Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (11-3)

The Bills are 8-6 and right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the AFC, which would send them to the post-season for the first time since 1999 and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. However, they face a bit of an uphill battle, as their final two games are on the road and they probably need to win at least one of those games to remain in the playoff pictures, with the 8-6 Titans, the 8-6 Ravens, and the 7-7 Chargers also in the mix for those two wild card spots. On top of that, they haven’t been as good as their record suggests, as they have just one win by more than 10 points, as opposed to 4 losses, and have a mediocre point differential of -43. That’s despite having +7 turnover margin, tied for 5th best in the NFL.

Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily be able to rely on that going forward, and they rank just 31st in first down rate differential at -5.30%. They are also the only team in the league with a turnover margin of +6 and a negative point differential. They are obviously a better team with Tyrod Taylor under center, instead of Nathan Peterman, but even with Taylor under center they’ve had major problems moving the ball because of their lack of pass catchers. On top of that, their defense has had major problems getting off the field without forcing turnovers.

Their opponents this week, the New England Patriots, beat them 23-3 in Buffalo a few weeks back. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.36% and have been even better in recent weeks since working through some early season kinks on defense. The Patriots are also in a great spot, as they have no upcoming distractions with only a home game against the Jets on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 70-43 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, as good teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. The Patriots have not been as good of a bet at home as they have been on the road in recent seasons and we’re not getting much line value at New England -11.5 (I have this line calculated at 12.5), so I would not recommend betting on this one, but the Patriots should be the right side for pick’em purposes.

Sunday update: Buffalo ruled out starting cornerback EJ Gaines, but this line still fell to 11 Sunday morning. I was on the fence about betting this game before, but I think it’s worth a small wager now. Gaines has been having a solid season and their pass defense has been worse when he’s been out of the lineup, something that’s going to be a big problem against Tom Brady.

New England Patriots 31 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: New England -11

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)

This is the biggest regular season game of the year in the AFC, and possibly in the entire NFL. These two teams are the only real contenders for the #1 seed in the AFC and the winner of this game effectively gains two games in the standings because they’d own the tiebreaker. If the Steelers win, they move up 2 games in the standings over the Patriots with 2 games left to go and they would own the tiebreaker, eliminating the Patriots from contention for the #1 seed and, depending on what happens with the Jaguars earlier in the day, possibly clinching the #1 seed for themselves. The Patriots, meanwhile, would move into a tie with the Steelers with a win and they’d own the tiebreaker, meaning they’d clinch the #1 seed if they won their remaining two games, which are easy home divisional games against the Bills and Jets.

Both teams had disappointing performances last week in primetime games, as they were understandably a little flat with this game on deck. The Steelers needed a late comeback to win at home over the Ravens by 1, while the Patriots couldn’t quite mount a comeback in an eventual 27-20 loss in Miami to the Dolphins. That comeback by the Steelers is the difference in the standings between these two teams right now, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot, considering both teams still control their own path to the #1 seed. This game will more than likely decide who gets homefield advantage throughout the AFC and homefield advantage in what could easily be a rematch of this game in the AFC Championship game.

Despite the fact that the Steelers currently lead in the standings, I trust the Patriots to bounce back off of last week’s disappointing performance a lot more. Part of that is because they get tight end Rob Gronkowski back from suspension, but it is primarily because bouncing back is what they’ve typically done in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They are 46-24 ATS off of a loss since Belichick took over in 2000, including 37-18 ATS in games started by Tom Brady. They’ve also only lost back-to-back games 5 times in the last 8 seasons.

They’ve typically done well in big games against tough opponents too. With Tom Brady at quarterback, they are a ridiculous 33-12 (35-10 ATS) in games against teams who have a better record than them. That’s a winning percentage of 74.4%, while the league average in that situation is 38.2%. Those aren’t just a bunch of early season games against teams with fluky records either, as they are 14-6 (16-4 ATS) in those type of games in week 10 or later. The Patriots are also close to an auto-bet in games where they basically just need to win to cover, as they’ve gone 48-21 ATS in Tom Brady’s starts as underdogs or favorites of less than 3, including a ridiculous 20-2 ATS off of a loss.

On top of that, the Patriots also happen to be the better team, despite Pittsburgh having the better record at 11-2. The Steelers have had a lot of close calls on the road to 11-2. In fact, their last 3 wins have come by a combined 8 points, even though they were big favorites in all 3 games (at home vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati, at home vs. Baltimore). On the season, they are 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer and they rank just 9th in point differential at +69. They could easily be 8-5 or 9-4 right now and they’re even worse than that suggests because they are without key linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season with a spine injury.

It’s no surprise that their defense played by far their worst game of the season in their first game without him last week when they allowed 38 points at home to the Ravens. They also struggled without him after he got hurt the week before against the Bengals. They may get top cornerback Joe Haden back from a 4-game absence with a leg fracture, which would be a big boost to this secondary, but that’s far from a guarantee and he may not be at 100% even if he does play.

The Patriots are a clear step up offensively from those the Bengals and the Ravens and have torched the Steelers over the years. Tom Brady is 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh and not much has changed scheme wise defensively for the Steelers over the years so I would expect more of the same, especially with Shazier out. The Patriots should easily win this one by a field goal or more, so this is my Pick of the Week. I locked this in at -2.5 earlier in the week, but I still would like the Patriots a lot at -3.

New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-2) at Miami Dolphins (5-7)

The Patriots have been on a great run in recent weeks, winning 8 straight wins, including 4 straight by 17+ points since their week 9 bye. Over those last 4 wins (Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, Bills), they have a 22 point per game margin of victory. They seem to be rounding into the Super Bowl favorite most expected them to be before the start of the season, even despite some injuries. Their defense is much improved, led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, while their offense has remained unstoppable.

The Patriots are also on an impressive 15-game winning streak away from New England. They’ve covered the spread in 12 of those games and have an average margin of victory of 13.67 points per game. The Patriots have a national fanbase like the Cowboys, so it makes sense that they are able to have success regardless of where they play. In fact, it’s possible there will be more Patriots fans than Dolphins fans at this game. That being said, I can’t recommend betting on them this week. They are 11.5 point road favorites, which is a big number to cover without suspended tight end Rob Gronkowski, even against a weak opponent like the Dolphins. For pick ‘em purposes, however, the Patriots are the smarter choice, as it’s usually a good idea to pick Tom Brady unless you have a good reason not to.

New England Patriots 26 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: New England -11.5

Confidence: None

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-2) at Buffalo Bills (6-5)

The Bills pulled the upset in Kansas City last week, but the Chiefs have long been overrated and have lost 5 of 6, so that upset isn’t as impressive as it might seem. The Bills are undoubtedly a better team with Tyrod Taylor back under center, but they lost by a combined 50 points to the Jets and Saints in Taylor’s two starts prior to his start in Kansas City. The Bills started the season 5-2 with Taylor under center before that, but that was largely because of a +14 turnover margin. In the 4 games since, they are -8 in turnover margin.

Part of that is because of Nathan Peterman’s 5-interception half against the Chargers, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Bills were always likely to regress to the mean in turnover margin. They’ve struggled to win the first down battle regardless of who is under center, as they rank 30th in first down rate differential at -6.48%. Taylor is a capable starting quarterback, but he isn’t working with much in the receiving corps, especially with Kelvin Benjamin out, and their defense has problems getting off the field if they aren’t forcing turnovers.

The New England Patriots come to town on a 7-game winning streak and, even more impressively, a 14-game winning streak away from New England. They’ve won those 14 games by an average of 13.21 points and covered the spread in 11 of them. The Patriots have fans throughout the country, much like the Cowboys, so it makes sense that they’d do well even away from home. They’re also in a great spot with only a trip to Miami on deck. Big favorites tend to cover before being big favorites again, as favorites of 7+ are 67-42 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again (New England is -11.5 in Miami on the early line). Without any upcoming distractions, the Patriots should take care of business and get another double digit road victory, against a significantly inferior Bills team. This is a high confidence pick as long as the line is below 10.

New England Patriots 34 Buffalo Bills 20

Pick against the spread: New England -9

Confidence: High

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (4-6) at New England Patriots (8-2)

The Patriots are dealing with a number of injuries to starters yet again this week. Right tackle Marcus Cannon, center David Andrews, and wide receiver Chris Hogan remain sidelined with injury for the third straight week, while defensive tackle Malcom Brown could miss his 4th straight game after once again not getting a full practice in all week. Fortunately, they don’t have a tough opponent this week, with the Dolphins coming to town. Despite 4 wins, the Dolphins are one of the worst teams in the league, as they rank 30th in both point differential (-97) and first down rate differential (-5.41%). They’ve been even worse since losing talented right tackle Ja’Wuan James for the season. He was their best offensive lineman and his loss is a huge blow to an otherwise weak offensive line.

The Patriots have been playing well even through injuries in recent weeks too, winning big in Denver against the Broncos and in Mexico City against the Raiders. They’ve been much improved on defense in recent weeks and their offense has remained the best in the league despite missing several starters because of their depth. In stark contrast to the Dolphins, the Patriots are one of the best teams in the NFL. They’re also in a great spot this week with only a trip to Buffalo on deck. Big favorites tend to take care of business before being big favorites again, as favorites of 7+ are 66-42 ATS before being favorites of 7+ again the following week and the Patriots are -10 in Buffalo on the early line. At -16.5, this line is too big to bet on confidently, but the Patriots are the pick for pick ‘em poll purposes. At the very least, I don’t want to bet against Tom Brady right now unless I have a clear reason to.

New England Patriots 34 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: New England -16.5

Confidence: None

New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (7-2) vs. Oakland Raiders (4-5) in Mexico City

The Raiders are technically the home team in this International Series game in Mexico City, but the Patriots might be the one with the slight homefield advantage. The Patriots have won 12 straight games away from Gillette Stadium, with an average margin of victory of 12.83 points per game and a 8-2-2 ATS record in those 12 games. Over the same time period, the Patriots have 4 home losses and have an average point differential of 9.07 points per game in 15 home games. This makes a lot of sense considering how many fans the Patriots have around the country. Even in Denver last week, Patriots fans could be heard in the crowd.

The Patriots have never played in Mexico City, but they have had a lot of success in their first 2 international games, beating the Buccaneers by a score of 35-7 in London in 2009 and beating the Rams by a score of 45-7 in London in 2012. Much like American fans with Europe soccer teams, international NFL fans tend to root for the most successful franchises. That might be why favorites of 4+ are 12-1 ATS all-time in neutral site games. The Raiders have a geographical advantage and they played in Mexico City last year, but there should still be a lot of Patriots fans in attendance. The Patriots also just played in high altitude in Denver last week, so they’ll be used to it in Mexico City.

That being said, we’re getting no line value with the Patriots as 7 point favorites. The Patriots still rank 31st in first down rate allowed and have serious trouble getting off the field without forcing a takeaway. They could allow the Raiders to hang around and get a backdoor cover in a shootout. The Patriots are also banged up offensively, missing starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, starting center David Andrews, and #2 wide receiver Chris Hogan. If this line drops below 7, I may reconsider, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick.

New England Patriots 31 Oakland Raiders 23

Pick against the spread: New England -7

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (6-2) at Denver Broncos (3-5)

This line has the Broncos as 7.5 point home underdogs against the Patriots and I don’t understand it. The Broncos were just 7 point road underdogs in Philadelphia last week and the Eagles are playing significantly better than the Patriots this season. The Broncos lost that game 51-23, but the Eagles were in a great spot heading into a bye and the Broncos likely quit once they got down big early, knowing that they had this game against the Patriots on deck. They should be a lot more focused for this game and they are back at home, where they are 3-1 this season, with wins over the Chargers, Cowboys, and Raiders.

The Broncos’ big loss in Philadelphia last week moved this line from 5.5 on the early line to 7.5, a sizeable shift considering about 15% of games are decided by 6-7 points. I think even 5.5 would be too high as I have this line calculated at New England -3. Even after by far their worst defensive showing of the year last week, the Broncos still rank 5th in first down rate allowed and they still have a top-5 defense on paper. Prior to last week, Denver ranked 1st in the NFL in first down rate allowed. Their offense has major problems led by Brock Osweiler, but the Patriots rank 31st in first down rate allowed and the Broncos might be able to run the ball effectively and hide Osweiler, especially if the game is going to be close.

The one concern with taking the Broncos is that the Patriots are coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3.5 or more points are 40-16 ATS since 1989 after a regular season bye when their opponent is not coming off of a bye. The Patriots don’t come out of the bye healthy though, with defensive tackle Malcom Brown, right tackle Marcus Cannon, and wide receiver Chris Hogan out this week. I’m not sure the Patriots deserve to even be 3.5 point road favorites and I definitely think 7.5 is way too high for this line. Without another strong option this week, this is my Pick of the Week.

New England Patriots 20 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +7.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week