Steven Lourie

Dec 032016
 

San Francisco 49ers (1-10) at Chicago Bears (2-9)

The 49ers have lost 10 straight games, but are favored here on the road. To give you an idea of how rare that is, the 49ers are just the 5th team since 1989 to be favored despite being on a losing streak of 10+ games and just the 2nd team since 1989 to be favored on the road despite being on a losing streak of 10+ games. It’s not like most of those 10 losses were close either, as 7 out of 10 came by double digits and the average margin of defeat is 14.4 points. That being said, I couldn’t be confident enough in the Bears to put money on them unless we were getting a full field goal with them.

The Bears are incredibly banged up right now and might be the worst team in the league. They’re missing their top two quarterbacks (Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer), their top-3 pass catchers (Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, and Zach Miller), their best offensive lineman (Kyle Long), and three of their best defensive players (middle linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman and cornerback Kyle Fuller), while outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, outside linebacker Willie Young, starting guard Josh Sitton, and slot receiver Eddie Royal are all expected to be gametime calls. Even if the Bears aren’t the worst team in the league, the 49ers are still in a better spot in their second of two road games, with an easy home game against the Jets on deck (in which they will likely be favored again). The Bears, meanwhile, have to turn around and go to division leading Detroit next week. I’m taking the points, but unless the line creeps up to 3 this is just a low confidence pick. The money line might be your best bet here at +110.

Chicago Bears 23 San Francisco 49ers 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Chicago +2

Confidence: Low

Dec 032016
 

Buffalo Bills (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (9-2)

This line at 3 in favor of the hometown Oakland Raiders seems to be confusing a lot of people, as the public is all over the favorite. That’s understandable, as the Bills are 6-5 and the Raiders are 9-2, but the Raiders have won 7 of their 9 games by a touchdown or less and have just 4 wins in regulation all season by more than a field goal. In fact, they enter this game 18th in first down rate differential, just two spots ahead of the Bills who rank 20th in that metric. With that in mind, I’m actually going to fade the public and take the points here. Not only do I love fading the public, as they always lose money in the long run, I also love betting against favorites that have to play again in a few days on Thursday Night Football, as favorites are 56-83 ATS in that spot since 2008. The Raiders could get caught looking past the Bills with a matchup with division rival Kansas City right around the corner. I wish we were getting more points and I wouldn’t recommend betting any money on it, but the Bills are the pick in pick ‘em leagues.

Oakland Raiders 19 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3

Confidence: None

Dec 032016
 

Los Angeles Rams (4-7) at New England Patriots (9-2)

The Patriots enter this game 2nd in first down rate differential, despite the fact that they were missing starting quarterback Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season, but there’s still plenty of reason to be concerned with them. Their defense hasn’t been the same since they controversially traded away linebacker Jamie Collins mid-season and now their offense will likely be without Rob Gronkowski with a back injury for the rest of the season. On top of that, their schedule has been remarkably easy since Brady’s return, with their only tough opponent being the Seahawks, who beat them in New England back in week 10.

Fortunately for them, their schedule doesn’t get any tougher this week, with the Rams coming to town. The Rams have managed to win 4 games, but rank 31st in first down rate differential and 27th in point differential (-66). Their 4 wins have come by a combined 18 points, while their 7 losses have come by a combined 84 points. While the Patriots will obviously miss Gronkowski this week, the Rams could miss defensive end Robert Quinn almost as much, as he is their top pass rusher and will miss this game with a concussion.

On top of that, the Patriots are in a better spot than the Rams. While the Rams have to turn around and host a good Atlanta team, the Patriots host the Ravens next week, a game in which they are expected to be double digit favorites once again (the early line has them at 10). Favorites of 6 or more are 93-52 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6 or more again, as good teams tend to take care of business when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. On the other side, teams are 41-91 ATS since 2012 before being road underdogs of 4.5 or more, which the Rams figure to be next week, as upcoming big home games tend to be a distraction for teams.

That being said, this line is too high at 13 for me to bet anything on the Patriots with confidence. They are a different team without Gronkowski and Collins. The Rams are also in a good spot, in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 140-105 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 111-72 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 234-248 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.83 points per game, as opposed to 331-464 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. New England is the pick, but it’s a low confidence pick.

New England Patriots 27 Los Angeles Rams 10

Pick against the spread: New England -13

Confidence: Low

Dec 032016
 

Houston Texans (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (5-6)

The Texans are 6-5, but their 6 wins have come by a combined 36 points, while their 5 losses have come by a combined 78 points, with none of them being closer than 7 points. As a result, they have a -42 point differential that ranks 26th in the NFL and they rank 27th in first down rate differential. The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off of a huge win in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football last week and, now healthier on defense than they’ve been in recent weeks, could be ready to go on a run. They enter this game 13th in rate of moving the chains differential and have more in common with the 5 teams that have beaten the Texans (New England, Minnesota, Denver, Oakland, San Diego) than the 6 teams that have lost to the Texans (Chicago, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Detroit, Jacksonville).

