Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons: 2016 NFC Championship Pick

Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Atlanta Falcons (12-5)

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are red hot right now and understandably getting a lot of attention. Since an unimpressive 4-6 start, the Packers have won 8 straight games to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record and to win two playoff games and advance to the NFC Championship game. If you watch sports talk shows this week, you’d think it was the Packers favored by 4 points and the presumptive favorite to move on to the Super Bowl, but instead it’s the other way around, with the higher seeded Falcons favored by 4 points at home.

There’s a reason for that. As much attention as the Packers’ offense is getting, the Falcons’ offense is still significantly better and is statistically one of the top offenses in NFL history. Including last week’s win over the Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons have picked up a first down or touchdown on 43.92% of offensive snaps this season, more than 3% higher than the next best team, the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers, meanwhile, have moved the chains at a “mere” 38.94% rate this season, including playoffs, almost 5% lower than the Falcons.

Even if you just look at their 8 game winning streak, the Packers are only moving the chains at a 41.60% rate, meaning, as red hot as they are right now offensively, the Falcons have still been better than them offensively all season. If you look at just the last 8 weeks, the Falcons are actually even better, moving the chains at a 47.19% rate over that time period. As good as the Packers are offensively, the Falcons are simply better. They run the ball better and with more consistency. They have a better overall offensive line. And they also have healthier wide receivers.

Atlanta’s top receiver Julio Jones has been limited by a toe injury in recent weeks, but, as you can see, it hasn’t hurt their ability to move the ball. On the Green Bay side, #1 receiver Jordy Nelson could miss his 2nd straight game with broken ribs, while fellow starter Davante Adams and #4 receiver Geronimo Allison are expected to be gametime calls. Even if all 3 of them play, they all figure to be limited, as head coach Mike McCarthy admitted that none of them would play if this wasn’t a playoff game.

Defensively, these two teams are comparable. The Packers have a little better defense overall (37.34% first down rate vs. 38.01% first down rate allowed), but the Falcons have been better than the Packers if we just look at the last 8 weeks (36.94% first down rate vs. 35.51% first down rate allowed), even with the Packers being 8-0 over that time period. The Falcons aren’t undefeated over that time period, but they’re pretty close, going 6-1 with their one loss coming by 1 point against a Kansas City team that scored 9 points off returns and won despite losing the first down battle 32 to 17.

On the season, the Falcons have won 8 of 12 games by more than a touchdown, with just 1 loss coming by more than a touchdown (9 points in Philadelphia), and have they the NFC’s best point differential at +150, along with the NFC’s best first down rate differential at +6.07% (vs. +2.15% for the Packers). The public seems to be eating up the sports talk media idea that the Packers are the better team here, as more than ⅔ rds of the action is on Green Bay. I disagree, which is probably a good thing, considering the public always loses money in the long run. I think this line should be around 6 in favor of the Falcons, so we’re getting good line value with them at 4. They’re worth a bet if you can get that number, though this line is 4.5 or 5 in some places.

Atlanta Falcons 38 Green Bay Packers 31

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -4

Confidence: Medium

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Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys: 2016 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3)

This is another game I’ve gone back and forth on all week. On one hand, the Packers are hot right now and the Cowboys haven’t had much homefield advantage in recent years.  Since 2010, they are 31-24 ATS on the road, as opposed to 20-36 ATS at home (12-28 ATS as home favorites). Over that time period, they’ve been outscored opponents by 0.25 points per game on the road and outscored opponents by an average of 1.63 points per game at home, meaning home field advantage hasn’t even been worth a point for them in recent years. That makes sense because their fan base travels so well that it doesn’t really matter where they play.

On the other hand, the Cowboys are only favorites of 4.5 points, so we’re not getting a ton of points with the Packers, and the Cowboys have been the significantly better team this season. Among remaining playoff teams, they rank 3rd in first down rate differential at 4.22%, while the Packers rank 5th at 1.99%, including their victory over the Giants last week. The Cowboys also beat the Packers earlier this year, winning 30-16 in Green Bay and winning the first down rate battle by 3.00%. Despite that, the public is actually on the Packers this week, so I’m going to fade the public and take the Cowboys. People seem to be so caught up in how the Packers have played in recent weeks that they’ve forgotten how good the Cowboys have been all season. I couldn’t be confident in the Cowboys at 4.5, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Green Bay Packers 24

Pick against the spread: Dallas -4.5

Confidence: None

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New York Giants at Green Bay Packers: 2016 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-6)

I always talk about the inconsistency of turnover margins and why using past turnover margins as evidence for predictions of future turnover margins is basically useless. On average, a team that wins the turnover battle by 4 in a game has a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week, as does the average team that losses a turnover battle by 4 in a game. The Packers are a great example of the inconsistency of turnover margins. Through the first 12 games of the season, the Packers were -5 in turnover margin on the season, but over the final 4 games of the regular season they were +13 in turnover margin, powering their run to another NFC North title.

Unfortunately for them, that works both ways and teams that have a +13 turnover margin or better over a 4 game span, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.3 the following week. Even despite their recent success in turnover margin, we should assume turnover neutral football for them going forward, which means they’re unlikely to have the same kind of overall success that they’ve had in recent weeks. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 9th, which is solid, but only 2 spots higher than the Giants. The difference between the Packers and the Giants in that metric is a mere 0.06%, a negligible difference. These teams are basically opposites of each other, as the Packers have an incredible offense and a weak defense, while the Giants have a weak defense, but an incredible defense.

Given that, we’re getting good line value with the Giants as 4.5 point underdogs in Green Bay. However, I can’t put money on the Giants as less than 6 point underdogs, given that they will once again be without stud defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul with injury. Unfortunately, that means I will not be betting on any games this weekend, but sometimes there just aren’t games worth betting on. There are only 4 games this weekend and I didn’t want to force anything with sides I wasn’t confident in. This is technically my Pick of the Week because it’s the one I’m most confident it, but I wouldn’t recommend placing any bets this weekend. For pick ‘em pool purposes, I would go NYG, PIT, OAK, and DET in that order.

Green Bay Packers 23 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: Low

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Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (9-6) at Detroit Lions (9-6)

I always talk about the inconsistency of turnover margins and why using past turnover margins as evidence for predictions of future turnover margins is basically useless. The Packers are a great example of that. Through the first 12 games of the season, the Packers were -5 in turnover margin on the season, but over the past 3 weeks they are +12. Unfortunately for them, that works both ways and teams that have a +12 turnover margin or better over a 3 game span, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. Despite their recent run to put them in position to win the NFC North, the Packers rank just 12th in first down rate differential.

The Lions, meanwhile, rank just 27th in that metric, despite their 9-6 record, and actually have a -5 point differential on the season, as 8 of their 9 victories have come by a touchdown or less. That’s why this isn’t a bigger bet on Detroit, but we’re still getting great line value with them as 3.5 point home underdogs. This line suggests the Packers are about 6.5 points better than Detroit, which don’t make sense. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, so the Lions have plenty of room to cover even if they don’t win this game straight up. The Packers are just 2-5 ATS on the road this season anyway, with losses in Minnesota, Atlanta, Tennessee, and Washington, so I really don’t understand this line. Even just 2 weeks ago, the Packers won by just a field goal in Chicago and that was despite winning the turnover margin by 4, something they’re far from guaranteed to do again this week. If you can get more than a field goal, Detroit is worth a bet.

Green Bay Packers 31 Detroit Lions 30

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (8-6)

The Vikings got blown out at home last week as 4.5 point home favorites, losing 34-6 to the Indianapolis Colts. It was a stunning result, but a major outlier for a Vikings team who previously hadn’t lost a game by more than 10 all season. The good news for them is teams tend to bounce back from losses like that, as teams are 95-54 ATS since 2002 off of an against the spread loss of 28 or more. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it, as teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed off of a loss like that.

I can’t guarantee that the Vikings will be embarrassed or overlooked this week, off of that huge home loss, but they’re definitely undervalued with this line moving from 5 on the early line last week to 7 this week. That’s the same amount of points the Packers were favored by three weeks ago against the Texans and the Vikings are definitely a better team than the Texans. Since that mere 8-point victory over the Texans, the Packers have blown out the Seahawks and won in Chicago, but much of that is because of their +10 turnover margin over the past 2 weeks.

Turnover margins tend to be incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis though. In fact, the Packers are just the 11th team since 1989 to have a turnover margin of +10 or better over a 2 weeks span. The previous 10 went 2-8 ATS the following week and had an average turnover margin of -0.3. The Packers probably would have still beaten the Seahawks even if they didn’t win the turnover margin by 6, but the Packers lost the first down battle 29-20 and the first down rate battle by 11.14% last week in Chicago and only won the game on a last second field goal because they won the turnover battle by 4. The Packers’ offense is playing well, but I’m concerned about their defense’s ability to get off the field if they can’t force a turnover.

The Packers are the better team, but the difference in first down rate differential between these two teams is less than a percent and a half, so we’re getting good line value with the Vikings as full touchdown underdogs in Green Bay, especially since there’s a chance safety Harrison Smith could return. It was originally reported that he’d miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury, but he returned to practice this week and is at least a gametime decision for this game. He’s arguably the best safety in the NFL and as important to Minnesota’s defense as Earl Thomas is to Seattle’s defense, so he’d be a welcome return. Even if he doesn’t play, I like Minnesota’s chances of covering here.

In addition to Minnesota getting blown out last week, another reason the Packers could overlook the Vikings a little bit this week is they have a tougher game on deck in Detroit, while the Vikings will host the Bears. Divisional home favorites are just 23-61 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road favorites. On top of that, favorites are 61-97 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites, which the Vikings almost definitely will be next week at home against the Bears. The Packers are only 1 point underdogs in Detroit on the early line, but the logic still makes sense. The Packers have a tough upcoming game that could be a distraction for them, while the Vikings don’t. This is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Chicago Bears (3-10)

The Packers got a huge home win over the Seahawks last week, handing Seattle their biggest loss in the Russell Wilson era, 38-10. Unfortunately for them, teams are just 61-80 ATS off of a home win as underdogs, as teams in that spot tend to be overrated and overconfident. Typically, I love betting against teams coming off of home upset wins and the Packers are no exception. The Packers’ big win last week shifted this line all the way from 3.5 in favor of Green Bay to 7, which I think is an overreaction, especially since the Bears almost won in Detroit. The Packers’ win last week was impressive, but much of that big margin of victory was as a result of a fluky +6 turnover margins. Turnover margins tend to be incredibly inconsistent on a week to week basis. In fact, teams that have a +6 turnover margin, on average, have a turnover margin of just +0.3 the following week.

The Bears, meanwhile, have had arguably the most injuries in the league, but they haven’t been bad overall this season and they are still fighting despite being down to backups at multiple spots on both sides of the ball. They rank 18th in first down rate and just 2 of their last 7 losses have come by more than 6 points. At home, the Bears are 3-3 with a +11 point differential and just one loss by more than 6 points (back in week 2). This week, the Bears get top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery back from a 4-game suspension, a much needed re-addition for this offense. With this line jumping to 7 as a result of Green Bay’s big win last week, I like the Bears a good amount this week, as they should be able to keep it close against a team that could be overconfident off of a huge win and that has Minnesota and Detroit in their final 2 games of the regular season after this relatively “easy” game.

Green Bay Packers 23 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7

Confidence: High

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Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) at Green Bay Packers (6-6)

Typically, the Seahawks are unstoppable in the second half of the season, going 33-10-1 ATS since Pete Carroll’s first season in 2011 in games 9-16 of the regular season. This year, they got off to a strong start, covering in games 9 and 10, but then they got embarrassed in their 11th game of the season, losing 14-5 as 5.5 point favorites in Tampa Bay. They bounced back in a huge way last week, blowing out a banged up Carolina team 40-7, but that game might have been a case of winning the battle losing the war, as the Seahawks have lost safety Earl Thomas, one of the best in the game, for the season with a broken leg. It’s not that the Seahawks can’t win the Super Bowl without Thomas, especially in a year where all of the top teams have glaring flaws, but it certainly becomes a lot more difficult of a task for the Seahawks and it takes a lot of the air out of last week’s big win.

Despite that, this line has actually shifted from 2.5 in favor of Seattle to 3 in the past week. That might not seem like a huge line movement, but it’s pretty significant considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. We’re getting good value with the Packers at home, just the fourth time in Aaron Rodgers’ career that he’s been a home underdog (2-1 ATS). The Packers are also in a great spot, going to Chicago next week to face the lowly Bears. Home underdogs are 79-44 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites, which the Packers almost certainly will be next week. The Seahawks have an easy game against the Rams on deck, but it’s in 4 days, which is tough. Favorites are just 57-83 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. Normally I bet on the Seahawks in the second half of the season, but I like the Packers a lot if you can get them as field goal underdogs.

Green Bay Packers 27 Seattle Seahawks 24 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +3

Confidence: Medium

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