Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) at Baltimore Ravens (4-5)

I had the Ravens on my underrated list during their bye last week and was expecting to bet them in the second half of the season. They lost three in a row going into their bye, but they looked like one of the better teams in the league to start the season and those three losses were against the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers, so it was a tough stretch of games. They were also without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the first two and then left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the final game, both of whom are healthy and in the lineup this week.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of quarterback Joe Flacco, who did not practice all week with a hip injury and is listed as doubtful on the injury report. That creates a lot of uncertainty. Head coach John Harbaugh said he could play without practicing, so we can’t even be 100% sure he’ll miss this game and we don’t know what kind of shape he’d be in if he played. There’s also some dispute about who would play in his absence, as multiple reports have suggested we could see both RG3 and Lamar Jackson at quarterback in this one. Jackson and Griffin both have upside under center, but Griffin hasn’t started since 2016 and Jackson has never made a start, so both players have pretty low floors as well. All that uncertainty under center makes it hard to be confident with them.

We’re also not getting a good line with the Ravens because the Bengals were blown out at home last week by the Saints. This line was Baltimore -5.5 on the early line last week with Flacco expected to play, but it’s only moved down to -4 for the Flacco injury because of how bad the Bengals looked last week. That’s a pretty insignificant line movement, as it doesn’t cross any key numbers.

Teams tend to bounce back from being blown out, going 56-35 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 points or more. The Bengals will also be a little healthier on defense this week with linebacker Vontaze Burfict and slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard expected to return. With that in mind, I’m actually going to take the Bengals in this one, but it’s hard to be confident in either side given Baltimore’s quarterback situation. I will have an update on this tomorrow morning if the line changes or the quarterback situation changes.

Sunday update: Joe Flacco is officially expected to not play in this one and, while RG3 may see a few snaps in the 2-quarterback sets they like running, Lamar Jackson is expected to start and play the whole game. The line has shifted to 5.5 after opening at 4, so we’re getting a little more line value with the Bengals now, but the Ravens still have too high variance of a quarterback situation for me to bet either side in this one. This is probably too many points for Jackson to be favored by in his debut against a defense that should be healthier than last week, but Jackson could definitely exceed expectations. It’s tough to know what to expect from him. He’s got a ton of talent, but did not look good in limited action in the pre-season and was very much considered a work in progress as a passer coming out of college.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +5.5

Confidence: None

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

Originally this game was supposed to be in Mexico City, but poor field conditions forced the NFL to move it back to Los Angeles, making this a true home game for the Rams (originally they gave one up to play in Mexico City). It’s obviously a huge loss for Mexico City, as this ended up being one of the biggest games of the season. These two teams are in different conferences, so there aren’t seeding tiebreakers up for grabs in this game like there were in Chiefs/Patriots and Rams/Saints, but this is the 3rd latest two teams with at least a 90% winning percentage have met in the past 30 seasons and this could easily be a Super Bowl preview.

The Rams were originally 1.5-point favorites when the game was in Mexico City, but the line shifted to 3 as a result of the move to Los Angeles. Normally homefield advantage is about 3 points, but the Rams have had trouble getting a steady fanbase in Los Angeles, even as well as they’ve been playing, so we could easily see the crowd full of Chiefs fans like it was full of Packers and Seahawks fans in recent weeks. Given that, I understand not giving the Rams the full 3-point homefield advantage.

WIth that in mind, I’d say this line is pretty accurate. I have the Rams a little bit better than the Chiefs in my roster rankings, but it’s hard to take the Rams with any confidence as field goal home favorites against a team as good as the Chiefs when they don’t have true homefield advantage. I’m taking the Rams for pick ‘em purposes, but we could easily see a push in this game. This one figures to go right down to the wire and may come down to who has the ball last.

Los Angeles Rams 34 Kansas City Chiefs 31

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: None

Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (3-6)

The Lions look on their way to a lost season at 3-6, in their first year under head coach Matt Patricia. The Lions went 9-7 in each of the past two seasons, but did not play like a 9-7 team in either season, finishing 28th in first down rate differential in 2016 and 26th in 2017. Now ranking 25th at -3.54%, the Lions have not been able to pull out late, close victories this season like they have in years past and it shows in their record.

