2019 Week 17 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

CIN +3 vs. CLE

High Confidence Picks

LAC +9 @ KC

Medium Confidence Picks

IND -4 @ JAX

NYG +4.5 vs. PHI

DAL -11 vs. WAS

Low Confidence Picks

DEN -3.5 vs. OAK

SEA +3.5 vs. SF

BAL +2 vs. PIT

NE -16 vs. MIA

TB PK vs. ATL

No Confidence Picks

MIN +3 vs. CHI

CAR +13 vs. NO

DET +12.5 vs. GB

NYJ +1.5 @ BUF

LAR -6 vs. ARZ

TEN -10 @ HOU

Upset Picks

BAL +110 vs. PIT

CIN +135 vs. CLE

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (8-7)

The Rams have had a very disappointing 2019 season. After going 13-3 and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl last year, the Rams sit at just 8-7 and have been eliminated from the playoff race entirely ahead of week 17 this year, with their season officially ending in a heartbreaking last second loss in San Francisco last week. There are still a lot of positive takeaways from this season though. 

Their offense hasn’t been as good as it’s been in past years, ranking just 15th on the season with a 36.37% first down rate, after finishing last season 3rd at 43.02%, due to a complete dropoff in offensive line play and quarterback Jared Goff’s inability to make good decisions and good throws under pressure, but they’ve been impressive defensively. They rank 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.87%, and they have been even better since acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey and putting breakout player Troy Hill into the starting lineup opposite him during week 7, ranking 5th in the NFL with a 32.44% first down rate allowed over that stretch. 

The Rams end their season with a home game against a last place Cardinals team. The Cardinals won in Seattle last week in a big upset, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds, as the Seahawks entered that game with the worst point differential ever for a 11-3 team and were missing their two best defensive backs, their best offensive lineman, and their best defensive lineman. Just a few weeks earlier, the Cardinals were demolished at home by the Rams in a 34-7 game, one of four games they’ve lost by at least 17 points this season. On the year, the Cardinals rank 28th in first down rate differential at -4.44% and have a -74 point differential that suggests their 5-9-1 record is an accurate representation of how they’ve played.

Under ordinary circumstances, we’d be getting significant line value with the Rams as just 6-point home favorites over the Cardinals, but the Rams are probably not going to give their best effort this week after having their disappointing season ended in heartbreaking fashion last week. In fact, we might not see anything close to the Rams’ full strength lineup this week, as Rams head coach Sean McVay has been the most cautious coach in the league when it comes to not risking his key players’ health in meaningless games. 

In 3 years with the Rams, he’s rested key players in meaningless games every chance he’s gotten, whether it’s pre-season games or week 17 games when the Rams’ seeding has been locked in. This is the first time the Rams have been eliminated from playoff contention in the McVay era, but it stands to reason he might have a similar approach this week, at the very least with players that are less than 100% with injury. The aforementioned cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill, which has been a huge part of their defensive success, has already been ruled out and there’s speculation that running back Todd Gurley among others could also be held out, which adds a lot of uncertainty to this game. 

Also adding uncertainty is the injury to Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray got in limited practices this week through a hamstring injury and would probably play if this game mattered, but the Cardinals could be cautious with nothing to play for and hold him out, which would force overmatched backup Brett Hundley into action, a significant dropoff. Even if Murray does play, he might not be as effective because mobility is a big part of his game. With all this uncertainty, I have no idea how to make a pick on this game, but I’m taking the Rams for pick ‘em purposes for now. There’s a good chance I update this write-up before gametime.

Update: Murray is playing for the Rams, but there’s no indication of how long the Rams will play starters for. I’m leaving this as is.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -6

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)

One of the biggest betting edges I’ve discovered over the years is the lack of week-to-week correlation between turnover margins. The winner of the turnover margin wins the game about 80% of the time, but turnover margins have no predictability week-to-week. Teams that lose the turnover battle by 4, on average, have a turnover margin of about +0.0 the following week, while teams that win the turnover battle by 4, on average, have a turnover margin of about +0.1 the following week. You can test this at killer sports for yourself if you’d like, but this holds true regardless of what a team’s turnover margin was the previous week. For this reason, I use first down rate as my primary evaluative stat, as it has much more week-to-week correlation and minimizes the impact of turnover margin and other inconsistent metrics on an evaluation of a team.

The Falcons are a great example of this in action. Through their first 8 games of the season, the Falcons had a -0.29% first down rate differential, but were just 1-7 due in large part to a -12 turnover margin. Since the bye, the Falcons are +5 in turnover margin and, as a result, have won 5 of 7 games. Their first down rate differential has improved slightly, as they are at +3.16% over those 7 games, but the big difference has been turnover margin. They’re still negative in turnover margin on the season at -7, but now at 6-9, their first down rate differential of +1.14% on the season (in the NFL) is much more in line with their record. 

I do make a few exceptions to the inconsistent turnover margin rule. One is the Patriots, who have proven to be the exception to most rules over the past two decades and have consistently won the turnover battle throughout the Brady/Belichick era. Since 2000, they have a +210 turnover margin and the next closest team is at +95. Another exception is Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston, who has consistently been among the league leaders in giveaways in his 5 seasons in the league. 

In 69 career starts, Winston has 136 combined interceptions and fumbles, 31 more than any quarterback in the league over that stretch. The Buccaneers are more than just their quarterback, but it would make sense that they would have a negative turnover margin with a quarterback like Winston under center. Since Winston entered the league in 2015, the Buccaneers have the 4th worst turnover margin in the league at -33, including -11 this season (5th worst in the NFL).

That’s not to say that Winston doesn’t bring a lot to the table that is good, as he has a career 7.74 YPA average, including 8.15 YPA this season, 5th in the NFL, which has led the Buccaneers to a 37.02% first down rate, 12th in the NFL, but after 5 years in the league it’s clear that he’s just more turnover prone than the average quarterback. Making matters even worse, Winston is playing this game at less than 100% through an injured thumb and without his top-2 wide receivers. 

The Buccaneers have the edge over the Falcons in first down rate differential this season (+2.20% vs. +1.14%) and their defense has been significantly better since week 7, ranking 8th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 33.33% over that stretch, due to the return of edge defender Jason Pierre-Paul from injury and the emergence of several young defensive backs in what was once the worst secondary in the NFL, but my roster rankings have the Falcons ranked slightly higher than the Buccaneers, which I think is more accurate. The Falcons have also faced a significantly tougher schedule this season, with a 56% combined opponents winning percentage (highest in the NFL), as opposed to 50% for the Buccaneers.

All that being said, we’re actually still getting some line value with the Buccaneers this week, as this line is even, suggesting the visiting Falcons are about 2-3 points better than the hometown Buccaneers. My calculated line is Tampa Bay -2. Winston’s turnover proneness is a problem, but as I’ve mentioned he also does a lot well, even at less than 100%, and the Buccaneers’ defense has actually been downright stifling over the past few weeks, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed at 29.59% over the past 6 games. The absences of wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are obviously significant, but the Falcons are missing key players like wide receiver Calvin Ridley, cornerback Desmond Trufant, and defensive ends Takkarist McKinley and Adrian Clayborn. There’s not enough here to bet on the Buccaneers confidently, but they should be the right side.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 Atlanta Falcons 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay PK

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (12-3) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

The Seahawks have been overrated for most of the season, as 10 of their 11 wins have come by 8 points or fewer. Last week, they got embarrassed at home in a 27-13 loss to the last place Cardinals, pushing their record on the season in games decided by more than a score down to 1-3 and their point differential down to +12, worst ever for a 11-4 team. Last week’s loss might have swung them to underrated a little bit, however, as this line has shifted significantly in the past week, going from even on the early line last week to San Francisco -3.5 this week, a huge swing considering 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer. 

The Seahawks played badly last week, but that was their worst game of the season and the absences of left tackle Duane Brown, cornerback Shaq Griffin, cornerback Quandre Diggs, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were a huge part of the reason why they struggled. Brown is their top left tackle, Griffin and Diggs are their top defensive backs, and Clowney is their best defensive lineman, so those were huge absences. 

Brown and Diggs remain out and running back Chris Carson joins them, but Clowney and Griffin return, giving the Seahawks a big defensive boost and the Seahawks signed free agent Marshawn Lynch, who is a solid replacement for Carson. Casual bettors might not pay attention injuries or may underestimate their impact, so just like the Seahawks were overrated last week, they may be underrated this week. Even if they are not underrated, they’ve historically bounced back really well off of losses in the Russell Wilson era, going 27-11 ATS, including 7-3 ATS with 6 straight up wins in 10 games as underdogs.

The 49ers also have their own injury problems, missing defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Ronald Blair, center Weston Richburg, safety Jacquiski Tartt, among other less important players. They haven’t been quite the same since their win in New Orleans, largely due to injury absences, and yet they’re favored by 3.5 points in this matchup. I don’t think there’s quite enough here for the Seahawks to be worth betting, but I like their chances of bouncing back and at least keeping this one close.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Seattle Seahawks 23

Pick against the spread: Seattle +3.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at New York Giants (4-11)

The Eagles put themselves in the driver’s seat in the NFC East with a win over the Cowboys last week, but they haven’t locked the division up just yet. It would take a loss and a Cowboys win for the Eagles to fall out of first place, but the Cowboys are 11-point favorites at home against a skeleton crew Redskins team this week, so the Eagles definitely can’t count on the Cowboys losing that game, making this game in New York against the Giants a must win for the Eagles.

