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Written Friday December 18th, 2020 at 8 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) We did not experience a losing week for the fifth straight time. We finished Week 14 with a 3-3 record against the spread (ATS). Most importantly, the 5-star pick was a winner. We grabbed the Titans -7 at the Jaguars, which turned out to be an easy winner. During the regular season, I tend to pick more underdogs than favorites. But when we get towards the final weeks of the year, I feel like the cream rises to the top and we observe great teams imposing their will on less-motivated and less-talented squads. That’s why I’m going with more favorites than usual this week. Oddly enough, we only have three official picks this week, but one of them has the highest five-star rating. Such predictions are 4-2 this year, and an impressive 9-4 since I started this Professor MJ brand three years ago. Let’s rolllllllll!!!!!!! PICK #1 (5 STARS): PITTSBURGH STEELERS -13 AT CINCINNATI BENGALS Both Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen are bad quarterbacks. Plain and simple. Since Joe Burrow got hurt, Cincinnati’s offense has scored 17, 7 and 7 points in their three matches. There is absolutely no reason to believe it will get better against the feisty Pittsburgh defense. They are going to eat them alive. The Steelers have recorded the most interceptions this season. They also have a ferocious front seven that puts a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They are going up against a weak Bengals offensive line, so the result will be catastrophic for Cincy, unless Boyd, Higgins or Green can somehow break a long TD. The Steelers have lost two straight games. It’s never a good spot to face an elite team after a couple of bad performances because you know they won’t take the game lighly. That’s especially true considering this is a primetime game. And they are facing a division rival. Let’s end with an astounding statistic: the Steelers have a mind-blowing 16-3-2 ATS record over their past 21 meetings in Cincinnati. That’s remarkable! In other words, we have all the ingredients for a blowout. There is no way Pittsburgh comes into this game unfocused. I expect them to win by at least 17 points, but it could very well end with a 30-point margin as well. PICK #2 (2 STARS): INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -7.5 VS HOUSTON TEXANS I am a fan of the revenge factor, which would have a tendency to favor the Texans here since they lost 26-to-20 against the Colts a couple of weeks ago. Still, my money will be on Indy this weekend. The Colts have beaten the spread the last five times they faced Houston. Even more impressive is the fact that Indianapolis holds a 12-3-2 ATS record in the past 17 meetings with the Texans, wow! Also, the Texans will be on the road for the fifth time over the past seven weeks. That’s a lot of traveling recently. Running back David Johnson is expected to be back in Houston’s backfield, but he has not been effective this year, nor Duke Johnson. The Colts run D has been superb this season, surrendering more than 75 rushing yards only to Derrick Henry. That included holding in check good runners like Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones and Josh Jacobs. That will make the Texans unidimensional on offense. Meanwhile, Frank Reich’s team will have plenty of ways to put points on the board. The Texans have allowed the most rushing yards per game to opposing running backs. Things will get even worse with nose tackle Brandon Dunn and safety Justin Reid getting hurt last week. Star left tackle Anthony Castonzo made a return from injury last week on a limited basis. He should see more action this week. The mismatch in the trenches will be incredibly in favor of Indy. The Colts running game has been ordinary this year, but rookie Jonathan Taylor seems to have found his rhythm. Indeed, he has rushed for 90+ yards in each of his last three contests. To make matters worse, Houston pass defense is also atrocious. It was already among the league’s worst units, and it got even worse when its top cornerback, Bradley Roby, got slammed with a six-game suspension. The Texans have nothing to play for, while the Colts need this win to keep up with the Titans atop the AFC South division. The only way Houston covers the spread is if Deshaun Watson manages to throw at least 3-4 TD passes to compensate for his porous defense. Even though I like Watson, I don’t believe it will happen, so I’m putting my money on the Colts. PICK #3 (2 STARS): GREEN BAY PACKERS -8 VS CAROLINA PANTHERS New Orleans’ surprising loss to the Eagles, combined with Green Bay’s win in Detroit propelled the Packers to the NFC’s number one seed. Getting the top spot is super valuable since it is the only one providing a bye during the playoffs. For this reason, there is no way the Packers take this game lightly. The weather forecast indicates a pretty cold day in Green Bay: around 0 degree Celsius. Aaron Rodgers is used to this kind of weather, while the Panthers don’t enjoy it nearly as much. Carolina might get wide receiver D.J. Moore back on the field, but they are unlikely to have running back Christian McCaffrey available. There is almost ZERO chance that the Panthers hold Green Bay’s passing game in check. Carolina has allowed at least 280 passing yards to opposing QBs in six of their last 7 games, including big production from average signal callers like Drew Lock and Kirk Cousins. How in the world are they supposed to stop Aaron Rodgers, who has been in MVP form throughout the year (ok, except against the Bucs!!). Donte Jackson, Rasul Douglas and Troy Pride represent one of the weakest coverage trios in all of football, while safety Tre Boston has been awful. It would be surprising if the Packers don’t score more than 30 points, so it will come down to whether Green Bay’s defense can hold the Panthers to a maximum of 20-23 points. I expect the Packers to score a boatload of points, which will force Teddy Bridgewater into passing mode and that will result into a few turnovers. UNOFFICIAL PICKS For entertainment purposes, here are some leans for you: LEAN #1: Patriots +2.5 at Dolphins (Bill Belichick is known for eating rookie quarterbacks for breakfast, Miami’s defense is great defending the pass but New England focuses on the ground game and the Pats get three extra days of rest after playing last Thursday); LEAN #2: Bears +3 or +3.5 at Vikings (Chicago will be looking to avenge an earlier 19-to-13 loss to those same Vikings, Minnesota is 1-6 ATS as home favorites recently and Da Bears have beaten the spread in five of the past seven meetings with Minnesota); LEAN #3: Ravens -13 vs Jaguars (huge difference in motivation between these two clubs, temperature expected to be near zero degree Celsius which the Jags won’t like too much, Ravens have the top rushing offense in football while Jacksonville has allowed 120+ rushing yards to opposing RBs in three straight contests and mobile QBs like Watson and Herbert have enjoyed some success against the Jags this season). It would be awesome if the 5-star pick could hit once again! Let’s beat our bookies, guys!!!!! Professor MJ https://youtu.be/hw0MDZPVmBc