehill took over as quarterback. The Raiders look dangerously like a team that has already fallen off hard and won’t be competitive the rest of the season. Until I see a rebound, I’m not picking them to beat a hot Titans team.
Seahawks (pick ‘em) over Rams: This is way, way too much respect for the Rams after one good game against the Cardinals. If they got on a hot streak last week and it’ll continue, so be it. I need to see them play well against a good team before I buy in.
Giants (+9) over Eagles: I can’t pick the Eagles as 9-point favorites over anyone.
Last week: 6-10
Season to date: 90-101-2
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