Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Houston Texans (4-7)

The Colts are 7-4, but there are reasons for concern. For one, they’ve faced a pretty easy schedule thus far this season. In fact, in terms of first down rate differential, the Colts have faced the easiest schedule in the league. With that in mind, their 7-4 record isn’t as impressive. In schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Colts are about a middling team, ranking 16th at +0.20%. On top of that, they’ve been a better defensive team than offensive team, ranking 11th in first down rate allowed over expected, but just 20th in first down rate over expected, which is a concern because offensive play tends to be more consistent week-to-week. 

The Colts are also starting to lose key players to injury and illness after being relatively healthy through the first half of the season. Last week, they missed defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and center Ryan Kelly against the Titans and, while both will be back this week, the Colts now have lost left tackle Anthony Castonzo, which is also a big blow. The Texans, who the Colts face this week, are missing some key players as well, losing top wide receiver Will Fuller and top cornerback Bradley Roby to suspension, but my roster rankings still have the Colts just 2.5-3 points better than the Texans, giving us a calculated line of Indianapolis -1, with the Texans at least having some fans in attendance for this one. 

I locked this line in at 3.5 earlier this week and, while 2.5 points might not seem like a huge deal, it’s a bigger deal than you might think, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by 1-3 points. The Texans are also in a better spot, as the Colts have a game that will be very important for their playoff implications on deck, in Las Vegas against the Raiders, while the Texans have a relatively meaningless out of conference game in Chicago. I like the Texans a lot at 3.5 and, even if you didn’t lock this line in at 3.5, I would recommend a smaller bet at 3 as well. The money line is also worth betting as well, as the Texans could easily pull the upset.

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: High

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-1)

When these two teams met in week 7, the Chiefs won with ease by a final score of 43-16, but the Broncos played close in first down rate, only losing by 1.75%. The Chiefs’ big win was primarily because of a +3 turnover margin (+5 if you include the Broncos 0 for 2 on 4th down) and two return touchdowns, including a kickoff return touchdown, as the Broncos’ defense held the Chiefs to a 33.33% first down rate that is their 2nd lowest mark of the season and 4.60% behind their league leading season average of 37.93%. This is nothing new for a Broncos defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.01%. I expect a closer game this time around, as the primary reasons why this was a blowout last team were things that tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.

My calculated line is Kansas City -10 and the Broncos should be the much more focused team as well. In fact, after being embarrassed by the Chiefs earlier this season and being embarrassed by the NFL and having to play without a quarterback last week against the Saints, I think the Broncos are viewing this Sunday Night Football game as their Super Bowl, especially since they haven’t beaten the Chiefs in years. The Chiefs, meanwhile, probably won’t be fully focused for a team they already blew out when they have a more important conference game against the Dolphins next week and are coming off of back-to-back big close wins against the Buccaneers and Raiders. 

The Chiefs should still be able to win, perhaps easily, but with this line at 13.5, we have plenty of cushion. Pat Mahomes is 28-18-2 ATS in his career (including 18-10 ATS after his MVP season), so you always need really good reasons to bet against him, and I am not sure there is quite enough here, but if this line moves up to two full touchdowns, I may reconsider. Either way, the Broncos should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes as their defense could easily keep the Chiefs in check as much as you can and keep this game relatively close.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +13.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-4)

The Dolphins are 7-4, but they haven’t been as good as their record. They have faced an easy schedule, including three wins over the Jaguars and Jets (twice), and they have benefited significantly from things like a +6 turnover margin, a +3 return touchdown margin, and a 61.54% opponent’s field goal percentage (best in the NFL by a wide margin ahead of the 2nd ranked team at 75.00%), 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 20th at -0.54% and even that is outplaying their talent level, as they rank 24th in my roster rankings.

On top of that, the Dolphins are also in a terrible spot, facing an easy Bengals team before a much tougher game against the Chiefs. Favorites of 8 or more are 15-31 ATS since 1989 before being home underdogs, including 9-20 ATS before being home underdogs of 3 or more (the early line is Kansas City -7.5). Hosting the defending Super Bowl Champions next week, it’s hard to see the Dolphins getting up for the last place Bengals enough to cover this 10.5-point spread. My calculated line is Miami -7.5, even before considering the bad schedule spot, so we’re getting good value with the visitor.

That being said, it’s hard to be excited about a Bengals team that has struggled this season and now is starting a bottom of the roster caliber quarterback in Brandon Allen, with talented starting quarterback Joe Burrow out for the season with injury. Along with the Jets and Jaguars, the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league and I don’t like to bet on teams this bad unless there are really good reasons, but there are this week. This is much more of a fade of an overrated Dolphins team in a bad spot than a bet on the Bengals, but they’re worth a small play this week.

Miami Dolphins 17 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-7) at Chicago Bears (5-6)

The Lions have had a tough season, as they are just 4-7 despite a relatively easy schedule and have just one win by more than a field goal, against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league.  In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Lions rank 29th in the NFL at -3.23%, only ahead of the Bengals, Jaguars, and Lions. However, there is reason to believe they can be better going forward, as offense tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defense and the Lions’ issues have been almost primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball. 

