NFL Week 14 predictions: Our picks against the spread

By Benjamin Hoffman

The NFL made its way through a few weeks of odd schedules caused by coronavirus delays, and appears set for its first “normal” week in a while. Or at least the league is starting out with that plan until any virus-related adjustments are needed.

The week doesn’t have a signature game to look forward to, but matchups between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills are entertaining enough, and more than a few teams should be looking to step up as they fight for spots in the expanded playoff field.

Here is a look at NFL Week 14, with all picks made against the spread. All times are Eastern.

Last week’s record: 8-7

Overall record: 94-93-5.

Sunday’s Best Games

Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Chiefs -7 | Total: 49.5

It is nice to be the Chiefs (11-1). Kansas City let Denver stay uncomfortably close for much of last week’s game and then simply pushed the “win now” button, got a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce, a 48-yard field goal from Harrison Butker and a win-sealing interception from Tyrann Mathieu. That it looked so easy made the rest of the game remarkably frustrating in retrospect.

The Dolphins (8-4) are not on the Chiefs’ level, but they are also not a team to trifle with. Miami’s defense can make an opponent pay for its mistakes — cornerback Xavien Howard is leading the NFL in interceptions (eight) and passes defended (16) — and the team’s offense is adept at chewing up clock and doing enough to score.

The script for this game could mirror Kansas City’s previous game. Miami could easily stay in it for much of the game, but when the Chiefs need to score, Mahomes will make that happen. The Dolphins deserve plenty of respect, but being only 7-point underdogs to the Chiefs is its own version of respect. Pick: Chiefs -7

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Bills -2.5 | Total: 46.5

Earlier this week, people were openly wondering if the Steelers (11-1) could go undefeated. One not entirely shocking loss to Washington later, and Pittsburgh is an underdog against the Bills (9-3). The reasons, for the loss and the betting line, are injuries on defense, which are weakening the team’s biggest strength, and a slumping offense.

Buffalo is coming off a big win over San Francisco, looking like a good bet to win the AFC East and making people talk about quarterback Josh Allen as an emerging superstar. Unless Pittsburgh turns it around on both sides of the ball, it may go from 11 consecutive wins to two straight losses. Pick: Bills -2.5

Minnesota Vikings at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers -6.5 | Total: 52

The Buccaneers (7-5) have disappointed a bit this season. The team was expected to take a leap defensively and, with Tom Brady added to the offense, even out the kinks from the Jameis Winston era. The team has been inconsistent, rather than bad, but has lost back-to-back games by 27-24. Its surprising defensive woes may continue against the Vikings (6-6), who have plenty of their own flaws, but no problems scoring.

While not a must-win game for Tampa Bay, it would take pressure off the Buccaneers in their hunt for an NFC wild card to win this one at home. Pick: Vikings +6.5

Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -3 | Total: 51.5

The Colts (8-4) got away with one last week, taking advantage of a fumbled snap to hold on for a close win over Houston. That was nothing compared with the Raiders (7-5), who had a win gifted to them by the Jets in the closing seconds of the game. But wins are wins, and with both of these teams fighting for playoff spots, they were lucky to get them.

Running back Josh Jacobs is likely to return from injury for Las Vegas, but Indianapolis is farther along in its development and should be expected to win on the road. Pick: Colts -3

Sunday’s Other Games

Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cardinals -2.5 | Total: 45

Fresh off a game in which they beat up the favored Seahawks on both sides of the ball, the Giants (5-7) are underdogs at home to the Cardinals (6-6), a team that isn’t as good as the Seahawks. So it appears oddsmakers have not exactly bought in on the recent improvements for Big Blue. The skepticism is most likely a result of the uncertain status of quarterback Daniel Jones. Coach Joe Judge has said there is a chance Jones will play, but he also said that last week. Colt McCoy deserves some credit for keeping the win streak going, but the Giants’ chances in this game come down to Jones’ availability. If he plays — and is close to 100 percent — this pick would most likely be reversed. Pick: Cardinals -2.5

Washington Football Team at San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: 49ers -3 | Total: 43.5

Both of these teams are 5-7, but they are going in different directions. The Footballers have been steadily improving on both sides of the ball, and just pulled off a shocking upset of Pittsburgh. The 49ers have mostly survived in a season destroyed by injuries, but are coming off a huge letdown loss against Buffalo in which backup quarterback Nick Mullens’ flaws were on full display. If this were truly a home game for San Francisco, it might have played to its favor, but with the 49ers relocated to Arizona, Washington has a good chance to keep winning. Pick: Footballers +3

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -7.5 | Total: 55

The Lions (5-7) showed serious offensive improvement in the first game under interim coach Darrell Bevell, with the caveat that their come-from-behind victory came against the reeling Bears. Detroit may find offensive success, but probably not enough to matter as its overmatched defense tries to slow down the electric Packers (9-3), who are led by Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. There is always the chance that a heavily favored team will take the opportunity to slow things down and accept a smaller win, but the Packers have not been taking any games off offensively, and Rodgers is having one of the best seasons of his career — which is extremely high praise for a two-time winner of the Most Valuable Player Award. Pick: Packers -7.5

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -7 | Total: 44

People who have Alvin Kamara on their fantasy team are undoubtedly eager for Drew Brees to return from injury. Kamara has just three catches for 7 yards over his past three games, but the Saints (10-2) seem extremely content with Taysom Hill under center until Brees gets to 100 percent. That’s understandable because last week’s win over Atlanta clinched a playoff spot for New Orleans, and this week’s game against the Eagles (3-8-1) doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. The Saints have a 66 percent chance of securing the NFC’s first-round bye, according to The Upshot, but if they want to hold on for that honor, they will probably need Brees back for a Week 15 game against Kansas City. Pick: Saints -7

