Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

This line is off as it suggests the Falcons are the better of these two teams, considering they are favored by 4. Meanwhile, rate of moving the chains suggests the Panthers are the better team, as they rank 15th in the NFL, moving the chains at a 73.82% rate, as opposed to 73.29% for their opponents, a differential of 0.53%. The Falcons, on the other hand, rank 21st, moving the chains at a 74.63% rate, as opposed to 76.00% for their opponents, a differential of -1.37%.

The Panthers have been especially good over the past 4 weeks since the bye, as they’ve moved the chains at a 78.72% rate, as opposed to 62.77% for their opponents, a differential of 15.96%. Ron Rivera, 2013 Coach of the Year, has made all the right adjustments and has this team looking like the 2013 version, despite all of the personnel turnover. The 2013 version won 12 games, the NFC South, and got secured a first round bye, while ranking 4th in rate of moving the chains differential. The Panthers’ only loss over the past 4 games came on the road in Minnesota, where they surrendered two fluky punt return touchdowns. Sure, it’s just a 4 game stretch and they’ve played a weak schedule, but the Falcons aren’t exactly a quality opponent so that could carry over into this one.

That being said, the Falcons have definitely resembled a quality opponent this season at home for the most part, moving the chains at a 77.13% rate, as opposed to 75.45% for their opponents, a differential of 1.68%. That’s as opposed to 72.40% for their offense on the road and 76.45% for opponent’s offenses, a differential of -4.05%.  This relative home dominance is nothing new for them as they are 32-22-1 ATS at home (39-16 straight up) since Matt Ryan and Mike Smith came in back in 2008, as long as Matt Ryan is healthy.

Also, fun fact, almost every season a team goes from a first round bye to out of the playoffs. Seattle, Denver, and New England all are going back, which means Carolina would have to lose this game and miss the playoffs for that to continue. Meanwhile, almost every season a team goes from 5 wins or fewer to the playoffs and Atlanta is really the only one still in the running that could do so (Houston technically isn’t eliminated, but they need a lot of help). It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s something I keep in mind when I do my season previews and something to keep in mind here. Of course, Carolina doesn’t need to win to cover as 4 point underdogs here. I’m taking the red hot Panthers, but I’m not that confident.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 30

Pick against the spread: Carolina +4

Confidence: Low

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Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3)

I’m kicking myself for not locking in Buffalo +10.5 before the Bengals/Broncos game. Even when I thought the Broncos were going to win that game and force the Patriots to play their starters week 17, in order to lock up the #1 seed in the AFC, I had Buffalo circled as one of my favorite picks of the week for three reasons. One, there was a huge line movement, with the early line having the Patriots favored by 6.5. That’s a 4 point movement. I love fading huge line movements because they’re almost always overreactions.

That line movement was a result of Buffalo’s loss in Oakland last week, but Kansas City and San Francisco also lost in Oakland. Teams tend to cover off of huge upset losses anyway, going 88-61 ATS since 1989 off of a loss as 6+ point road favorites. On top of that, the Bills are in their 2nd straight road game. This puts them in a good spot. Teams are 113-77 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation.  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 196-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.29 points per game, as opposed to 276-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.19 points per game.

However, the Broncos lost to the Bengals, which made this a meaningless game for the Patriots in the standings and immediately dropped the line to 3.5. Now this game is largely a crapshoot. If the Patriots play their starters a good amount, they should be able to cover, but Bill Belichick is predictably mum on the subject and won’t give anyone any indication of what he’s planning to do this week. This isn’t like Indianapolis/Tennessee, where Chuck Pagano assured the public that he would be playing his starters despite being locked into the #4 seed, in an effort to get his team ready for the playoffs, as he did in 2012 in the same situation, when the Colts ended up beating the Texans and knocking them from the #1 seed to the #3 seed.

However, history suggests that the Patriots will give this their best shot, especially after a disappointing near loss in New York to the Jets last week. The Patriots have never really done the whole “rest your starters” thing week 17 and are 10-2 ATS week 17 since 2002, despite having the #1 seed locked up several times during this week. This game kind of reminds me of 2010, when they were 3.5 point favorites over the 7-8 Dolphins week 17. Brady and the starters played about two and a half quarters, leaving midway through the 3rd with a 31-0 lead in an eventual 38-7 victory and easy cover.

