I was looking pretty sweet last week. Having established myself as the Under Taker, I switched strategies. My pod best (Bears/Packers over 44) had come in, my column value and outside picks (Falcons/Panthers over and Giants/Rams over) also paid off. And I was 13-0 picking straight up going into Monday Night, where last week’s best bet was the Rams -2 to win. Well you know how that went. I’ve been picking straight-up every game for 16 seasons and never yet had a perfect week, though I will settle for 13-1 every now and again.

As if calling the NFL season weren’t difficult enough, there is another factor to consider when you’re looking at your picks for this week: Covid, which is spreading through NFL teams just as it is through society.

Consider last night’s game, which the Chiefs won 34-28 in overtime over the Chargers. The KC covid list included Chris Jones, their defensive star whose move back to tackle had been a key to their recent resurgance, and Willie Gay, the young linebacker who’s been a run-stuffing force behind Jones. The Chargers’ game plan seemed to be aware of that even without their star rookie tackle Rashawn Slater out on their Covid list, they decided to play run-first, and it worked: Justin Jackson, Austin Ekeler and Josh Kelley combined for 32 carries, the team had 192 yards rushing and had they been able to punch the ball in on fourth downs at the beginning and end of the first half it might have been a different story.

LaJarius Snead was also a Covid scratch for the Chiefs, and this showed at times, especially at the end of regulation when Chardavious Ward held up Keenan Allen on what would have set up a game-winning field goal. Of course in the NFL’s Quantum referring, no flag was thrown. And the Chiefs benefitted from Darwin James’ having to leave the game through injury, which helped make space for Travis Kelce, whose running after the catch made the game-winning OT TD.

If you listen to our Betfair NFL Only Bettor podcast on Wednesdays (and if you don’t, why not?) you would have heard me take the Chiefs giving three points as my best bet.

Although it came through in the end, as the Chiefs’ O picked up for the missing defenders, I have to consider myself lucky, in the end, to have hit it, because the game was in fact the Chargers’ to lose. So my advice this week is to check those Covid lists carefully; of course it is in many cases difficult to know whether a vaccinated player (or coach; the Bears have three coordinators on the list) will test negative and then have a day before game-time and being eligible to play. So this may be the week to wait until Sunday before making your own moves.

Saturday 21:30 – Raiders eyeing playoffs

Las Vegas (6-7) at Cleveland (7-6)

Palindromic Records! More of a must-win for the Browns, though a win for the Raiders, coupled with the Charger loss, would put them into the Wild Card mix.

Saturday Night (Sunday 01:20) – Pats to edge it

New England (9-4) at Indianapolis (7-6)

One of the week’s best games and the first of two season definers for the Pats (Bills next week). We all know what the key is: stop Jonathan Taylor and make Carson Wentz beat you through the air; the question is whether the Pats’ own power-run game can dominate a smaller but quick Colt D. If the Pats were getting three instead of 2.5 I’d go with them, and might do that anyway.

Sunday 18:00 – Back points in Pittsburgh

Washington (6-7) at Philadelphia (6-7)

The line on this one moved from WTF +5 on Wednesday to +9.5 today; that’s because Taylor Heinecke is questionable (with a knee, as they say) and backup Kyle Allen, who finished last week’s game, is on the Covid list, along with three key defensive starters, while Terry McLaurin is in concussion protocol. If Heinecke can’t play, Kyle Shurmur, son of former Eagles’ coach Pat, would be the starter. The Eagles, meanwhile, have both Jalen Hurts and Gardner Minshew ready to play, and only indecision here could stall them.

Carolina (5-8) at Buffalo (7-6)

Sean McDermott Bowl! The ex-Panther coordinator has six former Carolina players on his defense and another on the O line. The Bills have lost two in a row and need a win to keep pace with the Pats, while the Panthers, who fired offensive coord Joe Brady a couple of weeks ago, seem to want to alternate Cam Newton and PJ Walker depending on Matt Rhule’s whims. Coordinator Phil Snow has done a great job with the Panther D, and although Josh Allen is “battling” turf toe I expect to see him play, though maybe not in the single wing with 17 carries. That’s for Cam to do. If Allen can’t go you know what it would be? Trubisky Time! And all bets are off! So go under.

Outside Bet: Under 44.5pts @ 1.910/11

NY Jets (3-10) at Miami (6-7)

The Fins are at home, coming off a bye and on a five game win streak, but all three top RBs and Jaylen Waddle are in the protocol. The line moved up to 9.5 points, but I worried about the Saints covering 5.5 last week and they beat the Jets by 21 in New Jersey.

