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Thursday, December 18, 2014

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 16 Picks

Favorites came out on top in Week 15 going 9-6-1 ATS, and have the slight edge overall this season at 110-107-3.

And speaking of records, the worst 6 teams in the league are a combined 28-53-3 ATS. The Raiders have the best record among them, but only at 7-7. I find this interesting because we often hear so much about "fading the public", yet these teams haven't been covering all year - even with inflated point spreads to work with.

Around the market, Football Outsiders spread picks went 6-9-1  (96-120-7 YTD). The Las Vegas SuperContest top 5 consensus picks had a big week going 4-0-1 ATS. At 44-31-1 YTD, they might even finish with a 60% hit rate for the season. It's by far the best record I've seen from them since I've been tracking their results.  I didn't see any picks out of Vegas from the usual sources, so no update on those this week.

My picks were so-so at 1-2-1 ATS, and 1-0 on the teaser. The two non-covers were the Packers and Eagles. Yes the Bills D played great, but I thought it was special teams that was the real difference. That, and Nelson dropping an easy catch that would've gone for a 95 yard TD.  But credit to Buffalo for making the big plays. The Eagles game was a different story though. They looked like the wrong side from the get-go, and despite their comeback, the defense never really came close to slowing Dallas down.  In hindsight, that's the one pick I'd like to have back.

There's only two weeks left on the season, and more and more games are becoming completely meaningless. It's a bit like handicapping the preseason when motivations become more important than the talent.  Week 16 lines are up, and when compared to the Westgate advanced lines, we see that there aren't a whole lot of differences. The Ravens and Seahawks spreads got raised due to QB injuries, and the Bills got a slight boost for their upset of the Packers.

My usual picks and prime-time previews will be up over the coming days, so you can refresh this post for updates.

Survivor Pick

Week 15 picks were spread out all over the place in the poll, but the only two options that failed to come through were the Packers and Eagles.  Those were expected to be close games though, so not a total surprise. The Patriots were the most popular pick and they won fairly easily.

Week 16 looks fairly straightforward, but it does get trickier with fewer teams having something to play for. Stay away from veteran teams that are already making offseason plans. Teams with lame duck coaches are also a red flag.

Week 16: Bills

Week 15: Chiefs
Week 14: Lions
Week 13: Dolphins
Week 12: 49ers
Week 11: Steelers
Week 10: Ravens
Week 9: Bengals
Week 8: Cowboys
Week 7: Patriots
Week 6: Broncos
Week 5: Saints
Week 4: Chargers
Week 3Colts
Week 2: Packers
Week 1: Bears

NFL Predictions 2014 Week 16: Ravens Vs Texans

Baltimore Ravens Vs. Houston Texans: BAL -5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Want to see a severe line move?  The Texans were -1 point favorites last week, but after Fitzpatrick got injured the line reopened at Ravens -3.5. It quickly moved to -4, and on Tuesday it moved to -4.5. Now we've seen it go to -5, and it wouldn't shock me if it continued to move more before kickoff. 83% of the bets are on Baltimore.

Bottom Line

It's not recommended to bet a "bad number" when something better was available earlier in the week, but it also depends on how strong of a position you have on a game. In this case, I think the Ravens win by more than a touchdown - possibly double digits.

The main reason I'm in Baltimore is the matchup their defense presents to the Houston offense. Most of their approach runs through Arian Foster, but the Ravens front seven is the strength of their defense. The secondary is very vulnerable due to injuries, but I doubt Keenum will be consistent enough to take advantage. Yeah he's played for the Texans before, but the organization cut him for Ryan Mallett, and he's behind the 8-ball within the system.

If the Texans do hit some big plays or get the benefit of some favorable penalties, they'll also have trouble converting their red zone chances into TDs - an area that the Ravens D rank number one in the league.

It's also a bad matchup for the Texans at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They do have JJ Watt, and that always counts for something, but the Ravens are 5th in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. On the flip side, they are 3rd in that category on defense, which should become an even bigger factor going up against Keenum.

Making the task even tougher will be the special teams units. Houston rank 27th, while Baltimore is 2nd.

I think the only chance the Texans have will be with their own defense. They have been solid in the "make-or-break" moments all year, so they'll have to hope that this will be enough to keep the game close.

Ultimately, I don't think that will cut it though.

It will be an uphill climb all day for Houston, so I'll go ahead and lay the -5.

NFL pick: BAL -5.

Read more: Week 16 picks.

NFL Predictions 2014 Week 16: Colts Vs Cowboys

Indianapolis Colts Vs. Dallas Cowboys: IND +3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Last week this game was a "pick em", but after the weekend it reopened at Cowboys -3.  With a few days to go before kickoff, 58% of the bets are on the road team.

Bottom Line

I must be missing something here because I think the Colts are the better team in this matchup, and that's before taking into account the DeMarco Murray injury.

How much of an impact would Murray's absence be? I don't think their run game will suffer as much as one would think, because a lot of their success is driven by the OL. At the same time, anytime you remove the leading rusher from the equation, it's going to be a factor. Especially when you consider that the Colts are better against the pass than they are the run this season.

I still believe the Cowboys will be able to move the ball and put up points, but they might have to rely on Romo more than usual - mostly because of what's going to take place on the other side of things.

The big test for the Cowboys this week will be figuring out how to slow down Andrew Luck. He hasn't been playing as well as the early half of the season, but this week he's not going to be facing a pass rush capable of getting the QB.  If the Cowboys play zone, Luck is going to dice them apart, and I don't think their corners will be able to hold up long enough in coverage if they play man-to-man. Slowly but surely, the Dallas D has continued to slide down the rankings in all the critical categories.

Yes, the Colts have their division wrapped up, but there's no indication that they will go through the motions here. Pagano didn't sit players in his previous two seasons either, and they won those "meaningless" games, too.

Given the matchups on the field, I think the Colts have a really good chance at walking away with the straight up win on Sunday, but I'm happy to take the points.

NFL pick: IND +3.

Read more: Week 16 picks.

NFL Predictions 2014 Week 16: Broncos Vs Bengals

Denver Broncos Vs. Cincinnati Bengals: DEN -3 (-115) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Westgate had the Broncos as -4 point favorites in the advanced line, but it reopened at -3.5 at +100 after Week 15 action. On Tuesday, it moved to -3, and it currently sits there with some extra juice. Will it move back to -3.5?  I think so, especially given who the teams are.  Right now, 73% of bets are on the Broncos.

Bottom Line

I could just type "Andy Dalton in prime-time" and call it a day for this write-up.  What would be the counter-argument?  Is there one?

Earlier this season I was fooled into believing that the Bengals had enough talent on both sides of the ball to win and cover their prime-time games, but as soon as the games started it become abundantly clear that Dalton hasn't overcome his bright lights stage fright. In fact, he put up one of the worst statistical performances by a QB in NFL history when he faced the Browns on Thursday Night Football.  Is this the game where he shakes free and puts up a clutch performance?

Matchup-wise, it's an interesting game. Like the Seahawks, the Broncos D is top 10 in every category except inside the red zone. Can the Bengals capitalize on that?  They are 9th best at converting red zone chances into TDs, but they are 23rd on 3rd/4th down.

It gets worse for Cincy when the Broncos have the ball. The Bengals D ranks average across the board, which is usually not going to be enough when Peyton Manning is on the other side of the field. Keep in mind, this is a defensive unit that completely collapsed and gave up 25 fourth quarter points to Pittsburgh just two weeks ago. At home no less.

So if Cincy's O have trouble sustaining drives, and can't get off the field on D, how will they win this game?

I can't come up with an answer for that, and I'm a bit surprised that we are getting the option of -3 in this spot.  I think the books had it right the first time when they had this number at -4.

NFL pick: DEN -3.

Read more: Week 16 picks.

NFL Betting Preview 2014 Week 16: Seahawks Vs Cardinals

Seattle Seahawks Vs. Arizona Cardinals

Market Watch

This point spread has seen a move from -6.5 in the advanced line to -7.5 on the opener. That's what happens when your QB gets injured and you have to start your #3.  The number hasn't moved since, and I'd be surprised if it does.  So far, two out of every three bets are on the Seahawks.

Bottom Line

From a betting perspective, the Cardinals might be the most interesting team this year. Sharp money hasn't respected what they've accomplished, and nor have the stats guys.  Football Outsiders have picked against them in 9 of the 13 games this year.  Last week, money flooded in from the "wiseguys" and steamed the spread from STL -3.5 up to -6.

Yet, despite all the backlash, the Cards are 10-4 ATS, including 6-1 at home.

It's not hard to understand why people think they are "pretenders". By DVOA, they are 18th in the league, but have an 11-3 record and sit atop the NFC standings.

So what do we do with them this week?  Lindley is a replacement level QB going up against one of the best defenses in the league. Can he do enough to stay within a TD? Well, the good news is his OL hasn't given up many sacks this year.  The bad news is the offense hasn't been able to do much of anything since Palmer went down.  The only area where the Hawks D is vulnerable is inside the red zone, where they rank 30th. The problem is the Cards rank 28th in red zone offense.

Instead, like most weeks, the Cards will need to rely on their D. Statistically, they matchup very strong with Seattle's offense. The area that can't really be measured by numbers is the versatility of Wilson. Most of his play-making comes from broken play structures, so it's usually just a matter of time before he makes some magic happen.

Ultimately, I'm gonna pass on this game. The spread is too high and Seattle are just 3-4 ATS on the road this year.  I think they win this game, which makes them a great option for a teaser, but it's hard to say if this will be a comfortable double-digit victory.  Arizona is not an easy place to play, and their defense is legit.

Read more: Week 16 picks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NFL Predictions 2014 Week 16: Teasers (update)

The best options for teasers are games that either bring a favorite down under -3, or brings a dog up over a touchdown. Ideally, you want to be crossing both the key numbers of 3 & 7 to maximize your value.

Seahawks -1.5 & Eagles -1.5

Seahawks -1.5 & Lions -1


Bills -0.5 & Lions -2.5

NFL Betting Preview 2014 Week 16: Eagles Vs Redskins

Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Washington Redskins

Market Watch

Last week Westgate listed the Eagles as -8.5 point favorites. It reopened at -8, and it's moved down to -7.5.  None of this line movement means anything since there is no significant difference between -8.5 and -7.5. Both remain in the teaser window, and no key numbers are involved.  At midweek, it looks like bettors are firmly on the road favorite here, with 81% of the bets on the Eagles.

Bottom Line

When we take a closer look at this matchup, it becomes crystal clear that the only side worth considering is Philadelphia.  The Redskins are near the bottom of the league in virtually every important category, and the team is headed for big changes in the offseason.

We could analyze specific matchups, but how much does it matter if Washington is going to mail in the final two weeks? Does it make a difference if they are on national TV?  I doubt it. In fact, the Eagles might win this game on special teams alone, where they still rank 1st in the league. Washington are dead last in that area, just like they were a year ago. And I wouldn't worry too much about the Eagles defense after last week. Washington's OL is one of the worst in the league, so the Eagles front should be able to give their secondary the kind of support they need.

Yet, there are things that are holding me back from picking the Eagles to cover this spread. First, it's more than a touchdown. I rarely like taking a road favorite at anything more than -7, no matter who the opponent is. Second, how about Mark Sanchez?  Now that we've seen him for a few games, can we trust him?  He faced a pretty average defense last week, and was still missing wide open receivers all over the field. Third, how motivated will the Eagles be? They still have a shot to make the playoffs, but losing to Dallas was a tough blow.

I think Philly is a great option for a teaser this week, but I'm not going to get involved in the side unless we get a -7. Even then, I'd have to give it some thought.

Read more: Week 16 picks.

NFL Betting Preview 2014 Week 16: Chargers Vs 49ers

San Diego Chargers Vs. San Francisco 49ers

Market Watch

Last week this game had the 49ers as -2.5 point favorites with -120 juice. It reopened at the same number after Week 15, but we've since seen a move down to -1. Right now, 69% of the wagers are coming in on the San Diego Super Chargers.

Bottom Line

This must be a hard game to set a line on for the books because it's not an easy one to handicap.

Statistically speaking, these teams are pretty even. Based on DVOA, basically every head-to-head matchup on both sides of the ball fall somewhere within a few ranking spots of each other, with two exceptions.  When San Diego's offense faces a 3rd/4th down, they rank 2nd in the league. The 49ers D have been average in that area this year. The other category is special teams, where SF surprisingly rank 29th in the NFL.

Yet, this game is clouded by a couple things. First, the 49ers are out of the playoffs, and Harbaugh is a lame duck coach with one foot already out the door. Second, the Chargers offense is pretty banged up, with Rivers, Mathews, and Allen all watching practice.  Rivers says he's gonna play, but how effective will he be? They only have two touchdowns in the last two games.

At the moment, it's hard to say if we should get involved in this game. San Fran have all the red flags as a team to fade (and a QB that looks lost), but San Diego is too banged up to pull the trigger.  If Rivers and Mathews get cleared to play, I might add them to the card, but as of now it's a pass for me.

Read more: Week 16 picks.