This week's picks include a 3-10 team, a road favorite led by a backup quarterback in line for his first career start, and another road team traveling across the country on the heels of an embarrassing home loss.
Put that way, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. But due to the impact of public perception on NFL point spreads, it may ultimately hold enough value to cover the cost of some last-minute Christmas shopping.
San Diego -2 vs. Miami
The Chargers have continued to play hard despite their 3-10 record, with Philip Rivers' talent and leadership providing genuine reason to compete each week. While effort alone hasn't been enough against good opponents, it should get the job done against a poorly-coached Dolphins team.
On top of coaching and front office chaos, Miami could be in for a less-than-inspired effort after getting eliminated from playoff contention with Monday's loss to the Giants and then facing a cross-country road trip on a short week.
The biggest factor of all may be the possibility of this being the Chargers' final home game in San Diego. An era that featured legends Lance Alworth and Dan Fouts in the earlier days, LaDainian Tomlinson more recently, and beloved hometown hero Junior Seau in between, deserves a fitting ending. This shouldn't be lost on current players and it could also lead to a decided home-field advantage, with fans showing up to commemorate a run in San Diego on the verge of ending fittingly at 55 years.
Cincinnati -5 at San Francisco
The Bengals would be favored by at least a touchdown if Andy Dalton were healthy, and they might not be in worse hands with AJ McCarron under center. Brimming with confidence, McCarron brings more arm strength and arguably more upside to the table.
With a stellar supporting cast and an ideal matchup for his first career start, McCarron may have the 49ers wishing they'd made amends with their former head coach when they still had the chance.
Pick of the Week: Denver +7 at Pittsburgh
A defense as good as the Broncos' is almost never a full touchdown underdog to anybody, anywhere. Last week's misleading final score in Denver can be credited for making that the case here - the Broncos easily could've beaten the Raiders with one or two different bounces, which would have brought this line closer to 4.
The Steelers have played like the better team lately and probably possess the league's most explosive offense, but with the NFL's No. 1 defense, Denver thrives at taking away what Pittsburgh does best.
From the playoff implications to the teams' contrasting strengths, this game has the elements of a fascinating matchup. It would be no surprise to see it go down to the wire; when that happens, it's not uncommon for the elite defense to prevail against the elite offense.
Week 15 Record: 2-0-1
Picks of the Week: 8-4-1