The Bills have generally been very good at home over the past 2 seasons, going 7-3 ATS in Buffalo, but they’re only 1-1 ATS as favorites. I think this line is way too high at 5.5. The Bills are 3-3, but they’re not as good as their record, moving the chains at a 64.16% rate, as opposed to 69.54% for their opponents, a differential of -5.38% that ranks 27th in the NFL. The Vikings aren’t good either, moving the chains at a 67.82% rate, as opposed to 72.63% for their opponents, a differential of -4.81% that ranks 26th, but the Bills still have no business being favored by 5.5 over anyway except maybe Jacksonville and Oakland.
There was also a significant line movement here over the past week as the Bills were only 3.5 point favorites last week. I don’t understand why. Minnesota didn’t look good at all last week in a 17-3 home loss to the Lions, but the Bills didn’t look much better in a 37-22 to a New England team that is similar caliber to Detroit. The Vikings should be the right side here. I’d be more confident if this line was on the other side of 6 as teams that finish 6-10 or worse cover about a quarter of the time as favorites of 6 or more historically and I don’t think the Bills will finish 7-9 or better if they continue playing this poorly. If you can get +6, I’d do it, but at +5.5 this is a low confidence pick.
The Seahawks had a very disappointing loss at home to the Cowboys last week, a 30-23 game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. That was just the Seahawks 2nd home loss since they drafted Russell Wilson in 2012. However, they generally bounce back off a loss, as good teams tend to. They are 7-2 ATS off a loss in the Russell Wilson era, dating back to 2012. They’re also in a good spot with a trip to Carolina on deck. Teams are 75-50 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 3 or more and 47-29 ATS before being road favorites of 4 or more (the Seahawks are currently projected to be 3.5 point favorites in Carolina).
However, the public is all over the Seahawks and I hate siding with the public. There’s not enough stuff in the Seahawks’ favor for me to be super confident in them. They also have generally been a very ordinary team this season and they’re missing key players with injury, including Bobby Wagner, Byron Maxwell, and possibly Max Unger. They are moving the chains at a 73.47% rate, as opposed to 73.08%, a differential of 0.39% that ranks 18th in the NFL. The Rams aren’t good, moving the chains at a 73.46% rate, as opposed to 75.35% for their opponents, a differential of -1.90% that ranks 23rd in the NFL, but we might still be getting significant line value with them. That being said, I don’t expect the Seahawks to be the 18th best team in the NFL all season so, at the end of the day, I’m going to take the Seahawks.
I’m completely torn on this one as there’s conflicting stuff on both sides. On one hand, the Broncos have a big divisional game against the Chargers up next in just 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Teams are 33-55 ATS since 2008 as favorites before Thursday Night games, including 17-31 ATS as favorites before a divisional Thursday Night game. On the other hand, Peyton Manning is very good in night games, going 31-15 ATS in such games since 2003. The 49ers are also missing Mike Iupati and Patrick Willis, which will really hurt a team that’s already been missing guys like Anthony Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Glenn Dorsey all season. I’m going with the 49ers just to fade the public, who is on Denver, but I’m not confident.
People are pretty down on the Steelers here after their loss to the Browns as the public is all over the Texans. I love fading the public, especially when the public is on the underdog. If the Texans are really as likely to win as the public thinks, why is this line 3.5? The odds makers generally have a better sense of how good teams actually are than the public. I actually think this line is too low and that it’s a trap line for people who are on the Texans. The Texans aren’t as good as their record, while the Steelers aren’t as bad as they looked last week.
The Texans are moving the chains at a 69.77% rate, as opposed to 73.53% for their opponents, a differential of -3.76% that is 25th in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Steelers are right in the middle of the pack at 16th, moving the chains at a 74.36% rate, as opposed to 73.63% for their opponents, a differential of 0.73%. The Steelers are the significantly better team here and I like their chances of covering here, especially against a Houston team that could be divisional underdogs in Tennessee next week. Teams are 51-78 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional road underdogs before being divisional road underdogs. I’m not that confident, but the Steelers should be the right side.
