Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4)

The Buccaneers lost at home to the Rams on Monday Night Football last week and the general opinion seems to be that the sky is falling in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers were already home field goal underdogs against the Chiefs on the early line last week, but their loss to the Rams has pushed this line to 3.5, which is significant, given that 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, including 1 in 6 games by exactly a field goal.

That seems to be an overreaction, as the Buccaneers were in a terrible spot last week and still were competitive with a Rams team that is a borderline Super Bowl contender. The Buccaneers were in a look ahead spot ahead of this huge game against the Chiefs and were also an east coast team playing a west coast team at night, which is a very tough spot. I expect much better focus and effort this week from a Buccaneers team that is still one of the top teams in the league.

The Buccaneers’ defense hasn’t been quite as good since losing Vita Vea for the season and they’ll also be without starting cornerback Jamel Dean for the first time this season this week, but they’re still one of the best defenses in the league, while their offense has improved since getting Chris Godwin (4 games missed to injury) and Antonio Brown (8 games missed to suspended) into the mix. Overall, they still rank first in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +5.13%, with three of their four losses coming to fellow top-3 ranked teams (Saints x2 and Rams), and they rank 3rd in my roster rankings as well.

The Buccaneers could be without left tackle Donovan Smith this week due to injury, but that isn’t a big deal because they can slide talented rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs to the left side and because they are likely getting back guard Ali Marpet from a 3-game absence and he’s a higher caliber offensive lineman. Tom Brady isn’t playing quite as well as he did in his prime, but he’s playing well enough and has enough talent around him for this to be a high level team. They shouldn’t be 3.5-point home underdogs against anyone, even against another high level team like the Chiefs.

Speaking of Brady, I would especially expect a much better performance from him this week, as this is the kind of spot where he has always played his best historically. His record off of a loss is famous at this point, but his ATS record off of a loss is even more incredible at 45-22 ATS and that becomes 21-3 ATS if you look only at instances where Brady is an underdog or favorite of fewer than 3 points, which is the case here. Brady is also a ridiculous 39-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including 28-9 ATS in week 5 or later (when records are more likely to be indicative of talent level). 

Those numbers were primarily accumulated in New England with Bill Belichick and Brady is now in his age 43 season, but it stands to reason that Brady still will be at his best when his back is up against the wall (he’s 3-0 ATS off a loss this season and 1-0 ATS against a team with a better record), even if that best isn’t quite what it was in his prime. I would expect this to be a close game either way, even if the Buccaneers can’t pull the upset, so I love getting +3.5. I locked this at +3.5 earlier this week, but that number is still available as the sharps haven’t pounded this game like I expected they would, so you can still get this number if you missed it. This is my Pick of the Week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33 Kansas City Chiefs 31 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6)

There was no early line posted for this game last week, with Matt Stafford’s status somewhat uncertain due to a thumb injury, but it’s unlikely if the oddsmakers knew that Stafford would be able to play through the injury that this line would have been posted at Houston -3 a week ago, but that’s where it is right now, in the wake of the Texans’ victory over the Patriots as small home underdogs and the Lions’ 20-0 loss in Carolina to a backup quarterback. 

Normally, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions are very banged up, beyond Stafford being less than 100%, and, even when they were healthier, they weren’t that good, ranking 29th in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential on the season at -3.21%, with their only win by more than a field goal coming against an awful Jaguars team. The Lions were mispriced as field goal favorites in Carolina last week, so the Lions likely would have been mispriced on the early line as well.

The Lions aren’t any healthier this week, with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay (6th game missed), top slot receiver Danny Amendola (2nd game missed), starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (4th game missed), top interior defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (2nd game missed), top edge defensive lineman Trey Flowers (4th game missed), and starting cornerback Jeff Okudah (2nd game missed) all out, so it’s understandable why this line is where it is. My calculated line is Houston -2, so we’re still getting slight line value with Detroit +3, as the Texans still rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.50%, but it’s hard to be confident at all in Detroit if we don’t know how well Stafford is going to be able to play through his injury on a short week. A push is a strong possibility as well.

