Denver Broncos at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-8) at Houston Texans (8-4)

The Texans got a big win over the New England Patriots last week, but even with that game included, they haven’t played as well as their record would suggest in recent weeks. Dating back to week 7, the Texans rank just 23rd in the NFL in first down rate differential at -0.80%, in large part due to their defense struggling without the injured JJ Watt. They could also be a little flat this week, facing a 4-8 Broncos team, in between a big home upset victory and a key divisional matchup against the Titans next week.

The Broncos are better than their 4-8 record, led by a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.40%. Their offense ranks just 30th in first down rate at 30.64%, but they still rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -1.76%, which is better than their record suggests, and they are starting a new quarterback in Drew Lock who has the most upside of any quarterback they’ve started this season. The second round rookie is raw in only his 2nd career start, but Joe Flacco is washed up and Brandon Allen is barely an NFL caliber passer, so it wouldn’t be hard for Lock to be their best quarterback yet this season. 

With a defense as good as theirs has been, the Broncos won’t be an easy matchup going forward if they can get decent quarterback play. Given that, I like the Broncos this week as 9-point underdogs in Houston, against a Texans team that has just one win by more than a touchdown all season. I’d need confirmation that Von Miller will play before locking in a bet on the Broncos, but Miller seems more likely to play than not, after missing last week with a knee injury, and they showed they’re still a strong defense without him last week in their win over the Chargers, so I like the Broncos for pick ‘em purposes even if Miller can’t go.

Final Update: Miller will play for the Broncos, while Will Fuller will be unable to go for the Texans. The line has moved down to 8, but neither 8 or 9 are key numbers, so that’s not that big of a deal. The Texans have just 2 wins by more than 8 points and the Broncos have just 3 losses by more than 8 points, so this should be a relatively close game. The Broncos aren’t in a great spot with a big game against the Chiefs on deck, but the Texans are probably in a worse spot, facing an 4-8 team in between a huge home upset victory and a key divisional matchup. My calculated line is Houston -6.5, which crosses the key number of 8, so I like the Broncos for a small bet this week.

Houston Texans 22 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +8

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (10-2) at Buffalo Bills (9-3)

The Bills got a statement win on Thanksgiving in Dallas, but that wasn’t as impressive as it seemed, so the Bills are a little overrated right now. Not only have the Cowboys since been beaten rather easily by the Bears, but, while the Bills won that game by 11, they lost the first down rate battle by 7.54%. The Cowboys picked up 32 first downs in the game and got into Buffalo territory on 8 of 10 drives, but managed just 15 points because they missed a pair of field goals, turned it over twice, and got stopped on 4th down twice late in the game when they were forced to go for it. 

The Bills have a first down rate differential of +3.44% on the season, 6th in the NFL, but they’ve faced the easiest schedule in the NFL by far, with their opponents having a combined winning percentage of 38%. No one else has faced a schedule easier than 42%. Aside from last week, their only win over a team with more than 4 wins came against the Titans by 7 in a game in which the Titans missed 4 field goals. Excluding the Cowboys and Titans, the Bills have 7 wins against teams that are a combined 20-64.

The Bills’ schedule gets much tougher this week, as they host the Baltimore Ravens, arguably the top team in the league right now. The Ravens beat another top team candidate last week, the San Francisco 49ers, but this line still shifted from Baltimore -7 on the early line last week to Baltimore -6 this week, as a result of Buffalo’s win over Dallas. About 10% of games are decided by exactly a field goal, so that’s a significant one-point shift. 

I was hoping for an even better line with Baltimore, but I like the Ravens a good amount this week. They’ve blown their competition out of the water for about two months, ranking 1st in first down rate differential since week 7 at +11.83% (no one else is higher than +5.65%), despite facing teams that are 7-5 or better in 5 of 6 games. The Ravens got off to a relatively slow start, but still rank 2nd in first down rate differential on the season at +7.28%. The Bills, meanwhile, are going in the opposite direction, with just a +0.02% first down rate since week 7, 18th in the NFL over that time period, despite facing opponents with a combined 29-56 record. Everyone knows the Ravens are good so it’s hard to get value with them, but we’re getting some this week (Baltimore -8.5 is my calculated line) because the Bills are overrated, so the Ravens are worth betting this week. 

Baltimore Ravens 27 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -6

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1)

The Steelers looked dead in the water after week 5, with a 1-4 record and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, but they’ve won 6 of 7 games since then to climb back into playoff contention. Their early season losses don’t look so bad anymore either, as they all came against teams that are currently 10-2 (Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens), with only the Patriots game being decided by more than a field goal. The Steelers haven’t had a tough schedule over the past 7 games since their tough start to the season, but they have picked up a pair of wins over .500 or better teams in the Colts and Rams over that stretch. 

