Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

The Cardinals stand alone with the league’s best record at 10-2 and their +119 point differential, third in the NFL, seems to suggest they have been as good as their record. However, they have benefited significantly from the turnover margin, ranking second in the NFL at +12, which is not a predictive metric. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals rank 9th, 14th, 12th, and 8th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively.

The Cardinals’ offense should be better now that they have gotten starting quarterback Kyler Murray and top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins back from injury, but their defense has not been the same since losing top interior defender JJ Watt for the year and, as a result, the Cardinals are not the same team they were when they got off to their hot 7-0 start, even if their offense has gotten significantly healthier in recent weeks. 

As part of that 7-0 start, the Cardinals beat the Rams in Los Angeles and by a pretty convincing margin, with a final score of 37-20, but the Rams actually had a slight edge in first down rate (+2.95%) and yards per play (+0.1). That loss also puts the Rams in a good spot this time around, as divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate in a same season regular season rematch against a team that they previously beat as road underdogs, which was the case for the Cardinals in Los Angeles earlier this year.

The Rams have fallen back to earth after a 7-1 start and now sit at 8-4, but their efficiency metrics suggest they have been better than their record, ranking 5th, 6th, 20th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively. Their offense hasn’t been the same since losing talented wide receiver Robert Woods for the year, while quarterback Matt Stafford has not been 100% with an injury of his own, but the Rams acquired Odell Beckham who can somewhat replace Woods and is growing into his role after being with the team for about a month, while Stafford looked healthier in the Rams’ big blowout win over the Jaguars last week. 

Meanwhile, the Rams’ defense is getting better as another key mid-season acquisition, edge defender Von Miller, is growing into his role as well, so, despite losing three of their past four games, the Rams are still well-positioned for the stretch run. I wish we were getting a full field goal with the Rams as underdogs in this game, but we are still getting some line value with the Rams at +2.5 because my calculated line is Rams -1. 

Between that and the good spot the Rams are in, the Rams seem like a decent bet this week, but I’d rather bet the moneyline at +120 (or +115) than the spread unless we happen to get a field goal before gametime. I would also consider betting on the Rams if the Cardinals continue to be without starting left guard Justin Pugh and/or running back Chase Edmonds, who are considered legitimate gametime decisions to return from extended absences.

Update: Another team I picked loses significant players to COVID protocols before gametime. I knew the Rams would be without running back Darrell Henderson when I wrote this, but he was out last week with injury anyway, so that wasn’t a big deal. However, now the Rams will be without talented right tackle Rob Havenstein, stud cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and starting tight end Tyler Higbee. At least I only locked in a money line pick and not a pick against the spread. I am keeping this as a low confidence pick, as the line moved up to a full field goal, meaning we’re getting an appropriate adjustment for the Rams’ key absences. It’s only a half point, but three is the biggest key number, with about 1 in 6 games being decided by exactly a field goal. I would guess the Cardinals are going to win this game if I wasn’t locked into a Rams money line bet, but I would still take the Rams against the spread for pick ’em purposes at +3.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Arizona Cardinals 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) at Tennessee Titans (8-4)

The Titans don’t have a lot of blowout wins, as their 8-4 record is powered by a 4-1 record in one score games, and their offense has been significantly worse since losing feature back Derrick Henry and top wide receiver AJ Brown, while their defense remains without would-be starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Caleb Farley, expected starting edge defender Bud Dupree, and key run stuffing defensive lineman Teair Tart. 

However, the Titans will at least get wide receiver Julio Jones back this week, while the Jaguars are the type of team the Titans should be able to beat by multiple scores, even when not at 100%, as the Jaguars are 2-10, rank 30th in the NFL with a -140 point differential, and have seven losses by multiple scores. My calculated line has the Titans favored by 10, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 8.5-point favorites, but not nearly enough to bet them confidently.

Tennessee Titans 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 13

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -8.5

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)

The Raiders are 6-6, but their margin of victory in their six wins is just 7.0 points per game, as opposed to a margin of defeat of 13.3 points per game in their six losses, leading to the Raiders having a point differential that is worse than their record at -38. That normally suggests that the Raiders are not as good as their record, but the Raiders have also significantly underperformed on third and fourth downs on both sides of the ball, which tends to even out in the long run. 

The Raiders rank 16th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 9th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but just 30th in third down conversion percentage, 24th in fourth down conversion percentage, 20th in third down conversion percentage allowed, and 26th in fourth down conversion percentage allowed. Those metrics figure to improve going forward, allowing the Raiders to be more competitive in their games than their point differential would suggest. Most casual bettors can see their point differential easily, but the fact that they are likely to improve on key downs going forward is not as easily seen and, as a result, the Raiders have become slightly underrated.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, they have a very tough matchup this week, going into Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Some wrote the Chiefs off after their 3-4 start, but their defense was always likely to improve significantly when they got healthier, while their turnover issues were highly likely to stop. That’s exactly what has happened as their defense has not just gotten healthy, but also has added key edge defender Melvin Ingram from the Steelers, and, as a result, has gone from being one of the worst defenses in the league to start the season to one of the best in the best few weeks, while their turnover margin, -11 through their first eight games, has jumped to +6 over their past four games. 

That has led to the Chiefs winning five straight games to put themselves very much in the mix for the top seed in the AFC at 8-4 and it’s possible we haven’t seen their best play as a team yet, as their offense has not been as good in recent weeks, with the defense largely carrying the team. If their offense can return to form, that will make this team even more dangerous and, with the return of right tackle Lucas Niang giving them a healthy offensive line for the first time in several weeks, it’s very possible we could see their offense take a step forward this week. As crazy as it sounds, despite their record and winning streak, the Chiefs still seem a little underrated, as they easily could be considered the Super Bowl favorite at this point, given their track record.

The Chiefs do have another game in a few days, as they’ll play the Chargers in a key divisional game on Thursday Night Football next week, and favorites cover at just a 41.7% rate before Thursday Night Football, but the Chiefs are also in their third straight home game, a 55.2% cover spot all-time, which cancels the other trend out somewhat. My calculated line is exactly where this line is, favoring the Chiefs by 9.5 points, so we’re also not getting any line value with either side. As a result of that and the lack of a situational trend edge, it’s very hard to be confident in either side in this game, but I am taking the Chiefs for pick ‘em purposes purely because I’d rather not go against them right now, even if the Raiders are also an underrated team. If this line was 10, I would probably be on the Raiders though; that’s how close this one is for me. 

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Las Vegas Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -9.5

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (5-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-7)

The last time we saw the Panthers, they were beaten easily in Miami in a horrific performance for the Panthers offense in their first game with Cam Newton under center without feature back Christian McCaffrey, who is out for the season. Fortunately, the Panthers had a bye last week, so Cam Newton will hopefully have a better grasp of this offense two weeks later, still only about a month into his return to Carolina, where he has had to learn an entirely new offensive system. Newton is far past his prime, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade on what the Panthers have gotten out of their other quarterback this season.

It also helps that the Panthers are playing the Falcons, who are one of the worst teams in the league, despite their 5-7 record. The Falcons’ five wins have all come by one score against teams with a losing record, while four of their seven losses have come by 23 points or more and five or seven by 13 points or more, contributing to a -116 point differential that ranks 4th worst in the NFL. The Panthers have the same record at 5-7, but they have a significantly better point differential at -17 and they have a clear edge in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency as well, ranking 24th, as opposed to 31st for the Falcons.

Carolina’s offense has been terrible this season regardless of the quarterback and when McCaffrey has been out it has been even worse, leading to them ranking 31st in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency on the season, but their defense has been one of the best in the league, especially in recent weeks since top linebacker Shaq Thompson and #1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore have returned from injury, leading to them ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency on the season. The Falcons, on the other hand, haven’t been particularly good at anything, ranking 26th on offense and 22nd on defense.

Despite that, the Panthers are favored by just 2.5 points at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, which is not the case. My calculated line favors the Panthers by five points, so we’re getting great line value with the Panthers with this line being under a field goal, as just 8% of games are decided by 1-2 points, as opposed to 16% by exactly a field goal. However, I’m not going to bet the Panthers for a couple reasons.

For one, I don’t want to bet on the Panthers until I know how much better Cam Newton has gotten in this offense since the last time we saw him, given how terrible he was his last time out. On top of that, the Panthers are in a bad spot, having already beaten the Falcons in Atlanta earlier this year. Divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate in a same season regular season rematch against a team that they previously beat as road underdogs, as the Panthers did in Atlanta. The Panthers still make sense for pick ‘em purposes as they are the only team in this game with an above average unit in any phase of the game, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on them.

