Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (8-7)

The Rams have had a very disappointing 2019 season. After going 13-3 and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl last year, the Rams sit at just 8-7 and have been eliminated from the playoff race entirely ahead of week 17 this year, with their season officially ending in a heartbreaking last second loss in San Francisco last week. There are still a lot of positive takeaways from this season though. 

Their offense hasn’t been as good as it’s been in past years, ranking just 15th on the season with a 36.37% first down rate, after finishing last season 3rd at 43.02%, due to a complete dropoff in offensive line play and quarterback Jared Goff’s inability to make good decisions and good throws under pressure, but they’ve been impressive defensively. They rank 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.87%, and they have been even better since acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey and putting breakout player Troy Hill into the starting lineup opposite him during week 7, ranking 5th in the NFL with a 32.44% first down rate allowed over that stretch. 

The Rams end their season with a home game against a last place Cardinals team. The Cardinals won in Seattle last week in a big upset, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds, as the Seahawks entered that game with the worst point differential ever for a 11-3 team and were missing their two best defensive backs, their best offensive lineman, and their best defensive lineman. Just a few weeks earlier, the Cardinals were demolished at home by the Rams in a 34-7 game, one of four games they’ve lost by at least 17 points this season. On the year, the Cardinals rank 28th in first down rate differential at -4.44% and have a -74 point differential that suggests their 5-9-1 record is an accurate representation of how they’ve played.

Under ordinary circumstances, we’d be getting significant line value with the Rams as just 6-point home favorites over the Cardinals, but the Rams are probably not going to give their best effort this week after having their disappointing season ended in heartbreaking fashion last week. In fact, we might not see anything close to the Rams’ full strength lineup this week, as Rams head coach Sean McVay has been the most cautious coach in the league when it comes to not risking his key players’ health in meaningless games. 

In 3 years with the Rams, he’s rested key players in meaningless games every chance he’s gotten, whether it’s pre-season games or week 17 games when the Rams’ seeding has been locked in. This is the first time the Rams have been eliminated from playoff contention in the McVay era, but it stands to reason he might have a similar approach this week, at the very least with players that are less than 100% with injury. The aforementioned cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill, which has been a huge part of their defensive success, has already been ruled out and there’s speculation that running back Todd Gurley among others could also be held out, which adds a lot of uncertainty to this game. 

Also adding uncertainty is the injury to Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray got in limited practices this week through a hamstring injury and would probably play if this game mattered, but the Cardinals could be cautious with nothing to play for and hold him out, which would force overmatched backup Brett Hundley into action, a significant dropoff. Even if Murray does play, he might not be as effective because mobility is a big part of his game. With all this uncertainty, I have no idea how to make a pick on this game, but I’m taking the Rams for pick ‘em purposes for now. There’s a good chance I update this write-up before gametime.

Update: Murray is playing for the Rams, but there’s no indication of how long the Rams will play starters for. I’m leaving this as is.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -6

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (11-3)

The 49ers lost their 3rd game of the season last week, at home to the Falcons. Like their first two losses, this loss was decided on the last meaningful play of the game, but, even though the Falcons have played better than their 5-9 suggests, the Falcons are clearly different than the first two teams against whom the 49ers lost, the Ravens and Seahawks, who are a combined 23-5 on the season.

While I didn’t expect the 49ers to lose outright last week, it’s not all that surprising that the 49ers had trouble against the Falcons. Not only were the Falcons an underrated team that is better than their record, but the 49ers were in a tough spot after an emotional win over the Saints and missing several key players, like cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams and defensive end Dee Ford. 

Ford remains out, but Sherman and Williams are not listed on the injury report, which is a big boost for them ahead of their matchup with the Rams this week. The Rams lost badly last week in Dallas by score of 44-21, but the Cowboys are an underrated team, so I don’t hold that loss against them that much. Even with that bad loss included, the Rams rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.55% and have been even better since acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey before week 7, ranking 9th in first down rate differential over that stretch at +3.30%, led by a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over that stretch at 31.73%. The Rams won’t be an easy matchup for the 49ers.

