Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
SEA +190 @ DAL
CIN +160 vs. DET
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
SEA +190 @ DAL
CIN +160 vs. DET
Oakland Raiders (6-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)
The Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz for the season a couple weeks back, but I still think they are a contender, although the Wentz injury obviously is a huge blow to their chances. Prior to the season, I had the Eagles getting a first round bye in the NFC and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time. This team is a lot more than just Wentz. They have some other injuries, missing left tackle Jason Peters, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and running back Darren Sproles for the season, but no one is completely healthy at this point in the season. The Eagles still have a strong supporting cast, including a talented defense and one of the best offensive lines in football.
Foles is obviously a downgrade from Wentz, but he’s one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league and has some success as a starting quarterback. He struggled with the Rams in 2015, but that could easily be the result of terrible coaching by Jeff Fisher’s staff. Both Case Keenum and Jared Goff lead NFC contenders right now after getting away from Fisher’s coaching, so why couldn’t Foles at least capture some of his pre-Rams form, back when he was a low end starter at worst with Chip Kelly’s Eagles? He played pretty well in his first start last week in New York.
Unfortunately, we aren’t getting any line value with the Eagles this week as 9.5-point home favorites over the Raiders. In fact, I think we’re actually getting a little bit of value with the Raiders, who are better than their 6-8 record. Despite missing Derek Carr for a stretch earlier in the season, they still rank 13th in first down rate differential at 0.83%. The issue for them has been turnover margin, as they have a -9 turnover margin that is 4th worst in the league.
Fortunately, turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. Case in point, the Raiders had the league’s best turnover margin last season at +16, when they finished 12-4. In fact, the Raiders actually had a worse first down rate differential last season than they have this season, finishing last season 19th at -0.49%. The Raiders were not as good as their record suggested last season, but they are not as bad as their record suggests this year.
That being said, I would not recommend betting on the Raiders for two reasons. For one, they could be flat after being eliminated from the playoff race in heartbreaking fashion last week in a 3-point loss to the Cowboys. Two, they’re pretty banged up. While wide receiver Amari Cooper is expected to return from a 3-game absence with concussion and ankle problems, he hasn’t really played that well this season when on the field and the Raiders could be without outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, defensive end Mario Edwards, defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, and center Rodney Hudson this week. Hester and Edwards have already been ruled out and they could be hesitant to play the other two at less than 100% in a meaningless game. Even with the injuries, I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7, but that’s not enough value for this to be worth a bet.
Sunday Update: When I originally did this writeup, I did not realize this was going to be a night game. West coast teams have a huge advantage over east coast teams at night because of body clocks, covering at close to a 2/3rds rate historically. We’ve already seen the Eagles lay an egg earlier this season in Seattle at night and that was with Carson Wentz. This game should be close, so I think Oakland is worth a bet at 9.5.
Philadelphia Eagles 27 Oakland Raiders 20
Pick against the spread: Oakland +9.5
Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at New Orleans Saints (10-4)
This is one of the tougher games of the week for me. We are getting some line value with the Falcons, as I have this line calculated at New Orleans -4 rather than New Orleans -5.5. However, that’s not a substantial amount of line value, given how few games are actually decided by 4-5 points (about 9%). On top of that, the Saints are in a better spot. While the Falcons have another tough game on deck against the Panthers that will have major playoff implications for both teams, the Saints only have a trip to Tampa Bay to face the 4-10 Buccaneers on deck.
It’s not that the Falcons won’t be focused for this key divisional game, but they could have a little bit of split focus this week with another tough game on deck, whereas the Saints can be completely focused for this game. Teams are 45-25 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 7+ and the early line has the Saints at -8.5 in Tampa Bay next week. At -5.5, I am picking the Saints, but I would probably change this pick to Atlanta at 6. That’s how close this one is for me.
