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NFL Picks Week 12: Underdogs with Best Chance of Pulling Outright Upset

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 07:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos greet each other at midfield following the game on October 7, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2013

Hey guys, remember all that big stuff that happened in Week 11? Forget it. Because of the wonderful (and horrendous and potentially damaging) thing known as Thursday Night Football, the Week 12 slate is already rapidly approaching.

And for the degenerate gambler in your life, that means it's already beyond time to start looking at the spreads across the NFL.

Bookmakers at this point in the season have a pretty darned good grip on who they think teams are, so it's rare to see any out-of-this-world spreads or ones that look like a jarringly obvious parlay pick. The lines generally settle within a point or two of where they opened, barring some midweek injury. 

Although that can be frustrating, it opens up a secondary opportunity: biting the bullet and taking the underdog outright. In the case of close spreads, it's advisable to look at whether the money line or taking the points gives you better odds—at times they vary wildly, for whatever reason—but there are usually a rash of close-ish lines you can throw out the window.

There's no use in betting on a one-point underdog to cover when the money line would give you 1.5 times the payout. That's just bad business. And looking at the Week 12 odds, there are a few underdogs that look like possible outright winners. Here's a look at the ones that stick out the most. 

Week 12 NFL Schedule/Picks
Away TeamHome TeamSpreadPick
New Orleans SaintsAtlanta FalconsNO -7.5Saints
Pittsburgh SteelersCleveland BrownsCLE -2Steelers
Tampa Bay BuccaneersDetroit LionsDET -9.5Lions
Minnesota VikingsGreen Bay PackersGB -3Packers
Jacksonville JaguarsHouston TexansHOU -10Jaguars
San Diego ChargersKansas City ChiefsKC -4.5Chiefs
New York JetsBaltimore RavensBAL -3.5Ravens
Chicago BearsSt. Louis RamsSTL -1Bears
Carolina PanthersMiami DolphinsCAR -3.5Panthers
Indianapolis ColtsArizona CardinalsARI -1Cardinals
Tennessee TitansOakland RaidersOAK -1.5Titans
Dallas CowboysNew York GiantsNYG -2.5Giants
Denver BroncosNew England PatriotsDEN -3Patriots
San Francisco 49ersWashington RedskinsSF -549ers
Vegas Insider

  

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-2)
Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams (-1)

Nov 17, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (left) celebrates a late game touchdown with tackle Marcus Gilbert (77) against the Detroit Lions during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 3
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

I'm grouping these two games together, essentially for the same reason: Pittsburgh and Chicago are underdogs in name only and are in a far better spot than the teams they're going to face.

The Steelers have seen their offense reinvigorated a bit of late and still have an outside shot at the AFC North crown at 4-6. Cleveland has lost four of its past five games since losing Brian Hoyer for the season, and while Jason Campbell is a vast improvement over Brandon Weeden, the Browns just aren't getting enough offensive consistency.

They wasted their entire 2012 draft taking their supposed franchise cornerstones at running back and quarterback. Things are going to get worse before they get better down the stretch in Cleveland. And frankly that's a good thing.

Nov 10, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens (10) passes the ball during the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Rams won 38-8. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

As for the Bears, it's generally a good thing for a team's odds when Kellen Clemens is prominently involved. St. Louis is coming off a bye and its biggest win of the season two weeks ago against Indianapolis, but we all can recognize a fluke when we see one. The Rams aren't going to force five turnovers against Chicago and the surprisingly steady Josh McCown.

And that means even more prominence for Clemens. Parlay the Steelers and Bears money lines or make them the anchors of a teaser and watch the money pile up.

Steelers 24, Browns 14

Bears 27, Rams 17

 

New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens (-4)

Nov 17, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan watches the games from the sideline during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 37-14. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sport
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Can a team at once be the league's biggest variant and its most consistent force? If so, meet Patient Zero, the New York Jets. The Jets teams that show up each week are indecipherable. On two separate Sundays, they have defeated the Patriots and Saints, doing so impressively and with poise down the stretch. On three other Sundays, they have been outscored a combined 124-36 in losses to the Titans, Bengals and Bills.

I'll give you a minute to process all that.

Baltimore, meanwhile, has been decidedly minimal in its variance. The Ravens have played seven straight games decided by one possession, and eight of their 10 contests have been decided within eight points. The only exceptions are Denver's Week 1 beatdown of the Super Bowl champs and the Ravens' drubbing of the lowly Texans in Week 3. 

Nov 17, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) tackles Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

We pretty much know who the Ravens are at this point. They'll hold their opponent to somewhere between 17-24 points, score about that themselves and play pretty much a carbon copy game every week. Ray Rice showed signs of life last week against Chicago, but odds are he'll be terrible again against the Jets and their elite front seven. Baltimore is probably already counting down the years and dollars on Joe Flacco's deal, who has returned to Joe Flaccodom after a brief respite during last season's playoff run.

The real question is what Jets team shows up. And, if our consistently inconsistent bunch stays such, we're due for a "good" week. In a strange twist, New York has alternated wins and losses in every game since Week 1. Rex Ryan and Co.'s streak bar hasn't gone past one in either column all season.

A big reason for that has been Geno Smith, though he's tilted far to the left on the bad-good meter over the past three weeks. Smith hasn't thrown a touchdown in three games while tossing five picks and completing exactly half of his passes. Baltimore has had some troubles in the secondary this season, so Smith could be in line for a slight bounce back.

Or he could not. Either way, we should come into this game pretty sure the Jets will come clo—oh, the hell with it. Jets win.

Jets 20, Ravens 18

 

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+3)

Oct 7, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) shakes hands with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) following the game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Stew Miln
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure if you've heard, but Tom Brady and Peyton Manning play on these teams. Oh, you have? How about the fact that they've done this tango 13 times previously and people tend to make a big deal about the result? 

Oh, good. Apparently you've seen the promos for what I can only assume is the last game before an alien invasion based on the way it's been marketed. I mean, we know that Brady and Manning hit the prime-time junket every year. Why is it that networks seem to think they have to remind fans about what an important game this is, historically?

Regardless of the inanity, we're looking at what should be the best game of the week. The Patriots are coming off their second loss this season partially attributable to a bad call, the first coming in Week 8 against the aforementioned Jets. New England now sits in a tie with Indianapolis for the second first-round bye in the playoffs, and will actually be behind the 8-ball with another loss because of the Colts' advantage in conference winning percentage.

It's hard to say the Patriots must win this game because of how dreadful Indy has looked the past couple weeks, but it'd certainly help.

Tom Brady again looked solid for the second straight game with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup. After beginning the season with below 60 percent passing in six of the Patriots' first eight contests, Brady has connected on 52 of his past 73 and had just his second back-to-back games with a QBR better than 50.

Meanwhile, the Broncos look like they're just trying to escape this midseason gauntlet. Denver is in the midst of a three-game stretch where it plays Kansas City twice and New England. These three games could be the difference between the No. 1 seed and No. 5 seed, and the Broncos are licking their wounds after the first week.

Wes Welker's status will be up in the air until the end of the week as he's recovering from a concussion. Safety Rahim Moore may not return for the rest of the regular season. Julius Thomas might not play. And then there's Manning, who has been dealing with a right ankle injury, which was wrapped with enough tape to cover the Biscayne Bay on Sunday.

It's hard to see anything but a close game because of the Brady-Manning history, but New England is in a better place at this point.

Patriots 34, Broncos 31

 

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