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Written Thursday December 25th, 2020 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) Last week, we had a couple of 5-star picks, which was highly unusual! Bucs +3.5 vs Chiefs (won the bet, but deserved to lose in my opinion); Giants -5.5 at Bengals (lost the bet, but we got screwed by: a) Daniel Jones’ injury; b) a TD on a kickoff return by Cincy; c) a bogus PI penalty that allowed a garbage TD late in the fourth quarter). Our record on 5-star picks: 3-2 this season 8-4 past three years Overall, last week was a lucrative one: a 4-2 record on official picks and a perfect 2-0 on leans. We have been on fire recently with a 10-5-2 ATS record since Week 10. Let’s keep rolling, folks!!! PICK #1 (4 STARS): CLEVELAND BROWNS +6 AT TENNESSEE TITANS I’ve said it a few times this year, and I’ll say it again. In my opinion, the Titans are a good team to bet as underdogs, but they’re a good team to fade as favorites. As a matter of fact, they have beaten the spread just two times the last seven games they were established as favorites. My main concern about this game is Cleveland’s pass defense. They were already without Greedy Williams, and now their other starting cornerback Denzel Ward seems on the wrong side of questionable for Sunday. That could open up the field for A.J. Brown. Other than that, I like the Browns here. To me, the spread is way too high. Cleveland should be fine running the ball against Tennessee, whose defense has been average. Meanwhile, the Browns are fairly strong defending the run and they are welcoming back stud defensive end Myles Garrett this weekend. The revenge factor comes into play as well. I’m sure Baker Mayfield and company remember last year’s season opener, a game in which Cleveland got hammered 43-to-13 at home against Tennessee. Mayfield threw three interceptions in that game, but that won’t happen this time. For these reasons, I’m backing Cleveland as 6-point underdogs as my top play in Week 13. PICK #2 (3 STARS): SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS +1 VS BUFFALO BILLS San Francisco’s defense is quickly getting back to form. After undergoing a rash of injuries, they have gotten some players back, which has shown on the field. Last week, they bottled up a good Rams offense and allowed just 14 first downs. Buffalo QB Josh Allen usually makes a mix of great and bad plays. I expect him to make a few mistakes that will cost his team this Monday. He is also still missing wide receiver John Brown; the offense is good, but not as great when Brown is out of the lineup. I have spoken a few times this year about how researchers have shown that peak athletic performance occurs during the late afternoon or early evening. For this reason, a West Coast team gets an advantage when playing a night game against a team from the East Coast. Each team’s record on Monday Night Football is at opposite ends: Buffalo is 0-3-1 ATS versus 13-3 for the Niners. San Francisco also holds an impressive 7-3 ATS record at home when facing a team with a winning record. The key to this game will be San Francisco’s running game who should be able to exploit a weak Buffalo run defense, who ranks 27th in the league in terms of yards allowed per carry. With Raheem Mostert back from an injury, I believe he will run wild and cause headaches to the Bills. PICK #3 (3 STARS): LOS ANGELES RAMS -2.5 AT ARIZONA CARDINALS Kyler Murray’s throwing shoulder is hurt. He didn’t look as sharp as usual last week in New England. Coincidence or not, he ran for a season-low five times both of the past two weeks. I suspect he doesn’t want to take more hits to lower the risk of aggravating his injury. After a hot start, the Cards are definitely stumbling. They have won just one of their last four matchups, and the lone win should have been a loss, if not for a miracle Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game against the Bills. Jared Goff tends to struggle when he feels pressure, otherwise he is super efficient. I expect him to have a clean pocket this Sunday, given Arizona’s pass rush who is not that great. I also like the three-headed monster at the running back position for the Rams: Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and rookie Cam Akers. Los Angeles has rebounded with a win after each of their three losses in 2020. Also note that the Rams have beaten the spread the last five times they made a trip to Arizona. Another reason for taking the Rams in this contest is the mismatch on defense. Los Angeles’ defense has been great, both against the run and the pass. As for Arizona, they have a middle of the pack defense. PICK #4 (2 STARS): INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -3 AT HOUSTON TEXANS The Colts are not intimidated from playing in Houston at all: they are 7-0-1 ATS in their last eight meetings there. Indy is also a team that can rebound nicely after poor performances. Indeed, they have posted an incredible 6-0-1 ATS record after double-digit home losses. Last week, they got beaten up 45-26 against the Titans. I am aware that the Texans will benefit from three additional days of rest after playing on Thanksgiving, but the team suffered a HUGE blow when their top wide receiver (Will Fuller V) and their top cornerback (Bradley Roby) got hit with six-game suspensions for violating the league’s PEDs policy. With Randall Cobb already out and Kenny Stills being waived about a week ago, that will put the wide receiver depth to the test. I expect Indy’s defense to respond strongly after such a poor outing last week. With Deshaun Watson having less weapons at his disposal, he’ll need to do a Superman impersonation in order to keep his team afloat. I don’t think it will happen. Houston’s defense has been awful both against the run and the pass, while the Colts should get running back Jonathan Taylor back. I am worried about the Colts possibly being without their star left tackle Anthony Castonzo, but I’m still putting my money on Indy to do everything they can to keep up with the Titans for the AFC South title. PICK #5 (2 STARS): SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -10 VS NEW YORK GIANTS Last Monday, I posted an alert in my Facebook group and to people on my mailing list about a great bargain. The Seahawks were tagged as 7.5-point favorites at Bet365 at the time, while some bookies had a line of 10 points. I put a fairly big bet, then I let everyone know about this nice deal, and the line moved to 9, and then 10 points within an hour. No matter if the bet wins or loses, this was clearly a good value wager. Now that the dust has settled, I still think Seattle -10 points is an enticing play. According to the latest reports, Daniel Jones seems unlikely to play. His backup, Colt McCoy, is simply horrible. He’s been bad throughout his 11-year career, and that’s not about to change. He couldn’t get the offense going last week against a weak Cincinnati defense. I love how Seattle matches up well with the Giants. With McCoy under center, New York will need their running game to get going, but that should prove very difficult considering the Seahawks defense is 3rd in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per carry. That will force McCoy into long third downs, and the result will be catastrophic. On the other side of the ball, New York’s strength on defense is its run defense. Unfortunately for them, Seattle has a guy named Russell Wilson at quarterback who is ready to shred their pass defense. Seattle wins by at least two touchdowns and beats the spread. UNOFFICIAL PICKS For entertainment purposes, here are some leans for you: LEAN #1: Chargers +1 vs Patriots (This is a passing league, and there is a huge gap between New England’s and Los Angeles’ passing offenses. Cam Newton is banged up and his team will be travelling through three time zones to play this game.); LEAN #2: Broncos +14 at Chiefs (The weakness of K.C.’s defense is its run defense, so I think Denver can find a way to run efficiently and run out the clock a little bit. On the other side of the ball, Denver’s pass defense is among the top 10 and could limit the damage against Mahomes and company. The Broncos are 1-9 ATS in the last 10 meetings with the Chiefs, but they are a perfect 7-0 ATS after scoring 14 points or less! Drew Lock will be back under center.); LEAN #3: Dolphins -11 vs Bengals (I hope Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the starter because he is better than Tua right now. Good luck to QB Brandon Allen against a stifling Dolphins pass defense! Miami could welcome back running backs Myles Gaskin and/or Salvon Ahmed); LEAN #4: Washington +8.5 at Steelers (Pittsburgh is not nearly as good as its record indicate. Man, they played badly against the Ravens last Wednesday! Washington is fighting hard every week and they are playing sound football for head coach Ron Rivera. It won’t be an easy task for the Steelers to beat them by 9 points or more). A big thank you for reading this column every week, I hope to help you beat your bookie! Professor MJ https://youtu.be/7RFlJpe3P4E
Written January 9rd, 2020 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed) The picks went 3-1 last week. Let's stay on the winning track! Minnesota Vikings +7 or San Francisco 49ers -7 ? The 49ers got a much-needed bye week, thanks to a goal-line stand in the final moments of last regular season game against the Seahawks. The additional rest will allow San Francisco’s defense to get a boost, with the return of Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt. Let’s face the reality: the Niners defense did not dominate nearly as much in the second half of the season. In the first seven games, San Francisco’s defense allowed an average of 11 points per game. That number exploded to 26 points per game during the final nine contests. Part of this steep raise can be attributed to the strength of opposition, but we’re still talking about a huge spike! The weakest link on the Niners defense is when it comes to stopping the run. They finished 17th in the NFL in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. The bad news is Minnesota excels at running the ball. Dalvin Cook looked fast and fresh last week in New Orleans after sitting out the last two regular season games. Both quarterbacks