New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (7-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)

The Saints suffered a shocking home loss to the Falcons as 13.5-point home favorites last week, not just losing but losing by the final score of 26-9 in a game in which they lost the first down rate battle by 8.57%. The peripheral numbers always suggested the Falcons weren’t as bad as their record, as they entered last week 18th in first down rate differential at -0.29%, despite being just 1-7, but the idea that they could somewhat easily upset the Saints, previously seen as one of the top teams in the league, was beyond anything even the biggest Falcons’ defender could have imagined.

Even with that loss included, the Saints still look like one of the top teams in the league. They rank “just” 11th in first down rate differential at +2.07%, but that’s because Drew Brees has only played a little bit more than 3 of their 9 games. Their offense has moved the chains at a 38.28% rate with Brees under center (most equivalent to the 9th ranked Packers), as opposed to 34.15% with backup Teddy Bridgewater under center (most equivalent to the 23rd ranked Cardinals), while their defense has been among the best in the league on the season, ranking 6th in first down rate allowed at 33.58%. Their offense has even more room for improvement too, as they had a 43.48% first down rate in Drew Brees’ 15 starts last season. They rank second in my roster rankings and, with all Super Bowl contenders having at least one bad loss, they still look very much in Super Bowl contention.

Teams tend to bounce back off of huge upset losses anyway, going 30-18 ATS over the past 30 years after losing as favorites or 13 or more. The Saints have typically bounced back off of a loss with Drew Brees under center as well, going 47-31 ATS after a loss with Brees since he arrived in 2006. I wish we were getting more line value as a result as the Saints’ loss and the absence of Saints top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, as this line didn’t move at all from last week to this week, but I have this line calculated at New Orleans -8 and I would be surprised if the Saints had back-to-back bad games, so they’re worth a bet as long as this line remains below 6.

New Orleans Saints 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (6-3) at Miami Dolphins (2-7)

The Dolphins have won back-to-back games after getting off to a horrendous 0-7 start, but they still rank dead last in the NFL in first down rate differential at -8.98%. Even in last week’s win in Indianapolis, they lost the first down rate battle by 6.40%, winning by 4 in a game in which Colts backup quarterback Brian Hoyer threw three interceptions. The Dolphins are undeniably a better team with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but they still rank dead last overall in my roster rankings. Five of their seven losses have come by double digits this season and getting blown out is a trend that actually dates back a few seasons for them, as they have 20 double digit losses since the start of the 2017 season. 

This could easily be another big loss for the Dolphins, with the Bills coming to town. The Bills rank 7th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +3.90% and, while they’ve faced an easy schedule (31st in opponent’s DVOA) their schedule doesn’t get any harder this week. My roster rankings have the Bills 17th, but that still makes them 9-point favorites on my calculated line, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills at -6.5. I’ll need to know the status of Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes before committing to betting on the Bills because he’s their top defensive lineman and didn’t practice on Friday, but the Bills should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.

Buffalo Bills 26 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -6.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-5) at Los Angeles Rams (5-4)

A year ago, this was a marquee matchup in the NFC, with both teams going on to win 12+ games. This season, however, both teams are having disappointing seasons. The Bears actually led the NFL in first down rate differential in 2018 at +6.64%, but they faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and this season, against a much tougher schedule, they’re without several key contributors on defense, including free agent losses Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos, departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and in season injuries Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, the latter of whom just went down last week. As a result of that and some regression on offense in the second year of the Matt Nagy/Mitch Trubisky era, the Bears have fallen all the way down to 21st in first down rate differential at -2.42% and already have more losses at 4-5 than they did all last season when they went 12-4.

The Rams have also exceeded their loss total from last season, starting 5-4 after going 13-3 a year ago. By far the biggest reason why is their offensive line. After starting the same five offensive linemen in every game in 2018, the Rams lost a pair of starters this off-season (left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan) and have since lost their replacements (Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen) to injury, as well as right tackle Rob Havenstein. Allen and Havenstein just went down last week, but both were struggling even before going down. Their only two remaining offensive linemen from 2018 are left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Blythe, both of whom are having down years compared to a year ago. Their offensive line issues have hurt their offense as a whole, dropping them from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th at 35.63% in 2019. In terms of first down rate differential, they’ve fallen from 3rd at +5.00% to 9th to +2.30%, despite an improved defense.

