NFL Week 16 main slate betting preview

Jerry Jeudy
Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) before the game against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We had another wild week of NFL football in Week 15. Two teams won as underdogs of greater than 14 points — The Jets won as +17.5 point underdogs vs. the Rams, the Bengals won as +14.5 point underdogs vs. the Steelers — which is incredibly rare. The last time two underdogs of at least 14 points won in the same week was all the way back in Week 13 of the 1973 season. If you were lucky enough to bet a $100 moneyline parlay with both teams, it would have netted approximately $10,200.

We also had two more teams clinch playoff spots last week. The Bills joined the Chiefs and Steelers in the AFC, and the Seahawks joined the Packers and Saints in the NFC. The Bills won their first division title for the first time since 1995, and they moved up to the No. 2 spot in the AFC following the Steelers’ loss on Monday Night Football. That isn’t a huge deal since only the top seed gets a bye this season, but it would give them home-field advantage in a potential matchup vs. the Steelers.

The Wild Card spots in the AFC are also still up for grabs, and the Titans, Colts, Browns, Ravens, and Dolphins all took care of business in Week 15. Only four of those five teams can ultimately make the playoffs, which should set up an exciting finish to the regular season. There are some scenarios for a few of those teams to lock up a playoff spot this week.

Finally, we also have a new leader in the clubhouse for the No. 1 pick in the draft. Following the Jets’ win, the Jaguars now own a 78.4% chance to secure the top spot in the 2021 Draft. That likely means the opportunity to draft Trevor Lawrence, who is viewed by most talent evaluators as a can’t-miss prospect. I’m sure that victory over the Rams won’t come back to haunt the Jets for years (just kidding, it totally will).

The NFL Week 16 slate is spread out across the holiday weekend. The action gets underway on Friday night, followed by a three-game slate on Saturday. There’s also Sunday and Monday Night Football, which leaves just a 10-game main slate on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s dive into those 10 contests to try and identify some potential betting value.

Cleveland Browns (-9.5) @ New York Jets — 47.5 total

Moneylines: Browns -455/Jets +360

Being a Jets fan is the absolute worst.

Even when the team manages to win a game, somehow we still lose. Instead of getting a shot at Lawrence in the draft, now they’re going to be left deciding between the second-tier of college quarterbacks. Knowing the Jets, there is absolutely zero chance they make the right choice. There’s still a chance that the Jaguars screw up and win another game, but the Jets no longer control their own destiny.

Can the Jets pull off another upset this week? I doubt it.

The Jets got an uncharacteristically good game from Sam Darnold last week. He finished with 7.2 adjusted yards per attempt, which was his second-highest mark of the season, and he also recorded zero turnovers. Consider me skeptical that he can play reach that level of success two weeks in a row.

More importantly, the Jets were able to control the game last week with their defensive line. They finished with just three sacks, but they had Goff under pressure for most of that contest. Goff has seen a huge decrease in Pro Football Focus grade when under pressure this season, dropping from 88.8 with a clean pocket to 31.5 when pressured.

Now, the Jets are going to have to find a way to generate pressure without their best defensive lineman. They put Quinnen Williams on injured reserve this week, which officially ends his season. He was one of the lone bright spots for the Jets this season, leading the team in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits this season. In fact, Williams is the only player on the Jets roster with more than two sacks this season, so their pass rush could be downright abominable with him out of the lineup.

That could spell disaster against the suddenly red-hot Baker Mayfield. I have been down on the Browns all season — their advanced metrics suggest they’ve been lucky to go 10-4 — but the biggest reason for that has been the lackluster play of Mayfield. That said, he’s looked like a completely different player over the past three weeks. He’s racked up eight touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s averaged 9.72 adjusted yards per attempt. Those are elite numbers.

If he can continue to produce like that, the Browns have the potential to be one of the best offensive teams in the league. They have an outstanding offensive line and feature one of the best running back duo’s in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Unsurprisingly, the betting activity in this game has been pretty lopsided to start the week. The Browns have received 82% of the early spread bets and 94% of the moneyline bets.

As much as I hate siding with such a public team, I just don’t see how the Browns don’t cover this week vs. the Jets. The Jets are arguably the least talented team in the league — especially without Williams — and they are just coming off a huge emotional win. Now that they’ve avoided a winless season, they have no reason to show up and play well in this contest.

Additionally, the Browns should be fully prepared for this contest. They need to keep winning to lock in a playoff spot, and they shouldn’t take the Jets lightly after seeing the Rams lose to them last week. Let’s lock this one in now before the spread rises to double digits.

