Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week for me, as my calculated line is exactly where this line is, favoring the Cowboys by 10 at home over Washington. I can’t find an angle to favor either side in this game, although it’s possible that could change before gametime, given the ever-changing nature of teams’ COVID lists, but for now, it’s very hard to pick a side. I’m taking Washington purely to fade the public and because this is a slightly more meaningful game for them, as their season would be over with a loss, but this is my lowest confidence pick and a push is a strong possibility.

Dallas Cowboys 27 Washington Football Team 17

Pick against the spread: Washington +10

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

The Vikings are in the playoff mix in the NFC at 7-7 and are a trendy sleeper pick because it’s well-documented that the Vikings haven’t lost more than 8 points this season and could have easily won a few more games. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. For one, two of their losses required the Vikings to get a pick six to make the final score (Arizona and Baltimore) closer than it would have been and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by a wide margin in both of those games, which is more predictive than the final score. 

On top of that, most of their wins have been close, with just one coming by more than 8 points, so, while they could easily have a couple more wins, they could also have a couple more losses. Their point differential of +19 is about in line with their record and schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, shows them to be even worse than that, as they rank 16th, 26th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and 23rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency.

The Vikings were winning by two scores against the Bears last week before a garbage time touchdown, but that game was relatively close throughout, as the Vikings’ offense didn’t allow them to separate from a skeleton crew Bears team, even though the Bears lost the turnover battle by two, went 2/12 on third down, and went 2/5 on fourth down. The Bears won the first down rate and yards per play battle in that game by margins of 12.88% and 2.12 yards per play respectively, holding the Vikings’ offense to a pathetic 3.16 yards per play, despite legitimately being without most of their regular secondary, as well as stud edge defensive Khalil Mack.

The Vikings are likely to benefit from the return of wide receiver Adam Thielen with injury this week, but now they will be without feature back Dalvin Cook, which should cancel out Thielen’s return. The Vikings also face a much tougher challenge this week, with the Rams coming to town. The Rams will be without left tackle Andrew Whitworth due to COVID protocols, but they will return tight end Tyler Higbee, safety Jordan Fuller, and right tackle Rob Havenstein, who missed last week, while cornerback Jalen Ramsey and center Brian Allen missed the previous game, two games the Rams still won despite being short-handed.

Even without Whitworth, the Rams are relatively healthier than most teams in the league right now, including the Vikings, who are without their top two edge defenders on the defensive side of the ball, in addition to Cook’s absence and the uncertainty around Thielen’s injury. The Rams have also been one of the best teams in the league this season, ranking 7th, 6th, 17th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while my roster rankings show them to be even better than that, even with Whitworth missing.

Given that, the Rams should be able to beat the Vikings with relative ease and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them hand the Vikings their first multiscore loss of the season. My calculated line is Rams -5, so I don’t necessarily foresee a blowout, but we are getting some line value with the Rams at -3.5. I would need this line to go down to 3 to be at all confident in the Rams though, as right now the line value does not cross a key number. The Rams are the better side for pick ‘em purposes either way though.

Update: This line has moved to 3 in some places. As I said, I would like the Rams better at that number, so I am increasing this to a low confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) at New York Jets (3-11)

Both of these teams have terrible records and point differentials, with the 2-12 Jaguars sitting at -174 and the 3-11 Jets sitting at -178, but there are reasons to expect the Jets to be the better of these two teams when they meet this weekend. While their point differentials are similar, the Jets have scored and allowed about 55 more points than the Jaguars, which is a good sign for a couple reasons. 

For one, it means their points scored/points allowed ratio is better, as the Jets have scored 0.584 points for every point they have allowed and the Jaguars have scored just .530, which tends to be more predictive than point differential. Offensive performance also tends to be much more predictive than defensive performance week-to-week so, in general, I favor a team with a better offense over a team with a better defense.

The Jets have also faced a tougher schedule and, in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which takes schedule into account and weights offensive performance higher than defensive performance, the Jets rank 29th, while the Jaguars rank 31st. Both teams are terrible and the difference between their ranks might not seem like much, but the gap between these two teams in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency translates to about a 2.5 point advantage for the Jets.

Making matters even worse for the Jaguars is that they will have the most impactful absence in this game, with talented edge defender Josh Allen, arguably their best player on either side of the ball, expected to miss this game because of COVID protocols. Without Allen, the one advantage the Jaguars have, which is having a superior defense, is not nearly as much of an advantage, if it is still an advantage at all. 

Add in the fact that the Jets are at home and they should be favored to win this game by more than the 1.5 points they are currently favored by, which is only enough to cover the advantage of the Jets being at home. My calculated line has the Jets at -4 so we’re getting decent value with the Jets at -1.5. I don’t foresee myself betting on this one, but it’s possible I will change my mind and, either way, the Jets are the better side for pick ‘em purposes.

New York Jets 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: NY Jets -1.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-9)

The Bears lost to the Vikings last week, but they won the first down rate battle by 2.12 and the yards per play battle by 12.88%, losing because they lost the turnover battle by two and went just 2/12 on third down and 2/5 on fourth down, which aren’t as predictive of metrics week-to-week as first down rate and yards per play. The Bears’ offense still had a poor game though, as it was their defense that dominated, holding the Vikings to just 3.16 yards per play and a 20.00% first down rate.

The Bears’ defense has been solid most of the season, but last week was easily their best performance of the year and it’s not a surprise that it coincided with the return of stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who had previously missed four straight games and six total games on the season. However, Hicks is expected to be out again this week, having been placed on the COVID list, meaning the Bears will once again be without both Hicks and Khalil Mack, a massive blow for this defense, which is highly unlikely to be as good this week as they were last week.

The Bears’ offense, meanwhile, figures to continue struggling. They continue to be without left tackle Jason Peters, arguably their most important offensive player, who has been out for the past game and a half, which has been a big blow to an already mediocre offense. On top of that, the Bears will be forced to turn to third string quarterback Nick Foles, with their top-two quarterbacks Justin Fields and Andy Dalton out. Foles is more qualified than most third string quarterbacks, but he figures to be a downgrade even from Fields and Dalton, who have not played all that well this season.

Given all of the players the Bears are missing, I don’t expect them to be able to keep this game close with the Seahawks. The Seahawks are just 5-9, but their even point differential suggests they have been better than their record and that is despite the fact that starting quarterback Russell Wilson missed three and a half games with injury and then was not himself for about three games upon his return. The Seahawks’ defense (22nd in schedule adjusted efficiency) and special teams (3rd) are complementary units, so if this offense can play well, the Seahawks are a lot more dangerous of an opponent than their record would suggest.

The Seahawks did not have a strong offensive performance last week, but that was on the road in Los Angeles against a good Rams defense and the Seahawks were without talented starting wide receiver Tyler Lockett, starting running back Alex Collins, and starting right tackle Brandon Shell. This week, the Seahawks return home to face a lesser defense and will get at least Lockett and Collins back, with Shell remaining a possibility to play as well. Given the talent gap between these two teams right now, my calculated line favors the Seahawks by 9, so we’re getting good line value with them as 6.5-point favorites. I want to wait until gameday to place this bet because of COVID uncertainty, but I will very likely be bumping this up from a low confidence pick before gametime. 

Update: Hicks is still out, so I want to lock this in before the line increases.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

Many wrote the Eagles off when they started 3-6, but they were a lot better than their record suggested, having faced one of the toughest schedules in the league and still managing a positive point differential. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Eagles have climbed right back into the playoff picture at 7-7 as their schedule has gotten easier in recent weeks. Despite their recent strong stretch, the Eagles still remain a better team than their record suggests, as their seven wins have come by an average of 17.1 points per game, while their losses have come by an average of 9.1 points per game, giving them a point differential of +56, 11th best in the NFL.

The Eagles’ one loss since their 3-6 start was to these Giants, but that game was in New York and the Eagles won both the first down rate and yards per play battle in that game by significant margins, losing the game by 6 only because they lost the turnover battle by 4, in a game in which a banged up Jalen Hurts threw three interceptions. Turnover margins are not consistent week-to-week, but first down rate and yards per play tend to be much more consistent and predictive. 

In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Eagles rank 11th, 14th, and 19th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 8th in overall mixed efficiency. They’re also arguably even better than that suggests as they are remarkably healthy right now for how late in the season it is, especially when you consider that they had key offensive linemen miss time earlier in the season and had a stretch where their quarterback was injured. 

The Giants, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction injury wise and are missing key players that played just a few weeks ago in the first matchup between these two teams. The biggest absence is quarterback Daniel Jones, who was first replaced with mediocre veteran backup Mike Glennon and now is being replaced by the unproven Jake Fromm, who will be making his first career start in this game, just a few weeks after joining the Giants and is likely still getting up to speed on the playbook. 

