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    NFL Picks - 12/16/2012

    Last Updated: 12/12/2012 at 8:00 PM ET

    NFL Picks Pages:

    December 13: Predictalator Picks  
    December 16: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
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    For each Sunday during the NFL season, Paul Bessire thoroughly breaks down the top three ATS plays. See Predictalator Picks for these games.

    ATS Lock of the Week: Denver -2.5 @ Baltimore (Covers 59.0%)

    Like last week's "Lock of the Week," this pick is not significantly stronger than others, so we are again recommending diversification for Week 15. Over the last three weeks (which coincides with some updates we outlined in great detail when we also discussed diversifying NFL plays last week), all playable sides and totals in the NFL are a combined 44-27 (62% ATS and O/U), while all "half-bet" or better NFL plays are a combined 33-20 (62% ATS and O/U). In fact, the separation between this top play on Sunday and the 11th strongest ATS or O/U opinion is just 2.8% in confidence (or about $30 in wager recommendations for a $50 player). 

    As it stands though, our projection is that Denver, a team that has topped our NFL Power Rankings for four of the last six weeks (including this week), will extend its winning streak to nine games with a win over the banged-up Baltimore Ravens. 

    On the season, Denver is 10-3 straight-up and 8-4-1 against-the-spread versus the 23rd NFL strength-of-schedule to-date. The Broncos have a legitimate MVP front-runner at quarterback in Peyton Manning and a strong Defensive Player of the Year contender in Von Miller (Wesley Woodyard's performance through 12 games should also warrant DPOY praise, but he missed one game due to injury). Manning, who missed all of last season and took a few weeks to get back into form has completed 200 of 286 passes for 2,313 yards (70% completions, 8.1 yards-per-attempt), 19 TDs and seven interceptions during the team's win streak. The offense currently ranks fourth overall in our strength-of-schedule-adjusted metrics and is third in passing efficiency. Meanwhile, Miller leads the defense with 16 sacks and six forced fumbles to go with his 57 tackles (which are fourth on the team). The Broncos' defense also ranks fourth overall in our evaluations and is without weakness (especially with Woodyard back and healthy) as the fourth best pass defense and the second best run defense.

    Baltimore may also be in line to win its division and make the playoffs, but the Ravens are not headed in the right direction right now - largely due to defensive injuries. The Ravens are 9-4 SU, but just 5-7-1 ATS (2-4 ATS at home and just 3-7-1 ATS in the last 11 games) against the league's 24th ranked schedule in 2012. Baltimore currently ranks just 12th in our NFL Power Rankings and has just a 1.9% chance to win the Super Bowl. Most notably, usual defensive starters Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Ray Lewis (even though he is eligible to return), Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe (who started in place of the Lewis) and Terrell Suggs (who is the only player listed here with a decent chance of playing Sunday) are all more likely than not to miss this game. Such defensive issues have led to Baltimore's defensive ranking of 24 in our metrics. The Ravens have been much better against the run than the pass this season (not a surprise given the team's losses in the secondary and pass rush), but that does not bode well against a team like Denver that is far more efficient at passing than running (and also has a few extra days to prepare for this game).

    According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Denver wins over Baltimore 64.4% of the time and by an average score of 27.4-21.2. As 2.5 point favorites, the Broncos cover the spread 59.0% of the time, which would warrant a $69 play from a normal $50 player. The total (48) is appropriate and not playable.

    Other ATS Top Play: San Francisco +5.5 @ New England (Covers 58.7%)

    Obviously, New England looked dominant in a 42-14 win over Houston on Monday night. That was a game in which New England was the better team, playing at home against a team playing its third straight road game and where Houston was dealing with many significant injuries. San Francisco, unlike Houston, ranks higher and would be favored over New England on a neutral field (in our projections), is and has remained one of the healthiest teams in the league, has at least one extra day to prepare for this game after it defeated Miami at home on Sunday afternoon and, despite playing a game three time zones away, should not be at a disadvantage given that this game takes place at 8:20 pm ET/5:20 pm PT. This line was -3.5 yesterday. Now it is -5.5. That is a gross overreaction to one prime time game, especially as the Patriots take on a superior opponent this week. 

    San Francisco is 9-3-1 SU and 8-4-1 ATS against the 14th toughest schedule in 2012. The 49ers rank second overall in our NFL Power Rankings and, due to the muddled AFC playoff picture at the top, are actually the most likely NFL team to win the Super Bowl. San Francisco ranks as having the best overall defense in the league and ranks in the top three in our run offense (#1), run defense (#3) and pass defense (#2) metrics. The 49ers have an elite pass rush and an elite secondary, which are traits that are often held by teams that force New England to struggle. 

    New England is 10-3 SU and 8-5 ATS (just 3-3 ATS at home) versus the league's 20th ranked schedule to-date. The Patriots rank third in our NFL Power Rankings and have the best offense in the league. However, in games against top ten pass defenses (the week that they faced the Patriots), New England is just 3-3 ATS and SU. This follows a trend we saw during the regular and postseason last year when the Patriots went 6-3 SU and just 3-5-1 against top ten pass defenses. He makes great decisions and has a quick release, but Tom Brady is not as mobile in the pocket as most elite quarterbacks and struggles with pressure (especially when that pressure is backed up with a strong secondary and excellent schemes). And lastly, just like we discussed Houston's injuries finally catching up to the Texans in Week 14, in Week 15, not having a weapon like Rob Gronkowski (the team is also without Julian Edelman and Donte' Stallworth) could be an issue for New England.

    In 50,000 games played of Sunday night's 49ers @ Patriots contest, New England wins this potential Super Bowl matchup (it occurs 16% of the time in our numbers) 55.4% of the time and by an average score of 26.0-24.1. As 5.5 point underdogs, though, the 49ers cover the spread 58.7% of the time, which is strong enough to recommend a $66 wager from a $50 player. As has been the case in ten of the Patriots' 13 games, the total is projected to go OVER (46.5) as a "half-bet."

    Other ATS Top Play: Seattle -5 @ Buffalo (Covers 57.7%)

    This is not an overreaction to last week's 58-0 Seahawk's win as much as it is our recent propensity to want to fade the Buffalo Bills.

    Buffalo, which entered the season with playoffs hopes (and can still technically make it though, the Bills do so in just 1.3% of our projections), is 5-8 straight-up and 6-7 against-the-spread on the season versus the 22nd ranked NFL schedule. Not only is their record indicative of a below average NFL team (especially given that it is against a below average schedule), diving deeper into the Bills' numbers reveals a team that is below average in everything except running the ball. Ryan Fitzpatrick ranks as just our 26th "best" NFL starting quarterback and again finds himself near the top of the league in turnovers (19) and turnover rate (4.3%). Defensively, the Bills have failed to generate the pass rush that they hoped they would with the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to the line, which has exposed major holes elsewhere (most notably, allowing 4.8 yards-per-rush). And, speaking of running the ball, back Fred Jackson is out for the rest of the season. His replacement in tandem with C.J. Spiller, Tashard Choice, was just referred to as "not a great back" by his coach. Each of Buffalo's wins has come over a team that ranks in our bottom 15 (all but the Cleveland win comes over a team in our bottom 7). In games against teams that rank in our top ten overall, Buffalo is 0-4 straight-up and 1-3 agaisnt-the-spread and has been out-scored 155-71.

    That all being said, it's also impossible to ignore what the Seattle Seahawks have become over the last month. For the first half of the season, this was a team with an elite defense, a strong running game, the best home field advantage and average (at best) quarterback play. Now, the Seahawks look like they have all of those strengths, while developing an efficient, play-making quarterback in the process. In his last six games, Russell Wilson is 104-of-155 (67%) for 1,262 yards (8.1 yards-per-attempt) 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The team is 4-2 straight-up in that span and now ranks fifth overall in our NFL Power Rankings. On the year, Seattle is 7-5 SU and 7-4-1 ATS against the sixth toughest NFL schedule. The Seahawks have a top ten pass offense, run offense and pass defense. Look for the team to get a lead early to force Buffalo to throw (and struggle throwing) while Marshawn Lynch puts up big numbers on the ground to ice the game.

    In 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Seattle wins over Buffalo in Toronto 69.7% of the time and by an average score of 26.3-18.6. As five point favorites, the Seahawks cover the spread 57.7% of the time, which justifies a $56 play from a normal $50 player. The OVER (42.5) is barely playable.

    Other ATS Top Play: Dallas +1.5 vs. Pittsburgh (Covers 57.4%)**

    **Since neither the side nor the total on Monday night are even playable, we break down a fourth game as a Paul's Pick on Sunday.**

    If every player on both of these rosters could stay healthy, this may be a matchup between two of the top five teams in the league. At this point, it is still a critical playoff matchup where Dallas takes advantage of its (relative) health and (slight) home field advantage to win a game outright in which the road team is favored.

    Pittsburgh is 7-6 SU and 5-7-1 ATS against the 28th (fifth easiest) NFL schedule in 2012. The Steelers come into the week ranked tenth overall in our NFL Power Rankings, yet are last in running the ball and below average in passing. Defensively, this still looks like a team that can rank among the best overall, against the pass and against the run. However, the Steelers are going to be without at least one starting cornerback in Ike Taylor, while the players currently slated to start at that position - Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis - are both dealing with hip pointers (a significant injury to a position that requires a significant amount of hip movement). The Steelers are also down two starting offensive linemen - Willie Colon and Mike Adams (not to mention they lost Marcus Gilbert less than two months ago) - and are clearly not currently getting 100% out of stars Troy Polamalu or Ben Roethlisberger.

    Dallas has dealt with its share of injuries as well - Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, Phil Costa and Orlando Scandrick are not likely to play again in the regular season - but almost all of those players have missed each of the last five games, in which the Cowboys are 4-1 straight-up. They are only 2-3 ATS in that stretch, yet they just need to win this game to cover and it looks like they are the better, healthier team right now. Overall, Dallas is 7-6 SU and just 5-8 ATS. I should note that Dallas is 0-6 ATS at home this season. If that had not been the case, though, I would have expected the line to be close to -2.5 or -3 (where it should be). Favoring Pittsburgh in this spot seems to be an overreaction to the Cowboys perceived issues at home. 

    According to the 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Dallas wins outright 53.9% of the time and by an average score of 23.5-21.7. As 1.5 point underdogs in a close game, the Cowboys cover the spread 57.4% of the time, which would warrant a $53 play from a normal $50 player. The total (44) is appropriate and not playable. 

    NFL Picks Pages:

    December 13: Predictalator Picks  
    December 16: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
    December 17: Predictalator Picks  
    Play Analyzer - View Updated Picks on Current Consensus Lines
    Customize the Predictalator - Play the Games with Any Lines
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