New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (3-0) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

The Patriots certainly have injuries, but the Falcons do as well. They are without starting running back Steven Jackson, talented linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, and have lost starting defensive end Kroy Biermann for the season. Meanwhile, Roddy White is limited with a high ankle sprain and has not looked anywhere near his normal self this season, catching 7 passes for 56 yards in 3 games. Left tackle Sam Baker also missed last week with injury and is listed questionable for this game. Lamar Holmes struggled mightily in his absence last week. The Falcons lost in Miami last week as 2.5 point underdogs and now they are 2 point favorites at home for the Patriots, which essentially suggests that the Dolphins and Patriots are pretty equal, which I think doesn’t make any sense.

The Patriots have had a very easy schedule thus far this year, but I’ve been impressed with their defense. They have allowed 48 first downs to 21 punts forced this season, which is one of the best in the NFL. They haven’t been challenged yet, but I like their chances of carrying that over against real competition. They were 9th in the NFL allowing 20.7 points per game last season with a very young defense so it’s conceivable they could be a borderline top-5 defense this season.

The offense clearly has not been impressive, but if you ignore that week 2 game against a tough Jets defense on a short week, they have 47 first downs to 9 punts. They have a full week to prepare for the Falcons this week and their young receivers will only continue to get better. On top of that, both Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski could return. Both are questionable and there have been varying reports, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of them played, though I would be a little surprised if both played. Gronkowski seems more likely to play than not, while Amendola seems less likely to play than not.

Having one of both of them in the lineup, even if they aren’t at 100%, will help open things up on their offense, especially Gronkowski, who is not only more likely to return, but more valuable to the Patriots. Last season, Brady completed 65.1% of his passes for an average of 7.6 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. In his other 8 games, he completed just 58.7% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA, 17 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He’ll be especially valuable in the red zone, where the Patriots have struggled mightily by not just their standards, but any standards this season. They were 3rd in the NFL last year, scoring a touchdown on 67.5% of red zone trips. This year, they are dead last, scoring a touchdown on 30.8% of red zone trips.

They should not be underdogs in Atlanta against the banged up Falcons. The Falcons’ 13 wins last year were done largely with smoke and mirror. 7 of those 13 wins came by a touchdown or less as they went 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, something that tends to even out in the long run. It was also unlikely that the Falcons recover 64.3% of fumbles that hit the ground this season. They also faced just 2 playoff teams in the regular season last year.

The Falcons also lost a lot this off-season. They return just 2 starters in their original spot on an offensive line whose biggest strength was continuity, with the loss of right tackle Tyson Clabo being the biggest. They downgraded from John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora and also lost defensive tackle Vance Walker. Now they are getting killed by injuries. They have no business being favored here. On top of that, Tom Brady is 28-13 ATS as an underdog in his career. They’re being overlooked right now and could easily play by far their best game of the season against their toughest opponent yet.

This would be a bigger play or even a Pick of the Week if I knew the status of Amendola and/or Gronkowski and if the Falcons weren’t coming off of a loss. They are 18-4 ATS off of a loss since 2008. They are also very good at home, as Matt Ryan is 34-7 at home in his career and 25-15 ATS and 22-12 ATS as home favorites. However, I feel like this line is so far off that those trends don’t matter as much. The Patriots should be the right side.

New England Patriots 23 Atlanta Falcons 16 Upset Pick +110

Pick against spread: New England +2

Confidence: Medium




Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Houston Texans (2-1)

The Seahawks are a significantly better team at home than on the road and have been for years. Since 2007, they are 34-18 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 7.1 points per games and going 36-15 ATS. Meanwhile, on the road, they are 16-37, getting outscored by an average of 6.4 points per game and going 21-31 ATS. However, the Seahawks are 7-6 ATS as road favorites in that time frame. They’re also are playing so well right now that I’m not picking against them as mere field goal favorites in Houston.

They started last season poorly on the road, losing in St. Louis, Arizona, Miami, and Detroit. However, they’ve won 11 of their last 13 overall dating back to the middle of last season, as Russell Wilson has completed 209 of 318 (65.7%) for 2888 yards (9.1 YPA), 25 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. They’ve outscored opponents by an average of 17.5 points per game over last 13 games overall, including 8.2 points per game on the road. They are 4-2 on the road over that stretch, including 5-1 ATS. They’re playing too well right now to bet against them unless the lines start to skyrocket. If anything, they’re underrated right now.

The Texans, meanwhile, are still pretty overrated. This is simply not the same team they were last season when they started out so well. The Texans could easily be 0-3 right now, needing comebacks to beat both the Chargers and Titans, two supposedly inferior opponents. They haven’t really played that well dating back to last season. Over their last 16 games (including playoffs), a full season’s worth, they are 10-6, but also -10 in point differential. I’m not confident in the Seahawks because of how they started last season on the road, but they should be the right side.

Seattle Seahawks 16 Houston Texans 10

Pick against spread: Seattle -3

Confidence: None




Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)

The Browns won last week in Minnesota, but they will find live a lot tougher this week against the Bengals. For one, they probably won’t be as successful if they try trick play again, like they did last week, when their punter threw an 11-yard touchdown and a special teamer had a 34 yard run. Take away that 34 yard run and a 22 yard run by Josh Gordon, they had just 47 rushing yards on 15 carries in their first week without Trent Richardson and that was against the Vikings. The Bengals run defense is much tougher and will make life very hard for the trio of Willis McGahee, Bobby Rainer, and Chris Ogbonnaya.

That’s going to make live tougher for Brian Hoyer, who was going to find live harder anyway against a Cincinnati pass defense that is much better than Minnesota’s. Hoyer had a solid week last week, but he also completed just 55.6% of his passes, averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and threw 3 interceptions so he’s hardly the Browns’ savior. Throughout his career, he’s completed just 58.0% of his passes for an average of 6.3 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He’ll be overmatched against the Bengals, even with Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson expected out for the Bengals. Their front 7, particularly their defensive line, will help mask their absence.

The Bengals generally play well against bad teams in the Andy Dalton era, as they had an 18-4 record in 2011 and 2012 combined against non-playoff teams. They’re even better this year, coming off a statement win over the Packers, a likely playoff team. They were 1-11 against such teams in 2011 and 2012, but they beat the Packers despite losing the turnover battle by 2. Teams win just 17.9% of the time when losing the turnover battle by 2 historically.

I still think Andy Dalton is a limiting factor on this team, but his previous 1-11 record in 2011 and 2012 against eventual playoff teams doesn’t seem relevant at this point. His supporting cast is definitely good enough to mask his flaws, especially their defense. His supporting cast will make life easy for him this week against a weaker opponent. The Bengals should be able to establish their game plan easily against the Browns, as they usually do against weak opponents. This would be a higher confidence pick if the line were below the key numbers of 3 and 4, but I still feel pretty confident the Bengals get a big win here.

Cincinnati Bengals 23 Cleveland Browns 10

Pick against spread: Cincinnati -4.5

Confidence: Medium




New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

The Giants are an NFL worst -9 in turnovers, while the Chiefs are an NFL best +9 in turnovers. Therefore, the Chiefs should dominate the turnover battle and win this game right? Well, that’s not necessarily true. Turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent on a week to week (and year to year) basis. For example, teams who win the turnover battle by 4 one week, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. Teams who lose the turnover battle by 4 one week, same thing, an average of+0.0 the following week.

Alex Smith has yet to throw an interception on 105 attempts this year, but that’s not going to continue. He simply hasn’t really been tested and, as a result, hasn’t had to make a lot of high risk throws. He’s attempted just 18 of 105 passes more than 10 yards through the air and just 4 more than 20 yards through the air. He also hasn’t completed a single pass outside the hash marks longer than 10 yards downfield all season.

Eli Manning, meanwhile, has thrown an interception on 7.0% of his pass attempts, which also won’t continue. This is a guy who has thrown an interception on 3.3% of his 4571 career pass attempts. This stretch is just a fluke and a lot of the interceptions haven’t been his fault. The Giants are also unlikely to continue recovering just 22.2% of fumbles all season, while the Chiefs are also unlikely to recover just 85.7% of fumbles all season. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Giants won the turnover battle in this one. As a result, I feel the Giants are undervalued, while the Chiefs are overvalued.

The Giants are also in a good spot as road dogs coming off of a road loss, a situation teams are 89-54 ATS in since 2008. Teams recover in this situation about 65% of the time historically, regardless of what year you use to cut off your sample size. They’re also coming off of a blowout loss, losing 38-0 in Carolina last week. Teams are 43-22 ATS since 2002 off of a 35+ point loss. Teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed in that situation. That’s very likely the case here. The Giants are 0-3 here and their season is pretty much over if they lose, while the Chiefs, who are 3-0, could overlook them.

