Early Leans & Analysis Wk 11
Early Leans & Analysis

Posted Friday at 1:30 pm EST - odds are subject to change.

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NFL Week: 11

What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday. We’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on Friday but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST.

Sunday, Nov 12

Miami -12 over Las Vegas

1:00 PM EST. To no one’s surprise, the Miami Dolphins are one of the league’s premiere offenses. No team is more explosive (0.515 points per play) or accrues more yards on average every week (435.3). Second-year coach Mike McDaniel and his quarterback have formed a noticeable bond that’s as crucial to their offense’s success as any matchup advantage or scheme. Coming off a bye-week, the Dolphins head home after falling short in Germany against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9. The Chiefs were coming into that game after a loss and last year’s champions are never an easy opponent, so we won’t go overboard or overreact on Miami’s stumble in Frankfurt. What we can anticipate, however, is a Dolphins’ offense getting back to what it does best on its home field in a very winnable matchup in Week 11. 

The motivation will surely be there. Despite a loss in Week 9, the Dolphins lead the AFC East. Their next four games will give them a great chance to extend that lead (LV, NYJ, WAS, TEN), starting with Sunday against the Raiders. Antonio Pierce has led a resurgent effort in Vegas, replacing the maligned Josh McDaniels as the anti-snob, a hard-nosed ex-player who grew up in southern California and won at the highest level with the New York Giants. Rookie QB Aidan O’Connell is playing well and throwing with confidence as the black and silver’s new starter, Devante Adams went from slamming his helmet on the sidelines to dancing in the locker room since the change, and most importantly– Vegas has won two straight under their new coach. We’re confident that’ll come to an abrupt end in Week 11. ½ 

This line is huge for a reason. McDaniel is one of the most creative offenses coaches in modern history, the results in 1.5 years of Miami-offense under his direction are clear, and it’s not like the Raiders have been beating up on world-class franchises. The Giants are the worst team in the NFL, and the Jets’ are highly mistake prone and their offense has no explosiveness whatsoever. Hard Rock Stadium against the Fins’ offense is a drastic, overwhelming task for a Raiders’ defense that’s held up but lacks talent and gets exposed against better operations (Bills, Chargers, Lions this season). It won’t be easy for O’Connell against an improving and aggressive Miami defense, either. The Dolphins are 9-3 ATS at home under McDaniel and despite the big spread, they’re the only way we can look. Recommendation: Miami -12

N.Y. Giants +9½  over Washington

1:00 PM EST. There’s literally nothing we can do to convince our readers that they should bet on the Giants this weekend, especially considering their lack of quality offense. Rookie QB Tommy DeVito hasn’t instilled a modicum of confidence in us, nor should he in you– the kid doesn’t look like a professional QB in any regard. We said that same sentence last week in our Giants/Cowboys pick and we’ll probably say it every week, as long as Big Blue chooses to start the Jersey native. Of course Saqoun Barkley and a pretty good rushing attack (113.6 yards per game) could put their offense in position to score if Washington isn’t careful, but this isn’t about that side of the game. Unpredictable variance will play as big of a part in New York’s offensive potential as any talent or gameplan, and we’ll just hope for the best.

The hope for the Giants lies in their defense. In game one, New York’s defensive line showed out. In easily their best performance of the season, the Giants sacked Sam Howell 6 times. They hit the fleeing Howell another 12 times and deflected six of his passes. Needless to say, the away team won’t be lacking in confidence when their defense is on the field, and there’s no evidence that Washington’s offensive line or the protection they’re paid to provide has improved. Howell has been sacked 7 times in three games since their last contest. Their offense has turned the ball over 4 times, too. We’ve seen enough of the Commanders to know that although Howell and a talented group of skill-players can gain plenty of yards (334.5 per game), the same unit struggles to turn that into points (21.7 ppg– 17th overall). 

At this point, the Giants are easily the worst offense in the NFL. We still don’t care. Big Blue may only need to muster 3-10 points to cover this spread, and there’s a good chance their defense will create scoring opportunities on its own. Five weeks ago Washington only scored 7 points at MetLife Stadium. In Landover, MD, they’re only averaging 18.5 ppg. The downtrodden Giants have dominated this series for a good 6 years, winning 9 of the last 13 matchups. They’re the underdog, but we promise– not one member of Big Blue is scared of their opponent this Sunday; in fact they probably think this is a game they can win. Considering how clumsy the Commanders can be in these scenarios, we’ll take Week 11’s ugliest team to cover. Recommendation: N.Y. Giants +9½ 

Arizona +5 over Houston

1:00 PM EST. The Texans' exciting win over the Bengals in Cincinnati is yet another sign that they are no longer the doormats of the AFC South. They are one game behind the Jags for the lead and already beat Jacksonville 37-17 back in Week 3 and they play them next week in Houston. Take note of that. The Texans are not yet good enough to just overlook any opponent, but next week is a critical matchup that could propel the Texans into the most surprising team of the season. They may sport the worst rushing attack in the NFL, but last week, Devin Singletary made the backfield interesting again when he ran for 150 yards on the Bengals. Then of course there is rookie sensation, C.J. Stroud. Oh, what a luxury it is to have a competent QB in this league. 

C.J. Stroud is already being talked about as a strong candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and after throwing for 826 yards and six touchdowns over the last two games, there are whispers that he is making a case to be the Offensive Player of the Year and the league’s MVP. C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans are the flavor of the week and the month. A Houston NFL team hasn’t received this much press since Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. The Texans have covered in five of their past seven games. It’s been probably 30 years since Houston’s (Oilers or Texans) stock has been this high so it would not be the right time to buy, especially against an Arizona team that has about as much appeal as rush hour. 

Arizona is a road team this week that has two wins in 10 games. The other teams with a low win total on the road this week are Chicago (+7½) at Detroit, the Raiders (+13½) at Miami, The Giants (+9) at Washington, the Titans (+7) at the Jags, the Bucs (+11) at San Francisco, and the Jets +7 at Buffalo. The Cardinals are taking back significantly less points than all of the aforementioned against the flavor of the week and it’s a big time trap. 

Perhaps it’s too little, too late, but the Cardinals were recharged with the debut of Kyler Murray last week and the return of James Conner. Oddsmakers are taking a position here that Arizona covers and probably wins outright. You have been warned to stay away from Houston this week. Recommendation: Houston +5

Chicago +7½ over Detroit

1:00 PM EST. This line once sat at 10 whole points for the home-team Lions, but sharp-bettors are buying back on the Bears since it seems like Justin Fields will play on Sunday. Even if Justin Fields didn’t play, we’re not so sure Detroit is the “right” side in this case.

Detroit is as legitimate as it gets through 9 games, a contender for the NFC’s #1 seed. They have one of the best motivators in Dan Campbell as a head coach and a roster that’s well-balanced and has everything it needs to win in the postseason. In four games against teams that we consider to be “below average,” (ATL, CAR, TB, LV) they’ve won by an average margin of 14.5 points per game. That’s astounding, and a sign of a true elite. Regardless of the opponent, a truly “great team” wins and wins by authority even in games that aren’t overflowing with inspiration.

Last week the Lions outlasted a high-octane Chargers’ offense at SoFi Stadium and got another W. It wasn’t the best look for their defense, a unit that allowed 421 yards and didn’t sack Justin Herbert once. Fortunately the Lions’ offense was up to the task, accruing 533 total yards on the road. They ran for 200 yards on the ground, too, utilizing the two-headed monster of David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. 

The Bears match up well against the Lions in some regards, despite how disparate their records and potential this season are. The Lions’ offensive line is one of the best in pro-football, and if it was up to Dan Campbell, they would run it down their opponents throats every single week. That’s unlikely to happen this Sunday, however, since the Bears only allow a league best 3.2 yards per rush. Contrarily, Detroit should have plenty of success through the air. No team is worse than the Bears at garnering pressure on the QB (only a 3.42% sack rate), and Chicago permits a 68.7% completion percentage to opposing QBs (26th). 

