Steven Lourie

Sep 302016
 

Los Angeles Rams (2-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-2)

One of my favorite things to do as a bettor is go against significant week-to-week line movements. This game has one of them, as the Cardinals were 10.5 point favorites on the early line last week, but now are only 7.5 point favorites here at home. The reason for this is obvious, as the Cardinals lost by 15 in Buffalo last week. However, outside of a -4 turnover margin (including a return touchdown), they actually played pretty well in that game. They moved the chains at a 67.86% rate, while the Bills moved the chains at a 67.50% rate.

It’s important not to fixate on turnover margin because, even in a lopsided number like last week’s, it’s still only 4 plays out of a game which has over a hundred combined snaps on both sides of the ball. Turnover margin is also very inconsistent from week-to-week. Teams that lose the turnover battle by 4, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. They also cover against the spread about 53.4% of the time the following week. That’s likely because the public fixates on turnover margin and ends up underrating the team. The Cardinals’ aging offense doesn’t seem quite as good as it was last season, but their defense is just as good as they were last season and they’re still 5th in rate of moving the chains differential through 3 games, after finishing 1st in that metric last season.

There’s no way the Cardinals should only be 7.5 point favorites against a Rams team that is dead last in that metric, after finishing 30th in that metric last season. The Rams are above .500 this season, starting 2-1, but that’s very misleading. They were manhandled week 1 by a San Francisco team that’s been horrible in their other 2 games and, even in better performances week 2 and week 3, they still haven’t won the rate of moving the chains battle all season. Their opponents already have 30 more first downs than they do on the season, suggesting their early record is a major fluke. These two teams are very far apart talent wise.

The Cardinals are in somewhat of a tough spot here having to turn around and play in 4 days on Thursday Night Football, but they go to San Francisco for that one, which isn’t tough at all. They figure to still be very focused for the Rams this week. Favorites are 50-73 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. However, teams are 46-35 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 6+ and favorites of 6+ are 86-49 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6+ again. As long as this line is 9.5 or lower, this is worth putting money on.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Los Angeles Rams 10

Pick against the spread: Arizona -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Sep 302016
 

Buffalo Bills (1-2) at New England Patriots (3-0)

The Bills received bad news this week when Sammy Watkins had to be shut down for an extended period of time with pain in the foot he had surgically repaired this off-season. Now on injured reserve, Watkins is not eligible to return until week 12. It comes just as the Bills were getting healthier, with left tackle Cordy Glenn (2 game absence) and cornerback Ronald Darby (1 game absence) likely returning this week. Watkins is the best player on this offense, so he’s obviously a huge loss and he joins the best player on their defense, nose tackle Marcell Dareus, on the sidelines. Dareus is not eligible to return from suspension until next week. In addition, the Bills are also missing first round pick Shaq Lawson for an extended period of time and second round pick Reggie Ragland for the season, two players that were both supposed to start on this defense. They’re getting a couple guys back, but they’re far from what they could be at full strength.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are actually getting healthier. Everyone practiced on Friday and they could have 7 healthy inactives next week. Of course, this doesn’t include suspended players like Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich or players on the Physically Unable to Perform list like Dion Lewis and Sebastian Vollmer. Brady is obviously the big missing piece, but Jimmy Garoppolo has performed well in his absence and he’s expected to start this week after missing last week with a shoulder injury. In about 6 quarters this season, he’s beaten a good Arizona team on the road and put up a big lead on Miami, before getting injured. He also has a healthy Rob Gronkowski at his disposal for the first time, while linebacker Dont’a Hightower is expected to return on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots defense shut the Texans out last week even without him. This is a deep and talented team on both sides of the ball and they’re healthier now than they’ve been all season.

I think they’ll also be very focused this week, with Tom Brady’s return and an easy game in Cleveland on deck. This team knows if they can get to 4-0 before Brady even plays they’ll be in tremendous shape and a weak Cleveland team doesn’t present a distraction. They’re expected to be 10.5 point road favorites in Cleveland next week and teams are 75-55 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites of 7 or more. Buffalo, meanwhile, is in a bad spot, coming off of an upset win at home against the Cardinals. Teams are 51-75 ATS since 2008 off of a win as home underdogs. Teams tend to get overconfident off of a win against a superior team that just happened to have a bad game on the road.

The Bills’ win last week was impressive, but very fluky, as both teams moved the chains at about the same rate. The Bills just won the turnover battle by 4, but that’s very tough to maintain. Teams that win the turnover battle by 4, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. The Patriots are also notoriously good in the turnover battle. I locked this line in earlier this week at -5, but it has since jumped to 7.5 with Garoppolo likely in and Watkins definitely out. I’d put money on it all the way up to 9.5 though. Belichick’s Patriots are dangerous off extra rest and will be very focused for their final game without Brady, with an easy trip to Cleveland on deck.

New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 13

Pick against the spread: New England -5

Confidence: High

Sep 272016
 

Miami Dolphins (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)

The Bengals could easily be 0-3 right now, if not for a missed extra point by the Jets that could have sent the game to overtime. However, they’ve had a tough schedule so far. Both the Steelers and the Broncos (their two losses) are legitimate playoff teams, while the Jets are an at least capable opponent (when they’re not turning it over 8 times). They have a big chance to bounce back in a big way this week though, against a Dolphins team that figures to be very overmatched this week.

