Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at New Orleans Saints (10-4)

This is one of the tougher games of the week for me. We are getting some line value with the Falcons, as I have this line calculated at New Orleans -4 rather than New Orleans -5.5. However, that’s not a substantial amount of line value, given how few games are actually decided by 4-5 points (about 9%). On top of that, the Saints are in a better spot. While the Falcons have another tough game on deck against the Panthers that will have major playoff implications for both teams, the Saints only have a trip to Tampa Bay to face the 4-10 Buccaneers on deck.

It’s not that the Falcons won’t be focused for this key divisional game, but they could have a little bit of split focus this week with another tough game on deck, whereas the Saints can be completely focused for this game. Teams are 45-25 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 7+ and the early line has the Saints at -8.5 in Tampa Bay next week. At -5.5, I am picking the Saints, but I would probably change this pick to Atlanta at 6. That’s how close this one is for me.

New Orleans Saints 30 Atlanta Falcons 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Washington Redskins (6-8)

The Redskins have had a tough year. Up until last week, they had the toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponent’s strength of schedule. Over the final 3 weeks of the season, they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, starting with a home game against the Blaine Gabbert led Cardinals last week, but they are completely out of the playoff race right now and also incredibly banged up, losing left tackle Trent Williams, center Spencer Long, running backs Rob Kelley and Christian Thompson, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive end Jonathan Allen, middle linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster, and safety Montae Nicholson since the start of the season.

This week, the Redskins face the 5-9 Broncos, but the Broncos have been a little better than their record suggests, as they rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -1.38%. Their issue has been that they have the league’s 2nd worst turnover margin at -15, only better than the Browns, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Broncos could easily play turnover neutral football to close out their season. The Broncos’ quarterback situation is so bad that they will probably continue throwing interceptions at a higher than average rate, but their talented defense (4th in first down rate allowed) only has 13 takeaways through 14 games, which could definitely improve in the final 2 weeks of the season.

Given that and the state of the Redskins’ roster with all of their injuries, I have these two teams about even. That suggests this line should be about 3 in favor of the hometown Redskins, so we are getting a little bit of line value with the Broncos, as long as this line stays at 3.5. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting the full 3.5 is key. At Washington -3, I might take the Redskins, though this is a no confidence pick either way.

Sunday update: The Broncos ruled out both Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer on Sunday morning. Despite that, this line has dropped to 3. I’m changing my pick to Washington, but this is still a no confidence pick.

Washington Redskins 20 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Washington -3

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Houston Texans (4-10)

The Texans were blown out last week in Jacksonville, losing 45-7. The good news for them is teams tend to bounce back from blowout losses, going 54-31 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 or more. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after getting blown out. That blowout loss didn’t cause a big line shift, but that’s largely because their opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost arguably their best player Antonio Brown with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out for at least the final two weeks of the regular season. Already missing stud linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season, the Steelers are far from 100% right now. The Steelers are also expected to be without starting left guard Ramon Foster with a concussion, though they do get right tackle Marcus Gilbert back from a 4-game suspension.

In addition to their injury issues, the Steelers could also be flat this week after last week’s heartbreaking home loss to the New England Patriots. They’re typically flat in non-divisional road games against weak opponents anyway, as they are 4-15 ATS since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year in 2004 as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more. Earlier this year, they lost in Chicago and almost lost in Indianapolis as big road favorites, and they only have 4 wins by more than 7 points all year, so the Texans could give them more of a game than people are expecting.

That being said, I would not recommend betting the Texans, for two reasons. For one, I don’t think we’re getting enough line value with the Texans. Given all of the players they have lost to injury this season, they are one of the worst teams in the league right now, with quarterback TJ Yates under center behind arguably the worst offensive line in football and a defense that has not been nearly the same since losing JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season. Two, the Steelers don’t have a tough game next week, with the Browns coming to town, and superior teams do tend to take care of business when they don’t have any upcoming distractions, as favorites of 6+ are 72-43 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. The Texans should be the right side, but only for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: Houston +9

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)

The Dolphins are 6-8, but they have had a worse season than that suggests, as they have that record, despite going 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their 6 wins have come by a combined 47 points, while their 8 losses have come by a combined 137 points, giving them a point differential of -90, 5th worst in the NFL. They’ve been even worse in first down rate differential at -5.03%, 3rd worst in the NFL. They have been better in recent weeks though, ever since turning to Kenyan Drake as their feature back. They had their biggest margin of victory of the season a few weeks back, defeating the Broncos 35-9 and then beat the Patriots the following week.

Last week, they came up short in Buffalo, but they should play better this week, especially since they’re now in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 260-280 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.91 points per game, as opposed to 379-528 straight up in a single road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 3.02 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Teams especially do well in their 2nd of two road games as road underdogs off of a loss, going 123-81 ATS in that spot since 2008. There’s isn’t enough here for me to bet on the Dolphins, but they should be the right side as 10.5-point underdogs.

Kansas City Chiefs 28 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Miami +10.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-14) at Chicago Bears (4-10)

I have picked the Browns against the spread in 6 straight games because I’ve felt for a while that they aren’t quite as bad as their record suggests, especially with Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman back. They’ve only covered in 1 of those games, but fortunately I have been hesitant to actually bet on them over that time period, only betting on them as 3.5 point underdogs in a game they took the Packers to overtime. In addition to the Green Bay game, the Browns came close to covering in against the Jaguars and Lions, before falling apart late in the game.

This week, I don’t think we’re getting line value with the Browns, as the Bears have been underrated for a while. They’ve had some injury issues in recent weeks, with right guard Kyle Long going on injured reserve a couple weeks back and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and left guard Josh Sitton join him this week. However, they have been better defensively since getting middle linebacker Danny Trevathan back last week and now they get safety Adrian Amos back from a 3-game absence, which is a huge re-addition.

On the season, the Bears have definitely been better than their 4-10 record suggests, as they rank 21st in first down rate differential at -1.16% and 23rd in point differential at -60. They are 2-6 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and have just 4 double digit losses, including a 10-point loss in Detroit last week that was closer than the final score. The Bears were about even in first down rate in that game, but lost by 10 because they lost the turnover battle by 3 and had 2 red zone interceptions. Fortunately, turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much, especially since they are now facing the league’s worst team in turnover margin this week.

The Bears have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league this season in terms of opponent’s records at 56%, as only the Panthers and the Saints have faced a toughest schedule. That strength of schedule will obviously drop this week after facing the winless Browns. The Browns, meanwhile, have a strength of schedule of just 46%, largely as a result of playing in the much easier AFC. The Bears are 1-10 against NFC teams this season, but have won all 3 games they have played against AFC, beating the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. On the season, the NFC is 36-22 against the AFC (31-25 ATS).

That being said, there isn’t enough here for me to confidently bet on the Bears as 6.5-point favorites. Both teams are in pretty bad spots, as they both have tough upcoming games, with the Browns going to Pittsburgh and the Bears going to Minnesota. Both teams are expected to be double digit underdogs in those games and teams are just 105-179 ATS (37.0%) since 2008 before being double digit underdogs. The Browns should be more focused though, as they try to avoid going 0-16, and underdogs tend to be better before being double digit underdogs than favorites anyway, as underdogs are 82-137 ATS (37.4%) in that spot since 2008, while favorites are 22-40 ATS (35.5%) over that time period. The Bears could definitely look past the Browns here this week, though I still like their chances of winning this one by at least a touchdown.

Chicago Bears 20 Cleveland Browns 12

Pick against the spread: Chicago -6.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at San Francisco 49ers: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)

Former New England backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has now won his first 5 starts as a quarterback, including his first 3 starts since being traded to the 49ers. Garoppolo has played like a legitimate franchise quarterback since arriving in San Francisco and, along with an improving defense, led by rookies Ahkello Witherspoon and Reuben Foster, has turned around a team that started 0-8 and won just one of their first 11 games before inserting Garoppolo into the starting lineup. The 49ers get by far their toughest test of the Garoppolo era this week though, with the Jacksonville Jaguars coming to town.

Garoppolo’s wins have come against the Bears, Texans, and Titans, but the Jaguars are a major step up in class. I had them as a surprise team before the season and they’ve even exceeded my expectations. Their defense is hands down the best defense in the NFL and they are remarkably healthy on that side of the ball for this late in the season. The big surprise is their offense though, as they have not been bad on that side of the ball and it hasn’t just been their running game, as Blake Bortles has had the best season of his career in his 4th year in the league, despite a banged up receiving corps and a mediocre offensive line, and is making a strong case to remain the Jaguars’ starting quarterback beyond 2017.

On the season, the Jaguars rank 1st in first down rate differential at +6.44% and 2nd in point differential at +165. Part of that is because of a weak schedule, but the 49ers’ schedule hasn’t been much tougher and the 49ers, even as improved as they are, are still not a tough opponent, as they still have major holes throughout the depth chart. The good news is we are getting some decent line value with the 49ers, who are 4.5-point home underdogs. I have this line calculated at Jacksonville -3. Even if the 49ers can’t win straight up, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so they have a decent cushion to work with. There isn’t enough here for me to be confident betting on the 49ers, but they are the smarter choice for pick ‘em purposes, as this could easily be a close game.

Jacksonville Jaguars 16 San Francisco 49ers 13

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (11-3)

The Bills are 8-6 and right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the AFC, which would send them to the post-season for the first time since 1999 and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. However, they face a bit of an uphill battle, as their final two games are on the road and they probably need to win at least one of those games to remain in the playoff pictures, with the 8-6 Titans, the 8-6 Ravens, and the 7-7 Chargers also in the mix for those two wild card spots. On top of that, they haven’t been as good as their record suggests, as they have just one win by more than 10 points, as opposed to 4 losses, and have a mediocre point differential of -43. That’s despite having +7 turnover margin, tied for 5th best in the NFL.

Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily be able to rely on that going forward, and they rank just 31st in first down rate differential at -5.30%. They are also the only team in the league with a turnover margin of +6 and a negative point differential. They are obviously a better team with Tyrod Taylor under center, instead of Nathan Peterman, but even with Taylor under center they’ve had major problems moving the ball because of their lack of pass catchers. On top of that, their defense has had major problems getting off the field without forcing turnovers.

Their opponents this week, the New England Patriots, beat them 23-3 in Buffalo a few weeks back. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.36% and have been even better in recent weeks since working through some early season kinks on defense. The Patriots are also in a great spot, as they have no upcoming distractions with only a home game against the Jets on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 70-43 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, as good teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. The Patriots have not been as good of a bet at home as they have been on the road in recent seasons and we’re not getting much line value at New England -11.5 (I have this line calculated at 12.5), so I would not recommend betting on this one, but the Patriots should be the right side for pick’em purposes.

Sunday update: Buffalo ruled out starting cornerback EJ Gaines, but this line still fell to 11 Sunday morning. I was on the fence about betting this game before, but I think it’s worth a small wager now. Gaines has been having a solid season and their pass defense has been worse when he’s been out of the lineup, something that’s going to be a big problem against Tom Brady.

New England Patriots 31 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: New England -11

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)

Before the season, I had the Titans as a top-10 team and a candidate to get a first round bye in the AFC, after finishing last season just outside of the playoffs at 9-7 and adding talent at positions of need this off-season. The Titans have a solid 8-6 record, but they are definitely not in the running for a first round bye and they have not even been as good as that record suggests. They have just 3 wins by more than a touchdown all season (as opposed to 4 losses by more than a touchdown) and two of those wins were single score games until long, meaningless garbage time touchdowns by Derrick Henry late in the game. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 16th at -0.25%, despite having the easiest schedule in the NFL.

Their schedule gets tougher over the next two games, with the Rams and Jaguars coming to town and they probably need to win at least one of those games to have a shot at the post-season. The tougher schedule might not be terrible news for them though. They are relatively healthy for this point in the season and, on paper, this is still a top-10 team talentwise, but they are poorly coached under Mike Mularkey and his staff and have played down to the level of their competition. The good news is they’ve also played up to their level of competition, as they are 3-1 against playoff teams, with convincing wins over the Jaguars, Seahawks, and Ravens, and their one loss coming on the road in Pittsburgh on a short week.

