Sports | December 18, 2020 9:21 am

Expert NFL Picks for Week 15, Including Chiefs-Saints and Seahawks-WFT

Chris Altruda of NJ Online Gambling, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights

How to Bet Week 15's Best NFL Games, According to the Pros
Drew Brees of the Saints calls out instructions against the Kansas City Chiefs.
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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 15 games, including rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts leading the Eagles against the Cardinals and the Seahawks traveling across the country to take on the Washington Football Team.

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

Seattle Seahawks (9-4) (-240, -5, O/U 44.5) at The Washington Football Team (5-8)

A compelling matchup because … one of the hottest teams in the NFL despite being well below .500, Washington has held its last four opponents under 20 points and is doing just enough on offense to win ballgames. Tied for first place in their division with the Rams, the Seahawks have one of the best home records in the league (6-1) but have been mediocre on the road (3-3) this season.

Altruda’s Angle: In what could be classified as either odd or “so 2020,” this Week 14 matchup also has the potential to be a first-round playoff game should Washington win the NFC East and Seattle finish as the top wild card. The Seahawks had a working bye week last Sunday, pummeling the New York Jets as Russell Wilson threw four TD passes in less than three quarters and Seattle’s sometimes-maligned defense held the Jets under 200 yards. Seattle’s offense was at its balanced best, allowing the Seahawks to win the time of possession game and helping a defense that has picked up its play of late — albeit against overmatched opponents offensively. No one will confuse Washington with an offensive juggernaut after its defense accounted for both touchdowns in last weekend’s win at San Francisco, but the uncertain status of QB Alex Smith — dealing with a calf strain — is very concerning. Backup Dwayne Haskins did little in terms of moving the team, as his six possessions last week with the game in the balance resulted in three points for the WFT. After paying the price for playing down to an opponent by losing to the Giants in Week 12, the Seahawks won’t let it happen again. I’ll take Seattle laying less than a touchdown.

Gable’s Guess: It looks like Smith will play against Seattle, and that’s great news for Washington. He’s won four of his five starts this year and since he took over they’ve been averaging 26.8 points per game. You can absolutely see the difference in the offense. Seattle comes in averaging 30.2 points per game, led by Russell Wilson. He’s already passed for more than 3,600 yards this year with 36 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. This is a matchup of a defense that’s playing very well against an offense that can certainly put up a lot of points. Washington has only allowed 14.3 points per game over their four-game winning streak. The under has hit in Seattle’s last five games and in six of Washington’s last nine, but I’m going to go against the grain here and take the over if Smith is starting this game.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: If the playoffs started today, both of these teams would be in. Washington currently occupies the No. 4 seed while Seattle sits in the No. 5 spot. The Seahawks (7-6 ATS) have won three of their last four and just crushed the Jets 40-3, easily covering as 16.5-point home favorites. Similarly, the Football Team (7-5-1 ATS) has won four straight, including a 23-15 win over the 49ers last week. This line opened with Seattle listed as a 4-point road favorite. The public (along with some early respected money) is backing Seattle, driving this line up to -6. But once the line reached the key number of 6, we saw a flood of wise-guy action hit Washington +6, dropping the line back down. Washington has value as a contrarian home dog with an inflated line. Washington also has the advantage of a West Coast team traveling east for an early game. As long as Alex Smith plays, give me the Football Team and the points.

Our Pick: Washington is a great story, but not a great team. Lay the points.

New England Patriots (6-7) (+110, +2, O/U 41.5) at Miami Dolphins (8-5)

A compelling matchup because … usually, the Dolphins are trying to spoil New England’s playoff plans when these two teams face each other late in the season. This time around, the Patriots, who have almost no shot at making the playoffs, will be trying to play spoiler for Miami. The Patriots are just 2-5 on the road this season and always struggle playing in Miami.

Altruda’s Angle: The Patriots are already assured of not winning the AFC East for the first time since 2008, and a loss here will guarantee they’ll miss the playoffs for the first time since that season. New England looked completely out of sorts in its 24-3 loss to the Rams last week and probably needed the extra rest and film work from playing on TNF. The good news for New England is it faces its second rookie quarterback in three games, and Bill Belichick has won his last 11 such matchups dating back to 2013. Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa did many things right against reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City in Week 14, throwing for 316 yards and two TDs, but did take a safety on a sack. That is the type of mistake Belichick can induce with his defensive schemes. The Patriots won ugly over Miami in Week 1 as Cam Newton rushed for a pair of touchdowns, and New England’s struggles on offense may result in another grind-down contest. I’m nervously grabbing the under despite that low-side hook on a touchdown total.

Gable’s Guess: These teams played each other in Week 1 with the Patriots coming away with the victory. Not a very pretty game and a lot has changed for these two teams since then. Tua has taken over at quarterback for Miami and he’s had six starts and thrown nine touchdown passes. That’s actually four more than Patriots QB Cam Newton has on the season. New England is 9-4 to the under this season and 5-0 to the under in their last five games. It has a lot to do with just how their offense plays. They run the ball a lot and eat a lot of clock and that’s why this total is a pretty low. This really comes down to Belichick going against a rookie quarterback. That’s a dangerous situation and Belichick always seems to have something up his sleeve, or lack of sleeves, against rookies. So, I’m going to take New England and the points in this one.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Patriots (6-7 ATS) are still in the hunt for the playoffs but will likely need to win their final three games (and get some help) in order to reach the postseason. The Dolphins (10-3 ATS) hold the seventh and final playoff seed, but need to keep winning with several teams creeping up behind them. This line opened with the Dolphins listed as 2.5-point home favorites. The public has given up on New England and is rushing to the window to back Miami at home laying a short spread. However, despite this lopsided betting, we’ve seen the line fall to 2 or even 1.5, signaling some respected money backing the Pats plus the points. New England has value as a divisional dog (55 percent ATS this year), a short road dog +6 or less (63 percent ATS) and a buy-low dog off a 20-point blowout loss or more (59 percent ATS). The Patriots also have a rest advantage, having last played on Thursday while the Dolphins played Sunday. It looks gross, but I’ll follow the sharp move and take New England plus the points.

Our Pick: It is the last gasp for the Patriots, and Belichick’s record against rookie QBs is not a coincidence. Take them with the points.

Philadelphia (4-8-1) (+220, +6, O/U 49.5) at Arizona Cardinals (7-6)

A compelling matchup because … somehow technically still alive for a playoff spot thanks to playing in the NFC East, the Eagles need a win here to keep their undeserved postseason hopes legitimate. With their road win last week, the Cardinals moved back into the final wild-card spot in the NFC but have little room for error, with the Vikings and Bears directly behind them.

Altruda’s Angle: It’s rare that a four-win team can create a buzz, yet that’s what the Eagles have done as they remain in playoff contention with rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts under center. The switch by Doug Pederson was instrumental, as Hurts proved himself to be a two-way threat with 273 total yards of offense, including 106 on the ground. But last week was also a team win, as Miles Sanders broke off an 82-yard touchdown run and Philadelphia’s defense kept New Orleans at arm’s length while forcing two turnovers. How Hurts makes adjustments from week to week will be extremely important facing a Cardinals team that just righted itself. Arizona QB Kyler Murray did two important things last week — rushed judiciously and made sure DeAndre Hopkins was involved in the passing game. The Cardinals are 7-1 this year when Murray rushes at least 10 times, and Hopkins had his best game since capping Arizona’s Week 10 win over Buffalo with a Hail Mary touchdown grab. Arizona’s defense also stifled New York, with Haason Reddick recording five sacks. That said, the Cards live and die with Murray and the offense. They need to be better in the red zone and the feeling is they will be able to take advantage of Hurts in his first road start. Lay the points with Arizona.

Gable’s Guess: The Eagles come into this down a couple of starting defensive players. That is good news for Murray, who has certainly struggled as of late despite his hot start this season. He did rebound a little bit last week. The Eagles will see if Hurts can duplicate the success he had against one of the best defenses in the league in the Saints. Both Hurts and Philly RB Miles Sanders rushed for more than 100 yards. It was nice to see the Eagles run the ball more as, for whatever reason, Doug Pederson never really seemed to want to do that when Carson Wentz was the starter. It’s sort of perplexing. I just think Arizona’s talented receivers are going to get open against Philadelphia’s banged-up secondary. I’d expect the Cardinals to put up points and, with the Eagle offense coming to life a little bit last week, I’m going to take the over in this one.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: Philadelphia is living on a playoff prayer but still hasn’t been eliminated. On the flip side, Arizona needs to keep winning to fend off competitors in their rearview mirror. The Eagles (5-8 ATS) snapped a four-game losing skid last week with a huge 24-21 upset win over the Saints, winning outright as 7.5-point home dogs. Similarly, the Cardinals (6-7 ATS) snapped a three-game losing streak with a convincing 26-7 win over the Giants, covering as 3-point road favorites. This line opened with the Cardinals listed as 5.5-point home favorites. We’ve seen some respected money show up early on Arizona, pushing the line up to -6.5. But now that the hook has become available, some buyback has hit the Eagles +6.5, which has dropped the line back down to 6 at some shops. The Eagles have value as a short road dog catching less than a touchdown. Also, lead referee Craig Wrolstad has historically favored road teams (58 percent ATS). I’ll bank on Hurts keeping this within a touchdown. Go Eagles.

Our Pick: The Eagles have one road win. Lay the points with Arizona.

Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) (-171, -3, O/U 51.5) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)

A compelling matchup because … in what could be a potential Super Bowl preview, the Chiefs will look to extend their eight-game winning streak against a New Orleans team that should be fired up after being upset by the Eagles last week. If the Saints win, it will be Kansas City’s first road loss of the season.

Altruda’s Angle: The showdown we really want — Patrick Mahomes vs. Drew Brees — is all but certain to not happen as Brees continues to recover from 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Backup QB Taysom Hill threw for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week, but he also had a pair of turnovers. Two other drives ended in missed field goals for New Orleans. The Saints have the offensive talent to hang with Kansas City, but Hill, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Jared Cook all have to be on the same page for the entire game. The Chiefs showed flashes of being their offensive selves last week in Miami — they scored four touchdowns in a 10:22 span bridging the second and third quarters — and Tyreek Hill got loose for a deep touchdown catch and a 32-yard scoring run. Mahomes also threw three interceptions — tying a career high — but Kansas City moved up and down the field the way we’ve been accustomed to seeing since Mahomes moved under center. A strategic move by the Dolphins prevented the Chiefs from covering a big number on the road last weekend, but them giving only a field goal is simply too good to pass up. Additionally, a same-game teaser of the Chiefs +3 and over 45 points also works. 

Gable’s Guess: If Brees doesn’t start, Hill will be the starter. He suffered his first loss as a starter last week. If Brees does play, I think this is going to be the first time he goes up against Mahomes. Kansas City did turn the ball over four times against Miami on Sunday. They still pulled out the win, but it was uncharacteristic for them to have four turnovers. Mahomes is 3-0 on his career when he starts in domes. Something to think about there. Obviously, the Chiefs must win this game to maintain control of the No. 1 seed over the Steelers in the AFC. If Brees isn’t playing, the question will be if New Orleans can put up enough points to stay with the Chiefs here. The New Orleans defense has looked phenomenal and that’s why it was a surprise to see them give up 24 points to an Eagles team that has really struggled offensively. I think this Chiefs team is just too quick and they’re going to be too fast to contain on the turf in the dome. I’m going to lay the points with the Chiefs in this one.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Chiefs (6-7 ATS) have won eight straight and just took down the Dolphins 33-27, although they failed to cover as 7-point road favorites. The Chiefs are 5-0 straight up but 0-5 ATS over their last five games. Meanwhile, the Saints (7-6 ATS) just saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end last week, falling to the Eagles 24-21 and losing straight up as 7.5-point road favorites. This line opened with the Chiefs listed anywhere between a 3-point and 4-point road favorite. The public has no issue laying this number. However, respected money has come down on the Saints at +4 and +3.5, dripping this line down to the key number of 3. New Orleans has value as a short home dog off a loss. The Saints also have elevated contrarian value as they are receiving a clear minority of bets in what will be a heavily bet game. I love the Saints in this spot. Give me the points.

