Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers: 2020 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-6) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The Rams have injury concerns on their offense heading into this game, but that has been the case for most of the second half of the season. After a mostly healthy first half of the season, stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s knee injury in week 10 started off a stretch where the Rams not only were without their top offensive lineman for 7 games, but they also were without their starting quarterback Jared Goff, his top receiver Cooper Kupp, and their feature running back Cam Akers for stretches and both Goff and Akers were limited for stretches as well. 

This week, Goff and Kupp are likely to play at less than 100%, but only left guard David Edwards is legitimately questionable for this game among key Rams players, meaning this could actually be the first time the Rams have had their normal starting lineup on the field on offense at the same time since before Whitworth got hurt in week 10. Even if some players are less than 100%, that’s at least an improvement over what they’ve had in recent weeks, especially Whitworth’s re-addition, which had a massive impact in the Rams’ first round upset of the Seahawks.

The Rams aren’t an overly impressive offense, but they haven’t been all season and they still lead the league in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.64%. Their offense ranks just 22nd in first down rate over expected at -0.95%, but their dominant defense has carried them, not just leading the league in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.59%, but by a wide margin over the 2nd ranked Steelers (-4.39%). 

Defensive performance is not as consistent week-to-week as offensive performance and the Packers have the obvious edge on that side of the ball, as well as a complementary defense, but the Rams’ defense is too good for them to be underdogs of this many points in Green Bay. My calculated line has the Rams at +4, so I liked the line value we were getting with them as touchdown underdogs earlier this week when I locked them in. I’m not sure I would bet them at +6.5 against a Packers team that is legitimately one of the top-3 Super Bowl contenders and that will have the benefit of at least some fans in this game, but they should still be the right side for pick ‘em purposes at that number.

Update: This line is back to a touchdown but that’s because the Rams will surprisingly be without both Kupp and David Edwards, which is a hit for this offense. I have already locked this in, but I wouldn’t be as confident in the Rams at that number without Kupp and Edwards in the lineup. They’re still the pick for pick ’em purposes though, because of the dominance of their defense. My calculated line is now Green Bay -5.

Green Bay Packers 24 Los Angeles Rams 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +7

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

The Rams’ offense had serious injury issues last week against the Cardinals, but things seem to be getting better quickly. Running back Cam Akers, who struggled while playing at less than 100% last week, was not listed with an injury designation this week and, while fellow running back Darrell Henderson remains out, Akers should be healthy enough to be an effective lead back, with Malcolm Brown being a capable running back behind him. 

The Rams will also get #1 wide receiver Cooper Kupp back from one-game COVID absence and, probably even more importantly, they’ll get stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth back from a 7-game absence. The big question though is the health of quarterback Jared Goff, who sat out last week after thumb surgery. Goff reportedly practiced this week and threw the ball well, but he should be considered less than 100% even if he does suit up and there’s a possibility we’ll see unproven backup John Wolford for some or all of this game. 

The quarterback situation is a concern because the Rams haven’t been a particularly good offense this season overall, even with minimal injuries beyond the absences mentioned above, only one of which (Whitworth’s) was longer than a game. On the season, the Rams rank 21st in first down rate over expected at -0.36% and I would expect them to be even more below average now, given their quarterback situation. 

The Rams’ defense has been dominant, leading the league with a -5.05% first down rate allowed over expected, but defensive performance is much less consistent week-to-week than offensive performance. If the Rams’ don’t get a dominant performance from their defense, they could be in a lot of trouble and there’s no guarantee they’ll get one, given the inherent game-to-game inconsistency of defensive performance.

The Seahawks, in many ways, have been the opposite. Their defense struggled mightily earlier in the season, but they’ve been significantly improved in recent weeks, due in part to the inherent inconsistency of defensive play, but also due to the return of top cornerback Shaq Griffin and top safety Jamal Adams, as well as the addition of top edge rusher Carlos Dunlap at the trade deadline. Now they rank 15th in the league in first down rate allowed at +0.28% and they’re more talented than that suggests when Griffin, Adams, and Dunlap are on the field together

That gives the Seahawks a great compliment for an offense that has remained strong throughout the season, ranking 6th in first down rate over expected at +2.05%. They’re also getting healthier on offense, as left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Brandon Shell will return, giving the Seahawks’ their full offensive line healthy together for the first time since week 4. I’m going to leave this as a low confidence pick at -3 for now, but only because I want to see what happens with this line when Goff is announced as the starter, which seems like it will be the case. If this line drops below 2.5, the Seahawks are an easy bet and, even if it stays put at 3, I could be talked into betting Seattle.

Update: I don’t expect this line to go down to 2.5 anymore because the news on Goff on gameday isn’t as good as it was earlier in the week, when it seemed likely that he would play. Now reports suggest he may only be active as an emergency backup, meaning unproven backup John Wolford would be likely to play all or most of this game. If that turns out to be the case, this line may shoot back up to 3.5-4.5. I think that’s more likely than a drop to 2.5, so I’m going to lock in -3. Even if Goff is able to play, it would likely be at less than 100% and I like getting the Seahawks as mere field goal favorites against a banged up Goff or his backup Wolford.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Los Angeles Rams 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -3

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (8-7) at Los Angeles Rams (9-6)

The Rams had a chance to clinch the division last week with a win in Seattle, but instead that game went about as bad as it could, as not only did the Rams lose, but they lost their starting quarterback Jared Goff, among other players who won’t be available for what is now a must win game against the Cardinals, as a loss and a Bears win against the Packers would lead to the Rams being out of the playoffs in a three way tie at 9-7. 

In Goff’s absence, the Rams will start 2018 undrafted free agent John Wolford, who has never thrown an NFL pass, and he’ll be without the benefit of running back Darrell Henderson, possibly running back Cam Akers, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, on an offense that has already been without stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the past 6 weeks. The Rams ranked just 20th in first down rate over expected at -0.11% before their recent injuries and, while they’ve been carried by a defense that ranks 1st in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.07%, defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance.

All of a sudden, the Rams have gone from having a chance to clinch the division in week 16 to being underdogs in a game they may need to win to stay alive. This line has shifted from Los Angeles -4 on the early line to Arizona -3 this week, but I think that is a little much, especially with the Cardinals dealing with some absent skill position players as well (Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, Chase Edmonds). The Rams still rank 22nd in my roster rankings because of their defense, while the Cardinals rank 16th without the players they are missing. My calculated line favors Arizona by just 1 point, though that’s not enough line value to get me to bet on a quarterback as unproven as Wolford. 

Arizona Cardinals 20 Los Angeles Rams 19

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (10-4)

The Rams lost at home in embarrassing fashion to the previously winless Jets, in the biggest upset win in the NFL in the past 25 seasons (17.5 point favorites). Normally big upset losses like that tend to be complete flukes and the team that lost tends to be a smart bet going forward, as teams cover at a 57.0% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more. The Rams’ opponents this week, the Seattle Seahawks, were an example of this, when they rebounded from a shocking home loss to the Colt McCoy led Giants as 11-point underdogs by demolishing the Jets 40-3 the following week. On top of that, the Rams are also in a good spot because they have a winning record and are facing a team with a winning record before facing another team with a winning record (Arizona) next week. Teams cover at a 54.4% rate in that spot. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but good teams seem to be totally focused before back-to-back difficult games.

Unfortunately, even after last week’s loss, we’re not getting line value with the Rams. In fact, with this line being even, we’re actually getting a little bit of line value with the Seahawks. The Rams rank higher in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 1st at +5.30%, while the Seahawks rank 10th at +1.70%, but the Seahawks are significantly better on offense, which is the more predictable and predictive side of the ball. While the Rams rank just 19th in first down rate over expected at +0.02%, the Seahawks rank 5th at +2.64%.

The Rams have the obviously better defense, ranking 1st in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.28%, while the Seahawks rank 23rd at +0.94%, but defensive performance is much more likely to regress to the mean in the long run than offensive performance and the Seahawks’ defense has been much improved in recent weeks, with safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaq Griffin back in the lineup after missing significant time with injuries and defensive lineman Damon Harrison and Carlos Dunlap being added in mid-season acquisitions. I give the Seahawks a 2-point edge in my roster rankings, so, even without fans in the stands, the Seahawks should be favored by at least a couple points in this matchup. We’re not getting enough line value with the Seahawks for them to be worth betting against a team in a better spot, but they should be the right side in a game in which they only have to win in order to cover.

Seattle Seahawks 26 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: Seattle PK

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-13) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

As crazy as it sounds, the Jets might be a decent bet this week. The Jets obviously haven’t won a game, but winless teams are actually a good bet late in the season because the odds makers know they can boost the spread and people will still bet against them. Teams with records of 0-8 or worse cover at a 57.9% rate all-time, even if that is counterintuitive. That didn’t help the Jets last week in their blowout loss in Seattle, but I expect a better effort this week, which is typically the case after a blowout. Teams cover at 57.5% rate all-time after losing by 35 points or more. Combining the two aforementioned trends, teams are 14-5-2 ATS over the past 30 years with a record of 0-8, coming off of a loss by at least 14 points or more. 

The Rams obviously have the talent edge, but they probably won’t bring their best effort for the Jets, especially with a much tougher game on deck against the Seahawks. Favorites cover at just a 42.9% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 50%+ higher than their current opponent. My calculated line is Rams -15, so we’re not getting much line value with the Jets, which makes it risky to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and if you want to take a risk, I would expect this game to be closer than most think. 

Los Angeles Rams 24 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +17

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (6-6) at Los Angeles Rams (8-4)

The rule of thumb in games where both teams are on short rest is to bet the favorite, especially in non-divisional games. It makes sense that more talented, better coached teams would be at even more of an advantage in a tough situation like a short week, especially if they aren’t facing a divisional opponent that is familiar with them, and it’s also backed up by numbers, as teams are 60-37 ATS as non-divisional favorites on a short week over the past 30 seasons. The Rams are favored by 5.5 in this non-conference matchup, so they fit the trend, but the trend only makes sense if you can justify the team being favored by as many points as they are, which is hard to do, as these two teams are much closer than this line suggests. 

This game is in Los Angeles, meaning it’s technically a home game for the Rams, but they won’t have any fans in the stadium, so homefield advantage really is beneficial only for travel purposes and the Rams will actually have traveled more recently than the Patriots, as they were in Arizona last week facing the Cardinals, while the Patriots will be in their second straight game in Los Angeles, having faced the Chargers last week, which should also cancel out the circadian rhythm problem that east coast teams have against west coast teams in night games. I would maybe give the Rams a half point for homefield advantage, so for this line to be right, the Rams would have to be 5 points better than the Patriots, which doesn’t seem accurate.

The Rams have definitely had the better defense this season, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.62%, only behind the Steelers, while the Patriots rank 15th at +0.36%, but defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive play and my roster rankings suggest that, while the Rams have a good defense, they have overplayed their talent level, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them regress at least somewhat going forward. 

If that happens, the Rams will be more reliant on their offense, which ranks 15th in first down rate over expected at +0.58% and is still missing a key player in left tackle Andrew Whitworth. That injury has been overlooked because the Rams have gone 2-1 in his absence, but one of their wins came against a Cardinals defense that is one of the worst in the league, their other win came in Tampa Bay in a game in which the Rams had a mediocre offensive performance in a good situation spot, while their loss came at home against a middling 49ers team.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are just 6-6, but they’ve been better than their record, especially on offense. They have a positive point differential at +19, despite a relatively tough schedule and some early injury and COVID absences, and they rank 11th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.20%, including 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.55%. Their offense isn’t flashy, but they’re very efficient on the ground with both running back runs and quarterback runs and they have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, even with Isaiah Wynn injured. 

The Patriots also don’t get blown out often, with just one loss by more than one score with Cam Newton in the lineup. They kept it within 5 points in Seattle and in Buffalo and have beaten quality teams like the Cardinals, Raiders, Ravens, and Dolphins, so it’s hard to see how the Rams would be expected to win by 6 points in what amounts to a neutral site game, as the Rams are more or less comparable in caliber to the aforementioned six teams that the Patriots have played competitively this season. 