If the Patriots do give this their best shot, this line is way too low and the Patriots should be the right side. The line value would nullify the two situational trends the Bills have in their favor. The sharps seem to agree, as this line has moved from 3.5 to 5 over the past couple days, despite the public being on the underdog. I just can’t be too confident when I don’t know exactly what the Patriots are doing. It’s possible the Patriots play Brady and the offensive line for a half, but rest Julian Edelman (concussion), LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and Rob Gronkowski (history of injuries). I don’t know.

New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: New England -5

Confidence: Low

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Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

The Bengals lost 42-21 at home to the Steelers a few weeks ago in Cincinnati, but they’re in a great revenge spot here as a result. Divisional home favorites are 27-52 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (40-42) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate.

The Chargers are also in this spot this week, but, unlike the Chargers, I’m not taking the Bengals here for a few reasons. For one, the Bengals haven’t been as good in December as the Chargers have been recently. Two, the Bengals aren’t in their 2nd of two road games, like the Chargers are, a good spot. Three, this line is way off. The Bengals exorcised some of their primetime game demons last week in an impressive home victory over the Broncos, but they still rank just 18th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 71.96% rate, as opposed to 72.43% for their opponents, a differential of -0.47%. The Steelers, meanwhile, rank 6th, moving the chains at a 78.52% rate, as opposed to 73.94% for their opponents, a differential of 4.57%. I’m going with the Steelers, though I’m not confident.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -3.5

Confidence: None

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St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

St. Louis Rams (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

The Seahawks had easily the most impressive win of the week last week, going into Arizona, where the Cardinals were 7-0 at home this season and 29-11 ATS since 2007 before the game started, and winning 35-6, despite two missed makeable field goals. Holding a Ryan Lindley led offense to a 58.64% rate of moving the chains isn’t that impressive, but moving the chains at an 80.00% rate on the road against a strong Arizona defense is pretty impressive.

The Seahawks now rank best in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 75.65% rate, as opposed to 69.49% for their opponents, a differential of 6.16%. A Super Bowl champion hasn’t repeated in over a decade, nor have they even won a playoff game over that time period. It’s so hard repeating because of complacency, personnel turnover, exhaustion, and the sheer randomness of the NFL, but the Seahawks have a good chance to at least break that playoff win drought. They look like the best team in the NFL right now and they only need to win this game to lock up homefield advantage through the NFC. That would be especially valuable to them because of how good their homefield advantage historically is.

Since 2007, the Seahawks are 47-20 at home, including playoffs and they aren’t just having success straight up as they are 45-21-1 ATS. They outscore opponents on average by 7.84 points per game at home. This is opposed to a 27-42 record away from home (31-37-1 ATS), getting outscored by 2.80 points per game, a roughly 10.5 point swing. That homefield advantage should help them here as they attempt to lock up the #1 seed. They should win here as 13 point favorites, but whether or not they cover is still up in the air.

While the Seahawks are a great team with a great homefield advantage, this line takes that into account as they are 13 point favorites. And, while their win last week was impressive, the line did move 3 points to compensate as the early line was 10. I love fading huge line movements whenever it makes sense, especially when doing so would also allow me to fade the public, which it would here. Fading that line movement might make sense. The Rams are still a decent team, moving the chains at a 69.57% rate, as opposed to 70.56% for their opponents, a differential of 1.00% that ranks 19th in the NFL. That suggests they should be about 10 point favorites here, before you take into account the Seahawks’ homefield advantage.

The issue is the Seahawks haven’t been as noticeably better at home this season as they have been in recent years. They move the chains at a 75.12% rate at home, as opposed to 68.50% for their opponents, a differential of 6.62%. On the road, they move the chains at a 76.10% rate, as opposed to 70.42% for their opponents, a differential of 5.67%. They’ve still been a tough home team, but I don’t know if a decent Rams team deserves to be 13 point underdogs here. I don’t know if the Rams deserve to be 13 point underdogs anywhere.

This game kind of reminds me of the Seahawks’ week 17 game against the Rams in 2012. They were coming off of a huge 42-13 home win over the 49ers that caused the line in Seahawks/Rams to swell all the way up to 11 and they were only able to win by 7, their first non-cover at home of the season, costing a lot of people a lot of money. I’m taking the Seahawks gun to my head, but I’m not confident at all.

Seattle Seahawks 27 St. Louis Rams 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -13

Confidence: None

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San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)

The Chiefs beat the Chargers in San Diego earlier this season, but that’s because the Chargers were in a terrible spot (the worst spot I’ve seen all since), with a Thursday Night road game in Denver on deck, while the Chiefs only had a home game against St. Louis on deck. This time, the Chargers are the one in the good spot. Not only are they generally very good in December (going 26-5 straight up and 21-10 ATS in weeks 14-17 since 2007), but they’re in their 2nd of two road games, which is usually a good spot.

Teams are 84-61 ATS as road underdogs off of a road win as underdogs since 2002, including 53-38 ATS when it’s a team’s 2nd of two scheduled road games. On top of that, teams are 17-9 ATS since 1989 when that road win as underdogs came in overtime, including 11-5 ATS in the 2nd of two scheduled 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 196-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.29 points per game, as opposed to 276-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.19 points per game.

Even before you take into account that the Chargers are in a much better spot in this game than they were the first time around, the Chargers are in a great revenge spot. Divisional home favorites are 27-52 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (40-42) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate.

The reason I’m not that confident in San Diego is because rate of moving the chains differential suggests the Chiefs are the better team, which isn’t what this line suggesting, with the Chiefs as 2.5 point favorites. The Chiefs rank 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 74.10% rate, as opposed to 70.56% for their opponents, a differential of 3.54%. Meanwhile, the Chargers rank 12th, moving the chains at a 74.19% rate, as opposed to 73.32% for their opponents, a differential of 0.87%. I wish this line was still at a field goal, as it was last week. I’m still going with the Chargers, but the line would have to be at least 3 points for me to put any money on it and I might not even do so if that were the case.

Update: Alex Smith has been surprisingly ruled out of this one, after doctors discovered that he suffered a lacerated spleen during last week’s loss to the Steelers. The line has moved from San Diego +3 or +2.5 to +1 as a result. Obviously I wish Smith the best, but this is good news from a gambling perspective for two reasons. One, the Chargers are still underdogs here so those aforementioned two trends still apply. Two, the line really didn’t move a ton, as two points doesn’t really do justice for the job that Alex Smith has done this season.

Smith has completed 65.3% of his passes for an average of 7.04 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, while rushing for 254 yards and a touchdown on 49 attempts. His quarterback rating of 93.4 is 14th in the NFL and Pro Football Focus has him as their 16th ranked quarterback. He’s led Kansas City’s offense to a 74.10% rate of moving the chains that ranks 13th in the NFL, despite a poor offensive line, no threats at wide receiver, and no offensive playmakers outside of under-utilized tight end Travis Kelce and running back Jamaal Charles. Those two are obviously still healthy and going to play in this one, but Chase Daniel is a steep dropdown from Smith at quarterback, especially since he’s barely practiced this week.

Daniel played reasonably well in a meaningless week 17 game against the Chargers last season, completing 21 of 30 for 200 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions, but he’s still an unproven former undrafted free agent. The Chargers have a better defense this season and will be much better prepared for Daniel this time around, especially since Daniel has minimal practice experience with the offensive starters, wasn’t expecting to start this week, and might not be equipped to deal with the pressure of a must-win game. The line value that originally made me hesitant to take San Diego is gone, so, as long as the Chargers are still underdogs in this one, I have confidence taking them.

San Diego Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 17 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: San Diego +1

Confidence: Medium

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Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-4)

The Packers failed to cover in their previous home game, a 43-37 home victory over the Falcons, but that’s the only time they’ve failed to cover at home this season, en route to a thus far perfect 7-0 mark at home. On the season, they move the chains at an 81.55% rate at home, as opposed to 73.04% for their opponents, a differential of 8.50%. Conversely, the Lions have been terrible on the road, moving the chains at a 68.97% rate, as opposed to 73.18% for their opponents, a differential of -4.22% away from the Motor City.

The Packers’ home dominance is nothing new as Aaron Rodgers is 26-10-1 ATS at home since 2010 and 33-4 straight up, with an absurd +554 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 14.97 points per game. The Packers lost earlier this year in Detroit, but the Lions are going to have a much tougher time here in Green Bay as they seek to hand the Packers their first home loss of the season, sweep the season series, and clinch the division and a first round bye.

These two teams may have identical records, but the Packers have been significantly better than the Lions this season. They rank 5th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a league best 79.54% rate, as opposed to 74.63% for their opponents, a differential of 4.91%. Meanwhile, the Lions rank 13th, moving the chains at a 71.08% rate, as opposed to 70.25% for their opponents, a differential of 0.83%. That’s largely because the Packers have a +128 point differential on the season, as opposed to +49 for the Lions, who have needed some lucky comebacks in close games to get to where they are. The odds makers know about the Packers’ home dominance and about how uneven these two teams are in talent level, which is why this line is 7.5, but I still don’t think it’s high enough. The Packers should be the right side.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: Medium

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Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

The Browns’ offense ranks 27th in the NFL, moving the chains at a 67.55% rate, and they’ve gotten progressively worse as the season has gone on. They’re moving the chains at a pathetic 63.44% rate over the past 10 games since Alex Mack went down. The returns of Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon from injury and suspension respectively haven’t helped matters as both as looked less than 100% after extended absences. In week 13 and 14 combined, Brian Hoyer’s final two starts, they moved the chains at a 58.33% rate, and in week 15 and 16 combined, Johnny Manziel’s first two starts, they moved the chains at a 43.75% rate.

Now undrafted rookie Connor Shaw is expected to start this one, after being called off of the practice squad earlier this week, with both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel both hurt. Their offense isn’t going to get any better with him under center and it could get even worse. The Browns have a solid defense, which allows opponents to move the chains at a 70.81% rate, 7th in the NFL, but it’s not enough to make up for their completely stagnant offense. This line is way too low at 9 points as the Browns go into Baltimore.

The Ravens rank 4th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 76.15% rate, as opposed to 70.90% for their opponents, a differential of 5.25%. They’ve been even better at home, moving the chains at a 78.67% rate, as opposed to 68.18% for their opponents, a differential of 10.48%. This home dominance is nothing new as, since Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh came in before the 2008 season, the Ravens are 46-11 straight up, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.33 points per game, at home, as opposed to 34-33, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.04 points per game on the road, a swing of about 9-9.5 points. The Ravens are 31-25 ATS at home over that time period and, while they’re just 9-13 ATS as home favorites of 7 or more, their home dominance is still worth mentioning.

This line moved from 7 to 9 over the past week, to adjust for the Browns’ terrible showing in Carolina (though the final score was 17-13, the Browns lost the first down battle 27-8) and the fact that Connor Shaw will likely be starting. I normally like to fade significant line movements, but I don’t think the line moved enough nor do I think that it was high enough to begin with, when it was at 7 last week. The reason the line only moved 2 points was because the Ravens lost in Houston last week to the Texans and 4th string quarterback Case Keenum.

I think that’s an overreaction to that loss, which wasn’t quite as bad as the final score suggested. The Ravens’ offense looked horrible, moving the chains at a 56.67% rate, but their defense held the Texans to a 55.88% rate. It’s not a tremendous accomplishment for the defense, considering who the Texans’ quarterback was, but it still suggests that the game was closer than the final score. The Ravens do well off of a big loss in the Harbaugh/Flacco era anyway, going 9-2 ATS since 2008 off of a double digit loss. Last week’s loss was on the road anyway and, as I mentioned earlier, the Ravens are much better at home.

The only reason this isn’t a bigger play is because the Browns are in their 2nd of two road games. This puts them in a good spot. Teams are 113-77 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation.  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 196-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.29 points per game, as opposed to 276-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.19 points per game. However, I still like the Ravens’ chances of bouncing back in a big way off of last week’s fluky defeat for all the reasons I outlined earlier.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Cleveland Browns 9

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -9

Confidence: Medium

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