We have our first December NFL games this weekend, and the playoff races are in full throttle. The MMQB staff is backing several teams in the hunt, including a couple undervalued AFC teams on the road.
New Orleans Saints (-7) at Dallas Cowboys
Sure, the Cowboys are on a three-game winning streak, but the Saints have been obliterating opponents. They've outscored their opponents 130-38 over the past three weeks. And since the Saints last played on Thanksgiving, and thus are not on a short week, the usual hesitations for a road team on a short week do not apply. — Jenny Vrentas
Indianapolis Colts (-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags are reeling and the Colts are white hot. A touchdown-plus victory for Andrew Luck & Co. seems likely. — Andy Benoit
Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
They'll feast on the cupcakes, but I'm never crazy about the Chargers against the NFL's elite teams—they've dropped four of five against the spread when they're an underdog of 3.5 points or more. And, frankly, I'm surprised that the Steelers aren't laying more than that. They were incredibly sloppy on the road the past two weeks. Last week in Denver was a game they should have won by touchdowns—they were done in by four empty trips inside the Broncos' 30 (one of them the flukiest of plays, a fumble through the end zone as Xavier Grimble was inches from crossing the goal line). They put up 527 yards of offense in that game! And Pittsburgh's offense is always better at home than it is on the road: Since 2014, 30.5 points per game at Heinz Field, 21.9 PPG everywhere else. — Gary Gramling
Denver Broncos (-4.5) at Cincinnati Bengals
Most weeks, I look to pick teams coming off surprising losses and/or pick against teams coming off surprising wins. But this opportunity is worth deviating from the plan. The Broncos are a good team with a 5-6 record, ranking in the top 10 in Football Outsiders' DVOA on both offense and defense. The Bengals, meanwhile, have completely fallen apart after a 4-1 start and are now limping to the end of the Marvin Lewis era without Andy Dalton. Fans in Cincinnati should prepare themselves for a second straight blowout home loss. — Jacob Feldman
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (-6)
I’m going to come right out and say that this feels like a sucker bet after the Texans impressed in an island game this past Monday. Still, the Texans are legitimate contenders and winners of eight straight, and while the Browns are setting themselves up for a strong finish to the season, the home team is rightfully a heavy favorite. All you can do is beat the team in front of you, but not all win streaks are created equal, and I’m not exactly bowled over by a team winning consecutive games against the Falcons and Bengals, given how those teams are playing at this stage of the season. The Texans haven’t knocked off a murderer’s row of opponents in their eight-game winning streak, but they’ve won three of those games by multiple scores, including the last two they’ve played at home. Three-point road wins over the Colts and the Broncos look more impressive now than they did at the time, and the pass rush has found another gear over the last few weeks, as Marcus Mariota learned all too well last week. This won’t be a blowout, and the backdoor will be open for a cover, but I think the Texans can keep the Browns at arm’s length all game, and ultimately take this one by between seven and 10 points. — Michael Beller
Washington Redskins (+6.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles and Redskins play one of the most important games of Week 13 on Monday night. And while I understand why Philly is favored at home and it's a boost going up against Colt McCoy, I think this line is a little high.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Eagles win comfortably, let alone blow anybody out. In fact, their 34-13 win over the Giants in Week 7 is their only win by more than six points all year. Last week, also at home, the Eagles won but failed to cover the spread. They beat the Giants again, this time by just three points, and even that took a 16-point comeback and some questionable Saquon Barkley usage in the second half.
The Eagles’ 25 points on Sunday were also just their second-highest point total of the whole season. Vegas gives this game a 44-point total, one of the lower ones on the board, and I think a lower-scoring game is bound to be a close one.
So of course I have concerns about how McCoy will move the Redskins’ offense. But he’s still facing the Eagles’ extremely banged-up secondary. And the Redskins—though underwhelming compared to most other playoff contenders—have managed to win six games this year.
I fully expect this game between two teams desperate to keep up with Dallas for a chance to win the division to be within a touchdown one way or another. — Mitch Goldich
Indianapolis Colts (-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars
I'm normally not a fan of backing a road favorite in a divisional showdown, but the Jaguars are a total mess. Cody Kessler has replaced Blake Bortles as the starting QB. Leonard Fournette is suspended for this game. Starting left guard Andrew Norwell is out for the season for an offensive line that was already down its left tackle and center. Promising offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was fired. The team is very concerned that star cornerback Jalen Ramsey will not play for a Jacksonville defense that Andrew Luck had a strong game against a few weeks ago (21-of-29 for 285 yards, three touchdowns and an interception). These are two squads heading in completely opposite trajectories, and the Colts should continue their surprising playoff push with an easy victory here. — Max Meyer