Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers: 2020 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The Rams have injury concerns on their offense heading into this game, but that has been the case for most of the second half of the season. After a mostly healthy first half of the season, stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s knee injury in week 10 started off a stretch where the Rams not only were without their top offensive lineman for 7 games, but they also were without their starting quarterback Jared Goff, his top receiver Cooper Kupp, and their feature running back Cam Akers for stretches and both Goff and Akers were limited for stretches as well. 

This week, Goff and Kupp are likely to play at less than 100%, but only left guard David Edwards is legitimately questionable for this game among key Rams players, meaning this could actually be the first time the Rams have had their normal starting lineup on the field on offense at the same time since before Whitworth got hurt in week 10. Even if some players are less than 100%, that’s at least an improvement over what they’ve had in recent weeks, especially Whitworth’s re-addition, which had a massive impact in the Rams’ first round upset of the Seahawks.

The Rams aren’t an overly impressive offense, but they haven’t been all season and they still lead the league in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.64%. Their offense ranks just 22nd in first down rate over expected at -0.95%, but their dominant defense has carried them, not just leading the league in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.59%, but by a wide margin over the 2nd ranked Steelers (-4.39%). 

Defensive performance is not as consistent week-to-week as offensive performance and the Packers have the obvious edge on that side of the ball, as well as a complementary defense, but the Rams’ defense is too good for them to be underdogs of this many points in Green Bay. My calculated line has the Rams at +4, so I liked the line value we were getting with them as touchdown underdogs earlier this week when I locked them in. I’m not sure I would bet them at +6.5 against a Packers team that is legitimately one of the top-3 Super Bowl contenders and that will have the benefit of at least some fans in this game, but they should still be the right side for pick ‘em purposes at that number.

Update: This line is back to a touchdown but that’s because the Rams will surprisingly be without both Kupp and David Edwards, which is a hit for this offense. I have already locked this in, but I wouldn’t be as confident in the Rams at that number without Kupp and Edwards in the lineup. They’re still the pick for pick ’em purposes though, because of the dominance of their defense. My calculated line is now Green Bay -5.

Green Bay Packers 24 Los Angeles Rams 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +7

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (12-3) at Chicago Bears (8-7)

When these two teams met for the first time this season in week 12, it was Mitch Trubisky’s first start of his second stint as the starter, taking over for Nick Foles, who was nursing an injury. The Packers won that game 41-25, but the Bears lost the first down rate battle by just 1.19%, losing primarily because of 3 turnovers, including one returned for a touchdown. Trubisky threw two interceptions, but otherwise led the Bears to 26 first downs on 66 plays (39.39%), which was more than could be said about Foles. Trubisky continued to be an upgrade on Foles and has kept the starting job even with Foles healthy again, leading the Bears to a 3-2 stretch (including the loss to Green Bay) that has them on the cusp of a playoff berth, including 4 straight games of 30 points or more since their first matchup with the Packers.

I’m not sold on this new version of Trubisky though. Not only is it a short 5-game starting stretch for a quarterback who has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he’s faced a very easy schedule, as the Packers are by far the toughest team he’s faced defensively. In fact, Trubisky’s four other starts came against teams that rank 24th (Minnesota), 29th (Jacksonville), 31st (Houston), and 32nd (Detroit) in first down rate allowed over expected and the best of the bunch, Minnesota, was without their best defensive player Eric Kendricks. 

Trubisky has been an upgrade over Foles, even with level of competition factored in, but Foles was playing so badly that being an upgrade isn’t necessarily an accomplishment. Trubisky did move the ball well against the Packers, but his two interceptions against them in the first matchup raises further concerns about how he’ll perform against tougher competition, both this week in the rematch and possibly in the post-season next week, which they would qualify for even with a loss if the Cardinals lose to the Rams.

The Packers aren’t a great defensive team, but they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, as would be expected from a team whose defense underachieves early in the season, and now they rank 13th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.16%, complementing an offense that ranks 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.69%. Also one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, I was considering a bet on the Packers as 5.5-point favorites earlier in the week, as my calculated line was about -7. 

Unfortunately, the Packers lost stud left tackle David Bakhtiari for the season with a torn ACL in practice this week and I don’t think this line compensated enough, going down to Green Bay -4, as 5 is not a key number. My calculated line is now Green Bay -5, so I would need this line to go down to at least -3 to be bettable, which doesn’t seem likely. Even if Trubisky is a shaky quarterback option, he is supported by a strong defense and the Bears rank 14th in my roster rankings, so they can be competitive in this one with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense missing their key blindside protector. The Packers are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I’m not confident in them.

Green Bay Packers 28 Chicago Bears 23

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (10-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-3)

These two teams are very similar. Both teams are worse than their record suggests in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, with the Titans ranking 15th at +0.57% and the Packers ranking 16th at +0.37%, but both teams have great offenses and primarily have issues on defense, which is the much more inconsistent side of the ball week-to-week. The chances that these two teams continue dominating on offense and improve on defense are much better than the chances of a team with a high ranked defense and a low ranked offense continuing to dominate on defense and improving on offense. On top of that, both teams rank much higher in my roster rankings than they do in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, both among the top teams in the league.

Despite the similarities of these two teams, the Packers are still favored by 3.5 points at home, even without the benefit of any fans in the stadium. The Packers have a slight edge in this game and have nominal homefield advantage, but they shouldn’t be favored by more than 1.5 points, so we’re getting significant line value at +3.5, especially since 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, including 1 in 6 games decided by exactly 3 points. This is only a small bet for now, but if the Packers end up being without talented center Corey Linsley for the 4th straight week and the line stays put, I will boost this to a high confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 31 Tennessee Titans 30

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to be picking the Panthers in this game and possibly even betting on them. The Panthers are just 4-9, but they’ve played a lot of close games, with only two of their nine losses coming by 8 points or fewer, relevant given that this line is 8.5. That’s despite the fact that they’ve faced a relatively tough schedule, the 6th toughest schedule in the league in terms of opponents schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

The Panthers themselves rank a respectable 20th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.65%, led by an offense that has been one of the more efficient in the league this season, ranking 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.61%. The Packers are 10-3, but their defense has been a problem this year, ranking 24th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.56%, so I was expecting the Panthers to be able to keep it relatively close in a shootout, especially since this isn’t a great spot for the Packers, ahead of a much tougher game against the Titans, while the Panthers have a much easier game on deck against Washington.

Unfortunately, the Panthers are in much worse injury shape than I was expecting earlier this week. Not only is feature back Christian McCaffrey set to miss yet another game, but they could also be without starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel, starting left tackle Russell Okung, and top defensive tackle Zach Kerr, the latter of whom has yet to be cleared to return from COVID, which caused him to miss last week as well, a game in which he was badly missed.

The Packers, meanwhile, are about as healthy as you can be this late in the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them give the Panthers just their third multiscore loss of the season. In fact, I’m taking the Packers for pick ‘em purposes for now, pending the Panthers’ inactives. If the Panthers get good injury news, I will flip to Carolina, but I don’t envision myself betting on them even if all of their questionable players play because they could be subject to in-game setbacks.

Green Bay Packers 33 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -8.5

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (9-3) at Detroit Lions (5-7)

Ordinarily, when a good team has back-to-back easy games, that team tends to fare very well in the first game, without any upcoming distractions on the schedule. That’s especially true when their opponent has another tough game on deck, as favorites of 6 or more are 69-23 ATS since 2010 before being favored by 6 or more points again when their opponent will next be favored by 6 points again the following week. All three of those things should be the case in this one, with the Packers facing the Panthers next and the Lions facing the Titans.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting line value with the Packers as 8.5-point favorites in Detroit. The Packers’ defense has been suspect, with a +0.89% first down rate allowed over expected, and, while defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, the Packers’ 6th ranked offense in first down rate over expected (1.84%) is missing stud center Corey Linsley and doesn’t have a massive edge over the Lions’ 12th ranked offense (+1.03%). I have these two teams about seven points apart, giving us a calculated line of Green Bay -6.5. I’m still taking the Packers for pick ‘em purposes because of the great spot they’re in, but this could still be a relatively final score, especially if the Lions can keep it close enough to get a backdoor cover late.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -8.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (3-7-1) at Green Bay Packers (8-3)

This is one of the tougher calls of the week. The Packers are in a much better spot than the Eagles, going to Detroit for an easy game next week, while the Eagles have to host the Saints. Underdogs of 6 or more are 23-68 ATS since 2010 before being underdogs of 6 or more again when their opponent will next be favorites and all three of those conditions should be true here. However, this line moved from 7 on the early line last week to 8 this week and we’re not getting line value with the Packers.

