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

Los Angeles Rams at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (5-2) at Miami Dolphins (3-3)

This is a tough one to pick. Both teams have played easy schedules, but the Rams have played significantly better against their easy schedule, ranking 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +3.27%, even when adjusted for schedule, while the Dolphins rank 22nd at -0.72%. However, offenses tend to be much more consistent than defenses and the gap between these two teams on offense hasn’t been much, with the Rams ranking 15th at +0.90% first down rate over expected and the Dolphins ranking 17th at +0.61%. 

The Rams have the significant edge on defense (+2.37% vs. -1.33%), but that might not necessarily continue, especially the Dolphins are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all year on defense, after cornerback Byron Jones and defensive ends Kyle Van Noy and Andre Branch all missed time early in the season and have since returned. If the Rams don’t continue being significantly better on defense, the Dolphins are a good value as 3.5-point home underdogs.

At the same time, it’s fair to wonder if the Dolphins will be as good offensively going forward, given that they are switching quarterbacks from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa has obvious upside long-term and Fitzpatrick is in his age 38 contract year, but Fitzpatrick has been a big part of the reason for the Dolphins’ success this season and was coming off of back-to-back strong games in big wins for the Dolphins prior to being benched.  It seems that starting Tagovailoa after their bye week 7 was always the plan (although no one told Fitzpatrick), as it’s pretty unusual for a quarterback to be benched when he’s been playing as well as Fitzpatrick has. 

Whether that’s the right move in the long-term remains to be seen, but in the short-term, it could easily hurt this team. The Dolphins still have a lot of problems on the offensive line and, at the very least, the rookie Tagovailoa may have a lot more trouble with that than the veteran Fitzpatrick. The Rams don’t have any pre-season tape of Tagovailoa, which may put them at a disadvantage against the rookie in his debut, but it still wouldn’t surprise me if he struggled, especially with the Rams having a strong defensive front led by game wrecker Aaron Donald. If Fitzpatrick was still playing, the Dolphins would be the right side, but with Tagovailoa in the lineup, I think I like the Rams, albeit for a no confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 20 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-1) at Los Angeles Rams (4-2)

Both of these teams have impressive records, but neither team has been as good as its record suggests. The Rams have faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and have only beaten teams from the NFC East, getting lucky enough to face that whole division over the course of the first 4 weeks of the season, while their losses have come against the Bills and 49ers. The Bears, meanwhile, have faced a slightly tougher schedule, but all five of their wins have come by one score or fewer, including a few that easily could have gone the other way, while their loss in Indianapolis was a 19-3 game before a garbage time touchdown technically cut it to one score.

The Bears don’t seem to be getting much respect for their record though, while the Rams seem to be, as they are favored by 6 points over the Bears, despite not having any fans in the stadium at home. That suggests the Rams are about five points better than the Rams, but I have about 3-3.5 points difference between these two teams, so we’re getting decent line value with the visitors. It’s not enough for me to bet on the Rams and this might be a no confidence pick at 5.5, but the Bears should be the right side.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (4-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-3)

The 49ers were embarrassed last week, losing at home in blowout fashion to a previously 1-win Dolphins team, by final score of 43-17. The good news is that teams tend to be a good value to bet on after a game like that, as teams are 41-24 ATS since 1989 after losing by double digits as favorites of a touchdown or more. It’s not hard to see how that loss could have created significant line value, as the 49ers have gone from being 3-point home favorites on the early line last week in this game against the Rams to now being 3.5-point home underdogs.

The big problem for the 49ers last week was quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not looking remotely healthy in his first game back from a 2-game absence with an ankle injury, as Garoppolo completed just 7 of 17 before being pulled for backup CJ Beathard. If I knew Garoppolo would be significantly healthier this week, this would be an easier bet, but it’s hard to be confident in that, even if practice reports have been good. The 49ers also get one of their starting cornerbacks Emmanuel Mosley back, though their defensive injuries are still very significant and make this unit a far cry of what it was last season. 