The area where we think Chicago may perform better than this line suggests is on offense. Detroit’s defense was exposed last week. Part of that is the arm-talent of Justin Herbert, who leads a top ten offense, but the other part is a Lions’ defense that’s good, not great. We’ve seen Detroit allow too many points to good offenses before– 38 to the Ravens, 38 to the Chargers– and Chicago will be very motivated in Week 11. Justin Fields will also be very motivated to prove that he deserves to be their QB-1. Tyson Bagent has led the Bears in recent weeks with Fields out, achieving a 2-2 record in his absence. Before being sidelined with a dislocated thumb, Fields was under a lot of scrutiny. The Bears were just 1-5 and except for a random 40-point explosion against the Commanders, their offense was anemic. Not only will Fields get a chance to shine against the class of the NFC North, he’ll further the Bears’ chances of earning a playoff spot. That’s right– even at 3-7, Chicago still has an outside shot to earn a postseason berth. The NFC is just that crazy. 

In any case, this is too many points for the team that should be hungrier than their opponent. It’s also too big of a spread for a defense that’s starting to regress at the midpoint of the season. The Lions are a great team, but this is a game they expect to win, not one they’re dying to fight for. We like that for Fields and the try-hard Bears. Recommendation: Chicago +7½ 

Cleveland -2 over Pittsburgh

1:00 PM EST. For weeks on end, we’ve told bettors to wait to fade Pittsburgh. Regardless of how pedestrian their offense looks and the data that supports that claim (26th in points per game, 28th in yards per game), the Steelers find ways to win. Depending on their opponent, it’s often the “right choice” to wager on Mike Tomlin’s grungy team than it is to bet against them. The key phrase there is depending on the opponent

Cleveland’s win at Baltimore last week is what we call a firestarter. Momentum is a real thing– in psychology it’s described as “added or gained psychological power which changes interpersonal perceptions and influences an individual's mental and physical performance.” The Browns overcame a lot of misfortune to earn a W last Sunday– terrible penalties that gave the Ravens first downs (5) and additional chances to score, as well as egregious turnovers like a pick-six on their opening drive. But Myles Garrett, DeShaun Watson, and the Browns simply didn’t give up. Down 31-17 entering the fourth quarter, Cleveland scored 16 unanswered points in the game’s final 14 minutes to earn one of the most entertaining comeback victories of the NFL season. Watson played one of his best games as a Brown, showing elite accuracy and arm-strength in the most pressing moments. Unfortunately, we just learned that Watson is having season-ending surgery on his shoulder and therefore will not play on Sunday. PJ Walker hardly provides the same confidence, but we still love the Browns’ momentum.

The Browns return home with a very winnable schedule and the fate of their success in the AFC North in their own hands. The Steelers, who have won four of their last five contests, are due to regress. That’s especially true for their offense, coming off a big day on the ground (205 total rushing yards). They also already beat the Browns in Pittsburgh, so this is a revenge game for the surging home-team. It’s Browns or nothing in this spot. Recommendation: Cleveland -2

Green Bay +3 over L.A. Chargers

1:00 PM EST. You think we like the Packers here? We don’t but we’re not here to discuss what we “like” because it matters not. We don’t “like” anything. We cannot stand the sight of Green Bay and have hated them since the days of the overrated and arrogant Brett Favre. If you have watched the Packers play this year and have wagered on them, you very likely puked blood because that’s how bad they truly are. 

The Packers' offense is stuck in second gear, Jordan Love is the definition of below average and the Packers' backfield is Bottom-5. Offensive line problems have hurt, but the same situation exists from last year - the Packers lack any receivers that are more than average. And Jordan Love is not Aaron Rodgers - he cannot make a receiver any better than he already was and probably makes him worse. In this era of Fantasy Football, a team that cannot move five yards is a team nobody wants to bet on and we promise you that the oddsmakers are acutely aware of this. Furthermore, the Packers play on Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit so there’s that too as another reason (lookahead) to fade the putrid Packers. 

Meanwhile Justin Herbert is considered to be one of the best QB’s in the league. Truth is, he’s an outstanding QB that every team would die to have. He’s the Mike Trout of the NFL, that being one of the top-5 players that will never win anything because the management for the team he plays for doesn’t know their ass from their elbow. That said, the market knows that Herbert is great and they’re never fearful of getting behind a QB that can put points on the board in bunches. The Chargers lost last week to Detroit only because Detroit had the ball last. Detroit couldn’t stop Herbert and the Chargers D could not stop Detroit. Still, the Bolts defense has played well against average opponents and Green Bay is not even average. 

