San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams: Week 13 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (8-3) at St. Louis Rams (4-7)

Colin Kaepernick is now officially quarterback of the 49ers and it’s definitely the right move. I don’t think the 49ers ever really scared anyone with Alex Smith under center. He wasn’t why they were winning. Kaepernick gives this team such a higher upside. He allows them to use the whole playbook with his running ability and big arm and he hasn’t seemed fazed by the mental part of running such a complex offense, which is key. He also makes their running game even better because defenses have to respect the deep ball and Kaepernick’s own running ability.

They’ve looked so much better since he’s been the starter, blowing out Chicago and then beating the Saints in New Orleans, a huge win in a tough place to play against a team that actually knew he was coming for the first time in his career. Neither St. Louis nor Chicago really game planned for him, most likely. Smith got hurt against St. Louis and there was no way for them to know that Kaepernick would be coming into the game, while Chicago probably thought, along with the rest of us, that Smith would start against them until he was surprisingly ruled out Monday morning for a Monday Night Football game.

This week, Kaepernick takes the show to St. Louis. St. Louis is coming off a win as divisional road dogs and they are now home dogs, a situation teams are 28-14 ATS in since 1989. However, San Francisco is road favorites after winning as road favorites, a situation teams are 50-30 ATS in since 2002. We’re also getting significant line value with the 49ers, who have the momentum as well, since switching to the superior quarterback.

Using the net points per drive method of computing real line, this line should actually be San Francisco -12.5. San Francisco ranks 2nd in net points per drive, 1st in DVOA, and 2nd in weighted DVOA and with Kaepernick under center, they’re easily one of the top-2 teams in the NFL. St. Louis, meanwhile, is 24th in net points per drive, 21st in DVOA and 20th in weighted DVOA.

That 12.5 number was calculated by taking the difference between San Francisco’s net points per drive and St. Louis’ net points per drive, multiplying by 11 (the amount of drives per game on average) and adding 3 to St. Louis’ side for home field advantage. Like with New England and Houston, it’s not a big play because the public loves the favorite here and the public always loses money in the long run, but San Francisco should be the right side here.

Public lean: San Francisco (80% range)

Sharps lean: SF 22 STL 8

Final update: Very interestingly, the sharps all really like San Francisco, Houston, and New England as touchdown favorites inside the division. Those might be the top-3 teams in the NFL, so it makes sense and the fact that the sharps love them kind of negates the heavy public leans. I don’t want to go higher than 3 on any of them because, on principle, I rarely make big plays on lines higher than a touchdown (what happened between San Francisco and Seattle earlier this year is a perfect example of why), but I can up this one and the Houston one to 2 units. New England is already there.

San Francisco 49ers 27 St. Louis Rams 13

Pick against spread: San Francisco -7.5 (-110) 2 units

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Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: Week 13 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (10-1) at Tennessee Titans (4-7)

Tennessee may be 4-7, which isn’t a terrible record, but they are a terrible team. Of their 7 losses, 5 have come by 21 or more points and only one of their wins came by more than a field goal. Because of this, they are -97 in points differential. Only Philadelphia, Oakland, Jacksonville, and Kansas City are worse. Going off of this, they rank 30th in net points per drive, 29th in DVOA, and 29th in weighted DVOA. They are a team just as bad as the Eagles, Raiders, Chiefs, and Jaguars. In fact, last week they lost to the Jaguars even though they had a trend that was 22-3 ATS since 2002 on their side and the Jaguars had one that was 18-45 ATS since 2002 on their side. They’re terrible.

The Texans, meanwhile, are one of the better teams in the NFL. They rank 3rd in net points per drive and 8th in DVOA and weighted DVOA. If we use the net points per drive method of computing line value, which takes the difference between the two teams’ net points per drives and multiplies by 11 (the average amount of drives per game) and adds 3 points either way for homefield, we get that Houston should actually be -14 point favorites here on the road.

Now, the difference between where these two teams rank in DVOA is slightly smaller than the difference between where these two teams rank in net points per drive, which matters because DVOA is net points per drive based, but takes into account other things like strength of schedule. However, it’s not enough to make up for the fact that we’re getting 7 points of line value with the Texans. Besides, after going to overtime with 2 inferior teams, I think the Texans are due for a big win. Remember when they played the Jets close as double digit favorites and then lost at home to the Packers? The next week they blasted Baltimore, who isn’t nearly as bad as Tennessee.

There are 3 trends in Tennessee’s favor. Home dogs off a loss as road favorites are 49-36 ATS since 1989, 11-6 ATS if both games are divisional. As I mentioned, the Titans lost in Jacksonville last week as road favorites. Meanwhile, teams are 27-46 ATS before being dogs on Monday Night football since 2008. The Texans go to New England for a Monday Night game next week and might overlook these crappy Titans for that game. Besides, their last 3 games are against Minnesota and Indianapolis twice, so this is their last easy game. Meanwhile, road favorites of 7 or more are 8-23 ATS before being dogs since 2002.

This isn’t a good spot for the Texans. They are also a very, very heavy public lean, which is always a warning flag. The public always loses money in the long run, so I like to fade the public as often as I can. The odds makers know what they’re doing, so it’s not a bad idea to want to be on their side as often as possible. However, we’re getting so much line value with the Texans and they have every reason to be focused after two near losses to inferior opponents. They should be the right side.

Public lean: Houston (90% range)

Sharps lean: HOU 23 TEN 5

Final update: Very interestingly, the sharps all really like San Francisco, Houston, and New England as touchdown favorites inside the division. Those might be the top-3 teams in the NFL, so it makes sense and the fact that the sharps love them kind of negates the heavy public leans. I don’t want to go higher than 3 on any of them because, on principle, I rarely make big plays on lines higher than a touchdown (what happened between San Francisco and Seattle earlier this year is a perfect example of why), but I can up this one and the San Francisco one to 2 units. New England is already there.

Houston Texans 27 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against spread: Houston -7 (-110) 2 units

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Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets: Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-7) at New York Jets (4-7)

I’ve started using net points per drive to compute real line. It makes sense. Net points per drive measures how much you outscore opponents by on a given drive and if you take the difference between the two team’s net points per drive and you multiply that by the average number of drives per game, 11, and add 3 points either way for home field, you can get a pretty good estimate of what the line should look like.

There are other things to consider, like strength of schedule, which is why I like to look at the DVOAs, which are net points per drive based, but take into account strength of schedule, among other things. Trends and other human element type things are also very important, but net points per drive is a good starting point.

The Jets rank 27th in the league in net points per drive at -0.64, while the Cardinals rank 21st at -0.19. If you take the difference and multiply by 11 and add 3 points to the Jets side for home field advantage, you get that Arizona should be favored here by a point. However, here’s where you need to take other stuff into account. Arizona is 22nd in DVOA, while the Jets are 26th, which closes the gap some.

The Cardinals have also lost 7 straight and are on their 3rd and worst quarterback of the season. They were actually decent when Kevin Kolb was their quarterback, but then John Skelton came in when he got hurt and he was terrible, getting benched for 6th round rookie Ryan Lindley, who is one of the worst quarterbacks I’ve ever seen at the NFL level, even worse than Skelton.

At San Diego State, he never completed more than 57% of his passes in a season against weak competition. He’s got the tools, but I don’t know how he ever could have been considered to potentially be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Against Atlanta after taking over for Skelton, he went 9 of 20 for 64 yards and then against St. Louis, he went 31 of 52 for 312 yards, but with 4 interceptions to no touchdowns and his interceptions were horrible, if you watch the replays, with two going for touchdowns.

The Cardinals also suffered a serious injury on the offensive line, losing center Lyle Sendlein, who was really their only competent offensive lineman. About Sendlein before the season, left guard Daryn Colledge said, “he would be the worst one [to lose] probably on the whole football team. He is the key cog, especially for this offensive line. He is the captain and he is our guy,” before saying the “wheels might come off” without him.

I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment and if you can believe it, this offensive line can actually get worse. Right now, they have the league’s worst pass blocking efficiency rating and rank dead last in run blocking. The only reason they aren’t starting 3 players who rank dead last at their respective positions on ProFootballFocus is because they benched left tackle D’Anthony Baptiste for 7th round rookie Nate Potter, who hasn’t been much better. Potter starting makes 2 rookies starting for them, as right tackle Bobby Massie is a 4th round rookie. And Sendlein’s loss makes them worse.

The Cardinals are also in a bad spot trends wise. They are non-conference road dogs before being divisional road dogs. Teams are a ridiculous 11-30 ATS in this spot since 2002. They go to Seattle next week. They also have to travel across the country for a 1 PM ET start on the East Coast as a West Coast team, which is normally very tough for a team, though the Cardinals have strangely had success doing this over the past couple years, upsetting the Patriots and Eagles in major upset fashion and almost doing the same to the Ravens.

The Jets, meanwhile, are actually in a good spot after being blown out by the Patriots last week. They’ve had 10 days to rest and teams are 117-97 ATS on a Sunday after a Thursday Night game since 1989. Teams tend to do well after losses by 30 or more, going 83-55 ATS in this spot since 2002, including 27-18 ATS when the previous game was divisional. Teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed coming off a blowout loss and if history is any indication, the Jets will definitely play well in this spot.

The Jets always seem to be at their best when they’re at their lowest point, especially this season. Remember when neither their 1st nor 2nd team offense scored a touchdown all preseason and they were the laughing stock of the football world and then week 1 they crushed the Bills? Remember when they got shut out by the 49ers and then covered in 3 straight weeks? Remember when they were 3-6, having lost 2 straight by 21+ and they had the whole “someone in the locker room called Tim Tebow terrible” controversy, and then they upset the Rams in St. Louis?

This is a similar situation. All they’ve heard all week is about how much they suck and about how Mark Sanchez ran into a butt. I think they bounce back in a similar fashion. It’s not a big play on the Jets, but they should be the right side. I just really hate taking the Jets as 5 point favorites over anyone. This is dangerously close to being six and six territory (teams who finished 6-10 or worse are 23-64 ATS since 2002 as 6 point favorites or more). I don’t understand how anyone can make a big play on this game. It’s either Jets -5 or Ryan Lindley? PUKE.

Public lean: NY Jets (60% range)

Sharps lean: NYJ 12 ARZ 4

Final update: No change. The Jets are at -6 in some places in which case I would take the Cardinals for a unit on principle because of the six and six rule, but I can’t bet heavily on either side. That would be nuts.

New York Jets 16 Arizona Cardinals 9

Pick against spread: NY Jets -4.5 (-110) 1 unit

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Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: Week 13 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-4)

Aaron Rodgers is normally deadly off a loss, going 14-9 ATS in that situation in his career, including 10-4 ATS since 2009, which excludes 2008, his first year as a starter. However, as favorites of a touchdown or more, he’s just 4-3 ATS in that situation in his career. Besides, I still think the Packers are an overrated bunch. They’re not the same team as they were last year. The best they can hope to be is a team like in 2010, when they got hot at the right time, but they’re not the dominant regular season team they were last year, which is kind of what this spread suggests.

The biggest reason why is injuries. Already missing stud middle linebacker Desmond Bishop and replacement DJ Smith for the season, the Packers have also put starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and starting rush linebacker Nick Perry on injured reserve recently. Greg Jennings returns for this one, but in limited fashion and he won’t fix their biggest flaws, which are the defense, offensive line, and running game. Defensively, key players Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews have already been ruled out for this one.

In a way, this injury situation is worse than it was in 2010. In 2010, the sheer volume of injuries they had was ridiculous, but they were able to keep key players like Jennings, Matthews, and Woodson healthy all year. They never lost a player as talented and important as anyone in that trio. Matthews’ injury has been the key one since that’s the most recent one. Without him and Perry, they’re getting no pressure on the quarterback and that should continue this week. Those are their starting rush linebackers and their defensive line is once again getting minimal pressure on the quarterback. They rank 29th in the league in pass rush efficiency (sacks + .75(hits) + .75(hurries)/pass rush snaps) and that includes games that Matthews and Perry played.

They were able to rank 2nd in opponent’s scoring in 2010 despite injuries because Matthews, Woodson, and Bishop stayed healthy and because BJ Raji, Cullen Jenkins, Nick Collins, and Tramon Williams all played at a Pro-Bowl level. Jenkins left as a free agent and wasn’t really replaced. Collins had to retire because of injuries. Raji is having a 2nd straight down year. Only Williams is playing close to the level he was playing at in 2010. They’ve added a couple nice young players to the mix like Casey Hayward, but this is nowhere near the defense it was in 2010 so the situations aren’t comparable. They’re not as good as they were in 2010 and they’re certainly not as good as they were last year in the regular season.

Last year, they didn’t exactly play great defense either, but they were able to make up for it with a combination of an incredible turnover differential and one of the best offensive outputs of all time. After going +24 in turnovers last year and forcing 38 takeaways, this year they are just +5 with 16 takeaways through 11 games. Aaron Rodgers, maybe not so unsurprisingly, has been unable to match his record levels of production from a year ago, thanks to injuries on offense and no running game.

After scoring 35.0 points per game last year, they are at just 24.8 per game this year, thanks to injuries to receivers, most notably Jennings, as well as struggles on the ground and on the offensive line, which have only gotten worse with Bulaga out. That might still seem like a lot of points, and it is, 13th in the NFL, but compared to last year and with the team still having issues defensively, it’s enough to knock them out of the ranks as an elite team. They’re not bad at all. I just think they’re overrated.

The numbers back me up. This team is just 15th in net points per drive, though they are 6th in DVOA and weighted DVOA and none of those numbers take into account that their injury situation has gotten worse. Minnesota, meanwhile, is 19th in net points per drive, 17th in DVOA and 18th in weighted DVOA. Using net points per drive to compute real line, this line should be Green Bay -5.5, instead of -7.5, which is a huge deal because -6 and -7 are both key numbers. The fact that Green Bay is better in DVOA than net points per drive nullifies some of that because DVOA is net points per drive based, but takes into account other things like strength of schedule, but it doesn’t take into account current injury situations, so I think we’re still getting line value with the Vikings.

Minnesota is missing Percy Harvin for this one, but Christian Ponder did have a good game against Detroit without him, before face planting against Chicago. He’s an inconsistent rookie quarterback who was heavily reliant on Harvin before he got hurt, so that makes sense, but Green Bay’s pass defense is closer to Detroit’s than Chicago’s, so Ponder might be able to have a bounce back game. The Vikings are also in a good spot as road dogs off a road loss. Since 2008, teams are 83-47 ATS in that spot. Meanwhile, divisional favorites of a more than a touchdown are 2-8 ATS this season. It’s not a huge play on the Vikings, but they should be able to keep this one within a touchdown.

Public lean: Green Bay (50% range)

Sharps lean: MIN 15 GB 3

Final update: That’s a pretty strong sharps lean on Minnesota. This was one of the games I was torn on going to 3 units on. I think I’ll up it to 3.

Green Bay Packers 27 Minnesota Vikings 23

Pick against spread: Minnesota +7.5 (-110) 3 units

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Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears: Week 13 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Chicago Bears (8-3)

The Seahawks were 6-4 coming out of their bye last week and looked like they were in prime position to take one of the NFC’s two Wild Card spots. However, they lost on the road to the Dolphins and now all of a sudden, the sky is falling for this team. Everyone’s wondering what happened to them. I’ll tell you what happened to them. The same thing that happened to them when they went to Arizona, St. Louis, and Detroit and lost to an inferior team: they went on the road.

Since the start of the 2005 season, no team has a bigger home/road differential ATS wise than the Seattle Seahawks. They are 22-43 ATS on the road and 45-20 ATS at home. This year, that’s been especially true as they are 5-0 ATS at home (with 3 straight up wins as home dogs) and 1-5 ATS on the road (with 3 straight up losses as road favorites). At home, they outscore opponents by 6 points per game over that stretch and they get outscored by an average of 6 points per game on the road. The league average is 3 points at home and on the road, which is why 3 points are added either way when computing the line.

The only reason I didn’t take Miami for a big play last week, as I did when they were in Arizona and St. Louis and to a lesser extent, in Detroit, was because the Seahawks were coming off a bye and as road favorites, they had a trend that had hit 75% of the time since 2002 on their side. I still took Miami for a small play and even that powerful trend couldn’t combat the Seahawks’ road woes.

The Seahawks are on the road here, but in different circumstances. They are now road dogs after losing on the road. They are 4-3 ATS in this spot since 2005, which isn’t strong, but it’s definitely worth noting and it makes sense as teams generally tend to cover as road dogs off a road loss, going 138-79 ATS since 2005 in that spot. It’s not a reason why the Seahawks will cover, but it doesn’t make them an automatic fade here on the road.

It is worth noting that the Seahawks already failed to cover once this season in a very similar spot, losing in Detroit on the road as dogs after losing the week prior in San Francisco. They were 2.5 point dogs in that situation and they are 3.5 point dogs here, which doesn’t make a ton of sense. Chicago is much better than 1 point better than the Lions.

Using the net points per drive method to compute line value, we get a real line of Chicago -5.5 as Chicago ranks 7th in net points per drive and Seattle ranks 11th. However, we do need to look at DVOA to make sure there are no discrepancies, as net yards per drive doesn’t take into account everything that DVOA (which is net yards per drive based) does. In DVOA, Seattle actually ranks 4th in regular and weighted, while Chicago ranks 5th in both, which does make this line make more sense, that is until you remember how horrible Seattle generally is on the road, especially this year, and more importantly how much better the Bears are with Jay Cutler healthy.

Jay Cutler might be the most undervalued player in the NFL. Excluding the Houston game, in which he got hurt before halftime, the Bears are actually 13-1 straight up in Jay Cutler’s last 14 starts with that one loss being a very excusable one in Green Bay on a short week. In the last 2 seasons, when he starts, again excluding that Houston game, the Bears are 15-4 and score 28.0 points per game. When he doesn’t, including that Houston game, they are 1-7 and average just 12.3 points per game.

That isn’t all him. For instance, Matt Forte missed a few of those games as well and Caleb Hanie, who started 5 of those games in his absence, is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Still, it shows he has a huge value to this team. He doesn’t put up flashy stats and his body language can be off putting, but the numbers don’t lie. They don’t have a ton of offensive talent. Brandon Marshall is great, but they don’t have another receiver and their offensive line is atrocious. Cutler has done a great job of leading drives in spite of this and he is actually very tough to sack. Before Cutler got hurt, this team led the NFL in points differential and last week when he returned healthy, they blew out a solid Vikings team by 18.

It’s true they have yet to beat a truly good team this year, but they’ve only had one chance, that Green Bay game, with Cutler healthy for the full game. They’ve blown out several bad teams, leading the league with 6 double digit wins. They beat Indianapolis, Detroit, and Minnesota, solid teams, in impressive fashion and they should be able to beat the Seahawks here. There are some reasons to take Seattle and the 3.5 points, but I think Chicago wins straight up once again here and as long as this line is 4 or less, I have a hard time taking the Seahawks on the road against Cutler and the Bears.

Public action: Chicago (60% range)

Sharps lean: SEA 18 CHI 15

Final update: No change.

Chicago Bears 24 Seattle Seahawks 20

Pick against spread: Chicago -3.5 (-110) 1 unit

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Denver Broncos: Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) at Denver Broncos (8-3)

The Buccaneers lost last week, snapping a 4 game winning streak, but it was once again a close game. The Buccaneers are still 5-2 since the bye and they’ve really looked like a different team since then. Josh Freeman is 134 of 220 for 1971 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions in his last 6 games. He has a cannon for an arm, but he wasn’t using it last year, throwing 20 yards downfield or more on just 6.5% of his throws, by far least frequent in the NFL, despite being the 3rd most accurate deep ball thrower in the NFL. This year, with a reliable deep threat in Vincent Jackson, he’s going deep on 15.7% of his throws and, more importantly, he’s having a ton of success, going 23 of 55 for 932 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception.

Their makeshift offensive line is run blocking and pass protecting well. The Freeman to Vincent Jackson combo is deadly (47 catches for 959 yards and 7 touchdowns) and opening things up for Mike Williams and Doug Martin, who is running much better since the bye thanks to improved blocking and the defense fearing the pass. Defensively, as bad as their secondary is, they have a great front 7 led by the finally healthy Gerald McCoy and rookie of the year candidate Lavonte David.

Even before the bye, they were better than their record. They were 1-3, but all 3 losses were by a touchdown or less and all 3 were against quality opponents, the Giants, the Cowboys, and the Redskins. They have not lost a single game by more than a touchdown all year and on the flip side, they have 4 wins by double digits. Because of this, they are +56 in points differential and they are either 9-2 ATS, 8-2-1 ATS, or 7-2-2 ATS, depending on the line you had in the Tampa Bay/NY Giants game (either +7 or +7.5) and in the Tampa Bay/Atlanta game (either +1 or +1.5). On the road, they are either 4-0-1 or 5-0 ATS (Giants game).

Going off that points differential, they actually rank 10th in the NFL in net points per drive. The Broncos, meanwhile, rank 4th. If you take the difference between the Buccaneers’ (0.35) net points per drive and the Broncos’ (0.66) and multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game) and add 3 points for home field advantage, you get that this line should be right around Denver -6.5, meaning that we’re getting line value with Tampa Bay, who should, at the very least, keep this within a touchdown once again and once again cover, as this line is right at that magic -7 point.

I say at the very least because I think the Buccaneers have a very good chance to win straight up. This game means different things for these two teams. The Buccaneers are dogs before being favorites and teams are 98-56 ATS in this spot over the last 2 seasons, including 42-20 ATS when both are non-divisional. They have no distractions on the horizon with the lowly non-divisional Eagles on their schedule next and this is a huge game to extend their season. They have to go to New Orleans, Atlanta, and Denver in their last 5 games and they have to win 2 to make the playoffs. I think it’s more likely they beat the Saints (inferior team to the Broncos) and the Falcons (week 17, they could be resting starters), but they could win here.

The Broncos, meanwhile, will go to Oakland and play the divisional Raiders on Thursday Night football next week. The Raiders are lowly as well, but because that’s a Thursday Night divisional game, it’s a different story. Since 1989, favorites are 25-37 ATS before a divisional Thursday game, 15-24 ATS before being favorites. Teams do tend to cover as non-conference favorites before being divisional favorites, as those teams are 52-33 ATS before being divisional favorites, but they’re 4-6 ATS before a Thursday night game. The Buccaneers are much more likely to be 100% focused for this one. It’s a significant play on the Buccaneers to at least keep this within 7.

Public lean: Denver (50% range)

Sharps lean: DEN 14 TB 5

Final update: No change.

Denver Broncos 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27

Pick against spread: Tampa Bay +7 (-110) 3 units

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Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs: Week 13 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-10)

Obviously, I can’t do this write up without mentioning the tragedy that happened Saturday Morning. Early Saturday morning, Chiefs’ starting middle linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend at their house and then came to the Chiefs’ practice facility and committed suicide in front of several teammates and coaches, including Head Coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli.

Obviously, my sympathies go out to his murdered girlfriend (RIP) and their newborn baby, but it’s very, very hard for me to feel sympathetic for Belcher, who died a murderer and a man who destroyed a family and left his newborn baby orphaned. If Belcher had simply committed murder and gotten arrested and hauled off to jail for the rest of his life, we would feel no sympathy for him at all. He would be remembered as a murderer and a criminal and I don’t see why that should be any different now. Yes, it’s clear he was mentally ill, but don’t you have to be to kill someone?

Anyway, there’s simply no way to know how this will affect this game. I really don’t. I don’t even feel good talking about football in relation to this incident. I can’t imagine how anyone will feel playing football a day after this incident and that goes for both the Chiefs and the Panthers. They might not even play the game, though reports say that the Panthers have been told to continue with their travel plans as normal in expectation of a game being played.

