Bleacher Report's Expert Week 15 NFL PicksDecember 16, 2021
Bleacher Report's Expert Week 15 NFL Picks
Nobody wants to talk about COVID-19, we get it. That said, the pandemic has become a major factor in the sports world. More than 70 NFL players have hit the reserve/COVID-19 list in recent days, leaving some teams in dire straits entering Week 15.
And while the top priority is of course ensuring that everyone is healthy and safe, the reality is the rise in cases could have a significant impact on the betting biz.
Bleacher Report national NFL writers Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, B/R Gridiron editors Ian Kenyon and Wes O'Donnell, and B/R Betting host Connor Rogers had to contend with that reality when breaking down every game against the spread this week.
Regardless, here are their ATS picks for every game on the Week 15 slate.
Lines are from DraftKings as of Wednesday, December 15, at 5 p.m. ET. Check DraftKings for the latest odds info. Information on public betting trends courtesy of the Action Network.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)
DraftKings Line: Kansas City -3
The Kansas City Chiefs are 0-3 against the spread and 1-2 straight-up in their last three meetings with the division-rival Los Angeles Chargers, but they're favored by a field goal in L.A. on short rest Thursday night.
Our gang is divided.
O'Donnell on the Bolts: "They've already beaten the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Justin Herbert is proving to be the type of quarterback who rises to the occasion, and what could be bigger than his biggest divisional rival QB coming to town on a short week with the division in the balance? KC's defense has become one of the better stories of the second half of the season, but I'm more than willing to roll with the Chargers to cover if not win outright."
Gagnon on the Chiefs: "I understand why three of my five participating colleagues are taking three points with a home team that has had Kansas City's number, especially with the rest factor. But L.A. has been remarkably inconsistent this season and has won back-to-back games. I can see this being a letdown, especially considering the streaking Chiefs have now covered four consecutive spreads."
As for COVID-19, the short week has cost star Chiefs defender Chris Jones a shot at playing, while the Chargers might be getting a slew of key offensive players back from injury or the COVID list. Tread carefully.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Kansas City
Kenyon: Kansas City
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Kansas City
Score Prediction: Chiefs 27, Chargers 24
Las Vegas Raiders (6-7) at Cleveland Browns (7-6)
DraftKings Line: Las Vegas -1
The Cleveland Browns were once favored to beat the Las Vegas Raiders by close to a touchdown, but with COVID-19 impacting quarterback Baker Mayfield, head coach Kevin Stefanski and several other key Browns players, and with the team in the NFL's enhanced COVID mitigation protocol, the Raiders have become a small fave Saturday in Ohio.
Gagnon and Kenyon still figure a relatively deep Browns team will find a way and take advantage of that line movement at home in a critical game against a struggling opponent, but the majority of the crew can't back Cleveland under these circumstances.
"It's not that I have overwhelming faith in the Raiders," Davenport noted. "But with each passing day, this becomes an easier pick to make. On Tuesday, eight Browns players (including wide receiver Jarvis Landry and guard Wyatt Teller) landed on the COVID-19 list. On Wednesday, Mayfield and Stefanski joined them. The Raiders may be a mess, but at least their first-string will be out there on Saturday night."
Las Vegas might still be without star tight end Darren Waller (knee, back), but the team is indeed in much better shape otherwise. And while they've lost five of six, they did beat the Dallas Cowboys on short rest on the road a few weeks ago and they need this.
Davenport: Las Vegas
O'Donnell: Las Vegas
Rogers: Las Vegas
Sobleski: Las Vegas
Score Prediction: Raiders 20, Browns 17
New England Patriots (9-4) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
DraftKings Line: Indianapolis -2.5
The New England Patriots are 7-0 against the spread during a seven-game winning streak, and the vast majority of the panel isn't about to bet against that trend with Bill Belichick's team coming off a bye week Saturday evening against the Indianapolis Colts.
Granted, the Colts are also coming off a bye, they're at home and their only regulation loss since Week 3 came when they put up a hell of a fight against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month.
Still, they're laying nearly a field goal and that's daunting.
"As good of a coach as Frank Reich is," Sobleski said, "he's not Belichick, who is the master at devising game plans. Furthermore, New England's defense has the size to at least slow Jonathan Taylor and the Colts' running attack. Throw in the Patriots getting 2.5 points and it's an easy decision."
That said, it couldn't hurt to buy an extra half-point if it's possible at a decent rate, to be safe.
And the good news is COVID-19 doesn't appear to be a factor here.
Davenport: New England
Gagnon: New England
Kenyon: New England
Rogers: New England
Sobleski: New England
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Colts 21
Dallas Cowboys (9-4) at New York Giants (4-9)
DraftKings Line: Dallas -11
The same can be said of Sunday's NFC East tilt between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, although bettors will still want to monitor the status of key Giants offensive players Daniel Jones (neck) and Saquon Barkley (ankle), and it's worth noting that stalwart left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle) won't suit up for the Cowboys.
Dallas is in better shape, it smashed New York earlier this season and Big Blue's last three losses have come by double-digit margins. With that in mind, most of the gang is laying 11 points with the Cowboys.
"I think brutal losses in Miami and L.A. confirmed that the Giants are toast for 2021," Gagnon said, "and I'm not sure they'll have much left in this spot. The Cowboys have taken care of business on their current three-game road trip, and Ezekiel Elliott (knee) is getting healthier. This is a scary number, but I'll roll the dice."
Still, it is a dangerous spread and the Giants earned 33 percent of the vote.
"Daniel Jones is back for the Giants," Kenyon said, "and that should return some semblance of stability to their offense which has been fairly disappointing of late with Mike Glennon under center. Dak Prescott has been underwhelming of late, but this should serve as a get-right game for him against a weak Giants secondary. Dallas should win this game outright, but an 11-point spread screams backdoor cover."
Kenyon: New York
Sobleski: New York
Score Prediction: Cowboys 30, Giants 16
Houston Texans (2-11) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)
DraftKings Line: Jacksonville -4
Don't do this to yourself. Don't bet on a severely unreliable team, and that'd be your only choice in a matchup between the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
That said, you might not have a choice. And for office pool purposes, our panel is rather shocked to see the lowly Jags laying more than a field goal, regardless of site or opponent. After all, they haven't won by more than a field goal in any of its last 28 games.
"The Urban Meyer fiasco is a valid enough reason to fade the Jaguars," Rogers said, "but this is beyond that. They've been outscored 108-31 in their last four games, and Trevor Lawrence has thrown one touchdown since October. Jacksonville is simply not competing right now. While the Texans have their own list of problems, I think Davis Mills and Brandin Cooks can get just enough going in this ugly matchup."
Houston hasn't been remotely competitive either of late, but it did beat the division-rival Tennessee Titans on the road last month. This number is pushing it.
Score Prediction: Texans 21, Jaguars 20
Tennessee Titans (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)
DraftKings Line: Tennessee -1.5
The nation is divided right down the middle on what is essentially a pick'em between the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in Pennsylvania, so it's fitting that our group is also deadlocked with Tennessee laying 1.5 points on the road.
Gagnon on the Steelers: "It looks like standout edge defender T.J. Watt will be OK to play for a veteran Steelers team that always finds a way to hang around or above .500 and need this. Meanwhile, Tennessee's offense has scored 20 or fewer points in three straight games sans Derrick Henry. His absence has begun to catch up with them, so I'm not laying points with them on the road here."
O'Donnell on the Titans: "The Steelers' emotional high after upsetting the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 evaporated in Minnesota last week. Tennessee hasn't looked very good of late (beating the Jaguars 20-0 doesn't count for much), but the Titans are still in a fight for the top seed in the AFC. Going on the road to Pittsburgh is the type of atmosphere they can expect in the postseason, and I'm confident we'll start seeing a team that can be a legitimate contender starting this week."
This one looks risky either way, but it should be superb for entertainment purposes.
