Washington Redskins (1-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-1)
I had the Rams as one of my underrated teams coming into the season. They improved 6 games in 2010, but, as could have been predictable, regressed 5 games last year. Teams that have a large improvement in win total typically regress the following season and vice versa. They should bounce back this year. Teams that regress 5 games win an average of 1.6 more the following season. The Rams were destroyed by injuries last year and should have better health in the secondary and on the offensive line, where they also added key free agents. A healthier offensive line should lead to a healthier and better Sam Bradford under center, while, on the defensive side of the ball, they have one of the league’s best defensive lines and should be able to win some games with strong defense, running the football, and decent quarterback play.
The idea with picking underrated and overrated teams before the season was to bet on them (or against them for overrated teams) until they proved me wrong or the odds makers caught up. In 7 games involving these teams week 1, I went 5-2 ATS so I will be continuing that this week as I post recommendations for you to bet on nfl football, unless I have been proven wrong on a team.
I haven’t exactly been proven wrong on the Rams. They played about as well as I thought they would against the Lions, as I nailed my 5 unit pick (+7.5). It took a late Lions’ comeback to beat the Rams in Detroit, which is definitely an accomplishment for this team after the season they had last year. However, there are two concerns with them.
They lost two starters on the offensive line to injury, center Scott Wells and left tackle Rodger Saffold against the Rams. Part of my reasoning for an improved Rams team was an improved offensive line, with Scott Wells coming in and Rodger Saffold coming back from injury. That can’t really happen if both are hurt. The other thing was that Steven Jackson looked pretty done. History suggests he should have one more good year in him, but that’s no guarantee and he was just held to 53 yards on 21 carries by a Lions run defense that ranked 28th in the league in 2011. If he is done, three things will need to happen. The coaching staff will need to reduce his role. He will have to accept this reduced role without being upset. And rookies Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson will have to prove themselves capable of larger roles. That’s easier said than done, but if they can do that, they should still be able to run the conservative offense they’ll need to run to win games.
The good news is that Saffold is expected to be back for this game. He’s always been good when healthy and held his own against a strong Lions pass rush last week before going down and should be able to do the same this week against a strong Redskins pass rush. However, without Wells, they now have 3 holes on the offensive line (left guard, center, right tackle), so Bradford will be under some pressure in this one. That could also hurt their running game, which they really need to get back on track. They have a good defense and if they run the ball and make life easy for Sam Bradford, they can win some games. I haven’t quite even up on Steven Jackson yet though.
The Redskins held the Saints’ running game in check last week, but only because the Saints had to abandon the run early. This was the 18th ranked run defense in 2011 and they return a similar group of personnel, so they can be run on if the Redskins’ offense doesn’t force the Rams to abandon the run. The Redskins can also be thrown on. Their secondary and their defense is general is going to be a weakness. Even though the Saints’ offense was on the field for a league low 20:50 minutes last week, they still scored 3 touchdowns and a field goal and had 358 yards of offense.
So the big question is can Robert Griffin do what he did last week? I’m going to say no, for two reasons. The first is that he’s a rookie. He’s going to have some ups and downs. Even the best rookies do. Last week was definitely an up, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be that good again this week, especially against a better defense. St. Louis kept Detroit in check last week on the road. Now they’re at home, where they are a better team. In 2010, their last good season, they were 5-3 at home, as opposed to 2-6 on the road.
I’m taking the Rams for a pretty sizable bet for several reasons. I still think the Rams are underrated, despite a solid showing last week, while Washington might be a little bit overrated. They had a very good performance last week, but the Saints aren’t the normal Saints and Griffin, by his nature as a rookie, will be inconsistent. He could look more like a rookie this week against a tougher Rams defense.
The Redskins’ defense, meanwhile, is a concern. Their defense wasn’t great last year, ranking 21st in scoring. Some of that had to do with the offense’s poor play, leading to the defense having to see the field more than average, but the Saints proved last week that the Redskins have some problems defensively as they put up a lot of yards in the little time they actually saw the field. If the Redskins’ defense is on the field around 30 minutes this week, Bradford and company should be able to move the ball against them and keep this a close game.
I think this will be a close game either way and I feel like the line should be something like -2 or -3 in favor of St. Louis (3 points for home field advantage), so there’s definitely line value. As long as I’m getting more than 3 points with St. Louis, I’m making a pretty sizeable bet. I don’t think Washington has proven enough yet to be worth being road favorites or more than 3, especially against an underrated Rams team.
Public lean: Washington (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if St. Louis covers)
St. Louis Rams 23 Washington Redskins 20 Upset Pick +160
Pick against spread: St. Louis +3.5 (-110) 3 units