Will the Chiefs come out the way the Colts did after Chuck Pagano left the team to undergo chemotherapy (I don’t feel good comparing Pagano and Belcher)? Will the Chiefs come out completely flat and looking like a team that just lost a teammate to a murder/suicide with members of the team and coaching staff watching? How will this affect the Panthers? I don’t have answers to these questions. I don’t think anyone does. I don’t think the players do. We don’t even know if there’s going to be a game.

My original pick was going to be the Chiefs for a unit. Teams tend to do well as road favorites after a win as road favorites, going 50-30 ATS since 2002, a situation the Panthers are in, but teams are 18-10 ATS in their 3rd straight home game as dogs, and 12-6 ATS off 2 losses, a situation the Chiefs are in. Teams are also 32-61 ATS as non-conference favorites before being divisional dogs since 2002 and the Panthers host the Falcons next week.

Non-conference road favorites are 2-8 ATS before being divisional home dogs since 2002, 3-16 ATS if we go back to 1989 to get a larger sample size. There’s no line value either way (real line is at Carolina -3), but the fact that Brady Quinn is now the Chiefs’ quarterback may give us some line value, as well as the fact that the Panthers rank 19th in DVOA and weighted DVOA, though just 25th in net points per drive, which is how I compute line value.

I really was just planning on going with the Chiefs because the public is pounding Carolina and the public always loses money in the long run and that 3-16 ATS trend is hard to ignore, but just for a very small play. I’m going to stick with that because I have even less of a clue now. If there was ever a time for a zero unit pick, this would be it and this game should be dead last in confidence pools. We don’t even know if this game is going to be played.

Public lean: Carolina (80% range)

Sharps lean: CAR 9 KC 2

Final update: Sharps didn’t have a clue before the Belcher shooting (picks are due by 2 PM ET on Saturday for LV Hilton, which is barely after the shooting) and I doubt that incident would have cleared things up for them. I still have no clue here.

And by the way, I’m perfectly fine with this game being played. The Redskins played after Sean Taylor’s death and it’s not like the NFL is forcing the Chiefs to play. The Chiefs decided to play because they want to play. Very few people know what they’re going through and even if you do, who are we to tell them how to grieve?

Carolina Panthers 17 Kansas City Chiefs 16

Pick against spread: Kansas City +3 (-110) 1 unit

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Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders: Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (3-8) at Oakland Raiders (3-8)

The Raiders seem to have completely quit. They’ve lost 4 straight by a combined score of 169-79. Reports out of their practices aren’t pretty either as middle linebacker Rolando McClain, actually one of their better defensive players, has been suspended for 2 games for conduct detrimental to the team, reportedly that he yelled at 1st year Head Coach Dennis Allen. It was first reported that McClain had been waived as he posted on Facebook that he was no longer an Oakland Raider and that he was looking forward to playing for an “actual team,” but after the dust cleared it appears he is technically still on the roster.

I picked the Raiders to cover last week for a big play. It seemed reasonable. The Bengals were 3-9 ATS as touchdown favorites in the Marvin Lewis era and teams were 36-16 ATS since 2002 off back-to-back losses by 21 or more. Teams in that situation tend to be undervalued, embarrassed, and overlooked, but none of that matters if you’ve quit.

When the Raiders lost to the Bengals by 24, it was believe it or not just the 13th time since 1989 that a team had lost 3 straight by 21 or more. That’s how rarely teams get blown out by that much and how bad things have gotten in Oakland. For the record, teams off 3+ losses of 21 or more are 4-8 ATS, which makes sense since those seem to be teams who have quit. The rule of thumb, if a team has lost 2 straight by 21 or more, bet them, but if they don’t come through for you, definitely stay away from them in the next week.

The Browns, meanwhile, got a huge win last week against the Steelers, but they weren’t as impressive as the final score would suggest. They needed a fluky turnover total (8) by the Steelers, which was just the 13th time that’s happened since 1989, to even win by 6 against the Charlie Batch led Steelers who were in a bad spot sandwiched in between two huge games with the Ravens. That won’t happen again. Turnover differentials are incredibly inconsistent anyway.

That loss shifted this line 2.5 points from last week as it was a pick em and now Cleveland is favored by 2.5 on the road. However, that doesn’t mean the Browns are overrated or anything. They were underrated before last week. They haven’t gotten blown off the field by anyone this season and they have a very solid defense. Despite their record, they rank 22nd in net points per drive and 25th in DVOA and weighted DVOA. The Raiders, meanwhile, rank 31st in net points per drive, 31st in DVOA, and 32nd in weighted DVOA. The real line using the net points per drive method is Cleveland -5, so there’s still line value with the Browns in spite of the line movement.

That being said, it’d hard to take the Browns for a big play. They’re coming off such a huge win against the Steelers. Teams tend to struggle after beating the Steelers anyway, for some reasons, going 19-40 ATS in that situation since 2002. That’s not the case for any other team. You can only imagine how much bigger it is for the Browns, who had previously beaten the Steelers just twice in their last 23 matchups. They might be flat for a crappy Raiders team. However, the Raiders will definitely be flat since that seems to be their thing now. Besides, they may be looking forward to a Thursday Night game against Denver next week. It’s not a huge play at all, but Cleveland should be able to come into Oakland and beat a reeling Oakland team by at least 3.