The Texans will also be without outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and John Simon with injury, leaving them very thin on the edge. The problem is we’re getting no line value with the Packers, as this line has shifted from 3.5 on the early line last week to 6.5 this week, as a result of Green Bay’s win in Philadelphia and Houston’s home loss to the Chargers. The Packers should be able to give the Texans another loss by 7+ points, but I couldn’t bet money at 6.5 with any sort of confidence. The Packers are the pick in pick ‘em polls, but this is a no confidence play.

Green Bay Packers 27 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -6.5

Confidence: None

Dec 032016
 

Detroit Lions (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)

The Saints enter this game at 5-6 and the Lions enter at 7-4, but the Saints have been much better than their record this season, while the Lions have been much worse than their record. On the season, the Saints have 43 more first downs than their opponents (the 2nd best differential in the league) and 11 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents (tied for the 3rd best differential in the league), but are just 5-6 because of because of a -4 margin in return touchdowns and 5 losses by 6 points or fewer (including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer). They could easily be 7-4 or 8-3 right now if a few things had gone their way.

The Lions, meanwhile, have trailed in the 4th quarter of all 11 games, but have managed to pull off the comeback in 7 of them. That’s impressive, but hardly sustainable. While the Saints enter this game 4th in first down rate differential, the Lions enter in 26th as they’ve allowed 12 more first downs than they’ve gained and 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve scored. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a ton of line value in the wake of New Orleans’ 49-21 blowout victory over the Rams last week, as this line has jumped from 3.5 on the early line to 6 this week. With that in mind, I’m actually taking the Lions here for pick ‘em purposes, as underdogs of 6 or more are 149-99 ATS since 1989 before being favorites of 6 or more, which the Lions will be next week when they host the Bears. With no real upcoming distractions, the Lions have a good chance of keeping it close against a superior opponent once again. The Lions don’t have a loss by more than a touchdown all season. I wouldn’t put money on either side though.

Update: There have been some injury developments on Saturday. Top linebacker Tahir Whitehead was ruled out for the Lions despite practicing in a limited fashion this week. Wide receiver Marvin Jones has also practiced in a limited fashion this week, but reportedly will also sit tomorrow, though he hasn’t officially been ruled out. It’s a bad sign for his chances that the Lions called another wide receiver up off the practice squad though. Despite those developments, this line has dropped from 6 to 5.5 today. It’s still a no confidence pick, but I’m switching to the Saints.

New Orleans Saints 34 Detroit Lions 27

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5

Confidence: None

Dec 032016
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) at San Diego Chargers (5-6)

The Buccaneers got an impressive home victory over the Seahawks last week, but teams tend not to cover coming off of a home upset victory, going 60-80 ATS the following week since 2012. Teams tend to be overrated off of a home upset victory, as they happen more often than people realize and are not usually as big of a deal as they seem. In this game, the Buccaneers’ upset victory shifted the line 2 points from 5.5 last week on the early line to 3.5 this week. As a result, we’re getting line value with the hometown Chargers.

Despite having one fewer win than the Buccaneers, the Chargers are a significantly better team, entering this game 6th in first down rate differential, while the Buccaneers enter in 24th. The oddsmakers seem to realize this, making the Chargers 2.5 point favorites in Houston last week against a Texans team that was 6-4 at the time (the Chargers still covered) and originally making them 5.5 point favorites here at home for the Buccaneers, but now they seem to be overrating the Buccaneers as a result of what could easily prove to be a fluky Tampa Bay home victory. I wish this line was all the way down to 3, but I don’t expect that to happen and I have no problem putting money on the Chargers at 3.5. We’re getting good line value with the Chargers either way.

San Diego Chargers 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: San Diego -3.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 032016
 

Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

For weeks, the Chiefs have been at the top of my overrated teams list. They’re still on the list, as they are overly reliant on winning close games (5 wins by a touchdown or fewer), winning the turnover margin (+14 on the season), and getting return touchdowns (+5 on the season), but they’re a lot healthier now than they were a couple weeks ago. Top pass rusher Justin Houston showed his All-Pro form last week in his first real game back from off-season knee surgery. Top cornerback Marcus Peters also returned from a 1-game absence last week. This week, the Chiefs get Dee Ford, their top pass rusher in Houston’s absence, back from a 1-game absence.

