New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

I didn’t have confidence in either side of the Rams/Vikings game last week in Minnesota, but I was rooting for the Rams so I could get a better line with the Saints in this matchup this week. The Saints were -2.5 on the early line and I thought we could get -3 if the Rams could pull out the upset in Minnesota against a Vikings team that had to play again in 4 days on Thanksgiving. Instead, the Rams lost by 17 and this line remains at 2.5. About 15% of games are decided by exactly a field goal, so not getting protection against a Rams field goal win really hurts the Saints’ chances of covering.

The Rams’ loss in Minnesota against a team in a bad spot reinforced my belief that the Rams’ strong start was largely the result of a weak early schedule, but the Saints are not nearly at 100% in this game. They lost talented starting defensive end Alex Okafor for the season with a torn achilles, while their top-2 cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley will miss at least this week with injury. Those three players have been key to this team’s defensive turnaround this season, so the Saints could struggle defensively this week. The Rams have some injury problems too, with top receiver Robert Woods and slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman out with injury, but they aren’t missing nearly as much as the Saints.

Even without those three, the Saints are still probably the best team the Rams have faced this season though, as they are a legitimate top-3 roster when healthy. The Rams have gotten to 7-3 on an easy schedule, as 5 of their 7 wins have come against the Cardinals, Colts, 49ers, Texans, and Giants. Beating the Cowboys and Jaguars is impressive, but the Cowboys were without top linebacker Sean Lee in that game and the Rams scored two special teams touchdowns against the Jaguars. In addition to that, they’ve also lost at home to the Seahawks and Redskins.

The Saints could easily make that 3 home losses, as they are better than both Seattle and Washington. The Rams haven’t had much homefield advantage since moving to Los Angeles anyway, going 3-8 ATS there since moving before the 2016 season. The Rams don’t have quite the same trouble getting home fans in Los Angeles as the Chargers, but they do attract a lot of road fans and I’d expect that to be the case this week for this big game. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -2, so we are getting some line value with the Saints at +2, but I’d need the full field goal to be confident in the Saints. I will make a small bet on the money line at +110 though, as I do expect the Saints to win.

New Orleans Saints 23 Los Angeles Rams 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +2

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (7-2) at Minnesota Vikings (7-2)

Case Keenum and Jared Goff were the two starting quarterbacks for the Rams last season, on a team that went 4-12. Now Keenum and Goff face off against each other as quarterbacks of 7-2 teams in the middle of a race for a first round bye in the NFC. The #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Goff lost all 7 of his starts for the Rams last season after taking over for the veteran Keenum mid-season, but he’s taken a huge step forward in his 2nd season in the league and he has a lot more talent around him on an overall much better coached team.

They’ve won with convincing margins of victory and rank 4th in first down rate differential. Their easy schedule has been a big part of their success though, as 5 of their 7 wins have come against the Cardinals, Colts, 49ers, Texans, and Giants. Beating the Cowboys and Jaguars is impressive, but the Cowboys were without top linebacker Sean Lee in that game and the Rams scored two special teams touchdowns against the Jaguars. In addition to that, they’ve also lost at home to the Seahawks and Redskins.

The Vikings are arguably the toughest team they’ve faced this season, surprisingly led by Case Keenum. When the veteran journeyman Keenum signed with the Vikings this off-season, he looked bound for a backup job at best. Sam Bradford was coming off of a solid, healthy season as the starting quarterback, while Teddy Bridgewater looked like he could be ready to return as a reserve at some point in the season. However, Bradford hasn’t played much since week 1 due to a knee injury and Keenum is playing so well in his absence that the Vikings are keeping Bridgewater on the bench even though he is now healthy enough to play. Like Goff, Keenum isn’t doing this by himself, as he has a strong supporting cast, but this is the best football he’s played in his career and it’s tough to bench him at this point.

That being said, in the long run benching Keenum is probably the best decision. This team has the supporting cast to compete for a Super Bowl if they have strong quarterback play in the post-season. Keenum is hot right now, but he’s probably not the quarterback who can take them where they want to be. Bridgewater is more of a question mark, but he has the upside to take this team on a run and they should try to get him back into the lineup as quickly as they can so he can have a few starts under his belt by the post-season.

If Bridgewater was starting this game, I’d pick the Vikings, but, with Keenum, I calculated this line exactly where it is, at -2.5, so we’re not getting any line value with Minnesota. Given that, I’m taking the Rams because, unlike the Vikings, they have a normal week of rest on deck. The Vikings, meanwhile, go to Detroit on a short week for a Thanksgiving game. Favorites are just 61-95 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football, as it’s understandably tough to be focused for an inferior opponent with another game right around the corner. This is a no confidence pick, but the Rams are the choice for pick ‘em purposes.

Minnesota Vikings 17 Los Angeles Rams 16

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +2.5

Confidence: None

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-5) at Los Angeles Rams (6-2)

The Rams are 6-2, but I am not quite sold on them as a top-10 team. Four of their six wins have come against the 49ers, Cardinals, Giants, and Colts, who are among the 6 or 7 worst teams in the league. They have also beaten the Jaguars and the Cowboys, but the Cowboys were without Sean Lee and the Jaguars allowed two special teams touchdowns in a 10-point loss. The Rams have won big in the past two weeks, but that was against an Arizona team that lost Carson Palmer midgame and a Giants team that quit when they got down big.

The Rams’ two losses came against the Redskins and the Seahawks, both at home. In fact, they are just 1-2 at home this year, as opposed to 5-0 away from Los Angeles (including a neutral site game in London). Their one home win came against the Colts, who were led by Scott Tolzien, arguably the worst quarterback in the NFL. The Rams don’t have quite the same trouble getting home fans as the Chargers, but Los Angeles has not proven to be much of a homefield advantage for them since they’ve moved, as they are 2-7-1 ATS in Los Angeles over the past two seasons.

This week they are at home for the Texans, favored by 12 points in what could easily be a trap game for the Texans, who head to Minnesota next week to face a Vikings team that is also 6-2. Favorites of 10+ points are just 57-78 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Texans, meanwhile, should be completely focused with only a home game against the lowly Cardinals on deck. If I trusted the Texans at all, I’d make a bet on them here, but they are arguably a bottom-3 team without JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Deshaun Watson. I have this line at -10.5, so we aren’t getting much line value with the Texans, who could easily lose by two touchdowns if the Rams are focused.

Los Angeles Rams 20 Houston Texans 10

Pick against the spread: Houston +12

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (5-2) at New York Giants (1-6)

The Rams are one of the surprise teams in the league this season, as they come out of their bye week at 5-2. They’ll face a different kind of surprise team this week, as the New York Giants, who went 11-5 last season, have started this season 1-6, thanks in large part to injuries. The Giants enter this game missing 8 starters from week 1, including some above average starters like defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, wide receiver Odell Beckham, center Weston Richburg, and guard/tackle Justin Pugh. The Rams, meanwhile, are about as close to 100% healthy as any team in the league, after getting talented safety LaMarcus Joyner back from injury before the bye.

As a result, the Rams are favored by 4.5 points here in New York. Big road favorites tend to cover after a bye, as road favorites of 3.5+ are 50-26 ATS since 1989, but there are two problems. For one, the Giants are also coming out of a bye and that trend drops to 10-10 ATS when the opponent is also coming out of a bye. The second problem is I don’t know if the Rams quite deserve to be favored by this many. Even with all of the Giants’ injuries, I still have this line calculated at -2, as the Rams are still a middling team that has been helped by an easy schedule. With that in mind, I’m actually taking the Giants here, though for a no confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 20 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 7 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-3) vs. Los Angeles Rams (4-2) in London

The Rams are 4-2, but their 4 wins have come against the Colts, 49ers, Jaguars, and the Cowboys without Sean Lee, so I’m not as sold on them as the general public seems to be. The Cardinals have their own issues, but they ran the ball much better last week in Adrian Peterson’s first game with the team and I only have the Rams about 1.5 points better than them, so we’re getting some line value with the Cardinals at +3 on this neutral field in London. It’s not enough for me to bet them confidently, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 19 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (3-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2)

Both of these teams are off to surprising 3-2 starts, but I think the Jaguars are a little bit more for real than the Rams. Two of the Rams’ three wins came against the Colts and 49ers, two of the worst teams in the league, and they barely beat the latter. They also beat the Cowboys in Dallas, but the Cowboys were without Sean Lee and are not the same team as last year, so that’s not that impressive. Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ 3 wins have come against the Texans, Ravens, and Steelers, by a combined 80 points. Their +56 point differential is significantly better than the Rams’ +31 point differential, despite a tougher schedule.

The Rams are definitely improved offensively this season, but they still have problems on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have obvious problems in the passing game and on the offensive line, but they play incredible defense and can execute a conservative offense effectively if their defense plays like it can. I have these two teams about 2 points apart in my rankings, so we’re getting significant value with the Jaguars as mere 2.5 point favorites at home. The Jaguars should be able to win this game by a field goal or more, so the home team should be a smart bet in this one.

Jacksonville Jaguars 19 Los Angeles Rams 14

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 5 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (2-2) at Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

The Seahawks were favored by 3 points on the early line last week, but this line has since shifted a full 4.5 points to favor the Rams by 1.5 points. Typically I love fading significant week to week line movements like that because they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. This game is no different. The line moved because the Rams pulled an upset victory in Dallas, despite the fact that the Seahawks had their best game of the season, beating the Colts in blowout fashion 46-18. However, the Cowboys are an overrated team that is not as good as last season and that was missing its best defensive player, linebacker Sean Lee.

Even without Lee, the Cowboys are still arguably the toughest opponent the Rams have faced this season, so their 3-1 record doesn’t tell the whole story. Their other two wins came against two of the worst teams in the league, the 49ers and Colts, and they lost at home to the Redskins. The Seahawks haven’t beaten a good team yet this year, but their two losses came on the road against the Packers and Titans, who are better than anyone the Rams have played, and they have much more of a proven history than the Rams.

I don’t deny the Rams are significantly improved offensively this season, with Jared Goff showing improvement, improved talent around him, and improved coaching but this line suggests they’re only 1.5 points worse than the Seahawks, which I think is very premature for a team that was one of the worst in the league a year ago. I have this line calculated at -3.5 in favor of the Seahawks and that doesn’t even take into account that this game could have a very Seahawks heavy crowd. The Rams don’t have quite the same problem attracting fans in Los Angeles as the Chargers do, but they’ve struggled to sell their stadium out so far and the Seahawks have a big national following. The Rams are just 2-6-1 ATS in LA since moving there before the 2016 season. The Seahawks are a smart pick as long as we’re getting points.

Seattle Seahawks 17 Los Angeles Rams 13 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Seattle +1.5

Confidence: High