Big Five Picks for 2018 NFL Week 11

By this time next week, we will have officially started the holiday shopping season. It will be the longest such season possible given that Thanksgiving (the U.S. version given that we now have Canadian readers) is the earliest it can be with Nov. 22 being the 4th Thursday in November. That means there is a greater likelihood we will all be spending more on Christmas presents this year than we have done in previous years. That also means we need more money! Well, if you have been reading our column on our Big Five Picks and acting on our advice since Week 6, here is how much money you could have made.

Week 6: 4-1 or $263.64
Week 7: 2-3 or -$118.18
Week 8: 4-0 or $363.64
Week 9: 4-1 or $263.64
Week 10: 3-1 or $172.73

Keep in mind that in Weeks 8 and 10, we had a Thursday game as part of our Big Five Picks but we didn't publish our picks until a day or two later so we won't consider those selections. If you do the math, that adds up to $945.48. The investment is simply $100 per game with a -110 payout (10% juice to the books) for every correct selection. So you are risking $500 per week or $2500 over the last 5 weeks and making nearly $1000 in profit. That is almost 40% profit! Way better than the stock market! You could get more creative by parlaying and/or pressing winnings but if you keep things simple for the next 5 weeks (like $100 per game) and we continue to have a high accuracy in selecting winners against the spread based on our improved model, you will definitely have plenty of money for Christmas presents for your loved ones!

Now, who is going to make us money this week? Here is who we like for Week 11 with the Westgate lines next to the team and our model's line in parentheses.

Carolina -4 (-14.29)
Pittsburgh -5.5 (-10.61)
Denver +7 (+3.72)
Chicago -2.5 (-6.73)
Kansas City +3.5 (-4.83)

Some favors, some dogs, not all road teams, and pretty much all teams who are playing great football except for Denver. Sounds like another recipe for success! Here is our analysis for those teams.

  1. Carolina had a very, very ugly game on Thursday night football last week. All I can say is Pittsburgh is firing on all cylinders right now so we feel this week will be much different. Detroit has struggled mightily in their last three games losing each one to teams with a .500 or better record and poised to making the postseason. Carolina is precisely like those three teams owning one of the best records in the NFC. If we dig deeper, Detroit ranks in the bottom 5 in the NFL in most rush defense metrics such as yards allowed per carry and rushing yards allowed per game. Let's dig even deeper ... according to, Detroit ranks dead last in running back yards allowed at 5.25 yards per carry and also dead last in open field yards which are yards earned by opposing running backs more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.

On the other side Carolina ranks in the top 3 in most most rushing metrics such as yards per carry, rushing yards per game, and total rushing touchdowns. Those awesome numbers are mostly attributed to running back Christian McCaffrey who in his 2nd year in the NFL has figured out how to dominate the gridiron at the professional level just the way he did at Stanford. McCaffrey has put up monster numbers lately and he should continue to do so against the anemic Lions defense. Keep in mind that McCaffrey is just as dangerous a receiver as a rusher which makes the poor open field rank for Detroit ever more glaring. Carolina wins this game in a landslide in Motor City.

  1. If we like Carolina that much to write a much longer blurb than we usually do for the teams we select for our Big Five Picks, then we really, really like Pittsburgh who put an absolute smack down on the Panthers last week. Big Ben hasn't lost his touch by leading his team with 5 passing TDs and 52 points in that game. The Steelers still have another Super Bowl run in them and they not skipped a beat with Le'Veon Bell not on the roster. The offensive line for the Steelers is that good where a back up like James Conner can still provide similar production. The offensive line ranks 1st in pass protection with an adjusted allowed sack rate of 3.8% and all but one of the starting offensive linemen have a Pro Football Focus grade of 70 or better.

Since the Steelers opened the season 1-2-1, they have won 5 games in a row averaging 35.4 points per game and winning those games by an average margin of 16.8 points per game. Pittsburgh is also undefeated on the road at 3-0-1 while the Jacksonville Jaguars have been reeling with a 2-3 home record and having lost 5 straight games. If we do similar analysis for those 5 games as we did with Pittsburgh's last 5 games, the Jaguars have only managed to score 14.4 points per game and have lost those games by an average margin of 14.2 points per game. Yes, Jacksonville has played some tough teams during that 5 game stretch but Pittsburgh is just as competitive if not more competitive than those 5 teams. It's not just on offense where Pittsburgh is doing its damage ... the Steelers pass rush has been impressive. They lead the NFL with 31 sacks. From Weeks 5 - 8, Jacksonville has allowed 16 sacks. They did have a bye in Week 9 and prevented the Colts from getting a sack last week but the Colts pass rush ranks in the bottom 10 in sacks and sack rate. The result in this game will be more like Weeks 5 - 8. It's clear that these two teams are going in totally opposite directions. Expect another dominating win by Big Ben and company.