The Rams are the better team and I have this line calculated at Rams -7, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 6-point favorites, but that’s barely any line value and the Bears are also in a much better spot. While the Rams have a tough matchup against the Ravens on deck, the Bears get one of the easiest games of their season, hosting the Giants in Chicago. Underdogs of 6+ are 49-37 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ and the Bears are currently favored by 7 points on the early line next week. There’s not enough to take either side confidently, but the Bears should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-9) at Oakland Raiders (5-4)

The Raiders are 5-4, but they haven’t played as well as that suggests. While their 5 wins have come by a combined 27 points, their 4 losses have come by a combined 59 points, giving them a -32 point differential that ranks 24th in the NFL. Their offense has played pretty well, ranking 12th in the NFL in first down rate at 37.43%, but their have the worst first down rate allowed at 41.81% and rank just 27th in first down rate differential at -4.38%. They rank a little higher in my roster rankings, coming in 20th, and they’ve faced a tough schedule (3rd in opponents DVOA), but any way you look at it the Raiders haven’t been as good as their record suggests.

The Bengals have also faced a tough schedule (1st in opponents DVOA) and, while they haven’t won a game, they haven’t necessarily been the worst team in the league this season. Despite their tough schedule, four of their nine losses have come by 6 points or fewer and they rank 29th in first down rate differential at -7.03%, obviously not good, but not the worst in the league. Winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season anyway, going 55-32 ATS since 1989 in week 9 or later, as they tend to be overlooked and undervalued.

If Andy Dalton was still starting for the Bengals, they’d be an obvious bet as 11.5-point underdogs against a Raiders team that hasn’t won by more than 8 points all season, but we’re not getting enough line value to bet them confidently with fourth round rookie Ryan Finley under center. Dalton’s statistical production had been the worst of his career, but he also had the worst supporting cast of his career around him. Benching him was more about the Bengals wanting to evaluate Finley in an otherwise lost season than it was about Dalton’s performance and, while that may be the right move long-term, with the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback atop the draft in reach, it doesn’t help them cover this spread, as Finley is an unprepared backup caliber talent with a horrendous supporting cast. I have this line calculated at Cincinnati +10, so the Bengals are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s not enough here to bet the Bengals confidently. 

Sunday Update: This line has moved all the way up to 13, a massive jump from the early line last week, which had Oakland favored by 8. The Raiders haven’t won more by more than a touchdown all season and winless teams like the Bengals tend to be good bets this late in the season, so the Bengals are worth a small bet at +13.

Oakland Raiders 27 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +13

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (8-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)

The Patriots suffered their first loss of the season in their last game against the Ravens, as a defense that had allowed just 4 offensive touchdowns through the first 8 games of the season allowed 4 offensive touchdowns in a 38-20 loss in Baltimore. It’s easy to look at that game and who the Patriots faced in the first half of the season and say their defense isn’t for real, but their defense got off to a dominant start even when you adjust the numbers for strength of schedule and they seemed to simply not be prepared to face the Ravens’ unique style of offense in their defeat. Even with that game included, the Patriots still have the lowest first down rate allowed in the league at 26.50% and rank 1st in first down rate differential at +8.95%.

The Patriots typically bounce back pretty well off of a loss anyway. Not only are they 58-20 straight up in the Bill Belichick era in games after a loss, but they’re also 51-27 ATS, including 42-13 ATS when not favored by 7 points or more. The Patriots are only favored by 4 points here and, while I wish we were getting more line value with them after a bad loss, they’ve been almost automatic in this spot historically. On top of that, they are coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3.5 or more are 40-12 ATS since 2002 after a bye, also an almost automatic spot. This line is about right, as the Eagles are still a tough opponent, but this is too good of a spot to not bet the Patriots this week, especially when you add in the added motivational aspect of this being a revenge game for New England after their Super Bowl loss two seasons ago.

