Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

I’ve bet the Chargers frequently this season, as they’ve been on my underrated list all season. They are just 8-7, but they have a point differential of +63 that ranks 10th in the NFL and they have 43 more first downs and 8 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed, giving them a first down rate differential of +5.09%, 5th best in the NFL. However, I’ve always been hesitant to bet them at home (where they are 3-4 ATS this season, as opposed to 6-2 ATS on the road), given that they’ve had a lot of trouble attracting home fans in their first season in Los Angeles. This week is no exception, especially since they are hosting the Raiders, who still have a ton of fans in Los Angeles from when they used to play there in the 80s and 90s.

With that in mind, I really like the Raiders to cover in this one and not just because the crowd will be on their side. The Raiders are also an underrated team that has been better than their 6-9 record, as they rank 13th in first down rate differential at +0.78%, despite Derek Carr missing time with injury early in the season. That’s actually a better first down rate differential than they had last season, when they finished 19th at -0.49%, despite finishing with a 12-4 record.

The big difference between 2016 and 2017 for the Raiders is turnover margin, as they finished tied for first in turnover margin at +16 last season, but rank 4th worst in the league this season at -12. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and year-to-year basis, so I don’t hold that against them too much (case in point, the 2016 and 2017 Raiders). Just like they weren’t as good as their record suggested last season, they aren’t as bad as their record suggests this season. We’re getting good value with them as 7.5 point underdogs in Los Angeles against the Chargers, especially when you take into account the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage.

The Raiders are also in a couple of great spots. For one, this is a revenge game for them, as the Chargers narrowly defeated them in Oakland earlier this season when the Raiders missed a 4th quarter extra point that ended up being the margin of victory (17-16). Road underdogs are 68-39 ATS since 2002 in regular season divisional revenge games against a team that previously defeated them earlier in the season as road underdogs, as the Chargers were in Oakland.

On top of that, road underdogs are 122-81 ATS since 2008 in their second of two road games after a road loss and the Raiders are coming off of a road loss in Philadelphia. That trend results from the fact that teams typically do better in their second of two road games than they do in an average road game, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 262-283 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.96 points per game. On average, road teams get outscored by about 2.60 points per game over that same time period, a difference of about 2 points.

The Raiders are dealing with a major injury with left tackle Donald Penn out for the season, but no one is completely healthy at this point in the season and, even with Penn out, they are relatively healthy. The Chargers have their own injury issues, as they were without left tackle Russell Okung, middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, tight end Hunter Henry, and defensive tackle Corey Liuget in an underwhelming performance against the lowly Jets last week.

Okung, Liuget, and Perryman have a chance to return for this game, but none of them practiced in full during the week, so all three are still major question marks, as is running back Melvin Gordon, who left last week with an ankle injury and only got in limited practices on Thursday and Friday this week. Even if all 4 somehow play, they’re unlikely to be 100% and Henry, a valuable pass catcher and run blocker, remains out. The Raiders are my Pick of the Week.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland +7.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)

The Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz for the season a couple weeks back, but I still think they are a contender, although the Wentz injury obviously is a huge blow to their chances. Prior to the season, I had the Eagles getting a first round bye in the NFC and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time. This team is a lot more than just Wentz. They have some other injuries, missing left tackle Jason Peters, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and running back Darren Sproles for the season, but no one is completely healthy at this point in the season. The Eagles still have a strong supporting cast, including a talented defense and one of the best offensive lines in football.

Foles is obviously a downgrade from Wentz, but he’s one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league and has some success as a starting quarterback. He struggled with the Rams in 2015, but that could easily be the result of terrible coaching by Jeff Fisher’s staff. Both Case Keenum and Jared Goff lead NFC contenders right now after getting away from Fisher’s coaching, so why couldn’t Foles at least capture some of his pre-Rams form, back when he was a low end starter at worst with Chip Kelly’s Eagles? He played pretty well in his first start last week in New York.

Unfortunately, we aren’t getting any line value with the Eagles this week as 9.5-point home favorites over the Raiders. In fact, I think we’re actually getting a little bit of value with the Raiders, who are better than their 6-8 record. Despite missing Derek Carr for a stretch earlier in the season, they still rank 13th in first down rate differential at 0.83%. The issue for them has been turnover margin, as they have a -9 turnover margin that is 4th worst in the league.

Fortunately, turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. Case in point, the Raiders had the league’s best turnover margin last season at +16, when they finished 12-4. In fact, the Raiders actually had a worse first down rate differential last season than they have this season, finishing last season 19th at -0.49%. The Raiders were not as good as their record suggested last season, but they are not as bad as their record suggests this year.

That being said, I would not recommend betting on the Raiders for two reasons. For one, they could be flat after being eliminated from the playoff race in heartbreaking fashion last week in a 3-point loss to the Cowboys. Two, they’re pretty banged up. While wide receiver Amari Cooper is expected to return from a 3-game absence with concussion and ankle problems, he hasn’t really played that well this season when on the field and the Raiders could be without outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, defensive end Mario Edwards, defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, and center Rodney Hudson this week. Hester and Edwards have already been ruled out and they could be hesitant to play the other two at less than 100% in a meaningless game. Even with the injuries, I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7, but that’s not enough value for this to be worth a bet.

Sunday Update: When I originally did this writeup, I did not realize this was going to be a night game. West coast teams have a huge advantage over east coast teams at night because of body clocks, covering at close to a 2/3rds rate historically. We’ve already seen the Eagles lay an egg earlier this season in Seattle at night and that was with Carson Wentz. This game should be close, so I think Oakland is worth a bet at 9.5.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland +9.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at Oakland Raiders (6-7)

I typically bet on the Cowboys on the road, as they have a nationwide fanbase and have fared well away from Dallas in recent years as a result. They are 34-28 on the road since 2010 (35-26 ATS), with a scoring differential of +0.26 points per game, as opposed to 32-33 at home (23-42 ATS), with a scoring differential of +1.26 points per game. However, even with that taken into account, I still don’t understand why the Cowboys are favored by 3 points here. I have these two teams about even, so the Raiders should be favored about 2 points. That’s what they were on the early line last week, but that line shifted with the Cowboys winning 30-10 in New York against the Giants and the Raiders losing 26-15 in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

Usually significant week-to-week line movement like that is the result of an overreaction to a single week of play and that appears to be the case here. Two weeks ago, everyone thought the sky was falling for the Cowboys when they lost their first 3 games with Ezekiel Elliott, as the public bet on the Redskins in Dallas as road favorites, but now they’ve won two games against the Redskins and the Giants and suddenly everyone thinks they’re back? Despite the line movement, Dallas is one of the most heavily bet sides of the week.

That heavy public heavy is unwarranted. The Cowboys were tied with the Giants in the 4th quarter last week before they took advantage of some missed assignments and got long touchdowns to pull ahead. Stud linebacker Sean Lee, who returned last week, had a back injury pop up at practice on Friday and is now questionable while talented interior pass rusher David Irving will miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion. There’s too much line value to pass on with Oakland this week. The money line is also a smart play.

Oakland Raiders 31 Dallas Cowboys 30 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: High

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)

Entering the season, the Chiefs were near the top of my overrated list. They finished the 2016 season 12-4, but that was largely because of a +16 turnover margin (and a subsequent +7 return touchdown margin) and a 6-3 record in games decided by 8 or fewer points, two things that tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. They ranked just 24th in first down rate differential and looked poised for a disappointing 2017. That assessment looked incorrect to start the season when the Chiefs won their first 5 games, but they were never as good as that record suggested.

Many of those wins were close and their offense was highly unlikely to continue its incredibly low turnover rate (1 turnover in the first 5 games) and its high yards per carry average (5.70 YPC in those 5 games). Those rates have dropped significantly in the 7 games since, as they have 7 turnovers and a 4.01 YPC average in those 7 games. On the defensive side, they’ve continued to struggle mightily without All-Pro safety Eric Berry, who tore his achilles in the opener in New England. They rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.40% and have struggled mightily to get off the field when they aren’t forcing turnovers.

As a result, they’ve lost 6 of 7 games, with their one win coming at home against Denver, who is on an 8-game losing streak and who still outgained the Chiefs by over 100 yards in that game. In their last 3 weeks, they’ve lost to the Giants, the Bills, and the Jets. They rank 22nd in first down rate differential and 15th in my roster rankings, so they are a middling team at best. Once running away with the AFC West, the Chiefs are now locked into a 3-way tie for the division lead with the Chargers and Raiders at 6-6, with those two teams coming to town in the next two weeks.