Score Prediction: Titans 21, Steelers 20
Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at Detroit Lions (1-11-1)
DraftKings Line: Arizona -13.5
Have we mentioned that the Detroit Lions are feisty this year? Yeah, we may need to consult the thesaurus. They're also spirited, gritty, scrappy and...bad. Yes, that's not a synonym for feisty, but they're still quite bad, and they've still lost four games by 18-plus points this season.
One of those came last week against the mediocre Denver Broncos, and that has nearly the entire crew backing the Arizona Cardinals as a massive favorite in a potential bounce-back spot Sunday in the Motor City.
"Laying this many points never fails to inspire unease," Davenport admitted. "But the Lions were just blasted in Denver, while the Redbirds have to be seething after losing the top spot in the NFC after falling to the Rams. Arizona's margin for error in the NFC West just evaporated, so I expect the team to come out firing. The Lions are just too challenged offensively to keep up with that Cardinals offense. Arizona rolls while Detroit continues its quest for the first overall pick in 2022."
Both T.J. Hockenson (hand) and D'Andre Swift (shoulder) are likely out again for Detroit, but to be fair to our lone wolf Sobleski, DeAndre Hopkins (knee) and James Conner (ankle) aren't looking good for 'Zona. Bettor beware.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 34, Lions 13
Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (7-6)
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -11
Another big spread, another near-unanimous consensus in favor of the team laying double-digit points. This time, all but Davenport are backing the suddenly-very-desperate Buffalo Bills as an 11-point fave for a home matchup with a Carolina Panthers squad in disarray.
"Buffalo fell to the Buccaneers last week, but it wasn't because of Josh Allen's performance," Sobleski said. "The quarterback seemingly carried his team throughout the overtime contest. The Bucs are just the better overall team. If Allen continues to play the same way against the Panthers, who don't have an answer at quarterback, the 11-point spread isn't as dramatic as it looks on paper."
For what it's worth, the favorite has covered in each of the last seven games containing double-digit spreads, all of Buffalo's wins this season have come by at least 15 points, and the Panthers have suffered three 18-plus-point losses in their last seven games.
Still, you might want to check on Allen's foot injury before rolling the dice here.
Score Prediction: Bills 31, Panthers 14
New York Jets (3-10) at Miami Dolphins (6-7)
DraftKings Line: Miami -10
Not only are the New York Jets in contention for the first overall pick, they're also a league-worst 3-10 against the spread this season. And yet, it appears the majority of our panel is under the impression oddsmakers have overcompensated for that reality by making the Miami Dolphins a 10-point favorite Sunday at home.
This time, they're taking the points with a double-digit 'dog.
"The Dolphins have won five in a row but have had a fairly easy stretch of games," Kenyon said. "This should be no different with the Dolphins facing the Jets at home, but 10 is a big line for a team that has only scored 30 or more points once all season. The Jets are likely to get Michael Carter back on offense and should be able to keep this a one-score game."
The Dolphins are riding a five-game winning streak, but they did only beat the familiar Jets by a mere touchdown when they met midway through that run. Still, Gang Green knows how to lose big (they have seven 15-plus-point defeats this season), and the Dolphins are coming off their bye with support from Sobleski and Gagnon, who lead the crew in picking games this season.
Throw in backdoor cover potential and this one could be tricky.
Davenport: New York
Kenyon: New York
O'Donnell: New York
Rogers: New York
Score Prediction: Dolphins 24, Jets 17
Washington Football Team (6-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
DraftKings Line: Philadelphia -7
Deadlocks are common with unpredictable NFC East matchups, and that's the case with COVID-19 playing a role as the Philadelphia Eagles lay seven points at home Sunday against the Washington Football Team.
