San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (6-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

I have thought the 49ers are underrated for weeks, as their 6-6 record is not reflective of how they have performed in more predictive metrics, ranking 7th, 8th, 22nd, and 7th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. However, it seems like the general public has become aware that the 49ers are better than their record and now is ignoring some key injury absences, including some new ones just in the past week.

The 49ers will get top linebacker Fred Warner back from injury this week, but they will now be without top cornerback Emmanuel Mosley, after already losing their previous top cornerback Jason Verrett for the season, as well as feature back Elijah Mitchell, after already losing their previous feature back Raheem Mostert for the season. On top of that, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel could miss his second straight game, right tackle Mike McGlinchey remains out, and would-be key contributors on defense like Javon Kinlaw, Dre Greenlaw, and Maurice Hurst remain out as well. 

Despite that, the 49ers are 1.5-point favorites in Cincinnati. For comparison, the Chargers were 3-point underdogs last week. The Chargers did win that game convincingly, but the Bengals were also without a pair of starting offensive linemen, right tackle Riley Reiff and center Trey Hopkins, who will both be back this week. I can’t bet the Bengals confidently, because the 49ers are still better than their 6-6 record, while the Bengals are likely worse than their 7-5 record, as they have faced an easy schedule, but the Bengals are in the better spot and should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as teams in their third straight home game like the Bengals cover the spread at a 55.2% rate. If Samuel plays, I would likely drop all confidence, but this is a low confidence pick of the Bengals for now.

Update: It sounds like Deebo Samuel is playing, so this is going to be a no confidence pick.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Cincinnati Bengals 23

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +1.5

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (4-8) at Houston Texans (2-10)

The Texans are 2-10 and don’t have the worst record in the league, but they are undoubtedly the worst team in the league. Their first win came back in week one when their offensive line was healthier and it came against a Jaguars team that is also terrible, while their second win was a game against the Titans in which the Texans won the turnover margin by 5, an unpredictive metric, while losing the yards per play and first down rate battle convincingly, by margins of 2.2 and 9.47% respectively, which are much more predictive metrics.

Meanwhile, the Texans’ ten losses have come by an average of 18.3 points per game and that number could 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. 

Overall, the Texans rank 32nd, 26th, and 21st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and, in mixed efficiency, they don’t just rank dead last in the NFL, but they are more than 6.5 points behind the next worst team. There was some hope they would play better when they got veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor back from injury, to replace raw rookie Davis Mills, but Taylor was barely an upgrade and was pulled in the middle of last week’s game so the team could get a better look at Davis Mills as a potential long-term starter, a chance he will get as the starter for the rest of the season.

It’s hard to see a circumstance where I would bet on the Texans and it would take a lot for me to even pick them against the spread, but this game is a situation where they make some sense as a pick, as they are in an incredible spot. The Texans lost 31-3 at home to the Colts last week, but teams tend to bounce back after a big loss as home underdogs like that, especially if teams are home underdogs again, as teams cover at a 59.0% rate all-time as home underdogs the week following a loss as home underdogs by 14 points or more. This is also the Texans’ third straight home game, a situation in which teams cover at a 55.2% rate.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the Seahawks have a much tougher game against the Rams on deck and could overlook the Texans or take their foot off the gas in the second half with a big lead and allow the Texans to backdoor cover this 8.5-point spread. 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 more than 50% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage, which applies here. My calculated line actually has the Seahawks favored by 11 points, with the Texans being the worst team in the league and the Seahawks being much better than their record with Russell Wilson rounding back into form, and, because of that, I can’t take the Texans with any confidence, but they could make this more of a game than people are expecting.

Seattle Seahawks 31 Houston Texans 23

Pick against the spread: Houston +8.5

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at New York Jets: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (5-7) at New York Jets (3-9)

The Saints got off to a 5-2 start, but injuries and other absences have completely derailed their season. Already without top wide receiver Michael Thomas from the start of the year, the Saints have been without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, top offensive lineman Ryan Ramcyzk, first round pick edge defender Payton Turner, and starting tight end Adam Trautman for an extended period of time. They will get feature back Alvin Kamara, talented left tackle Terron Armstead, and starting edge defender Marcus Davenport back this week, but they will also be without suspended wide receiver Deonte Harris, a talented offensive and special teams player, and likely edge defender Cameron Jordan, who is in the COVID protocols and would be an enormous absence for this defense.

Despite their injury situation and their current 5-game losing streak, sinking their record to 5-7, the Saints are still 5.5-point road favorites in New York against the Jets. The Jets are one of the worst teams in the league, but, in their current state, the Saints don’t deserve to be favored by this many points on the road against anyone outside of maybe the Texans. My calculated line has the Saints favored by a field goal at most, so we’re getting enough line value with the Jets at +5.5 for them to be worth betting, especially since they are also in a significantly better spot.

The Jets lost last week at home to the Eagles as home underdogs, a 15-point loss, and teams cover at a 59.0% rate all-time as home underdogs the week following a loss as home underdogs by 14 points or more. The Jets should be much more focused for their second straight home game after a big loss last week. On the other hand, the Saints play the Buccaneers next week and could overlook the Jets or take their foot off in the second half even if they can get a big lead. Road favorites of 4.5 points or more cover at just a 43.8% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage over 50% higher than their current opponent. This is a smaller play for now, but if Cameron Jordan is officially ruled out, I would consider increasing this bet, especially if the line moves up to 6 at some point.

New Orleans Saints 19 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +5.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (8-4) at Washington Football Team (6-6)

The Cowboys have slowed down since their 6-1 start, falling to 8-4 after losing three of their last five games, but their big problem has really just been that they haven’t been healthy, most notably missing their top two edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and their top two wide receivers Amari Cooper and Ceedee Lamb, and all four of those players will play this week. Given that, the Cowboys are well positioned to continue their winning ways going forward.

In addition to those four players, the Cowboys also have other key players who missed time and have since returned, like right guard Zack Martin, right tackle La’El Collins, left tackle Tyron Smith, wide receiver Michael Gallup, and, of course, quarterback Dak Prescott. In fact, this game will be the first time all season that the Cowboys will have all nine of the aforementioned players available. As healthy as they’ve been all year, the Cowboys have one of the best rosters in the NFL and should be one of the top contenders going forward if they can avoid further injuries.

Washington, meanwhile, has won four straight games since a 2-6 start, but many of their wins have been close, as they have gone 5-2 in one score games and have a -51 point differential that ranks just 25th in the NFL, as opposed to a 6th rank +86 point differential for the Cowboys, despite all of their key players who have missed time. Washington has faced one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, but Dallas isn’t far behind them, having also faced a tough schedule.

My calculated line says the Cowboys should be favored by more than a touchdown in this game, so we’re getting a lot of value with them as just 4-point favorites, enough for them to be my Pick of the Week. In hindsight, I liked Minnesota on Thursday more than I like Dallas, but I didn’t want to make a Pick of the Week on Thursday before I got to review every game and, of the Sunday/Monday picks, Dallas is my favorite play.

Dallas Cowboys 31 Washington Football Team 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas -4

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7)

A week ago on the early line, the Vikings were favored by 4.5 points in this matchup, but this line has since fallen all the way down to 3, a significant shift, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly. I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week’s result. In this case, the Steelers beat the previously 8-3 Ravens last week, while the Vikings lost to the previously winless Lions, but I don’t think either result was that surprising or should have triggered this shift.

Both games came down to the final play and both the Ravens and Lions have played a lot of close games this year, despite their significantly different records, so the fact that the former finally lost one and the latter finally won one is not a surprise. As bad as the Vikings’ loss to the Lions was last week, the Steelers nearly lost to the Lions at home earlier this season, a game that ended in a tie, and, overall, the Steelers have been a much worse team than the Vikings this season, despite having a slightly better record.

Including last week’s close win over the Ravens, the Steelers have won their six games by a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, while their five losses have come by a combined 68 points, with their only one-score loss coming in Los Angeles, 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, despite losing the first down rate battle by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play. 

The Steelers other four losses all came by multiple scores, while the Vikings have not lost by more than one score all season and possess a significant edge in point differential (+3 vs. -42). In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Steelers rank 26th, while the Vikings rank 18th. The Vikings are also a lot healthier this week than they were a week ago and the significant amount of missing personnel they had last week in Detroit is a big part of the reason why they lost. 

They will still be without their top two edge defenders Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen and their starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, while #2 wide receiver Adam Thielen will miss his first game of the season, but they will get back their top cornerback Patrick Peterson and their top two linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr and could also get back feature back Dalvin Cook and key reserve defensive back Camryn Bynum, all of whom missed last week’s game. This comes a couple weeks after the Vikings got their starting defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce back. 

The Vikings are still not as healthy as they were earlier in the season, but last week was their low point of the season from an injury standpoint and they should play a lot better now that they are healthier. They have a significant talent edge over the Steelers, who remain without top cornerback Joe Haden and are now down to their third string left guard. Overall, I have the Vikings 5.5 points better in my roster rankings right now, with Bynum and Cook factored in as legitimately questionable, so we are getting a ton of line value with the Vikings as only 3-point home favorites, a line that suggests the Vikings are only barely better than the Steelers.

This is also a very tough spot for the Steelers, who have to come on the road and face an unfamiliar non-divisional and non-conference opponent on a short week, as underdogs. All-time, non-divisional road underdogs cover at just a 34.5% rate on Thursday Night Football when both teams are on short rest. Making matters worse for the Steelers, they are coming off of an emotional win over the Ravens. 

Jim Harbaugh’s decision to go for two not only led to the Steelers’ victory, but also spared the Steelers from being in a near-impossible spot this week, as they would have had to play on a short week after an overtime game, a 16% all-time cover spot, but the Steelers’ defense was still on the field for 69 plays in a game that went down to the wire and, even if the game didn’t go to overtime, they figure to be the more tired of these two teams. 

On top of that, teams cover at just a 43.3% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of four points or more, as teams tend to find it tough to bring that same level of intensity two weeks in a row. I like the Vikings enough as a field goal favorites in this game that it would probably be my Pick of the Week if it was a weekend game, but I don’t like to make my Pick of the Week on Thursdays because these games can be weird sometimes and it’s possible I like a game this weekend more and, even if this isn’t my Pick of the Week, this is still a big play.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: High