Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)

The Bears have been better than their record all season. Even at 10-4 with the 3rd best record in the NFC, the Bears are better than that suggests, as their 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, including one game with a backup quarterback. Despite starting a backup quarterback for two games, the Bears still rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.57% and 2nd in NFL in point differential at +119. Because of that, I’ve picked them against the spread in every game but two this season and they are 10-2 ATS in those 12 games.

That being said, I’m not going to be taking the Bears this week because the 49ers are also better than their record suggests. They are only 4-10, but they are 3-3 since turning to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has played pretty well. They have moved the chains at a 38.16% rate in those 6 games, as opposed to 35.17% in CJ Beathard’s 5 starts. More important, Mullens has committed just 6 turnovers in 6 games, while Beathard committed 10 in 5 games.

Making the 49ers’ recent record more even more impressive is the fact they haven’t gotten a single takeaway over that 6-game stretch. In fact, they are -9 in turnover margin over that time frame, including -2 in their 3 wins. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and this defense has played well enough (36.88% in first down rate allowed at 18th) that they should be able to get more takeaways going forward. This is a quietly capable team with Mullens under center.

We’ve lost line value with the 49ers due to their recent upset wins over Denver and Seattle, as this line has dropped to Chicago -4 from Chicago -6 on the early line last week, but the Bears have also lost stud safety Eddie Jackson to an ankle injury in the past week, so that line movement is more than justified. An All-Pro caliber player, Jackson’s absence is worth at least 2-3 points. We’re not getting enough line value with the 49ers to take them with any confidence, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Chicago Bears 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Lions have been pretty predictable in the Matt Stafford era, playing well against weaker opponents, but struggling in tougher games. Since Stafford’s first full season as a starter in 2011, the Lions are 20-40-2 ATS and 20-42 straight up against teams with a winning record like the Vikings. Most recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams.

The Lions have also incurred a lot of losses over the course of the season, losing right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receiver Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, among others. Quarterback Matt Stafford is also dealing with a back injury that seems to have limited him in recent weeks. They rank 26th in first down rate differential at -3.29% and they’re arguably even worse than that, given all of their missing personnel.

All that being said, this line is pretty high, favoring the Vikings by 6 points on the road. If the Vikings’ offense plays like it did last week in their first game under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, they should cover with ease, but that’s far from a guarantee, as inconsistent as their offense has been this season. I’m still going with the Vikings, but I would need this line to drop below 6 to consider betting money on Minnesota.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -6

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at Carolina Panthers (6-8)

The Panthers got off to a great start to the season, starting 6-2, but they’ve been in freefall ever since, losing 6 straight to effectively eliminate themselves from the post-season. Most of those losses were close, with five straight losses by a touchdown or less, and they won the first down rate battle in four of those close losses, so they could easily have 8-9 wins right now if a few snaps went differently, but with their season essentially over, the Panthers have decided to shut injured quarterback Cam Newton down for the season.

Newton getting shut down caused this line to shift to Atlanta -3, after originally being Carolina -3 early in the week (and Carolina -6 on the early line last week). Originally I liked Atlanta a lot at +3, because this isn’t a good spot for the Panthers, sandwiched in between two huge games against the Saints, but Newton has been part of the problem lately, throwing at least one interception in all 6 of the Panthers’ losses, including 6 in the past 3 games, so I think this line shifted way too much for his absence.

The Falcons are still an average team at best and the Panthers have played a lot of close games (7 of 8 losses by a touchdown or less), even with underwhelming quarterback play in recent weeks. New starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke is a complete wild card, with 5 career pass attempts in 4 seasons in the league since going undrafted in 2015, and we’re not getting nearly enough points to bet on the Panthers confidently with him under center, but I like the Panthers for pick ‘em purposes now that they’re getting a field goal.

