Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans: 2020 AFC Wild Card Round Pick

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5)

Both of these teams finished at 11-5 and qualified for the post-season, but they also both finished with negative schedule adjusted first down rate differentials, with the Titans ranking 21st at -0.91% and the Ravens ranking 25th at -1.64%. First down rate tends to be one of the most predictive metrics because it minimizes the impact of outlier plays and other metrics that aren’t predictive week-to-week, like turnover margins, missed field goals, narrow victories, return touchdowns, etc.

With the Titans, it’s easy to understand how they finished negative in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, despite their record. The Titans played one of the easiest schedules in the league and still needed to go 7-2 in games decided by one score or less in order to get to 11 wins. The Titans also benefited significantly from turnovers, leading the league with a +11 turnover margin, a very impactful, but largely non-predictive metric. Teams with turnover margin of +10 or better manage just a +0.05 turnover margin per game in the playoffs, so the Titans won’t be able to rely on that again this week. 

For the Ravens, the reasons they finished negative despite their record aren’t as immediately apparent as it is with the Titans. The Ravens did benefit from a below average schedule, but they are negative in first down rate differential even before schedule is taken into account (-0.58%) and they led the league with a +165 point differential, despite only having a +4 turnover margin, so they didn’t benefit from winning a high percentage of close games or from consistently winning the turnover battle.

Upon further analysis though, you can see that the Ravens played drastically better on 3rd and 4th down than they did on 1st and 2nd down, allowing them to lead the league in point differential despite a negative overall first down rate differential. The difference in their 1st/2nd and 3rd/4th down performance is enormous and it happens on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Ravens rank just 27th in first down conversion rate on 1st/2nd down, but 3rd on 3rd/4th down, while their defense ranks 28th on 1st/2nd down and 2nd on 3rd/4th down.

3rd and 4th down are more impactful downs, obviously, but how a team performs on 1st and 2nd down is much more predictive week-to-week and, likewise, there is little week-to-week or year-to-year correlation that suggests that teams can consistently exceed their 1st/2nd down performance on 3rd/4th down. In the long run, performance by down tends to even out. The Ravens were also really good on both sides of the ball on 3rd/4th down last season, but the key difference is they were really good on 1st/2nd down as well. 

In 2019, the Ravens’ offense ranked 1st in conversion rate on both 1st/2nd down and 3rd/4th down, while their defense ranked 4th on 1st/2nd down and actually “slipped” to 9th on 3rd/4th down. This year, the Ravens have struggled on early downs on both sides of the ball, but have greatly exceeded expectations on 3rd and 4th downs, which is unlikely to continue, especially against tougher competition. 

My roster rankings suggest the Ravens are better than their first down rate differential suggests, but even in my roster rankings the Ravens rank just 8th among qualifying playoff teams, so this is clearly not the dominant team they were last season. They have been hurt by expected regression from their defense, their offense being less novel, and the absence of arguably their most important three offensive players in 2019 aside from Lamar Jackson, with right guard Marshal Yanda retiring and left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle getting hurt.

The Titans haven’t been a dominant team overall this season either, but the good news for them is their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, which is much less predictable and predictive than offense. The Titans have had one of the best offenses in the league overall, ranking 4th in first down rate over expected at +2.16%, but their defense has been one of the league’s worst, allowing a +3.06% first down rate over expected, 2nd worst in the NFL, which is why they’re negative in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

If the Titans’ defense be can even a little bit better than they’ve been and their offense can continue playing at the level they’ve played at, the Titans are going to be a tough team for anyone to face and the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance gives the Titans a much higher ceiling than how they’ve played so far this season. The Titans are dealing with injuries upfront with linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Jayon Brown both out for the season, but their secondary got a boost when they acquired slot cornerback Desmond King from the Chargers at the trade deadline and they got a bigger boost when #1 cornerback Adoree Jackson returned from injury a few weeks ago. My roster rankings suggest they’re better on that side of the ball than they’ve performed thus far and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see them be at least somewhat more capable on that side of the ball in the post-season.

The Ravens’ talent level and common sense suggest the Ravens aren’t the 25th best team in the league like they’ve ranked in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, but even on a talent basis I have these two teams about even, so we’re getting great line value with the Titans as more than a field goal underdog at home with at least some fans in the stands. In fact, my calculated line has the Titans favored by a field goal. The average bettor likely expects the Ravens’ 3rd and 4th down dominance and the Titans’ defensive woes to both continue, but history suggests that isn’t necessarily going to be the case, so let’s take advantage of that. I love the Titans this week and would make this my Pick of the Week if this was a normal week. 

Tennessee Titans 34 Baltimore Ravens 31 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: High

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

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2020 AFC Wild Card Round Pick

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-3)

The Colts qualified for the post-season at 11-5 and their 8th ranked +89 point differential is what you’d expect from an 11-win team, but they benefited from the league’s 2nd best turnover margin at +10 and the league’s easiest schedule, two things that don’t bode well for this Colts team as they head into the post-season. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and teams with a turnover margin of +10 or better manage just a +0.05 turnover margin in the playoffs, so the Colts won’t be able to rely on that again this week. On top of that, their strength of schedule is going up significantly, as the Bills are arguably the top team in the AFC.

