New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-6) at Miami Dolphins (8-8)

The Dolphins won seven straight games, but that came to a crashing halt last week when they were blown out by a final score of 34-3 in Tennessee. Their losing streak was always the result of an easy schedule, as their only two games over their seven-game winning streak against teams with a record better than 5-11 were against the Baltimore Ravens, who were in a near impossible spot playing on a short week after an overtime game, a spot in which teams have covered just 3 out of 28 times historically, and the New Orleans Saints, who were starting a fourth string quarterback behind a skeleton crew offensive line, also a near impossible situation. Their other five opponents on their winning streak are a combined 21-59.

On the other hand, the Dolphins have struggled in tougher games, losing four of five games against likely playoff qualifiers by double digits. The one exception was week one against the Dolphins’ opponents this week the New England Patriots, but the Patriots won the first down rate and yards per play battle by 0.6 and 2.56% respectively in that game, losing because they lost the fumble margin by -2 in a 1-point loss. Fortunately for the Patriots, fumble margin is highly non-predictive, while yards per play and first down rate differential are much more predictive. On the season, in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Patriots rank 4th, while the Dolphins rank 30th.

The Patriots also were starting a rookie quarterback with a bunch of free agent additions week one and did not have their full offensive line, so the Patriots should fare even better in the second matchup than they did in a week one matchup which they should have won if not for two lost fumbles. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Patriots in the past week, as they have gone from 2.5-point favorites on the early line last week to 6-point favorites this week, in the wake of their blowout loss over the Jaguars and the Dolphins’ blowout loss to the Titans. My calculated line favors the Patriots by 8.5, so we’re still getting some line value with them, but I think I would need this line to drop to at least 5.5 for the Patriots to be worth betting.

Update: This line has dropped to 5.5 before gametime, so I am going to place a small bet on New England.

New England Patriots 26 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: New England -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) at New England Patriots (9-6)

The Patriots have lost back-to-back games and are favored by a lot of points in this game (16.5-point favorites), but the Patriots’ schedule over the past two games has been tough, as they have faced the teams who rank 1st and 6th in point differential, and they won the first down rate (+1.00%) and yards per play (+0.33) battle in a loss to the Colts, a loss that was largely the result of a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a -1 turnover margin, which are not as predictive as first down rate and yards per play. 

Now the Patriots get a much easier matchup, as not only are the Jaguars arguably the worst team in the league, but they are without one of their best players, running back James Robinson, and could be missing essentially their whole offensive line, with left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, and right guard Ben Bartch (already a fill-in for the injured AJ Cann) all in COVID protocols right now.

The Patriots still rank 4th in point differential despite back-to-back multiscore losses and they rank 12th, 4th, 19th, and 6th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, so this line arguably isn’t high enough, even if the Patriots might be without Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise. I have this line calculated at New England -17 even if all of the Jaguars’ offensive linemen play and Judon and Wise are out and at New England -20.5 if the Jaguars’ players are all out and Judon and Wise play, so we’re getting at least some line value either way. I am making this a low confidence pick for now, but depending on who plays and where the line ends up, I may place a bet on New England.

Update: Only Andrew Norwell is playing of the Jaguars’ offensive line, while the others will be joined in the COVID protocols by edge defender Dawuane Smoot and cornerback Shaq Griffin, who tested positive today and would otherwise be starters. Meanwhile, the Patriots will have both Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise. This line hasn’t gone any higher, staying at 16.5, so I like the Patriots enough to bet them in what should be a complete blowout.

New England Patriots 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 10

Pick against the spread: New England -16.5

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)

These two teams met in Buffalo a few weeks ago, with the Patriots pulling the small upset on the road. Now that these two teams are meeting in New England, many expect the Patriots to be able to win easier than they did last time, but that isn’t always how these rematches go. In fact, divisional road underdogs cover at a 42.1% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that previously pulled the upset against them as road underdogs earlier in the season. Not only do they cover at a high rate, but they also pull upsets at a high rate, winning almost at a 50% clip as underdogs of less than a touchdown.

That being said, we aren’t getting enough line value with the Bills as mere 2-point underdogs, as my calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, holding a slight edge in my roster rankings and the homefield advantage. The Bills have the better point differential (+151 vs. +140) and rank 1st in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, while the Patriots rank 5th, but the Bills’ defense hasn’t been the same since losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White and, on top of that, most of the Bills’ success has come against weak opponents.

The Bills are 7-1 against teams who are .500 or worse, with all seven wins coming by 15 points or more, but they are just 1-5 against teams who are .500 or better. Blowout wins, even against bad opponents, are more predictive than close losses, of which the Bills have five, making up all but one of their losses, leading to their impressive point differential, but it’s hard to ignore that the Bills haven’t performed at a high level against capable opponents, especially given that they are facing one of the best teams in the league this week. I am still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I still think the Patriots are more likely to win this game and I could see this one going either way against the spread.

Update: This is staying as a no confidence pick, but I want to switch sides. This line has dropped to one, despite the Patriots getting good news with top receiver Kendrick Bourne coming off the COVID list. Originally both of these teams had significant absences in the receiving corps, with the Bills missing Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley and the Patriots missing Bourne and Nelson Agholor, but Bourne playing is a big boost for New England.

New England Patriots 26 Buffalo Bills 24

Pick against the spread: New England -1

Confidence: None

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-4) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Patriots are not only on a seven game winning streak right now, but they also have covered in all seven games by at least a touchdown, a significant feat that has not happened in at least three decades, which shows they have been consistently underrated. I think that remains the case as the Patriots, who lead the league in point differential at +150 and could easily be 11-2 or 12-1 right now if their offensive line was healthy at the beginning of the season, are 2.5-point underdogs in Indianapolis against the Colts, suggesting these two teams are seen as about even.

The Colts are also better than their record at 7-6, also in large part due to their offensive line getting healthy. They started 0-3 with two multi-score losses, but since then they are 7-3 with all three losses coming by one score to likely playoff qualifiers and six of their seven wins coming by double digits, leading to them having a point differential of +88 that ranks 7th in the NFL. However, they have played an easier schedule overall than the Patriots and are just 2-4 against teams with a winning record, while the Patriots are 4-2 and possess a significant edge in point differential even with a tougher schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Patriots rank 3rd, while the Colts rank 12th, with about five points separating the two. 

My calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, so we’re getting significant line value with the Patriots as 2.5-point underdogs. In most weeks, this wouldn’t be my Pick of the Week, but, in looking at the rest of the games this week, I don’t expect to like a side more than New England, given all of the COVID uncertainty. The Eagles and Raiders were sides I liked earlier in the week, but it’s tough to know what to make of those games now, with their opponents missing half their roster, the games being rescheduled, and the lines getting taken off the board. 

I will do my picks as normal tomorrow, but I don’t anticipate locking in many, if any other bets before Sunday morning, due to the likelihood of gametime COVID absences, and even then I don’t see myself liking many sides enough to bet on them. The only reason I am locking this one in now is because it’s my Pick of the Week and because, thus far, both teams have been minimally affected by COVID absences this week and are unlikely to have a significant gameday outbreak tomorrow for this Saturday Night Football game. 

New England Patriots 26 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: New England +2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (8-4) at Buffalo Bills (7-4)

Going into the season, I had both of these teams among the best in the league and so far that has been the case. It was a bit of a bumpy start for the Patriots, but they have won six straight games and could easily have won a couple of their early season losses, with losses coming by one point, two points, and in overtime, meaning in three of their loses they were a combined -3 in point differential at the end of regulation. 

By contrast, just two of their wins have come by one score, a game in Houston in which the Patriots were missing most of their offensive line and a game in Los Angeles in which the Patriots were up by 10 before a garbage time touchdown cut the margin to 3. On their six game winning streak, the Patriots have not only won, but won convincingly, with an average margin of victory of 24.7 points per game, while covering the spread by at least a touchdown in all six games. That has led to them possessing the league’s best point differential overall at +146, meaning they are arguably even better than their 8-4 record suggests.

The Bills rank right behind them in second at +144 and they have done so in one fewer game, but they also haven’t faced nearly as tough of a schedule as the Patriots, as the Bills’ schedule has been arguably the easiest in the league thus far. All seven of their wins have come by at least 15 points and they possess an average margin of victory of 26.1 points per game, but they also have only faced just four teams with a .500 or better record and they are just 1-3 in those three games. 

The Bills’ offense is what carried them a year ago, when they went 13-3, but they have fallen more to the middle of the pack this season, ranking 12th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, as not everything has gone as perfectly as it did a year ago and defenses have caught on to how to best defend them. Instead, it has been the Bills’ defense, which ranks 1st in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, which has carried them this season, but defense is a less predictive side of the ball and this defense has not really held up against tougher competition. Making matters worse, the Bills lost top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season last week, which is a big blow to this defensive unit. 

The Bills’ offense has some bounce back potential, with largely the same personnel as their dominant unit a year ago, but overall the Patriots seem to be the better team heading into this matchup. I wish we were still getting a field goal with the Patriots like we were early in the week, but sharp action quickly dropped this line to Buffalo -2.5, which is not as intriguing of a line, given that 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. 

Also hurting the Patriots chances of covering this spread is the mid-week news that safety Kyle Dugger will likely miss this game due to COVID protocols, which unfortunately did not trigger the spread to shift back to a field goal. My calculated line is even, so we’re still getting line value with the Patriots, but I like a small bet on the money line more than I like betting this spread, unless we get a field goal before gametime, or some surprising good news on Dugger.

Update: Dugger is not playing, but the Patriots will have linebacker Jamie Collins back from injured reserve and, despite that, this line has still moved up to a full field goal. The Patriots are worth a bet at that number, in addition to a money line play. They should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: New England +3

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4)

Normally, I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements like the one in this matchup, with the Patriots moving from 3-point favorites on the early line last week to 7-point favorites, but in this case, this is just the line catching up with how good the Patriots are. Not only are the Patriots on a 5-game winning streak, but they have covered the spread by at least seven points in each game, with an average margin about 19.8 points higher than the spread. 

With their losses coming by one point, two points, and in overtime, the Patriots are legitimately a few plays away from being 9-2 or 10-1 right now, while their only one score wins came in a game in Houston in which the Patriots were missing most of their offensive line and a game in Los Angeles in which the Patriots were up by 10 before a garbage time touchdown cut the margin to 3. They also led the league with a +123 point differential entering this week.

Meanwhile, the Titans have needed to go 4-1 in games decided by a field goal or less to get to 8-3 and their +37 point differential is more in line with a team that is about 6-5. On top of that, the Titans’ offense has struggled mightily since losing running back Derrick Henry for an extended period of time with an injury. The Titans are 2-1 in three games without Henry, but one of their wins came in a game in which their defense had two pick sixes, which is definitely not something the Titans can rely on doing every week, while their other win was a near loss at home to a Trevor Siemian led Saints team that was also missing Alvin Kamara and multiple offensive line starters.

Meanwhile, their loss came last week at home against the Texans. The Titans likely would have beaten the Texans if not for a -5 turnover margin, which is a highly non-predictive metric, but the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league and have lost by double digits in six of their other nine games, a margin that the Titans likely would have had trouble reaching even if they played turnover neutral football. All in all, the Titans have averaged just 4.55 yards per play in their past three games without Henry, down from 5.49 yards per play in their first eight games of the season with Henry. This week, the Titans will also be without top wide receiver AJ Brown, after already being without fellow talented starting wide receiver Julio Jones, leaving them basically devoid of proven playmakers around Ryan Tannehill on offense.

Despite having a 8-3 record, the Titans shouldn’t be considered more than an average team in their current state, while the Patriots are one of the top few teams in the league. Given that, not only is this 7-point spread justified, but my calculated line has the Patriots favored by nine points. There isn’t quite enough here for this game to be bettable, but I have no problem laying this many points in this matchup for pick ‘em purposes and if this line drops below a touchdown, I may consider placing a bet.

New England Patriots 23 Tennessee Titans 14

Pick against the spread: New England -7

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

These two teams had very different weeks last week, with the Patriots beating the Browns by 38 and the Falcons losing to the Cowboys by 40. Typically, a team who gets blown out fares better the following week against the spread than a team that wins by a wide margin, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed after a blowout loss and, as a result, cover the spread at a 58.1% rate. However, I am not sure that fully applies here with the Falcons as, while they could easily be overlooked by the Patriots and they could play a much more focused game after being embarrassed, they also aren’t undervalued by the oddsmakers.

