Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (7-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

The Chiefs got a huge win in Las Vegas last week, winning by a final score of 41-14 against a decent Raiders team. They have always seemed like they were going to break through at some point, but their offense had been uncharacteristically struggling across the Chiefs previous three games, a stretch in which the Chiefs scored just 36 points. That same stretch saw them have significant improvement on defense though, as they finally had top edge defender Frank Clark, top safety Tyrann Mathieu, top interior defender Chris Jones, and starting cornerback Charvarius Ward healthy at the same time for the first time all season and gave up just 51 points across three games.

Even with the Chiefs’ recent offensive struggles, they still ranked among the league’s best in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency going into last week, so if their offense bounced back as expected, paired with a much healthier and improved defense, the Chiefs were going to be a dangerous team. That seems to have happened. The Chiefs still rank just 30th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but they should be significantly better than that defensively going forward, while their offense and special teams rank 2nd and 1st respectively in schedule adjusted efficiency. 

Aside from injuries, the Chiefs’ biggest problem thus far has been the turnover margin, as they rank third worst in the league in turnover margin at -8. Turnover margin is not a predictive stat on a week-to-week basis though and, though I would expect any team in the Chiefs’ turnover margin situation to bounce back going forward, the Chiefs are even better equipped than most teams to bounce back, as having an elite quarterback like Patrick Mahomes is the best way to consistently perform well in the turnover margin. Prior to this season, the Chiefs were +23 in turnover margin across Mahomes’ first three seasons in the league combined and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see their turnover situation swing dramatically over the remainder of the season.

Now the biggest problem for the Chiefs is they have another tough game this week, despite having one of the toughest schedules in the league thus far, as they play host to the 7-2 Dallas Cowboys. The Chiefs actually probably have the better defense in this matchup, with the Cowboys ranking 24th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency and missing their two best edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory due to injuries, but the Cowboys are also the only team who ranks higher than the Chiefs in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency.

The Cowboys are also healthier than they have been on offense for most of the season, with their two stud tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins set to play with quarterback Dak Prescott in the same game for the the first time week one, as well as the return of starting wide receiver Michael Gallup for the first time since week one, to offset some of the absence of fellow starting wide receiver Amari Cooper, who is on the COVID list and will miss his first game of the season. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are missing starting right tackle Lucas Niang and will likely be without starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire again as well. 

Overall, I have these two teams about even, so we aren’t getting any value with either side, with the Chiefs favored by 2.5 points at home. The most likely outcome of two evenly matched teams like this facing off against each other is the home team winning by a field goal, so I am taking the Chiefs for pick ‘em purposes, but this line is right about where it should be and there are no situational edges for either team, so there is nothing worth betting on here.

Update: Tyron Smith will be out for the Cowboys and yet this line has stayed put at 2.5. I am going to up the confidence here a little bit.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Dallas Cowboys 27

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -2.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at Chicago Bears (3-6)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. The Ravens are 6-3, but have just a +14 point differential and are not blowing teams out, winning just twice by more than six points, which is very relevant, considering they are 6.5 point favorites here in Chicago. On the other hand, the Bears might be bad enough to justify this line being that high, even with the Ravens not blowing teams out. The Bears are just 3-6 and rank just 26th in point differential at -74, while ranking 28th, 18th, 13th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency.

Things are only getting even worse on defense too, with both Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks now out for an extended period of time. This once dominant defense is a shell of its former self, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Mack and Hicks. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, led by rookie quarterback Justin Fields and a subpar offensive line and skill position group. My calculated line has the Bears as 5-point favorites, so we are getting a little bit of line value with Chicago, but I don’t have much confidence in them.

Update: There have been several injury updates that will effect this game significantly. Previously listed as questionable, #1 wide receiver Marquise Brown was ruled out on Saturday, despite getting a limited practice in on Sunday. The Ravens will be without a pair of cornerbacks in Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith, who were both also questionable. More importantly, quarterback Lamar Jackson has been ruled out with an illness, despite returning to practice on Friday as well. Without two those on the Ravens’ offense, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so it’s surprising to see the Ravens still favored by 1.5 points on the road. Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley is not a bad option, but he’s an obvious downgrade from Jackson and will be without his top receiver. I wouldn’t bet on the spread, but the money line is worth a bet higher than +100. You may need to lock this in quickly as news spreads of Jackson being inactive and spread bets bet push this line.