The 49ers’ offense is much closer to full strength if Garoppolo is healthy, with starting running back Raheem Mostert, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, fellow starting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and stud tight end George Kittle all returning from absences in recent weeks, which theoretically should allow them to make this a competitive game, but if Garoppolo has to be pulled for Beathard, that will become a lot tougher. I’m taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t bet on this unless I hear something I’m more confident in regarding Garoppolo’s ankle.

Los Angeles Rams 24 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Washington Mascots: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (3-1) at Washington Mascots (1-3)

The mascot-less team from Washington got off to a good start to their season with a win over the Eagles, but the Eagles were missing arguably their more valuable player in Lane Johnson in that game and have shown themselves to be a subpar team even with Johnson in the lineup over the past few weeks, while Washington has also struggled since that week 1 game, losing all three games by at least two touchdowns. To try to right the ship, the Mascots will make a surprising change at quarterback this week, benching second year quarterback Dwayne Haskins for backup Kyle Allen.

Haskins being benched isn’t all that surprising because he hasn’t played well in his limited career action and the front office and coaching staff that drafted him are no longer around, but I would have figured if he was going to get benched, it would be later in the season, rather than after only the 11th start of the 2019 first round pick’s career, and that it would have been for Alex Smith, a proven veteran starter working his way back from a devastating leg injury. Instead, head coach Ron Rivera is turning to his former starting quarterback in Carolina, Kyle Allen.

It’s hard to understand the logic here. Haskins hasn’t been good, but he still has a lot of upside and Allen is a former undrafted free agent who was truly horrendous down the stretch for the Panthers last season, tossing 16 interceptions in his final 9 starts after a somewhat impressive beginning to his career as a starter. Allen’s true talent level may be somewhere between his hot start and his horrendous finish, but even if it is, he’ll be lucky to max out as a long-term backup in the NFL. Allen also had 12 dropped interceptions last season, giving him the most expected interceptions in the league of any quarterback other than Jameis Winston, and he overall ranked 38th out of 39 eligible quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus. 

Allen is not a short-term upgrade on Haskins nor does he do anything to clarify Washington’s long-term quarterback situation, as Haskins needs as much experience as possible to realize his potential, after just 14 collegiate starts. I didn’t have a strong lean either way on this game before Allen was announced as the starter, but I’m taking the Rams as a pure fade of Allen, who covered just twice in his final 9 games in Carolina, with more offensive talent around him than he has in Washington. There isn’t enough here for the Rams to be worth betting as 7.5-point favorites, but they should be the right side.

Los Angeles Rams 20 Washington Mascots 10

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -7.5

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

New York Giants (0-3) at Los Angeles Rams (2-1)

The Giants season has not gotten off to a good start, as they are winless at 0-3 and have lost probably their best player Saquon Barkley for the season. Their offense had a pathetic performance in their first full game without Barkley, managing just a 26.53% first down rate (13 first downs and no touchdowns on 49 plays) at home against a banged up 49ers defense in a 36-9 loss, pushing the Giants’ offense down to a 33.14% first down rate on the season that ranks 30th in the league, only ahead of the Broncos and the Jets. Those offensive issues should continue going forward without Barkley, which will overshadow a defense that has been surprisingly solid so far this season, ranking 11th with a 37.31% first down rate allowed. 

The Giants have a tougher test this week, on the road against a solid Rams team that doesn’t have any significant injury absences. The Giants are also in a tough spot, as they have another tough game on deck in Dallas against the Cowboys, while the Rams have only an easy matchup in Washington on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 102-59 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, while underdogs of 7+ are 55-90 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 7+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 7+ are 27-5 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again when their opponent will be underdogs of 7+ again the following week. 

Good teams tend to take care of business against bad teams without upcoming distractions on their schedule, while bad teams tend to struggle to keep it close against good teams when they have another tough game on deck. All of those conditions should be true this week. This line is steep at 13.5 (my calculated line is actually only 10, because the Giants have a solid defense), but the Rams should still be the pick for pick ‘em purposes because they’re in a great spot and they are much better coached.

Los Angeles Rams 26 New York Giants 10

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -13.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (2-0) at Buffalo Bills (2-0)

The Bills made the playoffs with 10 wins last season, but they faced a very easy schedule and their performance against tougher competition is concerning. They went just 1-5 against teams that finished with a winning record, with their only win coming against the Marcus Mariota-led Titans in a game in which the Titans missed 4 field goals and lost by 7. Even more concerning is the statistical split of quarterback Josh Allen between games against winning teams and non-winning teams.  