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Titans -7.5 | Total: 53

The Titans (8-4) are much better than the Jaguars (1-11). You don’t really need to narrow down what Tennessee is better at. Football — the Titans are better at football. That being said, Jacksonville can hold its head up high after giving Minnesota a fight last week, and will come into this game hoping to slow running back Derrick Henry. That might just lead to them getting beaten on a few deep passes, but recent history suggests the Jaguars have a decent chance of covering the spread even if they have almost no chance of winning. Pick: Jaguars +7.5

New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Seahawks -13.5 | Total: 47

How many times has a prominent NFL coach been fired over one play? That’s what happened last week when Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator for the Jets (0-12), dialed up a cover-zero play in the game’s final seconds when his team just needed to keep Las Vegas out of the end zone from 46 yards out. The Jets sent seven pass rushers, inexplicably left a spy behind the line of scrimmage in case Derek Carr decided to scramble for a 46-yard touchdown — pause for emphasis — and had just three defensive backs in coverage. Henry Ruggs III had a touchdown before Carr even released the ball.

A conspiracy theorist might suggest that Williams or coach Adam Gase, or both, were trying to lock in the No. 1 pick in the draft, but that falls apart when you consider it was exactly the type of galaxy brain decision the overly aggressive Williams is known for. His firing the next day seemed to confirm it was simply a brutal call, and nothing more than that.

So now the Jets have four games to eke out a win in hopes of avoiding 0-16. Their quest begins on the road in Seattle as two-touchdown underdogs against the Seahawks (8-4). Seattle is struggling too much to buy in on such a large point spread, but the Seahawks have plenty of playoff-related motivation to win, so there shouldn’t be any surprises. Pick: Jets +13.5

Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Panthers -3.5 | Total: 46.5

A lot of teams pack things in when their record goes sideways, but the Broncos (4-8) and the Panthers (4-8) have kept fighting all season, making their opponents work hard to beat them. Imagining Denver’s defense if linebacker Von Miller were healthy, or Carolina’s offense with fewer injuries, makes it easy to be enthusiastic about both teams heading into next season. For now, they are both a little too flawed to matter, but there is every reason to believe a game between them should be entertaining. Pick: Panthers -3.5

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Falcons -2.5 | Total: 49.5

This game should have a playground feel to it, as both offenses are more than capable of airing the ball out, and neither defense puts up much resistance. Rookie Justin Herbert has the Chargers (3-9) ranked fourth in the NFL in passing. Veteran Matt Ryan has the Falcons (4-8) ranked seventh in spite of some injuries to his receivers. It is a safe bet that a group of talented pass-catchers that includes Keenan Allen and Mike Williams (Los Angeles) and Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (Atlanta) will produce more than a few highlight-reel-worthy plays. While Los Angeles could end up struggling for a second consecutive week should left tackle Sam Tevi be out, this could easily come down to which team has the ball last. Pick: Chargers +2.5

Houston Texans at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Texans -2 | Total: 44.5

It had seemed like wide receiver Will Fuller V’s suspension would devastate Houston’s offense, but the Texans (4-8) were a fumbled snap away from pulling off a huge upset of the Colts last week thanks in large part to the emergence of Keke Coutee, who put up a career-best 141 yards receiving after coming into the day with 38 yards for the season. Houston showed enough to be favored on the road against a team with a superior record, though that probably has more to do with Chicago’s six-game losing streak than it does with the Texans’ offense.

Of the 242 teams to start a season 5-1 from 1920 to 2019, only four ended up with a losing record: the 1926 Chicago Cardinals (5-6-1), the 1986 Atlanta Falcons (7-8-1), the 1995 St. Louis Rams (7-9) and the 2008 Buffalo Bills (7-9). The Bears (5-7) are well on their way to setting a new mark for futility in that group of fast-starting teams. Pick: Texans -2

Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys -3.5 | Total: 43.5

Cincinnati has held its opponent to 20 or fewer points in each of the past three games, which is a fairly shocking turnaround for a defense that struggled greatly earlier in the season. Whether that is improvement or indifference from opponents who know they will beat the Bengals (2-9-1), regardless, is hard to say, but with quarterback Joe Burrow out for the season and Cincinnati one of four teams that is already eliminated from playoff contention, there is no real incentive to win. The Cowboys (3-9), meanwhile, have only a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to The Upshot, but have enough offense to give that recently improved Bengals defense a workout. Pick: Cowboys -3.5

Monday’s Matchup

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Ravens -1 | Total: 44.5

It should be a chilly night in Cleveland, and if a recent stretch of home games for the Browns (9-3) was any indication, the weather will lead to a far more conservative approach than the one the team employed to run up 38 first-half points against Tennessee last week. Since Lamar Jackson of the Ravens (7-5) has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in seven of his past nine games, this one should be decided on the ground. In a surprise compared with recent seasons, that would, at least on paper, favor Cleveland on both sides of the ball. But there is a nagging feeling that Baltimore is a quality team that has underperformed while the Browns have simply benefited from a light schedule. This game could help sort out if that is true. Pick: Ravens -1

How Betting Lines Work

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Bills -2.5, for example, means that Buffalo must beat Pittsburgh by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

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