Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-9) at Detroit Lions (7-6)

When these two teams met in Chicago 4 weeks ago, I made a big bet on the Bears as 3-point home underdogs. The Lions and Bears have been on my overrated and underrated lists respectively throughout most of this season and Chicago +3 at home seemed like a great value. That line ended up pushing when the Bears missed a potential game tying field goal with time expiring, but I still feel like it was the right side. The Lions scored one of their touchdowns on a fluky fumble return and lost both the first down battle (25 to 20) and the offensive touchdown battle (3 to 2). In first down rate differential, the Bears finished at +6.33% for the game, despite the close loss.

Since then, things have arguably gotten worse for the Lions, as they lost at home to the Vikings, got blown out in Baltimore, and then managed to only win by a field goal in Tampa Bay against a weak Buccaneers team, despite winning the turnover battle by 2, something they’re not going to be able to count on every week. Injuries have become a big problem for this team, as Matt Stafford is playing at less than 100% with a throwing hand injury, while center Travis Swanson will join talented right tackle Ricky Wagner on the sideline this week with an injury, after Wagner missed last week’s game in Tampa Bay.

The Lions sit at 7-6, after going 9-7 last season, but their margin of victory has been slim, with their average victory coming by 6.94 points over the past 2 seasons and 8 of those 16 wins coming by 5 points or fewer. Considering they are favored by 5.5 in this one, that’s very relevant. They also rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.06%, after posting a -1.90% rate in 2016, as they have allowed 38 more first downs and 4 more offensive touchdowns on the season than they have gained.

The Bears are only 4-9, but they rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -1.40% and they also rank slightly higher in my roster rankings now, given the injury situations of these two teams. While the Lions are banged up, the Bears are getting healthier. Middle linebacker Danny Trevathan, a key player who did not play the last time these two teams met, returned a couple weeks ago, while outside linebacker Pernell McPhee returns from a 1-game absence and safety Adrian Amos and nose tackle Eddie Goldman are questionable to return from 2-game and 1-game absences respectively, after getting in limited practices this week.

The Bears have a talented defense when their key players all are healthy and that could be the case this week for the first time in a while. The Lions, meanwhile, rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.13% and have major holes throughout their defense. We lost line value after the Bears’ blowout win in Cincinnati last week, as this line shifted from 6.5 to 5.5, but I like the Bears’ chances of continuing to play well in this game and at least keeping this one close, so 5.5 is still worth a bet.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +5.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

When these two teams met in week 3, the Chiefs won 24-10 in Los Angeles, but the game was closer than the final score suggested. It was a 17-10 game until Kareem Hunt busted a largely meaningless 69-yard touchdown run to push the score to 24-10, when a simple first down would have allowed them to run out the clock. That’s despite the fact that the Chiefs dominated the turnover margin in that game with a +3 margin. In terms of first downs, the Chargers finished with a 24-16 advantage. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway, so I wouldn’t expect the Chiefs to win the turnover battle by 3 again, especially since the Chiefs are just +4 in turnover margin since that week 3 game, while the Chargers are +13.

A lot has changed since that matchup, as the Chiefs were 3-0 following their victory, while the Chargers fell to 0-3. Now both teams are 7-6 and competing for the AFC West title. Despite their equal records, I have the Chargers ranked significantly higher. The Chargers’ 6 losses have come by a combined 32 points, while their 7 wins have come by a combined 105 points, giving them a point differential of +73 that ranks 7th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they are even better, ranking 2nd only behind the Eagles at +5.15%.

Making all of that even more impressive is the fact that the Chargers are doing this without a real homefield advantage in Los Angeles. For example, in their home loss to the Chiefs, the crowd was primarily Kansas City fans. Given that, it’s no surprise that they have a strong against the spread record on the road this season, going 5-1 ATS, with their one non-cover coming in an 8-point loss as 7.5 point underdogs in New England. If they had better luck in close games (1-4 in games decided by a field goal or less) and an actual homefield advantage, they could easily be 9-4 or 10-3 right now. They are much better than their record and legitimate contenders in a wide open league.

The Chiefs are a solid team, but they rank 11th in point differential and 21st in first down rate differential, both significantly worse than the Chargers. They also have struggled for most of the past couple months. They won last week at home against the Raiders, but they are still just 2-6 with losses to the Bills, Giants, and Jets since their 5-0 start, while the Chargers are 7-2 since their 0-4 start, with their two losses coming only against the Jaguars and Patriots, both strong teams in the AFC. Given how good the Chargers have been away from home, I have them favored by 4 points here in Kansas City, so we’re getting significant line value with the Chargers on an even line. They are the smart pick in this key divisional matchup.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers PK

Confidence: High

Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (3-10)

Both of these teams have had tough seasons at 4-9 and 3-10 respectively. Despite their similar records, I have the Broncos ranked significantly higher than the Colts, who I think are a bottom-3 team. The Broncos have the 5th worst point differential at -86, but that’s still significantly better than the Colts, who rank 2nd worst at -131. That’s despite the fact that the Broncos rank 2nd worst in turnover margin at -14, while the Colts are actually at +3. Turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Broncos should do better going forward in turnover margin, which should make a noticeable difference in the box score, while the best the Colts can probably hope for is maintaining their current margin.

The Broncos’ quarterback situation is so bad that they will probably continue throwing a lot of interceptions, but their talented defense only has 13 takeaways through 13 games, which will likely improve going forward. Denver’s defense enters this game 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.38%, so, while their defense hasn’t been as good as it has been in the past under Wade Phillips, it is still one of the best defenses in the league and easily the best unit in this game. Their offense is a problem, as they rank 29th in first down rate at 29.48%, but they are still significantly better in first down rate differential than the Colts, as they rank 23rd at -1.90%, while the Colts are dead last at -6.97%.

The Broncos also enter this game in a better injury situation, as the Colts have lost key contributors for the season like safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, outside linebacker John Simon, defensive end Henry Anderson, and left guard Jack Mewhort, all of whom were big parts of this team in the middle of the season. The Broncos are missing some guys too, but enter this game with the clearly better roster. The Colts have only beaten the Browns, 49ers, and Texans, 3 of the worst teams in the league, this season. The Broncos are a step up in class.

The Colts are also in a terrible spot, playing on a short week after an overtime game. Teams are understandably just 3-22 ATS all-time with 4 days of rest or fewer after an overtime game, as long as they are not playing a team that is also coming off of an overtime game. The Colts just almost played the Bills to a tie in a blizzard, so they could definitely be flat for this one. This line is at 2.5 in favor of the visiting Broncos, so Denver basically just needs to win straight up (about 9% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer). Given that, I like the Broncos a lot this week, as they should be able to win, facing a weaker opponent that is dealing with tough circumstances. I like them a lot less if this line creeps up to 3, but this is a high confidence pick to start the week at 2.5.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

LAC PK @ KC

NE -2.5 @ PIT

Denver Broncos 19 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -2.5

Confidence: High

2017 Week 14 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

PHI +1.5 @ LAR

High Confidence Picks

OAK +4 @ KC

CLE +3.5 vs. GB

CAR +3 vs. MIN

SF +3 @ HOU

Medium Confidence Picks

TEN -2.5 @ ARZ

ATL +1.5 vs. NO

IND +3.5 @ BUF

DEN +1.5 vs. NYJ

JAX -2.5 vs. SEA

WAS +6 @ LAC

CHI +6.5 @ CIN

Low Confidence Picks

DAL -3.5 @ NYG

BAL +5 @ PIT

No Confidence Picks

NE -11.5 @ MIA

DET PK @ TB

Upset Picks

ATL +105 vs. NO

DEN +105 vs. NYJ

PHI +110 @ LAR

OAK +170 @ KC

CLE +150 vs. GB

SF +125 @ HOU

CAR +125 vs. MIN

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

The Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs last season and they are 6-6 and in the middle of a playoff race again in the NFC, but they haven’t been as good as their record in either of the last two seasons. In 2016, they won just one game by more than a touchdown, didn’t win any games against playoff teams, and finished with a first down rate differential of -1.90%. This year, they are winning by bigger margins, but their first down rate differential is even lower at -3.83% and they are 1-6 against teams with winning records. Five of their wins have come against the Cardinals, Giants, Packers, Bears, and Browns and they lost the first down rate battle in 3 of those games.

Fortunately for the Lions, their opponents this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have more in common with the teams that the Lions have beaten this year than the teams they’ve lost to. That’s very relevant, given that the Lions only have to win this game to cover this even spread. After a big off-season, the Buccaneers entered the season with high expectations, but sit at 4-8 in the middle of an injury ruined season. Quarterback Jameis Winston has returned from his shoulder injury, but does not seem 100% yet.

Winston is also missing his top-2 offensive lineman, with center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson out for the season, leaving him with one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. On defense, the Buccaneers lost edge rusher Noah Spence for the season early in the year and are also without rotational defensive tackle Clint McDonald, starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and starting safety TJ Ward. The Lions are banged up too, with quarterback Matt Stafford playing through a hand injury and talented right tackle Ricky Wagner out of the lineup, but they are still the better of these two teams.

The Lions are also in a better spot, as the Buccaneers are coming off of a road overtime loss in Green Bay and then have to turn around and host the Falcons next week. They could easily look past the Lions a little as a result. Teams cover at just a 43% rate off of a road overtime loss (as long as they aren’t road underdogs in their second of two road games) and teams are just 39-67 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, which the Buccaneers likely will be next week. The Buccaneers probably aren’t talented enough to win this game if they aren’t focused, so the Lions seem like the smarter side, but we aren’t getting any line value with them and it’s hard to be confident in them since we don’t know the state of Stafford’s hand injury. The Lions are the choice for pick ‘em purposes only.

Detroit Lions 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit PK

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-9) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)

The Bills started 5-2, but have since fallen to 6-6. What happened? Well, this decline should have been expected, given how reliant they were on the turnover margin to win games early in the season. They started the season with a +14 turnover margin in their first 7 games, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they were unlikely to be able to continue relying on that going forward. Sure enough, the Bills have a -8 turnover margin in their last 5 games and are 1-4 in those 5 games as a result.

The Bills are even worse than their 6-6 record too, as they have a point differential of -56, 9th worst in the NFL. Having a point differential that bad, despite still having a positive turnover margin at +6, is very rare. The Bills have struggled mightily to move the ball this season and to get off the field without forcing takeaways. They rank 29th in first down rate at 29.83%, 30th in first down rate allowed at 36.76%, and 31st in first down rate differential at -6.93%. The only team the Bills rank higher than in that metric are their opponents this week, the Indianapolis Colts, who rank dead last at -7.63%.

Making matters even worse for the Bills, they have to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman this week with Tyrod Taylor injured and he has struggled mightily in limited action this season, showing why he fell to the 5th round of the draft in April in the first place. The Colts are one of the worst teams in the league, especially with valuable players like left guard Jack Mewhort, defensive end Henry Anderson, outside linebacker John Simon, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, and safety Malik Hooker out for the season. However, I still have this line calculated at -3 with Peterman in the lineup because I have these two teams about even at the moment.

The Colts are also in a good spot in their second of two road games.  Teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games. Teams are 256-274 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.89 points per game, as opposed to 379-523 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.94 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Lines don’t really adjust for that, which can give us some good betting spots, especially with road underdogs off of a road loss, like the Colts are this week. Teams are 121-78 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs off of a road loss in their second of two road games.

The Colts are 3-9 with their only wins coming against the 49ers, Browns, and Texans, three of the worst teams in the league. However, the Bills are arguably just as bad as those teams right now, so the Colts have a chance to pull this upset straight up and, even if they don’t, we get a good cushion at +3.5, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. At the very least, I’m happy getting more than a field goal with the significantly better quarterback, which is what Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is in this matchup with Peterman. The Colts are worth a small bet at 3.5.

Buffalo Bills 17 Indianapolis Colts 16

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7)

The Titans were high on my underrated list to start the season and have been a frequent bet of mine this season as a result. They are exceeding many people’s expectations at 8-4, but I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with them. They needed long, meaningless touchdowns at the end of the game against the Colts and Texans to cover those spreads. If not for those touchdowns, they would just have one cover since week 3 and that cover was a 4-point win as 3-point favorites in Indianapolis two weeks ago.

They’d also have just 1 win by more than a touchdown all season without those two touchdowns, despite the fact that they’ve had a very easy schedule. Their last 6 wins have come against the Colts (x2), the Texans, the Browns, the Ravens, and the Bengals and none of those wins would have come by more than a touchdown without those two meaningless touchdowns. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 20th at -0.85%. They also have a -16 point differential on the season and that includes those two meaningless touchdowns.

I’ve had them as a top-10 team talentwise all season, but their coaching staff is underwhelming and seems to be holding them back. On top of that, they are dealing with some injuries to starters right now, something that’s been a rarity for this team over the past couple years. Valuable base package run stuffing defensive end Da’Quan Jones is out for the season, while starting outside linebacker Derrick Morgan will miss this game at the very least.

All of that being said, I am going to be placing a bet on the Titans again this week because we are getting too much line value with Tennessee -2.5. Only about 9% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer, so the Titans basically have to just win straight up here to cover, which they shouldn’t have a ton of trouble doing against the Cardinals, even in Arizona. With Blaine Gabbert under center and all of the other injuries the Cardinals have suffered this season, they are one of the 4 or 5 worst teams in the league. I have this line calculated at -4.5, even as underwhelming as the Titans have been thus far this season. Considering about 20% of games are decided by 3-4 points, that’s a significant amount of line value. The Titans are worth a bet if you can get 2.5.

Tennessee Titans 24 Arizona Cardinals 19

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2.5

Confidence: Medium