New England Patriots 24 Philadelphia Eagles 17

Pick against the spread: New England -4

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-6) at Minnesota Vikings (7-3)

The Vikings are in a great spot this week, favored by 10 points at home going into their bye week, as large favorites tend to take care of business at home before a week off. Since 2002, home favorites of 6+ are 49-17 ATS before a regular season bye. Unfortunately, the Vikings are going into their bye week pretty shorthanded, which could really hurt their chances of covering this big spread. Still without Pro-Bowl wide receiver Adam Theilen due to injury, the Vikings’ offense will also be without starting right guard Josh Kline this week, a blow to an already underwhelming offensive line. On defense, talented safety Anthony Harris will join key run stuffing defensive tackle Linval Joseph on the sidelines this week. Missing those four key players, we’re not getting any line value with the Vikings this week.

The Broncos are 3-6 and starting third string quarterback Brandon Allen, but they’re better than that suggests. Their offense has significant problems, with Allen under center, top offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James out indefinitely with injury, and top wide receiver Emmnauel Sanders traded to the 49ers, but their defense is legitimately one of the best in the NFL, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed at 31.71%, only behind the Patriots and 49ers. They’ve allowed just 13 offensive touchdowns in 9 games, led by defensive minded head coach Vic Fangio. Their defense could easily keep this game competitive against a banged up Vikings team. We’re not getting enough line value with the Broncos to pick them against such a strong trend on the Vikings’ side (my calculated line is Minnesota -8.5), but this is a no confidence pick either way.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -10

Confidence: None

Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at Detroit Lions (3-5-1)

The Lions will be without quarterback Matt Stafford for the second straight week, but he’s not their only significant injury situation. The Lions will also be without defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, right tackle Ricky Wagner, and could be without safety Tracy Walker, who has missed two games and barely practiced this week, and defensive end Romeo Okwara, who didn’t play last week and was limited in practice this week.

Stafford’s absence is obviously the biggest though, as the drop off from him to backup quarterback Jeff Driskel is immense. Stafford was having a strong season before getting hurt, while Driskel was signed in mid-September and was playing wide receiver for the Bengals this pre-season. Even with Stafford in the lineup, the Lions ranked just 23rd in first down rate differential at -3.00% and now without Stafford I have the Lions 28th in my roster rankings, only ahead of the Redskins, Jets, Bengals, and Dolphins.

Stafford’s absence comes at a bad time this week, with a tough Cowboys team coming to town. The Cowboys’ 5-4 record isn’t overly impressive, but they’ve played better than that suggests. While their 4 losses have come by a combined 18 points, their 5 wins have come by a combined 99 points, giving them a +81 point differential that ranks 4th in the NFL. They also rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +6.07% and 3rd in my roster rankings as well. They’ve faced a relatively easy schedule, 30th in opponent’s DVOA, but their schedule isn’t getting any tougher this week. They should be favored by at least 10, so we’re getting good line value with the Cowboys at -7.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys are in a terrible spot, as they have to go to New England next week, a game in which they are currently 7-point underdogs on the early line. Favorites of 6 or more are 34-62 ATS since 2008 before being underdogs of 6 or more. If this line were to dip below a touchdown, that would probably be enough line value they I’d talk myself into betting the Cowboys even in a bad spot, but at -7 I don’t think they’re worth the risk.

Dallas Cowboys 23 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Dallas -7

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (7-2)

In a key matchup in the AFC, the Ravens enter one game better in the standings than the Texans, but the Texans have arguably the more impressive resume. These two teams are about even in first down rate differential, with the Ravens ranking 4th at +5.08% and the Texans ranking 5th at +4.67%, but the Texans have faced the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponents DVOA, while the Ravens have faced the 5th easiest. 

Unfortunately for the Texans, these two teams are trending in opposite directions. While the Ravens are improved on defense due to mid-season additions of Marcus Peters and Josh Bynes, the Texans lost their top defensive player JJ Watt for the season. The Ravens hold the slight edge in my roster rankings, suggesting this line favoring the Ravens by 4.5 points at home is about right. I have the Ravens calculated as 3.5 point favorites, but that’s insignificant line value with the Texans, who aren’t in a good spot with another key game on deck against the Colts on Thursday Night Football. The Texans are still my pick, but for no confidence.

Baltimore Ravens 31 Houston Texans 27

Pick against the spread: Houston +4.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-4)

The Colts lost at home as double digit favorites to the Dolphins last week and, as a result, the line for their game this week against the Jaguars has shifted from Indianapolis -3.5 on the early line to -2.5 this week. That’s a significant shift given that about one in six games are decided by exactly a field goal and I don’t think it’s justified, as the Colts were without starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett last week and had to start backup Brian Hoyer, who did not resemble a starting caliber quarterback in his first action in two seasons. 

Hoyer took over for Brissett when he got hurt early in their week 9 game against the Steelers and the Colts won the first down rate battle both in that game (+8.95%) and in their game against the Dolphins (+6.40%), but Hoyer’s 97-yard pick six was the difference in a 2-point loss to the Steelers and then Hoyer followed that up by throwing a trio of interceptions in a 4-point loss to the Dolphins. On the season, the Colts rank 15th in first down rate differential at +1.09%, despite missing several key players for varying periods of time with injuries. They’re still not at full strength, with top wide receiver TY Hilton being their most notable absence, but relatively speaking they’re closer to 100% than they’ve been and they still rank 15th in my roster rankings without Hilton.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 24th in first down rate differential at -3.01% and 21st in my roster rankings. They get quarterback Nick Foles back from injury, but I’m not sure how much he’ll help this team, as backup quarterback Gardner Minshew wasn’t really the problem. Minshew didn’t play badly, but lack of talent around the quarterback has resulted in this offense ranking 25th in first down rate. By default, their defense is their best unit, but they’re a far cry from their dominant 2017 unit. With just 4 of the top-14 in snaps played from that defense expected to be active for them this weekend, the Jaguars enter this game 13th in first down rate allowed.

All of this suggests that I should take the Colts at home as 2.5-point favorites, a line that suggests these two teams are more or less even, but unfortunately the Colts are in a horrible spot. Not only do they have a key divisional matchup in Houston next week, but they have that matchup on a short week on Thursday Night Football. Divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and favorites cover at only a 45% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football. The Jaguars have a key divisional matchup next week as well, taking on the Titans, but they at least get a normal week and will be at home. The Colts are still my pick, especially since they only need to win by a field goal to cover, but I don’t think I’d bet on them in this spot.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (2-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-4)

At 2-7, the Falcons have one of the worst records in the NFL, but peripheral stats have always suggested they’ve played better than the outcome of their games would suggest. Over the past couple weeks, the outcomes of their games have significantly improved, as they pulled off a massive upset as 13.5-point underdogs in New Orleans last week and prior to that they played a competitive game against the Seahawks with backup quarterback Matt Schaub under center. 

The Falcons won the first down rate battle by +8.57% and +6.89% respectively in those two games and now rank 16th on the season in first down rate differential at +0.65%, which aligns with my roster rankings, which have them 18th. They have the league’s worst turnover margin at -12, but that’s largely because of a 31.82% fumble recovery rate (2nd worst in the NFL) and turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis anyway. If they can play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they could easily continue pulling upsets in the second half of the season.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have a turnover margin of +4. They haven’t overly benefitted from turnovers, but, even with a positive turnover margin, they have a negative point differential at -3. They have a 5-4 record, but rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.55%, a few spots behind the Falcons, which is also consistent with my roster rankings, which also have them 23rd. The Falcons have some injury concerns on offense, with tight end Austin Hooper and running back Devonta Freeman both out, but the latter was not playing well at all and they get a big re-addition on defense with cornerback Desmond Trufant returning from a 4-game absence. The Panthers, meanwhile, will be without starting cornerback Ross Cockrell and could also be without fellow starting cornerback Donte Jackson. 

The Falcons are also in a significantly better spot. While the Panthers have a much bigger game in New Orleans next week, the Falcons get to return home and face a much easier Buccaneers’ squad. Underdogs are 69-34 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions are met in this game. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The Panthers could easily overlook the Falcons this week with arguably the toughest game of their season on deck and if that happens the Falcons could easily catch them off guard and pull the upset this week.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost some line value with the Falcons since last week, with the Falcons going from +7 on the early line to +4.5 this week, but I have the Falcons a couple points better in my rankings and I have this line calculated at even as a result. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re still getting good protection in case the Falcons can’t pull the upset, but I like the Falcons chances of winning straight up as well, in such a great spot. This is my Pick of the Week.

Atlanta Falcons 30 Carolina Panthers 27 Upset Pick +175

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week