The Giants are just 4-11, but beating them will be tougher than their record suggests. Turnovers have been a big problem for the Giants, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL with a -15 turnover margin, but turnover margins are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Giants aren’t necessarily going to lose the turnover battle in this game just because they’ve had trouble with turnovers for most of the season. In terms of first down rate differential, the Giants rank 21st in the NFL at -1.49%, not great, but better than their record suggests.

The Eagles also enter this game at far less than full strength, particularly on offense, where they are missing their top-3 wide receivers, featured tight end Zach Ertz, and stud right tackle Lane Johnson. Given that, this line is too high at Philadelphia -4.5. The Eagles might not necessarily lose this game outright, but I like the Giants’ chances of at least keeping it close. I don’t think the Giants are worth a huge bet, but there’s enough here for the Giants to be bettable this week.

Philadelphia Eagles 19 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Denver Broncos (6-9)

The Raiders are just 7-8, but are actually still alive for a wild card spot in the AFC. They’ll need to win this game and have several other things break their way (the Steelers and Titans both losing and the Colts winning to force a 4-way tie at 8-8 for the second wild card spot). However, the most likely scenario is the Raiders losing this game outright and ending their season. The Raiders have won 7 games, but all 7 games have come by one score or fewer, while all but two of their losses have come by at least 18 points, with the only exceptions being a game in Houston in which they lost the first down rate battle by 9.28% and a home loss to the Jaguars, who are arguably the worst team in the NFL. The Raiders rank 28th in the NFL in point differential at -105 and 29th in first down rate differential at -5.33%, so they haven’t played nearly as well as their record suggests. 

Getting back top receiver Hunter Renfrow from a 3-game absence last week certainly helps this offense, but at the same time they are missing a pair of talented offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown and stud feature back Josh Jacobs, a big loss for a team that wants to run the ball and be a physical offense. They managed to win in Los Angeles against the Chargers last week, but that was essentially a home game for them, given that 95% of the crowd was Raiders fans. The Chargers, who are totally out of the playoff race, seemed demotivated playing yet another home game in front of a road crowd and did not give their best effort as a result. 

Things will be different this week in Denver. The Broncos have one fewer win than the Raiders, but are significantly better in both point differential (-35) and first down rate differential (-1.44%). The Broncos also have injuries on the offensive line, missing right guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Ja’Wuan James, but James has missed most of the season and the Broncos have gotten better quarterback play in recent weeks since second round rookie Drew Lock returned from injury and took over the starting job. He’s still a raw quarterback, but it’s not hard to be an upgrade over washed up Joe Flacco and bottom of the roster talent Brandon Allen and the Broncos’ defense is what has carried them this season anyway.

This line, favoring the Broncos by 3.5 at home, suggests the Broncos are a slightly better team, so the odds makers seem to recognize that the Raiders’ record is not reflective of how they’ve actually played for most of the season, but I think we’re still getting some line value, as my calculated line is Denver -5.5. I’d need this line to go down to a field goal for this game to be worth betting, but it seems like that’s where it’s trending. It’s very possible I update this pick before gametime.

Denver Broncos 23 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Denver -3.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (7-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)

The Jaguars don’t have the worst record in the NFL, but they’re arguably the worst team in the league. They rank dead last in the NFL in first down rate differential at -7.39% and have been even worse since trading away cornerback Jalen Ramsey, with a -10.47% first down rate differential since sending him to the Rams in week 7. The Jaguars’ defense ranked a respectable 13th in first down rate allowed at 35.71% through the first 6 games of the season, but have allowed a 40.74% first down rate over the past 9 games, 3rd worst in the NFL over that stretch. Their offense, meanwhile, has struggled throughout the season, ranking 31st in the NFL with a 31.34% first down rate. They’re an awful team on both sides of the ball and have been for weeks. This week, they could be even worse, with injured cornerback AJ Bouye and running back Leonard Fournette resting in a meaningless game and news breaking that head coach Doug Marrone will likely be fired after the game. They might not give any effort this week.

Meanwhile, the Colts are out of the post-season race at 7-8, but they’re a solid team, ranking 15th in the NFL at +1.16%. They have a positive point differential at +6, despite getting awful play (68.0% field goal, 78.6% extra point) from kicker Adam Vinatieri, costing them at least two games. Vinatieri is on injured reserve now and replacement kicker Chase McLaughlin has missed just one kick in 3 games. If the Colts had him all season they could easily be in a strong position for a playoff spot. The Colts are favored by 4 points on the road, but I think this line is still too low, as my calculated line is Indianapolis -7. If the Colts hadn’t lost to the Chargers and Steelers because of makeable kicks, I have a feeling this line would be much closer to a touchdown. This isn’t a big bet, but there’s enough line value here for the Colts to be worth a wager. 

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -4

Confidence: Medium