Public lean: Cleveland (50% range)

Sharps lean: CLE 7 OAK 6

Final update: No surprise people are staying away from this game. The shitty Raiders or the Browns as road dogs (which they somehow are 6-1 ATS as since 2002)?

Cleveland Browns 24 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against spread: Cleveland -2.5 (-110) 1 unit

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New York Giants at Washington Redskins: Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Giants (7-4) at Washington Redskins (5-6)

Since Tom Coughlin took over as Head Coach of the New York Giants before the 2004 season, the Giants have always been a much better 1st half of the season team than 2nd half of the season team. In the first 8 games of the season, they are 53-19 and in the 2nd half, they are 28-39. Not so coincidentally, Eli Manning’s play seems to dip in the 2nd half of the season as well, as he completes 57% of his passes for an average of 6.7 YPA and 89 touchdowns to 79 interceptions in the 2nd half, as opposed to 60% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA and 111 touchdowns to 61 interceptions in the first half.

The Giants definitely had a bounce back week last week, after looking their last two and losing poised to have another 2nd half slump, but that doesn’t mean everything is turned around necessarily. Of those 28 wins, 10 of them have come by 14 or more. They’ve had big wins in the 2nd half of the season in the past and it hasn’t meant their season has been turned around and I don’t think that is the case this season. In fact, after those 10 games, they are just 3-5 SU (2 of them were playoff games so I threw those out, because playoffs are a different story). They’re also just 8-8 SU, 7-9 ATS (-6.1 points ATS per game), as favorites off a win in the 2nd half of the season under Tom Coughlin.

It’s important to note that their win last week has made it so that they are publicly backed this week. Not only do they tend to have let down games when people believe in them (especially after such a big win when the public was doubting them), but the odds makers always win in the long run, so I like to fade the public as much as I can. It’s never a bad thing to be on the same side as the odds makers. It’s also important to note that they lost key safety Kenny Phillips with an injury. He returned for the Green Bay game and had a real impact, both with his play at safety and allowing Antrel Rolle to be used in his traditional role closer to the line of scrimmage, before getting hurt again.

I really don’t think the Giants will make the playoffs. They are 7-4 right now with a tough upcoming schedule. They go to Washington this week, then host the Saints, go to the Falcons and Ravens, before an easy week 17 game against Philadelphia. Every year, there are 5 new playoff teams and that can’t happen this year unless the Giants miss the playoffs. Indianapolis and Chicago look like locks to be 2 of the 5 and the only 4 other candidates really are Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Washington.

Because Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Seattle can’t win their divisions and are all in the same conference, only 2 of those 3 teams can make it, which means if that’s going to happen for the 18th straight year, the Redskins basically have to make the playoffs, unless someone like Miami or San Diego can steal Pittsburgh’s spot (a long shot). Washington’s schedule down the stretch is pretty easy. If they can win here, they’d be a game back with a home game against Baltimore, road games in Cleveland and Philadelphia, and a home game for the Cowboys. I think both teams finish 9-7 and the Redskins win it on a tiebreaker. They absolutely need to win here to keep hope alive of not just winning the division, but of continuing something that’s happened for 17 straight years and counting.

I originally thought the Cowboys would take the NFC East from the Giants, but the Redskins threw themselves right back into the mix with a win in Dallas last week, something I should have seen coming. I didn’t realize the Redskins could have been where they are now if they beat Dallas. I definitely gave up on this young team too early. There’s a lot to like with them. They rank 18th in net points per game, 14th in DVOA, and 13th in weighted DVOA. Only one of their losses was by more than a touchdown and they easily could be 8-3 or 7-4 right now. Robert Griffin is really on fire right now, especially with Pierre Garcon returning from injury.

The net yards per play method of computing real line says the Giants are getting a little bit of line value here, as it says this line should be New York -4, with the Giants 6th in net points per drive and the Redskins 18th, but DVOA tells a slightly different story. DVOA is net points per drive based, but takes other things like strength of schedule into account, so I like to look at it to compare to net points per drive when computing real line. The Giants are 7th in DVOA and weighted DVOA (which weights more recent games heavier), while the Redskins are 14th and 13th in those respectively, which is a smaller gap.

Taking into account that the Redskins are finally healthier, the Redskins are 5-2 ATS as dogs this season, the Giants are without key safety Kenny Phillips, the Giants tend to struggle in the 2nd half of the season, divisional home dogs tend to cover after a win as divisional road dogs (28-14 ATS since 1989), and that history basically mandates the Redskins win here, I like the Redskins for a significant play.

Public lean: NY Giants (60% range)

Sharps lean: NYG 10 WAS 7

Final update: No change.

