Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) at Denver Broncos (5-10)

The Raiders lost last week in crushing fashion, kicking what they thought was the game winning field goal with 19 seconds left in the game, only to allow the Dolphins to go 49 yards in one play with no timeouts left to get into position to kick their own game winning field goal, ending the Raiders’ faint playoff chances and effectively their season. Despite that loss, the Raiders have gone from being underdogs of 2.5 points on the early line last week to being 2.5 point favorites this week. That might be confusing at first glance, but when you look at how the Raiders played last week, it’s more understandable. 

Despite losing the game, the Raiders actually won the first down rate battle by 8.25%. They lost the game because they committed the game’s only turnover and because they went a ridiculous 0 for 10 on 3rd down and 1 of 2 on 4th down. Despite their futility on 3rd and 4th downs, the Raiders still managed 23 first downs in the game, meaning they picked up 22 first downs on first or second down. That’s very encouraging to see because performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. That they moved the ball as effectively as they did on first and second down and still lost makes that loss all the more crushing, but it helps their projection going forward, as they go into the final game of their season, so it’s understandable that this line would move. 

Five points of line movement (from +2.5 to -2.5) seems like a lot, but neither line crosses the key number of 3, so it’s not overly impactful line movement. In addition to how the Raiders played last week, the Broncos also lost their top defensive lineman Shelby Harris to injury, which is a big blow to an already injury plagued Broncos defense. The Broncos are very reliant on their defense, which ranks 8th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.20%, to cover for an offense that ranks just 31st in first down rate over expected at -3.86% and if their defense can’t perform up to their usual level because of injury absences, the Broncos would have a tough time beating most teams, so it’s understandable they’re no longer favored in this game.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, despite how they played last week, they’re still well below average in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 23rd at -1.53%. The Raiders’ 7-8 record isn’t bad, but 6 of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, while 4 of their 8 losses have come by 16 points or more, giving them a -45 point differential. Their one win by more than 10 points came against these Broncos in week 10, but that was a game in which the Broncos lost the turnover battle by 5, something that is highly unlikely to happen again this week, given the inconsistent nature of turnover margins. The Raiders only won the first down rate battle by 2.31% in that game, despite the final score being 37-12. I have the Raiders calculated as 1-point favorites in this rematch in Denver, so we’re getting slight line value with the Broncos at +2.5, but not nearly enough to take them with any confidence.

Las Vegas Raiders 26 Denver Broncos 24

Pick against the spread: Denver +2.5

Confidence: None

Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

Both of these teams have not been as good as their record suggests. The Raiders are 7-7, but 6 of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, with the exception being a game in which the Raiders won the turnover battle by 5, which is highly unsustainable, while 4 of their 7 losses have come by at least 16 points. Overall, they have a point differential of -44 that is most comparable to the 4-10 Panthers and the 4-9-1 Eagles. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank just 27th at -2.77%. 

The Raiders’ problems are concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.62%, which is a good thing because defenses tend to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offenses, so the Raiders’ past defensive struggles don’t guarantee another poor performance from their defense in this game, but the Raiders are also very banged up on that side of the ball, missing key players like linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, safety Jeff Heath, among other less important players, which makes it a lot more likely that they’ll continue to struggle defensively. Their offense hasn’t been anything to write home about either, ranking 12th in first down rate over expected at +0.85. Missing the players they are missing, I have the Raiders 25th in my roster rankings.

The Dolphins have more big wins than the Raiders, with 7 of 9 wins coming by 10 points or more, but they’ve faced a very easy schedule and have had some unsustainable things work in their favor. Four of their nine wins have come against the three worst teams in the league, the Jets (twice), the Jaguars, and the Bengals and just two of their wins have come against teams with a .500 or better record, a 3-point victory over the 8-6 Cardinals and a win over the 9-5 Rams in which the Dolphins managed just 8 first downs and 145 yards of offense and primarily won because they had return touchdowns of 78 yards and 88 yards, which certainly is not sustainable every week. 

