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

Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-5) at Miami Dolphins (4-3)

The Raiders finished last season 12-4, but are just 3-5 so far this season with essentially the same team. The biggest difference between this year and last year for the Raiders has been a huge swing of the turnover margin, from +16 in 2016 (tied for the best in the league) to -6 so far this year, 5th worst in the league. In terms of first down rate differential, the Raiders have actually improved from 19th last year at -0.49% to 10th so far this year at +2.93%, but they have been held back by not winning the turnover margin as often as they did last season.

The good news is turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. Just like the Raiders were likely to have a significantly worse turnover margin than +16 this season, they are also likely to be better than -6 over the final 8 games. The Raiders were -3 in turnover margin last week in Buffalo, allowing a return touchdown in the process, which led to them losing by 20 despite winning the first down margin 23 to 17. However, teams follow up a -3 turnover margin with a turnover margin of around -0.1, on average, essentially even. Talent wise, this is still an above average team that is capable of going on a run in what is an overall weak league right now if they can play turnover neutral football going forward.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are one of the worst teams in the league despite their 4-3 record. They rank 28th in point differential at -60 and 30th in first down rate differential at -5.64%. Their 4 wins have come by a combined 14 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 74 points. That being said, we aren’t really getting much line value with the Raiders here as 3 point road favorites, as this line has shifted significantly from Oakland -1 last week on the early line, as a result of the Dolphins’ 40-point loss in Baltimore on Thursday Night Football last week. Two points doesn’t seem like a ton, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so this line being at 3 is significant.

The Dolphins are definitely not a good team, as they ranked near the bottom in first down rate differential even before that huge loss in Baltimore, but they are not as bad as they looked last week on a short week with a backup quarterback, so that line movement is an overreaction that costs us significant line value with the Raiders. On top of that, teams tend to bounce back off of blowout losses like that, going 54-30 ATS since 2002 off of a loss by 35 or more points, as teams tend to be overlooked, embarrassed, and underrated after blowout losses like that. I don’t think the Dolphins are underrated, but they could definitely be overlooked and embarrassed this week. I’m still taking Oakland, but I’d need this line to at least drop back down to 2.5 to bet on them confidently. If that happens, I will revisit this pick.

Oakland Raiders 20 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: Oakland -3

Confidence: Low

Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (4-2)

Expected to be an AFC contender, the Raiders got off to an underwhelming 2-4 start, but things are looking up for them following last week’s last second home victory over the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. After getting knocked out with a back injury in a week 4 loss to the Broncos, missing a week 5 loss against the Ravens, and struggling in his return in a week 6 loss to the Chargers, Derek Carr played one of his best games last week against the Chiefs and should be close to 100% after an extended rest following the Thursday game. Despite their record, there’s a case to be made that the Raiders are still a top-10 team, given how few true contenders there seem to be this season and how talented this roster still is.

This line favors the hometown Bills by a field goal, suggesting these two teams are about even, which I don’t agree with. The Bills are 4-2, but they’ve been very reliant on the turnover margin, as they lead the league with a +10 turnover margin, but rank just 26th in first down rate differential at -3.00%. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they’ll need to do a better job of picking up first downs going forward if they want to continue having success in the win column. Their offense has major problems (29th in first down rate), so I don’t see that happening, and their defense is a little bit overrated because of how many takeaways they’ve gotten (12th in first down rate allowed). Their defense also enters this game banged up, missing cornerback EJ Gaines and safety Jordan Poyer, who have been a big part of their defensive success this season.

The Raiders are also banged up in the secondary, missing rookie slot cornerback Gareon Conley for the 6th time this season, in addition to cornerback David Amerson (2nd game) and safety Karl Joseph (1st game). However, their secondary isn’t as important to their success as the Bills’ secondary is to their success. They have easily the better offense, especially with Carr rounding back into form, and are about 2 points better than the Bills in my roster rankings. The Bills are also in a tough spot because they have to turn around and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 59-92 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. I locked this line in at -3 earlier this week on my Thursday pick, but I would take 2.5 if I had to. I also like the Raiders’ chances of the straight up upset.

Oakland Raiders 24 Buffalo Bills 23 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: High

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders: 2017 Week 7 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (5-1) at Oakland Raiders (2-4)

The Raiders enter this game on a 4-game losing streak and are dealing with a much-talked-about injury to quarterback Derek Carr, who was not 100% last week in his return from a back injury and will likely not be 100% again this week on a short week. However, the Chiefs are in a tough injury situation as well, just not one that gets talked about as much. Obviously the injury to Eric Berry in the opener hurt this defense significantly, but their offense is missing two starters on the offensive line (center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif) and and two of their top-3 receivers (Chris Conley and Albert Wilson). That really hurt them in last week’s home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which they lost the first down battle 23-11.

On the season, the Chiefs are just 17th in first down rate differential at +0.73%, as they have 3 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents, but 7 fewer first downs. The Raiders, meanwhile, rank just 2 spots behind them at -0.50%. Taking into accounts injuries, I have these two teams about 3 points apart in my roster rankings. Given that, getting the Raiders as field goal home underdogs is a good value. Oakland should be able to keep this one close throughout and possibly pull off the upset. If not, I like getting field goal protection with them, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. This would be a higher confidence pick if I was confident that Carr wouldn’t get knocked out of the game, but the Raiders are still worth a small bet.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 Oakland Raiders 23

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: Medium