Sports | December 4, 2020 11:52 am

Expert NFL Picks for Week 13, Including Browns-Titans, and Rams-Cardinals

The smart money on Browns-Titans, Rams-Cardinals and more

Expert NFL Picks for Week 13, Including Browns-Titans, and Rams-Cardinals
The LA Rams line up against the Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2019.
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This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.

For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for NJ Online Gambling, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 13 games, including the Browns taking on the Titans in a matchup of two of the AFC’s top teams and the a divisional NFC showdown between the Rams and Cardinals in the desert.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

New Orleans Saints (9-2) (-145, -2.5, O/U 46) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)


A compelling matchup because … given the respective records of both teams, this doesn’t appear like it should be much of a contest at first glance. But the Falcons have quietly won three out four games since firing Dan Quinn and are coming off a beatdown of a Raiders team that actually knocked off the Saints earlier this season in Vegas.

Altruda’s Angle: Winners of eight straight and currently atop the NFC standings, the Saints go for the sweep of the Falcons in their second meeting in three weeks. New Orleans ground out a 24-9 win at home in Week 11, with Taysom Hill scoring a pair of second-half touchdowns and the defense not allowing a touchdown all game. Hill is almost a known quantity at quarterback since replacing the injured Drew Brees — he completed 18-of-23 passes for 233 yards versus Atlanta but did not have to do much last week since the Denver offense was shambolic. The Falcons unloaded a season’s worth of catharsis on the unsuspecting Raiders last weekend, rolling 43-6 as they turned five turnovers into 23 points in what may be the high point of a disappointing 2020 for Atlanta. New Orleans has proven equally adept at creating takeaways, with 13 in the last five games. The Saints are also hot with the number, covering their last four, while the under has also delivered in each of those games. The better play is the spread, and there is value grabbing the Saints as a road favorite by less than a field goal, even in a divisional matchup.

Gable’s Guess: The Falcons are coming off a dominant win against the Raiders. Really, their defense has been the thing that’s been much improved under interim coach Raheem Morris. Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara give the Saints one of the best combinations at running back in the league. Murray rushed for 124 yards and two TDs against Denver last week. But the story of the Saints is really their defense. They come in with the No. 1 defense in the NFL, ranked fifth against the pass, second against the run and fifth in points allowed per game. The last time they played the Falcons in Week 11, they tallied eight sacks. I think the Saints defense here is just too strong. I’d be looking to lay the points with New Orleans.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Saints (6-5 ATS) just waxed the Broncos 31-3, easily covering as massive 17-point road favorites. Meanwhile, the Falcons (5-6 ATS) most recently crushed the Raiders 43-6 last week, easily winning outright as 3.5-point home dogs. This line opened with the Saints listed as 3-point road favorites. The public is pounding New Orleans. However, despite this lopsided support, we’ve seen the line remain frozen at 3 or even dip to 2.5. This signals sharp reverse line movement on the home dog. The Falcons have value as a contrarian divisional dog on a short spread. Home divisional dogs are 14-6 ATS (70 percent) this season. I’ll take Atlanta +3..

Our Pick: Atlanta is playing better, but Saints all the way. Lay the points.

Cleveland Browns (8-3) (+210, +6, O/U 53.5) at Tennessee Titans (8-3)


A compelling matchup because … winners of three in a row, the Browns are off to their best start in decades despite struggling to create separation on the scoreboard from their opponents (Cleveland’s last three wins have come by a combined 10 points). On the other side, the Titans have two quality wins in a row (Ravens, Colts) and seem like they are getting hot the same way they did at the end of last season on the way to the playoffs.

Altruda’s Angle: With all apologies to Marvel Comics, Derrick Henry: Winter Soldier is appointment viewing after he plowed through the Colts for 178 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-26 road win that put the Titans back atop the AFC South. Henry has topped 100 yards in three straight games and also has fared well against the rest of the AFC North, totaling 320 yards and three TDs in those matchups. Cleveland also appears well on its way to being a playoff team, but has yet to shed the look of a paper tiger. Its current three-game winning streak has been fashioned by beating Houston, Philadelphia, and Jacksonville, and its three losses on the season have been by a combined 91-19 to Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas — all teams that are likely to join the Browns in the postseason. The Browns have shown some grit in overcoming key personnel losses at various points in the season — getting star defensive end Myles Garrett back this weekend after a two-game absence would be a lift and Nick Chubb has racked up 384 yards during this winning streak after being sidelined four games. Still, Cleveland remains “potentially dangerous.” Tennessee is dangerous thanks to Henry, and should prove too much to beat at home. Grab the Titans at -6 or even -6.5 and lay the points while you still can.

