2014 NFL Draft Redo

1. Houston Texans – DT Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)

There was nothing wrong with the Texans’ original pick of Jadeveon Clowney, but the Texans can shoot a little higher in this re-draft with Aaron Donald, who is the best defensive player in the league. Donald and JJ Watt have won 5 of the last 7 Defensive Player of the Year awards. Imagine trying to block both of them. No thanks.

2. St. Louis Rams – DE Khalil Mack (Buffalo)

As good as Aaron Donald is, Khalil Mack isn’t much of a downgrade. The Rams miss out on Donald (originally drafted 13th overall), but Mack gives them a much needed edge rush presence and helps soften the blow of losing Donald.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Odell Beckham (LSU)

In a draft class filled with elite talent, the Jaguars reached on a quarterback, taking Blake Bortles 3rd overall. Quarterback was a huge need for them at the time, but Bortles hardly solved it, as the Jaguars are in the market for a new quarterback again this off-season. I thought about giving the Jaguars a quarterback here, but with several elite talents still left on the board, any quarterback would be a bit of a reach. Wide receiver was also a massive need at the time and the Jaguars originally added a trio of wide receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Allen Hurns. None of those receivers are bad, but Beckham is an obvious upgrade and would have been a big boost to this offense.

4. Buffalo Bills – G Zack Martin (Notre Dame)

Guards don’t usually go in the top-5, but with Zack Martin you know you’re getting an annual All-Pro. The Cowboys were criticized by some for taking him at 16, but it turns out that wasn’t nearly high enough, as he’s arguably the top interior offensive lineman in the league and has been one of the best at his position since his first game in the league.

5. Oakland Raiders – DE Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)

Jadeveon Clowney is the Raiders’ consolation prize for Khalil Mack going a few picks higher. He hasn’t been as durable or as consistent as Mack, but he’s shown stretches of dominance and was one of the younger players in this draft, so he could continue getting better, only going into his age 26 season in 2019.

6. Atlanta Falcons – OT Taylor Lewan (Michigan)

Jake Matthews, the Falcons’ original pick here, is a solid left tackle, but Taylor Lewan is a higher level player. Matthews’ 4th quarter hold in Super Bowl 51 is also a big part of the reason why the Falcons were not able to finish off the Patriots, so perhaps the Falcons would have been Super Bowl Champs if they had taken Lewan instead.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M)

The Buccaneers stick with their original pick here, as Mike Evans has topped 1000 yards in all 5 seasons in the league, averaging a 79/1221/8 slash line and missing just 3 games with injury. Still only 26 in August, Evans is one of the top receivers in the entire NFL.

8. Cleveland Browns – QB Derek Carr (Fresno State)

The quarterbacks were tough to slot in this re-draft. Normally franchise caliber quarterbacks go high, but this draft is filled with top level talent at other positions, while the top quarterbacks have their warts. With much of the top level talent gone at this point, it makes sense for the Browns to take a quarterback. Derek Carr has been inconsistent, but he’s started 78 of 80 games in 5 seasons in the league and would have stabilized the Browns’ quarterback situation far earlier than Baker Mayfield eventually did. He would have been an obvious upgrade over Johnny Manziel, the quarterback they took with the 22nd pick, or Justin Gilbert, the cornerback they took with this 8th overall pick originally.

9. Minnesota Vikings – QB Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois)

Like Derek Carr, Garoppolo was tough to slot. At his best, he has a higher upside than Carr, but he’s much less proven, with just 10 career starts. After spending the first 3 and a half years of his career as Tom Brady’s backup, Garoppolo tore his ACL 3 games into his first full season as a starter in 2018. Signed to a 5-year, 137.5 million dollar extension last off-season, Garoppolo is  highly valued and productive quarterback when healthy.

The Vikings top quarterback at the time of the 2014 NFL draft was Matt Cassel. They did take Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick and he was decent for a couple years, but then he suffered a devastating injury, forcing the Vikings to trade a first round pick for Sam Bradford and give a guaranteed contract to Kirk Cousins. At his best, Garoppolo is an upgrade over both of those quarterbacks and could have lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl in 2017, when the Vikings made the NFC Championship with Case Keenum. He comes with questions, given his lack of experience, durability concerns, and the fact that he might not have been as good if he didn’t start his career with New England, but he’s worth the pick here for Minnesota.

