Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1) at Los Angeles Rams (4-11)

The Cardinals pulled the upset victory in Seattle last week, a shock to many people, considering they were 8 point underdogs. However, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, given that the Cardinals have played significantly better than their record this season. They’ve had 5 close losses (or ties) that would have been wins if not for special teams screw ups. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points.

They’ve actually won the first down rate battle in 13 of 15 games and rank 3rd in first down rate differential on the season. On the flip side, the lowly Rams rank 31st in first down rate differential. They pulled the upset in Arizona against the Cardinals earlier this year, but that was because the Cardinals lost the turnover battle by 4, which tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Even then, it took a late long punt return touchdown to set up the winning score for the Rams. The Cardinals actually won the first down battle by a wide margin, 26 to 12. Since then, the Rams have lost 10 of 11 games and have benched veteran starting quarterback Case Keenum for rookie Jared Goff, who has looked lost in limited action. Prior to last week’s close home loss to the lowly 49ers, the Rams had lost 4 straight games by 16 points or more. The Cardinals should be able to hand them another big loss this week. As long as this line is less than a touchdown, Arizona is worth a bet.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Los Angeles Rams 13

Pick against the spread: Arizona -6.5

Confidence: Medium

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Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1) at Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)

The last time these two teams faced each other, it was a defensive matchup that ended in a 6-6 tie. However, the Cardinals actually significantly outplayed the Seahawks in that game, winning the first down battle 23 to 11 and the first down rate battle by 6.26%. They had plenty of opportunities to win that game, missing two makeable field goals and allowing a blocked punt that set up a Seattle field goal at the end of the first half. That game was in Arizona, but this line is at 8.5, so we have plenty of room to work with even if the Cardinals get outplayed this time around.

That tie against the Seahawks was not the only winnable game the Cardinals have blown this year because of special teams. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points. They’ve won the first down rate battle in 12 of 14 games and rank 3rd in first down rate differential on the season, but have been arguably the most disappointing team in football record wise, going 5-8-1 after finishing last season 13-3. The Seahawks, meanwhile, rank 7th in first down rate differential, so we’re definitely getting some line value with the Cardinals.

This isn’t a bigger play for two reasons. One, the Cardinals are pretty banged up at this point in the season. Left tackle Jared Veldheer, right guard Evan Mathis, middle linebacker Deone Bucannon, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, and safety Tyvon Branch are all out for the season, while replacement left tackle DJ Humphries is out this week with a concussion. The Seahawks are missing safety Earl Thomas, but they’re definitely in a better spot injury wise, especially since they were without their other safety Kam Chancellor in their first matchup with Arizona.

The second reason is the Seahawks are in a good spot with only an easy game in San Francisco on deck, in which they are expected to be road favorites of at least 10 points. Teams are 34-20 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 7 or more and favorites of 7 or more are 58-33 ATS before being favorites of 7 or more again over that same time period. Teams tend to take care of business before easy games, but the Seahawks should have a much tougher time taking care of business than this line suggests against an Arizona team that has been much better than their record and that is a few special teams plays away from a completely different season.

Seattle Seahawks 17 Arizona Cardinals 13

Pick against the spread: Arizona +8.5

Confidence: Medium

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New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1)

Both of these teams have losing records, but both have played significantly better than their record would suggest. In fact, the Saints have a +9 offensive touchdown differential, tied for 4th best in the NFL, and the Cardinals have a +8 offensive touchdown differential, 6th in the NFL. The Cardinals have played well this season, with the exception of a few special teams plays that have unfortunately decided games. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And last week, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points. They’ve won the first down rate battle in 11 of 13 games and rank 2nd in first down rate differential on the season, but their season is essentially over at 5-7-1 because of a handful of special teams screw ups.

The Saints, meanwhile, rank 6th in first down rate differential, but their season is essentially over as well at 5-8, because of a -4 return touchdown differential and 6 losses by 6 points or fewer, including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer. The Cardinals are the better team and are only favored by 2.5 here at home, so I’m taking them, but I can’t be confident in them, especially with a tough Seattle game on deck. The Saints are also in a good spot in their second of two road games. Teams are 141-108 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 112-74 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 236-254 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.97 points per game, as opposed to 338-473 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.98 points per game. The Cardinals are the pick, but I wouldn’t put money on them this week.

Arizona Cardinals 24 New Orleans Saints 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -2.5

Confidence: Low

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Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-5)

The Dolphins were shockingly blown out in Baltimore last week, the Ravens’ biggest win by point total since 2009. That almost definitely figures to be the worst game of the Dolphins’ season when all is said and done. Besides last week, they’ve played pretty well and are still a capable team that ranks 18th in first down rate differential. The Dolphins’ loss last week actually puts them in a good spot this week. That might sound counterintuitive, but teams are 92-54 ATS since 2002 off of an against the spread loss of 28 or more (the Dolphins lost by 32 as 3.5 point underdogs).

It makes sense when you think about it, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. On top of that, the Dolphins have a very easy game on deck as they head to New York to take on the Jets next week, a game in which they will almost definitely be road favorites. Home underdogs like the Dolphins are here (by 2 points) are 79-44 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites, as teams tend to be very focused in a tough home game before an easy road game.

The Dolphins could easily bounce back with a strong effort this week, but all that being said I’m picking the Cardinals as long as this line is under a field goal. The Cardinals are at the top of my underrated teams list. Despite their 5-6-1 record, they’ve won the first down rate battle in 10 of 12 games and they could easily be 9-3 right now, as they could have beaten New England, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Minnesota if one or two fluky things had gone their way (missed field goal against New England, punt return against Rams, blocked punt against Seattle, pick six against Minnesota).

The Cardinals actually rank 1st in first down rate differential. They ranked 1st in that metric last year as well. Carson Palmer is having a down year and they aren’t the same on either side of the ball without injured left tackle Jared Veldheer and injured defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, but they still have a strong defense and running game and are one of the better teams in the league in a year where there are very few top level teams. Even if the Dolphins bring a strong effort, the Cardinals could win by a field goal on the road, especially with the Dolphins missing center Mike Pouncey, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins, and defensive end Mario Williams with injury.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -2

Confidence: None

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Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (6-4-1) at Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1)

I’ve lost money on the Cardinals in back-to-back weeks, but their price keeps dropping, so I’m going to keep buying. As a result of Arizona’s big loss in Atlanta last week, this line has dropped from 3.5 last week on the early line to 2.5 this week, a significant drop considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly. Last week’s loss in Atlanta was legitimate, but the previous week they lost by 6 in Minnesota because the Vikings had two 100+ yard return touchdowns, the first team to do that in a single game in 50 years. Those two plays resulted in at least a 17 point swing for the Vikings.

Despite their 4-6-1 record, last week was actually just the second time this season the Cardinals lost the first down rate battle and they could easily be 8-3 right now as they could have beaten New England, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Minnesota if one or two fluky things had gone their way (missed field goal against New England, punt return against Rams, blocked punt against Seattle, pick six against Minnesota). The Cardinals actually still rank 1st in first down rate differential, despite last week’s ugly loss in Atlanta. They ranked 1st in that metric last year as well.

The Redskins, meanwhile, rank 23rd in that metric thanks to a defense that is allowing the highest first down rate in the NFL. If this line had stayed at 3.5, I wouldn’t be confident in the Cardinals, but I think the price dropped appropriately for Arizona’s loss to the Falcons and I think we’re still getting good value with the Cardinals as a result. The Cardinals will be without Tyrann Mathieu this week because of injury, a huge loss for this defense, but the Redskins will be without tight end Jordan Reed, an equally big loss for Washington’s offense. As long as this line is under a field goal, I’d put money on the Cardinals again this week.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Washington Redskins 17

Pick against the spread: Arizona -2.5

Confidence: Medium

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Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

I picked the Cardinals as 2 point underdogs in Minnesota last week and they outplayed the Vikings for most of the game, but ultimately lost 30-24 thanks to not one, but two 100+ yard return touchdowns by Minnesota, the first team to do that in a game in 50 years. The first one was a pick six from end zone to end zone, at least a 10 point swing considering the Cardinals had 2nd and goal and could have at least made a chip shot field goal if they held onto the ball. The second one was a kickoff return touchdown coming out of the half. In a 6-point loss, the 17+ point swing on those 2 plays were obviously pivotal in Minnesota’s victory. Between that game and Jacksonville/Buffalo, I had 4 return touchdowns go against me in 2 games that I had big plays on. Hopefully I will have better luck this week.

The good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is we’re getting great value with the Cardinals, as this line has shifted from 3 in favor of Atlanta to 6 in the past week. Outside of those 2 fluky plays, the Cardinals outplayed the Vikings last week and they actually rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season. That might sound crazy considering they are 4-5-1, but they still have a point differential of +36 on the season (9th best in the NFL) despite a -3 return touchdown margin. Those 3 plays, they have a point differential of +57, which would be 3rd best in the NFL. They could easily be 8-2 if not for last week’s two return touchdowns and special teams mistakes against New England, Seattle, and Los Angeles. They have won the first down rate battle in 9 of 10 games and their +67 first down differential is easily the best in the league. In terms of offensive touchdowns, their +9 differential is 4th best in the league.

This week, they get defensive back Tyrann Mathieu back from a 2-game absence with a shoulder injury. He’s a huge part of a defense that allows the lowest first down rate in the league by a good margin (over 1.5%). With Carson Palmer struggling and stud left tackle Jared Veldheer out for the season, the Cardinals’ offense is a far cry from what it was last season, but their defense is even better this year. The Falcons, meanwhile, have a great offense (2nd in first down rate), but their defense has struggled mightily (30th in first down rate allowed). Overall, they rank 8th in first down rate differential, so we’re getting a ton of value with the Cardinals at 6. The Falcons also could be without cornerback Desmond Trufant again this week and he’s easily their best defensive player.

The other good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is it put them in a good spot this week. Teams are 138-104 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 110-71 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 232-246 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 330-462 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. This is one of my favorite picks this week. The money line is also a great value at +200.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Atlanta Falcons 20 Upset Pick +200

Pick against the spread: Arizona +6

Confidence: High

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Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings: 2016 Week 11 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4)

When the Vikings were 5-0 on the strength of a +11 turnover margin and a +4 return touchdown margin, two things that tend to be unsustainable, I thought they were the most overrated team in the league. Since then, they’ve lost 4 straight games. Over those 4 games, they were +1 in turnover margin and -1 in return touchdown margin, which made a huge difference and exposed one of the most stagnant offenses in the league. Now at 5-4, they’re not really overrated anymore, but we’re still getting good value with the visiting Arizona Cardinals in this game because the Cardinals have been significantly better than their record this season.

Despite a 4-4-1 record, the Cardinals rank 5th in the NFL with a +42 point differential. They also rank 1st in first down rate differential, which they also led the league in last season when they went 13-3. This year, they could easily be 7-2 if not for special teams mistakes against New England, Seattle, and Los Angeles and they have won the first down rate battle in 8 of 9 games. Despite that, we’re still getting 2 points with them in Minnesota against the Vikings, who rank 19th in first down rate differential. The Vikings are also in a tough spot as they have to turn around and play on Thursday Night Football next week on Thanksgiving. Favorites are just 50-82 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. The Cardinals are worth betting on this week, though I’d be more confident in them if I knew gametime decision Tyrann Mathieu was going to play, after missing last week with a shoulder injury.

Arizona Cardinals 20 Minnesota Vikings 16 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Arizona +2

Confidence: Medium

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