New Orleans Saints 30 Atlanta Falcons 24
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5
Denver Broncos (5-9) at Washington Redskins (6-8)
The Redskins have had a tough year. Up until last week, they had the toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponent’s strength of schedule. Over the final 3 weeks of the season, they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, starting with a home game against the Blaine Gabbert led Cardinals last week, but they are completely out of the playoff race right now and also incredibly banged up, losing left tackle Trent Williams, center Spencer Long, running backs Rob Kelley and Christian Thompson, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive end Jonathan Allen, middle linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster, and safety Montae Nicholson since the start of the season.
This week, the Redskins face the 5-9 Broncos, but the Broncos have been a little better than their record suggests, as they rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -1.38%. Their issue has been that they have the league’s 2nd worst turnover margin at -15, only better than the Browns, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Broncos could easily play turnover neutral football to close out their season. The Broncos’ quarterback situation is so bad that they will probably continue throwing interceptions at a higher than average rate, but their talented defense (4th in first down rate allowed) only has 13 takeaways through 14 games, which could definitely improve in the final 2 weeks of the season.
Given that and the state of the Redskins’ roster with all of their injuries, I have these two teams about even. That suggests this line should be about 3 in favor of the hometown Redskins, so we are getting a little bit of line value with the Broncos, as long as this line stays at 3.5. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting the full 3.5 is key. At Washington -3, I might take the Redskins, though this is a no confidence pick either way.
Sunday update: The Broncos ruled out both Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer on Sunday morning. Despite that, this line has dropped to 3. I’m changing my pick to Washington, but this is still a no confidence pick.
Washington Redskins 20 Denver Broncos 16
Pick against the spread: Washington -3
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Houston Texans (4-10)
The Texans were blown out last week in Jacksonville, losing 45-7. The good news for them is teams tend to bounce back from blowout losses, going 54-31 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 or more. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after getting blown out. That blowout loss didn’t cause a big line shift, but that’s largely because their opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost arguably their best player Antonio Brown with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out for at least the final two weeks of the regular season. Already missing stud linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season, the Steelers are far from 100% right now. The Steelers are also expected to be without starting left guard Ramon Foster with a concussion, though they do get right tackle Marcus Gilbert back from a 4-game suspension.
In addition to their injury issues, the Steelers could also be flat this week after last week’s heartbreaking home loss to the New England Patriots. They’re typically flat in non-divisional road games against weak opponents anyway, as they are 4-15 ATS since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year in 2004 as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more. Earlier this year, they lost in Chicago and almost lost in Indianapolis as big road favorites, and they only have 4 wins by more than 7 points all year, so the Texans could give them more of a game than people are expecting.
That being said, I would not recommend betting the Texans, for two reasons. For one, I don’t think we’re getting enough line value with the Texans. Given all of the players they have lost to injury this season, they are one of the worst teams in the league right now, with quarterback TJ Yates under center behind arguably the worst offensive line in football and a defense that has not been nearly the same since losing JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season. Two, the Steelers don’t have a tough game next week, with the Browns coming to town, and superior teams do tend to take care of business when they don’t have any upcoming distractions, as favorites of 6+ are 72-43 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. The Texans should be the right side, but only for pick ‘em purposes.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Houston Texans 13
Pick against the spread: Houston +9
Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
The Dolphins are 6-8, but they have had a worse season than that suggests, as they have that record, despite going 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their 6 wins have come by a combined 47 points, while their 8 losses have come by a combined 137 points, giving them a point differential of -90, 5th worst in the NFL. They’ve been even worse in first down rate differential at -5.03%, 3rd worst in the NFL. They have been better in recent weeks though, ever since turning to Kenyan Drake as their feature back. They had their biggest margin of victory of the season a few weeks back, defeating the Broncos 35-9 and then beat the Patriots the following week.
Last week, they came up short in Buffalo, but they should play better this week, especially since they’re now in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 260-280 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.91 points per game, as opposed to 379-528 straight up in a single road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 3.02 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Teams especially do well in their 2nd of two road games as road underdogs off of a loss, going 123-81 ATS in that spot since 2008. There’s isn’t enough here for me to bet on the Dolphins, but they should be the right side as 10.5-point underdogs.
Kansas City Chiefs 28 Miami Dolphins 20
Pick against the spread: Miami +10.5
Cleveland Browns (0-14) at Chicago Bears (4-10)
I have picked the Browns against the spread in 6 straight games because I’ve felt for a while that they aren’t quite as bad as their record suggests, especially with Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman back. They’ve only covered in 1 of those games, but fortunately I have been hesitant to actually bet on them over that time period, only betting on them as 3.5 point underdogs in a game they took the Packers to overtime. In addition to the Green Bay game, the Browns came close to covering in against the Jaguars and Lions, before falling apart late in the game.
This week, I don’t think we’re getting line value with the Browns, as the Bears have been underrated for a while. They’ve had some injury issues in recent weeks, with right guard Kyle Long going on injured reserve a couple weeks back and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and left guard Josh Sitton join him this week. However, they have been better defensively since getting middle linebacker Danny Trevathan back last week and now they get safety Adrian Amos back from a 3-game absence, which is a huge re-addition.
On the season, the Bears have definitely been better than their 4-10 record suggests, as they rank 21st in first down rate differential at -1.16% and 23rd in point differential at -60. They are 2-6 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and have just 4 double digit losses, including a 10-point loss in Detroit last week that was closer than the final score. The Bears were about even in first down rate in that game, but lost by 10 because they lost the turnover battle by 3 and had 2 red zone interceptions. Fortunately, turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much, especially since they are now facing the league’s worst team in turnover margin this week.
The Bears have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league this season in terms of opponent’s records at 56%, as only the Panthers and the Saints have faced a toughest schedule. That strength of schedule will obviously drop this week after facing the winless Browns. The Browns, meanwhile, have a strength of schedule of just 46%, largely as a result of playing in the much easier AFC. The Bears are 1-10 against NFC teams this season, but have won all 3 games they have played against AFC, beating the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. On the season, the NFC is 36-22 against the AFC (31-25 ATS).
That being said, there isn’t enough here for me to confidently bet on the Bears as 6.5-point favorites. Both teams are in pretty bad spots, as they both have tough upcoming games, with the Browns going to Pittsburgh and the Bears going to Minnesota. Both teams are expected to be double digit underdogs in those games and teams are just 105-179 ATS (37.0%) since 2008 before being double digit underdogs. The Browns should be more focused though, as they try to avoid going 0-16, and underdogs tend to be better before being double digit underdogs than favorites anyway, as underdogs are 82-137 ATS (37.4%) in that spot since 2008, while favorites are 22-40 ATS (35.5%) over that time period. The Bears could definitely look past the Browns here this week, though I still like their chances of winning this one by at least a touchdown.
Chicago Bears 20 Cleveland Browns 12
Pick against the spread: Chicago -6.5
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
Former New England backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has now won his first 5 starts as a quarterback, including his first 3 starts since being traded to the 49ers. Garoppolo has played like a legitimate franchise quarterback since arriving in San Francisco and, along with an improving defense, led by rookies Ahkello Witherspoon and Reuben Foster, has turned around a team that started 0-8 and won just one of their first 11 games before inserting Garoppolo into the starting lineup. The 49ers get by far their toughest test of the Garoppolo era this week though, with the Jacksonville Jaguars coming to town.
Garoppolo’s wins have come against the Bears, Texans, and Titans, but the Jaguars are a major step up in class. I had them as a surprise team before the season and they’ve even exceeded my expectations. Their defense is hands down the best defense in the NFL and they are remarkably healthy on that side of the ball for this late in the season. The big surprise is their offense though, as they have not been bad on that side of the ball and it hasn’t just been their running game, as Blake Bortles has had the best season of his career in his 4th year in the league, despite a banged up receiving corps and a mediocre offensive line, and is making a strong case to remain the Jaguars’ starting quarterback beyond 2017.
On the season, the Jaguars rank 1st in first down rate differential at +6.44% and 2nd in point differential at +165. Part of that is because of a weak schedule, but the 49ers’ schedule hasn’t been much tougher and the 49ers, even as improved as they are, are still not a tough opponent, as they still have major holes throughout the depth chart. The good news is we are getting some decent line value with the 49ers, who are 4.5-point home underdogs. I have this line calculated at Jacksonville -3. Even if the 49ers can’t win straight up, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so they have a decent cushion to work with. There isn’t enough here for me to be confident betting on the 49ers, but they are the smarter choice for pick ‘em purposes, as this could easily be a close game.
Jacksonville Jaguars 16 San Francisco 49ers 13
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4.5
Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (11-3)
The Bills are 8-6 and right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the AFC, which would send them to the post-season for the first time since 1999 and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. However, they face a bit of an uphill battle, as their final two games are on the road and they probably need to win at least one of those games to remain in the playoff pictures, with the 8-6 Titans, the 8-6 Ravens, and the 7-7 Chargers also in the mix for those two wild card spots. On top of that, they haven’t been as good as their record suggests, as they have just one win by more than 10 points, as opposed to 4 losses, and have a mediocre point differential of -43. That’s despite having +7 turnover margin, tied for 5th best in the NFL.
Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily be able to rely on that going forward, and they rank just 31st in first down rate differential at -5.30%. They are also the only team in the league with a turnover margin of +6 and a negative point differential. They are obviously a better team with Tyrod Taylor under center, instead of Nathan Peterman, but even with Taylor under center they’ve had major problems moving the ball because of their lack of pass catchers. On top of that, their defense has had major problems getting off the field without forcing turnovers.
Their opponents this week, the New England Patriots, beat them 23-3 in Buffalo a few weeks back. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.36% and have been even better in recent weeks since working through some early season kinks on defense. The Patriots are also in a great spot, as they have no upcoming distractions with only a home game against the Jets on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 70-43 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, as good teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. The Patriots have not been as good of a bet at home as they have been on the road in recent seasons and we’re not getting much line value at New England -11.5 (I have this line calculated at 12.5), so I would not recommend betting on this one, but the Patriots should be the right side for pick’em purposes.
Sunday update: Buffalo ruled out starting cornerback EJ Gaines, but this line still fell to 11 Sunday morning. I was on the fence about betting this game before, but I think it’s worth a small wager now. Gaines has been having a solid season and their pass defense has been worse when he’s been out of the lineup, something that’s going to be a big problem against Tom Brady.
New England Patriots 31 Buffalo Bills 17
Pick against the spread: New England -11
Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)
Before the season, I had the Titans as a top-10 team and a candidate to get a first round bye in the AFC, after finishing last season just outside of the playoffs at 9-7 and adding talent at positions of need this off-season. The Titans have a solid 8-6 record, but they are definitely not in the running for a first round bye and they have not even been as good as that record suggests. They have just 3 wins by more than a touchdown all season (as opposed to 4 losses by more than a touchdown) and two of those wins were single score games until long, meaningless garbage time touchdowns by Derrick Henry late in the game. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 16th at -0.25%, despite having the easiest schedule in the NFL.
Their schedule gets tougher over the next two games, with the Rams and Jaguars coming to town and they probably need to win at least one of those games to have a shot at the post-season. The tougher schedule might not be terrible news for them though. They are relatively healthy for this point in the season and, on paper, this is still a top-10 team talentwise, but they are poorly coached under Mike Mularkey and his staff and have played down to the level of their competition. The good news is they’ve also played up to their level of competition, as they are 3-1 against playoff teams, with convincing wins over the Jaguars, Seahawks, and Ravens, and their one loss coming on the road in Pittsburgh on a short week.
The Titans might not win straight up here against the Rams, but the Rams’ blowout victory in Seattle last week shifted this line from Rams -3.5 to Rams -7, so we have a good cushion to work with. I still have this line calculated at -3, as the Rams’ strong performance last week was largely the result of Seattle being incredibly banged up at linebacker. The Rams probably would have still won if the Seahawks were healthy in the linebacking corps, but I think we’re getting too much line value with the Titans this week to pass on. I like this line less at 6.5, but this is a high confidence pick if you can get the full touchdown.
Los Angeles Rams 23 Tennessee Titans 20
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +7