Pick of the Week
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Pick of the Week
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New York Giants (2-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
The Eagles’ season hit an embarrassing low last week with their loss to the Dolphins. The Eagles have a top-10 roster on paper, but have been a middle of the pack team in first down rate differential all season and enter this week 17th at -0.04%. The Eagles under-achieved last season too, barely making the playoffs, despite one of the more talented rosters in the league, so this is back-to-back disappointing years for the Eagles.
At some point, it’s fair to question how much of this falls on head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson was anointed the next great coach after he defeated the Patriots to win the Super Bowl in his 2nd year on the job, but so far that’s his only impressive season in 4 years in the job and much of his success that season came as a result of offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who left following the Super Bowl and now is doing a similarly impressive job as the head coach in Indianapolis. Without Reich, the Eagles have not been the same and Pederson no longer looks like the offensive mastermind that hung 40 points on Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. If not for Frank Reich, Pederson might not even still have his job right now.
With that in mind, I expect the Eagles to continue under-achieving. The Eagles get another easy matchup this week, but they’ve proven they will play down to the level of their competition and the Giants have been better than their 2-10 record suggests, entering this game 24th in first down rate differential at -2.60%. Turnovers have killed them, as they lead the league with 28 giveaways and are tied with the Dolphins for the worst turnover margin in the league at -14, but turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily lose the turnover battle again this season.
One reason to expect fewer giveaways from the Giants is that they are going back to veteran quarterback Eli Manning, with rookie Daniel Jones dealing with an ankle injury. Manning is only a borderline starting caliber quarterback, but Jones was responsible for 21 of the Giants 28 giveaways by himself and was averaging 2.10 giveaways per start. As underwhelming as Manning has been over the past 4 seasons, he only averages 1.14 giveaways per start over that stretch. If the Giants can play turnover neutral football, they should be able to keep this game relatively close, so my calculated line is Philadelphia -7. We’re not getting quite enough line value with the Giants at +9.5 for them to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.
Philadelphia Eagles 24 New York Giants 17
Pick against the spread: NY Giants +9.5
Detroit Lions (3-8-1) at Minnesota Vikings (8-4)
The Lions’ season has gone off the rails since losing quarterback Matt Stafford to an injury. They had a record of 3-4-1 when Stafford went down and have lost 4 straight without him to fall out of post-season contention entirely. The Lions ranked 15th in the NFL in first down rate through 8 games at 36.75%, but they have just a 32.59% first down rate in 4 games without Stafford, which is most equivalent to the 25th ranked Dolphins on the season. With a defense that ranks 28th in first down rate allowed on the season at 38.22%, the Lions don’t have much going for them on either side of the ball right now.
The Lions are on to their third quarterback of the season, undrafted rookie David Blough, with backup Jeff Driskel going on injured reserve, but that might not be a bad thing. Driskel was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league this season and it wouldn’t be hard for Blough to be a little bit of an upgrade. It’s tough to tell from his up and down debut if that’s the case, however, and he doesn’t have an overly talented roster around him, so it’s not an easy situation for the inexperienced rookie.
The Lions are big underdogs in Minnesota this week, with the Vikings favored by 13 points. That’s about right, as the Lions are one of the worst teams in the league and the Vikings rank 5th in first down rate differential at +4.77% and 9th in my roster rankings. We’re not getting enough line value to take the Vikings confidently, but they seem like the right side as long as left tackle Riley Reiff is able to get cleared from his concussion. If he can’t, I’ll probably switch this pick to Detroit. This is a no confidence pick either way.
Final Update: Reiff is playing, so the Vikings should be the right side.
Minnesota Vikings 27 Detroit Lions 13
Pick against the spread: Minnesota -13
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
The Colts are just 6-6 after back-to-back divisional losses to the Texans and Titans, but they could be 8-4 right now if not for missed makeable field goals against the Chargers and Steelers. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 10th in the NFL at +2.25%, which is more in line with an 8-4 record than a 6-6 record. They are changing kickers this week, with ex-49ers and Chargers kicker Chase McLaughlin coming in to replace long-time veteran Adam Vinatieri, who is dealing with an injury and has just a 68.0% field goal percentage and a 78.6% extra point percentage on the season. McLaughlin is 13 on 17 field goals and 15 of 15 on extra points this year and could shore up a spot that’s been an obvious weakness for the Colts this season.
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have also been better than their record suggests, with a -6 point differential and a +0.84% first down rate differential, but they’re behind the Colts in both metrics. Despite that, this line suggests these two teams are about even, favoring the hometown Buccaneers by a field goal. With that in mind, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visiting Colts at +3, but not nearly enough to bet on them confidently. My calculated line is Tampa Bay -1.5 and I do still expect the Buccaneers to win straight up, though it is close to a toss up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Indianapolis Colts 26
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3
San Francisco 49ers (10-2) at New Orleans Saints (10-2)
This is one of the biggest games of the year, as it could be an NFC Championship preview and could easily end up deciding homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC when all is said and done. The 49ers have fallen to 10-2 after an 8-0 start, but both losses came by a field goal against teams that are also 10-2 and, despite those losses, the 49ers still rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season at +7.94% and 2nd since week 7 at +5.65%, only behind the red hot Ravens.
The 49ers also haven’t been healthy in recent weeks, but they’re closer to full strength than they’ve been in a while right now. Defensive end Ronald Blair and linebacker Kwon Alexander are out for the year and safety Jaquiski Tartt is also out this week, but cornerback Akhello Witherspoon (6 games), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (4 games), tight end George Kittle (2 games), left tackle Joe Staley (9 games), safety Jimmie Ward (3 games), running back Matt Breida (3 games), and defensive end Dee Ford (2 games) are all expected to play this week after missing significant time earlier in the year.
The 49ers are getting healthy at the right time ahead of this tough matchup. The Saints only rank 13th in first down rate differential on the season at +1.54%, but their offense was significantly worse with quarterback Drew Brees out of the lineup. With Brees on the field, the Saints have a 38.58% first down rate, which would be 6th in the NFL on the season. Their defense, meanwhile, ranks 12th in first down rate allowed on the season at 34.87%, so this is a very complete team.
I actually have the Saints a little bit higher in my roster rankings than the 49ers, though that’s dependent on whether or not injured left tackle Terron Armstead is able to return from a 1-game absence after being limited in practice all week. My pick will be dependant on that as well. If Armstead plays, I like the Saints’ chances to win by at least a field goal at home, but I’d like the 49ers to pull the minor upset if Armstead can’t play.
Final Update: With Armstead playing, I’m switching my pick to New Orleans. This line is now 1.5 in most places, but that doesn’t matter.
New Orleans Saints 23 San Francisco 49ers 20
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -1.5
Miami Dolphins (3-9) at New York Jets (4-8)
At one point, the Dolphins seemed like they might not win a game all season, but they’ve managed 3 wins in recent weeks. They still rank dead last in first down rate differential at -7.40%, despite those wins, but they’ve been better in recent weeks, ranking 21st in first down rate differential since week 7 at -0.66%. Their defense has continued to struggle over that span, ranking 25th in first down rate allowed at 37.25%, but their offense has actually ranked 12th in first down rate at 36.59%, coinciding with the insertion of Ryan Fitzpatrick back into the starting lineup. With Fitzpatrick under center, this is a much more competitive team.
The Jets have also been better in recent weeks, actually ranking 12th in first down rate differential since week 7 at +1.35%, but that has everything to do with their schedule over that stretch. Somehow, the Jets have played their past 6 games against opponents that rank 24th or worse in first down rate differential and they’re just 3-3 in those games. Overall, they’ve faced the second easiest schedule in the NFL, with an opponents winning percentage of 42%, significantly worse than the 52% winning percentage schedule that the Dolphins have faced.
