NFL best bets for Week 12: Keep riding this Commanders wave

Montez Sweat and the Washington Commanders' defensive line have keyed the team's surge. (Washington Post illustration; Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Last week was better. The Detroit Lions — recommended as an undervalued underdog — took care of business against the New York Giants, winning outright, 31-18. The Lions established an early lead and never looked back, registering their third straight win. Meanwhile, it was a tough loss for Big Blue; New York started strong this season but things are starting to slip away. The Giants head to Dallas to face the dangerous Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, then play the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington again, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts before the finale against the Eagles. That’s six of seven games against teams with winning records, and the Giants may only be favored in one or two of those games, setting the stage for a disappointing stretch run.

The Chicago Bears, last week’s second pick based on the surging play of quarterback Justin Fields, played well against the Atlanta Falcons before losing 27-24 on a 53-yard field goal inside the final two minutes. That resulted in our first push of the season. As expected, though, Fields was dominant on the ground once again, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown and throwing for another touchdown as well, although he came out of the weekend with a shoulder injury.

Sportsbooks say you can win big. Then they try to limit winners.

We also cashed in last week’s player prop due to another unfortunate circumstance. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is back in concussion protocol after taking a third-quarter sack in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints. He left the game with 159 passing yards, easily cashing under 232½ tickets and running our player props record to 6-2.

Hopefully you grabbed some Dallas Cowboys futures last week. I pointed out that their Super Bowl and NFC conference championship odds appeared wonky when compared to those of the Minnesota Vikings, considering the Cowboys were 1½ point favorites on the road last week against those same Vikings. Those odds have certainly changed after Dallas demolished Minnesota, 40-3, and the Cowboys might not have those sort of enticing Super Bowl prices again.

Best bets record: 10-12-1

Player props record: 6-2

Picks were made against the consensus point spreads as of Tuesday morning; odds that have since changed have been updated in bold type, but picks are locked in at the earlier odds.

Atlanta Falcons at Washington Commanders (-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Atlanta Falcons team total under 19½ points. For the game, the pick is Commanders -4, but it’s not a best bet.

The Commanders are starting to command respect around the league after first stopping the Philadelphia Eagles’ perfect season in Week 10 and then clawing above .500 with a 23-10 victory over the hapless Houston Texans on Sunday. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke is getting a lot of the credit, but it’s the defense that is sparking the surge. Since Heinicke took over for the injured Carson Wentz in Week 7, the defense is holding opponents to seven fewer points per game than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each play, per data from TruMedia. Before that, the defense was saving just 1.1 points per game, on average.

Commanders’ defense is dancing, dusting, Double Dutch-ing and dominating

Washington’s defensive front, featuring Jonathan Allen (6½ sacks), Daron Payne (6½ sacks) and Montez Sweat (six sacks), should be able to dictate terms at the line of scrimmage against an Atlanta pass-blocking unit that is ranked 23rd by Pro Football Focus. Opponents are scoring 0.6 points per drive against Washington on drives when the Commanders get at least one sack, a fraction of what opponents score when there are no sacks on the drive (two points per drive). As long as Washington can keep generating heat, the Falcons should struggle to put points on the board.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3½) at Cleveland Browns

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Cleveland Browns +3½

This point spread jumped out at me as soon as I saw it. Look at these teams’ common opponents, and you will see why I think the Browns are undervalued and the Buccaneers are overvalued.

Both teams failed to cover the spread by four points against the Falcons. The Browns covered by 3½ points against the Carolina Panthers while Tampa Bay was decimated by Carolina, 21-3, as 13-point favorites, failing to cover by 31 points. Cleveland covered by 3½ points against the Baltimore Ravens, a team Tampa Bay failed to cover against by seven points. The Browns also covered by 7½ points against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who upset the Buccaneers 20-18 despite the latter having been installed as a massive favorite. In almost every instance, Tampa Bay was woefully mispriced, and I think that is the case again this week.

I am comfortable with the Browns +3 on the point spread; anything less, and I would instead look at the money line. Full disclosure: I grabbed the Browns +148 on the money line last week and added more at +144 on Sunday.

The plays above represent our best bets of the week because our analysis shows their value is the most lucrative compared with what we expect to happen on the field. Below, you will find against-the-spread picks for all of the games on this week’s schedule. However, trying to pick every game is something of a fool’s errand. The house wins so often partly because bettors try to make too many plays when the odds aren’t in their favor. Keep that in mind when evaluating the remaining games from the Week 12 slate.

Buffalo Bills (-9½) at Detroit Lions

Thursday, 12:30 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Buffalo Bills -9½

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-9½)

Thursday, 4 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Dallas Cowboys -9½

Note: I do not like this number so far past the key number of 7 but recent injuries to the Giants make it difficult to back them. Unless you have a very strong feeling that Cowboys will dominate, I would skip taking a side here.

New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings (-2½)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m. | NBC

Pick: New England Patriots +2½

Chicago Bears at New York Jets (-4½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: New York Jets -4½

Cincinnati Bengals (-1½) at Tennessee Titans

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Cincinnati Bengals -1½

Denver Broncos (-2½) at Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Denver Broncos -2½

Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins (-13)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Miami Dolphins -12½ (This number has since moved up to Dolphins -13)

Baltimore Ravens (-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars +4

Las Vegas Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-3½)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Seattle Seahawks -3½

Los Angeles Chargers (-4½) at Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Los Angeles Chargers -4 (This number has since moved up to Chargers -4½)

New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (-9½)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Pick: San Francisco 49ers -9½

Los Angeles Rams at Kansas City Chiefs (-14½)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -14½

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (-7)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. | NBC

Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -7

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (-2½)

Monday, 8:15 p.m. | ESPN

Pick: Indianapolis Colts -2½