The Kansas City Chiefs get a lot more attention as defending Super Bowl Champions and the AFC’s #1 seed, but it was the Bills that led the league by a wide margin with a +4.67% first down rate over expected (Kansas City finished second at +3.61%) and that lead the AFC with 31.3 points per game. Both of those hold up even when you discount the Chiefs’ last game in which they rested their key players. The Chiefs have a slight edge on defense over the Bills (+0.88% vs. +1.22%), but even with their defensive edge, Kansas City still ranks behind the Bills in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+3.45% vs. +2.73%) and defensive performance is much less consistent week-to-week than offensive performance. 

The Bills’ defense has also played a lot better in recent weeks since getting healthier, particularly with top linebacker Matt Milano back. Their improved defense, paired with a consistently dominant offense, is the primary reason why they’ve won all 6 games since their bye week, by at least 10 points each, making them just the 9th team in the last 30 seasons to win at least 6 games in a row by double digits, including the 2nd (2014 Seahawks) to carry a streak like that into the post-season, although just two of nine went on to win the Super Bowl, for what it’s worth.

Ranking 4th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, only behind a trio of NFC teams, despite a defense that has overall ranked 25th in first down rate allowed over expected on the season at +1.22%, the Bills should be considered one of the top Super Bowl contenders going into the post-season and perhaps the favorite in the AFC if quarterback Josh Allen can continue his dominant season (I might give the Chiefs a slight edge because Mahomes is more playoff experienced).

The Colts, meanwhile, finished just 14th in the league in first down rate differential at +0.08%, once strength of schedule is taken into account, so there is a pretty big gap between these two teams. The Bills should also have some homefield advantage in this matchup, with at least some fans being allowed into the Bills’ first home playoff game since 1995. Unfortunately, we’re not getting great line value with the Bills as 6-point home favorites, as they’re not underrated anymore after 6 straight wins that weren’t all that close. My calculated line is Buffalo -7, so I’d need this line to drop to 5.5 to consider placing a bet on the Bills.

Buffalo Bills 31 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -6

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team: 2020 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at Washington Football Team (7-9)

The Washington Football Team has made the post-season at 7-9, just the third time in NFL history a team with a losing record has made the playoffs. Washington’s record and the fact that they only qualified for the playoffs because they’re in a terrible division in the NFC East has caused them to be seen as an illegitimate playoff team by some, but Washington actually could have had 9 or 10 wins fairly easily, as their went 0-3 in games decided by 3 points or fewer, including a pair of games against the Giants in which they lost by 4 points combined, despite winning the first down rate battle by a combined +4.60%, as a result of a combined -6 turnover margin in those 2 games. 

Turnover margin is highly inconsistent week-to-week and Washington was +2 in turnovers other than those 2 games, so it’s not hard to see how Washington could easily be 9-7 right now (not even including a near victory against Detroit). If Washington was 9-7, I think they would be getting a little bit more respect going into the post-season, especially since they are 5-1 in games started by Alex Smith, with the one loss being that loss to Detroit. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, Washington ranks 10th at +1.57%, which is also in line with roughly a 9-7 team.

Washington is led by their defense, which ranks 3rd in the NFL in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.36%. That’s somewhat of a concern because defensive play is much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play and Washington’s offense ranks just 27th in first down rate over expected at -2.79%, but Washington’s offense has been better in recent weeks. Not only because Alex Smith has been their best starting quarterback this season, but also because their offensive line is at full strength and playing at a high level in recent weeks. That helped them stay competitive even in the two games Alex Smith missed with injury down the stretch.

Unfortunately, Smith’s injury situation seems to be getting worse, not better, with Washington looking likely to rotate Smith and Taylor Heinicke at quarterback in this one, to keep Smith fresh. Heinicke even took most of the first team reps in practice on Thursday, though Smith is still expected to be able to go in a limited capacity. Heinicke is probably better than either Kyle Allen or Dwayne Haskins, Washington’s other quarterbacks besides Smith this season, and Washington’s offensive line should be a big help for him, but, of further concern, their feature back Antonio Gibson and top wide receiver Terry McLaurin are also playing at less than 100% through injuries, though they’re both in better shape than Smith. The injury uncertainty of their three most important offensive skill position players makes it tough to be confident in Washington.

What also makes it tough to be confident in Washington is that their opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are legitimately one of the best teams in the league and, while they might not quite justify being 8-point favorites over a capable Washington team, they come close to it, so we’re not getting the kind of line value with Washington that we could need to bet them in their current injury situation. Like Washington was better than their 7-9 record, Tampa Bay was also better than their 11-5 record, as their 5 losses all came against playoff qualifiers, including 3 losses by 3 points or fewer. 

Overall, Tampa Bay finished 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.46% and they were one of just two teams in the league (New Orleans) to finish in the top-10 in both first down rate over expected and first down rate allowed over expected. Their defense carried them early in the season and, though they had some expected regression on that side of the ball, they still finished 5th at -2.77%, while their offense improved as the season went on and Tom Brady got more familiarity in this offense and more consistency from his receiving corps, leading to them finishing 9th at +1.69%. My roster rankings also support the Buccaneers being seen as a top contender, ranking Tampa Bay 3rd among playoff qualifiers. We’re still getting some line value with Washington (my calculated line is Tampa Bay -6.5, with Washington’s injury uncertainty factored in), but not nearly enough to be confident in them in their current injury situation.

Update: Smith has been ruled out and this line has jumped to 10 in response. I don’t think Heinicke is a big downgrade from a banged up Smith and he’s played better than all of Washington’s other non-Alex Smith quarterbacks, so I like Washington against the spread little more at the new line, though not nearly enough to bet on them.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Washington Football Team 16

Pick against the spread: Washington +10

Confidence: Low

2021 NFL Mock Draft

Updated: 1/6/21

This is my first mock draft of the year. I’ll preface this by saying I am not a college football expert and I relied on draft prospect rankings from several draft experts to figure out the range where players are expected to be drafted, which I know can change pretty drastically across the pre-draft process. 

For first time readers of this website, the primary feature of this website is my against the spread NFL picks, which will continue into the post-season. Mock drafts are just something I do for fun in the off-season and I am not nearly as confident in these mock draft picks as my against the spread picks. 

My main focus here was using my knowledge of pro teams to discuss how players would best fit with teams that are drafting in the range they are currently projected to be drafted in. Teams’ needs will also change pretty drastically before draft day due to free agency and trades, so I will make a few updates between now and the draft, based on changing prospect rankings and changing team needs.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Until I hear otherwise, I expect Trevor Lawrence to be a Jacksonville Jaguar. The Jaguars earned this pick by being the worst team in the league this season, losing each of their last 15 games after somehow pulling the week one upset over the playoff qualifying Indianapolis Colts. Trevor Lawrence won’t fix all of the Jaguars’ issues, but they have a stockpile of draft picks and significant cap space to build quickly around Lawrence, who is legitimately one of the safest #1 draft picks in the past three decades.

2. New York Jets – QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)

The Jets lost the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes by winning a couple games late in the season and now have a difficult decision to make. They could trade down from this spot and continue trying to build around Sam Darnold, the 2018 3rd overall pick, who is now heading into his 4th season in the league. Or they could trade Darnold and use this pick on his replacement. Ultimately, I think the latter is more likely. 

The front office and coaching staff who drafted Darnold are gone and Darnold’s contract situation is much less favorable than a rookie, who would have four remaining cost controlled years, as opposed to one for Darnold. Justin Fields’ strong performance in the college football playoff semifinal win over Clemson only helps his case to be the pick here, though I wouldn’t rule out a surprise pick like Zach Wilson or Trey Lance, depending on how the pre-draft process plays out.

3. Miami Dolphins – OT Penei Sewell (Oregon)

The Dolphins got this pick from the Texans for Laremy Tunsil and now get their pick of the top non-quarterbacks in this draft, with the Texans falling to 4-12 in an abysmal season for the franchise. The Dolphins have various needs here they could address and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take one of the top wide receiver prospects, but offensive linemen typically go in the top-3 more often than wide receivers and Sewell is one of the top offensive line prospects in recent years. 

The Dolphins used a first round pick on Austin Jackson last year and had several rookie starters on the offensive line, but overall this group was part of the problem for this underwhelming Dolphins offense and Sewell is better than any of the players they drafted last year. He would immediately plug into the left tackle spot and move Jackson to right tackle or guard. That would set the Dolphins up well to protect Tua Tagovailoa long-term.

4. Atlanta Falcons – CB Patrick Surtain (Alabama)

If the Falcons move on from Matt Ryan or Julio Jones, the Falcons could use this pick on a replacement for one of those two players, but it sounds like the Falcons are looking for someone who would want to keep both of them in their GM search, so it’s likely they’ll go elsewhere with this pick. Trading down with a team looking to move up for a quarterback would make a lot of sense for a team for many needs and if the Falcons get a good offer they should take it, but if they have to stay put, they’ll likely focus on defense. The Falcons used a first round pick on a cornerback last year, taking AJ Terrell 16th overall, but they could use another starter long-term. Surtain profiles as a lockdown #1 cornerback and could be the first defensive player off the board.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Micah Parsons (Penn State)

The Bengals are also a candidate to move down, having already secured their franchise quarterback last year in Joe Burrow. They’d like to get better protection for Burrow, especially now that he is coming off of a torn ACL, but there isn’t an offensive lineman worth taking here. Instead, the Bengals focus on defense and fill a big hole at middle linebacker with Micah Parsons, the top off ball linebacker prospect and possibly the top defensive prospect overall. He would have been a candidate for the Falcons if they didn’t already have Deion Jones, but he would be much needed in Cincinnati.

6. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU)

The Eagles used several draft picks on wide receivers last year, including first round pick Jalen Reagor, but anyone who watched them this season knows they still badly need help at the position, with no pass catcher topping 539 receiving yards. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson can’t be counted on to return and, other than Reagor, none of the wide receivers drafted last season look like potential long-term starters. Ja’Marr Chase is too good for the Eagles to pass on if he’s available. 

7. Detroit Lions – QB Zach Wilson (BYU)

Matt Stafford isn’t the problem in Detroit, but he’s owed 43 million over the next two seasons for his age 33 and 34 seasons and if the rebuilding Lions can get a good return for him from a quarterback needy team, the Lions could move on from him and opt to use their high first round pick on a cheaper, younger replacement. The Lions don’t have a lot of financial flexibility long-term and moving Stafford and replacing him with a potential franchise quarterback on a rookie contract would allow them more flexibility as they rebuild. Even if they don’t move on from Stafford this off-season, they could use a high pick on a quarterback with the intention of sitting him for a year and trading Stafford next off-season, similar to what the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith.

