Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (3-7) at Cleveland Browns (2-8)

This has been the season from hell for the Ravens. After going 11-5, winning a playoff game, and finishing the season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential a year ago, the Ravens lost outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, wide receiver Torrey Smith, and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak this off-season. And then during the season, they’ve lost 1st round pick wide receiver (and Torrey Smith replacement) Breshad Perriman, wide receiver Steve Smith, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, center Jeremy Zuttah, and, as of last week, quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett for the season with injury. They’re also likely going to be missing offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Eugene Monroe with injury this week.

As a result, the Ravens are 3-7, rank 27th in rate of moving the chains differential, and are even less talented than that suggests now with Flacco, Forsett, Osemele, and Monroe all out. The Ravens have to go with a backfield of quarterback Matt Schaub, a 34-year-old making his first start since 2013, when he really struggled with the Texans, and running back Javorius Allen, a 4th round rookie who has averaged 3.89 yards per carry on 64 carries in his career, behind a patchwork offensive line. That has flipped this line from Baltimore being favored by 2.5 on the early line last week to now being 3.5 point underdogs.

The Browns aren’t any better though and they might be worse. The Browns rank 31st in rate of moving the chains differential and shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal against anyone other than San Francisco. It’s possible looking back in a week that I’ll say that the Ravens should be added to that list and it’s very possible I don’t know quite how bad the Ravens will be without Flacco, Forsett, Monroe, and Osemele, but I’d like the Browns a lot more as 3 point favorites than 3.5 point favorites because about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal.

The Ravens are also in a better spot. They lost to the Browns earlier this year as home favorites in Baltimore, but teams are 53-30 ATS as divisional road underdogs in a regular season rematch against a divisional opponent they previously lost to as home favorites. On the other side, the Browns host the Bengals next week, a game in which they are expected to be 7 point home underdogs. Teams are 23-53 ATS since 2012 before being 6+ point home underdogs and 14-31 ATS over that same time period before being 7+ point home underdogs. I can’t put any money on the Ravens, but they’re the pick here.

Update: The line has jumped to 4.5. I’ll bite. Even if the Browns win, close to 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or less. The Ravens are in a better spot and the Browns shouldn’t be favored by more than four points over anyone except maybe the 49ers.

Cleveland Browns 19 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +4.5

Confidence: Medium

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Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-3) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

The Falcons started the season a surprising 5-0, but have since fallen back to earth, losing 4 of 5, putting them in a fight to even make the playoffs. Considering 3 of those 5 wins were by a touchdown or less and the best team they beat was probably the Giants (a 24-20 win), that’s not too much of a surprise, but the fact remains that they’ve lost to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Indianapolis, all teams they were favored against. Their only win in their last 5 games was by 3 in Tennessee, when the Titans were playing without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The Falcons are also missing talented running back Devonta Freeman in this one, which was caused the line to shift from 3 on the early line last week to 1 now. Even though about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal or less, the line movement makes sense, given how important Freeman is to this offense. The Falcons rank 7th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Vikings rank 11th, but, again, the Falcons have had an incredibly easy schedule, with their toughest opponents being the likes of the Colts, Giants, Eagles, and Saints. They haven’t played a single team with a winning record. The Vikings are the best team they’ve faced thus far and they have to do so without a key player. Given that, the Vikings should win, but the 1 point we’re getting with them isn’t enough for me to have any confidence in them on the road.

Update: Harrison Smith is a surprise inactive for the Vikings, a big deal considering he’s one of the best safeties in the NFL. The spread has jumped to 2, which isn’t enough to compensate, so I’m switching sides on this one. Not that it matters because I wouldn’t touch either side without getting a field goal.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -2

Confidence: Low

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Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-5)

This line was a field goal a week ago on the early line, but has since jumped to 6. Ordinarily, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, but, in this case, I think the line is just catching up to how good the Chiefs are. They’ve won 4 straight, including huge wins in Denver and San Diego over the past 2 weeks by a combined score of 62-16, following a tough early season schedule that caused them to start 1-5. Of their 5 losses, 4 of them came against Green Bay, Denver, Cincinnati, and Minnesota, all likely playoff teams, and their other loss came by one point against the Bears, a decent team. They rank 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, led by a defense that ranks 9th in rate of moving the chains allowed and that has been a lot better since getting top cornerback Sean Smith back from the suspension that cost him the first 3 games of the season.

The Bills, meanwhile, rank 22nd, so the Chiefs being favored by 6 makes a lot of sense. This line might even be too low, if anything. The Chiefs are banged up, missing defensive end Allen Bailey, guard Ben Grubbs, and possibly running back Charcandrick West, who seems to be a gametime decision. However, so are the Bills, who are missing defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Mario Williams, and guard John Miller. On top of that, quarterback Tyrod Taylor has a shoulder injury and is less than 100%. It’s tough to pick a side in this one with the line shooting up to 6, but the Chiefs should be the right side.

Kansas City Chiefs 20 Buffalo Bills 13

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -6

Confidence: None

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New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-6) at Houston Texans (5-5)

The Texans won last week, 24-17 at home against the Jets, to improve their record to 5-5. After a 1-4 start, the Texans are right in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC. Last week’s win came as home underdogs and teams are 42-71 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs, including 7-20 ATS at home. However, the Texans have moved up to 10th in rate of moving the chains differential and they are a better team than the Saints, who rank 17th. That’s not what this line suggests, as the Texans are just 3 point favorites at home. The Texans also get cornerback Kareem Jackson back from injury, after a 4 game absence.

The Saints also have a tough upcoming game, as they host the Carolina Panthers, a game in which they’re expected to be 4 point home underdogs, according to the early line. That number could jump even higher after the Panthers’ huge win over the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving, which improved them to 11-0. Teams are 77-120 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, 44-81 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs, and 23-53 ATS before being 6+ point home underdogs, as teams tend to get caught looking ahead before such a big home game. I’m not confident in them, but I’m taking the Texans.

Houston Texans 24 New Orleans Saints 20

Pick against the spread: Houston -3

Confidence: Low

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Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (4-6) at New York Jets (5-5)

This might sound weird considering they’re 5-5 and have struggled on offense, but the Jets actually rank 5th in rate of moving the chains differential. It makes more sense when you consider two things. One, while their offense has really struggled, ranking 26th in rate of moving the chains, their defense has been really strong, ranking 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential allowed. They have arguably the best defensive line in football with Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Damon Harrison and cornerback Darrelle Revis is once again having a fantastic season. Two, there really aren’t any truly good teams outside of the top-4 (Arizona, New England, Cincinnati, and Carolina), so saying the Jets are 5th really just means they’re the best of the rest. They’re closer to the 14th ranked team than they are to the 4th ranked team. The league is really top heavy this year.

They’re a lot better than the Dolphins though, as the Dolphins rank 29th. Not a very good team to begin with, their defense has been awful since losing defensive end Cameron Wake for the season with a torn Achilles about a month ago. They’re also missing right tackle JuWuan James, while the Jets get key center Nick Mangold back from injury this week. Mangold has been in and out of the lineup over the past month with various injuries, which has really hurt their offense and coincided with their recent 1-4 stretch, but he’s healthy this week, after leaving last week’s contest with a hand laceration.

All that being said, I’m not going to put money on the Jets as mere 3.5 point favorites, for three reasons. The first reason is that close to 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, so I’m really worried about a backdoor cover. The second reason is that Darrelle Revis is out with a concussion and their secondary looks a lot worse without him. The third reason is that the Jets are in a terrible spot, as they will be underdogs against the Giants next week, while the Dolphins will be favored at home against the lowly Ravens. Favorites are 96-166 ATS since 2008 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. If this line goes down to 3, I may reconsider, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick.

New York Jets 20 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: NY Jets -3.5

Confidence: Low

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5)

Matt Hasselbeck is 3-0 as the Colts’ starter and the Colts have moved the chains at a 72.04% rate in his 3 starts, as opposed to 69.66% in Andrew Luck’s 7 starts. Certainly getting Luck back healthy for the stretch run and playoffs is very important because, at his best, he’s way better than Hasselbeck, but Luck hasn’t played well so far this year and it’s definitely been nice for them to have a capable game manager backup quarterback like Hasselbeck this year. The Colts’ defense has also been better than it has been in recent years, though losing talented rookie defensive end Henry Anderson for the season last week hurts. He was a big part of why they improved.

Anderson’s injury is one injury that gives me pause when I think about putting money on the Colts this week. The other is a knee injury to talented left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who will miss his first game of the season this week. The Colts rank 13th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season and have been better offensively when Hasselbeck starts, while the Buccaneers rank 21st, so I think we’re still getting value with the Colts as mere field goal favorites at home (where they are 20-10 ATS since 2012).

It’s also good to see that the public is on the Buccaneers, despite the line moving from 3.5 to the key number of 3 in the past week. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so that line movement is more significant than you might think.  I love fading the public whenever it makes sense because they always lose money in the long run and I love fading a significant line movement whenever it makes sense because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. By taking Indianapolis here, I’d be able to do both. However, I can’t quite bring myself to put money on the Colts, so this is a low confidence pick. If the line dips down to 2.5 (unlikely), I’ll reconsider.

Update: This spread has dropped to 2.5, so I’m moving this up to a medium confidence pick.

Indianapolis Colts 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: Medium

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San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2015 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Diego Chargers (2-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6)

The Chargers’ 2-8 record is tied for the worst in the NFL, but they have played better than their record. Their defense has been horrendous, ranking 29th in rate of moving the chains allowed, but their offense ranks 5th, as quarterback Philip Rivers has played very well this season, despite a lot of issues around him on offense. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they rank 16th, hardly great, but certainly significantly better than any other team that has 2 or 3 wins.

Their record is largely the result of a 2-5 record in games decided by a touchdown (2-6 in games decided by 8 points or fewer), a -7 turnover margin, a -4 return touchdown margin, a -7.8 yards per kickoff return margin, and a -5.2 net punt margin. On the season, they’ve actually outgained their opponents. None of those things suggests anything deeply wrong with this team, but rather that they have the framework of a decent team and just need to clean some things up. They’ve won the rate of moving the chains battle in 6 of 10 games and could easily be 4-6, 5-5, or even 6-4. This team reminds me a lot of the 2012 Lions, who went 4-12 that season, but then 7-9 the following year and 11-5 two years later, with essentially the same framework of the team.

The Chargers are also healthier now than they were before their bye week a couple weeks ago. Tight end Antonio Gates, tight end Lardarius Green, safety Eric Weddle, guard Orlando Franklin, wide receiver Malcom Floyd, defensive end Corey Liuget, middle linebacker Manti Te’o, and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman have all missed significant time with injury this season, but are healthy for this one. They’re not at full strength, missing left tackle King Dunlap, right guard DJ Fluker, and wide receiver Keenan Allen, but few teams are at full strength at this point in the season.

Of course, none of this did them any good last week, when they got demolished at home by a surging Chiefs team, but the Jaguars are hardly the Chiefs, ranking 30th in rate of moving the chains differential. They too are healthier than they have been, as left tackle Luke Joeckel, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, and tight end Julius Thomas have all returned from early season injuries. They’ve been noticeably better since the first 3 weeks of the season, as they had a rate of moving the chains differential of -10.95% in their first 3 games, as opposed to -3.31% in their last 7 games. With outside linebacker Dan Skuta, right guard Brandon Linder, and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks all injured, they’re not at full strength, but, again, few teams are by week 12. That being said, I still think the Chargers are the better team.

I think it also helps the Chargers to get away from San Diego, as weird as that sounds. The Chargers seem to have no fans in San Diego so their stadium has been overrun with visiting fans pretty much every game this year, so they essentially have to play 16 road games this season. I feel bad for the few Chargers fan who do show up because they’re going to lose their team, but the Chargers have a borderline obligation to move up to Los Angeles if this continues. It’s not fair to the team to not have any true home games and it also really hurts their chances of signing key free agents. On the road this year, they’ve nearly beaten Green Bay and Cincinnati so they could easily go into Jacksonville and win straight up.

Given that, getting 4.5 points with them is really nice. Close to 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, and, even if the Chargers play poorly again, there’s plenty of room for a backdoor cover. This line was a field goal a week ago and I love fading significant week-to-week line movements whenever they make sense because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, in this case, San Diego getting demolished by an underrated Chiefs team for easily their biggest loss of the season.

Given that the Chargers are the better team and have had some success on the road this season,  I actually think this line should be around a pick ‘em, so we’re getting a lot of good line value with the Chargers, as this line has cleared the key numbers of 3 and 4. The only reason this isn’t a higher confidence pick is because the Chargers host the Broncos next week, a game in which they are expected to be 6 point home underdogs, and teams are 41-86 ATS since 2010 before being 6+ point home underdogs. It can be hard to concentrate with such a huge home game on deck, but, at 2-8, on a 6 game losing streak, with barely a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs, the Chargers can’t afford to not be completely focused for this one.

Jacksonville Jaguars 31 San Diego Chargers 30

Pick against the spread: San Diego +4.5

Confidence: Medium

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