BETONLINE PRO PICKS BY BARRY WILNER: NFL WEEK 14
Let’s take a look at Super Bowl contenders. True Super Bowl contenders.
Have you noticed that nearly all of them – Philadelphia, Dallas, Minnesota, Kansas City, Buffalo, Miami, Cincinnati – have strong offenses? Big-play offenses, with game-breaking talent.
While we are not sold on the Vikings as being capable of winning the conference title, their cruising through the NFC North should bode well for them down the stretch. They could be in position to rest some folks in early January before heading into the playoffs.
When Minnesota has the ball, Justin Jefferson is as dangerous a threat as anyone in pro football. Indeed, the receiving corps is deep with Jefferson, Adam Thielen and tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was stolen at the trade deadline from Detroit. Dalvin Cook is a quality running back. We do have doubts about the line and how QB Kirk Cousins will perform in the spotlight.
Naturally, we have no such worries about Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen in the AFC. All three have the resumes you would want, the creativity you need, and the supporting cast required to get to February. Yes, Mahomes doesn’t have Tyreek Hill any longer – Tua Tagovailoa has him in Miami, of course – but the Chiefs remain viable and versatile on offense, with a better running game than expected, and the NFL’s best tight end.
In Year 3 of his career, Burrow has the swagger to go with the talent, and has already led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance. In Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati has as good a three-pronged passing contingent as anybody. The way Samaje Perine has run the ball with starter Joe Mixon injured has been a revelation.
Buffalo isn’t nearly that kind of threat with its RBs, but so what? Allen can turn a game with his legs and guts as well as his arm, and Stefon Diggs is All-Pro caliber at wideout. Fellow WRs Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie and tight end Dawson Knox round out a topnotch attack.
The schemes that Miami unleashes, with Tua connecting with Hill or Jaylen Waddle or the emerging Trent Scherfield, are so precise – as are Tagovailoa’s passes – that at times they can’t be defended. We’d like to see TE Mike Gesicki involved more in the air game, but the Dolphins have speed to burn, and could torch some defenses this winter.
The Cowboys beat opponents with precision on offense, and in CeeDee Lamb they certainly have a game-breaking receiver. The two-pronged running game with Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard, is built for the playoffs. A key for Dallas is protecting QB Dak Prescott, and we’re not sure that O-line can do so against the top defenses.
Finally, there’s the team setting the pace for everyone, the Eagles. Their offense can beat you anyway they choose. Philly ran the ball down Green Bay’s throat, then tore apart Tennessee through the air.
Jalen Hurts, the NFL’s most improved quarterback (and maybe most improved player overall), brings every dimension a coach could want. His entourage includes a deep group of runners led by Miles Sanders, a superb receiving corps featuring A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and TE Dallas Goedert, injured now but likely back for the postseason. Plus a veteran line as good as anyone has.
The NFL has to love so many big-time offenses in the mix for the championship.
Texans at Cowboys (-16 1/2)
Here’s how little this big spread scares us: We’d lay 30 on Dallas against Houston.
BEST BET: COWBOYS, 45-13
Patriots at Cardinals (+2)
Only because we pick one every week …
UPSET SPECIAL: CARDINALS, 20-16
Dolphins at Chargers (+3)
If the Dolphins are going to win the AFC East, they can’t lose a game like this.
Jets at Bills (-9 1/2)
If the Bills are going to win the AFC East, they can’t lose to the Jets again. But it will be close.
Buccaneers at 49ers (-3 ½)
San Francisco’s defense must step up every week given it’s QB issues.
Ravens at Steelers (-2 ½)
Baltimore defense must do the same.
Vikings at Lions (-2 ½)
For those who like shootouts, here’s the game to tune into. As we said earlier, not buying the Vikings yet.
Browns at Bengals (-6)
We are buying the Bengals, who are beginning to resemble the AFC champions of 2021.
Eagles at Giants (+7)
Who isn’t buying the Eagles. They committed dumb penalties last week and still romped.
Jaguars at Titans (-4)
Time for the Titans to get serious and put away their weak division.
Chiefs at Broncos (+9 1/2)
Thank goodness this was flexed off Sunday night.
Panthers at Seahawks (-3 1/2)
Two squads whose 2022 seasons have gone in entirely different directions.
Wilner’s 2022 RECORD
Last Week – Straight up: 10-3-1. Against the spread: 7-7.
Season – Straight up: 116-65-2. Against the spread: 95-82-6.
Best Bet – Straight up: 9-4. Against the spread: 6-7.
Upset Special – Straight up: 5-8. Against the spread: 6-7.