Heading into the final third of the regular season, a number of teams are experimenting at quarterback.
For Houston and Carolina, benching starters gives both franchises the chance to evaluate their backups. For the Jets, who are clinging to playoff contention, sitting Zach Wilson in favor of Mike White may be a way to keep the locker room from splintering. By sticking with Taylor Heinicke even as Carson Wentz returns to practice, the Commanders have rewarded a backup who has exceeded expectations.
These teams’ moves have the potential to radically change the way they’re handicapped. While the data on teams is clear in the late weeks of a season, big roster changes, especially at quarterback, can render a lot of that information moot. The secret to handicapping N.F.L. games against the spread often lies not in the box scores or win-loss columns, but somewhere in the injury and personnel reports. Week 12 is one of those weeks.
Last week’s record: 9-3-1 | Overall record: 85-74-4
All times Eastern.
Sunday’s Best Games
Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) at Tennessee Titans (7-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans +1.5 | Total: 43
The Bengals have won four of their last five games and the Titans seven of their last eight. Both teams’ upward trajectories owe to a few happy surprises. Cincinnati has an efficient red zone offense and managed to beat the Steelers last week despite missing Ja’Marr Chase, its top receiver, and running back Joe Mixon leaving the game with a concussion. Running back Samaje Perine did double duty and caught a franchise-record three touchdowns.
The Titans have relied heavily on Derrick Henry, as usual, but the rookie receiver Treylon Burks has emerged as a serious threat, catching seven passes for 111 yards in a win against the Packers last week. With a balanced offense and the second-best rushing defense in the league, the Titans are looking like a Super Bowl sleeper. Pick: Titans +1.5
Atlanta Falcons (5-6) at Washington Commanders (6-5), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Commanders -4.5 | Total: 42
Taylor Heinicke has won four of his five starts for the Commanders this season, and Coach Ron Rivera officially named him the starter for the rest of the season. After upsetting the Eagles in Week 10, Heinicke and the Commanders became betting darlings: This week they attracted 66 percent of the bets and 76 percent of the early money. But even at 6-5, Washington is at the bottom of the N.F.C. East and will have to claw its way through the rest of the schedule if they’re going to make the postseason.
For their part, the Falcons are a half-game behind the Buccaneers in the N.F.C. South and need to win the division to make it to the postseason. Neither of these offenses has been particularly impressive. The Commanders have averaged 4.5 yards per play and 165 passing yards per game over their last three games; the Falcons are relying heavily on running back Cordarrelle Patterson with tight end Kyle Pitts out with a medial collateral ligament injury. These teams match up well, so the points on the spread are valuable. Pick: Falcons +4.5
Chicago Bears (3-8) at Jets (6-4), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Jets -4.5 | Total: 39.5
The Jets had 2 yards of offense — an average of 2.7 inches per play — in the second half of a bad loss to the Patriots last week in Foxborough, Mass. A lot of the blame fell on the second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who was benched in favor of Mike White on Wednesday.
Despite their record and not being able to generate any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Bears have a far better outlook than the Jets. Justin Fields has been impressive keeping games close against playoff contenders, though he hurt his left shoulder and was listed as day to day. He’s a difference-maker and the backup Trevor Siemian is not. If Fields is out, the Jets’ defense will make quick work of chopping through the Bears’ terrible offensive line. Pick: Jets -4.5
Green Bay Packers (4-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-1), 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Eagles -7 | Total: 46.5
The Eagles’ defensive line has wobbled against the run, a problem the team hoped to plug by acquiring the services of the veteran tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh ahead of Week 11. They’ll get tested against the Packers and Aaron Jones, a top-10 back who has 778 total yards and averages 5.4 yards per carry. Every week is a “must-win game” for the Packers, who need to go on a significant run to have a shot at a wild-card berth. Pick: Eagles -7
Sunday’s Other Games
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) at Cleveland Browns (3-7), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Browns +3.5 | Total: 43
The Browns are treading water until they can install Deshaun Watson as the starting quarterback next week, at the end of his 11-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct code after more than two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct in massage appointments. The Buccaneers are atop the N.F.C. South and may have running back Leonard Fournette available to play. Tampa Bay has been better without him, as the rookie Rachaad White has shown real promise. This game should be close, maybe within a field goal. That extra point on the three may end up spoiling a lot of Buccaneers backers’ days. Pick: Browns +3.5
New Orleans Saints (4-7) at San Francisco 49ers (6-4), 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: 49ers -9.5 | Total: 42.5
San Francisco has won three in a row, and the passing game owes a lot to Jimmy Garoppolo’s receivers: He has the highest percentage of yards after the catch of any team this season. The 49ers’ defense has not allowed a single point in the second half in each of their last three games, but is facing a Saints team coming off its best performance of the season in last week’s 27-20 defeat of the Rams. The Saints need to go on a late-season run to make the playoffs, but they’re in the worst division in the league so all is not lost.
Early action on the 49ers moved this line from 8 to 9.5, which may be too many points if the Saints play another game like they did last week. As of Wednesday, 80 percent of the money has been bet on the Saints. Pick: Saints +9.5
Los Angeles Rams (3-7) at Kansas City (8-2), 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Kansas City -15 | Total: 44
This game shouldn’t be too competitive, as evidenced by the largest point spread on the board this week. The Rams are likely getting so many points because of the absences of Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford, who together have been responsible for most of the Rams offense this season. Then consider Kansas City’s offensive firepower: Patrick Mahomes leads the N.F.L. in passing yards, first downs, and touchdowns, and his team has won four in a row.
But picking against the spread, 15 points is a lot for any matchup. No matter who fills in for Stafford this week, the Rams walk onto the field with a 15-point head start. It might be enough. Pick: Rams +15
Houston Texans (1-8-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-2), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Dolphins -13 | Total: 46
Could there be a more lopsided matchup this week? The Dolphins had last week off, but before their bye they won four games in a row behind Tua Tagovailoa, who has the best passer rating in the N.F.L. (83.1). The Texans, well, they have a real shot at the first overall pick in next year’s draft. But given Miami’s schedule — the Dolphins play the 49ers, Chargers and Bills in the next three weeks — they may rest key players if they get out to a big early lead. There’s a plausible scenario where the Texans sneak up and cover this double-digit spread. Pick: Texans +13
Denver Broncos (3-7) at Carolina Panthers (3-8), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Panthers +2.5 | Total: 36.5
The Broncos’ problems abound (coaching, quarterbacking, injuries) but the defense has more than pulled its weight. That should make things tough for Sam Darnold, who was named the starter over Baker Mayfield on Tuesday. These are two of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, so getting any points at all on the spread feels like a major advantage. Pick: Panthers +2.5
Baltimore Ravens (7-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Jaguars +4 | Total: 44
As has become a tradition, the Ravens have climbed on Lamar Jackson’s back to stay in contention as injuries have racked the lineup. The Jaguars have lost seven of their last eight, but have gradually improved, thanks in part to the running game (139.6 yards per game). Baltimore has had a tough time holding onto leads, and the Jaguars are on just enough of an upward tick to give the Ravens trouble. Pick: Jaguars +4
Los Angeles Chargers (5-5) at Arizona Cardinals (4-7), 4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: Cardinals +5 | Total: 48
Kyler Murray is questionable after missing two games with a hamstring injury. If he is able to play, even a hobbled ground game might give Arizona an advantage. There’s no easier team to run against in the N.F.L. than the Chargers, who give up an average of 5.5 yards per carry. The market has struggled to settle on a number for this game and the line has vacillated between 3 and 5 points. The money has been evenly split in early action. Pick: Cardinals +5
Las Vegas Raiders (3-7) at Seattle Seahawks (6-4), 4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: Seahawks -3.5 | Total: 47.5
The Seahawks took a disappointing loss in Germany to the Buccaneers before their bye week, but they are still tied with the 49ers atop the N.F.C. West. Seattle’s defense had stiffened over the team’s last three games and shouldn’t have a problem with the Raiders at home. Pick: Seahawks -3.5
Monday Night’s Game
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-7) at Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1), 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Colts -2.5 | Total: 39
The Steelers’ defense looks a lot better now that both T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick have returned to the lineup. Pittsburgh is out of playoff contention at this point, but this is its final game on a Monday night this season, so look for the Steelers to show out. Pick: Steelers +2.5
Bills 28, Lions 25
The Buffalo Bills escaped Ford Field with their second victory there in five days after beating the Lions on Thanksgiving with a last-second field goal. Detroit tied the game at 25 with 23 seconds left, but that proved to be too much time for Josh Allen, who moved the ball 48 yards in four plays and 21 seconds to set up the game-winner. Amon-Ra St. Brown had one touchdown catch and lead all players with 122 receiving yards, and Jared Goff had a 98.9 passer rating. The Lions’ performance wasn’t enough to get the win, but it was more than enough to cover the 10-point spread, just like we predicted.
Cowboys 28, Giants 20
The Dallas Cowboys had the Giants dead to rights, up 28-13 at the two minute warning. Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard combined for 152 rushing yards on 33 carries and the Cowboys were a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone. But a missed Dallas field goal attempt from the 28-yard line with 1:59 left set up a Giants touchdown drive in the final seconds that but provided their backers a backdoor cover. We were not among them. We laid the points with Dallas, and learned the hard way that the game isn’t over until the whistle is blown.
Vikings 33, Patriots 26
This game was all about offense. Mac Jones threw for a career-high 382 yards. Justin Jefferson’s 139 yards broke the record for receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons. Both teams traded scores for three quarters. But in the fourth quarter, the Patriots appeared to run out of gas. Mistakes on special teams and penalties by New England helped Minnesota score 10 unanswered points to win by seven. We took the two and half points with New England, figuring its pass rush would be too much for a banged-up Vikings offensive line to handle. But Kirk Cousins had plenty of time in the pocket all night, proving his “prime time” doubters — and us — wrong.
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Buccaneers -2.5, for example, means that Tampa Bay must beat the Seahawks by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, which is whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Betting-market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.