The Browns lost last week in previously 0-6 Jacksonville, doing so in embarrassing fashion, losing by the finale score of 24-6 and getting dominated in the chain game. They moved the chains at a mere 46.43% rate, as opposed to 65.71% for the Jaguars, a differential of -19.29% that was the 2nd worst by a team last week. That brought the Browns down to 19th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season, as they move the chains at a 72.40% rate, as opposed to 73.56% for their opponents, a differential of -1.16%. However, we still might be getting line value with the Browns because of how bad the Raiders are. The Raiders rank dead last in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 67.74% rate, as opposed to 77.84% for their opponents, a differential of -10.09%.
The Raiders are also in a terrible spot as they have to go to Seattle next week. Teams are 40-81 ATS before being double digit underdogs since 2010. That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you have a very tough game coming up that serves as a distraction. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. I think it’s both in this situation. In spite of all this, the public is actually on the underdog, expecting the Browns to have trouble with a 0-6 team for the 2nd straight week. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense, especially when they’re on an underdog. Despite those three things, I can’t bring myself to be too confident in the Browns.
Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-3-1)
The Seahawks failed to even win last week as significant favorites in St. Louis and now they’re significant favorites again here in Carolina. I like their chances of bouncing back and getting back in the win column here though. For one, this is the Seahawks’ 2nd of two road games, which tends to be an easier time for teams than a team’s first game on the road. Teams are 177-184 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.20 points per game, as opposed to 252-363 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.29 points per game. Going off of that, road favorites are 33-22 ATS off of a road loss since 2008 as long as it’s the 2nd of two road favorites, including 15-7 ATS as road favorites off of a loss as road favorites.
The Seahawks also generally do well off of a loss, going 7-3 ATS in the Russell Wilson era. Sure, they were coming off of a loss last week and didn’t get it done, but they could easily have a different result here. The Seahawks are also in a great spot as teams are 68-53 ATS before being double digit favorites since 2002. The Seahawks have an incredibly easy game next week at home for the Seahawks. Sure, they were in a good spot last week before being significant road favorites and didn’t get the job done, but history still suggests they’re due to turn it around here.
However, while I like the Seahawks’ chances of bouncing back and getting the win here, I’m not confident they’ll cover this 5 point spread, even with all of the aforementioned trends in play. This line might just be too high for a Seattle team that has been fairly average this season. They rank just 14th in the NFL, moving the chains at a 75.14% rate, as opposed to 74.59% for their opponents, a differential of 0.55%. Sure, they’re the Seahawks and could easily get it together and end up much higher by the end of the season, but there are no guarantees. Super Bowl winners have disappointed over the past decade and the Seahawks are dealing with significant injuries to guys like Max Unger, Bobby Wagner, and Byron Maxwell.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are moving the chains at a 74.78% rate, as opposed to 77.39% for their opponents, a differential of -2.61% that ranks 22nd in the NFL. That’s not great, but purely looking at rate of moving the chains suggests we’re getting significant line value with the Panthers. I’m certainly not confident because the trends suggest the Seahawks are the right side and the Seahawks could at any bounce back and become what they were last season. This is still a scary football team. The Panthers are my pick though.
This line shifted from even last week to now the Jets being favored by a field goal. The primary reason for that has to be the Percy Harvin trade, as people don’t seem to realize that Harvin wasn’t doing much in Seattle this season and that he probably doesn’t know the entire Jets playbook yet or have chemistry developed with quarterback Geno Smith. It’s disappointing that this line shifted so much as it robbed us of an opportunity to fade a Bills team that isn’t as good as their record.
The Bills are somehow 4-3, though with 3 last second wins by a combined 5 points. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they rank just 24th, moving the chains at a 65.22% rate, as opposed to 68.44% for their opponents, a differential of -3.23%. That being said, we’re actually now getting line value with the Bills as this line suggests these two teams are even, while in reality the Bills have played better this season. The Jets rank 26th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 68.42% rate, as opposed to 72.55% for their opponents, a differential of -4.13%. I have no confidence in the Bills though, especially since they’re a public underdog, but they’re my pick here as I’m going with fading line movement and picking the better team over fading the public.
Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
The Colts are arguably the best team in the NFL right now, or at least they’ve played like it through 7 games. With the exception of a 3 point home loss as 3 point home favorites to the Eagles, the Colts have covered every game this season. Both of their losses came against teams that currently have one loss and they came by a combined 10 points. Last week, they completely dominated Cincinnati 27-0, beating a solid team in embarrassing fashion, forcing 8 straight three and outs to start the season.
Andrew Luck is playing like the type of quarterback he was expected to become, completing 65.9% of his passes for an average 7.72 YPA, 19 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground on 30 carries. The defense has held up as well. Through 6 games, they are moving the chains at a 78.44% rate, as opposed to 67.65% for their opponents, a differential of 10.79% that is best in the NFL by over 3 percentage points (7.40% is the next best).
The Steelers, meanwhile, move the chains at a 74.11% rate, as opposed to 73.24% for their opponents, a differential of 0.87% that ranks 13th in the NFL. That suggests we’re getting significant line value with the Colts as mere field goal favorites here, even on the road. The Colts should be the right side, but I don’t like the idea of betting on such a heavy public favorite (more than 90% of the action is on Indianapolis) without a powerful trend supporting them, as the odds makers always come out on top.
The Texans are road favorites here, but they could easily be home underdogs next week when they host the Eagles. Road favorites are 76-118 ATS since 1989 before being home underdogs, including 18-27 ATS as divisional road favorites before being non-divisional home underdogs, as that upcoming game tends to be a major distraction. Even if that game has an even line (as the early line currently is) or the Texans are favored by 1-2 points, the logic still stands.
We’re also getting some line value with the Titans because the Texans aren’t as good as their 3-3 record suggests, as they move the chains at a 69.95% rate, as opposed to 73.39% for their opponents, a differential of -3.44% that ranks 25th in the NFL. The Titans aren’t good, moving the chains at a 69.35% rate, as opposed to 75.51% for their opponents, a differential of 6.16% that ranks 29th in the NFL, but the Texans shouldn’t be favored by a field goal on the road against anyone other than Oakland.
I’m not that confident in Tennessee because they’re starting unproven 6th round rookie Zach Mettenberger at quarterback. It’s possible he’s an upgrade over Charlie Whitehurst, who has started the last few games for them, but he’s a complete wild card and the track record of late round rookies starting at quarterback isn’t great. It’s very possible Mettenberger is head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s next Ryan Lindley. The Titans should be the right side though.
The Chiefs have proven to be the real deal this year. A year after relying on weak competition, an unsustainable turnover margin, and no injuries to go 11-5, the Chiefs have now knocked off New England and San Diego and come within a touchdown of both Denver and San Francisco on the road, 4 teams that could easily be playoff teams when everything is said and done, despite suffering several significant injuries and having a -2 turnover margin on the season. They also blew out the Dolphins in Miami by a score of 34-15 and their victory over the Patriots was by a whopping 27 points.
Despite their 3-3 record, the Chiefs rank 5th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 77.42% rate, as opposed to 71.59% for their opponents, a differential of 5.83%. On top of that, their point differential is +21. All of this is despite the fact that they’ve played a fairly tough schedule thus far this season. The Rams, on the other hand, do not represent a tough opponent. They are moving the chains at a 74.87% rate, as opposed to 76.70% for their opponents, a differential of 1.84% that ranks 21st in the NFL. This line is too small at just a touchdown.
The Chiefs are also in the much better spot. While the Rams have another tough game in San Francisco next week, the Chiefs get to remain at home and take on the 1-win Jets. Non-divisional road underdogs are 51-78 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. On top of that, teams are 52-81 ATS since 2010 before being divisional underdogs of a touchdown or more, which the Rams almost definitely will be in San Francisco next week (the early line is 7.5). That could easily serve as a huge distraction.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have no distraction next week and they will almost definitely be touchdown favorites over the lowly Jets. Teams are 31-54 ATS since 2008 before being touchdown underdogs when their opponent will next be touchdown favorites, as teams in that situation are at such a disadvantage schedule wise. Going off of that, teams are 77-62 ATS as touchdown favorites before being touchdown favorites since 2008, while touchdown underdogs are 70-91 ATS before being touchdown underdogs over that same time period. Making matters even worse for the Rams, they’re coming off an emotional win over divisional Seattle. Teams are 37-53 ATS since 1989 off of a win by 3 or fewer as divisional underdogs of 6 or more. Teams also don’t have a strong track record of covering after beating the defending Super Bowl champion. The Chiefs should win easily here and are my survivor pick.
Kansas City Chiefs 27 St. Louis Rams 13 Survivor Pick
Miami Dolphins (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
I’m completely split on this one. On one hand, the Jaguars are in a bad spot, having to go to Cincinnati next week where they will almost certainly be double digit underdogs (the early line is 11). Teams are 40-81 ATS before being double digit underdogs since 2010. That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you have a very tough game coming up that serves as a distraction. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. I think it’s both in this situation.
The Jaguars rank just 30th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 65.70% rate, as opposed to 73.13% for their opponents, a differential of -7.43%. They have covered just 8 of their last 24 games, dating back to week 17 of 2012. Over those 24 games, they lost 15 of them by double digits and could easily make it 16 this week against a solid Miami team. The Dolphins are moving the chains at a 73.63% rate, as opposed to 71.27% for their opponents, a differential of 2.36% that ranks 9th in the NFL. That suggests this line should be around a touchdown, which gives us a little bit of line value with Miami -6.
