2020 Week 14 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

WAS +3.5 @ SF

High Confidence Picks

TEN -7 @ JAX

CLE +3 vs. BAL

NE +5.5 @ LAR

IND -2.5 @ LV

Medium Confidence Picks

NYG +3 vs. ARZ

SEA -13.5 vs. NYJ

PHI +8 vs. NO

Low Confidence Picks

KC -7 @ MIA

MIN +7 @ TB

GB -8.5 @ DET

CHI +1.5 vs. HOU

DAL -3 @ CIN

No Confidence Picks

LAC +1.5 vs. ATL

CAR -4 vs. DEN

BUF -1.5 vs. PIT

Upset Picks

CLE +130 vs. BAL

CHI +115 vs. HOU

NYG +125 vs. ARZ

WAS +150 @ SF

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Cleveland Browns (9-3)

These two teams met way back in week 1 in Baltimore, where the Ravens won in dominant fashion by a final score of 38-6 as 7-point favorites. After that game, it looked like it would be more of the same for these two teams this season as last season, when the Browns disappointed against high expectations and the Ravens won most of their games with ease en route to a 14-2 regular season, but a lot has changed since then, as the Browns have won 9 of 11 games since that blowout loss week 1, while the Ravens are just 7-5, two games behind the Browns in the standings.

The Ravens finished last season easily #1 in first down rate differential at +6.34% (no one else higher than +4.13%), but this year they rank just 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.20%. Their defense has been solid, but their offensive dropoff has been jarring, as they’ve gone from far and away the best in the league to just 26th in first down rate over expected at -2.24%. Part of it is that quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn’t kept up his MVP caliber play and their offensive schemes haven’t caught teams off guard the way they did last year either, but they also are simply missing key parts of last season’s offense. 

Right guard Marshal Yanda retired before the season started, despite a dominant 2019, and the loss of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle to season ending injuries just made things even worse, as those three were arguably their three best run blockers in 2019, which was a key to their offensive system. The Ravens have gotten back the players they were without due to COVID, but they’re still far from 100% with key players out indefinitely. 

Their defense isn’t in as bad shape as their offense, but they’ve still had some injury issues on that side of the ball, including the current injury to stud defensive end Calais Campbell, who is expected to be very limited if he can play at all. The Ravens could still be a playoff team and I would expect them to be better than they’ve been thus far on offense, but they’re far from the dominant team they were last season or that they looked like after their week 1 win over the Browns.

The Browns, meanwhile, have had other clunker performances, scoring single digit points and losing by double digits in all three of their losses, leading to them being -15 in point differential despite a 9-3 record. Their record is largely the result of a 6-0 record in one score games, which is not sustainable long-term, and they haven’t played a particularly tough schedule either, with some of their one score wins coming against the likes of the Jaguars, the Eagles, and the Bengals (twice). In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns are about even with the Ravens, ranking 25th at -2.18%.

However, there is reason to believe the Browns can be better than that going forward, perhaps significantly so. For one, their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 28th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.35%, which is the best side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them be a more serviceable unit going forward, which would allow the Browns to get more big wins. 

The Browns’ offense has been nothing to write home about overall, ranking 17th in first down rate over expected at +0.17%, but they’ve been a lot better in recent weeks, since getting Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller back from four-game absences and since quarterback Baker Mayfield got over the rib injury he played through earlier in the season. That strong offensive play should continue going forward, so, if their defense can even be a mediocre group going forward, this is not going to be an easy team to face. I have the Browns 10th in my roster rankings, about two points better than the Ravens, so my calculated line has the Browns favored by a field goal, at home with limited fans in the stands. Instead, they are home underdogs of a field goal, so we’re getting great line value. The Browns are worth a big play if you can get the full field goal and a smaller play at +2.5.

Cleveland Browns 27 Baltimore Ravens 24 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3

Confidence: High

Houston Texans at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-8) at Chicago Bears (5-7)

The Bears haven’t been a particularly appealing team to pick this season. They started the season 5-1, but all five of their wins were by one score or less and they’ve since lost six straight games. A lot of their losses have been close on the scoreboard, but some of those results looked better than the Bears played, as they were down 16 points to the Colts, 21 points to the Titans, and 21 points to the Rams before some meaningless late scores, while their 6-point loss to the Vikings came in a game in which the Bears got at least 8 points of benefit from their special teams. 

Including a 41-25 loss to the Packers, that’s five of seven losses that were not competitive, while all of their wins could have been losses. On top of that, the success that the Bears have had this season has been on defense, where they rank 7th in first down rate allowed over expected, while their offense ranks 30th in first down rate over expected, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance, which makes the Bears an even more unappealing pick going forward.

All that being said, I am going to pick the Bears this week as 1.5-point home underdogs against the Texans. The Texans are a capable team on paper, ranking 19th in my roster rankings, ahead of the 26th ranked Bears, but so much of that is dependent on star quarterback Deshaun Watson playing at an elite level and the Texans have not played up to their overall talent level, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.30%, with below average play on both sides of the ball, in large part due to poor coaching. 

The Texans could be even worse than that going forward if they don’t stop underachieving, as they lost top wide receiver Will Fuller and top cornerback Bradley Roby for the season with PED suspensions two weeks ago. This also isn’t a good spot for the Texans, as they were effectively eliminated last week with a last second loss to the Colts, a division rival the Texans will get another shot at next week when they play them for the second time in three games. It could be hard for the Texans to be fully focused for a sub-.500 non-conference opponent, while the Bears are somehow still only a game out of the playoffs in the NFC. There isn’t enough here for the Bears’ money line to be worth betting, but I do think they will win and that they should be slightly favored, so the money line at +115 is worth a small play.

Chicago Bears 24 Houston Texans 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1)

This is one of the least appealing games of the week, on a number of levels. The Cowboys have had a very disappointing year and are one of the worst teams in the league due primarily to the amount of key players they have unavailable due to injury, but it doesn’t compare to the Bengals, who were one of the worst teams in the league even before losing quarterback Joe Burrow to injury and replacing him with a bottom of the roster caliber talent in Brandon Allen. The Bengals are also without left tackle Jonah Williams and running back Joe Mixon, two of their best offensive players, among others on defense. As much as the Jets and Jaguars have struggled this season, the Bengals ranked noticeably behind both teams in my roster rankings.

The Cowboys offense actually ranks 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.55% and, while a lot of that is from when they had Dak Prescott healthy, they have shown some ability to move the ball in small chunks consistently with Dalton under center. The big plays haven’t been there, but their lack of pass protection has been the biggest issue, which won’t be nearly as big of an issue against the Bengals and their underwhelming defensive front. That should allow the Cowboys to set up more big plays downfield for their talented receiving corps. 

Unfortunately, this line takes into account the big talent gap between these two teams, favoring the Cowboys by 3.5 points on the road, despite the Bengals having some limited fans in attendance. In fact, this is my exact calculated line, so we’re not getting line value in any direction. The Cowboys should have the motivational edge though as, not only is this Andy Dalton’s return to Cincinnati, but the Cowboys are actually still in the NFC East race technically, while the Bengals have been eliminated. 

The Cowboys may overlook the Bengals a little bit, with a tougher home game on deck against the 49ers (road favorites are just 52-83 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs), but this is also a must win game, while the Bengals could be looking forward to next week’s big home game against the Steelers. Teams are 50-102 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs of 7.5 points or more, which the Bengals almost certainly will be next week. I’m taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no confidence in them, especially since the Bengals could easily get a backdoor cover and cut the final margin to 3 points or fewer, as 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer.

Update: This line has dropped to 3 in most places. I’m more confident in the Cowboys at that number, but not enough to bet them.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-8) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)

The Broncos have been a tough team to predict this season, as they’ve played within one score of teams like the Titans, Steelers, and Chiefs, while beating teams like the Dolphins and Patriots, but they’ve also lost 4 times by at least 18 points and in only one of those instances they weren’t allowed to use a real quarterback. The reason they’ve been so unpredictable is twofold. For one, they are led by their defense, which ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.37%, and defense is inherently a more inconsistent and unpredictable side of the ball. 

