Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (6-8) at Oakland Raiders (3-11)

The Broncos have had a tough year. They started the season with the toughest schedule in the league through 11 games, going 5-6, with close losses to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice) and wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Seahawks. The schedule has gotten easier recently, but they’re not the same team as they were earlier in the season, with key players like right guard Ron Leary, center Matt Paradis, cornerback Chris Harris, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on injured reserve and fellow wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded to the Texans. As a result, they’ve lost 2 of 3 and were eliminated from the playoffs last week with a home loss to the Browns.

Their schedule remains easy this week, with a trip to Oakland on deck, but the Broncos might not bring their best effort. With their season over, the Broncos could be looking forward to a much tougher game against the Chargers, a game in which they are 5.5-point home underdogs on the early line. Road favorites, which the Broncos are this week, are just 23-47 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs.

The Raiders aren’t in a good spot either, with a trip to Kansas City on deck, a game in which they will almost definitely be double digit underdogs. Teams are just 22-46 ATS since 2016 before being double digit underdogs, as tough upcoming games tend to present a distraction to teams. However, this is likely the Raiders’ last game in Oakland, so I expect a strong effort from them. We’re not getting enough line value with them as 3-point underdogs to bet them confidently, but they should be the right side.

Denver Broncos 20 Oakland Raiders 19

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (10-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

After winning the Super Bowl last year, the Eagles’ 2018 season was derailed by injuries and close losses (6 losses by 7 points or fewer), but they are still very much in the playoff race in the NFC after backup quarterback Nick Foles led them to a big upset victory over the Rams in Los Angeles last week. Foles isn’t an upgrade on Carson Wentz, but Wentz was not at 100% all season and the team really does seem to play harder with a backup quarterback in the lineup, embracing the underdog role.

The Eagles are not underdogs this week, favored by 2 points at home against the Texans, but I would expect them to continue playing hard against a tough opponent with their season on the line. They’re also finally getting some players back from injury, most notably stud every down linebacker Jordan Hicks, who is not listed on the injury report this week, after missing 4 games with a calf injury. We’re not getting enough line value with the Eagles to take them with any confidence, but I think the most likely outcome in this game is a Philadelphia win by a field goal, which would cover this spread.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -2

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

The Cowboys were shut out in Indianapolis last week, ending their 5-game winning streak. That was a tough spot for them though, on the road against a strong Indianapolis team, without their top offensive lineman Zack Martin, after back-to-back tough wins over the Saints and Eagles. This week, they are at home with an easier matchup against the Buccaneers, they probably are getting Martin back, and they should be more focused after last week’s loss humbled them.

That being said, I’m still leaning towards the Buccaneers as 7-point underdogs. The Cowboys have had offensive issues all season and that has kept them from blowing out their opponents, with 7 of their 8 wins coming by 8 points or fewer. Even if Martin is back, he likely won’t be at 100%, which could be a major problem for this offense. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have also played a lot of close games in recent years, with 12 of their 20 losses over the past 2 seasons coming by 8 points or fewer.

The Buccaneers have defensive issues (6th in first down rate allowed at 41.02%) and they start one of the more turnover prone quarterbacks in the league in Jameis Winston, but their offense moves the ball well (30th in first down rate at 41.28%) and is more than capable of getting a backdoor cover if needed. There’s not enough here to take the Buccaneers with any confidence and we’re not really getting any line value with the Buccaneers, but this could easily be another close game for these teams, so I like the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: None

Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) at Seattle Seahawks (8-6)

Earlier in the week, the Chiefs seemed like the clear pick. The Seahawks have a solid record at 8-6 and have been playing better offensively in recent weeks, but their defense has had trouble getting off the field this season. They’ve played the 2nd fewest defensive snaps in the league, as a result of the offense going 11 of 14 on 4th down on the season and only turning over the ball 10 times, fewest in the NFL, but 4th down percentages and turnovers tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t always be able to depend on that making life easier for their defense and they rank just 26th in first down rate allowed at 38.51%.

However, the Seahawks could be getting a huge boost defensively this week, with the return of outside linebacker KJ Wright from injury. Bobby Wagner is the linebacker that gets all the attention on this defense, but Wright is arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the league when healthy. Lingering knee issues have limited him to just 133 underwhelming snaps in 3 games this season, a big part of why they’ve struggled defensively, especially since replacement Austin Calitro has been horrendous this season. It’s tough to know if Wright is at 100% or if he’ll play his full snaps, but his return should be a boost for this defense.