There are a few reasons they figure to be overmatched. For one, they’re missing a significant amount of key players. Talented center Mike Pouncey remains out, while backup center Anthony Steen will join him this week. Starting running back Arian Foster and tight end Jordan Cameron are also out, though they’re not as important as Pouncey. On the defensive side, linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins are both questionable on a short week. On the other side, the Bengals get linebacker stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from his 3 game suspension.

On top of that, the Dolphins are in a tough spot as a visiting team on Thursday Night. Home non-divisional favorites on Thursday nights are 16-35 ATS since 1989, including 9-21 ATS as underdogs of 4 or more. Thursday night games are tough enough for players, but they’re especially tough when you have to go on the road and face a superior opponent, unless that opponent is a divisional opponent that you play twice a year. The Dolphins are unfamiliar with the Bengals as an opponent and are significantly inferior talent wise.

They finished last season 31st in rate of moving the chains differential and are only 23rd in that metric so far in this young season. They would have lost to the banged up Browns if the Browns could hit a field goal. Meanwhile, the Bengals remain a legitimate playoff contender. If anything, this line is too low at 7. Either the public doesn’t realize how bad the Dolphins are or they’re mislead by the Bengals record, or both. Making matters worse for the Dolphins, they’re are coming off of an overtime game. Predictably, teams do not do well on a Thursday Night off of an overtime game, going 4-20 ATS since 1989, including 2-13 ATS on the road. This is my Pick of the Week.

Cincinnati Bengals 27 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Sep 252016
 

New York Jets (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)

One of my favorite things to do as a bettor is go against significant week-to-week line movements. This game has a significant one, as the Chiefs were favored by 4 points on the early line, but the line has since dropped to 3, as a result of the Jets’ upset victory in the road in Buffalo last week. That might not seem like a huge movement, as it’s only one point, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so that point matters. The line movement is also a bit of an overreaction, as the Bills are not a good opponent, so the Jets’ road win isn’t that noteworthy. It’s definitely not noteworthy enough to warrant a significant line movement.

This line now suggests these two teams are even. That’s not far off, but I think the Chiefs are a little bit better going into this game, especially with Brandon Marshall on a snap count for the Jets, due to a knee injury. I had the Chiefs ranked a little bit higher coming into the season than the Jets and I haven’t seen anything through 2 games to suggest I was wrong about either of these teams. I don’t have a strong lean either way, but I’m taking the Chiefs. This could easily be a field goal push though.

Kansas City Chiefs 20 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -3

Confidence: None

Sep 252016
 

Oakland Raiders (1-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-1)

Both of these two teams were high on my underrated list going into the season. The Titans have so far exceeded expectations, not just winning last week on the road in Detroit, but also moving the chains at a higher rate than their opponent in both games. They enter this contest 13th in rate of moving the chains differential (RMCD). Their loss was at home to the Vikings by 9, but the Titans actually outplayed Minnesota for most of the game, outside of two offensive plays that ended up going for defensive touchdowns the other way. That was the difference in the game, but return touchdowns allowed tend to be more fluky plays rather than something that’s a long-term problem.

Meanwhile, the Raiders haven’t had a terrible start to the season, but aren’t playing like I expected. A solid defense last season, which added a significant amount of talent in the off-season, the Raiders’ defense has been the worst in the league through 2 games this season. Their offense has carried them, as they rank 1st in rate of moving the chains so far, but this is not a team I expected to be in a lot of shootouts. Their opponents in the first two games (New Orleans and Atlanta) are teams I expected to be in a lot of shootouts though, so it’s very likely the Raiders defense looks significantly better going forward, while their offense falls back down to earth. I don’t expect them to get in a shootout with the Titans, who aren’t built for shootouts either.

Whether or not the Raiders are good enough to be the #2 seed in the AFC, as I had them before the season, remains to be seen and this game in Tennessee is tougher than people realize, because the Titans are not a bad team. They only won 3 games last season, but that was largely because of injuries (particularly to quarterback Marcus Mariota) and close losses. They added a lot of talent this off-season, both rookies through the draft and veterans through trades and free agency, and are at least an average football team. This week, they get Derrick Morgan back from injury, though talented tight end Delanie Walker is highly questionable. As long as this line is under a field goal, I’m taking the Raiders to beat a quality opponent on the road, but I’m not confident enough to put anything on it.

Oakland Raiders 19 Tennessee Titans 16

Pick against the spread: Oakland -1

Confidence: Low

Sep 252016
 

Atlanta Falcons (1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2)

One of my favorite things to do as a bettor is go against significant week-to-week line movements. This game has a significant one, as the Saints were favored by 4 points on the early line, but the line has since dropped to 3, as a result of Atlanta’s upset victory in the road in Oakland last week. That might not seem like a huge movement, as it’s only one point, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so that point matters. The Saints are also in a better spot than the Falcons, as the Falcons have to turn around and host the Panthers on a short week next week, after this Monday Night contest. Teams are 51-93 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs of 4, as tough upcoming home games like that tend to be a distraction.

Despite that, I’m actually going with the Falcons here, though for a no confidence play. This line suggests these two teams are even, but that’s only true if both of them are healthy. The Saints are already missing their two starting cornerbacks (Delvin Breaux and PJ WIlliams) for an extended period of time and are giving significant snaps to a pair of undrafted rookie cornerbacks (Ken Crawley and De’vante Harris). On top of that, they’re still without rookie first round pick Sheldon Rankins, one of their best defensive lineman. On the offensive side of things, left tackle Terron Armstead, one of the best in the league, is expected to miss this one. The Falcons, meanwhile, are relatively healthy, so they’re the pick here as long as we’re getting the full field goal with them.

New Orleans Saints 26 Atlanta Falcons 24

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +3

Confidence: None

Sep 252016
 

Minnesota Vikings (2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1)

The Vikings are 2-0, but actually have allowed their opponents to move the chains at a higher rate than they have in both games. Their 2-0 record is largely the result of a +5 turnover margin and a +2 return touchdown margin, two things that tend to be very tough to rely on every week. They’re just 29th in rate of moving the chains differential, despite their record. Sam Bradford seems to have picked up the offense quickly, but he’s a limited passer, without much in the way of weapons aside from Stefon Diggs, and with a below average offensive line in front of him, especially with Matt Kalil going on injured reserve. Running back Adrian Peterson is also going on injured reserve and, even though he wasn’t running well and even though Jerick McKinnon is a very talented backup, Peterson obviously will be missed. On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Xavier Rhodes is expected to return and make his season debut, but defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd remains out.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are still one of the best teams in the NFL and could easily be 2-0 if not for a Graham Gano missed field goal week 1 in Denver. They’re also in a much better spot, with an easy game on deck (Atlanta), while the Vikings are coming off of a huge home upset victory over the Packers. Teams are 81-58 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 4+ (which the Panthers likely will be next week), while teams are just 49-75 ATS off of a win as home underdogs since 2012. There’s not enough for me to take the Panthers with an sort of confidence this week though, as this line is all the way up to 7, after being at 5.5 last week on the early line, but they’re the pick in pick ‘em pools.

Carolina Panthers 24 Minnesota Vikings 16

Pick against the spread: Carolina -7

Confidence: None

Sep 242016
 

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)

The Seahawks’ offense has struggled mightily through the first two games of the season, producing just one touchdown and moving the chains at a 63.93% rate. Only Minnesota, Houston, and Los Angeles are moving the chains at a lower rate than the Seahawks. The Seahawks’ defense remains strong, but this line is 9.5 points so their offense is going to need to perform significantly better for the Seahawks at cover as favorites. So why has their offense been so uncharacteristically bad? Well, they have probably the best receiving corps of any Seahawks team in the Russell Wilson era, but they also have probably the worst offensive line in the NFL and haven’t been able to establish the run like they’re used to. Russell Wilson, meanwhile, has dealt with an ankle sprain that has limited his running ability through 2 games and likely has also limited him as a passer.

Wilson getting healthy would go a long way towards fixing this offense and he figures to be at least somewhat healthier this week. This offense would also be helped by Christine Michael taking the running back job and running with it. He’s only out-carried Thomas Rawls 25-19 through 2 games, but has averaged 5.04 yards per carry to 1.32 yards per carry for Rawls, who is not all the way back from the broken leg that ended his season in 2015. Rawls is not expected to play this week after a setback, so Michael could have a strong game against the 49ers, which would obviously be huge. However, their offensive line is going to remain a problem all season and the 49ers have a promising young defense that has played well thus far this season.

The 49ers are also in a good spot in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 131-95 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 106-64 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. 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 226-229 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.51 points per game, as opposed to 325-444 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.79 points per game. I couldn’t put any money on them, but the 49ers should be the right side.

Seattle Seahawks 17 San Francisco 49ers 9

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +9.5

Confidence: Low

Sep 242016
 

Washington Redskins (0-2) at New York Giants (2-0)

This is one I wish I locked in earlier this week, when the Redskins were 4.5 point underdogs. Massive sharp bets have dropped this line to 3.5 or even 3 in some places, so we’ve lost all line value with the Redskins. Unless you can get the key number of 4 or better, this game isn’t worth betting, but the Redskins should be the right side as long as the line is at least a field goal. The Redskins are in a pair of good spots this week, as 0-2 teams that made the playoffs the previous season cover about 2/3rds of the time week 3. On top of that, teams that have back-to-back home games to open their season are 42-30 ATS week 3 on the road, as they’ve had to travel less than their opponents. The Redskins should be able to keep this game close and have a chance to win straight up, but this line isn’t high enough for this to be anything more than a low confidence pick.

New York Giants 23 Washington Redskins 20

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Low

Sep 242016
 

Denver Broncos (2-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)

These two teams have had opposite starts to the season schedule wise. While the Broncos were home for their first 2 games, the Cincinnati opened the season on the road against the Jets and Steelers. That hurts Cincinnati’s chances here in this week 3 matchup, as they’ve had to travel much more than their opponents. Teams are 24-46 ATS since 1989 in a week 3 home opener, while teams that start the season with back-to-back home games are 42-30 ATS in their first road game of the season week 3. Combining the two, teams are just 3-10 ATS a week 3 home opener if their opponent opened the season with back-to-back home games.

On top of that, the Bengals have to turn around and play a Thursday Night game in 4 days after this game, with the Miami Dolphins coming to town. Favorites are just 50-71 ATS before Thursday Night Football, since 2008, as upcoming short weeks like that tend to be a distraction for teams. Despite all of this and the fact that close to 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, the Bengals are favored by 3.5 points here against a team that’s at least comparable in talent to them, if not better. It’s worth putting money on 3.5 because this could easily be a field goal game, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos won straight up here.

Cincinnati Bengals 17 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Sep 242016
 

Arizona Cardinals (1-1) at Buffalo Bills (0-2)

Earlier this off-season, the Bills looked like a legitimate candidate to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, after coming up just short in each of the past two seasons. However, they’ve had some very bad luck since then. They’re without their first and second round picks (Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland) with injury, while top defensive lineman Marcell Dareus still has two games to go on his 4-game suspension. Talented backup running back Karlos Williams was also suspended for the first 4 games of the season, but he was so out of shape this off-season that he didn’t even make the final roster. On top of that, left tackle Cordy Glenn remains out after getting hurt week 1, talented starting cornerback Ronald Darby joins him on the sidelines this week, and #1 wide receiver Sammy Watkins could end up missing this game after being limited through the first 2 games of the season due to complications from an off-season foot surgery.

Through 2 games, the Bills have been one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in rate of moving the chains differential. That’ll improve as they get guys back and it’s only been two games (they finished 19th in that metric last season), but their injury situation seems like it’s going to get worse before it gets better with Watkins and Darby expected out. This line is pretty high at 4, considering 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, but the Cardinals remain one of the top teams in the league (3rd in RMCD) and are much healthier than the Bills. They’re also much better rested, after two straight games at home to start the season. Teams are 42-30 ATS in their first road game of the season after two straight home games to start the season. As long as this line doesn’t get any higher than 4, it’s worth a bet.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Buffalo Bills 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -4

Confidence: Medium

Sep 242016
 

Baltimore Ravens (2-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)

Through 2 games, the Ravens lead the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential (RMCD). Of course, it’s only two games and their competition hasn’t been hard (Buffalo and Cleveland), but the Jaguars don’t seem much better. Through 2 games, they’re 30th in RMCD, after finishing last season 27th in rate of moving the chains differential. They have a stronger roster than they did last season and figure to be better overall, but right now they’re not healthy. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum has already been ruled out, while center Brandon Linder, cornerback Prince Amukamara, and defensive tackle Jared Odrick are all highly questionable for this one. Those are 4 of their best players.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are relatively healthy (especially compared to last season) and may get Elvis Dumervil back from injury this week, after their top pass rusher missed the first 2 games of the season. The Jaguars are also in a tough spot with a trip to London to play the Colts on deck. Teams are just 6-18 ATS all-time before a game in London. It makes sense that a long trip would serve as a big distraction. As long as this line stays under a field goal, I like the Ravens enough to put money on them as road favorites.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -1

Confidence: Medium

Sep 242016
 

Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Miami Dolphins (0-2)

The Browns entered the season with arguably the weakest roster in the league and have had terrible injury luck already. On defense, defensive end Carl Nassib is out, while cornerback Joe Haden is questionable and could join Nassib on the sideline. On the offensive side, the Browns are already down to 3rd string quarterback Cody Kessler, a 3rd round rookie who reportedly is not close to ready to play quarterback in the NFL, while top receiver Corey Coleman is also out. With Josh Gordon still suspended, that leaves the Browns with Kessler throwing to the likes of Gary Barnidge, Terrelle Pryor, Duke Johnson, Andrew Hawkins, and Rashard Higgins. They’re also without starting center Cameron Erving. Right guard John Greco shifts inside, making the right side of their offensive line a major area of weakness.

However, there’s no reason the Dolphins should be favored by 10 points here. No team is bad enough to be 10 point underdogs in Miami, as the Dolphins aren’t very good themselves. They finished last season 31st in rate of moving the chains differential (RMCD) and they’re not much better so far this season, entering this game in 28th. As bad as the Browns have been over the past 2 seasons, they actually finished last season 29th in RMCD, higher than the Dolphins, and even still enter this game one spot higher than the Dolphins in that metric this season, as they enter in 27th.

The Dolphins are better coached this year, but have an even less talented roster than they did last season, after losing the likes of Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby, and Lamar Miller in free agency. Center Mike Pouncey is also out with injury. They did have some off-season additions and their roster is definitely more talented than the Browns’ roster is right now, but not enough to warrant this 10 point line. Teams that finish with 6 or fewer wins cover just 25% of the time as favorites of 6 or more since 2002. Of course, it’s too early to know for sure that the Dolphins are going 6-10 or worse, but you can make an educated guess.

Both teams have tough games on deck and figure to be underdogs of 6+ next week, with the Browns heading on to Washington to play the Redskins and the Dolphins going to Cincinnati next. Both big favorites and big underdogs struggle before being big underdogs, as favorites of 6+ are 23-50 ATS before being underdogs of 6+ since 2008, while underdogs of 6 or more are 45-71 ATS before being underdogs of 6+ since 2012. The Bengals are a tougher opponent than the Redskins are though and the Dolphins also have to turn around and play them on Thursday Night. Favorites are just 50-71 ATS before Thursday Night Football, since 2008. It also hurts the Dolphins that they are playing a week 3 home opener, which historically doesn’t go well. Teams are just 24-46 ATS in a week 3 home opener since 1989. This seems like a trap game for Miami, even if Cleveland’s lack of talent doesn’t allow them to actually pull off the straight up victory. It’s worth betting on them at 10, though I’d be more hesitant at 9.5.

Miami Dolphins 23 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10

Confidence: Medium

Sep 242016
 

Los Angeles Rams (1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)

The Rams pulled off a big upset win last week in their home opener, beating the 7-point favorite Seattle Seahawks by the final score of 9-3. However, they’re in a terrible spot this week. For one, teams tend to struggle off of big home upset victories like that, going 49-75 ATS off of a win as home underdogs, including 13-24 ATS off of a win as home underdogs of 4 or more and 4-13 ATS as divisional home underdogs or 4 or more. This game is sandwiched between that huge, emotional home victory and another tough game, a trip to Arizona, where they will almost certainly be 10+ point underdogs. Teams are just 39-59 ATS since 2012 before being 10+ point underdogs, as tough upcoming games like that tend to be a distraction.

