By Cody Rivera
Before I dive into the picks for Week 13, here’s a quick story:
Several weeks ago, I was browsing through the old Bill Simmons column archives from when he used to write for ESPN Page 2, and I came across one of his really old columns: “The Playoff Gambling Manifesto.” It was a column he wrote in January 2002, while preparing for the NFL playoffs (coincidentally, right before the Patriots made their run to Super Bowl 36 on the shoulders of 24-year-old Tom Brady), and in the column, he wrote about a list of rules for picking NFL playoff games that he created with one of his college friends.
And because I love picking NFL games too, I found this column really interesting. I probably read over it a couple of times, trying to commit everything to memory. Rule No. 8 on the list was “Beware of the Road Favorite.” Essentially it means not to underestimate the home team even if the road team is favored in the game, unless you have a really good reason to (such as Sunday’s Pats-Bills game … there’s not really a good reason to NOT take the Pats on the road in that game).
Anyway, even though it wasn’t the playoffs, I embraced this rule during the Cowboys-Redskins game on Thursday night. I was all set to take Washington -1.5 on the road, since in the midst of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, the Dallas offense has been deader than Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway. In their previous three games — all losses — the Cowboys were outscored 92-22. And no, you didn’t read that wrong. But then, after seeing that the Redskins were favored by 1.5 points to beat the Cowboys on the road, I suddenly felt the urge to put the “Beware of the Road Favorite” rule into play. After all, going against the odds makes up at least half of the reasons why picking games is so addicting. And so I did it.
And what happened? The Cowboys unleashed a monstrous 38-point attack on the ‘Skins. Dak Prescott bounced back from all of the “He can’t win without Zeke” accusations, completing 11 of 22 passes with two touchdowns, and Alfred Morris filled the Elliott void with 127 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Just like that, after a 38-14 win, the Cowboys’ playoff hopes were still alive, and my “Beware of the Road Favorite” pick turned out to be correct.
And I was way happier about that last part than I should’ve been. Believe it or not, I actually have no life.
Let’s move on to the Week 13 picks …
Lions (+3) over RAVENS
Two reasons I’m rolling with Detroit here:
1. The Lions are 4-1 on the road this season, just the fourth time in the Super Bowl era that they’ve won at least four of their first five road games.
2. One of my roommates, Nikki, is from Detroit and can never bring herself to actually pick the Lions (which is fair considering their history), so I try to pick them any time it’s feasible, just to counteract her negativity. I did this pretty much throughout the entire 2016 season, and the Lions ended up making the playoffs. And you know that? Nikki still hasn’t thanked me yet. Whatever.
49ers (+3) over BEARS
I was sold on the Niners in this game as soon as I found out Jimmy Garoppolo was starting at quarterback. Whoops, I didn’t mean to call him by his name. I meant to call him the future GOAT of the NFL, after Tom Brady retires, of course. Fun fact: Jimmy G has yet to throw an interception in his career, having thrown 96 consecutive passes without getting picked off. All aboard the Jimmy G hype train!
FALCONS (-3) over Vikings
Somebody has to end the Vikings’ seven-game win streak, and who better to do it than the Falcons at home? Atlanta, in the meantime, has won four of its last five after getting past its midseason struggle, Julio Jones is your current NFC Offensive Player of the Week following a 12-catch, 253-yard, two-touchdown performance against Tampa Bay last week, and last but not least, Devonta Freeman will be back on the field this week after being cleared from his concussion. I like the Falcons to halt the Vikings at home. I’m laying the points.
Patriots (-8.5) over Bills
OK, so even though I wrote earlier this week that the AFC East continues to be the laughingstock of the NFL, Buffalo’s playoff hopes aren’t totally dead yet. After all, they are 6-5, have won three of their last four, and most importantly, they quickly wised up and brought back Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback. (They quickly learned their lesson after they benched him two weeks ago, and rookie Nathan Peterman threw five interceptions in the first half against the Chargers. Yowza.) And maybe after they are done getting schooled by the Patriots this week, the Bills can continue their push for a wild card spot in the AFC. Best of luck to you all! Cheers!
DOLPHINS (+1.5) over Broncos
Remember the aforementioned “Beware of the Road Favorite” rule? I’m putting it into play again for this game. Yep, it works even for crummy games that nobody will want to watch.
