Pick of the Week
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ATL +105 @ TB
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
ATL +105 @ TB
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at Washington Redskins (7-8)
This was the toughest game of the week for me, as I have this line calculated at the exact same line (Philadelphia -7) as the oddsmakers. The Eagles still need help to get into the post-season, but they seem to be energized having their backs up against the wall and playing with a backup quarterback, knocking off of a pair of playoff teams in the Rams and Texans over the past two weeks. They’ve also gotten a boost on defense with the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks from injury and their secondary has kind of sorted itself out despite injuries, with young cornerbacks Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’von LeBlanc all exceeding expectations.
The Redskins will be fully motivated for this game though, with an opportunity to get revenge on the team that basically eliminated them from the post-season a few weeks back. Starting quarterback Josh Johnson has his issues for sure, signed off the street a few weeks ago, but he’s an upgrade over fellow street free agent Mark Sanchez. They also have a solid defense and running game and have played much harder since getting embarrassed at home by the Giants a few weeks ago. I’m taking the Eagles and hoping that Josh Johnson screws up late again like he did last week, but a push might be the most likely outcome.
Philadelphia Eagles 20 Washington Redskins 13
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -7
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)
After narrowly escaping in Jacksonville week 11, the Steelers improved to 7-2-1 and looked to be in control of the AFC North, but they’ve lost 4 of 5 games since then and now need help to get into the post-season. Part of that is the schedule, as they’ve had to face the Chargers, Patriots, and Saints over that 5-game stretch, but they’ve also lost to the Broncos and Raiders and also nearly lost that game to the Jaguars, beating them by just 4 points on a last minute touchdown after being down double digits in the 4th quarter. On the season, the Steelers have just two wins that would cover this 15-point spread and they have just four such wins since week 5 of last season, with two of them coming at home on Thursday night against an unprepared opponent. They’ve frequently played down to the level of their competition.
The Steelers should be completely focused this week though, in a game they need to win to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league right now due to all of their injuries. That being said, I still think this line is a little high at 15. The Steelers have some key injuries as well, with Antonio Brown at less than 100% with a knee injury he suffered mid-week and with starting middle linebacker Vince Williams expected to be out. There’s not nearly enough here to be confident in Cincinnati, but they have a good shot at keeping it within two touchdowns.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cincinnati Bengals 13
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +15
Oakland Raiders (4-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
The Chiefs just need to win this game to clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC, but they’re limping into the post-season a little bit, losing 3 of their past 5 games after a 10-1 starts. Those losses have come against the Rams, Chargers, and Seahawks and all 3 losses came by a touchdown or less in games the Chiefs could have easily won, but those are the kinds of teams they’re going to have to beat if they’re going to make a deep playoff run.
Their offense has still been dominant, but the losses have piled up, with right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and wide receiver Sammy Watkins still injured and Kareem Hunt no longer on the team because of off-the-field issues, and their defense has continued to struggle, even with safety Eric Berry returning from injury. Berry has not nearly been 100% and may not even play in this game after sitting out practice on Friday. They’re expected to get top cornerback Kendall Fuller back from a one week absence this week, but he might not be 100% either. The Raiders have played better football of late, so this line is a little high at 14.
That being said, I wouldn’t take the Raiders with any confidence this week. This is a big game for them, playing spoiler against a tough division rival, but they still might not bring their best effort after winning an emotional game at home against the Broncos last week, in likely their final home game in Oakland. The Chiefs’ defense is terrible and the Raiders could easily get a backdoor cover late even if the Chiefs otherwise dominate the game, but we’re not getting enough line value for this to be anything higher than a no confidence pick.
Kansas City Chiefs 33 Oakland Raiders 20
Pick against the spread: Oakland +14
San Francisco 49ers (4-11) at Los Angeles Rams (12-3)
The 49ers are just 4-11, but they’ve been much better since turning to Nick Mullens under center. They have moved the chains at a 36.87% rate in Mullen’s 7 starts, as opposed to 35.17% in CJ Beathard’s 5 starts. More important, Mullens has committed just 7 turnovers in 7 games, while Beathard committed 10 in 5 games, and the 49ers are 3-4 in his 7 starts, as opposed to 0-5 in Beathard’s 5 starts.
Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis anyway and the 49ers have been killed by the turnover margin all season, ranking dead last in the NFL at -21. Beathard’s turnovers weren’t the only problem, as a capable defense that ranks 17th in first down rate allowed on the season somehow didn’t force a single takeaway for 6 games until forcing 2 last week against the Bears, who ironically rank 2nd in the NFL in turnover margin (yet another example of turnover margins being unpredictable).