With Houston and Ford healthy, the Chiefs already strong defense gets even better. They rank 10th in first down rate allowed, but I think you could argue they’re on the cusp of being a top-5 defense with everyone healthy. The problem is their offense, especially with Jeremy Maclin set to miss his 4th straight game with injury. They rank 25th in first down rate and have just 20 offensive touchdowns on the year, including just 6 in the past 4 games, even with one of those games going to overtime. Despite a 8-3 record, they’ve allowed 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed. That’s been masked by their turnover margin, return touchdown margin, and record in close games, but those types of things tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, the Chiefs rank 22nd in first down rate differential.

They’re better than that suggests because of their improving injury situation, but they face a tough opponent on the road this week in a tough spot. The Falcons rank 5th in first down rate differential and are still a solid team at worst even with cornerback Desmond Trufant and defensive end Adrian Clayborn hurt. They have major issues on defense, especially without those two, but they have one of the best offenses in the league. They also have a relatively easy game on deck, as they head to Los Angeles to face the Rams next week, a game in which they figure to be big road favorites. Teams are 86-63 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 4 or more, as teams tend to take care of business with no upcoming distractions on the horizon.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have to play a big divisional game against the Raiders in Thursday Night Football a few days after this one and are coming off of basically a 5 quarter game, winning in the final seconds of overtime on a field goal. The game didn’t end in a tie but it took the whole overtime period, meaning they played about as much football as they would have in a tie. Unsurprisingly, teams are 5-13 ATS off of a tie since 1989. This line is too high at 5.5 for me to be at all confident in the Falcons, but they should be the right side.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Kansas City Chiefs 17

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -5.5

Confidence: None

Dec 032016
 

Indianapolis Colts (5-6) at New York Jets (3-8)

The Colts get Andrew Luck back from injury this week, but still have major problems on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they struggle against the run and the pass and, on the offensive side of the ball, they’ve had major issues upfront on the offensive line and have struggled to run the football. They’re healthier now than they were earlier in the year, but still rank just 28th in first down rate differential. That’s actually one spot behind the Jets. The Colts might be a little better than that suggests given their injury situation has improved as the season has gone on, but these two teams are much more comparable than this line suggests.

This line has the Jets as 2 point home underdogs, so we’re getting a few points of line value with them. On top of that, the Jets are in good spot, as home underdogs tend to cover off of a loss as home underdogs, going 75-53 ATS since 2002 in that spot. The Colts are also just 20-22 outside of the division since 2013, including just 1-4 ATS as non-divisional road favorites. I would need at least 3 to put any money on the Jets, but I don’t think we’re going to get that. At 2, it’s a low confidence pick. The money line at +110 might be the best bet here.

New York Jets 23 Indianapolis Colts 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +2

Confidence: Low

Dec 032016
 

Carolina Panthers (4-7) at Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)

Typically, the Seahawks are a very good team in the second half of the season, going 32-10-1 ATS since Pete Carroll took over (since 2011) in games 9-16 of the regular season, but they fell flat on their faces last week in Tampa Bay, losing 14-5 as 6 point road favorites in an embarrassing offensive performance. As a result, the Seahawks fell to 14th in first down rate differential. For comparison, their opponents here, the Carolina Panthers, rank 15th in that metric, just one spot behind them. The Panthers may be 4-7, but 5 of their 7 losses have come by a field goal or less, so they could easily be 7-4, 8-3, or even 9-2 if a few plays went their way.

The good news for the Seahawks is that they are significantly healthier this week than last week. Center Justin Britt, cornerback DeShawn Shead, and safety Earl Thomas return from one-game absences, while Michael Bennett returns after missing 6 games with a knee injury. Thomas and Bennett are two of the best defensive players in the league, while Shead and Britt are both having breakout years at cornerback and center respectively. Now healthy, they could easily put last week’s loss behind them and continue on what looked like another Seattle second half run, after they covered in big wins in games 9 and 10. Conversely, the Panthers are the ones who enter this game very banged up. Top defensive player Luke Kuechly will miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion and will be joined on the sidelines by safety Kurt Coleman. Offensively, the Panthers are down to a 3rd string center and a 3rd string left tackle upfront.

That being said, this line is 7, so it’s hard for me to be confident in Seattle at all, especially with the Panthers in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 140-105 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 111-72 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 234-248 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.83 points per game, as opposed to 331-464 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. Seattle is the pick, but only for pick ‘em purposes.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Carolina Panthers 16

Pick against the spread: Seattle -7

Confidence: None

Dec 032016
 

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1)

Before the season started, I had the Bengals on my list of teams that I thought would disappoint. They won 12 games last season and were 10-2 before losing quarterback Andy Dalton for the season with injury, but outside of Dalton they barely had an injuries last season, something that usually doesn’t happen two years in a row. They also lost of number of players in free agency, including cornerback Leon Hall, safety Reggie Nelson, and wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.

Things have been even worse than I expected though. Dalton has stayed healthy, but the Bengals haven’t stayed nearly as healthy as last season around him on either side of the ball. A couple weeks ago, their season went from bad to worse when they lost wide receiver AJ Green for an extended period of time with a slight hamstring tear and running back Giovani Bernard for the season with a torn ACL. Both injuries came in a close home loss to the Bills and then the following week they suffered a close road loss in Baltimore, dropping them to 3-7-1.

Now I actually think the Bengals are underrated. Many of their losses have been close, with their last 3 coming by a combined 10 points. Dalton might not have Bernard or Green, but Tyler Eifert is healthy, which they didn’t have earlier in the season. He still has a strong offensive line in front of him and didn’t play badly against a tough Baltimore defense last week. The Bengals also have a decent defense. On the season, they rank 16th in first down rate differential, not terrible and actually one spot above the Eagles.

The Bengals aren’t as good as that suggests without Bernard and Green, but the Eagles aren’t healthy either, missing running back Ryan Mathews and possibly wide receiver Jordan Matthews with injury. They also haven’t been the same offensively since losing right tackle Lane Johnson to suspension. Despite that, the Eagles are favored by 1.5 here in Cincinnati, because the Bengals are an underrated team. The Bengals are also in a much better spot, as they go to Cleveland next week, while the Eagles host the Redskins in a key divisional matchup. The Eagles could definitely overlook a 3-7-1 non-conference opponent, while the Bengals figure to be very focused with the worst team in the league on deck. Home underdogs are 79-44 ATS before being road favorites since 2002. I like the Bengals a good amount this week.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Philadelphia Eagles 17 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 032016
 

Washington Redskins (6-4-1) at Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1)

I’ve lost money on the Cardinals in back-to-back weeks, but their price keeps dropping, so I’m going to keep buying. As a result of Arizona’s big loss in Atlanta last week, this line has dropped from 3.5 last week on the early line to 2.5 this week, a significant drop considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly. Last week’s loss in Atlanta was legitimate, but the previous week they lost by 6 in Minnesota because the Vikings had two 100+ yard return touchdowns, the first team to do that in a single game in 50 years. Those two plays resulted in at least a 17 point swing for the Vikings.

Despite their 4-6-1 record, last week was actually just the second time this season the Cardinals lost the first down rate battle and they could easily be 8-3 right now as they could have beaten New England, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Minnesota if one or two fluky things had gone their way (missed field goal against New England, punt return against Rams, blocked punt against Seattle, pick six against Minnesota). The Cardinals actually still rank 1st in first down rate differential, despite last week’s ugly loss in Atlanta. They ranked 1st in that metric last year as well.

The Redskins, meanwhile, rank 23rd in that metric thanks to a defense that is allowing the highest first down rate in the NFL. If this line had stayed at 3.5, I wouldn’t be confident in the Cardinals, but I think the price dropped appropriately for Arizona’s loss to the Falcons and I think we’re still getting good value with the Cardinals as a result. The Cardinals will be without Tyrann Mathieu this week because of injury, a huge loss for this defense, but the Redskins will be without tight end Jordan Reed, an equally big loss for Washington’s offense. As long as this line is under a field goal, I’d put money on the Cardinals again this week.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Washington Redskins 17

Pick against the spread: Arizona -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 032016
 

Denver Broncos (7-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)

The Jaguars have one of the worst records in the league at 2-9, but are far from one of the worst teams in the league. In addition to 6 of 9 losses coming by less than a touchdown, they’ve been killed by a -15 turnover margin. Fortunately for them, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For that reason, I love to bet on teams that have poor turnover margins, as they tend to be undervalued. If the Jaguars play turnover neutral football going forward, which isn’t crazy considering how inconsistent turnover margins are, that’s going to have a noticeable effect on the scoreboard.

Outside of those 15 snaps, they’ve played pretty well on the season, especially on defense. They rank 10th in first down rate differential, led by a defense that allows the 8th lowest first down rate in the league and that has been played very well in recent weeks. They don’t get a lot of attention because they’ve only forced 7 takeaways, but the takeaways will come and the talent is definitely there. The Jaguars actually rank one spot better than the Broncos in first down rate differential, as the Broncos enter in 11th.

