NFL Picks Week 11, Predictions: Expert’s Best Bet Against Spread
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images. Pictured: Sean McVay.
Every week during the 2023-24 NFL season, I'll be sharing my favorite picks against the spread (ATS) and bets for every Sunday slate in my NFL predictions and picks.
For reference, my season-long sides record in this file sits at 20-13 (60.6%) for +5.65 units after last Sunday's 2-1 result that had two easy winners (Cowboys, Texans) and a super unlucky loser by the hook (Packers) due to a missed extra point and botched review that should've led to Packers points. Oh well, those will happen sometimes on Sundays. You just gotta eat it and move on.
For my expert picks against the spread in Week 11, I'm targeting three divisional matchups with two in the early slate plus one later in the afternoon.
After the mid-week announcement that Deshaun Watson would miss the remainder of the season due to an injured shoulder, from a pure betting perspective, I knew I'd end up backing the Browns under a field goal. Cleveland announced it would start Dorian Thompson-Robinson over PJ Walker, which made the line dip even more and was even more welcome news to me.
DTR was horrendous in his first start, but that came in his first career start as a rookie against the Ravens, one of the better defenses in the league. He also didn't know he'd start until the day of the game. Now, after getting his beak wet in live NFL action, he got to run with the first team all week to prepare for what I perceive to be an overrated Steelers defense that recently made Will Levis and Jordan Love look like pro bowlers.
I liked Thompson-Robinson coming out of college, and he certainly provides more upside than Walker, who we already know is as bad as it gets. To wit, out of 49 QBs with at least 30 plays in 2023, here are the bottom three in EPA+CPOE composite:
- Tommy DeVito -0.025
- PJ Walker -0.042
- Brett Rypien -0.073
For what it's worth, Kenny Pickett ranks 39th and Thompson-Robinson ranks 43rd although it's a meaningless sample size for the latter. Plus, it's not like the Browns are replacing a quarterback who was playing at an All-Pro level. In actuality, the Browns rank dead last in passer rating on the season.
The Steelers still feature two of the league's best edge rushers, who are each capable of wrecking a game, but don't forget they are also decimated by injuries at linebacker and safety. Plus, I expect Cleveland to utilize a risk-averse offensive game plan that relies on the run game (against a secondary that can't tackle), its punter, and most importantly, the best defense in the league.
The Browns will have the best unit in this game with their defense, which ranks No. 1 in EPA per Play by a wide margin even if you remove turnovers. In comparison, Pittsburgh's defense ranks 20th in that category. I believe that will ultimately be the difference against an anemic Pittsburgh offense.
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I expect a few key mistakes from Pickett, who has completed a pitiful 51.2% of his passes under pressure, which should be the case throughout the game on Sunday against a Cleveland defense that can man up on the outside (without having to worry about Pickett even attempting to throw over the middle of the field).
Lastly, I haven't even mentioned the negative regression wave that looms over this extremely lucky 6-3 Steelers team that has played more like a 2-7 or 3-6 club. Amazingly, The Steelers have six wins on the season, which have each come by one possession in comeback fashion. They're also the only team in the NFL to be out-gained in every game and have the same net scoring margin as the 3-6 Titans.
Even last week, the Packers didn't get a clear backwards lateral called in their favor and then couldn't tie the game on multiple occasions because of a missed extra point earlier in the game. There's a reason the Steelers rank No. 1 in our Luck Rankings by a wide margin. They even rank first in the league in turnover margin at +10 (Browns sit at -4) and rank in the top five in red zone touchdown percentage allowed (the Browns are in the bottom five despite the league's top defense). The ball is not going to bounce their way in perpetuity.
Browns win an ugly one in the factory of sadness.
Trending: Since 2005, in divisional games with a closing total of 34 or less, home teams have gone 25-8-1 (75.8%) ATS, covering by just under five points per game. We haven't seen this happen since 2012 when, oddly enough, the Cleveland Browns with a rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-14 in a game with a coin-flip spread thanks to eight Pittsburgh turnovers.
I think this is a good spot to sell high on the Lions laying more than a touchdown in a divisional matchup against an undervalued Bears team with a few extra days to prepare for this matchup.
Starting with the Bears, their now healthy offensive line is starting to play better in front of a very dynamic rushing attack that ranks sixth in EPA despite not having Justin Fields (and Khalil Herbert) for multiple games. Fields, who will return this week, should create problems with his legs for a Detroit defense that has struggled with mobile quarterbacks this season. I've also seen footage of Fields working on his five- and seven-step dropbacks, which have looked a lot quicker and cleaner. That should serve him well in the passing game against an abysmal Detroit secondary.
More importantly, this Chicago defense finally has some juice after a historically bad season. I bet most people wouldn't guess that the Bears' run defense ranks No. 1 in Success Rate and No. 2 in EPA per Rush in 2023. That's essential against the Lions.
While the secondary has given up far too many explosive plays, they should trend better overall with a now completely healthy defensive backfield. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson has had a particularly strong year, ranking sixth overall among 109 cornerbacks, per PFF. He's one of the primary reasons that Chicago has allowed the eighth-fewest yards to opposing No. 1 receivers this season, which is critical when going up against Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Plus, the addition of Montez Sweat will help increase the league's lowest pressure rate. Opposing quarterbacks facing the Bears can no longer sit in the pocket and make sandwiches while going through their progressions, which will also benefit the secondary.
Bears keep this within a touchdown.
Trending: In Week 7 or later, divisional underdogs of seven-plus points (which have historically hit at an overall 53% ATS clip in general) have gone 63-39-3 (61.8%) ATS vs. opponents with a cover percentage of 65% or greater on the season. That's essentially just a numerical way to illustrate the success of buying low and selling high in the NFL market.
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This is my favorite situational spot on the board. The Rams are coming off of a bye with their season basically on the line, while Seattle just had to fight tooth-and-nail until the final seconds to pull out a win over the Commanders with a massive divisional showdown against the 49ers on Thanksgiving night on the horizon.
This is also just an excellent schematic matchup for the Rams, who have dominated the Seattle defense under Sean McVay. Seattle isn't as heavy cover 3 as they used to be, but they still use it frequently and are still one of the heavier zone defenses in the league. That bodes well for the return of Matt Stafford, who has eaten up the types of defenses he will see on Sunday.
Seattle's defense is overrated in my eyes. Look no further than the results we see whenever it goes up against a competent offense. The Seahawks also won't generate a ton of pressure, which means Stafford should have ample time in the pocket to pick apart the zone looks he'll get on the back end.
On the other side of the ball, expect Geno Smith to make a key mistake or two that flips this game in the favor of the home team, which should move the ball efficiently all afternoon. Give me the Rams to continue their dominance over the Seahawks in what I refer to as one of the pillars of the circle of life in the NFC West.
Trending: Sean McVay has historically opened Pete Carroll with an overall 10-4 ATS (71.4%) mark, which includes an impressive average cover margin of over five points per game. That ATS mark also improves to 10-2 as an underdog or favorite of less than a touchdown. He's fared even better in recent seasons, covering nine of their past 10 meetings, including the postseason. McVay has also thrived in his career following a loss against the number, going 23-14-3 (62.2%) in this spot, including a ridiculous 15-5-2 (75%) mark as an underdog or favorite of less than a field goal.
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