Houston Texans 27 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: None

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7)

Both of these teams are just 3-7, but Washington has been the significantly better team this season. While the Cowboys rank 30th in point differential at -83, Washington ranks a relatively respectable 22nd at -27. On top of that, Washington has struggled in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and could improve going forward, like turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL at -6) and net field goal percentage (-15.71%). In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate, which minimizes the value of outlier snaps, Washington actually ranks 9th at +1.55%.

Washington is led by its defense, ranking 5th in first down rate allowed over expected but just 27th in first down rate over expected, which is the significantly less consistent and predictive side of the ball, so Washington could easily regress on that side of the ball going forward, especially since they have outplayed their defensive talent level and have lost key players like Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis to injury, but that should be offset somewhat by the fact that their offense has looked much better since Alex Smith took over at quarterback.

Dallas is better than their point differential, as they have also struggled with turnovers (2nd in the NFL at -12), which is something that is very inconsistent week-to-week, and they have played better since getting healthier, with stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), quarterback Andy Dalton (2 games), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players returning from injury in recent weeks, but, even with that factored in, they are still behind Washington in my roster rankings and in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

In fact, I have Washington 2.5 points better than Dallas overall, which, even with Dallas having some homefield advantage, still gives us a calculated line of Washington -1. Getting the full field goal with Washington at +3 is a great value in a game they could win straight up. Washington is worth betting both against the spread and on the money line. I am also locking in TB +3.5 and TEN +3.5 for later this weekend before those lines move. I will have full write ups for those games with all of this weekend’s picks.

Washington Football Team 20 Dallas Cowboys 19 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Washington +3

Confidence: Medium

2020 Week 11 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

TEN +6 @ BAL

High Confidence Picks

NE -1.5 @ HOU

Medium Confidence Picks

KC -7 @ LV

WAS -1 vs. CIN

ATL +3.5 @ NO

PHI +3 @ CLE

LAR +4 @ TB

JAX +10.5 vs. PIT

Low Confidence Picks

SEA -3 vs. ARZ

CAR +3 vs. DET

DEN +4 vs. MIA

GB +1.5 @ IND

LAC -9.5 vs. NYJ

No Confidence Picks

DAL +7 @ MIN

Upset Picks

GB +105 @ IND

TEN +235 @ BAL

PHI +130 @ CLE

CAR +135 vs. DET

Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (3-7)

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remains a gametime decision officially, but this spread has been posted at Detroit -2.5 in some places, a steep dropoff from Carolina -3, where this line was last week on the early line, so it definitely seems like the odds makers don’t expect Bridgewater to be to play. Even if Bridgewater doesn’t play, I like the Panthers at +2.5, so I’m making this pick now so the line doesn’t have a chance to move if Bridgewater can in fact go, after taking all of the first team reps in yesterday’s walkthrough. 

If Bridgewater was fully healthy and this line was still 3, I would say that line would be about right. The Panthers are basically a slightly better version of the Lions and the Panthers have at least some limited homefield advantage with fans in attendance, so giving them the full field goal would be appropriate. However, it’s hard to justify a 5.5-point swing for Bridgewater’s absence, especially given that there is still a chance Bridgewater can go and given that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will be at less than 100% himself, playing through an injured thumb.

The Panthers have key absences beyond the quarterback position, but left tackle Russell Okung and Christian McCaffrey are missing their 6th and 8th game respectively, so not having those two isn’t anything new, and, while cornerback Donte Jackson and guard John Miller are missing their first game of the season, they are less important absences than Okung and McCaffrey. The Lions are also missing key players with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, top edge defender Trey Flowers, slot receiver Danny Amendola, and every down running back DeAndre Swift missing their 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 1st games of the season respectively. 

Given that the Lions are almost as banged up as the Panthers and that the Panthers have been the slightly better team all season and that the Panthers are at home, it’s hard to justify the Lions being favored by 2.5 points. That doesn’t mean I’ll be betting on the Panthers. In fact, with the amount of uncertainty in this game, it’s hard to justify the Panthers as anything more than a no confidence bet, as they likely will be starting a completely unknown quarterback in XFL star PJ Walker and, even if they don’t, they’ll be starting a much less than 100% Teddy Bridgewater, but even with Walker in the lineup, this line is off, so the Panthers are the pick at 2.5 either way.

Update: Bridgewater is out, so this line has jumped to +3. I was willing to take the Panthers without Bridgewater for pick ’em purposes at +2.5. +3 is a much more intriguing number, especially with the Lions also down their top defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, in addition to all of the aforementioned absences. My calculated number is Detroit -1 and that’s with a very conservatively low grade on the unproven Walker, who we didn’t even get a pre-season to evaluate this year. If Walker can surprise in his first career action, the Panthers could easily win this game straight up.

If I had any confidence in Walker I would recommend a bet at +3, as the Lions only win by more than a field goal this season came against the lowly Jaguars in a game in which the Lions were much healthier than they are now. Instead, I’m leaving them as a low confidence pick, but feel free to bet Carolina if you feel like taking a chance on a completely unknown commodity. The money line is intriguing as well at +135.

Carolina Panthers 27 Detroit Lions 26 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)

These two teams have some big similarities. Both teams rank highly in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, as the Buccaneers rank first at +5.13%, while the Rams rank second at +4.87%. Both teams have been better defensively than on offense, ranking 2nd and 5th respectively in first down rate over expected and 12th and 11th respectively in first down rate allowed over expected. Both teams are also missing their best offensive lineman, left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the Rams and left guard Ali Marpet for the Buccaneers.

The big edge the Buccaneers have is their offensive has much more upside than the Rams’ offense. Marpet’s absence hurts, but they have top wide receiver Chris Godwin back healthy after missing 4 games earlier this season and they have also added fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown into the mix after he missed the first 8 games of the season with suspension. Overall, the Buccaneers have a 2.5 point edge in my roster rankings as a result of their offensive upside. Given that, this line favoring the Buccaneers by 4 points in Tampa Bay, where they will have the benefit of at least some fans, is pretty reasonable.

That being said, there are two key reasons why I like the Rams for a small play this week. For one, they have a big advantage as a west coast team playing an east coast team in a night game. Due to circadian rhythms, west coast teams cover at about a 60% rate against east coast teams at night, as east coast teams tend to get tired towards the end of the game and see their performance fall off in the second half.

On top of that, the Rams are in a great spot, as they only have a home game against the banged up 49ers on deck, while the Buccaneers have a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. Underdogs are 89-41 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those factors should be true here. If Tom Brady and company are looking ahead to facing Pat Mahomes and company, the Rams could easily give the Buccaneers a game or even pull the upset, especially when you consider the circadian rhythms as well. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less (and 25% by 3 points or less), so I like the Rams as underdogs of more than an underdog, especially at +4, even if we’re not getting great line value overall.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Los Angeles Rams 22

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +4

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-3)

Typically the rule of thumb with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs over the past few seasons has been to pick them unless there is a good reason not to, as they are 28-16-2 ATS with Mahomes under center since his first season as a starter in 2018. You might think that’s just because Mahomes caught everyone off guard in his first season and that oddsmakers have sufficiently compensated in recent years for how good Mahomes is, but Mahomes is actually 18-8 ATS winning his MVP at the end of the 2018 season, as he’s had a much better defense supporting him over the past two seasons

This line is decently high, favoring the Chiefs by 7 points over the Raiders, but that’s not good enough reason to go against the Chiefs, as the Raiders have only been a middling team this season, only slightly above average in point differential (+14) and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.20%), and are still not fully healthy, missing a pair of starting offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown, as well as talented defensive end Clelin Ferrell and every down starting linebacker Cory Littleton.

On top of that, the Chiefs are in a great spot, coming off an extra week of rest, facing a team that they will be desperate to get their revenge against, after the Raiders shockingly handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season back when these two teams met in week 5, which may have simultaneously been the Chiefs’ worst performance of the season and the Raiders’ best performance. I would expect a better effort by Kansas City by default this time around, but Andy Reid is 21-9 ATS all-time in season with extended rest and big road favorites typically cover after a bye in general, going 52-26 ATS since 1989 as road favorites of 4 points or more. I would need this line to drop to 6.5 for this to be a bigger play, but the Chiefs should take care of business in this one, so they’re worth a bet even at 7.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7

Confidence: Medium

Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (6-3) at Denver Broncos (3-6)

Perhaps no team has been kept down by their quarterback play more than the Broncos. The Broncos have a strong defense, ranking 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed at -3.64%, and aren’t even that bad around the quarterback on offense, but their quarterbacks have combined for a 56.4% completion, 6.50 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. They’ve been slightly better when regular starting quarterback Drew Lock has been healthy and in the lineup, but he’s struggled mightily as well and he’s going to be playing at less than 100% with a rib injury. 

