Los Angeles Rams at Chicago Bears: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-1) at Chicago Bears (8-4)

The Bears lost last week in New York to the Giants, but I don’t really hold that against them that much. The Giants have been playing better football over the past month and the Bears were starting a backup quarterback in a terrible spot, with this huge home game against the Rams on deck. They were nowhere near 100% last week, but they still won the first down rate battle by 4.35%, taking the game to overtime, despite losing the turnover battle by 2. Because of that, the Bears remain #1 in first down rate differential on the season at +6.73%, despite playing with a backup quarterback for two games. Their 8-4 record is good, but they’ve been even better than that suggests, as all 4 of their losses came by less than a touchdown (by a combined 14 points) and they won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 4 losses.

Bears starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky is not even listed on the injury report this week, after practicing in full all week, and I expect a much better effort from the Bears in a much bigger game. The Rams are obviously a tough opponent and they’re better defensively with Aqib Talib back, but I don’t think they deserve to be favored by a full field goal here in Chicago. The strength of schedule difference between these two teams worries me, as the Bears have had the easiest schedule by DVOA, while the Rams have had the 9th toughest, but even with that taken into account I have this line calculated about even. Chicago isn’t worth a huge bet, but I think they have a good chance to win straight up and I like getting field goal protection at +3.

Chicago Bears 24 Los Angeles Rams 23 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Chicago +3

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-1) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

The book on the Lions since Matt Stafford became a full-time starter in 2011 is to take them in easier games and fade them against tougher opponents. Over that time period, they are 20-39-2 ATS and 20-41 straight up against teams with a winning record. Most recently, they went a combined 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 15-3 in their other 18 games. This year, they’ve beaten the Patriots, Panthers, and Packers, but the Panthers and Packers would have won if not for several missed kicks and both teams could easily end up missing the playoffs anyway.

The Rams certainly count as a tougher opponent, as they are arguably the best team in the league. They haven’t had many blowout wins lately, winning by double digits just twice in their past 9 games, which would seem relevant in a game they’re favored by 9.5 or 10 points, but look at who they’ve played during that stretch: Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, Packers, Saints, Seahawks and Chiefs. Aside from the 49ers, who the Rams beat by 29, all of those teams are playoff contenders. The Rams also won by 20+ in their first 2 weeks of the season against the Raiders and Rams.

The Lions are more similar to the teams they’ve blown out, as they rank 26th in first down rate differential at -4.09%. They’ve been better defensively since getting defensive tackle Damon Harrison in a trade from the Giants and getting defensive end Ezekiel Ansah back from injury, but they’ve gone in the opposite direction on offense, trading slot receiver Golden Tate to the Eagles and losing running back Kerryon Johnson, right guard TJ Lang, and wide receiver Marvin Jones to injury.

The Rams are also in a great spot coming out of a bye. Good teams tend to take care of business after a week off, especially on the road, as road favorites of 4+ are a ridiculous 32-8 ATS off a bye since 2002. The bye also allowed them to get healthy, as they come into this game at close to full strength. Not only do they get starting cornerback Aqib Talib back from an extended absence, but fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters has struggling through an injury and he should be closer to full strength after an extra week off. The Rams’ defense has been shaky recently, ranking 25th in first down rate allowed on the season at 39.67%, but they should be better than that going forward. I like their chances of taking care of business and blowing out the Lions. At -9.5, this is my Pick of the Week, but they’re also worth a big bet at -10.

Los Angeles Rams 31 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -9.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

Originally this game was supposed to be in Mexico City, but poor field conditions forced the NFL to move it back to Los Angeles, making this a true home game for the Rams (originally they gave one up to play in Mexico City). It’s obviously a huge loss for Mexico City, as this ended up being one of the biggest games of the season. These two teams are in different conferences, so there aren’t seeding tiebreakers up for grabs in this game like there were in Chiefs/Patriots and Rams/Saints, but this is the 3rd latest two teams with at least a 90% winning percentage have met in the past 30 seasons and this could easily be a Super Bowl preview.

The Rams were originally 1.5-point favorites when the game was in Mexico City, but the line shifted to 3 as a result of the move to Los Angeles. Normally homefield advantage is about 3 points, but the Rams have had trouble getting a steady fanbase in Los Angeles, even as well as they’ve been playing, so we could easily see the crowd full of Chiefs fans like it was full of Packers and Seahawks fans in recent weeks. Given that, I understand not giving the Rams the full 3-point homefield advantage.

WIth that in mind, I’d say this line is pretty accurate. I have the Rams a little bit better than the Chiefs in my roster rankings, but it’s hard to take the Rams with any confidence as field goal home favorites against a team as good as the Chiefs when they don’t have true homefield advantage. I’m taking the Rams for pick ‘em purposes, but we could easily see a push in this game. This one figures to go right down to the wire and may come down to who has the ball last.

Los Angeles Rams 34 Kansas City Chiefs 31

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (4-4) at Los Angeles Rams (8-1)

The Rams have not had many blowout victories lately, with just one double digit win in their last 6 games. That’s understandable when you look at their schedule though. They’ve played just one of their last five games at home and their last two home games came against the Vikings and Packers, a pair of strong opponents. Prior to that, they had blow out home victories over the Cardinals and Chargers and they also have a pair of blowout wins on the road in Oakland and San Francisco.

This week could easily be another double digit win over the Rams, now back home against the Seahawks. Seattle isn’t a bad team and they’ve gotten better since getting linebacker KJ Wright back from injury, but they still rank 25th in first down rate differential at -3.39% on the season. They have a 4-4 record, but that’s largely as a result of a +9 turnover margin (3rd in the NFL). Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so that’s not something they’re going to be able to count on going forward, especially against top teams like the Rams.

The Seahawks played the Rams close in their first matchup, losing 33-31, but that game was in Seattle and the Seahawks lost despite winning the turnover battle by +2. The Rams had 30 first downs to 20 for the Seahawks and outgained them by about 100 yards. On average, teams that win the turnover margin by 2 have a -0.1 turnover margin in a same season rematch. Unless the Seahawks can win the turnover margin again, the Rams should be able to defeat them with ease now back in Los Angeles.

That being said, I’m not betting the Rams for three reasons. For one, there will likely be a ton of Seahawk fans at this game, much like there were a lot of Packer fans there a couple weeks ago. For that reason, you could argue that the Rams won’t quite have true homefield advantage in this one. The second reason is that they have a much bigger game in Mexico City against the AFC leading Chiefs next week, so this could be a little bit of a look ahead spot, even against a hated division rival. The third reason is that the Rams cancelled practice on Friday because of the wildfires, which could be a distraction this week. The Rams should be the right side, but this isn’t worth betting.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Seattle Seahawks 15

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -9.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-0) at New Orleans Saints (6-1)

I’ve bet on the Saints every week since week 3, after they got off to one of their typical slow starts (2-12 ATS in the first 2 games of the season since 2012, 55-38 ATS after week 2), and they’ve covered in all 5 games, after failing to cover in their first two. That being said, it’s a lot harder being confident in the Saints this week, as 1.5 point home underdogs against the undefeated Rams. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -2, but any line value within the 3s is not terribly valuable, given how few games are decided by 3 points or fewer.

The Saints are an obvious top-5 team this year and could easily win this game at home, but the Rams are also a step up in class and it’s hard to be confident betting against them in a game they basically just have to win to cover, especially with talented slot receiver Cooper Kupp returning from a two game absence. I’m taking the Saints, who are in a great spot with only a trip to Cincinnati on deck after arguably their biggest game of the season this week (home underdogs are 23-9 ATS since 2014 before being road favorites), but this is a low confidence pick.

New Orleans Saints 26 Los Angeles Rams 24 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +1.5

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (3-3) at Los Angeles Rams (7-0)

The Rams are the last unbeaten team in the league at 7-0. They’ve undoubtedly played the best of any team in the league this season, but they are still a little overrated, as the public seems to think they are a perfect team because of their record. In reality, they’ve faced a pretty easy schedule, with games against the Cardinals, Raiders, and 49ers, all of whom are among the worst few teams in the league. Their other 4 wins have come against the Broncos, Seahawks, Vikings, and Chargers, so the Packers could easily be the toughest team they’ve faced thus far.

