Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (6-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)

The Jaguars are favored here by 7.5 points, despite being 4-9, starting backup quarterback Cody Kessler, and being down four week 1 starting offensive lineman, with only right guard AJ Cann still healthy this week. That’s because the Redskins are starting their 4th quarterback of the year, Josh Johnson, signed off the streets about a week and a half ago. Both of the Redskins’ quarterbacks suffered broken legs, initially forcing street free agent Mark Sanchez into action and now forcing Josh Johnson into action after Sanchez struggled mightily in limited action. The Redskins played better in the 2nd half last week with Johnson in the game, but they had issues beyond quarterback last week, as they did not give a good effort on a short week after having their season ended in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football.

I expect a better effort from the Redskins this week, but it’s really hard to be confident in Josh Johnson on the road after a week and a half on the team. This is Johnson’s first start since the 2011 season. Washington typically has a solid defense and could keep this game close, but the Jaguars’ defense is still one of the best in the league and could easily keep Josh Johnson and the Redskins out of the end zone. I’m taking the Redskins just because of the track record of bad teams as big favorites, but I have no interest taking either side in this one.

Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Washington Redskins 9

Pick against the spread: Washington +7.5

Confidence: None

Tennessee Titans at New York Giants: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (7-6) at New York Giants (5-8)

The Titans began the season with a tough schedule, with 8 of their first 11 games coming against teams that currently have a winning record, but they are right in the middle of a very easy stretch right now and have won back-to-back games against the Jets and Jaguars. The game against the Jets was close, but the Titans won that game despite throwing a pick six and allowing a blocked punt and they won the first down rate battle by 18.59%. They then followed that up with a blowout of the Jaguars in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 16.99%.

The Giants have been better in recent weeks and they’re not as bad as the Jets or Jaguars, but they are missing a key player with injury on both sides of the ball, wide receiver Odell Beckham and safety Landon Collins, and they are one of the easier teams the Titans have faced this season. Beckham and Collins weren’t missed against a Redskins team they started Mark Sanchez and didn’t try on defense, but this is a much tougher game. The Titans are a little banged up with right tackle Jack Conklin and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo injured, but I still have this line calculated at Tennessee -3, so we’re getting some good line value with them at +1.

The Titans are also in a better spot than the Giants, with another easy game at home against the Redskins on deck, while the Giants have another relatively tough game on deck in Indianapolis, Underdogs are 94-57 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and, even though the Titans are just 1-point underdogs, the logic stands that they should be a little bit more focused this week, with no upcoming distractions to prepare for. They’re worth a bet this week.

Tennessee Titans 24 New York Giants 20 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

For the second straight year, the Patriots have lost in Miami the week before a critical late season matchup with the Steelers. Unlike last year, when the Patriots were outplayed pretty much from start to finish in Miami, this year they played well enough to win, losing on arguably the craziest walk off touchdown in recent memory. The Patriots bounced back in Pittsburgh last year and I expect the same from them this year. That’s typically what they do after a loss anyway, going 49-25 ATS in the Bill Belichick era after a loss, with just 5 instances of back-to-back losses in the past 10 seasons. That record is 27-5 ATS as underdogs or favorites of less than 3 and they are 62-31 ATS as underdogs or favorites of less than 3 overall since 2000.

The Patriots have not played well on the road this season, but home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything. For example, prior to this season, the Patriots were 14-1 in their previous 2 seasons on the road, only losing last year in Miami. Pittsburgh is a place where the Patriots have had a lot of success all-time anyway and the Steelers have not played as well in recent weeks. Running back James Conner could return this week, but even if he does both he and Ben Roethlisberger will be playing hurt. I have this line calculated at -3 and this is a situation where the Patriots usually thrive, so they’re a strong bet if you can get them at less than 3. Even at -3, they have a good chance to at worst push.

New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: High

Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

The Falcons have had a disappointing season at 4-9, but their defense got a big boost a couple weeks ago when they got every down linebacker Deion Jones back from the foot injury that kept him out since week 1. The Falcons haven’t won either of the games since he’s been back, but he’s playing well and has resumed his old every down role. It’s obviously a small sample size, but they’ve allowed a 35.64% first down rate in the three games he’s played, as opposed to 44.23% in the 10 games he missed. The schedule gets much easier for the Falcons this week at home against the Cardinals, so I expect their improved defense to be more noticeable in this one than it was on the road in Green Bay.

While the Falcons are getting healthier, the Cardinals are going in the opposite direction. They’ve put their top-3 offensive linemen, DJ Humphries, Mike Iupati, and Justin Pugh, on injured reserve, along with their top receiver Christian Kirk, starting defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and every down linebacker Josh Bynes. They were already one of the worst teams in the league before the injuries and they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -6.98%, They’re arguably the worst team in the league right now and an underrated Falcons team could easily give them their 8th double digit loss of the season.

The Cardinals are also in a tough spot, because they could be looking forward to next week’s home game against the Rams, which they may view as their Super Bowl. Teams typically struggle before being big home underdogs, going 24-45 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 7 or more (the Cardinals are currently +11.5 on the early line). On top of that, underdogs of 7+ are 31-49 ATS over that same time period before being underdogs of 7+ again, as it’s very tough for an inferior team to hang with a superior team when they have another tough game on deck serving as a distraction. The Falcons are in Carolina next week, but that’s not nearly as tough of a game, so I give them a better shot of being focused. They also have a massive talent advantage, even in a disappointing season, and should win easily.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Arizona Cardinals 10

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Cowboys are obviously better offensively since acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has revitalized his career in Dallas, helping the Cowboys win 5 straight games and take control of the NFC East. I expect that streak to end this week though. Coming off of a huge upset win over the Saints and an overtime win over the Eagles that essentially clinched the division, the Cowboys probably won’t bring the same effort this week, especially since they’re basically locked into the #4 seed in the NFC, needing the Bears to lose twice in three games to have a chance to jump them.

Their seeding might be part of the reason why the Cowboys are resting right guard Zach Martin this week, as the All-Pro has dealt with injuries to both knees this season. That’s a huge loss, especially for an offensive line that could also sit left tackle Tyron Smith, who is also dealing with multiple injuries and did not practice in full this week. On defense, the Cowboys could hold out linebacker Sean Lee again, after he was limited all week in practice as well, and even if he does he play he’d likely have a limited role. They’ll also be without edge rush specialist Randy Gregory for personal reasons, also a big loss the way he’s been playing.

The Colts have injury issues as well, with left tackle Mark Glowinski and possibly safety Clayton Geathers and wide receiver TY Hilton out this week with injuries. They’ve had injury issues all season though and, if Hilton can play as a gametime decision, they’ll actually be much healthier this week than they have been for much of the season. Center Ryan Kelly is the most recent player to return to the lineup and he’ll be a big re-addition after a 3-game absence.

Despite injuries, the Colts have been better than their 7-6 record this season, as they rank 11th in point differential at +49 and 7th in first down rate differential at 3.39%. Injuries were part of the reason why they started 1-5, but they’ve since won 6 of 7 games. They are +12 in offensive touchdowns, as opposed to +2 for Dallas, and have 4 wins by more than a touchdown, as opposed to just 1 for Dallas.

The Colts haven’t faced the toughest schedule, but they’re still the 2nd toughest team the Cowboys have faced on their winning streak, outside of the Saints, who it took an incredible effort to beat in Dallas. In a much less meaningful game, out of conference, at much less than 100%, I don’t expect that same effort this week from the Cowboys. This is a medium confidence pick for now, but if Hilton plays and the line stays at -3, I’ll bump this up to high confidence.

Sunday Update: As promised, I’m bumping this up to high confidence with TY Hilton active and the line remaining at 3. The Cowboys got good news Sunday morning as well, with Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, and Randy Gregory active, but the Colts also have Clayton Geathers active and are as healthy as they’ve been all season with Hilton, Geathers, and Ryan Kelly active. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be without stud right guard Zack Martin in a game that doesn’t mean as much for them as it does for the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3

Confidence: High

Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-6) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)

The Dolphins pulled off one of the craziest victories in recent memory last week, beating the New England Patriots on a last second lateral play that went 69 yards, pulling the 34-33 upset as 8-point home underdogs. Teams are typically flat the following week after big upset wins like that though, going 70-93 ATS over the past 30 years after a home win as underdogs of 6 or more, and I would expect the Dolphins especially to have difficulty matching last week’s intensity because of how crazy the ending was. The Dolphins won their Super Bowl last week in incredible fashion, but there could easily be a hangover effect this week.

This line is relatively high at Minnesota -7, but most of the Dolphins’ losses have not been close this season, as 5 of their 6 losses have come by double digits and their average margin of defeat is 15.50 points per game. Their 7 wins, on the other hand, have all come by 8 points or fewer, as the Dolphins have made a habit of squeaking out victories in close games. That’s the kind of habit that’s tough to maintain every week though and the Dolphins rank 25th in point differential at -55. That’s -55 point differential comes despite a +8 turnover margin, which is also the kind of habit that’s tough to maintain every week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 28th at -4.81%, despite the 4th easiest schedule in terms of opponents’ DVOA.

The Dolphins have been better with Ryan Tannehill under center, but he’s not at 100%, dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries, and they are also missing top cornerback Xavien Howard, a massive loss on defense. The Vikings have disappointed this season, but they’re still a solid team and they’re healthier than they were earlier in the season. With the Vikings likely going to a much more balanced offensive attack under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, I have this line calculated at Minnesota -10.5 and I like their chances of handing a likely flat Dolphins team their 6th double digit loss of the season. Without a better option this week, this is my Pick of the Week at -7.

Minnesota Vikings 23 Miami Dolphins 10

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9)

Earlier in the week, I was strongly considering betting on the Lions in this game, for a couple of reasons. For one, the Lions typically play well against losing teams, while struggling against good teams. Since 2014, they are 20-12 ATS against teams with a losing record and they went 17-4 straight up against non-playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. The Bills certainly qualify at 4-9. Their offense has been better since getting Josh Allen back from injury a few weeks ago, but their defense takes a big hit with the losses of linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Taron Johnson and they could be without running back LeSean McCoy with injury as well this week.

On top of that, the Bills are in a terrible spot and could easily be looking forward to next week’s game in New England. With their season essentially over, the Bills might not bring their best effort against the Lions, ahead of a much bigger game. Since 2014, teams are 39-67 ATS before being double digit underdogs (the early line is New England -13), including 10-18 ATS as favorites, which the Bills are by 2.5 points in this one.

Unfortunately, the Lions have had their own injury issues in the past week, losing stud rookie defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, slot receiver Bruce Ellington, talented right tackle Rick Wagner, and top edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah. The Lions have lost as much as any team in the league since week 1, with those 4 players joining a list that includes starting wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, starting running back Kerryon Johnson, and stud right guard TJ Lang. On top of that, quarterback Matt Stafford is less than 100% with a back injury. The Lions are pretty bad team right now and we’re not getting much line value with them at +2.5. The money line is worth a bet at +120, but I’d need at least +3 to consider betting this spread.

Final Update: The Bills will be without LeSean McCoy and backup Chris Ivory in this one, but the line has still climbed up to +3. Detroit is worth a small bet this week as the better team in the better spot, getting a field goal.

Detroit Lions 19 Buffalo Bills 17 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium