Week 15 NFL best bets: Picks, odds for every game

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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Another exciting NFL week is here, bringing with it a lot of games with tremendous importance for playoff positioning. Be sure to check out our COVID-19 tracker before your placing your bets, for the up-to-date information on which players are actually playing this weekend.

Our VSiN experts -- Adam Burke, Dave Tuley, Will Hill, Wes Reynolds and Matt Youmans, along with Ben Brown of Pro Football Focus -- combine to give their opinions on every Sunday game in Week 15.

Note: Lines are from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday morning.

Here are our Week 15 best bets:

Sunday

Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (-10.5, 44)

Burke: As a native Clevelander, I love home, but I hate the weather of late December. I would assume many Buffalonians feel the same way. It will be cold and gray on Sunday as the Panthers come to town. The winds won’t be nearly as fierce as what we have seen in past Bills games, but wind chills are forecasted to be around 20 for kickoff.

The Panthers sure aren’t going to enjoy going from Charlotte to Western New York, especially with such a limited offense to begin with. Cam Newton was pulled again last week in favor of PJ Walker, who once again failed to impress in relief. The Panthers are down to just 4.8 yards per play and rank 31st in the NFL. It seems unlikely that they’ll fare much better here against a Bills defense that has been at or near the top of the league in yards per play allowed and also some DVOA metrics throughout the season.

Carolina has 11 turnovers in the last five games. The Panthers just exceeded 200 passing yards in a game for the first time since Week 4. Their rushing attack is trending downward, approaching the bottom five in the NFL. This is a very limited offense going up against a good defense.

The Panthers defense is solid in its own right. In fact, these are the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses in yards per play allowed this season; Carolina is the only other team in the league allowing fewer than five yards per play. The Panthers allow the fewest yards per drive and also the sixth-fewest points per drive.

On a cold day in Buffalo, points might be at a premium with these two defenses and the inept Panthers offense.

Pick: Under 44.5

Tuley: Early this season, the Bills looked like the best team in the AFC and the Panthers looked like wild-card contenders. They’ve both fallen in the standings and in the estimation of oddsmakers and bettors. I don’t understand why this line is so high, but I’ll gladly take as many points as they’re willing to give me. Newton still has moments of brilliance, but this is more of a bet against the Bills, losers of three of their last four (though the three losses were to the Colts, Patriots and Buccaneers). Newton should be able to do enough against the Bills defense, which isn’t playing as well as earlier in the season. And don’t forget Bills QB Josh Allen was in a walking boot after Sunday’s loss to the Bucs, so who knows how effective he’ll be if cleared to play.

Pick: Panthers + 10.5

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-10, 42)

Burke: The Dolphins are doing their best to dig out of an early-season hole and have the chance to get to .500 with a win over the Jets. Miami actually started the season 1-7, but has rattled off five wins in a row, including one against the Jets in Week 11 by a 24-17 score. In that game, the Dolphins were -4 on the road. If we assume two points for home-field advantage, this line should be about -8, which is where it was before some money bumped the line up to -9.5.

The absence of Jaylen Waddle is a big deal for the Dolphins. Waddle has 114 targets on the season and 86 catches, easily the most of any player on Miami’s roster. During this five-game winning streak, Waddle has 38 catches for 436 yards. He’s caught nearly 83 percent of his targets. Through the first eight games, Waddle only had 48 catches and caught just 70.6 percent of his targets.

The chemistry between Waddle and Tua Tagovailoa is obvious, given that the two played together at Alabama before moving on to the NFL. The Dolphins offense should have a much lower projection without him in the lineup. This is already the 31st-ranked offense in yards per play, and that’s with Waddle’s recent emergence.

The Jets offense is pathetic and has been since the return of Zach Wilson. There was a fleeting moment for a couple of games when Mike White stepped in that the Jets looked like a competent offense, but those days are in the past. In Wilson’s nine starts, the Jets have averaged just 10.7 PPG. He’s thrown 11 interceptions against six touchdowns and has only completed 56.1 percent of his passes.

Without Waddle, and with Wilson behind center for the Jets, this looks like a sloppy, low-scoring, ugly football game. The Dolphins may very well hold the Jets at bay enough to cover, which is what the early line movement has implied, but Waddle on the COVID list pushes me to the under.

As a side note, consider some Dolphins player props on DeVante Parker, who just returned from injury and caught all five targets in the last game against the Giants.

Pick: Under 41

Dallas Cowboys (-11, 44.5) at New York Giants

Tuley: The Cowboys keep rolling along with a three-game lead in the NFC East and they routed the Giants 44-20 on Oct. 10 at home, so that’s a concern. Dallas, however, hasn’t won by more than 10 points on the road all season. The Giants have failed to cover in three of their last four games, but I continue to see enough improvement from Saquon Barkley and Mike Glennon (Daniel Jones is still out with a neck injury) to believe they can stay within one score.

Pick: Giants + 11

Youmans: I agree with Tuley on at least two things — the McRib is the world’s No. 1 fast-food sandwich and the Cowboys are laying too many points on the road. The Giants can hang close by using Barkley to move the ball against Dallas’ 24th-ranked run defense and by using their improved defense to harass slumping quarterback Dak Prescott. In the Cowboys’ past six games, Prescott has completed 63.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. The Westgate SuperBook has the highest number in the market at 11.5, and we might need all of those points when betting on this clumsy Giants coaching staff.

Pick: Giants + 11

Tennessee Titans (-2, 41.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Youmans: If running back Derrick Henry returns from foot surgery in early January, Tennessee will be a threat in the AFC playoffs. Without Henry, the Titans are about as scary as Barry Manilow in a street fight. Tennessee totaled only 263 yards in a 20-0 victory over Jacksonville in Week 14, when Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions and Urban Meyer coached his final game with the Jaguars. The Titans’ previous two games resulted in a 23-point loss to the Patriots and a nine-point loss to the lowly Texans. Tennessee’s defense deserves respect, and that’s mostly why the Titans are road favorites.

It’s too soon to bury the Steelers, who at 6-6-1 remain in the hunt with the Ravens (8-5), Bengals (7-6) and Browns (7-6) in the AFC North. Pittsburgh is short on talent yet will continue to fight, which is what we expect from a team coached by Mike Tomlin, who never has finished with a losing record. In two December games, Ben Roethlisberger has completed 69 percent of his passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. This should be a low-scoring, ugly game that Pittsburgh can win to keep its playoff hopes alive. I’m still willing to bet on Big Ben and Tomlin with their backs to the wall.

Pick: Steelers + 2

Brown: Last week was the first time in five games that Diontae Johnson failed to finish over his reception prop. After a slow start to the season, Johnson has been a target monster in the Steelers' offense. Over the past four games, only Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson have a higher target share than Johnson. The nice thing about Johnson's reception prop is that he has a low aDot – over 60% of his targets come within nine yards of the line of scrimmage.   

As 2-point home dogs who are trying to keep their slim playoff chances alive, this matchup in Week 15 feels like a last stand for the Steelers. It’s safe to assume that Roethlisberger will rely on Johnson underneath with a few manufactured targets on wide receiver screens early in the game. There are few game outcomes where the Steelers salt away a big victory behind Najee Harris on the ground, so if Johnson receives a few targets on the scripted plays, he will fly over this reception total in a competitive matchup. 

Pick: Johnson Over 6.5 Receptions (-136)

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-5, 39.5)

Burke: The Jaguars were a bad football team with Urban Meyer and will be a bad football team without him. However, it is hard to argue the notion that the Jags will play their best game of the season with the toxic headmaster fired in the middle of the week.

Jacksonville’s problems run much deeper than Meyer. Clips all over Twitter in the post-mortem of Jacksonville losses show wide receivers running into each other. They should Trevor Lawrence without windows to throw the football. Sure, the loyalty to guys like Carlos Hyde over James Robinson makes no sense whatsoever, but how much of the game-plan will change in the short amount of time leading up to the game?

Houston is obviously a bad football team as well, given that this is a battle of 2-11 teams, but should the Jaguars really be favored by five points over any team? Davis Mills threw for 331 yards last week and looked very comfortable in the first half before the Seahawks woke up in the second half. The Jaguars have only forced six turnovers, which has made life even harder on Lawrence and the offense. Houston, meanwhile, has 21 takeaways. Jacksonville has the highest completion percentage against in the NFL, so Mills and the Texans may move the football better than anticipated.

It seems like perception and reality are at odds here. The perception is that Jacksonville shows up big without Meyer, but the reality is that they are not five points better than the Texans.

Pick: Texans + 5 

Arizona Cardinals (-13, 47.5) at Detroit Lions

Tuley: The Lions let us down in a 38-10 loss at the Broncos, though they had an excuse as they were short-handed due to COVID-19 issues (I’m not making any excuses; I stuck with them even after hearing about the players being out). But the Lions have been consistently more competitive than the other dregs of the league. Despite a league-worst 1-12-1 record, they’re still 8-5 ATS. The Cardinals should bounce back from their Monday night loss to the Rams, but this line is still too high. Arizona is 7-0 SU and ATS on the road this season, but I’ll take the Lions (4-2 ATS at home) with the points.

Pick: Lions + 13

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (-9, 46)

Tuley: Winners of two of their last three games, this team is still in the NFC wild-card hunt with a RB-by-committee, a serviceable passing game and an underrated defense. Oh, wait, did you think I was talking about the 49ers? No, the Falcons are right there at 6-7 with a suddenly important game. Matt Ryan isn’t lighting up the scoreboard like he used to, but the running game has gotten a boost from WR-turned-RB Cordarelle Patterson. The 49ers are using Deebo Samuel in a similar way, but I don’t think there is that big a difference between these two teams.

Pick: Falcons + 9

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (-2.5, 44)

Tuley: It looked like the Bengals would be better than 7-6 at this point in the season, but despite consecutive losses to the Chargers and 49ers, I still have them rated higher than the Broncos – and I think we have the wrong team favored here. The best way to play this game is teasing the Bengals from the currently widely available line of + 2.5 to above a touchdown at + 8.5. This is my top teaser play of the week, coupled with the Patriots + 8.5.

Pick: Six-point teaser with Bengals + 8.5 with Patriots + 8.5 from Saturday

 

Brown: Mixon isn’t often thought of as the receiving back in this offense, despite having a higher season target volume than Samaje Perine. Mixon is obviously in route on a much higher percentage of dropbacks, with a 47.7 percent route run per dropback percentage to Perine’s 29.1 percent. Perine has seen an uptick the past two weeks, but these were also situations where Bengals were in a heavy trailing game script. 

As a field goal underdog on Sunday, in a low total matchup, Perine likely won’t see the game script necessary to run a high percentage of routes. That means Mixon will once again have a few manufactured targets in the Bengals passing game. 

Mixon has only gone over his receiving yardage number in four of 13 games this season, and hasn’t performed up to market expectation since Week 9. The game script factors play a role and should help Mixon on Sunday, but this also appears like the perfect buy-low opportunity with Mixon at his second-lowest receiving yardage number of the season.  

Pick: RB Joe Mixon Over 11.5 Receiving Yards (-117)

Green Bay Packers (-5.5, 43.5) at Baltimore Ravens 

Hill: Laying 5.5 points on the road isn’t my style, but value comes in all shapes and sizes, and it comes here in the form of the Packers. This is a well-oiled machine versus a wounded animal. The Packers got blown out Week 1, and have since covered 11 out of 12. If you eliminate the Jordan Love start vs. the Chiefs, the Packers are averaging nearly 30 points per game, and over 8 yards per pass attempt.

They now take on a Ravens team that is currently bereft of NFL talent in the secondary, and allowing 5.9 yards per play (31st). They suffered multiple injuries two weeks ago against the Steelers, prompting them to go for 2 despite being favored in the game and having an all-time great kicker, seemingly well-suited for overtime. Beat-up Baker Mayfield couldn’t exploit those weaknesses last week, and Aaron Rodgers isn’t Mayfield. Lamar Jackson did not practice all week with an ankle injury, and the team signed veteran quarterback Josh Johnson off of the Jets practice squad. This is an indication that Jackson, a mobile quarterback who won’t be effective on a bum ankle anyway, is no-go for Sunday. 

