TNF: Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans (-3.5)
In a massive divisional Thursday Night Football matchup with huge playoff implications, the Indianapolis Colts (6-4) come into Houston (6-4) to play the Texans for sole first place in the AFC South. The two teams played earlier in Week 7 in which Jacoby Brissett threw for a career-high 4 touchdown passes while Deshaun Watson struggled with two interceptions. The Texans have been 3-1 at home, with an inconsistent offense that has put up 10 and 13 points but also scored 53 and 27. Overall, the Texans are 24.5 points for and 23.2 points against and are 7th in yards per game in the NFL. The Colts score 22.7 points per game and 21st when it comes to yards per game but make up for it with a defense that is only allowing 20.7 points a game. All in all, these teams are pretty evenly matched and both rank in the top 10 at running the ball.
Looking at advanced statistics like DVOA (the percentage of every single play from a team that is better than the league average in each situation) Houston has an offensive DVOA of 2.8% (14th) compared to Indianapolis’ of 0.2% (17th). In defensive DVOA, Indianapolis is at 2.4% (11th) which is much better than Houston’s -6.6% (24th). Taking a deep dive into Expected Points Average, on offense Houston is fifth at 0.14 EPA/play while Indianapolis is 10th with 0.07. On defense, Indianapolis’ success rate is 11th in the NFL and Houston’s is 13th. After all these numbers, I have determined… well I have determined nothing. These teams are pretty evenly matched so give me the home team to cover with a quarterback in Watson who got kicked in the eye midplay and still completed the touchdown.
The Pick: Houston Texans
The Greatest Meaningless Game of 2019:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5) @ Atlanta Falcons
The Week 12 matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons might be the most interesting game between two dumpster fire teams we’ve seen in a long time. Both teams are coming into this game 3-7 and both have failed to meet expectations this season. These teams are shockingly similar, yet very different. Both teams have offense with lots of firepower and even more disappointment, the Falcons ranked 15th in terms of PFF team offensive grade this season, and the Bucs come in at 17th, respective. Both teams also have subpar defenses, particularly secondaries. ATL has only the 26th best coverage grade and TB is right behind them at 27th. With two inconsistent yet potent offenses and two below-average defenses, I’m fully expecting a shootout.
Jameis Winston might be the most entertaining quarterback in the league due to his mixture of big-time throws, head scratching picks, and gumpy scrambles. Out of all QBs since 2017, Jameis has the most turnovers per game with 2.24, but he also has the fifth most yards per game with 281. It is very easy to find Jameis on the graph below (hint look at the crazy dot in the top right), but that’s Jameis – he likes to stand out. Through 10 games this season Jameis already has 18 interceptions, tying his career high. He’s also averaging a whopping 307 yard per game this season, which would also be a career high by a wide margin. Bruce Arians has failed to bring out the Andrew Luck inside of Jameis, instead Flameis doubled down and is having his most Jameis season yet.
The Atlanta Falcons are not meeting expectations to say the least. Only 3 years removed from a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, the Falcons still have the core of that team: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Deion Jones, and much more are all still performing, but now the Falcons are 3-7 and tied for last in the NFC South. The Falcons have been a “cursed team” for the past few years. From blowing a 28-3 lead to their hilarious redzone struggles with Steve Sarkisian and Julio’s beautiful 2017 season where he tore up defenses for 1444 yards but only 3 touchdowns #NeverJulio, and now 2019 when the supposedly elite offense makes mistakes at the worst times, and the defense looks helpless in coverage.
The Falcons started the season 1-7 and have a passing defense which has given up an expected -113 points this season (according to profootballreference.com), which is the second worst in the league. However, the Falcons just picked up two very impressive against the Saints and Panthers. Two weeks ago, the Falcons were 14-point underdogs against the Saints. Just last week, the Bucs were only five-point underdogs against the Saints. This week, the Falcons are 4.5-point favorites against the Bucs. Something isn’t adding up here folks.
As tempting as it is to jump right back on the Falcons bandwagon that has hurt me so many times before, I must hold firm with my belief in statistics and sample size, and the Falcons have just been too bad for me to put any trust in them. Even still I expect this to be a very evenly matched game full of excitement with high powered offense and probably some funny Jameis interceptions and maybe even some classic Falcons red zone turnovers and blown coverages.
The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots (-6)
Coming into this game, the Patriots have won 17 straight home regular season games, the last game being lost on September 7th, 2017 to the Chiefs. PFF ranks the Cowboys as the number one overall team, but a 6-4 record and a loss to the then 0-4 Jets may suggest otherwise. Inconsistent tallies in the win column may be the Cowboy’s downfall to a tough Patriots defense, even while Brady and his ensemble struggle to play in sync. Look for the Patriots to keep their home streak alive Sunday afternoon.
The Pick: New England Patriots
SNF: Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers (-3)
With San Francisco at 9-1 and the first seed in the entire NFC and Green Bay at 8-2 as the second seed in the conference, this Sunday Night Football heavyweight showdown could possibly be for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Green Bay’s offense has been a mixed bag on the road as they have scored 10 and 11 points but also 34 and 31. San Francisco’s defense let up 11 points a game before Halloween but got spooked of playing mobile quarterbacks in Kyler Murray and Russel Wilson and have let up 26 points a game since. Their weight defensive DVOA (which puts more weight on games that happened more recently) is still second in the league at 25% but their play has regressed. Their offense has played a lot better recently with Jimmy Garoppolo calling reporters “baby” and throwing for 9 touchdowns in their last three games. They rank 12th in offensive EPA per play at 0.07.
Green Bay started off the season claiming to have finally given Aaron Rodgers the defense he has been waiting for since their last Super Bowl. That defense is now 24th in success rate had not kept an opponent under 20 points since Week 3 against Denver. Green Bay’s offense has made up for it with a weighted offensive DVOA of 17.5% which is good for fifth in the entire league and an offensive EPA per play that is sixth in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers has a 8.5 TD-INT ratio and Aaron Jones has been freed with 11 touchdowns on the year. Nevertheless, Green Bay does seem like they have stolen some wins this year. Their win against Detroit will always have an asterisk in my head (or in Green Bay’s case, their shoulders) because of the phantom hands to the face, they got to play the Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes and then they lost to a bad Chargers team.
With all these numbers, I’ll make it simple: Green Bay’s offense is good and their defense is below the league’s average. San Francisco’s defense is also good, but their offense is average. This is an even matchup which means the slight edge goes to the home team. It’s hard to feel super confident about picking either side.
The Pick: San Francisco 49ers
MNF: Baltimore Ravens (-3) @ Los Angeles Rams
Lamar Jackson continues to make his case for MVP heading into Week 12. According to PFF’s player grades, Jackson is the second-best passer and the second-best rusher, even compared to all running backs. As for the Rams, their defense may actually stand a chance. With the third-best pass defense and fifth-best rush defense, they may just be able to slow down Baltimore’s star quarterback. However, the sub-par Rams offense and its porous offensive line will lack the ability to outscore Baltimore, even if the defense can manage to keep the scoring to a minimum. Look for the Ravens to catch a win on the road in a low scoring affair.
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens