Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (12-2)

The Steelers got a huge win last week, beating the Patriots for the first time since the 2011 season. That win was big for several reasons, as the Steelers were previously on a 3-game losing streak (all in upset fashion) and were in danger of falling out of the playoffs with another loss. The schedule doesn’t get any easier this week though, with the Steelers now having to go to New Orleans to play the Saints, arguably the top team in the league. The Saints haven’t been quite as good in recent weeks, but they’ve also been on the road for three straight games and are now returning home, where they have covered 4 straight games, winning by an average of 22.25 points per game.

The injury news also favors the Saints, who are expected to get left tackle Terron Armstead back from a 5-game absence. Armstead is one of the top left tackles in the league and getting him back should boost this offense significantly. The Steelers, meanwhile, could be without talented receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who suffered a groin injury in practice on Thursday and did not practice at all on Friday. They’ll also be without running back James Conner for the second straight week. Given these two teams injury situations, this line is short at New Orleans -6.5. As long as this line is under a touchdown, the Saints are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (11-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-7)

If not for concerns about the health of Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder, the Panthers would be a big play this week. They’re on a 5 game losing streak after starting 6-2, but they could have easily won any of their past 4 games, losing each of them by a touchdown or less and winning the first down rate battle in all 4 games. On the season, they still rank 10th in first down rate differential at 2.44% and could easily be around 8-5 right now if not for a few snaps.

The Panthers lost by 1 in Detroit, in a game in which they missed a field goal, an extra point, and a 2-point conversation late when they didn’t trust their kicking unit to tie the game. They lost by a field goal at home to the Seahawks, but outgained the Seahawks by 1.9 yards per play in a game in which the Panthers missed another field goal, threw a red zone interception, failed on a 4th down, and allowed the Seahawks to go 2 for 2 on 4th downs. They lost by a touchdown in Tampa Bay in a game in which they outgained the Buccaneers by 1.5 yards per play, but lost the turnover battle by 3. And last week they had 22 first downs to 12 for the Browns, but allowed 3 plays of 50+ yards in a 6-point loss.

Cam Newton isn’t at 100%, but the Panthers have still played well enough to win in recent weeks. The Panthers have just one loss all season by more than a touchdown and that came on the road on a short week in Pittsburgh, relevant with this line at 6.5. However, it’s still going to be very tough for them to keep it close in a likely shootout with the Saints with Cam Newton obviously not playing his best right now. The Saints have shown they are vulnerable on the road in recent weeks, losing in Dallas and starting slow in Tampa Bay, but they are still the best team the Panthers have faced this season and Newton has 8 interceptions in his last 5 games, after 4 in his first 8. I might bet the Panthers at +7, but not at +6.5.

Sunday Update: The Panthers will also be without stud defensive tackle Kawann Short this week. Between that and Cam Newton’s injury, I’m dropping this to a no confidence pick. The Panthers are better than their record and should be fully focused for a do or die game, but the Saints are a dominant team that can exploit the Panthers’ injuries.

New Orleans Saints 33 Carolina Panthers 27

Pick against the spread: Carolina +6.5

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

The Saints shockingly lost in Dallas last week, with their high powered offense held to just 10 points in a 13-10 loss, but I’m not really changing my outlook for them going forward. The Cowboys were a capable team at home that played arguably the best game of their season at the same time the Saints had an off night, much like the Patriots’ loss in Tennessee a few weeks ago. The Saints still rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +5.79% and rank 2nd in my roster rankings. This line shifted from New Orleans -10.5 on the early line to New Orleans -9.5 this week and I’ll gladly take that extra line value, as I still have this line calculated at -12.

The Buccaneers have won two in a row, but they’ve had a +5 turnover margin in those two games (+2.5 per game), after being -23 over their first 10 games (-2.3 per game). Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, but the Buccaneers start one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league, so I expect the Buccaneers going forward to be closer to their early season turnover margin than their recent turnover margin. They are also banged up on both sides of the ball, missing tight end OJ Howard and wide receiver DeSean Jackson on offense and safety Justin Evans and cornerback Carlton Davis on defense. Despite last week’s loss, I still expect the Saints, who are 46-31 ATS off of a loss in the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era, to take care of business in this one.

New Orleans Saints 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: High

New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-1) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Going into their week 8 bye, the Cowboys were a 3-4 team with a strong defense, but an underwhelming offense. They ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.47%, but just 23rd in first down rate at 33.81%. In order to remedy this, the Cowboys made an aggressive move to acquire slumping former Pro-Bowl receiver Amari Cooper from the Raiders for a 2019 1st round pick, potentially giving this offense #1 receiver it sorely lacked.

It was a risky move, but it’s gone well so far, as Cooper has 22 catches for 349 yards and already leads the team with 3 receiving touchdowns, despite being with the team for just 4 games. In addition, his 19 receiving first downs are 2nd on the team. The offense hasn’t been great or anything since he arrived, but they have moved the chains at a 35.94% rate in his 4 games, about league average, which is noticeably better than before the bye.

However, the Cowboys’ defense has gone in the opposite direction, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 38.06% rate in 4 games since the bye. They are 3-1 in those 4 games, but they have just a +4 point differential and have lost the first down rate battle in every game except last week’s home game against a backup quarterback. Injuries are the biggest reason for their defensive decline, particularly the injury to linebacker Sean Lee, who went down early in the Cowboys’ first game out of the bye against the Titans, coinciding with their defensive decline.

Lee is one of the most injury prone players in the league and the Cowboys have always been significantly worse defensively with him out of the lineup. They are better prepared for his absence this season, with young linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith capable of playing every down, but this team is noticeably better when they have all three linebackers together. In the 4 healthy games that Lee has played this season (not including the game against the Titans which he left early in the first half), the Cowboys have allowed a 30.43% first down rate, as opposed to 35.93% in their other 7 games. Starting defensive end Taco Charlton, who also went down in their first game after the bye, is expected to return this week, but their offense could be without stud left tackle Tyron Smith, which would be a big blow.

The Saints are obviously a dominant team, but we’re not getting line value with them like we were earlier in the season, as they are -7.5 in Dallas this week (remember when they were +3 in Baltimore and -3 in New York against the Giants). In fact, if Smith ends up playing and this line doesn’t move, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Cowboys. Unfortunately, Smith is a gametime decision, so we might not know until inactives are announced. For now, I’m taking the Cowboys for a no confidence pick, but I’ll almost definitely have an update before gametime.

Thursday Update: Smith looks unlikely to play, after not practicing all week. With him out, we aren’t getting any line value with the Cowboys, so I’m switching this pick to the Saints. This remains a no confidence pick as this line is about right.

New Orleans Saints 24 Dallas Cowboys 16

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -7.5

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at New Orleans Saints (9-1)

The Saints have had an incredible 3-week stretch. They started as home underdogs week 9 against the Rams, but ended up winning that game by 10, handing the Rams their first loss and putting themselves in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed in the NFC. They then had a pair of potential letdown spots, going on the road to Cincinnati week 10 after that big win over the Rams and then playing a sub-.500 Eagles team at home week 11 with this divisional clash looming just 4 days later, but they won both games by a combined 78 points, becoming the third team in the past 30 years to win back-to-back games by 35+ points.

There are reasons to like the Falcons in this one as 13-point underdogs. Quarterback Matt Ryan is playing as well as he ever has and should be perfectly capable of getting a backdoor cover late against a Saints defense that has been inconsistent this season. They also almost beat the Saints in Atlanta earlier this year and are in a good spot in a same season divisional rematch. Divisional road underdogs are 68-40 ATS since 2002 in the regular season against a team that previously beat them as underdogs.

Despite that, I’m taking the Saints, who are playing well enough right now to be favored by two touchdowns in this one. The Falcons gave up 43 points in the first matchup and their defense remains one of the worst in the league with linebacker Deion Jones still sidelined. This could be a blowout that gets out of hand early, like the Saints’ past two games. Matt Ryan and this Falcons offense could keep it somewhat competitive, but I’d feel comfortable having the Saints in this one for pick ‘em purposes.

New Orleans Saints 38 Atlanta Falcons 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -13

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (8-1)

The Eagles have obviously gotten off to a disappointing start, going 4-5 a year after winning the Super Bowl. Last week was arguably their most disappointing loss, as they lost a key divisional game against the Cowboys at home as 7.5-point favorites. After that loss, the public seems to have soured on them and, as a result, this line shifted from New Orleans -6.5 on the early line last week to New Orleans -8 this week, crossing the key number of 7. Typically I love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, and this game is no different.

The Saints are definitely a dominant team and are coming off arguably their best performance of the year, winning 51-14 in Cincinnati (also probably part of why this line shifted), but the Bengals are not nearly the team they were earlier in the year because of injuries and blowout wins aren’t necessarily predictive of future blowout wins. Teams that outscored their previous opponent by 35+ points, on average, outscore their next opponent by an average of just 5.20 points per game.

At 8 points, this line is too high. The Eagles’ record isn’t good, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, with a positive point differential (+15) and a first down rate differential that ranks 5th in the NFL (+4.75%). All 5 of their losses have come by less than a touchdown and they won the first down rate in two of those losses, including last week’s loss in Dallas, a game that swung on a Philadelphia turnover, two Dallas 4th down conversions, and a failed Philadelphia 4th down conversion. Carson Wentz has actually only lost by more than a touchdown just 4 times in 36 career starts, with 3 of those losses coming in his rookie year, which is relevant considering where this line is.

The injuries are starting to pile up for the Eagles, with running back Jay Ajayi, defensive end Derek Barnett, safety Rodney McLeod, and now cornerback Ronald Darby out for the season, with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan still yet to return after off-season back surgery, but this is such a talented roster that they’re still one of the better teams in the league on paper even with some key players missing. Players like left tackle Jason Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (and obviously quarterback Carson Wentz as well) were lost for the season during last year’s Super Bowl run and now are healthy and playing well.