Carolina Panthers 20 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pick against the spread: Carolina -2.5

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)

A lot has been made of the Giants’ injury situation, as they are missing starting quarterback Daniel Jones, at least one of their top wide receivers Kadarius Toney, as well as a trio of key defensive starters, safety Jabrill Peppers, cornerback Adoree Jackson, and middle linebacker Blake Martinez, but the Chargers are missing some key players as well. Top wide receiver Keenan Allen is out with COVID, while fellow wide receiver Mike Williams and top cornerback Chris Harris could join him as close contacts, although both seem likely to end up playing. They’re also without starting cornerback Asante Samuel, starting edge defender Kyler Fackrell, and their two starting offensive linemen on the right side, tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Oday Aboushi.

Despite that, the Chargers are favored by 10 points in this game. The Chargers are a better team than they were a year ago, but, dating back to the start of last season, the Chargers have just three multi-score wins, with two of them coming last season against the eventual 1-15 Jaguars and the Chiefs’ backups in a meaningless week 17 game. The Giants might be bad enough to still lose by double digits anyway, but my calculated line has the Chargers favored by just 8.5 points, factoring in that the Chargers frequently draw road heavy crowds and don’t have much homefield advantage in Los Angeles as a result, going just 13-21 ATS at home since moving to Los Angeles.

On top of that, the Chargers are in a bad spot, with a much tougher game next week, in Kansas City, against the Chiefs. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.6% rate before facing a team with a winning percentage over 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage, and, making matters worse for the Chargers, that game in Kansas City is on short rest on Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 41.7% rate before a Thursday game. It’s very likely the Chargers overlook a bad Giants team starting a backup quarterback, at least enough that this game will be closer than it should be. There isn’t enough here for Glennon and the Giants to be bettable, but they should be the better side for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +10

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (7-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)

The Bills are 7-5 and their point differential is even better than that, ranking 2nd in the NFL at +140, as all seven of their wins have come by at least 15 points. However, they have faced arguably the easiest schedule in the league and have mostly beaten up on bad teams, which hasn’t translated to opponents with a .500 or better record, against whom they are 1-4. Blowout wins, even against bad opponents, are more predictive than close losses, of which the Bills have 4, making up all but one of their losses, but it’s hard to ignore that the Bills haven’t performed at a high level against capable opponents, especially now that they are heading into a matchup with the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay and doing so without their top cornerback Tre’Davious White, who went down for the season two weeks ago.

Defending Super Bowl Champions, the Buccaneers once again look like a top contender, sitting at 9-3, despite having some key injury absences, many of which have since returned, putting them in strong position for the stretch run. They are still without wide receiver Antonio Brown and they are down to their third string safety, but they have gotten starting cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back from extended absences, as well as stud tight end Rob Gronkowski, while talented nose tackle Vita Vea and key offensive lineman Ali Marpet have returned from shorter absences. I still think the Bills are one of the better teams in the league, but the Buccaneers are on another level and, here at home, I have them favored by 5.5 points over the Bills in my calculated line.

The Buccaneers are currently favored by 3.5, which doesn’t given us a ton of line value, but there is a very good chance this line goes down to a field goal before gametime, in which case the Buccaneers would be an intriguing bet, as just 8% of games are decided by two points or fewer, as opposed to 16% of games being decided by exactly a field goal. In the scenario where the Buccaneers became field goal favorites, they would basically just have to win to ensure at least a push and I expect them to beat the Bills relatively easily, as the Bills again prove overmatched against tougher competition, going into Tampa Bay and facing a Buccaneers team that hasn’t lost at home since week 12 of 2020.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33 Buffalo Bills 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -3.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (9-3)

I was hoping the Packers would be a lot healthier this week, coming out of their bye week, particularly the trio of left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, who are all among the best players in the league at their respective positions. The Packers are 9-3, but they have not played as well as last year’s 13-3 team and are not beating teams in convincing fashion, while ranking just 14th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, in large part due to the absence of those aforementioned three players. 

Had the Packers gotten a couple of those players back this week, they would have been a very intriguing bet in this game against the Bears in Green Bay, where the Packers have been a great bet in games in front of games where Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes the games, going 49-22 ATS. Unfortunately, only Alexander has a shot to suit up for this game and even that isn’t a given. On top of that, the Packers will be down a reliable receiver, with Randall Cobb now out indefinitely. 

Despite that, the Packers are still favored by 12.5 points in this game. The Packers would have covered this number in three of their five home games so far this season, but a closer look at those games shows the Packers to not have been as impressive as the final score, as they were down to the Lions at halftime, got outgained on a per play basis by Washington, and shut out a Seahawks team that was starting a much less than 100% Russell Wilson. Those three games are the Packers’ biggest margins of victory of the season, which shows how unimpressive many of their wins have been.

My calculated line actually has the Packers favored by just 9.5 points in this game and, while that doesn’t factor in the Packers’ extra homefield advantage with Aaron Rodgers, it’s hard to get up to this 12.5 point number. The Packers could also be in a bit of a bad spot, as they have a much tougher game against the Ravens on deck and favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.6% rate before facing a team with a winning percentage over 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage. 

This is still a big divisional rivalry game, so it’s very possible the Packers still bring a big effort despite a tougher game on deck, but it’s another reason not to be confident in the Packers this week. I’m taking the Bears for pick ‘em purposes for now, but I would probably switch to the Packers if it was determined that Jaire Alexander will be active and playing something close to his normal snap count. In either scenario, I don’t see myself taking either side confidently.

Green Bay Packers 28 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against the spread: Chicago +12.5

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-4) at Cleveland Browns (6-6)

The Ravens are 8-4, but they are not nearly as good as their record. They have played a lot of close games and are overall 6-2 in one score games, which is not something they can rely on long-term. When these two teams met two weeks ago in Baltimore, I picked the Browns as 3.5-point underdogs, as a result of the Ravens’ lack of big wins, and the Browns had numerous chances to cover that number in a game that was tight throughout and an eventual 6-point loss, giving the Ravens’ just their third biggest margin of victory of the season.

This week, these two teams meet in Cleveland and, in addition to the obvious location difference, the Browns could have a significant injury edge as well, as the Ravens have lost right tackle Patrick Mekari and top cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the past week, while the Browns could get a much better performance out of Baker Mayfield after a bye week, which would be huge because Mayfield’s poor play was the biggest factor in the Browns not winning when these two teams met the last time. 

The Browns are favored this time, but only by 2.5 points and my calculated line has the Browns favored by 3.5 points, as, despite all of their injury absences, the Browns still rank 13th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, just behind the Ravens, who rank 11th, but are going in the wrong direction injury wise, while the Browns seem to be heading in the right direction. Just 8% of games are decided by two points or fewer, while about 1 in 6 are decided by exactly a field goal, so we’re getting good line value with the Browns as long as this line is under a field goal. There isn’t enough here to bet the Browns confidently, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes in a game in which they basically just have to win to cover this spread.

Cleveland Browns 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -2.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (1-10-1) at Denver Broncos (6-6)

I have picked the Lions in recent weeks, betting them frequently, as winless teams tend to be a good bet late in the season and, in fact, the Lions have now covered in five of their last six games, after last week’s upset win over the Vikings. However, now the Lions are not winless anymore and they could be in a bad spot after an emotional upset victory, as teams cover at just a 41.0% rate after a win as home underdogs of 5 points or more. The Lions could easily still be overlooked though, especially by a Broncos team that is coming off a tough loss to the Chiefs and now gets an easy opponent before another tough conference matchup against the Bengals. 

Teams cover the spread at just a 42.7% rate as favorites of a touchdown or more before facing an opponent with a winning percentage over 50% higher than their current opponent, which applies in this situation and effectively cancels out the Lions’ bad trend. On top of that, part of the reason why teams tend to struggle after a big home upset wins is because they become overrated off of overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions went from being 8.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now being 10-point underdogs this week, despite the Broncos looking underwhelming in Kansas City. 

That’s partially because the Lions will be without a pair of key offensive playmakers in running back Jamaal Williams and tight end TJ Hockenson, after already losing running back DeAndre Swift the week before, but my calculated line still has the Broncos favored by just a touchdown at most, despite the Lions’ injury absences. Even though the Lions have a terrible record, they haven’t been blown out much, as just three of their 12 games have ended in a defeat by more than 10 points, which is important, considering this line is at 10. 

The Broncos are unlikely to be the team that pushes that number to four. The Broncos started 3-0 against a weak schedule, winning all three games by double digits, but they have lost key players like Von Miller, Josey Jewell, AJ Johnson, and Graham Glasgow since then and have slipped to 6-6, while ranking just 21st, 4th, 29th, and 19th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. The Lions, despite their league worst record, rank 25th, 28th, 9th, and 27th respectively, about four points behind the Broncos. This isn’t worth a big play, but I would expect this to be another relatively close game for the Lions, who are not as bad as their record.

Update: The COVID absences have continued for the Lions, with safety Tracy Walker and edge defender Julian Okwara being the most notable of the players who were also ruled out after Jamaal Williams. I am regretting locking this in at 10, as the line has since shifted to 11, and even at 11 I don’t know if I would be confident in the Lions, given how short-handed they will be this week.

Denver Broncos 23 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Detroit +10

Confidence: Medium