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