The Rams could easily be flat this week and they’re not that good to begin with, despite their home win against the Seahawks last week. The Rams’ defense looked great against the Seahawks, but the Seahawks’ offense hasn’t looked good at all in either game this season, thanks to the worst offensive line in the league. On the offensive side, the Rams failed to score a touchdown for the second straight week. On top of that, their 28-0 week 1 loss in San Francisco definitely can’t be ignored. They’re still dead last in rate of moving the chains differential, after finishing 30th in that measure last season. As bad as they were last season, they’re worse this season, after trading their entire draft for a quarterback who hasn’t played yet and losing a pair of talented starters in the secondary in free agency, Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, neither of whom was replaced.

There are two reasons why I wouldn’t put money on Tampa Bay as favorites of more than 4 though (this line is currently at 5.5). The first is the Buccaneers are playing a week 3 home opener, which historically doesn’t go well. Teams are just 24-46 ATS in a week 3 home opener since 1989. The second reason is the Buccaneers are missing their top pass rusher Robert Ayers with injury. Without him, it’s tough to be too confident in them as favorites of more than 4, even against an awful Rams team, considering 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer. Doug Martin is also out for Tampa Bay, though backup Charles Sims is a solid fill-in. The Buccaneers seem like the right side though.

Update: This line fell to 4 Sunday Morning, so it’s worth a play on Tampa Bay if you can get that line or better.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Los Angeles Rams 17

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -4

Confidence: Medium

Sep 242016
 

San Diego Chargers (1-1) at Indianapolis Colts (0-2)

The Chargers’ offense continues to be bitten by the injury bug. After finishing last season with the 8th most adjusted games lost to injury of any offense in the league, the Chargers lost #1 wide receiver Keenan Allen for the season week 1 and running back Danny Woodhead (the Chargers’ leader in yards from scrimmage in 2015) for the season with a torn ACL week 2. They will also be without veteran tight end Antonio Gates in this one, while rookie defensive end Joey Bosa (the 3rd overall pick in the draft) remains sidelined with a hamstring on defense.

Despite that, they still won at home last week, by the final score of 38-14 against a capable though mediocre Jaguars team. They’re more talented overall than last season, so they can withstand injuries better. Plus, even with all of their injuries last season, they outgained their opponents by 158 yards on the season and went 4-12 largely as a result of bad luck and things that are easy to clean up (close losses, long return touchdowns, missed tackles on special teams).

The Colts are not much better than the Jaguars and they too are dealing with injuries. While Vontae Davis, Henry Anderson, and Trent Cole are expected to return from injury this week, they could be limited; Davis and Anderson are making their season debuts, the latter after a late 2015 ACL tear. They’re also still without #2 and #3 cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Darius Butler and will additionally be without starting wide receiver Donte Moncrief and right guard Denzelle Good with injury this week. An old team in general, especially on defense, the Colts have one of the weaker rosters in the NFL, outside of the quarterback position. This game is in Indianapolis, but the Chargers have covered in 7 of their last 9 road games. The Chargers don’t get great home crowds, so it makes sense that they would be travel well (they’re also 3-6 ATS in their last 9 home games).

On top of that, the Colts could be distracted with a game in London on deck; teams are just 6-18 ATS all-time before a game in London. It makes sense that a long trip would serve as a big distraction. I wish this line hadn’t moved from the full field goal it was at last week on the early line. We lost all line value as a result of the Chargers’ big win last week. The line is now between 1-2 points. It doesn’t really matter what this line is as long as it’s under 3, as about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. I think the Chargers will win straight up, but not enough to take them confidently as favorites of less than a field goal. If you need something to bet on in this game, the money line is a good idea at +110. This game seems like a toss up at worst for the Chargers.

San Diego Chargers 27 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +1.5

Confidence: Low

Sep 242016
 

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)

The Eagles were at the top of my underrated teams list coming into the season, with a pre-season over/under of just 6.5 wins. Obviously the quarterback situation complicated matters, especially with Sam Bradford getting traded a week before the season started and rookie Carson Wentz being the week 1 starter. However, I thought they were easily the most talented team in the NFC East around the quarterback, particularly on defense, where they were getting a significant upgrade in leadership with Chip Kelly hire Billy Davis getting fired and Jim Schwartz, one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, coming in.

So far, through 2 games, they’ve exceeded even my expectations, winning both games pretty easily and currently ranking 7th in rate of moving the chains differential (RMCD). Granted, neither the Browns or the Bears are a tough opponent, but it can be easy to slip up against bad teams and the Eagles took care of business and dominated both games. They’re the only team in the league to win each of their first 2 games by 10 points and their +34 point differential is just behind New England, who has played an additional game. Their defense has been one of the better defenses in the league, masking their weakness at cornerback with good safety play and good front 7 play, while rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has been very impressive thus far. He doesn’t have great skill position talent around him, which limits this offense, but they do have a strong offensive line, especially with Lane Johnson being allowed to play until the results of his PED suspension appeal.

Given that, it’s confusing why they’re getting 4 points here at home. The Steelers are one of the better teams in the league, but the Eagles are still not getting the respect they deserve from the oddsmakers and I’ll keep betting them until the oddsmakers start making better lines. It’s also worth noting that the Steelers seem to have a habit of slipping up against inferior non-divisional opponents on the road, going 9-20 ATS as non-divisional road favorites in the Mike Tomlin era, dating back to 2007.

They got a big win week 1 in Washington in that situation, beating the Redskins 38-16 as 3-point road favorites, but the Eagles are better than the Redskins and that was week 1 anyway, which is a weird situation. The Steelers were focused in their first game of the season, but could easily be less than fully focused here week 3, after a big win over division rival Cincinnati and with another big conference game (Kansas City) on deck. This has trap game written all over it and I’m happy to take the 4 points with the underrated Eagles, especially since 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer. The money line is also a good value at +160, as this line should be around a pick em.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +4

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Sep 242016
 

Detroit Lions (1-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-1)

I’ve seen a couple articles this week asking what’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. That doesn’t make sense to me. The Packers opened their season with two road games and played pretty well in both games all things considering, beating a capable Jacksonville team week 1 and then barely losing last week against a good Minnesota team. Despite splitting the two games, they actually moved the chains better than their opponents in both games and only lost in Minnesota because of a +2 turnover margin.

Turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent week-to-week and the Packers tend be better at winning the turnover battle than most, so I don’t see that as a long-term problem. They’re unlikely to be as good offensively as they were in 2014, when they finished 1st in rate of moving the chains (RMC), but they figure to finish significantly better than last season, when they finished 16th in that statistic, especially as Jordy Nelson gets back into game shape after missing all of last season with a torn ACL and especially as more home games come up on the schedule.

Now back at home, they have a very good chance to get back on track. They went just 4-4 ATS at home last season, but went 36-23 ATS in Lambeau from 2008 to 2014. Even if they don’t recapture that old home magic, it definitely helps that they’re going into a bye. Big favorites tend to take care of business going into a bye, as home favorites of 6 or more are 61-22 ATS before a bye since 2002. Their offense especially has a good chance to get back on track this week, as Detroit is missing two of their top three defensive players, linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, with injury. That leaves their defense very vulnerable. This is the easiest matchup the Packers have had thus far. Jacksonville’s defense wasn’t good, but that was a road game and the Packers still moved the chains at a respectable 75.00% rate.

As long as this line is 7 or fewer, this is a money play, though I’d be more hesitant at 7.5, as Detroit has a strong offense and I’d be worried about Detroit driving down the field down two touchdowns late for the backdoor cover, especially with the Packers missing some guys on defense as well (though not anyone as important as Ansah or Levy). The backdoor cover possibility also scares me off of making this my Pick of the Week, as does the fact that the Packers are playing a week 3 home opener, which historically doesn’t go well. Teams are just 24-46 ATS in a week 3 home opener since 1989. The Packers have had to travel a lot already and that could give the Lions an advantage, but their upcoming bye should keep them focused on this week and I like their chances of putting up a big number on Detroit’s injury plagued defense.

Green Bay Packers 31 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7

Confidence: Medium

Sep 242016
 

Chicago Bears (0-2) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1)

The Bears have been hit hard by the injury bug early in the season. Not only is quarterback Jay Cutler out for this game with a thumb injury, they’re also without starting linebackers Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan, reserve linebacker Lamarr Houston, and top defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, while top cornerback Kyle Fuller is questionable after missing the first two games of the season with an ankle injury. That’s a lot to be missing from a defense that wasn’t great to begin with.

However, the Cowboys are missing a lot of guys as well. Top cornerback Orlando Scandrick will be out for this one, while starting defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence and starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain are all suspended and of course quarterback Tony Romo remains on the sidelines with a back injury. They won in Washington last week, but only by 4 and against a Redskins team that isn’t playing well right now. Cowboys Backup quarterback Dak Prescott understandably hasn’t quite lived up to his big pre-season and has a patchwork defense supporting him, so the Cowboys shouldn’t be favored by a touchdown against anyone, except for maybe the Browns.

The Bears aren’t that bad. They’re actually in pretty capable hands with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has made 22 starts over the past 2 seasons and has shown himself to at least be a low end starting quarterback. He had success throwing to DeAndre Hopkins and will likely have similar success with Bears #1 receiver Alshon Jeffery, a similar player. Even with Goldman, Houston, and Trevathan going down too, this line shouldn’t have moved from 3.5 on the early line to 7 this week as a result of Cutler’s injury, especially if Fuller can play.

The Cowboys also haven’t had much homefield advantage in recent years, as they are 15-34 ATS at home since 2010, including 8-26 ATS as home favorites, as opposed to 28-21 ATS on the road. That makes sense, as the Cowboys have fans scattered around the country and normally have many of their own fans in attendance at road games, while their home stadium is a bit of a tourist attraction and often has many visiting fans as a result. There aren’t a lot of good sides this week, but I like the Bears a good amount.

Dallas Cowboys 23 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7

Confidence: High

Sep 222016
 

Houston Texans (2-0) at New England Patriots (2-0)

Last week, the early line was 3.5 in favor of the hometown New England Patriots. When I saw that, my first thought was New England was likely to cover. Home non-divisional favorites on Thursday nights are 34-16 ATS since 1989. Thursday night games are tough enough for players, but they’re especially tough when you have to go on the road and face a comparable or better opponent, unless that opponent is a divisional opponent that you play twice a year. This game fit all 3 criteria and the Patriots had proven themselves to still be a tough opponent, even without Tom Brady, with a win in Arizona week 1.

Of course, the Patriots lost backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo last week, which changed matters a lot. Now the Patriots are in a tough situation, scrambling to get 3rd string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a 3rd round rookie out of NC State, ready to start on a short week. That also changed the line as now the Patriots are underdogs of 3 points at home. That seems like far too drastic of a swing. In fact, the New England/Arizona line only shifted about 6 points immediately after Brady’s suspension was upheld.

The Patriots went from leading 24-3 when Garoppolo went down to barely hanging on by the final score of 31-24 aftewards, but that’s not really an indictment on Brissett. The Patriots’ defense played a lot better in the first half than the second half and Brissett didn’t even have that many pass attempts, as the Patriots just tried to run out the clock with what was once a big lead (as high as 31-3 at one point). Brissett only threw 9 passes in a little over a half, completing 6 of them for 92 yards. Two of the 3 incompletions were drops by Julian Edelman that were not in the best spot. All in all, for coming into the game cold off the bench, Brissett wasn’t bad and could conceivably lead a run heavy offense to victory, though he’s a major question mark.

The Texans have a strong defense so the Patriots are unlikely to win a shootout, but they have a good defense as well and figure to be able to keep the Texans’ offense in check on a short week. The Texans remain without left tackle Duane Brown with injury, while the Patriots are reportedly likely to get back both linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tight end Rob Gronkowski from injury. One in 6 games are decided by a field goal or less, so I like the Patriots’ chances of at least keeping this one close at home. They’re 41-22 ATS as underdogs under Bill Belichick, including 8-6 ATS without Brady, and 12-3 ATS as home underdogs under Bill Belichick, including 2-1 ATS without Brady. In some places, this line has dropped to 1.5-2.5, in which case this is a lower confidence play, but it’s a money play at 3 for sure.

New England Patriots 16 Houston Texans 13 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: New England +3

Confidence: Medium

Sep 172016
 

Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-1)

One of my favorite things to do as a bettor is go against week-to-week overreactions, so I always check to see how much the line has changed since the early line the previous week. Sometimes big line movements make sense, but often they don’t. This line was 3.5 a week ago, but has since moved all the way to 6. It’s unclear why. The Browns struggled mightily in Philadelphia last week, but we already knew they were a bad team. The Ravens had a solid performance last week against the Bills, but they’re not good enough to be favored by this many points on the road against anyone, especially with top pass rusher Elvis Dumervil missing his 2nd straight game with injury. It’s a no confidence play, but Cleveland is the pick here.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Cleveland Browns 12

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: None

Sep 172016
 

Tennessee Titans (0-1) at Detroit Lions (1-0)

One of my favorite things to do as a bettor is go against week-to-week overreactions, so I always check to see how much the line has changed since the early line the previous week. Sometimes big line movements make sense, but often they don’t. This line was 3.5 a week ago, but has since moved all the way to 6. At first glance, that might make sense, as Detroit pulled the upset victory in Indianapolis, while the Titans lost by 9 at home to Shaun Hill in the Vikings, but Indianapolis is an overrated team, so that win wasn’t that impressive, while the Titans actually outplayed Minnesota for most of the game, outside of two offensive plays that ended up going for defensive touchdowns the other way. They actually moved the chains at a 70.00% rate, as opposed to 62.50% for Minnesota. Their defense looked impressive, holding Adrian Peterson to one of the least productive games of his career (31 yards on 19 carries).

The Titans did lose outside linebacker Derrick Morgan to injury last week and they really missed him when he was injured last season, but they drafted outside linebacker Kevin Dodd in the 2nd round for depth purposes, so they’re much better prepared to handle his absence this time around. On the other side, the Lions are without top linebacker DeAndre Levy. The Lions are a solid team and better than the Titans, but this line is too high at 6 points. It’s not enough for me to put any money on it, but I’m taking the points here.

Detroit Lions 27 Tennessee Titans 23

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6

Confidence: Low

Sep 172016
 

Green Bay Packers (1-0) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0)

This is one of the tougher calls of the week for me. Minnesota is still a solid team despite losing Teddy Bridgewater, but they are also missing defensive starters Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd and quarterback Sam Bradford is going into his first start with the team, after being acquired just two weeks ago. If this line was a field goal, I’d take the Vikings just because 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, but this line is at 2.5 (2 in many places). The Packers are missing top cornerback Sam Shields with a concussion, but are still the significant better team, so I like their chances of winning by at least a field goal in Minnesota, but not enough to be at all confident in them.

Green Bay Packers 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -2.5

Confidence: None

Sep 172016
 

Indianapolis Colts (0-1) at Denver Broncos (1-0)

Coming into the season, I thought the Colts were one of the most overrated teams in the league. They get Andrew Luck back after an 8-8 2015 season, but their passing offense wasn’t the problem last season, as Matt Hasselbeck was serviceable until the last couple weeks of the season and actually outplayed Luck statistically. Their defense took a step back from the season before and they struggled mightily running the ball and protecting the quarterback. Their running backs and offensive line remain a problem and the defense could take another step back. They lost top linebacker Jerrell Freeman in free agency and have the oldest defense in the league, which looks like one of the worst in the league on paper, especially with Trent Cole, Henry Anderson, Patrick Robinson, and Vontae Davis all out with injuries. Luck’s obviously a big re-addition, but it’s probably not enough for this team to get back to the playoffs.

