2020 Week 12 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

TB +3.5 vs. KC

High Confidence Picks

TEN +3.5 @ IND

GB -7.5 vs. CHI

Medium Confidence Picks

WAS +3 @ DAL

NYG -5.5 @ CIN

SEA -5 @ PHI

DEN +16.5 vs. NO

ATL +3.5 vs. LV

PIT -9.5 vs. BAL

Low Confidence Picks

NE +1.5 vs. ARZ

JAX +7 vs. CLE

No Confidence Picks

NYJ +7 vs. MIA

LAR -5 vs. SF

LAC +4.5 @ BUF

CAR +3 @ MIN

DET +3 vs. HOU

Upset Picks

NE +110 vs. ARZ

WAS +130 @ DAL

TB +160 vs. KC

TEN +150 @ IND

Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-7) at Minnesota Vikings (4-6)

The Vikings are just 4-6, but there is plenty of reason to believe they’ll be better going forward. Not only have they faced an above average schedule thus far, but a lot of the metrics they’ve struggled in are ones that are very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, including a league worst 96.00% field goal percentage against, a net -21.2% 4th down conversion rate, and a -4 turnover margin, which is primarily due to their 31st ranked fumble recovery rate (37.50%) and Kirk Cousins’ interception rate (4.00%) being over double his interception rate in his previous 5 seasons (1.90%). 

It’s not hard to see how struggling in those aforementioned metrics has led to the Vikings losing otherwise winnable games, as they were a failed 4th down conversation away from clinching the game in Seattle and lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans made 6 of 6 field goals, including a trio from 50+ yards and a 55-yard game winner. The Vikings could easily be 6-4 right now if they had held on to win those two games and that doesn’t even take into account that they won the first down rate battle in losses to the Packers, Falcons, and Cowboys. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Vikings rank 7th at +1.83%, which lines up with my roster rankings, in which they rank 11th. We’ve seen the Vikings go 3-1 since their 1-5 start, largely due to regression in those aforementioned metrics, and I would expect to see that continue going forward.

The Panthers are also better than their record though, ranking 18th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.24%, as they’ve faced a tough schedule and have only lost by more than one score twice, both against the Buccaneers, who rank #1 in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. My calculated line is Minnesota -4, so we’re not getting any real line value with the Vikings at -3.5. There also aren’t any relevant situational trends in this matchup, so which side I take for pick ‘em purposes is going to be solely dependent on the eventual status of some players who are questionable to suit up. 

For the Panthers, it’s starting left tackle Russell Okung and starting right guard John Miller, who could return from absences of 6 games and 2 games respectively to bolster this offensive line, while the Vikings have their top wide receiver Adam Thielen uncertain, after a week of inconclusive and conflicting COVID test results. I’m taking Minnesota for now, but I’ll almost definitely have an update before gametime. If Thielen can manage to get cleared and the Panthers don’t get their offensive linemen back, I’ll be more confident in Minnesota, but if the opposite of that happens, I’ll probably flip to Carolina.

Update: It’s all bad news on the injury report for the Vikings, with Thielen out and both Okung and Miller back for the Panthers, giving them a fully healthy offensive line for the first time in weeks. This line has shifted to Minnesota -3, which is right where I have this calculated, but I think I’m going to side with the Panthers slightly. A push is probably the most likely outcome.

Minnesota Vikings 30 Carolina Panthers 27

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3)

The Chargers have once again been one of the most injury prone teams in the league. It started when they lost stud safety Derwin James, arguably their top defensive player, for the season with injury before the season even began and over the first half of the season the Chargers lost several other key players. Last week against the Jets was arguably the healthiest they’ve been since the beginning of the season, with key players like stud defensive ends Joey Bosa (2 games missed) and Melvin Ingram (3 games), starting defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games), starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games), #2 wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game), and starting right guard Trai Turner (7 games) all active after missing time earlier this year.

However, that really only lasted a week, as the Chargers have since lost top cornerback Casey Hayward and talented defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Uchenna Nwosu (their top-two edge defenders after Bosa) to injuries. The Chargers could be getting some reinforcements from injured reserve, with starting running back Austin Ekeler and starting cornerback Chris Harris potentially being activated after being designated to return, but, even with those two, the Chargers would still be far from full strength. 

Despite injuries, the Chargers have played reasonably well this season, regardless of what their 3-7 record suggests, as they’ve been within one score in all seven losses, including early leads over top level teams like the Chiefs, Saints, and Buccaneers. However, with Ekeler and Harris’ uncertainty factored in, the Chargers still rank just 23rd in my roster rankings. The general public is also pretty aware that the Chargers have been competitive against good teams in their losses and, as a result, the Chargers are just 4.5 point favorites in Buffalo against a 7-3 Bills team, so we’re not getting any line value with them.

In fact, Buffalo -4.5 is my exact calculated line and, without any situational trends that apply to this game, my decision on which side to take for pick ‘em purposes is going to be entirely dependent on the status of Ekeler and Harris. For now, I’m taking the Chargers, but that would change if Ekeler and Harris were ruled out. Either way, I expect this to be a no confidence pick barring a significant change to the spread or some other unexpected circumstance.

Update: Ekeler and Harris are both in, but I’m leaving this as a no confidence pick.

Buffalo Bills 24 Los Angeles Chargers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +4.5

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-6) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

This is a tough call. This could be a look ahead spot for the Rams, facing a banged up 49ers team, ahead of a much bigger divisional matchup in Arizona next week. Teams are just 54-71 ATS at home against a sub-.500 divisional opponent before facing an above-.500 divisional opponent on the road, including 40-60 ATS when the first divisional opponent has a 40% winning percentage or less, like the 49ers at 4-6. On the other hand, the Rams have already lost to the 49ers once this season, so they could be fully focused to get revenge, even in a potential look ahead spot. 

This line is also about right, as my calculated line has the Rams favored by a touchdown. We’re getting some minor line value with the Rams at -6.5, but certainly not enough to take them with any confidence, especially in what could be a bad spot for them. The 49ers have also been a tough team to pin down how good they are this season as their injury/COVID situation has been about as bad as any team in the league this season and they seemingly play with a noticeably different roster every game. This week, the 49ers get Deebo Samuel back, after injuries and COVID caused him to miss 6 games total across two stints, and they’ll also get top running back Raheem Mostert and top cornerback Richard Sherman back after they’ve missed 6 games and 9 games respectively, 

However, they remain without top edge rushers Nick Bosa (9th game missed) and Dee Ford (10th game), slot cornerback K’Waun Williams (5th game), starting safety Jaquiski Tartt (4th game), stud tight end George Kittle (5th game), starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo (5th game), and their top-2 centers Weston Richburg (11th game) and Ben Garland (6th game) and this week those missing players will be joined by talented starting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (3rd game), stud left tackle Trent Williams (2nd game), and starting defensive tackle DJ Jones (1st game). There’s too much uncertainty to take either side with confidence with this line being where it is, but the Rams are my pick for pick ‘em purposes, as the single most likely outcome of this game is the Rams winning by a touchdown. 

Update: Trent Williams will apparently play and this line has dropped accordingly at 5. I still am on the Rams for a no confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 26 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -5

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (7-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1)

The Seahawks have not played as well as their record would suggest this season, going 5-2 in one score games, with a +31 point differential and a 17th ranked +0.26% first down rate differential, but I expect them to play better than that going forward. There are a few reasons for that, including simply that they’re typically much better in the second half of the season than the first half in the Russell Wilson era, going 43-21-2 ATS in games 9-16 since Wilson’s first season in 2012, as opposed to just 34-34-4 ATS in games 1-8.

On top of that, the Seahawks are an offensive led team and offensive led teams tend to fare better going forward because offensive performance is much more consistent and predictive week-to-week than defensive performance. The Seahawks rank 6th in first down rate over expected at +2.30%, but are dragged down by a defense that ranks just 25th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.05%. If they can get even middling play from their defense going forward, they should keep winning games, including some by larger margins than most of their wins thus far this season.

Aside from the inherent randomness of defensive play, the Seahawks are also getting more talented on defense, in large part due to players returning from injury. A few weeks ago, the Seahawks got talented safety Jamal Adams back from a 4-game absence and, this week, they’ll be top cornerback Shaq Griffin back, also from a 4-game absence. On top of that, they have upgraded their defensive line in recent weeks with mid-season veteran additions Carlos Dunlap and Damon Harrison. Their offense also gets a boost with feature back Chris Carson returning from his own 4-game absence. With all of these players in the lineup, I have the Seahawks ranked 4th in my roster rankings and they definitely could perform at that level going forward if they can stay relatively healthy.

I was always planning on betting the Seahawks confidently once they got reasonably healthy, but they’re also in a good spot in this game for a couple reasons. For one, they’re a west coast team in a night game against an east coast team. 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, while the Eagles have another tough game on deck in Green Bay, the Seahawks get another relatively easy game at home against the Giants. I wish this line was still at Seattle -3, where it was on the early line last week, but it’s understandable the line would move for the Seahawks being healthier (not to mention the Eagles losing top offensive lineman Lane Johnson for the season) and my calculated line is Seattle -6, so the Seahawks are still worth a bet at -5.

Seattle Seahawks 31 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Seattle -5

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)

The Jaguars will start their third quarterback of the season, opting to go with veteran backup Mike Glennon, with starter Gardner Minshew still out with injury and rookie backup Jake Luton struggling mightily in his 3-game stint as the starter, including a 4-interception performance at home against the Steelers last week. As strange as it sounds, when Glennon was named the starter, I thought I was going to be betting the Jaguars this week. 

Glennon is a journeyman backup, but even a low end backup quarterback would represent an upgrade on Luton. Meanwhile the Browns have not been nearly as good as their 7-3 record, with a negative point differential at -23, despite a +6 turnover margin that is tied for the 4th best in the NFL and a relatively easy schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 26th at -2.17% and, making matters worse for the Browns, they saw their top-2 defensive players, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward, both ruled out early in the week. 

It seemed like Glennon and company could move the ball and keep this one somewhat close and it didn’t hurt that the Jaguars were in a good spot, as home underdogs cover at a 53.7% rate after a loss as home underdogs, including 42-30 ATS since 1989 after a loss by 20 or more points. However, then the Jaguars’ own injury issues came to light, which made them a significantly less attractive bet. 

Already down top edge defender Josh Allen on defense after an early week rule out, the Jaguars’ offense will be without talented left guard Andrew Norwell and two of their top wide receivers DJ Chark and Chris Conley, which limits Glennon’s chances of keeping this close. My calculated line is Cleveland -6, so we’re still getting line value with the Jaguars, which, combined with the Jaguars good spot, leads me to think they’re the right side, but I don’t really want to bet on it, especially with the uncertainty of this being Glennon’s first start since 2017.

Cleveland Browns 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 26

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)

I did a double take when I saw this spread was posted at just a touchdown in favor of the Steelers, after the announcement of further COVID absences by the Ravens, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the rescheduling of this game to Tuesday Night. Originally, the Ravens were 4 point underdogs in this game, but somehow the absence of Jackson and others only moved this spread by 3 points. I was strongly considering betting the Steelers at -4 even with Jackson in the lineup, so getting them at just -7 now with backup Robert Griffin in the lineup is a great value.

I have been saying for weeks that the Ravens are overrated as their offense isn’t close to last year’s group. Even before losing their most important offensive player in Lamar Jackson, the Ravens were already down arguably their three most important offensive players from last year in right guard Marshal Yanda (retired), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (broken leg week 8), and tight end Nick Boyle (season ending knee injury week 10). With Jackson at quarterback all season, the Ravens have fallen all the way to 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.40%. Now also missing starting center Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda’s replacement at right guard Patrick Mekari, and two of their top-3 running backs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram due to positive COVID tests, the Ravens are going to have a very difficult time scoring against the Steelers league best defense.

The Ravens are still solid on defense, ranking 12th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.56%, but they’re not at 100% on that side of the ball either, with top defensive lineman Calais Campbell out and possibly fellow starting defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike as well. Campbell hasn’t played since week 9 and this defense hasn’t been the same without him. The Steelers aren’t without their own absences, most notably talented defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt who also tested positive for COVID, but it’s nothing close to what the Ravens are dealing with. My calculated line has the Steelers favored by 10.5 points, even with no fans in the stadium. I love Pittsburgh at 7 and even if you can’t get this line before it likely goes up, the Steelers should still be worth a bet this week, depending on how high it goes.

Update: Hopefully you locked this in when I did. The Ravens have been hit with additional positives and will also be without right tackle DJ Fluker, tight end Mark Andrews, and edge defender Matthew Judon. The Steelers have positives as well, but nothing compared to what the Ravens will be without. This line has shot up to 10 in some places, but I still don’t think that line is high enough, as the Ravens’ skeleton crew is going to have a very tough time being competitive with one of the top teams in the league.