Beyond those two return touchdowns, the Dolphins rank 2nd in opponent’s field goal conversion rate at 68.42%, 7th in fumble recovery rate at 55.88%, and 3rd in turnover margin at +10. Recovering fumbles and opponents missing field goals are not replicable skills, while turnover margin is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis as well. Teams with a turnover margin of +10 or more in week 15 or later, on average, have a +0.64 turnover margin over the final 3 games of the season, leading to them covering the spread at just a 46.2% rate in those games. Overall, the Dolphins rank 12th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.85%, which isn’t bad, but it’s less impressive than their record and my roster rankings suggest that they’ve overachieved to get to that point, with the Dolphins ranking 19th.

With both teams being a little overrated, I have no desire to bet on either of them, especially with this line being Miami -3, which is exactly where I calculated it. Neither team is in a particularly good or bad spot either or have any clear matchup edges. I’m taking the Dolphins purely because favorites tend to cover at a slightly higher than 50% rate late in the season, unless they’re in a bad spot, but this is a no confidence pick and the most likely result might be a push.

Miami Dolphins 23 Las Vegas Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Miami -3

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)

The Raiders are 7-6 and still in the playoff race in the AFC, but they haven’t played like a playoff team overall. Six of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, with the exception being a game in which the Raiders won the turnover battle by 5, which is highly unsustainable, while 4 of their 6 losses have come by at least 16 points and they have a point differential of -41 that is most comparable to the 4-9 Panthers and the 4-8-1 Eagles. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank just 27th at -2.51%. 

The Raiders’ problems are concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.13%, which is a good thing because defenses tend to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offenses, so the Raiders’ past defensive struggles don’t guarantee another poor performance from their defense in this game, but the Raiders are also very banged up on that side of the ball, missing four starters, including a pair of key starters in Damon Arnette and Clelin Ferrell, which makes it a lot more likely that they’ll continue to struggle defensively, and their offense hasn’t been anything to write home about either, ranking just 16th in first down rate over expected at +0.62%. 

Earlier in the season, I would have probably bet the Chargers in this game, as 3-point underdogs on the road in what basically amounts to a neutral site game. The Chargers started the season just 2-6, but all six of their losses came by 7 points or fewer, including blown leads over teams like the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Saints, and these Raiders. Since then, they’ve lost games by 8 points, 10 points, and 45 points and, while they’ve also won a couple games, those wins have come by just 6 points over the Jets and 3 points over the Falcons. In total, all four of their wins have come against opponents with records of 4-9 or worse by 10 points or fewer.

In some ways, the Chargers’ decline was not unexpected, as their defense was primarily what was keeping those tough games close, while their offense struggled to consistently string together drives, relying primarily on deep passes to score points. Not only is that an unsustainable way to score points consistently, but defensive play also tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, so their defense regressing towards the mean isn’t surprising, especially since they are missing key players from earlier this season, with slot cornerback Desmond King being traded and defensive end Melvin Ingram and linebacker Denzel Perryman both out with injuries. 

The Chargers are still about even with the Raiders in my roster rankings, but that has more to do with the Raiders being generally overrated and being currently banged up on the defensive side of the ball than anything positive about the Chargers. My calculated line has the Raiders favored by just 1-point, so we’re getting line value with the Chargers as full field goal underdogs, but I would need this line to climb to 3.5 for it to be worth betting on. If it does, I will have an update before gametime, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick at +3.

Update: +3.5s have popped up before gametime. I am not sure if that has to do with Chargers wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both being questionable and potentially limited in this game, but both are active, while the Raiders will be down a 5th defensive starter with cornerback Nevin Lawson out. My calculated line is actually closer to even than -1 and I’m going to flip this pick to the Chargers straight up and place a small bet on both the spread at +3.5 and the money line at +155. The Raiders defense is arguably the worst in the league and their offense isn’t good enough to justify them being favored by more than a field goal over a competent opponent.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Las Vegas Raiders 30 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-5)

The Colts only have a one game edge in the standings, but record is not always indicative of how a team has played and the Colts have been the clearly better of these two teams this season, with clear edges in point differential (+55 vs. -24) and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.45% vs. -2.37%). The Colts also hold about a 5-point edge in my roster rankings and are relatively healthy aside from left tackle Anthony Castonzo being questionable to return from a one-game absence, while the Raiders are missing their top-2 defensive backs Damon Arnette and Jeff Heath. 

Despite that, the Colts are favored by just 2.5 points in Las Vegas, where the Raiders won’t have any fans. My calculated line is Indianapolis -4.5 and, while those two points might not seem like a big deal, about 1 in 5 games are decided by 3-4 points exactly. I like the Colts a lot this week because they are the significantly better team and essentially just need to win in what isn’t much more than a neutral site game to cover this 2.5-point spread. This is a smaller bet for now, but I will increase this if there is good news on Castonzo. 

Update: Not only is Castonzo active, but, while Josh Jacobs is active for the Raiders, he’s apparently not going to be playing. Get -2.5 while you can. 

Indianapolis Colts 27 Las Vegas Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: High

Las Vegas Raiders at New York Jets: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (6-5) at New York Jets (0-11)

This is a tough one. On one hand, the Raiders should be in a good spot. They were blown out in Atlanta last week, but a lot of that can probably be blamed on hangover effort from their close loss to the Chiefs and teams typically bounce back after blowout losses, going 63-38 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 or more points, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after getting blown out. The Jets, meanwhile, have another tough game on deck in Seattle and underdogs of 7+ are 38-62 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs of 7+ again, with the Jets definitely will be next week. 

On the other hand, I think this line is a little high at 8. The Jets are healthy at quarterback, in the receiving corps, and on the offensive line for the first time really all season and now actually rank ahead of the banged up Bengals and Jaguars in my roster rankings, despite not winning a game all season. Meanwhile, the Raiders haven’t been great overall this season, with a negative point differential at -27 and a negative first down rate differential at -1.32% (23rd in the NFL) and now are without their top offensive player running back Josh Jacobs. 

The Jets are obviously winless, but betting on winless teams this late in the season actually tends to be a smart idea. Books know they can boost the line on winless teams, so teams that are 0-8 or worse cover at a 58.1% rate all-time, even if that may be counterintuitive. That appears to be the case in this one, as I have this line calculated at New York -6.5. This line crosses the touchdown to 8, which is significant because about 10% of games are decided by exactly a touchdown, so we’re getting decent line value with the Jets. It’s hard to take them with any confidence though, given their coaching situation and that the Raiders are in a better situational spot. I’m taking the Jets against the spread, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks this week.

Las Vegas Raiders 27 New York Jets 20

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +8

Confidence: None

Las Vegas Raiders at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (3-7)

The Raiders are the only team to beat the Chiefs this season and they nearly beat them a second time last week and, even with that loss, they are still 6-4, but I’m still not that impressed with them. They seem to match up well with the Chiefs, but overall, they have just a +10 point differential and, while they’ve faced a tough schedule, they rank just 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.34%, as they have benefitted from an unsustainably high 51.61% third conversion rate on offense. That lines up with my roster rankings, which have them right at average as the 17th ranked roster in the league. 

The Raiders’ near win in Kansas City last week and the Falcons loss in New Orleans to backup quarterback Taysom Hill and the Saints has pushed this line from even on the early line last week to a full field goal this week, a significant swing given that 1 in 4 games are decided by three points or less. That’s an overreaction because the Raiders’ close game with the Chiefs was more about the Raiders matching up well with the Chiefs, while the Saints still rank 6th in my roster rankings despite losing Brees, so the Falcons’ loss in New Orleans isn’t as bad as it seems. 

The Falcons are just 3-7, but they could easily be 5-5 or even 6-4 if not for blowing three nearly impossible to blow leads. They haven’t faced a tough schedule outside of last week’s game against the Saints, but they aren’t far behind the Raiders in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.40% and, in my roster rankings, they’re actually slightly better than the Raiders, suggesting they’ve underachieved their talent level this season. 

The Falcons being higher in my roster rankings is even taking into account that Falcons #1 wide receiver Julio Jones is questionable and seemingly a true gametime decision after practicing very little this week due to a hamstring injury. Jones’ status obviously will have a big effect on this game, but, even without him, the Falcons are a decent value for pick ‘em purposes and, if Jones plays and this line stays at a field goal, I’ll likely end up betting on the Falcons. I’ll have an update before gametime if that is the case.

Update: Jones is out for the Falcons, but they will have tight end Hayden Hurst and edge defender Dante Fowler healthy, which was in question, while the Raiders will be without questionable defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who is a valuable part of the Raiders’ defensive front even if he doesn’t have big sack numbers. Meanwhile, this line has shifted to 3.5 in some places. My calculated line is just Las Vegas -1, so that’s pretty decent line value. The Falcons have struggled to move the ball without Julio Jones this season, but they still have a mismatch with the Raiders secondary and should be able to move the ball pretty well. I like getting more than a field goal in a game that should be a close shootout. 

Las Vegas Raiders 31 Atlanta Falcons 30

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-3)

Typically the rule of thumb with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs over the past few seasons has been to pick them unless there is a good reason not to, as they are 28-16-2 ATS with Mahomes under center since his first season as a starter in 2018. You might think that’s just because Mahomes caught everyone off guard in his first season and that oddsmakers have sufficiently compensated in recent years for how good Mahomes is, but Mahomes is actually 18-8 ATS winning his MVP at the end of the 2018 season, as he’s had a much better defense supporting him over the past two seasons

This line is decently high, favoring the Chiefs by 7 points over the Raiders, but that’s not good enough reason to go against the Chiefs, as the Raiders have only been a middling team this season, only slightly above average in point differential (+14) and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.20%), and are still not fully healthy, missing a pair of starting offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown, as well as talented defensive end Clelin Ferrell and every down starting linebacker Cory Littleton.

On top of that, the Chiefs are in a great spot, coming off an extra week of rest, facing a team that they will be desperate to get their revenge against, after the Raiders shockingly handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season back when these two teams met in week 5, which may have simultaneously been the Chiefs’ worst performance of the season and the Raiders’ best performance. I would expect a better effort by Kansas City by default this time around, but Andy Reid is 21-9 ATS all-time in season with extended rest and big road favorites typically cover after a bye in general, going 52-26 ATS since 1989 as road favorites of 4 points or more. I would need this line to drop to 6.5 for this to be a bigger play, but the Chiefs should take care of business in this one, so they’re worth a bet even at 7.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)

The Raiders won last week to improve to 5-3, but they have a negative point differential on the season at -11 and are even worse in first down rate differential at -1.59%. The Raiders have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, but even when you include schedule adjustment, the Raiders are still a middling team, ranking 19th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.17%. 

Making matters even worse, the Raiders are extremely banged up, missing left tackle Kolton Miller, right tackle Trent Brown, left guard Richie Incognito, possibly right guard Gabe Jackson, and also top defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, leaving them in rough shape in both trenches. When their absences are factored in, they rank just 24th in my roster rankings, one spot behind their opponents this week, the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos’ defense didn’t perform well last week in Atlanta, but they were missing a significant amount of players on that side of the ball and still rank 6th on the season in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.47%. The Broncos are still without some key players on defense this week, but they’ll get back top outside cornerback AJ Bouye and top slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, while their offense will also get a key re-addition, with talented starting guard Graham Glasgow returning from a two-game absence. The Broncos might not be quite as good defensively going forward, but they can make it for it with improved offensive play and we’re getting good line value with them as 3.5 point underdogs against a similar caliber team playing in a home stadium without fans.

On top of the line value we’re getting with the Broncos, this is also a potential look ahead spot for the Raiders, with a home game against the Chiefs on deck. Teams are 39-67 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 6 or more and that will almost definitely be the case for the Raiders. The Broncos could easily come in and pull the upset against a Raiders team that is banged up and potentially giving less than 100% effort and even if the Broncos don’t pull the upset, I like their chances of keeping it close.

Las Vegas Raiders 17 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (4-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)

The Raiders have a couple more wins than the Chargers, but the Chargers have the edge in most of the key season-long stats, including point differential (-6 vs. -16), DVOA (-4.1% vs. -12.3%) and first down rate differential (+1.92% vs. -1.58%). The Raiders have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, but the Chargers’ schedule hasn’t been much easier and they have managed to keep all of their losses within a touchdown, something they did frequently last year as well, when 9 of their 11 losses came by a touchdown or less. On top of that, the Chargers have led, in some cases by significant amounts, in most of their losses and rank 11th in the league in average lead. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Chargers rank 6th at +2.08%, still significantly above the Raiders in 22nd at -0.38%.

The bad news for the Chargers is that they’ve been very reliant on their 6th ranked defense in first down rate allowed over expected (their offense ranks just 26th in first down rate allowed over expected) and defenses tend to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offenses, where the Raiders have the edge with a 17th ranked offense in terms of first down rate over expected. Making matters worse for the Chargers, their defense will be without it’s best player this week in Joey Bosa, who is out with a concussion, and they could also be without top outside cornerback Casey Hayward, after already trading away top slot cornerback Desmond King to the Titans this week.

It’s not all bad news on the injury front for the Chargers, as the injuries aren’t anything new for them and key players like defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games missed), defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games missed), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games missed), wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game missed), and possibly right guard Trai Turner (6 games missed) are set to play this week after missing time earlier in the season. Meanwhile, the Raiders remain without a pair of starting offensive linemen in left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown and could be missing a third with left tackle Kolton Miller questionable, while their defense will be without one of it’s top players in defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. 

I still have the Chargers as the better team in my roster rankings, but only by a half point. With fans still not allowed in the Chargers’ home stadium, we’re not getting much line value with them on an even line against the Raiders, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes. Depending on the status of Trai Turner, Casey Hayward, and Kolton Miller for this game, I may issue an update before gametime, but I don’t expect to be betting on either side regardless.

Los Angeles Chargers 26 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers PK

Confidence: None

Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (5-2)

Last week when looking at the early lines for week 8, I had the Raiders +3.5 at Cleveland circled. The Raiders are just 3-3, but they have had probably the toughest schedule in the league thus far. The easiest opponents they’ve faced are the Panthers and Patriots, which were both road games, and they’ve pulled out upset victories over the Saints and Chiefs. The Browns, who rank 24th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.20% and 14th in my roster rankings, aren’t much better than the easiest teams the Raiders have faced, so the Raiders had a good chance to come in and pull the straight up upset, especially if they were to get back left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown, who have been limited to 74 snaps and 73 snaps respectively this season.

Unfortunately, a couple things have changed in the past week to make the Raiders a less favorable bet. For one, Incognito remains out and Brown is apparently truly questionable for this game, so the Raiders still aren’t going to be full strength upfront. On top of that, this line has shifted from 3.5 to 2.5, a big swing, considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. That happened despite the Raiders losing by 25 points at home, though I don’t really hold that against the Raiders either, against a Buccaneers team that is arguably the best in the league.

The line movement in the Raiders’ favor isn’t warranted though and is almost definitely due to the Browns losing wide receiver Odell Beckham to injury, which I don’t think will be as big of a deal as most think. Wide receiver isn’t as important of a position as the general public thinks and Beckham has been more of a 1b than a true #1 since arriving in Cleveland. In fact, Baker Mayfield’s stats in his career with and without Beckham suggests he’s been a better quarterback without Beckham in the lineup. 

I don’t necessarily buy that the Browns are better without Beckham, but it’s worth noting that Baker has thrown about 20% of his passes to Beckham over the past two seasons and 28% of his interceptions, likely due to his tendency to force the ball into coverage for his star wide receiver. I don’t think Beckham will be missed much. Given that this line is 2.5 now, I actually like the Browns this week, although only slightly and if Brown is able to play for the Raiders, I would probably flip this pick to the Raiders. That’s how close it is.

Cleveland Browns 34 Las Vegas Raiders 31

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -2.5

Confidence: None