Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambles for a 15-yard gain.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambles for a 15-yard gain. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

It’s past the midway point of the NFL season, and the playoff picture is starting to come a bit more into focus. This weekend sees some key matchups as some teams try to reverse their early season misfortunes, while others look to solidify their positioning in the playoff race. The late afternoon slate sees only three games this weekend, and we are here to break them down for you, with a free pick for each game.

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts (-12.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS

As bad as the Miami Dolphins have been this season, this spread is a bit off. The Colts have yet to win or lose a game by more than seven points this season, and they have failed to cover the spread in their last two games. Indianapolis also has a quarterback in Jacoby Brissett who is dealing with an MCL sprain, while T.Y. Hilton will miss the game as well. Meanwhile, Miami has covered in four of their last five games, and actually got a win last weekend against the hapless Jets.

All that said, Vegas is notorious for putting out lines that seem like “easy money”, and they’ve built massive casinos on the backs of it. As such, I’m going to stay far away from the spread, and instead look at the total. The Dolphins are still struggling in many ways on offense, and the Colts’ defense is more than good enough to shut them down. No matter who takes the snaps for the home team, I look for them to pound the rock against the second worst run defense in the league, with Miami allowing more than 150 yards on the ground per contest. This should be a low-scoring game, allowing people to avoid the likely trap of the spread that seems too good to be true.

NFL free pick: Under 44

Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers (-5.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

Green Bay looks to rebound from a brutal loss at the Chargers last weekend, as they return home for their final game before the bye week. At 7-2, they are in a great position to challenge for a first-round bye and home field come playoff time, but last weekend’s struggles are concerning, as the Packers had less than 100 yards of total offense through three quarters against an average-at-best L.A. defense. However, with another week under his belt of resting up, Devante Adams should look more like himself, giving the Packers a big boost against a Panthers defense that ranks ninth in passing yards allowed.

Meanwhile, the Panthers offense will be licking their chops to get a shot at the Green Bay defense after what they saw last week. The sixth best rushing attack will want to impose their will on the 24th ranked run defense of the Packers, as Christian McCaffrey has put together an MVP-caliber season so far. Kyle Allen will continue to start for this team, as they look more and more likely to be moving on from Cam Newton. The Panthers are 5-1 since he took over, covering the spread in five of those six games as well. Given the struggles the Packers have defensively, having now allowed at least 24 points in five of their last six games, I like the Panthers to cover the spread in what should be a close game.

NFL free pick: Panthers +5.5

Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

This may be one of the more pivotal games of the weekend, as both teams look to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Rams are sitting at 5-3, having overcome some rocky play earlier in the season, resulting in a three-game losing skid, and are looking to win their third game in a row. They have beaten down two underwhelming opponents the past two weeks, but will face a more formidable foe in the Steelers. Jared Goff will need help in this game from his running backs, as he faces a defense that ranks 10th in the league against the pass, and fifth in sacks with 29 on the season.

The hosts will want to make it four wins in a row, as they have played a very difficult schedule that sees their four losses coming to four of the best teams in the NFL (New England, Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore), with three of those losses being by four points or fewer. They have also done this without their franchise QB, and with multiple injuries in the backfield. With both James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. out for this game, Mason Rudolph will likely have to do enough to win the game, rather than just managing it.

Unfortunately, with Jalen Ramsey likely taking away JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Rudolph throwing for fewer than 200 yards in three of his last five outings, that might be too big of an ask. Look for the Rams to contain him, and do just enough on the offensive side of the ball to escape with the win.

NFL free pick: Rams -3.5


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