They’ve also had injury issues. Franchise tagged defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is going into his 3rd game back after missing 6 games with injury earlier in the season, while #1 cornerback Darius Slay returns from a one game absence, but they placed talented right guard TJ Lang on injured reserve and will also be without starting wide receiver Marvin Jones and key run stuffer A’Shawn Robinson in this one. They also traded key slot receiver Golden Tate for a third round pick at the trade deadline, which hurt this offense significantly.

The Lions have never had much success against good teams like the Panthers anyway, going 19-38-2 ATS and 19-40 straight up against teams with winning records since Matt Stafford’s first full season as starter in 2011. Most recently, they went 1-11 between 2016 and 2017 against eventual playoff teams. They beat the Patriots and Packers this year, but the Patriots were not in mid-season form at that point (they lost to the Jaguars the week before), while the Packers would have won if Mason Crosby hadn’t had the worst game of his life (and the Packers might not end up as a playoff team anyway).

All of this being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions kept this game close at home. This line is pretty high at -4.5, given that about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer. The Panthers’ only win on the road this season came in a game in which they trailed by 17 points in the 4th quarter and I think this line is just a little bit too high. I can’t take the Lions with any confidence, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Carolina Panthers 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +4.5

Confidence: None

Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (4-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

Both of these teams are pretty banged up. The Falcons are missing starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen for the season, while recently activated linebacker Deion Jones is at least a week from returning for the first time since week 1. Without those three, the Falcons have ranked dead last in first down rate allowed at 44.04%. On offense, they are without starting guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco and starting running back Devonta Freeman, which has led to an inconsistent running game. Another MVP caliber year from Matt Ryan has kept this offense among the better in the league, ranking 7th in first down rate at 40.58%, but this passing game can’t carry this team to the playoffs by itself.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, could be without both starting guards Connor Williams and Zack Martin, though the latter is expected to continue playing through his knee injury. Already without center Travis Frederick since the pre-season, this offensive line is not nearly what it once was, leading to an offense that ranks just 21st in first down rate at 34.55%. Their defense has been what’s kept them respectable, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.57%, and they are coming off of a strong performance in Philadelphia, despite their defensive injuries. They have a great #1 cornerback in Byron Jones, #1 edge rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence, and two great every down linebackers in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, so they’re still one of the better defenses in the league even with a few starters missing.

On paper, I have the Cowboys a couple spots ahead of the Falcons, so we’re getting some line value with the Cowboys as road favorites of more than a field goal. It’s only a half point, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, including 1 in 6 by exactly a field goal, so it’s a very significant half point. The Cowboys are also in a slightly better spot. Both of these teams have to play again in 4 days on Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys get to host the Redskins, while the Falcons have to go to New Orleans, which is much more difficult.

Favorites typically don’t cover before being underdogs if their opponent will next be favorites, going 53-89 ATS since 2014, and that’s especially true before being double digit underdogs, which the Falcons are on the early line (+11) in New Orleans. You have to go back 30 years to get a good sample size, but teams are just 21-52 ATS in that spot. The Cowboys should be able to keep this close and have a good chance to pull the upset and steal one on the road.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Atlanta Falcons 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5

Confidence: High

Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (1-8) at Arizona Cardinals (2-7)

Both of these teams have had horrendous seasons, as the Raiders rank 30th in first down rate differential at -5.54%, while the Cardinals rank dead last at -7.51%. The Cardinals are trending up a little bit, as their offense has been improved since switching to Byron Leftwich as offensive coordinator, while the Raiders are trending down, due to all of their personnel losses (especially at wide receiver) and locker room problems, but this line still seems a little high at Arizona -5.5, as I have these two teams about even.

The Raiders are also in a much better spot, as favorites rarely play well before being big underdogs, which the Cardinals will be in Los Angeles against the Chargers next week. Favorites are just 24-42 ATS since 2008 before being double digit underdogs. The Raiders have serious locker room issues and might not give much effort in this meaningless non-conference game, so I wouldn’t recommend betting them, but the Cardinals should not be favored by this many points against anyone and they too may not give their best effort with a much tougher game on deck.

Arizona Cardinals 20 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland +5.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (8-1)

The Eagles have obviously gotten off to a disappointing start, going 4-5 a year after winning the Super Bowl. Last week was arguably their most disappointing loss, as they lost a key divisional game against the Cowboys at home as 7.5-point favorites. After that loss, the public seems to have soured on them and, as a result, this line shifted from New Orleans -6.5 on the early line last week to New Orleans -8 this week, crossing the key number of 7. Typically I love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, and this game is no different.

The Saints are definitely a dominant team and are coming off arguably their best performance of the year, winning 51-14 in Cincinnati (also probably part of why this line shifted), but the Bengals are not nearly the team they were earlier in the year because of injuries and blowout wins aren’t necessarily predictive of future blowout wins. Teams that outscored their previous opponent by 35+ points, on average, outscore their next opponent by an average of just 5.20 points per game.

At 8 points, this line is too high. The Eagles’ record isn’t good, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, with a positive point differential (+15) and a first down rate differential that ranks 5th in the NFL (+4.75%). All 5 of their losses have come by less than a touchdown and they won the first down rate in two of those losses, including last week’s loss in Dallas, a game that swung on a Philadelphia turnover, two Dallas 4th down conversions, and a failed Philadelphia 4th down conversion. Carson Wentz has actually only lost by more than a touchdown just 4 times in 36 career starts, with 3 of those losses coming in his rookie year, which is relevant considering where this line is.

The injuries are starting to pile up for the Eagles, with running back Jay Ajayi, defensive end Derek Barnett, safety Rodney McLeod, and now cornerback Ronald Darby out for the season, with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan still yet to return after off-season back surgery, but this is such a talented roster that they’re still one of the better teams in the league on paper even with some key players missing. Players like left tackle Jason Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (and obviously quarterback Carson Wentz as well) were lost for the season during last year’s Super Bowl run and now are healthy and playing well.

The Eagles also get right tackle Lane Johnson back this week, after he missed last week’s battle with the Cowboys, while the Saints were dealt a huge injury blow when they lost left tackle Terron Armstead for an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. Armstead is one of the best left tackles in the league, so his absence should be noticeable for this offense. The general public doesn’t pay much attention to offensive line injuries, so I doubt Armstead’s absence affected this line much, but that injury should have affected this line more than the result of either of these teams’ games last week. Without Armstead, I have the Saints calculated as 5.5-point favorites in this one, so we’re getting significant line value with the Eagles.

The Eagles are also in a better spot, as they don’t have to play again in 4 days like the Saints do. Favorites are 51-71 ATS since 2012 before Thursday Night Football and the Saints could easily be looking forward this week to their upcoming Thanksgiving clash with the Falcons. The Eagles, meanwhile, have only an easy home game against the Giants on deck and should be fully focused in a game they need to stay in the playoff picture. They might not win straight up, but I love their chances of keeping this one close. This is my Pick of the Week.

New Orleans Saints 31 Philadelphia Eagles 27

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +8

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-4) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5)

A week ago, both of these teams were high on my underrated list. The Colts are much healthier after being one of the most injury plagued teams in the league for the first half of the season and have a positive point differential and first down rate differential, despite a losing record, while the Titans now have a capable offense to complement their strong defense, with quarterback Marcus Mariota returning to form after suffering an elbow injury week 1 that limited him for most of the first half of the season.

The Colts were only 2.5-point favorites against the Jaguars last week, so I made a big play on them. The final margin was only 3 points, but they jumped out to a big first half lead, overall won the first down rate battle by 3.40%, and could easily have better days ahead with their roster close to full strength. Because the final score was not that impressive, the Colts remain an underrated team and could easily be one of the better teams in the AFC from here on out. Andrew Luck looks as good as he ever has, while their offensive line, running game, and defense have all been pleasant surprises this year, after years of struggling in those aspects of the game. On the season, they rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.13% and they are now as healthy as they’ve been all year.

On the other side, I did not pick the Titans last week because it’s typically not a good idea to bet against the Patriots once they get on a mid-season roll, but the Titans were able to overcome that and pull off a shocking blowout upset victory. Despite beating the Patriots, I still think the Titans are an underrated team, as much of the conversation around that game is about how the sky is supposedly falling for New England, rather than about how the Titans are legitimate contenders with a healthy Mariota. Their defense ranks 5th in the NFL, allowing opponents to pick up a first down or touchdown on just 32.55% of their snaps, and so they could easily be a very dangerous team in the second half of the season if they get even decent play from their offense.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost line value with the Titans in the past week, as obviously their home upset win over the Patriots got a lot more attention than the Colts’ win over the Jaguars. Favored by a field goal a week ago, the Colts are now just 2-point favorites, a big shift, considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. Now as 2-point favorites, the Colts basically just have to win at home to cover this line.

I have these two teams about even (the Titans are one spot higher in my roster rankings), so we’re getting some line value with the Colts. The Colts are also in a better spot, as the Titans could be a little flat after such a big victory last week (teams are 38-50 ATS since 2002 after a home win as underdogs of 6+). That being said, there isn’t enough here for the Colts to be worth betting against a good Tennessee team. The most likely outcome here is an Indianapolis win by a field goal, but Tennessee pulling out the minor “upset” is certainly a strong possibility as well.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) at New York Giants (2-7)

The Buccaneers lost last week at home to the Redskins, falling to 3-6 on the season, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, as they rank 19th with a +0.15% first down rate. They’ve been killed by the turnover margin, ranking dead last with a -19 turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be completely unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Buccaneers had a -4 turnover margin in last week’s loss, the biggest reason why they lost despite winning the yardage battle 501-286 and the first down battle 29-15, but, on average, teams with a turnover margin of -4 in a game have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. As a result of that, they obviously perform a lot better on the scoreboard (48.8% winning percentage, 52.5% cover percentage).

The Buccaneers are an underrated team and because of that we are getting good line value with them here as 2.5 point road underdogs in New York against the lowly Giants. They’re also in a much better spot, as the Giants have a key divisional game in Philadelphia next week, while the Buccaneers have arguably their easiest game of the season, at home against the 49ers. Favorites are just 53-89 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. While the Giants could easily overlook the Buccaneers with a much bigger game on defense, the Buccaneers should be fully focused with no upcoming distractions on the schedule.

The Buccaneers’ defensive injuries concern me, as they will be without linebacker Lavonte David and safety Justin Evans in this one, after already being without linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Vinny Curry. The Buccaneers’ defense has been pretty bad even with those players healthy though and I trust the Buccaneers’ talented offense to win a shootout here on the road against one of the worst teams in the league. This would be a bigger play if they were healthier, but Tampa Bay is still worth a bet this week.

Sunday update: +3s have showed up Sunday Morning. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it’s great to have protection against a New York 3-point win. I’m making this a higher confidence pick as a result.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 New York Giants 27 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3

Confidence: High

Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)

I typically love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, and this game is no exception. Originally 3-point favorites on the early line last week, the Steelers are now 6-point favorites after their big home blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers. That kind of big win has not been typical of the Steelers recently, as it was just their 5th win by more than a touchdown in their last 19 games, dating back to last season. Blowout wins typically aren’t predictive of another blowout win either, as teams that outscore their opponents by 31 points on average outscore their next opponent by 5.31 points and just 2.62 points away from home, as the Steelers are in this one. That game could have easily been a case of the Panthers being unprepared away from home on a short week, so I don’t want to put too much stock into it.

The Steelers also have struggled in this kind of games in the past, going 5-15 ATS since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more. Big Ben and company have a habit of putting up a dud outside of the division on the road against teams they’re supposed to beat and the Jaguars have had their number over the past year anyway. Jacksonville is not as good as they were last season, but they still have a top-5 defense and can make this a competitive game at home. They lost center Brandon Linder to injury last week, but it helps to have running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye back healthy and the Steelers will be without a key defensive lineman with Stephon Tuitt injured. The Jaguars are worth a bet as 6-point home underdogs.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6

Confidence: Medium