Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)

The Packers haven’t lost at home this season, but they also haven’t won on the road. Now at 4-5-1, the Packers have their season on the line this week in Minnesota. If they lose this game, they’ll fall two games behind the Vikings for the final wild card spot and the Vikings will own the tiebreaker, so they’ll essentially be 3 games out of the playoffs with 5 to play. If they win this game however, they’ll own the tiebreaker with Minnesota and would be just a half game behind Washington (who is starting a backup quarterback) for the final wild card spot.

The good news for Packers fans is that home/road disparity tends to be more random than anything. This is the 19th instance of a team being winless on the road and undefeated at home in week 8 or later. The previous 18 are 9-9 in their next road game and 10-6-2 ATS. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Packers, but it shows you shouldn’t just blindly bet against the Packers just because they are away from home. Last week, I bet the Packers as 3-point underdogs in Seattle in a game they led throughout (including 14-3 in the first half), before the Seahawks eventually came back with a late drive and caused the line to push with a 3-point win.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting nearly as good as a line this week with the Packers, as they are once again 3-point underdogs, but against a much better team. While the Seahawks are a middling team, the Vikings are quietly a tough opponent. They had injury problems early in the season, but they are much healthier now, with players like defensive end Everson Griffen, running back Dalvin Cook, and linebacker Anthony Barr back from extended absences. The general public hasn’t caught on yet because they lost last week in Chicago, but the Bears are legitimately a top level team, so there isn’t much shame in that.

The Packers, meanwhile, are going the other way injury wise, losing stud defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the second half of their loss in Seattle, a big part of the reason why the Seahawks were able to mount a comeback late. Daniels doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he’s one of the better defensive linemen in the league, so his absence will certainly be felt. With that in mind, I like the Vikings a little bit this week. This line suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Vikings slightly better in my roster rankings right now with Daniels out.

The Packers are in a better spot than the Vikings, as they have an easy game home against the Cardinals on deck, while the Vikings have another tough game in New England. Underdogs are 90-54 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. However, because this game is so big for both teams, I don’t expect the Vikings to be looking forward to that New England game much at all this week, so I’m not sure how relevant that trend is to this game. There isn’t enough here to bet them and this could easily end up another push, given how frequently games are decided by exactly a field goal (about 1 in 6), but the Vikings should be the right side.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Green Bay Packers 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)

These two teams have had similar seasons statistically. Both have poor records, but rank significantly better than their record suggests in first down rate differential. The 49ers rank 12th at +1.26%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.95%. Both teams have been crushed by the turnover margin, with turnover margins of -15 and -23 respectively, but turnover margins tend to completely unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Buccaneers were -4 in turnover margin last week in New York in 3-point loss to the Giants and, on average, teams with a turnover margin of -4 in a game have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week.

The 49ers’ offense obviously hasn’t been as good since Jimmy Garoppolo went down, but they haven’t been terrible either, moving the chains at a 36.30% rate in 7 games without Garoppolo, as opposed to 41.30% in the 3 games Garoppolo started. CJ Beathard took over the starting job after Garoppolo got hurt, but he missed a start with a hand injury and lost his job to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has been an upgrade in 2 starts.

After Beathard turned the ball over 10 times in 5 starts, the 49ers are just -2 in turnover margin in Mullens’ two starts, with both turnovers bouncing off receivers’ hands. Turnover margins tend to stabilize in the long run anyway, but Mullens has definitely been an upgrade over Beathard. They’ve also been decent defensively, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 36.49% rate, 17th in the NFL, and should force more turnovers going forward.

The Buccaneers have also switched quarterbacks several times this season, but under different circumstances. Ryan Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter, but the Buccaneers have switched quarterbacks mid-game three times this season and are now back to Jameis Winston for his second stint as their starting quarterback this season. Both quarterbacks have committed numerous turnovers, 13 for Fitzpatrick and 12 for Winston, but they’ve also averaged a combined 9.11 yards per attempt (3rd best in the NFL), taking numerous shots downfield to one of the better receiving corps in the NFL. As a result, they have moved the chains at a 43.34% rate, 4th best in the NFL. Regardless of which quarterback they start, they should continue moving the chains at a high rate and their turnover margin should be better, even if only by default, going forward.

