New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

New York Jets (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (11-2)

The Ravens were 4-2 through the first 6 weeks of the season, but they had just one win by more than a touchdown, despite playing a trio of teams that currently have three wins or fewer (Miami, Arizona, Cincinnati). Since then, however, they have won all 7 games, despite only playing one losing team during that stretch, and 5 of those wins have come by more than a touchdown. They also have a first down rate of +11.79% over that stretch, easily the best in the NFL (2nd best over that stretch is +6.71%). 

Lamar Jackson and this offense get a lot of attention, but they ranked 5th in first down rate through those first 6 games at 40.68% and have actually only been marginally better in their past 7 games at 42.49%, 2nd in the NFL during that stretch. The big difference has been the defense, which went from 24th in the NFL through the first 6 games of the season at 37.95% to 3rd over the past 7 games at 30.70%. The addition of cornerback Marcus Peters, acquired between week 6 and week 7, is a big part of the reason why, but the Ravens have also gotten great play from mid-season signing Josh Bynes, they’ve gotten cornerback Jimmy Smith back from injury, and they’ve gotten breakout performances from safety Chuck Clark and edge defender Tyus Bowser. With strong play on both sides of the ball, this is arguably the most complete team in the NFL.

The Jets have also been better since week 7, ranking 13th in the NFL in first down rate differential over that stretch at +1.40%, but they remarkably haven’t faced a single team during that stretch that ranks better than 25th in first down rate differential on the season and they’re just 4-3 during that stretch, so they haven’t stood out as significantly better than the bottom of the league teams they’ve faced. Overall, the Jets have had the easiest schedule in the NFL this season at 38% (2nd easiest is 42%) and they still rank 24th in the NFL on the season in first down rate differential at -2.85%. Part of that is because quarterback Sam Darnold missed time early in the year, but even with him healthy this miserable offense ranks just 27th in first down rate since week 7, despite a pathetic schedule.

The Jets’ last game against a challenging opponent was their embarrassing week 6 home shutout loss to the Patriots. The Ravens, who handled the Patriots pretty easily, shouldn’t have much trouble with the Jets, especially at home on a short week. It’s very tough for an inferior team to travel on a short week and face a superior team, especially if it’s an unfamiliar non-divisional opponent. Over the past 30 years, when both teams are on short rest on a Thursday night, non-divisional home favorites are 36-18 ATS, including 10-2 ATS as double digit favorites.

I wish the Ravens were coming into this game healthier, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley out and quarterback Lamar Jackson and his #1 receiving option Mark Andrews both dealing with injuries that could limit them or knock them out of the game on a short week, but the Jets aren’t in a good injury situation either, with talented rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, starting tight end Ryan Griffin, talented cornerback Brian Poole, and Pro-Bowl safety Jamal Adams all expected out for this one and we’re still getting line value with the Ravens (my calculated line is -17.5) in a good spot. This is just a small bet, but barring Jackson being knocked out of the game early, I can’t imagine this game being close.

Baltimore Ravens 31 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -15.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

The Eagles’ season hit an embarrassing low last week with their loss to the Dolphins. The Eagles have a top-10 roster on paper, but have been a middle of the pack team in first down rate differential all season and enter this week 17th at -0.04%. The Eagles under-achieved last season too, barely making the playoffs, despite one of the more talented rosters in the league, so this is back-to-back disappointing years for the Eagles.

At some point, it’s fair to question how much of this falls on head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson was anointed the next great coach after he defeated the Patriots to win the Super Bowl in his 2nd year on the job, but so far that’s his only impressive season in 4 years in the job and much of his success that season came as a result of offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who left following the Super Bowl and now is doing a similarly impressive job as the head coach in Indianapolis. Without Reich, the Eagles have not been the same and Pederson no longer looks like the offensive mastermind that hung 40 points on Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. If not for Frank Reich, Pederson might not even still have his job right now.

With that in mind, I expect the Eagles to continue under-achieving. The Eagles get another easy matchup this week, but they’ve proven they will play down to the level of their competition and the Giants have been better than their 2-10 record suggests, entering this game 24th in first down rate differential at -2.60%. Turnovers have killed them, as they lead the league with 28 giveaways and are tied with the Dolphins for the worst turnover margin in the league at -14, but turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily lose the turnover battle again this season.

One reason to expect fewer giveaways from the Giants is that they are going back to veteran quarterback Eli Manning, with rookie Daniel Jones dealing with an ankle injury. Manning is only a borderline starting caliber quarterback, but Jones was responsible for 21 of the Giants 28 giveaways by himself and was averaging 2.10 giveaways per start. As underwhelming as Manning has been over the past 4 seasons, he only averages 1.14 giveaways per start over that stretch. If the Giants can play turnover neutral football, they should be able to keep this game relatively close, so my calculated line is Philadelphia -7. We’re not getting quite enough line value with the Giants at +9.5 for them to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +9.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-8-1) at Minnesota Vikings (8-4)

The Lions’ season has gone off the rails since losing quarterback Matt Stafford to an injury. They had a record of 3-4-1 when Stafford went down and have lost 4 straight without him to fall out of post-season contention entirely. The Lions ranked 15th in the NFL in first down rate through 8 games at 36.75%, but they have just a 32.59% first down rate in 4 games without Stafford, which is most equivalent to the 25th ranked Dolphins on the season. With a defense that ranks 28th in first down rate allowed on the season at 38.22%, the Lions don’t have much going for them on either side of the ball right now.

The Lions are on to their third quarterback of the season, undrafted rookie David Blough, with backup Jeff Driskel going on injured reserve, but that might not be a bad thing. Driskel was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league this season and it wouldn’t be hard for Blough to be a little bit of an upgrade. It’s tough to tell from his up and down debut if that’s the case, however, and he doesn’t have an overly talented roster around him, so it’s not an easy situation for the inexperienced rookie.

The Lions are big underdogs in Minnesota this week, with the Vikings favored by 13 points. That’s about right, as the Lions are one of the worst teams in the league and the Vikings rank 5th in first down rate differential at +4.77% and 9th in my roster rankings. We’re not getting enough line value to take the Vikings confidently, but they seem like the right side as long as left tackle Riley Reiff is able to get cleared from his concussion. If he can’t, I’ll probably switch this pick to Detroit. This is a no confidence pick either way.

Final Update: Reiff is playing, so the Vikings should be the right side.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -13

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

The Colts are just 6-6 after back-to-back divisional losses to the Texans and Titans, but they could be 8-4 right now if not for missed makeable field goals against the Chargers and Steelers. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 10th in the NFL at +2.25%, which is more in line with an 8-4 record than a 6-6 record. They are changing kickers this week, with ex-49ers and Chargers kicker Chase McLaughlin coming in to replace long-time veteran Adam Vinatieri, who is dealing with an injury and has just a 68.0% field goal percentage and a 78.6% extra point percentage on the season. McLaughlin is 13 on 17 field goals and 15 of 15 on extra points this year and could shore up a spot that’s been an obvious weakness for the Colts this season.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have also been better than their record suggests, with a -6 point differential and a +0.84% first down rate differential, but they’re behind the Colts in both metrics. Despite that, this line suggests these two teams are about even, favoring the hometown Buccaneers by a field goal. With that in mind, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visiting Colts at +3, but not nearly enough to bet on them confidently. My calculated line is Tampa Bay -1.5 and I do still expect the Buccaneers to win straight up, though it is close to a toss up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Indianapolis Colts 26

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (10-2) at New Orleans Saints (10-2)

This is one of the biggest games of the year, as it could be an NFC Championship preview and could easily end up deciding homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC when all is said and done. The 49ers have fallen to 10-2 after an 8-0 start, but both losses came by a field goal against teams that are also 10-2 and, despite those losses, the 49ers still rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season at +7.94% and 2nd since week 7 at +5.65%, only behind the red hot Ravens. 