Final Update: Kawaan Short was ruled out Sunday morning with a calf injury, after surprisingly playing through it last week against the Saints. That’s yet another big loss for the Panthers, who also placed linebacker Shaq Thompson on injured reserve this week. The Falcons, meanwhile, have played better defensively since getting linebacker Deion Jones back a few weeks ago. This is still a no confidence pick, but I’m changing sides.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (5-9) at New England Patriots (9-5)

The Patriots have lost back-to-back games for the second time this season, but that’s been a very rare occurrence for them in recent years. In fact, this is just the 8th time the Patriots have done so in the past 15 seasons. Even rarer is the Patriots losing 3 in a row, as that hasn’t happened since 2002. The Patriots need to do more than just win here to cover as 13-point home favorites, but history suggests they should be able to do that as well. Not only have they won their last 9 games after back-to-back losses, but they’ve also covered in 8 of those 9 games. All in all, the Patriots are 49-26 ATS off of a loss in the Bill Belichick era.

The Patriots have also been a lot better at home than on the road this season. Home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything, but the Patriots have been dominant at home for two decades (138-26 since 2001 with a +10.93 points per game margin) and they’ve played noticeably better overall this season than they’ve shown in their last two road games, so they’re a little undervalued right now at New England -13. The Bills have played significantly better offensively since getting quarterback Josh Allen back from injury a few weeks ago, but their defense is not as good as it was a couple weeks ago, with stud every down linebacker Matt Milano and talented slot cornerback Taron Johnson now out for the season.

With those two players out, I have this line calculated at New England -17. That might seem high, but the Patriots have won 4 of their 6 home games by at least two touchdowns, with the only exceptions being the Texans and Chiefs, who are currently the top-2 teams in the AFC. The Bills are obviously not on that level and even that Texans game could have been a two touchdown win if not for a 4th quarter muffed punt when the Patriots were set to get the ball back up by 14.

The Bills will give their best effort this week in a game they may be viewing as their Super Bowl, but the Patriots should be fully focused as well, off of back-to-back losses, with only an easy home game against the Jets on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 58-36 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 7+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business without upcoming distractions. I expect that to be the case in this one, though I’m keeping this at a medium confidence pick because of the Josh Gordon suspension.

New England Patriots 30 Buffalo Bills 13

Pick against the spread: New England -13

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at New York Jets: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) at New York Jets (4-10)

The Packers have the biggest home/road disparity in the league this season, going 5-1-1 at Lambeau, but 0-7 away from home. Now in New York facing the Jets, this is the Packers’ last chance to get a road win this season. Fortunately for the Packers, home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything. In fact, of the last 26 teams to have a home winning percentage 60% better than their road winning percentage this late in the season, 17 of them have covered in their next road game, including 6-2 ATS as road favorites like the Packers are this week. That’s not reason enough to take the Packers, but it shows we shouldn’t shy away from taking them on the road as favorites, despite their road struggles this far.

The Packers’ road struggles this season are probably keeping this line down, as the Packers are just 2.5-point favorites here in New York against the Jets. The Packers have underachieved and have serious injury problems, with defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark and running back Aaron Jones out of the lineup, among others, but I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league, giving us significant line value with Green Bay at -2.5.

On the season, the Jets rank 31st in first down rate differential at -5.99% and, while they’ve gotten quarterback Sam Darnold back from injury recently, they still have significant absences, with #1 receiver Quincy Enunwa, #1 running back Isaiah Crowell, solid right tackle Brandon Shell, and every down linebacker Darron Lee all out of the lineup. They’re also in a terrible spot with a trip to New England on deck, as teams are 22-46 ATS since 2016 before being double digit underdogs, which the Jets will almost definitely be next week. With nothing left to play for, it’s very possible the Jets could be looking ahead to that New England game next week, while the Packers should be focused with only an easy home game against the Lions on deck. At Green Bay -2.5, this is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 24 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

Rookie starting quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his 6th career start this week, even with Joe Flacco back healthy. Jackson is 4-1, with his only loss coming in overtime in Kansas City, but he’s faced a ridiculous easy schedule of defenses so far, with the Raiders, Bengals, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all ranking 24th or worse in first down rate allowed and the Bengals, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all ranking in the bottom-4 in first down rate allowed. Despite that, the Ravens have actually moved the ball worse in Jackson’s 5 starts, picking up first downs at a 35.54% rate, as opposed to 36.46% in Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s not a significant difference, but it’s fair to say that the Ravens offense probably would have had more success in recent weeks with Flacco under center, even as good as the Ravens’ record has been.

