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2019 NFL Picks by Professor MJ

Week #14 Picks by Stats University Professor

Written Wednesday December 4th at 11 am Eastern Time (odds/spreads may have changed)

PICK: Atlanta Falcons -3 vs Carolina Panthers (rated 3 stars)

Carolina will be looking to avenge a 29-to-3 loss in Week #11, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. The Falcons have owned the Panthers over the past few years. Indeed, Atlanta is 7-1 both straight up and ATS in the last eight meetings between these two squads!

Kyle Allen had decent stats in an awful home loss to the Redskins last week, but don’t be misled by the numbers. He did not play well at all. He turns the ball over too often: he has thrown 10 interceptions and lost 6 fumbles this season.

Atlanta gets three extra days of rest after playing on Thanksgiving. Also, they are going to be at home for a third straight week.

From an injury standpoint, there are several good news for the Falcons. First, star wide receiver Julio Jones is likely to suit up, as well as tight end Austin Hooper who has enjoyed a great 2019 season. On top of that, right guard Chris Lindstrom has a good chance to be back; he was hurt in the season opener and is ready to roll. That’s good news for a guy that does not move well in the pocket like Matt Ryan.

PICK: Cincinnati Bengals +8.5 at Cleveland Browns (rated 2 stars)

The Browns’ chances of making the playoffs took a huge blow when they lost in Pittsburgh with their third-string quarterback last week. Ouch! Will they find enough motivation to keep grinding this weekend?

Cincinnati has had nice success over Cleveland recently. Here is the evidence: the Bengals are 8-1 ATS over the past nine meetings with the Browns, including 5-0 ATS in Cleveland! Andy Dalton seems comfortable playing in the Dawg Pound.

Speaking of Dalton, he made a successful return as starting QB last week by beating the Jets 22-to-6. It provided rookie head coach Zac Taylor his first career win. Cincinnati is expecting wide receiver John Ross to return to the lineup, which will be of great help to the “Red Rifle.”

Baker Mayfield hurt his hand last week. It won’t prevent him from playing, but it could bother him during the game. Also, left tackle Greg Robinson is uncertain to play for the Browns, although he seems to have a good shot to be on the field this Sunday.

The Bengals had to travel just once over the past five weeks.

I’m betting Cincinnati to keep it close. They could even pull off the big upset if Cleveland has already packed it in after feeling like they are out of the playoff race.

PICK: Los Angeles Chargers -3 at Jacksonville Jaguars (rated 1 star)

A few betting angles indicate to bet the Jaguars, including the fact that the Chargers will be traveling East through three time zones and that they will be on the road for the fourth time in five weeks.

Still, I’ll put my money on Anthony Lynn’s team. The Chargers beat the spread in the last seven meetings with the Jags (including 4-0 ATS in Jacksonville!). Also, here’s an unbelievable stat: all 8 Chargers losses came by a seven-point margin or less!

Meanwhile, Jacksonville has lost its past four games. Each of those losses were not even close, as evidenced by the fact that the margin of defeat was between 17 and 23. Prior to this four-game losing skid, the Jaguars won a couple of games, but they came over the lowly Bengals and Jets.

Doug Marrone is not on the hot seat; he’s on the boiling seat. Many reports suggest he will be gone when the season ends, or even earlier if things continue to go as badly. I don’t think the players have any motivation left whatsoever.

Gardner Minshew will be back under center, but don’t expect miracles from him. The team looks in complete disarray.

Both Chargers safeties were back last week: Adrian Phillips and Derwin James. The team still lost in Denver, but it remains great news for Los Angeles.

Best of luck with your sports investments this weekend!

Professor MJ
Thursday Night Football (Week #15)

PICK: Baltimore Ravens -14.5 vs New York Jets (rated 4 stars)

Want to get a chance to win $100 without any risk? Keep reading until the end.

If you have been following me a little bit, you know I rarely bet big favorites. I’ll do an exception and take the Ravens to cover that big spread on Thursday night.

One of the tricks I use when handicapping games is to ask myself the following question: if God were to tell me in advance that one of these two teams is going to beat the spread by 10 points, which team would be more likely to do so?

In this case, it comes down to the following: is it more likely that the Ravens win by 4 or 24 points? To me, the answer came quickly in my mind: Baltimore by 24. I don’t believe the Jets have any chance to win this game, unless a miracle happens (perhaps 3-4 lost fumbles by Baltimore). I don’t see them keeping it as close as a four-point margin.

I do have a few concerns about this game, though. Despite having an exceptional year, Baltimore is 1-4 against the spread (ATS) as a home favorite in 2019. They are also 1-8 ATS over their past nine matchups at home when facing a team with a losing record. Also, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is graded #4 out of 63 tackles by Pro Football Focus, is likely out with a concussion.

Enough with the drawbacks. Generally speaking, I like backing elite teams on “focus” games, which includes playing on national television in the Thursday night game. It guarantees they won’t play soft and let down against a weaker opponent.

Also, the Jets organization is not going in the right direction. I do not believe Adam Gase is a smart head coach who has a good control of his squad. His star running back Le’Veon Bell missed Sunday’s game because of the flu, but he was spotted bowling the day before. The team lacks a winning culture and it is poorly run from top to bottom.

Granted, the Jets have won four of their past five matches. But those wins occurred against weak opposition: the Giants, the Redskins, the Raiders and the Dolphins. Recall that New York’s last three losses were against the Bengals, the Dolphins and the Jaguars. That’s embarrassing.

The last time the Jets played a team with a winning record, they were stomped 33-0 at home against New England. That was eight weeks ago, so it’s been a while since they had a chance to face a decent team. They are not ready to face the hottest team in the league. On the road, on top of that!

There are two players from the Jets’ defense that are very good: C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams. Now, Mosley is out for the year, while Jamal Adams is doubtful to suit up, which means he has much less than a 50% chance to be on the field.

I liked the emergence of tight end Ryan Griffin, but he was just declared out of the game too. And wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is doubtful. That limits the number of viable targets for Sam Darnold.

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s hot streak has been well-documented. They are riding a 9-game winning streak that includes impressive wins in Seattle, at the Rams, and at home against the Patriots, the Texans and the 49ers. That’s a nice accomplishment!

The Ravens defense has been pretty stingy of late. They have not allowed more than 20 points in any of their past eight outings!

The big point spread is going to scare many people, but don’t be one of them. Don’t overthink this one, as the Ravens should win easily.

If the Jets win the game straight up, I'll give away $100 USD to a random person commenting my YouTube video. You've got nothing to lose, so just do it!

Enjoy the game!

Professor MJ
NFL Picks for Week #15

PICK: New England Patriots -9 at Cincinnati Bengals (rated 4 stars)

Let’s kick off with a few stats. The Patriots are 5-1 both against the spread (ATS) and straight up over the past six meetings with the Bengals. New England also holds a 4-0 ATS record on the road against teams with a losing record.

As for the Bengals, they are posting a bad 1-6 ATS record as home underdogs.

I know the Patriots don’t look the same. But I wouldn’t bet against a Belichick-coached team following a couple of losses. No way!

One might argue this is a sandwich game for New England after facing the Chiefs and awaiting a key meeting with the Bills. However, considering this game is very important for New England, I do not believe they will fall into a trap.

The Patriots eat bad teams for breakfast. They have played five games against teams with a 5-8 record or worse. In those games, they outscored their opponents 174-to-35!! That’s an average margin of victory of 28 points. So do you think they can win this one by at least 10 points? You bet they can!

So, overall, yes the Pats offense is struggling but Cincy’s defense allows an average of close to 400 yards per game. New England will find a way to move the ball, while their defense will complicate things for Andy Dalton and company.

PICK: Chicago Bears +4.5 at Green Bay Packers (rated 2 stars)

After starting the season with a 3-5 record, the Bears have gone 4-1 since then. Their defense has allowed a maximum of 24 points in each of their past seven contests. With their offense finally finding some rhythm, that should be enough to cover the 4.5 point spread.

Green Bay’s defense is okay, but not stout either. They rank 22nd in yards allowed per game. Mitch Trubisky finally woke up recently; he tossed 6 TD passes versus 2 picks in his previous two games. He also completed 75% of his passes during this stretch. I think the Bears will be able to move the ball at Lambeau Field this Sunday.

Chicago gets three extra days of rest after hosting the Cowboys last Thursday. They will be looking for payback after a 10-3 loss in the season opener to those same Packers.

I would pound this game more if Roquan Smith didn’t get hurt. I think he did a fine job this season at linebacker, but he landed on injured reserve a few days ago.

Divisional games tend to be more tight, and I don’t believe this one will be an exception. Take Da Bears and the points here.

PICK: Buffalo Bills +2 at Pittsburgh Steelers (rated 2 stars)

I like the way the Buffalo organization is headed. They are playing smart football and their players are buying Sean McDermott’s message. They proved they were serious contenders last week by limiting Lamar Jackson and his friends, a task that seemed impossible to do based on Baltimore’s unbelievable run.

The Bills are 3-0 ATS after a straight up loss this year; they don’t get crushed after losing a game.

Both teams have a very solid defense. However, I trust Buffalo’s offense a lot more and I think Josh Allen will do enough to get the W on the road.

Devlin Hodges is 3-0 as a starter. However, if you remove points scored by the defense and special teams, he generated 17.7 points per game on average (which included a game against a weak Arizona defense). He has not faced a defense like Buffalo’s and he’s likely to struggle a lot. I am aware that James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster are likely to be back, but it won’t be enough with their third-string quarterback.

The Steelers lead the league with 33 takeaways. That’s out of the ordinary and difficult to sustain. Josh Allen has more experience trying to avoid turnovers than Hodges does. In the end, I believe Buffalo comes out on top to secure a playoff berth.

Gooooooood luck with your plays this week!

Professor MJ
NFL Picks - Week #16

PICK #1: Buffalo Bills +6.5 at New England Patriots (rated 4 stars)

In the first meeting between these two squads back in Week #4, the Pats won a close 16-to-10 game despite four turnovers by the Bills. Buffalo racked up 375 total yards versus 224 for New England.

If not for Josh Allen’s ill-advised passes, the Bills could have won this game. He has learned the importance of protecting the ball since then, as shown by his 15 TD passes versus just three interceptions.

New England is 1-5 ATS against teams with a winning record. Meanwhile, notice that the Bills are 3-1-1 ATS over their past five matchups at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots have been a shaky team recently; their 34-to-13 win over the lowly Bengals doesn’t mean much. As for Buffalo, after a small mid-season slump, they are definitely trending up and playing smart football.

In my opinion, the point spread is inflated due to New England’s 20-year domination. They haven’t been that good recently. Their defense has been regressing a bit, although still good. Julian Edelman will likely suit up, but he’s battling a couple of injuries and he didn’t look comfortable last week (he only caught two passes).

Buffalo’s defense has allowed 16 points per game on average. Their pass defense is outstanding, and their run defense has improved a lot over the past few games.

It seems clear to me that the Patriots have much less than a 50% chance of beating the Bills by 7 points or more. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo won the game outright. I’m taking the Bills to cover.

PICK #2: Houston Texans -3 at Tampa Bay Bucs (rated 3 stars)

When the regular season is nearing the end, the motivation factor is big. I find it difficult to pick a team that has nothing to play for, when facing a team that is fighting for the playoffs or for its seeding. It might even be possible that referees tend to favor the team that needs the game the most.

In this case, the Bucs have won five of their past six games, but these wins didn’t occur against power houses. They beat Detroit, Indy, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Arizona. Also, their two receivers by far, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both out. That leaves Jameis Winston with much fewer reliable targets. Speaking of Winston, he leads the league with 24 interceptions; the player in second position has 18.

At first sight, this game might be viewed as a sandwich game for the Texans since it is right between two meetings with the Titans. However, the game against Tampa is so important that there’s not way they will take it lightly. If Houston wins and the Titans lose against the Saints (a likely scenario, the Texans would be crowned AFC South champions and wouldn’t need to fight hard next week.

Only the Dolphins have allowed more points than the Bucs this season. Watson, Hopkins, Fuller and company won’t have trouble scoring this Saturday.

I am predicting a 14-point win for Houston.

PICK #3: New Orleans Saints -2.5 at Tennessee Titans (rated 3 stars)

Boy, the Saints offense has looked unstoppable the past two weeks. After scoring 46 points against the stout 49ers defense, they added 34 more Monday night against the Colts (all 34 points were scored through the first three quarters, and they didn’t try hard in the final quarter because of the large lead).

I know the Titans will be fighting for their playoff lives at home, but I wouldn’t feel good betting against the Saints offense. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill looked more shaky last week against a mediocre pass defense from Houston.

I noticed that Tennessee has faced just three winning teams this season: Buffalo, Kansas City and Houston.

If you think the Saints might struggle on grass, think again. New Orleans is 4-0 ATS in their four most recent games on grass.

PICK #4: Dallas Cowboys -1.5 at Philadelphia Eagles (rated 1 star)

Man, these two teams have been fairly unpredictable this season, but I’ll give it a shot.

Even though some of my betting angles are favoring Philly, I’m still going to go with the most talented team, the Cowboys.

I wouldn’t feel good betting this Eagles team that is missing so many wide receivers. After losing speedy DeSean Jackson earlier this season, they now lost Alshon Jeffery to a foot injury and Nelson Agholor seems unlikely to be on the field this Sunday.

That leaves the Eagles with unproven guys at wide receiver. Hopefully, the Cowboys’ coaching staff will be smart enough to double-cover Zach Ertz, who is basically the lone catching threat left in their roster.

On top of that, running back Jordan Howard does not look ready to be back in action either.

Quarterback Carson Wentz has been holding on to the ball too long, and he often ends up getting sacked or fumbling the ball. The situation won’t improve with so few weapons at his disposal. He has to hope left tackle Lane Johnson will be able to suit up, otherwise he’ll have Demarcus Lawrence in his face all game long.

The possibly cold weather could help Philly, though, especially when facing a dome team like Dallas. However, did you know the Cowboys are 6-1 ATS over their past seven games in Philadelphia? They have also beaten the spread in each of the past four meetings with the Eagles overall.

Let’s be honest: Philly won its past two games, but they struggled mightily to get victories against the lowly Giants and Redskins. Those wins were unimpressive.

I am not grading this pick higher because of the cold weather, but also coaching. I trust Doug Pederson a lot more than Jason Garrett to make smart moves during the game. Morever, both teams have been pretty inconsistent so it seems harder to get a good grasp of what’s likely to happen this Sunday.

Merry Christmas, my sports investing friends! Enjoy your time with family!

Professor MJ
NFL Picks Divisional Round (2019 regular season)
Written January 9rd, 2020 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time (spreads/odds may have changed)

The picks went 3-1 last week. Let's stay on the winning track!

Minnesota Vikings +7 or San Francisco 49ers -7 ?
The 49ers got a much-needed bye week, thanks to a goal-line stand in the final moments of last regular season game against the Seahawks.

The additional rest will allow San Francisco’s defense to get a boost, with the return of Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt. Let’s face the reality: the Niners defense did not dominate nearly as much in the second half of the season.

In the first seven games, San Francisco’s defense allowed an average of 11 points per game. That number exploded to 26 points per game during the final nine contests. Part of this steep raise can be attributed to the strength of opposition, but we’re still talking about a huge spike!

The weakest link on the Niners defense is when it comes to stopping the run. They finished 17th in the NFL in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. The bad news is Minnesota excels at running the ball. Dalvin Cook looked fast and fresh last week in New Orleans after sitting out the last two regular season games.

Both quarterbacks finished with similar passing completion rates, passing yards and TD passes. The one difference lied in the number of interceptions thrown: 13 for Garoppolo versus just 6 for Cousins.

I was impressed with Minnesota’s defensive line last week. They pressured Drew Brees all game long, and pretty much shut down the running game (except some unconventional runs by Taysom Hill, which is unlikely to happen against the Niners).

Both teams have a well-balanced attack and a stout defense. I expect a hard-fought game, where the Niners will come on top by a close margin. For this reason, I’m taking the Vikings +7 points in San Francisco.

Tennessee Titans +9.5 or Baltimore Ravens -9.5 ?
The Titans defeated the defending Super Bowl champions last week by beating the Patriots 20-to-13. The line for this game opened at 10, but dropped to 9.5 since then.

Let me tell you right away that I’m going with the Ravens laying 9.5 points.

It’s easy to get excited over the great win by Tennessee last week, and the amazing performance by running back Derrick Henry. However, don’t forget the Titans got a 9-7 record this year, compared to 14-2 for Baltimore.

Tennessee lost games against the Jaguars, the Broncos and the Panthers this season. They can be great at time, and bad at others. I’m betting it will be an off day for the Titans this weekend against a Baltimore team that is riding a 12-game winning streak.

Did you know Ryan Tannehill led the league in passer rating? Still, for some reason I don’t trust him too much. Against a stingy pass defense last week, he struggled quite a bit. He completed just 8 passes out of 15 for a total of 72 yards. That’s not reassuring. The Ravens will focus on stopping the run, and dare Tannehill to beat them. I don’t think it’s going to end well for the Titans.

These two teams met in Tennessee last season. I know the rosters were fairly different, but the Ravens won 21-0, a game in which Derrick Henry rushed for just 21 yards on seven carries.

The Ravens finished the season with more than 200 rushing yards per game on average, a feat that had never been accomplished before. Lamar Jackson showed he can throw too; over his last eight games, he threw 25 touchdown passes versus a single pick. That’s impressive!

One final telling statistic for you: the Ravens beat their opponents by at least 10 points in eight of their final 10 games. That included meetings with some very strong teams. I’m betting Baltimore -9.5 points.

Houston Texans +9.5 or Kansas City Chiefs -9.5 ?
The Chiefs seem to be peaking at the right time. After starting the season with a 6-4 record, they concluded with six straight victories. All of them occurred with a margin of at least 7 points!

Meanwhile, it seems difficult to trust this Texans’ team. They are very inconsistent, as shown by their playoff win against Buffalo last week. They started slow by trailing 16-to-0 and rallied to win in overtime. Also, their negative point differential of -7 during the regular season is a shame for a division champion!

The revenge factor goes in favor of K.C. since Houston pulled off the upset at Arrowhead back in Week #6. The Chiefs led 17-to-3 after one quarter in this game; they won’t let them off the hook this time around.

Both QBs threw for exactly 26 TD passes. However, Watson was the victim of 12 interceptions versus just 5 for Patrick Mahomes.

Another key argument is the defensive side of the ball. Houston’s defense was not very good; they finished 28th in terms of total yards allowed per game. As a comparison, the Chiefs defense finished 17th in that category, but they improved dramatically over the second half of the season. Indeed, they allowed just 11.5 points per game during their last six games.

Therefore, I’m going with the Chiefs -9.5 points.

Seattle Seahawks +4.5 or Green Bay Packers -4.5 ?
The final meeting of the weekend involves two fierce competitors at quarterback: Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Based on the point spread, it should be the closest game of the weekend.

The Seahawks have been plagued with injuries at the running back position, and also on the offensive line. However, they might get a couple of guys back: Duane Brown and Mike Iupati.

With “Beast Mode” getting accustomed to being back on the field, Seattle will try to mimic what the Lions did to the Packers a couple of weeks ago, a game in which they racked up 171 rushing yards.

I’m going to take the Seahawks and the points in this game, even though Seattle is 0-5-1 in their last six meetings at Lambeau Field.

To me, the Packers passing offense relies too much on Davante Adams. Seattle seems to have more weapons with Tyler Lockett, Jacob Hollister and the emergence of rookie D.K. Metcalf, who looked like a beast in Philly last week! On Green Bay’s side, Lazard, Valdes-Scantling and Jimmy Graham are too inconsistent.

The Packers have the better defense, though, especially with the Smiths (Preston and Za’Darius).

Still, we’re talking about evenly matched teams. I can see this game ending on the final drive with either team moving on to the NFC Championship game. Under this setting, I’m taking the underdogs: Seattle +4.5.