The 49ers also haven’t been healthy in recent weeks, but they’re closer to full strength than they’ve been in a while right now. Defensive end Ronald Blair and linebacker Kwon Alexander are out for the year and safety Jaquiski Tartt is also out this week, but cornerback Akhello Witherspoon (6 games), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (4 games), tight end George Kittle (2 games), left tackle Joe Staley (9 games), safety Jimmie Ward (3 games), running back Matt Breida (3 games), and defensive end Dee Ford (2 games) are all expected to play this week after missing significant time earlier in the year. 

The 49ers are getting healthy at the right time ahead of this tough matchup. The Saints only rank 13th in first down rate differential on the season at +1.54%, but their offense was significantly worse with quarterback Drew Brees out of the lineup. With Brees on the field, the Saints have a 38.58% first down rate, which would be 6th in the NFL on the season. Their defense, meanwhile, ranks 12th in first down rate allowed on the season at 34.87%, so this is a very complete team. 

I actually have the Saints a little bit higher in my roster rankings than the 49ers, though that’s dependent on whether or not injured left tackle Terron Armstead is able to return from a 1-game absence after being limited in practice all week. My pick will be dependant on that as well. If Armstead plays, I like the Saints’ chances to win by at least a field goal at home, but I’d like the 49ers to pull the minor upset if Armstead can’t play.

Final Update: With Armstead playing, I’m switching my pick to New Orleans. This line is now 1.5 in most places, but that doesn’t matter.

New Orleans Saints 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -1.5

Confidence: None

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (3-9) at New York Jets (4-8)

At one point, the Dolphins seemed like they might not win a game all season, but they’ve managed 3 wins in recent weeks. They still rank dead last in first down rate differential at -7.40%, despite those wins, but they’ve been better in recent weeks, ranking 21st in first down rate differential since week 7 at -0.66%. Their defense has continued to struggle over that span, ranking 25th in first down rate allowed at 37.25%, but their offense has actually ranked 12th in first down rate at 36.59%, coinciding with the insertion of Ryan Fitzpatrick back into the starting lineup. With Fitzpatrick under center, this is a much more competitive team.

The Jets have also been better in recent weeks, actually ranking 12th in first down rate differential since week 7 at +1.35%, but that has everything to do with their schedule over that stretch. Somehow, the Jets have played their past 6 games against opponents that rank 24th or worse in first down rate differential and they’re just 3-3 in those games. Overall, they’ve faced the second easiest schedule in the NFL, with an opponents winning percentage of 42%, significantly worse than the 52% winning percentage schedule that the Dolphins have faced.

The Jets get another easy opponent this week with the Dolphins coming to town, but the Jets are favored by 5.5 points and they haven’t played well enough against easy opponents to justify being favored by this many points over anyone, especially without injured safety Jamal Adams, who is arguably their best player on either side of the ball when healthy. I have this line calculated at Jets -4, with the Jets just slightly better than the Dolphins in my roster rankings.

The Jets are also in a bad spot, having to turn around and play a much tougher game in Baltimore on a short week next week. Not only do favorites only cover at about a 44% rate before Thursday Night Football, but favorites also struggle mightily before being double digit underdogs, which the Jets almost definitely will be next week. Since 2008, favorites are 24-49 ATS before being double digit underdogs. There’s not quite enough here for the Dolphins to be worth betting, but that would change if Jets running back Le’Veon Bell is ruled out with an illness and/or if this line moves up to 6.

Update: Bell has been ruled out for the Jets. The line is now 5 in most places, but that’s not a big deal because 5 isn’t a key number. As long as this line remains above 4, I like the Dolphins for a small bet, against a Jets team that is missing its top offensive and top defensive player.

New York Jets 22 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Miami +5

Confidence: Medium