Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

The Falcons have had a disappointing season at 4-9, but their defense got a big boost a couple weeks ago when they got every down linebacker Deion Jones back from the foot injury that kept him out since week 1. The Falcons haven’t won either of the games since he’s been back, but he’s playing well and has resumed his old every down role. It’s obviously a small sample size, but they’ve allowed a 35.64% first down rate in the three games he’s played, as opposed to 44.23% in the 10 games he missed. The schedule gets much easier for the Falcons this week at home against the Cardinals, so I expect their improved defense to be more noticeable in this one than it was on the road in Green Bay.

While the Falcons are getting healthier, the Cardinals are going in the opposite direction. They’ve put their top-3 offensive linemen, DJ Humphries, Mike Iupati, and Justin Pugh, on injured reserve, along with their top receiver Christian Kirk, starting defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and every down linebacker Josh Bynes. They were already one of the worst teams in the league before the injuries and they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -6.98%, They’re arguably the worst team in the league right now and an underrated Falcons team could easily give them their 8th double digit loss of the season.

The Cardinals are also in a tough spot, because they could be looking forward to next week’s home game against the Rams, which they may view as their Super Bowl. Teams typically struggle before being big home underdogs, going 24-45 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 7 or more (the Cardinals are currently +11.5 on the early line). On top of that, underdogs of 7+ are 31-49 ATS over that same time period before being underdogs of 7+ again, as it’s very tough for an inferior team to hang with a superior team when they have another tough game on deck serving as a distraction. The Falcons are in Carolina next week, but that’s not nearly as tough of a game, so I give them a better shot of being focused. They also have a massive talent advantage, even in a disappointing season, and should win easily.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Arizona Cardinals 10

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-8) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9)

I’ve picked against the Lions a lot recently, but that’s because they’ve been playing a lot of teams with winning records and they historically have not done well against teams with winning records in the Matt Stafford era. That changes this week, with the Lions facing the 3-9 Cardinals, the first team they’ve faced since week 4 with a losing record. Since 2014, they are 19-12 ATS against teams with a losing record and they went 17-4 straight up against non-playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. I like their chances of continuing that this week.

The Lions’ offense has taken a lot of hits as the season has gone on, with right guard TJ Lang, wide receiver Marvin Jones, and running back Kerryon Johnson sidelined with injuries and slot receiver Golden Tate now in Philadelphia, but their defense has gotten significantly better as the season has gone on. It hasn’t been that noticeable because of their tough schedule, but defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is back healthy and playing well, defensive tackle Damon Harrison has provided a big boost against the run since being acquiring from the Giants, and young defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand have gotten more playing time and have played well.

That should be more noticeable this week against an Arizona team that is arguably the worst in the league. They pulled the stunning upset in Green Bay last week, but those kind of upset victories tend to be flukes more than anything, as teams are just 15-30 ATS over the past 30 years after a win as 13+ point underdogs. That win also came at a cost, as starting wide receiver Christian Kirk went down for the season with a foot injury, joining left tackle DJ Humphries, right guard Justin Pugh, and top linebacker Josh Bynes as recent injury casualties. The Cardinals rank dead last in first down rate differential at -7.77% and are even worse without those four. I like the Lions a lot in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover. This is a smaller bet at -3.

Detroit Lions 20 Arizona Cardinals 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit -2.5

Confidence: High

Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-9) at Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)

It’s week 13 and the Packers are still undefeated at home and winless on the road. That’s a rare occurrence. In fact, the Packers join the 2009 Patriots as the only teams in the past 30 years to be undefeated at home and winless on the road this late in the season. Ordinarily, home/road disparities are more random than anything and if you look at all of the instances of teams being undefeated at home and winless on the road in week 8 or later in the past 30 years, you’ll see that those teams are 6-4 in their next home game and 5-8 in their next road game, which is about an average home/road disparity.

That being said, the Packers’ home dominance under Aaron Rodgers dates back many years, as he’s 37-18 ATS in Lambeau in games he’s started and finished since 2011, so returning home should be a real boost for a team that has played 4 of it’s last 5 games on the road against playoff contenders. The Packers also get a much easier opponent this week, as the Cardinals are arguably the worst team in the league, ranking dead last in first down rate differential at -8.79% and 31st in point differential at -138.

The Cardinals also have some injuries making them even worse. Starting cornerback Budda Baker should return from a two game absence, after getting in a full practice on Friday, but left tackle DJ Humphries did not get in a full practice this week and could easily be kept out for the second straight week for precautionary reasons, with the Cardinals’ season all but over. They also put their top linebacker Josh Bynes on injured reserve this week and could be without linebacker Haason Reddick, who barely practiced this week with a neck injury.

The Packers are also in a good spot too, with only another home game against the Falcons on deck, a game in which they are 7.5 point favorites on the early line. Teams are 90-56 ATS since 2014 as favorites of 6+ before being favorites of 6+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. I expect a strong effort from a Packers team that needs to win out to even have a chance at qualifying for the post-season.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Packers, as this line is pretty high at -14. It was at -11.5 a week ago on the early line, but the Cardinals getting blown out by the Chargers 45-10 shifted this line all the way up to 14, even with the Packers losing in Minnesota. Teams are 57-36 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35+ points, as teams tend to be underrated, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot, all three of which could be the case this week.

The Packers are better than their record, but they are too banged up coming into this game to bet them confidently as two touchdown favorites. Stud defensive lineman Mike Daniels remains out with an injury and left tackle David Bakhtiari, arguably the best left tackle in the game when healthy, could join him on the sidelines, after being limited in practice all week. The Packers could also once again be without defensive backs Bashaud Breeland, Kevin King, Kentrell Brice, and Raven Greene, leaving them very thin in the secondary. The Packers are the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but this is a no confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 31 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -14

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)

The Chargers lost at home to the Broncos last week, but they won the first down rate battle (-2.35%) and could have won the game if they made all their extra points. The Broncos are also an underrated team that has played the Texans, Chiefs (twice), and Rams close, so that loss isn’t as bad as it looks. Even with that loss, the Chargers are still 7-3 and rank 7th in point differential at +53 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.86%. The Chargers should also be better this week with stud defensive end Joey Bosa going into his 2nd game and likely to see close to his full snaps.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in first down rate differential (-6.78%) and 30th in point differential (-103) and they are going in the wrong direction injury wise, with left tackle DJ Humphries joining right guard Justin Pugh on the sidelines this week, meaning the Cardinals will be without their best two offensive linemen from an offensive line that was pretty underwhelming to begin with.

Normally when one of the better teams in the league hosts one of the worst teams in the league the line should be at least two touchdowns and this line is a little short of that at -13, but I wouldn’t bet on the Chargers for a couple reasons. For one, they don’t have a typical homefield advantage, as they have serious trouble attracting fans in Los Angeles, even as well as they’ve played this season. The Chargers also aren’t in a great spot this week with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck. Double digit favorites are just 61-80 ATS before being underdogs, which the Steelers will be this week. With a weak opponent coming to town, they might not be completely focused with that game on deck.

The Cardinals aren’t in a good spot either with another tough game in Green Bay on deck, a game in which they are expected to be double digit underdogs again. Double digit underdogs are just 26-51 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs again, as it’s very tough for a significantly inferior team to hang with a superior team when they have another tough game on deck. There’s not enough here to bet the Chargers, but they should be the right pick. I’ll probably downgrade this to a no confidence pick if running back Melvin Gordon is ruled out for the Chargers, but the fact that he was able to get some practice in on Friday suggests he at least has a good shot to play, even if he’s officially being called a gametime decision after tweaking his knee in practice this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -13

Confidence: Low

Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (1-8) at Arizona Cardinals (2-7)

Both of these teams have had horrendous seasons, as the Raiders rank 30th in first down rate differential at -5.54%, while the Cardinals rank dead last at -7.51%. The Cardinals are trending up a little bit, as their offense has been improved since switching to Byron Leftwich as offensive coordinator, while the Raiders are trending down, due to all of their personnel losses (especially at wide receiver) and locker room problems, but this line still seems a little high at Arizona -5.5, as I have these two teams about even.

The Raiders are also in a much better spot, as favorites rarely play well before being big underdogs, which the Cardinals will be in Los Angeles against the Chargers next week. Favorites are just 24-42 ATS since 2008 before being double digit underdogs. The Raiders have serious locker room issues and might not give much effort in this meaningless non-conference game, so I wouldn’t recommend betting them, but the Cardinals should not be favored by this many points against anyone and they too may not give their best effort with a much tougher game on deck.

Arizona Cardinals 20 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland +5.5

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)

The Cardinals have been pretty terrible this season, but their offense looked much better in their first game under new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were better in their first game out of the bye as well, with Leftwich now having another 2 weeks on the job. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors, as they have to head to Kansas City to play the AFC leading Chiefs, but they could definitely keep this game closer than the 16.5 point spread because the Chiefs are in a major look ahead spot, with a trip to Mexico City to play the NFC leading Rams on deck.

Teams tend to struggle before international games like that anyway, but the Chiefs are especially in a tough spot because of how big that game is going to be for them. Favorites of 12+ are just 18-37 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have arguably their easiest game of the season on deck, as they host the Raiders next week, a game in which they will almost definitely be favored. Underdogs are 86-53 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. Coming out of a bye with an easy game on deck, the Cardinals should be fully focused for this game against one of the NFL’s best, while the Chiefs could easily not give their best effort and let the Cardinals hang around.

The Cardinals wouldn’t be the first team the Chiefs have let hang around. In fact, if the Chiefs were to cover this 16.5 point spread, it would be their 2nd biggest margin of victory of the season. They obviously have an incredible offense, but their defense ranks 30th in first down rate allowed at 42.19% and could allow the Cardinals to move the ball with ease in garbage time and keep this one within the 16.5 points. This isn’t a huge play because of the significant talent disparity between these two teams, but this should be closer than expected.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Arizona Cardinals 21

Pick against the spread: Arizona +16.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-6) at Arizona Cardinals (1-6)

Outside of the Bills, who are starting street free agent Derek Anderson right now, the Cardinals are easily the worst team in the NFL, ranking 31st in first down rate differential at -9.97% and in point differential at -92. Even in their one win, against these 49ers in San Francisco, they lost the first down rate battle by 12.60% and only were able to win because of a +5 turnover margin and a return touchdown, which is not sustainable week-to-week. They managed just 10 first downs to 33 for the 49ers in that game.

This time around, even though this game is in Arizona, I expect a different result. Despite also being 1-6 and starting backup quarterback CJ Beathard, the 49ers haven’t been terrible this season and actually rank around middle of the pack in first down rate differential on the season at +0.71%. Beathard has completed 62.4% of his passes for an average of 7.53 YPA and the offense has picked up first downs at a 37.12% rate in his 4 starts, not much below their rate in Garoppolo’s 3 starts, 41.30%.

The 49ers have been killed by the turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, the 49ers lost the turnover battle by 4 last week against the Rams, but teams with a turnover margin of -4, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. Even in games in which the 49ers have lost the turnover margin by 1 and 3 respectively, the 49ers hung within 2 points of the Chargers and 3 points of the Packers on the road, so if the 49ers’ -15 turnover margin stays steady, the result of that will be very noticeable on the scoreboard.

At the very least, it’s highly unlikely they keep up their current turnover pace, which would put them at -34 at the end of the season, the worst in recent memory. Even the winless Browns were just -28 last season and that was the highest mark since 2000. Facing a weak opponent this week, the 49ers could easily play turnover neutral football and get a relatively easy win on the road. As long as this line is under 3, which means the 49ers basically just have to win to cover, I like the 49ers a lot this week.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -1

Confidence: High