8. Carolina Panthers – QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

The Panthers are another team that could address the quarterback position early in the draft. Teddy Bridgewater is owed 39 million over the next two seasons and in his first season as the Panthers’ starter he didn’t prove he was worth that kind of money. Bridgewater has 10 million guaranteed to him for 2021, but the Panthers could restructure a cheaper deal with him and keep him as a bridge quarterback while a rookie develops. A raw, high upside option like Trey Lance would make a lot of sense.

9. Denver Broncos – CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)

The Broncos’ defense played well in 2020 despite a lot of injuries, but their cornerback group was depleted by the end of the season. Even if AJ Bouye and Bryce Callahan come back healthy, the Broncos need a third cornerback, another outside cornerback to play opposite Bouye, with Callahan on the slot. The Broncos are speculated to be interested in drafting a quarterback, but the top-4 are all off the board at this point and, even if they weren’t, I’m not sure they would take one anyone, with Drew Lock still around as a developmental quarterback prospect. They could still take another quarterback with a high pick, but I think it’s more likely they pursue veteran competition rather than giving up on Lock. 

10. Dallas Cowboys – DT Kwity Paye (Michigan)

The Cowboys had problems on both sides of the ball this season, but defense is the biggest area of concern because their offense will be better when they’re healthier in 2021, while their defense is lacking in promising young players, especially on the defensive line. Kwity Paye is a high upside defensive line prospect that can play both inside and outside and he would give the Cowboys a big boost.

11. New York Giants – WR DeVonta Smith (Alabama)

The Giants have used their high draft picks to build their offense in recent years, taking running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones, and left tackle Andrew Thomas. Now they add a wide receiver in Heisman winner DeVonta Smith. The Giants wide receivers weren’t a bad group in 2020, but Golden Tate is overpaid as a 3rd receiver and will likely be cut ahead of a 8.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for his age 33 season in 2021 and neither Sterling Shepard nor Darius Slayton are true #1 wide receivers either. Smith gives them a potential #1 wide receiver long-term and, if he develops and Shepard and Slayton stick around, Daniel Jones would have a strong receiving corps for years to come.

12. San Francisco 49ers – DE Zaven Collins (Tulsa)

The 49ers will be healthier at the edge rusher position in 2021, as at least Nick Bosa should return, but Dee Ford could easily not return, owed a non-guaranteed 16.9 million in 2021 after two injury plagued seasons in San Francisco. Solomon Thomas should also be healthy again, but he hasn’t shown much in four seasons in the league. The 49ers need a long-term edge rusher opposite Bosa. Arik Armstead played outside out of necessity last season, but the 49ers would like to be able to use him inside more next season. Collins would give the 49ers a quartet of first round picks upfront with Bosa, Armstead, and last year’s first round pick defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Collins also has the versatility to play some standup linebacker on run downs.

13. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)

It’s pretty amazing what Justin Herbert was able to do as a rookie despite below average play at pretty much every spot on the offensive line. The Chargers almost have to use their first round pick to get Herbert some help, unless they sign multiple starters in free agency. Leatherwood would slot in immediately as Herbert’s blindside protector long-term and would be an obvious upgrade over pending free agent Sam Tevi.

14. Minnesota Vikings – DE Greg Rousseau (Miami)

The Vikings’ defense was absolutely horrible down the stretch in 2020 and, while a lot of that was due to injuries, especially linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings still have obvious needs on that side of the ball, especially on the defensive line. The Vikings should get stud edge defender Danielle Hunter back in 2021 after he missed all of 2020 with injury, but they need a better option opposite him than Ifeadi Odenigo, who leads returning Vikings with 3.5 sacks in 2020 and would be best as a rotational reserve.

15. New England Patriots – TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)

The Patriots haven’t had much success with first round wide receivers, but they desperately need pass catchers, so maybe they’ll address the wide receiver position in free agency and use their first round pick on the draft’s top tight end Kyle Pitts. A quarterback could also be an option, either at this spot or in the top-10 after a trade up, but unless there’s someone Belichick loves in this draft that is worth moving up for, I think it’s more likely he addresses the position with a veteran before the draft. The Patriots have the cap space to add a veteran quarterback and a top wide receiver in free agency (Matt Stafford and Kenny Golladay?) and at Belichick’s age he’s unlikely to want to develop a rookie quarterback as part of a longer rebuild if the opportunity to add a more proven veteran presents itself.

16. Arizona Cardinals – WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

The Cardinals obviously have one stud wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, but Kliff Kingsbury can’t be satisfied with this group of pass catchers, especially when they run so many 3 and 4 wide receiver sets. Larry Fitzgerald is likely to hang them up this off-season, ahead of what would have been his age 38 season, which would open up playing time for a rookie in three wide receiver sets with Hopkins and Christian Kirk, given that 2019 2nd round pick Andy Isabella has yet to develop. Waddle’s speed would make him a dangerous weapon if single-covered opposite Hopkins and Kingsbury can line him up in different spots like how the Chiefs used Tyreek Hill early in his career. I like his fit in this offense.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

The Raiders used the 19th overall pick on cornerback Damon Arnette last year, but the Raiders’ defense was still terrible this season and they need to keep building their cornerback group, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take a cornerback in back-to-back years. The Raiders have the need for another long-term starter outside and if everything goes well Horn and Arnette could form a talented duo for years to come.

