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.
Kansas City Chiefs (-4) @ Los Angeles Chargers
This game screams “bet the under” to me—if only because most of the world will look at this as an offensive shootout (and it absolutely could be), but prospective offensive shootouts on Thursday Night Football tend to surprise as defensive stalemates. It doesn’t hurt that the Chiefs have only allowed 10.8 points per game over their six-game winning streak.
Look for the Chiefs to try to stay away from the Chargers’ pass rush and lean on a surprisingly efficient running game averaging 4.5 yards per carry. It’ll force the Chargers into a one-dimensional game plan, which is a game they can win, but the matchup leans the other way. Pick: Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders @ Cleveland Browns (-6)
There are a lot of reasons to like the Raiders here, in only because the Browns are currently in disarray thanks to injuries and the COVID list. Among players who may be missing from this game are offensive linemen Tedrick Wills and Wyatt Teller, tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has also tested positive and may miss the game as well.
Yet, the Browns just beat the New York Jets under similar circumstances and have shown all season that while they’re not the most talented team. They are deep and have embraced the “Next Man Up” philosophy...especially in the rushing attack. The Raiders have the second-worst scoring defense in the NFL, allowing 27.7PPG and one of the worst rushing defenses.
The one thing that can change this? If QB Baker Mayfield doesn’t end up playing, I’ll consider that the straw that breaks the camel’s back and pick the Raiders. Pick: Browns
New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts (-2)
If you’re not watching this game, I question your love for football. The Colts come in with a little bit of swagger as a run-heavy, opportunistic defensive team, but they’ve actually got the No. 7 offense overall according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA analytics. They’re scoring 28.5 points per game, which is third in the league and better than Arizona, Buffalo, Kansas City and a whole bunch of other teams known as offensive juggernauts.
New England, however, is one of the two top defenses in the league. They’re allowing a paltry 15.4 points per game this season and have only allowed multiple touchdowns in a game once since October. They’re No. 2 in the league, forcing opponents to turn the ball over on 18.7 percent of drives. No. 1 in that category? The Colts at 18.9 percent. This should be a good game. Pick: Patriots
Carolina Panthers @ Buffalo Bills (-10.5)
I wouldn’t hesitate to pick the Bills in this one, but they’re becoming known as a team that drops games like this—see Pittsburgh in Week 1, Jacksonville later in the season. Buffalo is a talented team on paper, with one of the best defenses (17.6 points per game allowed) and a Top-10 offense (27.9 points per game scored). Still, they’re losers of two straight and three of their last four.
Then again, the Panthers are completely rudderless at this point and have no offense without RB Christian McCaffrey. Pick: Bills
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins (-8.5)
This game is going to set up pretty much how the general NFL viewing public expects. The Dolphins have already beaten the Jets once this season (24-17) and this game’s margin should exceed that because the Dolphins are playing at a much higher level. Their offense with QB Tua Tagovailoa is the phrase “dink and dunk” personified. They’re No. 7 in the NFL with a 67.1 percent completion rate as a team and No. 24 with only 6.2 air yards per completion.
The Jets are tied for the league-worst passing completion percentage as a defense (70.6%, so this game sets up well for Tua and Co. Oh, and when the Jets have the ball, they’re turning it over on 17.2 percent of their offensive drives and they’re facing a Top 10 takeaway defense. Pick: Dolphins
Washington Football Team @ Philadelphia Eagles (-4.5)
This matchup isn’t just a late-season divisional game, it’s also a rare dual strength-on-strength matchup which could mean either a really good game or a really bad game. Both of these teams are among the league leaders in rushing attempts (Eagles at No. 2, WFT at No. 9), but the Eagles are a much more efficient rushing team and are second in the league both in yards per rushing attempt and rushing 1st downs.
Meanwhile, both defenses are among the league’s best in opponent rushing yards per attempt (4.0). What breaks in this one? If WFT wins, it will be because they don’t turn the ball over. If Philadelphia wins, it will be because QB Jalen Hurts has himself a day and because Washington is dealing with a major COVID breakout. Pick: Eagles
Arizona Cardinals (-13.5) @ Detroit Lions
What analysis do you need here, really? The Lions continue to not only be a bad team, but are worsening as the year goes on thanks to injuries. It is enough to ask if Dan Campbell’s “toughness” mantra is leading to extra wear and tear or if the Lions are just shutting down players sooner rather than later because this season has been a wash since September (September of 1962 or so, if we’re being honest). They have a solid defensive backfield, a Top 5 NFL center, their two best pass rushers and their kicker...all hurt.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are easily one of the deepest and the most talented rosters in the league and they’re coming off of a close loss to the Los Angeles Rams. This has become a must-win game for Arizona in terms of playoff seeding, so…yeah. Pick: Cardinals
Dallas Cowboys (-10.5) @ New York Giants
Another game that is probably going to be 98%-100% tracked picks going toward the favorite. Giants QB Daniel Jones is sitting out once again with a neck injury and he may be done for the season. That’s only worth a few points of the betting line, however, as the Giants were approaching garbage fire status even with Jones as the QB.
How can the Giants steal this? Both teams are roughly the same in terms of turning the ball over (Dallas has 18 giveaways to the Giants 17), but the Cowboys are far more adept at creating turnovers on defense. If the Giants can control the ball, they’re one of the least penalized teams in the league while the Cowboys are one of the most. Things could lean their way in a divisional matchup (at home no less), but there’s a very small chance of that happening with the talent disparity. Pick: Cowboys
Tennessee Titans (-2) @ Pittsburgh Steelers
If someone had not watched football this season, this would seem like a very exciting matchup. The Titans and Steelers are both known as tough teams who consistently overplay their talent level, and both teams’ talent level has been awfully good in recent years.
2021 has been a different story. Tennessee is an average offense, scoring only 24.9 points per game, while Pittsburgh is a little below average at 20.9. Defensively, the story is about the same—a pretty stark contrast from how people think about these teams. The difference here is going to be 1. Homefield advantage and 2. The weather. Titans QB Ryan Tannehill’s passer rating in cold weather is 43.3. This should be a low scoring game, but Steelers should prevail. Pick: Steelers
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.5)
Here it is. The game you’re all looking for! The 2021 Toilet Bowl: Part 2. The Jaguars lost to the Texans in Week 1, because the NFL schedule makers know how to party. The “it’s tough to beat a team twice in one season” rule is in play here, but the Jaguars are also a complete laughing stock at the moment—and getting worse.
Anyway you slice or dice statistical trends in the NFL, these two teams are at or near the bottom of the pack somewhere. The Jaguars can absolutely win this game if they commit to the run (which they’re halfway decent at, averaging 4.6 yards per carry as a team. Expect a low scoring game with lots of mistakes, but I have to pick the better-coached team that actually kinda seems like they’re playing for something. Pick: Texans
Green Bay Packers (-4.5) @ Baltimore Ravens
Sneakily one of the tougher games in the week to pick. On the surface, this looks like a Packers landslide game. They’ve moved into the top of a lot of experts’ power rankings and although QB Aaron Rodgers isn’t exactly surpassing his MVP season from last year, the Packers still have the No. 2 offense according to DVOA. The Ravens, meanwhile, have taken massive steps backwards defensively this season and their run-heavy offense is starting to rot on the vine.
Here’s where I think this game surprises, though. The Packers’ defense has been a breath of fresh air this season, but they still have trouble stopping the run—giving up 4.5 yards per carry as a defense. That plays into Baltimore’s hands quite a bit. Also, we saw in primetime against the Chicago Bears that Green Bay has a really rough special teams unit. Baltimore has the best special teams unit in the league. Finally, the Ravens have a strong home field advantage, and all of the Packers losses this season are on the road. I’m picking the upset. Pick: Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals @ Denver Broncos (-1.5)
This game screams trap game in a number of ways. The Bengals have vacillated between looking like worldbeaters and losing to some pretty bad opponents. They have a very important matchup with the Ravens next week and Joe Burrow is coming off a great game that was still a loss to a very tough San Francisco 49ers team.
If you want one more statistical piece of evidence, the Broncos are No. 3 in opponents’ turnover percentage (30.2%) while the Bengals are one of the worst in turnover differential, having turned the ball over 21 times this season and only acquiring 17 from other teams. I really want to go Bengals here, because they haven’t dropped three in a row all season long, but the numbers point to the home team. Pick: Broncos
Atlanta Falcons @ San Francisco 49ers (-8.5)
Can the 49ers lay an absolute egg here? Totally…stranger things have happened, but I can’t think of a single way that this game trends that way based on watching both of these teams all season long.
The Falcons’ Arthur Smith-led offense isn’t identical to what Kyle Shanahan is running in San Francisco, but there is similar DNA in both places. So, some “anything you can do, I can do better” could be fun to watch as Falcons WR/RB hybrid Cordarrelle Patterson and 49ers WR/RB hybrid put both teams on their respective backs, but the 49ers have more weapons, a much better defense and far more consistency. Pick: 49ers
Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Rams (-7)
As much as someone might point to the Seahawks trending upwards in recent weeks (It’s me, I would be that guy), the Rams are also trending that direction thanks to a fantastic win against the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams have “figured it out” from the standpoint of leaning into their strengths and not letting the weight of being a “Super Team” drag them down. Will that trend stay consistent into the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not, but against the Seahawks…oh, most certainly.
Meanwhile, Sean McVay is 7-3 against Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. He has their number. COVID does loom large over this game, and if the Rams are a skeleton crew, I may change my pick on Sunday. Pick: Rams
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-10.5)
This is a super fun strength-on-strength matchup. The Buccaneers have the top offense in the NFL (by DVOA and almost any other metric). The Saints have a Top 5 defense by the same measurements.
The Saints were able to take advantage of the Buccaneers offensive slip ups last time around, defeating them 36-27 on Halloween. That is unlikely to be the case this time around, because the Buccaneers offense has been on fire and turning the ball over with much less frequency. Pick: Buccaneers
Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) @ Chicago Bears
I could spend a lot of digital ink complaining that the Bears are in primetime in back-to-back weeks, but whatever…football is football, and this has a chance to defy expectations and actually be a solid game. I’ve been thumping the drumbeat all season long that the Minnesota Vikings are better than advertised on offense, and a game against the Bears is a great time to showcase that.
It actually starts on defense, as neither of these teams are anything to write home about defensively, but the Vikings at least have a few facets of the unit to hang their hat on…notably pass rushing. They apply pressure on 26.7% of their opponents’ drop backs, which is problematic for a Chicago Bears team that is among the worst pass blocking units in the league. From there, just pour on the offense, because the Bears secondary is giving up 6.6 air yards per completion, which is good for ninth worst in the NFL. Pick: Vikings