Jackson’s schedule gets a lot tougher this week in Los Angeles, as the Chargers rank 15th in first down rate allowed at 36.48%. The Chargers are weak against the run and strong against the pass, so this could be a good matchup for Jackson, but the Chargers also have a strong offense that likely will force the Ravens to throw the ball more than they’d like in order to keep up. Considering Jackson has completed just 58.9% of his passes against an easy slate of defenses, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. The Chargers are by far the most well-rounded team the Ravens have faced since Jackson became the starter and I have them about 4-4.5 point better in my roster rankings right now.

The Ravens are also in a tough spot playing a night game against a west coast team, a situation east coast teams have historically struggled in, due to differing internal time cycles. In fact, in games between west coast and east coast teams at night, the west coast team covers about 65% of the time. That should be partially offset by the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage in Los Angeles. Much like the Eagles/Rams game last week, the crowd should be full of visiting fans, as both Los Angeles teams have had trouble drawing home fans, even as well as both teams are playing. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Ravens are going to pull the upset like the Eagles did, but it’s enough to scare me off of betting the Chargers as 4.5-point favorites, even though we’re getting line value with the team that’s in the better spot.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -4.5

Confidence: Low

Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)

The Titans started the season with one of the toughest schedules in the league, going 5-6 across an 11-game stretch in which they faced 9 teams that are currently .500 or better. The schedule has gotten significant easier in the past few weeks though, with games against the Jets, Jaguars, and Giants, and that continues this week against the Redskins. The Redskins are 7-7, but they’re also on their 4th quarterback of the season in Josh Johnson and have injury concerns on both sides of the ball, with left guard Ty Nsekhe, wide receiver Josh Doctson, tight end Vernon Davis, and defensive end Matt Ioannidis all not practicing on Friday and possibly joining a list of unavailable players that includes cornerback Quinton Dunbar, wide receiver Paul Richardson, tight end Jordan Reed, and right guard Brandon Scherff, along with Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, their top-2 quarterbacks.

The Titans have won their previous 3 games during this easy stretch, including back-to-back games in which they won by at least 17 points and won the first down rate battle by at least 12%. Even in a narrow victory against the Jets a few weeks ago, they dominated most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by 18.59% and winning the game despite a pick six and a blocked punt. On the season, they rank 12th in first down rate differential at -1.72%. They could easily continue that this week and win by double digits here at home against the Redskins, but they’re not in nearly as good of a spot as they’ve been in recently.

While their previous easy games were not followed by potential look ahead games on the schedule, the Titans might not bring their best effort this week with a much bigger game against the Colts on deck. Teams are just 19-32 ATS over the past 30 years as 7.5+ point favorites before being home underdogs and just 7-16 ATS as 10+ point favorites. That being said, I have no interest in taking the Redskins this week. Not only are they on their 4th starting quarterback, starting former street free agent Josh Johnson, who has been with the team for about two weeks, but they also seem to have serious locker room issues and gave no effort two weeks ago against the Giants in a home blowout loss.

The Redskins had better effort in an upset win against the lowly Jaguars last week, but they were embarrassed coming off of a blowout and might not bring the same effort again this week, especially with a more intriguing home game against the Eagles on deck. They are 5.5-point underdogs in that game and teams are just 27-54 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction to teams. There’s not quite enough here to bet the Titans confidently at 10, but if this drops down to 9.5 I will reconsider, as the Titans should be able to win by double digits.

Tennessee Titans 24 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -10

Confidence: Low

2018 Week 15 NFL Pick Results

Week 15

Total Against the Spread: 11-4-1

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence Picks: 2-1

Medium Confidence Picks: 4-0

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 7-1

Low Confidence Picks: 2-1

No Confidence Picks: 2-2-1

Upset Picks: 3-1

2018

Total Against the Spread: 131-85-8 (60.27%)

Pick of the Week: 8-6-1 (56.67%)

High Confidence Picks: 17-11-2 (60.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 37-22-1 (62.50%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 62-39-4 (60.95%)

Low Confidence Picks: 30-22 (57.69%)

No Confidence Picks: 39-24-4 (61.19%)

Upset Picks: 21-15-1 (58.11%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 822-693-44 (54.14%)

Pick of the Week: 59-40-3 (59.31%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 392-285-18 (57.70%)

Upset Picks: 128-151-1 (45.89%)