Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
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DEN +155 @ LAC
DAL +140 vs. PHI
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
DEN +155 @ LAC
DAL +140 vs. PHI
Buffalo Bills (11-3) at New England Patriots (6-8)
After back-to-back dominant offensive performances against top level defenses in the Steelers and Broncos, the Bills have jumped actually pretty far ahead of the Chiefs for the #1 rank in first down rate over expected (+4.89% vs. +3.87%). The Chiefs still lead the conference in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, but only slightly (+3.32% vs. +3.29%) and only because of the Bills’ defensive struggles, as the Bills rank just 25th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.60%.
Defensive performance is much less predictable week-to-week than offensive performance, but beyond the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance, the Bills are also healthier than they’ve been all season on defense and they are much more talented on paper than their overall season performance, so I would say they’re much more likely to be improved going forward than your typical 25th ranked defensive unit. If they can even be a middling group defensively going forward, this team should be considered one of the top few contenders for the Super Bowl, as their offense should continue playing at a dominant level.
Unfortunately, this line has moved significantly from last week, favoring the Bills by a touchdown on the road in New England, as opposed to Buffalo -4, which is where this line was last week on the early line, before Buffalo’s nationally televised blowout victory over the Broncos. We’re actually getting a little bit of line value with the underdog Patriots in this game, as my calculated line is just Buffalo -6. Overall, the Patriots have been a slightly above average team this season, ranking 13th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.82%, but they’ve been very inconsistent, beating teams like the Ravens, Cardinals, Raiders, and Dolphins (split) and playing the Bills and Chiefs close, while losing to teams like the Broncos and Texans.
In terms of variance, the Patriots rank 2nd in the NFL, which is rare for a team that hasn’t had a ton of injuries that would cause them to be so inconsistent. The Patriots are slightly diminished this week, missing their top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but still rank a respectable 17th in my roster rankings, so we’re getting slightly line value. I can’t be confident in them at all, given that we’re getting minimal line value and they’ve been so inconsistent, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Buffalo Bills 30 New England Patriots 24
Pick against the spread: New England +7
Carolina Panthers (4-10) at Washington Football Team (6-8)
On defense, the Washington Football Team has consistently been one of the best teams in the league this season, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.26%. Their offense struggled mightily earlier this season, but, when they turned to Alex Smith under center and got their offensive line back together healthy, they improved significantly on that side of the ball, leading to a 4-1 stretch where their only loss came by 3 points.
Unfortunately, the injuries have started to pile up on that side of the ball. Their offensive line is still together, but they lost feature back Antonio Gibson in week 13 and then quarterback Alex Smith in week 14, forcing Washington to start an underwhelming backfield of Dwayne Haskins and Peyton Barber. Gibson could be back this week, but Smith is not expected to start, still at less than 100%, and Haskins will be playing without Washington’s #1 wide receiver and only downfield weapon in Terry McLaurin.
Given their struggles on offense, Washington will be very reliant on their defense in this game, which is a concern, because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. It’s far from a guarantee that Washington will continue being as good as they’ve been defensively going forward, especially with injuries starting to pile up on that side of the ball. Overall, Washington ranks just 24th in my roster rankings, which is a significant drop off from where they were a few weeks ago.
That being said, we are still getting a little bit of line value with Washington, who are even at home with the Panthers. The Panthers have been competitive in most of their games and rank a decent 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.90%, but they’ve overachieved their talent level and are in even worse shape this week missing their best defensive player in Brian Burns, falling to 27th in my roster rankings. My calculated line is just Washington -1.5, so we’re not getting enough line value for Washington to be worth betting, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Washington Football Team 26 Carolina Panthers 24
Pick against the spread: Washington PK
Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1) at Dallas Cowboys (5-9)
A couple weeks ago, I bet the Eagles confidently as 8-point home underdogs against the Saints in Jalen Hurts’ first career start. The Eagles are a solid defensive team and, while I wasn’t sold on Hurts as a starting option, he couldn’t have been worse than Carson Wentz had played this season and the Saints seemed likely to be caught off guard by him, with no pre-season tape on him and a much tougher game on deck for the Saints against the Chiefs.