The Giants have also historically been a better road team than home team, going 50-31 ATS on the road since 2004, the start of the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era. They are especially good as road dogs, going 32-18 ATS in that situation in the aforementioned time frame. This team has always thrived when overlooked and when nobody believes in them and I think that’s definitely the case this week. They’re especially good as road dogs early in the season, going 17-7 ATS as road dogs before week 10 since 2004.

They’re generally a better team in the first half of the season anyway. Since 2004, the same season as Eli Manning became the starter, the Giants are 53-22 in the first 8 games of the season and 30-42 in the second 8 games of the season. Clearly that hasn’t been the case here so far this season, but I think it’s still worth noting. The Giants starting a season 0-4 would be pretty ridiculous considering their history. It’s not my primary reason for taking them here, but it works well with everything else I’ve mentioned.

We’re not getting a ton of line value here, with the Chiefs only as 4.5 point favorites, but I think the odds makers are keeping the line intentionally low as a kind of trap line, and the majority of the action is on the Chiefs. That just reinforces my belief that the Giants are the right side and fortunately this line has passed the critical numbers of 3 and 4. That’s important because 29% of NFL games are decided by 4 points or less. That’s a pretty good cushion with the Giants in case they can’t win. As long as this line is 4.5 points or higher, it’s my Pick of the Week.

New York Giants 24 Kansas City Chiefs 17 Upset Pick +175

Pick against spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week




San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-2)

I legitimately don’t understand this line. Yes, the 49ers haven’t looked good in the past two weeks, but neither have the Rams. Week 2, the Rams were down 21-0 in Atlanta before a combination of garbage time and Falcon injuries allowed them to get it within 7 by the time the game ended. Last week, they got blown out 31-7 in Dallas and it wasn’t even that close. The Rams managed a grand total of one first down in the first half before garbage time. They’ve been outscored by 41-3 in the first half over the past two weeks.

The difference between these two teams is that I expect the 49ers to bounce back. Last week’s loss was embarrassing, at home against the Colts, a team who has no recent history of beating good teams, blowing teams out, or having success on the road. However, it’s very possible that was just an aberration. The 49ers’ loss in Seattle the week before was more legitimate, but there is no shame in losing, even losing big, in Seattle, where it’s near impossible to win.

The 49ers return Vernon Davis from injury, which is going to help their offense tremendously because it gives Kaepernick someone other than Anquan Boldin to throw to. It’s much easier to take away one receiver than it is to take away two. Aldon Smith is out for the 49ers, as he gets treatment for a drinking problem, but the 49ers have enough talent to make up for his absence. They had a league leading 11 of my top-200 players last month, while they were simultaneously seen as a unanimous top-3 NFL team. People have completely overreacted to their 1-2 start.

Aldon Smith’s absence could actually be good thing in the sense that he’s no longer a distraction. It’s very possible that had something to do with their dud performance at home last week. Patrick Willis’ absence will be much bigger as he misses this week with a groin problem, but they do have enough other talent to make up for it. There’s still no reason why they should be mere 3.5 point favorites here in St. Louis.

Trends wise, this is actually a good spot for the 49ers. Teams are 67-39 ATS since 2008 off of back-to-back losses by 20+ points. Teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that situation and I think that’s definitely true here. On top of that, the 49ers were incredible in the Jim Harbaugh era off of a loss until last week. The 49ers were 5-2 ATS off a loss in that time span, 7-2 ATS if you include week 1 games (games after a season ending playoff loss).

If you look closer, that was even more impressive as those two non-covers included a 14 point win as 16.5 point favorites and a 7 point win as 7.5 point favorites, a game they would have covered against the Seahawks if Jim Harbaugh hadn’t declined a safety, in favor of just running the clock out. They had won those 7 games by an average margin of about 17 points per game, 23-6. Last week was obviously the exception, but I think that is still worth mentioning here. I’d be shocked if Jim Harbaugh’s team had a 3rd straight dud performance.

On top of that, favorites are 37-22 ATS in a divisional matchup against teams they have not beaten in their previous 2 matchups. This makes sense. I ordinarily don’t subscribe to the “revenge game” theory, that teams will be more motivated to beat a team that previously beat them. However, the Rams’ tie and win over the 49ers last year could be having some sort of effect on this line, which is why it’s so low. It’s like that people believe those two performances were not a fluke and that the Rams somehow “have the 49ers” number, whatever that means. I don’t buy that and I’ll just enjoy the low line. It also means the 49ers are highly unlikely to overlook the Rams, especially off of two straight losses. The better team will dominate. Willis’ absence is the only reason this isn’t my Pick of the Week.

