Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8)

This line has shifted from 4 to 6 over the past week. Normally, I love fading significant line movements because they tend to be overreactions. Rate of moving the chains also says this line is too high, as the Cardinals rank 16th, moving the chains at a 69.52% rate, as opposed to 69.49% for their opponents, a differential of 0.03%, while the 49ers rank 20th, moving the chains at a 70.81% rate, as opposed to 72.15% for their opponents, a differential of -1.33% Their defense is also really hurting, losing Chris Borland, Eric Reid, and Ray McDonald for a variety of reasons in the last couple of weeks. However, this line might be warranted. The Cardinals were embarrassed at home by the Seahawks last week in a 35-6 loss that could have been worse if the Seahawks had made two makeable field goals. The Cardinals moved the chains at a mere 58.62% rate, as opposed to 80.00% for the Seahawks.

The 49ers aren’t as good as the Seahawks obviously and the Cardinals will be switching from Ryan Lindley to Logan Thomas at quarterback and I don’t think he could possibly be worse than Lindley, who, somehow in the modern age of football, has completed just 49.3% of his passes for an average of 4.44 YPA, 0 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions and has shown a stunning lack of accuracy and poor ball placement dating back to his San Diego State days. However, Thomas is a 4th round rookie and is just 1 of 8 in his career and, while that 1 completion went for 81 yards, it was on a dumpoff to a running back. The Cardinals only moved the chains at a 67.18% rate with Drew Stanton under center and figure to once again be even worse than that this week with Thomas under center. It’s hard to be confident in him, though I ultimately am going with the Cardinals.

San Francisco 49ers 13 Arizona Cardinals 9

Pick against the spread: Arizona +6

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-12) at Denver Broncos (11-4)

The Broncos lost last week in Cincinnati, but they still rank 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential. Manning isn’t playing as good of football as he was last season and he’s coming off of one of the worst games of his career, but this is still a very complete team that runs the ball and plays defense better than they did last season. They move the chains at a 76.74% rate, as opposed to 71.10% for their opponents, a differential of 5.64%. Despite that, people seem to be jumping off the bandwagon. The public is actually on the Raiders here as 14 point underdogs, which is notable because the public always loses money in the long run and the public never takes big underdogs.

As they usually are, the public is wrong here. This line is way too low. The Raiders, despite some recent success, still stink, moving the chains at a 63.07% rate, as opposed to 72.01% for their opponents, a differential of -8.94% that is still the league’s worst. They’ve been even worse away from Oakland, moving the chains at a 57.85% rate, as opposed to 70.04% for their opponents, a differential of 12.19% in 8 games, including a neutral site “home game” in London week 4 against the Dolphins.

The Raiders have won three straight home games in big upset fashion, which is part of why the public likes them here, but they’ve still had issues on the road recently. Besides, teams are 65-85 ATS off of home victories as 6+ point underdogs. On the other side, the Broncos have had no problem taking care of bad teams in the Peyton Manning era, going 16-10 ATS as home favorites, including 6-3 ATS as home favorites of 10 or more. The only reason this isn’t a bigger play is because the Raiders have been a sneaky good ATS team this season, going 8-7 ATS, including road covers against Seattle, New England, and San Diego. They’re also 4-2 ATS in their last 6, though just 1-2 ATS on the road.

Denver Broncos 34 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -14

Confidence: Low

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Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington Redskins (4-11)

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, this line has shifted from 8 to 6 over the past week. I love fading significant line movements as they’re often overreactions. This line movement could very well be an overreaction. While the Redskins beat the Eagles last week, they could have lost and lost fairly easily if not for two Philadelphia missed field goals, both of which were makeable, and a couple 50/50 balls to DeSean Jackson that went their way. They lost the first down battle 30-21 in that one and the Eagles moved the chains at an 82.50% rate, as opposed to 77.42% for the Redskins. Teams are 65-85 ATS off of a win as 6+ point home underdogs since 1989 anyway, likely because those types of upset victories usually are fluky and precede significant line movements.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been significantly better on the road this season, going 7-0, as opposed to 4-4 at home. They’ve moved the chains at a 78.13% rate on the road, as opposed to 73.46% for their opponents, a differential of 4.67%. At home, they move the chains at a 76.86% rate, as opposed to 74.79% for their opponents, a differential of 2.07%. This is nothing new for them are they are 22-16 ATS on the road since 2010, as opposed to 14-26 ATS at home.