10. Detroit Lions – DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Boise State)

Eric Ebron, the Lions’ original pick here, never panned out for them like they wanted, so instead they get some much needed help for their defense. Lawrence had injuries early in his career, which is why he slides to 10, but he’s been one of the best edge rushers in the league over the past 2 seasons, with a combined 25 sacks and 23 quarterback hits, while playing stellar run defense as well. Unless he’s franchise tagged for a 2nd straight year at a price of 20.57 million, he’s expected to become one of the highest paid defensive players in the league on a long-term deal this off-season.

11. Tennessee Titans – WR Davante Adams (Fresno State)

The Titans have needed a #1 receiver for years, with Kendall Wright in 2013 being their last 1000-yard wide receiver. Davante Adams slides because he got off to a slow start to his career and because he’s benefitted from playing with Aaron Rodgers, but he also had a 74/885/10 slash line in 2017 with Rodgers missing most of the season with injury and his 111/1386/13 slash line was among the very best in the league in 2018.

12. New York Giants – WR Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)

Brandin Cooks has topped 1000 yards in 4 straight seasons, but falls a little bit in a strong wide receiver class. As consistent as he’s been, he’s never put up dominating numbers and he’s always played with a lot of talent around him, catching passes from Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Jared Goff in his career. The Giants take him as a consolation prize for losing Odell Beckham. Cooks is a slight drop off talent wise, but he’s more durable and less of a headache to deal with than Odell, so this isn’t a bad scenario for the Giants.

13. St. Louis Rams – OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)

The Rams can’t take Aaron Donald, their original choice here, but they took Khalil Mack at 2 instead of their original #2 overall pick Greg Robinson, who was a massive bust, and now they can take a better left tackle in Jake Matthews here at 13. As good as Donald is, the Rams might prefer to have both Mack and Matthews, who has developed into an above average left tackle. The Rams had terrible play at left tackle until they signed Andrew Whitworth two off-seasons ago and he could retire this off-season, ahead of what would be his age 38 season.

14. Chicago Bears – CB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech)

The Bears have had a weird ride with Kyle Fuller, their original pick here. He was a starter for them his first 2 seasons in the league, but missed all of his 3rd season with injury and had his 5th year option declined, as they felt he did not work hard enough to return from injury. Fuller ended up making the Bears regret turning down his option, playing at a high level in 2017 and parlaying that into a big contract. The Bears gave him the transition tag, giving them the right of first refusal on any contract offer he accepted, and ended up matching a 4-year, 56 million dollar deal he signed with the Green Bay Packers. Considering he had arguably the best season of his career in 2018 on an overall dominant Bears defense, I don’t think they regret that contract and ultimately they’d probably take him again if they could.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers – DE Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)

Stephon Tuitt was originally a 2nd round selection by the Steelers, but he’s played at such a high level that they’ll have to take him in the first round this time around. Their original first round pick Ryan Shazier was not a bad selection, but his career is in doubt after a terrible neck injury he suffered during his 4th season in the league in 2017.

16. Dallas Cowboys – DE Dee Ford (Auburn)

The Cowboys have already lost Zack Martin, their original pick here, and DeMarcus Lawrence, a 2nd round selection, but they still get a high level player in Dee Ford here at 16. Ford isn’t as good as Lawrence against the run, but he has 30.5 sacks and 40 hits in 67 career games, while Lawrence has 34 sacks and 36 hits in 64 career games, so there isn’t much drop off there.

17. Baltimore Ravens – MLB CJ Mosley (Alabama)

CJ Mosley was the Ravens’ original pick here and they would probably take him again if they had the opportunity. He has his issues in coverage, but he’s one of the best run stoppers in the league and has been a tackling machine for one of the NFL’s better defenses. His 579 tackles over the past 5 seasons combined rank 4th behind Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and Lavonte David.

