Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (12-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-11)

I really don’t have a good feel for this game. We’re not getting any real line value either way, as this line is exactly where it should be. The Broncos are moving the chains at a ridiculous 80.75% rate, as opposed to 71.94% for their opponents, a differential of 8.81%, first in the NFL. The Raiders, meanwhile, are all the way down at 31st, moving the chains at a 67.05% rate, as opposed to 73.77% for their opponents, a differential of -6.72%. That suggests this line should be around 12.5 in favor of Denver, which is exactly where it is.

I’m taking the Raiders for one reason and one reason only and I’m definitely not confident. However, big home underdogs have been covering at a noticeably high rate in recent years. It’s not a trend that dates back historically or anything, but, for whatever reason, home underdogs of 7.5 or more are 18-8 ATS since 2011, including 7-3 ATS in a divisional matchup. Gun to my head, I like the Raiders to keep it within 12.5.

Denver Broncos 27 Oakland Raiders 16

Pick against spread: Oakland +12.5

Confidence: None

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Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7)

I was kicking myself when I saw this line opened at Philadelphia -3. It was at Dallas -3 a week ago and there was no reason not to take that, even before Philadelphia demolished Chicago last week. For one, Philadelphia is obviously a better team than the Cowboys, so that line suggesting these two teams were equal was obviously not correct, even last week. That was probably a big overreaction to Philadelphia’s blowout loss in Minnesota, which is a fluke when you look at how they’ve played since Nick Foles took over.

Two, home field advantage doesn’t seem to be a big deal in the NFC East. The NFC East is 79-113 ATS at home since 2008, as opposed to 107-89 ATS on the road. As you can expect, in divisional games, the road team generally has the advantage in the NFC East and that’s true, as the home team is 45-27 ATS in NFC East games since 2008, including 17-32 ATS as home favorites. There was also a powerful trend that says teams who lose as divisional home favorites are 48-23 ATS since 2002 as road dogs in the same season, regular season rematch. Also, Tony Romo’s 12-26 ATS record in week 13 or later was worth noting, even if it wasn’t always his fault.

Of course, Philadelphia’s blowout victory over Chicago 54-11 pushed this line 6 full points, but even then I was considering Philadelphia, though not for a big play at all. They were still the superior team and this was still an NFC East home game, even if the Cowboys were now home dogs. Besides, teams are 45-30 ATS as favorites off of a game in which they score 48+ points since 1989, as teams seem to carry that momentum into the next week.

However, then Tony Romo was reportedly ruled out with a back injury and the line moved all the way to 6.5. We’re no longer getting line value with the Eagles and the public is all over them, which I don’t like, but they should still be the right side for three reasons. One is the aforementioned trend and the fact that they scored 48+ points last week. Two is what I mentioned about the NFC East at home. Three is the fact that the Cowboys without Tony Romo might be the worst team in the NFL, or one of them. They have the league’s worst defense, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 77.67% rate. I’m going with Philadelphia -6.5, though for a no confidence pick. If Tony Romo somehow is able to play this week, I’ll revisit this pick, but I’m going with the Eagles until further notice.

Philadelphia Eagles 31 Dallas Cowboys 24

Pick against spread: Philadelphia -6.5

Confidence: None

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Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) at Chicago Bears (8-7)

Aaron Rodgers is back! The Packers are saved! Right? Well that seems to be what everyone is thinking. The public pulse is that the Packers are now de facto NFC North Champions now that Mike McCarthy has said the words “Aaron Rodgers will be our starting quarterback” and the Bears are screwed. Reports say public bettors are literally lining up to take the Packers as mere 3 point favorites here. Public bettors always lose money in the long run though. There’s a reason why the odds makers set this line at 3. This feels like a trap bet.

Aaron Rodgers certainly upgrades their offense. Before he got hurt, the Packers were moving the chains at a 77.12% rate through 7 games, which would have ranked 3rd in the NFL right now if it had been sustained through 15 games, only behind Denver and San Diego. I have no doubt that if Rodgers had never gotten hurt, the Packers would have one of the NFL’s premier offenses once again right now. However, I have some concern that Rodgers won’t be 100% in his first game back.

The injury reportedly isn’t giving him any real pain when he throws and he’s been practicing well for a couple of weeks, but practice is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to be thrown back into game action after 2 months off. There could be some rust as he seeks to get back to game speed. He also has had limited practice with the first team, so there could be some chemistry issues. There is also some concern that Rodgers’ teammates give less than 100% knowing that their “savior” Aaron Rodgers is back.

The bigger concern, however, is this Packer defense. That’s something Rodgers can’t control and they’re one of the worst in the NFL, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 74.42% rate. Injuries have hit them badly there as well and things aren’t going to get better this week. In fact, they could get worse as Clay Matthews is expected out for this one after re-breaking his thumb and also the defense could feel they don’t have to give 100% with savior Aaron Rodgers back. If you take their opponents’ rate of moving the chains and subtract it from that 77.12% number from earlier, that’s a differential of 2.70% and that’s an absolute best case scenario.

The Bears, meanwhile, are moving the chains at a 75.56% rate, as opposed to 76.54%, a differential of -0.98% that ranks 19th in the NFL. Given that, this line should be around a pick em or 1 point in favor of Green Bay, instead of 3, and, again that’s an absolute best case scenario. The Packers could easily move the ball all over Chicago’s putrid defense, but the Bears could do the same to the Packers’ and they are the home team with the only quarterback starting in this game that has played in the last 2 or so months. Football Outsiders actually backs this up as their playoff odds model has this game at a 50/50 toss up, so getting that field goal with Chicago could be valuable.

The Bears’ putrid defense let up 54 points to the Eagles last week in a 54-11 loss, but that actually makes it more likely they’ll cover this week. It’s counterintuitive, but teams are 45-23 ATS off of a loss by 35 or more since 2002, including 20-6 ATS as home underdog. It makes sense when you think about it, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. I’ve already gotten into undervalued, but overlooked and embarrassed could definitely be in play as well. The Packers could overlook the “lowly” Bears with Rodgers back, while the Bears could give 110% to put last week behind them against a team that now has their starting quarterback back.

Of course, this is essentially a play-in game so both teams could be at 100%, which would nullify some of that and work to the Packers’ advantage, but getting field goal protection with Chicago does seem like the right call right now. I definitely wish we were getting more than a field goal though, especially since Jay Cutler has lost to Aaron Rodgers 7 out of 8 times, but there once was a time that Joe Flacco couldn’t beat Ben Roethlisberger. That changed. This could too. I’m tentatively going with the Bears for a low confidence pick, but if the line increases or I become more confident I could make this a medium confidence pick later in the week.

Green Bay Packers 31 Chicago Bears 30

Pick against spread: Chicago +3

Confidence: Low

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

If you look at the season as a whole, the Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL. Their -182 point differential is worst in the NFL. Only Houston at -146 even comes close. Their 4-11 record is actually buoyed by a 4-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, as they’ve been blown out by double digits in 9 of their 11 losses. DVOA definitely takes this into account as they remain dead last in the NFL by the Football Outsiders’ standard.

Rate of moving the chains differential also takes this into account. They move the chains at a league worst 64.02% rate and their defense doesn’t help matters, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.81% rate, a differential of -11.79%. Only Oakland even comes close, with a differential of -6.72%. That’s a massive gap. The Colts actually only rank 17th, moving the chains at a 71.90% rate, as opposed to 71.83% for their opponents, a differential of 0.07%. However, even that suggests this line should be closer to 15 instead of 11.5, given how bad Jacksonville has been on the season.

Of course, that’s just on the season. The Jaguars have been playing better football since the bye. In 7 games since the bye, they are 4-3 with just one loss by double digits. There’s a reason why they are 30th in weighted DVOA instead of dead last. Of course, those 4 wins have come by a combined 20 points, while their one double digit loss came by 13 and at home against the only even decent team they faced in that stretch, Arizona. The Cardinals stick out like a sore thumb out of a group that features Buffalo, Cleveland, Tennessee twice, and Houston twice. So would Indianapolis, at least you would think.

Indianapolis might be the toughest team in the NFL to get a read on. There’s a reason they have DVOA’s 4th highest variance (Philadelphia actually has the highest). Last season, they were nowhere near as good as their 11-5 record, as that was powered by 7 wins by 7 points or fewer against teams that finished 7-9 or worse. They started out looking like that team, barely beating Oakland and losing to Miami in back-to-back home games. However, then they went on a roll over a 6 game stretch that included wins over good teams (Denver, Seattle, San Francisco) and blowout wins (34 point win in Jacksonville) that their 2012 season just didn’t have.

However, then after the bye they came out and looked like their 2012 team or even worse, with 3 point wins over Tennessee and Houston and then an 8 point win over Tennessee, but also a 29 point loss against Arizona, a 14 point loss against Cincinnati, and a 30 point loss against St. Louis. They had a -59 point differential over a 6 game stretch in which they got blown out by every decent team they faced and barely beat mediocre football teams. It reeked of 2012. However, since then, they’ve blown out the Texans by 22 and then went into Kansas City and won convincingly by 16 against a good football team.

Overall on the season, they’re not as good as their 10-5 record, as they have a 5-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and unsustainable +11 turnover margin, which is why they are 17th in rate of moving the chains differential. However, they are definitely better than they were last season and they should be able to blow out the Jaguars here at home. I’m just concerned with how inconsistent the Colts are and that the Jaguars have been playing a little better of late. It’s a no confidence pick.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 10

Pick against spread: Indianapolis -11.5

Confidence: None

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Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-7)

I’m going to keep this one short. If you bet any money on this game, you’re a degenerate gambler. Seek help. Kansas City has already locked up the 5 seed in the AFC. Andy Reid, like he did several times in Philadelphia, will only play his starters for a series or two, much like a pre-season game, and then get his 2nd team some reps, so guys can rest for the playoffs.

It’s the right call. Some people seem to believe Reid should play his starters for momentum purposes, whatever that means, but there’s no evidence that there’s any benefit to that. Since 2002, teams that lose week 17 are 15-15 in the first round of the playoffs. Teams who win week 17 are 29-29. What there is evidence for is that it is possible for a bone to break or a muscle or ligament to tear during a week 17 game. Keep your guys healthy and focus on the playoffs. Momentum doesn’t exist.

San Diego, meanwhile, could have the meaning from this game sucked out of it before it even starts. The only way they can make the playoffs is if both Miami and Baltimore lose. Both of those teams play in the earlier time slot, while the Chargers play in the late afternoon slot. Chances are, one of those teams will win their game and eliminate San Diego before this one even starts. They could still give it their all in spite of that and play for future jobs and playing time and they’ll certainly be game planning all week like it’s a meaningful game. However, would you really blame them for giving it less than 100% hours after getting eliminated? And also, how do you game plan for an opponent’s 2nd string?

That brings me to my 2nd point. How good is Kansas City’s 2nd string? Probably not very good, but how not very good? Are they better than every NFL’s teams 1st strings? Also, how much will Andy Reid rest his starters? Will they play one drive? Will they play two? Will he only rest his stars and play the rest of his starters? What constitutes a star? How good is Kansas City with some starters? How good are they with starters playing one drive? How good are they with starters playing two drives? How am I supposed to figure this one out and will San Diego even be in a position we’re they’re taking this one seriously? How did the odds makers even come up with a spread for this one? Where did 9.5 come from? Do the odds makers even know or did they just throw a dart at a board? I think San Diego will probably win this game, but that’s about where the even semi-confident predictions stop.

I do have to give a pick, for my own records and for people with ATS pick ‘em leagues, so I’m going with San Diego, for two reasons. One is simply to fade the public, who seems to be very confidently on Kansas City for whatever reason. The public always loses money in the long run (probably because they bet on ridiculous games like this) so it’s a good idea to be on the opposite side of them. That’s a good tiebreaker when you need one.

The 2nd reason is because I feel San Diego is an underrated team. They are 8-7, but 5-2 in games decided by more than a touchdown and just 3-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They are moving the chains at a 78.56% rate, as opposed to 75.33% for their opponents, a differential of 3.22%, which ranks 9th in the NFL. They would deserve to be 9.5 point favorites over anyone from St. Louis (23rd in rate of moving the chains differential) and worse.

I don’t know how to compare whatever Kansas City is coming with this week vs. the St. Louis Rams, but the Rams are probably better, though, again, I don’t know what San Diego’s mental state is going to be. However, because the Chargers are underrated, I’m going to assume we’re getting line value with them somehow, fade the public and take the Chargers, gun to my head. But again, if you bet money on this game, seek help.

Side note: I just read the first sentence of this and saw that it said “I’m going to keep this short” and realized I wrote over 750 words. Apparently I’m incapable of keeping it short because I just wrote 750 words on how I don’t know anything about this game. Maybe I should seek help.

San Diego Chargers 31 Kansas City Chiefs 20

Pick against spread: San Diego -9.5

Confidence: None

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Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (6-9) at New England Patriots (11-4)

I’m torn on this. On one hand, New England hasn’t been doing a lot of winning pretty this season. Of their 11 wins, only 4 have come by more than a touchdown and one of those, a 27-17 win over Miami, was a lot closer than the final score would suggest. On top of that, just 5 of the Patriots’ wins have come by more than a field goal as they have a ridiculous 6 wins by a touchdown or less. Considering this line is 9 points, that matters. Even last week when the Patriots beat the Ravens 41-7, they only had 20 points before garbage time and two return touchdowns. The first down battle (21 to 19 New England) was much closer than the final score.

Because of this, the Patriots only rank 10th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential. They move the chains at a 74.11 rate, as opposed to 71.03% for their opponents, a differential of 3.08%. The Bills, meanwhile, come in 18th, moving the chains at a 66.03% rate, as opposed to 66.88% for their opponents, a differential of -0.85%. That suggests this line should be closer to 7, rather than 9. The Patriots have also had issues covering large spreads like this recently, going 8-16 ATS as 7.5+ point favorites since 2010.

However, on the other hand, the Bills are in a terrible spot on the road coming off of a blowout win as divisional home underdogs. Teams are 28-55 ATS since 1989 on the road off of a 10+ point home win as divisional underdogs. It makes sense, as teams tend to have hangover effects off of that type of big win, which can hurt their focus. At the end of the day, I’m taking the Bills and fading the public, but I’m not confident. I’ll just hope for a touchdown game.

New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against spread: Buffalo +9

Confidence: None

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Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)

The Lions are such a frustrating team. They have the talent to be 11-4 right now, but they’re 7-8. The things that are plaguing them, close losses (3-5 record in games decided by a touchdown or less), turnovers (-14), and recovering fumbles (40.00%) are things that usually are inconsistent in the long run, but they seem to consistently plague this team. I make my picks with the assumption that those things tend to be inconsistent (which they do), but it’s not going to work perfectly every time for every team in every situation. I’m hitting about 60% of my picks against the spread on the season, which is almost impossible, but even then I’m wrong about 40% of the time. It’s the nature of against the spread picking.

Their problems might not be fixed until they fire Jim Schwartz and get a more disciplined head coach in this off-season. If they do that, they have the potential to be a very, very good football team in 2014 because, at their best, they’re as good as anyone in the NFL. They might be one of my sleepers as I think forward to 2014. Depending on what happens this off-season, I could see them doing something like what Carolina did this season. They are on the verge of going 12-4, winning the NFC South, and getting the 2nd seed, which is exactly what I had them doing at the beginning of the season. As for this week though, it could be tough to back the Lions again, but there are reasons why they could be a smart bet.

In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, which nullifies the effect of inconsistent things like close losses, fumble recovery, and turnovers, they do rank 5th. They move the chains at a 74.46% rate, as opposed to 68.24% for their opponents, a differential of 6.22%. They have 65 more first downs than their opponents (only New Orleans and Denver are better), 13 fewer punts than their opponents (again only New Orleans and Denver are better), and have scored 43 touchdowns to 22 field goal attempts, as opposed to 32 touchdowns and 40 field goal attempts for their opponents. They are +11 in touchdown margin, which is 6th in the NFL, and -18 in field goal attempt margin, which is best in the NFL. Turnovers are their only problem.

The Vikings, meanwhile, rank much lower, coming in at 30th in rate of moving the chains differential, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given their 4-10-1 record. They move the chains at a 70.45% rate, as opposed to 76.52% for their opponents, a differential of -6.07%. That suggests that this line, instead of being Minnesota -3, should be Detroit -9. That’s too much to ignore, no matter how bad the Lions have been failing to live up to expectations of late. I’m not incredibly confident or anything, but there’s no way these two teams are equal on a neutral field, which is what this line would suggest.

I’m making this is a medium confidence pick for now. Don’t put any money on Detroit +3 yet though as I’m waiting to see the status of both Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson before I actually place a bet. Both could be out this week, but both could also play. If Adrian Peterson plays and Calvin Johnson does not, I’ll probably lower this to a low confidence pick, depending on where this line will be. I could also chicken out and drop it to a low confidence pick if Johnson is ruled out, regardless of Peterson’s status, if I change my mind or I don’t like where the line is at that point, but for now I do like the Lions this week, as long as we’re getting a field goal and Johnson plays.

Update: Leaving it at medium confidence. Adrian Peterson is listed as doubtful and Toby Gerhart is out. Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, could play, despite not practicing all week, as he’s listed as questionable and will be a game time decision. Besides, doesn’t the Lions winning a meaningless game convincingly against a bad team after their season is over seems like a very Lions thing to do. They have a ton of talent and could live up to it now that the pressure is off.

Detroit Lions 24 Minnesota Vikings 17 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

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