Gable’s Guess: The Tennessee offense looked very impressive against one of the best defenses in the league last week. The Colts just were not able to stop them. Cleveland comes in here with a banged-up secondary and a defense that played pretty sloppy against Jacksonville on Sunday. So, there’s really no telling what the Titans may do here against the Cleveland defense. The Browns have eight wins, but they have a -21 point differential. I think they’re very fortunate to be where they are in the standings. But I think there are spots Cleveland can exploit. The Titans are down to their third-string left tackle and Myles Garrett should be returning for Cleveland. And I’m not sure the Titans will be able to pressure Mayfield enough to force him into making mistakes. When Mayfield feels pressure and has to get out of the pocket, that’s really where the mistakes add up. I don’t know if Titans will be able to generate enough of a pass rush to make him feel that. So, I’m going to be looking to take the Browns plus the points.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Browns (4-7 ATS) fended off the Jags 27-25 last week but failed to cover as 7.5-point road favorites. Similarly, the Titans (5-6 ATS) just crushed the Colts 45-26, winning outright as 3-point road dogs. This line opened with Tennessee listed as a 4-point home favorite. The public is split and doesn’t know who to take. On the one hand, both teams are 8-3, so how can you not grab the Browns getting the points? But then again, the Titans have been rolling in recent weeks while Cleveland is barely eking out wins. Despite this split ticket count, we’ve seen pros hammer the Titans, pushing Tennessee up from -4 to -5.5. I can’t trust Baker Mayfield. I’ll lay the points with Tennessee.

Our Pick: This has all the makings of a Cleveland choke-job. Lay the points.

Los Angeles Rams (7-4) (-150, -3, O/U 48.5) at Arizona Cardinals (6-5)


A compelling matchup because … two weeks ago, these teams were tied with the Seattle Seahawks for first place in the best division in football. Since then, the Cardinals have fallen two games off the lead in the NFC West while the Rams are a game off the pace. Evenly matched on paper, LA (+48) and Arizona (+46) have nearly identical point differentials on the season.

Altruda’s Angle: The Rams continue to be completely maddening, following up what should have been season-defining wins over Seattle and Tampa Bay with a late-game collapse at home versus San Francisco. While some of that can be attributed to the staggering quality of the NFC West, the result again made Los Angeles look like a more competent version of the Chicago Bears. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been straining under the weight of public expectations as they look to avoid a third straight defeat. Arizona had its chances to beat both Seattle and New England over the last two weeks and failed to deliver; Kyler Murray struggled to find any passing rhythm after a solid opening driver versus the Patriots but was still able to get them into a position to at least attempt a go-ahead field goal. The Rams are 6-0 against the Cardinals since Sean McVay took over, which includes a 5-0-1 mark against the spread. With not much love for either team’s form, the play here looks to be UNDER 48.5 points. The under has hit in seven of the Rams’ last eight games thanks to LA’s solid defense and it is also 7-3-1 on the season in Arizona’s games.

Gable’s Guess: Obviously, this is a very important divisional matchup. Both teams come into this game struggling. The Rams are 3-3 ATS in their last six games and Arizona’s 0-4 in their last four. The Cardinals do rank second in the NFL on offense with 403.7 yards per game. The Rams come in averaging 389.2 yards per game. Defense is what separates these two teams. Arizona’s 15th in yards allowed and are poor against the run. They’re surrendering 123.4 rushing yards per game and 4.5 per carry. And the Rams have a very good rushing attack. They’re averaging 124.6 yards per game on the ground. Defensively, the Rams allow the second-fewest yards and the fourth-fewest points in the league. I think that is really the differentiating factor here. If the Rams don’t turn the ball over, I think they should be able to walk out of this one with a pretty healthy victory. When they turn the ball over fewer than two times in a game, they are 6-1 overall. I’ll be looking to lay the points with the Rams.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Rams (6-5 ATS) just fell to the 49ers 23-20, losing outright as 5-point home dogs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals (5-6 ATS) just lost to the Patriots 20-17 and failed to cover as 1-point road favorites. This line opened with Los Angeles listed as a short 1.5-point road favorite. Big money steamed Los Angeles from -1.5 to -3. At this point, the Cardinals have value as a divisional dog with an inflated line getting the key number of +3. This is more of pick’em game in my opinion. I’ll grab the +3 and buy low on the Cardinals to get back on track at home.

Our Pick: No consensus. Hoping Murray gets on track at home. Go over.

New York Giants (4-7) (+380, +10, O/U 46.5) at Seattle Seahawks (8-3)


A compelling matchup because … given the putrid nature of the NFC East, this is actually a matchup of first-place teams despite New York’s subpar record (though, to be fair, the Giants do have three wins in a row). The Seahawks are on a two-game winning streak of their own and are playing slightly better defensively in recent weeks.