18. New York Jets – WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson)

Originally the 4th overall pick, Sammy Watkins was tough to slot in this re-draft. On one hand, he hasn’t played a full 16-game season since his rookie year and has only topped 1000 yards once, which puts him far behind the other top receivers in this class in terms of production. He hasn’t even topped 600 yards since 2015 and missed 15 of 48 games the past 3 seasons combined. On the other hand, he signed a 3-year, 48 million dollar deal with the Chiefs last off-season, making him the 6th highest paid wide receiver in the league in terms of average annual salary, so clearly his skill set is still in high demand. He was a bit underwhelming in 10 games for the Chiefs in his first season in Kansas City, but, still only in his age 26 season, he still has plenty of upside and at least one team would fall in love with him in the first round in a re-draft. The Jets, who only had one receiver with more than 409 yards in 2014, are one of the teams that could use him.

19. Miami Dolphins – WR Jarvis Landry (LSU)

The Dolphins chose not to retain Jarvis Landry as a free agent last off-season, instead franchise tagging him and trading him to the Browns for a 4th round pick, but that was mostly for financial reasons, as the cap strapped Dolphins couldn’t afford the 5-year, 75.5 million dollar deal the Browns ultimately gave him. That deal might be a little bit of an overpay, but Landry has still averaged a slash line of 96/1003/5 in 5 seasons in the league and has just 26 career drops, as opposed to 481 career catches. The Dolphins have to use their first round pick to keep him this time around, after originally taking him in the second, but he’s worth this spot, even in a good wide receiver draft.

20. New Orleans Saints – CB Malcolm Butler (West Alabama)

The Saints tried to trade for Malcolm Butler two off-seasons ago, even offering their original pick here, Brandin Cooks, in a trade for Butler, before ultimately sending Cooks to the Patriots for a first rounder when the Patriots decided to keep Butler. The Saints addressed their cornerback need by taking Marshon Lattimore with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but taking Butler in 2014 would have helped them sooner and he’d form a solid duo with Lattimore. There’s some concern that Butler was benched in the Super Bowl by the Patriots and that he wasn’t as good in his first season outside of New England, which is why he slips a little, but he’s still a solid starter and was still highly valued on the open market last off-season, signing for 61.25 million over 5 years.

21. Green Bay Packers – S HaHa Clinton-Dix (Alabama)

I went back and forth on putting Clinton-Dix here. On one hand, he was a solid starter for the Packers for the first four and a half years of his career, making 65 starts after originally being drafted here at #21 overall, but he was also traded mid-season to the Redskins for a 4th round pick this year. He was in the final year of his rookie contract, but the Packers were also in playoff contention, so it was surprising to see the Packers deal away their best safety. An above average starter at his best, Clinton-Dix is worth drafting again.

22. Cleveland Browns – G Joel Bitonio (Nevada)

The Browns missed badly with their two first rounders in 2014, taking Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, but they did salvage their draft somewhat by taking Joel Bitonio in the 2nd round. Bitonio has developed into one of the better left guards in the league and would likely go in the first round in a re-draft, so the Browns have to take him here if they want to keep him. In reality, they kept him with a 5-year, 50 million dollar extension in 2017, so clearly they value him highly.

23. Kansas City Chiefs – G Andrew Norwell (Ohio State)

Originally undrafted in 2014, Norwell made 54 starts in 4 seasons with the Panthers, before signing a 5-year, 66.5 million dollar deal with the Jaguars last off-season. He’s talented enough to go higher in this re-draft, but falls because of lack of positional need. He’d fill a big need for the Chiefs and would be the most talented guard they’ve had in recent years.

24. Cincinnati Bengals – C Brandon Linder (Miami)

The Bengals originally took Russell Bodine in the 4th round of this draft and he made all 64 starts for them at center from 2014-2017, but he didn’t play all that well and the Bengals ultimately used a first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft on a center, taking Ohio State’s Billy Price. Linder, one of the better centers in the league, would be an obvious upgrade over Bodine and Price.

25. San Diego Chargers – C Matt Paradis (Boise State)

The Chargers have had offensive line issues for years, especially at center, which was an annual weakness until they signed Mike Pouncey to a 2-year, 15 million dollar deal last off-season. Paradis, one of the better centers in the league, would have filled that weakness much quicker.

26. Philadelphia Eagles – OLB Anthony Barr (UCLA)

Anthony Barr hasn’t been as good in recent years as he was early in his career, but he still would have helped an Eagles team that had linebacker issues in 2014. A free agent this off-season, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of market he has.

27. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Telvin Smith (Florida State)

The Cardinals originally drafted Deone Bucannon here, a 6-1 211 safety that they eventually turned into a linebacker. Bucannon had some good years early in his career, but has struggled with injuries in recent years and likely will have to settle for a one-year deal on the open market this off-season. Telvin Smith, who signed a 4-year, 45 million dollar extension with the Jaguars in 2017, is a similar player at 6-3 215, but has been much more consistent in his career, despite originally falling to the 5th round. He’d likely go in the first in a re-draft.

28. Carolina Panthers – OT Charles Leno (Boise State)

The Panthers had serious issues at both tackle spots in 2014 and still have a weakness at left tackle even today, despite giving Matt Kalil a 5-year, 55.5 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago. If they had taken someone like Charles Leno, they could have avoided that. Leno, originally a 7th round pick, was a late bloomer, which is why he falls this far, but he’s one of the better pass protecting left tackles in the league.

29. New England Patriots – DT Timmy Jernigan (Florida State)

The Patriots used this pick on defensive tackle Dominique Easley in 2014, but he played in just 22 games for New England due to injuries. Timmy Jernigan would have been a better option for a team that had a big need at defensive tackle at the time, taking one in the first round in both 2014 and 2015. Jernigan missed most of 2018 after off-season back surgery, but he was a solid starter in 3 seasons with the Ravens and took his game to the next level in 2017, when he won the Super Bowl after an off-season trade to the Eagles, earning a 4-year, 48 million dollar extension in the process.

30. San Francisco 49ers – S LaMarcus Joyner (Florida State)

The 49ers didn’t have a lot of weaknesses in 2014, as this Jim Harbaugh team was coming off of its 3rd straight NFC Championship game appearance. They took a versatile defensive back in Jimmie Ward here originally, but LaMarcus Joyner, who fell to the Rams in the 2nd round, became a much better version of what they were expecting Ward to be, though it did take him until his 4th season in the league to breakout. Drafting him here not only gives them much needed talent on a defense that was depleted pretty quickly after 2014, but it also keeps him away from the division rival Rams.

31. Denver Broncos – CB Bradley Roby (Ohio State)

Bradley Roby was the Broncos’ original pick here and, while he never developed into a top level cornerback, I don’t think the Broncos really have too many regrets about getting a solid starter late in the first round. At this point, it’s hard to do much better than Roby, who will likely be one of the highest cornerbacks in free agency this off-season.

32. Minnesota Vikings – WR Allen Robinson (Penn State)

The Vikings got a quarterback at 9 and now get a receiving threat. Before the days of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, had a real problem at wide receiver. The 2014 Vikings were led in receiving yards by the overpaid Greg Jennings, who was released the following off-season after a 59/742/6 slash line. Allen Robinson has been inconsistent and injury prone, but he’s shown #1 receiver ability for stretches. He falls because he’s part of a very deep wide receiver class.

2018 NFL Pick Results

2018

Total Against the Spread: 154-102-11 (59.74%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (61.76%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-13-2 (61.11%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 41-27-1 (60.14%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 72-46-4 (60.66%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-28-1 (55.47%)

No Confidence Picks: 47-28-6 (61.72%)

Upset Picks: 25-17-1 (59.30%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 845-710-47 (54.21%)

Pick of the Week: 61-40-3 (60.10%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 402-292-18 (57.72%)

Upset Picks: 132-153-1 (46.33%)

New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams: Super Bowl LIII Pick

New England Patriots (13-5) vs. Los Angeles Rams (15-3) in Super Bowl LIII

By their standards, the Patriots had a down season. They finished with fewer than 12 wins for the first time since 2009 and were legitimately blown out in a few games. They lost as many games by double digits (3) as they had in the previous 3 seasons combined and their 34-10 loss to the Titans was their biggest loss since 2014. They also didn’t go on one of their typical late season runs, actually winning more games in their first 8 games (6) than their final 8 games (5). From week 9 to 15, they went just 2-3, starting with that loss to the Titans in week 10, which was their latest loss by that many points since back in 2000 before Brady became a starter.

They also showed stretches of dominance though, especially at home, where they went a perfect 8-0, with 6 of 8 wins by double digits. Their only home wins that were within double digits came against division winners in the Chiefs and Texans and they would have had the ball with a 14 point lead late in the 4th quarter against the Texans if not for a muffed punt that led to a late Houston touchdown.

