Las Vegas Raiders at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (3-7)

The Raiders are the only team to beat the Chiefs this season and they nearly beat them a second time last week and, even with that loss, they are still 6-4, but I’m still not that impressed with them. They seem to match up well with the Chiefs, but overall, they have just a +10 point differential and, while they’ve faced a tough schedule, they rank just 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.34%, as they have benefitted from an unsustainably high 51.61% third conversion rate on offense. That lines up with my roster rankings, which have them right at average as the 17th ranked roster in the league. 

The Raiders’ near win in Kansas City last week and the Falcons loss in New Orleans to backup quarterback Taysom Hill and the Saints has pushed this line from even on the early line last week to a full field goal this week, a significant swing given that 1 in 4 games are decided by three points or less. That’s an overreaction because the Raiders’ close game with the Chiefs was more about the Raiders matching up well with the Chiefs, while the Saints still rank 6th in my roster rankings despite losing Brees, so the Falcons’ loss in New Orleans isn’t as bad as it seems. 

The Falcons are just 3-7, but they could easily be 5-5 or even 6-4 if not for blowing three nearly impossible to blow leads. They haven’t faced a tough schedule outside of last week’s game against the Saints, but they aren’t far behind the Raiders in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.40% and, in my roster rankings, they’re actually slightly better than the Raiders, suggesting they’ve underachieved their talent level this season. 

The Falcons being higher in my roster rankings is even taking into account that Falcons #1 wide receiver Julio Jones is questionable and seemingly a true gametime decision after practicing very little this week due to a hamstring injury. Jones’ status obviously will have a big effect on this game, but, even without him, the Falcons are a decent value for pick ‘em purposes and, if Jones plays and this line stays at a field goal, I’ll likely end up betting on the Falcons. I’ll have an update before gametime if that is the case.

Update: Jones is out for the Falcons, but they will have tight end Hayden Hurst and edge defender Dante Fowler healthy, which was in question, while the Raiders will be without questionable defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who is a valuable part of the Raiders’ defensive front even if he doesn’t have big sack numbers. Meanwhile, this line has shifted to 3.5 in some places. My calculated line is just Las Vegas -1, so that’s pretty decent line value. The Falcons have struggled to move the ball without Julio Jones this season, but they still have a mismatch with the Raiders secondary and should be able to move the ball pretty well. I like getting more than a field goal in a game that should be a close shootout. 

Las Vegas Raiders 31 Atlanta Falcons 30

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +3.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (3-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1)

Coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants are an underrated team, especially on offense. The Giants are generally considered to be a weak offense and in terms of first down rate they rank just 28th at 31.76%, but they’ve also faced a brutal schedule, somehow facing top-10 defenses in terms of first down rate allowed over expected in nine of their ten games, facing Pittsburgh (1st), Tampa Bay (2nd), the LA Rams (4th), Washington twice (5th), Chicago (6th), San Francisco (9th), and Philadelphia twice (10th). The Giants first down rate is 2.22% below average, but their schedule suggests they should be 2.96% below average right now, so the Giants actually rank 15th in first down rate over expected at +0.74%. 

That’s despite the fact that the Giants have had some absences on offense and are now mostly healthy, most importantly top wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who they have been noticeably better with on the field this season. The Giants haven’t been as good on defense, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.09%, but defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense, so their defensive concerns aren’t as much of a problem as you’d think, especially since my roster rankings suggest they’re more talented on that side of the ball than they’ve played.

Given that they’re underrated compared to their 3-7 record, I was expecting to bet the Giants frequently over the rest of the season, but we’re not getting quite the line value I was expecting with them in their first game out of their bye, as they have ballooned to 6-point favorites in Cincinnati in the wake of Joe Burrow’s season ending injury, a massive swing from being 2.5-point underdogs on the early line last week. The Bengals have one of the worst backup quarterback situations in the league with Ryan Finley and presumed starter Brandon Allen both being borderline NFL quarterbacks, but an 8.5-point swing like that is normally reserved for an MVP caliber quarterback getting hurt, so this line isn’t that attractive.

