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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Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (2-13) at Tennessee Titans (6-9)

Firing Gary Kubiak and replacing him with Wade Phillips didn’t seem to fix anything. They’ve lost their last two games by margins of 22 and 24 points, despite losing 8 of their previous 11 games by a touchdown or less. Sure they were facing tough teams in the Colts and Broncos, but they had been within a field goal of Kansas City, Arizona, New England, and Indianapolis under Kubiak. All Phillips seems to have done is help this team get closer to the #1 pick, which I guess could have been the goal.

However, teams tend to cover the spread off of back-to-back losses by 21 points or more, going 39-21 ATS in that spot since 2002. The Giants got blown out in back-to-back weeks before last week and then they went into Detroit and won as 9 point underdogs. Teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. All 3 could be true for the Texans here this week.

However, I don’t know if they’ll get up for this one and be competitive, given the way they’ve been playing since Wade Phillips took over. He doesn’t seem to being doing a good job of preparing this team. I’m especially concerned about the Texans since their last two games were much more important to them than this one. After getting blown out by the Colts and Broncos, against whom they played very tough, keeping it within a field goal late, they could just mail it in against the Titans. You wouldn’t think they would because they are professionals playing for future contracts and future playing time, but it’s happened before.

We’re not really getting any significant line value with the Texans either. They are better their record. As I mentioned, they’ve had a lot of close losses and they’ve played good teams close. They move the chains at a 66.88% rate, as opposed to 69.72%, a differential of -2.84% that ranks 21st in the NFL. The Titans, meanwhile, move the chains at a 72.11% rate, as opposed to 72.03% for their opponents, a differential of 0.09% that ranks 16th in the NFL. That suggests this line should be around 6, instead of 7. It’s something, but it’s not significant enough line value to be confident in the Texans here, especially with the way they’ve been playing under Phillips.

If I had to take a side, I would take the Texans, as we are getting a little bit of line value with them and because of that aforementioned trend, but I can’t be confident in them at all. It’s not just because of what I mentioned earlier, but also because both of these teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. Ordinarily, I don’t like betting on games in which both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs, because you never know what their individual motivations are. Sure, they’re probably going to continue trying because the majority of the individual players are playing for their jobs and salaries in 2014, but you can never be sure. I only pick a side confidently in a matchup like this when there’s a very clear right side. That’s not the case here at all.

Tennessee Titans 17 Houston Texans 13

Pick against spread: Houston +7

Confidence: None

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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-11) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

The situational trends say Cleveland is the right side here. For one, Cleveland is in their 2nd straight road game. Historically, teams lose by an average of 3.07 points per game on the road after a home game and 2.07 points per game on the road after a road game, as far back as my data goes (1989). One trend that goes off of this is that teams are 101-64 ATS as road underdogs off of a road loss since 2008. The Browns are in that situation off of a loss in New York to the Jets last week.

Another powerful trend is that teams who lose as divisional home favorites are 48-23 ATS since 2002 as road dogs in the same season, regular season rematch. It makes sense. Matchups where the team who is favored is dependent on the location tend to be matchups between very even teams and very even teams tend to split the season series no matter what. If you’ve lost as home favorites, you have to win as road underdogs in this situation to split the season series. Teams in this situation do win as road underdogs at a .500 rate since 2002 (39-39) and an even higher percentage, as previously mentioned, about 2/3rds, cover the spread, as the previous loss artificially inflates the spread. The Browns have room to play with here because they are 7 point underdogs so they can easily cover even if they don’t win.

However, that assumes these two teams are equal, which I don’t think is true. Cleveland is not playing good football right now, as they are on a 6 game losing streak and lost by 11 to the Jets last week, the Jets’ biggest win of the season in terms of margin of victory. They haven’t won at all since they were 2 point home favorites for the Steelers week 12. The Steelers, meanwhile, are better than their 7-8 record, as they are 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

They are moving the chains at a 71.90% rate, as opposed to 71.33% for their opponents, a differential of 0.57%, which ranks 13th in the NFL. The Browns, meanwhile, are all the way down at 24th, moving the chains at a 68.18% rate, as opposed to 71.78% for their opponents, a differential of -3.60%. That suggests this line should be around 7, which is where is it, so we’re not getting any real line value, but it kind of nullifies some (but not all) of that aforementioned trend because these two teams are not comparable.

