Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
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CLE +120 @ PIT
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
CLE +120 @ PIT
Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
The Steelers are 7-7-1, but their seven wins have been very different than their seven losses, as their seven wins have all come by one score and by a combined 32 points, while their seven losses have come by a combined 102 points, with five losses coming by multiple scores. That gives them a point differential of -70 that ranks 23rd in the NFL and in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, they are even more underwhelming, ranking 29th, 20th, 21st and 29th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency on the season.
The Browns have a worse record at 7-8, but six of their losses have come by six points or fewer and they rank much better in schedule adjusted efficiency, ranking 16th, 8th, and 22nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 14th in overall mixed efficiency. They aren’t fully healthy on either side of the ball, but they are healthier than they have been in recent weeks, especially on offense, where they have quarterback Baker Mayfield about as healthy as he’s been all season with at least four fifths of the Browns’ dominant offensive line that has seldom been together this season.
On defense, the Browns have some absences in the secondary, with Troy Hill, Ronnie Harrison, and John Johnson out, but their secondary hasn’t been healthy all season and they are getting back edge defender Jadeveon Clowney from a short absence. Unfortunately, we’ve lost all line value with the Browns in the past week, with this line moving from Pittsburgh -1 to Cleveland -3.5 in the past week, as a result of the Steelers’ blowout loss in Kansas City. My calculated line of Cleveland -4 still suggests the Browns should be the right side, but we’re getting such insignificant line value that I can’t be confident in the Browns at all.
Update: This line has shifted all the way from Cleveland -3.5 to Pittsburgh -2.5 because the Browns have been eliminated from the post-season, while the Steelers still technically are alive. I don’t think that should have triggered that big of a shift, as this is still a big divisional game for the Browns, who won’t want the Steelers to keep their playoff hopes alive against them on national television, especially since the Steelers beat them earlier this year. Teams tend to cover in this situation anyway, covering the spread at a 56.8% rate as divisional road underdogs against an opponent who previously won as road underdogs against them earlier in the season. I was hoping we would get a full field goal so I could take the Browns against the spread, but the best value in this game in the money line, as the Browns should be no worse than 50/50 to win this game and likely should still be favored, even given the circumstances.
Cleveland Browns 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Upset Pick +120
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5
Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) at Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
The Colts have two key questionable players for this game, with starting quarterback Carson Wentz and stud right tackle Braden Smith still yet to clear COVID protocols. This line favors the Colts by 7.5, suggesting the oddsmakers expect at least Wentz to play in this game, as this line would likely drop significantly if he were ruled out and backup Sam Ehlinger had to start. I think we are getting line value with the Raiders at that number even if Wentz and Smith play though, as my calculated line with Wentz and Smith favors the Colts by just 4.5 points (3 points with only Wentz).
At first glance, a 7.5-point spread seems fair, given that the Raiders have a +71 point differential and the Colts have a +104 point differential, but these two teams are much more even than that suggests. While the Colts have faced a relatively easy schedule and have benefited significantly from a +14 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric, the Raiders have faced a tougher schedule and have a -9 turnover margin. The Raiders also 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 14th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 7th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 26th and 14th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 24th and 31st respectively in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Raiders rank 11th overall, actually slightly ahead of the 12th ranked Colts.
The Raiders haven’t been as good on offense since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, but they haven’t been bad on offense either and still have an above average defense, while the Colts will at least be without left tackle Eric Fisher this week. I want to lock this in right now because it sounds like the Raiders will get their key COVID questionables (Casey Hayward, KJ Wright, Darius Philon, Denzel Perryman, and Cory Littleton) back today, while Wentz and Smith are truly questionable, so I don’t expect this line to get any higher. Unless the Raiders don’t get those players back, the highest my calculated line would go is 4.5 and, if Wentz and Smith are both out, I would have the Raiders favored by 1.5 points. This is a high confidence pick and a Pick of the Week candidate.
Update: Wentz and Smith are playing for the Colts, but I don’t have any regrets about making this a high confidence pick, as the Raiders will have all of their COVID questionables available for this game.
Indianapolis Colts 24 Las Vegas Raiders 20
Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +7.5
Carolina Panthers (5-10) at New Orleans Saints (7-8)
At first glance, these two teams seem similar, with both having poor offenses and strong defenses. However, there are some differences. For one, the Saints are slightly better on both sides of the ball, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 2nd in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Panthers rank 31st and 3rd respectively. The Saints also have the edge on special teams (12th vs. 23rd) and rank about three points higher than the Panthers in mixed efficiency (15th vs. 23rd).
The Saints are also going in the right direction in terms of personnel absences, while the Panthers are heading the other direction. The Saints are still missing a lot on offense, with original starting quarterback Jameis Winston, expected top wide receiver Michael Thomas, stud right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and starting left guard Andrus Peat all still out and starting center Erik McCoy joining them, but they will get back their two backup quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian, whose absence last week forced 4th string quarterback Ian Book into a near impossible situation last week, and they will also get back leading receiver Deonte Harris and likely left tackle Terron Armstead.
The Saints also were without feature back Alvin Kamara for a stretch earlier this season and he has since returned so, in general, the Saints are relatively healthier on offense than they have been in recent weeks, while the same is true of their defense. They’ll be without safety Marcus Williams this week, which is a big absence, but they’ll get back fellow starting safety Malcolm Jenkins and stud linebacker Demario Davis and are healthier than they have been on the defensive line, in just the sixth game in which their dominant trio of defensive linemen, Cameron Jordan, David Onyemata, and Marcus Davenport, have played at the same time, with one of those being last week when Davis and Jenkins were out.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have been horrendous on offense since losing feature back Christian McCaffrey and talented center Matt Paradis, while their defense is starting to lose talented players as well. Already without cornerback Jaycee Horn for an extended period of time, the Panthers have since lost fellow starting cornerbacks Donte Jackson and AJ Bouye, while Horn’s replacement, Stephon Gilmore, is now out as well, a bigger absence than any of them. Gilmore is also likely to be accompanied on the sidelines this week by edge defender Haason Reddick, a huge loss for their pass rush.
The Panthers started 3-0, but injuries have been a big part of the reason why they have gone 2-10 since and I would expect that to continue this week, in arguably the worst shape they have been in all season. This line favors the Saints by 6.5, but my roster rankings have the Saints with a 7.5-point edge, making them 9.5-point home favorites, giving us good line value with them. I don’t want to lock this in until I know for sure the status of Terron Armstead and Haason Reddick, but it seems as if the former is playing and the latter is not and, even if that’s not true, the Saints are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Update: I still don’t know about Armstead, but Reddick is not playing, which is enough for me to make a small bet on the Saints, before this line potentially moves.
New Orleans Saints 20 Carolina Panthers 10
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5
New York Giants (4-11) at Chicago Bears (5-10)
The Bears are just 5-10, but their biggest problem has been the turnover margin, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL at -13. Turnover margin is not predictive week-to-week though and in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Bears rank 25th, 14th, 10th, and 19th on offense, defense, special teams, and in overall mixed efficiency respectively.
The Bears are also getting healthier, most notably left tackle Jason Peters and interior defender Akiem Hicks, who are among their most important players. The Bears were leading the Packers in Green Bay a few weeks ago when Peters got hurt, while their defense held the Vikings to a 20.00% first down rate and 3.16 yards per play in Hicks’ last game a couple weeks ago, so with both expected back this week, the Bears are suddenly a somewhat decent team.
The same can’t be true for the Giants, who are 4-11 and probably even worse than their record suggests, given all of the absences they have. Their defense is expecting to get top cornerback Adoree Jackson back, but he returns at the same time that talented interior defender Dexter Lawrence is expected out, joining safety Jabrill Peppers and linebacker Blake Martinez, who have been out for weeks, while their offense continues to miss three of their top-4 wide receivers, a pair of starting offensive linemen, and starting quarterback Daniel Jones, whose backup quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm have struggled mightily in his absence.
The Bears aren’t a team that scores a lot of points and they have just two wins by multiple scores, so this line favoring them by six might seem high, but this is also one of their easiest games and there is a big enough talent gap between these two teams that I think the Bears should be favored by at least a touchdown. There isn’t enough here for the Bears to be bettable, but they should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes as long as this line stays below a touchdown.
Chicago Bears 17 New York Giants 9
Pick against the spread: Chicago -6
Los Angeles Rams (11-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
The Rams hit a mid-season skid a few weeks ago, losing three straight games, but they all came against quality opponents, they have still been one of the best teams in the league this season despite those losses, ranking 9th, 9th, 5th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, and they have won four straight games since their mid-season skid.
That winning streak has also come despite the Rams missing some key players, as they were without center Brian Allen and cornerback Jalen Ramsey against the Cardinals, safety Jordan Fuller, right tackle Rob Havenstein, and tight end Tyler Higbee against the Seahawks, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth against the Vikings. All of those players are expected to play this week for the Rams, who are not only healthier than they have been in weeks, but one of the few relatively healthy teams left right now.
The Ravens cannot say the same, although they will be in slightly better shape than last week’s skeleton crew, even if mostly by default. They’ll get backup quarterback Tyler Huntley back from COVID protocols and he will start in place of the injured Lamar Jackson, after third string Josh Johnson was forced into action last week, while defensive lineman Calais Campbell, edge defender Justin Houston, and cornerback Jimmy Smith are set to return on defense, but, in addition to Jackson, the Ravens will still be without their two best running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, a pair of starters on the offensive line in Ronnie Stanley and Ben Powers, starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, their two best cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and starting safety DeShon Elliott.
The Rams are favored by 5.5 points in this matchup, but the talent gap between these two teams is even bigger than that suggests, as I have about 10.5 points between these two teams in my roster rankings, giving us a calculated line of Rams -8.5, as long as nothing changes in terms of COVID protocols with either of these two teams. I want to make sure nothing unexpected changes before locking this pick in, but I will likely be betting on the Rams before gametime.
Update: Nothing has changed here, so I want to lock this one in at -5.5 before the line potentially moves.
Los Angeles Rams 26 Baltimore Ravens 17
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -5.5
Minnesota Vikings (7-8) at Green Bay Packers (12-3)
The Vikings need to win this game in Green Bay to keep their playoff hopes alive and unfortunately their slim playoff odds might have effectively already fallen to zero before this game even kicks off, with the Vikings losing quarterback Kirk Cousins to the COVID protocols and set to start backup Sean Mannion, a 7-year veteran who is starting his first real game this week, with his two career starts both coming in meaningless week 17 games where his team was resting starters.
For spread purposes though, this line has compensated by swinging to favor the Packers now by 13 points, so I still like the Vikings’ chances of covering. The Packers stand alone with the league’s best record at 12-3, but they haven’t been dominant in most of their wins. As a result, they rank just 11th in the NFL in point differential at +59 and, in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Packers rank 7th, 19th, 32nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 17th in overall mixed efficiency.
They have been better at home, which has been the case throughout Aaron Rodgers’ tenure, as Rodgers’ QB rating is about 10 points higher at home in his career and the Packers are 50-23 ATS at home in games Rodgers starts and finishes in front of crowds with fans, but this line still seems a little bit too high, as the Vikings still have a talented #1 wide receiver in Justin Jefferson, a strong running game, and a defense that is at least competent. I don’t have any confidence in the Vikings, but I would take them at this number for pick ’em purposes as my calculated line is Green Bay -10.5.
Green Bay Packers 26 Minnesota Vikings 14
Pick against the spread: Minnesota +13
Miami Dolphins (8-7) at Tennessee Titans (10-5)
The Dolphins started the season 1-7, but have since won seven straight games and have become a trendy sleeper pick. It’s understandable why, as the Dolphins seem to have a knack for getting better as the season goes under third-year head coach Brian Flores, starting 0-7 in Flores’ first season in 2019 before going 5-4 in their last 9 games, and starting 1-3 in 2020 before going 9-3 in their last 12 games. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
For one, the Dolphins were not as good as their 10-6 record suggested last year, 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’ winning streak this year is largely the result of them having a very easy schedule.
During their 7-game winning streak, the Dolphins have faced just two teams with a record better than 5-10, one being the Baltimore 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, and the other being the New Orleans Saints last week, who were starting a fourth string quarterback behind a skeleton crew offensive line, also a near impossible situation. Aside from the Saints and Ravens, the other five teams the Dolphins have beaten on their winning streak are a combined 21-54.
Despite the easy schedule on their long winning streak, the Dolphins are still negative in point differential 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 13th 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 11th in schedule adjusted efficiency on defense, their poor offensive rank drags their overall mixed efficiency down to 26th in the NFL.
The Dolphins’ schedule gets tougher this week, as they take a trip to Tennessee. The Titans’ 10-5 record is in part due to a 5-2 record in one-score games and they haven’t been nearly as good on offense since losing feature back Derrick Henry, averaging about a yard per play less in the seven games since he got hurt, but they have gotten back top wide receiver AJ Brown, starting left tackle Taylor Lewan, starting left guard Rodger Saffold, and starting right guard Nate Davis, who have all missed time in recent weeks as well, so they are still significantly healthier than they have been even if Henry remains out.
The Titans might also have wide receiver Julio Jones available for this one, another key offensive player who has missed time recently, but he is still in COVID protocols, as is Denico Autry, a key player on the defensive side of the ball. My calculated line even without Jones and Autry in the lineup favors the Titans by 4.5, so we are getting line value with them as 3.5-point favorites either way, but, at the same time, even if Jones and Autry play, I don’t see there being enough line value for the Titans to be worth betting on unless this line drops to 3, as a field goal win by the Titans is definitely a strong possibility.
Tennessee Titans 24 Miami Dolphins 19
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3.5
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) at New England Patriots (9-6)
The Patriots have lost back-to-back games and are favored by a lot of points in this game (16.5-point favorites), but the Patriots’ schedule over the past two games has been tough, as they have faced the teams who rank 1st and 6th in point differential, and they won the first down rate (+1.00%) and yards per play (+0.33) battle in a loss to the Colts, a loss that was largely the result of a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a -1 turnover margin, which are not as predictive as first down rate and yards per play.
Now the Patriots get a much easier matchup, as not only are the Jaguars arguably the worst team in the league, but they are without one of their best players, running back James Robinson, and could be missing essentially their whole offensive line, with left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, and right guard Ben Bartch (already a fill-in for the injured AJ Cann) all in COVID protocols right now.
The Patriots still rank 4th in point differential despite back-to-back multiscore losses and they rank 12th, 4th, 19th, and 6th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, so this line arguably isn’t high enough, even if the Patriots might be without Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise. I have this line calculated at New England -17 even if all of the Jaguars’ offensive linemen play and Judon and Wise are out and at New England -20.5 if the Jaguars’ players are all out and Judon and Wise play, so we’re getting at least some line value either way. I am making this a low confidence pick for now, but depending on who plays and where the line ends up, I may place a bet on New England.
Update: Only Andrew Norwell is playing of the Jaguars’ offensive line, while the others will be joined in the COVID protocols by edge defender Dawuane Smoot and cornerback Shaq Griffin, who tested positive today and would otherwise be starters. Meanwhile, the Patriots will have both Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise. This line hasn’t gone any higher, staying at 16.5, so I like the Patriots enough to bet them in what should be a complete blowout.
New England Patriots 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 10
Pick against the spread: New England -16.5
Houston Texans (4-11) at San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
The Texans have won four games, but are still arguably the worst team in the league. In three of their four wins, they have lost the first down rate battle and in two they have lost the yards per play battle, with the only game in which they won both being their week 1 win over the terrible Jaguars, back when the Texans had a much healthier offensive line. In their second win over the Jaguars a couple weeks ago, Texans lost the first down rate battle by 8.02%, only winning the game because they overperformed on third down (10/18 vs. 3/14), which is not as predictive as early downs.
In their upset wins over the Titans and the Chargers, the Texans won the turnover battle by 5 and 3 respectively, which is not predictive, but lost the first down rate and yards per play battle by 9.47% and 2.25 against the Titans and 2.86% and 0.49 against the Chargers, which are more predictive. Meanwhile, in the Texans’ losses, they are getting outscored by 18.55 points per game. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on first down rate and yards per play, the Texans still rank 32nd on offense, 30th on defense, and dead last in mixed efficiency, about 3.5 points behind the second worst team, the Jaguars.
The 49ers, meanwhile, rank 5th, 12th, 25th, and 8th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, significantly better than their 8-7 record, as they have faced a tough schedule, have lost some close games (+43 point differential), and have had some issues with the turnover margin (-4 on the season). They’ll be without quarterback Jimmy Garopppolo in this one, but backup Trey Lance was the 3rd overall pick in this past draft and, while he didn’t play that well in his only career start in week five, he has reportedly made a lot of progress in practice in recent weeks.
Lance will also have his most important offensive teammates, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, and left tackle Trent Williams, who have all missed some time this season, including Kittle missing Lance’s first start, while the 49ers’ defense has their key players as well, with edge defender Nick Bosa, interior defender Arik Armstead, safety Jimmie Ward, and linebacker Fred Warner all healthy and in the lineup. This line is pretty high, favoring the 49ers by 12, but it’s a significant shift from a week ago, when the 49ers were favored by 15.
Garoppolo’s injury is part of that, but I also think that line movement is an overreaction to the Texans somewhat fluky win over the Chargers last week. Teams tend to struggle after upset victories like that anyway, covering at a 41.2% rate all-time after pulling off a double digit upset, as an upset win like that tends to trigger a line movement that more often than not proves to be an overreaction. My calculated line is still 15.5 and, if there are no major changes to either team’s COVID lists before gametime, I will strongly consider a bet on the 49ers around 12.
Update: I have decided I want to leave this as low confidence.
San Francisco 49ers 31 Houston Texans 16
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -12