By Marc Lawrence, PlaybookSports.com — Will the Bucs and Brady rebound? That’s one of the more intriguing questions of thE weekend as the NFL season winds down:
Cleveland over CINCINNATI by 3
Controversial QB Deshaun Watson returned to the field on Sunday in a regular-season NFL game for the first-time in two years – or 700 days, to be exact. Rust was expected and Watson delivered in the Rustoleum performance of the week when he went completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards and threw an interception against a lousy Texans defense. Worse, the Browns offense failed to dent the end zone, as they scored three TDs on defense and special teams. Cleveland’s 27 points without an offensive touchdown are the most by any team since 1999. Thus, the Browns became the loop’s seventh team to return a fumble, interception, and punt all for a touchdown – albeit against hapless 1-10-1 Houston last week. Watson dresses up today sporting a 10-2-1 ATS NFL career mark as a dog of six or fewer points versus sub .700 opposition, as well as 9-3-1 ATS as a road dog against sub .700 foes. Meanwhile, the Bengals enter off last week’s hard-fought battle with the Chiefs at just 1-6 ATS as division home chalk of fewer than seven points, as well as 2-8 SU and 1-9 ATS in Game Thirteen of the season when taking on division foes. With Cats’ QB Joe Burrow on a 1-4 outright skein in division games over the past two seasons, we’re putting these not-dead-yet Brownies back in the oven and heating them up once again today.
PITTSBURGH over Baltimore by 6
So you’re the top team in your division and your quarterback sprained his ACL last week. The question is can the Ravens hold off the hard-charging Bengals until they meet in the final game of the regular campaign on Jan 8. With star QB Lamar Jackson sidelined with a bum knee, backup Tyler Huntley will be behind center, bringing a 1-3 SU and 3-1 ATS career mark in his NFL starts, including 2-0 ATS as a dog. The feeling here is he will likely bring more spark to a stagnant offense that eked out a one-point come-from-behind win over disastrous Denver last Sunday. Per The Athletic: NFL teams were 8-325-1 SU all-time since 1920 in games in which they had 2 or more turnovers, forced 0 turnovers, and scored 10 or fewer points – including 0-206 entering last week. You can add a win to both totals following the Ravens 10-9 win over the Broncos last week. With it the WOM notes that the Black Birds are 1-5 ATS when coming off a home win, as well as 2-10 ATS when coming off an ATS loss against a foe coming off an ATS win. Enter the Steelers who are 5-0 ATS at home when coming off back-to-back roadies as well as 5-1 ATS when coming off a non-division away game. While we don’t dig the line swing in this contest (Pittsburgh was originally a 3.5-point home dog), with the Black and Gold now 2-1 since the return of TJ Watt and looking to keep Mike Tomlin’s hopes of never having endured a losing season alive, the Burghers are still alive today. Just do it.
Tampa Bay over SAN FRANCISCO by 6
Yep. It was ‘Purdy neat’ (sorry about that) watching San Francisco backup QB Brock Purdy – aka Mr. Irrelevant in last year’s NFL draft by being the last player selected – take down the Fish last Sunday. He entered last week’s game for the 49ers against Miami when starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending foot injury in the first quarter and calmly guided the Niners to a comfortable 33- 17 win over the red-hot Dolphins. Purdy went 25-for-37 with two touchdowns and an interception. He averaged just 5.41 air yards per attempt, easily the lowest of any QB with at least fi ve passing attempts on Sunday. That was Kyle Shanahan’s game plan, though. The question is will Shanahan stick with the untested Purdy and hope for a timely return by Garoppolo, or will he opt to sign a veteran signal-caller to lead his troops into the postseason? What we do know is – per SI.com – the 49ers have assembled the best group of players to rack up yards after catch in the modern NFL. Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk, and Brandon Aiyuk are all incredibly fast and incredibly physical, and they all play multiple positions. They do the majority of the grunt work. That certainly helps. The problem today, though, is they rallied around the loss of Garoppolo behind Mr. Irrelevant, who now fi nds himself cast into the role of a favorite in his first NFL start against a division leader whose quarterback is simply the best as an underdog, going 41-17-1 ATS in his illustrious career, including 19-4-1 ATS when his team is seeking revenge and 17-5 ATS when his team is coming off an ATS loss. He also stands 21-6 SU in his career in games in which his team is .500-exact on the season. Perhaps even more impressive is Brady’s 45-14 SU and 43-12-4 ATS mark in games against foes with a better record, including 24-6 ATS when taking points. With Monday night’s stirring comeback win over the Saints, the Bucs currently hold down the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff picture while the Niners lay claim to the No. 2 seed. With Frisco just 1-7 ATS as non-division home chalk of fewer than four points and Tampa Bay 7-1-2 ATS as a dog after being a favorite the previous game, it’s time for us to hand this puppy off.