The Broncos are fully healthy on defense for the first time all season, but they’ll be without quarterback Trevor Siemian with injury, leaving rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch to start. Lynch struggled mightily in a spot start earlier this year, but the first round rookie could be better his 2nd time around. Still, I like the Jaguars’ chances of not only covering as 4.5 point underdogs, but pulling off the straight up upset here at home. They’re a very underrated team and the Broncos are coming off of a grueling overtime loss to the Chiefs. It didn’t end in a tie, but it took the whole overtime period, meaning they played about as much football as they would have in a tie. Unsurprisingly, teams are 5-13 ATS off of a tie since 1989. This is my Pick of the Week and the money line is also a good bet as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 Denver Broncos 17 Upset Pick +180

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Dec 032016
 

New York Giants (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

What do the Giants have to do to get respect? They enter this game 8-3, but are 6 point underdogs here in Pittsburgh against the 6-5 Steelers. To give you an idea of how rare something like this is, the Giants are just the 8th team since 1989 with a winning percentage of 70% or better to be underdogs of 6 or more against a team with a winning percentage less than 60% in week 13 or later. Of those 7 previous instances, 5 were meaningless week 17 games in which the underdog was resting starters to prepare for the playoffs.

Just one of the Giants’ 8 wins has come by more than a touchdown and normally I don’t like teams that win a lot of close games because they tend not to be as good as their record. However, the Giants are an exception because they’ve managed to go 8-3 (even with many of the wins being close) despite a -5 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I love teams that are able to win despite not consistently winning the turnover battle.  In fact, the Giants have 4 wins in games in which they lost the turnover battle this season. No other team has more than 2 wins in which they’ve lost the turnover battle. The Giants are 4-2 this season when losing the turnover battle. The rest of the league is 29-106 (.215).

On the season, the Giants enter this game 8th in first down rate differential. Their offense has struggled, especially without top offensive lineman Justin Pugh, but their defense has allowed the 2nd lowest first down rate against this season and is finally forcing turnovers in recent weeks, after not doing so early in the year. The Steelers are actually one spot behind them in 9th in first down rate differential, so we’re getting at least 3 points of line value with the visiting New York Giants. The Giants have been a strong road team in recent years anyway, going 57-37 ATS on the road since 2005, Eli Manning’s first full season as starter. This season, they’re 4-1 ATS on the road and I like their chances of pushing that to 5-1 ATS this week as underdogs of too many points.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 New York Giants 23

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6

Confidence: High

Dec 032016
 

Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

This line at 3.5 in favor of the hometown Baltimore Ravens suggests the Ravens are a slightly better team than the Dolphins. I think it’s the opposite. Both teams come into this game relatively healthy compared to most of the season, with the Dolphins getting left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil back this week, while the Ravens get cornerback Jimmy Smith back. However, the Dolphins rank 12th on the season in first down rate differential, while the Ravens rank 19th in that metric. This line should be around 2.5, which might not seem like a big difference from 3.5, but it is, considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. The Ravens are certainly no strangers to field goal games, as 4 of their 11 wins in the past 2 seasons have come by exactly a field goal. That makes sense, as the Ravens have a great defense, but a struggling offense. That’s not exactly a recipe for big blowout wins. The Dolphins are a quality opponent, so, if the Ravens win, it’ll likely be by a field goal or less.

The Dolphins are also in a much better spot than the Ravens, as they host the skidding Cardinals next week, while the Ravens have to turn around and go to New England, where the early line has them as 10 point underdogs. The Dolphins will be favored next week at home for the Cardinals and underdogs are 94-61 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs. On top of that, teams are 41-63 ATS since 2012 before being double digit underdogs, as upcoming big games like that tend to be a distraction for a team. As favorites, teams are 37-62 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs. Combining the two, underdogs are 48-20 ATS since 1989 before being favorites when their opponents will next be double digit underdogs. I like the Dolphins a lot this week.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: Miami +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 012016
 

Dallas Cowboys (10-1) at Minnesota Vikings (6-5)

This line has shifted from 2 in favor of the visiting Cowboys on the early line last week to 4 now this week. Ordinarily, big week-to-week shifts like that are the result of overreactions to a single week of play and create line value, but I think this line is right about where it should be. The Cowboys enter this game 3rd in first down rate differential, while the Vikings enter in 20th and likely missing their head coach with emergency eye surgery and talented center Joe Berger with a concussion.

The Cowboys also travel as well as any team in the league. Since 2010, they are 31-21 ATS on the road, as opposed to 19-35 ATS at home. Over that time period, they’ve been outscored opponents by 0.02 points per game on the road and outscored opponents by an average of 1.20 points per game at home, meaning home field advantage hasn’t even been worth a point for them in recent years. That makes sense, as the Cowboys have fans throughout the country and get great support on the road.

That being said, I’m taking the Vikings here for a no confidence play because they’re in a good spot. While the Cowboys have arguably their toughest and biggest game of the season next week, a road game in New York against the Giants team that gave them their only loss of the season way back in week 1, the Vikings instead go to Jacksonville, a much easier game. This could be a bit of a trap game for the Cowboys as a result. Home underdogs like the Vikings are 47-27 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites, as the Vikings are expected to be next week. This pick is only for pick ‘em purposes though, as I wouldn’t recommend betting on either side.

Dallas Cowboys 20 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +4

Confidence: None

Nov 292016
 

Week 12

Straight Up: 12-4

Against the spread: 9-6-1

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence: 1-1

Medium Confidence: 2-1

Low Confidence: 3-3

No Confidence: 2-1-1

Upset Picks: 0-1

Season

Straight Up: 110-65-2 (62.86%)

Against the spread: 83-85-9 (49.40%)

Pick of the Week: 9-3 (75.00%)

High Confidence: 10-10-2 (50.00%)

Medium Confidence: 28-18-3 (60.87%)

Low Confidence: 19-28-2 (40.43%)

No Confidence: 17-26-2 (39.53%)

Upset Picks: 19-15 (55.58%)

Nov 262016
 

Cincinnati Bengals (3-6-1) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

Already in the middle of a down year, the Bengals suffered two major injuries last week, as running back Giovani Bernard went down for the season with a torn ACL and #1 wide receiver AJ Green went down for an extended period of time with a strained hamstring. In addition, the Bengals will also be without starting safety Shawn Williams this week with injury. On the other side, the Ravens have gotten healthier in recent weeks, as the guys like Marshal Yanda, Steve Smith, CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil, who missed time earlier this year, are all healthy now. They are now without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but, all in all, they’re healthier now than they’ve been for most of the season. All that being said, I don’t have a strong opinion either way. This line, at -4 in favor of the hometown Baltimore Ravens, is pretty reasonable. I’m taking the Ravens, but it’s hard to be confident in them as 4 point favorites because I don’t know just how bad the Bengals will be without Green and Bernard.

Baltimore Ravens 22 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -4

Confidence: None

Nov 262016
 

Green Bay Packers (4-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)

I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I want to put any money on the Packers this week. They should be the right side, but they’ve been so inconsistent this season that it’s tough to be confident in them. Early in the year, it was their offense that was disappointing. Now, their offense has picked up, but their defense has been atrocious, allowing a ridiculous 12 touchdowns in their last 2 games. They’re getting healthier on defense, with middle linebacker Jake Ryan and cornerback Damarious Randall returning this week and outside linebacker Clay Matthews returning in a limited role last week and set to play a full set of snaps this week, but none of those three players were playing particularly well before getting hurt, so I’m not sure how much it’ll help. The rookie Ryan was playing the best of the three, but his return coincides with fellow middle linebacker Blake Martinez getting hurt and missing this game, so Ryan’s return might not be anything more than a wash.

Typically, the Packers have done well after a loss in the Aaron Rodgers era, going 27-16 ATS off of a loss with Rodgers under center, but if their defense can’t get it together that won’t matter. We are getting some line value with the Packers as 4 point underdogs, as these teams are more or less even, meaning the hometown Eagles should be favored by a field goal at most at home. The Eagles are also not nearly as good offensively as the Titans and Redskins, the Packers’ last two opponents. I’m going to hold out for this line to move to 4.5 at some point before Monday night, but I might ultimately end up putting money on the Packers at 4 if the line doesn’t move.

Monday Update: Holding out for 4.5 worked, as I was able to get it this morning. If you can get it, I’d recommend a bet, but I think avoid betting on the Packers at 4. Normally I’d be all over the Packers in this spot, but they’ve been too inconsistent this year.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Green Bay Packers 23

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Nov 262016
 

Carolina Panthers (4-6) at Oakland Raiders (8-2)

Along with Denver/Kansas City, this is another game where I’m holding out hope that the line drops to a field goal before gametime. This line is currently 3.5 in favor of the hometown Oakland Raiders, but 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal so that’s a critical half point. The Raiders are a significantly better team, especially with Carolina missing middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and center Ryan Kalil with injury, and they’re in a better spot (they host Buffalo next week, while Carolina has to go to Seattle), but there’s not enough here for me to be confident in the Raiders at 3.5.