On top of that, the Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers usually dominate the division. They are 37-23 ATS in divisional games since 2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year, including 34-18 ATS in games in which Ben Roethlisberger starts. On top of that, they are 10-4 ATS in divisional games in which they are favored by a touchdown or more at home since 2004. At the end of the day, the Browns are probably the right choice because they have powerful situational trends on their side, but I’m not confident at all. Pittsburgh is also my Survivor Pick of the week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Cleveland Browns 13 Survivor Pick

Pick against spread: Cleveland +7

Confidence: None

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Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-11)

This is an important game to the Panthers for seeding purposes. If they win and Seattle were to lose, they would become the #1 seed and have home field advantage all the way to the Super Bowl. However, if they were to lose and New Orleans were to win, they’d fall all the way from the 2nd seed to the 5th seed, not only losing a first round bye in the process, but also losing guaranteed home field advantage through to the NFC Championship game. Atlanta, meanwhile, is obviously eliminated, but they’ll still play hard to try to ruin the plans of a divisional rival. They’ve been playing decent football of late and they clearly have not quit as players are playing for future playing time and contracts.

The Panthers usually blow out bad teams. The Falcons are playing better of late, but they’re still a bad team, exemplified by the fact that they are rightfully 6.5 point underdogs here at home. The Panthers haven’t always held their own in close games against top level teams like this year, but they’ve always destroyed bad teams, going 6-1 ATS as favorites of 6 or more since 2011, the start of the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era. That one ATS loss was a 10 point win as 11 point favorites against the Jets a few weeks ago so it’s not like it wasn’t close to being a cover. The Jets backdoored them with a garbage time touchdown late down 30-13. They’ve still won all 7 of those games by an average of 18.72 points per game.

Given that, the Panthers should be the right side, but it’s not a big play. That alone isn’t enough to go on for a significant play and it’s not like we’re getting line significant value as I have this line calculated at exactly a touchdown, which is where it basically is at right now. Carolina could also be a little hungover after last week’s huge comeback win over New Orleans, though Atlanta too could be flat off of a crushing road loss on Monday Night Football to the 49ers in what was pretty much their Super Bowl. Of course, they could also see this one as a big game because of the Panthers’ record and because they are a divisional rival. At the end of the day, the Panthers should be the right side as long as the line stays under a touchdown, but I’m not that confident.

Carolina Panthers 23 Atlanta Falcons 13

Pick against spread: Carolina -6.5

Confidence: Low

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2013 Head Coaches Likely to be Fired

Likely to be fired

Mike Munchak (Tennessee)

Mike Munchak’s name has been on the hot seat for a while in Tennessee, with many believing he’d be fired last off-season. He was kept around, predictably as he had only finished his 2nd season with the team, but this time around he might not be so lucky. Munchak has a 21-26 record in 3 seasons and has failed to take the team to the playoffs. This year, the Titans are 6-9, heading into a week 17 home finale against the Texans. Owner Bud Adams, who hired Munchak, has died so the team is going to be under new leadership and the new leadership could easily let Munchak go in an attempt to get the team unstuck out of the mud.

Rex Ryan (NY Jets)

Rex Ryan reportedly told his team before their week 16 win over Cleveland that he was getting fired after the season. Reports have refuted that, but still no one would be surprised if Ryan was let go. Ryan and injured reserve quarterback Mark Sanchez are the only real holdovers from that era and with new GM John Idzik in charge, there’s been an expectation for the past year or so that this would be the end of Ryan’s tenure in New York, which saw him go 41-38 (pending week 17), make two NFC Championships, but fail to make the playoffs in each of his final 3 seasons. Now fired former GM Mike Tannenbaum was more to blame for that and I actually don’t agree with letting Ryan go, after he led this bunch to a 7-8 record with his strong defense, but right now it seems inevitable. Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz are the longest tenured NFL head coaches without division titles. In today’s NFL, that likely means you’re gone.

Mike Shanahan (Washington)

This is where it gets messy. There’s no doubt right now owner Dan Snyder wishes Mike Shanahan was gone, after a 24-39 tenure that saw him make the playoffs just once. Shanahan might not even want to be there, after he reportedly thought about resigning last January because he hated working with Snyder, only to be stopped by RG3’s torn ACL and the bad personal PR that would have come with resigning after that. However, Shanahan wants to get his 7 million dollars in 2014 salary and he wouldn’t get that by resigning this off-season, while Snyder doesn’t want to fire him because he’d have to pay him that. You have to think eventually Shanahan will be gone, but it might be messy.

Dennis Allen (Oakland)

Dennis Allen’s record in 2 seasons with the Raiders isn’t that good, as he’s 8-23, but he’s only in his 2nd year and he’s been put into a near impossible situation with a team devoid of talent and in salary cap hell, so I wouldn’t agree with him being let go just yet. However, it doesn’t sound like Mark Davis’ apple has fallen far from his dad’s tree and, now that he’s in charge, he may be just as impatient with head coaches as father Al Davis. Allen’s requests to have his assistants signed to extensions have already been denied by Mark Davis, which is never a good sign.

Jim Schwartz (Detroit)

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that Jim Schwartz needed to make the playoffs to save his job. After being eliminated from the playoffs last week at home to the 6-9 Giants, it would be hard to see Schwartz being kept. The Lions were 6-3, looking at a schedule that featured just one likely playoff team (Philadelphia) over their final 7 games, but now they sit at 7-8 and already on the outside looking in. I have no idea how he keeps his job after that. The Lions are a talented team, but they are consistently plagued by things like losing close games, committing turnovers, and allowing return touchdowns, things that are supposed to be inconsistent. At the end of the day, they need new leadership. They have the talent to be a 12-4 team, but they’ll probably never get there under Schwartz. Schwartz is 29-50 in 5 seasons, with one playoff berth and no division titles.

Borderline

Jason Garrett (Dallas)

There have been conflicting reports on whether or not Jason Garrett is coaching for his job in this week’s NFC East play-in game. Certainly, Garrett being fired after a 29-27 tenure with no playoff appearances in Dallas would be no surprise. However, Romo’s injury might have saved Garrett’s job as it would allow him to deflect blame for a potential week 17 loss to Philadelphia, which would eliminate them from playoff contention. I could see this one going either way.

Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay)

There was a time earlier this season when Schiano seemed like the most likely head coach in the NFL to be canned, after the Buccaneers 0-8 start, which was filled with numerous reports about the players dislike of Schiano’s coaching style. However, now the Buccaneers are 4-11, including some impressive wins, such as double digit wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta and upset wins over a Miami team that will likely make the playoffs and a Detroit team that was still playing well at the time. Of their losses, most have been close and they’ve fought all along. That could be enough to save Schiano’s job, especially since this is only his 2nd season. He has an 11-20 record thus far.

Leslie Frazier (Minnesota)

Leslie Frazier led the upstart Vikings to a 10-6 record last season and looked like a coach of the year candidate, after they went 3-13 the year before. The Vikings predictably picked up his option for 2014, but this is the NFL and now they may be regretting that, as the Vikings are 4-10-1. Frazier is now 20-32-1 as head coach of the Vikings and the Vikings can get out of their mistake of picking up his option by letting him go this off-season. At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if they kept him around for his contract year.

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Washington Redskins at New York Giants: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (3-10) at New York Giants (6-9)

The Giants went into Detroit and beat the Lions last week, while the Redskins lost at home to the Cowboys. Surely the Giants will win at home here against the Redskins and cover this small spread right? Well, that seems to be what the public thinks as they are all over the Giants as mere 4 point favorites. However, this is the NFL. Things can change from a week to week basis very quickly and the odds makers always win in the long run.

The Giants are in a bad spot coming off such an emotional overtime win over the Lions last week. Teams are 24-41 ATS since 2002 as home favorites off of a win by 1-3 points as road underdogs of 3 or more, which makes sense, as teams can be overconfident and overvalued in those situations and suffer a hangover effect. We have seen this line shift from 3 to 4 in the past week, which is something.

As for the Redskins, they’re actually in a good spot after last week’s loss. Teams on a losing streak of 6 or more are 42-24 ATS since 2002 off of a loss by a touchdown or less. Teams on long losing streaks tend to be undervalued because no one wants to bet on them, but some teams on long losing streaks are teams that quit. This isolates out those teams because, if they recently played a close game, they’re probably still fighting. The Redskins covered in this spot last week, losing by a mere point as 3 point home underdogs. They’re still fighting hard, in spite of this lost season, because the players are trying to impress any future coaching staff they may have, or any future team that might have interest in them in free agency.

Besides, while the Giants won last week as road underdogs, a situation they historically do well in since 2004, when Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin first came to town, now they are home favorites, a situation they have not done well in since 2004, especially late in the season. While they are 35-20 ATS as road underdogs since 2004, they are 8-16 ATS as home favorites of 3.5 or more in week 9 or later over that time period. Last week, they had no pressure and were able to take advantage of a choking Detroit team, but now the pressure and the expectations are back on the Giants as significant home favorites. They usually are the ones who choke in that situation.

Home struggles aren’t exclusive just to the Giants. The NFC East in general seems to struggle at home and play well on the road, at least in recent years. They are 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. Given that, the fact that the Redskins almost pulled off the home win last week is actually pretty impressive and I give them a good chance to pull off the road upset here this week. This trend worked against the Redskins the last time these two teams met in week 13, when the Redskins lost a tough one as 1 point home favorites.

Going off of that game, another trend favors the Redskins. Teams who lose as divisional home favorites are 48-23 ATS since 2002 as road dogs in the same season, regular season rematch. It makes sense. Matchups where the team who is favored is dependent on the location tend to be matchups between very even teams and very even teams tend to split the season series no matter what. If you’ve lost as home favorites, you have to win as road underdogs in this situation to split the season series. Teams in this situation do win as road underdogs at a .500 rate since 2002 (39-39) and an even higher percentage, as previously mentioned, about 2/3rds, cover the spread. The Redskins have room to play with here because they are 4 point underdogs so they can cover even if they don’t win.

It might not seem like it, but in spite of their respective records (Giants are 6-9 and the Redskins are 3-10) and what happened last week, these teams are actually very comparable and even. In fact, in terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Redskins actually rank higher. They move the chains at a 71.34% rate, as opposed to 75.88% for their opponents, a differential of -4.54%, which ranks 26th in the NFL. 26th isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s still better than the Giants, who come in 28th. They move the chains at a 65.70% rate, as opposed to 71.46% for their opponents, a differential of -5.76%.

Now, I don’t think the Redskins are better than the Giants as that suggests. Rate of moving the chains differential doesn’t take into account special teams, intentionally as people tend to put too much value into something that is such a small percentage of the plays in a game and so tough to be sustainable good at. However, the Redskins have proven this season that they are sustainable bad at special teams, which is why New York is probably better, but it’s not by a lot. At the very least, this line, which suggests the Giants are a point better than Washington, is accurate and, of course, that’s before we get into the Giants home struggles, the home struggles of the NFC East as a whole, and the individual situations these two teams are in.

The only reason this isn’t a bigger play on Washington is because neither of these two teams has anything to play for in terms of playoffs. Ordinarily, I don’t like betting on games in which both teams have been eliminated from the playoffs, because you never know what their individual motivations are. Sure, they’re probably going to continue trying because the majority of the individual players are playing for their jobs and salaries in 2014, but you can never be sure. However, there’s still enough here for me to be somewhat confident in the Redskins, especially since the Redskins don’t have their own first round pick and don’t have anything to “tank” for. They should be the right side.

Washington Redskins 24 New York Giants 23 Upset Pick +160

Pick against spread: Washington +4

Confidence: Medium

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San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2013 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-5)

The Cardinals proved themselves last week to be a very good football team, going into Seattle, where no one has won in two years, and winning despite losing the turnover battle by 2. Teams rarely are able to overcome a -2 turnover margin, winning just about 17.7% of the time. Winning despite losing the turnover battle by 2 is hard; winning as double digit underdogs despite losing the turnover battle by 2 is even harder. In fact, that was just the 5th time a team had done that since 1989, rising the winning percentage of double digit underdogs who lose the turnover battle by 2 to 4.0%.

It wasn’t just last week. The Cardinals are doing a very impressive job on the season. They are moving the chains at a solid 71.22% rate, while their strong defense is allowing opponents to move the chains at a 68.37% rate, a differential of 2.86% that ranks 11th in the NFL. They’re a comparable football team to their opponents here, the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers rank a little higher, coming in at 8th, moving the chains at a 70.70% rate, as opposed to 67.20% for their opponents, a differential of 3.50%. However, these are definitely comparable teams. In spite of that, the Cardinals are 1.5 point home underdogs here. Rate of moving the chains differential suggests this line should be closer to 2 in favor of Arizona, so we’re getting some significant line value here.

That doesn’t even take into account that Arizona is a much better home team than road team. Arizona has been money at home this season, going 6-1, as opposed to 4-4 on the road. It’s not just their record. It’s how much they’re winning by and who they are beating. They are outscoring opponents by 10.57 points per game at home, which includes that home loss, which came against Seattle. Their average margin of victory is 14.33 points per game. In that 6-1 record is two wins by double digits over likely division winners Indianapolis and Carolina (by a combined 45 points) and a win over a Detroit team week 2 that was much better to start the season than to end the season.

This home dominance is nothing new. Since 2006, they are 42-25 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.37 points per game. On the road, they are 22-44 over that time period, getting outscored by 6.12 points per game. Given that, I don’t think the normal 3 points for home field advantage is appropriate for this team. On top of that, when they are underdogs or small home favorites (2.5 or less), they’ve essentially been an auto-bet over that time period, going 29-12 ATS. Whenever they just need to win to cover a spread at home, they usually get the job done and that’s the case here. Now that they have arguably their best team of that time period (remember, even in their NFC Championship year in 2008, they went 9-7 in the regular season), they are an incredibly tough team to beat at home, as I demonstrated earlier.

The 49ers haven’t done a good job this season against tough opponents. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers have both been incredible this season against bad teams, teams that are currently .500 or worse, going 9-0 in those games, winning by an average of 18.56 points per game. Colin Kaepernick has completed 137 of 216 (63.4%) for 1965 yards (9.10 YPA), 14 touchdowns, and no interceptions, while rushing for 303 yards and 4 touchdowns on 52 carries.

However, against teams that are currently better than .500, they are just 2-4, with both wins coming at home. In those games, Colin Kaepernick is 85 of 166 (51.2%) for 922 yards (5.55 YPA), 5 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, while rushing for 197 yards and no touchdowns on 36 carries. The Cardinals’ tough defense is even tougher at home and could easily give Kaepernick a lot of trouble. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is doing a terrific job this season and will have a great game plan to confuse Kaepernick and he has the personnel to execute it, led by Calais Campbell, Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington, and Patrick Peterson, all of whom are playing at a Pro-Bowl caliber level.

The one concern and the reason why this isn’t a bigger play: teams are 36-56 ATS since 1989 off of a win as road underdogs of 10 or more. It makes sense. Pulling off a huge upset like that tends to make teams overvalued and overconfident and they can experience a hangover effect when they fall back to earth the next week. However, there are two things that nullify that to an extent here. One, I don’t think the Cardinals are overvalued here. As I illustrated earlier, I actually think the Cardinals are undervalued, in spite of last week’s huge win.

On top of that, for whatever reason, the line moved from a pick ‘em to 1.5 in favor of San Francisco over the past week, despite Arizona’s big win. We didn’t lose line value. In fact, just the opposite happened. Two, the Cardinals absolutely need this win to stay alive in the playoff race so that could nullify some of their overconfidence and the potential hangover effect. It’s still a concern, which is why it isn’t a bigger play, but there’s enough here for me to be pretty confident in Arizona.

Arizona Cardinals 17 San Francisco 49ers 10 Upset Pick +105

Pick against spread: Arizona +1.5

Confidence: Medium

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