finished with similar passing completion rates, passing yards and TD passes. The one difference lied in the number of interceptions thrown: 13 for Garoppolo versus just 6 for Cousins. I was impressed with Minnesota’s defensive line last week. They pressured Drew Brees all game long, and pretty much shut down the running game (except some unconventional runs by Taysom Hill, which is unlikely to happen against the Niners). Both teams have a well-balanced attack and a stout defense. I expect a hard-fought game, where the Niners will come on top by a close margin. For this reason, I’m taking the Vikings +7 points in San Francisco. Tennessee Titans +9.5 or Baltimore Ravens -9.5 ? The Titans defeated the defending Super Bowl champions last week by beating the Patriots 20-to-13. The line for this game opened at 10, but dropped to 9.5 since then. Let me tell you right away that I’m going with the Ravens laying 9.5 points. It’s easy to get excited over the great win by Tennessee last week, and the amazing performance by running back Derrick Henry. However, don’t forget the Titans got a 9-7 record this year, compared to 14-2 for Baltimore. Tennessee lost games against the Jaguars, the Broncos and the Panthers this season. They can be great at time, and bad at others. I’m betting it will be an off day for the Titans this weekend against a Baltimore team that is riding a 12-game winning streak. Did you know Ryan Tannehill led the league in passer rating? Still, for some reason I don’t trust him too much. Against a stingy pass defense last week, he struggled quite a bit. He completed just 8 passes out of 15 for a total of 72 yards. That’s not reassuring. The Ravens will focus on stopping the run, and dare Tannehill to beat them. I don’t think it’s going to end well for the Titans. These two teams met in Tennessee last season. I know the rosters were fairly different, but the Ravens won 21-0, a game in which Derrick Henry rushed for just 21 yards on seven carries. The Ravens finished the season with more than 200 rushing yards per game on average, a feat that had never been accomplished before. Lamar Jackson showed he can throw too; over his last eight games, he threw 25 touchdown passes versus a single pick. That’s impressive! One final telling statistic for you: the Ravens beat their opponents by at least 10 points in eight of their final 10 games. That included meetings with some very strong teams. I’m betting Baltimore -9.5 points. Houston Texans +9.5 or Kansas City Chiefs -9.5 ? The Chiefs seem to be peaking at the right time. After starting the season with a 6-4 record, they concluded with six straight victories. All of them occurred with a margin of at least 7 points! Meanwhile, it seems difficult to trust this Texans’ team. They are very inconsistent, as shown by their playoff win against Buffalo last week. They started slow by trailing 16-to-0 and rallied to win in overtime. Also, their negative point differential of -7 during the regular season is a shame for a division champion! The revenge factor goes in favor of K.C. since Houston pulled off the upset at Arrowhead back in Week #6. The Chiefs led 17-to-3 after one quarter in this game; they won’t let them off the hook this time around. Both QBs threw for exactly 26 TD passes. However, Watson was the victim of 12 interceptions versus just 5 for Patrick Mahomes. Another key argument is the defensive side of the ball. Houston’s defense was not very good; they finished 28th in terms of total yards allowed per game. As a comparison, the Chiefs defense finished 17th in that category, but they improved dramatically over the second half of the season. Indeed, they allowed just 11.5 points per game during their last six games. Therefore, I’m going with the Chiefs -9.5 points. Seattle Seahawks +4.5 or Green Bay Packers -4.5 ? The final meeting of the weekend involves two fierce competitors at quarterback: Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Based on the point spread, it should be the closest game of the weekend. The Seahawks have been plagued with injuries at the running back position, and also on the offensive line. However, they might get a couple of guys back: Duane Brown and Mike Iupati. With “Beast Mode” getting accustomed to being back on the field, Seattle will try to mimic what the Lions did to the Packers a couple of weeks ago, a game in which they racked up 171 rushing yards. I’m going to take the Seahawks and the points in this game, even though Seattle is 0-5-1 in their last six meetings at Lambeau Field. To me, the Packers passing offense relies too much on Davante Adams. Seattle seems to have more weapons with Tyler Lockett, Jacob Hollister and the emergence of rookie D.K. Metcalf, who looked like a beast in Philly last week! On Green Bay’s side, Lazard, Valdes-Scantling and Jimmy Graham are too inconsistent. The Packers have the better defense, though, especially with the Smiths (Preston and Za’Darius). Still, we’re talking about evenly matched teams. I can see this game ending on the final drive with either team moving on to the NFC Championship game. Under this setting, I’m taking the underdogs: Seattle +4.5.