Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1)
The Falcons looked pretty good week 1 against the Saints, but they fell flat on their face in Cincinnati last week. However, I expect them to bounce back here for three reasons. One, Jake Matthews is back from injury and will take over again on the blindside. Two, the Falcons are a much better team at home. Matt Ryan is 29-19 ATS in his career, at home. On top of that, Matt Ryan is very good off of a loss, going 22-10 ATS.
This would be a bigger play, but the Buccaneers are in a good spot playing their first road game of the season week 3, as teams are 39-24 ATS in that situation since 1989. However, as long as the number is under a touchdown, I like the Falcons chances here. The Buccaneers aren’t a very good team, especially since they could be missing both Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson from a solid, but top heavy defensive unit. The Falcons are a good team, as long as they’re at home and I give them the edge here in a bounce back game on a short week on Thursday Night.
Minnesota Vikings (1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2)
The Saints are 0-2, but I’m not too worried about them. If one of their offensive players had been able to tackle Tashaun Gipson on his eventual pick 6, there’s a very good chance they’d be 1-1 right now and heading home to face the Vikings as at least 12 point favorites. They weren’t able to do that and they lost as a result, but both of their first two games were very close and I’m not going to completely throw out my pre-season evaluation of this team just because of a few plays that didn’t go their way.
We’re getting a ton of line value with them as a result of public overreaction. The Saints as just 9.5 point home favorites is stealing considering how good they are at home. The Saints are 31-10 ATS at home since 2008 in the games which Drew Brees and Sean Payton were involved. On top of that, they are 16-0-1 ATS at home over their last 16 home games with Drew Brees and Sean Payton. They’ve won all 17 of those games by an average of about 20.8 points per game, with just three being decided by 10 points or less and just one being decided by less than 6 points.They should be able to win by double digits here against an average at best Vikings team.
As I mentioned, this line is an overreaction. The Saints are moving the chains at an 81.81% rate, as opposed to 80.28% for their opponents. 0-2 teams are 20-11 ATS as 5+ point favorites since 1989. That tells us two things. One this type of situation doesn’t happen very often. Two, when it does, it’s usually for a reason and that reason seems to be that the favorite team is still very good despite their record. Finally, on top of that, Drew Brees usually bounces back well. He’s 18-5 ATS off of a loss as long as Sean Payton is on the sideline since 2008. He didn’t last week on the road, but he’s 13-2 at home in that situation. This is my pick of the week.
The Chiefs had the fewest adjusted games lost last season. Now they’ve already lost two of their best players (Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito) for the season with torn Achilles. On offense, Dwayne Bowe is back from suspension, but Donald Stephenson remains suspended and now Jeff Allen is out for the season on an offensive line that was already thin after losing 31 games of starting experience from the 2013 team. Their loss at home to Tennessee was probably a sign of things to come, now that they have a way tougher schedule, they won’t be able to dominate the turnover battle as much, and they simply aren’t as talented as they were last season thanks to injuries and off-season losses.
However, I think this line at 12 is too big. The Broncos aren’t the same offense as they were last season when they just ran through everyone in blowout fashion. Eric Decker is gone. Wes Welker is still suspended. Peyton Manning is highly unlikely to repeat last season, especially with a tougher schedule and at age 38. I don’t have a ton of confidence in the Chiefs or anything, but I’m going to grab the points and hope they can keep it within 10 or so and catch the Broncos looking forward to a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle next week.
Seattle Seahawks (1-0) at San Diego Chargers (1-0)
I really hate to go against the Seahawks. They were obviously Super Bowl champs last year and deserving ones at that and now they return with their same young core. They looked every bit as good as they always had last week, beating the Packers 36-16 in a game that could have been even more of a blowout. They moved the chains at an 85.29% rate, as opposed to 72.41% for the Packers, giving them the 2nd best differential of the week last week against a Green Bay team that very well could still be destined for big things.
However, they’re not at home now and they don’t have the crazy crowd pumped off of the ring ceremony on their side. This could very well be a big hangover game for them after last season and after last season. I also feel like this line is a little overinflated in San Diego against a Charger team that is at least average. The public is still all over the 6 point favorite Seahawks here and when in doubt fade the public. I wish I was getting a few more points to play with and I’m not confident at all, but the Chargers are my pick here.
St. Louis Rams (0-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)
The Buccaneers are in a bad spot here with a Thursday Night game against the Falcons on deck. Teams are 14-30 ATS since 2008 as favorites before a divisional Thursday Night game. I also think we’re getting some line value with the Rams. The Buccaneers aren’t really that good. They didn’t look good at all last week, losing at home to Derek Anderson and the Panthers. They’re also really banged up with both Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson out for this one and Doug Martin likely to be less than 100% even if he plays.
They could easily finish 6-10 or worse and teams that finish 6-10 or worse cover only about a quarter of the time as favorites of 6 or more. The Rams didn’t look good last week, but they don’t deserve to be underdogs of this much in Tampa Bay. No one really does, with the exception of maybe Jacksonville. People are overreacting to how bad they looked last week. Some people had this as a surprise playoff team before Sam Bradford got hurt and now all of a sudden they’re seen as maybe the worst team in the NFL.
Realistically, they are and have always been somewhere in between. Bradford’s loss isn’t that big of a deal because Shaun Hill is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL. He wasn’t fantastic last week, completing 8 of 13 for 81 yards and an interception before going down with a thigh injury, but in his career he’s completed 61.9% of his passes for an average of 6.68 YPA, 41 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. He’s 34 and hasn’t played a lot since 2010, but he’s still a solid backup. The Rams should finish around 5-11 or 6-10 and I don’t think they’re that much worse than the Buccaneers. I’m not that confident in the Rams because I don’t know if Hill is going to play or be 100% and Austin Davis looked awful last week, but they should be the right side.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)
The Eagles were down 17-0 early against the Jaguars last week at home, before coming back and winning 34-17. Their offense looked solid again, as it did last season with Nick Foles, but their defense continued to struggle. This line suggests these two teams are even, but I don’t think that’s the case right now as the Eagles’ offensive line is falling apart. Lane Johnson is still suspended. Allen Barbre, his replacement, is now out with an injury. Meanwhile, left guard Evan Mathis, one of the best offensive linemen in the league, was put on injured reserve with intent to return and will miss a significant period of time. The Eagles’ defense will continue to struggle and the offense won’t be as good with the offensive line banged up.
The Colts are also in the better spot here. Teams are 52-24 ATS as non-divisional home favorites before being divisional road favorites (in Jacksonville next week) since 2008. The Colts are also very good off of a loss and at home in the Andrew Luck era. They are 10-0 ATS off of a loss since Luck was drafted in 2012 and 11-5 ATS at home in that same time period. I like the Colts’ chances of beating a banged up Eagles team here in the first Monday Night Football game in Indianapolis in the Andrew Luck era.
New Orleans Saints (0-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1)
Ordinarily, I don’t like to pick the Saints on the road. I was 15-2-1 ATS picking Saints games this year and it would be 15-1-2 if I had gotten -3 in the 49ers game and not -3.5, in an eventual New Orleans win by 3. I did that by blindly picking them at home and almost blindly picking against them on the road, only picking them in Chicago as 1 point favorites because I correctly believed the Bears to be overrated at that point. The Saints went 7-0-1 ATS at home last season, but they are 2-8-1 ATS on the road since the start of last season. Here they are 6.5 point favorites on the road in Cleveland and the public is all over the Saints, which makes me want to take the Browns.
However, I have a hard time taking the Browns without Jordan Cameron against a team like the Saints that, for all their road struggles, is still one of the most talented in the NFL. Drew Brees is also very good off of a loss in his career as long as Sean Payton is on the sideline, going 18-5 ATS in that situation since 2008. On top of that, teams are better in their 2nd straight road game than their 1st one. Since 2008, teams are 434-615 in their first road game, getting outscored by an average of 3.27 points per game. Meanwhile, teams are 181-205 in their second road game, getting outscored by an average of 0.66 points per game. Finally, the Saints have no distractions on the horizon with a home game against the Vikings up next. Teams are 44-32 ATS since 2008 as road favorites before being double digit home favorites. I’m not confident at all, but the Saints are my pick.
The Cardinals were one of my overrated teams coming into the season and I still think that’s true, even after their 1 point comeback victory at home over the Chargers on Monday Night Football week 1. They get Tyrann Mathieu back from injury this week and Andre Ellington was able to play through his foot problem last week and have moderate success, but neither of them are 100%. Guys like Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington, and Darnell Dockett are all still gone from that 2013 defense and now John Abraham is out with a concussion and considering retirement.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jonathan Cooper, the 7th overall pick in 2013, is still not 100% coming back from the leg injury that cost him his whole rookie season and has yet to prove himself worthy of a starting job to the coaching staff. Carson Palmer, now in his age 35 season, looked decent against the Chargers, but should struggle against better defenses. The Giants don’t have a great defense, but they’re still more talented than the Chargers’ stop unit, which was one of the worst in the NFL in 2014. Palmer is also dealing with a bad shoulder.
The Giants have a lot of issues, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, but I don’t think they should be 2.5 point home underdogs here against Arizona. The Giants were 1.5 point favorites a week ago and I don’t think enough happened last week for this line to move 4 points. The Giants were blown out in Detroit, but I don’t think people realize how good Detroit is going to be this year. The Cardinals easily could have been blown out there as well.
The Cardinals are also in a bad spot, with a game against the 49ers on deck. Teams are 44-60 ATS as road favorites before being home underdogs since 2002, including 18-29 ATS as non-divisional road favorites before being divisional home underdogs since 1989. The Cardinals have bigger things on the horizon, while the Giants have a random game against the Texans on deck. I wish we were getting field goal protection with the Giants, but they should still be the right side.
New York Giants 17 Arizona Cardinals 16 Upset Pick +120
This is a tough one and one I don’t really have a strong opinion on. On one hand, I don’t know if I’m ready to bet on the Texans as field goal favorites. On the other hand, I do think the Texans are going to bounce back in a big way this season. They looked good in the opener in a 19-6 win over another team I think is going to bounce back this season, the Washington Redskins. The Texans’ offense isn’t great, but they have one of the better defenses in the league. They went 2-14 year, but they were much better than their record.
They went 2-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less. As bad as their record was last season, they only lost 5 games by more than a touchdown and two of those came late in the season in their final 3 games after Gary Kubiak was fired and the team essentially quit. They were also killed by turnovers last year, going -20 in that aspect and having serious issues with return touchdowns. They finished 21st in rate of moving the chains (including 11th defensively), which was more indicative of their talent level than their record.
The Raiders, meanwhile, are one of the worst teams in the league and they’re in a tough spot here as they have a bigger game in New England next week. They could easily overlook the Texans here. Teams are 39-78 before being double digit underdogs since 2010, including 55-78 as home underdogs before being double digit underdogs since 2002. The Texans, meanwhile, have to play the Giants next week, which is a much easier game. The Texans are the side I’m going with, but I’m not confident and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this ended up being a push and a field goal win by the Texans.
I had the Cowboys at 4-12 coming into the season, but even that might have been a little optimistic, based on their play against the 49ers week 1 in a 28-13 home loss. Their defense was just as bad as I expected, unable to get off the field and essentially showing themselves to be non-existent. However, Tony Romo looked like he was turning into 2014’s version of Matt Schaub in 2013, an older non-top tier quarterback who sees his abilities randomly fall off a cliff. Romo threw 3 picks, 2 of which were awful. In his age 34 season, coming off of serious back surgery, it’s a concern.
The Cowboys offense moved the chains well when they weren’t turning the ball over and it’s important not to overreact to one game so I’m not moving them down in my book any further from where I had them, but I still think this is a terrible team with easily the worst defense in the league and an offense that won’t be able to keep up. The Titans aren’t a great team (their win in Kansas City was more an indictment of the Chiefs than a sign that the Titans will be good this season), but they’re still noticeably better than the Cowboys. We’re getting line value with them as they’re more than a half point better than the Titans.
The reason the Titans aren’t a bigger play this week is because they aren’t in a great situation. They have a much tougher game than the Cowboys next week as they go to Cincinnati while the Cowboys go to St. Louis. Teams are 67-96 ATS as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road favorites since 2002, while teams are 86-54 ATS as underdogs before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs since 2010. The Titans should still be the right side, but I’m not that confident.
I had these two teams as essentially even before the season started and I really have much of a reason to change that drastically right now. The Dolphins got an impressive home victory over the Patriots, but the Bills were able to win on the road in Chicago. The Bears aren’t a great team or anything, but it’s always impressive when a team wins on the road. However, this line suggests the Dolphins are a significantly better team as they are road favorites of about a month.
The Bills are now returning home, where they were a lot better last season than on the road. They went 6-1 ATS at home last season, excluding a game in Toronto that was essentially a neutral site game. They beat Carolina, Baltimore, Miami, and blew out the Jets. They took the Bengals to overtime, came within 2 points of knocking off the Patriots and their only non-cover in Buffalo was a 23-13 loss to the Chiefs in which they started a 3rd string quarterback and allowed 2 defensive touchdowns. They knocked off the Dolphins twice last season, including a 19-0 win week 16 in Buffalo and I like their chances to do so again, especially against a Dolphins team that could be riding a little too high after last week (7-13 ATS after playing the Patriots since 2001).
I had the Bengals going 12-4 before the season started. I thought they were better than their record last season because they were able to be a dominant team (11-5) without relying on always winning the turnover battle. Turnover margins are really unpredictable and inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. They finished 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential at 7.81%, behind only Denver and New Orleans, thanks to a league best defense that only allowed opponents to move the chains at a 65.68% rate and an above average offense that moved the chains at a 73.49% rate, 12th in the NFL.
The Bengals’ performance week 1 only solidifies that prediction as they were able to get a tough road win against a Baltimore team that is 42-10 at home since 2008, something that gave them problems last season. On the road last season, they went 3-5 and 2-5-1 ATS. That included losses to non-playoff teams like Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh and a close call in Buffalo. Now they return home where they were incredible last season.
They went undefeated at home last season in the regular season, doing so by an average of 17.62 points per game and covering all 8 times, until that playoff loss to the Chargers. They should be able to maintain that home dominance this week against an Atlanta team that has had issues outdoors in recent years and that might be a little overconfident coming off of that win against New Orleans in overtime (teams are 35-49 ATS off of a win by 1-3 points as divisional dogs since 2008). The Falcons are also now missing Jake Matthews with an injury, after losing Sam Baker before the season started, which is forcing them to start Gabe Carimi and Lamar Holmes at tackle. This line should be a lot higher than 5.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1) at Washington Redskins (0-1)
The Redskins lost in Houston last week and it seems that people have already given up on them as a bounce back team. After all, the Texans won just 2 games last season. I don’t think that’s the right reaction. I think it’s way more likely that the Texans are also going to be a bounce back team this season. Their offense isn’t great, but they have one of the better defenses in the league. They went 2-14 year, but they were much better than their record.
They went 2-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less. As bad as their record was last season, they only lost 5 games by more than a touchdown and two of those came late in the season in their final 3 games after Gary Kubiak was fired and the team essentially quit. They were also killed by turnovers last year, going -20 in that aspect and having serious issues with return touchdowns. They finished 21st in rate of moving the chains (including 11th defensively), which was more indicative of their talent level than their record. The fact that RG3 and the Redskin offense struggled against the Texans’ defense doesn’t necessarily mean that RG3 will never find his 2012 form again.
He could easily find it this week. The Texans don’t suck, but the Jaguars do. They started out 17-0 against the Eagles, but showed their true colors once again, eventually losing 34-17. They went 4-12 last season and were even worse than their record. They finished dead last in DVOA and point differential, with 10 of their 12 losses coming by double digits. Their 4-12 record was buoyed by a 4-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Those 4 wins came against teams that finished a combined 15-49. They also ranked easily dead last in rate of moving the chains differential. They were dead last in rate of moving the chains, moving them at a 64.19% rate. Meanwhile, their defense was 29th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.85% rate. That’s a differential of -11.66%. No one else was worse than -7.45%. In their last 17 games, they’ve lost 11 times by double digits. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Redskins made it 12 times in 18 games. This line is way too low.
New England Patriots (0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0)
This is the overreaction line of the week. A week ago, most people had the Patriots as one of the top few teams in the NFL and had the Vikings as mediocre at best. The Vikings looked good blowing out a Rams team that had to turn to their 3rd string quarterback mid-game and the Patriots struggles in Miami against a capable Dolphins team, but I don’t think that should cause everyone to throw out all their pre-season evaluations.
Remember, the Patriots led 20-10 at the half and might have been able to hold on for the victory if Rob Gronkowski had been able to play more in the second half. His conditioning should be better now in his 2nd game back from that torn ACL. The Patriots are still a healthier and more talented team than last season and the Vikings still have an underwhelming roster on paper. There’s no reason this line should only be at 3 in favor of Patriots. They were 4.5 point favorites in Miami last week, while the Vikings were 3 point underdogs in St. Louis. This line would have been at least 6 last week, if not more.
Tom Brady and the Patriots thrive on everyone underestimating and discounting them. Tom Brady is 30-15 ATS in his career off of a loss. They’re also in the better spot here with no distractions on the horizon, as they host Oakland next. Road favorites are 44-32 ATS before being double digit favorites since 2002. Meanwhile, the Vikings have to go to New Orleans next week, which is another very tough game. They could easily be double digit underdogs there. Teams are 34-52 ATS since 2002 as home dogs before being double digit underdogs and 17-40 ATS before being double digit underdogs when their opponent will next be double digit favorites.
The Lions were one of my underrated teams coming into the season. I felt the same way about the Lions as I did about the Panthers last season, when I predicted they would go 12-4, win the NFC South, and get a first round bye They have so much talent and finished 6th in rate of moving the chains last season, but they’ve had big issues with losing close games and turning the ball over in the past 2 seasons. I expect them to get over that this season, especially with a new head coach, and I also think this is their most talented team in a very long time. After a week 1 35-14 blowout victory over the Giants, I feel even more confident in that assessment.
They should carry that into this week. Teams are 32-13 ATS since 2002 off of a Monday Night win of 21+ or more. Meanwhile, the Panthers did a lot last week to quell concerns that they’d decline this season after losing their top offensive linemen and essentially their entire secondary and receiving corps this off-season. Week 1, the Panthers went into Tampa Bay and won despite not having starting quarterback Cam Newton.
However, I still like the Lions a lot here despite that for four reasons. One, it’s very possible the Buccaneers just aren’t a good team. Two, it’s also very possible that the Panthers relax a little bit this week with Cam Newton back. Three, I don’t like to change much from my pre-season predictions after 1 week and I had the Panthers missing out in the playoffs in the pre-season. Four, Cam Newton could easily be less than 100% in his first regular season game with his new supporting cast and coming back from a rib problem and an ankle problem. There’s no reason the Lions should be underdogs here. I like them a good amount.
Detroit Lions 20 Carolina Panthers 13 Upset Pick +115
The Bears were one of my overrated teams going into the season. The Bears had a great offense last season, but they also had a defense that was worse than their offense was good. This season, I expected their offense to be worse without their defense being much better. The Bears moved the chains at a 75.68% rate last season, 4th in the NFL, but they were only in the mid 73s in games that Jay Cutler started as a lot of their offensive dominance game in games started by Josh McCown. They’ll still be a good offense, but they’ll finish somewhere in the 8-12 range rather than 4th.
I don’t expect this team to move the chains at a 75.68% rate again or even close within 2% points of that, even if Jay Cutler plays all 16 games. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble because McCown is gone, now starting in Tampa Bay. On top of that, they should have more injuries on offense than last season as the games Cutler missed, which actually made them better, were their only real games lost to injuries offensively. They have minimal depth and now starting offensive linemen Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson are going to miss time with injury. Their loss to the Bills last week only solidifies my opinion that they’re going to struggle this year.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have always been able to beat up on bad teams in the Jim Harbaugh era. They are 24-12 ATS as favorites of 3 or more since 2011. Last season, against teams that finished .500 or worse, Colin Kaepernick completed 110 of 177 (62.2%) for 1553 yards (8.69 YPA), 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions, while rushing for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns on 45 carries in 8 games. They won all 8 of those games by an average of 20.13 points per game and covered 7 times. Last week, they beat up on a terrible Dallas team, winning 28-13. They’re also in a good situation here as non-divisional home favorites before being divisional road favorites (in Arizona next week). Teams are 52-24 ATS in that situation since 2008. They should blow out the Bears here in the Levi Stadium opener on Sunday Night Football.
The Packers got blown out in Seattle week 1, but there’s no shame in that and that doesn’t prove they won’t be a good team this season. They were 6-2 in games that Aaron Rodgers started and finished last season and that was even though they had other significant injuries. Now not only is Rodgers healthy, but also Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews, and Casey Hayward. They have the opportunity to still be a very good team (I had them at 12-4 before the season started), but this line doesn’t suggest that as they are mere 8.5 point favorites over the Jets. That seems like an overreaction to last week.
The Packers will have had 10 days to prepare for this game, which can’t hurt. Rodgers has been very good off of a loss in his career, going 18-9 ATS in such situations. The Packers also return home where they’ve been incredibly dominant over the past few seasons, as long as Rodgers has been under center. The Packers have also been incredible at home over the past few years, as long as Aaron Rodgers has been under center. Rodgers is 21-8-1 ATS at home since 2010 and 26-4 straight up, with an absurd +409 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 13.63 points per game. They should be able to flip the script here and blow out the Jets the way they were blown out in Seattle.
The Jets might also be a little overrated here. They looked decent against Oakland (even though they only won by 5), but that was Oakland at home. This is a different story. They went 8-8 last season, but that was not indicative of how bad of a team they were. They went 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less and had a points differential of -97 (7th worst in the NFL) and 5.4 Pythagorean wins. They finished the season 25th in rate of moving the chains differential and 24th in DVOA. They were essentially a 5-11 team that managed to win 8 games. They added Eric Decker this off-season and they should have better turnover and fumble luck, after recovering a league worst 30.30% of fumbles and finishing with a -13 turnover margin, but they aren’t a good team. The Packers should blow them out fairly easily here. This is my pick of the week.
Green Bay Packers 34 New York Jets 13 Survivor Pick
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-1)
Last week I mentioned the Ravens’ home dominance in the write up about their game against the Bengals. The Ravens weren’t able to beat the Bengals, even in Baltimore, but the Ravens are still historically very good at home in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era. The Ravens are 41-10 at home since 2008, Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh’s first season with the team. As a result, they are 19-11 ATS as home favorites of less than 7 or home underdog.
Here they are favorites of just 2.5 points. I thought the Ravens and Steelers were very, very comparable in terms of talent level before the start of the season and so far there’s been nothing to suggest that was an incorrect evaluation. Given that, I really like getting the Ravens here as favorites of less than a field goal. Also helping the Ravens is that they don’t have any sort of big game to look forward to week 3, while Pittsburgh has to deal with Carolina that week. The Ravens go to Cleveland next week. Teams are 114-84 ATS since 1989 as divisional home favorites before being divisional road favorites. The Ravens should be the right side here.
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).
Carolina Panthers (0-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
This is another one I could go either way on. I think the line is essentially where it should be. I have these two teams as fairly even, as does this line, which favors the home team Buccaneers by 2.5 points. These two teams went 4-12 (Buccaneers) and 12-4 (Panthers) last season, but both should be much closer to the middle of the pack this season. The Buccaneers will be especially improved defensively, bring in Lovie Smith to work with Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, All-Pro caliber talents who fit his scheme like a glove, bringing in Michael Johnson to give them the edge rusher they needed, and bringing in Alterraun Verner as a cheaper scheme fit than Darrelle Revis.
The Panthers, meanwhile, lost their two best offensive linemen, their best blocking tight end, every wide receiver who caught a pass for them last season, 4 of their top 5 defensive backs in terms of snaps played, and had Cam Newton suffer a pair of injuries that will limit him and limited his time to get familiar with his supporting cast in the off-season. Gun to my head, I’m taking Tampa Bay because we’re not getting field goal protection with the Panthers and because Carolina is a public underdog, but this is a close one that could go either way and I’m not confident at all.
I don’t think we’re getting any line value with either side here. The Broncos are a very good team that deserves to be 7.5 point favorites over the Colts, who aren’t as good as their record has suggested over the past 2 seasons because of their improbable ability to win close games (14-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, 15-2 if you include playoffs). However, there’s still not really any line value with the Broncos.
I’m taking the Broncos here for three reasons and I’m not that confident. For one, Peyton Manning is great in night games, going 31-14 ATS in night games since 2003. Also since 2003, he’s 27-13 ATS in non-divisional revenge games against teams that he lost to the previous season. Manning obviously hasn’t forgotten about how the Colts knocked them off in Indianapolis last season is likely to get revenge in a big way. He’s also 7-3 ATS in week 1 in that time frame. I’m not that confident, but the Broncos here at home should be the right side.
Both of these teams are going to be better than they were last season. These two teams finished worst and 2nd worst respectively last season, after both made the playoffs the previous season. The Texans went from 12 wins to 2 wins in 2013 and the Redskins went from 10-6 to 3-13. Teams that have big declines in win totals like that generally bounce back an average of half of the decline and I think both of these teams could easily do that and more.
The Texans were much better than their 2-14 record last season, finishing 21st in rate of moving the chains differential despite a schedule that was 10th hardest in the NFL in terms of DVOA. Their defense ranked 11th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 69.40% rate. However, the offense was the issue, as they ranked 25th, moving the chains at a 66.87% rate. Still, they were better than their record. They just had some unlucky things not go their way.
They went 2-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less. As bad as their record was last season, they only lost 5 games by more than a touchdown and two of those came late in the season in their final 3 games after Gary Kubiak was fired and the team essentially quit. They had about 4.2 Pythagorean wins. On top of that they allowed 8 touchdowns off of returns, as opposed to 2 touchdowns off of returns for that. If we zeroed that out, they would have scored 262 points and allowed 372 points, which is a Pythagorean Expectation of 4.9 wins.
Speaking of turnovers, their turnover margin went to a league worst -20, as a result of a 44.44% fumble recovery rate, 26th in the NFL. They also picked off an absurd low amount of passes, 7, and they threw 22 interceptions. Turnover margins tend to be really inconsistent on a year-to-year and week-to-week basis though, as we’re talking about events that happen on such a small percentage of snaps. 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.
Meanwhile, teams that have a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season see their turnover margins drop by an average of about 15.8 the following season, resulting in 2.32 fewer wins. Teams with a turnover margin of -15 or worse in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +2.04. Meanwhile, teams with a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +3.42, a difference of about 1.38. If you’re using a team’s turnover margin from the previous season as a reason why they’re going to continue to struggle (or have success) the next season, it’s usually not going to work out well. They should be a lot better this season, especially with an upgrade at quarterback, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing coming back from injury, and Jadeveon Clowney coming in on defense.
The Redskins, meanwhile, get a healthy Robert Griffin back, and add in Jordan Reed, returning from injury, and DeSean Jackson, coming over from Philadelphia. Their defense isn’t much better than last season, even with Jason Hatcher coming in and they’re going to suffer more losses to injuries and suspensions (Brandon Meriweather is already suspended for two games) than last season, when they barely had any. However, their defense is only as bad as the Texans’ offense and their offense is as good as the Texans’ defense. These two teams are very evenly matchup and this line suggests it at Houston -3. I’m going to take the Texans and fade the public underdog, but I’m not confident at all.
These two teams tend to be a lot better at home than on the road. Matt Ryan is 36-12 at home in his career, including 28-19 ATS and 5-3 ATS as home underdogs. The Saints, meanwhile, are 31-10 ATS at home since 2008 in the games which Drew Brees and Sean Payton were involved. On top of that, they are 16-0-1 ATS at home over their last 16 home games with Drew Brees and Sean Payton. They’ve won all 17 of those games by an average of about 20.8 points per game, with just three being decided by 10 points or less and just one being decided by less than 6 points. That’s as opposed to 19-25 ATS (25-21 straight up) on the road.
In this rivalry, the home team is 8-4 ATS since 2008. The Falcons were awful last season and this was still a 4 point game when the Saints went to Atlanta. The Falcons should be significantly improved this season, both in terms of talent level and record. Given that, the Falcons should be the right side here, but the Saints are, in my opinion, possibly the best team in the NFL so it’s hard to go against them. I’m taking the Falcons, but I’m not confident and a push is very likely.
This is another one where I wish I had bet earlier when the Rams were 6 point favorites before Sam Bradford tore his ACL. I thought the Rams were overrated before Bradford’s injury, as they finished 28th in rate of moving the chains differential at -5.32% last season. However, this line falling to 3.5 because of Bradford’s injury seems like an overreaction. Bradford has completed 58.6% of his passes for 6.29 YPA for his career and was coming off of a significant injury that has caused better quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Robert Griffin, Carson Palmer) to struggle in their first year back.
Meanwhile, backup Shaun Hill has completed 62.0% of his passes for an average of 6.69 YPA, 41 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions in his career. He’s going into his age 34 season and hasn’t started since 2010, but I don’t think he’s much of a downgrade. There’s simply no line value with the Vikings anymore. These two teams are essentially equal. In fact, gun to my head, I’m taking the Rams to fade the publicly backed underdog Vikings. Whenever the public thinks a team is going to pull an upset, they usually don’t. I expect the Rams to give 110% here in their first game without Bradford as well.