Despite that, this line didn’t really shift to adjust for his return, opening at Kansas CIty -2.5 and only falling to Kansas City -2, really insignificant line movement. With Wright in the lineup, I have this line calculated at Kansas CIty -2.5, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Chiefs, but not nearly enough to take them with any sort of confidence this week. I think the most likely outcome in this game is a Kansas City win by a field goal, which would cover this spread, but this was one of the toughest games of the week for me to decide on because the Seahawks could easily pull this upset at home.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Seattle Seahawks 27

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -2

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) at Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

It’s weird seeing the Browns as big favorites. Originally this line opened up at Cleveland -7, which didn’t make much sense. That line suggested the Browns are 4 points better than the Bengals on a neutral field, but when these two teams met earlier this year in Cincinnati, this was an even line, suggesting the Browns were 3 points better than the Bengals at the time. Given that the Bengals have lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton and were blown out in their previous matchup with the Browns, I would have expected the odds makers to have a bigger gap between these two teams this time around, but maybe they’re just not used to having the Browns favored by more than a touchdown, given that the last time that happened was 2010.

Unfortunately, Cleveland -7 disappeared pretty quickly, as heavy action came in on the Browns quickly and caused the oddsmakers to adjust. Now the Browns are favored by 9 points, most they’ve been favored by in a game since they were favored by 11.5 points against the 49ers in week 17 of the 2007 season. Even at Cleveland -9, I think this line is a little short, as I have the Browns calculated as 11-point favorites in this game.

That might sound crazy since it’s the Browns, but they’ve been playing legitimately good football since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, going 4-2. Led by rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, their offense has moved the chains at a 41.59% rate in 6 games without Jackson and Haley, as opposed to 30.25% in 7 games prior. To put that in perspective, 41.59% would rank 5th in the NFL on the season, right behind the Rams, while 30.25% would rank 29th on the season, right behind the Jaguars. The Browns’ defense has also been better in recent weeks since getting linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Now they get top cornerback Denzel Ward back from a two game absence with a concussion and are close to full strength on both sides of the ball.

The Bengals, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction and are nowhere close to full strength. I already mentioned they’re without their starting quarterback, but they’re also without their top-2 wide receivers AJ Green and Tyler Boyd and, even before losing those two, their offense hasn’t been the same since losing top tight end Tyler Eifert early in the season. They have a decent offensive line and running back Joe Mixon has been running well, but they really lack skill position talent on offense.

That’s a huge problem for the Bengals because their defense has been horrible all season, ranking 29th in first down rate allowed at 39.50%. They’re getting healthier, with every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict set to return this week from a 2-game absence, but he has struggled when on the field this season, so it’s unclear how much of a boost that really is. We’re not getting enough line value with the Browns for them to be worth betting, but I would expect them to win this game with relative ease, given the talent gap between these two teams right now.

Cleveland Browns 24 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -9

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-3) at Arizona Cardinals (3-11)

The Cardinals were blown out last week in Atlanta, losing by 26 points to a team that had previously lost 5 straight games. That was probably in part due to the Cardinals not being totally focused, with this much bigger game against the Rams on deck, but, even if they’re fully focused this week, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll cover this spread. This spread is huge, with the Cardinals being 14-point home underdogs, but it’s justifiable given the talent gap between these two teams.

The Cardinals rank dead last in first down rate differential at -7.22% and might be even worse than that suggests, given all of their injuries. They are missing their top-3 offensive linemen, DJ Humphries, Mike Iupati, and Justin Pugh, their top receiver Christian Kirk, starting defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and every down linebacker Josh Bynes, among others. On the season, 6 of their 11 losses have come by at least two touchdowns. The Rams don’t have that many blowout wins (4 wins by 14 points or more), but that’s in part due to a tough schedule. Those blowout wins came against the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Lions, all among the worst teams in the league, so they’ve taken care of business whenever they’ve had an easy matchup like this.

The Rams should also be fully focused for this game, as their schedule gets way easier to close out the year, facing the 49ers next week after this game against the Cardinals. Favorites of 7+ are 58-36 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 7+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business without upcoming distractions. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have another tough game in Seattle next week and it’s proven to be very tough for inferior teams to hang with superior teams with another tough game on deck. Underdogs of 7+ are just 31-50 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs of 7+ again, including just 4-14 ATS if their opponent will next be favorites of 7+ again. I don’t want to make a bet on this game without confirmation that Todd Gurley will play for the Rams after missing practice all week, but I will revisit this if he ends up playing.

Final Update: Todd Gurley is expected to play and, while we won’t know for sure until later this afternoon, I want to lock this in now in case the line jumps from 14. The Rams have blown out every terrible team they’ve faced this season and that trend dates back to last season as well, when they went 3-0 against teams that finished 5-11 or worse, winning those 3 games by an average of 32.3 points per game. Without an upcoming distraction on the schedule for the Rams, I don’t expect this to be close.

Los Angeles Rams 34 Arizona Cardinals 13

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -14

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

New York Giants (5-9) at Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

The Colts are a solid 8-6, but they’re even better than their record suggests. They had major injury problems earlier in the year, leading to a 1-5 start, but they’ve won 7 of 8 games since then, with 4 wins by at least two touchdowns. On the season, they rank 7th in point differential at +72 and 5th in first down rate differential at +3.95%. They’ve faced one of the easier schedules in the league, but they’re arguably even better than those numbers suggest, given how well they’ve played when healthy. With talented center Ryan Kelly returning last week, the Colts are as healthy as they’ve been all season, which should be a scary proposition for the rest of the AFC, with the Colts in the running for the final wild card spot.

The Giants also improved as the season went on, but they have a serious injury on both sides of the ball now, with #1 wide receiver Odell Beckham and Pro-Bowl safety Landon Collins on the sidelines. They blew out the Redskins without them, but I think that was more about the Redskins not giving effort with a hapless street free agent quarterback under center than anything to do with the Giants and the Giants followed that game up by getting shut out at home by the Titans in a 17-0 loss. I expect their struggles to continue this week and for the Colts to take care of business and win this easily. This line shifted from Indianapolis -6 to Indianapolis -9 in the past week, but I have this line calculated at Indianapolis -13, so we’re still getting significant line value with the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 27 New York Giants 13

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -9

Confidence: High

Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (12-2)

The Steelers got a huge win last week, beating the Patriots for the first time since the 2011 season. That win was big for several reasons, as the Steelers were previously on a 3-game losing streak (all in upset fashion) and were in danger of falling out of the playoffs with another loss. The schedule doesn’t get any easier this week though, with the Steelers now having to go to New Orleans to play the Saints, arguably the top team in the league. The Saints haven’t been quite as good in recent weeks, but they’ve also been on the road for three straight games and are now returning home, where they have covered 4 straight games, winning by an average of 22.25 points per game.

The injury news also favors the Saints, who are expected to get left tackle Terron Armstead back from a 5-game absence. Armstead is one of the top left tackles in the league and getting him back should boost this offense significantly. The Steelers, meanwhile, could be without talented receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who suffered a groin injury in practice on Thursday and did not practice at all on Friday. They’ll also be without running back James Conner for the second straight week. Given these two teams injury situations, this line is short at New Orleans -6.5. As long as this line is under a touchdown, the Saints are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)

The Bears have been better than their record all season. Even at 10-4 with the 3rd best record in the NFC, the Bears are better than that suggests, as their 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, including one game with a backup quarterback. Despite starting a backup quarterback for two games, the Bears still rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.57% and 2nd in NFL in point differential at +119. Because of that, I’ve picked them against the spread in every game but two this season and they are 10-2 ATS in those 12 games.

That being said, I’m not going to be taking the Bears this week because the 49ers are also better than their record suggests. They are only 4-10, but they are 3-3 since turning to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has played pretty well. They have moved the chains at a 38.16% rate in those 6 games, as opposed to 35.17% in CJ Beathard’s 5 starts. More important, Mullens has committed just 6 turnovers in 6 games, while Beathard committed 10 in 5 games.

Making the 49ers’ recent record more even more impressive is the fact they haven’t gotten a single takeaway over that 6-game stretch. In fact, they are -9 in turnover margin over that time frame, including -2 in their 3 wins. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and this defense has played well enough (36.88% in first down rate allowed at 18th) that they should be able to get more takeaways going forward. This is a quietly capable team with Mullens under center.

We’ve lost line value with the 49ers due to their recent upset wins over Denver and Seattle, as this line has dropped to Chicago -4 from Chicago -6 on the early line last week, but the Bears have also lost stud safety Eddie Jackson to an ankle injury in the past week, so that line movement is more than justified. An All-Pro caliber player, Jackson’s absence is worth at least 2-3 points. We’re not getting enough line value with the 49ers to take them with any confidence, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Chicago Bears 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Lions have been pretty predictable in the Matt Stafford era, playing well against weaker opponents, but struggling in tougher games. Since Stafford’s first full season as a starter in 2011, the Lions are 20-40-2 ATS and 20-42 straight up against teams with a winning record like the Vikings. Most recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams.

The Lions have also incurred a lot of losses over the course of the season, losing right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receiver Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, among others. Quarterback Matt Stafford is also dealing with a back injury that seems to have limited him in recent weeks. They rank 26th in first down rate differential at -3.29% and they’re arguably even worse than that, given all of their missing personnel.

All that being said, this line is pretty high, favoring the Vikings by 6 points on the road. If the Vikings’ offense plays like it did last week in their first game under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, they should cover with ease, but that’s far from a guarantee, as inconsistent as their offense has been this season. I’m still going with the Vikings, but I would need this line to drop below 6 to consider betting money on Minnesota.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -6

Confidence: Low