2014 NFL All-Pro Picks

QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)

RB LeVeon Bell (Pittsburgh)

WR Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh), Jordy Nelson (Green Bay), Odell Beckham (NY Giants)

TE Rob Gronkowski (New England)

OT Andrew Whitworth (Cincinnati), Jason Peters (Philadelphia)

G Marshal Yanda (Baltimore), Josh Sitton (Green Bay)

C Nick Mangold (NY Jets)

IDL JJ Watt (Houston), Sheldon Richardson (NY Jets)

ER Von Miller (Denver), Justin Houston (Kansas City)

NRLB Dont’a Hightower (New England), Luke Kuechly (Carolina)

CB Chris Harris (Denver), Vontae Davis (Indianapolis), Richard Sherman (Seattle)

S Eric Weddle (San Diego), Harrison Smith (Minnesota)

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers: 2014 Wild Card Round NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (11-5) at Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)

The Panthers went into Atlanta last week and won 34-3, winning the NFC South and securing a home playoff game with a record of 7-8-1. After the game, Tony Dungy remarked that he believed the Panthers could go into Seattle and knock off the Seahawks the way they’re playing right now. That’s slightly hyperbolic, but I don’t disagree with his pro-Panthers sentiment. I was actually rooting for Seattle to lose and Arizona to win (even though I took Seattle -13 for a no confidence pick) early in those two games when they scenario was happening because I felt we could get a lot of line value with the Panthers as likely touchdown home underdogs to the Seahawks, who would fall to the 5th seed if they lost and Arizona won.

Unfortunately, Seattle did win and Arizona ended up losing anyway. Now Carolina hosts the Cardinals, which is a much easier matchup for them, but we’re not getting nearly as much line value with the Panthers as we would with them as touchdown home underdogs to Seattle. Still, the Panthers do seem like the right side here. The public is split, understanding that the Panthers are playing good football right now and understanding that the Cardinals are not the same team without Carson Palmer and even without Drew Stanton, but hesitant to lay a bunch of points with the Panthers. Despite the public’s hesitance and ambivalence, the line has moved from 4.5 to 6 and even 6.5 in some places over the past couple of days, suggesting heavy sharp action on the host.

I understand why the sharps are doing so and I agree with them. Aside from Seattle, Carolina is the hottest team in football coming into the playoffs. They’ve won 4 straight games and their rate of moving the chains differential when adjusted for strength of schedule is the 2nd best among playoff teams over the past 4 games, only trailing Seattle. In general, they’ve been great since the bye, only losing in Minnesota in a game that Carolina had a highly fluky two punts blocked and returned for touchdowns, the first time anything like that had happening in about 40 years.

Over those past 5 games since their bye, they’ve moved the chains at a 77.38% rate, as opposed to 61.98% for their opponents. The biggest difference is they’ve had Jonathan Stewart come back healthy and rush for 486 yards on 91 carries (5.34 YPA) and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is finally once again getting the most out of his defense, despite massive personnel turnover from last season. Their schedule has been very easy over those past 5 games, as none of those 5 teams made the playoffs, but, as I mentioned earlier, even when adjusting for strength of schedule, they’re still a red hot team coming into the post-season. They’re outplaying these non-playoff teams far more than the average team does.

Besides, it’s not like Arizona is really playing like a playoff team right now. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential on the season, the Cardinals are the worst among teams who made the playoffs and even when you take strength of schedule into account, they’re only 0.01% ahead of Cincinnati for 11th out of 12 playoff teams. On the season, they moved the chains at a 69.70% rate, as opposed to 69.83% for their opponents, a differential of -0.13% that ranks 17th in the NFL.

Even Carolina is ranked 14th on the season, moving the chains at a 73.64% rate, as opposed to 72.50% for their opponents, a differential of 1.14%. Arizona’s 11-5 record has been buoyed by a 4-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and their +11 point differential is 2nd worst among qualifying playoff teams, only ahead of these Panthers and that doesn’t even tell the whole story. The Cardinals have benefitted from tough to sustain things like a 62.07% rate of recovering fumbles (best in the NFL), a +8 turnover margin, and a +4 return touchdown margin, while the Panthers recover just 50.00% of their fumbles, have just a -3 turnover margin, and a -2 return touchdown margin.

