One of the reasons why we need to pay attention to the games on a given weekend is because most will tell stories that can be used for future picks. Week 13 was no exception and, in fact, had some of the most important outcomes that will help drive perception going forward.
And nothing matters more in picking games against the spread than perception.
Sometimes, it’s in the form of outdated history. Sometimes, it’s snap judgments. Whatever the source, it is critically important to recognize misplaced perception.
The Minnesota Vikings Suffer Unacceptable Loss
The headline of this particular blurb is probably a tad dramatic, but the reality is that the Minnesota Vikings could not have accepted a loss to the Lions. It happened, and now Minnesota needs to regroup.
There are two elements at play from Sunday’s matchup. The first is that any divisional game can’t be taken as seriously as the numbers show. There is simply too much familiarity between the teams where the game-planning is made easier and the gap is generally smaller than the football-watching world thinks. I write about this constantly when giving picks, and the simple takeaway is that there can be no takeaways when two teams in the same division meet.
The other domino to fall is actionable. The Vikings are now two games under .500 but with a positive point differential. This is the nature of the team, as it rarely drifts too far in either direction and ultimately can compete with — or lose to — anyone.
Don’t forget that last point. The easy reaction will be to sell the Vikings because of this loss and their 5-7 record, but the better play is to invest now as Minnesota is more likely to positively correct than completely crumble.
The Arizona Cardinals Win in Kyler Murray’s Return
It’s obviously much more than the win. The Cardinals saw their franchise quarterback back on the field and he not only led the team to a victory but took over the game in doing so. Kyler Murray only threw 15 passes against the Bears, but two of them went for touchdowns. He added two more on the ground which, in addition to helping the team’s score, also sent the message that he is healthy.
And still dangerous.
The MVP candidate has now pushed his team further ahead in the race for the NFC’s best record — with Green Bay idle and the Buccaneers keeping pace with their own win — and there is no doubt that Arizona is back on everyone’s map. Unfortunately, that means that Week 13 might have been the last one for a while in which the Cardinals were offered at a relative discount.
The NFC East is Now Interesting
For as much public hype as the Dallas Cowboys have received over the course of the season, there are two other teams suddenly growing in intrigue. The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team started the year a combined 4-10 through Week 7. Now, they both have six wins and are in the top-eight in the NFC if the season ended today.
This is going to become a bigger story in the weeks the lie ahead. Philadelphia will play Washington twice and then close the year with a game against the Cowboys.
Washington’s schedule is even crazier. The Football Team alternates games with the Eagles and Cowboys twice over the next four weeks. That’s right, Washington will play home against Dallas, at Philadelphia, at Dallas, and home against Philadelphia before ended the season against the Giants.
There is a lot still to be determined with the NFC East’s top three teams.
And the NFC North and NFC South are Already Decided
The Green Bay Packers were on a bye in Week 13, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of business with a win in Atlanta. Green Bay and Tampa Bay will ultimately fight for seeding in the NFC playoff race, but they won’t have similar battles within their respective divisions. Barring an unlikely collapse atop the division or extreme winning streak from one of the teams chasing these powerhouses, there is little drama left in those chases.
This brings us to an odd crossroads. We know that the Packers and Buccaneers will continue to fight for wins and try to secure the first-round bye, but it almost certainly means that they will be resting players at the end of the year if said bye is out-of-reach. This probably leads to at least one more dominating performance where the final nails are driven into the metaphorical coffins. It also probably leads to inflated odds and spread.
Unfortunately, we have to tread lightly with both teams.
The Los Angeles Chargers Finally Made Their Statement
I’ve written about it in the past but, for as many strides as the Los Angeles Chargers have taken to erase their reputation of a team that can’t clear the metaphorical hurdle, they just can’t clear the metaphorical hurdle. They had moved to 4-1 with three consecutive wins agains the Chiefs, Browns, and Raiders. Then, Los Angeles gave back all of its gains with a 2-4 stretch. It traveled to Cincinnati as underdogs in a game with massive Wild Card implications.
And the Chargers won. Convincingly.
Los Angeles entered this season as a hot pick to make a run with quarterback Justin Herbert in his second year, and the early success helped validate the support. The downturn was inevitable, though, where the real story of the Chargers lies in how the team responds to said drop-off. In Week 13, we finally saw Los Angeles assert its will in a big moment, and we might have witnessed the franchise officially turning the corner.
Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros, as well as the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola. He has also been one of the industry leaders in NFL against-the-spread picks over the last 7 years.