The Eagles have had a tough season, but one silver lining is their defense has played pretty well, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.23%. Offensive performance is much more inconsistent week-to-week than defensive performance, but the Eagles’ biggest offensive issue has been turnovers (3rd most in the league with 21), which tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis as well. 

The Eagles’ offense ranks 23rd in first down rate over expected at -1.09%, which isn’t far enough behind the Packers’ 7th ranked offense to justify the Packers being favored by 8 points, given that the Eagles have the superior defense, that the Packers don’t have the benefit of any fans in their home stadium, and that the Packers will be without key center Corey Linsley due to injury. I can’t be confident in the Eagles in a bad spot, but this line is probably too high (my calculated line is Green Bay -6), so the Eagles seem like the better side for pick ‘em purposes, even if only slightly.

Green Bay Packers 27 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +8

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-3)

The Packers lost in overtime in Indianapolis last week, but the Colts are a solid team and the Packers outplayed them for most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by a pretty substantial 5.76% and only losing because they lost the turnover battle by 2. Turnovers are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so any team that has a turnover margin of -2 in a game can be expected to be improved in that metric the following week, but that’s especially true for the Packers, who have one of the most careful quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers.

I would expect better focus this week out of a Packers team that is arguably the best in the NFL when relatively healthy, which they are right now, with key players like wide receiver Davante Adams (2 games missed), running back Aaron Jones (2 games missed), left tackle David Bakhtiari (3 games missed), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (3 games missed), cornerback Jaire Alexander (1 game missed), and safety Darnell Savage (1 game missed) all having returned from injury. The Packers have typically bounced back pretty well off of a loss (38-21 ATS) in the Aaron Rodgers era anyway, as is the case with most teams with high level quarterbacks. 

This line is pretty high, favoring the Packers by 8.5 points, but it’s arguably not high enough, given how bad their opponents are. Everyone knows the Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final play and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks, but what’s not mentioned enough is that in three of their five losses, they were down by 16 points, 21 points, and 21 points in the 4th quarter before some meaningless late scores, against the Colts, Titans, and Rams, while their 6-point loss to the Vikings came in a game in which the Bears got 8 points of benefit from their special teams. The Packers are as good or better than all of those teams, so it’s going to be very tough for the Bears to be competitive.

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Bears rank 23rd at -1.02% and there is reason to believe they’ll be worse than that going forward. They’ve been very reliant on a defense that ranks 6th in first down rate allowed over expected to cover for an offense that ranks 31st in first down rate over expected, which is a problem because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. If their defense doesn’t play well every week, this team doesn’t have much of a shot to win games and even talented defenses can be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

The Bears are also pretty banged up, missing a pair of offensive linemen in left guard James Daniels and right tackle Bobby Massie and possibly a third with left tackle Charles Leno not practicing all week, while their defense could be without key defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who also didn’t practice. The Bears will also be forced to go back to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback with Nick Foles out, though with Foles playing like he has, I’m not sure how much that matters. Even with this big line, the Packers are worth a bet. Coming off of a loss, with only another easy game against the Eagles on deck (favorites of 6 or more are 87-55 ATS since 2016 before being favorites of 6 or more again), the Packers should be fully focused to blow out an inferior opponent. If Leno and Hicks are ruled out, I may increase this bet.

Update: Leno will play for the Bears, but Akiem Hicks will be out. Despite that, this line has dropped to 7.5 in most places. My calculated line is Green Bay -10 and that doesn’t even take into account that Aaron Rodgers and company should be fully focused off of a loss. I don’t see this one being close, so I’m upping this bet.

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 12

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-2) at Indianapolis Colts (6-3)

Earlier this week when the Packers opened as 2.5-point underdogs, I was hoping we’d get a +3 at some point, but instead sharp action on the Packers has pushed them down to 1.5-point underdogs of even 1-point in some places. I still like the Packers, but not to the same extent. Typically, I like offensive led teams over defensive led teams because defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. That is the case in this matchup. These two teams have played roughly even this season, but the Packers have a much better offense, while the Colts have been led by their defense.

In addition to the Packers having that edge, the Packers are also healthier than they’ve been for most of the season. At full strength, the Packers have one of the top rosters in the league, but key players like wide receiver Davante Adams (2 games missed), running back Aaron Jones (2 games missed), left tackle David Bakhtiari (3 games missed), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (3 games missed), cornerback Jaire Alexander (1 game missed), and safety Darnell Savage (1 game missed) have all missed time this season. 

