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Carson Wentz? In a Must-Win Game?
I have to be honest, this is my least favorite side of the four I’m giving out this week. It’s tough betting on the offensively challenged Browns as things have been far from humming in four games with Deshaun Watson under center. However, it still made the column so I still feel a certain degree of confidence in the pick. Conceptually, I do like betting on teams it feels like no one else wants to bet on and for what it’s worth, Cleveland is still 2-2 against the spread with Watson at QB which is saying something given how anemic its offense has looked. But, now let’s get to the crux of the pick. The Washington Commanders are starting Carson Wentz in a must-win game! That’s right, with Seattle, Green Bay and Detroit breathing down their necks for the final playoff spot in the NFC, Washington is going back to Carson Wentz at quarterback. It’s a move that makes no sense for most teams, but when you remember we’re talking about a franchise rife with dysfunction, perhaps it makes perfect sense. Once Wentz was hurt, and then serving as Taylor Heinicke’s backup upon activation from IR, I think many felt his days as a regular starting quarterback in the NFL were over. We’re supposed to change our minds after some garbage time production in San Francisco last week? Not only will Wentz make his first start in nearly three months on New Year’s Day, but he’ll do so as a favorite. So we have a QB who almost no one thinks is capable of starting on a week-to-week basis in the NFL, much less winning big games, thrusted back into the starting role on a team whose playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. This is an accident waiting to happen. Take the Browns +2 before the accident happens.
Jags Refueling the Tank Before Revving the Engine Again
After working their way firmly into the playoff picture, the Jacksonville Jaguars can now relax. Unlike, the three AFC East teams and the Steelers, whose playoff hopes appear to rest solely on securing the final wild card in the conference, Jacksonville and Tennessee can essentially punt on Week 17 because regardless of the results for each team this week, their clash in Florida next week is going to decide who wins the AFC South. This is a lookahead spot I love to play. Should the Jaguars win out and finish 9-8 and become division champs, they’ll be viewed as maybe the league’s biggest overachiever in the 2022 regular season. Going from the depths of irrelevance under Urban Meyer to the playoffs one year later, would be an outstanding accomplishment that even the biggest Jacksonville optimists probably couldn’t have drummed up in year one under Doug Pederson. Jacksonville is a young team whose players haven’t tasted a lot of success. Sound familiar? If you read last week’s column that was the thesis behind fading the Lions who folded in a big game against the Panthers last week and our Carolina +2.5 ticket cashed easily. There was a lot on the line for the Lions last week and we faded them. There’s nothing on the line for the Jaguars this week and they’re laying twice as many points on the road this week as Detroit was last week. By the way, Jacksonville is visiting a Houston team that appears to be playing hard for Lovie Smith down the stretch. The Texans have covered in three straight games and just won in Nashville last week against the Titans. Maybe the players like Lovie Smith and this is their campaign for him to stick around into 2023. Give me Houston +5.
Teddy Covers is Back
Let me start this handicap by saying that the first side that I left off last week’s picks was Philadelphia +4.5 at Dallas. I love betting on teams with competent backup quarterbacks when the point spread moves too far. Gardner Minshew looked functional last week for Philly and the Eagles were inside the 4.5-point line for almost the entire game. Teddy Bridgewater has made a career off of being a functional backup quarterback and with another concussion for Tua Tagovaiola, Bridgewater appears primed to make another start for Miami as the Dolphins head to Foxboro in a pivotal AFC East matchup. There are trends galore that speak to Bridgewater’s cover acumen, but for this pick let’s go with Bridgewater being 19-4 ATS as a road underdog. I really think the basis behind this trend is simple. While home field advantage may not be what it used to be in terms of the generic value to a point spread, it’s still worth something. Then factor in the visiting team playing with a fringe starter/backup like Bridgewater, and the line often tilts too much against said visiting team. Bridgewater continues to protect the football, allow the players around him to make plays and with a little help from his defense covers these numbers time and time again. New England is in shambles and has been a below average offense all season so I don’t doubt that Bridgewater will get help from his defense on Sunday. If you told me, Bridgewater would engineer the Dolphins to be able to score 20 points in this game, I’d bet the house on Miami +3. I’m willing to take my chances he lands around that number so give me the Dolphins plus the field goal.
Broncos Country Let’s…Try Not to Get Everyone Fired!
Let’s close with a vintage late-season motivational mismatch when the Broncos visit the Chiefs. Kansas City has a pretty easy path to 14-3 with games against Denver and Las Vegas. That might be good enough to earn the Chiefs the number one seed in the AFC given Buffalo has to go to Cincinnati on Monday Night Football this week and hosts a New England team that might be playing for its playoff lives in Week 18. Even if it’s not, this isn’t college football. The Chiefs blowing out the Broncos and the Raiders isn’t going to have them leapfrog Buffalo in the conference standings. Therefore, I expect the Chiefs to play a pair of vanilla games to end the regular season and hope it’s enough to have Wild Card Weekend off. Denver on the other hand, just saw Nathaniel Hackett get fired. It was an obvious move, but still perhaps a message sent from the new ownership group in the Mile High City that they’re serious about turning things around for 2023 heading into the offseason and no one is safe. The Broncos also have to cede their first-round pick to the Seahawks as a part of the Russell Wilson trade, so there is no benefit to them losing more. My guess is Denver cleans house anyway in the offseason and there are more changes coming besides Hackett’s dismissal, but don’t act like these games are meaningless for the Broncos either. Despite last week’s embarrassment against the Rams, Denver is still 3-1 ATS in its last four. I also like betting on teams after they get embarrassed on the basis that in the NFL, professionals on any team are going to respond the next week after being a laughingstock on national TV like the Broncos just were. Between that angle, Hackett’s termination potentially lighting a fire under the Broncos and the overall compete level of Denver prior to the Rams game, there’s enough pro Broncos angles for me in this one in addition to wondering about Kansas City’s desire for margin. I’ll take Broncos +12.5
By Greg Frank
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