Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans: 2016 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Oakland Raiders (12-4) at Houston Texans (9-7)

The Texans won the AFC South and will host a home playoff game, but they had probably the worst regular season of any team that made the playoffs. Their 9 wins came by a combined 44 points with their biggest margin of victory being 9 points, back in a 23-14 week 1 victory over the Chicago Bears, who ended the season with 3 wins. Their 7 losses, meanwhile, came by a combined 93 points, giving them a -49 point differential, 7th worst in the NFL, right between non-playoff teams Carolina and Jacksonville. They also enter the post-season 7th worst in the NFL in first down rate differential and with a -10 offensive touchdown differential, 5th worst in the league. Their 23 offensive touchdowns scored were the lowest in the league by any team, but they were able to make the playoffs thanks to a weak division and a lot of close wins, as well as a capable, but far from elite defense.

The Texans luck out again though, as they get probably the easiest playoff matchup they could have gotten. The Raiders won 12 games, but enter the playoffs in about as bad of an injury situation as possible. After hardly having any injuries to starters this season, the Raiders are now without starting quarterback Derek Carr and probably Donald Penn, their valuable blindside protector and one of the best left tackles in the league. Those are two major blows to their offense. Connor Cook will make the start for the Raiders this week, even though he’s a 4th round rookie who has never made a start in his career, making him the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first NFL start in the post-season.

Cook played about a half last week against Denver, in relief of Matt McGloin, a veteran backup who struggled before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Cook outplayed McGloin, but only by default. He’s also only seen practice reps the past two weeks because he was the 3rd string quarterback until Carr went down and 3rd string quarterbacks don’t practice during the week. He even admitted after last week’s game that he was calling plays he didn’t know. He’ll get a full week with the first team in practice this week, but he’s still in a very tough situation. McGloin is expected to be active this week as the backup, meaning we could easily see both quarterbacks in this one if Cook struggles early.

Even before the injury, the Raiders were not as good as their record.  Eight of their 12 victories have come by 7 points or fewer, including a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less and they have a point differential of just +31, just behind non-playoff teams in the Eagles and Ravens (both at +36). That’s despite the fact that the Raiders have a league best +16 turnover margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and, if we assumed turnover neutral football for them going forward, which we always should, it was hard to see them advancing deep in the playoffs even with Carr. I’m taking them as 4 point underdogs in Houston because of how many close games the Texans have played this year (4 wins by 4 points or fewer), but the Raiders, without Carr and Penn, are one of the worst teams in the league, so I can’t take them with any sort of confidence, even as bad as Houston is.

Houston Texans 16 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: Oakland +4

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (12-3) at Denver Broncos (8-7)

The Raiders were dealt a huge blow last week when quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg, likely knocking him out for the season, but, despite their record, the Raiders probably would have had trouble advancing deep in the playoffs regardless. Even though they are 12-3, they rank just 17th in first down rate differential and have scored just 3 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents. Eight of their 12 victories have come by 7 points or fewer, including a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less and they have a point differential of just +49, just ahead of non-playoff teams in the Bills (+41) and Ravens (+39). That’s despite the fact that the Raiders have a league best +18 turnover margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and, if we assumed turnover neutral football for them going forward, which we always should, it was hard to see them advancing deep in the playoffs even without Carr.

However, despite losing Carr last week, this line has actually moved in their favor, as the Broncos have gone been being favored by 2 points on the early line last week to being favored by just 1 point this week. I know the Broncos got blown out in Kansas City last week and are far from healthy themselves, missing outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, safety TJ Ward, defensive end Derek Wolfe, and possibly middle linebacker Brandon Marshall, but they still rank 16th in first down rate differential, one spot ahead over the Raiders, so I would have had this line at 3 if both teams were fully healthy.

Both teams are far from it, but I think the Raiders are in a worse position injury wise without Carr, so we should be getting at least 3, if not more points with the Raiders here, instead of just 1. At 1, I think it’s worth a wager on the Broncos, as they’re deep enough defensively to mask some of the holes created by injuries. DeMarcus Ware might not even be a loss for them as youngsters Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray were outplaying him anyway, while Marshall would be returning from a 3-game absence if he plays this week.

Denver Broncos 17 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -1

Confidence: Medium

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Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (7-7) at Oakland Raiders (11-3)

The Raiders are 11-3, but are not nearly as good as their record suggests, as their record is largely the result of a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less and a league best +15 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin. Outside of those 15 plays, the Raiders have been a pretty average team this year and they are legitimately a few snaps away from being 8-6, 7-7, or even 6-8. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 21st in the league.

The Colts, meanwhile, rank 18th in first down rate, so we’re getting some line value with them as 4 point underdogs, even if it’s not a lot. The Colts are also in a much better spot than Oakland, closing out the season with an easy home game against the Jaguars, while the Raiders finish with a tough divisional matchup in Denver, where they are expected to be underdogs. Favorites are 61-97 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. The Raiders could definitely look past the Colts a little bit, while Indianapolis should be completely focused with no distractions on the horizon. I wish we were getting more than 4 points, but there’s enough here to put money on the Colts. If Oakland wins, it’ll probably be another close one.

