Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)

The Buccaneers shockingly lost to the Saints as 11-point home favorites last week, but they won both the first down rate and yards per play battle in a game that likely would have gone the other way had the Buccaneers not lost the turnover battle by two, which is not a predictive metric, and, for all of the Saints’ offensive issues, they have arguably the best defense in the league right now, so the Buccaneers’ loss and their offensive struggles aren’t that concerning. Teams also tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued.

Tom Brady’s record of success after a loss is also well-documented, as he hardly loses back-to-back games. The problem is that, while Brady is close to an automatic cover off of a loss as long as he isn’t favored by too much, going 36-11 ATS as underdogs of favorites of seven points or fewer, that doesn’t hold up when he’s favored by more than seven points, going 11-13 ATS, and the Buccaneers are favored by 10 points in this matchup in Carolina. 

On top of that, the Buccaneers are missing a lot of key players in this game that will make it even tougher to cover this high spread, as they will be without two of their top three wide receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, their top running back Leonard Fournette, and two of their best defensive players, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Antoine Winfield. The Panthers are a trainwreck on offense, missing their top offensive player Christian McCaffrey and several offensive line starters, and dealing with the league’s worst quarterback situation, but their defense is still playing at a high level and can keep this game relatively competitive. I’m still taking the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes, but I can’t be confident in them at all.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -10

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-11-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

The Falcons are 6-8 and technically still in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they don’t have any impressive wins, as all six of their wins have come by one-score against teams with a .500 record or worse. Meanwhile, their eight losses have come by an average of 20.63 points per game, including six losses by 13 points or more. In total, the Falcons have a point differential of -126, 4th worst in the NFL, and their efficiency metrics are even worse, as they rank 24th, 29th, 28th, and 30th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, mixed efficiency respectively. Fortunately for the Falcons, they get another easy game this week with the Detroit Lions coming to town, sitting at 2-11-1. 

The Lions did win last week in shocking upset fashion against the Cardinals, but teams tend to struggle the week after a big upset win, 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 and they tend to be overvalued as well. In the Lions’ case, they have moved from being 6.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now 6-point underdogs, which is not a big swing, unless you consider that it happened despite the fact that the Lions will be without starting quarterback Jared Goff in this game, leaving overmatched Tim Boyle to make his second career start, a big concern considering how much he struggled in his debut.

The Falcons haven’t blown anyone out this year, but this is probably their best chance to do it, so we’re getting some value with them as 6-point favorites. My calculated line is only Atlanta -7, so we’re not getting a ton of line value with them, but when you add in that the Lions could be flat after essentially winning their Super Bowl last week, there is enough here to be somewhat confident in the Falcons. I think I would need this line to drop to 5.5 to consider placing a bet on the Falcons, but I will also reconsider a bet on this game if there are any further significant COVID absences or reactivations.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

I am not locking in a lot of bets this week until gameday morning because of COVID uncertainty, but this is one I want to lock in right now. The Chiefs are currently missing two of their most important players, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, as well as starting right tackle Lucas Niang, but it’s possible all three could be cleared before gametime and, even if some or all aren’t, I still think we are getting line value with the Chiefs at their current number, favored by 8.5 points over the Steelers. Even missing those three players, my calculated line favors the Chiefs by 12.5.

The Chiefs got off to a slow start this season, sitting at 3-4 through the first seven games of the season, but their biggest problems were the turnover margin (-10 through the first 7 games of the season) and their horrendous defensive play. However, their defense has since gotten healthy (cornerback Charvarius Ward, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark, and defensive tackle Chris Jones all missed time early in the season) and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to a huge defensive improvement, while their turnover margin has predictably swung as well, as they have been at +10 in the seven games since their slow start.

Between the turnover margin and their much improved defensive efficiency, the Chiefs have won all seven games by an average of 14.85 points per game since their 3-4 start, leading to them now being all alone in the #1 seed in the AFC at 10-4. Obviously the Chiefs’ offensive injuries hurt, but I have enough confidence in Patrick Mahomes even without his top weapons to still lead a strong offensive performance, while their defense should continue being a complementary unit. 

It also helps the Chiefs that they are playing a Steelers team that is nowhere near as good as their 7-6-1 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, which is more predictive than the final score. On the season, the Steelers rank just 28th, 20th, 20th, and 26th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which are based on yards per play and first down rate differential. 

The Chiefs, meanwhile, rank 3rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, despite their injury plagued start to the season on defense. Even without Kelce and Hill, the Chiefs have a good chance to pick up their 7th multiscore win of the season and to hand the Steelers their 5th multiscore loss, and the possibility that one or both might still play makes this an even more intriguing bet. I am going to lock this in as my Pick of the Week now, given the uncertainty on the rest of this week’s schedule.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -8.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (7-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

The Raiders are 7-7, but they have a 4-2 record in one-score games and a 3-0 overtime record, so they could easily have a couple more losses. On top of that, their point differential of -75 is significantly worse than would be expected for their record and ranks just 25th in the NFL overall. That would normally suggest they are worse than their record, but they have faced a tough schedule overall and have largely underperformed on third and fourth downs relative to their early down performance, which tends to even out in the long run. 

The Raiders rank 15th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 9th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 28th and 16th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 27th and 30th respectively in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Raiders rank 15th overall. Their offense has been noticeably worse since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, but they still have an above average defense and are still better than their point differential.

The Broncos have a much better point differential at +42, but rank just 18th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency. The Broncos are also dealing with a key injury absence as veteran starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is out with a concussion and will be replaced by inconsistent young backup Drew Lock, who will almost definitely be a significant downgrade. Despite the Raiders having the higher schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and a healthy starting quarterback at home, this line is even. 

Not only is that line too low, but it’s also the exact same line as the early line a week ago, despite the Bridgewater injury, which came in a Broncos home upset loss to the Bengals. The oddsmakers and public clearly were not impressed with the Raiders narrowly winning in Cleveland against a COVID depleted team last week, but that game would not have been as close if the Raiders had not lost the turnover battle by two, which is not a predictive metric. In terms of first down rate and yards per play differential, which are much more predictive and are the basis for efficiency ratings, the Raiders had the edge by significant margins. 

My calculated line has the Raiders favored by 3.5 points, so we are getting a lot of line value with them on an even line, line value that would increase in the somewhat likely case that talented Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs gets cleared from the COVID list before this game. I am not locking in a lot of games until gameday morning because of all of the COVID uncertainty this week, but this is one I’m comfortable betting now because neither team is having much of a COVID outbreak and the line value is too significant.

Las Vegas Raiders 21 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas PK

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (11-3)

The Packers stand alone with the league’s best record at 11-3, but they haven’t been dominant in most of their wins. As a result, they rank just 10th in the NFL in point differential at +57 and, in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Packers rank 4th, 15th, 32nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 13th in overall mixed efficiency. They have been better at home, which has been the case throughout Aaron Rodgers’ tenure, as they are 50-22 ATS at home in games Rodgers starts and finishes in front of crowds with fans, but this line is still too high, favoring the Packers by 7.5 points at home over a competent at worst Browns team (16th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency) that will be at least somewhat healthier than a week ago, most notably at the quarterback position with Baker Mayfield set to return.

My calculated line has the Packers favored by 5 points and, while that does not take into account the Packers’ typical home dominance, it’s still hard to justify getting this line up to 7.5 points. I’m not going to bet on the Browns because there is still so much uncertainty in this game with several Browns players who are still in COVID protocols from last week who could come off the list before gametime, as well as a key injury uncertainty on both sides, with dominant Browns defensive end Myles Garrett not practicing all week and likely to be limited if he plays, while dominant Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander could be set to return to the lineup after being designated to return from injured reserve a few weeks ago. It’s impossible to be confident enough in the Browns to bet on them right now given the uncertainty, but I could see that changing if the right players are active for the Browns and/or Alexander is out for the Packers.

Update: Alexander is out for the Packers, while Garrett is active, but that’s about where the good news ends for the Browns, who still have cornerbacks Greg Newsome and Troy Hill, safeties Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and offensive linemen JC Tretter and Jedrick Wills in COVID protocols. My calculated line is at Green Bay -6, but I am leaving this as low confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 23 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and survived a 3-game stretch without quarterback Kyler Murray in which they went 2-1, but since Murray has returned from injury, I have thought the Cardinals are an overrated team. The Cardinals may have gone 2-1 without Murray, but they managed just an even point differential against a relatively easy schedule and seemed to be missing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top interior defender JJ Watt arguably even more than they were missing Murray, whose replacement Colt McCoy was largely a steady hand for the 3-game stretch. 

Murray returned from his injury three games ago, but Watt and Hopkins have remained out indefinitely, which makes them significantly less talented than they were during their hot start to the season. The Cardinals have also benefited significantly from winning the turnover margin, ranking 4th in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric week-to-week. Yards per play and first down rate differential are much more predictive and in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals have never been as impressive as their record, currently ranking 9th in the NFL overall, while ranking 10th, 19th, and 12th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams.

The Cardinals being overrated after Murray’s return has proven to be the case, as they have covered in just one of three games since his return and that was an 11-point win as 7.5-point favorites over the Bears, in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 4 and likely would not have covered if one or two of those turnovers did not happen. The Cardinals’ recent rough patch culminated in an embarrassing double digit loss to the previously 1-win Lions last week, losing 30-12 as 12.5-point favorites.

That result will likely prove to be more of a fluke than anything though and, in the wake of that loss, the Cardinals may actually be a little underrated now. A week ago on the early line, the Cardinals were favored by 5 points in this matchup with the Colts, but the line has since shifted all the way down to 1.5 points. Teams tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued. The latter is definitely true for the Cardinals this week, while the former is likely to be true as well.

The Colts did have an impressive victory over the Patriots last week, but that was a game in which they lost the first down rate and yards per play battle despite being slightly favored, so that should not have triggered that big of a line shift, especially since the Colts have since lost both of their talented starting guards to COVID protocols, meaning they will be down three of five starters on an offensive line that normally would be the strength of this roster. Even though I don’t think the Cardinals are quite as good as their record, my calculated line still has them favored by a field goal over the short-handed Colts, so we are getting line value with the Cardinals at -1.5. It’s not enough to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Unfortunately for the Colts, stud linebacker Darius Leonard tested positive before the game and won’t be able to play. This is obviously a huge loss and pushes my calculated line up to Arizona -5.5, but the line has also shifted to Arizona -3 and I don’t think there’s enough line value for this to be worth betting. I may reconsider before gametime, especially if the line drops back down under 3, but for now I’m keeping this as low confidence.

Arizona Cardinals 26 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -3

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (8-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-5)

The Titans have a better record than the 49ers, but more predictive metrics like yards per play and first down rate show the 49ers to be a significantly better team, especially when you take into account that they have faced a tougher schedule than the Titans. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the 49ers rank 8th, 10th, 24th, and 7th respectively in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while the Titans rank 21st, 12th, 22nd, and 21st respectively.

The 49ers are also in a better injury situation than the Titans. They’re still far from 100%, missing their two best cornerbacks, their three best running backs, and several other contributors, including defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. However, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams, linebacker Fred Warner, and safety Jimmie Ward are all among their most important players and they have all some missed time and since returned, which has allowed this team to play some of their best football in recent weeks. 

The Titans, on the other hand, have not been playing their best football in recent weeks, primarily on offense, in large part due to injuries. After averaging 5.49 yards per play through the first eight games of the season (most equivalent to 17th in the NFL), the Titans have seen that average drop to 4.51 yards per play (most equivalent to 31st in the NFL) over the past six games, a stretch in which feature back Derrick Henry has missed every game, talented wide receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones have missed three games each, and starting left guard Rodger Saffold has missed 1 game. 

Brown and Jones will play this week, with the former returning from his 3-game absence for the first time, but Saffold and Henry remain out, while talented left tackle Taylor Lewan will join them, meaning they will still be down their most important offensive player and a pair of talented offensive linemen for this matchup. Unfortunately, we’ve lost all line value with the 49ers in the past week, with this line shifting from even on the early line last week to now favoring the 49ers by 3.5 points, a significant swing given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by three points or fewer. 

The weird part is there isn’t an obvious factor that caused that shift. The 49ers won big over the Falcons last week, but the Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league, while the Titans’ loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh likely would have gone the other way had the Titans not lost the turnover battle by 4 in a 6-point loss. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so it’s very likely the Titans will have a better turnover margin in this matchup. On top of that, none of the injuries that have occured in the past week for these two teams are significant enough for this line to shift like this.

Most likely, this line shift is the result of the public and odds makers catching up to how good the 49ers are, after a stretch in which they were regularly underrated and, as a result, covered in five of their past six games. My calculated line is exactly where this line is at San Francisco -3.5, so we’re not getting any value with either side as a result of that massive line movement. I am still taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but this could easily be a field goal win by the 49ers, so I can’t be confident in them.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -3.5

Confidence: None