Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)

The Falcons are 4-6, but they are much worse than even their mediocre record suggests. While all four of their wins have come by one score against mediocre at best opponents, four of their six losses have been blowout defeats by 20 points or more. In fact, their point differential of -110 is the 4th worst in the league, even worse than the -103 point differential that the 2-8 Jaguars have. That holds up when you look at schedule adjusted efficiency rankings (which are based on more predictive metrics like yards and first downs per play), as the Falcons rank 28th, 21st, 31st, and 31st respectively in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while the Jaguars rank 23rd, 25th, 28th, and 28th respectively. The Jaguars are missing their top cornerback Shaq Griffin in this game, but their offense will get a boost from the return of their top lineman Brandon Linder.

Despite that, the Falcons are favored on the road in this matchup. It’s only by a couple points, but my rankings have these two teams about even and the Jaguars should be considered at worst 50/50 to win this game at home. My calculated line favors the Jaguars by a couple points at home and, while that isn’t great line value, as we are within the key number of three in both directions, the Falcons are also in a bad spot to boot, with a much tougher matchup against the Buccaneers on deck, which could easily serve as a distraction for the Falcons. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are in a good spot as home underdogs after a big loss as home underdogs, with teams covering at a 59.0% rate as home underdogs after losing by 14 or more as home underdogs. This isn’t a big bet on the Jaguars, but I like them enough to put a small wager on them against the spread and on the money line, with the money line at +110 likely being the better value of the two.

Jacksonville Jaguars 23 Atlanta Falcons 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +2

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

The Browns are 6-5, but they could easily have a couple more wins, as they have faced a tough schedule and have three one-score losses, including a pair of games in which they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency rankings, which are based on yards per play and first down rate, more predictive metrics than point differential or winning percentage, the Browns rank 13th, 13th, 16th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 11th in mixed efficiency.

The Browns have slipped in recent weeks, especially on offense, but injuries have been the primary culprit and they figure to be a lot healthier this week. Not only will they get stud right tackle Jack Conklin and talented running back Kareem Hunt back from extended absences, giving them arguably their healthiest offensive supporting cast since the beginning of the season, but quarterback Baker Mayfield seems likely to be closer to 100% than he has been in recent weeks, practicing in full on Thursday and Friday and being left without an injury designation on this week’s injury report. 

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 7-3, but they have needed a 5-1 record in one score games to get there and rank 10th, 29th, 2nd, and 14th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. In fact, just three of their seven wins would have covered this 3.5-point spread and one of those was an overtime win where they won by six points after being down 22-3 earlier in the game. They are very overvalued as 3.5-point favorites against a capable opponent. 

My calculated line is even, with the Ravens getting a couple points for homefield advantage, but also being a couple points behind the Browns in my rankings, so we are getting a lot of value with the suddenly much healthier Browns at +3.5. This is a high confidence pick and one of my top plays of the week. The money line is also a great value at +165 (or close to that), as the Browns should be at worst considered a 50/50 shot to pull the upset and win this game.

Cleveland Browns 24 Baltimore Ravens 23 Upset Pick +165

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4)

Normally, I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements like the one in this matchup, with the Patriots moving from 3-point favorites on the early line last week to 7-point favorites, but in this case, this is just the line catching up with how good the Patriots are. Not only are the Patriots on a 5-game winning streak, but they have covered the spread by at least seven points in each game, with an average margin about 19.8 points higher than the spread. 

With their losses coming by one point, two points, and in overtime, the Patriots are legitimately a few plays away from being 9-2 or 10-1 right now, while their only one score wins came in a game in Houston in which the Patriots were missing most of their offensive line and a game in Los Angeles in which the Patriots were up by 10 before a garbage time touchdown cut the margin to 3. They also led the league with a +123 point differential entering this week.

Meanwhile, the Titans have needed to go 4-1 in games decided by a field goal or less to get to 8-3 and their +37 point differential is more in line with a team that is about 6-5. On top of that, the Titans’ offense has struggled mightily since losing running back Derrick Henry for an extended period of time with an injury. The Titans are 2-1 in three games without Henry, but one of their wins came in a game in which their defense had two pick sixes, which is definitely not something the Titans can rely on doing every week, while their other win was a near loss at home to a Trevor Siemian led Saints team that was also missing Alvin Kamara and multiple offensive line starters.

Meanwhile, their loss came last week at home against the Texans. The Titans likely would have beaten the Texans if not for a -5 turnover margin, which is a highly non-predictive metric, but the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league and have lost by double digits in six of their other nine games, a margin that the Titans likely would have had trouble reaching even if they played turnover neutral football. All in all, the Titans have averaged just 4.55 yards per play in their past three games without Henry, down from 5.49 yards per play in their first eight games of the season with Henry. This week, the Titans will also be without top wide receiver AJ Brown, after already being without fellow talented starting wide receiver Julio Jones, leaving them basically devoid of proven playmakers around Ryan Tannehill on offense.

Despite having a 8-3 record, the Titans shouldn’t be considered more than an average team in their current state, while the Patriots are one of the top few teams in the league. Given that, not only is this 7-point spread justified, but my calculated line has the Patriots favored by nine points. There isn’t quite enough here for this game to be bettable, but I have no problem laying this many points in this matchup for pick ‘em purposes and if this line drops below a touchdown, I may consider placing a bet.

New England Patriots 23 Tennessee Titans 14

Pick against the spread: New England -7

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1)

Both of these teams are dealing with injuries to their expected starting quarterback. The Bears’ situation is less concerning, with experienced veteran Andy Dalton being the backup. Dalton obviously lacks the upside or athleticism of rookie starting quarterback Justin Fields, but he is probably an upgrade as a passer and might not be a downgrade overall. The Lions’ situation is more concerning because, as bad as Jared Goff has been as a starter this season, backup Tim Boyle is still a big downgrade, struggling mightily in his debut last week after previously throwing just four passes in four seasons in the league after going undrafted in 2018. 

The good news for the Lions, however, is that, unlike Fields, who has been ruled out, Goff is questionable and seems like he is on the right side of questionable and likely to start after a one-game absence. This team still has a lot of problems even if Goff plays, but they are not as bad as their record suggests, as many of their losses have been close. Their -113 point differential is certainly not good, but it’s better than the point differential of the Texans (-121) and Jets (-142), who have probably had worse seasons than the Lions, despite managing to win a couple games each.

That point differential shows they are being outscored by an average of 11.3 points per game, but even that suggests they are getting blown out more often than they are, with just three of their ten games resulting in losses by more than 10 points, including a game against the Packers in which they led at halftime in Green Bay. By contrast, four of their ten games have been decided by three points or fewer, relevant given that they are 3-point underdogs in this game. That’s all despite the fact that the Lions have faced an above average schedule and, in fact, this home game against the Bears is arguably the easiest game of their season. 

The Bears are 3-7 and have been as bad as their record suggests, with the 6th worst point differential in the league at -77 and rankings of 29th, 12th, and 22nd in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively. This once dominant defense is not what it was, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, arguably their two best defensive players, whose absence makes their defense even worse than their efficiency rank. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, regardless of who they have started at quarterback. 

The Lions rank 27th, 27th, and 4th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which is very underwhelming, but still doesn’t make them the worst team in the league and it makes them a decent value as 3-point home underdogs, assuming Goff can play. Winless teams also tend to be a good bet this late in the season, covering the spread at a 63.3% rate in week 9 or later. I still wouldn’t bet them in that scenario, but if Goff plays and this line stays put, they are the better side for pick ‘em purposes. If Goff is out, I will likely be on the Bears for no confidence as a pure fade of Tim Boyle. I am leaving this as a no confidence pick on the Lions, but I will likely have an update based on Goff’s status and any potential line movement.

Update: It sounds like Goff is playing, so I’m bumping this up to low confidence before the line drops below a field goal, which it could on Thursday morning.

Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-5)

The Saints are 5-5, but they aren’t anywhere near as good as their record in their current injury situation, arguably the worst in the league. Already without their top wide receiver Michael Thomas for the whole season, the Saints’ offense lost starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the season a few weeks ago and will also be without feature back Alvin Kamara, stud right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, and possibly talented left tackle Armstead. Armstead could return from a two-game absence, after returning to limited practices this week, but the Saints’ defense will now be without talented edge defender Marcus Davenport, who missed four games earlier this season with a different injury and now is out again.

Unfortunately, we aren’t getting the same line value betting against the Saints as we have been in recent weeks, as this line has shifted from favoring the Bills by 4.5 on the early line last week to favoring the Bills by 6 this week, despite the Bills getting blown out in an upset loss to the Colts last week. The Saints were also blown out last week, but that was a less surprising result and, with both teams having disappointing weeks last week I would have expected this line to stay put. My calculated line is exactly where this line is, favoring the Bills by 6, and, without any obvious situational trends involved in this game, that makes this one a very tough call. I am still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I don’t have any confidence in them and a push might be the most likely result.

Update: Despite Terron Armstead being active, this line has moved up to a full touchdown. The Saints won’t have running back Mark Ingram, a surprise inactive, but Armstead being confirmed as active is bigger injury news. This game still isn’t bettable, but I like the Saints at +7 more than I liked the Bills at -6.

Buffalo Bills 23 New Orleans Saints 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +7

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

In non-divisional Thursday games like this, typically a home favorite is at a significant advantage. It’s very tough for an inferior team to go on the road on a short week and play a superior team that is not in their division that they don’t have familiarity with and, as a result, non-divisional road underdogs cover at a 65.0% rate on Thursday when both teams are on short rest. That would seem to favor the Cowboys, who are 7.5-point home favorites over the Raiders, but that line is too high, so I can’t bet them confidently. 

This line was just a touchdown a week ago, which is a bigger shift than you might think, as about 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly seven points. That’s despite the fact that the Cowboys lost and failed to cover against the Chiefs. The Cowboys are healthier than they were a week ago, with left tackle Tyron Smith set to return from a 2-game absence and CeeDee Lamb, who missed most of the loss to the Chiefs, likely to join him, but Lamb was expected to be healthy a week ago and this line movement seems to mostly be the result of the Raiders’ big home loss to the Bengals last week.

That result did not look good for the Raiders on the scoreboard, as they lost at home by 19, but they actually won the yards per play battle by 1.8 yards per play. The final score was largely the result of the Raiders losing the turnover battle and converting just 1 of 7 third downs, but third down conversion rates and turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent and non-predictive on a week-to-week basis, especially compared to things like yards per play and first down rate. 

The Raiders have a negative point differential (-39) on the season at 5-5, but they have a much bigger than average disparity between their 1st/2nd and 3rd/4th down performance on both sides of the ball, which should even out in the long run. In terms of overall efficiency (based on yards per play and first down rate), the Raiders rank 19th, 7th, and 25th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively. The Cowboys, meanwhile, rank 3rd, 18th, and 21st. 

The Cowboys’ offense is mostly healthy, but their defense is worse than that suggests right now, with their two best edge defenders, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, both out with injuries, a big absence. Given that, they don’t deserve to be more than touchdown favorites against a decent at worst Raiders team. My calculated line has the Cowboys favored by 5.5 and, while that doesn’t take into account that the Cowboys are in a great spot, I have a hard time justifying this line. The Raiders aren’t worth betting on either, but they should be the better side in this one from a spread perspective.

Update: CeeDee Lamb will apparently not be playing, as, even though he participated in the walk through yesterday, he will not have enough time to clear the concussion protocol on a short week. I want to bump this confidence up to low confidence before the line moves off 7.5. Having Tyron Smith back healthy will help, but the Cowboys will be without their two top wide receivers in this game, which will obviously effect their offense in a negative way.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +7.5

Confidence: Low