Oakland Raiders 23 Carolina Panthers 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland -3.5

Confidence: Low

Nov 262016
 

Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) at Denver Broncos (7-3)

The Chiefs are 7-3, but they’ve been overly reliant on close wins (4 of 7 wins by a touchdown or less), winning the turnover margin (+13 on the season, best in the NFL), and return touchdowns (+4 return touchdown margin). Those things tend to be very inconsistent from week-to-week, so they’re very tough to rely on long-term. In terms of first down rate differential, they enter this game 25th, suggesting that if we assume turnover neutral football for them going forward, they’re going to have far less success in the win/loss column. We already saw this in their home loss to Tampa Bay last week, as they lost the turnover margin by 1 and subsequently lost the game to an inferior team against whom they were favored by 7.5.

They’ve been worse in recent weeks, scoring just 3 offensive touchdowns in their last 3 games and losing at home to the Buccaneers last week. That’s no surprise, considering all of the injuries they have right now. They’re expected to get cornerback Marcus Peters back from a 1-game absence and Justin Houston should see more snaps after making it through his season debut setback free last week, but top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin remains out, as does starting defensive lineman Jaye Howard. Joining them on the sidelines this week is Dee Ford, their sack leader this season in the absence of Houston.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are as healthy as any team in the league right now coming out of their bye week, as key defenders Derek Wolfe and Aqib Talib return from injury. They’ve also been significantly better than the Chiefs this season, entering this game 11th in first down rate differential. Despite a mere +5 turnover margin, the Broncos have a +50 point differential on the season, as opposed to +35 for the Chiefs. On top of that, Denver is in a better spot, as they head to Jacksonville next, while Kansas City has to turn around and go to Atlanta, a much tougher opponent than Jacksonville. There’s not enough for me to put money on the Broncos as 3.5 point home favorites, but I’m holding out hope this line falls to 3 before gametime. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it’s a very important half point.

Denver Broncos 19 Kansas City Chiefs 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -3.5

Confidence: Low

Nov 262016
 

New England Patriots (8-2) at New York Jets (3-7)

The Patriots are right in the middle of a very cushy stretch of their schedule, as they play the 49ers, Jets, and Rams in back-to-back-to-back weeks. Those are three of the worst teams in the league. As a result, they have no upcoming distractions and should be able to cruise through those 3 games. They got a 13-point win in San Francisco last week and could easily get another big win here in New York this week as 8 point favorites. Favorites of 6+ are 93-51 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. The Patriots are 14 point favorites on the early line for next week’s home matchup with the Rams. However, it’s tough to be confident in them as favorites of this many points with Rob Gronkowski reportedly a gametime decision at best, after missing last week with a chest injury. The Patriots are the pick in pick ‘em pools, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on them.

New England Patriots 27 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: New England -8

Confidence: None

Nov 262016
 

San Francisco 49ers (1-9) at Miami Dolphins (6-4)

The Browns haven’t won a game this season, but there’s an argument to be made that the 1-9 49ers are the worst team in the league this season. They don’t rank dead last in first down rate differential, but that’s only because of a 28-0 blowout win week 1 over the Rams. The Rams have not been good this year (one of two teams with a worse first down rate differential than the 49ers), but that win looks like a complete fluke given what’s happened since. Since that week 1 win, the 49ers have lost 9 straight games by an average of 15.22 points per game with all but 1 loss coming by double digits.

The Dolphins are a solid team that has a 6-4 record and that ranks 12th in first down rate differential, so they should be able to hand the 49ers another big loss. However, it’s tough to be confident in the Dolphins when they’re going to be missing at least their top-2 and maybe their top-3 offensive linemen. Center Mike Pouncey and left tackle Branden Albert remain out, while Laremy Tunsil is a gametime decision at best. Tunsil has played well this season at left guard and has also played left tackle well when Albert’s been injured, so that would be a huge loss for them if he can’t go. The Dolphins are the pick in pick ‘em pools, but I wouldn’t bet anything real on them.

Miami Dolphins 24 San Francisco 49ers 16

Pick against the spread: Miami -7

Confidence: None

Nov 262016
 

San Diego Chargers (4-6) at Houston Texans (6-4)

The Chargers are just 4-6, but they’ve been significantly better than their record this season. All 6 of their losses came by 8 points or fewer, so they’ve been competitive in every game. Their +14 point differential is solid and they rank 7th in first down rate differential thanks to a +24 first down differential. They’re also healthier coming out of the bye, getting middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, wide receiver Travis Benjamin, and safety Jahleel Addae back from injury this week. The Texans, meanwhile, are not nearly as good as their 6-4 record. Their 6 wins have come by a combined 36 points, while their 4 losses have come by a combined 70 points, giving them a point differential of -34 that ranks 26th in the NFL. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 27th in the league.

Neither of these teams’ records are indicative of their talent level or how they’ve played thus far this season. However, this line seems to take that into account, as the Chargers are 1.5 point road favorites. As a result, we’re not really getting any line value with them. I’m still going to take the Chargers because they’re in a better spot than the Texans (the Chargers host the Buccaneers next week while the Texans go to Green Bay) and because they’ve been a good road team over the past two seasons (9-4 ATS), but there’s not enough here for me to be confident in them.