The Broncos rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate at -3.78% and are even worse than that suggests because their quarterbacks have combined for a league worst 4.68% interception rate. Offense is much more consistent on a week-to-week basis than defense and the Broncos’ defense is pretty depleted by injuries and COVID absences and has not played as well in recent weeks. All that being said, my numbers still suggest the Broncos should be the right side this week, though that’s more about the Dolphins being overrated than anything, favored by 4 points in Denver this week, where the Broncos will have at least some fans. 

The Dolphins are 6-3, but they have faced a pretty easy schedule and they have benefitted from things like a +5 turnover margin, a +3 return touchdown margin, and a 55.56% opponent’s field goal percentage, three things that tend to be totally unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Dolphins rank 22nd at -0.61%, suggesting they’re more of a middling team than their record. I can’t bet on the Broncos in their current injury state, especially with several key players considered truly questionable for this game. I may revisit this pick when inactives are announced, but I don’t imagine betting on Denver, even if they are probably the better side for pick ‘em purposes.

Miami Dolphins 19 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-7) at Minnesota Vikings (4-5)

I have picked the Vikings for three straight Pick of the Weeks since their week 7 bye and they have covered in all three games. The metrics that made me think the Vikings were underrated like the field goal percentage against (100%), net 4th down conversion rate (+31.8%), fumble recovery rate (35.71%), and Kirk Cousins interception rate being double his career average (5.3% vs. 2.4%) still have some room for regression, at 95.83%, +16.7%, 38.10%, and 4.5% respectively, so I think they’re still underrated. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which minimizes the effect of the metrics mentioned above, the Vikings rank 10th at +1.62%, which lines up with my roster rankings, which have them 9th. They were a 4th down conversion from winning in Seattle and they lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans hit three field goals from 50+ yards, so they could easily be 6-3 right now, despite a tough schedule.

However, the Vikings aren’t as underrated as they used to be, as this line, favoring them by a touchdown at home, is right about where it should be, given that the Vikings will hardly have any fans at this game. That line being accurate is partially because the Cowboys are underrated themselves though. The Cowboys obviously haven’t had a good start to their season, especially since losing quarterback Dak Prescott for the season, but aside from Prescott, the Cowboys are getting a lot healthier on the rest of this roster, after being decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. 

Their two stud offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins remain out for the season along with Prescott, but backup quarterback Andy Dalton returns from a 2-game absence to at least give them an NFL caliber quarterback under center and they will also benefit from the presence of stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players who have all returned from injury as well. In fact, my numbers suggest the Cowboys are slightly better than 50/50 to cover this spread against a solid Vikings team. This is a no confidence pick, but if I had to pick a side, I would go with Dallas.

Minnesota Vikings 30 Dallas Cowboys 24

Pick against the spread: Dallas +7

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-2) at Indianapolis Colts (6-3)

Earlier this week when the Packers opened as 2.5-point underdogs, I was hoping we’d get a +3 at some point, but instead sharp action on the Packers has pushed them down to 1.5-point underdogs of even 1-point in some places. I still like the Packers, but not to the same extent. Typically, I like offensive led teams over defensive led teams because defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. That is the case in this matchup. These two teams have played roughly even this season, but the Packers have a much better offense, while the Colts have been led by their defense.

In addition to the Packers having that edge, the Packers are also healthier than they’ve been for most of the season. At full strength, the Packers have one of the top rosters in the league, but key players like wide receiver Davante Adams (2 games missed), running back Aaron Jones (2 games missed), left tackle David Bakhtiari (3 games missed), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (3 games missed), cornerback Jaire Alexander (1 game missed), and safety Darnell Savage (1 game missed) have all missed time this season. 

Now with those players all back, I have the Packers at the top of my roster rankings. That still doesn’t give us great line value, as the Colts will have some fans in attendance and are a talented team in their own right, and my calculated line is only Green Bay -1, but the Packers should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and they’re worth a small bet on the money line at +105, as they should be at least even, if not slightly favored to win this game straight up.

Green Bay Packers 26 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +1.5

Confidence: Low