TITANS (-7) over Texans
Want to know how weird this NFL season has been? In Week 4, the Texans obliterated the Titans 57-14, outgained them 445-195, forced five turnovers, and Deshaun Watson threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth. And now, in Week 13, the Titans are 7-point favorites over the Texans. That’s been the 2017 NFL season for you. Watson was on his way to being the most exciting young quarterback in the league this year, and now it feels like it’s been 35 years since we’ve heard anything about the kid. Injuries have been extra evil in 2017.
Colts (+9.5) over JAGUARS
This is my big upset of the week. And you know it’s a freaky season when you pick a team to cover against the Jags and it’s considered an “upset.” Anyway, my prediction for this game: Jacksonville wins the game, but the Colts cover the spread and only lose by six.
PACKERS (-2) over Buccaneers
Just to be clear, I have very little faith in Brett Hundley whether it be on the road or at home, even though he almost helped the Packers get a win in Pittsburgh last week (245 passing yards and three touchdowns). The week before that, Hundley had no touchdowns and four turnovers in Green Bay’s 23-0 loss at home to the Ravens. And that’s what makes this game so difficult to pick. I mean, it’s not like the 4-7 Bucs are an enticing pick on the road.
I’m forced to give the edge to the home team here, and only because the Packers have one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. So once again, I’m betting on Hundley. This kind of thing usually doesn’t end well.
Chiefs (-3) over JETS
Darrelle Revis will be playing at the Meadowlands on Sunday … as a member of the Chiefs. All I can say is this, Kansas City fans: DO NOT get too attached to Revis, because as soon as he gets the chance, he’ll walk right out your door and resign with the Jets. I’m speaking from experience.
SAINTS (-4.5) over Panthers
Don’t miss this game. First place in the NFC South is on the line. Does it get any better than a late-season divisional rivalry matchup when the top spot in the division goes to the winner? I look forward to these games more than I’ve been looking forward to the official release of “The Last Jedi” in two weeks.
OK, that was a lie.
Browns (+14) over CHARGERS
The only way to make watching a 2017 Browns game interesting is by picking them to cover the spread when they are a two-touchdown underdog. If they can pull this off against anybody, it’s gotta be against Philip Rivers and the LA Chargers, who will be playing in front of their three fans at the StubHub Center on Sunday.
(While we’re on the subject of the Browns, they’re supposed to be getting wide receiver Josh Gordon back for this game. He hasn’t played since the 2014 season due to suspensions. Not injuries. Suspensions. Will his next violation come before or after Sunday’s game?)
Rams (-7) at CARDINALS
The Cardinals may have pulled out a win at home against the Jags last week (with Blaine Gabbert, somehow), but it’s just not their year. The biggest reason why it’s not their year: their current quarterback is Blaine Gabbert. Even though Arizona won with Gabbert last week, you never pick a team that is starting Gabbert.
Besides, I’m still on the Rams bandwagon. They are on their way to winning their first NFC West title since 2003, and we just might get to see an NFC Championship showdown between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2016 draft. Now who wouldn’t enjoy the heck out of that?
RAIDERS (-8.5) over Giants
I’ll admit it, I feel bad for Eli Manning. I never thought I would say that, but it’s true. He might not be the sharpest knife in the Manning kitchen, and he might make goofy faces, and he might not be the greatest quarterback who ever lived, and he may be the biggest reason why Tom Brady isn’t a perfect 7-for-7 in the Super Bowl, but he’s still a good guy and a two-time champ. If you watched him fighting back tears while being interviewed in front of his locker and you didn’t feel for him even a little bit, you might not be human.
Eagles (-6) over SEAHAWKS
Carson Wentz is having such a phenomenal season that he should be playing in prime time every week. Seriously, it’s really hard to imagine the Eagles NOT winning the NFC this year.
Steelers (-5.5) over BENGALS
The Steelers are pretty much the only team standing in between the Patriots and the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and they’ll be facing off in Week 15. Before we reach that point, the Pats have to go through the Bills and the Dolphins (both on the road, but should still be a piece of cake), and the Steelers have to go through the Bengals and the Ravens (not quite as easy, but at least they’ll get the Ravens at home). If both teams go 2-0 over that stretch … oh boy … we might finally be feeling a sense of urgency come Week 15. As WWE announcer Michael Cole would say, I CANNOT WAIT.
(The sad part: that’s the second wrestling reference I made in this column.)
Last week: 9-7
This week: 1-0
Contact Cody Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on T witter at @theking01sports.