Today's Free Picks for
Posted Saturday, December 20
NFL Week 15
What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday.
We’re intent on providing our readers with the best possible selections and doing so on Sunday instead of Friday just makes more sense. We made that change two years ago and ended up going 81-57 (+64 units) in 2018 and 65-59 in 2019 (+16 units). Again, we’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on the weekend but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST
NFL Week 15
N.Y. Jets +17 -106 over L.A. RAMS
4:05 PM EST. Much of what we wrote about the Jets last week in their game up in Seattle will ring true here as well. The Jets are simply unplayable but that’s not for us to decide. We must stick to our guns and play the value.
0-13 is such a rarity and while the Jets should have beaten the Raiders but did not, they only scored three points in the games before (Dolphins) and after (Seahawks). Last Sunday in Seattle, facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Jets did a complete face plant. How HC Adam Gase's employee badge still works is a modern mystery. Sam Darnold started the last three games. He never broke 200 yards in any of them. Darnold is keeping the QB spot warm for Trevor Lawrence and everybody knows it. The Jets looked competitive in Seattle for about five minutes before the Seahawks said “fuck it” and put them out of their misery. The only way the Jets keep this game interesting is if the Rams let them, which is always a possibility. It would be very simple to pull the trigger on the Rams here or to fade the Jets but it’s a week too late. If you missed fading the Jets last week, you missed the opportunity so don’t get caught playing them a week too late.
There is always the chance that a toothless, cross conference invader could catch one napping (see the Jaguars in Green Bay or Minnesota) and we have to trust that the Rams will treat this more like a glorified practice than anything else. The Rams are coming off three monster games against the 49ers, Cardinals and Patriots. They have the hated Seachickens on deck next week. The Rams are not built to blow teams out and it is not reasonable to expect their “A” game here. In fact, it would be unreasonable to expect anything but the Rams “C” game here and that leaves plenty of room for a Jets cover. These are very inflated points. Recommendation: N.Y. Jets +17
MINNESOTA -3 +102 over Chicago
1:00 PM EST. We backed the Bears in what was one of the better bets on the board in Week 14, but our loyalty has limits and so we are going to flip the script in this one. Firstly, you have Chicago coming off a dominant 36-7 win over the Texans. It was a big chip knocked off the shoulder of Mitch Trubisky who has rotted in the shadow of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, who were the two quarterbacks selected after him in 2017. What’s funny is that for all the crap Trubisky takes for not being either of those two players, he actually has a better record than Watson as a starting quarterback. The same pundits that were ripping Mitch were the same ones spouting that fact after he and the Bears beat Watson’s Texans.
These guys are all experts when the games are over, but what they won’t mention is that while Watson has been the only shining light for the Texans and has done much with very little, the Bears often win in spite of Trubisky. That’s not to say that Trubisky can’t win, as there will be a time when we will happily back him again but not after last week’s win. Betting the Bears this week is a week too late.
The Vikings were tough luck losers in Tampa, but the market doesn’t care. A cover is a cover is a cover and a non-cover is the same. Winning and losing is all that matters. All that the market sees is wins and losses for the most part, which works to our benefit because it continues to provide opportunities. Truth be told, the Vikings dominated Tampa Bay in every area but the final score. The Vikes held the ball for 39:03, had 27 first downs to 17 and even outgained Tampa in total yardage. Where the Vikings fell short was in an area mostly out of their control, as they gave up nearly twice as many penalty yards. Brady getting calls? Big surprise.
Now, the Vikings opened as -3½-point favorites. Why did oddsmakers hang a “hook” on this key number? We discuss “dog friendly” numbers every week, but there are “favorite friendly” numbers as well. When the books hang a hook on a number like three in what looks to be an evenly matched division game, especially when the pooch is coming off a big win, while the chalk is coming off a loss, they are no doubt going to generate market interest in the dog. Especially from the “efficient” market that trusts that “beating the closing line” is a strong bet. However, from a perspective of “buying low and selling high,” which is a key part of our process, the Bears are a sell-high candidate. The Vikes stock is in the toilet right now after losing by 12 to the Bucs, barely escaping against the Jaguars and Panthers, while losing to the Andy Dalton led Cowboys, all in the last four weeks. Does that sound like the kind of team you want to spot more than a field goal with? Of course not. Agree or not, the number dictates the play here. Recommendation: MINNESOTA -3
Jacksonville +13 -110 over BALTIMORE
1:00 PM EST. If you think we’re spotting a price like this with these Ravens, you’re crazier than Linsay Lohan when she’s on a bender. That said, it’s going to take a lot more than the points being offered up here for us to step in and back the Jaguars. You see the Ravens are a running team and that does not bode well for a Jags side that was just trampled by the Titans 31-10. We must also consider that the Ravens are coming off a Monday Night Football win over the Browns, but it was the way they covered that had the market buzzing. You see, rather than throw a Hail Mary, the Browns tried to lateral their way into an opening. What happened was one of the most bizarre ways one could lose a bet, as Cleveland danced around moving the ball backwards for what felt like an eternity until it was deflected through the end zone for a safety. That made the final score look like 32-27 and a “easy” winner for Ravens backers. We bet the Browns and just about puked in our mouths after that display. It’s the prime example of how we preach about “in-game variance” and playing the “value.” You never know what is going to happen in the NFL and so you must just go with the best of it and let the chips fall where they may.
With all that said, we will not be switching gears and siding with the Ravens spotting a price in this range. They are priced like they are an elite team, but they are not. Lamar Jackson can’t throw the ball and even when he gets it to his man, players like Marquise Brown are just about as likely to drop it as make the catch. Brown, who is supposed to be the Ravens star receiver, has a catch rate this season of just 54%. That’s Michael Gallup, Travis Fulgham, K.J. Hamler territory. Stud wideouts like Devante Adams, Tyler Lockett and DeAndre Hopkins are in the 75% range. As the Ravens showed on Monday night, even if they get up a couple of touchdowns, no lead is safe. They Jags have proven this season that they are capable of going on the road and lulling an unsuspecting host into a much tougher game than they might have thought. Aaron Rodgers said as much earlier this season when he blamed a lack of “atmosphere” on his team’s lacklustre showing against the Jags. After a hugely emotional win in dramatic fashion last week in prime time, it’s reasonable to expect a “lack of atmosphere” here also. Recommendation: Jacksonville +13
HOUSTON +7½ -109 over Indianapolis
1:00 PM EST. The Texans are going to be a tough bet this week. They were officially eliminated from the playoffs. They are decimated by injury at one of the most important skill positions and there has been talk of shutting down Deshaun Watson after he got his ass kicked by the Bears last Sunday. Houston just allowed 285 yards and two TD’s to Philip Rivers back in Week 13. They have also allowed 300+ yard passing days to “elite” QBs like Cam Newton and Jake Luton lately. Oh yeah, Mitchell Trubisky just tossed three TDs against them as well. Rivers doesn’t have the arm he used to have, or the legs, or the accuracy, or the awareness. What he does have is Michael Pittman, T.Y. “Texan-Killer” Hilton, and three good pass-catching RBs, and three good pass-catching TEs, and an all-world offensive line.
In fantasy football, Deshaun Watson has been called the quarterback that raises all tides and for good reason, as he and whoever the Texans lineup at wide receiver have been able to put up points just about every week. One of those games was a tightly contested 26-20 loss to these Colts. While the final score was close, the Texans did not cover the 3½ point spread with Watson throwing for 341 yards. As for the 36-7 loss to the Bears, well, a team coming off a loss like that is going to be undervalued the next time out. That is most certainly the case here.
Is there a team in the NFL whose stock is rising faster than the Colts? Much has been made about their fifth ranked defense, but as we’ve written before, defense is dead in this league. Let’s not forget that just two games ago, the Colts were a -3½ point choice in Houston. Spotting inflated points is often a risky proposition, but that point might be magnified by the fact that Philip Rivers is playing with an injured shoulder and he’s going to need surgery in the offseason.
Unlike the Texans who have been losing despite their quarterback, one could argue that the Colts are winning in spite of their quarterback. While Rivers does not lead the league in interceptions (that honour belongs to Carson Wentz), he is most certainly in the conversation, as he’s tossed nine picks so far this season. That leaves him in the company of Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold. The reality is the Colts are a team that relies on the run game and its defense. That is not the kind of team you want to spot inflated points with, especially when the favorite looks “this good”. We hate this game because we do not like the Texans one bit but the entire world figures to be on the Colts and that’s a side we try to avoid. Recommendation: Houston +7½
Seattle -6½ -110 over WASHINGTON
1:00 PM EST. The Washington Football Team has won four straight games, while also hitting paydirt in as many contests. When you start to payout like a broken slot machine, you are going to generate some quite a bit of market interest. However, we must poke some holes in this recent run because the Football Team is taking a step up in competition here. Three of their four wins came against the 49ers, Cowboys and Bengals, who have combined for a 11-27-1 record this season. We’ll take nothing away from Washington’s Week 13 win over the then undefeated Steelers, but that too came in on “Monday Afternoon Football” with the games thrilling fourth quarter coming at about the time most folks got home from work. That result is also a big reason why the Football Team’s stock is on the rise.
While spotting points on the road with popular teams is not usually in our wheelhouse, there are exceptions to everything when it comes to value and sports wagering. We are pretty sure that smashing the Jets at home last week did nothing to raise Seatte’s stock so we must look back further to see where this team’s true value is. The week prior to the Jets, the Seahawks lost at home to the Colt McCoy led Giants, 17-12, as an 11-point favorite. When you are favored by 11 and score just 12, the market is going to take notice. When you consider that performance is preceded by a 23-17 win and no cover on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia, that setback is further magnified. Although it was a fluke cover, Seattle did not play well at any point v Philadelphia.
Russell Wilson's torrid pace faltered around Week 10 when he was held to no scores by the Rams. For the next three games, Wilson only totaled four TD’s and never passed for more than 263 yards. He finally got back to scoring with four passing touchdowns versus the Jets last week but still only threw for 206 yards in the easy win. Seattle’s stock is lower than Washington’s right now in terms of recency bias and that has us leaning to the chalk.
Washington rates as a Top-10 defense. That’s nice, it really is but regular readers know our position on defense. There are no good defenses anymore, just inept offenses, thus part of what has allowed Washington to notch great rankings on defense is facing a very weak NFC East schedule. We’re not sure if this game will make our board because one concern is that the Seachickens have a massive game with the Rams on deck and could very well get caught looking ahead here. We’ll keep a close eye as to any signs that they may be distracted by that showdown and will apply it accordingly. For now….Recommendation Seattle -6½
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Early leans & analysis Wk 15 (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)