The Eagles also get right tackle Lane Johnson back this week, after he missed last week’s battle with the Cowboys, while the Saints were dealt a huge injury blow when they lost left tackle Terron Armstead for an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. Armstead is one of the best left tackles in the league, so his absence should be noticeable for this offense. The general public doesn’t pay much attention to offensive line injuries, so I doubt Armstead’s absence affected this line much, but that injury should have affected this line more than the result of either of these teams’ games last week. Without Armstead, I have the Saints calculated as 5.5-point favorites in this one, so we’re getting significant line value with the Eagles.

The Eagles are also in a better spot, as they don’t have to play again in 4 days like the Saints do. Favorites are 51-71 ATS since 2012 before Thursday Night Football and the Saints could easily be looking forward this week to their upcoming Thanksgiving clash with the Falcons. The Eagles, meanwhile, have only an easy home game against the Giants on deck and should be fully focused in a game they need to stay in the playoff picture. They might not win straight up, but I love their chances of keeping this one close. This is my Pick of the Week.

New Orleans Saints 31 Philadelphia Eagles 27

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +8

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (7-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

I’ve picked 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, 56-38 ATS after week 2), and they’ve covered in all 6 games, after failing to cover in their first two. This is a tough spot for the Saints, coming off of a big upset win at home over the Rams, with a game against the defending defending Super Bowl Champion Eagles on deck, but they are still worth picking this week.

The reason why has more to do with their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, who have a terrible injury situation. The Bengals were banged up before their bye, losing tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft, defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard, but somehow are the most banged up they’ve been all season coming out of the bye, after losing key edge rusher Carl Lawson and #1 wide receiver AJ Green late in their final game before the bye. The Bengals 5-3 record looks nice, but they aren’t the same team they were early in the season with all of their missing personnel. The Saints are not worth betting as 5.5 point road favorites in a tough spot, but they should be able to win this one by at least a touchdown and keep their covering streak going.

New Orleans Saints 28 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5

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

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1)

These two teams met in the post-season on this same field in what ended up being one of the craziest post-season finishes of all time, with the Vikings scoring on a 61-yard, last second touchdown to pull away with a 29-24 victory and advance to the NFC Championship game. That was a very evenly matched game, but a lot has changed since then. Both teams remain in contention in 2018, but the Saints have looked a lot better than the Vikings in doing it, going 5-1 with a +41 point differential and ranking 7th in first down rate differential at +3.74%, despite getting off to one of their signature slow starts (2-12 ATS in the first 2 games of the season since 2012, 54-38 ATS after week 2).

The Vikings, on the other hand, have a solid record, but have not looked good in doing it. Despite an easy schedule that has featured the Cardinals, Jets, and Bills, the Vikings are just +12 in point differential and rank just 21st in first down rate differential at -1.57%. The big problem for them has been injuries. After having the fewest adjusted games lost to injury on defense in the league in 2017, the Vikings have had numerous injuries to key players in 2018.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph could return from a one-game absence this week, but that’s not a guarantee, as he didn’t get in a full practice all week. Defensive end Everson Griffen will be back after missing the last 5 games with mental health issues, but he probably won’t play every down immediately in his return. Even if those two play and play well, the Vikings will still be missing outside linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Andrew Sendejo, cornerback Mike Hughes, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, four defensive starters. They will also be without left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Tom Compton, and running back Dalvin Cook on the offensive side of the ball.

The Saints, meanwhile, are close to fully healthy and playing great football, after winning last week in a tough one on the road in Baltimore. Despite the wide talent gap between these two teams, the Saints are just 1 point road favorites in this one. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -4, so we’re getting significant line value that crosses the key number of 3. The Saints have a great chance to cover in a game they basically just need to win to cover. This is my Pick of the Week this week.

New Orleans Saints 26 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -1

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-2)

The Ravens are probably the team I was most wrong on coming into the season, as they’ve proven to be much improved on both sides of the ball. Their defense put up good numbers in 2017, but they also played 6 backup quarterbacks, which made their numbers look better than how they actually played. In 2018, the Ravens already have wins against the Broncos, Steelers, and Titans, all capable opponents, with their two losses coming on the road in Cleveland and Cincinnati in games in which they were competitive in the first down rate battle.

Despite a decent schedule, the Ravens have statistically been the top defense in the league through 6 weeks, allowing a 27.52% first down rate, and it hasn’t been close, as 2nd ranked Jacksonville allows a 31.28% first down rate. In 6 games, they’ve allowed just 93 first downs and 8 offensive touchdowns. Offensively, they haven’t been great, but they still rank 17th in first down rate, a big improvement over last year’s stagnant unit, and more than good enough to win games the way their defense is playing.

That being said, I think we’re still getting some line value with the visiting Saints this week, as 3 point underdogs. This line suggests these two teams are about equal, but the Saints are one of the top few teams in the league and I don’t quite put the Ravens in their class, especially with top cornerback Marlon Humphrey questionable after getting hurt in practice this week. This line shifted from Baltimore -1 on the early line to Baltimore -3 this week, a big line movement considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, as a result of the Ravens’ shutout win in Tennessee last week, but the Saints are a much tougher test, even if this one is back in Baltimore. The Saints, who have been on a roll since getting off to one of their trademark slow starts, are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 24 Baltimore Ravens 23 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3

Confidence: Medium