On the other hand, the Jaguars have been playing much better football of late. Blake Bortles has proven to be an upgrade over Chad Henne at quarterback (which isn’t hard) and head coach Gus Bradley, the ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator, has this defense playing a lot better recently. They haven’t lost by double digits in any of their last 3 games (which is an accomplishment for this franchise) and they dominated a decent Browns team last week.
Over the past 4 games, since benching Henne, they are moving the chains at a 69.60% rate, as opposed to 65.74% for their opponents, a differential of 3.86%. That’s much better than their first 3 games, when they moved the chains at a 59.76% rate, as opposed to 79.83% for their opponents, a differential of -20.08%. On top of that, the Dolphins have a much tougher game next week against the Chargers back in Miami, where they could easily be home underdogs. Non-divisional road favorites are 22-40 since 1989 before being non-divisional home underdogs, as that upcoming game tends to be a major distraction. Even if that game has an even line (as the early line currently is) or the Dolphins are favored by 1-2 points, the logic still stands. I’m taking the Dolphins, but I’m not confident at all.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (5-1)
I’m not happy that these two teams are playing each other because I think they’re two of the most overrated teams in football. Neither is as good as their record and yet one will advance to 6-1, though I guess that’ll make for easier betting situations in the future. The Eagles are 5-1 on the strength of a +6 margin in return touchdowns and a 3-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. It’s hard to rely on those things long-term. In terms of pure rate of moving the chains, they are 17th in differential, moving the chains at a 70.50% rate, as opposed to 70.53% for their opponents. Their defense has surprisingly held together well and their offense will get better when they get Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis back from injury, as those are two of the best offensive linemen in football, but for right now they’re nowhere near as good as their record.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have been overly reliant on a +7 turnover margin and a 63.64% rate of recovering fumbles. They are moving the chains at a 72.13% rate, as opposed to 72.13% for their opponents, a differential of +0.00% that ranks 16th in the NFL. Unlike the Eagles, they probably aren’t going to get much better. While Calais Campbell should return from injury soon (maybe in a limited role this week) and Tyrann Mathieu will only get healthier, they are still missing Karlos Dansby, John Abraham, Daryl Washington, and Darnell Dockett from last year’s 10-6 team for a variety of reasons. However, for right now, these two teams are basically even, as this line suggests, though probably not even in the way many people seem to think.
That being said, the Eagles should be the right side as they’re in the better situation, with a non-conference trip to Houston on deck, while the Cardinals have to play fellow 1-loss Dallas next week in Dallas. Teams are 71-103 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs. The Eagles aren’t necessarily going to be road favorites in Houston next week (the early line is even), but if they are, that brings a very powerful trend into the mix. Going off of that, teams are 94-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 36-12 ATS since 2002 as road underdogs before being road favorites when their opponents will next be road underdogs.
Even if the Eagles end up being even or 1 point underdogs in Houston, the logic is still there. They’re going to be able to be way more focused for this one than the Cardinals. There are two reasons this isn’t a bigger play. The first reason is because we don’t know for sure if the Eagles will be road favorites next week. The second reason is that the Cardinals have been very solid at home recently, going 26-14 ATS at home since 2007 as underdogs of favorites of 3 or more. The Eagles should still be the right side though.
Philadelphia Eagles 16 Arizona Cardinals 13 Upset Pick +105
Last week I picked against the Cowboys when they planned the Giants here at home in Dallas. That didn’t work out as the Cowboys won 31-21 as 6.5 point favorites, but it could have easily been a different result (against the spread). The Giants led 14-7 earlier and the game would have been a lot closer if not for two Larry Donnell fumbles after the catch, two very fluky things. Even after last week, the Cowboys still have a lot of issues historically when favored, especially heavily favored, at home.
The Cowboys are 13-23 ATS as home favorites since 2009, including 6-12 ATS as home favorites of 6.5 or more. This isn’t just a Dallas thing. NFC East teams are just 20-34 ATS as divisional home favorites since 2008. This is probably too big of a line for the Cowboys to cover. They have a way of disappointing when they’re supposed to win big and what better situation for them to do it in than on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys are 1-8 ATS on Monday Night Football since 2006.
We also might be getting a significant amount of line value with the Redskins. The Cowboys have played well this season, moving the chains at a 78.21% rate, as opposed to 72.11% for their opponents, a differential of 6.10% that ranks 4th in the NFL. The Redskins, meanwhile, move the chains at a 72.57% rate, as opposed to 71.15% for their opponents, a differential of 1.42% that ranks 12th in the NFL. That suggests this line should be around 7.5 instead of 10. Sure, much of the reason why the Redskins rank 12th is because of how well they played against the Jaguars. If you take that game out of the mix, they move the chains at a 69.78% rate, as opposed to 73.94% for their opponents, a differential of -4.16% that would rank 26th in the NFL. However, I still like their chances of keeping this within double digits.
The Bears were embarrassed last week at home by the Dolphins, but that’s because the Dolphins were in a fantastic spot, with an incredibly easy game against the Jaguars up next, while the Bears were caught looking forward to this one. I like the Bears’ chances of bouncing back this week as they’ll be completely focused against a big opponent with a bye up next, while the Patriots are the ones in the bad spot this week. The Patriots have the Broncos up next and could easily be caught looking forward to that one, their biggest regular season game.
The Patriots are currently projected to be 3 point underdogs at home for Denver next week. Teams are 51-81 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs since 2012 and teams are 54-81 ATS as home favorites of 3 or more before being home underdogs of 3 or more since 1989. While they got blown out by a team in a good spot last week, I think they can easily keep it close against a team in a bad spot this week. The public doesn’t think so, as they’re all over the Patriots, but that’s because they’re too focused on what happened last week. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense as the public always loses money in the long run and it makes sense here.
We’re also getting line value with the Bears, as the Patriots are an overrated team that has been too reliant on winning the turnover battle, going +9 in turnovers and recovering 66.67% of fumbles. In terms of pure rate of moving the chains, the Patriots rank 18th in differential, moving the chains at a 71.76% rate, as opposed to 72.20% for their opponents, a differential of -0.44. Sure, their offense has been a lot better recently as Rob Gronkowski has returned to form, but their defense has simultaneously taken huge hits losing Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones to return. Meanwhile, the Bears move the chains at a 76.92% rate, as opposed to 73.30% for their opponents, a differential of 3.62% that ranks 8th in the NFL, despite what happened last week in a tough situation. They’ll give the Patriots a game.
Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1)
The Bengals were embarrassed on the road in Indianapolis last week, getting blown out by the final score of 27-0. Now they’re favored to beat the 5-2 Ravens. You should put all your money on Baltimore as underdogs right? Well, that’s ignoring the Bengals’ home dominance and the Ravens’ recent road struggles. Since the start of last season, the Bengals are 10-1-1 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 13.67 points per game, going 10-2 against the spread. Meanwhile, while the Ravens are 44-10 at home since the start of the Joe Flacco/John Harbaugh era, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.52 points per game, they are just 32-30 on the road over that time period, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.34 points per game.
On top of that, the Bengals are in the much better spot as they have a very easy game up next when they host the Jaguars, while the Ravens next play the Steelers. Teams are 46-31 ATS since 2008 as divisional home favorites before being non-divisional home favorites since 2008, a situation that the Bengals fit. On top of that, teams are 68-53 ATS before being double digit favorites since 2002.
There are two reasons why this isn’t a big play on the Bengals. For one, the Ravens are in a big revenge spot as divisional road underdogs are 51-26 ATS against teams that they previously lost to as home favorites that season. Meaning, if two evenly matched divisional opponents meet and the road underdog win, the losing teams usually gets the other team back the next time they play as long as it’s that same season. Not only do they cover about 2/3rds of the time, but they also straight up win half the time, even as underdogs.
The second reason is that, at least this season, the Ravens have been significantly better than the Bengals. The Ravens are moving the chains at a 77.35% rate, as opposed to 70.53% for their opponents, a differential of 6.82% that ranks 3rd in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Bengals are moving the chains at a 70.65% rate, as opposed to 75.57% for their opponents, a differential of -4.91% that ranks 27th in the NFL. Sure, it was significantly different last season, but both teams have undergone significant changes in their coaching staffs. I’m still going with the Bengals at home though. They’ve moved the chains at a 79.63% rate, as opposed to 73.79% for their opponents, at home this season, which is very good.
Green Bay Packers (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)
The Saints have been incredible at home over the past few years. They are 32-11 ATS at home since 2008 in the games which Drew Brees and Sean Payton were involved. On top of that, they are 17-1-1 ATS at home over their last 19 home games with Drew Brees and Sean Payton. They’ve won all 18 of those games by an average of about 19.5 points per game, with just four being decided by 10 points or less and just one being decided by less than 6 points. The Saints are also 12-3 ATS in home night games since 2006. Meanwhile, the Packers haven’t been nearly as good on the road as they’ve been at home recently. Since 2009, the Packers are 37-9 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 11.19 points per game. On the other hand, they are 28-21 on the road, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.94 points per game, a difference of about 8 points per game.
The Packers represent a much tougher than average opponent, but this line is still too low at 1. The Packers rank 11th in rate of moving the chains differential, which is impressive, but not as good as their record as they’ve been overly reliant on a +10 turnover margin and a fumble recovery rate of 56.25%. They are moving the chains at a 78.77% rate, as opposed to 76.52% for their opponents, a differential of 2.25%. The Saints, meanwhile, move the chains at an 80.36% rate, as opposed to 78.07% for their opponents, a differential of 2.28% that ranks 10th in the NFL. The reason they are 2-4, while the Packers are 5-2 is because they’re getting killed in the turnover battle (-8 in turnovers, -2 in return touchdowns, 18.18% fumble recovery) and because they have 3 losses by a combined 6 points.
They rank 10th in rate of moving the chains differential despite the fact that they’ve played 4 of 6 on the road which represent all their losses. In two home games, they’ve move the chains at an 85.00% rate, as opposed to 72.00% for their opponents, a differential of 13.00%. New Orleans is also getting Jimmy Graham to full strength back after he essentially missed 2 games (he went out early against Tampa Bay and barely played against Detroit).
Despite their records, these two teams are more comparable than you’d think and the Saints might actually be better. This line should be at least 3, even before you get into the Saints’ home dominance. On top of all that, Drew Brees is 20-5 ATS off a loss since 2008 as long as Sean Payton is on the sideline, including 15-2 ATS at home. The Packers are also public underdogs, in case you need another reason to take the Saints. I usually like to fade the public whenever it makes sense as the odds makers always come out on top, but I especially like fading the public when they’re on an underdog. If the Packers are really as likely to win as the public thinks, why do the odds makers have them as favorites? I could easily see the Saints winning by at least a touchdown.
The only reason this isn’t my Pick of the Week is because the Saints have Carolina 4 days after this one on Thursday Night Football. Teams are just 34-56 ATS since 2008 as favorites before Thursday Night football. Teams are also 86-105 ATS as non-divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs on any day of the week since 2002. However, the Saints are barely favored here and they should be able to be completely focused on this one even with that game on the horizon because they’re coming off a loss, facing a 5-2 opponent, and will feel like they need this game to save their season. I really like the Saints this week.
The Broncos have generally been very good at home in the Peyton Manning era, going 14-7 ATS as home favorites of 3 or more. That hasn’t been the case against these Chargers, who have covered in all 3 instances in Denver as 3+ point underdogs since 2012. However, it’s very possible that could be an anomaly as it’s just 3 data points. Peyton Manning has also generally been very good in nationally televised regular seasons games, going 32-15 ATS in such games since 2003, including a 42-17 blowout win over the 49ers last weekend on Sunday Night Football. Again, the Chargers beat them here in a similar Thursday Night Game last year, but that could just be an anomaly.
However, the Chargers’ recent success against the Broncos does concern me some. I’m also concerned that this line is too high. I wish this line was under a touchdown, instead of at 7.5. Denver is playing very well this season, obviously, moving the chains at a 78.17% rate, as opposed to 70.77% for their opponents, a differential of 7.40% that ranks 2nd in the NFL behind Indianapolis. However, the Chargers are also playing very well, moving the chains at a 76.74% rate, as opposed to 72.02% for their opponents, a differential of 4.72% that ranks 6th in the NFL. This line should be closer to 5.5 than 7.5. Brandon Flowers is out for the Chargers, which really hurts them as he’s the biggest reason by far that their defense has been significantly better this season, but I still wish it was under a touchdown. I’m taking the Broncos, but I’m not confident.
Detroit Lions (5-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-5) in London
This is technically a home game for the Falcons, but it’s a neutral site game in London. Given that, we’re getting significant line value with the Lions as either the Lions are being overrated or the Falcons are being underrated. The Lions rank 7th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 70.19% rate, while their defense allows opponents to move the chains at a 66.34% rate, best in the NFL. That gives them a differential of 3.85%. On the other side of the coin, the Falcons rank 23rd, moving the chains at a 72.77% rate, as opposed to 75.54% for their opponents, a differential of -2.77%. This line should be closer to 6.5 instead of 3.5. That’s significant line value.
Detroit is also in the better spot here I think as they are favorites and actually in playoff contention. It’s a small sample size, but favorites are 6-3 ATS in London games, including 6-1 ATS in their last 7. It makes sense. Teams must hate travelling to London to play a game, but if you’re actually in contention it makes it easier to get up for this game. It doesn’t help morale that they have to give up a home game for this. Favorites also tend to be more organized teams capable of playing this type of game. I like the Lions’ chances of winning by at least a touchdown.
Minnesota Vikings (2-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)
Last week, the Vikings lost in Buffalo on a last second touchdown. However, it was still only a one point loss. I like the Vikings’ chances of actually getting the win here this week a good amount for several reasons. One, they’re playing an inferior opponent as compared to last week. Buffalo isn’t a good football team, but the Buccaneers are worse, hence why this line is 3 instead of 6, as it was last week. Like last week, I think we’re getting line value with the Vikings.
The Vikings aren’t very good, ranking 28th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 66.83% rate, as opposed to 72.30% for their opponents, a differential of -5.47%. However, they’re better than the Buccaneers and this line suggests they are equal, which gives up value with Minnesota. The Buccaneers rank 31st in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 71.60% rate, as opposed to 79.53% for their opponents, a differential of -7.94%. They don’t deserve to be favored by a field goal over anyone outside of the Oakland Raiders.
The Vikings are also in a great spot. For one, unlike last week, they’re in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 107-70 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 91-48 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight (and not 3rd straight) road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. 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 177-184 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.20 points per game, as opposed to 252-363 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.29 points per game.
On top of that, they have the easier game next week, hosting the Redskins in Minnesota, while the Buccaneers have to go to Cleveland. Teams are 71-103 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs and conversely teams are 108-73 ATS in that same time period as non-divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional home favorites. Combining the two, teams are 94-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 95-57 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponents will next be road underdogs. I like the Vikings’ chances to get the road upset here.
Minnesota Vikings 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 Upset Pick +135
What is this? This is rate of moving the chains, which is my primary statistic for handicapping games. It holds the assumption that the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). In order to figure out how often teams meet that goal, I take first downs plus touchdowns and divide it by first downs plus touchdowns plus failures to move the chains (successes divided by attempts). Failures to move the chains include punts, turnovers, failed 4th downs, and field goal attempts (being forced to kick a field goal is a failure). I have this sorted by percent for (to evaluate offenses), percent against (to evaluate defenses), and differentials (to evaluate teams).
The Bills have generally been very good at home over the past 2 seasons, going 7-3 ATS in Buffalo, but they’re only 1-1 ATS as favorites. I think this line is way too high at 5.5. The Bills are 3-3, but they’re not as good as their record, moving the chains at a 64.16% rate, as opposed to 69.54% for their opponents, a differential of -5.38% that ranks 27th in the NFL. The Vikings aren’t good either, moving the chains at a 67.82% rate, as opposed to 72.63% for their opponents, a differential of -4.81% that ranks 26th, but the Bills still have no business being favored by 5.5 over anyway except maybe Jacksonville and Oakland.
There was also a significant line movement here over the past week as the Bills were only 3.5 point favorites last week. I don’t understand why. Minnesota didn’t look good at all last week in a 17-3 home loss to the Lions, but the Bills didn’t look much better in a 37-22 to a New England team that is similar caliber to Detroit. The Vikings should be the right side here. I’d be more confident if this line was on the other side of 6 as teams that finish 6-10 or worse cover about a quarter of the time as favorites of 6 or more historically and I don’t think the Bills will finish 7-9 or better if they continue playing this poorly. If you can get +6, I’d do it, but at +5.5 this is a low confidence pick.
The Seahawks had a very disappointing loss at home to the Cowboys last week, a 30-23 game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. That was just the Seahawks 2nd home loss since they drafted Russell Wilson in 2012. However, they generally bounce back off a loss, as good teams tend to. They are 7-2 ATS off a loss in the Russell Wilson era, dating back to 2012. They’re also in a good spot with a trip to Carolina on deck. Teams are 75-50 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 3 or more and 47-29 ATS before being road favorites of 4 or more (the Seahawks are currently projected to be 3.5 point favorites in Carolina).
However, the public is all over the Seahawks and I hate siding with the public. There’s not enough stuff in the Seahawks’ favor for me to be super confident in them. They also have generally been a very ordinary team this season and they’re missing key players with injury, including Bobby Wagner, Byron Maxwell, and possibly Max Unger. They are moving the chains at a 73.47% rate, as opposed to 73.08%, a differential of 0.39% that ranks 18th in the NFL. The Rams aren’t good, moving the chains at a 73.46% rate, as opposed to 75.35% for their opponents, a differential of -1.90% that ranks 23rd in the NFL, but we might still be getting significant line value with them. That being said, I don’t expect the Seahawks to be the 18th best team in the NFL all season so, at the end of the day, I’m going to take the Seahawks.
I’m completely torn on this one as there’s conflicting stuff on both sides. On one hand, the Broncos have a big divisional game against the Chargers up next in just 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Teams are 33-55 ATS since 2008 as favorites before Thursday Night games, including 17-31 ATS as favorites before a divisional Thursday Night game. On the other hand, Peyton Manning is very good in night games, going 31-15 ATS in such games since 2003. The 49ers are also missing Mike Iupati and Patrick Willis, which will really hurt a team that’s already been missing guys like Anthony Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Glenn Dorsey all season. I’m going with the 49ers just to fade the public, who is on Denver, but I’m not confident.
People are pretty down on the Steelers here after their loss to the Browns as the public is all over the Texans. I love fading the public, especially when the public is on the underdog. If the Texans are really as likely to win as the public thinks, why is this line 3.5? The odds makers generally have a better sense of how good teams actually are than the public. I actually think this line is too low and that it’s a trap line for people who are on the Texans. The Texans aren’t as good as their record, while the Steelers aren’t as bad as they looked last week.
The Texans are moving the chains at a 69.77% rate, as opposed to 73.53% for their opponents, a differential of -3.76% that is 25th in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Steelers are right in the middle of the pack at 16th, moving the chains at a 74.36% rate, as opposed to 73.63% for their opponents, a differential of 0.73%. The Steelers are the significantly better team here and I like their chances of covering here, especially against a Houston team that could be divisional underdogs in Tennessee next week. Teams are 51-78 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional road underdogs before being divisional road underdogs. I’m not that confident, but the Steelers should be the right side.
Cleveland Browns (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
There are reasons to take the Jaguars this week. Teams that are 0-5 or worse are 43-20 ATS since 1989 as underdogs off of a loss of 1-8 points. The Jaguars almost got their first win of the season last week in a two point loss in Tennessee and they should be able to carry that into this week and give themselves a shot at their first win here. The Jaguars covered in a similar spot last week, after losing just by 8 to the Steelers a week before, with Pittsburgh requiring a late pick six to even get the margin to that.
The Jaguars have been playing a lot better since Blake Bortles took over as the starting quarterback. They covered last week and probably should have covered against both the Chargers and the Steelers. Over the past 3 games, the Jaguars are moving the chains at a 71.11% rate, as opposed to 72.50%, a differential of -1.39%. That’s as opposed to the first 3 games of the season, when they were moving the chains at a 59.76% rate, as opposed to 79.83% for their opponents, a differential of 20.08%. That’s not all Blake Bortles. Their defense has been playing significantly better too and that might not be sustainable, but there’s no denying they’ve been playing better football over the past 3 weeks.
However, it’s still really tough to trust the Jaguars. Teams are 49-77 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs of three of more and 23-54 ATS in that same time period before being home underdogs of four or more. That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you have a very tough, important game coming up. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. Here, it’s definitely the latter. The Browns are a solid team deserving of being favored by 6 points here, the most the franchise has been favored by on the road since they returned to the NFL in 1999. They are moving the chains at a 76.83% rate, as opposed to 75.14% for their opponents, a differential of 1.68%, 11th in the NFL. I’m going with the Jaguars, but I’m not confident at all.
The Cardinals are 4-1 and have one of the best records in football, but they’re a very flawed, fraudulent 4-1. The Cardinals are just +10 in point differential despite their record and they’ve needed to win the turnover battle by 8 just to do that. Winning the turnover battle consistently is very hard to do so that’s going to be tough to rely on going forward. Teams with a turnover margin of +4 in a week on average have the same turnover margin the next week as a team that had a turnover margin of -4 the previous week, a turnover margin of about +0.0.
Last week they won the turnover battle with Washington by 4 and it still took a late pick six for them to win by more than a field goal. In terms of rate of moving the chains, the Cardinals are moving them at a 70.27% rate, as opposed to 73.29% for their opponents, a differential of -3.02% that ranks 24th in the NFL. None of this should be surprising considering how much the Cardinals have lost defensively since last season, losing Daryl Washington to suspension, Darnell Dockett, John Abraham, and Calais Campbell to injury, and Karlos Dansby to free agency. Meanwhile, Tyrann Mathieu has only played 86 snaps thus far this season coming off a torn ACL. He played a season high 50 snaps last week, but he clearly isn’t anywhere near 100%. Their record is hiding the fact that this team has a lot of issues.
Oakland isn’t good either, coming in at 31st in terms of rate of moving the chains differential. They are moving the chains at a 68.42% rate, as opposed to 77.36% for their opponents, a differential of -8.94%. However, this line is still too high at 3.5. The Raiders actually showed some life last week, almost knocking off San Diego here in Oakland, in their first game under new head coach Tony Sparano. That should carry over into this week as teams that are 0-5 or worse are 43-20 ATS since 1989 as underdogs off of a loss of 1-8 points.
The Raiders almost knocked off a 1-loss team last week and I like their chances of actually finishing the job here against a significantly inferior 1-loss team, or at the very least covering the spread. It’s not a big play on Oakland because I don’t really trust them and they have another tough game in Cleveland next week. Teams are 96-120 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional home underdogs before being non-divisional road underdogs. They should be the right side though.