  1. OK, I hope I haven't overanalyzed my first two picks given that I am taking a bit of chalk with Carolina and Pittburgh. For this pick, we will keep it simple. Denver is on the road against a division rival who they tend to play close regardless of the records of these teams. One just has to look at the game logs between the Broncos and Chargers since the start of the Philip Rivers era which started in 2006. Rivers has been the ultimate iron man QB by not missing a game since 2006 so we feel we have plenty of data to consider. Rivers is 12-12 against Denver since 2006 and has covered a 7 point spread only 9 times out of those 24 games. Most of those covers were in the early years when the Broncos had no defense and the Chargers had LaDainian Tomlinson. The Broncos may not have much of an offense but they have a fabulous pass rush and can hold their own when defending the run. We love the Chargers this year and feel they will win this game (and perhaps the Super Bowl this season), just not by 7. Denver loses by a late field goal.

  2. The Bears are simply not getting enough respect. Yes, the Bears have not been to the postseason since the 2010 season and have cycled through a few coaches in the past few seasons but it seems that Chicago has finally moved on past the Jay Cutler era with the brilliant play of Mitch Trubisky. It was a huge risk spending the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 draft on a QB who had just one good college season and whose college team was OK but nothing spectacular. Clearly the Bears front office saw something that most of us so-called football pundits did not see: a natural leader who can acclimate to the speed of the professional game quite seamlessly. Just look at his numbers during his rookie season last year and this year.

2017: 59.4 Completion %, 2193 passing yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 31.6 QBR, 77.5 Rating
2018: 65.5 Completion %, 2304 passing yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs, 73.7 QBR, 101.6 Rating

Keep in mind that the 2017 numbers are through 12 games and the 2018 stats are for just 9 games. If that is not growth, then we do not know what is! The Bears also have another star player on the other side of the field: elite pass rusher Khalil Mack. True, the Bears had to give up 1st round picks for the 2019 and 2020 NFL drafts to get Mack but he is so worth it. Before the start of this season, Mack was playing in the prime of his career with 4 full seasons under his belt without missing a game. Why the Raiders refused to give Mack the money he deserves after playing out his rookie contract at a Pro Bowl level is beyond us (well actually we specualte that the Raiders are deliberately tanking this season to build up a strong team for the move to Las Vegas in 2020). Mack signed a very lucrative contract shortly after joining the Bears making him the highest-paid defender in NFL history. As a result, the Bears defense has improved signficantly since Mack's addition to the roster. Mack has earned every dollar thus far and the numbers don't lie when comparing the 2017 and 2018 defensive rankings for Chicago.

2017: 14th in DVOA for defense (, 10th in total yards allowed per game, 9th in points allowed per game, 2nd most sacks, 8th in adjusted sack rate
2018: 1st in DVOA for defense (, 4th in total yards allowed per game, 4th in points allowed per game, 7th in sacks, 9th in adjusted sack rate

Clearly the addition of Mack turned a good defense in 2017 into a championship quality defense this year. Whoever is calling the shots for the Bears front office should not have to buy a drink in the Windy City. He has brought Bears football back to life with a strong QB and a formidable defense. Expect a lively atmosphere at Soldier Field on Sunday Night Football, even in frigid conditions. Who cares that Chicago is playing a tough division rival like the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears win this one by at least a TD.

  1. Down to our last selection and we saved the best for last: a potential Super Bowl match between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams. Both teams are 9-1 and easily could be undefeated. Both teams are very young with talented signal callers, stud running backs, and speedy wide receivers. Both defenses can make big plays and both teams are extremely well coached and disciplined. The only downer is that this game was to be played in Mexico City which would have presented a unique challenge to each team given the high elevation and a neutral site in a different country. This match up has now become a home game for the Rams which explains the spread of 3.5 in favor of LA. That line is off. Our model has the Chiefs winning by 4.83 points so don't just take the Chiefs against the spread ... go with the money line! If our previous four selections all hit this Sunday, then go get that Christmas bonus with the outright win for Kansas City! We can analyze this game all day but perhaps that is best spent for if (or perhaps we should say when) they see each other in Atlanta on Feburary 3 for all of the marbles in Super Bowl LIII. The bottom line is that these are two very good football teams in what has the feeling of a boxing heavyweight title affair. Always take the underdog in those situations, especially with 3.5 points. If the Rams win by a late field goal, you still cover. If the Chiefs win outright, you make even more money with a money line wager.

All right! That is a lengthy post but that is what happens when you have a "smoke day" in Northern California due to the wild fires that have pretty much shut down most workplaces early for the Thanksgiving break. Don't be a jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving ... follow our advice so that you have extra money for Christmas presents. Even better, donate to those in need and/or affected by the fires. God bless and we will check in again next week for the Thanksgiving games.