Arizona Cardinals at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-7) at Washington Redskins (5-8)

The Redskins have fallen to 5-8 after a big 30-13 loss in Los Angeles against the Chargers last week, while the Cardinals snuck out a 12-7 home victory over the skidding Titans to improve to 6-7. As a result, this line shifted from Washington -6 to -4, a significant line movement, considering about 15% of games are decided by 4-6 points. Typically I love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. This time is no exception.

The Redskins looked bad against the Chargers last week, but the Chargers are a legitimately good team, so I don’t hold that against them too much. The Redskins have looked a lot better against other legitimately good teams this season, beating the Seahawks and Rams and coming close against the Saints. In fact, they’ve had the toughest schedule in the NFL so far this season, so their 5-8 record doesn’t look so bad all things considered. The good news for them is they close out the season with arguably the easiest schedule in the league, facing the Cardinals, Broncos, and Giants.

This home game against the Cardinals is arguably their 3rd easiest game of the entire season, outside of home games against the 49ers and Giants. The Cardinals have been destroyed by injury this season, particularly on offense, where they are without quarterback Carson Palmer, running back David Johnson, wide receiver John Brown, and 4 of their 5 starting offensive linemen from week 1. On defense, they are without safety Tyvon Branch and outside linebacker Markus Golden, two above average starters.

They’ve won 3 games since losing Carson Palmer in a week 7 blowout loss in London to the Rams (33-0), but one of them came in San Francisco against a 49ers team that was winless at the time and the other two came in close fashion at home against the Titans and Jaguars, in games in which the Cardinals won despite losing the first down battle. They’ve also lost at home to the Seahawks and Rams and even lost by 10 in Houston to Tom Savage. They haven’t been very good on the road in general this season, going 1-5 ATS away from home. On top of that, they could be a little flat after a big home victory last week. Teams only cover the spread at a 45% off of a home upset victory. I like the Redskins a good amount this week.

Washington Redskins 24 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Washington -4

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Carolina Panthers (9-4)

When the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone in week 6, many assumed it was the end for the Packers. They were still 4-2 after losing to the Vikings in the game Rodgers went down, but it was unknown if Aaron Rodgers would return at all this season and backup quarterback Brett Hundley was not going to lead this team to the Super Bowl like Rodgers could have. Even making the playoffs seemed like an uphill battle at that point.

Fast forward to the present in week 15 and Rodgers is able to return to action after missing the minimum 8 weeks and, despite playing in a tough NFC, the Packers are still alive in the playoff race at 7-6. Hundley certainly did not play great in Rodgers’ absence, but he played well enough to sneak out 3 wins against a weak bunch, the Bears, the Buccaneers, and the Browns. The latter two victories both came in overtime in the past 2 weeks, as the Packers have held onto their playoff hopes by a thread. If the Packers can win out and finish 10-6, they’ll be right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the NFC.

Even with Rodgers back though, that’s going to be easier said than done. While the Packers’ schedule was relatively easy during Rodgers’ absence, their schedule is arguably the hardest in the NFL to close out the season, as they face a trio of teams with better than .500 records, the Panthers, the Vikings, and the Lions. The good news is their first opponent, the Carolina Panthers, are in a bad spot this week. They are coming off of an emotional home victory over the Minnesota Vikings last week, winning 31-24 in upset fashion, and they could struggle to maintain that kind of intensity two weeks in a row. Teams understandably only cover at a 45% rate after a win as home underdogs.

The Panthers will also be missing talented right guard Trai Turner in this one with a concussion, which will be a big blow to this offense. The Panthers are a little bit overrated right now too, as they aren’t quite as good as their 9-4 record. They are 6-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and could easily be 7-6 or so right now had a few things not gone their way. I have the Packers as the significantly better team in this one and I love getting a full field goal with the better team in the better spot. This is a high confidence pick at +3 and I like the money line at +125 as well, as this game is no worse than a 50/50 toss up for the Packers.

