Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (6-9)

The 49ers have had a disappointing season at 6-9, but they’ve played significantly better than their record suggests, despite being one of the most injury plagued teams in the league. Their -11 point differential is much more in line with a .500 team, despite the fact that they’ve played an above average schedule. They have also struggled in metrics that tend to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and have almost no predictive value as a result.

Turnover margin is the most impactful metric with minimal predictive value and the 49ers rank 2nd worst in the league at -10. That has also led to a -4 return touchdown margin which has cost them at least a couple games (Washington and Philadelphia) by itself, not to mention a loss to Dallas in which they were -4 in turnovers and -24 in points off turnovers. The 49ers won the first down rate battle by a wide margin in all 3 of those games and could easily be 9-6 right now if a couple things had gone differently in those games. 

The 49ers are also -23.44% in 4th down rate conversion differential, another impactful metric with minimal predictive value. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which is much more predictive, the 49ers rank 4th at +3.78%. That’s not to say they are the 4th best team in the league, but a deep dive into the numbers shows that they have played a lot better this season on a per snap basis than their 6-9 record would suggest.

Unfortunately, now in the last game of the season, the 49ers are even more depleted than they’ve been all season, with several new players being added to the injury report in the past week. On offense, the 49ers will be missing their top-2 quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens, their top running back Raheem Mostert, their top-2 wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, their top-2 centers Weston Richburg and Ben Garland, and their stud left tackle Trent Williams.

Meanwhile, on defense, the 49ers will be without their top-2 defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens, their top-2 edge defenders Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, two of their top-3 linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Kwon Alexander, two of their top-3 cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, and starting safety Jaquiski Tartt. Aiyuk, Williams, Greenlaw, and Williams have been added to the list of absent players just in the past week, after playing significant snaps in last week’s win over the Cardinals. Overall, the 49ers rank just 23rd in my roster rankings, without all of the players they are missing.

That’s a problem because the 49ers are playing a tough Seahawks team. The Seahawks’ offense has played well all season, ranking 5th in first down rate over expected at +2.11%, but it has been the emergence of their defense that has them in a strong position heading into the post-season. After struggling through the early part of the season, the Seahawks now rank 19th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.72%, leading to the Seahawks winning 5 of their past 6 games, including last week’s win over the Rams to clinch the division and keep the Seahawks alive for the #1 seed in the NFC.

Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, so it was always predictable that the Seahawks would get better defensively as the season went along, especially with the return of Jamal Adams and Shaq Griffin from injury and the addition of Carlos Dunlap from the Bengals. The Seahawks also have typically played much better in the second half of the season than the first half in the Russell Wilson era, going 45-23-3 ATS in weeks 9-16, as opposed to 34-34-4 ATS in weeks 1-8. This line is pretty high at Seattle -7, but I have them calculated as 10-point favorites, so we’re actually getting some good line value with them against a skeleton crew 49ers team. The Seahawks are worth a bet at -7 and if -6.5 pops up before gametime, I will increase this bet.

Seattle Seahawks 31 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: Seattle -7

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (5-9) at Arizona Cardinals (8-6)

The 49ers lost last week in upset fashion to the Cowboys and that seems to have caused the public and the oddsmakers to sour on them, with this line shifting from Arizona -3 on the early line last week to Arizona -5 this week. That might not seem like a huge line movement, but about 1 in 5 games are decided by 3-5 points, including 1 in 6 games by exactly a field goal, so it’s definitely a significant movement. It’s not surprising that line movement happened, as the public views the Cowboys as one of the worst teams in the league and the 49ers just lost to them, but I think it’s an overreaction, as significant week-to-week line movements tend to be.

Not only are the Cowboys a little underrated (the season long stats don’t show they’ve improved significantly in recent weeks), but the 49ers outplayed them for most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by 8.71% and losing primarily because of a -4 turnover margin, which tends to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Teams with a turnover margin of -4, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.01 the following week and, as a result, cover at a 52.4% rate as underdogs.