Unfortunately, it seems like the public is catching on with the 49ers, as they are just 10.5 point underdogs in Los Angeles against the Rams. I know injuries have started to pile up for the Rams, with wide receiver Cooper Kupp, running back Todd Gurley, and safety LaMarcus Joyner all sidelined, but I still think this line would have been at least two touchdowns a couple weeks ago. I’m still taking the 49ers, but I wouldn’t recommend betting any money on them.
Not only are we not getting enough line value with the 49ers anymore, but they also haven’t played on the road in about a month and have been at home for 5 of Mullen’s 7 starts. In his only two road starts, the 49ers got blown out by the Seahawks and Buccaneers. Home/road disparities tend to be inconsistent in the long run, but I am concerned taking an inexperienced quarterback with no history of success on the road against a Rams team that still has a ton of talent.
Los Angeles Rams 26 San Francisco 49ers 17
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +10.5
Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) at Denver Broncos (6-9)
The Broncos have had a tough year. They started the season with the toughest schedule in the league through 11 games, going 5-6, with close losses to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice) and wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Seahawks. The schedule has gotten easier recently, but they’re not the same team as they were earlier in the season, with key players like right guard Ron Leary, center Matt Paradis, cornerback Chris Harris, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on injured reserve and fellow wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded to the Texans. As a result, they’ve lost 3 of 4, most recently losing in Oakland to the last place Raiders.
Now the Broncos end the season with another hard game, with the Chargers coming to town. The Broncos did beat the Chargers earlier this season in Los Angeles, but they had both Sanders and Harris healthy in that game, and the Chargers still won the first down rate battle by 2.35%, despite not playing their best game. The Chargers also have basically no homefield advantage in Los Angeles and played that game in front of primarily Broncos fans, so the Broncos pulling off the road upset is not as impressive as that suggests.
While the Chargers have had issues at home this season, they’ve been great away from Los Angeles, going 7-0 (6-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 8.86 points per game, including upset wins over the Steelers, Chiefs, and Seahawks. That is a trend that dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 35-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012. We’ve lost line value with the Chargers since last week, with this line shifting from 4.5 on the early line to 6 this week, as a result of the Broncos’ loss in Oakland, but the Chargers should still be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, as I have this line calculated at Chargers -7.
Los Angeles Chargers 24 Denver Broncos 17
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -6
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (10-5)
A year after finishing a surprising 10-6 and making the AFC Championship, the Jaguars have had a very disappointing year and sit at 5-10 in the cellar of a suddenly competitive AFC South. Their defense has still played at a high level, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.04%, but they’ve done poorly in close games (2-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less) and, most importantly, their offense has been horrendous, ranking 29th in first down rate at 30.58%, after a decent season in 2017.
Injuries have been the primary culprit, as the Jaguars are down their #1 wide receiver, 4 of 5 week 1 starting offensive linemen, and their top-3 tight ends, while feature back Leonard Fournette has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. They also made matters worse when they benched Blake Bortles, an erratic quarterback with a capable arm, for Cody Kessler, a borderline backup caliber talent that lacks the requisite arm strength to make many NFL throws.
With Bortles as the starter for the first 11 games, the Jaguars had a 31.28% first down rate, but in Kessler’s 4 starts, they’ve had a 25.86% first down rate and have scored just two offensive touchdowns in 4 games. That’s partially due to the fact that their injury situation has gotten worse, but Kessler was an obvious downgrade from Bortles and that’s saying something. They’ve still gone 2-2 in those 4 games, but one was a shutout by their defense and in the other their defense allowed just 1 touchdown and brought back a score of their one.
When I saw the Jaguars were going back to Bortles this week, I assumed I’d be on them, but we’re getting no line value with them as 6.5 point road underdogs in Houston. In fact, I’m actually going with the Texans, since the Jaguars are ruling out anyone with any sort of injury and don’t seem to be treating this as a real game. Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye have already been ruled out, both big losses, and they could also be without running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback DJ Hayden. This is a much more meaningful game for the Texans, who not only have a shot at a first round bye still, but also need to win to ensure they clinch the division. The Jaguars’ defense is strong enough to keep this close when healthy, but they’re shorthanded on both sides of the ball, so this line is too low.
Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 12
Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5
Detroit Lions (5-10) at Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)
The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to take them against easier opponents and bet against them against harder opponents. They are just 20-41-2 against teams with a winning record since Stafford’s first full season in 2011 and, more recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams from 2016-2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams. This season, they are 1-7 against teams currently still in the playoff race and 4-3 in their other 7 games.
The Packers are not in the playoff race and the Lions beat them earlier this season, but they could have easily won that game if not for a career worst performance from kicker Mason Crosby. They’re also better than than record suggests, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at +0.60% and ranking even higher in my roster rankings, even with top defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels out and top cornerback Jaire Alexander likely joining him after not practice all week. They’ve underachieved offensively and lost some close games due to special teams screw ups (including the first Detroit game), but they’ve been better offensive since firing head coach Mike McCarthy and they could easily be in the playoff mix if they had won a couple of their close losses.
The Lions are also worse than they’ve been in recent years, thanks to a significant amount of personnel losses. Just in recent weeks, the Lions have lost right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackles Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson, among others. Given the talent gap between these two teams and the Packers history of dominance at home (38-19 ATS in games Aaron Rodgers has started and finished since 2011), I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Packers, but not enough to bet money on them confidently, given how banged up their defense is.
Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5
Indianapolis Colts (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-6)
The Colts got off to a 1-5 start, but have won 8 of their last 9 games, including 4 wins by at least 14 points. Injuries were an issue for them early in the season, but they’ve been one of the better teams in the entire league over the second half of the year. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.21% and 9th in point differential at +73 on the season, but since week 9 they rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.26%.
The Titans have been close to just as good over that time period though, ranking 3rd in first down rate differential at +6.58% since week 9. Going into their week 8 bye, the Titans had one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking 29th in first down rate differential at 30.17%, but they’ve been much better in the second half of the season, with quarterback Marcus Mariota playing at a much higher level and the running game producing much more with Derrick Henry as the lead back rather than Dion Lewis. Their defense, meanwhile, has remained dominant and ranks 2nd in the NFL on the season at 32.29%.
The Titans have had the easiest schedule in the league for the past 4 weeks, beating the Jets, Jaguars, Giants, and Redskins, but they’ve also beaten the Cowboys and Patriots convincingly in the second half of the season and the Colts haven’t had the toughest schedule either. The Titans lost convincingly against the Colts in Indianapolis a few weeks back, but they also beat the Jaguars and Giants with ease, while the Colts lost to the Jaguars and nearly lost to the Giants.
Unfortunately for the Titans, they are going into this huge win or go home game with injury uncertainty at quarterback, as Marcus Mariota was once again knocked out of the game with a stinger in last week’s win over the Redskins. Mariota is expected to start this pivotal game and has looked fine throwing the ball at practice this week, but he’s already been knocked out of the game with a stringer twice in the past few weeks, so he’s no guarantee to make it through this game.
Despite that, I think we’re getting enough line value with the Titans as 3.5-point home underdogs for them to be worth a small bet. Assuming Mariota makes it through the game and plays reasonably well, I have this line calculated at Tennessee -1.5, so even with uncertainty priced in, Tennessee +3.5 is a good line to get with them. The Titans are also going to be without stud defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, but the Colts aren’t at 100% either with talented center Ryan Kelly once again on the sidelines with an injury. This isn’t a huge play because of Mariota’s uncertainty, but the Titans have a good chance to pull the upset if he plays the whole game and I like getting more than a field goal of protection.
Sunday Update: Despite practicing all week, Marcus Mariota is reportedly not going to play this week because of fears that he could make his injury worse long-term. That hasn’t been confirmed and we won’t know for sure until later tonight, but I can’t recommend betting the Titans without Mariota, even though the line has jumped to 5. I unfortunately locked this in at +3.5, but that was with the expectation that Mariota would play in a must win game after practicing all week.
Indianapolis Colts 20 Tennessee Titans 17
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5
Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
The Ravens have gone 5-1 since turning to Lamar Jackson at quarterback, but they’ve actually moved the ball at a slightly worse rate, picking up first downs at a 34.28% rate in Jackson’s 6 starts, as opposed to 36.46% in Joe Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s despite the fact that 4 of the 6 teams they’ve faced over that stretch rank 29th or worst in first down rate allowed. They’ve been able to win because their defense has played at a high level, with their best defensive performance coming last week when it was needed most. They held the Chargers to a 26.32% first down rate in a game in which the Ravens’ offense moved the ball at a mere 26.67% rate against the best defense Lamar Jackson has seen so far.
The Ravens have another tough game this week though and their defense might not be able to match what was arguably their best defensive performance of the season last week. The Browns are not typically a tough opponent, but they beat the Ravens earlier this season and have gotten significantly better in recent weeks. Since week 9, the Browns rank 8th in first down rate differential at +2.50%, above the Ravens, who rank 18th at +0.51%. I also have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so we’re getting significant value with the Browns as 6-point underdogs. In a week with only a few good, bettable games, this is my Pick of the Week.
Baltimore Ravens 19 Cleveland Browns 17
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6
Confidence: Pick of the Week