That’s not to say I’m going to be taking the Bengals though, as not only are the Giants underrated, but the Bengals are truly dreadful without Burrow. Even with Burrow in the lineup for most of the season, the Bengals rank just 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.82%, including a defense that ranks 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.64%. Without Burrow, the Bengals rank on the same level as the Jaguars and Jets in my roster rankings, so, even if I disagree with a 8.5 point swing, I actually think this line is about right, as the Bengals would have been very overvalued as 2.5-point favorites with Burrow. 

The Giants are also in a great spot as big road favorites off of a bye, as teams are 61-33 ATS as road favorites of 3.5 or more off of a bye since 1989, including an 8-4 ATS record by teams with a sub-.500 record like the Giants. There’s not enough here for the Giants to be worth betting, but I would probably bet on them if this line drops back down to 5.5. Either way, the Giants should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as they should win this game pretty easily.

Update: This line has dropped to 5.5 in some places, so this is worth a play.

New York Giants 26 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-3)

The Packers lost in overtime in Indianapolis last week, but the Colts are a solid team and the Packers outplayed them for most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by a pretty substantial 5.76% and only losing because they lost the turnover battle by 2. Turnovers are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so any team that has a turnover margin of -2 in a game can be expected to be improved in that metric the following week, but that’s especially true for the Packers, who have one of the most careful quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers.

I would expect better focus this week out of a Packers team that is arguably the best in the NFL when relatively healthy, which they are right now, with key players like wide receiver Davante Adams (2 games missed), running back Aaron Jones (2 games missed), left tackle David Bakhtiari (3 games missed), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (3 games missed), cornerback Jaire Alexander (1 game missed), and safety Darnell Savage (1 game missed) all having returned from injury. The Packers have typically bounced back pretty well off of a loss (38-21 ATS) in the Aaron Rodgers era anyway, as is the case with most teams with high level quarterbacks. 

This line is pretty high, favoring the Packers by 8.5 points, but it’s arguably not high enough, given how bad their opponents are. Everyone knows the Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final play and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks, but what’s not mentioned enough is that in three of their five losses, they were down by 16 points, 21 points, and 21 points in the 4th quarter before some meaningless late scores, against the Colts, Titans, and Rams, while their 6-point loss to the Vikings came in a game in which the Bears got 8 points of benefit from their special teams. The Packers are as good or better than all of those teams, so it’s going to be very tough for the Bears to be competitive.

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Bears rank 23rd at -1.02% and there is reason to believe they’ll be worse than that going forward. They’ve been very reliant on a defense that ranks 6th in first down rate allowed over expected to cover for an offense that ranks 31st in first down rate over expected, which is a problem because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. If their defense doesn’t play well every week, this team doesn’t have much of a shot to win games and even talented defenses can be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

The Bears are also pretty banged up, missing a pair of offensive linemen in left guard James Daniels and right tackle Bobby Massie and possibly a third with left tackle Charles Leno not practicing all week, while their defense could be without key defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who also didn’t practice. The Bears will also be forced to go back to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback with Nick Foles out, though with Foles playing like he has, I’m not sure how much that matters. Even with this big line, the Packers are worth a bet. Coming off of a loss, with only another easy game against the Eagles on deck (favorites of 6 or more are 87-55 ATS since 2016 before being favorites of 6 or more again), the Packers should be fully focused to blow out an inferior opponent. If Leno and Hicks are ruled out, I may increase this bet.

Update: Leno will play for the Bears, but Akiem Hicks will be out. Despite that, this line has dropped to 7.5 in most places. My calculated line is Green Bay -10 and that doesn’t even take into account that Aaron Rodgers and company should be fully focused off of a loss. I don’t see this one being close, so I’m upping this bet.

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 12

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (7-3)

These two teams met just two and a half weeks ago in week 10 on Thursday Night Football, with the Colts winning 34-17. That final score looks somewhat lopsided, but it was a much closer game that suggests, as the Titans led with a 71.5% chance of winning with 4 minutes left in the third quarter, before a series of special teams snafus. The Titans also won the first down rate battle in the game by 3.99%, which lines up with how these two teams have played on the season, with the Titans faring slightly better, ranking 15th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, while the Colts rank 16th. 

The Titans are also better suited to continue playing well going forward because they’re an offensive led team (3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate and 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed), while the Colts are a defensive led team (22nd and 11th) and offense tends to be much more consistent and predictive going forward than defense. Both teams can compete with almost anyone if their weaker side of the ball has a middling performance, but the Titans’ offense is better than the Colts’ defense and it’s more likely that the Titans’ weaker side of the ball has a middling performance than the Colts’ because of the inherent randomness of defensive play, so the Titans have the higher upside of these two teams.

Despite that, the Titans are 3.5 point underdogs here in Indianapolis, likely because the general public looks at what happens when these two teams met two weeks ago in Tennessee and assumes the Colts will have no problem winning in Indianapolis. However, the Colts are highly unlikely to dominate special teams like they did in the first matchup and homefield advantage doesn’t matter much this year with limited fan attendance, so I like the Titans chances of keeping this one competitive, if not winning straight up.

The Titans have lost top linebacker Jayon Brown and top edge defender Jadeveon Clowney since the last matchup, but neither one played particularly well in the first matchup and the Colts will also be without stud defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, which is a massive loss, as well as fellow defensive starters linebacker Bobby Okereke and defensive tackle Denico Autry and starting center Ryan Kelly. I have the Titans a half point better in my roster rankings, suggesting the Colts should be favored by no more than a point with limited homefield advantage, but with the Titans’ vastly superior offensive prowess, there is also a good chance they can pull the upset straight up. Either way, I like their chances of covering the 3.5 a lot.

Update: It’s all good on the injury report for the Titans with Saffold and Jones both playing and center Ryan Kelly and running back Jonathan Taylor being ruled out for the Colts. If I didn’t like the Buccaneers so much this week, this would be my Pick of the Week.

Tennessee Titans 26 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: High

Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4)

The Buccaneers lost at home to the Rams on Monday Night Football last week and the general opinion seems to be that the sky is falling in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers were already home field goal underdogs against the Chiefs on the early line last week, but their loss to the Rams has pushed this line to 3.5, which is significant, given that 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, including 1 in 6 games by exactly a field goal.

That seems to be an overreaction, as the Buccaneers were in a terrible spot last week and still were competitive with a Rams team that is a borderline Super Bowl contender. The Buccaneers were in a look ahead spot ahead of this huge game against the Chiefs and were also an east coast team playing a west coast team at night, which is a very tough spot. I expect much better focus and effort this week from a Buccaneers team that is still one of the top teams in the league.

The Buccaneers’ defense hasn’t been quite as good since losing Vita Vea for the season and they’ll also be without starting cornerback Jamel Dean for the first time this season this week, but they’re still one of the best defenses in the league, while their offense has improved since getting Chris Godwin (4 games missed to injury) and Antonio Brown (8 games missed to suspended) into the mix. Overall, they still rank first in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +5.13%, with three of their four losses coming to fellow top-3 ranked teams (Saints x2 and Rams), and they rank 3rd in my roster rankings as well.

The Buccaneers could be without left tackle Donovan Smith this week due to injury, but that isn’t a big deal because they can slide talented rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs to the left side and because they are likely getting back guard Ali Marpet from a 3-game absence and he’s a higher caliber offensive lineman. Tom Brady isn’t playing quite as well as he did in his prime, but he’s playing well enough and has enough talent around him for this to be a high level team. They shouldn’t be 3.5-point home underdogs against anyone, even against another high level team like the Chiefs.

Speaking of Brady, I would especially expect a much better performance from him this week, as this is the kind of spot where he has always played his best historically. His record off of a loss is famous at this point, but his ATS record off of a loss is even more incredible at 45-22 ATS and that becomes 21-3 ATS if you look only at instances where Brady is an underdog or favorite of fewer than 3 points, which is the case here. Brady is also a ridiculous 39-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including 28-9 ATS in week 5 or later (when records are more likely to be indicative of talent level). 

Those numbers were primarily accumulated in New England with Bill Belichick and Brady is now in his age 43 season, but it stands to reason that Brady still will be at his best when his back is up against the wall (he’s 3-0 ATS off a loss this season and 1-0 ATS against a team with a better record), even if that best isn’t quite what it was in his prime. I would expect this to be a close game either way, even if the Buccaneers can’t pull the upset, so I love getting +3.5. I locked this at +3.5 earlier this week, but that number is still available as the sharps haven’t pounded this game like I expected they would, so you can still get this number if you missed it. This is my Pick of the Week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33 Kansas City Chiefs 31 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6)

There was no early line posted for this game last week, with Matt Stafford’s status somewhat uncertain due to a thumb injury, but it’s unlikely if the oddsmakers knew that Stafford would be able to play through the injury that this line would have been posted at Houston -3 a week ago, but that’s where it is right now, in the wake of the Texans’ victory over the Patriots as small home underdogs and the Lions’ 20-0 loss in Carolina to a backup quarterback. 

Normally, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions are very banged up, beyond Stafford being less than 100%, and, even when they were healthier, they weren’t that good, ranking 29th in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential on the season at -3.21%, with their only win by more than a field goal coming against an awful Jaguars team. The Lions were mispriced as field goal favorites in Carolina last week, so the Lions likely would have been mispriced on the early line as well.

The Lions aren’t any healthier this week, with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay (6th game missed), top slot receiver Danny Amendola (2nd game missed), starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (4th game missed), top interior defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (2nd game missed), top edge defensive lineman Trey Flowers (4th game missed), and starting cornerback Jeff Okudah (2nd game missed) all out, so it’s understandable why this line is where it is. My calculated line is Houston -2, so we’re still getting slight line value with Detroit +3, as the Texans still rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.50%, but it’s hard to be confident at all in Detroit if we don’t know how well Stafford is going to be able to play through his injury on a short week. A push is a strong possibility as well.

Houston Texans 27 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: None

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7)

Both of these teams are just 3-7, but Washington has been the significantly better team this season. While the Cowboys rank 30th in point differential at -83, Washington ranks a relatively respectable 22nd at -27. On top of that, Washington has struggled in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and could improve going forward, like turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL at -6) and net field goal percentage (-15.71%). In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate, which minimizes the value of outlier snaps, Washington actually ranks 9th at +1.55%.

Washington is led by its defense, ranking 5th in first down rate allowed over expected but just 27th in first down rate over expected, which is the significantly less consistent and predictive side of the ball, so Washington could easily regress on that side of the ball going forward, especially since they have outplayed their defensive talent level and have lost key players like Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis to injury, but that should be offset somewhat by the fact that their offense has looked much better since Alex Smith took over at quarterback.

Dallas is better than their point differential, as they have also struggled with turnovers (2nd in the NFL at -12), which is something that is very inconsistent week-to-week, and they have played better since getting healthier, with stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), quarterback Andy Dalton (2 games), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players returning from injury in recent weeks, but, even with that factored in, they are still behind Washington in my roster rankings and in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

In fact, I have Washington 2.5 points better than Dallas overall, which, even with Dallas having some homefield advantage, still gives us a calculated line of Washington -1. Getting the full field goal with Washington at +3 is a great value in a game they could win straight up. Washington is worth betting both against the spread and on the money line. I am also locking in TB +3.5 and TEN +3.5 for later this weekend before those lines move. I will have full write ups for those games with all of this weekend’s picks.

Washington Football Team 20 Dallas Cowboys 19 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Washington +3

Confidence: Medium

2020 Week 11 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

TEN +6 @ BAL

High Confidence Picks

NE -1.5 @ HOU

Medium Confidence Picks

KC -7 @ LV

WAS -1 vs. CIN

ATL +3.5 @ NO

PHI +3 @ CLE

LAR +4 @ TB

JAX +10.5 vs. PIT

Low Confidence Picks

SEA -3 vs. ARZ

CAR +3 vs. DET

DEN +4 vs. MIA

GB +1.5 @ IND

LAC -9.5 vs. NYJ

No Confidence Picks

DAL +7 @ MIN

Upset Picks

GB +105 @ IND

TEN +235 @ BAL

PHI +130 @ CLE

CAR +135 vs. DET

Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (3-7)

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remains a gametime decision officially, but this spread has been posted at Detroit -2.5 in some places, a steep dropoff from Carolina -3, where this line was last week on the early line, so it definitely seems like the odds makers don’t expect Bridgewater to be to play. Even if Bridgewater doesn’t play, I like the Panthers at +2.5, so I’m making this pick now so the line doesn’t have a chance to move if Bridgewater can in fact go, after taking all of the first team reps in yesterday’s walkthrough. 

If Bridgewater was fully healthy and this line was still 3, I would say that line would be about right. The Panthers are basically a slightly better version of the Lions and the Panthers have at least some limited homefield advantage with fans in attendance, so giving them the full field goal would be appropriate. However, it’s hard to justify a 5.5-point swing for Bridgewater’s absence, especially given that there is still a chance Bridgewater can go and given that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will be at less than 100% himself, playing through an injured thumb.

The Panthers have key absences beyond the quarterback position, but left tackle Russell Okung and Christian McCaffrey are missing their 6th and 8th game respectively, so not having those two isn’t anything new, and, while cornerback Donte Jackson and guard John Miller are missing their first game of the season, they are less important absences than Okung and McCaffrey. The Lions are also missing key players with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, top edge defender Trey Flowers, slot receiver Danny Amendola, and every down running back DeAndre Swift missing their 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 1st games of the season respectively. 

Given that the Lions are almost as banged up as the Panthers and that the Panthers have been the slightly better team all season and that the Panthers are at home, it’s hard to justify the Lions being favored by 2.5 points. That doesn’t mean I’ll be betting on the Panthers. In fact, with the amount of uncertainty in this game, it’s hard to justify the Panthers as anything more than a no confidence bet, as they likely will be starting a completely unknown quarterback in XFL star PJ Walker and, even if they don’t, they’ll be starting a much less than 100% Teddy Bridgewater, but even with Walker in the lineup, this line is off, so the Panthers are the pick at 2.5 either way.

Update: Bridgewater is out, so this line has jumped to +3. I was willing to take the Panthers without Bridgewater for pick ’em purposes at +2.5. +3 is a much more intriguing number, especially with the Lions also down their top defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, in addition to all of the aforementioned absences. My calculated number is Detroit -1 and that’s with a very conservatively low grade on the unproven Walker, who we didn’t even get a pre-season to evaluate this year. If Walker can surprise in his first career action, the Panthers could easily win this game straight up.

If I had any confidence in Walker I would recommend a bet at +3, as the Lions only win by more than a field goal this season came against the lowly Jaguars in a game in which the Lions were much healthier than they are now. Instead, I’m leaving them as a low confidence pick, but feel free to bet Carolina if you feel like taking a chance on a completely unknown commodity. The money line is intriguing as well at +135.

Carolina Panthers 27 Detroit Lions 26 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)

These two teams have some big similarities. Both teams rank highly in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, as the Buccaneers rank first at +5.13%, while the Rams rank second at +4.87%. Both teams have been better defensively than on offense, ranking 2nd and 5th respectively in first down rate over expected and 12th and 11th respectively in first down rate allowed over expected. Both teams are also missing their best offensive lineman, left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the Rams and left guard Ali Marpet for the Buccaneers.

The big edge the Buccaneers have is their offensive has much more upside than the Rams’ offense. Marpet’s absence hurts, but they have top wide receiver Chris Godwin back healthy after missing 4 games earlier this season and they have also added fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown into the mix after he missed the first 8 games of the season with suspension. Overall, the Buccaneers have a 2.5 point edge in my roster rankings as a result of their offensive upside. Given that, this line favoring the Buccaneers by 4 points in Tampa Bay, where they will have the benefit of at least some fans, is pretty reasonable.

That being said, there are two key reasons why I like the Rams for a small play this week. For one, they have a big advantage as a west coast team playing an east coast team in a night game. Due to circadian rhythms, west coast teams cover at about a 60% rate against east coast teams at night, as east coast teams tend to get tired towards the end of the game and see their performance fall off in the second half.

On top of that, the Rams are in a great spot, as they only have a home game against the banged up 49ers on deck, while the Buccaneers have a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. Underdogs are 89-41 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those factors should be true here. If Tom Brady and company are looking ahead to facing Pat Mahomes and company, the Rams could easily give the Buccaneers a game or even pull the upset, especially when you consider the circadian rhythms as well. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less (and 25% by 3 points or less), so I like the Rams as underdogs of more than an underdog, especially at +4, even if we’re not getting great line value overall.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Los Angeles Rams 22

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +4

Confidence: Medium