The Rams are also in a slightly better spot. I don’t expect the 49ers to be flat, coming off of a loss and needing a win to keep pace with the Seahawks in the division before next week’s rematch in Seattle, but the 49ers already beat the Rams once this season in Los Angeles, while the Rams are fighting for their playoff lives and are playing their final difficult game of the season, with a home game against the Cardinals to finish out the regular season on deck. Road underdogs are 79-54 ATS since 2002 in a regular season rematch against an opponent that they previously lost to as home favorites. On top of that, underdogs of 6+ are 82-69 ATS since 2002 before being favorites of 6+ and the early line has the Rams favored by 7 next week against the Cardinals. There’s not quite enough here for the Rams to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Los Angeles Rams 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +6.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-7)

I normally like to fade significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. On the early line last week, the Cowboys were 3.5 point home favorites in this matchup against the Rams, but now a week later they are 1.5 point home underdogs. That’s a huge swing, but I actually think it can be justified somewhat. The Cowboys had an awful performance last week in Chicago, losing the first down rate battle by 7.54% to a middling at best Bears team, while the Rams were dominant in a home victory against a tough Seahawks team, winning the first down rate battle by a whopping 18.97%, with the game being a blowout aside from a long Seattle interception return. 

Even with last week’s poor performance included, the Cowboys still rank 6th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +4.48% and in point differential at +67, as their 6 wins have come by a combined 107 points and their 7 losses have come by a combined 40 points. However, they’ve faced a much easier schedule than the Rams (47% opponents winning percentage vs. 57%) and their play has slipped in recent weeks, as they’ve ranked just 9th in first down rate differential since week 7 at +2.83%. The Cowboys are a poorly coached team and Jason Garrett’s lameduck status as head coach seems to be hanging over them in recent weeks.

The Rams, meanwhile, are very well coached, on both sides of the ball with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips. They were blown out a few weeks ago at home on Monday Night Football against the Ravens, but have bounced back very well with dominant performances against the Cardinals and Seahawks to keep themselves alive in the playoff race in the NFC. Their offense hasn’t been the same this season because of their offensive line, but their defense has quietly been one of the best in the league. Even including that blowout loss against a Ravens team that no one has really stopped this season, the Rams rank 4th in first down rate allowed on the season at 32.72% and first at 29.94% since acquiring Jalen Ramsey during week 7. 

I have this line calculated at Dallas -1, so, while I don’t think the line movement all the way to Rams -1.5 is quite justified, we’re not getting nearly enough line value to bet the Cowboys confidently. The Cowboys probably have a slightly better than 50/50 shot to win this game at home, so the money line at +105 could be worth a small bet, but we’re not getting enough line value to bet the Cowboys against the spread unless this line somehow moves all the way up to Rams -3. 

Dallas Cowboys 24 Los Angeles Rams 23 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Dallas +1.5

Confidence: Low

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (10-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-5)

When these two teams met in Seattle week 5, the Seahawks were victorious, but the game easily could have gone either way, as it came down to a 44-yard missed field goal by Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein at the end of regulation. That’s far from the only close game the Seahawks have played this season. Their win over the 49ers also came down to a missed field goal, as 49ers kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a 47-yard game winner in overtime, and overall 9 of their 10 wins have come by a touchdown or less. 

A win is a win for standings purposes, but blowout wins tend to be more predictive of future success than close wins and the Seahawks’ +36 point differential is the worst ever for a 10-2 team. They barely hold the edge in point differential over the 7-5 Rams (+33) and if a few things had gone a little differently the Seahawks could be 7-5 right alongside the Rams. In first down rate differential, the Rams actually hold the edge, ranking 12th at +1.90%, while the Seahawks rank 14th at +0.96%. 

With these two teams about even statistically, ordinarily I would calculate this line at -3 favoring the home team, but the Rams don’t have a typical homefield advantage in Los Angeles, as they tend to draw a lot of visiting fans, especially in big matchups like this. Since moving in 2016, they are 10-16-3 ATS at home and 17-13-1 ATS on the road. I have this line calculated at Rams -2, so while we’re getting some line value with this line being even, it’s not enough to bet on them.

Los Angeles Rams 33 Seattle Seahawks 31

Pick against the spread: Los Angeles PK

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1)

This is one of the tougher games of the week to predict against the spread. On one hand, the Rams were embarrassed last week against the Ravens in a 45-6 loss and teams typically bounce back from bad losses. Since 2002, teams are 60-38 ATS after a loss by 35 points or more and favorites, like the Rams are this week, have won 20 of 24 games straight up after a loss by 35 or more over that time period. On the other hand, this could be a look ahead spot for the Rams with a much harder divisional game on deck against the Seahawks. The Rams will almost definitely be home underdogs in that game and road favorites are just 26-55 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs. 

We’re also not getting any line value in either direction. The Cardinals’ only 3 wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 5-29, while 4 of their 7 losses have come by double digits, with an average margin of defeat of 11.3 points per game. Their point differential of -69 ranks just 28th in the NFL and they rank 29th in first down rate differential at -5.73%. However, the Rams have been a pretty middle of the pack team this season, so they shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal in this game. I have this line calculated at Rams -3, which is exactly where the line is.

Ultimately, what I think this game will come down to is the Rams’ mindset about their playoff chances. Last week’s loss wasn’t a death sentence for their playoff chances, but they’re 2 games behind the 8-3 Vikings for the last NFC wild card spot right now with 5 games to go and probably need to win out and finish 11-5 to give themselves a shot. If the Rams believe their season is over, they probably won’t give their best effort against the Cardinals, especially with a much bigger game on deck. If they believe they still have a shot to make the post-season, we could see a very different level of focus and motivation from them this week after being humbled last week. I think the latter is more likely than the former, but I definitely wouldn’t bet on it. A push might be the most likely result.

Los Angeles Rams 23 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (6-4)

The Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL right now, having won four straight games by 14+ points, making them the 24th team to do so in the past 30 years. The common thinking is that makes them a great bet, but in reality it’s much more likely to be the opposite. Of the previous 23 teams to do so, just 7 of them covered in their next game and 11 of them lost straight up, including 8 upset losses. Favorites are just 3-14 ATS in this spot in the past 30 years. Ironically, the last team to win four straight games by 14+ were the Patriots, who lost in this spot to the Ravens a few weeks ago. 

The problem is when a team is as hot as the Ravens are right now, oddsmakers know they can boost their spread significantly and casual bettors will still want to bet on them.That’s definitely the case here, as the Ravens are 3.5 point favorites on the road against the Rams. A week ago on the early line, this line was even, a drastic shift considering about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, and 2-3 weeks ago the Rams likely would have been favored by a field goal here at home. 

With the Rams, a lot of attention has been given to their underwhelming offense, which has fallen from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th in 2019 at 35.09%, due primarily to major issues on the offensive line, but their defense has quietly been one of the better stop units in the league this season, allowing a first down rate of 32.34% that is 4th best in the NFL. They’re not as good overall as last season, but they still rank 7th in first down rate differential at +2.75%, just a few spots behind the Ravens, who rank 3rd at +6.23%. I have this line calculated at Baltimore -1.5 and, while two points of line value might not seem like much, about 20% of games are decided by 2 or 3 points, so that’s a pretty significant two points. 

The Rams are also in a couple good betting spots this week. For one, they’re a west coast team in a night game against an east coast team, a spot that covers about 66% of the time due to differences in internal clocks. On top of that, the Rams only have a trip to Arizona on deck, while the Ravens have another tough game on deck against the 49ers. The Ravens are expected to be favored in that game, but there could still be a little bit of split focus for them this week with the league’s best team by record on deck next week. Meanwhile, home underdogs like the Rams are 25-53 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites, which they almost definitely will be in Arizona. I like the Rams’ chances of not just covering this spread, but winning this game straight up, so they’re one of my top picks of the week at +3.5 (and still betable at +3).

Los Angeles Rams 26 Baltimore Ravens 24 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3.5

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-5) at Los Angeles Rams (5-4)

A year ago, this was a marquee matchup in the NFC, with both teams going on to win 12+ games. This season, however, both teams are having disappointing seasons. The Bears actually led the NFL in first down rate differential in 2018 at +6.64%, but they faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and this season, against a much tougher schedule, they’re without several key contributors on defense, including free agent losses Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos, departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and in season injuries Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, the latter of whom just went down last week. As a result of that and some regression on offense in the second year of the Matt Nagy/Mitch Trubisky era, the Bears have fallen all the way down to 21st in first down rate differential at -2.42% and already have more losses at 4-5 than they did all last season when they went 12-4.

The Rams have also exceeded their loss total from last season, starting 5-4 after going 13-3 a year ago. By far the biggest reason why is their offensive line. After starting the same five offensive linemen in every game in 2018, the Rams lost a pair of starters this off-season (left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan) and have since lost their replacements (Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen) to injury, as well as right tackle Rob Havenstein. Allen and Havenstein just went down last week, but both were struggling even before going down. Their only two remaining offensive linemen from 2018 are left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Blythe, both of whom are having down years compared to a year ago. Their offensive line issues have hurt their offense as a whole, dropping them from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th at 35.63% in 2019. In terms of first down rate differential, they’ve fallen from 3rd at +5.00% to 9th to +2.30%, despite an improved defense.

The Rams are the better team and I have this line calculated at Rams -7, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 6-point favorites, but that’s barely any line value and the Bears are also in a much better spot. While the Rams have a tough matchup against the Ravens on deck, the Bears get one of the easiest games of their season, hosting the Giants in Chicago. Underdogs of 6+ are 49-37 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ and the Bears are currently favored by 7 points on the early line next week. There’s not enough to take either side confidently, but the Bears should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None