The Jets get another easy opponent this week with the Dolphins coming to town, but the Jets are favored by 5.5 points and they haven’t played well enough against easy opponents to justify being favored by this many points over anyone, especially without injured safety Jamal Adams, who is arguably their best player on either side of the ball when healthy. I have this line calculated at Jets -4, with the Jets just slightly better than the Dolphins in my roster rankings.
The Jets are also in a bad spot, having to turn around and play a much tougher game in Baltimore on a short week next week. Not only do favorites only cover at about a 44% rate before Thursday Night Football, but favorites also struggle mightily before being double digit underdogs, which the Jets almost definitely will be next week. Since 2008, favorites are 24-49 ATS before being double digit underdogs. There’s not quite enough here for the Dolphins to be worth betting, but that would change if Jets running back Le’Veon Bell is ruled out with an illness and/or if this line moves up to 6.
Update: Bell has been ruled out for the Jets. The line is now 5 in most places, but that’s not a big deal because 5 isn’t a key number. As long as this line remains above 4, I like the Dolphins for a small bet, against a Jets team that is missing its top offensive and top defensive player.
New York Jets 22 Miami Dolphins 20
Pick against the spread: Miami +5
Washington Redskins (3-9) at Green Bay Packers (9-3)
The Packers have been close to an auto-bet at home with Aaron Rodgers under center, going 42-21 ATS since 2011 in games that Rodgers starts and finishes. Unfortunately, we’re not getting good line value with them at home this week. The Packers are 9-3, but 5 of their wins were decided by a touchdown or less, as opposed to just 1 of their losses, and they’ve benefitted from a +11 turnover margin, which tends to be very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis.
In terms of first down rate differential, the Packers rank just 16th at +0.52% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 22nd since week 7 at -0.76%. The Redskins are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in first down rate differential at -7.07%, but I still only have this line calculated at Green Bay -11.5. I’m still taking Green Bay -13 for pick ‘em purposes because of the Packers’ incredible homefield advantage, but I’m not confident in this one at all.
Green Bay Packers 27 Washington Redskins 13
Pick against the spread: Green Bay -13
Seattle Seahawks (10-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-5)
When these two teams met in Seattle week 5, the Seahawks were victorious, but the game easily could have gone either way, as it came down to a 44-yard missed field goal by Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein at the end of regulation. That’s far from the only close game the Seahawks have played this season. Their win over the 49ers also came down to a missed field goal, as 49ers kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a 47-yard game winner in overtime, and overall 9 of their 10 wins have come by a touchdown or less.
A win is a win for standings purposes, but blowout wins tend to be more predictive of future success than close wins and the Seahawks’ +36 point differential is the worst ever for a 10-2 team. They barely hold the edge in point differential over the 7-5 Rams (+33) and if a few things had gone a little differently the Seahawks could be 7-5 right alongside the Rams. In first down rate differential, the Rams actually hold the edge, ranking 12th at +1.90%, while the Seahawks rank 14th at +0.96%.
With these two teams about even statistically, ordinarily I would calculate this line at -3 favoring the home team, but the Rams don’t have a typical homefield advantage in Los Angeles, as they tend to draw a lot of visiting fans, especially in big matchups like this. Since moving in 2016, they are 10-16-3 ATS at home and 17-13-1 ATS on the road. I have this line calculated at Rams -2, so while we’re getting some line value with this line being even, it’s not enough to bet on them.
Los Angeles Rams 33 Seattle Seahawks 31
Pick against the spread: Los Angeles PK
Cincinnati Bengals (1-11) at Cleveland Browns (5-7)
The Browns’ season might have ended last week, with their loss in Pittsburgh dropping them to 5-7 on the year. A tough schedule has been part of the problem, as they have the highest opponents winning percentage in the NFL at 62%, but this team has also been overrated from the start because they lack depth on the roster beyond their stars. Running back Nick Chubb, wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, defensive ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, linebacker Joe Schobert, and cornerback Denzel Ward are all among the best in the league at their respective positions, but this is a very top heavy roster.
With linebacker Christian Kirksey out for the season, the Browns have gotten horrible play from their linebackers other than Schobert. Their defensive line depth is horrendous and now with Myles Garrett suspended and Olivier Vernon hurt they arguably have the worst defensive line in the NFL. Things aren’t much better on the offensive line, where they’ve had problems everywhere except left guard and center. Kareem Hunt has given them a third weapon in the passing game since returning from suspension and they’re expected to get tight end David Njoku back from injury this week as well, but they’re also without starting safety Morgan Burnett for the season on the other side of the ball, which is a big loss. All in all, I have the Browns ranked just 23rd in my roster rankings without Garrett, Vernon, or Burnett.
Despite their loss last week, the Browns remain overrated, favored by a touchdown at home against a Bengals team that is better than their record suggests. Of the Bengals’ 11 losses, 6 of them have come by a touchdown or less and that’s despite the fact that they’ve had the 3rd toughest schedule in the NFL (57% opponents winning percentage) and despite the fact that they’ve benched quarterback Andy Dalton for overmatched 4th round rookie Ryan Finley for 3 games.
On the season, the Bengals rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.59%, led by a defense that is actually middle of the pack, ranking 16th with a 35.60% first down rate allowed. Their defense has been even better in recent weeks, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed since week 7. Their offense has been a problem, but they’ve been about 3% better in first down rate with Dalton under center vs. Finley and they got left tackle Cordy Glenn back from injury a few weeks ago as well, which is a big help.
I have the Bengals 27th in my roster rankings about a point and a half behind the Browns. My calculated line is Cleveland -4, so we’re getting enough line value with Cincinnati +7 to justify betting on that, even with the Bengals in a tough spot before a home game against the Patriots (teams are 30-58 ATS since 2014 before being 7+ point home underdogs). Even in a tough spot, this should be another close game for the Bengals, who should be focused for a division rival.
Cleveland Browns 20 Cincinnati Bengals 16
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7
Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) at New England Patriots (10-2)
The Patriots lost their second game of the season in Houston last week, but that’s not concerning for a few reasons. For one, close to half their team was dealing with the flu, which put them at a significant disadvantage. Two, the issues with their passing game were more communication related than talent related, suggesting this passing game will get better with time. Three, the Patriots have been prone to these clunker games on the road in recent years. Last year, they lost on the road to five teams that didn’t qualify for the post-season, including three losses by 11 points or more, and they still won the Super Bowl. They haven’t had quite the same thing happen this year, with their only other previous loss coming in Baltimore, where no one has had much success in recent weeks, but they’re definitely more comfortable playing at home.
Their home dominance really dates back two decades to the start of the Tom Brady era, as Brady has a ridiculous 86.3% winning percentage at home and is 47-18 ATS when not favored by 7 points or more. For two decades, the Patriots have been basically an automatic bet at home when they aren’t big favorites. They’ve also basically been an automatic bet off of a loss, going 51-27 ATS off of a loss since Belichick’s first season in 2000, including 43-13 ATS when not favored by 7 points or fewer. History suggests the Patriots are very likely to bounce back at home this week.
We’re also getting good line value with New England. With the Patriots’ loss last week, this line has shifted from New England -4 on the early line last week to New England -3 this week, a significant shift considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. This line more or less suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Patriots a few points better, as the Chiefs still have significant problems on defense, ranking 27th in first down rate differential at 37.80%. Getting line value with the Patriots in an automatic bet spot makes this an easy choice. Even in a week where I like a lot of different games, the Patriots are my Pick of the Week.
New England Patriots 31 Kansas City Chiefs 23
Pick against the spread: New England -3
Confidence: Pick of the Week