Also, while the Panthers are the 2nd hottest team coming into the playoffs, the Cardinals are the coldest, by a long-shot. Their defense has been above average over the past 4 games, as it has been all season, but their offense has moved the chains at a rate -4.67% worse than expected given their strength of schedule over the past 4 games, which makes sense, considering they’re down to their 3rd quarterback. On the season, they’ve moved the chains at a 73.58% rate in games started by Carson Palmer and a 67.03% rate in games started by other quarterbacks.

They’ve also been worse on the road than at home this season, particularly without Palmer, moving the chains at a 68.83% rate, as opposed to 69.53% for their opponents, a differential of -0.70%. That might not seem horrible, but in games started by quarterbacks other than Carson Palmer, they move the chains at a 64.02% rate on the road. Lindley had a decent performance in San Francisco last week against a banged up San Francisco defense, as he completed 23 of 39 for 316 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, moving the chains at a 80.00% rate, which should give Arizona fans some hope, but this is still a quarterback that completes 50.8% of his passes for 4.98 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in his career over 264 attempts. Quarterbacks are 11-22 ATS since 2002 in their first post-season start anyway. Bruce Arians gets the most out of his quarterbacks, but I’m still going with the sharps and taking Carolina at 6 before this line gets any higher.

Carolina Panthers 20 Arizona Cardinals 9

Pick against the spread: Carolina -6

Confidence: High

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Rate of Moving the Chains – Wild Card Round

What is this? This is rate of moving the chains, which is my primary statistic for handicapping games. It holds the assumption that the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). In order to figure out how often teams meet that goal, I take first downs plus touchdowns and divide it by first downs plus touchdowns plus failures to move the chains (successes divided by attempts). Failures to move the chains include punts, turnovers, failed 4th downs, and field goal attempts (being forced to kick a field goal is a failure). I have this sorted by percent for (to evaluate offenses), percent against (to evaluate defenses), and differentials (to evaluate teams).

Offense

First Downs Touchdowns Field Goals Punts Turnovers Failed 4ths Safeties
1 GB 356 52 33 51 13 6 3 79.38%
2 NO 395 49 22 58 30 7 0 79.14%
3 PIT 379 43 32 62 21 5 0 77.86%
4 DAL 342 53 29 58 25 3 1 77.30%
5 DEN 360 55 29 69 20 7 0 76.85%
6 NE 361 47 37 67 13 6 0 76.84%
7 BAL 345 43 34 60 20 9 0 75.93%
8 MIA 361 39 37 59 23 12 0 75.33%
9 SEA 328 40 37 62 14 8 1 75.10%
10 IND 371 51 31 69 31 9 1 74.96%
11 ATL 330 39 32 67 23 8 1 73.80%
12 CAR 347 33 35 74 23 4 0 73.64%
13 SD 326 37 26 75 23 6 0 73.63%
14 KC 309 36 30 71 17 7 1 73.25%
15 CHI 322 38 16 72 29 15 0 73.17%
16 PHI 356 43 36 76 36 4 0 72.41%
17 NYG 336 43 26 81 28 11 0 72.19%
18 CIN 313 39 33 73 26 6 0 71.84%
19 DET 310 33 38 68 20 10 1 71.46%
20 SF 303 30 31 73 22 8 0 71.31%
21 WAS 318 33 27 78 31 12 0 70.34%
22 HOU 313 34 35 84 22 7 1 69.96%
23 ARZ 302 27 33 92 17 1 0 69.70%
24 MIN 288 29 35 76 20 6 2 69.52%
25 STL 288 31 30 81 27 6 0 68.90%
26 NYJ 289 27 39 79 24 7 1 67.81%
27 CLE 294 29 32 93 23 9 0 67.29%
28 TB 263 28 24 79 33 8 2 66.59%
29 BUF 273 30 38 86 23 8 2 65.87%
30 TEN 258 26 22 89 26 11 2 65.44%
31 JAX 271 24 26 96 26 12 2 64.55%
32 OAK 248 26 22 109 29 6 0 62.27%

