Week 15 in the NFL finally came to a close on Tuesday night, but there is no lack of good NFL football to look forward to, as the Christmas week slate features a Thursday Night Football matchup, two Saturday games, and the penultimate Monday Night Football game of the 2021 NFL season. The first article in this series covered the Thursday Night Football game between San Francisco and Tennessee, the Saturday matchups between Indianapolis and Arizona and Cleveland and Green Bay, and Sunday’s game between Baltimore and Cincinnati, while this article will break down Buffalo at New England, the Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota, Pittsburgh at Kansas City, and the Monday Night game between Miami and New Orleans. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (NE -2.5, Total 43.5)
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was forced to work from behind in last week’s loss to the Colts, a situation many NFL fans had wanted to see the rookie face after seeing him operate effectively in relatively advantageous situations as New England surged to the top of the AFC East. Jones was not able to bring the Patriots back in last week’s game, but there were glimpses of his ability to generate big plays with timing and ball placement if he is surrounded by effective weapons.
Unfortunately, Jones isn’t going to upgrade his weapons until next season, and the miscues by his outside receivers, most notably on a drop by Jakobi Meyers on a wheel route down the field, were a notable reason the Patriots struggled to rally in this game. Tight end Hunter Henry continued to thrive in the middle of the field, adding two more touchdowns to bring his season total to nine, but the lack of reliable receivers around Henry makes it crucial that this version of Patriots keeps the score tight throughout the game.
That will be a decidedly more difficult task in this rematch with Buffalo, as Bills quarterback Josh Allen will not be contending with the wind that caused New England to abandon the passing game in their first game. Allen appears to be in a good rhythm entering this game; it got lost in the shuffle in their blowout of the Panthers, but Allen put up a candidate for the throw of the season on his first touchdown pass to receiver Gabriel Davis, piercing the middle of a two-deep zone with a thirty-yard rope few quarterbacks in the NFL can match.
Buffalo paid Allen with the expectation that he would beat the Patriots and win AFC East Titles; if Allen and the Bills can defeat New England, the teams will be tied with two weeks to play and a head-to-head split, which would make for a heck of a finish.
Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings (LAR -3.5, Total 49)
This spread has shifted around Los Angeles -3 throughout the week, briefly dropping from -3 to -2.5 before bouncing up to -3.5 on DraftKings, which is an indicator that bettors looking to play either side of this game should shop around for the number advantageous to their side.
Minnesota is coming off a downright strange win against Chicago in which quarterback Kirk Cousins and the offense played one of their worst games of the NFL season, but the Bears offense got creative finding ways not to score and failed to get on the board until a game-ending play. The biggest concern coming out of that game is the way that Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks got after Vikings right guard Mason Cole; Hicks is an outstanding player in his own right, but he is not Aaron Donald, who is likely to spend a lot of time lining up on Cole’s outside shoulder. If the Rams overload their pass-rush front to the right side of the Vikings line and force the offensive line to turn in that direction, the Rams could get a mismatch on the front side by sending Donald at Cole while isolating rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw on the backside of the protection against either Leonard Floyd or Von Miller, a formidable task for a rookie left tackle who got worked over by Bears edge rusher Robert Quinn in last week’s game.
This will be the final game of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s NFC North reunion tour in his first season as a Ram; after lighting up the Bears and Lions in wins, Stafford lost to the Packers, but if he plays the way he did against Arizona last week, Stafford should walk out of Minnesota 3-1 against his old division.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (KC -8.5, Total 45)
The Steelers are the NFL’s 2021 version of The Undertaker; Pittsburgh has been left for dead several times but continues to find a way to fight back, and given the way the AFC North has gone this season, Baltimore and Cincinnati might tie in the morning slate to set Pittsburgh up to make it a three-way tie in the division with a win over Kansas City.
Unfortunately for Steelers fans, both the tie and the Pittsburgh victory in that scenario are unlikely, though the Chiefs have shown enough chinks in the armor to think that Pittsburgh could upset them. Pittsburgh’s primary concern going into the game should be how overmatched their offensive line is against defensive tackle Chris Jones and the rest of the Kansas City front, but their priorities will change quickly if Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense find a rhythm early on. Pittsburgh’s defense may be less vulnerable against the Chiefs than more balanced offenses given Pittsburgh’s issues against the run and Kansas City’s preference to throw the ball, but the Chiefs may shift the emphasis in their game plan given how poorly the Steelers have played against the run this season.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has shown that NFL fans should not count him out this season, but with the Chiefs, Browns, and Ravens remaining on the schedule, Pittsburgh’s path to the playoffs is narrow. The Steelers held Tennessee to 13 points, but Tennessee’s inability to hold onto the ball played a significant factor in that outcome; barring similar mistakes, the Chiefs should take another step toward the AFC’s top seed in this game.
Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints (MIA -1.5, Total 37.5)
New Orleans was at -3 in this game until Thursday, when news broke that quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian had been added to the Saints’ COVID list, leaving rookie Ian Book, a mid-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, slated to make his first NFL start in a must-win game for New Orleans.
It’s a rough look for the NFL in the Monday Night spot after fans watched the Browns start Nick Mullens and the Football Team start Garrett Gilbert in games that were pivotal to the respective teams’ playoff hopes, but it is the latest stroke of luck for Miami team on a six-game winning streak. Miami’s defense did make life miserable for quarterback Lamar Jackson in a win over the Ravens, but the other five wins in their streak have come against the Texans, Jets (2x), Panthers, and Giants, and Miami put on a miserable performance in last week’s win over the Jets. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is excellent at operating the quick passing game, which has been good enough to beat some of the NFL’s worst teams with support from his defense, but questions remain about what Tagovailoa’s game translates to in playoff situations. The lack of velocity on his passes has to have raised some concern in the organization about his ceiling; one throw that stood out in last week’s game was a crosser up the seam that Tagovailoa took multiple steps into to generate momentum, but still delivered with loft. It was a throw that quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Josh Allen put on a rope with the flick of a wrist, and while Tagovailoa deserves credit for leading the Dolphins on this winning streak, anyone who has concerns about Patriots rookie Mac Jones in the NFL Playoffs would have amplified concerns about Tagovailoa, as the former Alabama teammates have notable similarities in their styles.
With the Saints defense coming off a dominant performance against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers and the untested Book set to face a blitz-happy, mentally-taxing Miami defense, this game is unlikely to feature a lot of scoring. Miami got as good a break as they could hope for if Hill and Siemian both can’t go; it is a spot where Tagovailoa needs to capitalize.
This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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