Davenport on Philly: "As recently as a couple of days ago, a compelling argument could be made for taking Washington and the points here—these are evenly matched teams, and if Washington can take the run away from Philly (or limit it) the visitors would have a real shot at getting the win. But COVID-19 has ripped a massive hole in Washington's defensive line, making that a much harder task. Add in that Washington is down their No. 1 cornerback, their quarterback just had an MRI on his bum knee and the team's No. 1 wide receiver is in the concussion protocol, and there's little recourse but to lay the points with the Eagles."
Rogers on taking potentially new value with the WFT: "A division matchup of desperate 6-7 teams with their backs against the wall. Washington's defense is banged up and the secondary has struggled, but the same can be said for the Eagles. Neither quarterback falls under the 'reliable' category right now, but this could surprisingly be a shootout. It's hard to see this one separated by more than a touchdown."
Even with a pole the size of the Washington monument, we wouldn't recommend touching this one.
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Washington 20
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Denver Broncos (7-6)
DraftKings Line: Denver -2.5
This time it's O'Donnell's turn to play the role of lone wolf. In a battle between two 7-6 teams vying for playoff positioning, he's down with laying less than a field goal in favor of the home squad. But the rest of the crew is backing the Cincinnati Bengals with 2.5 points in their back pocket Sunday against the Broncos in Denver.
"The Bengals haven't lost three consecutive games all season," Gagnon said, "and they have impressive road wins over Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Las Vegas under their belt. I fully expect them to break out of a two-game mini-slump against a team that has lacked consistency all year."
Throw in that both Javonte Williams (knee) and Melvin Gordon (hand) are banged up for the Broncos, and Cincy is tempting. The Bengals were favored on the advance line a week ago, so you're getting some nice value out of that swing stemming from recent results for both teams.
That said, consider buying up to Cincinnati +3 to cover off a field-goal loss if that's on the table at a reasonable rate.
Score Prediction: Bengals 23, Broncos 21
Atlanta Falcons (6-7) at San Francisco 49ers (7-6)
DraftKings Line: San Francisco -9.5
Our final Sunday split comes in the Bay Area, where the San Francisco 49ers are laying a horrifying 9.5 points against the constant wild card that is the Atlanta Falcons. We don't recommend bets on or against Atlanta if you can help it, while the 49ers have been all over the map this season.
O'Donnell on San Francisco: "The 49ers look to have rediscovered their recipe for success and have the makings of a team you don't really want to see in the postseason even if they're not a genuine Super Bowl contender. The Falcons, meanwhile, are exactly what their record says: a maddening coin flip every single game (6-7 both SU and ATS). This is a big spread, but Kyle Shanahan won't waste an opportunity to stick it to his old team and bolster his side's wild-card chances."
Sobleski on everyone's least favorite underdog: "Frankly, there's not any real reason why the Falcons should be the pick here aside from the near-10-point spread. Atlanta isn't good at stopping the run and they've struggled against opponents with winning records. However, the Falcons have won two of their last three games, albeit against the Jaguars and Panthers, and it's exactly these types of matchups that look lopsided on paper yet go in the other direction."
For what it's worth, the Falcons are 0-4 with an average margin of defeat of 25.3 points against teams that are above .500 this season. That said, the 49ers barely qualify.
Davenport: San Francisco
Kenyon: San Francisco
O'Donnell: San Francisco
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Falcons 17
Green Bay Packers (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
DraftKings Line: Green Bay -5
Once again O'Donnell robs the gang of a unanimous consensus. This time, he's backing the Baltimore Ravens with five points in their back pocket at home against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers.
Normally, that would seem like a hell of a lot of value. But Lamar Jackson's ankle injury could keep him out of this game, and would likely severely limit him at the very least. Throw in that the Packers are a ridiculous 11-2 ATS, and it's hard to have much confidence in a Baltimore squad that has just two regulation wins in its last seven games.
"This is two teams heading in opposite directions," Davenport said. "The Packers are rolling and just took over the top seed in the NFC. The Ravens are reeling and could be without Jackson. Even if their star quarterback does play, his mobility will be affected, and it's not like the Ravens were playing well offensively before Jackson hurt his ankle. Throw in Baltimore's difficulties defending the pass, and you have the makings of a double-digit win for the Pack."