While the Lions’ offense ranks a decent 13th in first down rate over expected at +0.63%, their defense ranks dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.86%, which even looks bad compared to the 31st ranked team at +3.00% and the 30th ranked team at +2.76%. Despite that, the Lions’ chances of being somewhat passable defensively going forward are better than you’d think, just due to pure regression to the mean and if they can do that they will find winning games a lot easier, as they already have a solid offense. Firing defensive minded head coach Matt Patricia can’t hurt either, as his defenses consistently underperformed since his arrival in Detroit. 

The Bears, meanwhile, have been almost the opposite, with a strong defense that ranks 6th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.66%, but a horrible offense that ranks 30th in first down rate at -3.66%. I like the Lions’ chances of being better going forward, so we’re getting good value with them as 3-point underdogs in Chicago, where the Bears won’t have any fans in the stands. This line suggests the Bears are about 2-2.5 points better than the Lions on a neutral field, which I think is off by at least a couple points. My calculated line is about even, so getting a full field goal with Detroit is a great value, with 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or less.

The Lions have a tough game with the Packers on deck and teams are 58-97 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6 or more, which the Lions almost definitely will be next week, but they should be still focused this week against a divisional rival that already beat them earlier this year. Divisional road underdogs are 75-46 ATS since 2002 in a same season regular season rematch against a team that previously lost to as home favorites. The Lions are pretty depleted due to injury, but the Bears are as well and my roster rankings have these two teams about even, so the Lions are worth a bet. In fact, depending on the status of some questionable players for the Bears (top defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, left tackle Charles Leno, and #1 receiver Allen Robinson), I may increase this bet.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 22 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (7-4) at Arizona Cardinals (6-5)

The Rams lead the NFL with a +4.63% schedule adjusted first down rate differential, while the Cardinals rank 9th at +2.02%, but there is reason to believe the Cardinals can be the better team going forward. While the Rams are a defensive led team, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected, but just 15th in first down rate over expected, the Cardinals are a dominant offensive team (4th) that has some issues on defense (17th). The good news for the Cardinals is that defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week than offensive play, so an offensive led team is more likely to sustain their success going forward. 

Despite that, this line favors the Rams by a field goal, swinging from an even line last week on the early line, a surprise because the Rams and Cardinals both lost close games last week. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so that’s a significant swing without any legitimate reason for it. I love getting a full field goal with the team with the significantly better offense, which is especially the case with the Rams missing dominant left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the third straight week. He’s arguably their most important offensive player. My roster rankings suggest we’re getting significant value with the Cardinals as well, as the Rams have just a one point advantage in my roster rankings without Whitworth, meaning this game should be about a toss up in Arizona, where the Cardinals will have minimal homefield advantage.

On top of that, the Cardinals are in a much better spot. While the Rams have to turn around and play another game against the Patriots in four days on Thursday Night Football, the Cardinals get a trip to New York to face a Giants team that could easily be missing it’s starting quarterback, so the Cardinals should be fully focused. Favorites cover at just a 42.5% rate all-time before a short week, while home underdogs are 72-48 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites, which the Cardinals almost definitely will be against the Giants next week. I would like the Cardinals at +3 even in ordinary circumstances, but with those situational trends factored in, this is my Pick of the Week. I locked in +3 earlier this week, but there are still some available at some books. The money line is also worth a bet as well.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Los Angeles Rams 24 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) at Minnesota Vikings (5-6)

The Vikings started just 1-5, but there were a lot of reasons to believe they’d be significantly better going forward, as they were struggling primarily due to metrics that are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and they had faced a tough schedule. The Vikings have more or less been as I’ve expected since their tough start, winning four of the past five games to bring their record up to a respectable 5-6, but the metrics that showed the Vikings had a good chance for significant improvement going forward still show that.

The Vikings have a 89.66% field goal percentage against, a net -18.2% 4th down conversion rate, and a -6 turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL), which is primarily due to their league worst fumble recovery rate (33.33%) and Kirk Cousins’ interception rate (3.44%) being nearly double his interception rate in his previous 5 seasons (1.90%). They’ve also faced a tough schedule overall, even if it’s gotten easier in recent weeks, and, overall, they rank 8th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.15%. That lines up with my roster rankings, which also has them 8th.

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 7-4 against a tough schedule 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. They’re far better than their record suggests.

This line is high at 10, but I think it should be even higher, as the Jaguars are arguably the worst team in the league. Most expected them to be one of, if not the worst teams in the league coming into the season, due to the complete teardown of this roster over the past couple years since the AFC Championship. They threw some people off the scent by randomly winning their first game of the season against the Colts, but have proven to be as bad as expected, losing ten straight games by 10.5 points per game. 

The Jaguars rank 31st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -4.90% and dead last in my roster rankings, as their already depleted roster is missing several key players, including quarterback Gardner Minshew, talented guard Andrew Norwell, top edge defender Josh Allen, and their top-3 cornerbacks CJ Henderson, Sidney Jones, and DJ Hayden. I have this line calculated at Minnesota -13, as they should win this game easily. This isn’t a great spot for the Vikings, as they have to go to Tampa Bay after this one and favorites of 10+ are 65-83 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs, but the Jaguars have another tough game on deck against the Titans and teams are 58-97 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6 or more. Even at this big number, the Vikings are worth a bet.

Minnesota Vikings 33 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -10

Confidence: Medium