2020 Week 15 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

NO +3 vs. KC

High Confidence Picks

JAX +13 @ BAL

Medium Confidence Picks

LAC +3.5 @ LV

CIN +14 vs. PIT

CLE -6 @ NYG

DAL +3.5 vs. SF

NE +1 @ MIA

Low Confidence Picks

BUF -5.5 @ DEN

HOU +7.5 @ IND

PHI +6.5 @ ARZ

SEA -6.5 @ WAS

NYJ +17 @ LAR

No Confidence Picks

ATL +6 vs. TB

MIN -3 vs. CHI

TEN -9 vs. DET

GB -8.5 vs. CAR

Upset Picks

NE +100 @ MIA

LAC +155 @ LV

NO +140 vs. KC

Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-8) at Tennessee Titans (9-4)

This line has finally posted, favoring the Titans by 9 points at home over the Lions, with Matt Stafford expected to play through a rib injury. If Stafford was healthy and not at risk of an in-game setback, I would have been all over the Lions this week. For one, they’re in a better spot than the Titans, who have to turn around and play a much tougher game against the Packers next week. Favorites cover at just a 44.0% rate all-time when facing a team with a winning percentage less than 40% before facing a team with a winning percentage at least 30% higher than their current opponent. 

The Lions’ defense has been horrendous this season, ranking dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at +4.43%, but the Titans haven’t been much better, ranking 28th at +2.47%, and defensive performance is much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive performance. The Titans obviously have the edge on offense, which they do over most teams, as they are one of the top teams in the league, ranking 3rd in first down rate over expected at +3.10%, but the Lions aren’t too far behind, ranking 8th at +1.73%. 

If Stafford was healthy, the Lions absolutely could have kept this shootout close and covered this spread. However, with him being less than 100% and possibly significantly less than 100%, it’s a much riskier play. In fact, if the Titans get cornerback Adoree Jackson back this week and guard Rodger Saffold plays through his questionable tag, I’m going to flip this pick to the Titans. For now, I’m taking the Lions for pick ‘em purposes, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

Update: Saffold and Jackson are both playing, so I am switching my pick to Tennessee. I’m actually disappointed that Stafford won’t be missing this game because I would have loved to bet on the Titans if backup Chase Daniel was starting. This is as healthy as the Titans have been in a while, while the Lions are very banged up on both sides of the ball. For reference, my calculated line is currently Tennessee -10, but it would have been Tennessee -16 with Daniel under center.

Tennessee Titans 34 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -9

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at New York Giants: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)

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 (8th), the Bears (6th), 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 two weeks ago, 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. Last week, with Jones back, I bet on the Giants, but Jones looked far from 100% and was arguably a downgrade even from McCoy. Seeing that Jones clearly needed more time to get healthy, the Giants will go back to McCoy this week.

With that in mind, the Browns are a very intriguing bet this week as 6-point road favorites. Some may think McCoy isn’t a big downgrade from a healthy Jones because he was the quarterback when the Giants beat the Seahawks and because his statistics aren’t a huge drop off from Jones, but they don’t realize that Jones has faced tough competition in almost every healthy start he’s made this season, while McCoy has gotten to play the Bengals and Seahawks, two below average defenses. 

Even with much easier competition, McCoy has led a noticeably less effective offense, as their win over the Seahawks was almost entirely because of their dominant defensive performance. Defensive performance is highly inconsistent week-to-week and the Giants rank just 15th in first down rate allowed over expected on the season at +0.20%, so I wouldn’t expect that again. Unless they can get a similar performance from their defense as they had against the Seahawks, I have a hard time seeing the Giants keeping it close with the Browns with McCoy under center. I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns as a result of McCoy being under center when the Giants beat the Seahawks, as my calculated line is Cleveland -7.5.

The Browns haven’t been as good as their 9-4 record, playing a relatively weak schedule and needing to go 6-1 in one score games to get to 9-4. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 25th at -2.14%. However, their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.16%, 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. 

On offense, which is the much more consistent side of the ball, the Browns rank 12th in first down rate over expected at 1.02%. The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far and they’ll have their top-2 defensive players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in the lineup together for the first time since week 10 this week, 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. I expect this to be one of those big wins, so the Browns are worth a bet as 6-point road favorites.

Cleveland Browns 27 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -6

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9)

The Cowboys have had a disappointing season, but there are some reasons to be optimistic about their chances of covering spreads going forward. The Cowboys’ offense hasn’t been as good since losing Dak Prescott, not to mention their top-3 offensive linemen in Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La’El Collins, but they’ve been better in recent weeks since getting Andy Dalton back from injury and, all in all, they’ve been better than you’d expect on offense, ranking 10th in first down rate over expected on the season at +1.35%. 

Turnovers have been a problem for the Cowboys, but turnover margin is highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Case in point, through the first 7 games of the season, the Cowboys had the worst turnover margin in the league at -13, but they’re actually +3 over their past 6 games. The Cowboys’ defense has been a bigger problem this season than the offense, but they’re healthier on that side of the ball now than they’ve been, with top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, top linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and talented edge rusher Randy Gregory returning in recent weeks. My roster rankings have the Cowboys 24th, which isn’t anything to write home about, but I think they’re underrated compared to their public perception.

The 49ers are also a little underrated too, as they have been much better in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.52%) than their record would suggest and they are healthier now than they were earlier this season, even if only by default, most notably getting top cornerback Richard Sherman (9 games missed) back a few weeks ago. They’re still a far cry from last season, ranking 17th in my roster rankings, most notably missing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, and edge defender Nick Bosa, but they’re better than their record would suggest.

I think the Cowboys are a little bit more underrated though, as I have this line calculated at San Francisco -1.5, rather than -3.5, a big swing, considering about 1 in 5 games are decided by 2-3 points. The Cowboys are also in a better spot, with a relatively easy game against the Eagles on deck, while play the 49ers play the Cardinals next.  Underdogs cover at a 55.1% rate all-time against a team with a .500 or worse record when their opponents will next have a .400 or worse record and their opponents next opponent will have a .500 or better record, which is the case here. The Cowboys are worth a small bet if you can get the full 3.5.

Update: Ezekiel Elliott won’t be playing for the Cowboys, which isn’t a huge deal because he’s having a down year and his backup Tony Pollard likely won’t be much of a drop off. Meanwhile, the 49ers will be surprisingly without cornerback Jason Verrett, which is a bigger absence than Elliott. I wish I hadn’t locked this in at +3.5 though, as this line has climbed to 4 or even 4.5 in some places, due to Elliott’s absence. I still recommend betting the Cowboys confidently even without Elliott, even better if you can now get them at 4 or 4.5.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Dallas Cowboys 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)

The Steelers started 11-0, but they’ve been exposed over the past two weeks, losing to Washington and Buffalo in back-to-back games. They have a very good chance at getting back into the win column this week against the lowly Bengals, but whether or not they’ll cover this 13-point spread is the question. The Steelers are a defensive led team (2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.97%) that struggles on offense (29th in first down rate over expected at -2.92%), so they’re not built to blow teams out. Even when they were winning, just 3 of their 11 wins would have covered this 13-point spread, including 10-point or fewer wins over the Giants, Broncos, Texans, Cowboys, and the COVID depleted Ravens. The Bengals are arguably the worst team in the league, but I still have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -11, so we’re getting some line value with Cincinnati.

This is also a tough spot for the Steelers, in between last week’s tough game against the Bills and another big game against the Colts next week. The Bengals, meanwhile, only have the lowly Texans on deck. Favorites cover at just a 43.4% rate against opponents with a 35% winning percentage or worse when they next play an opponent with a winning percentage higher than 70% and when their opponent next plays an opponent with a winning percentage or 35% or less. 

On top of that, favorites cover at a 46.3% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 35%+ higher than their current opponent. I know the Steelers are coming off back-to-back losses and will want to end their losing streak, but I doubt anyone on this team really believes they can lose to the Bengals, so this might not be their best effort, in between two much tougher games. They can obviously still win without their best effort, but covering this spread is another thing.

The Bengals were blown out at home by the Cowboys last week, but teams typically fare better in their second straight game as home underdogs as compared to the first one, especially if they lost the first one. Home underdogs cover at a 54.1% rate after a loss as home underdogs, including 58.9% rate after a loss by 20 points or more. Overall, home underdogs of a touchdown or more are 22-9 ATS after a loss by 20 points or more as home underdogs over the past 30 seasons. The Bengals are always a risky bet and there isn’t enough here for them to be worth betting confidently, but they should be the right side.

Update: This line has increased to 14 in most places. I’m more confident at that number, so this is worth a small bet.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

The Falcons are just 4-9, but they’ve been competitive in most of their games, losing just three times by more than one score and losing three games in which they had a 95% chance of winning late. None of their losses have been decided by more than 15 points, while two of their wins have featured margins of victory larger than 15. They have a positive point differential at +6 and, despite a relatively easy schedule overall, they still rank 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.70%. 

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, rank 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate at +3.99%, but they’ve been slipping a little in recent weeks. They’re led by their defense, which ranks 5th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.99%, but defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and their defense hasn’t been as good recently as it was earlier in the season.