On top of that, not only has their offense struggled with a -4.55% first down rate over expected (31st in the NFL), but their quarterback play has been so bad at times that they haven’t had a chance to even be competitive in games, as they lead the league with a 5.13% interception rate. They’ve been better with Drew Lock in the lineup, but only by default, as his 4.39% interception rate is still higher than any other team in the league and by quite a bit over the next team (3.88%). 

The Broncos had one of their good performances last week, as their defense held the Chiefs in check and their offense didn’t make major mistakes and allowed the game to stay close in a 22-16 loss against the defending Super Bowl champs, but if there was ever a time to predict a bad performance from this team it would be this week, as they’ve effectively been eliminated from post-season contention and just lost what amounted to their Super Bowl in Kansas City on Sunday Night Football last week. I don’t expect them to give their best effort for a fellow 4-8 team, particularly a non-conference opponent like the Panthers.

I thought I would like the Panthers more earlier this week, as they seemed to be getting healthier coming out of their bye, with starting left tackle Russell Okung (6 games missed), starting left guard John Miller (2 games) returning before the bye and top cornerback Donte Jackson (2 games) returning this week, but a COVID outbreak not only disrupted their week, but it will force them to be without top wide receiver DJ Moore and top defensive tackle Zach Kerr, which are both big losses. We’re not getting any line value with the Panthers are -3, so, while I still am taking the Panthers, it’s only because I expect a poor performance from the Broncos.

Update: The Broncos will surprisingly be without stud left tackle Garret Bolles due to COVID concerns. With him and Graham Glasgow both out, the Broncos will be without their two best offensive lineman, further crippling one of the least’s worst offenses. The line has moved to Carolina -4 to compensate, which is a little high given the Broncos’ talented defense and the players the Panthers are missing, but I’m still on the Panthers for a no confidence pick because the Broncos could easily be flat for this game.

Carolina Panthers 19 Denver Broncos 14

Pick against the spread: Carolina -4

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-6) at New York Giants (5-7)

Coming out of their bye week a couple weeks ago, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (10th), the Bears (7th), and the Buccaneers (5th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season. 

That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.

Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle last week, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. Even with that game included, the Giants rank just 18th in first down rate over expected at +0.92% and defensive play is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway, but with Daniel Jones back under center this week, the Giants are a decent team, ranking 17th in my roster rankings, as Jones has performed significantly better than his production this season, when you take into account the caliber of defenses he has faced.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting as much line value with the Giants as we would have, if they had not pulled the huge upset last week. My calculated line is even, as the Cardinals are only marginally better than the Giants, given that their defense is one of the worst in the league and that Kyler Murray has not played as well in recent weeks, likely in part due to a shoulder injury, but there isn’t enough for the Giants to be worth taking at +2.5. I may reconsider if this line moves up to a full field goal before gametime though and the money line is a good value as well at +125, as this game is close to a toss up.

Update: Some +3s briefly popped up on Sunday morning. If you were lucky enough to get one, it’s worth a play, even paying extra vig.

New York Giants 31 Arizona Cardinals 30 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (9-3) at Detroit Lions (5-7)

Ordinarily, when a good team has back-to-back easy games, that team tends to fare very well in the first game, without any upcoming distractions on the schedule. That’s especially true when their opponent has another tough game on deck, as favorites of 6 or more are 69-23 ATS since 2010 before being favored by 6 or more points again when their opponent will next be favored by 6 points again the following week. All three of those things should be the case in this one, with the Packers facing the Panthers next and the Lions facing the Titans.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting line value with the Packers as 8.5-point favorites in Detroit. The Packers’ defense has been suspect, with a +0.89% first down rate allowed over expected, and, while defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, the Packers’ 6th ranked offense in first down rate over expected (1.84%) is missing stud center Corey Linsley and doesn’t have a massive edge over the Lions’ 12th ranked offense (+1.03%). I have these two teams about seven points apart, giving us a calculated line of Green Bay -6.5. I’m still taking the Packers for pick ‘em purposes because of the great spot they’re in, but this could still be a relatively final score, especially if the Lions can keep it close enough to get a backdoor cover late.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -8.5

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-9)

Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons in the win-loss column, but both have been better than their record. The Chargers were blown out 45-0 by the Patriots last week, but most of their losses have been close, as they previously hadn’t lost by more than 10 and seven of their nine losses have come by one score, including blown leads against high level teams like the Chiefs, Saints, and Buccaneers. The Falcons, meanwhile, don’t need to be told about blowing leads, as they’ve blown three leads in games in which they had a very high win probability late, which has them at 4-8 despite a +9 point differential. Despite both team’s losing records, both teams have actually spent more time with the lead than trailing this season. 

The Chargers rank a little higher in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (-0.49% vs. -1.00%), but the Falcons have the better offense (-0.51% vs. -2.04%), which is more predictable and consistent, and they have the edge in my roster rankings as well (16th vs. 22nd). Overall, I have the Falcons about 2 points better than the Chargers, which gives us a calculated line of Atlanta -1.5 if we give the Chargers a half point for nominal homefield advantage. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where this line is, so we’re not getting any line value either way. I’m taking the Chargers purely because I think they’ll be the more motivated team, trying to avenge last week’s blowout loss (teams are 63-39 ATS since 2002 after losing by 35 or more points), but I don’t have much confidence in them.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Los Angeles Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +1.5

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) at Buffalo Bills (9-3)

These two teams are almost identical in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, with the Steelers ranking 5th at +2.37% and the Bills ranking 6th at +2.24%, but they do it in very different ways. The Steelers dominate on defense, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.72%, but their offense struggles, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.35%, while the Bills have a dominant offense, which ranks 2nd in first down rate over expected at +4.36%, but a defense that ranks just 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.11%. The Bills should be the better bet going forward though, purely because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance. 

It’s much more likely the Bills will have a strong defensive performance to complement their dominant offense than it is that the Steelers will have a strong offensive performance to complement their dominant defense and it’s also more likely that the Steelers’ defense will disappoint than the Bills’ offense disappointing, especially since the injuries are starting to pile up on Pittsburgh’s defense, with starting edge defender Bud Dupree, starting linebacker Robert Spillane, and starting cornerback Joe Haden all out. The Bills, meanwhile, are relatively healthy, especially on defense with top linebacker Matt Milano returning last week, a defense that in general has underperformed it’s talent level and could easily be better going forward because of that.

Given that, I had this game circled last week when the Bills were 2.5-point home underdogs on the early line, but the Bills’ big win against the 49ers and the Steelers’ loss to Washington shifted this line to Buffalo -1.5. That isn’t a massive swing, especially since it’s within the field goals (-3 and +3), but my calculated line is just Buffalo -2, so we’re not getting any real line value with the Bills. The most likely outcome is the Bills winning this game by a field goal, so they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s not enough here to be confident in them.

Buffalo Bills 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -1.5

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-5)

The Colts only have a one game edge in the standings, but record is not always indicative of how a team has played and the Colts have been the clearly better of these two teams this season, with clear edges in point differential (+55 vs. -24) and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.45% vs. -2.37%). The Colts also hold about a 5-point edge in my roster rankings and are relatively healthy aside from left tackle Anthony Castonzo being questionable to return from a one-game absence, while the Raiders are missing their top-2 defensive backs Damon Arnette and Jeff Heath. 

Despite that, the Colts are favored by just 2.5 points in Las Vegas, where the Raiders won’t have any fans. My calculated line is Indianapolis -4.5 and, while those two points might not seem like a big deal, about 1 in 5 games are decided by 3-4 points exactly. I like the Colts a lot this week because they are the significantly better team and essentially just need to win in what isn’t much more than a neutral site game to cover this 2.5-point spread. This is a smaller bet for now, but I will increase this if there is good news on Castonzo. 

Update: Not only is Castonzo active, but, while Josh Jacobs is active for the Raiders, he’s apparently not going to be playing. Get -2.5 while you can. 

Indianapolis Colts 27 Las Vegas Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: High