Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (8-7)

I ordinarily never do this, but I need to lock this one in now. If the Bengals beat the Broncos tonight, the Texans clinch the AFC South. It might sound weird, but a Cincinnati victory over the Broncos clinches the tiebreaker for the Texans because it would come down to strength of victory, which would essentially give the Texans a two game lead with one game left to go, rather than a one game lead. If that happens, the Texans will be locked into the #4 seed and this game will be meaningless for them. The Texans could rest their starters if that happens, particularly key players dealing with injuries like quarterback Brian Hoyer (ankle/concussion), outside Jadeveon Clowney (foot), and defensive end JJ Watt (hand). That would drop this line from 6 in a hurry. I’m actually shocked a line is posted for this one anywhere.

The Bengals are underdogs in Denver and I don’t expect them to win, but they’re only 4 point underdogs and could certainly pull off the upset. Besides, I’m taking the Jaguars either way, so I want to get this line as high as possible. The Jaguars are in a pair of good spots. For one, divisional road underdogs are 57-31 ATS in a same season regular season rematch against a team they previously lost to as divisional home favorites, since 2002. Revenge is far from uncommon in divisional matchups similar to this one and the Texans beat the Jaguars as underdogs in Jacksonville earlier this year.

On top of that, the Jaguars are in their 2nd of two road games, coming off a loss in New Orleans. Teams are 130-94 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 106-64 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 225-227 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.51 points per game, as opposed to 321-438 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.75 points per game. I’d put money on Jacksonville now.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6

Confidence: High

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Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills: 2015 Week 16 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (4-10) at Buffalo Bills (6-8)

Dallas’ season effectively ended last week with a home loss to the New York Jets, but the Bills’ season effectively ended last week too, with a road loss in Washington to the Redskins. Dallas hasn’t been a very good team all season, as they rank 27th in rate of moving the chains differential. They’ve been especially bad in the games that quarterback Tony Romo has missed, moving the chains at a 66.89% rate in those 10 games, as opposed to 72.80% in the 4 games he played. Now they’re on their 4th starting quarterback of the year, as Matt Cassel has been benched for 2012 undrafted free agent Kellen Moore, who was underwhelming in relief of Cassel last week. Moore also won’t have the services of wide receiver Dez Bryant in this one, as he’s listed as doubtful. Never 100% after returning from a week 1 broken foot, Bryant is expected to be shut down for the rest of the regular season.

This line is pretty big for the Bills to cover though, considering they rank just 20th in rate of moving the chains differential and have their own injuries. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and cornerback Stephon Gilmore obviously remain out, as they’re on injured reserve, and linebacker Nigel Bradham could join them on injured reserve shortly, as he’ll miss his 4th straight game with an ankle injury this week. On offense, they’re short on skill position players with running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Robert Woods, and tight end Charles Clay all out with injuries. Given that, it’s a lot to ask them to cover a 6.5 point spread against anyone other than the absolute worst teams, which I don’t think the Cowboys are. The Cowboys also typically travel well and are 19-11 ATS as road underdogs since 2010. It’s not enough to put money on Dallas, but I’m going with them.

Buffalo Bills 17 Dallas Cowboys 13

Pick against the spread: Dallas +6.5

Confidence: Low

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Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints: 2015 Week 16 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at New Orleans Saints (5-9)

This is another game that I don’t have a strong opinion on. Both of these teams are out of the playoffs and have comparable games on deck; the Saints are going to Atlanta and the Jaguars are going to Houston. The Saints are favored by 3.5, which suggests they’re a slightly better team than the Jaguars. The numbers seem to back that up, if not suggest that the Saints could be favored by a little bit more. The Saints rank 17th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Jaguars rank 26th, though the Saints are closer to 26th than they are to 12th, so it’s not as big of a difference as it seems.

Drew Brees will be playing through an injured foot, but he performed well despite that down the stretch against the Lions last week and perhaps Brees playing through that injury in a lost season will give the Saints a motivational boost in an otherwise meaningless contest. The Saints have other players banged up, left tackle Terron Armstead, right tackle Zach Strief, wide receiver Marques Colston, and tight end Benjamin Watson, all of whom are listed as questionable, but the Jaguars will be without running back TJ Yeldon and linebacker Telvin Smith. I’m taking New Orleans, but for a no confidence pick.

New Orleans Saints 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 27

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3.5

Confidence: None

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San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions: 2015 Week 16 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-10) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Lions were favored by just 6.5 points over the 49ers on the early line last week and now they’re favored by 10. I love fading significant line movements whenever it makes sense as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. This line is about right though, as the 49ers are the worst team in the NFL, by a wide margin I think. They rank dead last in rate of moving the chains differential at -11.56%. No one else is worse than -7.85%. The Lions aren’t a great team or anything, ranking 21st in that measure, but, given how bad the 49ers are, I think this 10 point line is justified, especially since it seems like talented safety Glover Quin is going to be able to play despite suffering a concussion last week, as he returned to practice on Friday.

The Lions are in a bad spot though, as they have to turn around and go to Chicago, a much tougher game and a much bigger divisional game. The Lions could look past the lowly 49ers with that game on deck. Double digit favorites are 54-72 ATS before being underdogs since 2002 and the early line has the Lions as 1.5 point underdogs next week. I can’t have any confidence in the 49ers, given how bad they are (I haven’t taken them since week 4), but they’re my pick here.

Detroit Lions 26 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +10

Confidence: None

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Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals: 2015 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) at Denver Broncos (10-4)

The Brock Osweiler era got off to a good start in Denver, but his play has regressed in recent weeks, to the point where the difference in their offense’s efficiency between Osweiler starting and when a hobbled, aged Peyton Manning was starting early in the year is no longer significant. In Manning’s 9 starts, they moved the chains at a 66.43% rate, as opposed to 67.86% in Osweiler’s 5 starts. The Broncos would probably like to give Manning another shot and see if maybe he has enough left in the tank for a playoff run after a month off, but it doesn’t sound like his foot is anywhere near healthy enough for him to play, so it’ll be Osweiler again for the Broncos this week.

