Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)

Both of these teams have had strong seasons, but the Chargers have been a little better. They rank 5th in point differential at +88 and 2nd in first down rate differential at +7.03%, while the Steelers rank 7th in point differential at +67 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.64%. The big difference is the amount of blowout wins the Chargers have gotten, with 6 of their 8 wins coming by at least a touchdown. The Steelers, meanwhile, have just 5 wins by more than a touchdown in their last 20 games, dating back to last season.

The Steelers have had a tougher schedule, with a combined opponents’ record of 49%, as opposed to 44% for the Chargers, but the Chargers schedule has been tougher than that suggests, as they have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles. In 5 games away from Los Angeles this season, the Chargers are 5-0 straight up (4-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 11.6 points per game.

This is a trend that actually dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 33-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012. The Chargers are also at an advantage as a west coast team playing an east coast team at night. Teams cover at about a 65% rate in that spot all-time, regardless of where the game takes place, as western teams have internal clocks that are more suited for playing at night than eastern teams.

The Chargers have some injuries, with running back Melvin Gordon joining every down linebacker Denzel Perryman and rotational defensive tackles Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane on the sideline. The loss of Gordon is the biggest one, but the Chargers have good depth at the running back position. They also got stud edge rusher Joey Bosa back from injury a couple weeks ago and with him at full strength that should more than cancel out their other injuries, as he’s one of their best players. The Steelers, meanwhile, get stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt back from injury, but they lose safety Morgan Burnett again and he was noticeably missed when he was out earlier this season.

Despite all of this, this line suggests the Steelers are the better of these two teams, favoring them by more than a field goal at home. Given the Chargers’ slight statistical advantage and the advantage they have playing at night, I think this line should be closer to even, giving us good line value, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. The Chargers are a smart pick against the spread this week and have a decent shot to pull the straight up upset.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-6)

These two teams have had pretty similar seasons. Both have struggled statistically, as the Dolphins rank 27th in point differential at -60 and 30th in first down rate differential at -6.03%, while the Bills rank 30th in point differential at -111 and 31st in first down rate differential at -7.30%. Both teams have also been without their starting quarterbacks for stretches, but both the Bills’ Josh Allen and Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill are back on the field now.

The quarterback injury affected the Bills a lot more though, as the Bills had to start street free agents in Allen’s absence, while Dolphins started Brock Osweiler, who statistically wasn’t much worse than Tannehill. In 5 games started and finished by Josh Allen, the Bills are 3-2 with a point differential of -8 and they were also leading on the road in Houston before Allen got hurt. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are 3-3 with a -18 point differential in 6 games started and finished by Tannehill. The Bills have also faced a much tougher schedule, 8th toughest in terms of opponents record at 54%, while the Dolphins rank 25th at 47%.

Allen still has his issues, as a raw rookie quarterback, but he’s playing his best football right now, both as a passer and a runner, and seems to be fully over his elbow injury. Tannehill, meanwhile, did not have a good first game back last week, with just 130 yards on 24 pass attempts if you don’t include a 74-yard touchdown where his receiver did most of the work. The Dolphins had a first down rate of just 33.33%, against an underwhelming Colts defense, and it’s very possible that Tannehill’s shoulder is still not at 100%.

In addition to his own issues, Allen also doesn’t have a good supporting cast on offense, but Tannehill’s is falling apart fast, with their 2 leading receivers, Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola injured right now. Most importantly, the Bills are much better on defense, ranking 12th in first down rate allowed at 35.36%, as opposed to 21st in first down rate allowed at 37.82% for the Dolphins. Both teams have their issues, but the Bills are at least even with the Dolphins right now, if not a little better.

The Bills are also in a much better spot, as they host the Jets next week, while the Dolphins host the Patriots. Underdogs are 90-55 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. On top of that, teams are 22-44 ATS since 2014 before being home favorites of 7 or more (Miami is +10.5 on the early line), as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction for teams. We could easily see a much better effort from the Bills than the Dolphins this week, in which case the Bills would have a great shot of stealing this game on the road. I like the Bills a lot this week as underdogs of more than a field goal.

Buffalo Bills 17 Miami Dolphins 16 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +4

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-6-1) at Houston Texans (8-3)

The Browns have been playing pretty well lately. Their offense has moved the chains at a 44.75% rate in 3 games since firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, while their defense has allowed a first down rate of just 33.78% in 7 games started and finished by stud middle linebacker Joe Schobert, who is back healthy for the Browns. Their offensive improvement can also be credited to the Browns’ trade of Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars, which allowed rookie running back Nick Chubb to flourish as the lead back.

The Texans are obviously also playing well, winning 8 straight games, but most of the games have been close, including 4 wins by 3 points or fewer, and they haven’t had the toughest schedule, with their best win record wise coming against the early season Cowboys, now at 7-5, in overtime by a field goal. The Browns, on the other hand, have had the 8th toughest schedule thus far this year in terms of opponents’ record. I like the Browns chances of making the Texans play another close game. They’re an underrated team right now and are better than their record. They’ve also only lost 3 games by more than 3 points. They’re worth a small bet this week.

Houston Texans 20 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at New York Giants: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (8-3) at New York Giants (3-8)

I’ve picked the Bears in all but one of their games this season and have bet on them 5 times, going 5-0 ATS. They’ve been underrated for weeks, as their 3 losses have come by a combined 11 points. Winners of 5 straight, the Bears are now at 8-3 and statistically have been as good as any team in the league, ranking 4th in point differential at +106 and 1st in first down rate differential at -7.03%. That being said, I’m not taking them this week because they are in a terrible spot and I’m not just referring to the absence of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky hasn’t been bad, but he’s not the reason this team has been winning and backup Chase Daniel is one of the better backups in the league.

The bigger issue is that the Bears have to turn around and host the Rams next week, a game that could easily be as a huge distraction to the Bears. Road favorites are just 39-64 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs, which the Bears almost certainly will be next week (early line is Rams -3.5). The Giants are just 3-8, but they’ve been competitive in most of their games, losing just 2 games by more than a touchdown, with 3 losses coming by 3 points or fewer. They could easily catch the Bears off guard and make this a game or even potentially win it straight up. We’re not getting any line value with the Giants at +3.5, as the Bears still have a distinct talent advantage, so this is a no confidence pick, but this has trap game written all over it for the Bears.

Chicago Bears 19 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3.5

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

The Falcons have been horrendous on defense this season, allowing opponents to pick up a first down or touchdown on 43.02% of their offensive plays, worst in the NFL, but they get a big boost this week with linebacker Deion Jones returning for the first time since week 1. They’re still missing safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal, but fill-in safety Damontae Kazee has actually been one of the few bright spots on this defense, so they aren’t missed nearly as much as Jones, who is arguably the best player on this defense when healthy. The Falcons have other defensive issues and were an underwhelming unit even with Jones healthy last season (8th in points per game allowed, but 18th points per drive allowed, 22nd in defensive DVOA, and 25th in first down rate allowed), but the Falcons should still be noticeably better with Jones back out there.

The Ravens, on the other hand, are missing talented safety Tony Jefferson with injury, along with quarterback Joe Flacco, who I think they’ll miss this week. Lamar Jackson is 2-0 in 2 starts, but he was heavily favored at home in both games and has been shaky as a passer. I think he’ll have a tougher time on the road against a Falcons team that should be solid going forward if they can play even passable defense. Their offense is better than it was last season, even with an inconsistent running game, as Matt Ryan is back to playing at an MVP level. In a game they just have to win to cover, I like the Falcons at home a good amount because I think they’re the slightly better of these two teams right now.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -1.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-1) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

The book on the Lions since Matt Stafford became a full-time starter in 2011 is to take them in easier games and fade them against tougher opponents. Over that time period, they are 20-39-2 ATS and 20-41 straight up against teams with a winning record. Most recently, they went a combined 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 15-3 in their other 18 games. This year, they’ve beaten the Patriots, Panthers, and Packers, but the Panthers and Packers would have won if not for several missed kicks and both teams could easily end up missing the playoffs anyway.

The Rams certainly count as a tougher opponent, as they are arguably the best team in the league. They haven’t had many blowout wins lately, winning by double digits just twice in their past 9 games, which would seem relevant in a game they’re favored by 9.5 or 10 points, but look at who they’ve played during that stretch: Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, Packers, Saints, Seahawks and Chiefs. Aside from the 49ers, who the Rams beat by 29, all of those teams are playoff contenders. The Rams also won by 20+ in their first 2 weeks of the season against the Raiders and Rams.

The Lions are more similar to the teams they’ve blown out, as they rank 26th in first down rate differential at -4.09%. They’ve been better defensively since getting defensive tackle Damon Harrison in a trade from the Giants and getting defensive end Ezekiel Ansah back from injury, but they’ve gone in the opposite direction on offense, trading slot receiver Golden Tate to the Eagles and losing running back Kerryon Johnson, right guard TJ Lang, and wide receiver Marvin Jones to injury.

The Rams are also in a great spot coming out of a bye. Good teams tend to take care of business after a week off, especially on the road, as road favorites of 4+ are a ridiculous 32-8 ATS off a bye since 2002. The bye also allowed them to get healthy, as they come into this game at close to full strength. Not only do they get starting cornerback Aqib Talib back from an extended absence, but fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters has struggling through an injury and he should be closer to full strength after an extra week off. The Rams’ defense has been shaky recently, ranking 25th in first down rate allowed on the season at 39.67%, but they should be better than that going forward. I like their chances of taking care of business and blowing out the Lions. At -9.5, this is my Pick of the Week, but they’re also worth a big bet at -10.

Los Angeles Rams 31 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -9.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-1) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Going into their week 8 bye, the Cowboys were a 3-4 team with a strong defense, but an underwhelming offense. They ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.47%, but just 23rd in first down rate at 33.81%. In order to remedy this, the Cowboys made an aggressive move to acquire slumping former Pro-Bowl receiver Amari Cooper from the Raiders for a 2019 1st round pick, potentially giving this offense #1 receiver it sorely lacked.

It was a risky move, but it’s gone well so far, as Cooper has 22 catches for 349 yards and already leads the team with 3 receiving touchdowns, despite being with the team for just 4 games. In addition, his 19 receiving first downs are 2nd on the team. The offense hasn’t been great or anything since he arrived, but they have moved the chains at a 35.94% rate in his 4 games, about league average, which is noticeably better than before the bye.

However, the Cowboys’ defense has gone in the opposite direction, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 38.06% rate in 4 games since the bye. They are 3-1 in those 4 games, but they have just a +4 point differential and have lost the first down rate battle in every game except last week’s home game against a backup quarterback. Injuries are the biggest reason for their defensive decline, particularly the injury to linebacker Sean Lee, who went down early in the Cowboys’ first game out of the bye against the Titans, coinciding with their defensive decline.

Lee is one of the most injury prone players in the league and the Cowboys have always been significantly worse defensively with him out of the lineup. They are better prepared for his absence this season, with young linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith capable of playing every down, but this team is noticeably better when they have all three linebackers together. In the 4 healthy games that Lee has played this season (not including the game against the Titans which he left early in the first half), the Cowboys have allowed a 30.43% first down rate, as opposed to 35.93% in their other 7 games. Starting defensive end Taco Charlton, who also went down in their first game after the bye, is expected to return this week, but their offense could be without stud left tackle Tyron Smith, which would be a big blow.

The Saints are obviously a dominant team, but we’re not getting line value with them like we were earlier in the season, as they are -7.5 in Dallas this week (remember when they were +3 in Baltimore and -3 in New York against the Giants). In fact, if Smith ends up playing and this line doesn’t move, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Cowboys. Unfortunately, Smith is a gametime decision, so we might not know until inactives are announced. For now, I’m taking the Cowboys for a no confidence pick, but I’ll almost definitely have an update before gametime.

Thursday Update: Smith looks unlikely to play, after not practicing all week. With him out, we aren’t getting any line value with the Cowboys, so I’m switching this pick to the Saints. This remains a no confidence pick as this line is about right.

New Orleans Saints 24 Dallas Cowboys 16

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -7.5

Confidence: None