Hurts was far from perfect in that game, but played well enough to win, especially hurting the Saints on the ground and, while the Eagles lost last week in Arizona, the Eagles’ offense scored 26 points in a 32-26 loss. The public seems to now be sold on Hurts, as the oddsmakers have boosted this spread from Philadelphia -1 over the Cowboys on the early line last week to Philadelphia -3 this week and the public is betting them, despite their loss in Arizona last week and the Cowboys’ win over the 49ers.
I am not sold on Hurts, so I think we’re getting some line value with the Cowboys. I think two games into his rookie season is too early to be sold on him, especially since I wasn’t sold on him coming out of college. He caught the Saints off guard in his debut and last week he faced one of the worst defenses in the league in Arizona and underperformed expectations with only a 32.91% first down rate. The Cowboys are also a little underrated because people look at their season long performance and not how they’ve played in recent weeks.
Turnovers were a big problem for the Cowboys earlier in the season, as they had a league worst -13 turnover margin through the first 7 games of the season, but have been +7 in the past 7 games. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t expect them to continue winning the turnover battle like they have in recent weeks, but I definitely wouldn’t expect them to go back to losing the turnover battle as badly as they were earlier in the season.
In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Cowboys rank 17th at +0.31%. Their offense obviously hasn’t been as effective at moving the chains since losing Dak Prescott four and a half games into the season, but they’ve been better in recent weeks since getting Andy Dalton back and more comfortable in this offense. My roster rankings have these two teams about even, especially with stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox seemingly likely to be limited after not practicing all week, so we’re getting good line value with the Cowboys as 3-point home underdogs, with at least some fans in the stadium. The Cowboys are a smart bet at +3 and are worth a bet at +140 as they should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game.
Dallas Cowboys 22 Philadelphia Eagles 20 Upset Pick +140
Pick against the spread: Dallas +3
Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)
The Steelers were very overrated when they were 11-0, but they’ve completely fallen down to earth in recent games, losing three straight games, including two games against opponents with a losing record. The most shocking was their nationally televised loss to the previously 2-10-1 Bengals as 14.5 point underdogs last week, after which it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being overrated anymore.
The good news for the Steelers is that teams tend to bounce back from huge upset losses like that the following week, as teams cover at a 57.0% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more. That’s in part because teams tend to be very motivated to bounce back after a performance like that, but also because losses like that tend to be flukes that cause an overreaction line movement. In this game, the line shifted from favoring the Steelers by 3 on the early line to the Colts by 1.5 this week.
That being said, I would not recommend betting on the Steelers because the line movement really only moved the line to where it should be, as my calculated line is exactly Indianapolis -1.5. The Steelers are in another good spot because they have a winning record and are facing a team with a winning record before facing another team with a winning record (Cleveland) next week. Teams cover at a 54.4% rate in that spot. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but good teams seem to be totally focused before back-to-back difficult games. For that reason, the Steelers should be the right side, but only slightly, as it’s hard to be confident in them without any line value.
This line has shifted to even in the wake of Anthony Castonzo being ruled out for the Colts, meaning the Colts will be down both of their starting tackles with right tackle Braden Smith on the COVID list. I already had Smith being out factored into this evaluation and, without Castonzo, I actually still have the Colts slightly better than 50/50 to win this game, so I’m going to take the Colts now at even. This is still a no confidence pick, as we’re getting only the slightest line value and the Steelers are in a slightly better spot.
Indianapolis Colts 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis PK
Los Angeles Rams (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (10-4)
The Rams lost at home in embarrassing fashion to the previously winless Jets, in the biggest upset win in the NFL in the past 25 seasons (17.5 point favorites). Normally big upset losses like that tend to be complete flukes and the team that lost tends to be a smart bet going forward, as teams cover at a 57.0% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more. The Rams’ opponents this week, the Seattle Seahawks, were an example of this, when they rebounded from a shocking home loss to the Colt McCoy led Giants as 11-point underdogs by demolishing the Jets 40-3 the following week. On top of that, the Rams are also in a good spot because they have a winning record and are facing a team with a winning record before facing another team with a winning record (Arizona) next week. Teams cover at a 54.4% rate in that spot. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but good teams seem to be totally focused before back-to-back difficult games.
