Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

The Texans nearly beat the Colts two weeks ago, losing by 6 after a botched goal line snap at the end of the game when the Texans had a chance to score a game winning touchdown. That loss effectively ended the Texans’ season and they played like it last week, showing minimal effort in a 36-7 loss to a middling at best Bears team. Now playing the Colts again, I would expect a much better effort from the Texans this week. 

The Colts, meanwhile, could easily be flat, having already beaten the Texans, with a much tougher game against the Steelers on deck, while the Texans only have the lowly Bengals 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 42.9% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 50%+ higher than their current opponent.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting the line value we need with the Texans for them to be worth betting. The Texans were somewhat capable earlier in the year, but the injuries are starting to pile up, most notably two of their top-3 pass catchers (Will Fuller and Randall Cobb) and their top-2 defensive backs (Bradley Roby and Justin Reid). My calculated line is Indianapolis -8, although that would change if gametime decision DeForest Buckner is ruled out, as he’s one of the Colts most important players. If that happens, I may consider betting on the Texans, but if he plays, there isn’t nearly enough here.

Update: Buckner is playing. The line has shifted to 7.5, but I still have no desire to bet on the Texans, as my calculated line is Indianapolis -9.5 with Buckner in the lineup.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +7.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-6)

This game is a tough call. On one hand, the Eagles are coming off of a huge upset win over the Saints, which typically leads to a hangover effect, as teams cover at just a 41.1% rate after a win as home underdogs of 5 points or more. The Cardinals probably won’t be caught off guard by an unfamiliar quarterback the same way the Saints were last week, with a full NFL game of tape on him and the Cardinals not looking forward to a huge game against the Chiefs like the Saints were last week. 

On the other hand, the Eagles might be a legitimately viable team with Hurts under center. They’ve had a solid defense all season, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.29%, but Carson Wentz’s quarterback play made it very difficult for the Eagles to be competitive, even with a talented defense. Hurts is raw and doesn’t have an ideal situation around him on offense, particularly on the offensive line, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to continue to be an upgrade over Wentz and that could easily lead to the Eagles continuing to be better than people think.

The Cardinals aren’t much more than a middling team, so there isn’t nearly as big of a talent gap between these two teams as this 6.5-point line would suggest if the Eagles are legitimately significantly better with Hurts under center. Without any real homefield advantage in Arizona, this line suggests the Cardinals are about 5.5-6 points better than the Eagles. My calculated line is Arizona -3.5, so we’d be getting enough line value to bet the Eagles in normal circumstances, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were flat off such a big win last week, so I am probably going to stay away from betting this one. One thing that could get me to change my mind is Arizona’s Justin Pugh being ruled out with injury, which could easily happen after he didn’t practice all week and was slapped with a questionable tag, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick.

Update: Still no word on Pugh, but I am leaving this as a low confidence pick regardless, as the Eagles will be without their top cornerback Darius Slay.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +6.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)

The Saints lost last week in big upset fashion, losing as 8-point road favorites in Philadelphia, ending a 9 game winning streak in the process. I don’t really hold that against them though, as the Eagles have a solid defense and got better quarterback play from new starter Jalen Hurts, while the Saints were caught off guard, facing a sub-.500 team with an unfamiliar quarterback under center, the game before this huge game against the defending Super Bowl champs. The Saints should be much more focused this week and will likely prove last week was largely a fluke, as is usually the case after big upsets like that, as teams cover at a 60.5% rate historically after a loss as road favorites of 7 points or more.

Even with last week’s loss included, the Saints still sit at 10-3 and have really rebounded from their slow 1-2 start, as they typically do, going 4-17-1 ATS since 2010 in weeks 1 and 2 and 91-58-7 ATS in week 3-17. Making that even more impressive is the fact that they really haven’t been healthy all season. They lost #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas in week 1, followed shortly after by some defensive starters and they haven’t been at full strength since.

Their defensive starters later returned and the Saints’ defense has been on fire since, while Thomas returned as well a few weeks later, but in his first game back, quarterback Drew Brees got hurt and went on to miss the next 4 and a half games. Brees is back this week, but, at the same time, they will be without Thomas again, as the fates seem to be coinciding to make sure one of the most accomplished pass catching duos in the league barely gets to play together this season.

Even with Thomas out, I still like the Saints’ bounce back chances, as they really haven’t been healthy all season and have still managed to be very effective, not just in the win/loss column, but also ranking 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.43%. That lines up with my roster rankings, which have the Saints ranked 4th even without Thomas. At their best, the Saints are probably the best team in the league and, though we may never actually see them at full strength, they still have enough talent on both sides of the ball to still be one of the top teams in the league, even when missing key players.

The Chiefs are obviously a high level team, but even they shouldn’t be getting a field goal on the road in New Orleans, as these two teams aren’t far apart in my rankings, even with the Saints missing Thomas. The Saints have minimal homefield advantage this season with limited attendance in the stands, but, even still, I have this line calculated at New Orleans -1, so we’re getting great line value with the Saints. 

I normally don’t pick against the Chiefs unless I have a good reason to (28-20-2 ATS with Patrick Mahomes), but you could say the same thing about picking against the Saints after the first few weeks of the season, so I have no concerns betting big against the Chiefs this week. In fact, without a better option, this is going to be my Pick of the Week. The money line at +140 is also a smart play as this line is really off and should probably favor the Saints, even if only a little bit.

New Orleans Saints 35 Kansas City Chiefs 33 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

The Ravens got a huge win last week in what was arguably the game of the year from an entertainment and high stakes standpoint, but there are still a lot of reasons to be concerned about the Ravens, who have not come close to matching their strong performance on both sides of the ball last season. For one, the Browns are a little bit of an overrated team, winning a lot of close games against a relatively easy schedule and ranking just 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, and yet the Ravens were about even in the first down battle and could have easily lost the game had the Browns not shanked a 39-yard field goal.

The Ravens have been better offensively in recent weeks, but that has coincided with a dropoff from their defense, unsurprising given how the injuries are starting to pile up. Talented cornerback Jimmy Smith is out for this one, while fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters and stud defensive lineman Calais Campbell are both highly questionable and could be held out of a game that the Ravens should be able to win without them. Even if they do suit up, they could easily be limited and subject to in-game setbacks, particularly Campbell, who has been a shell of his former self in recent weeks while battling through injuries. 

The Ravens’ offense is missing even more key personnel from last year, missing by far their top-2 offensive linemen in Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda (retired), as well as key blocking tight end Nick Boyle. Those three were probably their three best blockers last season, which was such a key to this offense, so, when you add in the fact that the Ravens aren’t catching defenses off guard this season either, it’s not surprising that they had a big drop off from last year’s dominant unit. 

In total, the Ravens rank just 23rd in first down rate over expected, 19th in first down rate allowed over expected, and 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.44%. They’re better on paper, suggesting they’ve underachieved thus far, something that might not continue going forward, but, with all of the key players they’re missing, they rank just 14th in my roster rankings, so anyway you look at it, this is far from the team they were last season when they were one of the league’s best on both sides of the ball.

The Ravens have still gone 8-5, but they’ve faced a relatively easy schedule and they’ve benefited from metrics that are hard to sustain week-to-week, including a 61.90% opponents field goal conversion rate, more than 10% lower than all but one team in the league. Opponents missing field goals is completely out of a team’s control, except for the rare instance where they can get a block, and it’s not hard to see how at least two of the Ravens wins could have been losses if the opponent hadn’t missed makeable field goals, last week’s game against the Browns and a 2-point week 6 win over the Eagles.

The Ravens have an easy opponent this week with the Jaguars coming to town, but I think this line is too high at 13, as the Ravens remain overrated based off of last year’s performance when they weren’t missing key players and when their offense was catching teams off guard. The Jaguars have lost 12 straight since a surprising week 1 win over the Colts, but they don’t usually get blown out, with an average margin of defeat of 10.75 points per game, and they’re also in better hands with quarterback Gardner Minshew back under center rather than backups Mike Glennon and Jake Luton, who have combined to make the last 5 starts. This is also a tough spot for the Ravens, off of an emotional win over the Browns with a relatively tougher game against the Giants on deck. They could easily overlook a Jaguars team that could make this much more of a game than most expect. I like getting the 13 points a lot.

Update: Campbell and Peters are both out, while the Jaguars will get one of their best offensive linemen Andrew Norwell back from injured reserve. This doesn’t change anything, but it’s even more reason to be confident in the Jaguars. The Ravens won’t play their best game this week, missing several key players in a bad spot, and the Jaguars have been competitive enough this season that they should be able to keep it relatively close with this version of the Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against spread: Jacksonville +13

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (10-3) at Denver Broncos (5-8)

The Chiefs are consensus favorites in the AFC, as not only defending Super Bowl Champions, but also the NFL’s last remaining 1-or-2-loss team, but there is plenty of debate over the 2nd best team in the AFC. In my opinion, it is the Buffalo Bills because they are the only team with a comparable offense to the Chiefs and offensive performance tends to be much more predictable week-to-week than defensive performance. 

In fact, after last week’s strong performance against the Steelers’ strong defense, the Bills have actually jumped ahead of the Chiefs for the league lead in first down rate over expected (+4.13% vs. +3.97%). The Chiefs still lead the conference in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.81% vs. +2.39%), but that’s only because of the Bills’ defensive struggles, as the Bills rank just 25th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.74%.

As I mentioned, defensive performance is much less predictable week-to-week than offensive performance, but beyond the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance, the Bills are also healthier than they’ve been all season on defense and they are much more talented on paper than their overall season performance, so I would say they’re much more likely to be improved going forward than your typical 25th ranked defensive unit. If they can even be a middling group defensively going forward, the Bills should be a tough out in the post-season for anyone because their offense is likely to continue playing at a very high level.

The Broncos, on the other hand, have a terrible offense, ranking 31st in first down rate over expected at -3.96%, and they’re arguably even worse than that suggests, as their interception rate (4.82%) is significantly higher than the 2nd worst team (3.88%). They’ve been better in both metrics with Drew Lock under center, but only by default, and his 4.02% interception rate is still worse than any other team in the league.

The Broncos’ saving grace has been their defense, which ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.08%, which actually puts the Broncos only slightly below average in first down rate over expected (-0.87%), but it’s far from a guarantee that they’ll continue playing that well, especially since they are very short handed in the secondary and have overachieved their talent level thus far. 

We saw the Bills’ offense prevail against an even stronger defense last week against the Steelers and the Broncos’ offense is much less likely to keep them in the game than Pittsburgh’s was. My calculated line is Buffalo -7, so we’re getting some line value with them as 5.5-point favorites. There isn’t quite enough here for the Bills to be worth betting, but that could change depending on which questionable players are able to suit up for the Broncos, particularly their talented right guard Graham Glasgow.

Buffalo Bills 27 Denver Broncos 19

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -5.5

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to be picking the Panthers in this game and possibly even betting on them. The Panthers are just 4-9, but they’ve played a lot of close games, with only two of their nine losses coming by 8 points or fewer, relevant given that this line is 8.5. That’s despite the fact that they’ve faced a relatively tough schedule, the 6th toughest schedule in the league in terms of opponents schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

The Panthers themselves rank a respectable 20th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.65%, led by an offense that has been one of the more efficient in the league this season, ranking 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.61%. The Packers are 10-3, but their defense has been a problem this year, ranking 24th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.56%, so I was expecting the Panthers to be able to keep it relatively close in a shootout, especially since this isn’t a great spot for the Packers, ahead of a much tougher game against the Titans, while the Panthers have a much easier game on deck against Washington.

Unfortunately, the Panthers are in much worse injury shape than I was expecting earlier this week. Not only is feature back Christian McCaffrey set to miss yet another game, but they could also be without starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel, starting left tackle Russell Okung, and top defensive tackle Zach Kerr, the latter of whom has yet to be cleared to return from COVID, which caused him to miss last week as well, a game in which he was badly missed.

The Packers, meanwhile, are about as healthy as you can be this late in the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them give the Panthers just their third multiscore loss of the season. In fact, I’m taking the Packers for pick ‘em purposes for now, pending the Panthers’ inactives. If the Panthers get good injury news, I will flip to Carolina, but I don’t envision myself betting on them even if all of their questionable players play because they could be subject to in-game setbacks.

Green Bay Packers 33 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -8.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)

The Raiders are 7-6 and still in the playoff race in the AFC, but they haven’t played like a playoff team overall. Six of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, with the exception being a game in which the Raiders won the turnover battle by 5, which is highly unsustainable, while 4 of their 6 losses have come by at least 16 points and they have a point differential of -41 that is most comparable to the 4-9 Panthers and the 4-8-1 Eagles. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank just 27th at -2.51%. 

The Raiders’ problems are concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.13%, which is a good thing because defenses tend to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offenses, so the Raiders’ past defensive struggles don’t guarantee another poor performance from their defense in this game, but the Raiders are also very banged up on that side of the ball, missing four starters, including a pair of key starters in Damon Arnette and Clelin Ferrell, which makes it a lot more likely that they’ll continue to struggle defensively, and their offense hasn’t been anything to write home about either, ranking just 16th in first down rate over expected at +0.62%. 

Earlier in the season, I would have probably bet the Chargers in this game, as 3-point underdogs on the road in what basically amounts to a neutral site game. The Chargers started the season just 2-6, but all six of their losses came by 7 points or fewer, including blown leads over teams like the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Saints, and these Raiders. Since then, they’ve lost games by 8 points, 10 points, and 45 points and, while they’ve also won a couple games, those wins have come by just 6 points over the Jets and 3 points over the Falcons. In total, all four of their wins have come against opponents with records of 4-9 or worse by 10 points or fewer.

In some ways, the Chargers’ decline was not unexpected, as their defense was primarily what was keeping those tough games close, while their offense struggled to consistently string together drives, relying primarily on deep passes to score points. Not only is that an unsustainable way to score points consistently, but defensive play also tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, so their defense regressing towards the mean isn’t surprising, especially since they are missing key players from earlier this season, with slot cornerback Desmond King being traded and defensive end Melvin Ingram and linebacker Denzel Perryman both out with injuries. 

The Chargers are still about even with the Raiders in my roster rankings, but that has more to do with the Raiders being generally overrated and being currently banged up on the defensive side of the ball than anything positive about the Chargers. My calculated line has the Raiders favored by just 1-point, so we’re getting line value with the Chargers as full field goal underdogs, but I would need this line to climb to 3.5 for it to be worth betting on. If it does, I will have an update before gametime, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick at +3.

Update: +3.5s have popped up before gametime. I am not sure if that has to do with Chargers wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both being questionable and potentially limited in this game, but both are active, while the Raiders will be down a 5th defensive starter with cornerback Nevin Lawson out. My calculated line is actually closer to even than -1 and I’m going to flip this pick to the Chargers straight up and place a small bet on both the spread at +3.5 and the money line at +155. The Raiders defense is arguably the worst in the league and their offense isn’t good enough to justify them being favored by more than a field goal over a competent opponent.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Las Vegas Raiders 30 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: Medium