I have these two teams about 1.5 points apart, giving me a calculated line of Los Angeles -2, so we’re getting significant line value at +5.5, as about 28% of games are decided by 2-5 points. This might be my Pick of the Week if this game were later in the week, but there may be others I like more, so I’m keeping this as “just” a high confidence bet. Either way, I like the Patriots a lot this week, as they continue to be underrated, while the Rams’ offensive issues have been overlooked.

Los Angeles Rams 24 New England Patriots 23

Pick against the spread: New England +5.5

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (7-4) at Arizona Cardinals (6-5)

The Rams lead the NFL with a +4.63% schedule adjusted first down rate differential, while the Cardinals rank 9th at +2.02%, but there is reason to believe the Cardinals can be the better team going forward. While the Rams are a defensive led team, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected, but just 15th in first down rate over expected, the Cardinals are a dominant offensive team (4th) that has some issues on defense (17th). The good news for the Cardinals is that defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week than offensive play, so an offensive led team is more likely to sustain their success going forward. 

Despite that, this line favors the Rams by a field goal, swinging from an even line last week on the early line, a surprise because the Rams and Cardinals both lost close games last week. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so that’s a significant swing without any legitimate reason for it. I love getting a full field goal with the team with the significantly better offense, which is especially the case with the Rams missing dominant left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the third straight week. He’s arguably their most important offensive player. My roster rankings suggest we’re getting significant value with the Cardinals as well, as the Rams have just a one point advantage in my roster rankings without Whitworth, meaning this game should be about a toss up in Arizona, where the Cardinals will have minimal homefield advantage.

On top of that, the Cardinals are in a much better spot. While the Rams have to turn around and play another game against the Patriots in four days on Thursday Night Football, the Cardinals get a trip to New York to face a Giants team that could easily be missing it’s starting quarterback, so the Cardinals should be fully focused. Favorites cover at just a 42.5% rate all-time before a short week, while home underdogs are 72-48 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites, which the Cardinals almost definitely will be against the Giants next week. I would like the Cardinals at +3 even in ordinary circumstances, but with those situational trends factored in, this is my Pick of the Week. I locked in +3 earlier this week, but there are still some available at some books. The money line is also worth a bet as well.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Los Angeles Rams 24 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-6) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

This is a tough call. This could be a look ahead spot for the Rams, facing a banged up 49ers team, ahead of a much bigger divisional matchup in Arizona next week. Teams are just 54-71 ATS at home against a sub-.500 divisional opponent before facing an above-.500 divisional opponent on the road, including 40-60 ATS when the first divisional opponent has a 40% winning percentage or less, like the 49ers at 4-6. On the other hand, the Rams have already lost to the 49ers once this season, so they could be fully focused to get revenge, even in a potential look ahead spot. 

This line is also about right, as my calculated line has the Rams favored by a touchdown. We’re getting some minor line value with the Rams at -6.5, but certainly not enough to take them with any confidence, especially in what could be a bad spot for them. The 49ers have also been a tough team to pin down how good they are this season as their injury/COVID situation has been about as bad as any team in the league this season and they seemingly play with a noticeably different roster every game. This week, the 49ers get Deebo Samuel back, after injuries and COVID caused him to miss 6 games total across two stints, and they’ll also get top running back Raheem Mostert and top cornerback Richard Sherman back after they’ve missed 6 games and 9 games respectively, 

However, they remain without top edge rushers Nick Bosa (9th game missed) and Dee Ford (10th game), slot cornerback K’Waun Williams (5th game), starting safety Jaquiski Tartt (4th game), stud tight end George Kittle (5th game), starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo (5th game), and their top-2 centers Weston Richburg (11th game) and Ben Garland (6th game) and this week those missing players will be joined by talented starting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (3rd game), stud left tackle Trent Williams (2nd game), and starting defensive tackle DJ Jones (1st game). There’s too much uncertainty to take either side with confidence with this line being where it is, but the Rams are my pick for pick ‘em purposes, as the single most likely outcome of this game is the Rams winning by a touchdown. 

Update: Trent Williams will apparently play and this line has dropped accordingly at 5. I still am on the Rams for a no confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 26 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)

These two teams have some big similarities. Both teams rank highly in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, as the Buccaneers rank first at +5.13%, while the Rams rank second at +4.87%. Both teams have been better defensively than on offense, ranking 2nd and 5th respectively in first down rate over expected and 12th and 11th respectively in first down rate allowed over expected. Both teams are also missing their best offensive lineman, left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the Rams and left guard Ali Marpet for the Buccaneers.

The big edge the Buccaneers have is their offensive has much more upside than the Rams’ offense. Marpet’s absence hurts, but they have top wide receiver Chris Godwin back healthy after missing 4 games earlier this season and they have also added fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown into the mix after he missed the first 8 games of the season with suspension. Overall, the Buccaneers have a 2.5 point edge in my roster rankings as a result of their offensive upside. Given that, this line favoring the Buccaneers by 4 points in Tampa Bay, where they will have the benefit of at least some fans, is pretty reasonable.

That being said, there are two key reasons why I like the Rams for a small play this week. For one, they have a big advantage as a west coast team playing an east coast team in a night game. Due to circadian rhythms, west coast teams cover at about a 60% rate against east coast teams at night, as east coast teams tend to get tired towards the end of the game and see their performance fall off in the second half.

On top of that, the Rams are in a great spot, as they only have a home game against the banged up 49ers on deck, while the Buccaneers have a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. Underdogs are 89-41 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those factors should be true here. If Tom Brady and company are looking ahead to facing Pat Mahomes and company, the Rams could easily give the Buccaneers a game or even pull the upset, especially when you consider the circadian rhythms as well. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less (and 25% by 3 points or less), so I like the Rams as underdogs of more than an underdog, especially at +4, even if we’re not getting great line value overall.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Los Angeles Rams 22

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +4

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (6-2) at Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

The Seahawks are 6-2, but four of their six wins have come by one score, including a pair that came down to fourth down stops against the Vikings and Patriots, and they rank just 17th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. However, there is reason to expect they will be better going forward. The Seahawks have been carried by their offense, ranking 6th in first down rate over expected at 2.38%, but just 26th in first down rate allowed over expected at 2.27%, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent on a week-to-week than defensive performance. If the Seahawks can even be an average defense going forward, they’re going to be a very tough opponent for anyone.

There are reasons to be optimistic for this Seahawks’ defense, as they got safety Jamal Adams back from a 4-game absence last week and they also added defensive end Carlos Dunlap in a trade with the Bengals, but they may need to be healthier at the cornerback position before they can be significantly improved on the defensive side of the ball, with their top-3 cornerbacks Shaq Griffin, Quinton Dunbar, and Ugo Amadi all out for this one. 

Still, I like their chances of bouncing back this week, purely because losing back-to-back games has been rare for this team in the Russell Wilson era, as they are 27-11-3 ATS and 33-8 straight up after a loss since 2012. On top of that, the Seahawks are also 23-12-3 ATS as underdogs in the Russell Wilson era. The Seahawks have also typically been a better team in the second half of the second with Wilson, going 42-20-2 ATS in games 9-16, as opposed to 34-34-4 ATS in games 1-8. They almost always seem to find a way to get better as the season goes on and it definitely wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case again this season. 

This week, the Seahawks play a Rams team that has a significant defensive edge, but is not nearly as good offensively. I have the Seahawks 1 point better than the Rams in my roster rankings even with all of their cornerback injuries, so we’re getting good line value with the Seahawks as 2-point road underdogs in a stadium that won’t have any fans. There isn’t quite enough here for the Seahawks to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line at +115 is a good bet as well, as the Seahawks should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

Update: This is a late update, but this line has moved to 3 in some places before gametime. I would bet the Seahawks at that number.

Seattle Seahawks 26 Los Angeles Rams 24 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Seattle +3

Confidence: Medium