I’m also taking the under. The under tends to cover on Thursday Night. I haven’t taken the under yet on a Thursday Night, but there’s always been a reason. First, Broncos/Ravens wasn’t a true Thursday Night game because the two teams had all off-season to prepare. Second, Patriots’ games usually hit the over. Third, I didn’t trust the Eagles’ defense at all last week. However, the under actually did hit both week 2 and week 3 and there’s no reason not to take it this week, especially since it’s a divisional game. The under is 39-21 since 1989 in divisional Thursday Night games. These teams are going to have a hard time going over 42.5.

San Francisco 49ers 23 St. Louis Rams 9

Pick against spread: San Francisco -3.5

Confidence: High




Seattle Seahawks: 2013 Week 4 NFL Power Rankings (#1)

Last week: 1

Yeah, it was just the Jaguars, but the Seahawks were still impressive, becoming the first team to cover as 19+ point favorites since the 2001 Rams. The previous 6 teams to attempt to do so could not (2002 Eagles, 2007 Patriots 4 times, 2011 Patriots) and the Seahawks did so despite using backups for most of the 2nd half. The Seahawks 2nd team is significantly better than the Jaguars 1st team. That’s a good sign going forward in case injuries strike.

Week 3 Studs

QB Tarvaris Jackson

WR Sidney Rice

TE Zach Miller

TE Luke Willson

LT Michael Bowie

DT Brandon Mebane

MLB Bobby Wagner

Week 3 Duds

LT Paul McQuistan




Denver Broncos: 2013 Week 4 NFL Power Rankings (#2)

Last week: 3 (+1)

The Broncos beat the Raiders badly, but the final score of 37-21 doesn’t tell how big of a blowout it was. The Broncos had 31 first downs to just 1 punt, while the Raiders had 13 first downs and punted 6 times. The Raiders actually won the turnover battle by 2, recovering both of the Broncos’ fumbles, both of which were pretty unforced. Teams who win the turnover battle by 2 win, on average, 82.1% of the time and outscore opponents by 9.64 points per game. Offensively at least, the Broncos are starting to look like a serious threat to the 2007 Patriots’ records. They won’t allow just 17.1 points per game like the 2007 Patriots and they won’t go 16-0 though. That being said, you could argue they’re better than the Seahawks. I won’t, but you can’t argue that any other team deserves a spot in the top-2 than the Broncos and the Seahawks.

Week 3 Studs

QB Peyton Manning

RB Ronnie Hillman

WR Eric Decker

RG Louis Vasquez

C Manuel Ramirez

Week 3 Duds

TE Virgil Green




New Orleans Saints: 2013 Week 4 NFL Power Rankings (#3)

Last week: 4 (+1)

The Saints have held all 3 of their opponents this season to 17 or fewer points this season, something they did a total of 3 times last season. Young stars have broken out, especially Cameron Jordan, who is playing like an All-Pro back at his collegiate position of 5-technique defensive end. The offense doesn’t look right yet, but I don’t have big concerns about that going forward. They could possibly be as complete as they’ve been in years this season and with the Packers and 49ers relatively struggling, this team is the 2nd best team in the NFC.

Week 3 Studs

TE Jimmy Graham

LG Ben Grubbs

RE Cameron Jordan

Week 3 Duds

RG Tom Lelito

MLB David Hawthorne




New England Patriots: 2013 Week 4 NFL Power Rankings (#4)

Last week: 6 (+2)

The Patriots’ 23-3 win reminded me of how they used to win games when they were winning Super Bowls. That’s definitely getting a little ahead of ourselves, but the defense looks for real. I know the Buccaneers’ offense is terrible, but holding anyone to 3 points is impressive. They’re only going to get better offensively as their young receivers mature and as they get guys back from injury. Rob Gronkowski appears set to return this week, while Danny Amendola will probably follow next week. That’s just in time for the Falcons and the Bengals, their first tests of the season.

Week 3 Studs

LT Nate Solder

RT Sebastian Vollmer

LG Logan Mankins

MLB Brandon Spikes

CB Aqib Talib

Week 3 Duds

QB Tom Brady

C Ryan Wendell