Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) at Tennessee Titans (5-5)

The Titans are just 5-5 coming out of their bye, but they could go on a surprise second half run. They made the switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill under center 4 games ago and it has made a significant difference. After finishing last season 24th in first down rate at 34.12% and ranking 26th in first down rate through the first 6 games of this season at 32.69%, the Titans have a 40.69% first down rate in their past 4 games. The Titans are 3-1 in those games and that’s despite their defense underperforming due to injuries. 

After finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and ranking 4th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 30.93% through 6 games this season, the Titans have allowed a 38.30% first down rate in Tannehill’s 4 starts, due to linebacker Jayon Brown and defensive end Jurrell Casey, pair of high level defensive players, both missing time due to injury. Brown and Casey return to action this week and the Titans also get wide receiver Corey Davis and center Ben Jones back on offense. They’ve also been without defensive end Jeffrey Simmons and left tackle Taylor Lewan for significant chunks of the season and have since gotten them back, so they’re much closer to full strength than they’ve been in a while. 

Perhaps their most important player returning from injury is kicker Ryan Succop, as the Titans have lost at least two games, if not three because of missed makeable field goals. Succop actually returned two games ago, struggling in his debut before not being tested in the Titans’ last game before the bye. Now after the bye, Succop should be much closer to 100%, which would be a big boost for this team. The Titans rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.70%, suggesting they’ve played better than their record, despite starting Marcus Mariota for the first 6 games of the season and despite all their absences on both sides of the ball. My roster rankings have them 10th, so they could surprise down the stretch.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.05% and 24th in my roster rankings. Their offense, which ranks 25th in first down rate, doesn’t have the talent around the quarterback for either Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles to have much success, while their defense, which ranks 17th in first down rate allowed, is a shell of what it was in 2017, as they’ve lost 10 of their top-14 in terms of snaps played from that dominant defense. I have this line calculated at Tennessee -9, so we’re getting serious line value with the Titans as favorites of just 3.5.

There’s too much line value to not bet on the Titans, but I wouldn’t make a big bet because the Titans are in a very tough spot. While the Jaguars have a non-conference home game against the Buccaneers next week, a game in which they will likely be favored, the Titans have to go to Indianapolis for a big divisional matchup, a game in which they will likely be underdogs. Favorites are just 36-71 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. Making matters worse, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The talent gap between these two teams is too significant to not bet on the Titans, but this is a smaller bet.

Tennessee Titans 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3.5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-6-1) at Washington Redskins (1-9)

The Lions are arguably the most injury affected team in the league right now. The most visible absence is quarterback Matt Stafford, who will miss his third straight game with a back injury, but the Lions are also missing several other key contributors. Defensive end Trey Flowers, center Frank Ragnow, running back Kerryon Johnson, defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, and safety Tracy Walker are all out for this game, while cornerback Rashaan Melvin is questionable after picking up a late week injury. The Lions only rank 25th in first down rate differential at -3.11% and, factoring in all their absences, they rank 30th in my roster rankings.

The Redskins rank 31st in first down rate differential at -8.21%, but they actually rank one spot better than the Lions in my roster rankings. With these two teams about even, I have this line calculated at Washington -3, so I genuinely don’t understand why the Lions are favored in this game by 3.5. Even if Stafford was healthy, I’d have the Lions favored by just 5 points on the road in this matchup, as their largest margin of victory this season was a 5-point home win over the Giants. The Lions are also in a tough spot with another game in 4 days on deck, a spot with a 44% cover rate all-time, so the Redskins are my top pick this week.

Washington Redskins 17 Detroit Lions 13 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3)

At first glance, the Bills are having a strong season, going 7-3 and ranking 6th in first down rate differential at +4.18%. However, they’ve played by far the easiest schedule in the NFL so far. Their seven wins have come against teams that are a combined 15-55 and their only win against a team with more than three wins came by a touchdown in a game in which the now 5-5 Titans missed four makeable field goals. Even the record of the teams that have defeated the Bills is not overly impressive, at 18-12. My roster rankings have the Bills 18th, which is think is a much more accurate representation of how the Bills stack up against the rest of the league. 

That’s just one spot ahead of where I have the Broncos, who also rank 19th in first down rate differential at -0.80%. Denver is 3-7, but four of their losses have come by four points or fewer on last-second drives, so they could easily have 5 or 6 wins right now. They’re down to third string quarterback Brandon Allen, but he hasn’t been much of a dropoff from Joe Flacco. The Broncos have compensated for their offensive issues all season with a defense that ranks 5th in the NFL in first down rate at 32.46%. 

Unfortunately, we’re not really getting line value with the Broncos, as this line has been bet down from Buffalo -6 on the early line last week to Buffalo -4 this week. I have this line calculated at Buffalo -3.5, which isn’t much different than the actual line. I still like the Broncos chances of keeping this game close, with the Bills having to turnaround and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football (a 44% cover spot all-time for favorites), but not enough to bet on it.

Buffalo Bills 20 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (6-4)

The Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL right now, having won four straight games by 14+ points, making them the 24th team to do so in the past 30 years. The common thinking is that makes them a great bet, but in reality it’s much more likely to be the opposite. Of the previous 23 teams to do so, just 7 of them covered in their next game and 11 of them lost straight up, including 8 upset losses. Favorites are just 3-14 ATS in this spot in the past 30 years. Ironically, the last team to win four straight games by 14+ were the Patriots, who lost in this spot to the Ravens a few weeks ago. 

The problem is when a team is as hot as the Ravens are right now, oddsmakers know they can boost their spread significantly and casual bettors will still want to bet on them.That’s definitely the case here, as the Ravens are 3.5 point favorites on the road against the Rams. A week ago on the early line, this line was even, a drastic shift considering about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, and 2-3 weeks ago the Rams likely would have been favored by a field goal here at home. 

With the Rams, a lot of attention has been given to their underwhelming offense, which has fallen from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th in 2019 at 35.09%, due primarily to major issues on the offensive line, but their defense has quietly been one of the better stop units in the league this season, allowing a first down rate of 32.34% that is 4th best in the NFL. They’re not as good overall as last season, but they still rank 7th in first down rate differential at +2.75%, just a few spots behind the Ravens, who rank 3rd at +6.23%. I have this line calculated at Baltimore -1.5 and, while two points of line value might not seem like much, about 20% of games are decided by 2 or 3 points, so that’s a pretty significant two points. 

The Rams are also in a couple good betting spots this week. For one, they’re a west coast team in a night game against an east coast team, a spot that covers about 66% of the time due to differences in internal clocks. On top of that, the Rams only have a trip to Arizona on deck, while the Ravens have another tough game on deck against the 49ers. The Ravens are expected to be favored in that game, but there could still be a little bit of split focus for them this week with the league’s best team by record on deck next week. Meanwhile, home underdogs like the Rams are 25-53 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites, which they almost definitely will be in Arizona. I like the Rams’ chances of not just covering this spread, but winning this game straight up, so they’re one of my top picks of the week at +3.5 (and still betable at +3).

Los Angeles Rams 26 Baltimore Ravens 24 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3.5

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-4) at Houston Texans (6-4)

This is a huge Thursday night game, as these two teams enter tied atop the AFC South. This line, favoring the hometown Texans by 3.5 points, suggests the Texans are the slightly better team. First down rate suggests that as well, as these two teams are close to even in that metric (+2.60% vs. +2.30%), but the Texans have faced the tougher schedule (5th in opponent’s DVOA vs. 27th). However, these two teams are going in different directions injury wise. While the Texans’ chances of making a deep playoff run took a big hit a few weeks ago when JJ Watt went down for the season with a torn pectoral, the Colts enter this game arguably healthier than they’ve been all season.

The Colts have had as many injuries to key players as any team in the league, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett, wide receiver TY Hilton, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, linebacker Darius Leonard, cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore, and safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers have all missed varying amounts of time with injury, but all eight of those players practiced in full on Wednesday and are expected to play this week, with both Desir and Hilton expected to play for the first time in about a month. Brissett was probably their biggest absence because the Colts barely lost both games in which he missed time. Most of the Colts’ wins have been close, but they could easily be 8-2 right now if Brissett hadn’t gotten hurt and something tells me the Colts would not be 3.5 point underdogs if they were 8-2.

The Colts aren’t 100% healthy, with running back Marlon Mack set to miss his first game of the season, but the Colts have enough running back depth to compensate and the Texans are also missing talented safety Justin Reid for the first time this season, a big loss. My roster rankings currently have the Colts about two points better than the Texans, which is a more accurate representation of how the talent level on these two teams compares. Given that, we’re getting good line value with the Colts as underdogs of more than a field goal (roughly 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer), so the Colts are worth betting this week.

I’m also locking in a few lines I like before the line moves. I will have full write-ups for these games and all games on Saturday as normal.

NYG +6 @ CHI

NYJ +3 vs. OAK

WAS +3.5 vs. DET

LAR +3.5 vs. BAL

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5

Confidence: Medium