Betting Opportunities for Week 14 NFL Matchups

Each week during the 2021 NFL season, Sports Info Solutions will highlight the spread of three games including Monday Night Football.

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Las Vegas Raiders (+8.5) at Kansas City Chiefs

This is very much a which-trend-do-you-believe game. The Raiders have only one 20-point game in the last month-plus. The Chiefs have an even longer streak of (relative) futility that was punctuated by a 41-14 drubbing of the Raiders a few weeks ago. If we take two pretty good teams that generally haven’t scored a lot lately in a year when home-field advantage is tempered, an 8.5-point home favorite is hard to back.

This might be wishful thinking, but the Raiders can’t be as generous to the Chiefs this time around, can they? The line for the total is 47.5 here, and KC’s only game with a combined score that high in the last two months was against Vegas. In that game, the Raiders famously played a ton of single-high coverages and Mahomes carved them up. On those 28 dropbacks, he was pressured a cushy 14% of the time, and posted an 81.5% On-Target rate and 235 yards.

That pressure number is particularly notable. On the season, Patrick Mahomes has been pressured 35.2% of the time when defenses have been in single-high. The Raiders have consistently been in the 30+% range themselves defensively when in single-high. That one game really stands out.

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs have been more multiple during their run of success. They’ve employed seven different personnel groupings at least 5% of the time, adding some two-down-linemen looks that they weren’t showing before.

That variability in their looks combined with their blitz tendencies will make life a bit harder for Derek Carr than he had it earlier this year. Carr is one of the most-blitzed quarterbacks in the league, and when Henry Ruggs was around he was able to exploit it quite a bit. Through seven weeks, Carr was throwing passes 12 yards downfield on average with an ANY/A of 11.0 against the blitz, with Ruggs getting far and away the most production of the pass-catchers. In the weeks since, Carr’s only throwing 9.0 yards downfield on average with an ANY/A of 7.1 when he’s been blitzed. And he’s been blitzed quite a bit—more than eight times per game.

The Chiefs have been under-scoring their peripherals of late, and their defense is likely to bring it against their division rival. But the spread is pretty high in what could be a low-scoring affair against a solid team.

Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5)

This is a really interesting matchup. Nobody runs on the Bucs, and the Bills would be just fine if someone told them they didn’t have to bother running. The Bills are coming off an all-time ground-and-pound game that didn’t test at all how well their pass defense will handle the loss of Tre’Davious White.

That’ll change this week. The game being in Florida means that both teams will have full opportunity to air it out, if the defenses oblige. The Bucs have a top-five passing offense any way you slice it, but the Bills have allowed the lowest pass EPA/play this year. As mentioned in last week’s preview of Pats-Bills, the loss of White is substantial but not back-breaking given the play of the rest of the secondary so far this year. That said, this is a different kind of matchup against Tampa.

While Antonio Brown was one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL through six weeks, the rest of Tampa’s pass-catchers have produced just fine in his absence. They have four guys (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and Cameron Brate) with at least 20 targets in that span who are in the top 60 in terms of Receiving Points Earned per play. (Acknowledging, of course, that they don’t really run much 12 personnel so the two tight ends won’t be on the field together much.)

If we’re looking for tactics to take the Bucs’ offense down a peg, their two worst performances don’t provide much of a blueprint. The Patriots played a lot of man coverage and light fronts, while Washington played a lot more zone and brought extra rushers fairly frequently.

As likely an explanation as anything is that they held themselves back. Against the Pats, the Bucs dropped five passes. Against Washington, they had their worst On-Target Catch Rate of the year, but more importantly, the offense was incredibly conservative, with the average target going only five yards downfield. And in case you were wondering, the blitz wasn’t a factor in this respect, as their aDOT against standard rushes was even lower.

One last item to mention here, because narratives tend to get away from us: the famously-stingy Bucs run defense isn’t paired with a generous pass defense. In terms of per-play EPA allowed in the passing game, Tampa Bay still ranks in the top ten.

Despite their success overall, the Bucs haven’t gotten great results out of their relatively frequent blitzes. They are allowing positive-EPA plays at the 22nd-best rate when rushing five or more, but against Josh Allen they might have more success. He’s sixth among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts in Passing Points Earned per play, but just 23rd among passers with at least 50 attempts against the blitz.

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-2.5)

We’ve definitely settled on the Cardinals as the team that gets out to a great start and nobody really buys. They’re the only two-loss team in the NFL, have the best point differential in the NFC, and according to MGM are the third-best bet to win the NFC.

The Rams’ zone-heavy defense is theoretically well positioned to handle a spread offense with a mobile quarterback. In their two matchups in 2020 they held Arizona to an EPA per pass play under -0.4 when they dropped back in zone. In their Week 4 matchup this year they played a bit more balanced between man and zone, and Kyler Murray completed 12 of 14 passes for 151 yards against zone.

We know that the Rams hadn’t had the best run of things offensively prior to their outburst against Jacksonville. As a quantitative measure of that, Matthew Stafford’s three worst games this year in terms of Passing Points Earned per play were the three games prior to last week. And the fourth-worst was Week 4 against Arizona. 

Let’s keep the theme of blitz performance going. A weird quirk of those three bad games from the Rams is that they were the games in which Stafford was blitzed the least. He dropped back only eight times against the blitz total. The Cardinals blitz quite a bit, but they did so only seven times in Week 4, which would be a lot for Stafford to see compared to his recent past, but is also the least they’ve blitzed this year. Given recent returns from both teams, expect Arizona to sit back a bit more in coverage than they typically do.

A small additional reason to endorse the Cards here is that Kyler Murray has done quite well in the face of interior pressure over his career. Since 2019 he’s in the top five in Total Points per play when he’s been pressured by someone lined up at 3T or inside. This year he’s ranked first. And is that Aaron Donald I hear coming?