There it is.
In one fell swoop, the rug was pulled from under the feet of the entire football-watching world. Only, unlike previous weeks, there were more feet standing on the rug. More feet to be tripped. Coincidence? Of course not.
For the entire season, we have preached about the false positives that the 2016 NFL season continues to provide. For the past few weeks, we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We emerged in Week 10.
We continue to stress how different this season has been compared to the last few. It is true for a number of reasons that range from as obvious as a presidential election to as subtle as referee crew changes and tweaks to field goal block units. There are too many causes to list, but the effect is real.
That is, until this past week.
The two running themes of this season that have remained constant are the decline in viewership and the increase in what we classify as ‘easy teams’ covering the spread. But, as we stated in last week’s introduction, what happens when viewership returns? With a fantastic slate of potentially excellent games ahead of us, eyeballs – no longer distracted by an election or historic World Series – will undoubtedly find their way back to a screen. Then what?
They lose. Of course they lose. Because this game of picking against the spread is not as cut-and-dry as the first few months of this year have suggested. Instead, look back over the course of the past two full seasons and recognize that we are living in an outlier. One that just changed and began to revert toward the mean.
In Week 9 – the final set of games before the election and when attention was likely diverted – the Falcons, Cowboys, Saints, and Chargers all defied the odds by winning and covering their spreads. In what should be the least surprising news of the month to our readers, three-out-of-four all lost and failed to cover the spread in Week 10. In addition, the Patriots were back in action after a bye week. Easy money, right? Make that four-of-five teams failed to win and cover.
Now that the wave is finally cresting, we need to see where it takes us. We started off last week’s column by stating that we were in a ‘make-or-break’ position, but the follow-up is just as important as the initial jolt. As scheduling would have it, we may not get our answer, just yet.
With a combination of both poor matchups – it is nearly impossible to top last week’s incredible drama highlighted by the Cowboys and Steelers, followed by the Seahawks and Patriots – and normal regression – favorites performed so poorly in Week 10 that a ‘correction’ is in the works – we will almost certainly need to wait another week for the next big move. In the meantime, the same metaphorical rug will be carefully reset, luring more people back to its soft embrace. We can join the party, too, as long as we remain at the edge, ready to be the first to jump off, not trip, when it begins to move.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2016 Season: 34-33-1 (Last Week: 6-1)
(2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2016 Season: 68-75-4 (Last Week: 7-7)
(2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Philadelphia Eagles (+6.5)* at Seattle Seahawks
Which win was more impressive: Seattle going to New England to beat the Patriots on national television or the Eagles knocking off the Falcons in Philadelphia? By virtue of the large spread, it appears to be the former. In fact, Seattle’s victory was so eye-opening that the spread has increased dramatically since its open, almost certainly as a response to how favorable the Seahawks are now viewed. Why?
Of course, the Seahawks are an excellent team. They entered Week 10 with one of the best defenses in the league and an offense that was ready to surge. Beating the Patriots outright should not have convinced people of Seattle’s talent level, but only confirmed it. Surprisingly, that isn’t the case.
Even though the matchup was one of the most difficult that the Patriots had faced, all season, New England was still the prohibitive favorite in last week’s Sunday night showdown, both via the points and the support gained by the football world. Now, after the loss, it appears as if those who were steadfastly against the Seahawks – obviously, due to their opponent in New England – have jumped ship and climbed aboard the bandwagon in Seattle. The Seahawks are now giving too many points and getting too much support.
Philadelphia’s outstanding defense rose to the occasion of slowing down Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Week 10, and it will be able to keep Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in check – especially with Seattle failing to run the ball effectively. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Eagles’ offense has been rather average, of late, with the exception of its 208 rush yard performance against Atlanta. The same is not in store for the Eagles when they face a Seattle defense allowing the third-fewest yards-per-rush. With that, Philadelphia will not be able to break through completely against Seattle. But the Eagles’ defense will keep the game within reach.
The spread originally opened up around four points, which is far more indicative of how the game should end. The Seahawks win by exactly four, but Philadelphia beats the spread.
Green Bay Packers (+2.5) at Washington Redskins
Why does it seem like we have seen this movie before? The Redskins get hot, remind everyone that Kirk Cousins is not nearly the liability that many want to believe he is, then host the Packers coming off a few losses. This feels eerily similar to opening round of playoff action from last season.
That’s because it is.
After losing back-to-back games to close the regular season, the Packers ‘limped’ into Washington in January of 2016. Now, after losing back-to-back-to-back games, the Packers will ‘limp’ into Washington in November of 2016.
Green Bay often gets propped up by virtue of its franchise’s historic ability to remain competitive in any given season. This was, after all, the biggest contributing factor to the Packers ‘trapping’ most of the football-watching world in an embarrassing loss in Week 10. Thankfully for Green Bay, said loss is now in the past. The ‘letdown’ happened, and the Packers can no longer take anything for granted. Like a trip to Washington to face a Redskins team that has one loss since September 18th.
The matchup and momentum are pointing in Washington’s direction, but the team that Green Bay will field on Sunday night is far better than its numbers suggest. Most importantly, the Packers have been without a running game for weeks, but finally had James Starks back on the field against Tennessee. Starks was a relative non-factor against a Titans team ready to explode, but the running back gives Aaron Rodgers some relief in all facets of the offense. Washington has allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns and fifth-most rush-yards-per-attempt in the league, but just played a Vikings team with virtually no ability to move the football on the ground. The Packers are no longer in that category.
Green Bay relives its 35-18 victory from last year’s postseason to a smaller degree, winning by a touchdown and beating the spread.
Click to here to sign up for Sporfolio to see rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for the past two seasons – tracked by NFLPickwatch, and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks.