Week 14 Edition
*Note – DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: It’s Football Outsiders’ primary efficiency statistic and I believe it to be the best and most predictive measure of assessing the strength of NFL teams
***Note – All betting odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
****Note – Public betting refers to the amount of wagers taken on the spread
Records Entering Week 13
Straight Up: 115-75-2 (.604)
Last Week: 10-5
Spread: 106-77-9 (.575)
Last Week: 7-8
Over/Under: 102-90 (.532)
Last Week: 8-7
Locks: 25-6 (.806)
Last Week: 2-1
Best Bets: 98-73-1 (.573)
Last Week: 6-5
*Note- Thursday Night Prediction for Raiders/Chiefs was Kansas City 30-27; no best bets were placed for this game
Denver Broncos (8-4) vs Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Spread: TEN -1.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: DEN (13) > TEN (17)
Public Betting: DEN 62%
With Trevor Siemian’s health hanging in the balance, I don’t have enough confidence to pick the Broncos. Paxton Lynch has been very shaky in limited action, and Denver’s offense has suffered as a result. For instance, they averaged a meager 3.8 yards per play last week at Jacksonville. On the other side of the ball, I think DeMarco Murray and the Titans’ run game, which has averaged 4.8 yards per attempt this season, can exploit Denver’s defense, which ranks just 26th against the run according to Football Outsiders.
If Siemian plays (he’s currently questionable), then I think Denver can win. But if it’s Lynch under center, I don’t have faith in the Broncos, even with their stellar defense.
Tennessee 20, Denver 16
San Diego Chargers (5-7) vs Carolina Panthers (4-8)
Spread: CAR -1.5 Over/Under: 49.5
’16 DVOA: SD (18) > CAR (25)
Public Betting: CAR 62%
Just about everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Carolina Panthers this season and has happened, and I don’t think the end is in sight. Luke Kuechly will miss yet another game with a concussion. In Carolina’s two previous games without him, they’ve allowed 35 and 40 points respectively. This week, they draw a San Diego team that possess a very well-balanced and oftentimes prolific offense. Moreover, Cam Newton has had an abysmal season by his standards. I don’t see him turning it around either this week. The Chargers’ defense, led by cornerback Casey Heyward, has quietly had a pretty good season.
San Diego 27, Carolina 20
Houston Texans (6-6) vs Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
Spread: IND -6.5 Over/Under: 46.5
’16 DVOA: HOU (29) < IND (24)
Public Betting: IND 58%
Houston’s offense has been a nightmare this season. But what’s gone unnoticed in recent weeks is that their defense has slipped: They’re allowing a horrific 6.0 yards per play over their last three weeks. In this pivotal matchup for first place in the AFC South, I’ll confidently side with Andrew Luck and the Colts because their offense has played well of late with Luck in the lineup.
Indianapolis 27, Houston 17
Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) vs Cleveland Browns (0-12)
Spread: CIN -5.5 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: CIN (21) > CLE (32)
Public Betting: CIN 73%
All things being equal, Cincinnati is obviously much better than the Browns. But there are two unknown variables in this game to pay attention. The first is the weather: Snow is in the forecast, so maybe that will slow down Andy Dalton, who’s coming off a stellar performance against the Eagles. The second factor is Robert Griffin III. He’ll make his first start since Week One after separating his shoulder. Sure, maybe he’ll be rusty. Or maybe he’ll give the Browns a better chance to win than Cody Kessler. I’ll go with the latter. But remember: I said Griffin gives the Browns a better chance to win.
Cincinnati 20, Cleveland 14
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) vs Buffalo Bills (6-6)
Spread: PIT -3 Over/Under: 45.5
’16 DVOA: PIT (8) > BUF (16)
Public Betting: PIT 78%
Buffalo has played pretty well over the past month. For instance, in their last three games, their net yards per play differential is a very solid +0.7. They also might have a key matchup advantage against the Steelers. Pittsburgh may have the league’s 10th best rushing offense according to Football Outsiders, but they are 0-4 against top ten rushing units this season. LeSean McCoy has been running wild in recent weeks, so I expect Buffalo to pound him and hope that will be enough to keep Big Ben off the field.