They weren’t nearly as good on the road, but picked up another two double digit wins on the road against the Jets and Bills, giving them 8 double digit wins in the regular season, tied with the Saints for most in the NFL. They won in Chicago, where the Bears otherwise won all of their regular season home games en route to a 12-4 record. All in all, the Patriots went 4-0 against playoff qualifiers, the only playoff qualifier to have a perfect record against fellow playoff qualifiers.

The Patriots played down to their level of competition some this season, particularly away from home, but they’ve always brought their best for big games in the Brady/Belichick era, going a ridiculous 39-13 against teams with a better record than them since 2001, including an unfathomable 15-1 since 2010. That’s not even skewed by early season matchups where records don’t mean as much, as they are 17-5 against teams with a better record than them in week 11 or later, including 8-2 in the post-season. For comparison, the league average winning percentage against a team with a better record is 38.3%.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that they were able to beat the Chargers and Chiefs, who both finished 12-4, to advance to the Super Bowl, where they now face the 3-loss Rams. Granted, their win over the Chiefs was close to a 50/50 game that could have gone either way, but their game against the Chargers was over by halftime. They showed their top level for much of the season and securing a first round bye allowed key veterans like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to get healthy for another playoff run. Now with another week off, I wouldn’t want to bet against them right now, especially only getting 2.5 points. The Patriots have been close to an auto-bet with Brady under center as underdogs or favorites of less than 3, going 52-24 ATS and 47-29 straight up.

The Rams will present a tough test though. Their offense hasn’t been the same since Cooper Kupp went down with a torn ACL, as they had a first down rate of 46.09% in the 8 games he played, as opposed to 39.60% in the 10 games he missed, but that’s still an impressive rate and they should have a healthier Todd Gurley after a week off, giving them a one-two punch at running back of Gurley and talented replacement CJ Anderson. They’ve also been much better defensively with cornerback Aqib Talib on the field, allowing a 33.10% first down rate in the 10 games he played, as opposed to 43.29% in the 8 games he missed.

Both teams have plenty of standout players, with Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and Andrew Whitworth among those I haven’t mentioned yet for the Rams and Julian Edelman, Trey Flowers, and Stephon Gilmore among those I haven’t mentioned yet for the Patriots. You could argue these are the two best coached teams in the league, with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels on one sideline, facing off with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips on the other. Ultimately, it’s just going to come down to execution, which I know isn’t much of an analysis, but the talent gap between these two teams isn’t much. I’m going with the Patriots because I trust their experience over the experience of the Rams, who are in just their 4th playoff game with Jared Goff and McVay. I probably wouldn’t bet this on a normal week, but it’s the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots 31 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints: 2018 NFC Championship Pick

Los Angeles Rams (14-3) at New Orleans Saints (14-3)

These two met back in week 9 in New Orleans, but a lot has changed since then. At the time, the Rams were favored by a couple points, despite being the road team, because they were an undefeated 8-0 and seen as the early Super Bowl favorite. That changed when the Saints pulled the upset and subsequently went on to win 7 of their next 8 meaningful games, while the Rams went “just” 5-3 over the second half of the season. As a result, the Saints were able to clinch the #1 seed in the NFC before week 17, despite being a game and a half back of the Rams going into their week 9 matchup.

The Saints’ strong play is a big part of the reason why they overtook the Rams in the NFC, but the Rams also regressed a little bit down the stretch, particularly on offense after they lost slot receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams still have a talented duo of receivers in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, but Kupp had been Jared Goff’s most effective receiver over the past 2 years. Goff completed 72.4% of his 152 targets to Kupp for 1,504 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions, a ridiculous 124.5 QB rating. Kupp has missed 9 games in total including playoffs, but was also knocked out of 3 games with injury this season. In the 5 games he started and finished, the Rams had a 46.96% first down rate. In the 3 games he was knocked out, the Rams had a 44.72% first down rate. And in the 9 games he missed entirely, the Rams had a first down rate of 40.54%.

That’s still a good number and would have ranked 6th in the NFL over the course of the season, but they’re not quite the dominant offense they were going into the previous matchup, one of the five games Kupp started and finished (45.76% first down rate in a 45-35 loss). Their passing game in particular has fallen back to earth. Goff completed 71.8% of his passes for an average of 10.33 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions in the 5 games Kupp started and finished, but just 59.8% of his passes for an average of 7.08 YPA, 15 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions in the 9 he’s missed completely. They’re still a strong offense, but they’re more reliant on the run than they were when Kupp was healthy.

Fortunately for them, the Saints also are missing a key player from the first matchup, with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins going down with a torn achilles early in last week’s win over the Eagles. Outside of Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore, Rankins was probably the Saints’ best defensive player this season, so that’s a big loss. Not only does losing him significantly hurt their chances of slowing down Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson on the ground, but he had a productive year as pass rusher as well, totaling 8 sacks, 6 hits, and 32 hurries on 450 pass rush snaps (10.2%).

On top of that, the Rams also have cornerback Aqib Talib healthy, which they didn’t have in the first matchup. In 6 games in which Talib has played more than half the snaps, the Rams have allowed opponents to pick up first downs at a 34.45% rate, as opposed to 40.12% in the 11 games in which he was inactive or limited. The Rams faced a pretty easily schedule in those 6 games (Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Arizona, San Francisco, and Dallas), but it’s not hard to imagine how the return of the 6-1 209 Talib could have an impact in a rematch of a game in which the 6-3 212 Michael Thomas went for 12/211/1. I still have the Saints a little higher in my roster rankings, but I don’t think we’re getting enough line value here to bet on the Saints confidently.

New Orleans Saints 34 Los Angeles Rams 30

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 AFC Championship Pick

New England Patriots (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)

The Patriots won in convincing fashion at home over a strong Chargers team last week, wrapping up an undefeated 9-0 home record, but now they have to go on the road (where they are 3-5) and travel to Kansas City for the AFC Championship game. The common narrative seems to be that they will continue to struggle on the road and, as a result, they are underdogs in a game started by Tom Brady for the first time since week 13 of the 2014 season.

The statistical difference between the Patriots at home and on the road has been very significant this season, beyond even what the records show. At home, 7 of those 9 wins came by double digits, with the only exceptions coming against the Texans and the Chiefs, a pair of AFC division winners. They have a first down rate differential of +9.65% at home. For comparison, the Bears finished 1st in first down rate differential on the season at +6.64%. On the road, however, they have a first down rate differential of -5.29%. For comparison, that would have ranked 29th in the NFL over the course of the season, most comparable to the Washington Redskins.

Fortunately for them, home/road differentials tend to be random more than anything. Over the past 30 seasons, teams with a home winning percentage of more than 90% and a road winning percentage under 50% are 40-36 straight up on the road in week 11 or later and are 21-12 ATS as road underdogs. The Patriots have been incredible at home since 2001, going 141-26 straight up, but they are also 99-49 on the road, including 24-15 ATS and 20-19 straight up as road underdogs. Any time you’re getting points with the Patriots, even against the most dominant of teams, they are worth a bet, as they tend to rise to the occasion against tough opponents, going a ridiculous 38-13 straight up against teams with a better record than them since 2001, including 7-2 in the post-season.

The Chiefs have been a dominant team on offense this season, finishing the regular season by far #1 in first down rate at 45.18% (Rams are 2nd at 43.05%), but they’ve been far from dominant on defense. They finished the season ranked 24th in points per game allowed at 26.3 and were even worse in first down rate allowed at 42.20%, worst in the NFL. Against playoff qualifiers, their defensive numbers were downright ugly, as they allowed 36.0 points per game and a ridiculous 46.54% first down rate in 6 regular season games against playoff qualifiers (2-4).

The strength of this defense is its pass rush, which led the league in sacks, led by edge rushers Dee Ford (13 sacks) and Justin Houston (9 sacks) and interior rusher Chris Jones (15.5 sacks). Combined with their explosive offense, their pass rush has allowed them to dominant weaker opponents. They go up big early with their offense, forcing their opponents to pass more than they’d like (most pass attempts against in the league), which allows their pass rushers to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. That same formula hasn’t worked as well against tougher opponents, who have been able to exploit their weaknesses against running games and quick passing games. The Patriots both rode of those to victory last week, so it’s not hard to imagine them following a similar formula this week in Kansas City.

