Well the Thanksgiving day slate was certainly interesting. The Lions couldn’t get healthy in time for that contest, so I’m not surprised that they ultimately ended up getting waxed by the Texans. Houston in general is a team that could be undervalued at the moment. They’re just 4-7, but they have played a brutal schedule.
Washington was also able to take care of business vs. the Cowboys. They were able to control the game with their defensive line — which is what I expected — but the final scoreline did not do the Cowboys justice. They were in that game well into the fourth quarter before Washington reeled off 21 unanswered points.
Finally, the game that was supposed to be the nightcap ended up getting moved to Sunday. The Ravens have been hit hard by the coronavirus, and now that game has been moved back to Tuesday. You have to feel a little bit bad for the Steelers, who have now had two games moved due to no fault of their own, but the NFL is ultimately making the right decision in trying to get a handle on the COVID-19 situation. Cases are up across the country, so trying to power through and pretend it doesn’t exist could put the whole season in jeopardy.
Even without Steelers-Ravens, we still have 11 games on tap for the Sunday main slate. Let’s dive in and try to identify some potential betting values.
Las Vegas Raiders (-3) @ Atlanta Falcons — 53.0 total
Moneylines: Raiders -165/Falcons +140
The first game of the week is an interesting one. The advance spread on this game opened up as a pick ‘em, but the Raiders have moved to three-point favorites. Part of that stems from the betting activity, which has leaned heavily towards the Raiders to start the week. They’ve received 62% of the spread bets, and those bets have accounted for 66% of the spread dollars.
The other reason for the line movement stems from how these teams performed last week. The Raiders ended up losing a close game to the Chiefs, but they were still very impressive in that contest. They held a three-point lead with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but Patrick Mahomes ended up driving the Chiefs for a game-winning touchdown. That game was also nationally televised on Monday Night Football, so the general public had a front row seat to the Raiders’ strong showing.
On the other hand, the Falcons were beaten handedly by the Saints in Atlanta. Losing to the Saints is normally not a bad thing, but a home loss to the Saints without Drew Brees is a different story. Taysom Hill was able to torch the Falcons with his arm and his legs, and the Atlanta offense was only able to muster nine points.
That said, the Falcons were dealing with a big injury in that contest. Julio Jones was only able to play on 35% of their offensive snaps, and the Falcons are not the same team with Jones off the field. Jones has been out or limited in four games this season, and the Falcons have scored 16 points or fewer in three of them. Overall, they’ve averaged 30.8 points in Jones’ six full games this season and just 16.75 in their other four.
Unfortunately, there’s no real way of knowing just how healthy Jones is at the moment. It seems like he’ll at least be in the lineup after getting in a limited practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be at full strength.
I’m going to side with the Falcons in this matchup given the spread value, but I won’t actually be wagering on them unless Jones practices in full on Friday. Even if he does, I don’t think there’s a ton of value here.
The Pick: Pass
Arizona Cardinals (-1) @ New England Patriots — 49.0 total
Moneylines: Cardinals -124/Patriots +106
This game is one of the most intriguing of the week from a stylistic standpoint.
The Cardinals are the epitome of a modern offense. They play fast — they rank first in the league in neutral pace this season — and they utilize a spread attack. Kliff Kingsbery hasn’t exactly run the “air raid” offense in Arizona, but they are still spreading the field with wide receivers and looking to beat you with speed.
Of course, this is all possible because of the dual-threat skill set that Kyler Murray brings to the quarterback position. He is putting together arguably the greatest rushing season of all time for a quarterback. He leads the league with an average of 6.7 yards per carry, and he’s averaged 61.9 rushing yards per game. He’s also racked up 10 touchdowns over 10 games, which trailed only Dalvin Cook entering Week 12.
He’s been solid as a passer as well, although he didn’t look like his usual self in that department last week vs. the Seahawks. He’s dealing with a shoulder injury at the moment, and while he’s fully expected to play vs. the Patriots, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be effective as usual. The fact that his last game was on Thursday should help — that gave him an extra couple of days to recover — and he downplayed the injury when asked about it earlier this week.
On the other side of this matchup, the Patriots will try to turn this game into a slugfest. They prefer to lean on their running game, which is led by a dominant offensive line. They rank second in adjusted line yards, which means they are creating significant lanes for their RBs to take advantage of. Damien Harris has served as their primary RB recently, but guys like Rex Burkhead and even Sony Michel have found success at times behind this unit.