Our Pick: This game has scoring written all over it. Take the over.

Cleveland Browns (9-4) (-220, -4.5, O/U 44.5) at New York Giants (5-8)

A compelling matchup because … originally an afternoon game, this matchup was flexed to primetime before last week when the Browns and Giants both lost. Despite the losses last week, both teams have been hot as of late and will want this game to bolster their playoff hopes. The Browns have scored more than 40 points in two straight games while the Giants have not hit 40 this season.

Altruda’s Angle: The main subplot to this game — Odell Beckham Jr. facing his former team for the first time — is a non-story with the Browns wide receiver sidelined due to injury. But this second straight primetime game is still an important one for Cleveland, which has control of the top wild-card spot. While the Browns did lose what many call the “Game of the Year” on Monday night versus Baltimore, their offense has been operating at peak efficiency, with 83 points and 951 yards in the last two games. The keys to that surge are Baker Mayfield avoiding turnovers and a balanced running game featuring Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Mayfield has raised his game lately, totaling 935 yards and eight TD tosses in his last three contests. New York had its four-game win streak and brief spell atop the NFC East come to end last weekend at home versus Arizona. The Giant offense was practically non-existent despite the return of quarterback Daniel Jones from a hamstring injury. There has been heavy action on the Browns early — the line opened with them as 3-point favorites — and while I’m laying the points with Cleveland, it may be a good idea to wait closer to kick off for some potential reverse line movement to grab the Browns at a better number.

Gable’s Guess: The Browns are 2-4 ATS in away games this season. They played a wild game against the Ravens on Monday night, so this could be a letdown spot for them. But I don’t think they can really afford it now. The Giants are only averaging 18.3 points per game this season, second-worst in the NFL. New York has been doing a great job on defense as of late, and generating a good pass rush against Baker Mayfield is going to be a key for them to stay in this game. Mayfield had a great game on Monday and has a 96.6 quarterback rating on the season. The Browns come into this with the third-best rushing attack in the NFL. They’re averaging 156.2 yards per game on the ground. What’s troubling for the Giants here is they just gave up 159 rushing yards to Arizona. That’s the most they’ve given up all season. Now, they’re going to be facing one of the best rushing attacks in the league. I would look at laying the points with Cleveland.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Browns (5-8 ATS) lost a 47-42 heartbreaker to the Ravens on Monday night and failed to cover as 3-point home dogs. Similarly, the Giants (8-5 ATS) lost to the Cardinals 26-7 and failed to cover as 3-point home dogs. This line opened with the Browns listed as either 3-point or 3.5-point road favorites. The public is hammering the Browns after they battled hard on Monday night, pushing the Browns up to -4.5. The Giants have value as a primetime dog (25-16, 61 percent ATS this season) and also have a rest advantage as New York played on Sunday. Teams with this kind of short week advantage over their opponent have gone 11-5 ATS (69 percent) this season. I’ll buy low on the Giants after a bad loss and fade the hype with the Browns. Give me the G-Men as a contrarian home dog with an inflated line.

Our Pick: Cleveland is the better team, and they’ll want to prove they can bounce back from that barnburner against the Ravens. Lay the points.

Last Week: 3-2, Season: 38-31

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