Washington Redskins 31 New York Giants 27 Upset Pick +125

Pick against spread: Washington +2.5 (-110) 3 units

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Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: Week 13 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

2 weeks ago, the Steelers were riding high at 6-3, including a recent win over the Giants in New York and looked like they had a chance to take control of the division with a win at home against the then 7-2 Baltimore Ravens. However, Ben Roethlisberger got hurt late against Kansas City and has been unable to play in each of their last 2 games, both Pittsburgh losses.

Now they head into Baltimore once again without Roethlisberger and the Ravens, with a win, have a chance to take a 4 game lead on the division, holding the tiebreaker, with 4 games to go, which would eliminate the Steelers from contention in the division. Not many people are giving them much chance to win here as the line is Baltimore -8.5 and the public is still on Baltimore. I’m not giving them much chance to win either, but I really like getting 8.5 points with the Steelers, especially since the public is on Baltimore. The public loses in the long run always, so I fade them as much as I can.

Since Ben Roethlisberger took over as the Steelers’ quarterback full time in week 3 of the 2004 season, he’s missed 15 games with injury, with this being his 16th. You might not expect it, but they are actually 10-5 ATS without him (including 5-3 ATS when Charlie Batch starts) in those 5 games and while they are 0-5 straight up against the Ravens, they have not lost a single one of those games by more than 6 points. In fact, they haven’t lost a single game without Roethlisberger by more than 6 points.

This is because this team is so much more than Roethlisberger and it always has been. However, with him out, teams tend to overlook them and at the same time, their talented supporting cast tends to step up. You saw it against Baltimore 2 weeks ago. If it wasn’t for Byron Leftwich getting hurt and playing the whole game injured, the Steelers could have easily won that game.

Even still, they lost by just 3 and covered the 3.5 point spread for a 5-unit pick of the week for me. Their offense outscored the Ravens’ offense and they outgained them by over 100 yards, but lost because they lost the turnover margin 2-0 and because they allowed a special teams touchdown. The Steelers defense is still awesome, ranking 5th in points per game allowed and 1st in yards allowed, by over 200 yards. This week, they return Troy Polamalu from injury, which no one seems to be talking about, but over the past 3 years, they allow about 6 points per game fewer when he’s in the lineup. That matters.

Last week, they lost to the Browns in Cleveland, but the Browns are an underrated bunch who hasn’t been blown off the field by anyone. It was a classic letdown game for the Steelers, between two tough games with the Ravens, and they had a very fluky 8 turnovers. How fluky? That’s happened 13 times since 1989. That won’t happen again. Turnover differentials are incredibly inconsistent anyway. And they still only lost by 6.

The Ravens, meanwhile, aren’t really blowing anyone out. They’ve won 2 games by more than 10 points all season and only 3 of their 9 wins have come by a touchdown or more. Actually, 5 of their 9 wins have come by a field goal or less. They’ve won their last 16 at home, but they are only 7-8-1 ATS in those 16 games and less than half (7) have come by more than a touchdown, including just 2 this season. 2 of their 5 home wins have come by a field goal or less and another one against Cleveland went down to the final play. Meanwhile, in the last 3 seasons, they’re just 4-9 ATS as touchdown home favorites. They’re winning games, but not blowing people out. I don’t think they’ll blow out the Steelers, who almost never get blown out, even without Roethlisberger.

These games are always close anyway. In their last 12 matchups, only 2 have been decided by more than 7 points either way and only one by double digits. If this game were in Pittsburgh with Baltimore missing Joe Flacco and the Steelers as 8.5 point favorites, I’d take the Ravens. I can’t see a game between these two being a blowout. The Ravens are overrated too. While they are 9-2, they rank just 9th in net points per drive, as well as 9th in DVOA and weighed DVOA. Yards aren’t everything, but they’re getting outgained in yards on the season. Calculating real line in this one wouldn’t make sense because of the injury situation, but just know that Baltimore is not as good as their record would suggest.

The Steelers, meanwhile, might be undervalued because of their fluky loss last week. At the very least, last week’s loss opened up a powerful trend in their favor in that they are road dogs off a road loss. Teams are 83-47 ATS in this spot since 2008. Since 2002, teams are a ridiculous 19-9 ATS in that spot when both games are divisional. It’s a big play on the Steelers. I really like this to be a close game. Once again, it’s a 5-unit pick of the week.

Public lean: Baltimore (60% range)

Sharps lean: PIT 8 BAL 4

Final update: No surprise that not a lot of people made this one of their top-5 picks of the week, because of the week long uncertainty surrounding Roethlisberger’s status. With him out and this line firmly above a touchdown, I really like the Steelers. They always play teams close without Roethlisberger. The Ravens almost always play teams close regardless. And these games are almost always close. The Steelers probably won’t win, but I’d be shocked if it was a blow out.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against spread: Pittsburgh +8.5 (-110) 5 units

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