NFL against-the-spread picks: We're back to analyzing COVID-19 lists before picking games

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In 2020, we had to consider a lot more than football before making any picks.

Last year it became foolish to make any bets early in the week, not knowing which players would be out by Sunday due to COVID-19. Figuring out who would be in or out was more important than any other factor.

Through the first 14 weeks of this season, there were some cases of players missing games on the COVID-19 list, but nothing like last season. This week seems like 2020.

There were outbreaks for multiple NFL teams this week. The Los Angeles Rams were one of the teams that was hit the hardest.

The Rams' COVID list grew to 16 players on Thursday. Odell Beckham Jr. was the biggest name on the list. The team closed its facility and practiced remotely. That was somewhat normal last year, and not so much this year.

From a football standpoint, the Rams might be an easy pick over the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams are a 4.5-point favorite at BetMGM. They're coming off a big win over the Cardinals. They're the better team and it's not too close. The Seahawks have mostly struggled this season, though Russell Wilson looked healthier last week in a win over the Houston Texans.

But it might not be about football the rest of the season. We don't know who will be able to play for the Rams (or Browns, or Washington, and so forth) by Sunday. They could be significantly shorthanded. That's why we'll go with Seattle. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is back to being a big story for the NFL, and in the betting world too.

Los Angeles Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) is one of several players who laded on the COVID-19 reserve list this week. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)
Los Angeles Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) is one of several players who laded on the COVID-19 reserve list this week. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Here are the picks for Week 15, with point spreads from BetMGM:

Chiefs (-3) over Chargers

It's just too hard to believe the Chiefs would rally this season and somehow not get the AFC West title.

Browns (+1.5) over Raiders

Figuring out games the rest of the season might involve more COVID-19 reserve list analysis than we'd like. For this one, it seems the pendulum swung too much on the Browns. This is a huge line move, from the opener of Browns -6.5. One thing that seems clear: The quarterback change from Baker Mayfield to Case Keenum, if that happens, shouldn't be worth that much of a line move.

Colts (-2.5) over Patriots

This continues to be a surprising line. You'd think public perception would be that the Patriots would blow out the 7-6 Colts. But apparently the Colts are getting some respect. This is a big game for them and they match up pretty well, so let's take them at less than a field goal.

Panthers (+10.5) over Bills

This seems high for a Bills team that's just 7-6. They should win but I'm not sure we can trust them yet as a double-digit favorite (though it's not fun to bet on the Panthers these days either).

Jets (+10) over Dolphins

I worry about taking one of the truly bad NFL teams because this is the time of year in which they check out. But the Dolphins as 10-point favorites? I can't do it. Just beware that the Jets might not be a fun team to back the rest of the season.

Eagles (-7) over Washington

Another game in which the COVID-19 list matters as much as any other analysis. Washington had 18 players on the COVID list as of Wednesday. Others are injured. I'd like to take WFT but these losses are just too much to overcome.

Lions (+13.5) over Cardinals

Another bad team, another line that seems to be way too high. Again, just be careful betting on teams that don't have much to play for. But this is a hard number to swallow for a Cardinals team that might have a letdown after such a big Monday night game. Missing DeAndre Hopkins doesn't help either.

Cowboys (-10.5) over Giants

The Giants don't have anything to play for. Dallas should have had a double-digit win over Washington last week but let that get away from them with a sloppy second half. They'll finish better this time.

Steelers (+2) over Titans

The Steelers need this game. The Titans are still battling for a No. 1 seed so it's not a meaningless game for them, but Pittsburgh is a little more desperate. Hopefully the Steelers won't wait until the fourth quarter this week to start playing.

Jaguars (-4) over Texans

I would have happily taken the Texans before Thursday. The firing of Urban Meyer changed my pick. You have to assume the Jaguars were miserable these past few months, and they'll have an inspired performance to show up their former coach.

Ravens (+5.5) over Packers

Lamar Jackson's health is a worry, though I figure he'll play. I trust the Ravens to find a way to compete. They're not a great team right now, especially with the injuries, but they're well-coached and they'll fight hard. It's a lot of points for a proud home team.

Bengals (+2.5) over Broncos

It's possible that I'm holding on too tight to some really good Bengals performances this season, and they're not really that good. But I still believe in this team and at the end of the day I feel like they're the better team and will win.

49ers (-9.5) over Falcons

Even though the Falcons' record isn't that bad, the Falcons are bad. The 49ers are starting to peak and even though this is a big number to lay, I'll take the better team and hope there's no backdoor cover by Atlanta.

Saints (+10.5) over Buccaneers

The Saints have beaten Tom Brady in all three regular-season meetings since he joined the Buccaneers. They even beat Tampa Bay earlier this season when Trevor Siemian took over at quarterback during the game. Getting 10.5 points with a team we know matches up pretty well against its opponent seems to be the right move.

Vikings (-3.5) over Bears

Usually a bad team playing in prime time would give them an emotional boost, but it didn't work last week for the Bears. The Vikings are the far superior team. Let's not overthink this one.

Last week: 9-5

Season to date: 111-96-1

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