Update: Apparently my sportsbook (betonline . ag) cancelled this bet at 7. I am not sure why this happened because the additional COVID positives since I placed that bet were on both sides and relatively minor and I am not sure when it happened or why I wasn’t notified so I could make another bet at the new number. This is my first year with this book and I’ve had a variety of issues with them that I may go into at a later date depending on how they get resolved. If you weren’t lucky enough to lock this in at 7, this is still worth betting up to 10 (the line is 9.5 in some places), albeit not as much it was at Pittsburgh -7.

Already significantly worse than last season due to the absence of left tackle Ronnie Stanley, right guard Marshal Yanda, and tight end Nick Boyle, the Ravens will play this game without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, starting wide receiver Willie Snead, tight end and top target Mark Andrews, starting center Matt Skura, starting right guard Patrick Mekari, top defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, and edge defenders Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee, along with possibly running backs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram and right tackle DJ Fluker.

The Steelers aren’t at full strength either with stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt and starting running back James Conner both out and they haven’t blown out a lot of teams (3 wins by double digits), but this should be a 4th double digit win. My calculated line would have been Pittsburgh -6 even before the Ravens’ COVID absences and my new calculated line is Pittsburgh -12, even before taking into account that the Ravens haven’t really practiced, which probably should add 2-3 points to that total. The Steelers should be a safe bet up to 10 as this one shouldn’t be close.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Baltimore Ravens 10

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-4) at New England Patriots (4-6)

The Patriots are just 4-6, but they appear to have made the right decision to move on from Tom Brady and not guarantee him 50 million dollars for his age 43 and 44 seasons in 2020 and 2021 like the Buccaneers did. Brady is having some success in Tampa Bay, but he has a much better team around him with the Buccaneers and likely would not be having the same success in New England. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the Patriots would be worse off with Brady than with Cam Newton, even before taking into account that Newton is making next to nothing, allowing the Patriots to maintain long-term financial flexibility and shorten the length of their rebuild.

After ranking just 21st in the NFL in first down rate last season with Brady, the Patriots rank 8th in first down rate over expected this season at +1.84%. The Patriots have a better offensive line and running game this season, but they also don’t have their only consistent veteran wide receiver in Julian Edelman, who will miss his 5th straight game. The Patriots don’t have much of a passing game this season, but it’s unlikely it would have been much better with Brady throwing to these unproven receivers and Newton’s running ability at least gives this offense another dimension to make up for their lack of a downfield passing game. Overall, the Patriots’ offense hasn’t been the problem. 

The big problem is their defense, which led the league in first down rate allowed by a wide margin last season, but has fallen to 24th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.80%. That’s understandable, given that 6 of their top-11 in snaps from last year’s defense are no longer with the team, either leaving in free agency, trade, or opting out. Even with their defensive struggles though, they’ve been better than their record suggests, as they’ve played a tough schedule and have gone just 2-4 in one score games. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Patriots rank a middling 19th at +0.04% and they could easily be better than that going forward, because they’re healthier now than they’ve been and because offense is much more predictable and consistent on a week-to-week basis than defense. If their defense can even be middling going forward, this won’t be an easy team to face. My roster rankings are even more generous, ranking them 12th. The Patriots have had a couple stinker performances in recent weeks, nearly losing to the Jets and losing to the Texans, but they were in a bad spot in both of these games, before and after a big upset victory over the Ravens. Coming off of last week’s loss, I would expect much better focus from New England this week.

Instead, it could be New England’s opponents who aren’t totally focused, with the Cardinals potentially looking ahead to a key divisional matchup with the Rams next week in Arizona. The Cardinals are a very similar team to the Patriots, with their defense significantly lagging behind their offense, and these two teams rank about even in my roster rankings. We’re only getting a point and a half with the Patriots as home underdogs, so there isn’t enough here for the Patriots’ money line to be worth betting without any fans in the stands, but these two teams are about even except for the spot and with the Patriots in the better spot, I would expect them to sneak out a close victory, so the Patriots should be the better side for pick ‘em purposes. The money line at +110 is worth a small bet, as the Patriots should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up and my calculated line is New England -1.5.

New England Patriots 33 Arizona Cardinals 31 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: New England +1.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (6-4) at New York Jets (0-10)

The Jets haven’t won a game yet, but they’ve played better in recent weeks. In their last four games, their only loss by more than one score came against the Chiefs and they were able to keep it within a touchdown against capable opponents in the Bills, Patriots, and Chargers. That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but considering they lost each of their first 6 games of the season by at least 9 points and an average of 18.33 points, it represents progress. The Jets still rank dead last in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -7.00%, but a lot of that is because of how much they struggled earlier in the season and they’ve actually moved out of the basement to 30th in my roster rankings. 

While the Jaguars and Bengals both being extremely banged up is a big part of the reason why the Jets moved ahead of them in my roster rankings, the Jets are also improved, primarily due to their offense being healthier, especially in the receiving corps, where the Jets have gotten each of their top-3 wide receivers back from injury in Jamison Crowder (4 games missed), Denzel Mims (6 games), and Breshad Perriman (4 games) in recent weeks. That’s been the biggest reason for their improvement on the field and, this week, they’ll get starting quarterback Sam Darnold back as well. While Darnols has hardly been impressive in his career, he’s still the Jets’ best quarterback and he’ll have his full complement of receivers available to him this week for the first time all season, so this offense has the upside to be much improved.

When these two teams back in week 6, the Dolphins utterly dominated the Jets in a 24-0 victory in which they won the first down rate battle by 13.30%, but the Jets didn’t have Darnold, left tackle Mekhi Becton, or wide receiver Denzel Mims in that game, which were big absences. On top of that, the Dolphins were still starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick back then and their offensive efficiency numbers have been better with him under center this season than with raw rookie Tua Tugavailoa, who will also be playing through a hand injury that knocked him out of the Dolphins’ loss in Denver last week.

That loss wasn’t really a fluke either, as the Dolphins have not been as good as their 6-4 record, ranking 22nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.83%. The Dolphins have faced an easy schedule and they have benefitted from things like a +6 turnover margin, a +3 return touchdown margin, and a 63.64% opponent’s field goal percentage (best in the NFL), three things that tend to be totally unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. With the Jets being better in recent weeks, my calculated line for this game is just Miami -4, so we’re getting good line value with the Jets at +6.5. There isn’t enough here for me to actually want to bet money on the Jets this week, something I haven’t done all year, but if this line moves up to 7, I would strongly consider it, as the Jets seem to finally be bettable.

Update:  Tua Tagovailoa was surprisingly ruled out for the Dolphins today, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will now get the start instead. I think that improves the Dolphins’ chances in this game and the odds makers and sharps seem to agree, pushing this line up to a full touchdown. With Fitzpatrick, my calculated line is Miami -5, so we’re still getting line value with the Jets, but I have no interest in betting them. 

Update: The Jets are surprisingly going to be without left guard Alex Lewis, even though he practiced throughout the week. The Jets will already be down their right tackle, which wasn’t a huge deal because their receiving corps is significantly better than it was earlier this season, but missing two offensive linemen is going to be a problem against a good Dolphins defensive front. I’m dropping all confidence on this game, but remaining on the Jets slightly.

Miami Dolphins 23 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +7

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Denver Broncos (4-6)

Sean Payton is getting a lot of credit for starting Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston in a 24-9 win over the Falcons, but the decision probably didn’t matter, as that win was really more about the Saints’ defense, which held a decent Falcons offense to just a 23.72% first down rate. That allowed the Saints to run the run heavy offense they wanted to run, which allowed Taysom Hill to avoid being exposed as a passer. The jury is still out on Hill as a starting quarterback, going into just his second career start, but there’s no denying the talent on the rest of this team, and, even with Hill being a questionable starting quarterback, the Saints still rank 6th in my roster rankings. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Saints rank 3rd at +4.15% and are the only team in the league to rank in the top-10 in first down rate over expected on offense (4th at +2.48%) and on defense (8th at -1.67%). That’s despite the fact that the Saints had a lot of injury problems even when Brees was in the lineup, with top wide receiver Michael Thomas (6 games missed), talented defensive linemen Marcus Davenport (4 games) and David Onyemata (1 game), starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (2 games) and Marshon Lattimore (2 games), starting tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and #2 wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) all missing time with injury earlier in the year and having since returned.

Hill is unlikely to be exposed this week either, with the Saints being 6-point road favorites in Denver. The Broncos rank 30th in first down rate over expected at -4.27% and have one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league under center in Drew Lock, so I would expect them to have a very tough time moving the ball against a Saints defense that is legitimately one of the best in the NFL, which would allow the Saints to run their offense the way they want to run it again this week. 