The Giants likely would have lost the first matchup at home by double digits if not for the turnover margin and, now with Fromm under center, in a game in Philadelphia, this is likely to be a double digit win, which would be the Eagles’ 7th of the season and the Giants 7th such loss. My calculated line has the Eagles favored by 13 and, assuming nothing major changes in terms of players being in the COVID protocol, I plan on betting the Eagles as 10-point favorites before gametime. I’m also hoping we can get a -9.5 at some point to avoid a push if the Eagles win by 10. I’m leaving this as low confidence for now, but will likely be updating this before gametime.

Update: This line is rising Sunday morning, so I want to lock in -10 before it’s too late.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 New York Giants 13

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -10

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)

These two teams met in Buffalo a few weeks ago, with the Patriots pulling the small upset on the road. Now that these two teams are meeting in New England, many expect the Patriots to be able to win easier than they did last time, but that isn’t always how these rematches go. In fact, divisional road underdogs cover at a 42.1% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that previously pulled the upset against them as road underdogs earlier in the season. Not only do they cover at a high rate, but they also pull upsets at a high rate, winning almost at a 50% clip as underdogs of less than a touchdown.

That being said, we aren’t getting enough line value with the Bills as mere 2-point underdogs, as my calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, holding a slight edge in my roster rankings and the homefield advantage. The Bills have the better point differential (+151 vs. +140) and rank 1st in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, while the Patriots rank 5th, but the Bills’ defense hasn’t been the same since losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White and, on top of that, most of the Bills’ success has come against weak opponents.

The Bills are 7-1 against teams who are .500 or worse, with all seven wins coming by 15 points or more, but they are just 1-5 against teams who are .500 or better. Blowout wins, even against bad opponents, are more predictive than close losses, of which the Bills have five, making up all but one of their losses, leading to their impressive point differential, but it’s hard to ignore that the Bills haven’t performed at a high level against capable opponents, especially given that they are facing one of the best teams in the league this week. I am still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I still think the Patriots are more likely to win this game and I could see this one going either way against the spread.

Update: This is staying as a no confidence pick, but I want to switch sides. This line has dropped to one, despite the Patriots getting good news with top receiver Kendrick Bourne coming off the COVID list. Originally both of these teams had significant absences in the receiving corps, with the Bills missing Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley and the Patriots missing Bourne and Nelson Agholor, but Bourne playing is a big boost for New England.

New England Patriots 26 Buffalo Bills 24

Pick against the spread: New England -1

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)

The Buccaneers shockingly lost to the Saints as 11-point home favorites last week, but they won both the first down rate and yards per play battle in a game that likely would have gone the other way had the Buccaneers not lost the turnover battle by two, which is not a predictive metric, and, for all of the Saints’ offensive issues, they have arguably the best defense in the league right now, so the Buccaneers’ loss and their offensive struggles aren’t that concerning. Teams also tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued.

Tom Brady’s record of success after a loss is also well-documented, as he hardly loses back-to-back games. The problem is that, while Brady is close to an automatic cover off of a loss as long as he isn’t favored by too much, going 36-11 ATS as underdogs of favorites of seven points or fewer, that doesn’t hold up when he’s favored by more than seven points, going 11-13 ATS, and the Buccaneers are favored by 10 points in this matchup in Carolina. 

On top of that, the Buccaneers are missing a lot of key players in this game that will make it even tougher to cover this high spread, as they will be without two of their top three wide receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, their top running back Leonard Fournette, and two of their best defensive players, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Antoine Winfield. The Panthers are a trainwreck on offense, missing their top offensive player Christian McCaffrey and several offensive line starters, and dealing with the league’s worst quarterback situation, but their defense is still playing at a high level and can keep this game relatively competitive. I’m still taking the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes, but I can’t be confident in them at all.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -10

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-11-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

The Falcons are 6-8 and technically still in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they don’t have any impressive wins, as all six of their wins have come by one-score against teams with a .500 record or worse. Meanwhile, their eight losses have come by an average of 20.63 points per game, including six losses by 13 points or more. In total, the Falcons have a point differential of -126, 4th worst in the NFL, and their efficiency metrics are even worse, as they rank 24th, 29th, 28th, and 30th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, mixed efficiency respectively. Fortunately for the Falcons, they get another easy game this week with the Detroit Lions coming to town, sitting at 2-11-1. 

The Lions did win last week in shocking upset fashion against the Cardinals, but teams tend to struggle the week after a big upset win, covering at just a 41.4% rate after a win as double digit underdogs, as teams tend to be flat after such a big win and they tend to be overvalued as well. In the Lions’ case, they have moved from being 6.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now 6-point underdogs, which is not a big swing, unless you consider that it happened despite the fact that the Lions will be without starting quarterback Jared Goff in this game, leaving overmatched Tim Boyle to make his second career start, a big concern considering how much he struggled in his debut.

The Falcons haven’t blown anyone out this year, but this is probably their best chance to do it, so we’re getting some value with them as 6-point favorites. My calculated line is only Atlanta -7, so we’re not getting a ton of line value with them, but when you add in that the Lions could be flat after essentially winning their Super Bowl last week, there is enough here to be somewhat confident in the Falcons. I think I would need this line to drop to 5.5 to consider placing a bet on the Falcons, but I will also reconsider a bet on this game if there are any further significant COVID absences or reactivations.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

I am not locking in a lot of bets this week until gameday morning because of COVID uncertainty, but this is one I want to lock in right now. The Chiefs are currently missing two of their most important players, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, as well as starting right tackle Lucas Niang, but it’s possible all three could be cleared before gametime and, even if some or all aren’t, I still think we are getting line value with the Chiefs at their current number, favored by 8.5 points over the Steelers. Even missing those three players, my calculated line favors the Chiefs by 12.5.

The Chiefs got off to a slow start this season, sitting at 3-4 through the first seven games of the season, but their biggest problems were the turnover margin (-10 through the first 7 games of the season) and their horrendous defensive play. However, their defense has since gotten healthy (cornerback Charvarius Ward, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark, and defensive tackle Chris Jones all missed time early in the season) and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to a huge defensive improvement, while their turnover margin has predictably swung as well, as they have been at +10 in the seven games since their slow start.

Between the turnover margin and their much improved defensive efficiency, the Chiefs have won all seven games by an average of 14.85 points per game since their 3-4 start, leading to them now being all alone in the #1 seed in the AFC at 10-4. Obviously the Chiefs’ offensive injuries hurt, but I have enough confidence in Patrick Mahomes even without his top weapons to still lead a strong offensive performance, while their defense should continue being a complementary unit. 

It also helps the Chiefs that they are playing a Steelers team that is nowhere near as good as their 7-6-1 record. While their six wins have come by just a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, four of their six losses have come by multiple scores, with the only exceptions being games in which they still lost the first down rate and yards per play battles by 12.24% and 3.1 respectively against the Chargers and 2.22% and 1.4 respectively against the Vikings, which is more predictive than the final score. On the season, the Steelers rank just 28th, 20th, 20th, and 26th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which are based on yards per play and first down rate differential. 

The Chiefs, meanwhile, rank 3rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, despite their injury plagued start to the season on defense. Even without Kelce and Hill, the Chiefs have a good chance to pick up their 7th multiscore win of the season and to hand the Steelers their 5th multiscore loss, and the possibility that one or both might still play makes this an even more intriguing bet. I am going to lock this in as my Pick of the Week now, given the uncertainty on the rest of this week’s schedule.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -8.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (7-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

The Raiders are 7-7, but they have a 4-2 record in one-score games and a 3-0 overtime record, so they could easily have a couple more losses. On top of that, their point differential of -75 is significantly worse than would be expected for their record and ranks just 25th in the NFL overall. That would normally suggest they are worse than their record, but they have faced a tough schedule overall and have largely underperformed on third and fourth downs relative to their early down performance, which tends to even out in the long run. 

The Raiders rank 15th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 9th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 28th and 16th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 27th and 30th respectively in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Raiders rank 15th overall. Their offense has been noticeably worse since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, but they still have an above average defense and are still better than their point differential.

The Broncos have a much better point differential at +42, but rank just 18th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency. The Broncos are also dealing with a key injury absence as veteran starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is out with a concussion and will be replaced by inconsistent young backup Drew Lock, who will almost definitely be a significant downgrade. Despite the Raiders having the higher schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and a healthy starting quarterback at home, this line is even. 

Not only is that line too low, but it’s also the exact same line as the early line a week ago, despite the Bridgewater injury, which came in a Broncos home upset loss to the Bengals. The oddsmakers and public clearly were not impressed with the Raiders narrowly winning in Cleveland against a COVID depleted team last week, but that game would not have been as close if the Raiders had not lost the turnover battle by two, which is not a predictive metric. In terms of first down rate and yards per play differential, which are much more predictive and are the basis for efficiency ratings, the Raiders had the edge by significant margins. 

My calculated line has the Raiders favored by 3.5 points, so we are getting a lot of line value with them on an even line, line value that would increase in the somewhat likely case that talented Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs gets cleared from the COVID list before this game. I am not locking in a lot of games until gameday morning because of all of the COVID uncertainty this week, but this is one I’m comfortable betting now because neither team is having much of a COVID outbreak and the line value is too significant.

Las Vegas Raiders 21 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas PK

Confidence: High