San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Diego Chargers (4-11) at Denver Broncos (11-4)

The Chargers are just 4-11, one of the worst records in the NFL, but rank 11th in rate of moving the chains differential. How can that be? Well, their record is largely the result of a 3-7 record in games decided by a touchdown (3-8 in games decided by 8 points or fewer), a -8 turnover margin, a -5 return touchdown margin, a -6.5 yards per kickoff return margin, and a -2.8 net punt margin. On the season, they’ve actually outgained their opponents by 344 yards.

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 9 of 15 games and could easily be 6-9, 7-8, 8-7, or even 9-6. 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. They don’t have a tremendous ATS record on the season because they were pretty highly valued to start the season, but they’ve covered 4 of their last 5.

They’ve also been way better on the road than at home. At home, they were just 2-6 ATS this season, as they seemingly have no fans. As a result, their stadium has been overrun with visiting fans pretty much every game this year, meaning they’ve essentially had to play 16 road games this season. I feel bad for the few Chargers fans 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 at this point. 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, as nice as San Diego weather is.

Meanwhile, on the road, they are 5-2 ATS on the season, with one of those non-covers being a 5 point loss as 3 point underdogs in Cincinnati week 2, against a Bengals team that turned out to be one of the best in the NFL. They have just one road loss by more than a touchdown, relevant considering they’re underdogs of 9 points here in Denver. If they can keep it within a touchdown against the likes of the Bengals, Packers, and Chiefs, they can do so here in Denver. All 3 of those teams rank higher in rate of moving the chains differential than the Broncos, who come in 12th.

Despite a 7 game lead over them in the standings, the Broncos actually rank one spot below the Chargers in rate of moving the chains differential. They’ve benefitted an 8-3 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, have lost the rate of moving the chains battle in 5 of 15 games, and have just three victories of more than a touchdown. They beat the Chargers by 14 earlier this year, but that was in San Diego and that would have been a touchdown game if not for a return touchdown. The Broncos had just one offensive touchdown in that game. This figures to be a pretty close game, so getting 9 points with the visitor seems like a good deal.

It does hurt the Chargers that they’re coming off of a road overtime loss, as teams are 81-105 ATS in that spot since 1989. However, they’re also in their 2nd of two road games. 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. Road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games off of an overtime loss are 21-20 ATS since 1989, so those two trends cancel out. It’s just too many points to pass on.

Denver Broncos 17 San Diego Chargers 13

Pick against the spread: San Diego +9

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

St. Louis Rams (7-8) at San Francisco 49ers (4-11)

The Rams have gone from being favored by 2.5 points on the early line last week to being favored by 3.5 points this week. That might not seem like a huge difference, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it definitely is. It’s pretty obvious why the change occurred, as the Rams pulled off an upset victory as double digit underdogs in Seattle last week. However, I love fading significant line movements whenever it makes sense and I don’t really think the Rams should be favored by more than a field goal over anyone, even the lowly 49ers, given that running back Todd Gurley isn’t expected to play. The Rams rank 30th in rate of moving the chains differential and, while the 49ers are dead last in that metric, they should be able to keep it close against a Rams teams that, without Gurley, has easily the least talented offense in the NFL.

The Rams’ victory last week was certainly a very big one, but they would have had a much tougher time winning that game if they didn’t win the turnover battle by 3 (and return a fumble for a touchdown). Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. A team that wins the turnover margin by 3, on average, has a turnover margin of +0.1 the following week. As bad as the 49ers have been, they’re just -4 in turnovers on the year. On top of that, teams are just 50-70 ATS off of a win as double digit underdogs, dating back to 1989. That’s because teams tend to be overvalued and overconfident off of a huge upset victory like that. Eliminated from the playoffs, the Rams won their Super Bowl last week and could easily get caught off guard by the 49ers this week. They also shouldn’t be favored by this many on the road against anyone. I’m comfortable putting money on San Francisco.

St. Louis Rams 10 San Francisco 49ers 9

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Jets (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-8)

I really wish we were still getting points with the Jets, like we were last week, when they were underdogs of 1.5 in Buffalo on the early line. The line hasn’t moved to the opposite 3 yet, but the Jets are now favored by 2.5, which takes a pretty powerful trend out of play. 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. The Jets lost to the Bills at home earlier this year in a game that would have been a lot different if the Jets hadn’t lost the turnover margin by 4 (the Jets actually won the rate of moving the chains differential battle).

Fortunately for the Jets, turnover margins are really inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Teams that have a -4 turnover margin in a divisional matchup, on average, have a -0.1 turnover margin in a same season regular season rematch, since 1989. Those teams are also 51-40 ATS for what it’s worth. The Jets are also healthier now and playing great football since getting both cornerback Darrelle Revis and center Nick Mangold back from injury. While the Bills are missing cornerback Stephon Gilmore, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, middle linebacker Nigel Bradham, wide receiver Percy Harvin, running back LeSean McCoy, safety Aaron Williams, tight end Charles Clay, wide receiver Robert Woods, and right tackle Seantrel Henderson (9 starters) from their week 1 starting lineup, the Jets are arguably the healthiest team in the NFL.

