Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at Carolina Panthers (6-8)

The Panthers got off to a great start to the season, starting 6-2, but they’ve been in freefall ever since, losing 6 straight to effectively eliminate themselves from the post-season. Most of those losses were close, with five straight losses by a touchdown or less, and they won the first down rate battle in four of those close losses, so they could easily have 8-9 wins right now if a few snaps went differently, but with their season essentially over, the Panthers have decided to shut injured quarterback Cam Newton down for the season.

Newton getting shut down caused this line to shift to Atlanta -3, after originally being Carolina -3 early in the week (and Carolina -6 on the early line last week). Originally I liked Atlanta a lot at +3, because this isn’t a good spot for the Panthers, sandwiched in between two huge games against the Saints, but Newton has been part of the problem lately, throwing at least one interception in all 6 of the Panthers’ losses, including 6 in the past 3 games, so I think this line shifted way too much for his absence.

The Falcons are still an average team at best and the Panthers have played a lot of close games (7 of 8 losses by a touchdown or less), even with underwhelming quarterback play in recent weeks. New starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke is a complete wild card, with 5 career pass attempts in 4 seasons in the league since going undrafted in 2015, and we’re not getting nearly enough points to bet on the Panthers confidently with him under center, but I like the Panthers for pick ‘em purposes now that they’re getting a field goal.

Final Update: Kawaan Short was ruled out Sunday morning with a calf injury, after surprisingly playing through it last week against the Saints. That’s yet another big loss for the Panthers, who also placed linebacker Shaq Thompson on injured reserve this week. The Falcons, meanwhile, have played better defensively since getting linebacker Deion Jones back a few weeks ago. This is still a no confidence pick, but I’m changing sides.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (5-9) at New England Patriots (9-5)

The Patriots have lost back-to-back games for the second time this season, but that’s been a very rare occurrence for them in recent years. In fact, this is just the 8th time the Patriots have done so in the past 15 seasons. Even rarer is the Patriots losing 3 in a row, as that hasn’t happened since 2002. The Patriots need to do more than just win here to cover as 13-point home favorites, but history suggests they should be able to do that as well. Not only have they won their last 9 games after back-to-back losses, but they’ve also covered in 8 of those 9 games. All in all, the Patriots are 49-26 ATS off of a loss in the Bill Belichick era.

The Patriots have also been a lot better at home than on the road this season. Home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything, but the Patriots have been dominant at home for two decades (138-26 since 2001 with a +10.93 points per game margin) and they’ve played noticeably better overall this season than they’ve shown in their last two road games, so they’re a little undervalued right now at New England -13. The Bills have played significantly better offensively since getting quarterback Josh Allen back from injury a few weeks ago, but their defense is not as good as it was a couple weeks ago, with stud every down linebacker Matt Milano and talented slot cornerback Taron Johnson now out for the season.

With those two players out, I have this line calculated at New England -17. That might seem high, but the Patriots have won 4 of their 6 home games by at least two touchdowns, with the only exceptions being the Texans and Chiefs, who are currently the top-2 teams in the AFC. The Bills are obviously not on that level and even that Texans game could have been a two touchdown win if not for a 4th quarter muffed punt when the Patriots were set to get the ball back up by 14.

The Bills will give their best effort this week in a game they may be viewing as their Super Bowl, but the Patriots should be fully focused as well, off of back-to-back losses, with only an easy home game against the Jets on deck. 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. I expect that to be the case in this one, though I’m keeping this at a medium confidence pick because of the Josh Gordon suspension.

New England Patriots 30 Buffalo Bills 13

Pick against the spread: New England -13

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at New York Jets: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) at New York Jets (4-10)

The Packers have the biggest home/road disparity in the league this season, going 5-1-1 at Lambeau, but 0-7 away from home. Now in New York facing the Jets, this is the Packers’ last chance to get a road win this season. Fortunately for the Packers, home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything. In fact, of the last 26 teams to have a home winning percentage 60% better than their road winning percentage this late in the season, 17 of them have covered in their next road game, including 6-2 ATS as road favorites like the Packers are this week. That’s not reason enough to take the Packers, but it shows we shouldn’t shy away from taking them on the road as favorites, despite their road struggles this far.

The Packers’ road struggles this season are probably keeping this line down, as the Packers are just 2.5-point favorites here in New York against the Jets. The Packers have underachieved and have serious injury problems, with defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark and running back Aaron Jones out of the lineup, among others, but I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league, giving us significant line value with Green Bay at -2.5.

On the season, the Jets rank 31st in first down rate differential at -5.99% and, while they’ve gotten quarterback Sam Darnold back from injury recently, they still have significant absences, with #1 receiver Quincy Enunwa, #1 running back Isaiah Crowell, solid right tackle Brandon Shell, and every down linebacker Darron Lee all out of the lineup. They’re also in a terrible spot with a trip to New England on deck, as teams are 22-46 ATS since 2016 before being double digit underdogs, which the Jets will almost definitely be next week. With nothing left to play for, it’s very possible the Jets could be looking ahead to that New England game next week, while the Packers should be focused with only an easy home game against the Lions on deck. At Green Bay -2.5, this is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 24 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

Rookie starting quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his 6th career start this week, even with Joe Flacco back healthy. Jackson is 4-1, with his only loss coming in overtime in Kansas City, but he’s faced a ridiculous easy schedule of defenses so far, with the Raiders, Bengals, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all ranking 24th or worse in first down rate allowed and the Bengals, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all ranking in the bottom-4 in first down rate allowed. Despite that, the Ravens have actually moved the ball worse in Jackson’s 5 starts, picking up first downs at a 35.54% rate, as opposed to 36.46% in Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s not a significant difference, but it’s fair to say that the Ravens offense probably would have had more success in recent weeks with Flacco under center, even as good as the Ravens’ record has been.

Jackson’s schedule gets a lot tougher this week in Los Angeles, as the Chargers rank 15th in first down rate allowed at 36.48%. The Chargers are weak against the run and strong against the pass, so this could be a good matchup for Jackson, but the Chargers also have a strong offense that likely will force the Ravens to throw the ball more than they’d like in order to keep up. Considering Jackson has completed just 58.9% of his passes against an easy slate of defenses, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. The Chargers are by far the most well-rounded team the Ravens have faced since Jackson became the starter and I have them about 4-4.5 point better in my roster rankings right now.

The Ravens are also in a tough spot playing a night game against a west coast team, a situation east coast teams have historically struggled in, due to differing internal time cycles. In fact, in games between west coast and east coast teams at night, the west coast team covers about 65% of the time. That should be partially offset by the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage in Los Angeles. Much like the Eagles/Rams game last week, the crowd should be full of visiting fans, as both Los Angeles teams have had trouble drawing home fans, even as well as both teams are playing. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Ravens are going to pull the upset like the Eagles did, but it’s enough to scare me off of betting the Chargers as 4.5-point favorites, even though we’re getting line value with the team that’s in the better spot.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -4.5

Confidence: Low

Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)

The Titans started the season with one of the toughest schedules in the league, going 5-6 across an 11-game stretch in which they faced 9 teams that are currently .500 or better. The schedule has gotten significant easier in the past few weeks though, with games against the Jets, Jaguars, and Giants, and that continues this week against the Redskins. The Redskins are 7-7, but they’re also on their 4th quarterback of the season in Josh Johnson and have injury concerns on both sides of the ball, with left guard Ty Nsekhe, wide receiver Josh Doctson, tight end Vernon Davis, and defensive end Matt Ioannidis all not practicing on Friday and possibly joining a list of unavailable players that includes cornerback Quinton Dunbar, wide receiver Paul Richardson, tight end Jordan Reed, and right guard Brandon Scherff, along with Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, their top-2 quarterbacks.

The Titans have won their previous 3 games during this easy stretch, including back-to-back games in which they won by at least 17 points and won the first down rate battle by at least 12%. Even in a narrow victory against the Jets a few weeks ago, they dominated most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by 18.59% and winning the game despite a pick six and a blocked punt. On the season, they rank 12th in first down rate differential at -1.72%. They could easily continue that this week and win by double digits here at home against the Redskins, but they’re not in nearly as good of a spot as they’ve been in recently.

While their previous easy games were not followed by potential look ahead games on the schedule, the Titans might not bring their best effort this week with a much bigger game against the Colts on deck. Teams are just 19-32 ATS over the past 30 years as 7.5+ point favorites before being home underdogs and just 7-16 ATS as 10+ point favorites. That being said, I have no interest in taking the Redskins this week. Not only are they on their 4th starting quarterback, starting former street free agent Josh Johnson, who has been with the team for about two weeks, but they also seem to have serious locker room issues and gave no effort two weeks ago against the Giants in a home blowout loss.

The Redskins had better effort in an upset win against the lowly Jaguars last week, but they were embarrassed coming off of a blowout and might not bring the same effort again this week, especially with a more intriguing home game against the Eagles on deck. They are 5.5-point underdogs in that game and teams are just 27-54 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction to teams. There’s not quite enough here to bet the Titans confidently at 10, but if this drops down to 9.5 I will reconsider, as the Titans should be able to win by double digits.

Tennessee Titans 24 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -10

Confidence: Low

2018 Week 15 NFL Pick Results

Week 15

Total Against the Spread: 11-4-1

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence Picks: 2-1

Medium Confidence Picks: 4-0

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 7-1

Low Confidence Picks: 2-1

No Confidence Picks: 2-2-1

Upset Picks: 3-1

2018

Total Against the Spread: 131-85-8 (60.27%)

Pick of the Week: 8-6-1 (56.67%)

High Confidence Picks: 17-11-2 (60.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 37-22-1 (62.50%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 62-39-4 (60.95%)

Low Confidence Picks: 30-22 (57.69%)

No Confidence Picks: 39-24-4 (61.19%)

Upset Picks: 21-15-1 (58.11%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 822-693-44 (54.14%)

Pick of the Week: 59-40-3 (59.31%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 392-285-18 (57.70%)

Upset Picks: 128-151-1 (45.89%)

2018 Week 15 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

MIN -7 vs. MIA

High Confidence Picks

LAC +3.5 @ KC

NE -2.5 @ PIT

IND -3 vs. DAL

Medium Confidence Picks

CHI -5.5 vs. GB

ATL -9.5 vs. ARZ

TEN +1 @ NYG

DET +3 @ BUF

Low Confidence Picks

CLE +2.5 @ DEN

SF +4 vs. SEA

LAR -13 vs. PHI

No Confidence Picks

CAR +6.5 vs. NO

TB +7.5 @ BAL

WAS +7.5 @ JAX

OAK +3 @ CIN

HOU -7 @ NYJ

Upset Picks

LAC +160 @ KC

CLE +120 @ DEN

TEN +100 @ NYG

DET +135 @ BUF

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (11-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-7)

If not for concerns about the health of Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder, the Panthers would be a big play this week. They’re on a 5 game losing streak after starting 6-2, but they could have easily won any of their past 4 games, losing each of them by a touchdown or less and winning the first down rate battle in all 4 games. On the season, they still rank 10th in first down rate differential at 2.44% and could easily be around 8-5 right now if not for a few snaps.

The Panthers lost by 1 in Detroit, in a game in which they missed a field goal, an extra point, and a 2-point conversation late when they didn’t trust their kicking unit to tie the game. They lost by a field goal at home to the Seahawks, but outgained the Seahawks by 1.9 yards per play in a game in which the Panthers missed another field goal, threw a red zone interception, failed on a 4th down, and allowed the Seahawks to go 2 for 2 on 4th downs. They lost by a touchdown in Tampa Bay in a game in which they outgained the Buccaneers by 1.5 yards per play, but lost the turnover battle by 3. And last week they had 22 first downs to 12 for the Browns, but allowed 3 plays of 50+ yards in a 6-point loss.

Cam Newton isn’t at 100%, but the Panthers have still played well enough to win in recent weeks. The Panthers have just one loss all season by more than a touchdown and that came on the road on a short week in Pittsburgh, relevant with this line at 6.5. However, it’s still going to be very tough for them to keep it close in a likely shootout with the Saints with Cam Newton obviously not playing his best right now. The Saints have shown they are vulnerable on the road in recent weeks, losing in Dallas and starting slow in Tampa Bay, but they are still the best team the Panthers have faced this season and Newton has 8 interceptions in his last 5 games, after 4 in his first 8. I might bet the Panthers at +7, but not at +6.5.

Sunday Update: The Panthers will also be without stud defensive tackle Kawann Short this week. Between that and Cam Newton’s injury, I’m dropping this to a no confidence pick. The Panthers are better than their record and should be fully focused for a do or die game, but the Saints are a dominant team that can exploit the Panthers’ injuries.

New Orleans Saints 33 Carolina Panthers 27

Pick against the spread: Carolina +6.5

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at San Francisco 49ers (3-10)

The 49ers are just 3-10, but that’s primarily because they’ve gotten killed in turnovers, posting a league worst -21 turnover margin this season. In terms of first down rate differential, they are actually positive at +0.39%, despite their record, but it’s tough to win games when you consistently lose the turnover battle. Their offense hasn’t turned the ball over as much since switching to Nick Mullens under center though, as they’ve turned the ball over 8 times in his 5 starts, with 6 credited to Mullens, as opposed to 14 turnovers in CJ Beathard’s 5 starts, with 10 credited to Beathard.

They’ve also moved the chains better in Mullens’ 5 starts, moving them at a 38.51% rate, as opposed to 35.17% for Beathard (41.30% in Garoppolo’s 3 starts). However, despite Mullens being an obvious upgrade, they are still just 2-3 in his 5 starts as their defense has not managed a single takeaway in his 5 starts. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis though, so the 49ers could easily get some takeaways over the final 3 games of the season, which would be a big boost to this team.

The defense isn’t at 100% without injured top safety Jaquiski Tartt and released top linebacker Reuben Foster, but they rank a decent 19th in first down rate allowed on the season at 37.42% and are talented enough that they should have forced more than 5 takeaways on the season. Recovering just 2 of 10 forced fumbles is a big part of the problem, but that tends to be luck more than anything. With an improved quarterback under center and a defense that should force more takeaways going forward, the 49ers are better than their 3-10 record suggests.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like they’re really that underrated, after last week’s upset win over a banged up Denver team. That game moved this line from Seattle -7 all the way down to Seattle -3.5, so we’re getting no line value with a 49ers team that isn’t in the best spot this week. In addition to coming off of a big home upset victory, they also have to follow up this tough home game with another tough home game against the Bears next week, a game in which the 49ers are 6-point home underdogs on the early line. Teams are just 26-53 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 points or more. I’m still taking the 49ers and hoping for a field goal game, but I can’t take them with any confidence, given all of the line value we’ve lost in the past week.

Sunday Update: The 49ers got some good injury news over the weekend, with running back Matt Breida and wide receivers Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin all expected to play despite questionable tags and limited practices. Despite that, this line has climbed back up to +4. There’s still not enough here to bet the 49ers, but I’m moving this up to a low confidence pick.

Seattle Seahawks 26 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4

Confidence: Low

Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)

Both of these teams exceeded expectations as big underdogs last week, the Bengals in a 26-21 loss in Los Angeles to the Chargers and the Raiders with a 24-21 home upset win over the Steelers. Both teams caught their opponents in a bad spot, with the Steelers playing the Patriots next and the Chargers having to turn around and face the Chiefs in Kansas City on a short week, and were able to cover with ease as a result.

Because the Raiders actually won last week, they’re in a bit of a bad spot this week, as teams tend to have a hangover effect after a home win as big underdogs, going 70-93 ATS over the past 30 years after a home win as underdogs of 6 or more. The Raiders’ win also shifted this line from Cincinnati -4.5 down to Cincinnati -3, so we’ve lost line value with the Raiders as well. However, I still think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visitors, as this line suggests these two teams are about even and I have the Raiders slightly higher in my roster rankings.

The Bengals got off to a great start at 4-1, but have lost 7 of their last 8 as injuries have piled up. Without quarterback Andy Dalton, #1 wide receiver AJ Green, and #1 tight end Tyler Eifert on offense and without every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict and stud pass rush specialist Carl Lawson on defense, this is far from the same team they were early in the season and, on paper, they are one of the worst teams in the league. The Raiders at least have competent quarterback play and Derek Carr has looked better in recent weeks as he’s seemed to settle into Gruden’s system a little more. This is a no confidence pick with a bad team in a tough spot, but the Raiders are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Cincinnati Bengals 26 Oakland Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: None