Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2016 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

The Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 thanks to a 10-6 record, but they still have a lot of problems and are not as good as their record suggests. Many of their wins were close, while many of their losses were not. They went 8-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, meaning they had just two wins by more than a touchdown, while 4 of their losses came by 13 points or more. That’s despite the fact that they had the easiest schedule in the league this year in terms of opponents’ combined record. In some order, the Rams, 49ers, Jets, and Browns were the worst 4 teams in the league this season and the Dolphins played all 4 of them, including the Jets twice. The Dolphins won all 5 of those games, but just 1 of them came by more than a touchdown (a 34-13 win week 15 in New York), meaning they had a tough time beating some of the worst teams in the league.

Ironically, their other victory by more than a touchdown came against their opponents this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who they beat 30-15 back in week 6. The Steelers are also the only playoff team the Dolphins have beaten. When you look at the Dolphins’ season, it’s a lot of close wins against bad teams and big losses against capable or better teams (15 point loss vs. Cincinnati, 13 point loss vs. Tennessee, 32 point loss vs. Baltimore, and 21 point loss vs. New England). The Dolphins’ week 6 home victory over these Steelers was easily the best game they’ve played this season and a major outlier in their season on the whole.

This game will be in Pittsburgh and the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger healthy for the whole game, after he was knocked out midway through the game last time, but if the Dolphins can repeat easily their best game of the season they have a good shot in this one. Much more likely, they’ll be unable to repeat their best performance of the season, especially given all of the injuries they have. Since that week 6 victory, the Dolphins have lost both safeties, Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, and talented center Mike Pouncey for the season with injury, while top cornerback Byron Maxwell and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will also be out for this game. The Steelers, meanwhile, aren’t missing any key players that played in the first matchup and are definitely in the better injury situation overall. This one seems like it’s going to be a Pittsburgh blowout, but I’m not confident laying 10 points with them.

Pittsburgh Steelers 31 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -10

Confidence: Low

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2016 Regular Season NFL Pick Results

2016

Straight Up: 160-94-2 (62.99%)

Against the Spread: 123-123-10 (50.00%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6-0 (64.71%)

High Confidence: 12-17-2 (41.38%)

Medium Confidence: 40-26-4 (60.61%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 63-49-6 (56.25%)

Low Confidence: 30-39-2 (43.48%)

No Confidence: 30-35-2 (46.15%)

Upset Picks: 25-25 (50.00%)

Since 2013

Straight Up: 666-387-4 (63.25%)

Against the Spread: 545-484-28 (52.96%)

Pick of the Week: 40-28-2 (58.82%)

High Confidence: 59-48-3 (55.14%)

Medium Confidence: 164-119-5 (57.95%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 263-195-10 (57.42%)

Low Confidence: 140-144-9 (49.30%)

No Confidence: 142-145-9 (49.48%)

Upset Picks: 87-111 (43.94%)

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

When both are fully healthy, I have the Bengals a little higher than the Ravens, as they rank 14th in first down rate differential and the Ravens rank 21st, but the Bengals are far from fully healthy right now. Not only are they missing wide receiver AJ Green and running back Giovani Bernard, who they’ve been without for a while, but they’ve also lost guard Clint Boling, tight end Tyler Eifert, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict to injury in recent weeks, a trio of key players. The Ravens aren’t fully healthy at this point in the season (no one is), but they’re in much better shape injury wise than the Bengals. I still think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals as 1.5 point home underdogs, but I couldn’t be confident in them at all.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +1.5

Confidence: None

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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (1-14) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

The Steelers are resting their starters with the #3 seed locked up and the Browns are probably the worst team in the league, so I’m not going to spend too much time on this one, though I do find it funny that the Steelers’ backups are favored by 5.5 over the Browns. Notice I said funny, not inaccurate. This line makes sense to me. The Steelers were favored by 16.5 on the early line last week and I can buy that the Steelers’ resting their starters is worth about 11 points on the spread. The Browns beat the Chargers for their first win of the season last week, but they still rank dead last in first down rate and could be flat after winning what they called their “Super Bowl” last week. Teams tend to struggle after a home upset victory anyway, going 63-81 ATS in that spot since 2012. I have no interest in betting either side in this game, but I’m following the trend and taking the Steelers, even if it’s for a no confidence play.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -5.5

Confidence: None

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Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)

The Titans had a week from hell last week. Not only did they suffer their biggest loss of the season, losing 38-17 in Jacksonville of all places (previously their biggest loss this season was by 9), but they also lost starting quarterback Marcus Mariota with a broken leg that figures to sideline him well into the off-season. It’s really a shame because a healthy Titans team could have been some noise in the post-season. Even after last week’s loss to an admittedly underrated Jaguars team, they still rank 8th in first down rate differential as they have 2 more first downs and a whopping 10 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents on the season. Only New England, Dallas, and Atlanta have a better offensive touchdown margin on the season than the Titans. The only reason they’re just 8-7 is they have a league worst -8 margin in return touchdowns, but that’s more bad luck than anything. Outside of those 8 snaps, they’ve outplayed their opponents for the most part this season, which is why they rank 8th in first down rate differential.