The Jets also rank 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential, as opposed to 19th for the Bills, so, even though the Jets are now favored, we’re still getting some line value with them. It’s just not enough for me to be confident putting money on them. The public is all over them, despite the significant line movement. I usually love fading heavy public leans whenever it makes sense, as the public always loses money in the long run, and fading significant week-to-week line movements whenever it makes sense, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. The Jets’ win at home against the Jets as home underdogs last week have really exposed the Jets as a significant player, so the value isn’t quite there with them anymore. On top of that, teams are 46-72 ATS since 2012 off of a home win as underdogs and the Jets could easily come in overconfident. I’m still taking the Jets, especially with the line under a field goal, but I’m staying away money-wise.

New York Jets 16 Buffalo Bills 10

Pick against the spread: NY Jets -2.5

Confidence: Low

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Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (10-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-5)

The Packers were favored by 5.5 over the Vikings last week on the early line, but now are favored by just 3, a significant line movement considering both 3 and 4 are key numbers. While about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, close to 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so only having to lay a field goal with the Packers now is a significant difference. I love fading significant line movements whenever it makes sense.

It might seem like the line movement was warranted, considering the Packers lost 38-8 in Arizona last week and the Vikings won 49-17 at home against the Giants, but it’s important not to get too excited about a team off their best performance of the season and also to not get too down on a team off their worst performance of the season. In fact, since 2002, teams are 20-11 ATS off of a loss of 24 or more when their opponent is coming off of a loss of 24 or more. It’s a small sample size, but it makes sense to contrarian bettors.

The Vikings have played better in recent weeks, blowing out the Giants last week, winning by 21 over a decent Bears team the week before, and coming close to beating the Cardinals in Arizona the week before that, but it’s important not to forget that before that, they got blown out at home twice in three weeks by the Seahawks and these Packers. The Vikings’ offense has been better in recent weeks and the defense got key players back last week in outside linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith, but they’ll continue to be without defensive tackle Linval Joseph, a significant absence, and they’re only barely better than their 14th place rank in rate of moving the chains differential suggests.

The Packers are probably a little bit worse than their 7th place rank in rate of moving the chains differential suggests, as left tackle David Bahktiari is highly questionable after missing last week and not practicing all week. He was severely missed last week. He could still try to give it a go on a bum ankle and it helps that this is the Sunday Night game, but he won’t be 100% even if he plays. However, the Packers do get cornerback Sam Shields back and are overall better than they looked last week.

It also really helps the Packers that they are at home this week. As long as Aaron Rodgers starts (minus any games he’s been knocked out very early with injuries), the Packers are 31-14-1 ATS at home since 2010 and 40-6 straight up, with an absurd +625 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 13.59 points per game. The Packers have been favored by at least 3.5 points in each of their last 16 home games (10-6 ATS), so we’re getting the Packers really cheap here at home. That’s too good to pass on. Despite what happened last week, the Packers are still the better of these two teams.

Green Bay Packers 23 Minnesota Vikings 13

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -3

Confidence: Medium

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New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2015 Week 17 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (8-7)

The Falcons delivered the Carolina Panthers their first loss of the season last week, winning 20-13 at home as 7 point underdogs. It was certainly a legitimate win, as they won the rate of moving the chains differential battle 82.14% to 73.08%, but anyone betting them as 5.5 point home favorites here at home over the Saints is probably forgetting the fact that the Falcons lost by 38 in Carolina just a few weeks ago. The Falcons have also lost to the Colts, Vikings, 49ers, Buccaneers (twice), and these Saints in New Orleans, while 6 of their 8 wins have come by a touchdown or less, including near losses to the Jaguars, Titans, Redskins, Eagles, and Giants. They rank just 16th in rate of moving the chains differential, and the Saints are only one spot behind them in 17th, so the Falcons don’t really have any business being favored by 5.5 points here.

There wasn’t an early line posted last week for this game, because Drew Brees’ immediate future looked questionable because of a foot injury, but Brees and the Saints played well last week at home against Jacksonville despite Brees’ injury. If there was an early line listed, I think it probably would have been around 3 or so (where I think it should still be), meaning the line shifted probably 2.5 points or so because of the Falcons’ upset victory last week. I love fading significant line movements whenever it makes sense, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, and, though it might not seem like it, a shift from 3 to 5.5 or so is really significant, considering both 3 and 4 are key numbers. About 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 or fewer points so a backdoor cover is a very strong possibility here, even if the Falcons do manage to significantly outplay the Saints.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but teams are 46-72 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs. For one, home upset victories probably often lead to significant unwarranted line movements. Two, teams can also by pretty overconfident off of victories like that. The Falcons just won their Super Bowl last week and, while the Saints are a big divisional rival, the Falcons could still get caught a little bit off guard by them, especially with the off-season on deck and no hope of making the post-season. The Saints are not going to the post-season either, but they’re still playing hard, following the example of Brees, who is playing through a major foot injury during a lost season and they should be 100% focused for their division rival this week. I’m taking the points with confidence.

Atlanta Falcons 34 New Orleans Saints 31

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +5.5

Confidence: Medium

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