Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

The Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs last season and they are 6-6 and in the middle of a playoff race again in the NFC, but they haven’t been as good as their record in either of the last two seasons. In 2016, they won just one game by more than a touchdown, didn’t win any games against playoff teams, and finished with a first down rate differential of -1.90%. This year, they are winning by bigger margins, but their first down rate differential is even lower at -3.83% and they are 1-6 against teams with winning records. Five of their wins have come against the Cardinals, Giants, Packers, Bears, and Browns and they lost the first down rate battle in 3 of those games.

Fortunately for the Lions, their opponents this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have more in common with the teams that the Lions have beaten this year than the teams they’ve lost to. That’s very relevant, given that the Lions only have to win this game to cover this even spread. After a big off-season, the Buccaneers entered the season with high expectations, but sit at 4-8 in the middle of an injury ruined season. Quarterback Jameis Winston has returned from his shoulder injury, but does not seem 100% yet.

Winston is also missing his top-2 offensive lineman, with center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson out for the season, leaving him with one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. On defense, the Buccaneers lost edge rusher Noah Spence for the season early in the year and are also without rotational defensive tackle Clint McDonald, starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and starting safety TJ Ward. The Lions are banged up too, with quarterback Matt Stafford playing through a hand injury and talented right tackle Ricky Wagner out of the lineup, but they are still the better of these two teams.

The Lions are also in a better spot, as the Buccaneers are coming off of a road overtime loss in Green Bay and then have to turn around and host the Falcons next week. They could easily look past the Lions a little as a result. Teams cover at just a 43% rate off of a road overtime loss (as long as they aren’t road underdogs in their second of two road games) and teams are just 39-67 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, which the Buccaneers likely will be next week. The Buccaneers probably aren’t talented enough to win this game if they aren’t focused, so the Lions seem like the smarter side, but we aren’t getting any line value with them and it’s hard to be confident in them since we don’t know the state of Stafford’s hand injury. The Lions are the choice for pick ‘em purposes only.

Detroit Lions 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit PK

Confidence: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) at Green Bay Packers (5-6)

The Buccaneers get Jameis Winston back from a 3-game absence with a shoulder injury this week, but that’s about the only good news for them in terms of injuries. Center Ali Marpet and right tackle DeMar Dotson were both placed on injured reserve this week and they are by far their two best offensive linemen. Left guard Evan Smith returns from a one-game absence, but he hardly replaces Marpet and Dotson. Starting running back Doug Martin will be out as well, so, while Winston has a good receiving corps to work with in his return, he doesn’t have a good offensive line or running game, so they may struggle to set up big plays downfield. Winston also might not be at 100% because his injury is to his throwing shoulder. He wasn’t playing that well prior to being shut down.

On defense, they are without starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (3rd missed game), rotational safety TJ Ward (3rd missed game), rotational defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (1st missed game), and their top-3 defensive ends Robert Ayers (2nd missed game), William Gholston (3rd missed game), and Noah Spence (6th missed game). The Ayers injury is the biggest one, as he is by far their best defensive end. They couldn’t stop anything against the Falcons last week in his first missed game. The Buccaneers allowed the Falcons to pick up first downs at a 42.19% rate last week and now they’re missing McDonald and Ward too. With all of their injury issues, the Buccaneers rank 26th in my roster rankings, even with Winston returning.

The Packers are still missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they rank 21st in my roster rankings and are getting healthier on defense. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, outside linebacker Nick Perry, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, safety Morgan Burnett, and defensive end Mike Daniels are arguably their 5 best defensive players. They’ve played together in the same game just 4 times this season and just once since week 5. All 5 are healthy this week, so they could easily have their best defensive performance in weeks. I have this line calculated at -4, so we’re getting some line value with the Packers. It’s not enough for me to bet on Brett Hundley confidently, but the Packers should be victorious here at home against a banged up Tampa Bay team.

Green Bay Packers 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -2.5

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

The Falcons have had an up and down season, but they have consistently ranked in the top-5 of my roster rankings all season. They are not as well coached as last season, when they were the best team in the NFC, but they still have essentially the same core as last season and they could be ready to go on a run, following back-to-back quality wins over the Cowboys and Seahawks. This week they have an easy home game against the Buccaneers, which they have a good chance to win by double digits. They have flopped as big home favorites against the Bills and Dolphins earlier this year, but they’ve also won big as small home favorites against the Packers and Cowboys this season, so they should be able to blow out Tampa Bay if they are focused.

The Buccaneers have won back-to-back games, but they have come against the Jets and Dolphins and neither was an easy win. Prior to those 2 games, they lost back-to-back games by double digits to the Panthers and Saints, comparable teams to the Falcons. Their offense took a big hit when Jameis Winston got hurt, but their defense is very banged up as well. They are missing starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and their top-3 defensive ends, including top edge rusher Robert Ayers, who will miss his first game of the season this week. They should have a very tough time with Atlanta’s passing attack this week. Given all that the Buccaneers are missing, I have this line calculated at -13, so we are getting significant line value with the Falcons at -9.5. As long as you can get lower than 10, the Falcons should be the pick this week.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-5)

I am kicking myself for not taking Tampa Bay +3 when it briefly showed up at the beginning of the week. A line of -3 in favor of the hometown Dolphins suggests these two teams are about even, which is not true. The Dolphins, despite a 4-5 record, are one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their 4 wins have come by a combined 14 points, while their 5 losses have come by a combined 101 points, giving them a point differential of -87 on the season. That’s the 4th worst point differential in the NFL. They also rank 3rd worst in first down rate differential.

The Buccaneers are not a great team, especially with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they’re significantly better than the Dolphins. They rank 19th in first down rate differential on the season, as 3 of their 6 losses have come by 5 points or fewer. Obviously losing Jameis Winston hurts them, but, given the way he was playing before he went down, it doesn’t hurt them that much. Fitzpatrick is definitely not a great starting option, but he’s experienced and he’s overall an above average backup.

Fitzpatrick also has a fair amount of talent around him on offense, with Mike Evans returning from suspension. Third round rookie Chris Godwin played well in his absence and now the Buccaneers go 4 deep at wide receiver, in addition to having a talented tight end duo. Defensively, they’ve played better in recent weeks as they’ve gotten healthier in the back 7. Outside linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Brent Grimes, and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander missed 2 games, 3 games, and 4 games respectively early in the season, which hurt this defense.

Unfortunately, this line has shifted from 3 all the way to a pick ‘em. That’s exactly where I have this line, so we’ve lost all line value with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is still the pick for pick ‘em purposes because they have a tough game against the Patriots on deck, in which they are 14 point underdogs on the early line. Teams are 48-78 ATS since 2002 before being 10+ point underdogs. It’s definitely a possibility that the Dolphins don’t give their best effort for a 3-6 non-conference opponent with a huge divisional game on deck. I just don’t have a ton of interest in betting on Fitzpatrick on the road without getting field goal protection.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 Miami Dolphins 15

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay PK

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

New York Jets (4-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)

One of my favorite things to do when picking games is go against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week, and this line had a  very significant line movement, shifting from 4.5 in favor of the hometown Buccaneers last week on the early line to 2.5 in favor of the visiting Jets this week. Tampa Bay top wide receiver Mike Evans was suspended and Ryan Fitzpatrick will start this game at quarterback for the Buccaneers with Jameis Winston taking a few weeks off to rest his shoulder injury, but none of that justifies this 7 point line movement.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a good starting quarterback, but as far as backup quarterbacks go he’s among the better ones and he might not be that much of a downgrade from Winston considering how badly Winston had been playing in recent weeks, as he tried to play through his injured shoulder. Losing Evans hurts, but the Buccaneers have a very deep receiving corps and still have good receiving options this week with wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, and Chris Godwin and tight ends Cameron Brate and OJ Howard. Against a relatively easy matchup at home, Fitzpatrick should be able to move the ball.

They’re also arguably as healthy as they’ve been on defense since the start of the season with top cornerback Brent Grimes returning from injury. He’s missed 3 games, linebacker Kwon Alexander has missed 4, and fellow linebacker Lavonte David has missed 2, but all three will be on the field this week. Prior to Winston’s injury, I thought this was an underrated team, as they started 2-2 and would have beaten New England if they had make makeable field goals, and now I think they are underrated once again, as the public has soured on them despite their defense getting healthier. Even with all of their injury issues, the Buccaneers still rank 19th in first down rate differential, as 3 of their 6 losses have come by a touchdown or less.

The Jets are well coached and give good effort, but they aren’t that talented of a team and don’t deserve to be favored on the road against anyone except the worst few teams in the league, which I don’t think the Buccaneers are. They were road favorites in Cleveland earlier this year and they would have lost that game if the Browns hadn’t consistently imploded in the red zone. They haven’t been nearly as good on the road in general this season, losing by more than a touchdown in Buffalo and Oakland, losing in Miami, and barely winning in Cleveland.

The Jets are 5-0 ATS at home and are coming off of a win against the Bills, but the Bills were an overrated team, so I’m not as impressed with that victory as the odds makers and the general public seem to be. I have this line calculated at -3 in favor of the Buccaneers, so we are getting a lot of line value at +2.5. I am hoping this line moves to +3 before game time, in which case I will make this a high confidence pick. The Buccaneers are worth a bet as long as we are getting points with them, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly, so I want protection from the Jets winning by 3.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 New York Jets 20 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) at New Orleans Saints (5-2)

The Buccaneers were a popular playoff pick before the start of the season, but the public seems to have soured on them, as a result of a 2-5 start. They haven’t been quite as bad as their record though, they rank 15th in the NFL in first down rate differential. Three of their 5 losses have been by 5 or fewer points (Arizona, New England, and Buffalo) and they would have beaten the Patriots had if they had made one of three missed field goals. They’ve since changed field goal kickers.

How they’ve played this season is actually pretty impressive considering all the players that have missed time so far this season. Cornerback Brent Grimes, safety TJ Ward, linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, defensive end Noah Spence, defensive tackle Chris Baker, running back Doug Martin, and quarterback Jameis Winston have all been out of the lineup at points this season. They still aren’t fully healthy, as Grimes and Spence remain out, while Winston may still not be at 100% with a shoulder injury, but they’re as healthy as they’ve been in a while.

They lost last week at home to the Panthers, but they were in a bad spot in that game with this tough divisional matchup on deck. I expect a much better effort from them this week with their season on the line. Unfortunately, they have a very tough matchup in New Orleans against a Saints team that has a much improved defense and is arguably one of the top-5 teams in the league. We’re getting 7 points with the Buccaneers, but I have this line calculated at -6, so we’re not getting a lot of line value with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are underrated and better than their record, but the Saints might be a little underrated as well. I’d need at least 7.5 points to consider putting money on the Buccaneers.

New Orleans Saints 30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

The Buccaneers are a talented team, but they have not been able to stay healthy thus far this season. Defensive tackle Chris Baker, outside linebacker Lavonte David, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, cornerback Brent Grimes, and safety TJ Ward have all missed time, while quarterback Jameis Winston was knocked out of their week 6 loss in Arizona with a shoulder injury. They had all of those players back healthy for last week, but Grimes is now injured again, Alexander did not look nearly 100% in his first game back last week, and Winston re-injured his shoulder.

Winston is still expected to play, but he might not be at 100% and might not be able to finish the game if he takes another big hit. They have one of the worst defenses in the league right now thanks to injury, so they need Winston to have a good game if they want to avoid falling to 2-5. Not only are the Panthers a quality opponent (9th in first down rate differential), but Tampa Bay is also in a terrible spot with a trip to the division leading New Orleans Saints on deck, as divisional home favorites are just 24-61 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road favorites. That game could present a major distraction for a banged up team.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are in a great spot because they’re in their second of two road games. Teams are 249-266 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.91 points per game, as opposed to 367-504 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.93 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. It especially helps that the Panthers are underdogs off a loss, as road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games are 115-77 ATS off of a road loss.

That loss came in Chicago last week, but the Bears are an underrated team and the Panthers outperformed the Bears for most of the night, with the Bears only scoring on two return touchdowns and a 70-yard play by running back Tarik Cohen. The Panthers gained 20 first downs, while the Bears gained just 5, but the Bears still won 17-3. The Panthers have a 4-3 record despite a -9 turnover margin and turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Panthers are better than their record suggests. I was hoping we’d get some line value with the Panthers in this spot after what happened last week, but the sharps have bet this line down to 1. I’d need a full field goal to put money on the Panthers against the spread, but the money line is worth a small bet as the Panthers should be favored in this game.

Carolina Panthers 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Carolina +1

Confidence: Low