Unfortunately, even after last week’s loss, we’re not getting line value with the Rams. In fact, with this line being even, we’re actually getting a little bit of line value with the Seahawks. The Rams rank higher in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 1st at +5.30%, while the Seahawks rank 10th at +1.70%, but the Seahawks are significantly better on offense, which is the more predictable and predictive side of the ball. While the Rams rank just 19th in first down rate over expected at +0.02%, the Seahawks rank 5th at +2.64%.
The Rams have the obviously better defense, ranking 1st in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.28%, while the Seahawks rank 23rd at +0.94%, but defensive performance is much more likely to regress to the mean in the long run than offensive performance and the Seahawks’ defense has been much improved in recent weeks, with safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaq Griffin back in the lineup after missing significant time with injuries and defensive lineman Damon Harrison and Carlos Dunlap being added in mid-season acquisitions. I give the Seahawks a 2-point edge in my roster rankings, so, even without fans in the stands, the Seahawks should be favored by at least a couple points in this matchup. We’re not getting enough line value with the Seahawks for them to be worth betting against a team in a better spot, but they should be the right side in a game in which they only have to win in order to cover.
Seattle Seahawks 26 Los Angeles Rams 24
Pick against the spread: Seattle PK
New York Giants (5-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
The Giants are a tough team to predict. Coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (10th), the 49ers (6th), the Bears (7th), and the Buccaneers (4th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season.
That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.
Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle the following week, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. The following game against the Cardinals, with Jones back, I bet on the Giants, but Jones looked far from 100% and was arguably a downgrade even from McCoy. Seeing that Jones clearly needed more time to get healthy, the Giants went back to McCoy last week against the Browns, but McCoy struggled mightily in a game in which the Giants had just a 25.93% first down rate against the Browns’ mediocre defense and lost the first down rate battle by 12.17%.
At this point, it’s clear that a healthy Daniel Jones would be a significant upgrade from McCoy, as he has higher completion percentage, a higher YPA, and better rushing production, despite facing some of the toughest defenses in the league before getting hurt and then playing at far less than 100% against the Cardinals, while McCoy has gotten to face the Bengals (15th in first down rate allowed over expected) for a half, the Seahawks (23rd), and the Browns (29th). The question is how much of an upgrade Jones is at less than 100% or how close to 100% he will be this week. Jones is very reliant on his athleticism as a quarterback, so, while he should be healthier than the last time we saw him, he could easily still be an ineffective quarterback this week.
The Giants’ dominant defensive performance against the Seahawks is a significant outlier when you look at the rest of their season, as they rank 16th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.42%, so if Jones isn’t healthy, the Giants are one of the worst teams in the league overall. This line is pretty high at Baltimore -10.5, which would give us line value with the Giants if Jones is healthy, but it’s hard to bet them with any confidence without confidence in Jones’ health. I’m still taking the Giants for pick ‘em purposes, especially since the Ravens are in a choke spot, in a must win game to stay in the playoff race (teams with a 50%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 40.9% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record), but I wouldn’t recommend betting on it.
Baltimore Ravens 24 New York Giants 16
Pick against the spread: NY Giants +10.5
Cincinnati Bengals (3-12-1) at Houston Texans (4-10)
Neither side is particularly appealing in this matchup. The Bengals pulled a massive upset over the Steelers last week as 14.5-point underdogs, but big upset wins like that tend to be flukes that don’t lead to further success down the line. Teams cover at a 40.9% rate after a win as underdogs of 10 points or more, including 4-13 ATS over the past 30 seasons after a win as underdogs of 14 points or more. The Bengals’ win last week was the equivalent of their Super Bowl, so there will almost definitely be some hangover effect this week. On the other hand, the Texans are coming off of a crushing last second loss to the Colts and have a much tougher game against the Titans next week, so they may overlook the last place Bengals.
