My goal is to prove myself wrong.
I’ve now said it in multiple conversations, and I write it every so often when it applies. When I can find a way to convince myself that my own pick is going to lose, I can put myself – and my readers – in a position to win. And that’s exactly what happened in Week 5.
I noted in last week’s introduction that I was looking for the tide to shift and the gains made by underdogs to recede. But, by the time I finished the column, it was clear that we still had another week to make progress. And we did.
The ‘traps’ were out in full effect, last week, and it was beautiful to watch from the sidelines as bait continued to be devoured. But, as famously stated by Sir Isaac Newton, with every action, an opposite reaction is present.
For every push forward, there is another one waiting to drive it backward.
It’s finally here. Through fifteen games and their writeups, I used the word ‘trap’ to describe a matchup only once. And there are certainly opportunities for ‘traps,’ they just aren’t present.
Of the fifteen games, eleven have spreads of three-and-a-half points or fewer, while the other four are all at or above seven points.
There is nothing in the middle.
This is both in comparison and contrast to the league standings. Only two teams in each conference have four or more wins, while only six teams throughout the league have four losses. This is not necessarily uncommon for Week 6, but it does to speak to the approaching tipping point and universally small spreads.
With that, as much as we have greatly enjoyed the first wave to hit the 2018 season, we are aware that a change is coming.
And we are ready for it.
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 – 2018 Season: 23-12-1 (Last Week: 5-2)
(2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (4-Year Total: 236-206-11)
All Picks Against Spread – 2018 Season: 44-29-5 (Last Week: 10-4-1)
(2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (4-Year Total: 552-486-30)
Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders – in London
Allow me to give you a few statistics regarding the two teams that will meet in London on Sunday afternoon – at least, the afternoon in the United States.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson has completed six seasons as a starting quarterback. He has a winning record, every year. I mentioned this in my preseason NFC predictions article, but it is worth highlighting the point that Wilson’s team has not even been 8-8. It’s 9-7 or better, every time. His team is currently 2-3, about to go on a bye, and facing a 1-4 opponent.
Of the four games played internationally in 2017, the closest margin of victory was 17 points – a 33-16 non-conference game between the Vikings and Browns. The spread was not a factor in any of the four games.
Seattle has the third-fewest giveaways and fourth-most takeaways in the league. Oakland ranks 23rd and 24th in these same categories, respectively.
The Seahawks have allowed 18 sacks, the third-most in the league. But, the Raiders have sacked opposing quarterbacks only six times, the fewest in the league.
Finally, in five games, Oakland has scored – in order of chronology – 13, 19, 20, 43, and 10 points. Which of these is not like the rest?
If we combine our statistics, we can see both that the spread likely won’t come into play and that Seattle matches up quite well against Oakland. And, if we are zoom out and look at the big picture, it’s clear that the Seahawks must make up ground, now, if they want to keep pace in the NFC playoff race.
Seattle wins by ten points and covers the spread.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks (-2.5)
Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins
Last week, prior to my column being written, I recorded the first episode of my new podcast. In it, I noted how the Chicago Bears’ explosion against Tampa Bay would put the team at risk of becoming too popular too quickly. The spread is designed to account for this and, as a result, we needed to be on-guard for the aftermath that followed a bye week.
Any team that faced the Bears after their last victory was going to have a slight edge because of the aforementioned eye-opening victory. But, we have a treat on Sunday. The team that will host Chicago is one that just lost its second consecutive double-digit game.
Or did it?
The Miami Dolphins technically lost by ten points to the Bengals. The final score shows this, anyway. But, through the never-ending search for answers buried within the boxscore, it’s easy to see that the Dolphins not only played a closer game, but should have won.
Miami led by 17 points midway through the third quarter. It is easy to see that the team utterly collapsed – which is, in fairness, a major negative – but it still possessed the ball with fewer than three minutes left in the game and trailing only by a field goal. It was at this time when Ryan Tannehill fumbled the ball, only to have a member of the Bengals recover it and return it for a touchdown.
In the world of football picks, it’s a ‘bad beat.’
In the world of the football standings, it’s a double-digit loss.
In the world of spreads, it should cost the team points.
Miami has regressed hard after a 3-0 open to the year that vaulted the Dolphins to the top of the AFC East, and they are now getting points from the upstart Bears. But, between the collapse and the last image we have of Chicago tearing apart the Buccaneers, the amount of points should be must larger.
Unless we have a ‘trap.’
Chicago has the second-best per-game defense in the league both in yards and points allowed. But, outside of the 48 point-showing in Week 4, the Bears have not score more than 24 points in a game. More importantly, the Bears have only tallied the ninth-fewest yards on offense, even with the win against the Buccaneers factored into the equation.
Miami’s offense has been steadily below-average, but it scored 25 points-per-game during its three-game winning streak and, excluding the division loss to the Patriots, the Dolphins’ defense has not allowed more than 20 points in a game.
As I will certainly repeat more often in the coming weeks as byes become more prevalent, a team stepping away from the field after a hot streak often results in a resetting of the trend. The Bears had won three consecutive games, punctuated it with a 48-10 ‘statement,’ and then took a break. Now, they have to start again. By beating a team that had a rebound victory in its clutches and let it slip.
Miami won’t make the same mistake again. The Dolphins win a close battle by two points and beat the spread.
Confidence Pick: Miami Dolphins (+3.5)
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch, and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks. His 4-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 552-486-30!