The Texans, meanwhile, have already won the division, despite ranking 26th in first down rate differential and allowing 10 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve scored. Their 21 offensive touchdowns are the fewest in the entire NFL. Their 9 wins have come by a combined 44 points and their 6 losses have come by a combined 86 points, giving them a point differential of -42, 7th worst in the NFL and easily the worst among playoff teams or potential playoff teams. Even with veteran backup Matt Cassel under center instead of the promising young Mariota, the Titans are at least a comparable team to the Texans. Cassel might even still be the best quarterback in this game, as Tom Savage is starting for the Texans and his biggest accomplishment through 2 games is being just a little bit less terrible than free agent mega-bust Brock Osweiler was.

The problem is this line only moved from 4.5 to 3 for the big Tennessee loss and Mariota injury, because the odds makers seem to think the Texans are going to rest starters, given that they’re locked into the #4 seed regardless of the outcome of this game. They’ll rest injured starters like running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but they didn’t rest any starters last year when they were locked into the 4th seed and they need to give quarterback Tom Savage all the reps he can get with the first team anyway, given that this is just his 3rd game of the season, so I don’t see them taking it easy on Tennessee. I’m taking the Titans even at 3, but I’m not confident enough to bet anything on it.

Tennessee Titans 20 Houston Texans 16

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3

Confidence: Low

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Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (12-3) at Denver Broncos (8-7)

The Raiders were dealt a huge blow last week when quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg, likely knocking him out for the season, but, despite their record, the Raiders probably would have had trouble advancing deep in the playoffs regardless. Even though they are 12-3, they rank just 17th in first down rate differential and have scored just 3 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents. Eight of their 12 victories have come by 7 points or fewer, including a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less and they have a point differential of just +49, just ahead of non-playoff teams in the Bills (+41) and Ravens (+39). That’s despite the fact that the Raiders have a league best +18 turnover margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and, if we assumed turnover neutral football for them going forward, which we always should, it was hard to see them advancing deep in the playoffs even without Carr.

However, despite losing Carr last week, this line has actually moved in their favor, as the Broncos have gone been being favored by 2 points on the early line last week to being favored by just 1 point this week. I know the Broncos got blown out in Kansas City last week and are far from healthy themselves, missing outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, safety TJ Ward, defensive end Derek Wolfe, and possibly middle linebacker Brandon Marshall, but they still rank 16th in first down rate differential, one spot ahead over the Raiders, so I would have had this line at 3 if both teams were fully healthy.

Both teams are far from it, but I think the Raiders are in a worse position injury wise without Carr, so we should be getting at least 3, if not more points with the Raiders here, instead of just 1. At 1, I think it’s worth a wager on the Broncos, as they’re deep enough defensively to mask some of the holes created by injuries. DeMarcus Ware might not even be a loss for them as youngsters Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray were outplaying him anyway, while Marshall would be returning from a 3-game absence if he plays this week.

Denver Broncos 17 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -1

Confidence: Medium

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

I really messed up not taking the Jaguars last week. The Jaguars were at the top of my underrated list for most of the second half of the season, but I didn’t want to bet on them last week because they had just fired their head coach and were facing another team on my underrated list, the Tennessee Titans, even though we were getting good line value with the Jaguars as 5.5 point home underdogs in that game. Turns out a coaching change might have been exactly what this team needed as they blew out a good Tennessee team 38-17. Part of that is because of the injury to Marcus Mariota, but the Jaguars were in control of that game long before Tennessee’s quarterback got hurt.

Unfortunately, that win cost us a lot of line value with the Jaguars this week, as the Colts have gone from 7 point favorites on the early line to 4.5 point favorites this week. At 7, this would have been pick of the week material, but about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer so I think the Jaguars are still worth a bet at 4.5. The Jaguars are 3-12, but they are far from the worst team in the league. In addition to 7 of 12 losses coming by less than a touchdown, they’ve been killed by a -16 turnover margin. Fortunately for them, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For that reason, I love to bet on teams that have poor turnover margins, as they tend to be undervalued. In terms of first down rate differential, the Jaguars rank 14th and actually have a +17 first down margin on the season. The Colts, meanwhile, rank 19th in that metric. This should be a closer game than this line suggests.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4.5

Confidence: Medium

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Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (5-10)

The Chiefs are coming off of easily their best performance of the season, blowing out the Denver Broncos 33-10 in a game they won the first down battle 23 to 14 and the first down rate differential battle by a season high 10.17%. However, that type of performance has been far from the norm for this team. Even after that win, they still have allowed as many offensive touchdowns as they’ve scored and they have a -37 first down differential, 5th worst in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they enter this game in 25th. Their record is largely the result of 6 wins by 8 points or less (including two overtime victories), a +15 turnover margin, and a +7 return touchdown margin, but it’s tough to rely on takeaways and return touchdowns to win you close games, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin and, as a result, there’s no week-to-week correlation in return touchdown margin.