Favorites cover at just a 45.2% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 40%. Despite the Bengals’ upset win, this line hasn’t really shifted much from the early line last week (-8.5 to -7.5) and I think we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals, as the Texans are slightly overrated, now missing several key players (Will Fuller, Bradley Roby, Justin Reid, among others) that they weren’t missing earlier this season. For that reason, I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, but it’s hard to be confident in one of the worst teams in the league, following a massive upset win in their Super Bowl.
Houston Texans 27 Cincinnati Bengals 21
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7.5
Chicago Bears (7-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)
Earlier this season, I thought the Bears would regress as the season went on because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance and the Bears were a middling team with a poor offense and a strong defense. Their defense has regressed somewhat, as was predictable, but their offense has actually improved noticeably in recent weeks since going back to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has faced an easy schedule, as the Packers, Lions, Texans, and Vikings all have below average defenses, but the Bears’ offense has exceeded expectations in all four games.
Their schedule also doesn’t get any harder this week, as the Jaguars rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.85% and are arguably the worst team in the league on that side of the ball because of all of the injuries they have had on that side of the ball. The Jaguars aren’t much better on offense either and, overall, rank just slightly ahead of the Jets in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (-5.71% vs. -5.96%). This line has shifted from favoring the Bears by 4.5 points on the early line last week to 7.5 points this week, but my calculated line is Chicago -7, so we’re not really getting line value with the Jaguars, despite the line movement.
The Jaguars are in a better spot though, as the Bears have a much tougher game on deck against the Packers. Favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50%. You might think that because this is a must win game that the Bears will rise to the challenge against a team with nothing real to play for, but that’s actually the opposite of what typically happens in this situation, as teams with a 50%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 40.9% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record. There isn’t quite enough here for the Jaguars to be worth betting, as they are arguably the worst team in the league and could lay an egg again against a Bears team that has been better since changing quarterbacks, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Chicago Bears 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5
Cleveland Browns (10-4) at New York Jets (1-13)
The Jets won their first game of the season last week, shocking the Rams as 17-point underdogs, but I wouldn’t expect anything close to a repeat of that this week. Even with that win, the Jets still rank dead last in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -5.96% (no other team is lower than -5.71%) and in point differential at -207 (no other team is lower than -148), with their average defeat coming by a whopping 16.2 points per game. They are also among the league’s worst in my roster rankings, especially with arguably their best player this season, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, now out for the season.
On top of that, teams typically struggle to cover after big upset wins, covering at a 40.9% rate after a win as underdogs of 10 points or more, including 4-13 ATS over the past 30 seasons after a win as underdogs of 14 points or more. The Jets’ win last week was the equivalent of their Super Bowl, so there will almost definitely be some hangover effect this week, and the line shifted from Cleveland -11 to Cleveland -9.5 in the wake of the Jets’ upset, which gives us some line value with the Browns.
My calculated line is Cleveland -12, as, not only are the Jets still arguably the worst team in the league, but the Browns have emerged as a contender in recent weeks. The Browns have played a relatively easy schedule and have won just four of their ten games by multiple scores, so they rank just 23rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.36%, but their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 29th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.62%, which is definitely the better side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On offense, which is the much more consistent side of the ball, the Browns rank 10th in first down rate over expected at +1.26%.
The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far and they have their top-2 defensive players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in the lineup together again after both missed time, so I would be surprised if they weren’t better defensively going forward, which will make it much easier for them to win by big amounts. I would expect this to be one of those wins. This isn’t a big play on the Browns because they’re not in a great spot either, ahead of a much tougher game against the Steelers (favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50%), but the Browns are bettable at 9.5.
Update: The Browns will be without their top-4 wide receivers due to being COVID contacts of linebacker BJ Goodson, who will also be out for this game. This is frustrating for my -9.5 bet, but this line has re-posted at 6.5 and I’m going to double down on the Browns at that number. The Browns are a run heavy team, so their wide receiver absences won’t be as big of a deal as they would be for most teams. My calculated line is actually still Cleveland -10. Hopefully they can win by double digits and cover both bets, but I like doubling down at 6.5 to offset losses from a 7-9 point win. And if you were lucky enough not to lock this in earlier, Cleveland -6.5 would be one of my top plays of the week.
Cleveland Browns 27 New York Jets 17
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -6.5