However, nearly every major metric–DVOA, net yards per play, etc–say Pittsburgh is the better team. Their defense has improved over the second half of the season and their offense…well, we know what their offense can do. The Steelers find a way to win and cover.
Pittsburgh 24, Buffalo 20
Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) vs Miami Dolphins (7-5)
Spread: ARZ -2 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: ARZ (23) < MIA (14)
Public Betting: ARZ 69%
Arizona has been horrific on the road this year, particularly in games outside of the Pacific Time Zone. They’re 0-4 in those contests in 2016, and each of those games have been blowouts. I don’t think Miami has the capability to blowout a Cardinals team that boasts a very good defense; but I still think the Dolphins will be motivated to bounce back after an ugly loss to Baltimore and play well enough to win.
Miami 24, Arizona 21
Chicago Bears (3-9) vs Detroit Lions (8-4)
Spread: DET -7.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: CHI (22) > DET (26)
Public Betting: DET 69%
Believe it or not, the Bears don’t really profile as a 3-9 team. They rank 22nd in DVOA, which certainly isn’t great, but it’s not that bad, either. They also have an above-average net yards per play differential of +0.6. This explains why the Bears have moved from -10 to -7.5 with the spread over the past week. However, I still think Detroit will take care of business at home rather easily. Matthew Stafford has been phenomenal this season and I don’t think Chicago’s defense is strong enough to neutralize him.
Detroit 31, Chicago 19
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) vs Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Spread: MIN -3.5 Over/Under: 39.5
’16 DVOA: MIN (20) > JAC (27)
Public Betting: MIN 83%
Blake Bortles has had an astounding number of interceptions taken back to the house (three) in just the last month. You can fault Bortles for throwing the picks, but it’s simply unlucky that so many have been returned for game-altering touchdowns. Sooner or later this luck will even out; and with a flawed Minnesota team coming to the town, I think this is finally the week Jacksonville gets back on track. The Vikings simply can’t protect Sam Bradford at all. That’s good news for the Jaguars because they not only have one of the NFL’s most underrated defenses, but their pass rush–which has the most sacks in the league over the past three weeks–is starting to come around.
*Update: Many of Jacksonville’s key offensive players–Chris Ivory, Julius Thomas, Allen Hurns–are out. This give Minnesota a clear edge.
Minnesota 17, Jacksonville 13
Washington Redskins (6-5-1) vs Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
Spread: WSH -2.5 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: WSH (10) < PHI (6)
Public Betting: WSH 79%
Both of these teams will get back key reinforcements this week. For Washington, Pro Bowl offensive lineman Trent Williams will return from suspension while tight end Jordan Reed (shoulder) is projected to start after missing last week’s loss to Arizona. On the other side, Philadelphia will be happy to see Ryan and Jordan Matthews return from injury. Their offense has completely sputtered without either of those two in the lineup; and since Washington ranks only 23rd in defense according to Football Outsiders, the Eagles should be able to make this a close game. Ultimately, though, I like the Redskins to prevail with Kirk Cousins benefitting mightily from Reed’s return.
Washington 27, Philadelphia 23
New Orleans Saints (5-7) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
Spread: TB -1.5 Over/Under: 50.5
’16 DVOA: NO (11) > TB (19)
Public Betting: TB 62%
Despite being the public betting favorite, the spread–which opened at -3–has moved in favor of New Orleans. This is a signal that sharp money likes the Saints, and for good reason. Last week’s loss to Detroit was an abberation. New Orleans’ offense never got into rhythm while Drew Brees threw three uncharacteristic interceptions. In general, though, the Saints have been terrific offensively this year, averaging the third most yards per play in the league at 6.3 per game (including 6.5 in their last three games). Credit to Tampa Bay for ripping off four consecutive wins, but their defense still isn’t quite as stout as it needs to be in order to be a serious contender. I like New Orleans to keep their playoff hopes alive.
New Orleans 32, Tampa Bay 27
New York Jets (3-9) vs San Francisco 49ers (1-11)
Spread: SF -2.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: NYJ (31) < SF (30)
Public Betting: SF 53%
Is this game even worthy of discussion?
San Francisco 27, New York 10
Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) vs Green Bay Packers (6-6)
Spread: SEA -3 Over/Under: 45.5
’16 DVOA: SEA (4) > GB (15)
Public Betting: GB 59%
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will look to exploit Seattle’s defense sans Earl Thomas. Can Green Bay’s receivers get open against Richard Sherman and company? I’m not so sure, but I do know that Rodgers will quickly find whoever has the most exploitable matchup. For that reason, I think Seattle and it’s newfound running game with the return of Thomas Rawls could be the key storyline. The Seahawks may have a pedestrian offensive line, but that hasn’t prevented them from averaging the 7th most yards per play this season. I’m certainly not confident in this prediction because no one knows how Seattle will fare in their first game without Thomas. But I’ll side with the Seahawks, who are superior in more facets.
Seattle 30, Green Bay 28
Atlanta Falcons (7-5) vs Los Angeles Rams (4-8)
Spread: ATL -5.5 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: ATL (3) > LA (28)
Public Betting: ATL 82%
The Falcons haven’t looked as good in recent weeks. Their net yards per play differential has now slipped below zero to -0.2, which is considered to be less than average. The good news for them, though, is that Los Angeles has completely collapsed. I find it hard to imagine that Atlanta, who’s looking to maintain their spot in the NFC playoffs, won’t be ready to play against a Rams team with no playoff aspirations.
Atlanta 27, Los Angeles 20
Dallas Cowboys (11-1) vs New York Giants (8-4)
Spread: DAL -3.5 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: DAL (2) > NYG (12)
Public Betting: DAL 68%
I’ve discussed before about how underdogs in divisional games have value with the spread (currently 60% ATS on the season). But can the Giants’ offense hang with Dallas? That’s the main question because, based on what we’ve seen of late, the answer is no. New York has slipped to 19th in offensive DVOA and their rushing attack is a horrific 30th in yards per rush attempt. Yet for some reason, I expect Eli Manning and company to rise to the challenge. I also think the Giants, even without Jason Pierre-Paul, can contain the Cowboys’ offense similar to how they did in Week One, when they gave Dallas their only loss on the season. I’ll go out on a limb and pick the Cowboys to finally fall.
New York 31, Dallas 27
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) vs New England Patriots (10-2)
Spread: NE -6.5 Over/Under: 45.5
’16 DVOA: BAL (9) < NE (1)
Public Betting: BAL 56%
Baltimore enters this pivotal matchup ranked very highly in multiple categories according to Pro Football Focus. Despite their 7-5 record, they’re ranked first in run defense, fifth against the pass, and second in special teams, all of which amount to a total ranking of fifth in the NFL.
Given how stout they are against the run, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots having success on the ground. So do I trust Tom Brady with the ball in his hands? Yeah, absolutely. Even without Rob Gronkowski, Brady still has many weapons to throw to, especially now that Dion Lewis is back. As for the Ravens, wasn’t it only a couple weeks ago when everyone was questioning their offense? Besides a beatdown of Miami last week, what exactly has Baltimore done to convince everyone their offense is legit now? I bet those questions will arise once again, as Flacco and the Ravens fail to keep pace with the Pats in Foxboro.
New England 27, Baltimore 17
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week 14…
- INDIANAPOLIS (-260) over Houston
- CINCINNATI (-5.5) over Cleveland
- Teaser: HOUSTON (+14) over Indianapolis & DETROIT (-1) over Chicago
- Chicago vs Detroit OVER 43.5
- Teaser: JACKSONVILLE (+10) over Minnesota & Jacksonville vs Minnesota UNDER 46
- Teaser: WASHINGTON (+4.5) over Philadelphia & NEW ORLEANS (+8.5) over Tampa Bay
- New Orleans vs Tampa Bay OVER 50.5
- SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5) over New York
- Seattle vs Green Bay OVER 45.5
- NEW YORK (+3.5) over Dallas
- Dallas vs New York OVER 47.5