Week 15 has football fans clamoring for arguably the best quartet of regular-season games we'll see this year. In the AFC, Patriots-Steelers could determine the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage on the road to Super Bowl LII and Chargers-Chiefs will decide who's on the inside track to host a playoff game and who's on the outside looking in on a crowded playoff picture. In the NFC, Rams-Seahawks could determine the division crown, while Packers-Panthers will see the return of that guy from those State Farm commercials who we're told also happens to be a serviceable QB.
But betting being what it is, the biggest edges aren't always found in the marquee matchups. Fortunately, a dozen other games remain to mine for value, so it's time to roll up the sleeves.
Houston +11 at Jacksonville
Based on the quality of these two teams and the Jaguars' subpar home-field advantage in a vacuum, 11 is the maximum number of points Jacksonville should be laying. Factoring in the situation, it seems like a generous spot to back the underdog.
For starters, T.J. Yates is in at QB for the Texans, and while he's not one to set the world on fire, the only direction to go is up with somebody other than Tom Savage under center. When you filter rankings by passer rating on NFL.com, you have to go to Page 2 to find Savage's name - that's not good considering 49 names appear on Page 1 and there are only 32 teams. Yates won't be special, but if anything he should be an upgrade over Savage.
Digging deeper into the matchups in play, Blake Bortles isn't a QB anybody trusts to build a margin, and a respectable Jaguars ground game stands to get met with resistance from a Houston rush defense that ranks #6 in the league according to DVOA. The Jaguars should hold a lead for most of the game, but with a QB who requires being handled with kid gloves and a rushing attack that could get held in check, their ability to build a big enough margin to cover this number is another question. That the Jaguars rank 29th in defensive DVOA against the run also opens the door to the Texans making plays without leaning too heavily on their own uninspiring QB.
Lastly, while the Jaguars' emergence has been one of the top storylines this season, this setting calls their pedigree into question. After the Patriots' loss to the Dolphins on Monday, Jacksonville has a realistic shot at the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. With the stakes this high, can we expect Bortles and similarly unproven Head Coach Doug Marrone to be at their best? Especially after rolling to a 22-point Week 1 win in Houston, there's no guarantee they take the Texans seriously.
The Jaguars should win this game, but the thought of them dominating enough to cover this big of a spread, with this much on the line for the first time in the Bortles-Marrone era, is almost enough to induce an eye roll.
Oakland +3 vs. Dallas
Yes, the Cowboys got Sean Lee back last week and he was an animal, racking up 18 tackles plus an interception for good measure. But as special as he is when healthy, it's difficult to come to terms with this line. More than a play on the Raiders, this is an anti-Dallas move because of the way the market is interpreting the last two Cowboys final scores. For the purposes of this game's breakdown, it's as simple as that.
Scoreboard results of 38-14 over Washington and 30-10 at the Giants paint a picture of Dallas domination that wasn't there. A 6-0 turnover advantage and a punt return for a touchdown will skew the scoreboard over the course of eight quarters, but when a deeper dive reveals the Cowboys were outgained by half a yard per play at home by Washington and were tied at 10 with the lowly Giants in an evenly played game with less than 8 minutes to go, a course correction appears to be in order. Sunday night in Oakland, Derek Carr & Co. don't have to do anything special to be the beneficiaries of a little Cowboys regression to the mean.
Pick of the Week: Teaser - Philadelphia -1.5 at Giants, Baltimore -1 at Cleveland
The Eagles are only in teaser territory because of the crushing injury to Carson Wentz, and as sad as it was to see that happen to him, when opportunity knocks a bettor had better answer. Nick Foles stepped in and did more than just manage the game in crunch time against the Rams last week, making a big-time throw to Nelson Agholor to convert a key third down on the Eagles' final drive to ice the game. That had to be a jolt of confidence for a backup QB who finds himself in an optimal environment to succeed - Foles is surrounded by a capable RB corps, a solid group of TEs that gets even better with the return of Zach Ertz this week, and WRs capable of driving defenses crazy with Agholor out of the slot and Alshon Jeffery out wide. Not to mention the adage that a good defense can be a QB's best friend, and the Eagles have the third-best defense in the league according to DVOA. As far as Philadelphia's opposition goes, we saw the Giants' best shot last week, when they played the Cowboys to a draw for the better part of three and a half quarters before falling apart late. Look for another strong effort at home against a divisional rival, but with their talent, effort can only go so far. And the Eagles should match or exceed the Giants' effort, needing to hold on to the NFC's No. 1 seed, a first-round bye and home-field advantage more than ever without Wentz available for the playoff run. We often see a heightened focus from a team in its first game after it loses a key player to injury, and that approach by Philadelphia would be more than enough in New York.
In the second leg it's all about fading the Browns, a lucrative pattern of behavior during their 1-28 straight-up run in the Hue Jackson era. Making it 1-29 gets the job done for the Ravens, almost regardless of the margin, and it's difficult to see Cleveland bouncing back after blowing a golden opportunity to finally break into the 2017 win column last week with a 14-point fourth-quarter lead over Brett Hundley and the Packers. The Ravens are also off a tough loss, but in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt they have all the reason in the world to bounce back. The continued emergence of RB Alex Collins has breathed life into an otherwise anemic offense, and while the Steelers exploited the Baltimore defense without No. 1 CB Jimmy Smith, they did so in a way the Browns can't replicate without competent QB play and Antonio Brown making the spectacular look ordinary at WR. Factor in the coaching advantage John Harbaugh brings to the table, and we should see the continuation of a surprising trend in fading the Browns proving to be an even better money maker in the post-Johnny Manziel era than during it.
Last week: 1-2
Picks of the Week: 10-3-1