They’re also a banged up right now. Cooper Kupp will miss his 2nd straight game with a knee injury, while their defense has not been the same since week 3, when they lost cornerback Aqib Talib indefinitely to injury and when fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters suffered a leg injury that seems to have sapped his effectiveness. Since that week 3 game, the Rams have just one win by more than a touchdown and it came last week in San Francisco in a game in which the 49ers turned it over 4 times, leading to a +4 turnover margin for the Rams. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway and it’s not hard to see how the Rams could have a harder time forcing takeaways against an Aaron Rodgers led team than a CJ Beathard led team.

Despite that, this line is all the way up to 9, as the odds makers know they can bump up the line on any Rams game because the public thinks the Rams are invincible. For some context, this is the most points by which Rodgers has been an underdog in his entire career. He’s only been an underdogs of 7+ points twice in his career, both times in the post-season and both times Rodgers and the Packers covered. Rodgers has also lost by more than 8 points just 17 times in 148 career starts, so he really doesn’t get blown out often.

The Packers were not playing great football before their bye, but they should be better coming out of the bye, as they get wide receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison and top cornerback Jaire Alexander back from injury. Rodgers is also as healthy as he’s been all year, as he got an extra week to rest the knee injury he’s been playing through since week 1. I have this line calculated at Rams -6.5, so we’re definitely getting some line value with the visitor. The Packers aren’t in a great spot with a trip to New England following this game, but the Packers won’t look past an undefeated team and the Rams are in a bad spot of their own with a trip to New Orleans on deck. I like the Packers chances of keeping this within a score.

Los Angeles Rams 33 Green Bay Packers 27

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +9

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5)

Last week, the 49ers played on Monday Night Football in Green Bay. I picked the Packers for a high confidence pick as 9.5 point home favorites, as they were going into a bye and seemed like the significantly better team. However, the 49ers surprised a lot of people and made it a game, losing by just 3 points, 33-30, in a game in which 49ers backup quarterback CJ Beathard matched Aaron Rodgers point for point until the very end, when Rodgers pulled off a game winning drive.

Many, including myself, completely wrote the 49ers off when they lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season, but, while they’re not going to contend for anything at 1-5 with a backup quarterback, their offense has actually played pretty well since turning to Beathard, as they’ve had a first down rate of at least 38% in all 3 of Beathard’s starts and still rank 9th in the NFL on the season in first down rate at 40.26% even without Garoppolo. Their defense hasn’t been great, ranking 24th in first down rate allowed at 37.94%, but they still rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.32%.

Their record won’t show they’ve played well, but none of their losses have come by more than 11 points, so they aren’t getting blown out, and they’ve played both the Chargers and Packers within a field goal on the road with Beathard under center. That’s all despite the fact that they are dead last with a -11 turnover margin on the season. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and basis, as teams, on average, tend to have a turnover margin of about +0.0 per game, regardless of what their turnover margin was in the previous game.

Even if the 49ers don’t play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they’re highly unlikely to continue losing the turnover margin by close to 2 turnovers per game. At their current rate, they are on pace for a turnover margin of -29 on the season, which would be the worst turnover margin in recent memory, even worse than the -28 mark the winless Browns finished with last season (the 2000 Chargers also had a -28 turnover margin in a 1-15 season). Beathard has had issues with turnovers, but he’s also shown a lot of arm talent, completing 64.0% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Beathard has played well. After all, he was a 3rd round pick last year, hand selected by new head coach Kyle Shanahan, who saw him as the potential future of this franchise before the opportunity to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo presented itself. Beathard is a great fit in Shanahan’s scheme and his supporting cast is also playing at a high level, thanks in large part to Shanahan’s coaching.

Unfortunately, it seems I’m not the only one who has been impressed by Beathard so far, as this line shifted from Rams -12.5 on the early line last week to -9.5 this week, undoubtedly as a result of the 49ers’ near win in Green Bay on national television. At +12.5, the 49ers would have been a no brainer, but we’ve lost a lot of line value at +9.5, as I have this line calculated at 7.5. The 49ers have a good chance to keep this one relatively close at home, especially since the Rams’ defense has not been as good since losing cornerback Aqib Talib to injury a few weeks ago, but I’d need at least 10 points to bet money on the 49ers. If this line moves back up closer to gametime, I will reconsider.

Los Angeles Rams 31 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +9.5

Confidence: Low