The TBs are coming!
Tampa Bay … Tom Brady … Todd Bowles. They’ll all be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. to take on (or is that torment?) the Jets.
The Buccaneers (11-4) have clinched the NFC South, but sit fourth in the NFC playoff picture. That would give them a home game in the wild-card round. They are one game behind the Packers (12-3) for the sole NFC bye and are currently seeded behind the Cowboys and Rams (who are both 11-4). All three of those teams have challenging games in Week 17, so the defending champs come in with at least a modicum of motivation in that area.
Bowles, the Bucs’ defensive coordinator, has his own reasons for wanting to have a good showing against a Jets team that went 24-40 under his watch, from 2015-18.
Brady, possibly the all-time Jets tormentor, has put up 30-plus points in five of the past six games, but will be operating without Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin and possibly Mike Evans. The weather is also an interesting factor for a game with a high spread and moderate total (45.5). Temps are forecast to be in the 50s, but the winds will be in the mid-20s gusting to the 30s. That’s probably a recipe for more running, clock rolling and a lower-scoring game. On the other hand, whatever the weather, Brady has way more experience than Zach Wilson does at playing in it.
The Jets are a live team right now, coming off two ATS wins after starting 3-8 ATS. Robert Saleh and some key COVID players — including OLs Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and a few recognizable names on defense — are coming back. Mike LaFleur will call some trick plays and the Jets should be loose. Just seems like a lot of points.
The pick: Jets, +13.5.
CHICAGO BEARS (-6) over New York Giants
All credit to the Bears for their last-minute win in the snow at Seattle. It’s a huge stretch to now lay nearly a touchdown with a team that’s 5-10 overall and 2-8 ATS in its past 10. But that’s where we are with the Giants and Mike Glennon. The forecast at Soldier Field is 20 degrees with winds in the 15-23 mph range. That’s a bad place for the Giants if they’ve checked out of the season.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-7) over Las Vegas Raiders
Carson Wentz cleared COVID protocol and is expected to play for the Colts, who avoid having to turn to rookie Sam Ehlinger. The Raiders, however, will still be without TE Darren Waller, and they’ve scored 17 or fewer points in seven of their past eight games.
Atlanta Falcons (+14.5) over BUFFALO BILLS
We’re looking at high 20s, some snow and winds 10-20 mph in Orchard Park. The Falcons (6-9) are not a good team, but they aren’t a terrible or dead team, either. The Bills need a win to stay ahead of the Patriots, but this sets up more like a grinder than a runaway.
Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) over WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
The WFT had an admirable showing against the Eagles on Dec. 21 with Garrett Gilbert at quarterback and a COVID ravaged squad, then got destroyed by the Cowboys, 56-14, with Taylor Heinicke playing on Dec. 26. It’s hard to bounce back from that type of beating with the season nearly over. The spread’s reasonable and the Eagles are figuring things out (5-1 SU, 4-1-1 ATS last six).
CINCINNATI BENGALS (+5) over Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce and some other key Chiefs are back from the COVID list, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) will be out. Tough call, but the Bengals’ motivation to try to clinch the AFC North trumps K.C.’s bid for the one AFC bye, if only by a little.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-15.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars
Somehow it’ll be close to 60 degrees and a little wet in Foxborough, perfect conditions for Bill Belichick to try to get Mac Jones back on track against the no-pulse Jaguars.
Miami Dolphins (+3.5) over TENNESSEE TITANS
Love Mike Vrabel, but Derrick Henry is not expected back for this one, and without him, the Titans haven’t topped 20 points in any of their past five games. Miami has given up as many as 17 just once in the last seven games. Just doing the math here.
Los Angeles Rams (-4.5) over BALTIMORE RAVENS
Lamar Jackson returned to practice with a limp on Wednesday and then was out again Thursday. He’s a game-time decision, though it’s looking as if Tyler Hutley will start. If Jackson somehow plays, it’ll be tough for him to have success against the likes of Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey. Also doubt the Ravens’ ravaged secondary can stop Cooper Kupp even a little.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-6.5) over Denver Broncos
Looking for the Chargers, who are the eighth seed in the seven-team AFC playoffs, to show some fight after their 41-29 loss at Houston last Sunday. The Broncos, who will start Drew Lock again, are hurting at running back and at most defensive positions.
Houston Texans (+12.5) over SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Was very impressed with Davis Mills and the Texans in their beatdown of the Chargers last week. This is a live team still trying to make some noise. The line went down three points when it was thought Trey Lance would start, but this is still a nice price to go up against Jimmy Garoppolo with a bad thumb.
Detroit Lions (+7) over SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
It’s the most remarkable betting stat I’ve ever seen: The Lions are 10-5 ATS with a 2-12-1 SU record. It happens in part because they’re still catching a full touchdown against a Seattle team that is 2-5 both SU and ATS since Russell Wilson returned.
DALLAS COWBOYS (-6) over Arizona Cardinals
Not going to mess with the Cowboys right now. They are scary on defense with Micah Parsons and Trevon “11 INTs” Diggs. They have scored 33 or more in six home games this season. And they have a recent revenge motive for a 38-10 loss to the Cardinals last season when Dak Prescott was out.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-6.5) over Carolina Panthers
Trying to determine if the Panthers are one of the “dead” teams I’m trying to avoid this week. It’s close. Sam Darnold might be an improvement over Cam Newton, but Taysom Hill is back and the Saints did shut out the Buccaneers just two games ago.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (-7) over Minnesota Vikings
Not going to overthink this one. Kirk Cousins is on the COVID list, meaning the Vikings will start Sean Mannion at quarterback. The forecast for Sunday night at Lambeau is -1 with a RealFeel of -7. One team is built for those conditions and the other lives in a cold climate, but plays indoors.
Cleveland Browns (-3.5) over PITTSBURGH STEELERS
It will be quite the night at Heinz Field with Ben Roethlisberger likely playing his final home game. But Cleveland won’t be in awe, not after beating Ben in this building in the playoffs last season.
Best bets: Eagles, Rams, Lions
Lock of the week: Eagles (Locks 9-6 in 2021)
Last week: 10-6 overall, 2-1 Best Bets.