Green Bay Packers 26 Carolina Panthers 24 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +3

Confidence: High

Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at Oakland Raiders (6-7)

I typically bet on the Cowboys on the road, as they have a nationwide fanbase and have fared well away from Dallas in recent years as a result. They are 34-28 on the road since 2010 (35-26 ATS), with a scoring differential of +0.26 points per game, as opposed to 32-33 at home (23-42 ATS), with a scoring differential of +1.26 points per game. However, even with that taken into account, I still don’t understand why the Cowboys are favored by 3 points here. I have these two teams about even, so the Raiders should be favored about 2 points. That’s what they were on the early line last week, but that line shifted with the Cowboys winning 30-10 in New York against the Giants and the Raiders losing 26-15 in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

Usually significant week-to-week line movement like that is the result of an overreaction to a single week of play and that appears to be the case here. Two weeks ago, everyone thought the sky was falling for the Cowboys when they lost their first 3 games with Ezekiel Elliott, as the public bet on the Redskins in Dallas as road favorites, but now they’ve won two games against the Redskins and the Giants and suddenly everyone thinks they’re back? Despite the line movement, Dallas is one of the most heavily bet sides of the week.

That heavy public heavy is unwarranted. The Cowboys were tied with the Giants in the 4th quarter last week before they took advantage of some missed assignments and got long touchdowns to pull ahead. Stud linebacker Sean Lee, who returned last week, had a back injury pop up at practice on Friday and is now questionable while talented interior pass rusher David Irving will miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion. There’s too much line value to pass on with Oakland this week. The money line is also a smart play.

Oakland Raiders 31 Dallas Cowboys 30 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: High

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)

This is the biggest regular season game of the year in the AFC, and possibly in the entire NFL. These two teams are the only real contenders for the #1 seed in the AFC and the winner of this game effectively gains two games in the standings because they’d own the tiebreaker. If the Steelers win, they move up 2 games in the standings over the Patriots with 2 games left to go and they would own the tiebreaker, eliminating the Patriots from contention for the #1 seed and, depending on what happens with the Jaguars earlier in the day, possibly clinching the #1 seed for themselves. The Patriots, meanwhile, would move into a tie with the Steelers with a win and they’d own the tiebreaker, meaning they’d clinch the #1 seed if they won their remaining two games, which are easy home divisional games against the Bills and Jets.

Both teams had disappointing performances last week in primetime games, as they were understandably a little flat with this game on deck. The Steelers needed a late comeback to win at home over the Ravens by 1, while the Patriots couldn’t quite mount a comeback in an eventual 27-20 loss in Miami to the Dolphins. That comeback by the Steelers is the difference in the standings between these two teams right now, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot, considering both teams still control their own path to the #1 seed. This game will more than likely decide who gets homefield advantage throughout the AFC and homefield advantage in what could easily be a rematch of this game in the AFC Championship game.

Despite the fact that the Steelers currently lead in the standings, I trust the Patriots to bounce back off of last week’s disappointing performance a lot more. Part of that is because they get tight end Rob Gronkowski back from suspension, but it is primarily because bouncing back is what they’ve typically done in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They are 46-24 ATS off of a loss since Belichick took over in 2000, including 37-18 ATS in games started by Tom Brady. They’ve also only lost back-to-back games 5 times in the last 8 seasons.

They’ve typically done well in big games against tough opponents too. With Tom Brady at quarterback, they are a ridiculous 33-12 (35-10 ATS) in games against teams who have a better record than them. That’s a winning percentage of 74.4%, while the league average in that situation is 38.2%. Those aren’t just a bunch of early season games against teams with fluky records either, as they are 14-6 (16-4 ATS) in those type of games in week 10 or later. The Patriots are also close to an auto-bet in games where they basically just need to win to cover, as they’ve gone 48-21 ATS in Tom Brady’s starts as underdogs or favorites of less than 3, including a ridiculous 20-2 ATS off of a loss.

On top of that, the Patriots also happen to be the better team, despite Pittsburgh having the better record at 11-2. The Steelers have had a lot of close calls on the road to 11-2. In fact, their last 3 wins have come by a combined 8 points, even though they were big favorites in all 3 games (at home vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati, at home vs. Baltimore). On the season, they are 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer and they rank just 9th in point differential at +69. They could easily be 8-5 or 9-4 right now and they’re even worse than that suggests because they are without key linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season with a spine injury.

It’s no surprise that their defense played by far their worst game of the season in their first game without him last week when they allowed 38 points at home to the Ravens. They also struggled without him after he got hurt the week before against the Bengals. They may get top cornerback Joe Haden back from a 4-game absence with a leg fracture, which would be a big boost to this secondary, but that’s far from a guarantee and he may not be at 100% even if he does play.

The Patriots are a clear step up offensively from those the Bengals and the Ravens and have torched the Steelers over the years. Tom Brady is 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh and not much has changed scheme wise defensively for the Steelers over the years so I would expect more of the same, especially with Shazier out. The Patriots should easily win this one by a field goal or more, so this is my Pick of the Week. I locked this in at -2.5 earlier in the week, but I still would like the Patriots a lot at -3.

New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-9) at Detroit Lions (7-6)

When these two teams met in Chicago 4 weeks ago, I made a big bet on the Bears as 3-point home underdogs. The Lions and Bears have been on my overrated and underrated lists respectively throughout most of this season and Chicago +3 at home seemed like a great value. That line ended up pushing when the Bears missed a potential game tying field goal with time expiring, but I still feel like it was the right side. The Lions scored one of their touchdowns on a fluky fumble return and lost both the first down battle (25 to 20) and the offensive touchdown battle (3 to 2). In first down rate differential, the Bears finished at +6.33% for the game, despite the close loss.

Since then, things have arguably gotten worse for the Lions, as they lost at home to the Vikings, got blown out in Baltimore, and then managed to only win by a field goal in Tampa Bay against a weak Buccaneers team, despite winning the turnover battle by 2, something they’re not going to be able to count on every week. Injuries have become a big problem for this team, as Matt Stafford is playing at less than 100% with a throwing hand injury, while center Travis Swanson will join talented right tackle Ricky Wagner on the sideline this week with an injury, after Wagner missed last week’s game in Tampa Bay.

The Lions sit at 7-6, after going 9-7 last season, but their margin of victory has been slim, with their average victory coming by 6.94 points over the past 2 seasons and 8 of those 16 wins coming by 5 points or fewer. Considering they are favored by 5.5 in this one, that’s very relevant. They also rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.06%, after posting a -1.90% rate in 2016, as they have allowed 38 more first downs and 4 more offensive touchdowns on the season than they have gained.

The Bears are only 4-9, but they rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -1.40% and they also rank slightly higher in my roster rankings now, given the injury situations of these two teams. While the Lions are banged up, the Bears are getting healthier. Middle linebacker Danny Trevathan, a key player who did not play the last time these two teams met, returned a couple weeks ago, while outside linebacker Pernell McPhee returns from a 1-game absence and safety Adrian Amos and nose tackle Eddie Goldman are questionable to return from 2-game and 1-game absences respectively, after getting in limited practices this week.

The Bears have a talented defense when their key players all are healthy and that could be the case this week for the first time in a while. The Lions, meanwhile, rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.13% and have major holes throughout their defense. We lost line value after the Bears’ blowout win in Cincinnati last week, as this line shifted from 6.5 to 5.5, but I like the Bears’ chances of continuing to play well in this game and at least keeping this one close, so 5.5 is still worth a bet.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +5.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

When these two teams met in week 3, the Chiefs won 24-10 in Los Angeles, but the game was closer than the final score suggested. It was a 17-10 game until Kareem Hunt busted a largely meaningless 69-yard touchdown run to push the score to 24-10, when a simple first down would have allowed them to run out the clock. That’s despite the fact that the Chiefs dominated the turnover margin in that game with a +3 margin. In terms of first downs, the Chargers finished with a 24-16 advantage. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway, so I wouldn’t expect the Chiefs to win the turnover battle by 3 again, especially since the Chiefs are just +4 in turnover margin since that week 3 game, while the Chargers are +13.

A lot has changed since that matchup, as the Chiefs were 3-0 following their victory, while the Chargers fell to 0-3. Now both teams are 7-6 and competing for the AFC West title. Despite their equal records, I have the Chargers ranked significantly higher. The Chargers’ 6 losses have come by a combined 32 points, while their 7 wins have come by a combined 105 points, giving them a point differential of +73 that ranks 7th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they are even better, ranking 2nd only behind the Eagles at +5.15%.

Making all of that even more impressive is the fact that the Chargers are doing this without a real homefield advantage in Los Angeles. For example, in their home loss to the Chiefs, the crowd was primarily Kansas City fans. Given that, it’s no surprise that they have a strong against the spread record on the road this season, going 5-1 ATS, with their one non-cover coming in an 8-point loss as 7.5 point underdogs in New England. If they had better luck in close games (1-4 in games decided by a field goal or less) and an actual homefield advantage, they could easily be 9-4 or 10-3 right now. They are much better than their record and legitimate contenders in a wide open league.

The Chiefs are a solid team, but they rank 11th in point differential and 21st in first down rate differential, both significantly worse than the Chargers. They also have struggled for most of the past couple months. They won last week at home against the Raiders, but they are still just 2-6 with losses to the Bills, Giants, and Jets since their 5-0 start, while the Chargers are 7-2 since their 0-4 start, with their two losses coming only against the Jaguars and Patriots, both strong teams in the AFC. Given how good the Chargers have been away from home, I have them favored by 4 points here in Kansas City, so we’re getting significant line value with the Chargers on an even line. They are the smart pick in this key divisional matchup.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers PK

Confidence: High

Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (3-10)

Both of these teams have had tough seasons at 4-9 and 3-10 respectively. Despite their similar records, I have the Broncos ranked significantly higher than the Colts, who I think are a bottom-3 team. The Broncos have the 5th worst point differential at -86, but that’s still significantly better than the Colts, who rank 2nd worst at -131. That’s despite the fact that the Broncos rank 2nd worst in turnover margin at -14, while the Colts are actually at +3. Turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Broncos should do better going forward in turnover margin, which should make a noticeable difference in the box score, while the best the Colts can probably hope for is maintaining their current margin.

The Broncos’ quarterback situation is so bad that they will probably continue throwing a lot of interceptions, but their talented defense only has 13 takeaways through 13 games, which will likely improve going forward. Denver’s defense enters this game 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.38%, so, while their defense hasn’t been as good as it has been in the past under Wade Phillips, it is still one of the best defenses in the league and easily the best unit in this game. Their offense is a problem, as they rank 29th in first down rate at 29.48%, but they are still significantly better in first down rate differential than the Colts, as they rank 23rd at -1.90%, while the Colts are dead last at -6.97%.

The Broncos also enter this game in a better injury situation, as the Colts have lost key contributors for the season like safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, outside linebacker John Simon, defensive end Henry Anderson, and left guard Jack Mewhort, all of whom were big parts of this team in the middle of the season. The Broncos are missing some guys too, but enter this game with the clearly better roster. The Colts have only beaten the Browns, 49ers, and Texans, 3 of the worst teams in the league, this season. The Broncos are a step up in class.

The Colts are also in a terrible spot, playing on a short week after an overtime game. Teams are understandably just 3-22 ATS all-time with 4 days of rest or fewer after an overtime game, as long as they are not playing a team that is also coming off of an overtime game. The Colts just almost played the Bills to a tie in a blizzard, so they could definitely be flat for this one. This line is at 2.5 in favor of the visiting Broncos, so Denver basically just needs to win straight up (about 9% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer). Given that, I like the Broncos a lot this week, as they should be able to win, facing a weaker opponent that is dealing with tough circumstances. I like them a lot less if this line creeps up to 3, but this is a high confidence pick to start the week at 2.5.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

LAC PK @ KC

NE -2.5 @ PIT

Denver Broncos 19 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -2.5

Confidence: High