Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-9-1) at Seattle Seahawks (11-3)

The Seahawks are 11-3 and control their own destiny for a first round bye, but most of their wins have been close, with all but one win coming by 8 points or fewer. In fact, their record in games decided by more than a single score is just 1-2. A win is a win for standings purposes, but blowout wins tend to be more predictive of future success than close wins. Their point differential of +26 is the worst ever for a 11-3 team and ranks just 11th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they are even worse, ranking 19th in the league at -0.80%. Russell Wilson is a great quarterback who has been able to pull out close wins, but the rest of this team is pretty underwhelming when you compare them to the other contenders and they haven’t shown the ability to blow out anyone, even bad teams.

Their one win by more than one score came against the Cardinals, who happen to be their opponents this week. The Cardinals have 5 losses by double digits and 4 losses by 17 or more points, but their 17-point home loss to the Seahawks in week 4 was closer than the final score suggested, as the Seahawks had just a +3.39% first down differential in the game, with the margin of victory being inflated by a Seattle return touchdown and a pair of missed field goals by the Cardinals. 

The previous matchup between these two teams was in Arizona and this matchup is in Seattle, but the Seahawks are far from 100%. They’re getting defensive end Ezekiel Ansah back from injury this week, but will remain without top defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and will likely be without their top-2 defensive backs, Shaq Griffin and Quandre Diggs, and left tackle Duane Brown, all of whom did not practice on Friday. The Cardinals could easily keep this game within 10 points. They rank 28th in the NFL in first down rate differential on the season at -5.28%, but they aren’t that far behind the 19th ranked Seahawks in that metric, so my calculated line is Seattle -7.5. This is a low confidence pick for now, but If left guard Justin Pugh and wide receiver Christian Kirk are both able to play and/or this line moves up to 10, I would bet on the Cardinals.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona +9.5

Confidence: Low

New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (11-3) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)

Since turning to backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill in week 7, the Titans rank 5th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +4.37%. They are 6-2 over that stretch, after starting 2-4, with their only losses coming in games against the Panthers and Texans that they easily could have won if a few snaps went differently. Tannehill isn’t just game-managing this team either, as the Titans’ defense has actually been pretty underwhelming over that stretch due to injury absences, ranking 24th in first down rate differential at 37.28%, after ranking 4th at 30.93% through the first 6 games of the season, and 4th at 32.77% in 2018. The offense, which ranks 2nd in first down rate at 42.18% since Tannehill became the starter, has carried this team, after ranking 26th at 32.69% through the first 6 games of the season, and 24th at 34.12% in 2018. 

That being said, the Titans offense is unlikely to be quite this good going forward. They have talent around the quarterback position and Tannehill has proven he can be a capable starter, but it’s unlikely he has suddenly become a top level quarterback in his 8th season in the league. It would be reasonable to expect regression from him going forward, which the defense will need to compensate for. Unfortunately, their defense remains banged up, with edge defender Cameron Wake and cornerbacks Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler still out and defensive end Jeffery Simmons possibly joining them after missing practice on Friday with a lingering knee issue.

The Titans are still a competitive opponent, but we’re not getting the line value with them that we were a few weeks ago. With a dominant Saints team coming to town, the Titans are only 2.5-point home underdogs. The Saints lost a pair of key defensive linemen in their loss to the 49ers a couple weeks ago, with Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins done for the year, and their defense ranks just 35.78% in first down rate allowed at 17th even with Davenport and Rankins playing most of the season, but their offense is definitely good enough to compensate. 

They have a 41.41% first down rate when Brees is on the field, which would be second best in the NFL on the season, and that arguably understates how good their offense will be going forward. They had a 43.48% first down rate differential in Brees’ starts last season and have been even better than that in recent weeks, with a 45.19% first down rate over the past 4 games. We’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Titans, as I have this line calculated at New Orleans -1, but we’re not getting enough line value with the Titans at +2.5 for them to be worth betting. The money line at +115 is worth a small play because the Titans odds of winning this game are close to 50/50, but this is a low confidence pick for pick ‘em purposes, unless the line moves up to a full field goal.

Final Update: Not only is Simmons out for the Titans, but running back Derrick Henry is a surprise inactive as well. Henry’s absence is obviously big, but, beyond the impact his absence will have on this team, the reasoning behind Henry being inactive is even more important to predicting this game. Due to how tiebreakers work, because this is a non-conference game, this is actually a rare case of a week 16 game not mattering at all for a potential playoff qualifier. With the Texans winning yesterday, the Titans have been eliminated from contention for a division title, but, regardless of the outcome of this game against the Saints, the Titans can still clinch a wild card berth if they beat the Texans next week and the Steelers lose one of their next two games. If the Steelers win out or the Titans lose to the Texans next week, the Titans are eliminated regardless of what happens in this non-conference matchup with the Saints. This line has skyrocketed to 3.5, but I’m really concerned about the Titans’ psyche in a meaningless game, so I’m switching this pick to New Orleans for a no confidence pick.

New Orleans Saints 27 Tennessee Titans 23

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3.5

Confidence: None

Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-9) at Indianapolis Colts (6-8)

The Kyle Allen era in Carolina got off to a great start, as the 2018 undrafted free agent won his first 4 starts after taking over for an injured Cam Newton week 3, but things have gone south in a hurry. Since that 4-game winning streak, the Panthers have lost 7 of 8 games to fall out of playoff contention completely. Over that stretch, they have the 3rd worst first down rate differential in the league at -4.42%. 

The offense actually hasn’t been the problem, as they’ve had a 36.65% first down rate over that stretch, 11th in the NFL, but their defense, which ranked 7th in first down rate allowed at 33.97% in the first 6 games of the season, but has fallen to 31st in first down rate allowed at 41.07% over the past 8 games. The Panthers fired head coach and de facto defensive coordinator Ron Rivera a couple weeks ago, but it hasn’t seemed to make a difference in two games against the Falcons and Seahawks.

After firing their head coach a couple weeks ago, the Panthers are now benching Allen for third round rookie Will Grier. Even though the offense hasn’t really been the problem, it’s understandable why the Panthers would make this decision. Allen hasn’t played well, with the offense being carried by feature back Christian McCaffrey and #1 wide receiver DJ Moore, and, in a lost season, it’s worth giving Grier a shot. 

I don’t have high expectations for Grier though. He struggled in the pre-season, losing the backup job to Allen as a result, and could also be without starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel after he picked up an injury at practice this week. The Panthers are also in a tough spot this week, playing a meaningless non-conference matchup before a big divisional home matchup against the Saints to close out the season next week. Teams are 20-42 ATS since 2016 before being 7+ point home underdogs and the Panthers are 10.5-point home underdogs on the early line.

This isn’t an easy matchup for the Panthers either, on the road in Indianapolis. The Colts are just 6-8, but they’ve played better than their record has suggested, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at -0.17%. They got blown out against the Saints last week, but before that their only loss by more than a touchdown came against the Titans in a game in which the Colts were about to take the lead in the 4th quarter before a blocked kick returned for a touchdown. I wouldn’t recommend betting on the Colts this week because they could be flat after getting eliminated from post-season contention last week, but I think they’ll be more focused because they were just blown out, so they should be able to take care of business against an inferior team in a bad spot.

Indianapolis Colts 26 Carolina Panthers 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -6.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-10-1) at Denver Broncos (5-9)

Earlier in the season, the Broncos were an underrated team, but the injuries have started to pile up for them. Already without right tackle Ja’Wuan James for most of the season, the Broncos are now also without right guard Ronald Leary, while their defense is missing defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis and possibly Dre’Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker, leaving them very thin upfront. On top of that, they’ll be without Pro-Bowl caliber safety Kareem Jackson for the rest of the season with suspension, which is their single biggest absence.