Chicago Bears 19 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (8-2) at Minnesota Vikings (4-5)

The Packers are 8-2, a year after going 13-3, but they aren’t the same team as a year ago, primarily due to injuries. Already without left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, three of the top players in the league at their respective positions, who have missed most or all of the season, the Packers are now without talented lead back Aaron Jones with a knee injury he suffered in last week’s game. Green Bay’s record is obviously impressive, but they rank just 10th in point differential at +36 and, even if you exclude their two losses, one a somewhat fluky week one game and the other a game in which they lost by one score to the Chiefs without Aaron Rodgers, they would still rank just 5th in point differential at 77, so they are definitely not dominating teams.

That is despite the fact that the Packers have the 4th best turnover margin in the league at +7, which is not a predictive stat that they can rely on going forward. More predictive stats like yards per play and first down rate show this Packers team isn’t as performing at the same level as a year ago, ranking 14th, 13th, and 30th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency. The Vikings are just 4-5, but they have been competitive in every single one of their games, losing at most by 7 points, just once by more than four points, and totalling a +10 point differential on the season. 

I have not picked the Vikings lately because of all of their defensive absences, but, while they are still without stud edge defender Danielle Hunter, they will get stud safety Harrison Smith, top cornerback Patrick Peterson, and talented linebacker Anthony Barr all back from multi-game absences this week, which is a significant amount of talent that is being re-added to this lineup. 

My calculated line has the Vikings as the slight favorite to win this game, favoring them by 1.5 points and that is not even taking into account that the Packers typically drop off more on the road than the average team, in large part due to Aaron Rodgers having a well above average 10-point quarterback rating drop off between home games and road games in his career. 

Unfortunately, we are not getting much line value with the Vikings, who are underdogs of just 1 point. When this opened at 2.5, I was hoping we would get a full field goal at some point, but the line has moved the other direction, with sharp bettors recognizing that the Vikings are significantly healthier on defense than they have been in recent weeks. The money line is still worth a play, but there isn’t enough line value with the spread for that to be worth betting.

Update: This is a late bet, but Rashan Gary will be out for the Packers, despite practicing in limited fashion all week. He has been a big part of their defensive success without Za’Darius Smith, so having both him and Smith out will really limit this defense, in contrast to Minnesota being much healthier on defense. Despite that, this line has moved up to +1.5. I like both the spread and the money line in this game, as my calculated line has the Vikings favored by a field goal.

Minnesota Vikings 31 Green Bay Packers 27 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-8) at Tennessee Titans (8-2)

Expected by many to be the worst team in the league this season, the Texans surprisingly won their week one game by double digits, but everything has been downhill since then. Their win no longer looks impressive, as their opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have proven to also be one of the worst teams in the league and, on top of that, the Texans haven’t won since, losing 8 straight games with most of them not being close, averaging a margin of defeat of 18.3 points.

The Texans are coming off their bye week and got starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor back from injury in their last game before the bye, for the first time since week 2, but the Texans still lost to the lowly Dolphins even with Taylor back in the lineup. It was primarily Taylor’s strong play that led the Texans to their week one victory, but the career journeyman can’t be counted on to play that well for an extended period of time and, while he was out, the Texans lost left tackle Laremy Tunsil to injury, knocking out arguably their best player and one of their few building blocks. At least until Tunsil returns, it’s hard to find situations where the Texans would be worth picking.

This seems like one of them though. The Titans are 9-2, but most of their wins have been close, with just two of their wins coming by double digits, relevant considering they are 10-point favorites in this matchup. Their offense also isn’t nearly as good without injured feature back Derrick Henry and, to a lesser extent, injured wide receiver Julio Jones. The Titans have won both of their games without Henry, but their offense did not perform effectively in either. 

They beat the Rams convincingly on the scoreboard, winning by 12 for one of their two double digit wins on the season, but the Titans also gained just 3.5 yards per play and it would have at least been a much closer game if the Titans’ defense did not get two pick sixes, which won’t happen every week. That game was then followed up last week to a near loss at home to the Saints, who were missing several key offensive players. They should move to 10-2 with a win here, but I would question if their offense can be effective enough to win this game by double digits, even against a terrible Texans defense. 

My calculated line still suggests we should take the Titans, but the Titans are also in a terrible spot, with a much bigger and tougher game against the Patriots on deck next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 42.5% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage that is 50% higher or more than their current opponent’s winning percentage and that is the case in this matchup. I definitely would not recommend betting the Texans, but this seems like a rare case where they make a little bit more sense for pick ‘em purposes, as the Titans are likely to look completely past the Texans, on a long winning streak, with a huge matchup on deck.

Tennessee Titans 23 Houston Texans 14

Pick against the spread: Houston +10

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7)

The 49ers are just 4-5, but they have a positive point differential at +4, despite dealing with a significant amount of short-term injury absences, many of whom have since returned, and despite a -7 turnover margin, 5th worst in the NFL. Turnover margin is highly non-predictive on a week-to-week basis though and the 49ers rank 9th, 7th, and 11th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, when adjusted for schedule. Overall, that 49ers schedule has been one of the tougher schedules in the league and their only really easy games both came on the road in Chicago and Detroit, both of which resulted in wins by the 49ers of more than 7 points.

That is relevant because the 49ers are favored by just 6.5 points in this game in Jacksonville, against a Jaguars teams that is comparable to the teams the 49ers have already beaten with ease on the road. The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the league and the 49ers are much better than their record, so this line isn’t high enough. My calculated line has the 49ers as 8.5-point favorites and at the very least the 49ers should be giving more than a touchdown in this game.

This could be a bit of a tough spot for the 49ers, after a huge divisional upset win over the Rams last week, as teams cover at just a 41.3% rate after a win as divisional home underdogs of more than a field goal. However, because that game came on Monday Night Football and was not even close, it might bode well for the 49ers this week, as teams cover at a 60.2% rate all-time after a Monday Night Football win by 21 points or more. This isn’t a big bet because there are conflicting trends, but we are getting some line value with the 49ers, who are still a bit underrated even after last week’s big win, so they are worth a play.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Washington Football Team at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (3-6) at Carolina Panthers (5-5)

SInce cutting Cam Newton at the start of the 2020 off-season, the Panthers have paid Teddy Bridgewater 31 million for one season of decent play, before salary dumping him on the Broncos in a trade that netted Carolina just a sixth round pick. The Panthers then sent a second round pick to the Jets for Sam Darnold and guaranteed his 18.858 million dollar option for 2022, effectively locking him into a fully guaranteed 2-year, 23.63 million dollar deal, after already giving up a premium pick to acquire him. 

They passed on both Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft and entered the season with just Darnold and inexperienced PJ Walker under center. Because of that, when Darnold somewhat predictably struggled and eventually got hurt, the Panthers had to turn to a street free agent at quarterback. It just so happens that street free agent is Cam Newton, their original starting quarterback, who was available after a failed one-year stint as the starter in New England. It’s embarrassing for the Panthers that they committed all these resources to replace Newton only to end up with him anyway and Newton is definitely not the quarterback he was in his prime, but he was also their best option and it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade for the Panthers.

If he can be that upgrade, even if only by default, the Panthers all of a sudden become a solid team. They’re 5-5 despite their horrendous quarterback play, led by a defense that ranks 2nd in schedule adjusted efficiency on the season and that has been even better since getting cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Shaq Thompson, two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, back from injury. They rank 31st in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, but I would expect that to improve going forward, not only because of the addition of Newton, but also because of the recent return of stud feature back Christian McCaffrey from injury.

Unfortunately, we’re not really getting line value with the Panthers, as this line has shifted from favoring the Panthers by two points last week on the early line to favoring them by three points this week, a more significant shift than it seems, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. If Newton hadn’t just arrived a week and a half ago and was more familiar with the system, we would still be getting line value with the Panthers at three, but Newton isn’t even expected to play the whole game, meaning the overmatched PJ Walker will likely continue seeing some action.

That line movement happened despite the fact that Washington pulled a huge upset over the Buccaneers last week, a much more surprising upset than the Panthers’ win over the Cardinals and their backup quarterback Colt McCoy. Normally teams are a bad bet after a huge home upset victory, as teams have covered at just a 40.9% rate all-time after winning as home underdogs of 5 or more (Washington was +9.5 last week), but that’s mostly due to teams being overvalued or overconfident in that spot. Washington could be overconfident, but they don’t seem to be overvalued as 3-point underdogs. I’m still taking Carolina for pick ‘em purposes, but they’re not worth betting.

Carolina Panthers 20 Washington Football Team 16

Pick against the spread: Carolina -3

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-8-1) at Cleveland Browns (5-5)

Ordinarily, this would be a look ahead spot for the Browns, who have a much tougher game next week in Baltimore, after this game against the winless Lions. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 41.5% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage that is 60% higher or more than their current opponent’s winning percentage, which would apply to the Browns. On top of that, winless teams tend to be a good bet after a certain point in the season, covering at a 63.0% rate all-time in week 9 or later.

However, the Browns are coming off of a blowout 45-7 loss in New England and will probably be more focused than they normally would have in this game, as they try to bounce back from an embarrassing loss. Teams cover at a 58.2% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more, as a result of being some combination of undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed. The Lions, meanwhile, could be tired after a tie with the Steelers last week, with teams going 11-17 ATS all-time after a tie. The Lions have played a lot of their losses close, but they also haven’t had back-to-back close losses, following up every single digit loss with a double digit loss and they could be flat again this week after coming so close last week.

Meanwhile, despite the Browns’ blowout loss last week, they are still much better than their record suggests, as they have faced a tough schedule and have three one-score losses, including a pair of games in which they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle. They rank 10th, 5th, and 5th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency on the season, despite dealing with a significant amount of short-term injury absences, many of whom have since returned. Still one of the more talented teams in the league, I have the Browns calculated as 14-point favorites in this matchup with the Lions.

This line favors the Browns by 12, so we are getting some line value with the Browns, but not nearly enough to bet them, especially with the conflicting trends and other uncertainties in this game. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will be playing at less than 100% with several injuries and the extent to which he’ll be limited is unclear, while the Lions will be turning to unproven backup Tim Boyle, who has thrown four passes in four seasons in the league. 

It’s possible Boyle’s lack of experience could work to the Lions’ benefit, as the Browns won’t have much tape of him to prepare with, but it’s also possible he shows why he hasn’t played much in his career and proves to be completely overmatched. Not knowing which will be the case makes this game even tougher to predict. The Browns are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I am not confident in them at all.

Cleveland Browns 26 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -12

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (5-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)

I have thought the Eagles are underrated for several weeks and, despite their blowout win in Denver as 2.5-point underdogs last week, they remain underrated. They are just 4-6, but they have a +26 point differential that ranks 12th in the NFL, despite facing one of the toughest schedules in the league. All but one of the Eagles’ six losses have come to teams with a winning record, with the exception being a one-score loss to a 49ers team that has played significantly better than their record suggests. 

In schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, the Eagles rank 6th, 16th, and 22nd respectively and are even better than that suggests on offense, as they have played at a much higher level in recent weeks since getting their two offensive tackles Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson back from extended early season absences. The Eagles’ four easiest games of the season (Lions, Falcons, Broncos, and Panthers) have all been victories, including three in blowout fashion, and the Saints fit much more with those teams than the teams that have beaten the Eagles, at least in the form the Saints are currently in.

The Saints are 5-4, but they are extremely short-handed on offense. Already without their top wide receiver Michael Thomas for the whole season, the Saints lost quarterback Jameis Winston for the season two weeks ago and now are without dominant feature back Alvin Kamara and their two stud offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramcyzk, who have all gone down in the past week or so. The Saints are healthier on defense than they were earlier in the season and have one of the best units in the league on that side of the ball, but their offense will hold them back significantly until they get at least some of their key players back.

This line shifted from an even line on the early line last week to favoring the Eagles by 2.5 points at home this week, but that’s a pretty insignificant shift, given that about 9% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer. With all of the Saints’ injury problems and the Eagles’ blowout win last week, this line should have shifted more and it was already too low to begin with. As a result, we are getting great line value with the Eagles, who I have calculated as touchdown favorites. The Eagles are my top pick this week and they should cover fairly easily in a game in which they essentially just need to win to cover.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 New Orleans Saints 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-3)

The Bills don’t have the best record in the league at 6-3, but they lead the league in point differential by a wide margin at +145, as all three of their losses have come by just one score, while their six wins have come by an average of 26.2 points per game, with none coming by fewer than 15 points. Normally, this would be a sign that the Bills will win at a higher rate going forward, as their record in close games starts to even out, but the Bills have also faced by far the easiest schedule in the league. Six of their nine games have come against teams with three wins or fewer and the Bills are just 1-2 in their other three games.

There are still a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bills, who rank 1st and 3rd respectively in defensive and special teams efficiency, even when schedule is taken into account, and are more talented on offense than their 12th place rank in efficiency suggests, but they face a much tougher test than they are used to this week, with the Colts coming to town. The Colts are just 5-5, but that still gives them the 4th best record of any of the Bills’ opponents this season and they are even better than their record suggests.

The Colts have also faced a relatively easy schedule, but they have still faced a tougher schedule than the Bills and they have a +38 point differential, 9th in the NFL, despite suffering through some early season injuries, including the extended absence of their two best offensive linemen Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson and an ankle injury that limited quarterback Carson Wentz for several weeks. The Colts average margin of victory has been 14.2 points per game, while their five losses have all come against 2020 playoff qualifiers, including a pair of overtime losses, a loss by a field goal, a 9-point loss in a game in which Wentz was far from 100%, and a 12-point loss in week one.

We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Colts at +7.5 and I’m hesitant to bet big against a team who has so many blowout victories on the season, but we’re still getting some line value with the Colts, who should be able to at least keep this game close like most of their games, while giving the Bills a much tougher test than most of the teams that have the Bills blown out. The Colts are also in a better spot, with the Bills having to play again in four days on Thursday Night Football, a situation in which favorites cover at just a 40.7% rate all-time. This isn’t a big play and I wouldn’t take the Colts at +7, but if you can find a good +7.5, they are worth a bet.

Buffalo Bills 23 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (3-6) at New York Jets (2-7)

One thing I like to do is go against significant week-to-week line movements as, barring injuries, they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. This game is a great example. A week ago, the Jets were favored by a couple points on the early line, but the Dolphins pulled an upset over the Ravens on Thursday Night Football, while the Jets were blown out in Buffalo and now the Jets are 3.5-point home underdogs, without any significant injury developments on either side.

The Dolphins’ win over the Ravens is much less impressive when you take into account that the Ravens were coming off of an overtime game and playing a Thursday game, a spot in which teams only cover the spread at a 16.0% rate, while the Jets’ 28-point loss to the Bills isn’t as bad when you take into account that all six of the Bills wins have come by 15 points or more (with an average margin of victory of 26.2 points) and that the Bills are one of the top few teams in the league. 

The Jets are just 2-7, but the Dolphins have just one more win and, aside from last week’s fluky win over the Ravens, their other two wins have come in a one-score win over the Texans, one of the worst teams in the league, and by one-point over the Patriots week one in a game in which the Patriots won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost a pair of fumbles, including one in easy field goal range that could have won the game. 

The Dolphins were 10-6 a year ago, but a dropoff always seemed inevitable, as they faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%), and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), which was actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL). They were always likely to disappoint this season and it’s not surprising they have done so in such a big way.

Even with last week’s win over the Ravens taken into account, the Dolphins rank just 30th, 24th, and 25th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency and probably shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal on the road against anyone, except maybe the Texans. The Jets also are likely getting an upgrade at quarterback with veteran Joe Flacco taking over for inexperienced former undrafted free agent Mike White. My calculated line is still about where this line was last week, favoring the Jets by 1.5 points.

On top of that, the Dolphins are also in a bad spot as a result of last week’s win, as teams cover the spread at just a 40.9% rate all-time after winning as home underdogs of 5 points or more, which applies to the Dolphins, who were 7.5-point home underdogs last week. Part of that is because teams tend to be overvalued after a big home win that could easily prove to be a fluke, which I’ve already covered, but teams could also be overconfident in this spot as well.

It would not be a surprise to see the Dolphins look past the Jets, who, by contrast, are coming off of a blowout loss and will want to play their hardest to avoid further embarrassment. With about 1 out of every 4 games decided by 3 points or fewer, we’re getting great line value with the Jets at +3.5 and, between that and the Jets being in a good spot, this is worth a big play, both against the spread and on the money line.

New York Jets 23 Miami Dolphins 20 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +3.5

Confidence: High