On the other hand, the Redskins have been better than their record all season. Last week was a fluky win, but they’ve had some fluky losses and also some close losses that could have gone either way. Even when you take into account that the Cowboys have been better on the road and the line movement, we’re still getting some line value with the Redskins. The Redskins move the chains at a 70.75% rate on the season, as opposed to 73.11% for their opponents, a differential of -2.36% that ranks 25th in the NFL, significantly better than their record would suggest. The Cowboys also don’t have a ton to play for here as they’re locked into the #3 seed unless both Seattle and Arizona lose so they could be caught looking forward off of such a big win last week. The line movement might have more to do with that than anything. At the end of the day, I’m going with the Redskins and fading the public, but I wouldn’t wager a cent on it.

Dallas Cowboys 27 Washington Redskins 24

Pick against the spread: Washington +6

Confidence: None

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Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

This line is off as it suggests the Falcons are the better of these two teams, considering they are favored by 4. Meanwhile, rate of moving the chains suggests the Panthers are the better team, as they rank 15th in the NFL, moving the chains at a 73.82% rate, as opposed to 73.29% for their opponents, a differential of 0.53%. The Falcons, on the other hand, rank 21st, moving the chains at a 74.63% rate, as opposed to 76.00% for their opponents, a differential of -1.37%.

The Panthers have been especially good over the past 4 weeks since the bye, as they’ve moved the chains at a 78.72% rate, as opposed to 62.77% for their opponents, a differential of 15.96%. Ron Rivera, 2013 Coach of the Year, has made all the right adjustments and has this team looking like the 2013 version, despite all of the personnel turnover. The 2013 version won 12 games, the NFC South, and got secured a first round bye, while ranking 4th in rate of moving the chains differential. The Panthers’ only loss over the past 4 games came on the road in Minnesota, where they surrendered two fluky punt return touchdowns. Sure, it’s just a 4 game stretch and they’ve played a weak schedule, but the Falcons aren’t exactly a quality opponent so that could carry over into this one.

That being said, the Falcons have definitely resembled a quality opponent this season at home for the most part, moving the chains at a 77.13% rate, as opposed to 75.45% for their opponents, a differential of 1.68%. That’s as opposed to 72.40% for their offense on the road and 76.45% for opponent’s offenses, a differential of -4.05%.  This relative home dominance is nothing new for them as they are 32-22-1 ATS at home (39-16 straight up) since Matt Ryan and Mike Smith came in back in 2008, as long as Matt Ryan is healthy.

Also, fun fact, almost every season a team goes from a first round bye to out of the playoffs. Seattle, Denver, and New England all are going back, which means Carolina would have to lose this game and miss the playoffs for that to continue. Meanwhile, almost every season a team goes from 5 wins or fewer to the playoffs and Atlanta is really the only one still in the running that could do so (Houston technically isn’t eliminated, but they need a lot of help). It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s something I keep in mind when I do my season previews and something to keep in mind here. Of course, Carolina doesn’t need to win to cover as 4 point underdogs here. I’m taking the red hot Panthers, but I’m not that confident.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 30

Pick against the spread: Carolina +4

Confidence: Low

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Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3)

I’m kicking myself for not locking in Buffalo +10.5 before the Bengals/Broncos game. Even when I thought the Broncos were going to win that game and force the Patriots to play their starters week 17, in order to lock up the #1 seed in the AFC, I had Buffalo circled as one of my favorite picks of the week for three reasons. One, there was a huge line movement, with the early line having the Patriots favored by 6.5. That’s a 4 point movement. I love fading huge line movements because they’re almost always overreactions.

That line movement was a result of Buffalo’s loss in Oakland last week, but Kansas City and San Francisco also lost in Oakland. Teams tend to cover off of huge upset losses anyway, going 88-61 ATS since 1989 off of a loss as 6+ point road favorites. On top of that, the Bills are in their 2nd straight road game. This puts them in a good spot. Teams are 113-77 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation.  This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 196-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.29 points per game, as opposed to 276-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.19 points per game.

However, the Broncos lost to the Bengals, which made this a meaningless game for the Patriots in the standings and immediately dropped the line to 3.5. Now this game is largely a crapshoot. If the Patriots play their starters a good amount, they should be able to cover, but Bill Belichick is predictably mum on the subject and won’t give anyone any indication of what he’s planning to do this week. This isn’t like Indianapolis/Tennessee, where Chuck Pagano assured the public that he would be playing his starters despite being locked into the #4 seed, in an effort to get his team ready for the playoffs, as he did in 2012 in the same situation, when the Colts ended up beating the Texans and knocking them from the #1 seed to the #3 seed.

However, history suggests that the Patriots will give this their best shot, especially after a disappointing near loss in New York to the Jets last week. The Patriots have never really done the whole “rest your starters” thing week 17 and are 10-2 ATS week 17 since 2002, despite having the #1 seed locked up several times during this week. This game kind of reminds me of 2010, when they were 3.5 point favorites over the 7-8 Dolphins week 17. Brady and the starters played about two and a half quarters, leaving midway through the 3rd with a 31-0 lead in an eventual 38-7 victory and easy cover.

If the Patriots do give this their best shot, this line is way too low and the Patriots should be the right side. The line value would nullify the two situational trends the Bills have in their favor. The sharps seem to agree, as this line has moved from 3.5 to 5 over the past couple days, despite the public being on the underdog. I just can’t be too confident when I don’t know exactly what the Patriots are doing. It’s possible the Patriots play Brady and the offensive line for a half, but rest Julian Edelman (concussion), LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and Rob Gronkowski (history of injuries). I don’t know.

New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: New England -5

Confidence: Low

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Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

The Bengals lost 42-21 at home to the Steelers a few weeks ago in Cincinnati, but they’re in a great revenge spot here as a result. Divisional home favorites are 27-52 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (40-42) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate.

The Chargers are also in this spot this week, but, unlike the Chargers, I’m not taking the Bengals here for a few reasons. For one, the Bengals haven’t been as good in December as the Chargers have been recently. Two, the Bengals aren’t in their 2nd of two road games, like the Chargers are, a good spot. Three, this line is way off. The Bengals exorcised some of their primetime game demons last week in an impressive home victory over the Broncos, but they still rank just 18th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 71.96% rate, as opposed to 72.43% for their opponents, a differential of -0.47%. The Steelers, meanwhile, rank 6th, moving the chains at a 78.52% rate, as opposed to 73.94% for their opponents, a differential of 4.57%. I’m going with the Steelers, though I’m not confident.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -3.5

Confidence: None

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St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks: 2014 Week 17 NFL Pick

St. Louis Rams (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

The Seahawks had easily the most impressive win of the week last week, going into Arizona, where the Cardinals were 7-0 at home this season and 29-11 ATS since 2007 before the game started, and winning 35-6, despite two missed makeable field goals. Holding a Ryan Lindley led offense to a 58.64% rate of moving the chains isn’t that impressive, but moving the chains at an 80.00% rate on the road against a strong Arizona defense is pretty impressive.

The Seahawks now rank best in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 75.65% rate, as opposed to 69.49% for their opponents, a differential of 6.16%. A Super Bowl champion hasn’t repeated in over a decade, nor have they even won a playoff game over that time period. It’s so hard repeating because of complacency, personnel turnover, exhaustion, and the sheer randomness of the NFL, but the Seahawks have a good chance to at least break that playoff win drought. They look like the best team in the NFL right now and they only need to win this game to lock up homefield advantage through the NFC. That would be especially valuable to them because of how good their homefield advantage historically is.

Since 2007, the Seahawks are 47-20 at home, including playoffs and they aren’t just having success straight up as they are 45-21-1 ATS. They outscore opponents on average by 7.84 points per game at home. This is opposed to a 27-42 record away from home (31-37-1 ATS), getting outscored by 2.80 points per game, a roughly 10.5 point swing. That homefield advantage should help them here as they attempt to lock up the #1 seed. They should win here as 13 point favorites, but whether or not they cover is still up in the air.

While the Seahawks are a great team with a great homefield advantage, this line takes that into account as they are 13 point favorites. And, while their win last week was impressive, the line did move 3 points to compensate as the early line was 10. I love fading huge line movements whenever it makes sense, especially when doing so would also allow me to fade the public, which it would here. Fading that line movement might make sense. The Rams are still a decent team, moving the chains at a 69.57% rate, as opposed to 70.56% for their opponents, a differential of 1.00% that ranks 19th in the NFL. That suggests they should be about 10 point favorites here, before you take into account the Seahawks’ homefield advantage.

The issue is the Seahawks haven’t been as noticeably better at home this season as they have been in recent years. They move the chains at a 75.12% rate at home, as opposed to 68.50% for their opponents, a differential of 6.62%. On the road, they move the chains at a 76.10% rate, as opposed to 70.42% for their opponents, a differential of 5.67%. They’ve still been a tough home team, but I don’t know if a decent Rams team deserves to be 13 point underdogs here. I don’t know if the Rams deserve to be 13 point underdogs anywhere.

This game kind of reminds me of the Seahawks’ week 17 game against the Rams in 2012. They were coming off of a huge 42-13 home win over the 49ers that caused the line in Seahawks/Rams to swell all the way up to 11 and they were only able to win by 7, their first non-cover at home of the season, costing a lot of people a lot of money. I’m taking the Seahawks gun to my head, but I’m not confident at all.

Seattle Seahawks 27 St. Louis Rams 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -13

Confidence: None

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