18. Miami Dolphins – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

The Dolphins lack a good three down linebacker, so they could address this position with their second pick in the first round. Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, and Kamu Grugier-Hill saw the majority of the linebacker snaps in 2020 with hybrid player Kyle Van Noy also in the mix, but Van Noy plays a lot of edge defender snaps as well and Baker, Roberts, and Grugier-Hill could all be upgraded. Owusu-Koramoah is one of the best every down linebacker prospects in this draft and could play close to 100% of the snaps even as a rookie.

***Picks 19-32 are based on odds makers projections as of January 6th 2021, not on my own predictions***

19. Washington Football Team – QB Mac Jones (Alabama)

The Alex Smith comeback story has been amazing, but he’ll need to make a decision on continuing his career in his age 37 season in 2021 and, even if he wants to return, Washington will have to make a decision on bringing him back at his currently scheduled 19 million salary, none of which is guaranteed. Even if Smith returns to Washington, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington use their first round pick on a long-term option as Smith probably isn’t more than a bridge quarterback at best given his age and everything he’s been through.

20. Chicago Bears – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

The Bears hope to bring back Allen Robinson as a free agent this off-season, but, even if they do, they could use another wide receiver. Darnell Mooney showed a lot of promise as a 5th round rookie in 2020, but 2018 2nd round pick Anthony Miller has yet to develop. Moore would be a potential #1 wide receiver long-term if Robinson can’t be retained and, if Robinson is retained, he can still contribute immediately in three wide receiver sets with Robinson and Mooney as a rookie.

21. Indianapolis Colts – DT Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

The Colts have DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart signed long-term at the defensive tackle position, but hybrid player Denico Autry is a free agent and they could use a younger version of Autry that can play both outside and inside. That’s what Basham can be for them, setting the edge on early downs and moving inside and rushing the passer from the interior opposite Buckner in passing situations. The Colts could also lose edge defender Justin Houston this off-season ahead of his age 32 season in 2021, so adding youth to this defensive line should be a priority.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars – S Jevon Holland (Oregon)

Normally teams that draft a quarterback with their first pick use their next pick on a complementary offensive player, but the Jaguars could buck the trend because they have more needs on defense than offense. The Jaguars’ defense should be better by default in 2021 because they should be healthier, but they still need to add a playmaker at the safety position. Jarrod Wilson is a capable if unspectacular starter, but they could use a higher upside option next to him. 

23. Cleveland Browns – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

Olivier Vernon tore his achilles, which is a huge blow to the Browns’ chances in the post-season. Vernon was a free agent anyway, but his injury makes it even more likely the Browns go elsewhere at the defensive end position opposite Myles Garrett this off-season. Using a high draft pick on an edge rusher would make a lot of sense for a team that lacked depth at the position even before the Vernon injury.

24. Tennessee Titans – OLB Joseph Ossai (Texas)

Edge defender (outside linebacker in the Titans 3-4 scheme) was a huge position of need for the Titans last off-season. They thought they solved the issue in the short-term with Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney being added on one-year deals, but neither amounted to anything and the Titans’ pass rush has been an obvious weakness on a team that is Super Bowl caliber on offense. The Titans could address the need with a long-term option early in the draft this year, giving them a long-term complement on the edge opposite Harold Landry.

25. New York Jets – WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

The Jets follow the rule of taking an offensive player after taking a first round quarterback. Breshad Perriman was only on a one-year deal and could be upgraded anyway. Bateman would give the Jets and a long-term complement outside to last year’s second round pick Denzel Mims, who flashed as a rookie, with veteran Jamison Crowder around for at least one more season as the slot receiver.

26. Baltimore Ravens – G Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)

The Ravens never properly replaced right guard Marshal Yanda and it has shown on this offensive line this season. If the Ravens get the opportunity to take Wyatt Davis, the draft class’ top guard prospect, with their first round pick, it may be an easy decision for them. Rookie guards can step in and make a big impact right away and Davis would be a big boost for a team with annual Super Bowl aspirations.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)

Leonard Fournette was added as a complement for Ronald Jones, but he’s only on a one-year deal and could be upgraded. Ronald Jones is a capable lead back, but the Buccaneers are all in for the Super Bowl with an age 44 Tom Brady in the final year of his contract in 2021 and adding a feature back prospect like Etienne is the most impactful short-term move the Buccaneers can make at this point. Similar to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Le’Veon Bell on the Chiefs this season, Etienne could be the lead back and rotate with Ronald Jones rotating in as a strong 2nd option.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Najee Davis (Alabama)

Back-to-back running backs off the board, as Etienne and Davis could both go in the first round. Lead back James Conner is a free agent for the Steelers this off-season and backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland averaged 3.32 yards per carry and 3.42 yards per carry respectively in 2020. Conner could be brought back, but the Steelers may have their sights on an upgrade at the position long-term. Davis would be cheaper and likely better than Conner and would make sense even if the Steelers are able to bring Conner back on a cheap one-year deal to work in tandem with another back.

29. Buffalo Bills – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

The Bills got great play out of reclamation project Daryl Williams at right tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season and could easily go elsewhere, as could swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, who would be in his age 36 season if he returned. The Bills could use their first round pick on a right tackle who would allow Cody Ford to remain at guard long-term. There are other directions the Bills could go, but this is a great value for Mayfield, who could go in the top-20.

30. New Orleans Saints – WR Chris Olave (Ohio State)

The Saints were without Michael Thomas for most of 2020 and didn’t have a young wide receiver step up in his absence, instead relying on Emmanuel Sanders, who will be in an age 34 contract season in 2021. The Saints could use a high draft pick and a long-term complement for Thomas, something they really lack right now. In the short-term, Olave would be an upgrade as the #3 receiver behind Thomas and Sanders.

31. Green Bay Packers – MLB Dylan Moses (Alabama)

The Packers were criticized for taking quarterback Jordan Love instead of a wide receiver in the first round last year, but I just thought it was weird they passed up Patrick Queen, when they had an obvious need at the linebacker position. The Packers could redeem themselves by taking an every down off ball linebacker prospect in the first round. Wide receiver is also a possibility, but the Packers have gotten by just fine with the receiving corps they have right now. They may not want to bring along another young wide receiver and if they fall short of the Super Bowl, their linebacking corps and their defense are much more likely to be the reason why than their pass catchers.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – G Trey Smith (Tennessee)

The Chiefs’ achilles heel on their offense is their offensive line, but they can address the position early in the draft. Trey Smith could have an immediate impact on this offensive line for a team that has had underwhelming guard play since Kelechi Osemele, a veteran on a one-year deal, got injured earlier this season. Even if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl again, Smith could be available to them in the first round.

NFL Against The Spread Pick Results (2013-2020)

2020 Regular Season

Total Against the Spread: 130-122-4 (51.59%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 16-12 (57.14%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 39-34-1 (53.42%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 65-52-2 (55.66%)

Low Confidence Picks: 46-38 (54.76%)

No Confidence Picks: 19-32-2 (37.25%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 18-18 (50.00%)

2019

Total Against the Spread: 134-125-8 (51.74%)

Pick of the Week: 12-3-2 (80.00%)

High Confidence Picks: 20-11-1 (64.52%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-2 (49.30%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 67-50-5 (57.26%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-40-1 (46.67%)

No Confidence Picks: 32-35-2 (47.76%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 22-21 (51.16%)

2018

Total Against the Spread: 154-102-11 (60.16%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-13-2 (61.76%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 41-27-1 (60.29%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 72-46-4 (61.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-28-1 (55.56%)

No Confidence Picks: 47-28-6 (62.67%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 25-17-1 (59.52%)

2017

Total Against the Spread: 139-120-8 (53.67%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6 (64.71%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-11-3 (65.63%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 33-34-1 (49.25%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 65-51-4 (56.03%)

Low Confidence Picks: 44-38-4 (53.66%)

No Confidence Picks: 30-31 (49.18%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)

2016

Total Against the Spread: 130-127-10 (50.58%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6-0 (64.71%)

High Confidence Picks: 12-17-2 (41.38%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 42-26-4 (61.76%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 65-49-6 (57.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 34-40-2 (45.95%)

No Confidence Picks: 31-38-2 (44.93%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 26-25 (50.98%)

2015

Total Against the Spread: 124-138-5 (47.33%)

Pick of the Week: 9-8 (52.94%)

High Confidence Picks: 14-11 (56.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-1 (49.30%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 58-55-1 (51.33%)

Low Confidence Picks: 36-45-2 (44.44%)

No Confidence Picks: 30-38-2 (44.12%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 16-30 (34.78%)

2014

Total Against the Spread: 150-113-4 (57.03%)

Pick of the Week: 9-7-1 (56.25%)

High Confidence Picks: 9-11 (45.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 57-31 (64.77%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 75-49-1 (60.48%)

Low Confidence Picks: 36-32-2 (52.94%)

No Confidence Picks: 39-32-1 (54.93%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)

2013

Total Against the Spread: 148-110-9 (57.36%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 25-10-1 (71.43%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 32-26 (55.17%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 67-42-2 (61.47%)

Low Confidence Picks: 39-28-3 (58.21%)

No Confidence Picks: 42-40-4 (51.22%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 27-31 (46.55%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 1109-957-59 (53.68%)

Pick of the Week: 82-48-6 (63.08%)

High Confidence Picks: 138-96-9 (58.97%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 314-250-10 (55.67%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 534-394-25 (57.54%)

Low Confidence Picks: 305-289-15 (51.35%)

No Confidence Picks: 270-274-19 (49.63%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 172-192-1 (47.25%)

2020 Week 17 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

CIN +14 vs. BAL

High Confidence Picks

WAS -3.5 @ PHI

Medium Confidence Picks

SEA -7 @ SF

NO -5 @ CAR

DET +4 vs. MIN

NE -3 vs. NYJ

Low Confidence Picks

KC +4 vs. LAC

BUF -1.5 vs. MIA

NYG +1.5 vs. DAL

GB -4 @ CHI

LAR +3 v. ARZ

No Confidence Picks

TB -6.5 vs. ATL

HOU +7.5 vs. TEN

JAX +14.5 @ IND

DEN +2.5 vs. LV

PIT +9.5 @ CLE

Upset Picks

NYG +110 vs. DAL

Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) at Denver Broncos (5-10)

The Raiders lost last week in crushing fashion, kicking what they thought was the game winning field goal with 19 seconds left in the game, only to allow the Dolphins to go 49 yards in one play with no timeouts left to get into position to kick their own game winning field goal, ending the Raiders’ faint playoff chances and effectively their season. Despite that loss, the Raiders have gone from being underdogs of 2.5 points on the early line last week to being 2.5 point favorites this week. That might be confusing at first glance, but when you look at how the Raiders played last week, it’s more understandable. 

Despite losing the game, the Raiders actually won the first down rate battle by 8.25%. They lost the game because they committed the game’s only turnover and because they went a ridiculous 0 for 10 on 3rd down and 1 of 2 on 4th down. Despite their futility on 3rd and 4th downs, the Raiders still managed 23 first downs in the game, meaning they picked up 22 first downs on first or second down. That’s very encouraging to see because performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. That they moved the ball as effectively as they did on first and second down and still lost makes that loss all the more crushing, but it helps their projection going forward, as they go into the final game of their season, so it’s understandable that this line would move. 

Five points of line movement (from +2.5 to -2.5) seems like a lot, but neither line crosses the key number of 3, so it’s not overly impactful line movement. In addition to how the Raiders played last week, the Broncos also lost their top defensive lineman Shelby Harris to injury, which is a big blow to an already injury plagued Broncos defense. The Broncos are very reliant on their defense, which ranks 8th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.20%, to cover for an offense that ranks just 31st in first down rate over expected at -3.86% and if their defense can’t perform up to their usual level because of injury absences, the Broncos would have a tough time beating most teams, so it’s understandable they’re no longer favored in this game.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, despite how they played last week, they’re still well below average in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 23rd at -1.53%. The Raiders’ 7-8 record isn’t bad, but 6 of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, while 4 of their 8 losses have come by 16 points or more, giving them a -45 point differential. Their one win by more than 10 points came against these Broncos in week 10, but that was a game in which the Broncos lost the turnover battle by 5, something that is highly unlikely to happen again this week, given the inconsistent nature of turnover margins. The Raiders only won the first down rate battle by 2.31% in that game, despite the final score being 37-12. I have the Raiders calculated as 1-point favorites in this rematch in Denver, so we’re getting slight line value with the Broncos at +2.5, but not nearly enough to take them with any confidence.

Las Vegas Raiders 26 Denver Broncos 24

Pick against the spread: Denver +2.5

Confidence: None

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (12-3)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week because no one seems to know what the Bills are going to be doing with their star players. Like Pittsburgh, Buffalo is locked into either the 2 or 3 seed in the AFC, so there is speculation that they could follow the Steelers’ lead and rest their starters week 17. Adding evidence to this speculation is the fact that the Bills rested starters in week 17 of last season, though that came in a situation where the Bills were locked into the 5 seed. 

This situation is a little different for a couple reasons, so I’m not so sure we won’t see the Bills try in this one. For one, the Bills may still want the #2 seed, which they would clinch with a win over the Dolphins and a loss by Pittsburgh’s backups in Cleveland. The Steelers don’t seem to see a big difference between the 2 and 3 seed, but the Bills may see it differently. The Bills’ first playoff game next week will be their first home playoff game in 25 years and, unlike the Steelers, the Bills will be allowed to have limited fan attendance at their playoff games. 

Seeing as it’s been so long since they’ve hosted a playoff game, they may be motivated by the opportunity to host two, which they would if they got the #2 seed and won the first playoff game, while landing the 3 seed would force them to go to Pittsburgh in the 2nd round (assuming both teams win in the first round). They wouldn’t have to deal with any road fans in Pittsburgh if they had to play there, but they could desire to play in their home stadium in a way that the Steelers don’t seem to. On top of that, they may want to get Josh Allen another chance to prove himself in the MVP race. All of this is speculation, of course, but there are reasons why the Bills won’t necessarily follow the Steelers’ lead and give their stars the week off before the playoffs to avoid potential injury.

This line, favoring the Bills by 1.5 points, seems to suggest that there is a chance that the Bills play their stars, but that they probably won’t play the whole game. This line was Buffalo -5.5 on the early line last week and a mere 4-point swing doesn’t seem to suggest that Allen and company won’t play beyond the first series, but the odds makers clearly aren’t treating this as a normal game either. If this was a normal game and the Bills were favored by 5.5, I likely would have been all over the Bills, as the gap between these two teams is much bigger than these records suggest. 

Four of the Dolphins’ wins have come against the three worst teams in the league, the Jets (twice), the Jaguars, and the Bengals, while just two of their wins have come against teams with a .500 or better record, a 3-point victory over the 8-7 Cardinals and a win over the 9-6 Rams in which the Dolphins managed just 8 first downs and 145 yards of offense and primarily won because they had return touchdowns of 78 yards and 88 yards, which certainly is not sustainable every week. 

Beyond those two return touchdowns, the Dolphins have benefitted from other metrics that have little predictive value, ranking 3rd in opponent’s field goal conversion rate at 73.91%, 8th in fumble recovery rate at 57.14%, and leading the league in turnover margin at +11. Recovering fumbles and opponents missing field goals are not replicable skills, while turnover margin is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis as well. Teams with a turnover margin of +10 or more in week 15 or later, on average, have a +0.64 turnover margin over the final 3 games of the season, leading to them covering the spread at just a 46.2% rate in those games.

Overall, the Dolphins rank 19th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.41%, which is a more predictive stat. That lines up with my roster rankings, which also have the Dolphins 19th. The Dolphins have also been slightly better offensively with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center than Tua Tugavailoa, but, with Fitzpatrick on the COVID list, Tua will have to play this whole game. Making matters worse, his top-two wide receiver Devante Parker and Jakeem Grant are questionable and likely would be limited at less than 100% if they did play.

The Bills, meanwhile, rank 5th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.50%, 5th in my roster rankings, and may be even better than that suggests. Offense is the more predictable and predictive side of the ball and the Bills have absolutely dominated on that side of the ball this season, leading the league with a +4.83% first down rate over expected that dwarfs the 2nd place Chiefs, who are “only” are +3.63. The Bills’ defense has been an issue, allowing a +1.33% first down rate over expected, 26th in the league, but, beyond the inherent unpredictability of defensive play, there is plenty of reason to expect the Bills to be better than that defensively going forward, now that they are much healthier than they were earlier this season. After the Chiefs, the Bills look like the clear 2nd best team in the AFC. 

My calculated line would have them favored by 9 points over a middling at best Dolphins team if this was a normal game. Given that, I’m inclined to take the Bills this week, as this line is 7.5 points lower than where it should be without clear confirmation that the Bills will be resting starters and not taking this game seriously. It’s hard to wager any money on a game this uncertain, but unless I hear that the Bills will be resting their starters for the full game, I am going to be on the Bills at -1.5 for a low confidence pick.

Buffalo Bills 23 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -1.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)

The primary stat I use to handicap games is schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which tends to be more predictive than other stats because it minimizes the impact of stats that tend to be less predictable on a week-to-week basis, like turnover margins, return touchdowns, missed field goals, big plays, and third and fourth down conversion rates. It also takes into account level of competition. One thing that stands out when looking at this stat is the Ravens, who lead the league with a +130 point differential, but rank just 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.81%. 

Part of that is because the Ravens have played a significantly below average schedule, but beyond that a deeper dive into the numbers is needed. The Ravens had a stretch earlier this season where they lost 4 of 5 games, but one of those games was a game in which the Ravens were missing seemingly half their team due to COVID protocols and the Ravens have won 4 straight games since. Upon closer look into those 4 games, the reasons why the Ravens rank so much lower in first down rate than points start to show.

In their first win, they played the Cowboys and actually lost the first down rate battle by 2.63%, despite winning the game by 17. The Cowboys picked up 29 first downs in that game, but had one play over 20 yards and missed 3 field goals, so their first downs didn’t translate to many points against the Ravens. In their second win, it was a close game down to the wire against the Browns and the Ravens won the first down rate battle by just 0.93%. In their third win, they won the first down rate battle by 9.57%, but against Jacksonville, who ranks dead last in the NFL.

Last week, they beat the Giants by 14, but lost the first down rate battle by 0.21%. The Giants had trouble sustaining drives because they went just 1 for 10 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down, while the Ravens went 8 for 11 on third down and didn’t have to attempt a fourth down, but third and fourth down performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and it’s very concerning to see that the Giants got 22 of their 24 first downs on first and second down, as performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. 

Looking back even further reveals a similar pattern. Their one win during the stretch in which they lost four of five came against the Colts by 14 points, but the Ravens lost the first down rate battle by 0.26%. The Colts primarily lost because they went 2 of 12 on third down, 2 of 4 on 4th down, and gave up a return touchdown. The Ravens’ last win before that rough stretch came by 2 against the Eagles in a game in which the Eagles won the first down rate battle by 2.99%, but went 3 for 12 on 3rd down, 1 for 3 on 4th down, and lost the turnover battle by 1. 

In total, the Ravens are just +3 in turnover margin and +1 in return touchdown margin on the season, but they lead the league in opponent’s field goal percentage allowed at 65.22% and have played significantly better on third and fourth down than first and second down, which are both metrics that have less predictive value. The Ravens pick up 3rd downs at a 47.37% rate and 4th downs at a 64.71% rate, while allowing 35.16% and 45.71% respectively. 

This is actually an overall improvement over last season, when they picked up 3rd downs at a 48.29% rate and 4th downs at a 60.71% rate, while allowing 38.16% and 33.33% respectively, and they were a much better team overall last season, particularly on offense, before they lost Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, and Nick Boyle and before the league started figuring out how to defend this offense better. Last year, they were far and away the top team in the league in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, but it has been much more of a struggle this season, leading to them ranking 26th. 

The Ravens are much more talented than the 26th best team in the league on paper, as they rank 11th in my roster rankings, but any way you look at it, they’re not nearly as good as they were last season. They’re totally overvalued as 14-point road favorites in Cincinnati, against a Bengals team that has played better on both sides of the ball in recent weeks and has slightly moved out of the league’s cellar, ranking 28th in my roster rankings. The Bengals also will have at least some homefield advantage with fans in the stands.

My calculated line is Baltimore -7, so we’re getting great line value with the Bengals, who are also in a good spot, as teams typically tend to underperform in must win games against sub-500 opponents. Teams with a winning percentage between 50% and 67% cover at just a 40.8% rate as favorites against teams with a sub-.500 winning percentage in weeks 16 or 17. Between that and the line value, there is a lot to like about Cincinnati this week, who should be able to keep this relatively close even if they can’t pull the upset. I’m making this a high confidence pick and even considering it for Pick of the Week, which I will announce Sunday morning.

Update: The Bengals will be my Pick of the Week. This is in part because the Ravens will be without some key questionable players (cornerback Jimmy Smith, edge defender Yannick Ngakoue, center Patrick Mekari, and wide receiver Willie Snead), but also because the other pick I was considering (Washington) saw significant late line movement. Both Cincinnati and Washington are strong picks if you locked in Washington when I did, but Cincinnati will officially be my Pick of the Week.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: Pick of the Week