Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

The Steelers are 6-6-1, but they haven’t been nearly as good as their record. While their six wins have come by just a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, four of their six losses have come by multiple scores, with the only exceptions being games in which they still lost the first down rate and yards per play battles by 12.24% and 3.1 respectively against the Chargers and 2.22% and 1.4 respectively against the Vikings. On the season, the Steelers rank just 28th, 26th, 20th, and 27th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency.

The Titans aren’t as good as their record either, as they have gone 4-1 in one score games and have not nearly been as good on offense since losing top wide receiver AJ Brown and feature back Derrick Henry, but they have the better record at 9-4 and, even if they aren’t as good as their record, they are still clearly the better of these two teams because the Steelers aren’t as good as their record either. Despite that, the Titans are underdogs of 1.5 points in Pittsburgh, suggesting the odds makers and the public view the Titans as only marginally better than the Steelers, if they view them as better at all. 

My calculated line has the Titans favored by 2.5 points and you could justify favoring them by the full field goal on the road, as the Steelers are legitimately a well below average team overall, not performing well in any of the three phases of the game. This is one matchup where neither team has been affected by positive COVID tests this week and with the line having already swung in Pittsburgh’s favor, I don’t expect to get a better number with the Titans, so this is a bet I want to lock in now. The money line is the best value, but the Titans are worth a bet against the spread as well at +1.5.

Tennessee Titans 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

New York Jets (3-10) at Miami Dolphins (6-7)

The Dolphins have won five straight games to put themselves back into playoff contention despite a 1-7 start. Between that and the fact that the Dolphins were 10-6 a year ago, the Dolphins are generally seen as at least an average team, but there are a couple things wrong with that. For one, the Dolphins were not nearly as good as their record a year ago, as 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).

On top of that, the Dolphins’ schedule during their 5-game winning streak has been pretty easy, as only the Ravens are above .500 and they were playing a Thursday Night Football game after an overtime game, a near impossible spot, with teams covering at just a 16% rate in that spot all-time. Three of those five wins have come against among the worst teams in the league in the Jets, Giants, and the Texans, with two of those wins coming by just one-score, including a 7-point victory over these Jets in New York a few weeks ago.

That first Jets/Dolphins game was even closer than the final score too and, in fact, the Jets actually won both the first down rate and yards per play rate battles, which are the most predictive metrics. On the season, the Dolphins rank just 29th, 16th, and 27th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, which are based on first down rate and yards per play, and their mixed efficiency, which ranks 26th in the NFL, puts them just about a point ahead of the Jets, who rank 28th. 

The Jets are not as healthy as they were the last time these two teams met, down their two best wide receivers Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, as well as their left tackle George Fant, but the Jets will have running back Michael Carter this time and the Dolphins are missing top wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and talented safety Jevon Holland due to COVID protocols. I have the Dolphins calculated as just 5.5-point favorites in this game, giving us significant value with the Jets at +9.5. The Dolphins are in a good spot in their third straight home game, a 55.2% cover spot all-time, and this is going to be a low confidence pick for now, but I may end up betting on the Jets on gameday once the results of COVID tests are back and we know for sure who is playing for each side.

Update: Holland will play for the Dolphins, while Folorunso Fatukasi is out with COVID for the Jets. The line has moved up to 10 to compensate, but I am no longer considering betting on the Jets, so this will remain a low confidence pick.

Final update: Jevon Holland will be inactive despite being cleared, but despite that, this line has moved up to 10.5 in some places. I am going to make a late play on the Jets at that number, as the Dolphins are very overvalued, especially without Waddle and Holland.

Miami Dolphins 24 New York Jets 19

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (2-11) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)

Both of these teams are 2-11 and among the worst teams in the league, but the Jaguars are still the significantly better team, even if only by default. The Jaguars hold a slight edge in point differential (-160 vs. -179), despite the Texans holding a significant edge in turnover differential (+1 vs. -19), which is not a predictive metric. In more predictive metrics, the Jaguars rank 30th, 23rd, and 26th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, while the Texans rank 32nd, 31st, and 19th respectively and are seven points behind the Jaguars in mixed efficiency. 

The Texans beat the Jaguars by double digits in Houston earlier this season, but that was way back in week one when the Texans had a healthier offensive line and were starting veteran Tyrod Taylor at quarterback rather than raw rookie Davis Mills. With Mills, the Texans have been even worse this season, losing all eight of his starts and by an average of 18.5 points per game, an average that would be even worse 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.

Earlier this week, the Jaguars were 3-point favorites at home and I thought I would end up betting on them at that number, especially after the news broke that the Jaguars would be firing highly unpopular head coach Urban Meyer, but Meyer’s dismissal has led to the Jaguars now being favored by 5 points. My calculated line still has the Jaguars favored by 9, but I think we lost line value with the line moving two points for the coaching change, as interim head coach Darrell Bevell is a very uninspiring replacement and is a big part of the problem with this offense. I may still bet on the Jaguars, but I want to wait and see what the COVID situation will be for both teams first and I hope we can get a better line before gametime.

Update: I am comfortable taking the Jaguars for a small bet. One thing I didn’t mention earlier is that the Jaguars are healthier now than they have been. They haven’t had a lot of injuries, but cornerback Shaq Griffin (two games missed) and center Brandon Linder (six games missed) are among the Jaguars’ best players on either side of the ball and both have missed significant time, with this week being the first time they will play in the same game since week 5. With the Urban Meyer situation behind them, they should be able to beat a horrendous Texans team with ease.

Jacksonville Jaguars 26 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (6-7) at San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

The Falcons are 6-7 and theoretically right in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they have not been impressive, as all six of their wins have come by one score against teams with a losing record, while five of their seven losses have come by double digits, including four losses by 23 points or more, leading to them having a point differential of -108 that ranks 5th worst in the NFL. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Falcons rank 22nd, 27th, and 30th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and just 29th in mixed efficiency.

The 49ers, on the other hand, rank 9th, 14th, 21st, and 10th in offensive, defensive, special teams and mixed efficiency and they are much more in line with the teams who have blown the Falcons out than the teams the Falcons have beaten or played close. My calculated line has the 49ers favored by 11 points, so we’re getting some line value with them as 8.5-point home favorites. Unfortunately, this is a tough spot for the 49ers, who play a tougher game next week against the Titans and they do so on Thursday Night Football. Overall just 40.7% of favorites cover the week before a Thursday Night Football game, so I am hesitant to bet on the 49ers, even though I would still recommend them for pick ‘em purposes.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -8.5

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (9-4) at New York Giants (4-9)

The Cowboys are 9-4 and rank 5th in the NFL in point differential and they have done so despite some key absences. Starting quarterback Dak Prescott (1 game), each of their top-3 wide receivers Amari Cooper (2 games), CeeDee Lamb (1 game), and Michael Gallup (7 games), each of their top-3 offensive linemen Tyron Smith (3 games), Zack Martin (1 game), and La’El Collins (5 games), and their two best pure edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence (10 games) and Randy Gregory (5 games) have all missed time and, in fact, last week was the Cowboys’ first game of the season where each of the aforementioned each players were all active.

Unfortunately, that did not last, as Tyron Smith left mid-game, but the Cowboys still held on to win by a touchdown over a competitive Washington team and, though Smith is out this week, it’s not bad timing for the Cowboys, as their opponents this week and dealing with a much worse situation. Already a much worse team than the Cowboys, the Giants will be very short-handed this week. The most notable absence is starting quarterback Daniel Jones, who will be replaced by Mike Glennon, who struggled mightily in relief of an injured Jones against the Cowboys earlier this year, and possibly by Jake Fromm, a signing from the Colts’ practice squad who has been with the team for two and a half weeks and has thrown zero career passes, yet reportedly might get into this game for the Giants.

However, the bigger side of concern for the Giants from an absence standpoint is their defense, which has been the more passable unit this season. Already without top linebacker Blake Martinez, top cornerback Adoree Jackson, and starting safety Jabrill Peppers, the Giants are now without their other starting safety Xavier McKinney, promising fill-in cornerback Aaron Robinson, valuable rotational edge defender Oshane Ximines, and possibly stud defensive lineman Leonard Williams, probably their best defensive player overall. In their current state, the Giants are legitimately one of the worst few teams in the league, while the Cowboys could still be considered one of the better teams, even without Smith.

This line is high at Dallas -10.5, but my calculated line currently has the Cowboys favored by 14.5 even if Leonard Williams plays and I don’t see this line getting any lower, especially since the Giants have had five COVID positives this week to just one for Dallas, meaning they are much more likely to have a bigger outbreak within the next couple days before gametime. This isn’t a big bet, but it’s one of the few I’m comfortable locking in right now, given all of the uncertainty, and it’s possible I end up increasing this play if the Giants lose Williams or others and/or we get favorable line movement.

Dallas Cowboys 30 New York Giants 13

Pick against the spread: Dallas -10.5

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-4) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Patriots are not only on a seven game winning streak right now, but they also have covered in all seven games by at least a touchdown, a significant feat that has not happened in at least three decades, which shows they have been consistently underrated. I think that remains the case as the Patriots, who lead the league in point differential at +150 and could easily be 11-2 or 12-1 right now if their offensive line was healthy at the beginning of the season, are 2.5-point underdogs in Indianapolis against the Colts, suggesting these two teams are seen as about even.

The Colts are also better than their record at 7-6, also in large part due to their offensive line getting healthy. They started 0-3 with two multi-score losses, but since then they are 7-3 with all three losses coming by one score to likely playoff qualifiers and six of their seven wins coming by double digits, leading to them having a point differential of +88 that ranks 7th in the NFL. However, they have played an easier schedule overall than the Patriots and are just 2-4 against teams with a winning record, while the Patriots are 4-2 and possess a significant edge in point differential even with a tougher schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Patriots rank 3rd, while the Colts rank 12th, with about five points separating the two. 

My calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, so we’re getting significant line value with the Patriots as 2.5-point underdogs. In most weeks, this wouldn’t be my Pick of the Week, but, in looking at the rest of the games this week, I don’t expect to like a side more than New England, given all of the COVID uncertainty. The Eagles and Raiders were sides I liked earlier in the week, but it’s tough to know what to make of those games now, with their opponents missing half their roster, the games being rescheduled, and the lines getting taken off the board. 

I will do my picks as normal tomorrow, but I don’t anticipate locking in many, if any other bets before Sunday morning, due to the likelihood of gametime COVID absences, and even then I don’t see myself liking many sides enough to bet on them. The only reason I am locking this one in now is because it’s my Pick of the Week and because, thus far, both teams have been minimally affected by COVID absences this week and are unlikely to have a significant gameday outbreak tomorrow for this Saturday Night Football game. 

New England Patriots 26 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: New England +2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

These two teams met in Kansas City back in week 3, with the Chargers winning by a final score of 30-24. However, the Chiefs won the first down rate battle by 7.92% and only lost the game because they lost the turnover battle by 4, which is not a predictive metric. The Chiefs were also missing their top cornerback Charvarius Ward and their top edge defender Frank Clark, which hurt their defense significantly. That game was a microcosm of the Chiefs’ early season, as turnovers and injuries were a theme for the Chiefs across the first several weeks of the season. 

In addition to Ward and Clark missing time, top interior defender Chris Jones and top safety Tyrann Mathieu also missed time with injury early in the year, while their turnover margin through seven games sat at -10, en route to a 3-4 start. However, their defense has since gotten healthy and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to what was one of the worst defenses in the league in the beginning of the season now becoming one of the better defenses in the league in recent weeks.

That has propelled the Chiefs to a 6-game winning streak, a stretch during which their turnover margin has been +10, evening out their margin on the season. The Chiefs’ offense has actually struggled relative to their typical performance over their winning streak, coinciding with offensive line injuries, but they got right tackle Lucas Niang back last week, meaning they had their preferred starting five healthy on the offensive line for the first time in weeks, and it showed in a 48-9 rout of the Raiders. If their offense bounces back to their typical form with a healthy offensive line and their defense continues to be a complementary unit, the Chiefs are going to be very tough for anyone to beat and could easily be considered the top team in the league and the Super Bowl favorite, despite their slow start.

The Chiefs will be without interior defender Chris Jones this week due to COVID protocols, but the Chargers will be missing left tackle Rashawn Slater for the same reason and the talented rookie is playing so well that his absence almost cancels out the absence of the Chiefs’ dominant interior defender. This game is in Los Angeles, after the last matchup was in Kansas City, but it barely matters, given the Chargers lack of homefield advantage in Los Angeles, where they are 14-21 ATS at home since moving in 2017, as opposed to 22-14 ATS on the road. The Chiefs, in particular, have seen very friendly crowds in Los Angeles in their visits, which has helped them win all three of their matchups against the Chargers in Los Angeles, by an average of nine points per game.

The Chargers are a solid team, but, with the absences of Jones and Slater taken into account, the Chiefs are still significantly better than them and should be favored by significantly more than just a field goal on the road in a place where they will be greeted by a friendly crowd and where they have had no problem winning in the past. My calculated line has the Chiefs favored by 6.5 points, having a 7.5-point edge in my roster rankings, while the Chargers get just one point for homefield advantage. The Chiefs are worth at least a small bet at -3 and, depending on the status of questionable Charger defensive backs Derwin James and Asante Samuel, I might increase this play. I also want to make sure neither team will have any further COVID absences before possibly making this a higher confidence pick.

Update: I want to increase this bet. Derwin James is playing, which would have been the bigger absence, but Asante Samuel is out and, the bigger deal, is that the Chiefs have had no further key players test positive for COVID, which will be a concern up until gametime in every game this week. With both teams missing one key player each with COVID, the Chiefs have a significant edge over a team they could have easily beaten earlier this year if not for some fluky turnovers and that was despite the Chargers being the significantly healthier team in that matchup, which is not the case this time around.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Los Angeles Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -3

Confidence: High