With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers defense has led the way, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.42%, led by an All-Pro caliber trio of Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Their defense has been even better in the past several weeks, leading the league with a 29.76% first down rate allowed since week 7, even more impressive when you consider they lost stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt for the season after week 5. The Steelers’ offense has the 3rd worst first down rate over that stretch at 29.84%, but they switched quarterbacks last week from backup Mason Rudolph to undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges, who seems to be an upgrade, even if only by default. 

The Steelers’ schedule continues to be relatively easy, with a matchup against the Cardinals this week. Not only are the Cardinals 3-8-1, but their 3 wins came by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 6-30. In their 8 losses, they have been outscored by 13.25 points per game. They rank 28th in point differential at -96 and 30th in first down rate differential at -6.60% and are one of the worst few teams in the league. The Steelers’ offensive issues keep them in the middle of the pack in my roster rankings, but the Cardinals rank 30th and I have them calculated as 4.5-point underdogs in this matchup. It might not seem like we’re getting a ton of line value with the Steelers at -2, but about 20% of games are decided by 2-4 points, so those are a significant two points. The Steelers are worth a small bet this week in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -2

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (7-5) at Oakland Raiders (6-6)

The Titans saved their season by benching Marcus Mariota for veteran Ryan Tannehill after week 6. After finishing last season 24th in first down rate at 34.12% and ranking 26th at 32.69% through 6 games this season, the Titans have had a 40.76% first down rate in 6 games with Tannehill under center, 2nd best in the NFL over that time period, only behind the Ravens. During that stretch, the Titans have lost just once and even in that game they won the first down rate battle, losing by 10 to the Panthers in a game in which they missed 3 field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2. The Titans probably won’t continue being the 2nd best offense in the league the rest of the way, but they have a strong supporting cast around the quarterback on both sides of the ball and don’t need elite quarterback play to be competitive. 

This week, the Titans face a 6-6 Raiders team that hasn’t played nearly as well as their record suggests. While all 6 of their wins have come by 8 points or fewer, all but one of their losses has come by at least 18 points, with the one exception being a 3-point loss in Houston in which they lost the first down rate battle by 9.28%, but managed to score from 46 and 65 yards out. They rank 27th in point differential at -87, 29th in first down rate differential at -5.56%, and they have been even worse in recent weeks. 

Dating back to week 7, the Raiders rank dead last in the NFL in first down rate differential at -8.32%, more than 12% worse than the Titans over that span. The Raiders’ record is a farce and the Tannehill led Titans should be able to beat them pretty easily, even in Oakland. I have this line calculated at Tennessee -7, so we’re getting good line value with them as only favorites of a field goal. It’s concerning that the Titans are missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson, but they haven’t been healthy on defense for most of the season and the Raiders will be without talented right tackle Trent Brown, so that sort of evens out. I like the Titans a lot this week.

Tennessee Titans 31 Oakland Raiders 23

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

Typically teams have more injured players late in the season than they do early in the season, but for the Chargers it has been the opposite. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but have since returned. Now the Chargers head into week 14 without any regular players on the injury report and only a pair of expected starters on injured reserve, center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Travis Benjamin, neither of whom was playing that well.

The Chargers more or less have the same roster right now as they did last season, when they went 12-4 and won a playoff game. However, while they went 5-1 last season in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, the Chargers are just 2-8 in those games this season, including last week’s embarrassing finish in Denver. Record in close games tends to be very inconsistent, so the Chargers aren’t necessarily more likely to lose close games going forward, just like they weren’t necessarily more likely to win close games this year after last year’s impressive record in close games. On the season, the Chargers rank 9th in first down rate differential at +2.51%, losing close games primarily because of a -10 turnover margin, which is also very inconsistent. The Chargers haven’t faced a tough schedule, but with their roster basically at full strength they rank 12th in my roster rankings and they are definitely better than their record suggests.

The Jaguars have the same record at 4-8, but have played much worse, with a -72 point differential that ranks 25th in the NFL and a -5.35% first down rate differential that ranks 28th in the NFL. They’re changing quarterbacks, benching highly paid veteran Nick Foles for 6th round rookie Gardiner Minshew, who made 8 starts when Foles was injured earlier this season. That move is unlikely to help much, as their problems go far beyond the quarterback position. 

