New York Giants at Cleveland Browns: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (7-3) at Cleveland Browns (0-11)

The Giants haven’t won a game by more than a touchdown all season and have a 7-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Ordinarily, I like to pick against teams that are regularly squeaking out victories, especially as big favorites and especially as big road favorites, as the Giants are here (7 point favorites in Cleveland). However, I actually find it more impressive that the Giants have a 7-3 record despite a -7 turnover margin that is 3rd worst in the NFL, even if many of their wins could have gone either way. In fact, the Giants have 4 wins in games in which they lost the turnover battle this season. No other team has more than 2 wins in which they’ve lost the turnover battle. The Giants are 4-2 this season when losing the turnover battle. The rest of the league is 28-94 (.230).

Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I love teams that are able to win despite not consistently winning the turnover battle. If the Giants can play turnover neutral football going forward (very possible), they could go on a real run down the stretch. They enter this game 5th in the league in first down rate differential, thanks primarily to an outstanding defense that allows the 3rd lowest first down rate in the league. Their defense hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because they only have 11 takeaways, but the takeaways should come and, if they do, look out for this team.

This week, it helps the Giants that they’re playing the worst team in the league, the winless Cleveland Browns, who rank dead last in first down rate differential by a wide margin. Typically, betting on winless teams this late in the season is a good idea because they tend to be undervalued, as teams that are 0-8 or worse are 34-18 ATS since 1989. In addition, the Browns are in a good spot here as home underdogs are 75-52 ATS off of a loss as home underdogs the previous week. However, considering the Browns were 9 point home underdogs last week for Pittsburgh, a team that’s inferior than the Giants, the Browns are not undervalued here. If either team is undervalued this week, it’s the Giants. There’s not quite enough here for me to put money on the Giants at 7, especially since they will be without top offensive lineman Justin Pugh for the 3rd straight week, but they are the pick here. They should be able to get their first big blowout victory of the season.

New York Giants 24 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -7

Confidence: Low

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Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

I picked the Cardinals as 2 point underdogs in Minnesota last week and they outplayed the Vikings for most of the game, but ultimately lost 30-24 thanks to not one, but two 100+ yard return touchdowns by Minnesota, the first team to do that in a game in 50 years. The first one was a pick six from end zone to end zone, at least a 10 point swing considering the Cardinals had 2nd and goal and could have at least made a chip shot field goal if they held onto the ball. The second one was a kickoff return touchdown coming out of the half. In a 6-point loss, the 17+ point swing on those 2 plays were obviously pivotal in Minnesota’s victory. Between that game and Jacksonville/Buffalo, I had 4 return touchdowns go against me in 2 games that I had big plays on. Hopefully I will have better luck this week.

The good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is we’re getting great value with the Cardinals, as this line has shifted from 3 in favor of Atlanta to 6 in the past week. Outside of those 2 fluky plays, the Cardinals outplayed the Vikings last week and they actually rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season. That might sound crazy considering they are 4-5-1, but they still have a point differential of +36 on the season (9th best in the NFL) despite a -3 return touchdown margin. Those 3 plays, they have a point differential of +57, which would be 3rd best in the NFL. They could easily be 8-2 if not for last week’s two return touchdowns and special teams mistakes against New England, Seattle, and Los Angeles. They have won the first down rate battle in 9 of 10 games and their +67 first down differential is easily the best in the league. In terms of offensive touchdowns, their +9 differential is 4th best in the league.

This week, they get defensive back Tyrann Mathieu back from a 2-game absence with a shoulder injury. He’s a huge part of a defense that allows the lowest first down rate in the league by a good margin (over 1.5%). With Carson Palmer struggling and stud left tackle Jared Veldheer out for the season, the Cardinals’ offense is a far cry from what it was last season, but their defense is even better this year. The Falcons, meanwhile, have a great offense (2nd in first down rate), but their defense has struggled mightily (30th in first down rate allowed). Overall, they rank 8th in first down rate differential, so we’re getting a ton of value with the Cardinals at 6. The Falcons also could be without cornerback Desmond Trufant again this week and he’s easily their best defensive player.

The other good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is it put them in a good spot this week. Teams are 138-104 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 110-71 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. 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 232-246 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 330-462 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. This is one of my favorite picks this week. The money line is also a great value at +200.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Atlanta Falcons 20 Upset Pick +200

Pick against the spread: Arizona +6

Confidence: High

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Tennessee Titans at Chicago Bears: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-6) at Chicago Bears (2-9)

Despite 5-6 record, the Titans enter this game 6th in first down rate differential. They’ve been competitive in every game and have a +6 point differential on the season, despite being -7 in return touchdown differential. Aside from those 7 plays, they have a +54 point differential (which would be 4th best in the NFL). They have 35 offensive touchdowns on the season, as opposed to 24 allowed by their defense, a +11 differential that is only behind New England and Dallas (both at +13).

This line opened at 2.5 in favor of the visiting Titans, but it has since jumped to 5.5. That’s for good reason though, as the Bears have been absolutely decimated by injuries and suspension in recent weeks. They were as healthy as they had been pretty much all season coming out of the bye, but since then they’ve lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler, tight end Zach Miller, guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd for extended period of time with injury, while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and middle linebacker Jerrell Freeman are both out with suspensions.

Already missing backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, the Bears will turn to 3rd string quarterback Matt Barkley, who will make his first career start and who struggled mightily in relief duty earlier this year in the first significant action of his career. In addition to being without Long, Sitton, Jeffery, and Miller, the Bears were already without wide receiver Kevin White, who opened the season as the #2 receiver, and could be without slot receiver Eddie Royal, who opened the season as the #3 receiver.

That means Barkley will make his first career start without his best two offensive linemen and his top 3 or 4 targets in the passing game. It figures to be an offensive nightmare. Things are better on the defensive side of the ball, but the losses of Floyd and particularly Freeman will hurt this defense. Better than people think and facing a skeleton crew Bears team, I’d have no problem laying the 5.5 with the Titans here, though I was lucky enough to snatch this at 2.5 on Tuesday before Cutler’s injury came to light.

Tennessee Titans 23 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -5.5

Confidence: Medium

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Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)

The Seahawks have always done very well in the second half of the regular season in the Pete Carroll era (since 2011), going 32-9-1 ATS in games 9-16 since Carroll arrived (including 2-0 ATS so far this season). This has been very noticeable on the stat sheet for Russell Wilson, as he’s completed 66% of his passes for an average of 8.7 YPA, 67 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in the second half of the regular season in his career. Considering how well this organization is run from top to bottom, it doesn’t surprise me they get better as the season goes on. It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if they went on another second half run. Russell Wilson has shaken off early season injuries and struggles and now is playing the kind of football we’re used to from him.

I’ve made big bets on the Seahawks in back-to-back weeks and I wanted to make another big bet on them this week as 6 point favorites in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers, despite a 5-5 record, rank 26th in first down rate differential. They also haven’t had much homefield advantage in recent years, going just 19-39 ATS at home since 2009, including just 1-4 ATS this season. However, the Seahawks come into this game pretty banged up, which obviously hurts their chances of covering.

Defensive end Michael Bennett, who looked early in the week like he had a shot to return this week, will miss his 5th straight game with injury, while safety Earl Thomas, who injured his hamstring in last week’s win over Philadelphia, has also been ruled out. Those are two of their best defensive players. On the offensive side of the ball, the Seahawks will be without center Justin Britt, who has been their best offensive lineman this season. As long as the line is under 7, it’s still worth a bet on Seattle, but this would have been a bigger play if the Seahawks were healthier.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6

Confidence: Medium

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Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (4-6) at New Orleans Saints (4-6)

The Saints are just 4-6, but rank 4th in first down rate differential. They have 29 more first downs than their opponents on the season and 7 more offensive touchdowns, but are just 4-6 because of a -4 margin in return touchdowns and 5 losses by 6 points or fewer (including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer). They could easily be 6-4 or 7-3 right now if a few things had gone their way. They’re also as healthy as they’ve been all season and are subsequently playing easily their best football of the season right now. Key players like Delvin Breaux, Sheldon Rankins, and Terron Armstead have all missed time so far for the Saints, but all 3 are expected to be back on the field this week.

The Rams are as healthy as they’ve been all season right now too, but they’re not nearly as good as the Saints are when both teams are healthy. The Rams have hardly had any injuries on offense this season, but still enter this game a distant dead last in first down rate. Their defense is solid when everyone is healthy, but the Rams are still not nearly as good of a team as the Saints, despite their identical records. They enter this game 31st in first down rate differential, thanks to an offense that is nearly a full percentage point behind the nearest team in first down rate. As a result, they haven’t scored more than 10 points in any of their last 4 games, which is remarkable in the modern era of offense. The Saints’ defense has gotten a lot better as the season has gone on, so the Rams could easily have trouble scoring points again this week.

Making matters worse for the Rams, they have to turn around and play an even tougher game next week when they go to New England. The early line has them as 14 point underdogs. Underdogs of 6 or more, like the Rams this week, are 49-78 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6 or more again, as it’s very tough for inferior teams to play well enough to keep it close against superior teams when they have another tough game on deck. Going off of that, teams are just 41-62 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 10 or more. Big upcoming games tend to serve as a distraction for teams. This line is pretty high at 7, but the Rams are going to have a lot of trouble hanging with the Saints this week, so I have no problem laying the points.

New Orleans Saints 27 Los Angeles Rams 13

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -7

Confidence: High

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-5)

Last week, I took the Jaguars as 6.5 point underdogs in Detroit for a big play and it was one of the most frustrating losses I can remember. Despite scoring on both a punt return and an interception return, the Lions led by only 4 with about 2 and a half minutes left in the game, facing 4th and 3 at midfield. The Jaguars were set to get the ball back and, even if they didn’t score on the following drive, the cover would remain intact with a 4 point Detroit win. Instead, a Jacksonville defender jumped offsides on a hard count on 4th and 3, giving Detroit another set of downs and allowing them to eventually kick a field goal to go up by 7 and get the front door cover.

Ironically, if the Lions had gotten one more first down, they would have been able to run the clock out and would have left with a 4 point victory and a Jacksonville cover, but the Jaguars’ stout run defense didn’t let that happen. Despite holding the Lions to just 14 first downs and an average of less than a yard per carry, Jacksonville ended up not only losing, but failing to cover as 6.5 point underdogs as well. It wouldn’t have been so bad if this game wasn’t also going on at the same time as Minnesota/Arizona, in which my Arizona bet failed because the Vikings had not one, not two return touchdowns of 100+ yards in a 30-24 win, the first team to have two return touchdowns of 100+ yards in the same game in 50 years. Two games in the 1 PM time slot, four return touchdowns against me, two brutal losses.

The one benefit of Jacksonville losing is we get good value with them again this week. I’m not going to let what happened last week deter me from taking them again this week, as last week’s game was an obvious case of right analysis, but wrong result. The Jaguars have one of the worst records in the league at 2-8, but are far from one of the worst teams in the league. They’ve just been killed by a -15 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. If the Jaguars play turnover neutral football going forward, which isn’t crazy considering how inconsistent turnover margins are, that’s going to have a noticeable effect on the scoreboard.

Even despite their issues with turnovers, just 3 of their 8 losses have come by more than a touchdown this season, relevant because this line is at 7.5 in favor of Buffalo. The Bills are a middling team at best, so this line is way too high. The Bills are expected to get Sammy Watkins back from injury this week, but all indications are that he’s going to play a very limited role, so I’m not too worried about him. In terms of first down rate differential, the Jaguars actually rank higher than the Bills, entering this game 9th in that metric, while Bills enter in 21st. You wouldn’t know it from their record, but they have 15 more first downs than their opponents on the season.

Another good thing about Jacksonville’s loss in Detroit last week is it puts them in a good spot this week. Teams are 138-104 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 110-71 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. 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 232-246 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 330-462 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. Jacksonville is my Pick of the Week. Hopefully I’ll have better luck this time around.

Buffalo Bills 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5)

When this line opened at 3 in favor of the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, I was going to put money on the Colts. The Colts have had great homefield advantage in recent years with Andrew Luck under center, going 23-11 ATS, including 8-1 ATS as home underdogs. I underestimated that fact last week against the Titans. The Steelers, meanwhile, are just 9-22 ATS as non-divisional road favorites in the Mike Tomlin era (since 2007). They’ve already fallen flat in both Miami and Philadelphia this year in that spot.

Fortunately, I didn’t do that, as Andrew Luck apparently started experiencing concussion symptoms after last week’s game and will miss this Thanksgiving game as a result. The line has shifted from 3 to 9.5 to compensate, which is a significant shift, but the dropoff from Luck to backup Scott Tolzien is tremendous. Luck has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league this season, on a team that has major issues defensively, running the ball, and blocking on the offensive line. Meanwhile, Tolzien is one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league, after spending much of the last two years as the 3rd string quarterback in Green Bay. I’m still taking the Colts for pick ‘em purposes, but I’d need at least 10 to put any money on the Colts this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +9.5

Confidence: Low

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