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.
San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) @ Tennessee Titans
I can’t help but be disappointed that this game isn’t being played with Titans running back Derrick Henry on the field, because I would love to have been able to watch that game.
This game? The one we actually get? We’re seeing the 49ers who are one of the most offensively efficient teams in the league against the Titans who are tied for the second-worst team in football with 25 turnovers. I like the Titans who bounce back a little after their disappointing showing in Pittsburgh, but the 49ers are the better team. Pick: 49ers
Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers (-7)
The ten cent and two-second diagnosis is that I’m not going to ever bet against the Packers at Lambeau in December, “periodt” as the kids say. From there, there is a lot of uncertainty around the Browns in terms of COVID and…oh, yeah, the Packers are the best team in football.
Want a little more? The Browns (especially if QB Baker Mayfield can’t go, but even if he’s available) are a run-first and short yardage/high completion percentage team. Their adjusted air yards per attempt is 7.2, right in the middle of the league at 16th. The Packers? They’re the best tackling team in football according to Pro Football Focus. Look for Green Bay to outscore the Browns by keeping the ball in front of them and making the play. Pick: Packers
Indianapolis Colts @ Arizona Cardinals (-1)
This game has me sweating a little bit. I’ve been a big Cardinals fan all season and even with them backsliding a little bit, this is still a quality football team that is well-coached and has been through some stuff and (mostly) came up positive. Then again, the Colts have been trending better and better all season and—even in losses—have been overplaying their hand quite a bit.
Here’s the rub: When you look at the bare stats, Arizona looks like a middling rushing defense. When you break it down to yards per attempt though, they’re giving up 4.6 yards per carry which does not bode well for a Jonathan Taylor-led Colts rushing attack. The Colts also lead the NFL with a +14 turnover differential. My heart says Cardinals, but my head…Pick: Colts
Detroit Lions @ Atlanta Falcons (-6)
A look at the records shows that this is a matchup between two of the worst teams in the NFL. (Duh, I know.) Yet, when one starts to dig into the numbers, the Lions start to show up a little better. Just in terms of Football Outsiders DVOA metric, the Falcons (not the Lions) are the worst in football, ranked 32nd. The Lions aren’t much better at 29, but both their offense and their defense are a tick better and the special teams markedly so at 11th.
I’m going to hedge my bet a little here. The Lions are 2-1 in the month of December and Jared Goff has taken home an NFC Offensive Player of the Week (Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings) and a FedEx Air Player of the Week (Week 14 against the Cardinals). If Goff plays, they will be my pick. Right now, he’s in the COVID protocol, however, so I have to go the other way. Pick: Falcons
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5)
Has anyone been more bullish about the Ravens while consistently ragging on their failures than I have? On paper, this should be a much better team. On the field, they are consistently in every matchup—even when it looks as if they shouldn’t be.
This season, the Ravens are devolving into one of the worst defenses in the league—27th in defensive DVOA. They’re still No. 1 against the run but terrible against the pass. The Bengals are a vertical passing team who like to ground-and-pound a little, so that’s probably a wash in this matchup. When the Ravens have the ball, however, the Bengals are fourth-best against the run (95.9 yards per game) and are the least penalized team in football…58 penalties to Baltimore’s 91. Pick: Bengals
Los Angeles Rams (-3) @ Minnesota Vikings
Speaking of penalties, the Vikings are the 3rd-most penalized team in football (102). That speaks to just how poorly this team is coached—a subject I could teach a master’s level class on at this point.
One has to believe this line is mostly COVID-related. The Rams are known for their pass-rushing prowess, but are actually one of the most stout defenses against the run as well (thanks to nose tackle Greg Gaines, among others). The Rams should be healthy for this one barring any setbacks. Pick: Rams
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots (-2.5)
This game is setting up a lot like the last matchup a couple of weeks ago—minus the weather craziness, we hope. These are the two top teams in football. New England are No. 1 in DVOA and in scoring. Buffalo is number two in both. New England’s only achilles heel defensively might be teams that can pound the ball (ala Indianapolis) but that’s not Buffalo, who are 18th in total rushing attempts.
While the trend isn’t quite as strong after a couple of down years, it is still really difficult to pick against the Patriots at home in December—especially as we’ve seen the Bills struggle outside in cold weather a few times now. Pick: Patriots
Jacksonville Jaguars (-1) @ New York Jets
My knee jerk analysis is that these are two of the worst teams in football and if you’re thinking of watching this game, may I recommend a nice walk instead? Get some fresh air. Maybe run an errand. I don’t know…choose happiness for yourself. You deserve it.
If you need to know who’s going to win, the Jaguars are a team not playing for much. The Jets have a culture in place and showed way more life against the Miami Dolphins last week than anyone expected. QB Zach Wilson, specifically, has started to see his interceptions go down while his QB Rating has gone up. He’s also using his natural athleticism a little more, which bodes well against the Jaguars atrocious pass defense. Pick: Jets
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles (-10.5)
The Giants cannot stop the run. According to Pro Football Focus, they’re the 12th-worst rushing defense in the league. Their 4.4 yards per attempt given up is also 12, but they’ve given up 102 rushing first downs (8th worst) and their “expected points contributed by rushing defense” (via Pro Football Reference) is -12.59 (also 8th worst).
The Eagles, meanwhile, lead the league with 165.6 yards per game, are second in attempts with 453 and second in rushing yards per attempt with 5.1. They also lead the league with 139 rushing first downs. Pick: Eagles
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-10.5) @ Carolina Panthers
The Buccaneers are going through some stuff right now! While they are expected to have wide receiver Mike Evans back for this game, WR Chris Godwin and linebacker Lavonte David (arguably two of their five best players) are both out for the season. They’re also coming off of an embarrassing divisional loss which saw their highly ranked offense get shutout.
Still…The Panthers have the second-worst offense in the league according to DVOA and their vaunted defense has given up 32.5 points per game over their current four-game losing streak. Pick: Buccaneers
Los Angeles Chargers (-9.5) @ Houston Texans
Let’s be brief with this one. The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the scarier young vertical passing offenses in the league. They’ve scored 32 passing touchdowns (third in the NFL) and are Top 10 in just about every passing metric.
On the other side of things? The Texans are the worst graded coverage team in football according to PFF. Their bare pass defense stats are middling, but that’s because most teams can stop passing in the third quarter. That should be the case here. Pick: Chargers
Chicago Bears @ Seattle Seahawks (-6.5)
I said it on Twitter when I was taking my initial look at these games, and that -6.5 line looks insulting to the Bears. The Seahawks are barely scoring any points this season—20.1 PPG, which is better than the Bears’ 17.1, but only slightly so.
This game should be a low-scoring affair with the Seahawks quality run defense. They’re tied with the vaunted Saints for first in the league at only 3.8 yards per opponent’s rushing attempt. Pick: Seahawks
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)
The Steelers are probably flying high after their home win against the Titans, but we’re not in Pittsburgh anymore, Toto. The Chiefs have not lost a game in December since 2018, and Arrowhead Stadium is sure to be rocking as the fans look to help extend their team’s seven-game winning streak.
Just in points scored per game, the Chiefs are about a touchdown better, but this game might get more out of hand than that by the end of the first half. Pick: Chiefs
Denver Broncos @ Las Vegas Raiders (-1.5)
Speaking of disrespectful lines…
As of the writing of this column, Teddy Bridgewater was just ruled out for this game and Drew Lock will get the start. In terms of scoring, however, it’s not as if the Raiders are lighting up any scoreboards. Las Vegas is only scoring a point more per game (21.4 to 20.4) that the Broncos.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are a running team. They’re top 10 in total offensive DVOA and almost all of that is due to a rushing attack that averages 4.5 yards per rushing attempt (tied for seventh in the league), is ninth with 123.8 yards per game and has two running backs in the Top 12 rushers in the NFL. The Raiders, meanwhile, are a bottom three scoring defense and one of the worst rushing defenses. Pick: Broncos
Washington Football Team @ Dallas Cowboys (-10.5)
When Washington Football Team went toe-to-toe with the Philadelphia Eagles even with their starting quarterback, backup quarterback and a whole bunch of other players on the COVID list, it was up there with some of the more impressive feats of the season. It wasn’t enough, though, and the 6-8 WFT may have a few moral victories under their belt, but it might be difficult to get more actual victories if they’re not healthy.
Dallas is one of only five teams in the league with a Top 10 offensive and Top 10 defensive DVOA. They’re the only team with both of those and a Top 10 special teams DVOA. Pick: Cowboys
Miami Dolphins @ New Orleans Saints (-3)
Here’s the thing. The Saints kicked the Buccaneers butts because the Buccaneers refused to transition to the exact offense the Dolphins already run. The Dolphins are a Bottom 10 team with 6.2 adjusted yards per attempt. Among those teams, however, they’re one of the only teams with a passer rating above 80. They’re also a Top 10 team in completion percentage…Dink. Dunk. Dink. Dunk. Win.
When the Saints have the ball, the Dolphins are just about as good against the run as the Saints are (103.7 ypg vs. 96.6). That means the Saints run game…i.e., all they have offensively, won’t get much traction. Pick: Dolphins