The Chargers have also played a lot of close games, as 9 of their 10 losses have come by 8 points or fewer. They rank 6th in first down rate differential as they have 10 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed, but are just 5-10 because of bad luck in close games. This could be another close loss for them and another close win for the Chiefs, but this line is way too high at 5.5 in favor of the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers almost beat the Chiefs in Kansas City earlier this year and figure to give them another close game this week. There’s also a real chance at a San Diego upset victory here as well.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 San Diego Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: San Diego +5.5

Confidence: Medium

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New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (13-2) at Miami Dolphins (10-5)

In a league with few top level teams, the Patriots have to stand out atop the league. Not only are they the Patriots and they’ve done this before, but they rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential and point differential, despite not even having quarterback Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season. They rank 5th in points, first in points allowed, 8th in first down rate, and 3rd in first down rate allowed. Their +22 offensive touchdown margin is double any other team’s offensive touchdown margin except the Dallas Cowboys (+17).

However, this line moved from 6 to 9.5 in the past week as a result of the Patriots’ 41-3 victory over the lowly Jets, so I think the Patriots’ hype is a little bit out of control right now. The Patriots have had a pretty easy schedule since Brady returned, with their only even somewhat tough games coming at home against the Seahawks, on the road in Denver, at home against the Ravens, on the road in Buffalo, and at home for the Bengals. Other than the Seahawks, the Dolphins might be the toughest team they’ve faced since Brady’s return, so I don’t think the Dolphins should be 9.5 point home underdogs, especially since the Broncos were just 3.5 point home underdogs two weeks ago. The Patriots could win big again here (9 of their 13 victories have come by double digits), so there’s not enough here for me to bet money against them, but this should be a closer game than this line suggests.

New England Patriots 27 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Miami +9.5

Confidence: Low

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New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (7-8) at Atlanta Falcons (10-5)

In a league with so few top level teams, it’s surprising that the Falcons aren’t getting more Super Bowl hype. They rank 3rd in the NFL in point differential and 2nd in first down rate differential and are 10-5 despite a 3-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their defense has major problems, especially with top cornerback Desmond Trufant out for the season, but their offense has been far and away the best in the league this season, even ahead of the Dallas Cowboys.

They’ve picked up a first down or a touchdown on an outstanding 43.48% of snaps this season, while the Cowboys, who are 2nd best in that metric, have done so on “just” 40.86% of snaps. For comparison, there’s a bigger gap between the #1 ranked team in first down rate and the #2 ranked team than there is between the #2 and #6 ranked teams. The Falcons are not a well-rounded team, but their offense is so dominant that it might not matter, especially in a year where few teams are standing out.

That being said, the Saints are also an underrated team and I think we’re getting good line value with them, as this line is at a full touchdown. The Saints actually rank tied for 4th in the NFL in offensive touchdown margin, with 10 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents, only behind New England, Dallas, and Atlanta, who has a +11 offensive touchdown margin. They also have a +41 first down margin, which is 3rd best in the NFL, and they rank 7th in first down rate differential. They are just 7-8 as a result of because of a -4 return touchdown differential and 6 losses by 6 points or fewer, including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer.

The Saints lost to the Falcons 45-32 in New Orleans earlier this year, but actually had 32 first downs to 26 for the Falcons in that game and it would have been a much closer game if not for two New Orleans turnovers, including one returned 90 yards for a touchdown. Outside of those 2 snaps, it was a pretty evenly matched game. That loss actually puts the Saints in a good betting spot this week, as comparable divisional rivals tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 61-35 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time.

These two teams aren’t quite comparable and it would be a bigger play if I didn’t think so highly of the Falcons, but the Saints are definitely an underrated team that can keep this one close. Aside from their first matchup with the Falcons, which was closer than the final score suggested, the Saints have just one other loss by more than a touchdown all season and I don’t expect the Falcons to make it three this week. If you can get the full touchdown with the Saints, this is worth a bet.

Atlanta Falcons 31 New Orleans Saints 27

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +7

Confidence: Medium

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