The Broncos do have a strong defense, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.15%, but they’re missing one of the top defensive players in defensive tackle Shelby Harris and defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense, so the Broncos’ defense is unlikely to be as reliably good as their offense is reliably bad. The Saints are a balanced team that is still one of the better teams in the league without Brees and they’re on an impressive run right now, winning 7 straight since starting 1-2, something they seem to do every season, going 89-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17 since 2010, as opposed to 4-17-1 ATS in weeks 1-2.

The Saints are also in a better spot than the Broncos, who have to turn around and play another tough game against a Chiefs team that has dominated their division in recent years and that blew them out earlier this season, while the Saints only have a rematch against a Falcons team that they just beat easily last week, so they should be fully focused. The Broncos are 13-point underdogs on the early line in Kansas City and teams cover at just a 37.5% rate all-time before being double digit underdogs.

We’re not getting line value with the Saints as 6-point favorites, as New Orleans -6 is right where I have this line calculated, but the Broncos have some key offensive players that seem legitimately questionable in wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, right tackle Demar Dotson, and right guard Graham Glasgow, who would all be big absences if they were unable to go. Depending on what happens with the Broncos’ injury report, I may decide to place a bet on the Saints, especially if this line drops back down to 5.5, where it was on the early line last week. Even if not, the Saints should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Saints left tackle Terron Armstead is going to be out after testing positive for COVID on Saturday, which is a big blow for a Saints offense against a tough Broncos pass rush. Meanwhile, all three of the Broncos questionable players are expected to play. Despite that, this line has gone up to 6.5 in favor of the Saints in some places. Given all of that, I’m changing this pick to the Broncos. This is a no confidence pick because of the bad spot that the Broncos are in, but my calculated line is now New Orleans -4.5, so this line is off. The Saints should still be able to win this game, but it would be hard to lay this many points with them on the road without Brees and Armstead against a team that isn’t terrible.

Update: Losing Terron Armstead to a positive COVID test the day before the game was a big blow for the Saints, but that’s nothing compared to the Broncos’ situation, as somehow they couldn’t manage to keep their four quarterbacks separate and, as a result, will have to be without all of their quarterbacks this week, with Jeff Driskel testing positive and their other three quarterbacks being close contacts. Instead, the Broncos will have to turn to an undrafted rookie practice squad wide receiver who averaged 5.99 yards per attempt on 251 passes and 4.69 yards per carry on 186 carries as a dual threat quarterback at Wake Forest from 2015 to 2018 before converting to a wide receiver in his final collegiate season in 2019. As a result, this line has ballooned from 6.5 to 14.5.

This is an unprecedented situation so it’s hard to say this with confidence, but that seems like an overreaction. The Broncos’ quarterback play had already been terrible this season and extreme run heavy offenses have had more success than you’d think in the modern NFL. The Broncos still have a great defense and, even with their quarterbacks set to the lowest possible value, I still have the Broncos ahead of the Jets, Bengals, and Jaguars in my roster rankings. My calculated line is Denver +7.5, so we seem to be getting significant line value with them at Denver +14.5. I say seem to be because, again, this is a highly unprecedented situation, so it’s tough to know how to address it. The Broncos should be able to cover that huge spread in what should be a low scoring game overall (teams are 30-20 ATS as underdogs of 14 or more in a game with a total of 39 or less), but I’m not sure if I actually want to bet any money on it. Maybe I’ll be bolder before gametime. For now, it’s a low confidence pick.

Update: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to bet on a team that doesn’t have a quarterback. This line has ballooned to 16.5 in some places. With the total at 36.5, the Broncos have a presumed total of 10 points in this game, but they have a decent running game, offensive line, and kicking game, especially at home with the elevation, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Broncos exceed that total.  They would just need to bust one long run and kick a couple of field goals. The Panthers hit that total exactly in 2006 when they ran 52 times for 183 yards in 10-3 win over the Falcons in a game in which they attempted just 7 passes and frequently played without a quarterback on the field.

Even if the Broncos can only hit to 10, the Saints will still need to get to 27 to cover this spread, which is going to be a tough task without their starting quarterback and left tackle against a good defense in a game that figures to have a very slow pace. I mentioned earlier that big favorites typically have trouble covering in games with big totals, but a team being favored this many with this small of a total almost never happens and teams are 1-4 ATS in this spot over the past thirty years. This is a highly unprecedented situation so it’s hard to be too confident, but the Broncos should be a reasonable safe bet at this number.

New Orleans Saints 20 Denver Broncos 10

Pick against the spread: Denver +16.5

Confidence: Medium