Every Friday during the NFL season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian (2-5 last week, 12-23 overall), Joe Fortenbaugh (2-6, 24-40), Anita Marks (5-3, 38-56-1), Preston Johnson (0-2, 11-18), Mike Clay (0-1, 11-10) and Tyler Fulghum (1-6, 27-40-1), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (1-4, 20-14), Seth Walder (3-2, 36-18) of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz (3-1, 24-33-1) of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from Sunday's slate.
Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill and subject to change.
Sunday's 8:20 p.m. game
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-8.5, 45)
Schatz: It's hard to see how the Bears (29th in offensive DVOA) can score enough points to keep up with the Packers (second in offensive DVOA), but their defense is good enough to keep Aaron Rodgers relatively contained. The Bears' defense is fourth in the league in DVOA, and that quality defense keeps games close. Four of the Bears' five losses have been by 8 points or fewer. The Bears are particularly built to neutralize Davante Adams, as they lead the league in DVOA covering opposing No. 1 wide receivers and allow just a 54% catch rate.
Pick: Bears +8.5
Walder: If an average receiver earned the exact targets Darnell Mooney has this year (and from an average QB), we'd expect that receiver to earn 32.5 receiving yards per game on those passes before accounting for any YAC, according to completion probability data from NFL Next Gen Stats. Mooney and Mitchell Trubisky are not an average combination, to be fair, but the point is that Mooney has received plenty of opportunity to hit the over on this prop on average. But here's the cherry on top: that number includes games when Mooney was playing much less. In Weeks 1-5, Mooney played on 59% of Chicago's offensive snaps, but in Weeks 6-10 that number jumped to 84%. That's enough of a jump for me to want the over, despite Trubisky starting at quarterback.
Pick: Mooney over 33.5 receiving yards (-120)
Tuesday's 8 p.m. ET game
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4, 45)
Fulghum: Without running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins due to COVID-19, the Baltimore backfield belongs to Gus Edwards. With the way the Baltimore passing game is sputtering, one would think the Ravens lean run-heavy in a matchup with one of the best pass defenses in the NFL.
Pick: Edwards over 58.5 rushing yards
Walder: There's only one good thing about me losing the Marquise Brown receiving yards prop week after week: the line keeps dropping. It has fallen so far that the line is now significantly below Brown's expected completed air yards per game, based on NFL Next Gen Stats' completion probability model. And remember, that's banking on zero yards after catch!
Brown, who had zero catches last week, is so off that his completed air yards over expectation has cracked negative triple-digits. Yikes! The good news is, for his career, he's still just a -1% catch percentage over expectation receiver. That's all I'm asking for here -- a middling catch rate based on the throws he receives -- and this will finally hit.
Pick: Brown over 36.5 receiving yards (-115)
Marks: The Steelers are undefeated, and the Ravens are dealing with COVID-19; I understand why the majority of money is flowing toward the terrible towels, but I'm going against the grain. Games between these two franchises are always close. In their previous meeting, the Ravens outperformed the Steelers in total yards (457 to 221), first downs (25-19) and time of possession by (+9 minutes). The deciding factor was four turnovers -- one that was a pick-six -- and I don't see that happening again. This game should be decided by 3 or 7 points.
Anticipating that both Ingram and Dobbins will be inactive, Gus Edwards should be the bell cow. The last time Edwards faced the Steelers, he rushed 16 times for 87 yards and a score. With no Ingram or Dobbins, Edwards' volume will be increased against a Steelers rushing defense allowing more than 4 yards per carry.
Pick: Ravens +11 in teaser with Washington +9, Edwards over 58.5 rushing yards
Houston Texans (-3, 51.5) at Detroit Lions
Fulghum: Deshaun Watson has been amazing since the Texans decided to part ways with Bill O'Brien. He has thrown for 300-plus yards in five of his past seven starts, and I think that trend continues against a Lions defense that is 26th in the NFL in net yards per attempt allowed. The Lions' two best offensive weapons -- WR Kenny Golladay and RB D'Andre Swift -- missed last week's dud against the Panthers and are questionable for Thanksgiving. Stafford is also playing through a thumb injury on his throwing hand.
Pick: Houston -3
Marks: This game will come down to quarterback play, and I'll take Watson seven days a week and twice on Turkey Day over Matthew Stafford with an injured ligament in his thumb. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Watson has been one of the best gunslingers the past few weeks, and the Texans' offensive production is 80% dependent on the passing game. The Lions hobble (not gobble) into Thursday on a short week and are dealing with injuries to Swift, Golladay and cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Pick: Houston -3; Houston team total over 25 (-105)
Fortenbaugh: Should an NFL team with a 1-4 SU and 1-4 ATS record that ranks dead last in run defense (159.3 yards per game), last in takeaways (5) and 23rd in scoring defense be laying three points on the road against anybody? Maybe the Jets, but I believe this line is way too high considering Houston's resume and Detroit's situation. And by "situation" I mean the fact that the Lions got blanked in Carolina last Sunday. Take note that over the past five years, teams that have gotten shut out have bounced back the following game to post a 17-5 record against the spread.
Pick: Detroit +3
Schatz: The Lions' offense is better than you think (15th in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings), and a big reason is schedule strength. Detroit has played the third-toughest schedule of opposing defenses based on DVOA. Meanwhile, the Houston defense is worse than you think, ranking only 29th in DVOA. The Texans have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in six of 10 games. There's going to be scoring in this game, and it looks like a great opportunity for Matthew Stafford to bounce back from his first game this season without a passing touchdown. We estimate the chances of Stafford hitting this prop are over 70%.
Pick: Stafford over 1.5 passing touchdowns (-150)
Walder: Though I've noticed longest-reception props up to 27.5 this season, 25.5 is very much on the high side. For the right receiver it might make sense to be that high, but I don't think Brandin Cooks is quite that guy. His average depth three seconds into a route and air yards per target are 10.8 yards and 10.5 yards, respectively -- 45th best and 54th most among the 110 wide receivers with at least 125 routes run. Slightly above average, sure, but not on the extreme high end.
Cooks has had more YAC success this season (1.1 YAC yards over expectation, per Next Gen Stats), but that's above his career norms. My only worry here is the Lions' defense (fifth worst in EPA per pass play), but I'm rolling the dice that Cooks' previous routes carry more weight than his opponent.
Pick: Cooks longest reception under 25.5 (-120)
Marks: Golladay was not able to practice this week (hip injury), therefore all signs point to him being inactive Thursday. Marvin Jones Jr. leads the Lions in targets since Golladay injured his hip. The Texans' defense is second to last in yards allowed per game to opposing wide receivers the past few weeks, and Okudah missed practice this week due to a shoulder injury.
Pick: Jones over 55.5 receiving yards (-112 at DraftKings)
Marks: The starting quarterback slate to start on Thanksgiving isn't one that is expected to take the league by storm, but Watson stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Watson has been balling the past several weeks and this week faces a Lions defense that ranks 26th in pressure rate, so getting Watson at plus money seems like easy money to me.
Pick: Watson most passing yards of any Thanksgiving quarterback (+250)
Walder: Jordan Akins runs short outside routes 37% of the time, the second-highest rate among tight ends and wide receivers, behind only Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo. Short outside routes might be useful as an outlet for a QB under pressure, but it's unlikely to be a chunk play. Just 0.9% of short outside routes run by tight ends or wide receivers end up in a reception of 17-plus yards, the lowest total for any route group. I'll happily bank on Akins' short outs yielding short catches -- but no long ones.
Pick: Akins longest receptions under 16.5 (-125)
Washington at Dallas Cowboys (-3, 46)
Fulghum: Washington's strong pass rush should apply ample pressure to Andy Dalton due to his compromised offensive line that has gone from one of the league's most talented on paper before the season to one of the most suspect in part because of injuries.
Terry McLaurin is averaging 87.1 yards per game this season and has cleared 69 receiving yards in eight of 10 games he has played, including Week 7 against Dallas when he caught seven passes (11 targets) for 90 yards and a TD.
Pick: Washington +3; McLaurin over 68.5 receiving yards
Schatz: McLaurin has topped 80 yards in four straight games and has topped this yardage prop in eight out of 10 games this season. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' defense ranks 22nd against the pass by DVOA. They have boosted No. 1 receiver yards per target by 19% this season.
Pick: McLaurin over 68.5 receiving yards
Fulghum: Ezekiel Elliott finally got back on track last week against the Vikings. He should see another heavy workload against a Washington team that has an advantage every time Dalton drops back to pass. Mike McCarthy would be wise to try to control the clock and let Zeke eat on Turkey Day.
Pick: Elliott over 16.5 rush attempts (-115)
Marks: Dallas is favored following an impressive win against the Vikings last week. The Cowboys tweaked their offensive line, resulting in Zeke posting his first 100-yard game of the season. How quickly we forget that Dallas is a horrible team this season, but winning is the ultimate deodorant. This week will not be so easy for Dallas, considering Washington's defense is much better than Minnesota's. Dalton was pressured on only 12% of his dropbacks last week, compared to 50% the last time these two teams met in Week 7. Dalton was sacked six times in that game, and Washington has 32 sacks on the season. Meanwhile, Alex Smith and McLaurin should hook up often against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, which will be missing two CBs (Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown) and has allowed 24 passing touchdowns.
I don't envision Washington playing from behind, so it will rely on its running game with Antonio Gibson. The last time Gibson faced Dallas he posted 20 carries for 128 rushing yards. The Cowboys' rushing defense ranks 31st and allows more than 150 rushing yards per game.
Pick: Gibson over 54.5 rushing yards (-115); Washington +9 in teaser with Dolphins -1
Clay: Dalton has played at least 80% of Dallas' offensive snaps in three games this season, and his passing yardage totals are 266, 75 and, most recently, 203. The game in which he reached 266 yards required 81 offensive snaps and 59 dropbacks. In fact, the last game in which Dalton threw for at least 250 yards without requiring 70-plus offensive snaps was Week 7 of last season, when he was with the Bengals. Dalton is averaging a horrific 5.6 yards per pass attempt this season on 117 attempts. That includes a Week 7 game against this week's opponent (Washington) in which he completed 9-of-19 passes for 75 yards. Washington, by the way, has allowed a league-low 2,161 passing yards (216.1 per game) this season. Only four of Washington's 10 opponents reached 234 yards through the air. Dallas is operating the league's game-script-adjusted sixth-pass-heaviest offense since Dak Prescott's season-ending injury, and we should expect a heavy dose of Elliott.
Pick: Dalton under 249.5 pass yards
Sunday's 1 p.m. ET games
Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills (-5.5, 53.5)
Bearman: Overs hit on 59% of games through the first four weeks of the season, but over the past seven weeks it has been 50-50. That does not seem to matter to these two teams. Seven straight Chargers games have gone over the total, and L.A. is 7-2 since Justin Herbert took over as the starter. The Chargers' totals during that seven-game stretch have been 69, 57, 68, 61, 57, 50, 62, respectively, for an average of 60.1 points per game.
Not only are the Chargers scoring in bunches, but the defense isn't stopping anyone either. They've allowed at least 28 points to the past seven opponents, including the lowly Jets, who scored four touchdowns against them last week. Meanwhile, the over is 8-2 in Bills games this season, tied for the highest mark in the league. The Bills were involved in back-to-back shootouts with Arizona and Seattle and have a defense ranked in the bottom half of the league. If both teams hit their season averages, they are already at the total, so factor in both defenses not playing well and you have makings of a 30-27 game.
Pick: Over 53.5
Fortenbaugh: Buffalo is coming off its bye week and has had two weeks to prepare for this game. Meanwhile, the Chargers are making their second trip to the Eastern Time Zone in three weeks. Allow me to flash some trends in order to demonstrate the gravity of the situation the Bolts are facing in Week 12: First, rookie quarterbacks who play for California teams are 1-14 straight up when playing in the Eastern Time Zone since the merger. Second, the Chargers are 1-9 straight-up and 0-10 against the spread over their past 10 games when facing an opponent coming off the bye. Lay it with Buffalo and don't look back.
Pick: Bills -5.5
Walder: Normally I find myself liking longest reception unders, but this Mike Williams over really stuck out to me. Williams' reputation as a deep-ball, contested catch receiver is backed up by the numbers. Among wideouts with 125 routes run, Williams ranks ninth in depth 3 seconds after the snap and seventh in air yards per target. To be fair, there's reasonable concern about a potential lack of volume here; his 18% target rate is below average but hardly disastrous (77th out of 110 qualifying receivers). But I'm OK with that for two reasons: this is a pretty low line for a deep threat, and Williams takes advantage of his opportunities at an above average rate. Williams has recorded a completion percentage substantially over expectation in all three seasons after his rookie year (spanning a QB change, too), so it's quite apparent he makes more catches than an average receiver would given the targets he does receive.
Pick: Williams longest reception over 20.5 yards (-115)
Miami Dolphins (-7, 44) at New York Jets
Johnson: Before we all get up in arms over Brian Flores' decision to bench Tua Tagovailoa for Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday in Denver, Flores has already made it clear that Tua will be the quarterback for Miami in Week 12. What was interesting about how the offense struggled was that it shouldn't have come as a surprise. Humble brag here, but I was preaching it all week. In Tua's first two starts against the Rams and Cardinals, the Dolphins were outgained by nearly 500 yards, despite going 2-0. Do you know how hard it is to win games despite being outgained so massively? It's not sustainable. Tua showed flashes in those three weeks, but the offense was far from effective. The Dolphins followed with a game against the Chargers in which they started six of their possessions in Chargers territory.
Now it seems like the market is catching up, and, because it's Joe Flacco and the Jets on the other side, everyone rushed to bet the under at 46 earlier this week. I'm not sure it's the right side, however. For starters, it's still the Jets on defense. If Tua is going to find success, a defense that ranks 31st in success rate against the pass is a great candidate. On the other hand, as much as I hate to put some stock into this, Flacco led this Jets offense to 27 points against the Patriots and 28 in Los Angeles against the Chargers. The Jets' pass protection has improved, and Flacco has taken advantage of opportunities through the air, especially with the deep ball (hashtag things I didn't think I would type this season).
The weather looks to be good, and my projection is spot on with where the market opened this one at 46. With 44 and 45 being relatively key landing spots for game totals in this range, at this point, I'd look to play against the move over the total of 44.
Pick: Over 44
Marks: Regardless who starts at quarterback for the Dolphins, they will be in a much better situation than Sam Darnold, who is expected to start this week for the Jets. NY's offensive line is dealing with a plethora of injuries, specifically at right tackle. Meanwhile, Miami gets DT Christian Wilkins back from the COVID-19 list.
The Dolphins are coming off a disappointing loss to Denver in Week 12, but they are still in the postseason hunt. I expect Brian Flores to have his guys ready to beat the 0-10 Jets, and DeVante Parker should take full advantage of the Jets secondary.
Pick: Parker scores and Dolphins win (+190 at DraftKings)
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-3.5, 51.5)
Walder: This line surprised me. FPI considers the Titans and Colts to be almost identical in overall strength -- 1.3 and 0.9 points above average per game on a neutral field, respectively -- though they get there in very different ways. And I'm guessing that's what's driving this difference. The Colts have been the better team, efficiency-wise, this season. But that has been fueled by their defense, while the Titans have the far superior offense. The latter is more repeatable, and that's what gives FPI its confidence that these teams are equal going forward. In addition, the Titans' passing offense is particularly good -- it ranks third in EPA per pass play -- so I think there's even more upside for this run-heavy unit if it decides to take advantage of that passing attack more.
Add in a 2020 weakened home-field advantage and the Titans seem like value getting more than a field goal.
Pick: Titans +3.5
Fortenbaugh: Since 2000, when teams meet two weeks after their first matchup, the team that emerged victorious in the first encounter has gone 7-17-1 against the spread in the rematch. That's the daunting task facing the Colts, who will look to defeat division-rival Tennessee for the second time in 17 days on Sunday. The Colts are coming off that monster win over Green Bay, so I wouldn't be surprised to see public money show up in support of Philip Rivers and company. Remember, Tennessee is 3-1 on the road this season.
Pick: Titans +3.5
Marks: Michael Pittman Jr. has become the man in the Colts' wide receiving corps, leading in targets, catches and yards over the last three weeks. His first game against the Titans, he put up over 100 receiving yards, and last week he posted 66 and a touchdown against the Packers.
Pick: Pittman over 54.5 receiving yards (-115)
New York Giants (-5.5, 42.5) at Cincinnati Bengals
Marks: The Giants are 5-0 ATS as a road underdog this season, and every week Daniel Jones and the offense get better. They have scored on 70% of their red zone possessions over the past three games, and Jones has limited his turnovers. The Giants are coming off a bye with a rested, physical and underrated defense heading to the Queen's City. And the Bengals will be handing over quarterback duties to Brandon Allen, who struggled in three starts last season, completing under 50% of his passes and tossing only three touchdowns. Lay the points.
Pick: Giants -5.5
Marks: Since Devonta Freeman went on IR, Wayne Gallman has been the lead back for the Giants, rushing 54 times for 199 yards over his last four games. He has a juicy matchup against a Bengals rush defense that has allowed more runs of 15 to 20 yards per carry than any other team over the last month.
Pick: Gallman over 57.5 rushing yards (-115)
Arizona Cardinals (-2.5, 49.5) at New England Patriots
Bearman: I can't seem to get a Patriots game right this year (faded them two weeks ago vs. the Ravens and took the Patriots last week in their loss in Houston), but I am sure of this: The Cardinals are a much better team here, and laying less than a FG has value. Arizona has 10 days' rest since losing to Seattle in a tight back-and-forth game and should be able to move the ball against a leaky New England defense. The Patriots have had trouble against mobile QBs this season, with Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes all having the ability to create mismatches and move the ball vs. them. They did limit Lamar Jackson, but you have to wonder how much the weather played a part in that one. They had no answers last week for Watson, who had 380 yards from scrimmage and three total TDs and moved the ball at will.
The Pats are allowing 6.2 yards per play (30th in the NFL) and 8.4 pass yards per play (last in the NFL). Now they get the league's top offense, as Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are averaging 414.3 yards per game. The Cards are in the thick of the NFC West race and need this win with the Rams on deck.
The Patriots' postseason chances took a big hit in Houston, and betting against Bill Belichick as a home 'dog (13-3 ATS) isn't always advised. But if you have watched both teams this season, you wouldn't be afraid here. As far as traveling east and playing at 1 p.m. on Sunday? The Kliff Kingsbury/Murray squad is 5-2 ATS in these spots.
Pick: Cardinals -2.5
Cleveland Browns (-6.5, 49) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Bearman: No one wakes up and says, "Man, I want to lay a TD on the road with the Browns." In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, you couldn't have done that anytime recently as this is the largest road spread the Browns have had since Bill Belichick was on Cleveland's sideline in 1995. And none of the trends support it either, as Baker Mayfield is 1-5 ATS as a road favorite and the Browns had failed to cover in four straight before knocking off the Eagles last week. However, that doesn't mean they haven't played well, and, remember, it is the Jaguars on the other sideline.
Playing in bad weather conditions the past three weeks, the Browns have struggled to score (38 total points) but have also played great defense (allowed only 40). The Jags upset the Colts in Week 1, lost at the buzzer in Week 2 to Tennessee and haven't done much since, losing nine straight. The silver lining of keeping it close vs. the Packers and Texans disappeared in a blowout loss to the Steelers last week. The QB carousel music now stops at Mike Glennon, who is making his first start since 2017 with the Bears (is there anyone who hasn't started for the Bears?). I don't see the Jaguars accomplishing much here, but I don't feel comfortable laying a TD with the Browns either. I will be playing the Browns in eliminator pools and teasing them close to a pick 'em.
Bearman: Browns -.5 in a teaser with Packers -2.5
Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings (-4, 48.5)
Schatz: What we have here are two teams that have been better than their win-loss records indicate. The Vikings have gotten a lot more attention for the possibility they'll make some kind of late-season run at a playoff spot, but Carolina has been surprisingly competitive. The Vikings and Panthers are right next to each other in our DVOA ratings, ranking 16th and 17th, respectively. Teddy Bridgewater was very close to starting last week and should be healthy enough to take the reins again for the Panthers in this game, while star receiver Adam Thielen might miss the game for the Vikings due to COVID-19.
Pick: Panthers +4
Walder: Curtis Samuel is hot, scoring touchdowns in three of his last four games and recording his two highest receiving games in his last three games. But that recency appears to be leading to an inflated line. Samuel's expected completed air yards per game -- based on NFL Next Gen Stats' expected completion percent this season age model -- is under 22, less than half this line. While it's true that his catch rate is well above expectation this season (+10%), that is not a norm for him in his career, so I'd expect that to come back to Earth a bit. The only other concern would be Samuel's YAC (especially as a former running back), but over his career he hovers right around his expected YAC totals and this year is averaging 4.3 yards of YAC when an average receiver would have earned 4.8 based on the catches he made.
Pick: Samuel under 48.5 receiving yards (-115)
Las Vegas Raiders (-3, 55.5) at Atlanta Falcons
Kezirian: I have been pitiful handicapping the NFL this season, and a large reason for that is I have abandoned battle-tested philosophies all too often. An old adage implores bettors to forget what they last saw. This game is a classic example of that, so I will side with Atlanta. The Raiders played one of their best games in prime time, nearly upsetting the Chiefs for the second time this season. Las Vegas demonstrated a sharp offense and an aggressive defense. Meanwhile, Atlanta looked offensively inept against New Orleans, and the defense had trouble stopping a backup quarterback. What those performances do is cause the betting market to overreact, thus providing value on the Falcons. So I will grab the points at home with an offense that I feel can light up a Raiders defense that I expect to be flat.
Pick: Falcons +3
Johnson: Life for the Falcons after Dan Quinn's firing had been going pretty well leading up to their bye week. The Falcons had won three of four games, and their only loss was by one point to the Lions after Todd Gurley II tried to go down at the goal line but accidentally scored a touchdown, giving Detroit a chance to win the game in the final minute, which Matthew Stafford did with a touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson as time expired.
Why are the Falcons being so penalized here for losing to a Saints team that had won six in a row? This opened PK, and now they're getting three points? The New Orleans' defense has been otherworldly of late, too. Remember that 38-3 drubbing of the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay? Not to mention, the Falcons were preparing for Jameis Winston for the majority of the week before the Saints announced Taysom Hill would be the starter. I know the Raiders looked good Sunday against the Chiefs (in a loss), but I disagree pretty heavily with this move. My projection is Atlanta +0.9, and though Julio Jones aggravated a hamstring Sunday and is a game-time decision this week, this is still too drastic of a move on Las Vegas.
Pick: Falcons +3
Sunday's 4 p.m. ET games
New Orleans Saints (-5.5, 43.5) at Denver Broncos
Note: This line has since moved to Saints -16.5, over/under 36.5 after news relating to Broncos QBs.
Schatz: Football Outsiders DVOA ratings are driving the New Orleans bandwagon this year. We have the Saints at No. 1, and they rank in the top five in all three phases of the game.