Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (8-7)

The Rams have had a very disappointing 2019 season. After going 13-3 and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl last year, the Rams sit at just 8-7 and have been eliminated from the playoff race entirely ahead of week 17 this year, with their season officially ending in a heartbreaking last second loss in San Francisco last week. There are still a lot of positive takeaways from this season though. 

Their offense hasn’t been as good as it’s been in past years, ranking just 15th on the season with a 36.37% first down rate, after finishing last season 3rd at 43.02%, due to a complete dropoff in offensive line play and quarterback Jared Goff’s inability to make good decisions and good throws under pressure, but they’ve been impressive defensively. They rank 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.87%, and they have been even better since acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey and putting breakout player Troy Hill into the starting lineup opposite him during week 7, ranking 5th in the NFL with a 32.44% first down rate allowed over that stretch. 

The Rams end their season with a home game against a last place Cardinals team. The Cardinals won in Seattle last week in a big upset, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds, as the Seahawks entered that game with the worst point differential ever for a 11-3 team and were missing their two best defensive backs, their best offensive lineman, and their best defensive lineman. Just a few weeks earlier, the Cardinals were demolished at home by the Rams in a 34-7 game, one of four games they’ve lost by at least 17 points this season. On the year, the Cardinals rank 28th in first down rate differential at -4.44% and have a -74 point differential that suggests their 5-9-1 record is an accurate representation of how they’ve played.

Under ordinary circumstances, we’d be getting significant line value with the Rams as just 6-point home favorites over the Cardinals, but the Rams are probably not going to give their best effort this week after having their disappointing season ended in heartbreaking fashion last week. In fact, we might not see anything close to the Rams’ full strength lineup this week, as Rams head coach Sean McVay has been the most cautious coach in the league when it comes to not risking his key players’ health in meaningless games. 

In 3 years with the Rams, he’s rested key players in meaningless games every chance he’s gotten, whether it’s pre-season games or week 17 games when the Rams’ seeding has been locked in. This is the first time the Rams have been eliminated from playoff contention in the McVay era, but it stands to reason he might have a similar approach this week, at the very least with players that are less than 100% with injury. The aforementioned cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill, which has been a huge part of their defensive success, has already been ruled out and there’s speculation that running back Todd Gurley among others could also be held out, which adds a lot of uncertainty to this game. 

Also adding uncertainty is the injury to Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray got in limited practices this week through a hamstring injury and would probably play if this game mattered, but the Cardinals could be cautious with nothing to play for and hold him out, which would force overmatched backup Brett Hundley into action, a significant dropoff. Even if Murray does play, he might not be as effective because mobility is a big part of his game. With all this uncertainty, I have no idea how to make a pick on this game, but I’m taking the Rams for pick ‘em purposes for now. There’s a good chance I update this write-up before gametime.

Update: Murray is playing for the Rams, but there’s no indication of how long the Rams will play starters for. I’m leaving this as is.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -6

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-9-1) at Seattle Seahawks (11-3)

The Seahawks are 11-3 and control their own destiny for a first round bye, but most of their wins have been close, with all but one win coming by 8 points or fewer. In fact, their record in games decided by more than a single score is just 1-2. A win is a win for standings purposes, but blowout wins tend to be more predictive of future success than close wins. Their point differential of +26 is the worst ever for a 11-3 team and ranks just 11th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they are even worse, ranking 19th in the league at -0.80%. Russell Wilson is a great quarterback who has been able to pull out close wins, but the rest of this team is pretty underwhelming when you compare them to the other contenders and they haven’t shown the ability to blow out anyone, even bad teams.

Their one win by more than one score came against the Cardinals, who happen to be their opponents this week. The Cardinals have 5 losses by double digits and 4 losses by 17 or more points, but their 17-point home loss to the Seahawks in week 4 was closer than the final score suggested, as the Seahawks had just a +3.39% first down differential in the game, with the margin of victory being inflated by a Seattle return touchdown and a pair of missed field goals by the Cardinals. 