The biggest problem for the Buccaneers is that they have the worst defense in the NFL. They rank 31st in first down rate allowed at 42.39% and have been even worse in recent weeks due to numerous injuries, including linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safety Justin Evans, and cornerback MJ Stewart. The injury bug has also spread to their offense, with tight end OJ Howard going down for the season, which is a big hit to their receiving corps. The 49ers, meanwhile, are getting healthier coming out of the bye, with both linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Jaquiski Tartt both expected back this week. For that reason, I’ll give them the edge in this one, but this could easily end up being a push.

Final Update: Foster will not play for the 49ers after being arrested for domestic violence last night. Despite that, sharp action on San Francisco has pushed this line down to 2. Given that, I’m changing my pick, but this is still a no confidence pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 San Francisco 49ers 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)

Earlier in the week, I was considering betting the Bengals in this one. They have not played as well in recent weeks as they did earlier in the season due to injuries, but it looked like there would be a chance they’d get both #1 receiver AJ Green and every down linebacker Nick Vigil back from injury this week, after getting Vontaze Burfict back last week. Instead, both Green and Vigil are expected to be out again and the Bengals could also be without left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who both missed practice on Friday.

Given that, I’m actually going to take the Browns, who have been better offensively since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley and who are much better defensively with linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Schobert missed about 3 and a half games with injury, but made his presence known in his first game back, as the Browns pulled the upset over the Falcons in their last game prior to the bye. In the 6 games Schobert has started and finished this season, they have allowed a first down rate of 32.59%, as opposed to 46.69% in their other 4 games.

That’s not all him, but he’s playing at a legitimately All-Pro level this season, ranking 2nd among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus, so his presence in the lineup is much more important than casual bettors realize. There’s not enough line value with the Browns as 3-point underdogs to take them with any confidence and I’m concerned that the Bengals will have an advantage with Hue Jackson joining their staff immediately after being fired by the Browns, but the Browns are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: Both Glenn and Kirkpatrick are out for the Bengals and heavy sharp action on the Browns has pushed this line all the way down to even. With Glenn and Kirkpatrick out, I have this line calculated at Cincinnati -1.5, so we’re now getting a little bit of line value with the hosts. This is still a no confidence pick though.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Cleveland Browns 19

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati PK

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)

The Bills have endured some truly terrible quarterback play in recent weeks. Matt Barkley played well in his start before the bye, but prior to that the Bills were a combined 75 of 121 (62.0%) for 676 yards (5.59 YPA), no touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in their previous 3 games, losing all 3 games by a combined 83 points. Barkley likely wouldn’t be able to keep that up for more than a start, but fortunately the Bills get starting quarterback Josh Allen back from injury this week. Allen hasn’t played well this season, but he should be a noticeable upgrade over the street free agents they’ve been starting in his absence. The Bills actually have a solid defense (10th in first down rate allowed) and Allen returning to stabilize the quarterback position should allow their defense to shine more, especially against easier opponents.

The Jaguars qualify as an easier opponent. Their defense hasn’t really been much worse than last season (4th in first down rate allowed), but they haven’t quite been the dominant unit they were last season and their offense has been noticeably worse due to injury. The Jaguars are missing their top-3 left tackles, their top-3 tight ends, their top wide receiver Marqise Lee, and their top offensive lineman center Brandon Linder. A year after finishing 2nd in first down rate differential, the Jaguars rank just 22nd at -2.10%. This line favors the Jaguars on the road by a field goal, but I think this line should be closer to even.

The Jaguars are also in a terrible spot. Not only did they have a crushing last second loss at home last week to the Steelers in what was their best effort in weeks, but they have another big home game against the Colts on deck, so they could easily look past the 3-7 Bills. Road favorites struggle mightily before being home underdogs, going 39-62 ATS since 2008, and the Jaguars are expected to be home underdogs for the Colts next week. The Bills are a smart bet as field goal home underdogs, as they should at least be able to push this week. The money line is also worth a bet at +150, as this game is basically a toss up.

Buffalo Bills 17 Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (5-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-4)

A couple weeks ago, the Panthers were 6-2 and were seen as one of the better teams in the league, but they got blown out in Pittsburgh and then lost in Detroit to a last place Lions team, dropping them down to 6-4. As a result of last week’s loss in Detroit, this line shifted from Carolina -4.5 to Carolina -3, a significant shift, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly. I think that line movement is an overreaction, as the Panthers would have won that game in Detroit if not for issues in the kicking game, which had not been an issue for them previously.