The Pick: Browns -9.5

Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans (-8.5) — 46.0 total

Moneyline Odds: Bengals +302/Texans -400

The Bengals are in a very similar spot this week. They’re coming off a huge emotional victory last week against a divisional rival, so I think it’s natural for them to come out flat vs. the Texans. They don’t have nearly the same incentive to play well in this matchup.

It’s also still unclear who will be starting at quarterback for the Bengals. Ryan Finley was able to secure the win last week, but it’s not like he lit the world on fire. He attempted just 13 passes and racked up 89 yards, but he did add 47 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Bengals’ offense managed just 230 yards of total offense, and it’s hard to win with such minimal offensive production.

The Bengals’ defense was the reason for their success. They held the Steelers to just 244 yards total yards — including just 158 net passing yards — and they also forced three turnovers. This forced fumble on JuJu Smith-Schuster was particularly enjoyable after he danced on the Bengals’ logo during pre-game warmups:

Still, it felt more like the Steelers lost that game than the Bengals won it.

It will be interesting to see if the Bengals stick with Finley or go back to Brandon Allen if he’s healthy. He missed last week’s contest with a knee injury, but he was able to get in a limited practice on Wednesday. Regardless, neither passer has had success this season, and at least Finley brings some mobility to the table.

It’s tempting to fade the Bengals the same way I’m fading the Jets, but there’s a huge difference between the Browns and the Texans. Houston has not been good all season, but they’ve been particularly poor since losing Will Fuller to a suspension. They scored 20 points last week vs. the Colts after scoring just seven points vs. the Bears the week prior.

They should be able to move the ball against the Bengals, but I’m not sure the Texans deserve to be favored by nine points over anyone. This game looks like a clear stay-away.

The Pick: Pass

Indianapolis Colts (-2) @ Pittsburgh Steelers — 45.0 total

Moneylines: Colts -122/Steelers +105

My how the mighty have fallen. The Steelers started this season a perfect 11-0, and they were the last undefeated team in the league.

That said, their play has fallen off a cliff recently. They lost games to Washington and Buffalo, and things really hit bottom last week vs. the Bengals. Losing as a 14.5-point home favorite is simply inexcusable.

Following the loss, they now own just a one-game lead over the Browns in the AFC North. Instead of fighting for a bye in the first round of the playoffs, now they’re simply fighting for a home game. If Cleveland wins this week and the Steelers lose, both teams will square off in Week 17 with the division title on the line.

The biggest reason for their struggles has been the declining play of Ben Roethlisberger. He started the year by averaging 7.57 adjusted yards per attempt through his first nine games, but he’s dipped to just 4.82 adjusted yards per attempt over his past five. He’s really struggled over his past two games in particular, averaging 3.82 adjusted yards per attempt or less in both contests. Those are absolutely horrid numbers.

The Steelers have also given him no help on offense. Their run game has managed 68 yards or fewer in six of their past eight contests, and the Steelers pass-catchers have also struggled with drops. Diontae Johnson leads the league with nine drops this season, and Eric Ebron’s four drops are tied for 18th.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen some drastic line movement in favor of the Colts. This game was listed as Steelers -3 on the advance spread, but it has moved all the way to Colts -2 at most locations.

The early betting numbers also suggest that the public and the sharps want nothing to do with Pittsburgh. The Colts have received 69% of the early spread bets, and those best have accounted for 99% of the spread dollars.

I’m a bit conflicted on this game. On one hand, the Steelers have looked so miserable recently that it’s hard to back them against a solid team like the Colts. On the other, this feels like an excellent buy-low opportunity.

If you ignore what you’ve seen on the field and focus solely on the numbers, Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense. For starters, we’re getting five points of spread value compared to last week. That is a ton of points based on just one game.

The Steelers also fit a nice trend. Teams who lose as double-digit favorites have historically posted a record of 44-27-2 against the spread the following week. That’s good for a return on investment of +21.2%.

I’m not sure if I’m actually going to back the Steelers this week, but I do think they’re the correct side. Let’s see if I can find the courage before kickoff.

The Pick: Pending

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Chicago Bears (-7.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars — 47.0 total

Moneylines: Bears -360/Jaguars +290

Don’t look now, but the Bears have quietly started to figure things out offensively. They followed up their 36-point performance against the Texans in Week 14 with a 33-point performance vs. the Vikings.

David Montgomery has looked fantastic over the past few weeks, but he still has miles to go to truly live up to his running back “Frankenstein” pre-draft comps:

As ridiculous as that ESPN graphic is — does someone seriously get paid to come up with stuff? — Montgomery has looked like a completely different player recently. He’s averaged 108.5 rushing yards and 34.3 receiving yards over his past four games, and he’s also scored six total touchdowns over that time frame. He brutalized the Vikings’ defense last week, averaging 4.56 yards per carry on a ridiculous 32 carries.

Mitchell Trubisky has also made me a believer once again. He’s averaged at least 8.43 adjusted yards per attempt in each of his past three games, and he’s also chipped in his usual 20-30 yards on the ground. He may have very well played his way into another contract with the Bears, and I truly believe that they would be in the playoffs at the moment if they stuck with him all season.

Both Montgomery and Trubisky should find very little resistance from the Jaguars. They rank 31st in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA this season, including dead last against the pass. They were just embarrassed by the Ravens’ offense last week, who racked up 40 points and 406 yards of total offense.

So we should be all over the Bears this week, right? To quote the great Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.

For starters, this line has moved from Bears -3.5 on the advance spread to Bears -7.5. That’s a huge line movement crossing multiple key numbers.

The sharps also appear to be all over the Jaguars to start the week. They’ve garnered a whopping 91% of the spread dollars despite receiving just 32% of the spread bets. That’s the biggest tickets vs. dollars differential on the board at the moment.

This also seems like the definition of a trap game. The Bears are coming off a huge divisional win over the Vikings last week, and they finish their season with a massive matchup vs. their biggest rivals in the Packers. How in the world are they going to focus on the lowly Jaguars with such a massive contest looming?

My only real concern with the Jags is that it sounds like the team could go with Mike Glennon at quarterback instead of Garnder Minshew. Head coach Doug Marrone said that whoever plays better at practice this week will draw the start, which makes absolutely no sense. Minshew has been markedly better than Glennon in every quarterback measure this season, so the only reason for him to be benched is if the Jaguars are intentionally trying to lose. That may be what ownership wants, but the players and coaching staff are not just going to lay down and die.

As long as Minshew is in the lineup, I’ll be on the Jaguars +7.5.

The Pick: Jaguars +7.5 (assuming Minshew starts at quarterback)

Carolina Panthers @ Washington Football Team — OFF

This game is off the board at the moment given Washington’s current quarterback situation. Alex Smith is still dealing with a calf injury, and he was unable to practice on Wednesday. He likely needs to get on the practice field by Friday in order to suit up vs. the Panthers.

If Smith is out, Washington will once again turn to Dwayne Haskins. Haskins caught some heat recently by breaking COVID-19 protocol to visit a strip club, and he was fined $40,000 and ultimately stripped of his captaincy. That said, it looks like he should still be able to play if needed. He took the first-team reps at quarterback during Wednesday’s practice.

Unfortunately, having Haskins under center isn’t much of a luxury for Washington. He has made no progress in his second NFL season, and if anything, his numbers have gotten worse. He averaged 5.9 adjusted yards per attempt as a rookie, but that mark is down to 5.4 this season. Washington is just 1-4 with Haskins at quarterback this season, and that lone win came back in Week 1 when their defensive line managed eight sacks against the Eagles. Overall, Haskins owns the worst Pro Football Focus grade among qualified quarterbacks.

If Haskins is back at quarterback, I will probably be looking to fade him if he’s favored. This line is off the board at most locations, but the lines that are up have Washington favored by somewhere between one and 2.5 points.

It appears as though the sharps agree with my assessment. Carolina has garnered just 38% of the early spread bets, but those bets have accounted for 57% of the spread dollars.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in seeing my final approach to this game.

The Pick: TBD

New York Giants @ Baltimore Ravens (-10.5) — 45.0 total

Moneylines: Giants +425/Ravens -590

It’s safe to say the Ravens have gotten their groove back offensively. They struggled mightily on that side of the ball to begin the season, but they’ve scored 47 and 40 points in back-to-back games. Lamar Jackson is back to looking like the guy who won the MVP last season, making huge plays with both his arms and his legs.

The Ravens also remain one of the better defensive teams in the league. They currently rank eighth in defensive DVOA, and that probably undersells how good this unit is when at full strength. They were ranked much higher before being hit by a string of injuries.

Unfortunately, the injury problems could persist this week vs. the Giants. They were finally able to get their starting defensive lineman back in the lineup two weeks ago, but now their secondary is banged up. Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith both missed practice on Wednesday, and their status vs. the Giants is definitely up in the air. If they’re unable to suit up, it would leave the Ravens without two of their top three corners.

It remains to be seen if that will actually matter vs. the Giants, though. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place at quarterback at the moment. Daniel Jones is currently dealing with multiple leg injuries, and he looked awful while trying to play injured two weeks ago vs. the Cardinals. Jones is not the best pure passer of the football, so he needs to be a threat with his legs for the Giants’ offense to be at full strength.

They gave Jones the week off vs. the Browns, and Colt McCoy led the Giants to just six points on Sunday Night Football. Remember, the Browns gave up 47 points to the Ravens in the week prior, so it was an extremely disappointing night for the Giants’ offense.

McCoy not being able to lead an offense is not exactly a surprise. He owns a career record of 8-22 as a starting quarterback, and he’s just 9-20-1 against the spread. That makes him the seventh-least profitable quarterback since 2004, and a $100 bettor would be down -$1,147 if they wagered on all 30 of his starts.

It does seem like Jones is at least trending in the right direction after getting in a limited practice on Wednesday, but it’s tough to consider wagering on him at the moment. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to bet on the Ravens, but this feels like buying him on them. I’m ultimately going to pass.

The Pick: Pass

Atlanta Falcons @ Kansas City Chiefs (-10.5) — 54.0 total

Moneylines: Falcons +400/ Chiefs -500

The Chiefs continue to win football games, but they continue to do it by smaller margins that expected. They either failed to cover the spread or pushed last week vs. the Saints depending on whether you got the line at 3.0 or 3.5, and they failed to cover the spread in each of their previous five games. The last time they blew the doors off an opponent was all the way back in Week 8 against the Jets.

That said, the Chiefs still sit at 13-1 and are on the verge of locking up the top spot in the AFC. They need just one win over the final two games or one loss from either the Steelers or Bills. They could even still get the top seed if they lose out and the Bills and Steelers both win out, but it would come down to a strength of schedule tiebreaker.

They’re in an interesting spot this week vs. the Falcons. On one hand, the spread on this game has dropped from 12.5 to 10.5, which does represent some value for the Chiefs. The Falcons also set up as a strong matchup for the Chiefs. Their defense is far better against the run than the pass, so Mahomes should have a field day against their secondary.

The Chiefs also have an edge in the injury department. Julio Jones, Alex Mack, and James Carpenter were unable to practice on Wednesday, and Ricardo Allen, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal were all limited. That could leave the team without a few key contributors in this matchup.

Still, the Falcons are a dangerous team to give this many points to. They are not a team like the Bengals or Jets who are going to struggle to put up points most weeks. They’re not as potent with Jones sidelined, but they still rank 12th in the league in points per game.

Matt Ryan is also capable of putting together drives late in the game to secure a backdoor cover. The Chiefs have allowed the Saints and Bucs to stroll through the back door in recent weeks, and it wouldn’t shock me if Ryan does the same thing this week. He’s posted a record of 5-2 in his career as an underdog of at least 10 points, and part of that stems from his ability to put points on the board after the game has already been decided.

We also have to consider the fact that this game means very little to the Chiefs. The No. 1 seed is all but assured at this point, so it wouldn’t be a shock if they didn’t break out the full “death star” version of their offense. I’m not suggesting that guys like Mahomes, Travis Kelce, or Tyreek Hill will sit, but it’s possible that the Chiefs go with a more vanilla game plan and save some of their best stuff for more important games in the playoffs.

There has been a lot of money to be made by fading the Chiefs recently, and I think this is another great spot. I’d love to see Jones or some of the other injured Falcons in the lineup, but I believe in Ryan’s ability to cover regardless of who suits up next to him.

The Pick: Falcons +10.5

Justin Herbet
Sep 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers (-3) — 49.0 total

Moneylines: Broncos +150/Chargers -175

This is another game where the public and the sharps appear to be in complete agreement. The Chargers have received 74% of the early spread bets, and those bets have added up to 99% of the spread dollars. That means the big bets and the small bets are landing on the Chargers to start the week.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that this number is on the rise. The advance spread on this game was listed at Chargers -2.5, but it’s up to Chargers -3.5 at many locations across the industry. If the betting activity continues to be this heavy on the Chargers, it wouldn’t be a shock to see it rise even higher before kickoff.

The Chargers have the reputation for being a team that can’t close out games — they blew a lead of at least 16 points in four straight weeks earlier this season — but that reputation could be changing. They’re coming off back-to-back wins, although both the Chargers and Raiders tried to blow last week’s game about 100 times each.

Still, the Chargers are clearly the more appealing team when compared to the Broncos. It starts with their stud young quarterback Justin Herbert, who is all but a lock to win Offensive Rookie of the Year at this point. He’s averaged 290.8 yards in 13 starts this season, and he’s also racked up 27 touchdown passes compared to just 10 interceptions. Herbert was a polarizing prospect heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, but he would probably be the No. 1 overall pick if they redrafted today.

That said, I think the most appealing bet in this contest is actually on the total. Betting unders in divisional games has historically been extremely profitable late in the season, posting a record of 205-128-4 against the spread since 2004.

Both of these teams are also dealing with a host of injuries on both sides of the ball. Garrett Bolles is questionable for the Broncos, and he’s emerged as one of the best offensive tackles in the league this season. Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and Mike Williams are questionable for the Chargers, and those are arguably their three most important pass-catchers.

This total has already dropped by a few points — it opened up at 51.0 and is down to 49.0 — so I want to lock this in before it drops any further.

The Pick: Under 49.0 points

Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks (-1.5) — 47.5 total

Moneylines: Rams +100/ Seahawks -120

The Rams got caught with their pants down last week, but they have the chance to make everything right this week vs. the Seahawks. They’re just one game behind the Seahawks for the top spot in the NFC West, and they would own the tiebreaker against Seattle if they win this contest. I think they were clearly looking ahead to this matchup, so I’m expecting them to play much better than they did vs. the Jets.

The betting numbers for this contest are interesting. The public predictably wants nothing to do with the Rams following their loss last week, so the Rams have received just 44% of the early spread bets. The sharps, however, appear to be on LA. They’ve received 63% of the spread dollars, which is a solid discrepancy between dollars and tickets.

Despite their loss last week, the Rams still grade out as the superior team according to DVOA. They rank sixth in that department, while the Seahawks rank ninth.

The big issue with Seattle earlier this season was their defense, but they appeared to have rectified those problems a bit. They’ve allowed 17 points or fewer in each of their past four games, albeit against some easy competition. They’ve taken on the Eagles, Giants, Jets, and Washington over that time frame, and those are four of the worst offensive teams in the league. I’m not completely writing off Seattle’s defensive performances in those contests, but I’m not ready to declare them a good defense either.

Unfortunately, any improvements they’ve made on that side of the ball have come with a cost. Their offense has played much slower recently, and it appears as though the #LetRussCook movement is officially over. He started the year red hot — he racked up 16 touchdown passes through his first four games — but his volume and efficiency are down over his past seven games. He’s averaged just 6.67 adjusted yards per attempt, which would be easily the worst mark of his career over a full season, and he’s also tossed 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Additionally, the Rams fit the same trend I mentioned earlier about teams losing as big favorites the previous week.

Add it all up, and I think this is an excellent opportunity to buy low on them as small underdogs.

The Pick: Rams +1.5

Philadelphia Eagles (-2) @ Dallas Cowboys — 49.5 total

Moneylines: Eagles -132/Cowboys +115

I took a big loss last week fading the Cowboys, but I continue to think this team is overrated. I’m not sure how that’s possible for a 5-9 team, but there is some legitimate playoff buzz building for this team after winning the past two weeks.

That said, diving into the box scores from those contests reveal those wins to be extremely flukey. Both the Bengals and 49ers shot themselves in the foot over the past two weeks, and the Cowboys have won the turnover battle by a margin of +7 over those two contests combined. They were also outgained by nearly 200 total yards in those games, and the 49ers put up 458 yards of total offense last week.

Basically, the Cowboys haven’t won these past two weeks so much as their opponents have lost.

Hopefully that shouldn’t be a problem with the Eagles. Jalen Hurts has looked phenomenal since taking over at the quarterback position. He racked up more than 100 yards on the ground in his first career start, and he followed that up with 338 yards and three touchdowns through the air last week vs. the Cardinals. The Eagles were able to secure a massive upset victory over the Saints two weeks ago with Hurts under center, and he came up just short last week vs. the Cardinals.

If Hurts can play as well as he has the first two weeks, I just don’t see a formula for Dallas winning this game.

The only real concern is that the Eagles are going to be an extremely popular bet this week. They’ve received 73% of the early spread bets and 89% of the spread dollars, so the sportsbooks are going to have massive liability with the Eagles.

Still, I’m willing to roll the dice on them as a small road favorite. This kid is legit — check out his measurables on PlayerProfiler — and the Eagles are the best team in the division with him under center. The Cowboys are a fraud, and their luck is bound to run out eventually.

The Pick: Eagles -2

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