Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (3-4)
The Titans may be just 3-3, but they actually rank 4th in the NFL in first down percentage differential. They’ve been competitive in every game and have a -15 point differential on the season, despite being -5 in return touchdown differential. Aside from those 5 plays, they have a +19 point differential and have quietly played very solid football this season. They’ve allowed just 12 offensive touchdowns all season on 74 drives (two of which came after recovered onside kicks) and have 19 more first downs than their opponents. In offensive touchdowns, they have a +6 advantage (18 to 12).
That doesn’t mean the Titans are the 4th best team in the NFL or anything, but they’re better than their record suggests. Much healthier and more talented than they were in 2015, the Titans run the ball well, have a great offensive line, and play strong defense. They’ve just had a lot of bad luck thus far. The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 19th in first down percentage differential, very much in line with their 2-4 record. Despite the mere half game separating these two teams, the Titans have a significant advantage and should be favored by more than a field goal at home. This line suggests these two teams are more or less even on a neutral field. As long as this line is 3, Tennessee is worth a bet, though I’d lay off at 3.5 because of how common field goal games are.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5)
The 49ers are one of the worst teams in the league and there are very few teams I’d predict them to defeat, but I think the Buccaneers might be one. The Buccaneers enter in 28th in first down percentage differential and are very banged up. They’re missing their top-2 running backs, Doug Martin and Charles Sims, starting wide receiver Vincent Jackson, starting left guard JR Sweezy, starting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, and top pass rusher Robert Ayers. With those players, this is one of the 5 least talented teams in the league.
That being said, the 49ers are probably still an inferior team (25th in first down percentage differential despite an easy schedule), so we’re not getting great a value with this even line. The 49ers get top cornerback Jimmie Ward back from injury this week, but lose starting running back Carlos Hyde on the offensive side of the ball. He’s been by far their most effective offensive weapon this season. I couldn’t be confident in the 49ers, but I am picking them to win their 2nd game of the season here at home against a banged up Tampa Bay team.
New England Patriots (5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
The Patriots really lucked out by getting the Steelers at a time in which they’re incredibly banged up. The biggest injury is the one that has Ben Roethlisberger out for at least this week and likely several weeks. Instead, backup Landry Jones will start in his absence. The dropoff from Roethlisberger to Jones is as big as any starter to backup dropoff in the NFL. It’s not just Roethlisberger though, as the Steelers are also missing defensive end Cameron Heyward, their top defensive player, and starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert. This line moved from even on the early line last week to 7.5 in favor of the visiting New England Patriots this week, primarily as a result of the Roethlisberger injury, but also as a result of how poorly their defense played in Miami last week without Heyward. That might be a little bit too much of a line movement, so I’m taking the Steelers, but I’m not confident at all.
I’m torn on this one. On one hand, the Chargers are in a tough spot. Because of a weird scheduling quirk, this road game against the Falcons is wedged between two meetings in a three week period with division rival Denver on San Diego’s schedule. The Chargers won last week at home in upset fashion and then have to travel to Denver next week after this game, where the early line has them as 7 point road underdogs. That puts San Diego in a couple of bad spots. For one, teams are 53-76 ATS off of a win as home underdogs, as teams tend to be overconfident and/or overvalued off of a victory like that. Two, underdogs of 6 or more are 47-74 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6 or more again, as the Chargers likely will be next week. The Falcons are a quality opponent and the Chargers could easily not be as focused as they need to be to keep this one close, given how bad of a spot this is for them.
On the other hand, the Chargers almost never get blown out. I know this line is only 6 and a 7+ point win isn’t necessarily a blowout, but the Chargers have lost just 3 games by more than 8 points in the last two seasons combined and just 8 games by more than 6 points. They’ve been especially good on the road, where they’re 8-3 ATS in the past 2 seasons and haven’t lost been more than 7 points in any of their previous 9 road games. The Chargers enter this game incredibly banged up, with key guys like Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, and Jason Verrett out for the season, but they’re still playing pretty well. Despite their 2-4 record, they rank 7th in first down percentage differential and haven’t lost by more than 6 points all season. That’s actually one spot better than the 4-2 Falcons, who rank 8th in that metric. I’m taking the Chargers, but I’m not confident in them at all because they’re in a terrible spot.
The Seahawks have a better record than the Cardinals, but the Cardinals have a first down percentage differential of 7.67% (best in the NFL) and a point differential of +49 (6th best in the NFL), while the Seahawks have a first down percentage differential of 3.47% (4th best in the NFL) and a point differential of +27 (10th best in the NFL). That’s despite the fact that the Seahawks have had arguably the easiest schedule in the league thus far. They’ve played the 49ers, Rams, Jets, and Dolphins, 4 of the worst teams in the NFL, and won by just 2 last week at home against the Falcons, easily their toughest opponent of the season. Arizona is even tougher and this time the game is on the road.
The Cardinals are without wide receiver John Brown, while quarterback Carson Palmer is reportedly less than 100% with a hamstring injury, but the Seahawks are missing safety Kam Chancellor, easily the biggest absence in this game. Despite that, this line is even. Considering the Cardinals are at least as good as the Seahawks, if not better, this line should be at least 3 in favor of the home team Arizona Cardinals. We’re getting great line value with the Cardinals, who have arguably the best defense in the NFL.
The Cardinals are also in a great spot coming off of a Monday Night Football 28-3 blowout victory over the Jets, as teams are 35-16 ATS since 2002 off of a Monday Night Football win by 21 or more. The Seahawks are in a good spot too though, with an easy road game in New Orleans on deck, while the Cardinals next travel to Carolina for an NFC Championship rematch from a year ago. The early line has the Seahawks as 5.5 point road favorites in New Orleans and teams are 81-57 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites of 4 or more. Still, the Cardinals are the pick here as long as the line stays under a field goal.
Indianapolis Colts (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (3-3)
The Titans may be just 3-3, but they actually rank 2nd in the NFL in first down percentage differential. They’ve been competitive in every game and have a -7 point differential on the season, despite being -4 in return touchdown differential. Aside from those 4 plays, they have a +20 point differential and have quietly played very solid football this season. They’ve allowed just 9 touchdowns all season on 63 drives and have 19 more first downs than their opponents. That doesn’t mean the Titans are the 2nd best team in the NFL or anything, but they’re better than their record suggests. Much healthier and more talented than they were in 2015, the Titans run the ball well, have a great offensive line, and play strong defense.
The Colts, meanwhile, have one of the weakest rosters in the NFL outside of the quarterback position. They enter this game 30th in first down percentage differential, only ahead of the Browns and Jets, thanks to a defense that has allowed a league worst 143 first downs. They also enter this game incredible banged up. They’ll be without #2 and #3 wide receiver Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett, starting tight end Dwayne Allen, top offensive lineman Jack Mewhort, and top defensive lineman Henry Anderson. The Titans, meanwhile, are completely healthy. The Colts have the obvious advantage at quarterback, but the Titans have the advantage at every other position. This line is way too low at 3 because this line suggests that these two teams are even and that is not the case.
The Titans are in a bad spot though, as they have to play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 50-77 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2008. The Colts are coming off of a road overtime loss, which normally is a bad spot, but they’re lucky because they’re in their second of two road games here. Teams are 132-100 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 104-68 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games and 6-2 ATS in their 2nd of 2 road games off of an overtime loss. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 222-236 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.87 points per game, as opposed to 322-448 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.03 points per game. That being said, even though the Colts are in a better spot, I’m still confident enough in Tennessee at 3 to put money on them.
Cleveland Browns (0-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-4)
Despite being just 2-4, the Bengals are favored by double digits this week. That’s even rarer than you’d think, as just 4 other teams since 1993 have been favored by double digits despite having a winning percentage of .333 or worse in week 6 or later. Teams are 3-4-1 ATS in that spot since 1989, so the Bengals’ record doesn’t neccessary mean they will fail to cover as favorites of this many points, but whether or not they deserve to be favored by 10 points here at home against the Browns is a major question.
There’s good argument to be made that they do, despite their record. The Browns are one of the worst teams in the league, arguably the worst with all of the injuries they’re dealing with right now. They lost talented left guard Joel Bitonio for the season last week and will be without top cornerback Joe Haden again this week. Meanwhile, top receiver Terrelle Pryor could miss this week’s game, meaning the Browns would be without both week 1 starting wide receivers (Corey Coleman has been out since week 2). The Browns enter this game 31st in first down percentage differential, only ahead of the Jets, and they’re even less talented than the Jets are.
The Bengals, meanwhile, rank just 26th in first down percentage, but they’ve been significantly better than the Browns in that measure, especially given how tough their schedule has been. They’re 2-4 in large part because they’ve played Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and Denver, all of whom are division leaders. It’s concerning that they’ve been unable to beat these teams, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that they could beat the Browns by double digits. However, I am going with the Browns, as they’re in a better spot than the Bengals.
The Bengals have a London game on deck and teams understandably struggle before playing an international game, going 8-19 ATS all-time. The Browns, meanwhile, are in their 2nd of two road games, which historically has been an advantage for teams. Teams are 132-100 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 104-68 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 222-236 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.87 points per game, as opposed to 322-448 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.03 points per game. There’s not quite enough here for me to put money on the Browns, but they should be the right side.
I’m torn on this one. On one hand, this line has for some reason gotten higher in favor of Denver in the past week, climbing from 6.5 to 9, even though the Texans won at home against the Colts and the Broncos lost on the road to the Chargers. Nine points is a lot of points to give with a team like Denver whose offense has disappeared in the past 2 weeks, causing the Broncos to drop back-to-back games after an impressive 4-0 start.
Ordinarily, 2 bad games after 4 good ones wouldn’t be a reason for concern, especially considering one of those games was started by a backup quarterback, but the Broncos struggled mightily on offense all last season and needed to pull off a lot of close victories to not just win the Super Bowl, but even get into the playoffs. They won just 3 regular season games by more than 7 points all last season. They’ve already won 3 games by more than 7 points this this season, but their recent offensive skid is cause for concern. Trevor Siemian is an underwhelming talent and inexperienced starter at quarterback and the league may be figuring him out. Their issues go beyond the quarterback position, as their running game and offensive line have really struggled in the past 2 weeks and they lack a capable 3rd receiver in the passing game.
On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that the Broncos are not still a tough opponent, particularly at home, given how good their defense is. The Texans are not as good as their 4-2 record suggests as their 4 wins have come at home by a combined 26 points against the likes of Tennessee, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Chicago and they’ve gotten crushed in their two road games against tough opponents, losing by 27 in New England (who was playing a 3rd string quarterback) and 18 in Minnesota. They rank just 18th in first down percentage differential and are even less talented than that suggests because they’re without top defender JJ Watt for the season. I’m taking the Texans, but I can’t be confident at all.
Los Angeles Rams (3-3) vs. New York Giants (3-3) at London
The Rams have fallen back to earth in the last 2 weeks, losing back-to-back games after a surprising 3-1 start. They’re healthier now than they’ve been for a couple weeks, getting defensive ends Robert Quinn and William Hayes back from injury, but they’re still without defensive tackle Michael Brockers and cornerback Trumaine Johnson. They’ll be better defensively with their top-2 pass rushers back, but they’re far from good even with Quinn and Hayes. On the season, they rank 29th in first down percentage differential. Even when they started the season 3-1, they lost the first down percentage battle in all 3 games. Their 3 wins have come by a combined 15 points, but their losses have come by a combined 42, giving them a point differential of -27, 7th worst in the NFL.
The Giants, meanwhile, are better on both sides of the ball and come into this game ranked 6th in first down percentage differential. They’re just 3-3, but that’s pretty impressive considering they’re -10 in turnover margin. Turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent from week-to-week and if the Giants have just an even turnover margin going forward it should be noticeable on the scoreboard. It also helps that the Rams are probably the worst team they’ve played all year, as the Giants have had the toughest strength of schedule of any team thus far this season. This team is better than their record and the schedule is easier moving forward, starting this week. Not only is 3 points is too few, but the favorite also usually covers in these London games, going 9-4 ATS in the last 13, as better teams tend to do a better job of handling a weird situation like this. I like the Giants at 3 and I like them a lot more than 2.5 if you can get it.
One of my favorite things to do as a bettor is go against significant week-to-week line movements. Ordinarily, they’re the result of overreaction to a single week and they create line value in either direction. The line did only move a point from 2 on the early line last week to 3 this week, but, considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, that’s a significant movement. In this case, the Bills’ 45-16 trouncing of the lowly 49ers is likely the reason behind the line movement, but the Dolphins had arguably just as impressive, if not more impressive of a week, winning 30-15 at home against a good Steeler team.
The Bills are a better team than the Dolphins, coming into this game in 9th in first down percentage differential, while the Dolphins come in 21st, but I still think we’re getting good value with the Dolphins as field goal home underdogs. Homefield is usually about 3 points, so that suggests the Dolphins would be around 8 or 9 point underdogs in Buffalo, which is what San Francisco was last week. The Dolphins are significantly better than the 49ers. They’re without top safety Reshad Jones with a season ending injury, a huge loss for this secondary, but Buffalo is expected to be without running back LeSean McCoy and remain without top defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. In addition, Miami is going into only their 2nd game of the season with a fully healthy offensive line and it seemed to make a big difference last week.
The Bills are also in an obvious look-ahead situation with a huge divisional game against the Patriots next week. That game could potentially be for the division and would give the Bills their first season sweep of the Patriots in the Tom Brady era. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Bills seem less focused and play less than their best this week, especially given how much Rex Ryan is obsessed with trying to beating Bill Belichick. The early line has the Bills as 6 point home underdogs and road favorites are understandably just 16-30 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs. In addition, teams are just 37-85 ATS since 2012 before a home game in which they’ll be underdogs of at least 4.5 points. The only reason this isn’t my Pick of the Week is because the Dolphins are coming off of a home upset victory and teams are 53-76 ATS in that spot since 2012, but I’m still very confident in the Dolphins getting a field goal.
New Orleans Saints (2-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-2)
The Saints pulled off a big upset win over the Panthers last week, winning 41-38 in a crazy shootout. That’s obviously a huge win, even if the Panthers aren’t what they were last year, but teams tend not to cover off of a big home upset victory, as teams are 53-76 ATS following a home upset victory since 2012. It makes sense that teams would be overconfident and/or overvalued off of a home upset victory. On top of that, the Saints have to turn around and hose the Seahawks next week, another huge home game. The early line has them as 5.5 point home underdogs and teams are just 37-85 ATS since 2012 before a home game in which they’ll be underdogs of at least 4.5 points, which also makes sense. Huge upcoming home games can be a distraction for teams.
The Chiefs are at least a solid opponent as well, ranking 12th in first down percentage differential, but it’s very possible the Saints won’t be focused this week or at least won’t be focused enough to keep it close here against a superior Chiefs team. We’re not really getting much line value with the Chiefs as 6 point favorites and there’s not quite enough for me to put money on this (though that might change if it drops to 5.5), but Kansas City should be the right side here.
Minnesota Vikings (5-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2)
The 5-0 Vikings are the NFL’s final remaining undefeated team. They’ve been impressive overall, but their offense actually has struggled to move the ball effectively for most of the season. On 310 offensive plays, they have just 87 first downs (fewest in the NFL) and 9 touchdowns (2nd fewest in the NFL), a 30.97% first down percentage, 31st in the NFL. As a result, they rank just 16th in first down percentage differential, despite an outstanding defense that allows the 4th lowest first down percentage.
They’re 5-0 largely because of a +11 turnover margin and a +4 return touchdown margin. That’s very impressive, but it’s also unsustainable. In fact, there’s almost no week-to-week correlation in turnover margins; teams that have strong turnover margins in one week are just as likely to have poor turnover margins the following week as any other team. If the Vikings are going to continue winning, they’re going to have to play better and won’t be able to rely on the turnover margin.
They have a tough test this week on the road in Philadelphia and have a good chance to lose their first game of the season. The Eagles were the best team in the league through the first 3 games of the season, defeating Cleveland, Chicago, and Pittsburgh all by double digits, the only team in the league to win each of their first 3 games by double digits. They’ve since lost 2 straight, but their loss in Detroit came by just one point and it’s very possible they got caught looking forward to this game in last week’s 7 point loss in Washington.
Overall on the season, they still rank 17th in first down percentage differential, just one spot behind the Vikings and they should be much more focused and this week. Last week’s loss in Washington moved this line from Philadelphia being favored by a point on the early line to Philadelphia now being 3 point home underdogs. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so getting a full field goal is more than it seems. Considering I have these teams about even and the Eagles should probably be favored by a full field goal at home, getting the full field goal with them is a great value.
I love to fade significant week-to-week line movements whenever it makes sense and it makes sense here. Also, despite the line movement, the public is still all over Minnesota and I also love fading the public whenever it makes sense as the public always loses money in the long run. The only reason Philadelphia isn’t my pick of the week is they have another tough game on deck against the Cowboys, while the Vikings have a very easy game in Chicago, meaning they have no real upcoming potential distractions, while the Eagles do. Teams are 81-57 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 4+ and the Vikings are 5.5 point favorites in Chicago on the early line. I still like the Eagles a lot at a field goal though, as a field goal is a good amount of protection at home against a team with an underwhelming offense.
I have these two teams as more or less equal. They’re also very similar, as both teams have effective offenses, but weak defenses. In terms of first down percentage, Detroit ranks 4th offensively and Washington ranks 5th, but Washington is a few spots higher on the defensive side (25th and 30th) and, as a result, a few spots higher overall (20th vs. 23th). However, the Lions have been without top defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah for most of the season thus far (limited to 85 snaps in 3 games by injury).
The Lions remain without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker DeAndre Levy, two key players on this defense, but Ansah is now in his 2nd game back and could make a big impact on this game, after playing just 32 snaps in his first game back last week. Meanwhile, the Redskins are without tight end Jordan Reed, arguably their best offensive weapon. The Redskins won without Reed last week, but he’s such a good player that it really hurts to not have him out there. Despite that, the Lions are only favored by a point here at home. These two teams are even, so this line should be at least 3 in favor of the host.
On top of that, the Redskins are in a bad spot coming off of last week’s home upset victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Teams tend not to cover off of a big home upset victory, as teams are 53-76 ATS following a home upset victory since 2012. It makes sense that teams would be overconfident and/or overvalued off of a home upset victory. On top of that, the Redskins have to fly overseas and play the Bengals in London next week and teams are 8-19-1 ATS before playing in London all-time, which also makes sense. As long as this line is under 3, it’s worth putting money on Detroit. This figures to be a shootout, but the Lions should be able to win by at least a field goal at home.
Oakland Raiders (4-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3)
The Raiders were one of my underrated teams coming into the season but, despite a 4-2 start, I’ve been very disappointed with them. Their record is misleading, as their first 5 games were all decided by a touchdown or fewer (with 3 of them decided by 3 points or fewer). The only game they’ve played that’s been decisive either way was last week’s crushing 26-10 home loss to divisional rival Kansas City. They also rank 27th in first down percentage differential, thanks primarily to a defense that ranks 29th in first down percentage allowed.
Their offense, which ranks 9th in first down percentage, might actually be exceeding my expectations a little bit, but their defense has been horrendous, as they have not played up to their talent level at all. That could still happen going forward, as they are, on paper, one of the more complete teams in the NFL, with strong talent on both sides of the ball, but it’s far from a guarantee at this point. A week ago, I would have been all over Oakland as underdogs of any amount of points in Jacksonville, but I’m less confident in them now, as 1 point road underdogs.
I am still taking Oakland though and it’s not because, on paper, they have a significant talent advantage. They’re also in a much better spot than the Jaguars, who have to turn around and play division rival Tennessee on Thursday Night next week. Favorites are just 50-77 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2008. The Raiders, meanwhile, go to Tampa Bay next week to take on a Buccaneers team that isn’t that good, so they don’t have any upcoming distractions. On top of that, the Raiders have been much better on the road (13-6 ATS) than at home (6-12 ATS) over the past few years, dating back to 2014. I’m still putting money on the Raiders, but this would have been a higher confidence pick a week ago.
No team has had a bigger drop-off from 2015 to 2016 than the New York Jets. A year removed from going 10-6 and finishing 2nd in first down percentage differential, the Jets are now 1-5 and rank dead last in that metric. They entered the season with one of the oldest rosters in the league, so some drop-off was to be expected, but they’ve been night and day different than last year. The obvious culprit is the offense, where veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been easily the worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season and has looked lost without injured wide receiver Eric Decker, who is out for the season. However, their defense has been just as bad. One year after finishing 1st in first down percentage allowed, they enter this game 28th in that metric, just one spot worse than their offense, which enters in 29th in first down percentage.
The Jets have made the switch at quarterback from Fitzpatrick to backup Geno Smith, who will be making his first start since 2014 this week. He’s unlikely to be better though, as he looked overmatched as a starter in his first 2 seasons in the league in 2013 and 2014 and didn’t look much better in relief of Fitzpatrick last week. In his career, he’s completed 57.9% of his passes for an average of 6.84 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions. He also doesn’t have a lot of talent around him on either side of the ball; outside of the defensive line, this team doesn’t have a single above average position group.
Despite that, they’re actually favored at home in this matchup for some reason, as 2 point home favorites over the visiting Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are far from great, entering at 3-3 with all 6 games decided by a touchdown or less, and also enter this game very banged up, missing both starting outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, middle linebacker CJ Mosley, wide receiver Steve Smith, and right guard Marshal Yanda. Those are some of their best players. However, they still shouldn’t be getting points here on the road against an awful Jets team. Even as banged up as they are, they still have a significantly more talented roster than the Jets.
On top of that, the Ravens are in a great spot in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 132-100 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 104-68 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 222-236 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.87 points per game, as opposed to 322-448 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.03 points per game. In fact, the Ravens have actually played a game in New York more recently than the Jets did, losing a close one to the Giants last week. The Jets, meanwhile, have had to fly to the West Coast and back in the past week, with a crushing 28-3 defeat in Arizona on Monday Night Football in between. I don’t see them being able to bounce back on a short week. The Ravens are my Pick of the Week.
Baltimore Ravens 20 New York Jets 16 Upset Pick +105
This is a tough one to start the week. On one hand, the line shifted from 10.5 to 8 over the past week, as a result of Green Bay’s home loss to a good Dallas team, so we’re getting the Packers in a buy low opportunity. The Bears, meanwhile, have another tough game on deck against the Vikings and tough home games like that often are distraction for teams, as teams are 48-94 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs since 2012. The Bears are expected to be at least home underdogs of that many points.
However, the Packers have a tough game on deck as well, as they head to Atlanta to face a good Falcons team next week. More important, even at 8, this line might be too high the way the Packers are playing right now. They enter this game just 13th in first down percentage differential, thanks to an offense that shockingly ranks just 14th in first down percentage. The Bears are not too much farther down at 19. Of course, if Aaron Rodgers can play like himself again, this line might be a good value in the other direction.
That’s far from a given though, as Rodgers has looked average at best since the start of last season. Last year, it was understandable because the Packers were missing top receiver Jordy Nelson and had other banged up players on offense, but Nelson is back and the Packers have been relatively healthy around him this season. Now in his age 33 season, it’s fair to question if he’s losing it a little bit, even in an era where top quarterbacks are staying top quarterbacks into their mid-to-late 30s.
Making matters worse, the Packers are missing a lot of key players on a short week, most notably running back Eddie Lacy. With backup running back James Starks also out, the Packers are very thin at the position and may have to start Knile Davis, acquired just this week from the Chiefs in a trade. They’re also very thin at cornerback, missing their top 3 cornerbacks with injury, Sam Shields, Quinten Rollins, and Damarious Randall. However, on paper, they still have enough of a talent advantage to cover this spread if everyone plays like they should. On top of that, Rodgers is 26-13 ATS off a loss in his career and him having a huge game that shuts up all of his critics (for now) is certainly not out of the question, especially against a mediocre Bears pass defense. Especially with another tough game on deck, I couldn’t bet anything on the Bears this week, but they’re the pick here.
The Bills have bounced back in a big way from an 0-2 start. After losing at home to the Jets on Thursday Night week 2, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, which appeared to be a desperation move at the time. With upcoming games against the Cardinals and Patriots, an 0-4 start and a Rex Ryan firing seemed likely. Instead, the Bills ripped off 3 straight wins, beating the Cardinals and the Patriots and then the Rams last week. Now they host the lowly 49ers with a good shot to improve to 4-2.
The question is whether or not they deserve to be favored by 9 points here. The 49ers have one of the worst rosters in the league, especially without middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman and cornerback Jimmie Ward, but the Bills rank just 23rd in first down percentage and probably shouldn’t be favored by this many points against anyone, especially with stud defensive lineman Marcell Dareus missing his 6th straight game thanks to a combination of suspension and injury. I can’t be confident in the 49ers, but they’re the pick here.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) at Washington Redskins (3-2)
This line was even last week, but has since shifted a full three points, with the Eagles now favored by a field goal in Washington, despite the fact that Philadelphia lost in Detroit and Washington won in Baltimore. Ordinarily, I like to fade significant line movements, but Philadelphia has been on my underrated list pretty much all year and I think it’s fair that they’re field goal favorites here against a Redskins team that is significantly inferior, especially without talented tight end Jordan Reed. The Eagles enter this game 2nd in first down percentage differential, while the Redskins are at 26th. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins has a 14:13 touchdown to interception ratio without Jordan Reed over the past two seasons, as opposed to 32:12 when he’s in the lineup. That might not all be him, but a lot of it is. I can’t be confident in the Eagles at a 3, but they should be the right side.
This line has shifted a half point since the early line last week, as the Giants are now 3.5 point favorites. That might not seem like a huge line movement, but, considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, it’s a very significant half point. Ordinarily, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements, but in this case the movement makes sense, as the Ravens are expected to be without edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, wide receiver Steve Smith, middle linebacker CJ Mosley, right guard Marshal Yanda, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. That’s a huge chunk of their team they’re missing.
Smith, Mosley, and Yanda are missing their first games of the season, while Dumervil is out again after re-injuring his foot, which originally cost him the first 3 games of the season. Yanda is an especially big loss, as he’s one of the best guards in the league. Without him and Stanley (who will miss his 3rd straight game) on the line, this offense figures to continue to struggle. All that being said, I’m still taking the Ravens because the Giants have a London game on deck and teams understandably are 7-19 ATS before a London game all-time and because 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. I have no confidence in Baltimore, but they’re the pick at 3.5. At 3, I might change my pick. That’s how close this is.
The early line had the Texans as 3.5 point home favorites here over the Colts, but the line has been at 3 this week. That’s only a half point, but considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal and 1 in 4 games are decided by less than a field goal, it’s a significant half point. Right now, this line suggests these two teams are not even, which has not been true thus far this season. The Texans enter this game 22nd in first down percentage, while the Colts enter in 29th, thanks to a defense that ranks dead last in first down percentage allowed.
Something will have to give, as the Texans come in dead last in first down percentage on offense. The Texans have scored just 6 offensive touchdowns in 5 games this season, despite off-season additions of wide receiver Will Fuller and running back Lamar Miller. That’s because their offensive line has been a mess, thanks to injuries and off-season departures, while free agent acquisition quarterback Brock Osweiler has been even worse than last year’s quarterback Brian Hoyer thus far this season, at a price of 18 million annually. The defense has been strong, but is not the same without the injured JJ Watt, so I’m not confident in Houston, but, all things considered, Houston is the better team. Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the Colts have one of the worst rosters around him in the league.
Carolina Panthers (1-4) at New Orleans Saints (1-3)
The Panthers have had a rough start to their season to say the least. A year after losing just one regular season game en route to a Super Bowl appearance, the Panthers have started 1-4 and have a big uphill climb to even make the playoffs. In order to win 10 games, the Panthers now have to win 9 of their final 11 games. That being said, I wouldn’t rule that out. The Panthers still have one of the most talented rosters in the league, but have suffered bad luck early in the year. Three of their losses came against tough opponents in the Broncos (who they could have beaten if not for a missed field goal), Vikings, and Falcons, while their 4th loss came in a game in which they were without concussed quarterback Cam Newton and still had a shot to win despite a -4 turnover margin. Newton is back this week (as is running back Jonathan Stewart) and turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week to week basis. Teams that have a -4 turnover margin on average have a turnover margin of +0.1 the following week.
The Panthers are underrated coming into this game, as mere 3 point road favorites against a Saints team that is probably a bottom-10 team, especially without left tackle Terron Armstead, cornerback Delvin Breaux, and first round pick defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who are all injured. The Panthers aren’t quite as talented as they were last year, especially without cornerback Josh Norman, but them going 9-2 the rest of the way isn’t crazy. It’ll be tough, but just looking at their schedule, there’s only two games the rest of the way where they figure to be underdogs (@ Oakland and @ Seattle) if they stay healthy. They’re a talented team and could start a run to the playoffs with a big victory against an inferior Saints team in New Orleans. There’s not quite enough for me to put money on the Panthers, but that changes if the line falls under 3.
This line at 3 suggests these two teams are equal. I disagree with that. Despite, having a worse record than the Rams, the Lions are the significantly superior team in this matchup. Despite having three wins, the Rams rank dead last in first down percentage differential and have had a worse first down percentage than their opponents in all 5 games thus far. Their 3 wins have come by a combined 15 points, while their 2 losses have come by a combined 39 points. Their -24 point differential is 8th worst in the NFL and they’re legitimately a few plays away from being 1-4 or even 0-5. They have 36 fewer first downs than their opponents and have one of the worst rosters in the entire NFL.
The Rams could get defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, and William Hayes all back from injury this week, after all three missed last week’s home loss to the Bills. Those three are a huge part of their defense and are game-time decisions at worst after returning to a limited practice on Friday and being listed as questionable. However, even with those three back, this is not a good team, especially with top cornerback Trumaine Johnson missing this game with injury. The Lions, meanwhile, rank 19th in first down percentage differential and get one of their best players back from injury this week, as defensive end Ezekiel Ansah returns for the first time since getting injured week 2.
Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy remains out and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata joins him, but Ansah is arguably their best defensive player and a huge re-addition to a defense that ranks 27th in first down percentage allowed. Their offense has been much better, ranking 5th in first down percentage. The Lions are a much better and much more complete team than the Rams here and should be favored by at least 6. On top of that, the Rams have a London game on deck and teams are understandably 7-19 ATS all-time before playing in London. This is a big wager on the Lions at 3 and still worth a bet even at 3.5.
The Cowboys pulled an impressive home upset victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last week, winning 28-14. Ordinarily, teams struggle after a home upset victory, as teams are 53-77 ATS in that spot since 2012. One of the reasons for that is home upset wins tend to move future lines significantly and that’s the case in this game, as the Cowboys went from 6.5 point underdogs on the early line last week to now 4.5 point underdogs. Typically, I like to bet against significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. However, I don’t think this line is unreasonable at 4.5 at all, as the Cowboys have been one of the best teams in the league thus far this season and showed it with a statement win over a capable Cincinnati team last week.
The Cowboys are 4-1, legitimately a few plays away from being 5-0 (their only loss came by 1 week 1), and rank 9th in first down percentage differential. Green Bay, who ranks 6th in that metric, is the toughest team the Cowboys have faced thus far, but close to 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so I like their chances of keeping it close and covering this 4.5 point spread. Worst case scenario, if the Cowboys are down 10 or 11 late, I like their chances of pulling off a backdoor cover.
The Packers are also in a tough spot, as they have to turn around and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are 50-75 ATS since 2008 before a Thursday night game. The Packers used to have a big advantage in Lambeau Field, going 36-23 ATS at home from 2008-2014, but they are just 4-5-1 ATS at home in the last 2 seasons. Meanwhile, the Cowboys typically travel well, thanks to a national fanbase. Since 2010, they’ve outscored opponents by 0.87 points per game at home and been outscored by 0.72 points per game on the road, meaning their homefield advantage hasn’t even been worth a point over that time period. They’re also 20-12 ATS as road underdogs over that time period. I’d put money on the Cowboys at 4.5, but I’d hold off at 4. The Cowboys are the pick though.
This is a tough one. On one hand, the Cardinals were 6.5 point favorites on the early line last week and now are 8 point favorites, so we’ve lost value with them in the last week. Meanwhile, the Jets are in a great spot in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 133-98 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 108-66 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 233-234 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.49 points per game, as opposed to 333-455 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.80 points per game.
On the other hand, the Cardinals are much better than their 2-3 record suggests and 8 might still be too low for this line, as there’s a major talent gap between these two teams. Despite their record, they still rank 4th in first down percentage differential and have a point differential of +24, 10th best in the NFL. Their offense (which ranks 13th in first down percentage) hasn’t been as good as last season, but their defense has been just as good, entering this game 6th in first down percentage allowed.
Their offense gets a boost this week with Carson Palmer returning from a one-game concussion absence, but Palmer hasn’t played nearly as well this season as last season and the Cardinals will be without both talented guards Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati with injury in this one. Even without them, Palmer still has a ton of talent around him on offense and the Cardinals are still a lot better than the Jets, who rank 30th in first down percentage differential and have one of the weakest rosters in the NFL, without stud wide receiver Eric Decker for the season and without top linebacker David Harris at least for this week. I can’t be confident in the Cardinals at 8, especially with the Jets in a good spot, but they should be the right side.
The Falcons have started an impressive 4-1, with wins over Oakland, Carolina, and Denver, three tough football teams. Last week, they beat the Broncos by a touchdown in Denver, as 4 point underdogs. This week, they’re 6.5 point underdogs in Seattle. The Seahawks are a better team than the Broncos on both sides of the ball, especially since Denver was starting backup quarterback Paxton Lynch, but it’s fair to question if this line is too high. The Falcons were 7 point underdogs on the early line last week, meaning this line only shifted a half point for the Falcons’ surprising and impressive victory last week. I think the talent gap between these two teams is a little closer than this line suggests. We’re not getting a ton of line value, but I would have had the line at like 5.
More importantly, the Falcons are in a much better spot than the Seahawks. This is third of three tough games (Carolina, Denver, Seattle) for Atlanta, before they host the Chargers next week. With no upcoming distractions, they should be completely focused here. Meanwhile, the Seahawks head to Arizona next week, to face last year’s division winner. While the Falcons will definitely be favorites next week, the Seahawks are likely to be underdogs. Underdogs are 83-58 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs. I see this being a close game and I like Atlanta’s backdoor cover chances even if they’re down like 10 or 13 late. As long as you get 6 or higher, Atlanta is worth a bet.