This line probably would have been closer to 6.5 or 7 a few weeks ago, before Carolina’s blowout loss in Pittsburgh. That was obviously a bad loss, but the Steelers are a legitimately good team and the Panthers were likely just caught off guard on the road on a short week against a strong team. The Panthers also been much better at home than on the road this season, going just 1-4 on the road, but 5-0 at home, with an average margin of victory of 9.8 points per game. Home/road variances tend to be random more than anything, but the Panthers have definitely been better this season than they’ve shown in the past couple weeks. Now back at home, they’re underrated as mere field goal favorites over the Seahawks.

This line suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Panthers a few points better than the Seahawks, who have been an average team at best this season, ranking just 21st in first down rate differential at -1.93%. The Panthers, meanwhile, rank 13th at +1.24%, despite an underwhelming couple of weeks. I think this line should be closer to the -6.5 or -7 it likely would have been a couple weeks ago. The Panthers are a smart play this week as field goal favorites.

Carolina Panthers 27 Seattle Seahawks 20

Pick against the spread: Carolina -3

Confidence: High

New England Patriots at New York Jets: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (7-3) at New York Jets (3-7)

The Patriots started off the season 1-2, but followed that up by ripping off 6 straight wins, putting them firmly back into Super Bowl contention once again. However, then they followed that up by getting blown out by 24 in Tennessee prior to their bye week, their biggest loss this late in the season with Tom Brady under center. Many soured on them after that loss and I think they’re underrated as a result.

They’re still one of the better teams in the league on paper and the Titans are a legitimately good team when Marcus Mariota is healthy, with one of the better defenses in the league, so that loss wasn’t as bad as it looked. The Titans got blown out in Indianapolis last week, but that was in part because they were flat after their huge upset win, in part because they lost Mariota to injury in the first half, and in part because the Colts have been quietly one of the best teams in the league over the past month.

The Patriots have also been so good throughout the years that they should get the benefit of the doubt, especially since they have played at a very high level on numerous occasions this season. They typically bounce back well after a loss, going 48-25 ATS in the Bill Belichick era, including 38-19 ATS with Tom Brady, and they are typically dominant in the second half of the season, going 65-42 ATS in the final 8 games of the regular season with Tom Brady under center.

The Patriots are also in a great spot coming off the bye against a lowly Jets team that ranks 28th in first down rate differential at -5.15%. Good teams typically beat up on bad teams after a week off. Road favorites of 4+ are 31-8 ATS since 2002 after a bye, including a ridiculous 11-1 ATS against divisional opponents. The Patriots have had two weeks to hear about how they supposedly have lost it and I expect them to come out of their bye with a statement win.

The Patriots are also much healthier going out of the bye, with right guard Shaq Mason and tight end Rob Gronkowski expected to return from short-term absences. Both were badly missed in their loss in Tennessee. This line is pretty high at -9.5, but I have the Patriots favored by 11.5 points, as this is a matchup of one of the worst teams in the league and one of the best. The Patriots should cover with ease in what should be a blowout victory.

New England Patriots 30 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: New England -9.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-6)

The Steelers have traditionally disappointed as big road favorites outside of the division, going 7-19 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 3+ since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, frequently looking flat, especially early in games. We saw this last week when the Steelers trailed 16-0 late in the 3rd quarter in Jacksonville as 6-point road favorites. They ultimately made a huge comeback, but still only won by 4 at the last second and never had a shot to cover as 6-point favorites.

The Steelers were originally 6-point road favorites again in this one in Denver, but as a result of the Steelers’ underwhelming performance last week, combined with the Broncos’ upset victory in Los Angeles against the Chargers, this line has shifted to a field goal. The Steelers also might be more focused this week, after sleepwalking through 3 quarters against the Jaguars last week. Despite that, I still like the Broncos a decent amount in this one, as they’re a much more formidable foe than the Jaguars were last week.

The Broncos are just 4-6, but they’ve been much better than their record. In addition to their win in Los Angeles last week, they also have been competitive against the Chiefs (twice), the Rams, and the Texans, a trio of division leaders who beat them by just a combined 16 points in 4 games. On the season, they have a -7 point differential and are even better in first down rate differential, ranking 11th at 2.25%, despite having the 2nd toughest schedule in terms of opponent’s DVOA.

Their offensive line injuries concern me a little, as their top-2 offensive linemen, right guard Ronald Leary and center Matt Paradis, went down for the season a few weeks ago, but the Steelers are without stud defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt with injury for the second straight week, so they won’t be able to take full advantage of Denver’s injuries. I wish we were getting a better line, but the Broncos are worth a small play and have a good shot to pull off the straight up upset here at home.

Denver Broncos 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Denver +3

Confidence: Medium