Last week was kind of a microcosm of the 49ers season, as they actually rank 5th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.93%, but are just 5-9 because of a 2-4 record in games decided by one score, a -11 turnover margin that is 2nd worst in the NFL, and a -4 return touchdown margin. First down rate differential is a much more predictable and predictive metric than the other metrics, which are largely unpredictable week-to-week, so, while the 49ers aren’t the 5th best team in the league, they’re better than their record suggests, especially when you consider they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league.

This line movement can also be somewhat explained by the 49ers’ injuries, as they will be without two of their top remaining defensive players in cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Jimmie Ward this week and they also lost backup quarterback Nick Mullens, who had been starting in the absence of Jimmy Garoppolo, and starting running back Raheem Mostert, but 3rd string CJ Beathard isn’t really a downgrade from Mullens, the 49ers are deep at running back behind Mostert, and they will also welcome back a pair of key players in tight end George Kittle and cornerback Jason Verrett, the latter of whom has actually outplayed Sherman this season prior to missing last week’s game against the Cowboys. Overall, my calculated line is still at Arizona -3 at the highest, especially when taking into account that this is essentially a neutral site game, with the 49ers sharing the Cardinals stadium for the past month and neither team being allowed fans in the stadium.

On top of that, the Cardinals are in an awful spot for several reasons. For one, they’ve already beaten the 49ers once this season and might not take them as seriously the second time around, especially with the 49ers in a more diminished state right now than they were in that game and with the 49ers coming off of last week’s loss. Divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.6% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team they previously beat in upset fashion, including 40.5% as home favorites of 4 points or more.

The Cardinals also have a tougher game on deck against the Rams and favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate at home against a sub-400 divisional opponent before going on the road and facing a divisional opponent with a record better than .600. On top of that, this is close to a must win game for the Cardinals, who currently have a loose hold on the NFC’s 3rd and final wild card spot. You might think that because this is a must win game that the Cardinals will rise to the challenge against a team with nothing real to play for, but that’s actually the opposite of what typically happens in this situation, as teams with a 51%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 42.3% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record. The Cardinals could still pull out the win, but the most likely result is them winning by 1 or 3 points and I would be surprised if they were able to win this one easily, so the 49ers are worth a significant bet.

Arizona Cardinals 24 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +5

Confidence: High

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9)

The Cowboys have had a disappointing season, but there are some reasons to be optimistic about their chances of covering spreads going forward. The Cowboys’ offense hasn’t been as good since losing Dak Prescott, not to mention their top-3 offensive linemen in Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La’El Collins, but they’ve been better in recent weeks since getting Andy Dalton back from injury and, all in all, they’ve been better than you’d expect on offense, ranking 10th in first down rate over expected on the season at +1.35%. 

Turnovers have been a problem for the Cowboys, but turnover margin is highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Case in point, through the first 7 games of the season, the Cowboys had the worst turnover margin in the league at -13, but they’re actually +3 over their past 6 games. The Cowboys’ defense has been a bigger problem this season than the offense, but they’re healthier on that side of the ball now than they’ve been, with top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, top linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and talented edge rusher Randy Gregory returning in recent weeks. My roster rankings have the Cowboys 24th, which isn’t anything to write home about, but I think they’re underrated compared to their public perception.

The 49ers are also a little underrated too, as they have been much better in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.52%) than their record would suggest and they are healthier now than they were earlier this season, even if only by default, most notably getting top cornerback Richard Sherman (9 games missed) back a few weeks ago. They’re still a far cry from last season, ranking 17th in my roster rankings, most notably missing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, and edge defender Nick Bosa, but they’re better than their record would suggest.

I think the Cowboys are a little bit more underrated though, as I have this line calculated at San Francisco -1.5, rather than -3.5, a big swing, considering about 1 in 5 games are decided by 2-3 points. The Cowboys are also in a better spot, with a relatively easy game against the Eagles on deck, while play the 49ers play the Cardinals next.  Underdogs cover at a 55.1% rate all-time against a team with a .500 or worse record when their opponents will next have a .400 or worse record and their opponents next opponent will have a .500 or better record, which is the case here. The Cowboys are worth a small bet if you can get the full 3.5.

Update: Ezekiel Elliott won’t be playing for the Cowboys, which isn’t a huge deal because he’s having a down year and his backup Tony Pollard likely won’t be much of a drop off. Meanwhile, the 49ers will be surprisingly without cornerback Jason Verrett, which is a bigger absence than Elliott. I wish I hadn’t locked this in at +3.5 though, as this line has climbed to 4 or even 4.5 in some places, due to Elliott’s absence. I still recommend betting the Cowboys confidently even without Elliott, even better if you can now get them at 4 or 4.5.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Dallas Cowboys 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Washington Football Team at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (5-7)

I have bet on Washington in each of the past four weeks since they’ve turned to Alex Smith under center and it has paid off as they have covered each time, including three straight wins and an upset win over the previously undefeated Steelers last week. Despite that win and the 49ers’ double digit loss to the Bills on Monday Night Football, this line has more or less stayed the same since the early line, favoring the 49ers by 3.5 in what amounts to a neutral site game in Arizona, after favoring them by 4 on the early line last week, so Washington remains underrated.

Washington’s strength is it’s defense, which ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.05%, and, while defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, the 49ers are also a defensive lead team (10th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.89%) and Washington’s offense has been much improved since their offensive line got healthy and Smith took over as the quarterback. Their running game takes a hit without starting running back Antonio Gibson, who is out this week, but, even without him, I have Washington a couple points better in my roster rankings than the 49ers, who have their own obvious injury issues, with Tim Compton, Kevin Givens, and DJ Jones joining an ever growing players of unavailable players. 

With this game essentially being a neutral site game, this line suggests the 49ers are about 3.5 points better, so we’re getting significant line value with Washington, especially when you consider that 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. Even if they can’t pull the upset, Washington should be at least able to keep this game close. Washington +3.5 is my Pick of the Week and even if you can’t get that number anymore (still available in some places Friday Night), I would still recommend a big play on +3.

Washington Football Team 20 San Francisco 49ers 17 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (5-6) at Buffalo Bills (8-3)

The Bills’ +17 point differential is pretty underwhelming when considering their 8-3 record, as they have gone 5-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer and haven’t won a game by more than 10 points all season. The good news is that they’ve been better than that in first down rate, ranking 10th with a +1.39%% schedule adjusted first down rate differential, and they’ve been led by their offense. The Bills rank 3rd in first down rate over expected at +3.10% on offense, which is a much more consistent and predictable side of the ball, and their struggles have primarily been on defense, where they rank 26th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.71%, which is much less likely to continue going forward than their strong offensive play.

Sheer regression suggests the Bills should be better defensively going forward, but there is even more reason to be optimistic, as this defense has largely underperformed its talent level. Showing the randomness of defensive performance, the Bills ranked 6th in the NFL in first down rate allowed last season, with largely the same personnel. I don’t expect them to be as good as they were last year again, but they’re getting healthy coming out of their bye week, especially with linebacker Matt Milano likely to return, and they can at least be a middling unit going forward, which, if it’s combined with the Bills continuing to play well on offense, which would make this team very dangerous going forward. It’s hard to be underrated at 8-3, but the Bills might be.

The 49ers also are underrated though, as they’re much healthier than they were earlier in the season on both sides of the ball. They’re still missing key players like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, and edge defender Nick Bosa, but they were more depleted than probably any team in the league at their worst, so, by comparison, the 49ers are in much better shape now. 

They’re not as good as last year obviously, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a competitive team and they actually might be better in the secondary than they were last season now that Richard Sherman is back from injury, because, in Sherman’s absence, Jason Verrett stepped up as the corner they lacked opposite Sherman last year, which somewhat makes up for the 49ers missing Bosa and DeForest Buckner from last year’s dominant defensive line. My roster rankings have the 49ers ranked 14th in their current state and first down rate differential paints an even better picture, as they rank 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.23%, despite all of the injuries they’ve had thus far this season. It might be too late for them to climb back into the playoff race, but they’re a playoff caliber team right now.

We’re still getting some line value with the Bills, as I have them two points better than the 49ers, while this line seems to suggest the 49ers are a point better, favoring them by a point in what amounts to a neutral site game with the 49ers forced to play in Arizona for the next couple weeks. However, the 49ers are in a better spot because they’re a west coast team at night against an east coast team, which is about a 60% cover spot all-time regardless of location because of the difference in circadian rhythms. I’m not sure if that holds up in this weird circumstance in a neutral site game and I’m still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I’m not that confident in them.

Buffalo Bills 24 San Francisco 49ers 23 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +1

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-6) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

This is a tough call. This could be a look ahead spot for the Rams, facing a banged up 49ers team, ahead of a much bigger divisional matchup in Arizona next week. Teams are just 54-71 ATS at home against a sub-.500 divisional opponent before facing an above-.500 divisional opponent on the road, including 40-60 ATS when the first divisional opponent has a 40% winning percentage or less, like the 49ers at 4-6. On the other hand, the Rams have already lost to the 49ers once this season, so they could be fully focused to get revenge, even in a potential look ahead spot. 

This line is also about right, as my calculated line has the Rams favored by a touchdown. We’re getting some minor line value with the Rams at -6.5, but certainly not enough to take them with any confidence, especially in what could be a bad spot for them. The 49ers have also been a tough team to pin down how good they are this season as their injury/COVID situation has been about as bad as any team in the league this season and they seemingly play with a noticeably different roster every game. This week, the 49ers get Deebo Samuel back, after injuries and COVID caused him to miss 6 games total across two stints, and they’ll also get top running back Raheem Mostert and top cornerback Richard Sherman back after they’ve missed 6 games and 9 games respectively, 

However, they remain without top edge rushers Nick Bosa (9th game missed) and Dee Ford (10th game), slot cornerback K’Waun Williams (5th game), starting safety Jaquiski Tartt (4th game), stud tight end George Kittle (5th game), starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo (5th game), and their top-2 centers Weston Richburg (11th game) and Ben Garland (6th game) and this week those missing players will be joined by talented starting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (3rd game), stud left tackle Trent Williams (2nd game), and starting defensive tackle DJ Jones (1st game). There’s too much uncertainty to take either side with confidence with this line being where it is, but the Rams are my pick for pick ‘em purposes, as the single most likely outcome of this game is the Rams winning by a touchdown. 

Update: Trent Williams will apparently play and this line has dropped accordingly at 5. I still am on the Rams for a no confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 26 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -5

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (6-2)

The Saints started the season 1-2, but I was never that concerned. The Saints typically start slow, going 4-17-1 ATS in week 1 and 2 since 2010, as opposed to 87-57-2 ATS in weeks 3-17, and, while it didn’t seem likely that the Saints would go on a run until they got key players back from injury, most notably #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas, I always expected them to go on a run at some point and to be betting them heavily over that stretch. In Thomas’ first game back since week 1, last week in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, the Saints rolled over one of the best teams in the league, winning the first down rate battle by 8.73% in a 38-3 win.

Thomas wasn’t the primary reason for their victory, but he’s obviously one of the top wide receivers in the league and this is such a complete team that Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to dominate every game. In addition to Thomas’ return, the Saints have also gotten back defensive end Marcus Davenport (4 games missed), defensive tackle David Onyemata (1 game), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (2 games), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (1 game), tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) in recent weeks.

Despite all of the players who have missed time for this team thus far, the Saints rank 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.65% and, now healthy, my roster rankings have them as the #1 overall team in the league, as they were coming into this season. This line has shifted from favoring the Saints by 6.5 points on the early line last week to 9.5 this week, in the wake of the Saints’ blowout win and the 49ers’ big loss to the Packers, but I think we’re still getting good line value.

The 49ers are in slightly better shape than last week, but they are still missing starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, stud tight end George Kittle, their top-2 centers Weston Richburg and Ben Garland, their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, their top outside cornerback Richard Sherman, their top slot cornerback K’Waun Williams, rotational defensive linemen Ezekiel Ansah and Solomon Thomas, and starting safety Jaquiski Tartt. 

Missing all those players, the 49ers rank just 21st in my roster rankings and I have the Saints calculated at -12. The Saints are also in a good spot with only another easy matchup against the Falcons on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 52-33 ATS since 2018 before being favorites of 6+ again the following week, which the Saints almost definitely will be. The 49ers have double digit losses in three of their past five games, as injuries have piled up and the schedule has gotten tougher, and I would expect this to be another double digit loss. I don’t like the Saints quite as much at -10, but at -9.5, I like the Saints a good amount.

New Orleans Saints 30 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-2) at San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

The Packers had a disappointing home loss to the Vikings last week, but that didn’t really surprise me. The Vikings are significantly better than their record and the Packers were in an obvious look ahead spot, with this matchup against the 49ers coming up just 4 days later on Thursday Night Football. The 49ers embarrassed the Packers in their two matchups last season and ended their season in the NFC Championship, so I expect a significantly better effort out of the Packers’ this week. Betting on Aaron Rodgers after a loss is typically a winning proposition in normal circumstances, as he’s 37-21 ATS off of a loss in his career, and Rodgers should be especially motivated this week, given who the Packers are facing.

Even though the Packers and 49ers both were top-2 seeds and made the NFC Championship last season, the Packers were so uncompetitive in both of their matchups with the 49ers and were so far behind the 49ers in season long stats (+3.76% first down rate differential and +169 point differential vs. +0.25% first down rate differential and +63 point differential) that it seemed like the 49ers would beat the Packers 80-90 times out of a 100 last season, but this is a far cry from last year’s 49ers’ team, so Rodgers and company have a much better chance of getting their revenge.

The 49ers didn’t lose much this off-season, aside from defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, but they’ve been ravaged by injury this season and are even more depleted now, after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle for an extended period due to injury last week and then losing left tackle Trent Williams and wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk to the COVID list for this matchup.

In total, the 49ers are missing their starting quarterback, 3 of their top-4 running backs, their top-3 wide receivers, their dominant tight end, their top-2 centers, and their stud left tackle and that’s just from their offense. On defense, they’ve gotten healthier in recent weeks and have played better as a result, but they’re still significantly behind last season, without top cornerback Richard Sherman and their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. 

Making matters worse, the 49ers will have to be without all of their missing players, including their newly missed players, on a short week. Underdogs are typically at a disadvantage on a short week, as non-divisional underdogs of 3+ cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time on short rest, and it stands to reason that the 49ers would be especially at a disadvantage because they have several new starters. This line has creeped up to 6.5 with all of the 49ers’ losses, but my calculated line is Green Bay -7.5, so we’re still getting enough line value for the Packers to be worth taking. I have a hard time seeing this depleted 49ers team keep up with a motivated Aaron Rodgers on a short week.

Green Bay Packers 27 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -6.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-3) at Seattle Seahawks (5-1)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to be betting on the Seahawks in this one. This line has shifted significantly since last week, moving from Seattle -6 to Seattle -3, as a result of the 49ers’ dominant win in New England and the Seahawks overtime loss to the Cardinals, which I think is an overreaction, especially since the Cardinals are a legitimately good team, ranking 9th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, led by an offense that leads the league in first down rate over expected. On top of that, Russell Wilson traditionally bounces back well off of a loss, as many top level quarterbacks do, going 22-10 ATS all-time off of a loss.

Most of the Seahawks’ games have been close over the past two seasons (17 one score games, with the Seahawks going 14-3 in those games) and the 49ers hold the edge in schedule adjusted first down rate differential in 2020, ranking 6th at +2.10%, while the Seahawks rank 15th at +0.92%, but the Seahawks have a big edge on offense, ranking 5th in first down rate over expected at +2.61%, while the 49ers rank 19th at +0.05%. The Seahawks have been held back by a defense that ranks 25th in first down rate allowed over expected, but defensive performance tends to be much more unpredictable on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and if the Seahawks can even be a middling defensive unit, this team should go a long way, as long as their offense can continue what it’s done so far.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks may need to get healthier before they can expect to even be middling on defense and this week their injury situation is going in the wrong direction, with cornerbacks Shaq Griffin and Ugo Amadi expected to join stud safety Jamal Adams on the sideline, where he would be for the 4th straight game. There’s a slight chance Adams plays because he returned to practice on Friday and was listed as questionable, but he’s had just one limited practice in over a month, so I wouldn’t expect him to be on the field. 

For that reason, it’s hard to be as excited about the Seahawks as I was earlier this week when I thought they were going to be healthier. The Seahawks also have injury concerns on offense, where their top-3 running backs are all listed as questionable after barely practicing all week. If the Seahawks get a favorable inactives list (meaning Adams and at least one of the running backs are active), I will still probably make a bet on the Seahawks, assuming the line doesn’t change, but for now this is a low confidence pick.

Update: Still no word on Jamal Adams, but this line has dropped to 1 overnight. That is likely a sign that Adams won’t play, but at that number, the Seahawks are worth a bet without him. I think it’s unlikely that Russell Wilson loses back-to-back games, even without Adams, and the 49ers, who have been streaky this season, haven’t faced a team as good as the Seahawks.

Seattle Seahawks 29 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: Seattle -1

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (3-3) at New England Patriots (2-3)

The Patriots have gotten a lot of attention for being 2-3 in their first season without Tom Brady, but Cam Newton has played well as Brady’s replacement, so Brady’s departure hasn’t been the problem. The problem is they’ve had arguably as tough of a start to the season as any team in the league. The Patriots have had to face two of the top teams in the league on the road in the Chiefs and Seahawks and their three home games have all come against capable or better opponents, but it hasn’t just been the schedule, as they dealt with a COVID outbreak for several weeks and have missed key players due to injury as well. 

The Patriots came within inches of winning in Seattle and likely would have won in Kansas City had they not had to start a backup quarterback, in a game in which the Patriots limited the Chiefs to just two offensive touchdowns. They beat both the Dolphins and Raiders relatively easily and their loss last week came against a better than their record Broncos team in a game in which the Patriots were missing several key offensive linemen and had barely practiced all week due to their facilities being closed. 

It’s not hard to see how the Patriots could be 4-1 or even 5-0 right now if they had gotten an extra inch in Seattle, if they had Cam Newton available for Kansas City, and if they got to practice with a more complete offensive line for the Denver game. If that was the case, we’d likely be talking about the Patriots as one of the best teams in the league, given their strength of schedule and track record. In fact, when adjusted for strength of schedule, the Patriots rank 4th in first down rate differential at +4.73% and that’s despite all of their absences and disruptions. 

This week, the Patriots have had their normal practice and they are expected to get back at least one and likely both of Shaq Mason and David Andrews back, which would give them one of the best offensive lines in the league. They’re also in a good spot historically, as the Patriots have typically bounced back well from a loss in the Bill Belichick era, going 52-30 ATS off of a loss since Belichick’s first season in 2000. 

A lot of that came with Tom Brady under center, but Cam Newton has been an adequate replacement, so it stands to reason that the Patriots will continue bouncing back well after a loss and, for what it’s worth, Belichick was 22-17-1 ATS off of a loss in Cleveland from 1991-1995. The Patriots were coming off a loss last week, but they didn’t have the necessary practice time to be coached up and it would be even more rare for Belichick to lose three games in a row, something he hasn’t done since 2002.

The Patriots’ opponents this week, the San Francisco 49ers, have also had a tough start to the season, as they’ve been one of the most injury plagued teams in the league, but they’ve benefitted from one of the easiest schedules in the league and they aren’t really getting any healthier. Their offense has Jimmy Garroppolo and his top-3 weapons Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk all healthy after they all missed time earlier this year, but they are without their top-2 running backs and their top-2 centers, while their defense remains without a starting linebacker, their top-4 defensive ends, two of their top-3 cornerbacks, and this week will also be without both of their starting safeties for the first time this season. 

Given the state of the 49ers roster and the Patriots’ improving roster, this line is way too low at New England -2. I have the Patriots 4.5 points better than the 49ers, which puts the calculated line at New England -5.5, even before taking into account the Patriots’ track record of a loss. In a game in which the Patriots basically just need to cover to win, they have a great chance of covering and are worth a big play. 

New England Patriots 27 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: New England -2

Confidence: Pick of the Week