Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
NO +135 vs. MIA
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
NO +135 vs. MIA
Miami Dolphins (7-7) at New Orleans Saints (7-7)
The Dolphins have won six straight games after their 1-7 start to surprisingly climb back into the playoff race in the AFC, but they have faced a pretty easy schedule over that stretch and have not been impressive in many of the wins. Of the six wins, five of them came against teams that are a combined 18-52 right now, while their only victory over a team with a record better than 5-9 came against the Ravens, who were in a near impossible spot playing on a short week after an overtime game, a spot in which teams have covered just 3 out of 28 times historically.
Despite the weak schedule in recent weeks, the Dolphins still have a negative point differential at -27 and, in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, they have been even worse as, not only have they faced a relatively easy schedule overall, but they have significantly overperformed expectations on third downs on offense, ranking 11th in third down conversion rate, but just 30th in both first down rate and in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency. Over-performing on third downs tends not to be sustainable long-term and, while the Dolphins do rank 17th in schedule adjusted efficiency on defense, their poor offensive rank drags their overall mixed efficiency down to 28th in the NFL.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, they get another break in the schedule this week. The Saints are 7-7 and are the best team record wise the Dolphins have faced since their Thursday Night Football game against the Ravens back in week 10, but the Saints are dealing with significant absences, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Saints pulled the upset in Tampa Bay as 11-point underdogs last week, but they primarily won because they won the turnover battle by two, which is not predictive week-to-week, and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle, which are more predictive week-to-week. Teams tend to struggle anyway after big upset wins like that, covering at just a 41.4% rate after a win as double digit underdogs, as teams tend to be flat after such a big win.
It also took a truly dominant performance from their defense, which held the Buccaneers to 4.14 yards per play and a 22.93% first down rate, to mask a very poor performance by their skeleton-crew offense, which averaged 3.53 yards per play and a 18.03% first down rate. In total, the Saints’ offense was without their original starting quarterback in Jameis Winston, a trio of expected started offensive linemen in Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramcyzk, and Andrus Peat, with Armstead and Ramcyzk being arguably the best offensive tackle duo in the NFL, their expected #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas and his replacement Deonte Harris, who leads the team in receiving and is an asset in the return game as well.
There was some hope that the Saints might get some of those players back this week, most notably their offensive tackle duo, but, not only are none of those players expected to return, the Saints will now be down to fourth string quarterback Ian Book, with backup quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian both being added to the COVID protocols this week and expected to miss this game. Book was deemed worthy of a fourth round pick by the Saints in this past year’s draft, but is very raw and the Saints have not seemed eager to get him into action as a rookie, despite a need at the quarterback position, so he should be a downgrade even from the poor quarterback play the Saints have gotten since Jameis Winston went down.
When the Saints’ defense is healthy, they are arguably the best in the league and they showed that last week, in just the fifth game all season in which the Saints had their dominant trio of defensive linemen (David Onyemata, Cameron Jordan, and Marcus Davenport) available at the same time, but defensive performance tends to be less predictive week-to-week than offensive performance and, even with those three aforementioned defensive linemen expected to play, the Saints defense is no longer at full strength, as they are expected to be without stud every down linebacker Demario Davis due to COVID protocols.
We are still getting line value with the Saints, whose defense should still play at a high level even without Davis, but that line value is only because the Dolphins are an overrated team and I am not confident enough in the Saints to bet on them against the spread, especially since they could be in a bad spot after a huge win last week. The money line is worth a small play at +120, as the Saints should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game at home (my calculated line is New Orleans -1.5), but I would need at least a full field goal to consider betting on the Saints against the spread.
Update: This line has jumped to three today, probably because the public is realizing that Terron Armstead is unlikely to play, as the “limited” practice he got in yesterday was an estimation, with the Saints not actually practicing on Christmas, meaning Armstead still has not practiced in two weeks. I factored in that Armstead would be out yesterday when I did this write up, so that doesn’t change anything for me, but I like the value at +3 a lot more, enough to bet the Saints.
New Orleans Saints 17 Miami Dolphins 16 Upset Pick +135
Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Earlier in the week, the Ravens looked like an intriguing bet. These two teams met in Baltimore earlier this year, with the Bengals pulling the upset, but that doesn’t always mean that the Bengals will be able to win even easier now that they are at home in the rematch. Divisional road underdogs cover at a 42.1% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that previously pulled the upset against them as road underdogs earlier in the season. Not only do they cover at a high rate, but they also pull upsets at a high rate, winning almost at a 50% clip as underdogs of less than a touchdown.
The Bengals’ win in Baltimore earlier this season came in blowout fashion, with a final score of 41-17, but it wasn’t as lopsided as the final score suggests, as it was close for most of the game before the Ravens were forced to go for it on several 4th downs late (1 of 4 in the game) and failed. In terms of first down rate differential, the Bengals held the edge by just 1.52%, which is more predictive than anything on a week-to-week basis.
The Ravens were always likely to be without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson in this game, set to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, but backup Tyler Huntley has been impressive enough that I would have been willing to bet on them with the right line. Unfortunately, Huntley will now miss this game as well, leaving third string Josh Johnson to start, just a few weeks after joining the team. The line has shifted up to favoring the Bengals by a touchdown, but we’re not getting any line value with them at that new number with a third string quarterback under center, especially given the rest of the Ravens’ absences.
Many of the Ravens’ absences have been out for an extended period of time, but, in total, they will be without their two best quarterbacks, their two best running backs (Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins), a pair of offensive line starters (Ronnie Stanley and Ben Powers), their two top cornerbacks (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters), one starting safety (DeShon Elliott), a key reserve in the secondary (Jimmy Smith), and at least two expected starters in the front seven (Justin Houston and Derek Wolfe) and potentially a third, with Calais Campbell questionable to return from a one-game absence.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are one of the relatively healthiest teams in the league, in total missing talented interior defender DJ Reader, starting right tackle Riley Reiff, and top linebacker Logan Wilson, but no one else of note. We were still getting some line value with the Ravens earlier in the week when Huntley was likely to play, but with Johnson under center now and the line only moving up to a touchdown, we aren’t getting any line value with them at all, as this is exactly where my calculated line is.
I am still taking the Ravens for pick ‘em purposes, but only because they should be in a good spot in this rematch, even with that, this is a no confidence pick and could easily end up as a push. I may bump this up to low confidence if Campbell plays, but it would be hard to bet on the Ravens confidently in their current state and if Campbell doesn’t play I might switch to a no confidence pick on the Bengals. That’s how close this one is for me.
Update: Campbell is active, which is huge news for an otherwise skeleton crew defense. I am increasing the confidence slightly on this.
Cincinnati Bengals 23 Baltimore Ravens 17
Pick against the spread: Baltimore +7
Los Angeles Chargers (8-6) at Houston Texans (3-11)
The Texans have managed to win three games, but none of their wins have been impressive and they are still arguably the worst team in the league. Two of their wins, including their win last week, came against the Jaguars, who are also arguably the worst team in the league. Their first win over the Jaguars came way back in week one when veteran Tyrod Taylor was starting at quarterback instead of raw rookie Davis Mills and when the Texans’ offensive line was much healthier. The second win came last week in a game in which the Texans lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts, only winning the game because they overperformed on third down (10/18 vs. 3/14), which is not predictive.
The Texans’ other win came in Tennessee against a Titans team that is at least capable, but the Texans also lost the yards per play and first down rate battle by significant amounts in that game, only winning because of a +5 turnover margin, which is also not predictive. On top of that, the Texans 11 losses have come by an average of 18.55 points per game. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate and is more predictive than final scores, the Texans still rank just 32nd, 31st, and 9th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, while their mixed efficiency not only is dead last in the league, but they are five points behind the second worst team.
The Chargers are favored by 10.5 points here on the road, but they rank 10th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, about 16 points better than the Texans, and they travel pretty well because they don’t have much homefield advantage (22-14 ATS on the road since moving to Los Angeles) and the Texans are so bad that my calculated line has the Chargers favored by 13.5 (using a lesser adjustment for homefield advantage), so we’re still getting line value with them.
A lot has been made about all the Chargers are missing due to COVID, including dominant center Corey Linsley, dominant edge defender Joey Bosa, talented starting wide receiver Mike Williams, and featured running back Austin Ekeler, but the Texans are also missing key players to COVID, with top wide receiver Brandin Cooks and top edge defender Jonathan Greenard both out, among others.
If anything, the Texans’ losses may be more damaging, as they don’t have the talent on the rest of this roster to make up for the absence of two players who are arguably the two best on the entire roster at their respective positions. I am hoping this line will drop to 10 before gametime as bettors overreact to the Chargers’ COVID absences and ignore the Texans’ absences, but even at 10.5 I would take the Chargers for pick ‘em purposes. This is a low confidence pick for now, but could be updated if the line moves.
Los Angeles Chargers 24 Houston Texans 10
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -10.5
Washington Football Team (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
This is one of the toughest calls of the week for me, as my calculated line is exactly where this line is, favoring the Cowboys by 10 at home over Washington. I can’t find an angle to favor either side in this game, although it’s possible that could change before gametime, given the ever-changing nature of teams’ COVID lists, but for now, it’s very hard to pick a side. I’m taking Washington purely to fade the public and because this is a slightly more meaningful game for them, as their season would be over with a loss, but this is my lowest confidence pick and a push is a strong possibility.
Dallas Cowboys 27 Washington Football Team 17
Pick against the spread: Washington +10
Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
The Vikings are in the playoff mix in the NFC at 7-7 and are a trendy sleeper pick because it’s well-documented that the Vikings haven’t lost more than 8 points this season and could have easily won a few more games. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. For one, two of their losses required the Vikings to get a pick six to make the final score (Arizona and Baltimore) closer than it would have been and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by a wide margin in both of those games, which is more predictive than the final score.
On top of that, most of their wins have been close, with just one coming by more than 8 points, so, while they could easily have a couple more wins, they could also have a couple more losses. Their point differential of +19 is about in line with their record and schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, shows them to be even worse than that, as they rank 16th, 26th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and 23rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency.
The Vikings were winning by two scores against the Bears last week before a garbage time touchdown, but that game was relatively close throughout, as the Vikings’ offense didn’t allow them to separate from a skeleton crew Bears team, even though the Bears lost the turnover battle by two, went 2/12 on third down, and went 2/5 on fourth down. The Bears won the first down rate and yards per play battle in that game by margins of 12.88% and 2.12 yards per play respectively, holding the Vikings’ offense to a pathetic 3.16 yards per play, despite legitimately being without most of their regular secondary, as well as stud edge defensive Khalil Mack.
The Vikings are likely to benefit from the return of wide receiver Adam Thielen with injury this week, but now they will be without feature back Dalvin Cook, which should cancel out Thielen’s return. The Vikings also face a much tougher challenge this week, with the Rams coming to town. The Rams will be without left tackle Andrew Whitworth due to COVID protocols, but they will return tight end Tyler Higbee, safety Jordan Fuller, and right tackle Rob Havenstein, who missed last week, while cornerback Jalen Ramsey and center Brian Allen missed the previous game, two games the Rams still won despite being short-handed.
Even without Whitworth, the Rams are relatively healthier than most teams in the league right now, including the Vikings, who are without their top two edge defenders on the defensive side of the ball, in addition to Cook’s absence and the uncertainty around Thielen’s injury. The Rams have also been one of the best teams in the league this season, ranking 7th, 6th, 17th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while my roster rankings show them to be even better than that, even with Whitworth missing.
Given that, the Rams should be able to beat the Vikings with relative ease and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them hand the Vikings their first multiscore loss of the season. My calculated line is Rams -5, so I don’t necessarily foresee a blowout, but we are getting some line value with the Rams at -3.5. I would need this line to go down to 3 to be at all confident in the Rams though, as right now the line value does not cross a key number. The Rams are the better side for pick ‘em purposes either way though.
Update: This line has moved to 3 in some places. As I said, I would like the Rams better at that number, so I am increasing this to a low confidence pick.
Los Angeles Rams 24 Minnesota Vikings 20
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) at New York Jets (3-11)
Both of these teams have terrible records and point differentials, with the 2-12 Jaguars sitting at -174 and the 3-11 Jets sitting at -178, but there are reasons to expect the Jets to be the better of these two teams when they meet this weekend. While their point differentials are similar, the Jets have scored and allowed about 55 more points than the Jaguars, which is a good sign for a couple reasons.
For one, it means their points scored/points allowed ratio is better, as the Jets have scored 0.584 points for every point they have allowed and the Jaguars have scored just .530, which tends to be more predictive than point differential. Offensive performance also tends to be much more predictive than defensive performance week-to-week so, in general, I favor a team with a better offense over a team with a better defense.
The Jets have also faced a tougher schedule and, in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which takes schedule into account and weights offensive performance higher than defensive performance, the Jets rank 29th, while the Jaguars rank 31st. Both teams are terrible and the difference between their ranks might not seem like much, but the gap between these two teams in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency translates to about a 2.5 point advantage for the Jets.
Making matters even worse for the Jaguars is that they will have the most impactful absence in this game, with talented edge defender Josh Allen, arguably their best player on either side of the ball, expected to miss this game because of COVID protocols. Without Allen, the one advantage the Jaguars have, which is having a superior defense, is not nearly as much of an advantage, if it is still an advantage at all.
Add in the fact that the Jets are at home and they should be favored to win this game by more than the 1.5 points they are currently favored by, which is only enough to cover the advantage of the Jets being at home. My calculated line has the Jets at -4 so we’re getting decent value with the Jets at -1.5. I don’t foresee myself betting on this one, but it’s possible I will change my mind and, either way, the Jets are the better side for pick ‘em purposes.
New York Jets 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20
Pick against the spread: NY Jets -1.5
Chicago Bears (4-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-9)
The Bears lost to the Vikings last week, but they won the first down rate battle by 2.12 and the yards per play battle by 12.88%, losing because they lost the turnover battle by two and went just 2/12 on third down and 2/5 on fourth down, which aren’t as predictive of metrics week-to-week as first down rate and yards per play. The Bears’ offense still had a poor game though, as it was their defense that dominated, holding the Vikings to just 3.16 yards per play and a 20.00% first down rate.
The Bears’ defense has been solid most of the season, but last week was easily their best performance of the year and it’s not a surprise that it coincided with the return of stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who had previously missed four straight games and six total games on the season. However, Hicks is expected to be out again this week, having been placed on the COVID list, meaning the Bears will once again be without both Hicks and Khalil Mack, a massive blow for this defense, which is highly unlikely to be as good this week as they were last week.
The Bears’ offense, meanwhile, figures to continue struggling. They continue to be without left tackle Jason Peters, arguably their most important offensive player, who has been out for the past game and a half, which has been a big blow to an already mediocre offense. On top of that, the Bears will be forced to turn to third string quarterback Nick Foles, with their top-two quarterbacks Justin Fields and Andy Dalton out. Foles is more qualified than most third string quarterbacks, but he figures to be a downgrade even from Fields and Dalton, who have not played all that well this season.
Given all of the players the Bears are missing, I don’t expect them to be able to keep this game close with the Seahawks. The Seahawks are just 5-9, but their even point differential suggests they have been better than their record and that is despite the fact that starting quarterback Russell Wilson missed three and a half games with injury and then was not himself for about three games upon his return. The Seahawks’ defense (22nd in schedule adjusted efficiency) and special teams (3rd) are complementary units, so if this offense can play well, the Seahawks are a lot more dangerous of an opponent than their record would suggest.
The Seahawks did not have a strong offensive performance last week, but that was on the road in Los Angeles against a good Rams defense and the Seahawks were without talented starting wide receiver Tyler Lockett, starting running back Alex Collins, and starting right tackle Brandon Shell. This week, the Seahawks return home to face a lesser defense and will get at least Lockett and Collins back, with Shell remaining a possibility to play as well. Given the talent gap between these two teams right now, my calculated line favors the Seahawks by 9, so we’re getting good line value with them as 6.5-point favorites. I want to wait until gameday to place this bet because of COVID uncertainty, but I will very likely be bumping this up from a low confidence pick before gametime.
Update: Hicks is still out, so I want to lock this in before the line increases.
Seattle Seahawks 23 Chicago Bears 13
Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5
New York Giants (4-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
Many wrote the Eagles off when they started 3-6, but they were a lot better than their record suggested, having faced one of the toughest schedules in the league and still managing a positive point differential. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Eagles have climbed right back into the playoff picture at 7-7 as their schedule has gotten easier in recent weeks. Despite their recent strong stretch, the Eagles still remain a better team than their record suggests, as their seven wins have come by an average of 17.1 points per game, while their losses have come by an average of 9.1 points per game, giving them a point differential of +56, 11th best in the NFL.
The Eagles’ one loss since their 3-6 start was to these Giants, but that game was in New York and the Eagles won both the first down rate and yards per play battle in that game by significant margins, losing the game by 6 only because they lost the turnover battle by 4, in a game in which a banged up Jalen Hurts threw three interceptions. Turnover margins are not consistent week-to-week, but first down rate and yards per play tend to be much more consistent and predictive.
In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Eagles rank 11th, 14th, and 19th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 8th in overall mixed efficiency. They’re also arguably even better than that suggests as they are remarkably healthy right now for how late in the season it is, especially when you consider that they had key offensive linemen miss time earlier in the season and had a stretch where their quarterback was injured.
The Giants, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction injury wise and are missing key players that played just a few weeks ago in the first matchup between these two teams. The biggest absence is quarterback Daniel Jones, who was first replaced with mediocre veteran backup Mike Glennon and now is being replaced by the unproven Jake Fromm, who will be making his first career start in this game, just a few weeks after joining the Giants and is likely still getting up to speed on the playbook.
The Giants likely would have lost the first matchup at home by double digits if not for the turnover margin and, now with Fromm under center, in a game in Philadelphia, this is likely to be a double digit win, which would be the Eagles’ 7th of the season and the Giants 7th such loss. My calculated line has the Eagles favored by 13 and, assuming nothing major changes in terms of players being in the COVID protocol, I plan on betting the Eagles as 10-point favorites before gametime. I’m also hoping we can get a -9.5 at some point to avoid a push if the Eagles win by 10. I’m leaving this as low confidence for now, but will likely be updating this before gametime.
Update: This line is rising Sunday morning, so I want to lock in -10 before it’s too late.
Philadelphia Eagles 27 New York Giants 13
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -10
Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)
These two teams met in Buffalo a few weeks ago, with the Patriots pulling the small upset on the road. Now that these two teams are meeting in New England, many expect the Patriots to be able to win easier than they did last time, but that isn’t always how these rematches go. In fact, divisional road underdogs cover at a 42.1% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that previously pulled the upset against them as road underdogs earlier in the season. Not only do they cover at a high rate, but they also pull upsets at a high rate, winning almost at a 50% clip as underdogs of less than a touchdown.
That being said, we aren’t getting enough line value with the Bills as mere 2-point underdogs, as my calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, holding a slight edge in my roster rankings and the homefield advantage. The Bills have the better point differential (+151 vs. +140) and rank 1st in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, while the Patriots rank 5th, but the Bills’ defense hasn’t been the same since losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White and, on top of that, most of the Bills’ success has come against weak opponents.
The Bills are 7-1 against teams who are .500 or worse, with all seven wins coming by 15 points or more, but they are just 1-5 against teams who are .500 or better. Blowout wins, even against bad opponents, are more predictive than close losses, of which the Bills have five, making up all but one of their losses, leading to their impressive point differential, but it’s hard to ignore that the Bills haven’t performed at a high level against capable opponents, especially given that they are facing one of the best teams in the league this week. I am still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I still think the Patriots are more likely to win this game and I could see this one going either way against the spread.
Update: This is staying as a no confidence pick, but I want to switch sides. This line has dropped to one, despite the Patriots getting good news with top receiver Kendrick Bourne coming off the COVID list. Originally both of these teams had significant absences in the receiving corps, with the Bills missing Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley and the Patriots missing Bourne and Nelson Agholor, but Bourne playing is a big boost for New England.
New England Patriots 26 Buffalo Bills 24
Pick against the spread: New England -1