 

Defense

First Downs Touchdowns Field Goals Punts Turnovers Failed 4ths Safeties
1 BUF 302 26 37 88 30 6 1 66.94%
2 SEA 277 25 24 83 24 6 1 68.64%
3 ARZ 300 31 32 78 25 8 0 69.83%
4 DEN 311 38 28 88 25 7 1 70.08%
5 STL 301 30 29 76 25 10 0 70.28%
6 IND 309 41 19 90 26 13 0 70.28%
7 KC 310 26 37 78 14 13 0 70.29%
8 BAL 311 30 36 76 22 9 1 70.31%
9 DET 310 31 23 82 27 9 1 70.60%
10 HOU 329 34 22 83 34 11 1 70.62%
11 CLE 348 35 34 86 29 7 1 70.93%
12 PHI 338 44 27 91 28 9 0 71.14%
13 NE 329 30 37 65 25 15 0 71.66%
14 CIN 337 34 32 75 26 9 3 71.90%
15 NYJ 300 41 32 81 13 4 1 72.25%
16 OAK 320 46 38 83 14 5 0 72.33%
17 SD 307 35 34 69 18 8 1 72.46%
18 CAR 309 39 28 72 26 6 0 72.50%
19 MIA 309 40 34 61 25 9 3 72.56%
20 SF 308 36 20 74 29 7 0 72.57%
21 NYG 326 40 31 75 26 6 0 72.62%
22 JAX 330 39 35 75 20 6 1 72.92%
23 MIN 321 36 31 76 19 5 0 73.16%
24 WAS 307 46 26 80 19 4 0 73.24%
25 PIT 314 39 32 68 21 4 1 73.70%
26 DAL 315 40 18 67 31 10 0 73.80%
27 GB 339 37 24 62 27 13 1 74.75%
28 TEN 357 45 39 73 16 6 1 74.86%
29 TB 353 43 39 64 25 4 0 75.00%
30 CHI 325 46 39 49 24 7 0 75.71%
31 ATL 358 41 38 56 28 4 0 76.00%
32 NO 345 43 32 63 17 4 2 76.68%

 

Differential

1 DEN 6.77%
2 SEA 6.47%
3 BAL 5.62%
4 NE 5.18%
5 IND 4.67%
6 GB 4.63%
7 PIT 4.16%
8 DAL 3.49%
9 KC 2.96%
10 MIA 2.77%
11 NO 2.46%
12 PHI 1.28%
13 SD 1.17%
14 CAR 1.14%
15 DET 0.86%
16 CIN -0.06%
17 ARZ -0.13%
18 NYG -0.43%
19 HOU -0.66%
20 BUF -1.07%
21 SF -1.27%
22 STL -1.38%
23 ATL -2.20%
24 CHI -2.54%
25 WAS -2.90%
26 CLE -3.63%
27 MIN -3.64%
28 NYJ -4.43%
29 JAX -8.37%
30 TB -8.41%
31 TEN -9.42%
32 OAK -10.06%

 

Playoff Team Differential

1 DEN 6.77%
2 SEA 6.47%
3 BAL 5.62%
4 NE 5.18%
5 IND 4.67%
6 GB 4.63%
7 PIT 4.16%
8 DAL 3.49%
9 CAR 1.14%
10 DET 0.86%
11 CIN -0.06%
12 ARZ -0.13%

 

One thing I did differently this week is I calculated rate of moving the chains differential for the playoff teams adjusted for strength of schedule. I took the combined rate of moving the chains differential of each playoff team’s 16 opponents and compared it with the playoff team’s differential to figure out what portion of a team’s success and failure can be attributed to their schedule to give us a differential over average. I also did the same with offenses and defenses.