Oakland Raiders 24 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +4

Confidence: Medium

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Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (5-8)

The Raiders are 10-3, but are not nearly as good as their record suggests, as their record is largely the result of a 7-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and a league best +15 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin. Outside of those 15 plays, the Raiders have been a pretty average team this year and they are legitimately a few snaps away from being 7-6 or 6-7. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 21st in the league.

This game figures to be a lot tougher for the Raiders than people expect, as not only are the Raiders overrated, but the Chargers are underrated and in a great spot. Despite a 5-8 record, the Chargers have a positive point differential at +3, not far behind the Raiders at +38. That’s despite the fact that the Chargers are -5 in turnover margin on the season. They have 18 more first downs and 2 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents on the season and rank 5th in first down rate differential, significantly higher than the Raiders.

The Chargers will be missing starting running back Melvin Gordon in this game, a big loss considering the Chargers are down to 4th string running back Kenneth Farrow, an undrafted rookie, with backups Danny Woodhead and Darren Oliver already out for the season. However, the Raiders will be without top safety Karl Joseph, who has been one of the Raiders’ best defensive players this season and one of the top defensive rookies in the NFL, so it kind of cancels out.

Gordon’s injury certainly doesn’t warrant a line movement all the way from San Diego -1 to Oakland -3 in one week, especially when the Raiders lost in Kansas City last week. The Chargers also have no upcoming distractions with a trip to Cleveland on deck. They will almost definitely be road favorites in Cleveland and home underdogs are 81-44 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less (including 4 of the Raiders’ 10 wins), so I’d put money on San Diego at 3, but I also like the Chargers’ chances of winning straight up.

San Diego Chargers 23 Oakland Raiders 20 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: San Diego +3

Confidence: Medium

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Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (10-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)

Back in week 6, the Chiefs clobbered the Raiders in Oakland, 26-10, easily the Chiefs’ most impressive game of the season. The Chiefs won the first down battle 22 to 16 and won the first down rate battle by a margin of +5.80%. That was easily the best game the Chiefs have played this season though and there’s no guarantee they can play that well again. Despite a 9-3 record, the Chiefs enter this game 27th in first down rate differential and have allowed 34 more first downs than they’ve gained and 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve scored.

They’ve won 9 games because of five wins by a touchdown or less (including 2 in overtime), a +6 margin in return touchdowns, and a + 14 turnover margin. Unfortunately for them, there’s zero week-to-week consistency or correlation in turnover margins (and, as a result, in return touchdown margins). For this reason, I love betting against teams that have strong turnover margins, as they tend to be overrated by traditional metrics. In the past two weeks alone, the Chiefs have scored 25 points on a special teams safety, a safety return touchdown, a pick six, a pick two, and a fake punt touchdown in two games they won by a combined 4 points. A win is a win, but at some point, they’re going to have to start consistently moving the ball better than their opponents to win games.

Fortunately for them, they’re as healthy right now as they’ve been in a while. They’ve gotten their top pass rusher Justin Houston back from off-season surgery and this week will get their top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin back from a 4-game absence with a groin injury. Aside from starting defensive end Jaye Howard, they aren’t missing any key players right now, so they’re healthier than most teams in the league right now. Also fortunately for them, the Raiders are also not as good as their record, as just 3 of their 10 wins have come by more than a touchdown and their turnover margin is +12, 3rd best in the NFL. Despite a 10-2 record, they have just 8 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents and rank 17th in first down rate differential. I have them ranked slightly higher than the Chiefs and I’m taking them for a low confidence pick as 3 point road underdogs, but there’s not enough for me to put money on them because both teams enter this game overrated.

Kansas City Chiefs 17 Oakland Raiders 16

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: Low

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Buffalo Bills at Oakland Raiders: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (9-2)

This line at 3 in favor of the hometown Oakland Raiders seems to be confusing a lot of people, as the public is all over the favorite. That’s understandable, as the Bills are 6-5 and the Raiders are 9-2, but the Raiders have won 7 of their 9 games by a touchdown or less and have just 4 wins in regulation all season by more than a field goal. In fact, they enter this game 18th in first down rate differential, just two spots ahead of the Bills who rank 20th in that metric. With that in mind, I’m actually going to fade the public and take the points here. Not only do I love fading the public, as they always lose money in the long run, I also love betting against favorites that have to play again in a few days on Thursday Night Football, as favorites are 56-83 ATS in that spot since 2008. The Raiders could get caught looking past the Bills with a matchup with division rival Kansas City right around the corner. I wish we were getting more points and I wouldn’t recommend betting any money on it, but the Bills are the pick in pick ‘em leagues.

Oakland Raiders 19 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3

Confidence: None

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Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-6) at Oakland Raiders (8-2)

Along with Denver/Kansas City, this is another game where I’m holding out hope that the line drops to a field goal before gametime. This line is currently 3.5 in favor of the hometown Oakland Raiders, but 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal so that’s a critical half point. The Raiders are a significantly better team, especially with Carolina missing middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and center Ryan Kalil with injury, and they’re in a better spot (they host Buffalo next week, while Carolina has to go to Seattle), but there’s not enough here for me to be confident in the Raiders at 3.5.

Oakland Raiders 23 Carolina Panthers 17

Pick against the spread: Oakland -3.5

Confidence: Low

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