We’re not even sure why this line is -3. If Dallas is -10½ in Carolina, shouldn’t the Chargers be priced somewhere in that ballpark too? Carolina and Green Bay are very comparable and so are Dallas and the Chargers. Both are on the road but Dallas is priced 7½ points higher? What the f**k is that?  Justin Herbert posted monster games at the Vikings (405 yards, 3 TD) and Titans (305 yards, 3 TD), so he can succeed away from home. 

If we’re predicting games and didn’t know better, we’d mortgage our home and hammer the Chargers but we know better. This one smells awful. The man on the street is not going to the window to bet on Green Bay so this selection becomes strictly contrarian. Unless the oddsmakers made a huge error (not likely) Green Bay is going to win this game. How --- we have no idea but nobody in their right mind can think that Green Bay should beat Herbert and the Chargers yet oddsmakers made the Chargers a lousy -3-point choice? Why? This is another trap game that should be avoided so hopefully we saved you from making a wager that the books are begging you to make. Recommendation: Green Bay +3  

Dallas -10 ½ over Carolina

1:00 PM EST. We're pulling the trigger on the Cowboys because like many-a-sharp-bettor has said in the past– why in the hell wouldn’t we? We kid, but the only reason why this isn't a bigger spread is because Dallas screwed the pooch way back in Week 3 against the Cardinals. Nice try, oddsmakers, but that’s not working on us.

We realize Dallas is a juggernaut at home and we also realize that the mentality of the Cowboys can be shaky. Mike McCarthy is just another talking head leading a group of ragtag athletes that wear stars on their helmets and happen to be one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. With all that talent, controversy and lofty expectations are always lurking. In football noir, no team is more lauded than the Dallas Cowboys, deemed “America's team” after dominating the 1990s and accruing five Lombardi Trophies. It’s understandable that the pressure gets to be too much for a group of regular humans from time to time, but this is no such situation.

The Cowboys still have plenty on the line, including their goal to win the NFC East and shoot for the #1 seed, and they know they cannot come out loose and careless against Carolina. 

We also know that Frank Reich, who once engineered a genius offensive effort in the Super Bowl to win the Eagles’ only Super Bowl as their offensive coordinator, is taking over play calling duties for the Panthers. Reich hopes that it helps one of the worst units in football–29th in points per game, 30th in yards per game– but we’re not intrigued. The former Alabama QB just hasn't looked like a competent QB. He can throw a pretty spiral– most throwers do if they hope to make the pros– but that doesn’t change the fact that Carolina has the least explosive pass-attack in the NFL (4.8 yards per pass). 

The Panthers defense has played better, allowing only 18.6 ppg in their last three affairs, but they’ve been fortunate to face three pedestrian offenses (CHI, IND, and a resurgent effort against HOU after their bye). Dallas is not on the same planet as those offenses.

Dak Prescott has played some of the best football of his career over their last four games. Since their embarrassing loss to the Niners in Week 5, Prescott has accumulated 1354 passing yards, 12 TDs, and just 2 INTs in their last four contests. His average rating: 124. The last thing the Boys want is another setback so that they’re crawling back into the NFC race later this season. Mike McCarthy’s team might stumble again in the playoffs, but this is the time of year to ride this squad until the wheels fall off. Dallas lights 'em up. Recommendation: Dallas -10½ 

Tennessee +6½ over Jacksonville

1:00 PM EST. The Titans and the Jaguars didn’t have very good Week 10s. Of course Jacksonville’s defeat felt more disappointing. The Jaguars were off a bye-week and hosting one of the best teams in the NFL. That team, the 49ers, was also coming off a bye-week, but even more importantly– they were coming off three straight losses. Beating or even competing with San Francisco when they’re playing with that level of desperation would prove the Jaguars are truly ready to be an “elite.” Needless to say, that didn’t come to be. After five straight wins, the Jags were obliterated by the Niners 34-3 at home. They were outgained 437 to 221 in total yards. Even worse, Trevor Lawrence had one of the most abysmal games of his career, forcing errant throws and making bad decisions throughout the contest (185 yards, 2 INTs, 0 TDs). Warren Sharp also tweeted out an interesting statistic, noting that Lawrence is one of the worst QBs against a blitz among all NFL throwers. On Sunday the humbled Jags will face a team bent on revenge after getting swept last season, and a defense with talented pass-rushers. We don’t exactly love that for the home-team.

Tennessee lost in Week 10 but it felt like it was more about the Tampa Bay Bucs. The Bucs came out on fire, hitting hard on defense and limiting rookie QB Will Levis. Reminiscent of their glory days, the Bucs held Derrick Henry and his colleagues to only 42 yards on the ground. The Titans just looked surprised. Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans connected constantly against a Titan’s secondary that looked lost, and Levis struggled moving the ball all game. He threw under 50% for only 199 yards and an INT– a vastly different look than his performance the week prior. 

The TItans are hard to trust. Their offense hasn’t had much of a spark all season (28th in ppg–17.1, 27th in ypg– 291,7). They’ve also had a fairly easy schedule the first half of the season, yet they’re still just 3-6. They’ve lost to teams like New Orleans, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and last week Tampa Bay. Surely the Jags are better, right?

It doesn’t quite work that way in sports betting. This is still a divisional arch-rival, Will Levis is an x-factor that a young Jags’ defense could overlook, and Tennessee would love to exact revenge after last year’s 0-2 result. Just like Mike Tomlin, Mike Vrabel has a way of motivating his team after a loss. Last season was an anomaly without a true starting QB, but Vrabel was 4-1 ATS in 2021 and he’s 3-2 ATS this season after an L. The Jags probably win, but we expect a closely-fought game. Recommendation: Tennessee +6½ 

Tampa Bay +12 over San Francisco

4:05 PM EST. San Francisco finally looked like the team we've come to expect in Week 10. Off a bye-week, the 49ers took it to Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars in Jacksonville, bursting back onto the scene and reestablishing themselves as one of the premiere programs in the league. It's hard to deny that after how impressive last Sunday's results were. A 437 to 221 advantage in total yards, winning the turnover battle 0-4, controlling the clock, sacking Lawrence five times, and a near-perfect redemptive performance by Brock Purdy– it was so dominant it was almost chilling. And they did it against a team that was also coming off a bye-week and five straight wins. Yowza!

The Bucs had a resurgent win of their own last Sunday. Baker Mayfield continues to be Tampa's "Rocky." Five days ago he fought with his arm and his legs and gained 290 yards and two touchdowns against a good Tennessee pass-rush. His chemistry with Mike Evans (6 catches for 143 yards and a TD in Week 10) has been a game-changer. But the biggest reason behind their victory last week was their defense. Tampa completely shut down Derrick Henry and the Titans' run-game, permitting just 42 total yards on the ground. They confused and flew at Will Levis all game, holding the confident rookie to under 50% completion percentage and just 199 yards. They also sacked him four times and picked off Levis at a key moment in the second half when the Titans were forging a comeback. If the Bucs bring that brand of defense to San Francisco, they could be very frisky.

The oddsmakers clearly don't think that's the case. Nearly a two-touchdown favorite at home, only the Dolphins own a bigger spread in Week 11. They deserve that designation, and we've seen Tampa flail against top tier teams (Detroit and Philly both beat them by 14 points), but we don't love the spot for San Fran. The 49ers have to turn around and go on the road just three days after this game for a big NFC West battle in Seattle. We think they're clearly the better team, but Lumen Field remains one of the toughest road-venues in the NFL. Kyle Shanahan and his coaches must be in the war-room strategizing about that big battle, and it’s not like Tampa moves the motivational needle. We've seen the Niners play-down too many times to suspect that they'll just throttle teams every week now that they're playing better, and we like that the Bucs have capable role-players that can keep them afloat on both offense and defense. Recommendation: Tampa Bay +12

Seattle/L.A. Rams under 46

4:25 EST PM. This is a Week 1 rematch with serious implications in the NFC West. The spread alone tells us how important this game is for both teams, virtually a pick-em, and it doesn’t make for a very simple handicap, either. 

Sure the Rams made a statement in their opener against Seattle this season but how much can we take from a contest that feels like it was 10 years ago? Geno Smith and the Seahawks probably came into that game a bit overconfident, feisty after making the playoffs last season and counting on even better results this year with some new defensive talent. That didn’t work out well. The Seahawks got annihilated in front of their home crowd, out-gained 426 to 180 and only mustered one touchdown in a 17-point Week 1 loss. 

Neither the Seahawks or Rams are garnering much confidence at this point in the season. Seattle has only covered ATS in one of their last five games and their recent cover, a 10-point win at home against Arizona, was phony. Arizona hung around all game and sputtered in the fourth quarter, but Seattle didn’t look “ten-points better” at any point in that contest. The Seahawks have been humbled by good teams like Cincinnati and Baltimore, and they were fortunate to win at Detroit back in Week 2. In reality, the Seahawks have only looked like a pseudo-playoff team against bad teams: the Giants, Panthers, Cardinals, and Commanders. We don’t consider the Rams to be in the same category.

Under-bets are hitting at 60% ATS across all NFL games this season and these are two teams who should be the poster-children for why that statistic is so skewed. Sure the Seattle defense has improved this offseason, but with a lot of new parts and hardly experienced as a unit, few analysts would have predicted 44.5 ppg as their average total this season. The same can be said for their rival this Sunday. Besides Aaron Donald, the Rams are a young, upstart defense that was slated for “experimentation mode” this year. Matthew Stafford has a new cadre of wide-receivers (Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell) to run the field beside former Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, and yet the Rams rank just 22nd in points per game. The average total in LAR games?-- just 42.5. 

A total of 46 points feels a bit too high, then. It especially feels high considering how heated this game might be. In year’s past, the Seahawks and Rams were cyclical contenders battling it out in the NFC West for playoff positioning. Neither team is an elite any longer, but they’re both still vying for a playoff spot. We imagine both defenses will be motivated to limit the other’s production, and right now there’s little to trust about either offense. The Rams are averaging just 16 ppg in their last five contests. The Seahawks are averaging just 17.8 in the same span. All the ingredients for an under are there. Recommendation: SEA/LAR under 46

Buffalo -7 over N.Y. Jets

4:25 PM EST. The time is now for Buffalo. Both AFC East teams were hopeful entering this season, among the top picks for the AFC Playoffs according to many talking heads. Fast forward 10 weeks into the season and we see a different story. 

Zach Wilson continues to struggle in Aaron Rodgers' absence and the Jets' defense continues to be their stalwart program. Same shit, different week. Jets' coach Robert Saleh looks increasingly annoyed at the optics before him, knowing how limited they are with a bad offensive line and a quarterback who can't get over the hump. Wilson might be a viable thrower in this league eventually, he clearly has the arm-talent, but his decision making and shaky disposition in clutch moments has cost New York on too many occasions. One week he'll appear slick and confident, he's even had some game-winning drives, the next week he'll be the reason the Jets lose. It's just all too unpredictable and volatile for their franchise right now, but the ship isn't exactly steady for their opponent either.

Buffalo goes as Josh Allen goes. Lately that hasn't been a good thing. Sean McDermott was visibly upset at Allen on the sidelines last week, conceivably at the end of his rope after Josh Allen threw two more egregious interceptions. As a team, Buffalo looked like the most undisciplined program in pro-football last week. At Orchard Park, a place where they've almost exclusively experienced success the past few seasons, they just couldn't get out of their own way. The offense turned it over four times and went just 3-8 on third downs. Sick of being on the field too long (Denver controlled time of possession 37:21 to 22:39), the Buffalo defense bent and allowed Russell Wilson to complete big first down after big first down. In the final quarter, the Bills were outscored 9-0. It was their fourth loss in six games. And their two wins during that span were unimpressive just-barely-eking-by victories against two bad teams, the Giants and the Bucs. Buffalo hasn't looked competent since their October 1st win at home against Miami.

It's fair to say that Buffalo's stock couldn't be lower, and yet they remain 7-point favorites at home against the very same team that shocked them in Week 1. How can that be?

Here's how it can be: this is a must-win to end all must-wins for the Bills, and they know it. New York is on the brink of missing the playoffs if they keep losing but the back-half of their schedule is more forgiving than it is for Buffalo. After Sunday's AFC East showdown, the Bills' remaining schedule is as follows: PHI, KC, DAL, LAC, NE, and at MIA. Last year's two Super Bowl participants, then two high-octane offenses, then two tough divisional battles - it doesn't get much harder than that. This is a revenge game for Buffalo, too, since they played arguably the sloppiest game of their season in their opener on Monday Night Football against the very same team. Conditions in Buffalo call for some wind, maybe showers, and temperatures will drop to freezing as the game progresses. That has Josh Allen scrambling and creating big plays written all over it. If the Bills are going to answer the call, this is the spot. Recommendation: Buffalo -7

Minnesota +2½ over Denver

8:20 PM EST. Two red-hot teams clash on Sunday Night Football, each hoping to ride their momentum straight into their respective conference playoffs, but we see a clear difference in legitimacy. 

Let’s pump the breaks on the Broncos, shall we? Admittedly they have looked good in some ways. Sean Payton is clearly making a difference in Russell Wilson’s quarterback-play. Wilson looks more like the Seattle superstar we were all amazed by for years in Seattle. He’s scrambling at the right times, not making as many poor decisions with the football (18 TDs, 4 INTs), and he doesn’t look overwhelmed or unsure in the big moments. In the end, Payton might’ve been right about last year’s operation– Nathaniel Hackett was probably way over his head, and Wilson was an easy scapegoat.

The Denver-defense has also improved. Since Week 6, they’ve only allowed 16.8 ppg. They’re limiting first downs, forcing turnovers, and their secondary is playing with more poise. They’re still not very good against the run– they permitted over 200 yards to the Bills in a win last Monday– but it’s a unit that’s growing in confidence. 

How much confidence should Denver have after three straight wins is the question. Stepping back, it hasn’t been all that impressive. The Broncos started their winning-streak by beating a struggling Jordan Love and the Packers at home, and they only won by two points. Then they grabbed another W against the Chiefs when Patrick Mahomes was fighting the flu and KC had a trip to Germany on deck, aka a terrible spot for the visiting champs. And last Monday, Josh Allen and an undisciplined Bills’ squad had to turn it over four different times for the Broncos to eke out another two-point win. The Broncos won all three of these games, but their opponents were just as much if not more responsible for those results.

We cannot make the same statement about their opponent on Sunday night. The Vikings are a team no team wants to play right now, and they looked levels above the Saints last Sunday. Josh Dobbs picked up where he left off after his Week 9 comeback win, picking apart an exceptional Saints’ secondary and leading his team to a 24-3 halftime lead last Sunday. Adding 44 yards on the ground, Dobbs accounted for 302 of the Vikings’ 388 total yards, proving again why he’s a viable QB. We think he might be even more.

Dobbs has been the catalyst Minnesota needed without Kirk Cousins. Cousins’ attitude and arm-talent made him a beloved member of the Vikings, but Dobbs gives their offense an element they haven’t had before. His ability to elude blitzes and scramble while keeping his eyes down field is not something Minnesota fans have seen since Dante Culpepper. Four out of five of the Vikings’ first Week 10 drives were turned into scores against a defense most critics would consider above-average. That allowed the Minnesota defense to play the kind of game they thrive at: downhill football, aggressive, flying to the ball. Whether it was Derek Carr or Jameis Winston, the Saints’ offense caught up in garbage time but Brian Flores’ defense made the plays when they needed to. 

Denver is spotting 2½ points simply because they’re at home. A spread like this suggests Minnesota and Denver are two even teams, and that’s not something we can endorse. Minnesota has an exceptional amount of talent on offense, even without Justin Jefferson, and their defense plays in attack-mode each and every week. Josh Dobbs, with his running ability and preparedness, escalates their production without Kirk Cousins. Minnesota believes in themselves and they have looked dominant against average teams like the Broncos. We’re not going to fade the surging Vikings, not just yet. Recommendation: Minnesota +2½

Our Pick

Early Leans & Analysis (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)

New England +218 over Pittsburgh