The Titans might not win straight up here against the Rams, but the Rams’ blowout victory in Seattle last week shifted this line from Rams -3.5 to Rams -7, so we have a good cushion to work with. I still have this line calculated at -3, as the Rams’ strong performance last week was largely the result of Seattle being incredibly banged up at linebacker. The Rams probably would have still won if the Seahawks were healthy in the linebacking corps, but I think we’re getting too much line value with the Titans this week to pass on. I like this line less at 6.5, but this is a high confidence pick if you can get the full touchdown.

Los Angeles Rams 23 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +7

Confidence: High

New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-12) at Arizona Cardinals (6-8)

This is one of the cases where I wish I had taken the early line last week, as the Cardinals were ridiculous 7-point favorites over the Giants last week on the early line. The line has since moved to 3.5. The Giants played decent last week in a close home loss to the Eagles, while the Cardinals lost by 5 in Washington, but those aren’t the kind of results that typically trigger significant line movements like that. Perhaps the odds makers just realized they had made a big mistake with the original line.

Even at 3.5, I still like the Giants a little bit, as I have the Cardinals only favored by a point. They’ve benched quarterback Blaine Gabbert, just a couple weeks after weirdly talking him up as a potential quarterback of the future, and will turn back to veteran Drew Stanton, who is arguably worse. He hasn’t completed more than 50% of his passes or averaged more than 6 yards per attempt since 2014 and has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. He’s also playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, with 4 of their 5 week 1 starters out for the season upfront, and he doesn’t have a running game to support him, with both David Johnson and Adrian Peterson out for the season as well.

Defensively, they are a solid unit, but not as good as they were earlier in the season, before safety Tyvon Branch and outside linebacker Markus Golden got hurt. The Giants arguably have the better defense in this one, in addition to having the better quarterback. That will depend in large part on whether or not safety Landon Collins plays through his ankle injury this week, but I think the Giants are worth a small bet at 3.5 even with his status uncertain. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less and the Cardinals have just 3 wins by more than a field goal all season.

Arizona Cardinals 17 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)

The Buccaneers are just 4-10, in the middle of a disappointing injury riddled season that started with strong playoff hopes, but they’ve competitive in most of their games and they have been better than their record suggests. Just 4 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or more and they rank 12th in first down rate differential at 0.92%, as they have 15 more first downs than they’ve allowed. Their big issue has been their inability to create big plays (just 4 plays of 40 yards or more, 2nd fewest in the league), but that tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much.

Last week, the Buccaneers kept it close with the Falcons, losing by 3 in a game they won the first down rate battle by 6.65%. That was despite the fact that the Buccaneers were without outside linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, two of their best defensive players, who could both return from 1-game absences after getting in some limited practices this week. The Buccaneers could easily keep it close this week in another tough divisional matchup against the Panthers, especially if one or both of McCoy and David are out there.

The Panthers have a strong record of 10-4, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, as they have just 3 wins by more than 8 points and are 7-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer. They’re also going to be without linebacker Thomas Davis and right guard Trai Turner this week, a pair of important players. Given that and how many close games these two teams have played this season, I have this line calculated at Carolina -7, even factoring in the uncertainty with David and McCoy.

The Panthers are also in a tough spot, with a huge divisional game on deck in Atlanta, a game that could have implications in both the NFC South and the NFC Wild Card races. Divisional home favorites are just 26-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which the Panthers definitely will be next week. On top of that, double digit favorites are just 58-78 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Buccaneers have a tough game next week too, as they host the Saints, a game in which they are 8.5-point underdogs on the early line. Teams are just 25-50 ATS before being home underdogs of 7+, as it’s tough to be fully focused with a tough home game on deck.

I like their spot a little bit better than Carolina’s tough, especially with the Panthers coming off back-to-back tough wins over the Vikings and Packers. They could definitely be a little flat this week. I also like the line value we’re getting with the Buccaneers a lot, as they are 10.5-point underdogs. This is just a small bet because of the uncertainty with McCoy and David, but the Buccaneers should be the smart play this week. If this line stays put and both McCoy and David play, I will consider raising this bet.

Sunday Update: Both McCoy and David are active, but this line dropped to 10, so I will not be raising this bet.

Carolina Panthers 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +10.5

Confidence: Medium