Now with those players all back, I have the Packers at the top of my roster rankings. That still doesn’t give us great line value, as the Colts will have some fans in attendance and are a talented team in their own right, and my calculated line is only Green Bay -1, but the Packers should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and they’re worth a small bet on the money line at +105, as they should be at least even, if not slightly favored to win this game straight up.

Green Bay Packers 26 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +1.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) at Green Bay Packers (6-2)

This is a tough call. On one hand, I think this line is a little high at 13.5. The Jaguars rank 31st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -5.78%, but their defense should be better going forward. Not only will their defense likely be better by default, given that they currently rank dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at 4.27% and that defenses tend to be very inconsistent week-to-week, but they’re also healthier than they’ve been, with their top cornerback CJ Henderson, their top linebacker Myles Jack, their top safety Jarrod Wilson, and their top edge defender Josh Allen all missing time early in the season and having since returned. 

Their offense which ranks 26th in first down rate over expected at -1.51% might not be improving going forward, especially with sixth round rookie Jake Luton under center now in place of the injured Gardiner Minshew, even though Luton did show some promise last week, but if their defense can be better going forward, they should be more competitive as a team than they’ve been. The Packers, meanwhile, obviously have a good offense, but their defense is middling at best and, without fans in Lambeau, it’s hard to justify them being favored by this many points over anyone except the Jets.

On the other hand, the Jaguars have to turn around and play another tough game against the Steelers next week and it’s tough for inferior teams to keep it close against a superior team when they have another tough game on deck. Since 2014, underdogs of a touchdown or more are 50-77 ATS before being underdogs of a touchdown or more the following week, which the Jaguars almost definitely will be next week. Earlier today when the line was -13, I was going to take the Packers, but the line has moved to 13.5, so I’m now on the Jaguars. That’s how close this one is for me.

Green Bay Packers 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 21

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +13.5

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-2) at San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

The Packers had a disappointing home loss to the Vikings last week, but that didn’t really surprise me. The Vikings are significantly better than their record and the Packers were in an obvious look ahead spot, with this matchup against the 49ers coming up just 4 days later on Thursday Night Football. The 49ers embarrassed the Packers in their two matchups last season and ended their season in the NFC Championship, so I expect a significantly better effort out of the Packers’ this week. Betting on Aaron Rodgers after a loss is typically a winning proposition in normal circumstances, as he’s 37-21 ATS off of a loss in his career, and Rodgers should be especially motivated this week, given who the Packers are facing.

Even though the Packers and 49ers both were top-2 seeds and made the NFC Championship last season, the Packers were so uncompetitive in both of their matchups with the 49ers and were so far behind the 49ers in season long stats (+3.76% first down rate differential and +169 point differential vs. +0.25% first down rate differential and +63 point differential) that it seemed like the 49ers would beat the Packers 80-90 times out of a 100 last season, but this is a far cry from last year’s 49ers’ team, so Rodgers and company have a much better chance of getting their revenge.

The 49ers didn’t lose much this off-season, aside from defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, but they’ve been ravaged by injury this season and are even more depleted now, after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle for an extended period due to injury last week and then losing left tackle Trent Williams and wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk to the COVID list for this matchup.

In total, the 49ers are missing their starting quarterback, 3 of their top-4 running backs, their top-3 wide receivers, their dominant tight end, their top-2 centers, and their stud left tackle and that’s just from their offense. On defense, they’ve gotten healthier in recent weeks and have played better as a result, but they’re still significantly behind last season, without top cornerback Richard Sherman and their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. 

Making matters worse, the 49ers will have to be without all of their missing players, including their newly missed players, on a short week. Underdogs are typically at a disadvantage on a short week, as non-divisional underdogs of 3+ cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time on short rest, and it stands to reason that the 49ers would be especially at a disadvantage because they have several new starters. This line has creeped up to 6.5 with all of the 49ers’ losses, but my calculated line is Green Bay -7.5, so we’re still getting enough line value for the Packers to be worth taking. I have a hard time seeing this depleted 49ers team keep up with a motivated Aaron Rodgers on a short week.

Green Bay Packers 27 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -6.5

Confidence: Medium