That was expected, but I would have also expected to see their offense improve as their defense declined, as Tom Brady got more familiarity in this system and with his new receiving corps, particularly Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, who missed significant time earlier this season with injury and suspension respectively. That hasn’t happened though, in part because Brady seems to be slowing down at age 43. We’re not getting much line value with the Falcons (my calculated line is Tampa Bay -5.5), but they’re the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Atlanta Falcons 19

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +6

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

Typically, I like to go against significant week-to-week line swings, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. This game features one, as the Vikings have gone from being favored by 6 points on the early line last week to 3 points this week. The Vikings lost last week, but they played relatively competitively with a talented Buccaneers team, so that line movement is probably primarily due to the Bears’ big 36-7 win over the Texans last week. The Texans seemed to barely try in that game though, with their season essentially being ended the week before in heartbreaking fashion in a last second loss to the Colts, so I don’t give the Bears too much credit for that one, especially since the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league right now due to several key absent players.

My calculated line is Minnesota -4.5 and my line likely would have been around there regardless of how the Bears played last week, so the line movement from 6 to 3 is a big deal, as I probably would have been on the Bears at +6. Both of these teams are 6-7, but the Vikings have played better than their record, ranking 7th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.37%. The metrics they have struggled in are metrics that are much less predictable week-to-week, like their net -9.36% fourth down conversion rate, their -21.21% net field goal conversion percentage, their 39.39% fumble recovery rate (29th in the NFL), their 3.00% interception rate (28th in the NFL) that is significantly higher than quarterback Kirk Cousins’ average from the past 5 seasons (1.90%), and their -4 return touchdown margin

Even though we’re getting some line value with the Vikings, I wouldn’t recommend a bet because they’re in a couple bad spots. For one, they have a much tougher game on deck in New Orleans, while the Bears have a very easy game against the Jaguars. Favorite cover at just a 45.5% rate when they next face an opponent with a winning percentage 60% better than the team their opponent will face next week. Making matters worse, the Vikings game against the Saints is next Friday, so the Vikings will be on a short week. Favorites cover at just a 43.7% rate all-time before a Thursday or Friday game. I’m still on the Vikings for pick ‘em purposes, but this is a no confidence pick.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (9-4) at Washington Football Team (6-7)

I have bet on Washington in each of the past five weeks and they’ve come through every time. They’ve had one of the better defenses in the league all season and their underrated offense has been able to play complementary football in recent weeks, leading to a 4-1 straight up stretch that now has them atop the NFC East. The big reason for their offensive turnaround has been the insertion of veteran Alex Smith into the starting lineup, but Washington’s offensive line is also significantly healthier than it was earlier this season and is playing well and they’ve gotten good production on the ground as well.

Unfortunately, it looks like those days are coming to an end. Featured running back Antonio Gibson got hurt and missed his first game last week, which was a big blow in a game in which Washington won despite a poor offensive performance, and now Smith will join him on the sideline with a calf issue, leaving Dwayne Haskins, the least effective of their three starting quarterbacks from this season, to start this game against the Seahawks. Washington still has a strong offensive line, but without Smith and Gibson, this offense is going to have a much harder time putting together drives.

The Seahawks’ defense has been a problem this season, ranking 20th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.02% and holding back a team that ranks 4th in first down rate over expected at +2.76%, but defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play and the Seahawks have a better chance than most to be improved going forward, as they are significantly more talented than they were earlier this season, with safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaq Griffin back in the lineup after missing significant time with injuries and defensive lineman Damon Harrison and Carlos Dunlap added in mid-season acquisitions. 

The Seahawks could also get their other starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar back this week from an extended absence, which would be an additional boost to this defense. Even without Dunbar in the lineup, the Seahawks still rank 2nd in my roster rankings and figure to be a force going forward now that they’ve improved their defensive issues, as they typically are in the second half of seasons, going 44-22-3 ATS in weeks 9-16 in the Russell Wilson era, as opposed to 34-34-4 ATS in weeks 1-8. 

Unfortunately, we’re not getting great line value with the Seahawks, as this line has shifted from Seattle -3.5 to -6.5 in the wake of Smith’s injury and the Seahawks blowout win over the Jets last week. My calculated line is Seattle -7.5, giving us some line value, especially since about 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly a touchdown, but Seattle isn’t in a great spot, with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck, while Washington has a much easier game against the Panthers. Underdogs cover at a 54.4% rate before playing a team with a 40% or worse winning percentage when their opponent will next play a team with a 60% or better, which is the case here. I’m still taking the Seahawks for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Washington Football Team 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (6-7) at Miami Dolphins (8-5)

The Patriots have been a tough team to predict this season because they’ve been one of the most inconsistent in the league, ranking 4th in the league in variance, only behind three teams that have had a lot more injury problems and, as a result, have started drastically different lineups at different points at this season, explaining a lot of the variance. The Patriots had some injuries earlier in the season when they lost by double digits to the 49ers and Chiefs and lost to the Broncos in upset fashion and they’ve been better in recent weeks, knocking off quality teams like the Ravens and Cardinals and blowing out the Chargers, but, even still, the Patriots have also lost to Houston during their recent stretch and were blown out by the Rams last week.

Overall, the Patriots have been a little bit above average. They have about an even point differential (-2), despite facing one of the tougher schedules in the league, and in terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 12th at 0.86%, which lines up with my roster rankings, which also have them 12th, now healthier than they were earlier this season during their most disappointing stretch. 

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have a couple more wins, but haven’t been as good overall. They’ve played a relatively easy schedule, with half of their wins coming against the three worst teams in the league (the Bengals, the Jaguars, and the Jets twice). Of their eight wins, just two have come against teams that currently have a winning record, a 3-point victory over the 7-6 Cardinals (who the Patriots also beat) and a win over the Rams in which the Dolphins managed just 8 first downs and 145 yards of offense and primarily won because they had return touchdowns of 78 yards and 88 yards, which certainly is not sustainable every week. 

Beyond those two return touchdowns, the Dolphins have generally benefited from metrics that are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, in addition to their easy schedule. The Dolphins lead the league in opponent’s field goal conversion rate at 60.00%, rank 8th in fumble recovery rate at 58.06%, and they have a +10 turnover margin, which ranks tied for 2nd in the NFL. As counterintuitive as it may seem, going against teams with impressive turnover margins this late in the season actually tends to be a smart move. Turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and, as a result, teams with a turnover margin of +10 or more in week 15 or later, on average, have a +0.64 turnover margin over the final 3 games of the season, leading to them covering the spread at just a 46.2% rate in those games.

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which is much more predictive, the Dolphins are a middling team, ranking 17th at +0.37%, behind their opponents, the New England Patriots. That is even better than their roster rankings, suggesting they’ve actually outperformed their talent level to get to this point. They rank 23rd in my roster rankings and, while they could move up if key questionable players like linebacker Kyle Van Noy, guard Ereck Flowers, and tight end Mike Gesicki suit up, if several of those players are unable to play, I am probably going to end up betting on the Patriots, even if we aren’t getting much line value with them as 1.5 point road underdogs. This is a low confidence pick for now (my calculated line is New England -2), but I may have an update when inactives are released.

Update: Van Noy will play for the Dolphins, but that’s where the good news ends on the Dolphins’ injury report, as not only will Gesicki and Flowers both be out, but the Dolphins will also be without their top-2 wide receivers Devante Parker and Jakeem Grant. Already thin in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, the Dolphins figure to have a tough time consistently stringing together drives in this game, even against a middling Patriots defense. The Patriots will be without running back Damien Harris, but they’re deep enough at running back that Harris’ absences won’t be a huge deal.

The line has dropped to New England +1, but I would lock this in ASAP in case the line shifts further. Also, I didn’t mention this earlier, but it’s worth noting that Bill Belichick is 45-33 ATS as the head coach of the Patriots off of extra rest, which the Patriots will have after playing on Thursday Night Football last week. And then there is Bill Belichick’s history of dominance against rookie quarterbacks like Tua Tugavailoa. If the Patriots hadn’t been so inconsistent and unpredictable this season, I would make this a high confidence pick.

New England Patriots 20 Miami Dolphins 16 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: New England +1

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-13) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

As crazy as it sounds, the Jets might be a decent bet this week. The Jets obviously haven’t won a game, but winless teams are actually a good bet late in the season because the odds makers know they can boost the spread and people will still bet against them. Teams with records of 0-8 or worse cover at a 57.9% rate all-time, even if that is counterintuitive. That didn’t help the Jets last week in their blowout loss in Seattle, but I expect a better effort this week, which is typically the case after a blowout. Teams cover at 57.5% rate all-time after losing by 35 points or more. Combining the two aforementioned trends, teams are 14-5-2 ATS over the past 30 years with a record of 0-8, coming off of a loss by at least 14 points or more. 

The Rams obviously have the talent edge, but they probably won’t bring their best effort for the Jets, especially with a much tougher game on deck against the Seahawks. Favorites cover at just a 42.9% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 50%+ higher than their current opponent. My calculated line is Rams -15, so we’re not getting much line value with the Jets, which makes it risky to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and if you want to take a risk, I would expect this game to be closer than most think. 

Los Angeles Rams 24 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +17

Confidence: Low