The Packers can – and will – wrap up the division Sunday, as they will roll over the Ravens. Packers “Team Total” Over is also worth a look

Pick: Packers -5.5

New Orleans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-11, 46.5)

Tuley: Tom Brady keeps rolling along, and the public loves to bet him (with good reason). But here’s the biggest example of an inflated line this week. It’s as if oddsmakers and the betting public forget that the Saints beat the Buccaneers 36-27 on Halloween and have, in fact, gone 3-1 SU and ATS against Brady since he moved to Tampa (the loss was in the playoffs). We also saw the return last week of Alvin Kamara, who jump-started the Saints offense and even helped open things up for Taysom Hill. Despite the Bucs’ 10-3 SU record, they’re just 7-6 ATS.

Pick: Saints + 11

Brown: Vintage Gronkowski has been one of the best surprises of the 2021 season, as he had finished over his receiving yardage prop in six of eight games this season, including each of the past four. This has caused his receiving yardage prop to skyrocket to 21 yards more than where he started the season. Gronkowski has had a wild four-game stretch, but this looks like the perfect market to sell at the top. 

Gronkowski boasts an 18.8 percent team target share since returning from injury while playing 78 percent of Tampa Bay's offensive snaps. Since Gronk's return from injury, most of Tampa Bay's games have been competitive, yet the Buccaneers sit as 11-point home favorites on Sunday night. It’s safe to assume that head coach Bruce Arians is going to rest his veterans whenever possible down the stretch, and this matchup is the first of a cupcake schedule to finish the season.  

The only way New Orleans keeps this game competitive is if its fifth-ranked defense keeps Tampa Bay's offense from blowing the game open. The Saints rank 10th overall in PFF coverage grade but slide up to seventh when the target position is tight end. They will be aware of Gronkowski’s most recent stretch and could pay him more attention than usual. Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore will stay locked on Mike Evans on the outside, so the key will be how the Saints approach Gronkowski and Chris Godwin. Take the under for an enjoyable Sunday night sweat. 

Pick: Gronkowski Under 50.5 Receiving Yards (-115)

Brown: Godwin has hit the “30 threshold” the past two games, with over 30% of the Buccaneers air yards and targets. It’s one of the best low-aDot, high-volume situations in the NFL right now: Over 63 percent of Godwin’s targets have come within nine yards of the line of scrimmage, with 83 percent of his targets catchable opportunities. 

PFF’s betting model leans in the Saints’ direction, meaning we shouldn’t expect a slow in passing volume for the Buccaneers offense in the second half. New Orleans also ranks highly in PFF’s opponent-adjusted coverage grade, as they have the third best grade in both coverage and overall defense. 

C.J. Gardner-Johnson will line up against Godwin on at least 60% of his routes, with Marshon Lattimore closely shadowing Mike Evans. Godwin’s matchup is likely the one that needs to and will win the most, with a few scripted targets putting Godwin on a perfect path to going over this reception prop number at a plus price payout. 

Pick: WR Chris Godwin Over 7.5 Receptions ( 116)

 

 

Monday

Las Vegas Raiders (-4, 38) at Cleveland Browns

Youmans: A 10-point line move in the NFL is extremely rare and, if it happens, would usually involve an Aaron Rodgers injury, but COVID chaos has created a new world. While Baker Mayfield does not have anything near Rodgers’ value to the point spread, Cleveland is dealing with numerous personnel losses. I was almost ready to fire on the Browns as 1-point underdogs with backup Case Keenum as the starting quarterback, but now it appears Keenum is also out and Nick Mullens will start. Mullens is not even a mediocre option, but he’s not going to be asked to do something miraculous. Is this move against the Browns an overreaction?

The Raiders limp into Cleveland with a 1-5 record in their past six games and without their best offensive player, tight end Darren Waller, who injured a knee during the Thanksgiving Day win at Dallas. In those five losses, the Las Vegas offense has averaged 13.4 PPG. We have seen the Cardinals win twice without Kyler Murray and the Cowboys win without Dak Prescott, but those teams won with decent No. 2 quarterbacks. The Browns are basically pulling a guy off the street to take snaps. This sounds like a bad movie script that stars Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner. Still, the 10-point shift does seem like an overreaction, and the Browns do not have to win to cash the bet.

Pick: Browns + 4

 

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