This spread has shifted up to a full touchdown from the four points the Patriots were favored by on the early line last week and normally I like to fade a significant line movement like that, as it tends to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but, in this case, I think the line is still too low, as the line was too low to begin with and a significant shift was justified after the results of last week’s games. The Patriots’ win was even more impressive than most realize because, like the Patriots, the Browns are legitimately a few plays away from having 2-3 more wins and, coming into last week’s game, the Browns were one of just two teams in the league to rank in the top-10 in first down rate, yards per play, first down rate allowed, and yards per play allowed. 

Meanwhile, the Falcons’ loss was even more concerning than most realize because the Falcons have faced a very easy schedule overall this season and now have been blown out by two of the three teams they have faced with a winning record, with the exception being a win over the Saints, who are starting a backup quarterback. Aside from their win over the Saints, the Falcons’ wins have come against teams who are a combined 8-20 on the season, with none possessing a record better than 3-6.

Six of the Falcons’ nine results this season would have covered this seven point spread, but the Patriots are much more in line with the three teams who beat the Falcons by multiple scores (Eagles, Buccaneers, and Cowboys) than the teams the Falcons have played closely or beaten (Saints, Washington, Panthers, Jets, Giants, and Dolphins). Their loss to the Buccaneers could have been closer had it not been for two pick sixes, but they also lost the first down rate battle by 7.11% in that game. Overall, the Falcons rank 27th, 22nd, and 32nd in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, while the Patriots rank 13th, 6th, and 8th. 

Despite their records being somewhat similar, this is a matchup between a team in the top quarter of the league and a team in the bottom and my calculated line has the Patriots favored by 10 in this game, so even with the significant line movement up to seven, we are still getting value with the Patriots. It’s not quite enough line value to bet the Patriots, who could still be in a bad spot against a team who was just blown out and, as a result, could bounce back with one of their best efforts of the season, but if this line moves down to 6.5 before gametime or if Falcons feature back Cordarrelle Patterson, currently a game-time decision, is ruled out, I would recommend betting the Patriots. I will have an update if either of those things happen.

Update: This line has dropped to 6.5 across the board despite it looking unlikely that Cordarrelle Patterson will play. I am going to lock this in now because it could go back up after Patterson is ruled out and even if he plays I like New England enough to bet them.

New England Patriots 27 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: New England -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (5-4) at New England Patriots (5-4)

I wish these two teams weren’t playing each other this week, because both are underrated. Both have records of just 5-4, but could easily have several more wins each. Of the Browns’ four losses, three came by one score, including a pair where they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle, and their only multi-score loss came against the Cardinals in a game in which Baker Mayfield got hurt. Mayfield is not the only Browns player to miss time or be limited with injury and they still are missing some key personnel, but, despite that, the Browns rank 9th, 5th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, as they have won the first down rate battle convincingly in all five of their wins, including a trio of double digit victories.

The Patriots, meanwhile, have faced an easy schedule overall, but three of their four losses have come by 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime, including a pair of losses to the Cowboys and Buccaneers, who are among the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, three of their five wins have come by more than one score, with the exceptions being a game in which they were without four of their five starters on the offensive line against the Texans and a game in which the Chargers, a 5-3 team, needed a late touchdown in garbage time to cut the final margin of victory to one score. The Patriots aren’t fully healthy either, but they are in much better shape on the offensive line now and are clearly better than their 5-4 record.

However, I do feel that, while the Patriots’ are more commonly known to be better than their record, it’s not as well known that the Browns are better than their record and, as a result, they are a more underrated team. This line, favoring the Patriots by 2.5 points at home, suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Browns a couple points better in my roster rankings and I have this line calculated at even, giving us some line value with the Browns +2.5. 

On top of that, the Patriots are in a bad spot, having to turn around and play another game in four days in Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 41.6% rate all-time before a short week when their opponent is not going into a short week and, while the Patriots are only small favorites this week and do only face the Falcons, that game could still serve as a distraction. I would need a full field goal to bet the Browns against the spread, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes even at +2.5 and they are worth a bet on the money line, as they should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game.

Cleveland Browns 24 New England Patriots 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-4)

This is a game with a lot of injury uncertainty. The big question mark is Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been out since the Panthers’ week 3 game, a stretch in which the Panthers offense has struggled mightily without him. The Panthers 3-0 start was in large part due to an easy schedule, but there is no denying how much injuries have hurt this team as they have fallen from 3-0 to 4-4 and McCaffrey’s injury was the biggest one. The Panthers’ defense, which had its own injury issues earlier in the season, is in much better shape now with Stephon Gilmore and Shaq Thompson both healthy, so, if McCaffrey can play, the Panthers should be in much better shape on both sides of the ball than they were a couple weeks ago. 

I say “should” because, in addition to it being unknown how close to 100% McCaffrey would be if he played, the Panthers also have uncertainty at quarterback, with Sam Darnold dealing with both a concussion and a shoulder injury. Darnold has not played well this season, but the Panthers would be in even worse shape at quarterback if he played at less than 100% or if they had to turn to backup PJ Walker, who has struggled when called upon in limited action in his career. The Panthers also could get punter Joseph Charlton back this week, which would be a huge upgrade for their special teams, but also adds more injury uncertainty to this game.

The Patriots have been listed as 4-point road favorites, with the oddsmakers posting a line despite the uncertainty. The Patriots are just 4-4, but they could easily have anywhere from 5-7 wins right, as three of their losses came by 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime, meaning they were just -3 in point differential at the end of regulation across those three losses. Two of their wins are one-score wins, but one took a garbage time touchdown by the Chargers to make it a one-score game, while the other came in a game in which they were missing four of their five offensive line starters. 

The Patriots’ offensive line is healthy now and this is a much better team than their record suggests, ranking 11th in schedule adjusted mixed team efficiency, despite their offensive line injuries, while the Panthers have ranked 26th, albeit while dealing with injuries of their own. The Patriots won’t be an appealing bet at -4 if McCaffrey, Darnold, and Charlton all play at something close to 100%, but I don’t foresee that happening, so it’s very likely I will end up putting a bet on New England. I am leaving the Patriots as a low confidence pick for now because of the uncertainty, but I’ll probably have an update before gametime, likely on Saturday after the injured reserve activation deadline. 

Update: Both McCaffrey and Darnold seem likely to play, although there is no way to know how effective either will be. It’s enough for me to leave this as a low confidence pick though, particularly the McCaffrey news, as he’s probably their most important offensive player.

New England Patriots 20 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against the spread: New England -4

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (3-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)

The Patriots are just 3-4 with their three wins coming against the worst teams in the league in the Texans and the Jets (twice), but they’ve been very close to picking up a couple other wins, with three of their four losses coming by a final score of 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime. They lost to the Saints by 15, but across their other three losses they were losing by a combined 3 points at the end of regulation, including near wins over a pair of top level teams in the Cowboys and Buccaneers. Meanwhile, their three wins have come by a combined 63 points, with their win over the Texans only being close because the Patriots were missing almost all of their offensive line in that game. 

If the Patriots’ offensive line had been healthy in that game and had a couple things broken differently in their losses, the Patriots could easily be 5-2 or 6-1 right now with several blowout wins and some close wins against tougher opponents. Obviously none of that matters in the standings, but from a handicapping standpoint it’s not hard to see how this team could be significantly better than their record, especially now with their offensive line healthy again.

The Chargers are 4-2, but they are kind of in an opposite situation, as just one of their wins has come by more than one score, a trend that actually dates back to last season, when their only multi-score wins came against the 1-win Jaguars and the Chiefs backups in a meaningless week 17 game. In fact, just 4 of the Chargers’ 11 wins over the past two seasons have come by more than 5 points, which is very relevant considering this line is at 5. 

Those wins have also come against those aforementioned Jaguars and Chiefs, as well as the 2-win Jets and a win over the Chiefs earlier this season by 6, in which they won the turnover battle by 4, which is not something they can count on every week. In two seasons, they have beaten just one quality team by more than 5 points and even that win could have been a loss if not for a takeaway or two. The Chargers are also somewhat going in the opposite direction injury wise from the Patriots, particularly on the offensive line, which is now down a pair of week one starters.

At the very least, these two teams should be considered about equal, as both teams are legitimately a couple plays away from having very different resumes, but my roster rankings have the Patriots actually as 2 points better with these two teams in their current situation injury wise. Add in the fact that the Chargers have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, where they usually play in front of road crowds, (13-19 ATS at home since moving, as opposed to 20-13 ATS on the road) and you could make an argument for the Patriots being favored by a point or two in this matchup, or at least being even. Given that, we are getting a ton of value with the Patriots at +5. Even if they do lose, it should be a close game, so I’m very confident in New England at that number.

New England Patriots 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +180

Pick against the spread: New England +5

Confidence: Pick of the Week