All the trends say the Dolphins are the right side here. While the Bears have to go to New England next week, one of the toughest places in the NFL to win, the Dolphins go to Jacksonville, arguably the easiest place in the NFL to win. Teams usually cover before being significant road favorites, as there are no distractions on the horizon. Non-divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional road favorites are 38-26 ATS since 1989. On top of that, teams are 75-50 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 3 or more and 47-29 ATS before being road favorites of 4 or more (the Dolphins are currently projected to be 4 point favorites in Jacksonville). If you combine the two, teams are 34-22 ATS as non-divisional road underdogs before being road favorites of 4 or more.
On the opposite end of the coin, the Bears are going to be significant road underdogs in New England next week. Teams are 70-102 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs, including 21-47 ATS before being underdogs of 6 or more. Going off of that, teams are 94-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 35-12 ATS since 2002 as road underdogs before being road favorites when their opponents will next be road underdogs. Everything about this situation screams that the Dolphins are the right side.
I just wish we were getting more line value with the Dolphins. This line is only 3.5. While it’s on the right side of the field goal, I wish this line was more likely 4.5 or 5, though I do like to see that the public is on Chicago and the line isn’t climbing. In fact, it’s dropped down to 3 at some places, suggesting the sharps are on the Dolphins. Siding with the sharp bettors and fading the public bettors is usually a recipe for success.
However, on paper these teams don’t really seem even, which is what this line suggests. The Bears are an average team, ranking 17th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 72.02% rate, as opposed to 71.52% for their opponents, a differential of 0.50%. The Bears, meanwhile, move the chains at a 77.78% rate, as opposed to 71.68% for their opponents, a differential of 6.10% that ranks 5th in the NFL. Their offensive success doesn’t really surprise me, though they’ve done a very good job of preserving through injuries offensively that they didn’t have last season.
However, their defense has been a big surprise as I saw this as one of the least talented defensive units in the league coming into the season. Despite losing Henry Melton this off-season and once again being without Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman thanks to injuries, they’ve played well on that side of the ball, fixing a lot of their issues from a season ago. They could still struggle the rest of the way because I think their play is exceeding their talent level right now, which gives me more confidence in the Dolphins, who seem like the right side as long as the line exceeds a field goal.
Miami Dolphins 27 Chicago Bears 24 Upset Pick +145
Trade for Seahawks: A lot of people are saying this move was a mistake for the Seahawks because trading him now means they’re going to end up paying him 18.3 million for 27 catches and 238 snaps played (including post-season). That’s about 678K per catch and about 64.6K per snap played. The Seahawks gave up a first and third round pick for Harvin about 19 months ago, in addition to the money they paid him, and now they’re getting just a mid-rounder back.
However, that doesn’t mean this move was a mistake. The mistake was giving him all that for him in the first place, as I said it was back in March of 2013 when the trade happened. Trading Harvin away yesterday was actually a good move. They get out of the remaining 7.2 million dollars Harvin was owed in game checks this season. They get rid of a guy who was not only underperforming, but was reportedly a huge problem team chemistry wise. They also get some sort of compensation for a guy that was undoubtedly going to be cut after the season, owed a non-guaranteed 10.5 million in 2015.
On top of that, they free up cap space for next off-season, whereas cutting him this off-season would have freed up that space for the following off-season. That extra cap space is going to be valuable when it comes time to extend Russell Wilson this off-season. Trading for Harvin is spilled ink on an otherwise very impressive record by Seahawks GM John Schneider, but being willing to admit their mistake before it was too late is a good move on the part of Schneider and the rest of the Seahawks’ front office.
Trade for Jets: This trade is more head-scratching for the Jets. It’s very possible that Harvin just needed a change of scenery and he instantly becomes the 2nd best wide receiver on the Jets, at the very least. He has experience playing with poor quarterbacks in the past and still being successful as the routes he runs are usually high completion percentage short routes which he takes for yards after the catch. However, we’re still talking about a guy who has been traded twice in less than 20 months and both times off-the-field type things played some sort of role. He still has never had a 1000 yard season and he still has a very checkered injury history.
On top of that, the Jets are hardly in win now mode at 1-6. Trading a mid-rounder for Harvin, paying him 7.4 million in game checks to help your team maybe go 4-12 instead of 3-13 and then cutting him after the season doesn’t really make any sense, but neither does paying him the 10.5 non-guaranteed he’s owed in 2015. Perhaps some sort of restructured contract is in Harvin’s future this off-season, but this move still would have made way more sense for a team like New England that’s in win now mode and can afford to put all its eggs into one basket than it does for a team like the Jets whose season is lost, whose future is cloudy, and who needs all the draft picks they can get.