Despite those absences, the Broncos are favored by a touchdown at home over the Lions. The Lions’ season has been derailed by injuries, most notably quarterback Matt Stafford, but also right tackle Ricky Wagner, wide receiver Marvin Jones, and defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand, but the Broncos shouldn’t be favored by this many points over anyone. In fact, I have these two teams close to equal in my roster rankings, with the Broncos 27th and the Lions 29th. 

My calculated line is Denver -3, so we’re getting significant line value with the Lions. I don’t want to bet heavily on the Lions, especially since this could be a look ahead spot with a home game against the Packers on deck (teams are 20-42 ATS since 2016 before being 7+ point home underdogs and the Lions are 9.5-point home underdogs on the early line), but the Lions are a solid play this week. This should be a close, low scoring game between two very underwhelming teams.

Denver Broncos 17 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit +7

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (11-3)

The 49ers lost their 3rd game of the season last week, at home to the Falcons. Like their first two losses, this loss was decided on the last meaningful play of the game, but, even though the Falcons have played better than their 5-9 suggests, the Falcons are clearly different than the first two teams against whom the 49ers lost, the Ravens and Seahawks, who are a combined 23-5 on the season.

While I didn’t expect the 49ers to lose outright last week, it’s not all that surprising that the 49ers had trouble against the Falcons. Not only were the Falcons an underrated team that is better than their record, but the 49ers were in a tough spot after an emotional win over the Saints and missing several key players, like cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams and defensive end Dee Ford. 

Ford remains out, but Sherman and Williams are not listed on the injury report, which is a big boost for them ahead of their matchup with the Rams this week. The Rams lost badly last week in Dallas by score of 44-21, but the Cowboys are an underrated team, so I don’t hold that loss against them that much. Even with that bad loss included, the Rams rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.55% and have been even better since acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey before week 7, ranking 9th in first down rate differential over that stretch at +3.30%, led by a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over that stretch at 31.73%. The Rams won’t be an easy matchup for the 49ers.

The Rams are also in a slightly better spot. I don’t expect the 49ers to be flat, coming off of a loss and needing a win to keep pace with the Seahawks in the division before next week’s rematch in Seattle, but the 49ers already beat the Rams once this season in Los Angeles, while the Rams are fighting for their playoff lives and are playing their final difficult game of the season, with a home game against the Cardinals to finish out the regular season on deck. Road underdogs are 79-54 ATS since 2002 in a regular season rematch against an opponent that they previously lost to as home favorites. On top of that, underdogs of 6+ are 82-69 ATS since 2002 before being favorites of 6+ and the early line has the Rams favored by 7 next week against the Cardinals. There’s not quite enough here for the Rams to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Los Angeles Rams 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +6.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (10-4) at New England Patriots (11-3)

The Bills got a huge win last week, not only clinching a playoff spot in the process, but giving them their first double digit win total since 1999 and keeping them alive in the battle for the division with the New England Patriots, who they play this week in the first meaningful late season matchup between the Bills and Patriots in decades. The Bills rank 11th in first down rate differential at +2.25%, which more or less lines up with their 10-4 record, but that’s partially inflated by an easy schedule. Even with some tougher games in recent weeks, the Bills still rank tied for last in the NFL in opponents record at 43%. My roster rankings have the Bills 17th, which is I think is more in line with how they would play against an average schedule.

The Patriots had an easy schedule earlier in the year, but they’ve had a tough schedule over the past several weeks and overall have a 48% opponents record. Because these two teams are in the same division, they’ve had pretty similar schedules, but the Patriots have faced a first place schedule because they won the division last year and those first place teams (Ravens, Texans, and Chiefs) are the only teams they’ve lost to. Against teams that the Bills have also faced, the Patriots are 10-1 with a +18.00 points per game margin. The Bills are 8-3 against those teams, but with just a +7.00 point per game margin. The Patriots have also been significantly better statistically on the season than the Bills, ranking 3rd in first down rate differential at 32.59%, despite facing the Chiefs and Texans instead of the Broncos and the Marcus Mariota led Titans.

Given that, I don’t expect the Bills to be able to keep this game within a score in New England. The Patriots are almost an automatic bet at home when favored by less than a touchdown, going 47-19 ATS with Tom Brady under center, as they almost always manage to find a way to win by at least a touchdown at home. Brady and this Patriots offense could have a hard time putting points on the board, with Brady playing at less than 100% with a receiving corps that he hasn’t been able to get in rhythm with due to missed practice time, against a Bills defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed, but the Bills’ offense ranks just 20th in first down rate, despite an easy schedule, and young quarterback Josh Allen is almost a guarantee to make at least a couple mistakes against a well-coached Patriots defense that ranks first in first down rate allowed by a wide margin at 28.66% (2nd place ranked team is 31.56%). Even if it’s not pretty, I expect the Patriots to win by at least a touchdown.

New England Patriots 20 Buffalo Bills 10

Pick against the spread: New England -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (9-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)

The Texans got a huge win in Tennessee last week against a Titans team that was previously tied with the Texans for the division lead. However, that game could have gone either way, as both teams were about even in first down rate (Houston +0.97%) and the game swung on a blocked field goal and a long interception return by the Texans. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, got a big blowout win over the Lions on the road last week even without injured wide receiver Mike Evans, but fellow stud wide receiver Chris Godwin also got hurt in that game, so between that and the Texans’ win last week, this line has shifted from Houston -1 on the early line last week to Houston -3 this week, a big swing considering about 20% of games are decided by 2-3 points.

I think this line is pretty far off and would be off even without the big line movement. Even without Evans and Godwin, the Buccaneers are still a better team that most people realize. They actually rank above the Texans in first down rate differential on the season, ranking 12th at +2.14%, while the Texans rank 14th at +1.31%. That gap is more pronounced when you look at recent weeks. While the Buccaneers have been a legitimately tough opponent since their week 7 bye, losing only to the Saints, the Seahawks (in overtime), and the Titans (by 4) and ranking 8th in first down rate differential at +3.73% over that stretch, the Texans have gone the opposite direction, ranking 21st in first down rate differential since week 7 at -1.35%, in large part due to the absence of JJ Watt on defense in recent weeks.

With the Buccaneers missing a pair of dominant wide receivers, I have the Texans slightly ahead in my roster rankings, but the Texans definitely aren’t at full strength either, missing talented middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney in addition to Watt, and my calculated line favors the Buccaneers at home by 2.5 points. Given that, we’re getting significant line value with the Buccaneers as 3-point home underdogs. 

The Buccaneers are also in a better spot as this game is sandwiched between last week’s matchup against the Titans and a rematch next week, a game in which the Texans can clinch the division even if they lose this week. The Texans still have incentive to win this game for seeding purposes, but they might not take the Buccaneers totally seriously this week in a trap game spot. I’m going to bet on the Buccaneers either way, but if we get confirmation that both cornerback Carlton Davis and left tackle Donovan Smith are playing this week, I’ll probably bump this up to a high confidence pick.

Final Update: Both Davis and Smith are playing for the Texans. After looking at other games this week, I’ve decided I’m actually going to bump this up to my Pick of the Week, for lack of another strong option. Much has been made of the Buccaneers missing their dominant wide receiver duo, but quarterback Jameis Winston has independently been playing good football since the bye, as has the Buccaneers’ defense, thanks to the return of Jason Pierre-Paul from injury and the improvement of this young secondary. Meanwhile, the Texans are arguably missing their two best defensive players in Watt and McKinney and yet are favored by 3 points on the road. I have these two teams about even and my numbers suggest the Buccaneers are actually the better team, so this line is way off. I’d be surprised if the Buccaneers don’t at least push this week, barring a meltdown performance from Winston.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 Houston Texans 27 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week