Expect them to lean heavily on this unit this week vs. Arizona. The Cardinals are simply mediocre in terms of rush defense, and the Patriots have the fifth-highest run rate in the league in one-score games.
If they’re able to find success on the ground, that is going to slow this contest to a halt. New England ranks 21st in neutral pace this season, and that number drops to 31st if they lead by at least seven points. That would keep Arizona’s offense on the sidelines and limit the number of opportunities that Murray has to rack up points.
The early betting activity definitely points in the direction of the Patriots. The public loves Arizona in this spot, but there have been a bunch of steam moves tracked on the Patriots. Those bets all came earlier in the week when this line was available at Patriots +3 or Patriots +2.5, but I still think that is the correct side. I’m not going to chase the Patriots since I missed the best number, but they’re my unofficial pick.
The Pick: Pass
New York Giants (-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals — 44.0 total
Moneylines: Giants -275/Bengals +225
I never thought we’d see the Giants as six-point favorites in 2020, but here we are. The Giants sit at just 3-7 this season, but they are definitely better than their current record indicates. They own a pythagorean win expectation of 3.9-6.1, so they have underperformed their expected record by nearly a full win.
They’ve also been playing much better recently. They’ve won three of their past five games — two wins vs. Washington and one win vs. Philly — and their two losses over that time frame have come by a total of just three points. They also have two additional losses by four points or less this season, so this team has been very competitive in 2020.
Of course, they’re going to need to do more than just be competitive to cover the spread in this contest. They’re going to need to win this game by at least a full touchdown, and they’ve done that just once this season.
Can they get the job done vs. the Bengals? Things have certainly gone in their favor. Not only is Joe Mixon going to miss another contest after being placed on IR, but Joe Burrow is going to miss a significant period of time after tearing his ACL and MCL. It’s possible he’s going to miss all of next season in addition to the rest of this year. It’s a shame to see any player go down with a major injury, but that’s especially true for a talented rookie like Burrow.
Without Burrow, it’s hard to envision the Bengals being very competitive. Their offensive line has not been good this season, ranking just 24th in adjusted sack rate, and now Brandon Allen will be playing behind that unit. Allen has appeared in three games throughout his career, and the results were not impressive. He completed just 46.4% of his passes, resulting in an adjusted yards per attempt of 5.8. He also tossed two interceptions compared to just three touchdowns.
The Giants’ defense is certainly not a juggernaut, but they should be able to shut down such a mediocre player. I have no doubts that the Giants will put up points in this matchup — Cincy ranks 30th in defensive DVOA — so they should ultimately be able to cover the spread.
The Pick: Giants -6
Cleveland Browns (-7) @ Jacksonville Jaguars — 49.5 total
Moneylines: Browns -315/Jaguars +260
The Jaguars are another team that will be starting a backup QB this week. Gardner Minshew remains out of the lineup, and Jake Luton has been benched following a dreadful performance vs. the Steelers last week. That leaves Mike Glennon as the starter for this matchup vs. the Browns.
That said, unlike the situation for the Bengals, Glennon over Luton should actually be an upgrade for them this week. Glennon’s adjusted yards per attempt of 6.2 is nothing to write home about, but he has posted a better mark the past two seasons in limited playing time. Basically, you can at least make that case that he deserves to be in the NFL.
This matchup is also much friendlier than the Jags matchup last week vs. the Steelers. Pittsburgh has a hellacious pass rush, but the Browns are a bit more mediocre in that department. They rank just 12th in adjusted sack rate, and they’ll also be without their top defensive player this week in Myles Garrett. His 9.5 sacks are tied for the most in the league entering Week 12, so his absence could have a huge impact on this game.
The Jaguars also matchup decently well with the Browns on defense. The Browns love to run the ball — they own the third-highest run rate in one-score contests — which makes sense considering they have a dominant 1-2 punch at the RB position in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Jags aren’t great against the run, but they have been significantly worse against the pass this season.
If the Jags can slow down the Browns rushing attack, Baker Mayfield has not shown the ability to beat teams with his arm. His adjusted yards per attempt of 6.9 ranks 24th among qualified QBs this season, and he ranks tied for 24th in terms of Pro Football Focus grade at the position.
I’m also not convinced that the Browns are actually good. They’ve won seven of their first 10 games this season, but they’ve played a cupcake schedule. Their last three games have also come in awful weather conditions, which benefits a team that can run the ball. Overall, they rank just 22nd in total DVOA, which suggests that their record is definitely flattering.
The Jags are clearly not a good football team, but I think this matchup sets up pretty perfectly for them. I’m expecting Glennon to hold his own since he won’t be facing a ton of pressure, so I think they can keep this game competitive.
The Pick: Jaguars +7
Carolina Panthers @ Minnesota Vikings (-3) — 51.0 total
Moneylines: Panthers +160/Vikings -189
This line has seen some significant movement to start the week. The betting on this game has been pretty even — the Panthers have received 49% of the bets and 52% of the dollars — yet this line has still dropped from 4.0 to 3.0. The juice on the Vikings is pretty heavy if you want to take them at that number, but a move from four to three can be huge in NFL betting. Those are two key numbers.
Part of the reason for the line move can be attributed to some of the injuries that the Vikings are dealing with at the moment. Adam Thielen has been ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19, and his absence will definitely be felt. Thielen is one of the best receivers in the league, particularly around the goal line. He’s caught 11 touchdowns already this season, which is the top mark in football.
Irv Smith Jr. is also unlikely to suit up. He’s played on a significant portion of the Vikings’ offensive snaps recently, so they will be without two of their usual starters in this contest.
Fortunately, that may not matter vs. the Panthers. They have struggled vs. the run this season, ranking 22nd in rush defense DVOA, so expect the Vikings to lean heavily on Dalvin Cook. He’s been an absolute monster recently, so the Vikings should still be able to move the ball with just Cook and Justin Jefferson.
However, the Panthers should be able to find some offensive success as well. The Vikings are merely average on defense, and the Panthers biggest strength this season has been their passing attack. They’ll have Teddy Bridgewater back in action this week, and he has one of the best receiving corps in the league at his disposal. D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel may not have a ton of name value with casual fans, but those three players are all capable of impacting the game at different levels of the field.
I don’t have a huge lean in this contest, but it’s hard to look past Bridgewater’s record as an underdog. He has been one of the most profitable QBs in football in that situation, posting a mark of 22-6 against the spread throughout his career. He hasn’t been as dominant as an underdog with the Panthers — he’s gone 5-3 against the spread as a dog this season — but I’ll use that as a tiebreaker in this situation. I’m siding with the Panthers, but not as an official selection.
The Pick: Pass
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts (-3) — 51.5 total
Moneylines: Titans +150/Colts -180
What do the Colts have to do to get some respect? They crushed the Titans in Tennessee on Thursday Night Football in their first meeting this season, and they put together an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Packers last week.
Despite those performances, no one wants to bet on the Colts. 57% of the spread tickets have landed on the Titans, and those tickets have accounted for 81% of the spread dollars. That has caused this line to drop from 4.5 at opening to just 3.0.
The Titans were able to secure a victory of their own last week against the Ravens, but the Ravens are living more on reputation than production at this point. Their offense has been below-average all season, and their defense was missing two of their most important defenders in Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams. Their win was a lot less impressive than the Colts in my opinion.
Most of the skepticism with the Colts lies with Phillip Rivers. People don’t believe in him, and they had their reasons at the beginning of the year. He got off to a rough start after struggling in his final year with the Chargers, so it was reasonable to assume that Father Time had finally gotten the better of him.
However, Rivers has quietly turned his production around after a slow start. He’s completed 66.7% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions over his past five games, resulting in an adjusted yard per attempt of 7.8. That isn’t an elite number, but it’s still more than good enough to a starting quarterback on a winning team.
That said, the Colts do have some concerns from an injury perspective this week. Rivers is questionable after getting in a limited practice on Friday. He was limping heavily down the stretch last week vs. the Packers, but I fully expect him to be in the lineup. He’s one of the toughest guys in the league, but that will obviously limit his already questionable mobility.
That could be a huge issue given the Colts’ other injuries. Ryan Kelly and Quentin Nelson are both questionable, and those would be two massive blows.
The final injury report will ultimately determine my play here. The sharps are clearly on the Titans, which makes sense given their injuries. I could potentially find myself on the Colts if Kelly and Nelson suit up, otherwise this game will be a pass.
The Pick: Pass
Los Angeles Chargers @ Buffalo Bills (-4) — 52.5 total
Moneylines: Chargers +184/Bills -225
The first thing I want to address here is the narrative about the Chargers flying across the country for this game. It is true that they will be doing a lot of traveling, and it is also true that their bodies aren’t used to playing a 1 p.m. ET start.
That said, this isn’t the 1980’s. These guys are professional athletes who fly on private plans and have access to every piece of training and medical equipment imaginable. There is no situation that they are not ready for.
This advance in preparation can be seen in the ATS numbers. From 2003 to 2011, teams traveling from the Pacific time zone to play at 1 p.m. ET in the Eastern time zone posted a record of 30-44-2 (40.5% cover rate). Since then, those teams have gone 60-44-4 against the spread (57.7% cover rate).
If anything, you can make the case that teams traveling west to east are actually being undervalued in the sportsbooks at the moment. Those teams have gone 18-8-1 against the spread since the start of last season, so West Coast teams have had no problem covering on the East Coast recently.
So can the Chargers cover in this situation? That remains to be seen.
If they are going to cover, they’re going to have to do it without a few key contributors. Melvin Ingram and Casey Hayward have both been ruled out, which is not ideal for a matchup with the Bills. They rank seventh in passing DVOA, so missing a corner and a pass rusher could hurt them.
The Chargers also continue to deal with injuries at the RB position. Kalen Ballage has taken over at the position recently following the injury to Justin Jackson, and he’s currently listed as questionable. That said, Austin Ekeler could be back in the lineup this week, which would negate Ballage’s potential absence.
The Bills are dealing with some injury issues of their own. Their offensive line has suffered a few blows this season, with Cody Ford being the most recent. He went down with an ankle injury in practice on Wednesday, and he has been ruled out for the rest of the season.
This line ultimately feels a little too low since the Bills are clearly better than the Chargers. They rank 12th in overall DVOA, while the Chargers rank merely 24th. The Chargers are clearly better than their record, but this line is saying that the Bills are just 1.5 points better on a neutral field. I can’t get behind that statement.
I’m a little sketched out by the fact that this line has dropped by two points, but I’m still going to side with the Bills here.
The Pick: Bills -4
Miami Dolphins (-7) @ New York Jets — 44.5 total
Moneylines: Dolphins -295/Jets +240
The most interesting storylines heading into this contest involve the quarterbacks.
Let’s start with the Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa was benched last week vs. the Broncos despite leading the team to a 3-0 record in his first three starts. He definitely struggled last week — he completed just 55.0% of his passes for 83 yards — but that’s still an incredibly short week for the guy who is supposed to be the QB of the future in Miami.
Tua was also banged up a bit in that contest, and he’s been limited at practice this week. It seems like he’s on track to play, but it wouldn’t be shocking if they held him out for precautionary reasons this week. The Jets should be a layup, so Ryan Fitzpatrick should be able to dispose of them if he’s called upon.
For the Jets, Sam Darnold will get the nod at QB after missing the past two weeks with an injury. That said, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be an upgrade at the position. Joe Flacco has outperformed Darnold in virtually every metric across the board this season: Adjusted yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, interception rate, etc.
The only glimmer of hope with Darnold is that the Jets WR corps is as healthy as they’ve been all season. Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, and Breshad Perriman are all expected to be in the lineup, and this is the first time all season that Darnold will have all three players available at the same time.
Still, Darnold has been so bad this season that it’s hard to see that making a huge difference. He’s posted an adjusted yards per attempt of just 4.4, which is the worst mark in the league among 36 qualified QBs.
The Dolphins defense was able to manhandle the Jets in their first matchup this season. They held the Jets scoreless, albeit with Flacco at QB. Fitzpatrick was the starter for the Dolphins in that matchup, and he led them to 24 points.
I think this should be a pretty similar scoreline no matter who starts at QB for Miami, but I don’t feel confident enough to actually wager on them. The Jets have actually been kind of frisky recently, covering in three of their past four games.
The Pick: Pass
New Orleans Saints @ Denver Broncos — OFF
The spread on this game is still off the board at most locations. There have been a couple of numbers pop up across the industry — the consensus seems to be Saints -7.0 — but there is some uncertainty surrounding the Broncos at the moment. Jeff Driskel was moved to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday, and another player and two staff members tested positive on Friday. That means they were forced to shut down the facility.
It seems unlikely that the league will move this game given how they’ve approached the coronavirus recently, but there could be more players who test positive in the coming days.
Additionally, the Broncos have a lengthy injury report in advance of this contest. They currently have six players listed as questionable, including Bryce Callahan and Jerry Jeudy. The Broncos aren’t all that talented to begin with, so either of those players being out of the lineup would have an impact.
I’m ultimately leaning towards the Saints if this line is around seven, but it will be important to monitor this game leading up to Sunday.
The Pick: TBD
San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams (-6.5) — 44.5 total
Moneylines: 49ers +235/Rams -300
This game features arguably the most surprising betting activity of the week. The Rams are coming off an impressive win last week over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were widely considered the top team in the NFC until very recently. That said, the 49ers appear to be the preferred side here.
The betting tickets have been split roughly 50/50, but the 49ers have received 71% of the betting dollars. That’s a pretty large dollars vs. tickets discrepancy, which has caused this line to drop from 7.0 to 6.5.
So why is the big money landing on the 49ers? I wish I knew. They did win their previous matchup vs. the Rams, but they had Jimmy Garropolo at QB for that contest and it was in San Francisco.
Perhaps it has to do with the 49ers’ injury report, which is as rosy as it’s been in quite some time. Deebo Samuel and Richard Sherman are both cleared to make their return this week, which is obviously two huge upgrades. Sherman was one of the best corners in the league last season, and Samuel has a dynamic skill set at the WR position.
That said, I’m still not sure that’s enough to make me interested in San Francisco.
One clear edge that the 49ers have is in the preparation department. San Fran is coming off a bye last week, and this could be a let down spot for the Rams. They’ve had two straight huge victories against the Seahawks and the Buccaneers, and they have to travel to Arizona next week. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if they were looking past the 49ers in this contest.
It should also be noted that Kyle Shanahan is just 1-2 as a head coach following a bye, so he hasn’t exactly thrived in that situation historically.
I might consider blindy siding with the sharps if this line was still at seven, but there’s no way I’m doing it at 6.5. This is a pass.
The Pick: Pass
Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 56.0
Moneylines: Chiefs -186/Buccaneers +156
This is undoubtedly the best game of the week. These teams rank two and four this season in terms of overall DVOA, although it might surprise you that the Bucs are actually the team with the superior rating.
Tom Brady is coming off a horrendous performance last week, and those are becoming a more common occurrence for him in his age-43 season. Still, Brady has graded out as the fifth-best signal caller in football this season according to Pro Football Focus, which puts him just slightly behind Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs are coming off a win in primetime last week, but that performance still left something to be desired. The Chiefs are 9-1 this season, but they might not be as good as the general public appears to believe. They’ve won their past two games by just six total points — one of which was following a bye week — and this team has somewhat struggled this season when facing strong competition. They have mixed in some dominant performances, but this team clearly has some flaws.
Mahomes is obviously not one of them. He continues to play at arguably the highest level in the league, and he’s moved to a -125 favorite to win the MVP on DraftKings Sportsbook. Betting against Mahomes is incredibly scary, but there are reasons to believe it’s the correct play this week.
For starters, Mahomes and the rest of the offense should struggle vs. the Bucs. Tampa may not be the defensive juggernaut they were believed to be at one point, but they still rank second in the league in defensive DVOA. They also have an excellent pass rush, which is the easiest way to neutralize a great quarterback.
The trends also point in the direction of the Bucs. Tom Brady is quite possibly the greatest QB of all time following a loss. He’s gone 39-14 against the spread in that situation since 2003, resulting in a ridiculous 73.6% cover rate. That includes a 3-0 mark following a loss in his first year with the Bucs.
Backing Brady as an underdog has also historically been insanely profitable. He’s gone 22-9-2 in that situation, which is good for a 37.2% ROI. He’s only been a home underdog four times since 2003 — which is crazy in its own right — but Brady has gone 3-1 in those contests.
Add it all up, and I’m willing to make a play on Tampa. I’m not going to go crazy considering just how good Mahomes and Andy Ried are, but it’s simply a good idea to grab a QB like Brady any time he’s getting points.
The Pick: Buccaneers +3.5