Cleveland Browns (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
There are reasons to take the Jaguars this week. Teams that are 0-5 or worse are 43-20 ATS since 1989 as underdogs off of a loss of 1-8 points. The Jaguars almost got their first win of the season last week in a two point loss in Tennessee and they should be able to carry that into this week and give themselves a shot at their first win here. The Jaguars covered in a similar spot last week, after losing just by 8 to the Steelers a week before, with Pittsburgh requiring a late pick six to even get the margin to that.
The Jaguars have been playing a lot better since Blake Bortles took over as the starting quarterback. They covered last week and probably should have covered against both the Chargers and the Steelers. Over the past 3 games, the Jaguars are moving the chains at a 71.11% rate, as opposed to 72.50%, a differential of -1.39%. That’s as opposed to the first 3 games of the season, when they were moving the chains at a 59.76% rate, as opposed to 79.83% for their opponents, a differential of 20.08%. That’s not all Blake Bortles. Their defense has been playing significantly better too and that might not be sustainable, but there’s no denying they’ve been playing better football over the past 3 weeks.
However, it’s still really tough to trust the Jaguars. Teams are 49-77 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs of three of more and 23-54 ATS in that same time period before being home underdogs of four or more. That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you have a very tough, important game coming up. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. Here, it’s definitely the latter. The Browns are a solid team deserving of being favored by 6 points here, the most the franchise has been favored by on the road since they returned to the NFL in 1999. They are moving the chains at a 76.83% rate, as opposed to 75.14% for their opponents, a differential of 1.68%, 11th in the NFL. I’m going with the Jaguars, but I’m not confident at all.
The Cardinals are 4-1 and have one of the best records in football, but they’re a very flawed, fraudulent 4-1. The Cardinals are just +10 in point differential despite their record and they’ve needed to win the turnover battle by 8 just to do that. Winning the turnover battle consistently is very hard to do so that’s going to be tough to rely on going forward. Teams with a turnover margin of +4 in a week on average have the same turnover margin the next week as a team that had a turnover margin of -4 the previous week, a turnover margin of about +0.0.
Last week they won the turnover battle with Washington by 4 and it still took a late pick six for them to win by more than a field goal. In terms of rate of moving the chains, the Cardinals are moving them at a 70.27% rate, as opposed to 73.29% for their opponents, a differential of -3.02% that ranks 24th in the NFL. None of this should be surprising considering how much the Cardinals have lost defensively since last season, losing Daryl Washington to suspension, Darnell Dockett, John Abraham, and Calais Campbell to injury, and Karlos Dansby to free agency. Meanwhile, Tyrann Mathieu has only played 86 snaps thus far this season coming off a torn ACL. He played a season high 50 snaps last week, but he clearly isn’t anywhere near 100%. Their record is hiding the fact that this team has a lot of issues.
Oakland isn’t good either, coming in at 31st in terms of rate of moving the chains differential. They are moving the chains at a 68.42% rate, as opposed to 77.36% for their opponents, a differential of -8.94%. However, this line is still too high at 3.5. The Raiders actually showed some life last week, almost knocking off San Diego here in Oakland, in their first game under new head coach Tony Sparano. That should carry over into this week as teams that are 0-5 or worse are 43-20 ATS since 1989 as underdogs off of a loss of 1-8 points.
The Raiders almost knocked off a 1-loss team last week and I like their chances of actually finishing the job here against a significantly inferior 1-loss team, or at the very least covering the spread. It’s not a big play on Oakland because I don’t really trust them and they have another tough game in Cleveland next week. Teams are 96-120 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional home underdogs before being non-divisional road underdogs. They should be the right side though.
All the trends say the Dolphins are the right side here. While the Bears have to go to New England next week, one of the toughest places in the NFL to win, the Dolphins go to Jacksonville, arguably the easiest place in the NFL to win. Teams usually cover before being significant road favorites, as there are no distractions on the horizon. Non-divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional road favorites are 38-26 ATS since 1989. On top of that, teams are 75-50 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 3 or more and 47-29 ATS before being road favorites of 4 or more (the Dolphins are currently projected to be 4 point favorites in Jacksonville). If you combine the two, teams are 34-22 ATS as non-divisional road underdogs before being road favorites of 4 or more.
On the opposite end of the coin, the Bears are going to be significant road underdogs in New England next week. Teams are 70-102 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs, including 21-47 ATS before being underdogs of 6 or more. Going off of that, teams are 94-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 35-12 ATS since 2002 as road underdogs before being road favorites when their opponents will next be road underdogs. Everything about this situation screams that the Dolphins are the right side.
I just wish we were getting more line value with the Dolphins. This line is only 3.5. While it’s on the right side of the field goal, I wish this line was more likely 4.5 or 5, though I do like to see that the public is on Chicago and the line isn’t climbing. In fact, it’s dropped down to 3 at some places, suggesting the sharps are on the Dolphins. Siding with the sharp bettors and fading the public bettors is usually a recipe for success.
However, on paper these teams don’t really seem even, which is what this line suggests. The Bears are an average team, ranking 17th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 72.02% rate, as opposed to 71.52% for their opponents, a differential of 0.50%. The Bears, meanwhile, move the chains at a 77.78% rate, as opposed to 71.68% for their opponents, a differential of 6.10% that ranks 5th in the NFL. Their offensive success doesn’t really surprise me, though they’ve done a very good job of preserving through injuries offensively that they didn’t have last season.
However, their defense has been a big surprise as I saw this as one of the least talented defensive units in the league coming into the season. Despite losing Henry Melton this off-season and once again being without Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman thanks to injuries, they’ve played well on that side of the ball, fixing a lot of their issues from a season ago. They could still struggle the rest of the way because I think their play is exceeding their talent level right now, which gives me more confidence in the Dolphins, who seem like the right side as long as the line exceeds a field goal.
Miami Dolphins 27 Chicago Bears 24 Upset Pick +145
Trade for Seahawks: A lot of people are saying this move was a mistake for the Seahawks because trading him now means they’re going to end up paying him 18.3 million for 27 catches and 238 snaps played (including post-season). That’s about 678K per catch and about 64.6K per snap played. The Seahawks gave up a first and third round pick for Harvin about 19 months ago, in addition to the money they paid him, and now they’re getting just a mid-rounder back.
However, that doesn’t mean this move was a mistake. The mistake was giving him all that for him in the first place, as I said it was back in March of 2013 when the trade happened. Trading Harvin away yesterday was actually a good move. They get out of the remaining 7.2 million dollars Harvin was owed in game checks this season. They get rid of a guy who was not only underperforming, but was reportedly a huge problem team chemistry wise. They also get some sort of compensation for a guy that was undoubtedly going to be cut after the season, owed a non-guaranteed 10.5 million in 2015.
On top of that, they free up cap space for next off-season, whereas cutting him this off-season would have freed up that space for the following off-season. That extra cap space is going to be valuable when it comes time to extend Russell Wilson this off-season. Trading for Harvin is spilled ink on an otherwise very impressive record by Seahawks GM John Schneider, but being willing to admit their mistake before it was too late is a good move on the part of Schneider and the rest of the Seahawks’ front office.
Trade for Jets: This trade is more head-scratching for the Jets. It’s very possible that Harvin just needed a change of scenery and he instantly becomes the 2nd best wide receiver on the Jets, at the very least. He has experience playing with poor quarterbacks in the past and still being successful as the routes he runs are usually high completion percentage short routes which he takes for yards after the catch. However, we’re still talking about a guy who has been traded twice in less than 20 months and both times off-the-field type things played some sort of role. He still has never had a 1000 yard season and he still has a very checkered injury history.
On top of that, the Jets are hardly in win now mode at 1-6. Trading a mid-rounder for Harvin, paying him 7.4 million in game checks to help your team maybe go 4-12 instead of 3-13 and then cutting him after the season doesn’t really make any sense, but neither does paying him the 10.5 non-guaranteed he’s owed in 2015. Perhaps some sort of restructured contract is in Harvin’s future this off-season, but this move still would have made way more sense for a team like New England that’s in win now mode and can afford to put all its eggs into one basket than it does for a team like the Jets whose season is lost, whose future is cloudy, and who needs all the draft picks they can get.
Tennessee Titans (2-4) at Washington Redskins (1-5)
At first glance, it looks like we’re getting line value with the Redskins. Despite the Redskins’ 1-5 record, they are 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 73.50% rate, as opposed to 71.74% for their opponents. Meanwhile, the Titans are 29th at -7.00%, moving the chains at a 69.71% rate, as opposed to 76.71% for their opponents. That suggests this line should be around 11.5 or 12 because rate of moving the chains suggests the Redskins are an above average team.
However, that’s just because they were so dominant in one game at home against the lowly Jaguars, in which they moved the chains at an 84.09% rate, as opposed to 45.00% for the Jaguars, a differential of 39.09%, the biggest single game rate of moving the chains differential this season. If you take that out, the Redskins are moving the chains at a 70.51% rate, as opposed to 75.00% for their opponents, a differential of -4.49%, which would rank 25th in the NFL. They’re still better than their record. They could have easily won in Philadelphia and their double digit losses in Arizona and Houston weren’t quite as bad as the final score suggested. Both would have been field goal losses on the road against decent or better opponents if not for return touchdowns and blocked extra points. However, they are definitely not an above average team.
They don’t really have any business being favored by this many points (6) over anyone, except for maybe those lowly Jaguars. I’m not thrilled about taking Charlie Whitehurst and the Titans here (I was holding out hope all week that it would end up being Locker for the Titans, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case), but they should be the right side here. Teams that finish 6-10 or worse cover the spread about a quarter of the time historically for obvious reasons.
It’s a tough trend to use as it’s such a rare case that a team that you know will most likely finish 6-10 or worse is actually favored by that many. The Redskins would have to go 6-4 or better the rest of the way to finish 7-9 or better. The Titans failed to cover as 6 point favorites over the Jaguars last year, winning by just 2, another case that is most likely relevant to that trend. Despite that, the public is still on the Redskins, possibly because they think the Redskins are significantly better than their record. I like fading the public any chance I can get, especially when it makes it sense like it does here.
Another trend is working against the Redskins as well. The Titans are in a much better spot with an easier game on deck. While the Titans host the Texans next (in game in which they will most likely be favored), the Redskins have to go to Dallas. Teams are 85-103 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs, while teams are 121-88 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional road underdogs before being divisional home favorites. Going off of that, teams are 94-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 94-57 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponent will next be road underdogs. As long as this line is 6 points or higher, I’m reasonably confident in the Titans.
I still believe in the Saints. They’re 9th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a rate 81.82%, while their opponents are moving them at a 78.71%, a differential of 3.11% for the Saints. Why are they 2-3 then? Well, two of their losses came by a combined 5 points. They’ve allowed 3 return touchdowns in 5 games despite the fact that they’ve otherwise played well. They could easily be 4-1, with one loss on the road in Dallas, who is 5-1. They also have done this despite playing 3 of 5 games on the road, where they generally don’t play nearly as well as they do at home.
However, I don’t think this is the week they turn it around. I could see them losing this one and then ripping off 9 wins in their last 10 games, when they have 6 home games in 10 weeks and no really hard road game. However, going into Detroit is going to be too tough for a Saints team that has road issues. The Saints are 3-10 ATS on the road since the start of last season, as opposed to 8-1-1 ATS at home.
This Lions team is for real. While the Saints are 9th in rate of moving the chains differential, the Lions are 8th. They are only moving the chains at a 69.32% rate, but their opponents are moving the chains at a 64.88% rate, best in the NFL by a decent margin. That’s a differential of 4.44% over a whole percentage point better than the Saints. This line (2.5) suggests two things. One, that these two teams are equal. Two, that the Lions have a normal homefield advantage here over a poor road team. Neither of those two things are true. I know the Lions will be without Calvin Johnson, but the Saints will likely be without Jimmy Graham. I’m not that confident, but the Lions should be the right side.
Carolina Panthers (3-2-1) at Green Bay Packers (4-2)
The Packers have been dominant at home over the past few seasons. Aaron Rodgers is 22-9-1 ATS at home since 2010 and 28-4 straight up, with an absurd +448 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 14.00 points per game. I like their chances of covering here at home against a Carolina team that has to be exhausted after playing essentially 5 quarters in a tie last week. Ties are rare so there isn’t a big sample size, but teams are 5-9 ATS off of a tie since 1989, including 0-5 ATS on the road, both of which make sense. I’m taking the Packers here.
The Falcons got off to a good start, which included a 56-14 home victory over division rival Tampa Bay week 3, which pushed them to 2-1. However, they’ve lost 3 straight now and haven’t really been playing that well. They are moving the chains at a 74.11% rate, as opposed to 75.76% for their opponents, a differential of -1.65% that is 22nd in the NFL. Meanwhile, Baltimore is playing very well. They’re a big AJ Green play away from being 5-1 right now and they’ve moved the chains better than their opponent in 5 of 6 games. The only week they struggled was in Indianapolis, who is also one of the best teams in the NFL.
The Ravens are moving the chains at a 77.89% rate, as opposed to 71.67% for their opponents, a differential of 6.22% that ranks 4th in the NFL. They should be much more than 6.5 point favorites and I’m going to take them even if that means going with the public and with significant line movement, as this line was 5 a week ago and now it’s 6.5. The Ravens might have struggled in Indianapolis, but they’re unlikely to struggle for just the 2nd time this season here at home, where they’ve been very good in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era.
The Ravens are 32-10 at home since 2008, Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh’s first season with the team. As a result, they are 21-11 ATS as home favorites of less than 7 or home underdogs. Meanwhile, the Falcons are 3-8 ATS on the road since the start of last season. Making things worse for the Falcons, they head to London next. Teams are 4-10 ATS before going to London all-time. It’s a small sample space unfortunately, but it’s worth noting, especially when mentioned in conjunction with the rest of the things working against Atlanta. The reasons this isn’t a bigger play are twofold. One, Matt Ryan is 23-12 ATS off a loss in his career. Two, the Ravens have a tough game up next against Cincinnati. Teams are 85-103 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs. The Ravens are still a big play though, as long as the line stays under a touchdown.
Baltimore Ravens 31 Atlanta Falcons 17 Survivor Pick
The Giants got blown out in Philadelphia last week, but that actually bodes well for their chances of covering the spread this week, as the Giants are road underdogs off of a road loss. Teams are 106-69 ATS in that situation since 2008, including 90-47 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 176-181 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.06 points per game, as opposed to 251-357 in their 1st of one road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.23 points per game.
In spite of their loss in Philadelphia last week, the Giants are historically very good on the road. Since the start of the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning in 2004, they are 55-35 ATS on the road, including 36-22 ATS as road underdogs, 16-8 ATS as divisional road underdogs, and 11-4 ATS as divisional road underdogs of 3.5 or more. The opposite is true of Dallas. The Cowboys are 12-23 ATS as home favorites since 2009, including 5-12 ATS as home favorites of 6.5 or more. This isn’t just a Dallas/NY Giants thing. NFC East teams are just 19-34 ATS as divisional home favorites since 2008.
Picking the Giants also gives us an opportunity to fade a significant line movement, as this line was 3.5 a week ago and now it’s 6.5. I understand the things that happened last week might seem worthy of a 3 point line movement, the Victor Cruz injury, the Giants’ blowout loss, the Cowboys’ win in Seattle, but I don’t think this line should have moved this much based on one week’s results. The Cowboys could easily be overconfident as favorites off of that win last week (they’re just 3-15 ATS as favorites off a win since 2010 anyway), while the Giants will be embarrassed and want to redeem themselves. I like their chances of bouncing back.
The Jets are as bad as I expected them to be this season and their record is as bad as they’ve been over the past two seasons. The Jets 8-8 record in 2013 was a farce as the Jets had a 5-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and a point differential of -97. They moved the chains at a mere 65.59% rate, as opposed to 69.64% for their opponents, a differential of -4.05% that ranked 25th in the NFL. This season, they are right around there, moving the chains at a 66.08% rate, as opposed to 72.47% for their opponents, a differential of -6.39% that ranks 28th.
I’m not taking the Jets here, especially on the road where they have been even worse over the past 2 seasons. Since the start of last season, the Jets are 7-5 at home, getting outscored by an average of 1.58 points per game. Comparably, they are 2-8 on the road, getting outscored by an average of 14.00 points per game. Meanwhile, the Patriots have won every season home game over that time period by an average of 12.00 points per game, while going 8-3 ATS.
However, we’re not really getting any line value with the Patriots as 10 point favorites, as bad as the Jets are. The Patriots have been moving the chains at a 71.58% rate, as opposed to 70.81% for their opponents, a differential of 0.77% that ranks 14th in the NFL and suggests they should be around 10 point favorites here. Sure they’ve been a lot better over the past two weeks, but how they played before that can’t be overlooked. Also working against the Patriots case is the fact that they are 8-15 ATS since 2010 as favorites of 8 or more. I’m still laying the points, but I’m not confident at all.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-1-1) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
The Bengals played the Panthers to a tie last week and now they have to go on the road to Indianapolis. That puts them at a disadvantage rest wise, for obvious reasons. Ties are rare so there isn’t a big sample size, but teams are 5-9 ATS off of a tie since 1989, including 0-5 ATS on the road, all of which makes sense. Making matters worse, the Colts are coming off of a Thursday Night game so they’ve had extra rest and the Colts are much better at home than the Bengals are on the road. Since the start of the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era in 2012, the Colts are 13-6 ATS at home. Meanwhile, the Bengals are 3-6-1 on the road since the start of last season, including losses in 2013 to non-playoff teams like Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh and a close call in Buffalo.
This line is also suggesting that these two teams are even and that’s not true right now, even before you take into account the Colts’ home dominance, the Bengals’ road struggles, or the rest factor. The Colts are arguably the best team in the NFL right now, or at least they’ve played like it through 6 games. With the exception of a 3 point home loss as 3 point home favorites to the Eagles, the Colts have covered every game this season. Both of their losses came against teams that currently have one loss and they came by a combined 10 points.
Andrew Luck is playing like the type of quarterback he was expected to become, completing 66.2% of his passes for an average 7.64 YPA, 17 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground on 26 carries. The defense has held up as well. Through 6 games, they are moving the chains at a 79.04% rate, as opposed to 70.65% for their opponents, a differential of 8.39% that is best in the NFL by close to 2 percentage points (6.69% is the next best).
Meanwhile, the Bengals rank 21st. They are moving the chains at a 74.39% rate, as opposed to 75.69%, a differential of -1.30%. They were a lot better last season, finishing 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential and they could still play a lot better this season, but it’s possible that the off-season losses of both coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer as well as talented defensive starter Michael Johnson are too much for them, as their defense has been the unit that’s disappointed the most. They could bounce back long-term, but I’m not betting on them on the road in Indianapolis as mere field goal underdogs when the Colts have the rest advantage. The Colts are the easy play here.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) at San Diego Chargers (4-1)
The Chargers are in about as bad as a spot as a team can be this week. They have a huge game 4 days after this in Denver, arguably the biggest game of their season. This game here is important because it’s a divisional game obviously, but the Chargers are at home and significantly favored. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have a random non-conference game against the Rams on deck and they’ll be heavily favored against the Rams in Kansas City. Teams tend to struggle as favorites before being underdogs and teams tend to perform well as underdogs before being favorites, for obvious reasons.
For example, teams are 106-76 ATS divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional home favorites since 2002. Even more powerful, teams are just 19-51 ATS since 2002 as divisional home favorites before being divisional road favorites. Going off of that, teams are 94-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 94-57 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponent will next be road underdogs. Combining these, teams are just 24-70 ATS since 1989 as divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs when their opponents will next be home favorites.
Making things even worse for the Chargers is the fact that their game against the Broncos just 4 days after this one as they go to Denver on Thursday Night Football. Teams are just 33-55 ATS since 2008 as favorites before a Thursday Night Football game. We’re also getting a little bit of line value with the Chiefs, as the Chargers are 3rd in the NFL with a rate of moving the chains differential of 6.43%, as opposed to 5.99% for the Chiefs, who are 6th.
The Chargers are moving the chains at a 77.42% rate, as opposed to 70.99% for their opponents. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are moving the chains at a 77.42% rate, as opposed to 71.43% for their opponents. This line is too high even before you get into all the situational trends I mentioned above. I don’t see the Chargers being able to beat them by 6 or more in the spot they’re currently in. The Chiefs are my Pick of the Week.
Update: I’m glad I locked this in at 5.5 at the very beginning of the week. Despite the public action being on San Diego, this spread quickly dropped to 4, suggesting heavy, immediate sharp action on Kansas City. This further affirms my position. I’d still take it at 4.
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).
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-2)
This is one of the games that I’m most indecivise on this week. Both of these teams are in good spots with easy games up next. The Steelers have a non-divisional home game against an average at best Houston team next week, while the Browns head to Jacksonville for a non-divisional game with the worst team in the NFL. Teams are 106-75 ATS as divisional road favorites before being non-divisional home favorites since 2002.
At the same time, the Browns are projected to be 4 point road favorites in Jacksonville, which just shows how bad the Jaguars are. Teams are 74-49 ATS before being 3+ point road favorites since 2012, including 46-28 ATS before being 4+ point road favorites over that time period. I’ve gone back and forth on this game a bunch of times this week. At the end of the day, I’m taking the Browns and fading the public underdog Steelers on principle, but I’m not confident at all.
The Jets got destroyed last week in San Diego, losing 31-0 and that’s caused a significant line movement. A week ago, this line was at 6 and now it’s at 9.5 and possibly climbing even more before game time. Ordinarily, I like to fade that kind of line movement, especially with the public all over the favorite Denver here, but I’m still going with the Broncos here. I’m not that confident and there really isn’t much line value with the Broncos, but they still seem like the right side. The Jets were terrible last week so some of that line movement was deserved.
They are now 28th in rate of moving the chains differential at -5.75%, moving the chains at a 66.67% rate, as opposed to 72.41% for their opponents. Meanwhile, the Broncos are moving the chains at a 77.10%, as opposed to 71.85% for their opponents, a differential of 5.25%, 4th in the NFL. The line seems like it’s right where it should be. The Jets are also in a bad spot as they have to go to New England in 4 days for Thursday Night Football. They might not be focused enough to even cover this spread against a dominant opponent. Teams are 40-81 ATS since 2010 before being double digit underdogs, including 28-62 ATS as underdogs before being double digit underdogs. Again I’m not confident, but the Broncos are my pick here.
The 49ers have generally beaten up on bad teams in the Jim Harbaugh era, dating back to 2011, going 24-15 ATS as favorites of 3+ in that time period. The Rams definitely qualify as a bad team, as they are 1-3 and rank 22nd in rate of moving the chains differential at -2.18%. They move the chains at a 74.81% rate, as opposed to 76.99% for their opponents. However, the 49ers are 1-3-1 ATS this season despite the fact that they’ve been favored by 3 or more in all 5 games, the situation they traditionally dominate in.
They haven’t been the same team this season thanks to the loss of guys like NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Glenn Dorsey, and Anthony Davis to injury. Vernon Davis is expected back for this one, but they’ve still struggled by their standards this season and I don’t know if that’s going to fix everything, especially since their biggest problems are defensively. They are moving the chains at 75.34% rate, as opposed to 74.82% for their opponents, a differential of 0.52% that ranks only 16th in the NFL. I’m still going to take the 49ers, especially since home divisional underdogs are 30-56 ATS in night games since 1989, but I’m not confident at all.
The Chargers have broken out as one of the top teams in the NFL and are a legitimate contender. Their offense has continued to be as good as it was last season. Last season, they moved the chains at a 78.26% rate, 2nd in the NFL. This season, they’re actually doing worse than that, moving the chains at a 75.82% rate, ranking 13th in the NFL. However, that’s still really good and much of the decline is because they are averaging just 2.80 yards per carry. Philip Rivers is playing like an MVP candidate, completing 70.3% of his passes for an average of 8.75 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Things will get even better when Ryan Mathews comes back from injury and Brendan Oliver had a strong performance last week, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts, catching 4 passes for another 68 yards and another touchdown.
The biggest difference for this team between last year and this year though is the defense, which is allowing opponents to move the chains at a 69.63% rate, 4th in the NFL. Free agent acquisition Brandon Flowers has been huge, having a big-time bounce back year and showing himself to once again be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Overall, the Chargers have a rate of moving the chains differential of 6.19%, 2nd in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Raiders are a train wreck, moving the chains at a 66.04% rate, as opposed to 75.40% for their opponents, a differential of -9.36% that is only better than Jacksonville. This line isn’t high enough at a touchdown, especially since the Chargers don’t have any huge distractions on the horizon. The Chargers host the Chiefs next. Teams are 42-24 ATS as divisional road favorites before being divisional home favorites since 2002. The Chargers should be the right side.
Baltimore Ravens (3-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-4)
The Ravens have been very good at home over the past few seasons, since 2008 when Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh came to town. However, they haven’t been as good on the road. Since 2008, the Ravens are 43-10 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.30 points per game. On the other hand, they are 31-30 on the road, outscoring opponents by an average of 0.85 points per game, a difference of about 9.5 points per game. They fell flat on the road in Indianapolis last week, losing 26-13.
That being said, they are now in their 2nd straight road game, which tends to work on better for teams. Teams are 174-180 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.12 points per game, as opposed to 244-355 in their 1st of one road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.36 points per game. Teams seem to adjust to the road in their 2nd straight road game. Road underdogs off of a road loss tend to cover at the highest rate, but teams are 32-22 ATS as road favorites off of a road loss in their 2nd road game of two.
The Buccaneers, conversely, are in a bad spot, coming off of a rough overtime loss in New Orleans last week. Teams are 13-21 ATS since 1989 as home underdogs off an overtime loss as road underdogs. We’re also getting line value with the Ravens. They are moving the chains at a 76.83% rate, as opposed to 71.92% for their opponents, a differential of 4.91% that ranks 5th in the NFL. I am concerned about their offense without Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe, especially after how poorly they played in Indianapolis last week, but I still like their chances of bouncing back here this week.
The Packers had a dominant win on Thursday Night Football last week, winning 42-10. However, that hurts them this week. The Packers will have had 10 days of basking in their own glory after last week’s blowout victory over the Buccaneers. Road favorites are 9-19 ATS after a Thursday Night win of 10 or more since 1989. Usually wins like that are usually accompanied by big overreaction line movements so it makes sense. The line hasn’t shifted much (going from 3 to 3.5), but it’s still moved off of the key number of 3 and the Packers could still be overconfident here.
We’re getting line value with the Dolphins as well. The Packers were 9 point favorites at home for the Vikings and Christian Ponder last week. This line suggests that the Packers would be 9.5 point favorites at home for the Dolphins, even though the Dolphins are better than the Vikings with Christian Ponder. Sure the Packers blew out the Vikings, but that was in Lambeau, where they’re a lot better. Since 2009, the Packers are 36-9 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.98 points per game. On the other hand, they are 27-21 on the road, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.94 points per game, a difference of about 8 points per game. It’s not a strong lean, but as long as the line is higher than a field goal, the Dolphins should be the right side.
The Vikings got destroyed on Thursday Night Football last week, losing 42-10 in Green Bay to the Packers. However, there are arguments for why they’ll bounce back. The most obvious one is that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be back from injury and he’ll be a significant improvement over Christian Ponder, the injury fill-in last week in Green Bay. They also return home, rather than playing in Lambeau, one of the toughest places to win in the NFL. On top of that, teams usually cover off a blowout Thursday Night loss as they’ve had extra time to stew over the loss and to make the necessary adjustments. Underdogs are 24-14 ATS off a Thursday Night loss of 14 or more since 1989.
However, I still like the Lions here. Part of the reason why that aforementioned trend is powerful is because usually there is a big overreaction line movement associated with that type of nationally televised loss. In this case, that didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite did as the Lions were 4 point favorites here last week. That made a lot of sense because that would mean the Lions would be 10 point favorites at home. Considering the Vikings were 9 point underdogs in Green Bay, who lost in Detroit, that makes a lot of sense.
Now the Vikings are 1 point favorites, despite their blowout loss last week. Obviously the fact that Calvin Johnson isn’t going to play this week has something to do with that line movement, but I think that 5 points of line movement is way too much. Calvin Johnson has barely made an impact over the past two weeks with this ankle injury so they’re already essentially playing without him. They lost at home to the Bills last week, which was a huge disappointment, but they could have easily won that game if kicker Alex Henery, who is now gone, didn’t miss all 3 field goals. The previous week, they won 24-17 in New York against the Jets with Calvin Johnson making minimal impact. They could easily do a similar thing here in Minnesota. Golden Tate has done a great job in Johnson’s “absence” over the past two weeks, as the former Seahawk has caught 15 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown in the last 2 games, showing why the Lions went out and signed him this off-season.
The Lions are also in the better spot as they will be favorites next week at home for New Orleans, while the Vikings will be underdogs on the road in Buffalo. Teams are 70-100 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs, while teams are 106-72 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional home favorites. Going off of that, teams are 93-56 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 93-57 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponent will next be road underdogs. The Lions should be the right side here.
Detroit Lions 24 Minnesota Vikings 17 Upset Pick +100