Altruda’s Angle:  It would not be surprising to see this line shift once a definitive status on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is available. The second-year signal-caller strained his right hamstring in last weekend’s 19-17 victory at Cincinnati, and it would be surprising if he got the start over Colt McCoy. McCoy did start one game last season for Washington, but he also has not won as a starter since a 20-17 overtime victory over Dallas in 2014. It’s all well and good the Giants have won three straight, but those victories have come over the decisively non-murderer’s row of Washington, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The Seahawks were not great Monday night in winning at Philadelphia, but reincorporating running back Chris Carson into the offense is vital for their Super Bowl hopes. As that takes shape, Russell Wilson can continue throwing to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, depending on the preferred matchup. Wilson threw Metcalf’s way 13 times versus the Eagles — resulting in 10 completions and 177 yards — compared to nine combined in the previous two games. The Giants have had only one clunker this season — a 36-9 loss to San Francisco in Week 3. That could happen here if Jones is forced to sit, but the goal is to remove all doubt: the play is a same-game, 6-point teaser of Seahawks -4 and Under 52.5 points.

Gable’s Guess: Although the Giants got backdoor-covered by the Bengals on Sunday, they have covered the spread in four of their last five games. So, as of late, they’ve been playing pretty decent. Seattle 5-0 at home this year. The Giants aren’t great on offense with Jones, but with McCoy under center I think they’re really going to struggle. Seattle knows New York will need to rely on the run and the one bright spot for Seattle defensively this year is defending the run. During New York’s three game winning streak, they have a +7 turnover margin. They’ve been able to get some takeaways and that’s really led to them winning some games. They need to protect the ball on offense — which they’ve been doing the last three weeks — and generate some takeaways on defense to stay in this game. But if it’s going to be McCoy starting the game, I’d look at taking the Seahawks and laying the points.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Giants (7-4 ATS) most recently beat the Bengals 19-17 but failed to cover as 6.5-point road favorites. The Seahawks just took down the Eagles 23-17 on Monday night, although they failed to cover as 6.5-point road favorites. This line opened with Seattle listed as a 7.5-point home favorite. With Daniel Jones expected to miss this game due to injury, the public is hammering the Seahawks and the line has ballooned to -10. I think this a bit of an overreaction. The Giants have a slight rest advantage as Seattle is on a short week having played Monday. Give me the double-digit dog. Keep it close, Colt McCoy.

Our Pick: Hate the number either way. Gonna gamble with the over.

New England Patriots (5-6) (-115, -1, O/U 47.5) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-8)


A compelling matchup because … the last time these teams met two seasons ago, the Patriots beat a more talented Chargers team in the AFC Divisional round by running the ball and playing good defense. Much has changed since then, but that formula may still work. If it does, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn may be out of a job.

Altruda’s Angle: If Henry is the Winter Soldier, then the Patriots are Jason Voorhees, seemingly rising up to make a late-season playoff push. Bill Belichick’s team still has some heavy lifting: New England is two games out of the seventh and (currently) final playoff spot and one game out of the eighth. The good news is the Patriots hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Baltimore and Las Vegas, the teams currently tied for eighth. New England won ugly last weekend over Arizona, taking advantage of Arizona’s mistakes and doing just enough at the end to grab a victory. This weekend calls for Belichick’s defensive dark arts as he looks to improve to 20-5 all-time against rookie quarterbacks. Justin Herbert is obviously no ordinary first-year signal-caller — he is the frontrunner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and has thrown for 3,015 yards and 23 TDs in just 10 games — but it is still a matchup of “The Hoodie” versus “The Rookie” and the advantage goes to Belichick. This game could come down to Herbert’s counterpart Cam Newton. He did not have a great game versus the Cardinals, but he made winning plays when given the chance. That is something the Chargers have yet to figure out how to stop for most of the season and that should allow the Patriots to emerge with a W and a .500 record. Grab the Pats on the moneyline, but if the line shifts to them getting points, don’t be afraid to go that route.

Gable’s Guess: The Chargers have had some very good quarterback play from Herbert and he’s certainly been a good, bright spot for them. Their running game is almost non-existent. They’re 2-3 ATS at home this season, but New England in only 1-4 ATS in road games this year. Something’s got to give. The Patriots have really struggled to score this year. They’re averaging only 20.8 points per game, which is 27th in the NFL. The Chargers are only averaging 25.2 points per game. I think the media is going to be focused on the coaching mismatch in this one, Bellichick against Lynn. The bottom line in this game is the Chargers don’t win very many close games and this is going to be a close game. I would take New England in a pick’em and, if it gets to New England laying a point, I would take them laying a point.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Patriots (5-6 ATS) kept their faint postseason hopes alive last week with a 20-17 win over the Cardinals, winning outright as a 1-point home dog. Meanwhile, the Chargers (4-6-1 ATS) just fell to the Bills 27-17, failing to cover as 4-point road dogs. Los Angeles is 1-4 in their last five games while the Patriots are 3-1 over their last four games. This line opened with the Chargers listed as 2.5-point home favorites. Pro bettors have pounced on the Patriots getting points, which has dropped the line down. Road teams with a line move in their favor are 55-45 ATS (55 percent) this season. This is one of the biggest coaching mismatches you’ll ever see with Belichick facing Lynn. I’ll take the Patriots on the moneyline to win the game.

Our Pick: To have any playoff shot, the Patriots need a win. Lay the point.

Last Week: 3-1*, Season: 32-27 (*Wednesday Night Football not factored in)

Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.