However, I also thought the Broncos were overrated coming into the season. They finished last regular season just 11th in rate of moving the chains differential and might not have even made the playoffs if not for an unsustainably good record in games decided by a touchdown or less, 9-3. This off-season, they lost two defensive starters in Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, who were not replaced, as well as talented guard Evan Mathis. They’re starting a 2nd year 7th rookie pick at quarterback, one of the least qualified week 1 starting quarterbacks in years, and have underwhelming talent around him on offense, especially with Demaryius Thomas dealing with a limiting hip injury. Even if they do win here, it could easily be another close game for a team who has won 12 of their last 16 wins by 7 points or fewer (including last post-season), relevant considering this line is 6.5. That seems way too high to me, even with the Colts banged up.

The Broncos won last week at home against a tough Carolina team and looked good doing it, but easily could have lost if not for a missed field goal at the end of the game (or if not for a timely Gary Kubiak timeout, which forced Graham Gano to re-kick after making the first one). Besides, defending Super Bowl champions tend to do well week 1. In the last 10 instances, Super Bowl Champions who open at home on a Thursday Night are 8-1-1 ATS, but the previous 9 teams are just 2-7 ATS the following week. Opening as Super Bowl champions is a very emotional game, so it makes sense teams would play well, but it’s also hard to carry that kind of performance into the following week.

Teams are also 48-74 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs. Teams tend to be overconfident and overvalued off of a big home win against a superior opponent. At the very least, the Broncos are overvalued here at 6.5, especially considering this line was at just 3.5 a week ago. I think a line of 4 or so would have much more appropriate. The Broncos also have a tougher opponent next week, as they head to Cincinnati, while the Colts host the Chargers. Underdogs are 80-56 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. Coming off an emotional, close win, the Broncos could easily not be focused for an inferior opponent, especially with another tough game on deck, while the Colts figure to be focused, facing the defending champions, with an easier home game on deck. I think it’s very unlikely that the Broncos win by more than 7. I’ll take 6.5 if I have to, but it’d be a bigger play at 7. The money line at +230 is also a good value if you like to take bigger risks.

Denver Broncos 23 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +6.5

Confidence: Medium

Sep 172016
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-1)

The Cardinals lost in upset fashion to the Patriots last week, but could have easily won that game if they hadn’t missed a 47-yard field goal at the end of the game. They actually slightly outplayed the Patriots, moving the chains at a 80.00% rate, as opposed to 75.00% for the Patriots. This week, I think we’re getting good line value with the Cardinals, with the line shifting from 8.5 on the early line last week to 7 this week, largely as a result of Arizona’s loss. I wish we were getting 6.5 with the Cardinals and I’d need the line to be that low to put money on this one, but Arizona should be the right side even at 7.

Tampa Bay looked solid in Atlanta last week, but Atlanta has one of the least talented rosters in the NFL. The Buccaneers are better than last season, but played a very easy schedule last season and still have a lot of significant issues. Arizona, meanwhile, was one of the best teams in the league last season. They were also one of the oldest in the league, but they kept all of their key players in free agency and added both Chandler Jones and Evan Mathis, though the latter is out for this one for an injury. They still figure to be one of the better teams in the league this season and should win this one by double digits. If you can get 6.5, it’s worth a bet.

Arizona Cardinals 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -7

Confidence: Low

Sep 172016
 

Miami Dolphins (0-1) at New England Patriots (1-0)

The Dolphins are in a much better spot than the Patriots here, as they have arguably the easiest game of their season on deck, a home game against the Browns in which they’re favored by a touchdown in the early line, while the Patriots have to play again in 4 days against the Texans on Thursday Night Football. Underdogs of 6 or more are 40-29 ATS before being favorites of 6 or more since 2008, while teams are 48-71 ATS as favorites before Thursday Night Football. The Dolphins could easily be a lot more focused for this one than their opponent.

On top of that, the Dolphins are in their 2nd of two road games, coming off a loss in Seattle. Teams are 131-95 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 106-64 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. 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 226-229 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.51 points per game, as opposed to 322-438 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.74 points per game.

That being said, this line is way too low for me at 6.5 to put any money on the Dolphins. The Patriots showed last week that even without Tom Brady, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Dion Lewis, and Rob Gronkowski, they’re still a very capable football team. They could have easily lost if not for a botched 47-yard potential game winning field goal by the Cardinals, but even losing by 1 would have been impressive on the road, against the Cardinals. This is the most talented Patriots’ defense since their undefeated 2007 team, keeping the Cardinals’ high flying offense in check. If they can get guys back on offense, they’re probably the team to beat in the NFL. This week, they get Nate Solder and possibly Rob Gronkowski back.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are overrated coming off of a 2 point loss in Seattle. The only reason that game was close is the Dolphins won the turnover margin by 2, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and the Patriots historically do very well in turnover margin. The Dolphins only moved the chains at a 54.55% rate last week, as opposed to 70.97% for the Seahawks. One of the worst teams in the league last season (31st in rate of moving the chains differential), the Dolphins are better coached this year, but lost a trio of talented free agents in Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon, and Derrick Shelby and have one of the least talented rosters in the league. Missing center Mike Pouncey for the 2nd straight week, they figure to have a hard time scoring against New England, even though the Patriots are missing linebacker Dont’a Hightower. I’m taking the Dolphins to keep this closer than a touchdown because they’re in a better spot, but I’d need at least 7.5 to consider putting any money on this.

New England Patriots 17 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Miami +6.5

Confidence: Low