San Diego Chargers 20 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: San Diego -1.5

Confidence: Low

Nov 262016
 

New York Giants (7-3) at Cleveland Browns (0-11)

The Giants haven’t won a game by more than a touchdown all season and have a 7-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Ordinarily, I like to pick against teams that are regularly squeaking out victories, especially as big favorites and especially as big road favorites, as the Giants are here (7 point favorites in Cleveland). However, I actually find it more impressive that the Giants have a 7-3 record despite a -7 turnover margin that is 3rd worst in the NFL, even if many of their wins could have gone either way. In fact, the Giants have 4 wins in games in which they lost the turnover battle this season. No other team has more than 2 wins in which they’ve lost the turnover battle. The Giants are 4-2 this season when losing the turnover battle. The rest of the league is 28-94 (.230).

Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I love teams that are able to win despite not consistently winning the turnover battle. If the Giants can play turnover neutral football going forward (very possible), they could go on a real run down the stretch. They enter this game 5th in the league in first down rate differential, thanks primarily to an outstanding defense that allows the 3rd lowest first down rate in the league. Their defense hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because they only have 11 takeaways, but the takeaways should come and, if they do, look out for this team.

This week, it helps the Giants that they’re playing the worst team in the league, the winless Cleveland Browns, who rank dead last in first down rate differential by a wide margin. Typically, betting on winless teams this late in the season is a good idea because they tend to be undervalued, as teams that are 0-8 or worse are 34-18 ATS since 1989. In addition, the Browns are in a good spot here as home underdogs are 75-52 ATS off of a loss as home underdogs the previous week. However, considering the Browns were 9 point home underdogs last week for Pittsburgh, a team that’s inferior than the Giants, the Browns are not undervalued here. If either team is undervalued this week, it’s the Giants. There’s not quite enough here for me to put money on the Giants at 7, especially since they will be without top offensive lineman Justin Pugh for the 3rd straight week, but they are the pick here. They should be able to get their first big blowout victory of the season.

New York Giants 24 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -7

Confidence: Low

Nov 262016
 

Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

I picked the Cardinals as 2 point underdogs in Minnesota last week and they outplayed the Vikings for most of the game, but ultimately lost 30-24 thanks to not one, but two 100+ yard return touchdowns by Minnesota, the first team to do that in a game in 50 years. The first one was a pick six from end zone to end zone, at least a 10 point swing considering the Cardinals had 2nd and goal and could have at least made a chip shot field goal if they held onto the ball. The second one was a kickoff return touchdown coming out of the half. In a 6-point loss, the 17+ point swing on those 2 plays were obviously pivotal in Minnesota’s victory. Between that game and Jacksonville/Buffalo, I had 4 return touchdowns go against me in 2 games that I had big plays on. Hopefully I will have better luck this week.

The good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is we’re getting great value with the Cardinals, as this line has shifted from 3 in favor of Atlanta to 6 in the past week. Outside of those 2 fluky plays, the Cardinals outplayed the Vikings last week and they actually rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season. That might sound crazy considering they are 4-5-1, but they still have a point differential of +36 on the season (9th best in the NFL) despite a -3 return touchdown margin. Those 3 plays, they have a point differential of +57, which would be 3rd best in the NFL. They could easily be 8-2 if not for last week’s two return touchdowns and special teams mistakes against New England, Seattle, and Los Angeles. They have won the first down rate battle in 9 of 10 games and their +67 first down differential is easily the best in the league. In terms of offensive touchdowns, their +9 differential is 4th best in the league.

This week, they get defensive back Tyrann Mathieu back from a 2-game absence with a shoulder injury. He’s a huge part of a defense that allows the lowest first down rate in the league by a good margin (over 1.5%). With Carson Palmer struggling and stud left tackle Jared Veldheer out for the season, the Cardinals’ offense is a far cry from what it was last season, but their defense is even better this year. The Falcons, meanwhile, have a great offense (2nd in first down rate), but their defense has struggled mightily (30th in first down rate allowed). Overall, they rank 8th in first down rate differential, so we’re getting a ton of value with the Cardinals at 6. The Falcons also could be without cornerback Desmond Trufant again this week and he’s easily their best defensive player.

The other good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is it put them in a good spot this week. Teams are 138-104 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 110-71 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 232-246 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 330-462 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. This is one of my favorite picks this week. The money line is also a great value at +200.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Atlanta Falcons 20 Upset Pick +200

Pick against the spread: Arizona +6

Confidence: High