Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (5-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

A week ago, the Steelers were favored in this game by a field goal on the early line. That line made sense, as the Browns were favored by a field goal in the first matchup between these two teams a couple weeks ago in Cleveland. Three points for homefield advantage is standard, so both of those lines suggested these two teams were about even. However, this line has since shifted all the way to Cleveland -2.5 this week, suggesting a significant difference between these two teams.

I don’t really understand that line movement. The Browns blew out the Dolphins last week in Cleveland, but that’s not all that impressive. The Steelers had an underwhelming performance in Cincinnati, but still managed a 6-point win as 6.5 point favorites. It’s possible this line movement has a lot to do with the Steelers benching Mason Rudolph for Devlin Hodges, but that could ultimately prove to be an upgrade. Although he’s seen very limited action, Hodges has a QB rating 17 points higher than Rudolph so far this season. Over the past 6 weeks, the Steelers have a first down rate of just 28.66%, second worst in the NFL over that span, so it would be hard for Hodges to be a significant downgrade. At the same time, the Steelers have the best defense in the league in terms of first down rate allowed at 29.35% over that time span, so they can definitely win games even without great quarterback play.

In the previous matchup between these two teams, the Browns won 21-7 at home, but that’s primarily because they won the turnover margin by 4 (due to 4 Rudolph interceptions) in a game in which the Browns actually lost the first down rate battle by 0.28%. That’s despite the fact that they had defensive end Myles Garrett in that game and he’ll be a very notable absence (for multiple reasons) from this matchup. The Browns could get fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon back from a 3-game absence, but that’s far from a guarantee, after he was limited in practice all week and he’s not the same caliber player as Garrett. The Browns will also be without both of their starting safeties from the previous matchup, with Morgan Burnett out for the season with a torn Achilles and Damarious Randall listed as out for disciplinary reasons. 

The Steelers won’t have running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but both of those players barely played in the first matchup and the Steelers still were able to play about even in first down rate on the road. If Hodges can avoid throwing 4 interceptions like Rudolph did, the Steelers have a good chance to win this game at home. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re not getting quite enough line value with the Steelers for them to be worth betting, but if this line moves up to 3 and/or Vernon is ruled out I would reconsider.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Cleveland Browns 16 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +2.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1)

This is one of the tougher games of the week to predict against the spread. On one hand, the Rams were embarrassed last week against the Ravens in a 45-6 loss and teams typically bounce back from bad losses. Since 2002, teams are 60-38 ATS after a loss by 35 points or more and favorites, like the Rams are this week, have won 20 of 24 games straight up after a loss by 35 or more over that time period. On the other hand, this could be a look ahead spot for the Rams with a much harder divisional game on deck against the Seahawks. The Rams will almost definitely be home underdogs in that game and road favorites are just 26-55 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs. 

We’re also not getting any line value in either direction. The Cardinals’ only 3 wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 5-29, while 4 of their 7 losses have come by double digits, with an average margin of defeat of 11.3 points per game. Their point differential of -69 ranks just 28th in the NFL and they rank 29th in first down rate differential at -5.73%. However, the Rams have been a pretty middle of the pack team this season, so they shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal in this game. I have this line calculated at Rams -3, which is exactly where the line is.

Ultimately, what I think this game will come down to is the Rams’ mindset about their playoff chances. Last week’s loss wasn’t a death sentence for their playoff chances, but they’re 2 games behind the 8-3 Vikings for the last NFC wild card spot right now with 5 games to go and probably need to win out and finish 11-5 to give themselves a shot. If the Rams believe their season is over, they probably won’t give their best effort against the Cardinals, especially with a much bigger game on deck. If they believe they still have a shot to make the post-season, we could see a very different level of focus and motivation from them this week after being humbled last week. I think the latter is more likely than the former, but I definitely wouldn’t bet on it. A push might be the most likely result.

Los Angeles Rams 23 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Miami Dolphins: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at Miami Dolphins (2-9)

The Eagles have had back-to-back bad offensive performances in home losses to the Patriots and Seahawks, scoring a total of 19 points combined in the two games. There are a couple reasons not to expect that to continue into this week, however. For one, the Eagles offense is much healthier now. The Eagles get back right guard Brandon Brooks, who has been out since the first quarter of the Seahawks game, and right tackle Lane Johnson, who has been out since the first quarter of the Patriots game. Those are two of the best players in the league at their respective positions. They’ll also get back top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who missed the entirety of both games, and fellow starting wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who missed the Seahawks game. 

Even with those two bad offensive performances taken into account, the Eagles rank 19th in the NFL in first down rate 34.78%, so, when healthy, they’re not a bad offensive team by any means and their defense, which ranks 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.83%, is able to keep them in most games even when they don’t have a good offensive performance, as just one of their 6 losses has come by more than 8 points.

The second reason I don’t expect the Eagles’ offensive struggles to continue into this week is that their competition is getting much easier. After facing a pair of teams with 3 losses between them, the Eagles now get a Dolphins team that has just two wins all year. The Dolphins aren’t going 0-16 like many assumed they’d be a lock to do when they struggled at the start of the season, but even with their two wins they still rank dead last in first down rate differential (-9.08%), point differential (-183), DVOA (-47.9%), and in my roster rankings. The Eagles have faced the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA thus far this season, so this is a welcome change. 

This line is pretty high at Philadelphia -10, but I’m not concerned about laying this many points. The Dolphins have already lost 7 games by double digits this season and a whopping 22 dating back to the start of the 2017 season. The Dolphins are at home this week, but with the Dolphins in the middle of a lost season in which they never actually had any intention of competing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the majority of the crowd supporting the visitor. The Eagles are also in a great spot, with an easy home game against the Giants on deck, a game in which they are currently 8 point favorites on the early line. Big favorites tend to take care of business without any upcoming distractions on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 106-69 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. This isn’t a huge play, but I like the Eagles enough to bet on them.

Philadelphia Eagles 31 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -10

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (8-3) at New York Giants (2-9)

The Packers were blown out last week in San Francisco in embarrassing fashion, losing by a final score of 37-8 in a game in which they lost the first down rate battle by a whopping 15.87%. Ordinarily, that loss would put the Packers in a good betting spot this week, as they are 35-21 ATS off of a loss with Aaron Rodgers under center. However, the Packers seem to be overrated this week, even after last week’s loss.

The Packers are 8-3 and have Aaron Rodgers so people are going to want to bet on them, but they have more problems than the general public realizes. Their 8-3 record has been boosted by a 5-1 record in games decided by 8 points or fewer and their 8 wins have come by a combined 67 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 51 points, giving them a pretty underwhelming point differential of +16. 

That’s despite the fact that the Packers have benefited significantly from turnover margins (5th in the NFL on the season at +8), which are very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, the Packers are dead even at 0.00% and have been even worse in recent weeks, with a -2.22% point differential since week 7 that ranks 23rd in the NFL over that time period. The Giants are just 2-9, but they’ve actually been slightly better in that metric over that time frame, ranking 21st at -1.79%. Overall, the Giants rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.29% on the season, struggling on the scoreboard primarily because of a -11 turnover margin that ranks 3rd worst in the NFL.

That being said, it’s hard to get excited about betting the Giants this week because they’re in a tough spot. Not only will the Packers likely be totally focused for this game after a loss last week, but they don’t have any upcoming distractions on deck, with a home game against the Redskins up next on the schedule, a game in which they are currently 14.5-point favorites on the early line. The Giants, meanwhile, have a big rivalry game against the Eagles in Philadelphia on deck, a game in which they are currently 8-point underdogs on the early line. 

Favorites of 6+ are 148-94 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6+ again the following week, while underdogs of 6+ are 84-132 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6+ again the following week. Combining the two, underdogs of 6+ are 11-49 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6+ again the following week when their opponent will be favorites of 6+ again the following week. It’s tough for an inferior team to compete with a superior team with another tough game on deck, especially when the superior team has another relatively easy game on deck. 

The Giants also are missing a pair of key players in their receiving corps, wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Evan Engram, although they haven’t had a full strength receiving corps all year, so that’s not anything new. Even without those two players, I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -3.5, but I would need the full touchdown with the Giants to wager on them in a tough spot. This is a low confidence pick for now, but I’ll probably have an update tomorrow morning if the line moves.

Final Update: This line has moved to +7 in most places, but Bryan Bulaga is unexpectedly active for the Packers this week after being expected to miss a couple weeks with a knee injury. He may not be 100% and could be at risk of an in game injury setback, but I don’t want to bet on a team in a bad spot with a comparably worse injury situation, so I’m leaving this at a low confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 24 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +7

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) at Denver Broncos (3-8)

A year after going 12-4, the Chargers have had a highly disappointing year, coming out of last week’s bye at 4-7, likely needing to win out to even have a shot at a playoff berth. They’ve been better than that record suggests though, as all of their losses have come by 7 points or fewer. A year after a 5-1 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer powered them to a 12-4 record, the Chargers are just 2-7 in games decided by 7 points or fewer this season. They have a positive point differential at +6, despite the 6th worst turnover margin in the league at -9. Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and in terms of first down rate differential the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL at +2.52%, impressive even against a relatively easy schedule. 

The Chargers also come out of their bye arguably as close to 100% as they’ve been all season and are really starting to resemble last year’s active roster. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but all of those players are expected to play this week. James’ return is especially big because he was one of the top safeties in the league last season and is just now making his season debut after off-season foot surgery. With him and the others back, the Chargers currently rank 11th in my roster rankings. 

The Chargers’ opponents this week, the Denver Broncos, have also been better than their record, entering this game 20th in first down rate differential at -1.68%, but they’re going in the opposite direction injury wise, with a trio of key defenders, edge defender Von Miller, linebacker AJ Johnson, and defensive tackle Shelby Harris all considered highly questionable for this game after barely practicing all week. Miller, their best player on either side of the ball, would be a particularly big absence. 

The Broncos also have uncertainty at the quarterback position. Original starting quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t play well in 8 starts before getting hurt, but his replacement Brandon Allen has barely looked like an NFL caliber passer, leading the Broncos to a 28.66% first down rate in 3 starts, about 3% worse than Flacco and most comparable to the last ranked Redskins, who have a 28.14% first down rate on the season. The Broncos could start second round rookie Drew Lock in this game, as he’s expected to be active for the first time this season, but Lock has barely practiced with the team since off-season thumb surgery and was considered very raw coming out of college.

This line has shifted from Chargers +1 to -3 in the past week, but that’s appropriate line movement given the injury changes that have happened in the past week. The Chargers are on the road here in Denver, but they essentially play 16 road games per year because they don’t have any fans in Los Angeles, so I don’t think the fact that they’re away from home this week is much of a big deal. Since moving to Los Angeles, they are just 7-12-1 ATS at home, but 14-7-2 ATS on the road. Rather than the standard 2.5-3 point homefield advantage, I typically only use 1 point for Chargers games. With these two teams about 6 points apart in my roster rankings, I have this line calculated at Chargers -5 and that would increase if any of the Broncos’ questionable players are ruled out. I may have an update on this before gametime, but for now I like the Chargers for a small bet.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)

Both of these teams enter this game at 4-7, but the Buccaneers have definitely been the more impressive team this season. Despite playing in a tougher conference and facing a tougher schedule (13th in opponent’s DVOA vs. 22nd), the Buccaneers have a significantly better point differential (-23 vs -55). In first down rate differential, the difference is even more pronounced, as the Jaguars rank 28th in first down rate differential at -5.27%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.34%. The Buccaneers have been killed by the turnover margin (-10), while the Jaguars are even on the season, but turnover margin is highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Jaguars, who have trouble winning games even with a neutral turnover margin, would have a very tough time winning this game if they lost the turnover battle. 

The Jaguars have been even worse in recent weeks, with the worst first down rate differential in the league over the past 6 weeks at -8.44%, coinciding with their trade of Jalen Ramsey to the Rams. With Ramsey gone and both Marcell Dareus and Myles Jack currently injured, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense. With so many key defensive players no longer playing for them and a weak offense, I have the Jaguars 28th in my roster rankings, 8 spots behind the Buccaneers.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a ton of line value with the Buccaneers in the past week. As a result of the Jaguars’ blowout home loss to the Titans last week and the Buccaneers double digit win in Atlanta, this line has shifted a whole 6 points in the past week, going from Jacksonville -3.5 on the early line last week to Tampa Bay -2.5 this week. Normally I like fading significant week-to-week line movements like that, but I actually have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -3, so we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Buccaneers. It’s not enough to bet on, but the most likely outcome of this game is the Buccaneers winning by a field goal, so I’d take them for pick ‘em purposes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Jacksonville Jaguars 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2.5

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Jets (4-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-11)

The Bengals still have yet to win a game, but that actually makes them a good bet, as winless teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and desperate for their first win. In the past 30 years, winless teams are 57-32 ATS in week 9 or later. The Bengals have been in good some betting spots in recent weeks, facing a Ravens team that was in a sandwich game between matchups with the Patriots and Texans, then facing a Raiders team that was favored by 13 despite not winning a game by more than 8 all season, and then facing a Steelers team that was sandwiched between two emotional rivalry games with the Browns and that was missing its top running back and its top wide receiver. 

Despite those good spots, it’s been hard to be excited about betting on them with backup quarterback Ryan Finley under center, so I only made a small wager on them against the Raiders and then stayed off of them against the Ravens and Steelers. A fourth round rookie, Finley’s insertion into the starting lineup was not made to help this team to win games, but to evaluate the rookie in a lost season, before deciding whether or not to use their upcoming high draft pick on another quarterback. Incumbent quarterback Andy Dalton was having the worst statistical season of his career before being benched, but he also had easily the worst supporting cast of his career and was not the reason this team wasn’t winning games. 

Finley, who looked overmatched in the pre-season, continued that into the regular season, completing 47.1% of his passes for an average of 5.45 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, giving him a QB rating 17 points lower than Dalton. Finley also led this offense to a 3.73% lower first down rate than Dalton. After three starts, it seems the Bengals have seen all they need to see from Finley, as they’ve announced they’re going back to Dalton. 

With Dalton back under center, the Bengals become much more bettable. Despite their record and Finley’s horrendous play for 3 games, the Bengals don’t have the worst first down rate in the league, ranking 30th in the NFL at -6.01%. Of their 11 losses, 6 of them have come by 7 points or fewer, even including two of their three games with Finley under center (the exception was the Ravens, who haven’t played a close game against anyone in a couple months). That’s despite the fact that the Bengals have faced the toughest schedule in the NFL by DVOA. 

The Bengals are also relatively healthier now than they were earlier this season, with left tackle Cordy Glenn, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, defensive end Carl Lawson, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard all having missed significant time with injury earlier in the year. Even with Dalton re-inserted back into the starting lineup, this line has stayed put at Jets -3.5, the same line as last week on the early line. Part of that could be because the Jets blew out the Raiders last week, but even after that blowout victory this line opened at -4 before it was announced that Dalton would be starting, after which this line shifted just a half point. With Dalton under center, I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good line value with the Bengals as 3.5 point underdogs.

The Jets had an impressive performance last week against the Raiders, but that actually doesn’t bode well for their chances of covering this week, as teams tend to struggle after a blowout home victory as underdogs. Teams are just 27-52 ATS since 2002 after 17+ point win as home underdogs. After such a huge home victory, the Jets might not be totally focused for a winless opponent. If that happens, the Bengals could definitely pull the upset and get their first win of the season. The Bengals are my Pick of the Week at +3.5 (which I locked in earlier this week) and are still worth a bet at +3.

Cincinnati Bengals 19 New York Jets 17 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week