Each Week, Head of Content Michael Schottey makes his picks for the upcoming slate of NFL action. For more on the best picks of the week, check out Pickwatch Pro for only $30 per year and get access to in-depth insights on proven winners.
Picks are straight up. Odds are provided for informational purposes and courtesy of our friends at BetMGM.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
Thursday Night Football usually comes down to a few things—coaching and injuries. Normally, I would be all over the Steelers in a game when coaching (which they have in spades) matters. However, the Steelers are coming off an emotional, last-second win against the Baltimore Ravens and the Vikings are coming off an embarrassing loss to the then-winless Detroit Lions.
Look for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer to get back to basics. Running back Dalvin Cook may play on Thursday, but it’s unlikely. Whether he goes or not, look for the Vikings to get back to basics and run the ball early and often. The Steelers run defense has been atrocious all season long and that should doom them here. Oh, and as for the injuries? The Vikings are likely getting both linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks back on Thursday. Pick: Vikings
Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns (-2.5)
We think of the Ravens as a great defensive team. They haven’t been this season, though. At 21.7 points allowed per game, they’re the No. 9 defense in the league, but when you remember that they’re offense is built around ball control (they lead the league by a large margin in time of possession with 34’01” per game) things get a little murkier.
What they have been, however, is the best special teams unit in the league with a No. 1 special teams DVOA according to Football Outsiders. It’s why they play games close and why they’ve been consistently coming out on top (save last week’s conversion debacle). Until Browns QB Baker Mayfield shows he can consistently beat teams like the Ravens, I gotta take the Ravens here. Pick: Ravens
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans (-8.5)
When the Jaguars win games, they’re winning it with ball control and a solid (but not good) rushing attack mostly predicated around hoping teams worry more about QB Trevor Lawrence than the offense has actually given them any reason to. The cracks in the locker room have shown since the summer, but they’re starting to widen with reports that running back James Robinson was benched and then re-inserted late into a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Titans need a “get right” game after two straight losses...one of which was to the Houston Texans, so they won’t make the same mistake twice of looking past an opponent. Earlier in the season, Tennessee beat Jacksonville 37-19 and this margin should be at least that wide. Pick: Titans
Las Vegas Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5)
We saw the importance of coaching in Week 13 as Andy Reid and the Chiefs downed the Broncos in impressive fashion. On paper, the Chiefs are the way better team, but Reid’s record following a bye is epic and the Chiefs were ready. Expect that trend to continue in this one as the Raiders are the second-most penalized team in the NFL (95 total penalties for 839 total yards). Both of these teams have struggled to get out of their own way at points this season, but the Chiefs appear to be heating up and gelling.
How do the Raiders win? They need to get back to the game plan they used against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. That’s running the ball until Josh Jacobs’ wears down the defense and then explosive plays over the top. They’re averaging six yards per offensive play, which is a fantastic mark...but they can’t keep turning it over or stalling drives with third-and-forever situations. Pick: Chiefs
New Orleans Saints (-6) @ New York Jets
This line is a little disrespective and has a lot to do with Saints QB Taysom Hill, who did not exactly flourish in his last game as the Saints featured quarterback. Yet, the Jets’ defense is pretty atrocious and Hill likely will not be asked to carry the team through the air against a team that allowed 4.5 yards per carry on the ground. With 50% of all the Jets’ opponents' offensive drives ending in some type of score, the Saints should take this one pretty easily. Pick: Saints
Dallas Cowboys (-4) @ Washington Football Team
In a lot of ways, these divisional rivals are similar to one another...or at least have similar DNA. Both teams are at their best with a balanced offense and both are overachieving in some respect. On paper, though, the Cowboys are a much better team. They’re known for their offense, but they’re actually the fourth-best defensive team according to DVOA (7th best offensively).
While Football Team has been on a tear as of late—winning four straight—three of those four teams have been pretty pedestrian (the Buccaneers being the exception). Washington’s fatal flaw is turnovers, especially through the air and the Cowboys are pretty good at taking advantage of that, with 15.9 percent of all opponent drives ending in a turnover. Pick: Cowboys
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers (-3)
I don’t want to pick this game. I don’t want to watch this game. I don’t want to know in the back of my head that this game exists out there and can hurt people. There is little to like about the Panthers offensively with RB Christian McCaffrey done for the season and Cam Newton back to the type of play that had him jettisoned from the franchise in the first place. Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady was a heralded genius only a season ago, and now he is looking for work.
Yet, the Falcons have the second worst scoring defense (27.7 points per game) while the Panthers defense has been middle of the pack. The Falcons also have a league-worst Special Teams DVOA, which shows a team failing at literally all of the things one can fail at on a football field. Yet, they have RBs Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis, which should be enough to be the difference here. Pick: Falcons
Seattle Seahawks (-7.5) @ Houston Texans
I do not care what the line is for this game and I do not care what the injury status is for just about anyone on the field for either team. The Seahawks have not been worlds better than the bottom of the NFL cellar this season nor are they a team that travels well. However, the Texans are in disarray while the Seahawks are coming off of a win that showed QB Russell Wilson is fully healthy and ready to push the ball down the field. This should be an easy win. Pick: Seahawks
Detroit Lions @ Denver Broncos (-7.5)
In many ways, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer showcased exactly how to beat the Lions (not that it’s incredibly difficult) in their loss to Detroit. Keep up the pressure on QB Jared Goff, as they did for much of the second half, and offensively lean on the run game to remove the defensive line’s pass rush from the equation. This is what the Broncos do really well. They’re not elite at it (ranked only 20th in defensive DVOA this season), but they’ve got the fourth best hurry percentage in the NFL at 13.6 percent of all opponents’ pass plays resulting in a QB hurry. Pick: Broncos
New York Giants @ Los Angeles Chargers (-10)
This game gets ugly, and it’s likely that it gets ugly pretty quickly. The Giants are one of the worst rushing teams in the league (only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt, 27th in the NFL) and their offensive line is among the worst in both pass protection and run blocking according to numbers from Pro Football Focus.
The Chargers, meanwhile, have a defensive line that matches up really well with the Giants and have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Look for the Chargers to pour on the points and tee off on a Daniel Jones-less Giants offense. Pick: Chargers
San Francisco 49ers @ Cincinnati Bengals (-1)
There is some strength on strength here, as the Bengals’ have one of the more vertically inclined offenses in the NFL, while the 49ers have the third-best defense in terms of stopping yards through the air. That’s similar to the matchup last week as the 49ers faced the Seahawks, who were able to stretch the field against recent trends.
The two questions that determine this game are whether or not one believes QB Joe Burrow can have the kind of game Seahawks QB Russell Wilson did, and will the 49ers be healthy enough at running back to make their offense hum? It’ll be close, but I trust the 49ers ground game a little more than Burrow against a good defense. Pick: 49ers
Buffalo Bills @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
I’m guessing the weather is going to be better for this one than Buffalo’s last game! This is another strength-on-strength matchup where the Bills’ No. 1 DVOA defense goes up against the Buccaneers No. 1 DVOA offense.
The other side of the ball isn’t much more lopsided with the Buccaneers at a No. 7 defense and the Bills at No. 14 on offense. The Bills are also one of the most talented pass protecting units in the league with the fifth-ranked sack rate of 4.1 percent sacks per offensive dropbacks and the Buccaneers are among the top five in the league in both QB knockdowns and total pressures. I like the Buccaneers a little more because they’re trending better and the Bills haven’t had a quality win since Halloween. Pick: Buccaneers
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers (-12.5)
Seems silly to pile on too much on this one. The Bears have the third-worst scoring offense in the league (16.8 points per game), and while we think of the Packers as a great offense, they’re actually in the middle of the *ahem* pack but still almost a touchdown better than the Bears (23.6 PPG).
Meanwhile, the Packers are at home, in Lambeau, in December against a team that Aaron Rodgers has straight up declared ownership over. Crazy things happen in divisional games, but don’t overthink this one. Pick: Packers
Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals (-3)
In a rough week for primetime games, we’re saving the best for last.
Our Pickwatch Pro metrics are split right down the middle on this matchup, with a slight edge in the most relevant metric—passing yards allowed with a 76.5% relevance—going toward the Cardinals in a pretty significant fashion (Cardinals fourth in the league, Rams 16th).
I’ve said it both on the podcast and in writing, but do not take anything away from the Rams win over the Jaguars last week. If you take that as a complete aberration in that the Jaguars are barely a competitive NFL team, the Rams have not been “the Rams” in over a month. In fact, they don’t have what I would consider a quality win since Week 2 against the Colts (by only three points).
It is very, very hard to beat a team twice in one season, but the Cardinals are just that much better than the Rams, who have the hardest remaining schedule in the NFL. Pick: Cardinals