New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1)

It may seem crazy, but there are reasons to like the Eagles this week and I strongly considered betting on them as home underdogs of a touchdown against the Saints. The Eagles’ offensive struggles have been well documented this season, but what’s been lost in that is that their defense has played pretty well, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed over expected and, while their offensive issues go beyond their quarterback play, it’s hard to imagine their offense being worse with Jalen Hurts under center than Carson Wentz, given how much Wentz has regressed and struggled this year. Perhaps the rookie Hurts can give this offense somewhat of a spark, especially in his debut against a team that hardly has any professional tape on him in this offense.

The Saints have been a juggernaut this season, going on their annual run (91-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17 since 2010) and winning 9 straight since their 1-2 start, including 3 straight with backup quarterback Taysom Hill in the lineup. Their wins with Hill in the lineup have been much more defensive led though and this could easily be a relatively low scoring defensive battle, in which case having a full touchdown of cushion with the home team would be very attractive. 

This is also an obvious look ahead spot for the Saints, with a big home game against the Chiefs on deck. Road favorites are just 52-83 ATS before being home underdogs since 2008 and, even if the Saints aren’t home underdogs next week (+3 currently on the early line), the logic still holds that the Saints might not be fully focused for a 3-8-1 team with a defending champs on deck and, as a result, that they could easily be caught off guard by a quarterback who they’ve hardly seen play at the NFL level. We’re not getting quite enough line value with the Eagles to bet money against this Saints juggernaut, but they should be the right side.

Update: This line has moved to up 8, so I’m going to place a small wager on the Eagles. My calculated line is New Orleans -6.5, so we’re getting decent line value with the Eagles, but, more importantly, the Saints are in a tough spot, facing an unfamiliar quarterback, with a much tougher matchup on deck. This should be a close defensive matchup and, barring return touchdowns or something else strange, I would expect a one score game. 

New Orleans Saints 19 Philadelphia Eagles 14

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +8

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) at Miami Dolphins (8-4)

The Dolphins are 8-4, but they’ve faced one of the easier schedules in the league, with half of their wins coming against the three teams (Bengals, Jaguars, and Jets) who rank in the bottom-3 in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. They’ve also benefited significantly from opponents missing field goals, something almost entirely out of a team’s control, as their 57.14% opponents field goal percentage is lowest in the league by a wide margin over the 2nd ranked Ravens (65.00%) and an even wider margin over the 3rd ranked team (76.19%).

That third ranked team is the Chiefs, but there’s a wider gap between them and the Dolphins than there is between them and the last ranked Bills. It’s also hard to argue that opponents missing field goals is the reason why the Chiefs are 11-1 right now, as they rank 4th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.10% and have been incredibly dominant on offense once again, ranking 1st in first down rate over expected at +4.37%. Their defense ranks just 23rd in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.27%, but defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and, if the Chiefs get even a middling defensive performance, they’re near impossible to beat because of how good their offense is consistently almost every week. 

It’s safe to say the Dolphins schedule is getting a lot tougher with the Chiefs coming to town, a problem since they’ve only been a middling team when you strip away the benefit they’ve gotten from their schedule and from opponents missing field goals, as they rank just 17th in first down rate differential at +0.19% and even that may be outplaying their talent level, as they rank just 25th in my roster rankings. Unfortunately, we’re not getting the line value I’d need to bet on the Chiefs, as the general public seems to have a pretty good idea that there is a big talent gap between these two teams, with this line favoring the Chiefs by 7, exactly where I have this line calculated. I’m still taking the Chiefs for pick ‘em purposes because the general rule of thumb is to pick Mahomes unless you have a good reason not to (28-19-2 ATS in his career, including 18-11 ATS after winning his MVP), but I would need a better line for this to be worth betting.

Kansas City Chiefs 26 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7

Confidence: Low

Minnesota Vikings at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)

The Vikings have jumped to 6-6 after their 1-5 start, but I still think they’re a little underrated, as a lot of the metrics that suggested they’d be better after their 1-5 start still suggest they can be better going forward. They have a net -18.2% fourth down conversion rate, a 38.71% fumble recovery rate (30th in the NFL), a 3.31% interception rate (28th in the NFL) that is nearly double quarterback Kirk Cousins’ average from the past 5 seasons (1.90%), and -4 return touchdown margin, all metrics that tend to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which is a much more consistent metric, the Vikings rank 8th in at +2.13%, and, while their defense will have a big absence this week with top linebacker Eric Kendricks injured, they still rank a respectable 13th in my roster rankings, suggesting that, even without one of their best defensive players, the Vikings still are a little better than their .500 record.

The Buccaneers also have been better statistically than their record would suggest, ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.33%. They’re “just” 7-5, but three of their five losses came by one score or less and four of their five losses came against other teams in the top-4 in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (The Saints twice, the Chiefs, and the Rams). However, they have been led by their defense more than the Vikings, which is a concern because defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. 

The Buccaneers’ defense, which ranks 5th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.25%, has somewhat covered for an offense that has been inconsistent and ranks 11th in first down rate over expected at +1.08%, but their defense might not be able to do that going forward, not just due to the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance, but also because the injuries are starting to pile up, with talented starting cornerback Jamel Dean joining stud defensive tackle Vita Vea on the sidelines. The Vikings, meanwhile, rank 7th in first down rate over expected at +1.76%, so they’ve been the more efficient of these two offenses this season. 

The Buccaneers’ offense has the talent to be a lot better offensively than they’ve been, but they’ve underachieved thus far, in large part due to the fact that quarterback Tom Brady seems to be slowing down after all these years. He’s still a capable quarterback, even at age 43, but if you look at his performance over the past three seasons, you can see a steady decline and he should be producing a lot more with the talent he has around him in this offense. 

Given all of this, there are reasons to be tempted to bet the Vikings, as we’re getting seven points with a team who has statistically been more efficient on offense this season, but I’m going to keep this as a low confidence pick only because of the chance that Tom Brady and this offense live up to their potential, at least for a week, as they’ll be rested coming out of their bye week, which also likely gave them some extra time to build needed chemistry on this offense. 

With the bye included, the Buccaneers haven’t won a game in close to a calendar month (November 15th) and Tom Brady’s history off of a loss (46-22 ATS) is well noted at this point, so he should be as fully focused as possible. That doesn’t matter if Brady continues to be far from the quarterback he used to be, especially against an underrated Vikings team, and he hasn’t been as good at covering the spread after a loss when he’s favored by this many points, but the possibility that this offense has their best week of the season after a bye against a defense missing it’s top linebacker is enough for me to keep this as just a low confidence pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Minnesota Vikings 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (8-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11)

Coming into the season, most expected the Jaguars to be one of the worst teams in the league, if not the worst team. The Jaguars surprisingly made the AFC Championship game in 2017 led by probably the league’s best defense, but teams led by their defense typically don’t have much staying power, as defensive play is inconsistent year-to-year and keeping together talented defenses under the cap is very challenging long-term, so they missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 and opted to do a full teardown and rebuild this off-season, entering the season with probably the league’s worst roster on paper.

The Jaguars threw some people off the scent with their shocking week 1 victory over the Colts, but that looks like an obvious fluke in hindsight, with the Colts now sitting at 8-4 and the Jaguars having lost 11 straight games by an average of about 10 points per game. The Jets are winless and haven’t been competitive in most of their games and the Bengals are missing so many key players, so the Jaguars might not be the worst team in the league, but they aren’t much better, ranking 31st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -4.94%. 

The Jaguars’ struggles haven’t been concentrated on one side of the ball either, as they rank 27th in first down rate over expected and 29th in first down rate allowed over expected. Making matters worse, the Jaguars are missing key players due to injury on both sides of the ball right now, missing their top-2 offensive linemen Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder, their top edge defender Josh Allen, and their top-2 cornerbacks CJ Henderson and DJ Hayden.

The Titans have been as bad, if not worse than the Jaguars defensively, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed over expected, but they have an obvious edge on offense, not just over the Jaguars, but over most teams in the league, as they rank 3rd in first down rate over expected. Offense is a much more consistent side of the ball than defense and if the Titans’ defense can be even passable going forward, that will be a big boost for a team that should continue being one of the best in the league on offense, especially with running back Derrick Henry getting into the part of the season where historically he’s been nearly impossible to contain. I have about 11 points of separation overall between these two teams (almost entirely due to the disparity in offensive performance), so we’re getting good value with the Titans as just 7-point favorites in Jacksonville (my calculated line is around Tennessee -9.5 or -10). 

The Titans are also in a much better spot, with only an easy home game against the Lions up next, while the Jaguars are playing back-to-back tough games, going to Baltimore next week. Underdogs of 6 or more are 23-69 ATS since 2010 before being underdogs of 6 or more again when their opponent will next be favorites and all three of those conditions should be true here. Given the schedule spot and the disparity between these two offenses, I have a hard time seeing the Jaguars keep this one close, so the Titans seem like an easy bet at -7.

Tennessee Titans 35 Jacksonville Jaguars 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -7

Confidence: High

New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-12) at Seattle Seahawks (8-4)

The Seahawks lost last week in shocking fashion, sitting at 8-3, at home facing a sub-.500 team who was starting a backup quarterback. Even more shocking is that, while the Seahawks’ issues this season have primarily been on the defensive side of the ball, the unit that struggled the most in Seattle’s 17-12 loss was their offense. The good news is I like the Seahawks’ chances of bouncing back, for a few reasons. 

For one, teams typically bounce back off of big upset losses like that, covering at a 57.1% rate all-time after a straight up loss as favorites of 10 or more, as big upset losses tend to be flukes more than anything. The Jaguars’ upset of the Colts and the Raiders’ upset of the Chiefs stand out as two fluky results from this season. The Seahawks’ loss to the Giants will likely be remembered the same way as those losses and both of those teams covered fairly easily the following week. 

The Seahawks lso bounced back from losses well in general in the Russell Wilson era, losing back-to-back games just 9 times in about 9 seasons. The Seahawks are favored by 13.5 points in this matchup with the Jets, so they’ll need to win by a lot to cover, but the Seahawks are also 28-12 ATS off of a loss in the Russell Wilson era, including 8-3 ATS as favorites of more than a touchdown, so a huge victory this week to wash away the taste of last week’s disappointing loss is definitely a possibility.

Even with last week’s disappointing offensive performance, the Seahawks still rank 5th in first down rate over expected at +2.11% and, while their defense ranks an underwhelming 20th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.11%, defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and their defense has been significantly better in recent weeks since getting top safety Jamal Adams and top cornerback Shaq Griffin back from injuries and since adding edge defender Carlos Dunlap in a trade with the Bengals. 

The Seahawks’ offense has also gotten healthier. They’ve gotten their top-2 running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde back from significant absences in recent weeks and this week they’ll have their full healthy offensive line together for the first time since 4, with right tackle Brandon Shell set to return this week. The Seahawks aren’t at 100%, but no one is at this point in the season and they’re legitimately healthier right now than they’ve been since the start of the season. In their current state, I have the Seahawks ranked 2nd in my roster rankings, so they should be a force going forward, last week’s fluky result aside.

The Jets, meanwhile, haven’t won a game all season and most of their losses haven’t been close, as 7 of their 12 losses were by 14 or more points, which would cover this spread, and their average margin of defeat is 14.4 points per game, so the Seahawks wouldn’t even need to give the Jets their average margin of defeat to cover this spread. This line was -15 last week on the early line, but it shifted to 13.5 in the wake of Seattle’s fluky loss, which gives us some extra line value. The Jets’ had one of their better performances of the year last week in a near win over the Raiders, but their good health in the receiving corps and on the offensive line lasted just one week and, as a result, my roster rankings suggest there is about a 14.5 point difference between these two teams.

The Jets are also in a tough spot with back-to-back hard road games, with a trip to Los Angeles to face the Rams on deck. It’s very tough for inferior teams to keep up with superior teams when they have another superior team on deck, as teams are 55-91 ATS since 1989 as double digit underdogs before being double digit underdogs again the following week. Everything suggests this should be a blowout, so, even though I don’t love betting on big favorites, this seems like a relatively safe bet.

Seattle Seahawks 30 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -13.5

Confidence: Medium

Washington Football Team at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (5-7)

I have bet on Washington in each of the past four weeks since they’ve turned to Alex Smith under center and it has paid off as they have covered each time, including three straight wins and an upset win over the previously undefeated Steelers last week. Despite that win and the 49ers’ double digit loss to the Bills on Monday Night Football, this line has more or less stayed the same since the early line, favoring the 49ers by 3.5 in what amounts to a neutral site game in Arizona, after favoring them by 4 on the early line last week, so Washington remains underrated.

Washington’s strength is it’s defense, which ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.05%, and, while defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, the 49ers are also a defensive lead team (10th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.89%) and Washington’s offense has been much improved since their offensive line got healthy and Smith took over as the quarterback. Their running game takes a hit without starting running back Antonio Gibson, who is out this week, but, even without him, I have Washington a couple points better in my roster rankings than the 49ers, who have their own obvious injury issues, with Tim Compton, Kevin Givens, and DJ Jones joining an ever growing players of unavailable players. 

With this game essentially being a neutral site game, this line suggests the 49ers are about 3.5 points better, so we’re getting significant line value with Washington, especially when you consider that 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. Even if they can’t pull the upset, Washington should be at least able to keep this game close. Washington +3.5 is my Pick of the Week and even if you can’t get that number anymore (still available in some places Friday Night), I would still recommend a big play on +3.

Washington Football Team 20 San Francisco 49ers 17 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New England Patriots at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (6-6) at Los Angeles Rams (8-4)

The rule of thumb in games where both teams are on short rest is to bet the favorite, especially in non-divisional games. It makes sense that more talented, better coached teams would be at even more of an advantage in a tough situation like a short week, especially if they aren’t facing a divisional opponent that is familiar with them, and it’s also backed up by numbers, as teams are 60-37 ATS as non-divisional favorites on a short week over the past 30 seasons. The Rams are favored by 5.5 in this non-conference matchup, so they fit the trend, but the trend only makes sense if you can justify the team being favored by as many points as they are, which is hard to do, as these two teams are much closer than this line suggests. 

This game is in Los Angeles, meaning it’s technically a home game for the Rams, but they won’t have any fans in the stadium, so homefield advantage really is beneficial only for travel purposes and the Rams will actually have traveled more recently than the Patriots, as they were in Arizona last week facing the Cardinals, while the Patriots will be in their second straight game in Los Angeles, having faced the Chargers last week, which should also cancel out the circadian rhythm problem that east coast teams have against west coast teams in night games. I would maybe give the Rams a half point for homefield advantage, so for this line to be right, the Rams would have to be 5 points better than the Patriots, which doesn’t seem accurate.

The Rams have definitely had the better defense this season, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.62%, only behind the Steelers, while the Patriots rank 15th at +0.36%, but defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive play and my roster rankings suggest that, while the Rams have a good defense, they have overplayed their talent level, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them regress at least somewhat going forward. 

If that happens, the Rams will be more reliant on their offense, which ranks 15th in first down rate over expected at +0.58% and is still missing a key player in left tackle Andrew Whitworth. That injury has been overlooked because the Rams have gone 2-1 in his absence, but one of their wins came against a Cardinals defense that is one of the worst in the league, their other win came in Tampa Bay in a game in which the Rams had a mediocre offensive performance in a good situation spot, while their loss came at home against a middling 49ers team.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are just 6-6, but they’ve been better than their record, especially on offense. They have a positive point differential at +19, despite a relatively tough schedule and some early injury and COVID absences, and they rank 11th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.20%, including 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.55%. Their offense isn’t flashy, but they’re very efficient on the ground with both running back runs and quarterback runs and they have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, even with Isaiah Wynn injured. 

The Patriots also don’t get blown out often, with just one loss by more than one score with Cam Newton in the lineup. They kept it within 5 points in Seattle and in Buffalo and have beaten quality teams like the Cardinals, Raiders, Ravens, and Dolphins, so it’s hard to see how the Rams would be expected to win by 6 points in what amounts to a neutral site game, as the Rams are more or less comparable in caliber to the aforementioned six teams that the Patriots have played competitively this season. 

I have these two teams about 1.5 points apart, giving me a calculated line of Los Angeles -2, so we’re getting significant line value at +5.5, as about 28% of games are decided by 2-5 points. This might be my Pick of the Week if this game were later in the week, but there may be others I like more, so I’m keeping this as “just” a high confidence bet. Either way, I like the Patriots a lot this week, as they continue to be underrated, while the Rams’ offensive issues have been overlooked.

Los Angeles Rams 24 New England Patriots 23

Pick against the spread: New England +5.5

Confidence: High