NFL Betting Guide: Week 12
Do you think you know a lot about NFL football? Try regularly picking five games against the spread.
Even with all the information and advanced stats, elite sports bettors are lucky to get about 53% to 54% of -110 (even probability) bets correct. It's essentially flipping a coin.
That being said, people -- myself included -- try. There are plenty of contests, media personalities, and other casual games at work or with friends that pick five games each week against the spread to see how they fare.
Using NFL odds from FanDuel Sportsbook, here are my five picks against the spread and a couple of totals I like this week. Play or fade as you please.
Week 11 Recap
Last Week: 3-2
Year-to-Date Record: 30-25-0 (54.5%)
Of course, the only two losers on my entire card were in the five picks, but it was still nice to get back in the green.
Unfortunately, I've had to put the Texans in timeout. An opening-drive pick-six isn't exactly the sign of a dialed-in football team. Pittsburgh also faded late despite going tit-for-tat with Cincinnati for most of the game.
Both totals hit last week, so we'll look to stay in the positive entering -- indisputably -- the best football betting weekend of the year.
Pick #1: Jets (-4.5) vs. Bears
Here's your "WTF" line of the week. I really need to track these because they hit at an insane clip.
The Bears are one of the hottest public teams at the moment, which is pretty amazing for a team not winning and barely covering. It's largely due to Justin Fields, who exploded over 100 rushing yards again last week in Atlanta. This run-heavy Chicago offense was fun while it lasted, but Fields is already dealing with a shoulder injury from taking hits rushing so often.
I'm on this line even assuming Fields is at full strength. The unwritten story on Fields' revival is that his hot streak has come against numberFire's worst, third-worst, and seventh-worst overall defensive units. The Jets are the third-best defense in those rankings.
In terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, there is essentially no difference between Zach Wilson (-0.05) this season and what we saw from Mike White (0.00) last year. It might even be an upgrade. I'm much more focused on a New York rushing attack that should clobber the Bears' 10th-worst rush defense in our model.
Remove the logos and faces of stars in this one, and it appears the Jets -- led by their D -- should roll.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Jets 23-13
Pick #2: Jaguars (+4.0) vs. Ravens
Teams are 0-4 straight up and 1-2-1 against the spread (ATS) after facing Mayfield this year, so they might pay for it this week. With Rashod Bateman out of the lineup this year, they've averaged just 0.06 Offensive NEP per play in those five weeks. That would be tied for the 17th-best mark in football if translated to the whole year.
We know they're just numberFire's 15th-best defense, per our nERD ranks, as well. They're a painfully average team without many playmakers outside of Lamar Jackson, but it feels like we're paying a premium over the Jaguars in this spot. With home field worth about 1.7 points, this line is saying the Ravens are 7.4 points better than Jacksonville on a neutral field. I'm skeptical of that.
Jacksonville has posted 0.15 Offensive NEP per play since releasing Travis Etienne into the lead role back in Week 6. They've been the better offense, and while they're a bit behind Baltimore's defense (23rd in our ranks), it's not a glaring weakness that offsets that sizable offensive advantage.
80% of bets are on the Ravens in this spot, and this line hasn't budged. Don't be surprised if Jacksonville, off the bye, wins this one outright in what should be a good game.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Jaguars 24-23
Pick #3: Raiders (+3.5) at Seahawks
It appears the public isn't buying Josh McDaniels or the Las Vegas Raiders yet, but they handled a strong Denver defense on the road last week.
In fact, Las Vegas is numberFire's ninth-ranked offense overall, and they're balanced to attack all matchups. They'll draw a Seattle defense that is our eighth-worst overall unit. They should score points here.
However, as usual, it'll come down to the Raiders' defense. They're numberFire's second-worst unit, and they'll face a Seahawks offense that's sliding just a bit off Geno Smith's red-hot start. Smith's 0.11 Passing NEP per drop back is around the league average for the past five weeks.
Both of these squads profile similarly. They're above-average offenses with poor defenses, which makes the field goal -- and half-point hook -- incredibly appealing with the visitors.
This line should get better throughout the weekend; 73% of bets and 66% of the handle is fading McDaniels once again.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Raiders 27-26
Here's a line for those who say I'm just contrarian and only fade the public.
51% of bets and 60% of the handle are backing the red-hot Bengals in this spot. I don't mind because I view Cincinnati as one of the best teams in the league, and the Titans -- despite their record -- just aren't there.
Cincy pairs our 5th-best offense -- which keeps scoring with or without Ja'Marr Chase -- with our 12th-best defense. Tennessee is step-for-step with the Bengals defensively (9th), but they sport just the 18th-best offense in our nERD ranks.
This comes down to a fundamental mismatch I highlighted in this week's bold predictions column. Cincinnati gets solid pressure (31%), but they have converted just 16 sacks with it. That should regress, and the Titans' 32% pressure rate allowed is the second-worst in the league. I expect Ryan Tannehill to be under assault early and often.
Sometimes, Cincinnati is too stubborn when it comes to running the ball. Joe Mixon's concussion and the Titans' ninth-ranked run D should force our fourth-best passing offense, led by a sizzling Joe Burrow, to do what they do best.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Bengals 24-20
I know the public loves Patrick Mahomes, but regularly donating to support his squad is a bit odd.
Since the start of 2020, Mahomes' Chiefs are 13-23 ATS as favorites of at least 3.5 points, yet they're usually the public side. That's not because they're bad or underperform; it's the public continuously squeezing every drop of value out of Mahomes' betting number. Here it is again.
I have a principle to take any line over 14 points blindly in the NFL. You're working yourself into a situation where a noncompetitive game late (20 or 21 points) can be flipped on the spread with a touchdown the favored team doesn't even care is scored.
So, while I've got a litany of concerns about the Rams, they're the play here systematically every time. Bryce Perkins -- should he start for Matthew Stafford in a lost season -- is an athletic, mobile quarterback, and this Kansas City defense is 10th-worst in our nERD rankings. Plus, the Los Angeles defense has been fine, ranking 16th in our model.
I don't have to imagine a team covering two touchdowns in Arrowhead without a functional passing game; it happened three weeks ago with Malik Willis. That was a solid coach in Mike Vrabel, and this is another in Sean McVay.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Chiefs 24-13
Totals of the Week
Pick #1: Texans at Dolphins (Over 46.5)
I became a bit less sure of this pick on Wednesday morning, but it's still on the right side.
The Texans benched Davis Mills this week, and they'll turn to Kyle Allen as a change of pace. Mills' -0.09 Passing NEP per drop back is the worst mark in the league this year for any quarterback with at least 300 attempts, so he can't be a deal-breaker on the total.
This total is much more about the awful defensive play in this game. numberFire's fourth and seventh-worst defenses will collide in Miami, and this game has the third-highest combined pass rate over expectation on the main slate. We should be in for a shootout.
Houston has faced only two of our top-10 offenses this season (Philadelphia and Las Vegas). Both scored at least 29 points. There shouldn't be a ton required from the Texans offense -- with decent pieces -- to fly over the total in this one.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Dolphins 34-20
Pick #2: Broncos at Panthers (Under 36.5)
This line shifted from 35.0 to 36.5 when Sam Darnold was named the starting quarterback, but Darnold (-0.10 Passing NEP per drop back last year) shouldn't move anything.
This is a matchup between numberFire's worst and third-worst offenses, and the pace here is totally average. Points should be at an absolute premium given Denver also sports our fourth-best overall defense. Carolina has slipped to 14th, but they've also spent a ridiculous amount of time on the field with the Panthers last in time of possession.
The under has hit in eight of Denver's nine games thus far, and there just aren't signs of life for them to turn it around. The Broncos have only eclipsed 21 points once this year, and it was in garbage time against Las Vegas. As long as that trend holds, Carolina would need at least 16 points themselves against their strong defense.
This total is low for a reason.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Broncos 16-13