The previous matchup between these two teams was in Arizona and this matchup is in Seattle, but the Seahawks are far from 100%. They’re getting defensive end Ezekiel Ansah back from injury this week, but will remain without top defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and will likely be without their top-2 defensive backs, Shaq Griffin and Quandre Diggs, and left tackle Duane Brown, all of whom did not practice on Friday. The Cardinals could easily keep this game within 10 points. They rank 28th in the NFL in first down rate differential on the season at -5.28%, but they aren’t that far behind the 19th ranked Seahawks in that metric, so my calculated line is Seattle -7.5. This is a low confidence pick for now, but If left guard Justin Pugh and wide receiver Christian Kirk are both able to play and/or this line moves up to 10, I would bet on the Cardinals.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona +9.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (6-7) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9-1)

Expected to be a contender in the AFC this year, the Browns have been massively disappointing, entering this game at 6-7 with little chance of getting into the post-season. Despite their underwhelming record, I think they’re still a little overrated. People look at their roster and see the big name stars, but they are a very top heavy roster with minimal talent beyond their stars and little depth at the bottom of their roster. Now without star defensive ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, the Browns have arguably the worst defensive line in football, giving significant snaps at defensive end to bottom of the roster type players. I have them just 22nd overall in my roster rankings without those two players.

The Browns are also in an awful spot this week, flying across the country to play a last place non-conference opponent with a huge home game against the Ravens on deck. With their season essentially over, I don’t expect the Browns’ best effort at all this week, especially with how undisciplined and poorly coached they are. Road favorites are 44-75 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs, including just 4-16 ATS as road favorites of 3+ before being home underdogs of 4+ (the early line has Cleveland +7 next week). 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to justify a big bet on the Cardinals this week as they’ve been pretty terrible this season. First overall pick Kyler Murray has been promising and could easily develop into a franchise quarterback long-term, but he’s not good enough right now to elevate this team by himself and outside of him their roster isn’t that much better than it was last season when they finished with the worst record in the NFL at 3-13. The Cardinals rank just 29th in first down rate differential at -6.40% and 26th in point differential at -102, and their only three wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 7-32 on the season. They still have a good shot to catch the Browns off guard in a tough spot and I like getting the field goal protection with them at home, but I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because the Browns would be the best team the Cardinals have beaten this season.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Cleveland Browns 23 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1)

The Steelers looked dead in the water after week 5, with a 1-4 record and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, but they’ve won 6 of 7 games since then to climb back into playoff contention. Their early season losses don’t look so bad anymore either, as they all came against teams that are currently 10-2 (Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens), with only the Patriots game being decided by more than a field goal. The Steelers haven’t had a tough schedule over the past 7 games since their tough start to the season, but they have picked up a pair of wins over .500 or better teams in the Colts and Rams over that stretch. 

With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers defense has led the way, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.42%, led by an All-Pro caliber trio of Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Their defense has been even better in the past several weeks, leading the league with a 29.76% first down rate allowed since week 7, even more impressive when you consider they lost stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt for the season after week 5. The Steelers’ offense has the 3rd worst first down rate over that stretch at 29.84%, but they switched quarterbacks last week from backup Mason Rudolph to undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges, who seems to be an upgrade, even if only by default. 

The Steelers’ schedule continues to be relatively easy, with a matchup against the Cardinals this week. Not only are the Cardinals 3-8-1, but their 3 wins came by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 6-30. In their 8 losses, they have been outscored by 13.25 points per game. They rank 28th in point differential at -96 and 30th in first down rate differential at -6.60% and are one of the worst few teams in the league. The Steelers’ offensive issues keep them in the middle of the pack in my roster rankings, but the Cardinals rank 30th and I have them calculated as 4.5-point underdogs in this matchup. It might not seem like we’re getting a ton of line value with the Steelers at -2, but about 20% of games are decided by 2-4 points, so those are a significant two points. The Steelers are worth a small bet this week in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -2

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1)

This is one of the tougher games of the week to predict against the spread. On one hand, the Rams were embarrassed last week against the Ravens in a 45-6 loss and teams typically bounce back from bad losses. Since 2002, teams are 60-38 ATS after a loss by 35 points or more and favorites, like the Rams are this week, have won 20 of 24 games straight up after a loss by 35 or more over that time period. On the other hand, this could be a look ahead spot for the Rams with a much harder divisional game on deck against the Seahawks. The Rams will almost definitely be home underdogs in that game and road favorites are just 26-55 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs. 

We’re also not getting any line value in either direction. The Cardinals’ only 3 wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 5-29, while 4 of their 7 losses have come by double digits, with an average margin of defeat of 11.3 points per game. Their point differential of -69 ranks just 28th in the NFL and they rank 29th in first down rate differential at -5.73%. However, the Rams have been a pretty middle of the pack team this season, so they shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal in this game. I have this line calculated at Rams -3, which is exactly where the line is.

Ultimately, what I think this game will come down to is the Rams’ mindset about their playoff chances. Last week’s loss wasn’t a death sentence for their playoff chances, but they’re 2 games behind the 8-3 Vikings for the last NFC wild card spot right now with 5 games to go and probably need to win out and finish 11-5 to give themselves a shot. If the Rams believe their season is over, they probably won’t give their best effort against the Cardinals, especially with a much bigger game on deck. If they believe they still have a shot to make the post-season, we could see a very different level of focus and motivation from them this week after being humbled last week. I think the latter is more likely than the former, but I definitely wouldn’t bet on it. A push might be the most likely result.

Los Angeles Rams 23 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1) at San Francisco 49ers (8-1)

The 49ers got off to a dominant 7-0 start to the season, winning their first 7 games by a 18.57 points per game, despite only a +4 turnover margin, and leading the league with an incredible +12.75% first down rate differential. However, then they went into Arizona for Thursday Night Football week 9. The 49ers won the game to improve to 8-0, but they won by just 3 points against a Cardinals team that has consistently ranked in the bottom-5 in first down rate differential this season and the 49ers actually lost the first down rate differential in the game by 7.77%. On top of that, they suffered a pair of serious injuries, with top linebacker Kwon Alexander going down for the season and tight end George Kittle out indefinitely. 

Without Kittle and Alexander, the 49ers suffered their first loss of the season at home to the Seahawks last week and they suffered additional injury losses in that game. Valuable rotational defensive end Ronald Blair is out for the season, left tackle Joe Staley is out indefinitely, after just returning from a 6-game absence last week, and top wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is highly questionable after not practicing all week. The 49ers also got right tackle Mike McGlinchey back last week and could get cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon back this week, but their backups have played well in their absence, so neither is a significant re-addition. 

The 49ers now face the Cardinals again, but, despite what happened last time and all of the injuries the 49ers are dealing with, the Cardinals should still be a relatively easy matchup for the 49ers in San Francisco this week, especially since the 49ers will have a full week to prepare this time. The Cardinals rank 26th in point differential at -59, despite a positive turnover margin at +4, and rank 28th in first down rate differential at -5.64%. The 49ers, despite their loss last week, still rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.94%. Their injuries have dropped them to 8th in my roster rankings, but I still have this line calculated at San Francisco -12.5, so we’re getting line value at -10. I can’t take the 49ers with any confidence because this is a tough spot for them in between a tough overtime loss and another big game on deck against the Packers, but the 49ers should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

San Francisco 49ers 31 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -10

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)

The Buccaneers are 2-6, but they’ve been competitive in most of their games, despite facing the 5th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA (6 of 8 opponents are 5-3 or better). Only two of their six losses have come by more than one score and the Buccaneers actually won the first down rate in both of those losses. Against the 49ers week 1, the Buccaneers won the first down rate battle by 3.85% but lost the game 31-17, primarily because they lost the turnover battle by two. Against the Panthers week 6, they won the first down rate battle by 1.33% but lost the game 37-26, primarily because they lost the turnover battle by 6. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and the Buccaneers rank 19th in first down rate differential on the season at -1.05%, despite that tough schedule. 

The Cardinals have one more win than the Buccaneers, but they haven’t played nearly as well. Their 3 wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 3-22, while 3 of their losses have come by 17 points or more. They have a significantly worse point differential than the Buccaneers (-56 vs. -22), despite a significantly better turnover margin (+3 vs. -5), and they rank just 29th in first down rate differential at -6.12%, despite an easier schedule. 

I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with the Buccaneers at -4, although not enough to take them confidently. The Cardinals aren’t in a good spot, between a close loss to the 49ers and a rematch next week, but the Buccaneers aren’t either, between a close loss to the Seahawks and a home game against the division leading Saints. Both teams could be flat this week, so while Tampa Bay should be the right side, this is just a low confidence pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34 Arizona Cardinals 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -4

Confidence: Low