Playoff Team Schedule Adjusted Differential

1 DEN 6.92%
2 SEA 6.78%
3 NE 5.40%
4 BAL 4.94%
5 GB 4.32%
6 IND 3.87%
7 PIT 3.24%
8 DAL 2.77%
9 CAR 1.16%
10 DET 0.56%
11 ARZ 0.49%
12 CIN 0.48%

 

Playoff Team Schedule Adjusted Offense

1 GB 6.68%
2 DEN 5.77%
3 PIT 5.47%
4 NE 5.27%
5 DAL 4.99%
6 SEA 3.31%
7 BAL 3.00%
8 IND 2.69%
9 CAR 0.08%
10 CIN -0.71%
11 DET -1.91%
12 ARZ -1.95%

 

Playoff Team Schedule Adjusted Defense

1 SEA 3.48%
2 DET 2.47%
3 ARZ 2.44%
4 BAL 1.94%
5 CIN 1.19%
6 IND 1.18%
7 DEN 1.15%
8 CAR 1.08%
9 NE 0.12%
10 DAL -2.22%
11 PIT -2.23%
12 GB -2.36%

 

Another new thing I did this week is I broke out schedule adjusted differential into a team’s last 4 games and into a team’s last 8 weeks instead of just the whole season. The motivation for this is because I started the season 100-60 against the spread in the first 11 weeks of the season, but just 43-49 in the final 6 weeks. A similar thing happened over the last 2 seasons and I think part of it is because I’m putting too much stock into old data. This allows me to find out which teams are “hot” at the moment, something that might be masked by the season long data.

Playoff Team Schedule Adjusted Differential (last 4 weeks)

1 SEA 16.11%
2 CAR 15.06%
3 DAL 10.84%
4 BAL 10.56%
5 NE 6.82%
6 CIN 6.77%
7 PIT 6.20%
8 GB 5.76%
9 DEN 3.00%
10 IND 1.55%
11 DET 0.05%
12 ARZ -3.17%

 

Playoff Team Schedule Adjusted Differential (last 8 weeks)

1 SEA 11.68%
2 NE 11.27%
3 GB 8.08%
4 DEN 6.67%
5 PIT 5.44%
6 BAL 4.60%
7 CAR 4.59%
8 CIN 3.12%
9 DAL 1.02%
10 ARZ 0.22%
11 IND -0.21%
12 DET -1.18%

2014 Week 17 NFL Pick Results

Week 17

Straight Up: 11-5

Against the Spread: 11-5

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence: 0-1

Medium Confidence: 5-2

Low Confidence: 2-1

No Confidence: 3-1

Upset Picks: 1-1

2014

Straight Up: 162-93-1 (.635)

Against the Spread: 143-109-4 (.567)

Pick of the Week: 9-7-1

High Confidence: 8-11

Medium Confidence: 54-30

Low Confidence: 34-29-2

No Confidence: 38-32-1

Upset Picks: 18-25

Pre-season Prop Bets: 4-2

2013

Straight Up: 178-88-1 (.669)

Against the Spread: 148-110-9 (.574)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1

High Confidence: 25-10-1

Medium Confidence: 32-26

Low Confidence: 39-28-3

No Confidence: 42-40-4

Upset Picks: 27-30

Pre-season Prop Bets: 8-3

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8)

This line has shifted from 4 to 6 over the past week. Normally, I love fading significant line movements because they tend to be overreactions. Rate of moving the chains also says this line is too high, as the Cardinals rank 16th, moving the chains at a 69.52% rate, as opposed to 69.49% for their opponents, a differential of 0.03%, while the 49ers rank 20th, moving the chains at a 70.81% rate, as opposed to 72.15% for their opponents, a differential of -1.33% Their defense is also really hurting, losing Chris Borland, Eric Reid, and Ray McDonald for a variety of reasons in the last couple of weeks. However, this line might be warranted. The Cardinals were embarrassed at home by the Seahawks last week in a 35-6 loss that could have been worse if the Seahawks had made two makeable field goals. The Cardinals moved the chains at a mere 58.62% rate, as opposed to 80.00% for the Seahawks.

The 49ers aren’t as good as the Seahawks obviously and the Cardinals will be switching from Ryan Lindley to Logan Thomas at quarterback and I don’t think he could possibly be worse than Lindley, who, somehow in the modern age of football, has completed just 49.3% of his passes for an average of 4.44 YPA, 0 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions and has shown a stunning lack of accuracy and poor ball placement dating back to his San Diego State days. However, Thomas is a 4th round rookie and is just 1 of 8 in his career and, while that 1 completion went for 81 yards, it was on a dumpoff to a running back. The Cardinals only moved the chains at a 67.18% rate with Drew Stanton under center and figure to once again be even worse than that this week with Thomas under center. It’s hard to be confident in him, though I ultimately am going with the Cardinals.

San Francisco 49ers 13 Arizona Cardinals 9

Pick against the spread: Arizona +6

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

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

The Broncos lost last week in Cincinnati, but they still rank 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential. Manning isn’t playing as good of football as he was last season and he’s coming off of one of the worst games of his career, but this is still a very complete team that runs the ball and plays defense better than they did last season. They move the chains at a 76.74% rate, as opposed to 71.10% for their opponents, a differential of 5.64%. Despite that, people seem to be jumping off the bandwagon. The public is actually on the Raiders here as 14 point underdogs, which is notable because the public always loses money in the long run and the public never takes big underdogs.

As they usually are, the public is wrong here. This line is way too low. The Raiders, despite some recent success, still stink, moving the chains at a 63.07% rate, as opposed to 72.01% for their opponents, a differential of -8.94% that is still the league’s worst. They’ve been even worse away from Oakland, moving the chains at a 57.85% rate, as opposed to 70.04% for their opponents, a differential of 12.19% in 8 games, including a neutral site “home game” in London week 4 against the Dolphins.

The Raiders have won three straight home games in big upset fashion, which is part of why the public likes them here, but they’ve still had issues on the road recently. Besides, teams are 65-85 ATS off of home victories as 6+ point underdogs. On the other side, the Broncos have had no problem taking care of bad teams in the Peyton Manning era, going 16-10 ATS as home favorites, including 6-3 ATS as home favorites of 10 or more. The only reason this isn’t a bigger play is because the Raiders have been a sneaky good ATS team this season, going 8-7 ATS, including road covers against Seattle, New England, and San Diego. They’re also 4-2 ATS in their last 6, though just 1-2 ATS on the road.

Denver Broncos 34 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -14

Confidence: Low

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Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington Redskins (4-11)

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, this line has shifted from 8 to 6 over the past week. I love fading significant line movements as they’re often overreactions. This line movement could very well be an overreaction. While the Redskins beat the Eagles last week, they could have lost and lost fairly easily if not for two Philadelphia missed field goals, both of which were makeable, and a couple 50/50 balls to DeSean Jackson that went their way. They lost the first down battle 30-21 in that one and the Eagles moved the chains at an 82.50% rate, as opposed to 77.42% for the Redskins. Teams are 65-85 ATS off of a win as 6+ point home underdogs since 1989 anyway, likely because those types of upset victories usually are fluky and precede significant line movements.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been significantly better on the road this season, going 7-0, as opposed to 4-4 at home. They’ve moved the chains at a 78.13% rate on the road, as opposed to 73.46% for their opponents, a differential of 4.67%. At home, they move the chains at a 76.86% rate, as opposed to 74.79% for their opponents, a differential of 2.07%. This is nothing new for them are they are 22-16 ATS on the road since 2010, as opposed to 14-26 ATS at home.

On the other hand, the Redskins have been better than their record all season. Last week was a fluky win, but they’ve had some fluky losses and also some close losses that could have gone either way. Even when you take into account that the Cowboys have been better on the road and the line movement, we’re still getting some line value with the Redskins. The Redskins move the chains at a 70.75% rate on the season, as opposed to 73.11% for their opponents, a differential of -2.36% that ranks 25th in the NFL, significantly better than their record would suggest. The Cowboys also don’t have a ton to play for here as they’re locked into the #3 seed unless both Seattle and Arizona lose so they could be caught looking forward off of such a big win last week. The line movement might have more to do with that than anything. At the end of the day, I’m going with the Redskins and fading the public, but I wouldn’t wager a cent on it.

Dallas Cowboys 27 Washington Redskins 24

Pick against the spread: Washington +6

Confidence: None

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