Making matters worse, they will be without top cornerback Marcus Cooper for this one, as the team suspended him for throwing a flag into the stands and leaving without being ejected, late in last week’s loss to the Jets. Already without Berry in the secondary, the Chiefs now have arguably the worst secondary in the league, a big problem with the Raiders getting Michael Crabtree and possibly Amari Cooper back this week, after both missed last week’s win over the Giants.

The Raiders also will likely get top cornerback David Amerson back this week and have been playing better defense in recent weeks anyway, especially against the run, thanks to the emergence of mid-season acquisition NaVorro Bowman, a talented middle linebacker who was released by the 49ers earlier this season. They’re better than their 6-6 record, as they rank 12th in first down rate differential and 8th in my roster rankings. Getting more than a field goal with the better team is usually a no brainer.

I have this line calculated at even and the Raiders could easily win straight up. Even if they don’t, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less, so we have a good cushion. I don’t see the Chiefs winning this game by more than a field goal without returning a touchdown, so Oakland +4 should be a relatively safe bet, even if we were getting way better line value with +6.5 a week ago on the early line. The money line at +170 makes a lot of sense too because this game is at least a toss up. This is a high confidence pick as long as the line is higher than 3.

Oakland Raiders 28 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: Oakland +4

Confidence: High

New York Giants at Oakland Raiders: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-9) at Oakland Raiders (5-6)

Prior to the Giants benching Eli Manning, I was considering making a bet on the Giants this week. They obviously have major issues on offense, but their defense has been a lot better in the past 2 weeks since they’ve gotten healthy, playing well against both the Chiefs and the Redskins. I thought the Giants’ defense could keep it close against an Oakland team that is missing its top-2 wide receivers, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, who are out with suspension and injury respectively, especially since the Raiders don’t have a lot of big wins over the past couple seasons. Just 5 of their 17 wins over the past 2 seasons have come by more than 8 points, relevant considering this line is 9. Their average margin of victory in those 17 wins is 7.41 points per game.

On top of that, the Giants are in a great spot as road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games off of a road loss. Teams are 119-77 ATS in that spot since 2008. That’s because teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 256-269 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.78 points per game, as opposed to 377-521 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.96 points per game, a difference of about 2 points.

All that being said, I can’t be confident in the Giants with Geno Smith under center instead of Eli. The line did shift 2 points from 7 to 9 with the announcement of Smith as the starter, which, on paper, seems like an appropriate line movement (I have the dropoff from Manning to Smith as worth 3 points). However, this is a veteran team that might quit on the coaching staff now that they’ve benched their quarterback. Benching Eli is clearly not a move the Giants made to try to win now and that might send a bad message to the locker room. On top of that, cornerback Janoris Jenkins was put on injured reserve mid-week with an ankle injury, while stud nose tackle Damon Harrison is highly questionable after missing practice all week with an elbow injury. I’m taking the Giants for pick ‘em purposes, but I can’t be confident in them this week.

Oakland Raiders 20 New York Giants 12

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +9

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-7) at Oakland Raiders (4-6)

This is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week. Both of these two teams are a little underrated and better than their record. Both of these teams are in relatively good spots with easy games against the Giants and Dolphins next on the schedule. I have this line calculated at -5, so we’re not getting any line value with either team. The reason I’m taking the Broncos is because they are starting a new quarterback. Paxton Lynch has the most upside of any quarterback on the Broncos’ roster, but he’s struggled in limited action, did not impress this off-season, and just started throwing a few weeks ago after a shoulder injury.

If he shows some of why he was drafted in the first round, the Broncos could keep this close or win this outright because the Raiders have defensive issues and the Broncos’ still have a top-5 defense. I’m not confident in Lynch at all, but, in a game that’s basically a coin flip, I’m willing to take the Broncos with Lynch under center and I would not be with Brock Osweiler or Trevor Siemian under center. He could be a disaster, which is why I don’t recommend betting on this one, but the Broncos make the most sense.

Oakland Raiders 20 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Denver +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