Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (10-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-3)

These two teams are very similar. Both teams are worse than their record suggests in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, with the Titans ranking 15th at +0.57% and the Packers ranking 16th at +0.37%, but both teams have great offenses and primarily have issues on defense, which is the much more inconsistent side of the ball week-to-week. The chances that these two teams continue dominating on offense and improve on defense are much better than the chances of a team with a high ranked defense and a low ranked offense continuing to dominate on defense and improving on offense. On top of that, both teams rank much higher in my roster rankings than they do in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, both among the top teams in the league.

Despite the similarities of these two teams, the Packers are still favored by 3.5 points at home, even without the benefit of any fans in the stadium. The Packers have a slight edge in this game and have nominal homefield advantage, but they shouldn’t be favored by more than 1.5 points, so we’re getting significant line value at +3.5, especially since 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, including 1 in 6 games decided by exactly 3 points. This is only a small bet for now, but if the Packers end up being without talented center Corey Linsley for the 4th straight week and the line stays put, I will boost this to a high confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 31 Tennessee Titans 30

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-1)

Several weeks ago, I said that the rule of thumb with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs was to pick them unless there’s a good reason not to, citing their 28-15-2 ATS record in games in which Mahomes has started in his career, including 18-7 ATS even after Mahomes won the MVP in 2018, as their defense had been noticeably improved since 2018. Since then, the Chiefs have continued winning, but somehow they haven’t managed to not cover the spread in any of their past 6 games, making them the only team in the past 30 seasons to win 6 straight games and not cover the spread in any of them. None of their wins have been blowouts either, with those 6 wins coming by a combined 24 points and none of them coming by more than 6 points.

Mahomes and the offense have not been the problem, as, while they have fallen behind the Bills by a significant amount in first down rate over expected (+4.89% vs. +3.87%), that has more to do with how the Bills’ offense has played in recent weeks against top level defenses than anything to do with the Chiefs’ offense. However, the Chiefs’ defense has struggled and now ranks 18th in the NFL in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.55%. The Chiefs’ defense has been very inconsistent throughout Mahomes’ tenure as the starter, essentially single handedly keeping the Chiefs and their record setting offense out of the Super Bowl in Mahomes’ first season as the starter, but then being the complementary unit needed to go all the way last season. 

Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive performance anyway, so the Chiefs’ defense could certainly swing back the other way, but they’re also no better than a middling group in my roster rankings, so it’s definitely a concern for this team. The general consensus is this Chiefs team is borderline unbeatable, but I don’t think they’re balanced enough for that to be the case, even if they are rightfully the Super Bowl favorites right now. In fact, their underwhelming defense drags them down to “only” 3rd in both schedule adjusted first down rate differential and in my roster rankings, so, while they’re obviously a great team, I think they’ve been a little overrated.

Even with their recent non-covers, the Chiefs remain overrated as 10.5 point home favorites over the Falcons. Some of their recent non-covers are as a result of opponents scoring garbage time touchdowns, but when a line is 10.5, garbage time touchdowns that lead to a backdoor cover is definitely something that needs to be considered and I think there’s a great chance that could happen this week, even if the game isn’t close throughout.

The Falcons shouldn’t be trusted to win anything, now having blown the same amount of games in which they had a 95% chance to win (four) as they have actual wins, but they can definitely keep a game like this close. Their 10 losses have come by a combined 67 points (6.7 points per game) and just three of them have come by multiple scores. If they had held on to win in even some of those improbable losses, the Falcons could easily be a .500 team right now and their point differential of +2 is right in line with a .500 team. The Falcons are slightly worse than that in schedule adjusted first down rate differential because of an underwhelming schedule, but their 22nd ranked differential of -1.05% is still significantly better than their record would suggest. My calculated line is Kansas City -8.5, so we’re not getting a ton of line value, but I like the Falcons’ chances of keeping this one close, enough to bet on it.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Atlanta Falcons 27

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)

The Chargers are just 5-9, but most of their losses have been close, with 7 of their 9 wins coming by one score or less, including blown leads against high level teams like the Saints, Buccaneers, and Chiefs. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Chargers have been a middling team, ranking 20th at -0.52%. They’ve been more reliant on their defense than their offense though, with their offense ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.60% and their defense ranking -1.08% in first down rate allowed over expected at 9th. 

That’s typically a bad thing going forward because defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play. We’ve already seen the Chargers start to slip to recent weeks defensively and I would definitely expect that to continue in this one, with the Chargers missing their top-3 edge defenders Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Uchenna Nwosu, turning a position of strength into one of significant weakness. Ingram has been out for a while, but Bosa and Nwosu are both new absences this week. Missing the players they are missing, I have the Chargers ranked just 28th in my roster rankings. 

The Broncos are an underwhelming team, but I have them a point and a half better than the Chargers right now. With the Chargers being favored by 3.5 points at home with no fans in the stadium, this line is essentially saying the Chargers are about 3 points better than the Broncos, which is very off with the Chargers missing the key players they are missing. On top of that, the Broncos are in a significantly better spot than the Chargers, who have to turn around and play a much tougher game next week in Kansas City, while the Broncos will be playing a far less imposing Raiders team. 

Favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50% (Broncos are 5-9, Chiefs are 13-1), including a 41.7% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage that is 40%+ better than their opponent’s next opponent (Raiders are 7-7, Chiefs are 13-1). On top of that, favorites cover at just a 41.7% rate at home against a sub-400 divisional opponent before going on the road and facing a divisional opponent with a record better than .700. 

Between the line value and the great spot, there is a lot to like about the Broncos this week, so this is my Pick of the Week at +3.5. At the very least, I would expect the Chargers to win by a field goal if they manage the win (3 of their 5 wins have been by exactly a field goal), but the Broncos have a good chance to pull the straight up upset against a banged up Chargers team that has been eliminated and has a much tougher game on deck to look forward.

Update: Both Bradley Chubb and Keenan Allen are expected out in this game. I originally had both factored in as likely to play, but possibly limited. Both being out doesn’t change this projection much. If anything, Allen is slightly more important to the Chargers than Chubb is to the Broncos. This is still my Pick of the Week.

Denver Broncos 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Buccaneers’ 9-5 record doesn’t jump off the page, but they’ve been one of the better teams in the league this season. They’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, with their five losses coming against opponents who are a combined 49-21. On top of that, three of those losses came by 3 points or fewer, as opposed to just one win all season by 3 points or fewer. In total, the Buccaneers are 8-2 in games decided by more than a field goal. They rank 6th in point differential at +80, despite a tough schedule, and, in terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 2nd at +3.75%.

That’s more or less where the Buccaneers have ranked all season, but how they’ve been successful has shifted. Earlier in the year, they were very reliant on their defense, which ranked first in first down rate allowed over expected for most of the early part of the season, but dominant defenses tend to regress to the mean as the season goes on, especially as injuries pile up. 

The Buccaneers have not been an exception and they are missing key players like defensive tackle Vita Vea and cornerback Carlton Davis, but they have made up for their declining defense by improving on offense, as Tom Brady has gotten more comfort in this offense, with wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown being integrated after missing significant time earlier this season due to injury and suspension respectively. 

In addition to ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they are also the only team in the league to currently be in the top-10 on both sides of the ball (9th on offense and 4th on defense). They could continue regressing defensively going forward, but their offense should be able to continue compensating. My roster rankings also back them up as a top level team, as they rank 3rd currently, so I would expect them to continue to play at a high level going forward.

The Buccaneers’ schedule gets a lot easier this week in Detroit, as not only are the Lions 5-9, but they’re far from full strength. The Lions have been one of the most injury plagued teams in the league in recent weeks, missing key players on both sides of the ball, but, beyond that, they will also be without interim head coach Darrell Bevell due to COVID protocols, so they will essentially have a head coach by committee this week. 

The Lions rank 28th in my roster rankings and would plummet to dead last without quarterback Matt Stafford, who will play through rib and hand injuries, but is a candidate for an in-game setback that would cause him to be pulled for backup Chase Daniel, who would be a massive downgrade even from a less than 100% Stafford. This is only a low confidence pick on the Buccaneers for now because this line is pretty high at 9.5, but, depending on the status of several questionable players for the Lions (left tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow, and linebacker Jamie Collins), I may end up placing a bet on Tampa Bay. The gap between these two teams is massive.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -9.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

Both of these teams have not been as good as their record suggests. The Raiders are 7-7, but 6 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 7 losses have come by at least 16 points. Overall, they have a point differential of -44 that is most comparable to the 4-10 Panthers and the 4-9-1 Eagles. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank just 27th at -2.77%. 

The Raiders’ problems are concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.62%, 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 key players like linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, safety Jeff Heath, among other less important players, which makes it a lot more likely that they’ll continue to struggle defensively. Their offense hasn’t been anything to write home about either, ranking 12th in first down rate over expected at +0.85. Missing the players they are missing, I have the Raiders 25th in my roster rankings.

The Dolphins have more big wins than the Raiders, with 7 of 9 wins coming by 10 points or more, but they’ve faced a very easy schedule and have had some unsustainable things work in their favor. Four of their nine wins have come against the three worst teams in the league, the Jets (twice), the Jaguars, and the Bengals and just two of their wins have come against teams with a .500 or better record, a 3-point victory over the 8-6 Cardinals and a win over the 9-5 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 rank 2nd in opponent’s field goal conversion rate at 68.42%, 7th in fumble recovery rate at 55.88%, and 3rd in turnover margin at +10. Recovering fumbles and opponents missing field goals are not replicable skills, while turnover margin is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis as well. 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. Overall, the Dolphins rank 12th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.85%, which isn’t bad, but it’s less impressive than their record and my roster rankings suggest that they’ve overachieved to get to that point, with the Dolphins ranking 19th.

With both teams being a little overrated, I have no desire to bet on either of them, especially with this line being Miami -3, which is exactly where I calculated it. Neither team is in a particularly good or bad spot either or have any clear matchup edges. I’m taking the Dolphins purely because favorites tend to cover at a slightly higher than 50% rate late in the season, unless they’re in a bad spot, but this is a no confidence pick and the most likely result might be a push.

Miami Dolphins 23 Las Vegas Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Miami -3

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (5-9) at Arizona Cardinals (8-6)

The 49ers lost last week in upset fashion to the Cowboys and that seems to have caused the public and the oddsmakers to sour on them, with this line shifting from Arizona -3 on the early line last week to Arizona -5 this week. That might not seem like a huge line movement, but about 1 in 5 games are decided by 3-5 points, including 1 in 6 games by exactly a field goal, so it’s definitely a significant movement. It’s not surprising that line movement happened, as the public views the Cowboys as one of the worst teams in the league and the 49ers just lost to them, but I think it’s an overreaction, as significant week-to-week line movements tend to be.

Not only are the Cowboys a little underrated (the season long stats don’t show they’ve improved significantly in recent weeks), but the 49ers outplayed them for most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by 8.71% and losing primarily because of a -4 turnover margin, which tends to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Teams with a turnover margin of -4, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.01 the following week and, as a result, cover at a 52.4% rate as underdogs.

Last week was kind of a microcosm of the 49ers season, as they actually rank 5th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.93%, but are just 5-9 because of a 2-4 record in games decided by one score, a -11 turnover margin that is 2nd worst in the NFL, and a -4 return touchdown margin. First down rate differential is a much more predictable and predictive metric than the other metrics, which are largely unpredictable week-to-week, so, while the 49ers aren’t the 5th best team in the league, they’re better than their record suggests, especially when you consider they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league.

This line movement can also be somewhat explained by the 49ers’ injuries, as they will be without two of their top remaining defensive players in cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Jimmie Ward this week and they also lost backup quarterback Nick Mullens, who had been starting in the absence of Jimmy Garoppolo, and starting running back Raheem Mostert, but 3rd string CJ Beathard isn’t really a downgrade from Mullens, the 49ers are deep at running back behind Mostert, and they will also welcome back a pair of key players in tight end George Kittle and cornerback Jason Verrett, the latter of whom has actually outplayed Sherman this season prior to missing last week’s game against the Cowboys. Overall, my calculated line is still at Arizona -3 at the highest, especially when taking into account that this is essentially a neutral site game, with the 49ers sharing the Cardinals stadium for the past month and neither team being allowed fans in the stadium.

On top of that, the Cardinals are in an awful spot for several reasons. For one, they’ve already beaten the 49ers once this season and might not take them as seriously the second time around, especially with the 49ers in a more diminished state right now than they were in that game and with the 49ers coming off of last week’s loss. Divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.6% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team they previously beat in upset fashion, including 40.5% as home favorites of 4 points or more.

The Cardinals also have a tougher game on deck against the Rams and favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate at home against a sub-400 divisional opponent before going on the road and facing a divisional opponent with a record better than .600. On top of that, this is close to a must win game for the Cardinals, who currently have a loose hold on the NFC’s 3rd and final wild card spot. You might think that because this is a must win game that the Cardinals will rise to the challenge against a team with nothing real to play for, but that’s actually the opposite of what typically happens in this situation, as teams with a 51%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 42.3% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record. The Cardinals could still pull out the win, but the most likely result is them winning by 1 or 3 points and I would be surprised if they were able to win this one easily, so the 49ers are worth a significant bet.

Arizona Cardinals 24 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +5

Confidence: High

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-8) at New Orleans Saints (10-4)

One interesting metric that I look at is called variance, which measures the variance in a team’s performance from week-to-week. The Saints have been among the league leaders in this metric this year, ranking 4th, meaning they’ve been one of the least consistent teams in the league week-to-week. Sometimes this is due to sheer randomness and there isn’t a good explanation for it (like the 2nd ranked New England Patriots), but the most common reason for a team being inconsistent week-to-week is injuries, as having several key players in and out of the lineup over the course of a season will lead to significant week-to-week variance in performance.

That has been the case for the Saints, who have been among the most injury prone teams in the league this season, with key players on both sides of the ball both missing time, but also returning at various points in the season. The Saints are probably the best team in the league when everyone is at full strength (they were the pre-season #1 in my roster rankings), so, even with some key injuries, they’ve managed to go 10-4, but their play has slipped a little bit in recent weeks, resulting in back-to-back losses after a 10-2 start.

In some ways, both losses were understandable and slightly excusable. The first loss came in a game in which the Saints were facing an unfamiliar rookie quarterback with no pre-season tape on him and it came before a much bigger game against the Chiefs, so it was understandable they would be caught off guard, while the second loss came against a Chiefs team that is currently favored to win the Super Bowl, so losing to them isn’t a big deal, and both losses did come by only a field goal. However, both games required a borderline garbage time touchdown by the Saints to cut the deficit to 3 and the Saints lost the first down rate battle by a combined 4.38% in those games. 

Those two losses dropped the Saints to 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.57% and their injury situation is going in the wrong direction as well. Drew Brees has returned, but he might not be fully 100% and, at less than 100%, he isn’t a big upgrade over Taysom Hill, while the Saints have key players on both sides of the ball that are out that were not out when Hill was starting, most notably #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas and stud safety Marcus Williams. Overall, they’ve fallen to 9th in my roster rankings, which certainly isn’t bad, but they’re not the dominant team they looked to be a few weeks ago. 

With that in mind, I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visitors, with the Vikings coming in as 7-point underdogs. The Vikings are also a little underrated themselves. They aren’t nearly as good without top linebacker Eric Kendricks, who is once again out on defense, but their 7th ranked schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.31%) is significantly better than their record and is only slightly behind the Saints.

The metrics the Vikings have struggled in are metrics that are much less predictable week-to-week, like their net -15.55% fourth down conversion rate, their -19.19% net field goal conversion percentage, their 41.18% fumble recovery rate (28th in the NFL), their 2.99% 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. I don’t want to bet on the Vikings without Kendricks, especially since the better team usually covers on a short week (favorites of 6+ cover at a 62.8% rate when both teams have had 4 days of rest or fewer), but the Vikings should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

New Orleans Saints 33 Minnesota Vikings 28

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Low

2020 NFL Pick Results (Through Week 15)

2020

Pick of the Week: 9-5-1 (63.33%)

High Confidence Picks: 14-11 (56.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 34-32-1 (51.49%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 57-48-2 (54.21%)

Low Confidence Picks: 39-33 (54.17%)

No Confidence Picks: 14-29-2 (33.33%)

Total Against the Spread: 110-110-4 (50.00%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 16-17 (48.48%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 1089-945-59 (53.44%)

Pick of the Week: 82-48-6 (62.50%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 526-390-25 (57.23%)

Moneyline upset Picks: 170-191-1 (47.10%)