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, Paul Bovi, a sports betting expert from VegasInsider.com who’s been handicapping games for three decades, and Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, shared their opinions on five games on the NFL’s slate of Week 14 matchups, including Sunday’s AFC Championship game rematch between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
10-2 Ravens (-260, -6, O/U 43.5) at 9-3 Bills
Winners of eight in a row, the Ravens have outscored their opponents by 187 points combined, best in the NFL. They take on a Buffalo defense that has only allowed 188 points, second best in the NFL behind only the 49ers and Patriots. The AFC-leading Ravens and MVP favorite Lamar Jackon have beaten both of those teams, and will look to continue their dominance in Orchard Park on Sunday.
Bovi’s take: “The Ravens come in off a three-point win at home over the 49ers, 20-17. Both teams struggled on offense in large part due to the weather, as the game was played in a driving rainstorm. The Bills come in well-rested, as they shocked the Cowboys 26-15 on Thanksgiving. Buffalo has been vulnerable to the opposition’s running game, surrendering more than five yards per carry in five of the last six games, with the lone exception being the Dolphins, who lack talent at the running back position. While the winds in Buffalo are expected to be testy on Sunday, the feeling is both offenses will do enough to get this one over the total while the Ravens get a four- to seven-point win.”
Gable’s take: “The Bills have exceeded everybody’s expectations this year, but they have a tough stretch here with three games coming up against the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots and I think they close with the Jets, which shouldn’t be too bad for them. If they go 0-4, they’re going to probably miss the playoffs. So they have to pick up a couple of wins in the last four weeks. It might be a little bit of a letdown game for the Ravens with them knocking off the 49ers last week in a tough game. Lamar Jackson didn’t look great throwing the ball but still was able to beat them with his legs. The Bills are going to have a tough time handling Lamar — nobody has really been able to totally stop him. I don’t see the Bills being able to do that. Baltimore’s defense has alsso been outstanding, so I think the Bills’ offense is going to have a very difficult time moving the ball. Quarterback Josh Allen has had some good weeks and then he’s had some weeks where he’s turned the ball over a lot. I don’t see the Ravens doing him any favors here.”
Our Pick: The Ravens can score in bunches. Go with the over.
10-2 49ers (+120, +2.5, O/U 44.5) at 10-2 Saints
After a searing start, San Francisco has dropped two of their last four games now that the opposition has gotten a little tougher. Things won’t get any easier in New Orleans against a Saints team that’s lost just once at home this season and currently has the top playoff seed in the NFC. To keep it and hold off the surging Seahawks, the Saints will have to take care of the Niners.
Bovi’s take: “In a game that could very well decide home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC, the Niners visit New Orleans fresh off a hard-fought loss to the Ravens. The Niners had gotten healthier, notably with the return of all-world tight end George Kittle. However they’re now dealing with injuries to their secondary, as cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Jaquiski Tartt are nursing knee and rib injuries, respectively. The Saints’ offense struggled in their 26-18 Thanksgiving win over Falcons, managing a pedestrian 279 yards. They are now dealing with injuries to both of their offensive tackles. We’ll look for both defenses to step up here in what should be a lower scoring close game. Under the total.”
Gable’s take: “While they won, the Saints didn’t put up the huge offensive numbers you are accustomed to seeing against the Falcons. Their defense looked phenomenal on Thanksgiving. The 49ers’ defense also looked really good against the Ravens last week. Nobody’s really been able to shut the Ravens down this year and 49ers’ defense did a pretty good job of that. So you have two strong defenses that are both playing well here going up against each other. There are big playoff implications, probably even bigger for the 49ers. They don’t want to fall too far behind Seattle and they have a much tougher schedule moving forward than the Seahawks. So they would love to pick up this win here against the Saints. If they are going to make a serious run in the playoffs, Jimmy Garoppolo needs to be able to play well against top-tier defenses, and he hasn’t shown that he can yet this year. So this is going to be a true test for him. The Saints’ defenses for real. We’ll see how he comes out of it.”
Our Pick: Look for Garoppolo to struggle and lay the points with the Saints.
8-4 Chiefs (+140, +3, O/U 48.5) at 10-2 Patriots
In a game both teams have probably had circled on their calendars since late January, the Chiefs visit New England for a matchup with huge playoff implications. Already trailing the Ravens for the top seed in the AFC thanks to a tiebreaker, New England needs a win in order to have a shot at recapturing the top spot. Kansas City would like nothing better than to stop that from happening by defeating the team that beat them twice last season.
Bovi’s take: “The Patriots’ offense was once again the center of conversation on Sunday as Tom Brady and co. repeatedly stalled until their game against the Texans was seemingly out of reach at 21-3. While New England did eventually tally 480 yards of offense, half of that came on their last three drives as they closed the 18-point gap. In their game, the Chiefs dominated the Raiders on the scoreboard with a 40-9 win, although they pulled it off with only 271 yards of offense. The Chiefs once again showed their vulnerability to the run, as running back Josh Jacobs broke the 100-yard barrier on only 17 carries. Expect the Patriots to dominate the Chiefs defense here as they score 30 points while prevailing in a close game with the teams combining to go over the total.”
Gable’s take: “The offense needs to step up here for New England. They’re lacking a big-time playmaker at this point and Tom Brady has looked human again. They’re not going to go anywhere if they can’t score more than 21 or 24 points, and getting garbage time points like they’ve been doing doesn’t really count. Their defense is not going to be able to hold everybody in check all the time. Kansas City’s defense really stepped up against Oakland on Sunday. They started the season as serious contenders for the Super Bowl and they were really kind of lacking due to their defense. But they had a great showing against Oakland. Hopefully some of that momentum for them will carry over here against the Patriots’ offense. And the offense here for the Chiefs … we know what they’re capable of. We know what weapons they have. The Patriots are laying three at home but I’d certainly expect the public to be on the Chiefs in this one.”
Our Pick: If the Pats rely on the running game, they’ll score. Take the over.
7-5 Titans (-150, -3, O/U 47) at 6-6 Raiders
Five of the Raiders’ six wins on the season have come at home in Oakland. They’ll need to add to that total if they want to remain in the race for the AFC West crown as well as the final wild card spot. The Titans are also squarely in the mix on both fronts. They’ve won three in a row, while the Raiders have dropped their last two.
Bovi’s take: “Oakland has been outscored 74-12 over the last two weeks while the Titans have gotten the better of the Jaguars and Colts by a combined 73-to-37 margin. As a result, the Raiders have been installed as three-point underdogs despite being at home. While the Titans and Ryan Tannehill must be given credit for winning five of the last six, they have enjoyed some good fortune in recent weeks, included their 31-17 win over the Colts on Sunday, when Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri had his field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown with the score tied at 17. The Raiders held the Chiefs to a season-low 271 yards on Sunday despite being blown out 40-9. We’ll look for a Raiders resurrection as they come away with a 27-20 win.”
Gable’s take: “This is a very interesting game. Tennessee has been a surprise here. They’re 5-1 since Ryan Tannehill was named the starter, which is really good. Derek Henry, their running back, has been really good also. Their defense though has played tough as well. So they’re right in a position for a wild card and you wouldn’t have thought that six weeks ago. The Raiders have looked pretty bad in the last two weeks. I think they’re going to continue to ride Josh Jacobs on the ground. He’s been phenomenal for them running the ball. I can’t fault coach Gruden for what he’s done with them. I think they’re going to kind of go as QB Derek Carr goes, and he hasn’t had a good game recently. Maybe he’s due. But the Titans, they just have all the momentum right now. Not that the Raiders are totally out of it, but certainly the Titans are in a much better position here.”
Our Pick: Oakland has been good at home. Take them with the points.
10-2 Seahawks (–110, Even, O/U 47) at 7-5 Rams
Winners of five in a row, the Seahawks are the hottest team in the NFL outside of the Ravens. They’ll take on a Rams team that got blown out on national TV two weeks ago before bouncing back in a blowout win over the Cardinals. The Rams are only 3-3 at home on the season, while the Seahawks have been road warriors, winning all six of their away games.
Bovi’s take: “The last time the Rams showed up on Monday night a few short weeks ago, they were embarrassed by the Ravens 45-6 as Baltimore reached the end zone on their first six possessions. The Rams were able to muster little in the way of offense, especially on the ground, as they ran for only 22 yards on nine carries. Fast forward to Sunday and LA imposed their will on Arizona as they took a 20-0 halftime lead to the locker room en route to a 34-7 win. The Seahawks were on the winning end of another close game on Monday, as they bested the Vikings 34-30. All but one of the Seahawks’ 10 wins have been by eight points or less. These teams met earlier in the year with Seattle holding on for a 30-29 win courtesy of an errant Greg Zuerlein field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining. The Seahawks have struggled defensively this year at times, and the same goes for the Rams. Despite the tendency for divisional rivals to go under the total late in the year, look for these two to play another high-scoring game that goes to the high side of the number.”
Gable’s take: “The Rams had a monster offensive game against Arizona. Jared Goff had over 400 yards passing and it looked like it was last year again. But, I’m not fooled by that. Seattle, while their weakness has been on defense this year, I don’t expect the Rams to have as big of a game against them as they did against Arizona. On Monday night, Seattle was able to run the ball all over one of the league’s best rushing defenses in Minnesota. So that bodes well for them moving forward. We all know what kind of year Russell Wilson’s having — he’s still in the MVP conversation. If the Rams don’t win this, they really don’t have a shot of making the playoffs. But I would expect all the money to be on Seattle in this one. Especially only being one-point favorites. I think it would be a big upset here if the Rams win.”
Our Pick: In a pick ’em, take the Seahawks to win on the road in LA.
Last Week’s Picks: 1-4, Season: 34-31
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.