Ultimately, it might not matter who is under center because neither one of them is that good, plus their issues on the offensive line and in the running game will persist regardless. The Broncos’ defense will have to keep carrying them, as they have thus far. Despite an offense that ranks 30th in rate of moving the chains, the Broncos rank 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, thanks to a defense that ranks 3rd in rate of moving the chains allowed.

The Bengals rank significantly higher overall, coming in 5th, but they’ve also had next to no injuries on the season up until the last few weeks. Now they’re missing quarterback Andy Dalton, tight end Tyler Eifert, and safety George Iloka, three key players who are all expected to be out again this week. The Bengals did win by 10 in San Francisco last week without that trio, but the 49ers are the worst team in the NFL and the Bengals only won the rate of moving the chains differential by 3.14%, as the 49ers did end up making it closer than the final score suggested.

It’s tough to really know how much worse the Bengals are without that trio, which makes this game tough to pick either way, especially since both teams should be equally focused with easy games on deck for both (Cincinnati hosts Baltimore week 17 and the Broncos host the Raiders). I’m going to take the 3.5 points for a no confidence pick because a field goal game is likely. Close to 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal and close to 1 in 4 are decided by a field goal or less.

Denver Broncos 16 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5

Confidence: None

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Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2015 Week 16 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (3-11)

The line has finally been released for this one. I was hoping that if Brian Hoyer were ruled out for the 2nd straight week with a concussion that the Texans would be underdogs, as that would have opened up two very powerful trends. Divisional home favorites are 22-58 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which the Titans will be in Indianapolis next week, and favorites are just 103-169 ATS since 2008 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites, which the Texans will be at home for the Jaguars next week.

Brandon Weeden, who was claimed off of waivers mid-season from the Cowboys, will start for the Texans this week, as Hoyer has reportedly been ruled out and regular backup TJ Yates tore his ACL in his first start of the season last week. However, not only are the Texans not underdogs, they’re actually favored by 4 points here on the road. Not only are those trends no longer in play, but now the Texans have to cover a line that’s more significant than people realize, as about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer.

Fortunately for the Texans, they’re not the only one starting a backup quarterback, as talented Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota will miss the final 2 games of the season with a knee sprain. Backup Zach Mettenberger will get the start and the Titans have moved the chains at a mere 59.26% rate in the 3 games where he’s been the team’s leader in pass attempts this season, including a week 8 start in Houston where the Titans moved the chains at a mere 53.57% rate in a 20-6 loss. In their other 11 games, they’ve moved the chains at a 72.78%.

Weeden is actually the 4th quarterback to start for the Texans this season, but that doesn’t matter much, as there isn’t really a notable difference between Weeden, Yates, and Ryan Mallett in terms of their ability to lead this offense. Brian Hoyer has been their best quarterback this year, as they’ve moved the chains at a 69.78% rate in the 10 games he’s led the team in pass attempts, as opposed to 68.06% in their other 4 games. The Texans’ defense, which ranks 8th in rate of moving the chains allowed, is easily the best unit in this game, as the Texans rank 11th in rate of moving the chains differential despite a stagnant offense, while the Titans rank 25th, despite an offense that’s been decent when Mariota’s been healthy. Still, it’s hard to be confident in the Texans to cover as 4 point road favorites with a backup quarterback. In fact, I’m going the other way for a no confidence pick, as this could easily be a field goal win for Houston.

Houston Texans 13 Tennessee Titans 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +4

Confidence: None

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Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals: 2015 Week 16 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (12-2)

The Cardinals rank first in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, despite having a couple losses. In those 2 losses, they won the first down battle by a combined 20 first downs and only lost because they had a -3 turnover margin in both games. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On average, teams that have a -3 turnover margin in a game have a +0.1 turnover margin the following game. That’s why I don’t really like to use turnover margin as evidence to support an evaluation of a team.

The Panthers obviously are the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but I think the Cardinals have played better. They’re 4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Panthers are 6-0, accounting for nearly half of their wins, and the Cardinals have a better point differential (+176 vs. +171), despite a worse turnover margin (+10 vs. +19). Week 14’s Thursday Night game against the Vikings was actually the first of the season in which the Cardinals lost the rate of moving chains battle and they did so just barely (77.42% to 78.13%), in a field goal victory. They’ve won that battle in all 13 games they’ve played this season on more than 4 days rest.

The Packers, meanwhile, rank 7th in rate of moving the chains differential, a bigger difference than what’s suggested by this line. The Cardinals do have a big upcoming game, with the Seahawks coming to town next week, but so do the Packers, as they host the Vikings next week, a game that will decide the NFC North unless the Vikings lose at home to the Giants and the Packers win here (the Packers can clinch the North this weekend if that happens). This is also a big game for both of these teams as a Green Bay victory puts them in position to get the #2 seed and a first round bye if they beat the Vikings next week and the Cardinals lose to the Seahawks. From this angle, it’s a wash, as both teams should be equally focused for this one.

Ordinarily, I’d be all over the Cardinals as 4.5 point favorites here, as they’ve been one of the most underrated teams in the NFL this season, but they lost defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, for the season last week, a potentially crippling blow to this defense. I’m still taking the Cardinals, especially since the Packers will be missing cornerback Sam Shields and left tackle David Bakhtiari, but I’m much more worried about the possibility of a backdoor cover now, especially since about 3 in 10 games are decided by fewer than 4 points.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Green Bay Packers 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -4.5

Confidence: Low

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