So don't let Aaron Rodgers' nagging toe injury scare you away here. Unless you're on Team O'Donnell.
Davenport: Green Bay
Gagnon: Green Bay
Kenyon: Green Bay
Rogers: Green Bay
Sobleski: Green Bay
Score Prediction: Packers 28, Ravens 17
Seattle Seahawks (5-8) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -4.5
And we conclude a run on lone wolves with the season leader among the crowd taking 4.5 points with the desperate Seattle Seahawks in Los Angeles for a prime Sunday matchup with the division-rival Rams.
The temptation there might be that L.A. is on short rest coming off a big divisional win, while the Seahawks have won back-to-back games with their season on the line. Plus, the Rams have been hit hard by COVID-19.
But we're still talking about the league's fifth-best team in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders), at home against one that ranks 17th in that metric.
"This should mostly serve as a stay-away game with the Rams under heavy COVID-19 protocols," Kenyon said, "but assuming this game isn't moved or delayed, the Rams still should be able to handle the Seahawks at home. Seattle is coming off back-to-back wins but remains one of the NFL's most disappointing teams this season, and it would be surprising if it beat one of the NFC's top three teams on the road this weekend."
The Rams rather easily disposed of the Seahawks on the road earlier this season, on the road again in last year's playoffs and in their last meeting in L.A. last year. Don't overthink this one.
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Rams 26, Seahawks 20
New Orleans Saints (6-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)
DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -11
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have scored 30-plus points in four consecutive covers, and they've earned the chance to be an 11-point home favorite over the struggling New Orleans Saints Sunday night.
But that's a lot of points considering the Saints beat the Bucs by multiple scores in October, and O'Donnell knows the backdoor could be wide open here as well.
"This is more of a gut call than anything," O'Donnell said. "The Bucs have won four straight on the field and ATS, and all signs point to them being able to handle the middling Saints, especially at home and looking to avoid a season sweep. But I'll roll the dice against this big spread and hope for a backdoor cover for two teams that know each other very well."
New Orleans did easily dispose of the Jets on the road last week, but that doesn't mean much. What's more relevant is they're a well-coached team that rarely gets crushed. They've lost one game by more than 11 points since Week 2.
Davenport: Tampa Bay
Gagnon: New Orleans
Kenyon: New Orleans
O'Donnell: New Orleans
Rogers: Tampa Bay
Sobleski: New Orleans
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Saints 20
Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Chicago Bears (4-9)
DraftKings Line: Minnesota -3.5
We wrap up the week with a hung jury. Half the gang isn't down with giving up a field goal plus a hook with the Minnesota Vikings on the road Monday night, while the other half doesn't believe that on short rest the slumping Chicago Bears are worth it as a smallish home 'dog.
Rogers on the Vikes: "Mike Zimmer is coaching for his job, and Minnesota is fighting for the playoffs. It helps that their offense has put up over 425 yards in each of their last two games. It's also no coincidence Justin Jefferson has 29 targets in those two matchups, the key to their passing attack. A cold Monday night in Chicago is no easy trip, but the Vikings will be able to capitalize off a Justin Fields turnover or two to cover here."
Gagnon on Chicago: "The Packers are a bit of a mess, but let's not forget these Vikings lost to Detroit just two weeks ago. They routinely get locked into games that are decided in the dying seconds and are hard to rely on with a hook in play. I think the most likely result here, by far, is Minnesota by a field goal. I'll take the points but wouldn't spend a lot on this one."
Appropriate, then, that the gang is split here.
Score Prediction: Vikings 23, Bears 20
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL).
Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ/WV/PA/MI), 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN), 1-800-522-4700 (CO), 1-800-BETS OFF (IA), or TN REDLINE: 800-889-9789 (TN).
21+. NJ/PA/WV/IN/IA/CO/IL/TN/MI only. Odds and lines subject to change. Eligibility restrictions apply. See DraftKings.com/Sportsbook for full terms and conditions.