At their peak, the Jaguars had a dominant defense, but with Marcell Dareus and Myles Jack on injured reserve and Jalen Ramsey in Los Angeles, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense. They rank just 22nd in first down rate allowed on the season at 36.93% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed at 38.19% and 31st in first down rate differential at -7.92% since week 7. Meanwhile on offense, even in Minshew’s 8 starts, the Jaguars had just a 31.70% first down rate, which would be 27th in the NFL on the season, and Minshew saved his worst start for last, leading to a 26-3 loss to the Texans in London. After a hot start, Minshew seemed to fall back to earth in his final few games, so going back to him is unlikely to make much if any positive impact.

The Chargers are on the road this week, but location hasn’t really mattered much for the Chargers since they moved to Los Angeles, where they basically have no fans. Since the start of the 2017 season, they are 7-12-1 ATS at home and 14-8-2 ATS on the road. I typically only use 1 point for homefield advantage in Chargers games instead of the standard 2.5. For this line to be accurate, the Chargers would have to only be 4 points better than the Jaguars, but I have them 8.5 points better and have this line calculated at Chargers -7.5. I don’t love the spot the Chargers are in with a tough home game against the Vikings on deck (road favorites are 45-25 ATS before being home underdogs since 2012), but we’re getting a ton of value with the visitors this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-7) at Atlanta Falcons (3-9)

When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Panthers were favored by 4.5 points at home, but ended up getting blown out by a final score of 29-3. Now in the rematch, the Falcons are favored by a field goal at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, whereas the previous line suggested the Panthers were a couple points better. We’re not getting as much line value with the Falcons as we were in the previous matchup, but this line is still off. 

The Falcons have lost back-to-back home games since the previous matchup, first to the Buccaneers and then to the Saints, but they actually won the first down rate battle against New Orleans, despite missing their top-2 receivers in terms of yards per game, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper. Both of those players will return this week, the latter from a 3-game absence. On the season, the Falcons are actually about even in first down rate differential, ranking 18th in the NFL at -0.29%. Their 3-9 record is largely the result of their -11 turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL), but turnover margins don’t correlate week-to-week, so the Falcons aren’t necessarily going to continue losing the turnover battle going forward. 

The Panthers, meanwhile, have also lost back-to-back games since the previous matchup, but that’s part of a larger trend for this team, as they’ve completely bottomed out over the past couple months after a 4-2 start. Since the start of week 7, only the Raiders and the Jaguars have a worse first down rate differential than the Panthers, who are at -7.22%. Their one win during that time frame came against the Titans in a game in which the Panthers lost the first down rate battle but won by 10 because the Titans missed 3 field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2. 

On the season, the Panthers rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.56%, despite facing a much easier schedule than the Falcons (58% opponents win percentage vs 51%). With Jones and Hooper back and the Panthers trending downwards, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -8. A trip to San Francisco on deck looms as a potential distraction (teams are 24-49 ATS as favorites before being double digit underdogs since 2008), but the Falcons are a great value at -3 and bettable at -3.5 as well.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: High

Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Chicago Bears (6-6)

Much has been made of the Cowboys’ 0-5 record against teams that currently have a winning record, but I don’t think that is that big of a deal. The Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 5 losses, including last week’s loss to the Bills in which they picked up 32 first downs and got into Buffalo territory on 8 of 10 drives, only to score just 15 points due to two missed field goals, two failed fourth down conversions, and a pair of giveaways. Overall, the Cowboys won the first down rate battle by 7.54% in that game. On the season, they rank 4th in first down rate differential at +5.57%, 7th in DVOA, and 6th in point differential at +74.

The common narrative is that the Cowboys have played an easy schedule, but their opponent’s winning percentage of 48% isn’t bad and is actually tougher than the Bears’ schedule thus far, as the Bears’ opponents have combined for just a 45% winning percentage. Despite that, the Bears rank significantly behind the Cowboys across the board. They’re just 19th in DVOA, 19th in first down rate differential at -1.33%, have just a +4 point differential, and are 19 spots behind the Cowboys in my roster rankings, in part due to new key absences like right tackle Bobby Massie and cornerback Prince Amukamara. 

Despite that, the Cowboys are just 3-point road favorites in this matchup, likely as a result of the fact that these two teams have the same record. My calculated line is Dallas -7, so I like the Cowboys a good amount this week. I haven’t done well picking Thursday games this year, but both of these teams played last Thanksgiving, so both teams are on normal rest, which should lead to a more predictable result. Given that, I’m not worried about betting heavily on a Cowboys team that should at least be able to manage a push in this matchup against a significantly inferior opponent. 

Dallas Cowboys 27 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: High