Dallas (9-4) at NY Giants (4-9)

Palindromic Records, in this case indicating the relative positions of the teams. The 10.5 spread indicates Mike Glennon will likely still be at QB for the Giants, and only Dallas taking their collective foot off the NFL pedal would stop them from covering.

Tennessee (9-4) at Pittsburgh (6-6-1)

Mike Vrabel is in my top three coach of the year candidates (along with Belichick and Kingsbury) for the way he’s managed the Titans though their loss of Derrick Henry and others. They need to be able to control the pace of this game, because the Steelers hang around, force a couple of turnovers, get two good throws from Ben and suddenly it’s a loss. Pittsburgh are getting a point at home, but it’s a 10/11 pick ’em on the moneyline. I might take them as an outside bet, but I like the over better.

Best Bet: Over 42.5pts @ 1.910/11

Houston (2-11) at Jacksonville (2-11)

This battle of the two-win powerhouses jockeying for a draft pick, may be the top one in the Lions slip up and win, is made more interesting by the, shall we say, departure of Urban Meyer from the Jags Job. The funniest thing is that when Meyer got the can, the line switched from Houston getting 3.5 to Houston getting 5 and the idea of the Jags as 5 point favourites, even at home, is a bit chilling. I’m more tempted to go over 39.5

Arizona (10-3) at Detroit (1-11-1)

I don’t think I can recall ever seeing a team record with four ones in a line before. Better than last week’s Scorigami 48-9 win by KC over Vegas last week.

Sunday 21:05 – Broncos and Bengals so closely matched

Atlanta (6-7) at San Francisco (7-6)

I didn’t think the line would be as one-sided as the Niners giving 9.5, which tempts me to back the dog, given how they tried hard to keep the Panthers in the game last week. But it’s also a second road game, and a long trip, for the Falcons, which traditionally has been tough.

Cincinnati (7-6) at Denver (7-6)

This is a real fulcrum game for both teams, and the home field advantage is pretty much what the +2.5 to the Bengals reflects. They could have beaten the Niners last week before losing in OT, and Denver is a similar sort of team with a couple of big weapons and a sturdy D.

Sunday 21:25 – Pack on the points

Green Bay (10-3) at Baltimore (8-5)

I liked the Packers, even giving 4.5 on the road, because the Ravens are so beat up and Tyler Huntley is at QB, so the bookies immediately added a point to the spread; the Ravens are now 5.5 dogs. This will be a tough one for Aaron Rodgers to win on his own, because the Ravens are so good at creating pressure, but the banged up Baltimore secondary will make it tough to stop him from making a few plays. Kenny Clark is likely out for GB, which will hurt their ability to stop the run game that the Ravens still can’t get going, and to provide rush to control the Raven receivers. Odd as it seems, try over.

Value Bet: Over 43.5pts @ 1.910/11

Seattle (5-8) at LA Rams (9-4)

Tyler Lockett is on the Covid list and DK Metcalf hasn’t practiced, though I expect him to play and the line has stayed firm at Seahawks +4, though the over/under has dropped from 46 to 44.5, expecting it to be more of a defensive battle. But the Rams have 25 players on the Covid list, inclusing Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller and OBJ. They haven’t practised this week, which really throws a game which would seem a pretty good Rams and over bet into uncertainty.

Sunday Night (Monday 01:20) – Bucs win but -11 is big

New Orleans (6-7) at Tampa (10-3)

Last year the Bucs lost twice to the Saints in the regular season, but both came well before the bye week that kick-started the Bucs’ four game run to a four-game sweep of the playoffs, including a 30-20 win over NO. This game has more the feel of the that one, and the spread reflects that, Tampa -11 and an over under of 46.5. The feeling seems to be that Dennis Allen’s D will make life tough for Tampa, but a Taysom Hill run first attack will suffer the same sort of problems Tampa made for Buffalo in the first half, and Taysom is not Josh Allen.

Monday Night (Tuesday 01:15) – Bears could cover

Minnesota (7-6) at Chicago (4-9)

Nothing like a night game in Chicago in the middle of December. The problems with the Bears’ coaches didn’t move the line in their favour, as firing Urban did in Jacksonville, but given the Vikings’ penchant for self-destructive behaviour aimed at making every game a three-pointer, the five points the Bears get make this seem teetering.

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