Even with a solid game against the Titans included, he completed just 51.7% of his passes for an average of 5.65 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions against winning teams, as opposed to 62.6% completion, 7.26 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions against .500 or worse teams. With the Bills’ schedule getting much tougher this season, the key to them making it back to the post-season will be Josh Allen and the rest of this team playing better than they have against tough competition. 

Whether or not they can do that is still up in the air, as the Bills started their season with a pair of easy games against divisional opponents, taking care of business in both games. This week, their schedule gets tougher, as they play host to the Rams. The Rams came into the season with several glaring weaknesses, but, one of them, their offensive line, has been pleasantly surprising this season thanks to the emergence of young players and bounce back years from veterans. They haven’t faced the toughest schedule to get to 2-0 and they barely won their week 1 game, but the Rams are exceeding expectations and have mostly avoided injuries so far, and they should easily compete for a playoff spot if that continues.

The Bills are better on offense since adding Stefon Diggs this off-season and Josh Allen is another year experienced, now in his 3rd season in the league, so I give them a better chance of beating a team like the Rams than I would a year ago, but I still have the Rams about a point higher in my roster rankings. This line, favoring the Bills by 2 at home, suggests these two teams are about even, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Rams, but the Bills could easily end up winning this game by a field goal, so this isn’t one I’m confident in. In fact, a Bills win by a field goal is probably the single most likely outcome, even if the Rams overall may have a better chance of covering.

Buffalo Bills 24 Los Angeles Rams 23

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +2

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)

The Eagles lost in embarrassing fashion on the road in Washington last week, blowing a 17-0 lead in a 27-17 defeat against one of the worst teams in the league. That shifted this line pretty significantly, moving from Philadelphia -3.5 to a -1 in the wake of the Eagles’ defeat. That loss is definitely reason for some concern in Philadelphia, but they will get a big boost this week with right tackle Lane Johnson returning from injury. 

Johnson hasn’t been the most durable player in his career, but he’s been one of the best offensive linemen in football when on the field and that shows up in a significant way in Carson Wentz’s career splits (his QB rating is about 20 points higher with Johnson on the field). Johnson’s return is especially important because the Eagles are already without right guard Brandon Brooks for the season and had to re-sign 38-year-old Jason Peters to start at left tackle because expected left tackle Andre Dillard is out for the season as well. 

I don’t think this huge line shift fully takes into account the impact that Johnson’s absence had against Washington and the impact that his return will have this week. The Eagles will also get running back Miles Sanders and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave back from injury. However, even with those players returning, I still only give the Eagles a slight edge in my roster rankings over the Rams, whose young offensive line was surprisingly impressive last week. Given that they only have a minimal edge in talent, there isn’t enough line value for the Eagles to be worth betting at home in front of an empty crowd as 1-point favorites, but they should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as the most likely result of this game is an Eagles win by a field goal.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -1

Confidence: Low

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)

The Cowboys finished last season just 8-8, but that was primarily due to terrible luck in close games, going 0-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They finished 6th in point differential at +113 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.28%, which both predict future success in 2020. The Cowboys lose free agent cornerback Byron Jones and their free agent additions HaHa Clinton-Dix and Gerald McCoy got cut and suffered a season ending injury respectively, but they did add a big upgrade on the edge in Everson Griffen. Right tackle La’El Collins and cornerback Jourdan Lewis are out with injury, but the Cowboys still rank 10th in my roster rankings even without them.

The Rams, meanwhile, lost significant players this off-season like Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Cory Littleton, and Nickell Roby-Coleman and didn’t bring in players who can adequately replace them immediately. They should take a significant step back from last season’s 11th rank in first down rate differential. I have them 22nd in my roster rankings, 5.5 points behind the Cowboys, suggesting the Cowboys should be favored by about 4.5 points, in front of an empty stadium in Los Angeles. We’re getting good value with the Cowboys at -2.5, so they’re worth a bet, in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Los Angeles Rams 19

Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5

Confidence: Medium