The big exception to the Chiefs’ defensive struggles this season came against the Colts last week, in a game in which the Chiefs held the Colts to a 30.19% first down rate in a blowout 31-13 win. However, when you look at their whole season, last week’s performance looks like a fluke, especially when you consider there wasn’t any personnel change that was made between last week’s game and a month ago, when they allowed 67 points combined in a 2-game stretch against the Chargers and Seahawks.

The one player who could boost this defense is Eric Berry, who is expected to play through a heel injury this week, after sitting out the previous 2 games, but he’s played just 99 snaps since week 1 of 2017, so it’s unclear how much having him active will benefit the Chiefs. Unless the Chiefs suddenly became a different defense overnight or Eric Berry can somehow return to Pro Bowl form by Sunday, I like the Patriots’ chances of pulling the upset and they’re a great bet if you can get the full field goal.

New England Patriots 30 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: New England +3

Confidence: High

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints: 2018 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (10-7) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)

When these two teams met in week 11, the Saints destroyed the Eagles in a game with the 2nd highest victory of margin on the season, beating them 48-7. A lot has changed for these Eagles since then though. For one, starting quarterback Carson Wentz was shut down with a back injury, after struggling through it for much of the season, which has allowed Nick Foles to take over under center. Not only is Foles playing at a high level, but this team really does seem to play at a higher level with their backs against the wall and a backup quarterback under center, winning 6 of 7 games since the Saints dropped them to 4-6 a couple months ago.

Their defense is also playing better, with talented every down linebacker Jordan Hicks back from injury and young cornerbacks Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox stepping up in an injury ravaged secondary. Hicks was originally injured in the loss to the Saints, as was Maddox and stud center Jason Kelce. Having those three in the lineup and Foles playing well under center should make this a much different game this time around.

That being said, the Saints are so good that they could still easily cover this spread. I’m taking the 8 points with the Eagles, who haven’t lost any of their other games by more than a touchdown, but the Saints are the most talented team in the league, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were able to win by multiple scores again here at home. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -7.5, so we’re barely getting any line value with the Eagles at +8. I’m taking them for pick ‘em purposes, but I would be surprised if the Saints didn’t advance. The Eagles have won straight up in all 5 games in which they’ve been underdogs with Nick Foles as the starter over the past two seasons, but I expect that miracle run to end this week.

New Orleans Saints 31 Philadelphia Eagles 24

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +8

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots: 2018 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) at New England Patriots (11-5)

I’ve been high on the Chargers all year and, with the Bears eliminated, the Chargers now rank 1st among remaining playoff teams on the season in first down rate differential at +5.24%. Since week 10, they rank 3rd at +6.04%. Making this even more impressive is the fact that they have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, where they struggle to attract home fans, even when playing well. Outside of Los Angeles, they are a perfect 9-0, covering the spread in 8 of 9 games and winning by an average of 9.11 points per game. That is a trend that actually dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 37-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012.

The Patriots, meanwhile, have been pretty underwhelming statistically for a playoff team. They have a +2.67% first down rate differential on the season, 2nd worst among remaining playoff teams, and they didn’t go on their normal late season run this year either, with a +2.68% first down rate differential since week 10, 4th worst among remaining playoff teams. That being said, I’m hesitant to bet too heavily against the Patriots, who are not a team I want to underestimate in the playoffs, even with them giving 4 points to a Chargers team that has been statistically better almost across the board this season.

This is still a talented Patriots roster, one that has underachieved for stretches of the season, but also has shown signs of dominance, with 8 double digit wins and a 4-0 record against playoff qualifiers. If Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski can be healthier off of a bye, this is still a very scary team, especially at home, where they are undefeated this season with an average margin of victory of 16.25 points per game.

Normally home/road disparities are random more than anything (for example the Patriots were 14-1 on the road in 2016-17 before going 3-5 this season), but the Patriots have been dominant at home for close to two decades, going 140-26 since 2001, including 112-18 against the AFC. On top of that, they are a ridiculous 36-12 against teams with a better record than them with Tom Brady under center and they should be more than up to the challenge of taking on an elite Chargers team. Four points isn’t a huge cushion, but I do want to put a small bet on the Chargers, even though I do ultimately expect the Patriots to pull out the victory.

New England Patriots 24 Los Angeles Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +4

Confidence: Medium