New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (8-4) at Buffalo Bills (7-4)

Going into the season, I had both of these teams among the best in the league and so far that has been the case. It was a bit of a bumpy start for the Patriots, but they have won six straight games and could easily have won a couple of their early season losses, with losses coming by one point, two points, and in overtime, meaning in three of their loses they were a combined -3 in point differential at the end of regulation. 

By contrast, just two of their wins have come by one score, 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. On their six game winning streak, the Patriots have not only won, but won convincingly, with an average margin of victory of 24.7 points per game, while covering the spread by at least a touchdown in all six games. That has led to them possessing the league’s best point differential overall at +146, meaning they are arguably even better than their 8-4 record suggests.

The Bills rank right behind them in second at +144 and they have done so in one fewer game, but they also haven’t faced nearly as tough of a schedule as the Patriots, as the Bills’ schedule has been arguably the easiest in the league thus far. All seven of their wins have come by at least 15 points and they possess an average margin of victory of 26.1 points per game, but they also have only faced just four teams with a .500 or better record and they are just 1-3 in those three games. 

The Bills’ offense is what carried them a year ago, when they went 13-3, but they have fallen more to the middle of the pack this season, ranking 12th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, as not everything has gone as perfectly as it did a year ago and defenses have caught on to how to best defend them. Instead, it has been the Bills’ defense, which ranks 1st in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, which has carried them this season, but defense is a less predictive side of the ball and this defense has not really held up against tougher competition. Making matters worse, the Bills lost top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season last week, which is a big blow to this defensive unit. 

The Bills’ offense has some bounce back potential, with largely the same personnel as their dominant unit a year ago, but overall the Patriots seem to be the better team heading into this matchup. I wish we were still getting a field goal with the Patriots like we were early in the week, but sharp action quickly dropped this line to Buffalo -2.5, which is not as intriguing of a line, given that 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. 

Also hurting the Patriots chances of covering this spread is the mid-week news that safety Kyle Dugger will likely miss this game due to COVID protocols, which unfortunately did not trigger the spread to shift back to a field goal. My calculated line is even, so we’re still getting line value with the Patriots, but I like a small bet on the money line more than I like betting this spread, unless we get a field goal before gametime, or some surprising good news on Dugger.

Update: Dugger is not playing, but the Patriots will have linebacker Jamie Collins back from injured reserve and, despite that, this line has still moved up to a full field goal. The Patriots are worth a bet at that number, in addition to a money line play. They should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: New England +3

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)

The Steelers are 5-5-1, but all five of their wins have come by one score, their five losses have come by an average of 13.6 points per game, and their tie came against the winless Lions. The Steelers’ only close loss came against the Chargers in a game in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts. The Steelers other four losses all came in double digits.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 8-3, but they aren’t blowing teams out and have needed a 6-1 record in one score games to be where they are in the standings. The Steelers are missing stud edge defender TJ Watt and, without him, are one of the worst teams in the league, so we are getting some line value with the Ravens as 4.5-point road favorites, even with all of the close games they played, but it’s definitely worth noting that the Ravens’ final scores this season would have covered this spread in just four of eleven games. I don’t see this being a blowout, especially since Lamar Jackson has not been as good in his career against teams he has faced before, including the Steelers, but I would still pick the Ravens if I had to.

Update: Watt surprisingly will be able to play in this game, though it’s unclear if he’ll be 100%. Still, that is a big boost for the Steelers and yet the line has not moved, at least not yet. I am going to flip this pick to the Steelers, but this is still a no confidence pick, as the Steelers could easily get blown out again, even if the Ravens aren’t the kind of team that blows teams out.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +4.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) at Los Angeles Rams (7-4)

The Rams were 7-1 a few weeks ago and were adding even more talent, acquiring edge defender Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham at the trade deadline. However, since then, the Rams have lost three straight games to fall to 7-4. What happened? Well, part of it is Miller and Beckham have not contributed in a huge way, still learning the playbook and dealing with lingering injuries, and, at the same time, the Rams have also had players who were key to their 7-1 start suffer injuries as well, with wide receiver Robert Woods going down for the season and quarterback Matt Stafford playing at less than 100%.

Part of it is also that the Rams have faced a tough schedule, as the Titans, Rams, and Packers are all likely to be playoff teams. That schedule gets a lot easier this week, with the Jaguars coming to town. Even without Woods and with Stafford playing at less than 100%, we are still getting a little bit of line value with the Rams at -13, as my calculated line has the Rams as 14-point favorites, with both Beckham and Miller likely to have bigger roles this season, albeit with the former still playing through injury. 

However, that isn’t nearly enough line value to take the Rams with any confidence and, in fact, I am actually going to take the Jaguars for pick ‘em purposes, as the Rams are in a bad spot. The Rams need a win so they might not be unfocused, but they may also see this as an easy get right spot, when in reality, they need to play better than they have to win this game easily. Making that more likely is that the Rams have to turn around and face the Cardinals in a much bigger game next week. Even if they get up big early, they could take their foot off the gas with a bigger game on deck and allow a backdoor cover.

Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 42.7% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage that is at least 50% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage, which fits the Rams against the 2-9 Jaguars before the 9-2 Cardinals. I can’t take the Jaguars with any confidence either, especially since they will be without their top cornerback Shaq Griffin, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, as they could take advantage of the Rams looking forward and make this tougher than it should be.

Los Angeles Rams 26 Jacksonville Jaguars 14

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +13

Confidence: None

New York Giants at Miami Dolphins: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-7)

The Dolphins have won four straight games after a 1-7 start to move up to 5-7 and into the mix for a potential playoff spot in the AFC, but two of their wins came against two of the worst teams in the league, the Texans and Jets, by one score, another came against a Ravens team that was exhausted on a short week after an overtime game, a 16% cover spot all-time, and another came against a Panthers team that has arguably the worst quarterback situation in the league and then lost feature back Christian McCaffrey early in the first half with injury. 

In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Dolphins rank 29th, 20th, and 26th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and their 28th ranked mixed efficiency shows them to still be one of the worst teams in the league from a statistical standpoint, despite a recent winning streak. The Dolphins went 10-6 a year ago, but they faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%), and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), which was actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL), so they were not nearly as good as their record suggested.

The Dolphins continue to have an easy schedule this week, as not only are the 4-7 Giants coming to town, but they are doing so without injured starting quarterback Daniel Jones, who will be replaced by backup Mike Glennon. Jones isn’t a great quarterback, but he was not the problem with this offense and could at least make plays with his feet, while having some passing success, despite a terrible offensive line and a habitually banged up skill position group. Three of the Giants’ losses this season have come by three points or fewer, with none of their wins coming by that thin of a margin, so the Giants could easily have another couple wins and it’s a credit to Jones that the Giants have been able to be competitive in a lot of their games despite the issues on this offense around the quarterback.

Glennon is a significant downgrade from Jones and will also have to deal with that offensive line and a skill position group that is missing a pair of key wide receivers in Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard, though top receiver Kenny Golladay and feature back Saquon Barkley have returned from extended absences in recent week. The Giants’ defense is not healthy either, missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson from a group that already was not the same since losing top linebacker Blake Martinez and top safety Jabrill Peppers for the season earlier this year.

This line has jumped up to Miami -6, after favoring the Dolphins by just 2.5 points on the early line last week, so we’re getting some line value with the Giants even with all their injuries, which isn’t a surprise considering the Dolphins are overrated, but we aren’t getting nearly enough line value to take the Giants with any confidence, as many calculated line has the Dolphins favored by five points. Missing all they are missing due to injury, the Giants are among the worst teams in the league, so even the Dolphins should be favored by a significant amount at home against them, even if maybe not six points. I’m taking the Giants, but this is purely a fade of an overrated Dolphins team that has already struggled to separate from bad teams in the Jets and Texans in recent weeks.

Miami Dolphins 22 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Houston Texans (2-9)

The Texans shockingly pulled the upset over the Titans in Tennessee two weeks ago, but that was a fluke win driven by a +5 turnover margin, which is not predictive. In more predictive metrics, the Titans won the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts and likely would have won by multiple scores if not for all of the turnovers, despite the fact that the Titans are a middling team at best without Derrick Henry. The Texans’ only other win came against the lowly Jaguars, all the way back in week 1, when the Texans had a healthier offensive line. 

In all of their other games, the Texans have lost, in many cases by a wide margin. Six of their nine losses have come by double digits and they have an average margin of defeat of 17 points per game. That martin of defeat would be even higher if the Patriots weren’t missing most of their offensive line in their 3-point win, a game in which the Patriots still won the first down rate battle by 8.67%, and if the Texans hadn’t scored 22 meaningless garbage points against the Rams in a game in which they were down 38-0 going into the 4th quarter. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Texans rank 32nd, 26th, and 22nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, with a mixed efficiency that not only ranks dead last in the lineup, but by six points behind the next worst team.

The Texans have been better since getting quarterback Tyrod Taylor back from injury, replacing raw rookie Davis Mills under center, and they have not lost by double digits with him in the lineup, but he’s only played four full games and the Colts are the toughest team he has faced thus far. The Colts are just 6-6, but their +57 point differential is much better than their record (7th best in the NFL) and they haven’t lost by more than one score since the first three weeks of the season, when they were dealing with significant injury issues, with their two best offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith) and quarterback Carson Wentz playing at much less than 100%. All three are healthy now.

On top of that, all of the Colts losses since their injury plagued 0-3 start have been to teams likely to make the post-season and all three were winnable, while their easiest four games have all resulted in wins, by an average of 14.8 points per game. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Colts rank 7th, 27th, and 4th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and, now healthier, they are an even better team than their 12th ranked mixed efficiency suggests. They should be able to win by multiple scores against the Texans, even in Houston, even with the Texans having Tyrod Taylor back.

Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of line value in the past week, with the Colts going from 7-point favorites on the early line to 10-point favorites this week. It’s not even really clear why, as the Texans lost to the Jets by one score as small favorites and the Colts lost to the Buccaneers by one score as small underdogs. It’s possible the odds makers and the public just realized that seven was a bad line and that the Texans’ win over the Titans was a complete fluke, but either way, we have lost significant line value. My calculated line has the Colts favored by 12.5, so we are still getting some line value, but I would need this line to drop back down below 10 to consider betting on the Colts. This should be a blowout, but I need a little bit better of a line to be confident betting on it.

Indianapolis Colts 30 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -10

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

The Falcons’ 5-6 record isn’t bad, but all of their wins have come by one score against among the worst teams in the league, while many of their losses have been blowouts, with four of six coming by 23 points or more, giving them a -103 point differential that ranks 5th worst in the NFL. Efficiency ratings show them to be among the worst teams in the league as well, as they rank 28th, 22nd, 31st, and 31st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively.

In normal circumstances, I would expect the Buccaneers to blow the Falcons out and they easily could. The 8-3 Buccaneers are one of the top teams in the league, ranking 2nd, 9th, 24th, and 2nd in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively, and, while they are not quite 100%, with players like Antonio Brown, Mike Edwards, and Jordan Whitehead out, they are healthier than they have been, with players like Vita Vea, Ali Marpet, Rob Gronkowski, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Carlton Davis returning to the lineup in recent weeks, with Marpet and Davis making their returns this week.

However, these are not normal circumstances, as the Buccaneers could easily be looking forward to next week’s matchup with the Bills, which lead to them not giving their best effort in this matchup against the inferior Falcons. Add in the fact that this line has jumped to 11 from 9.5 a week ago, as the Buccaneers have gotten healthier, and we’re just not getting enough line value to take the Buccaneers with any sort of confidence, as my calculated line has Tampa Bay favored by 12. They are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes because of their sheer talent edge, but it’s not hard to see how they could overlook their opponent and make this game tougher than it otherwise should be.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Atlanta Falcons 15

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -11

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) at New York Jets (3-9)

The Eagles lost last week in an upset against the Giants in New York, but that was primarily because they lost the turnover battle by 4, which is not a predictive stat. In terms of first down rate and yards per play, which are much more predictive, the Eagles outperformed the Giants. Even with that loss taken into account, dropping the Eagles to 5-7, the Eagles still have a +31 point differential that ranks 12th in the NFL, despite the fact that the Eagles have overall faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, with six of their seven losses coming against teams with winning records. 

Against teams with losing records, the Eagles are 4-1, with their only loss coming last week and, even with that loss taken into account, the Eagles have outscored their opponents by an average of 14.4 points per game in those five games. All in all, the Eagles rank 10th, 11th, 12th, and 9th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. Given that, they should be able to beat the Jets with ease, as they are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 30th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency.

However, I am hesitant to bet the Eagles as 7-point road favorites because we don’t know how healthy Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is, as he seems legitimately questionable and may not be 100% even if he does play. If Hurts plays at less than 100%, I would be concerned that it would be a repeat of his struggles against the Giants last week and, if he does not play, the Eagles don’t have as good of an upside on offense, which limits their blowout potential, key to betting them as 7-point favorites.

The best case scenario from a betting perspective would be Hurts being ruled out, rather than playing at less than 100%, and then getting the opportunity to bet on the Gardner Minshew led Eagles with hopefully a better number. Minshew is a capable starter who could cover a 4-6 point spread against a terrible Jets team with some relative ease, but that is the only scenario that doesn’t seem too risky to bet right now. For now, I am taking the Eagles for pick ‘em purposes only, but I will probably have an update before gametime.

Update: Hurts is out for the Eagles, so Gardner Minshew will start and, as a result, this line has dropped to 4.5. This is exactly what I was hoping for, as the Eagles have a significant talent edge in this game, but I don’t want to bet on an injured quarterback. Going from Hurts to Minshew is about 2.5 points in difference, but my calculated line still has the Eagles favored by 8.5 points in this game, as the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league and the Eagles have mostly blown out terrible teams this season. Even with Minshew, a low-end starting quarterback, they should win with ease over the Jets, so they are worth a bet.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4.5

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at Chicago Bears (4-7)

Yet again, a point spread has been posted for a Cardinals game even though we don’t have anything definitive on the status of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. In each of the past three games, the oddsmakers have posted a spread that has expected both to play and in all three games, both players missed the game, causing the oddsmakers to drastically change the line, in some cases the morning of the game. 

In two of the games, it didn’t really matter, as the Cardinals won once as underdogs and lost once as favorites, but in their last game the Cardinals spent most of the week as favorites and then became underdogs before gametime, meaning if you had bet against them as money line favorites early in the week, you could have then bet on them as money line underdogs later in the week and guaranteeing you would win money regardless. The oddsmakers aren’t taking as big of a chance this week, but it’s odd to see them so confidently posting lines despite major injuries.

Murray and Hopkins seem likelier to play this week than they have in the past, coming off of a bye week and practicing more this week than they had in recent weeks before the bye week, but the Cardinals could continue being cautious with one or both against a losing team, with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck. I also think we are getting good line value with the Bears even if Murray and Hopkins do play, as both could be limited and their return does not solve all of the Cardinals problems.

The Cardinals went 2-1 without Murray and Hopkins, but they had just an even point differential across an underwhelming schedule, despite winning the turnover battle by three, which is not a predictive metric. Their offense actually held up pretty well without Murray and Hopkins and obviously getting both back, even at less than 100%, will be a boost for this unit, but they are unlikely to be as good as they were at the beginning of the season, not only because Murray and Hopkins could be limited, but also because they are still missing running back Chase Edmonds and starting left guard Justin Pugh. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense has not been as good in the past few weeks since losing key interior defender JJ Watt and they could be even more short-handed this week, after top cornerback Byron Murphy got hurt in Friday’s practice. The Bears aren’t a tough opponent, but the Cardinals just aren’t as good as they played earlier in the season or as good as their record, even if Murray and Hopkins play, and we’re getting line value with the Bears at +7.5, as my calculated line has the Cardinals favored by 5, with Murray and Hopkins playing, but not at 100%. 

If one or both of Hopkins and Murray end up not playing, we will obviously be getting even more value with the Bears, so I like locking this one in right now. Big road favorites typically do well after a bye week, covering at a 64.2% rate all-time as favorites of 3.5 or more, but that could be somewhat cancelled out by the Cardinals having a much tougher game next week. This isn’t a big play, but there is enough value here with the Bears to lock in a bet before the line potentially moves down.

Update: Both Murray and Hopkins are active and this line has stayed put at 7.5, but Hopkins at least sounds like he will be limited, while Murray could be rusty in his first game back and he won’t have one of his top blockers with Justin Pugh out. Byron Murphy will be active on defense, but this defense still has not been the same since losing JJ Watt. The Cardinals should still win this game, but it’s a lot to ask them to go on the road and cover a spread of more than a touchdown against anyone other than the worst teams in the league. The Bears are not one of the worst teams in the league and, in fact, are getting healthy on the offensive line and have probably their best quarterback under center, with Andy Dalton playing over raw rookie Justin Fields.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (6-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

Typically, the rule of thumb with Chargers games is to pick them when they are on the road and pick against them when they are at home. Since moving to Los Angeles, the Chargers have frequently had to play in front of crowds at home that primarily favor the road team, leading to them underperforming the spread at home, but then being underrated when they go on the road. In total, they are 21-14 ATS on the road, as opposed to 13-22 ATS at home.

The Chargers lost last week in Denver, but they were missing a key offensive lineman, Matt Feiler, and he will be back this week. Meanwhile, the Bengals could be down a pair of offensive lineman for the first time this season, with both center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff likely to be out after not practicing this week. The Bengals have the better record at 7-4, as opposed to 6-5 for the Chargers, and they have a much better point differential (+83 vs. -20), but they have also faced a much easier schedule, as the Bengals have faced one of the weakest schedules in the league and the Chargers have faced one of the toughest. 

In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank 22nd, 18th, 7th, on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, while the Chargers rank 4th, 19th, and 32nd, while holding the edge in mixed efficiency rank, 14th compared to 18th for the Bengals. Despite being the better team and the healthier team, the Chargers are getting a field goal in this game, even though they normally don’t have much trouble going on the road, as they are used to playing in front of hostile crowds even at home. This isn’t a big play, but I like the Chargers against the spread and on the money line.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Cincinnati Bengals 26 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3

Confidence: Medium