San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

Through 2 games, the Arizona Cardinals rank #1 in the league in rate of moving the chains differential. It’s only been two games, against a schedule that hasn’t been tough (New Orleans and Chicago), and it’s important not to forget that they ranked 17thiin that category in 2014. However, Carson Palmer has played very well in his return from injury and the Arizona defense also looks good again, despite some off-season losses. Again, they’ve had a weak schedule, but now they get big free agent acquisition guard Mike Iupati back from injury and I don’t think the 49ers are much better than the teams the Cardinals have already destroyed this year.

The 49ers started the season out well, beating Minnesota at home week 1, but then last week in Pittsburgh they looked like the bottom dwelling team most expected them to be this season, following an 8-win 2014 season and an off-season full of losses. I think the 49ers’ play week 2 is more representative of their talent level and how their season will go. As a result, I think we’re getting line value with the Cardinals as only 6.5 point home favorites. This line kind of reminds me of the line in San Francisco’s game in Pittsburgh last week, when they were 6.5 point road underdogs and got blown out. Pittsburgh and Arizona have similar talent levels.

It does help the 49ers that they are in their 2nd straight road game. Teams are 117-81 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation.  This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 197-200 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.25 points per game, as opposed to 282-395 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.03 points per game.

However, the 49ers are also in a bad spot, with a home game against the Green Bay Packers, one of the biggest games of their season, on deck. The early line has San Francisco as 6.5 point home underdogs, an appropriate line and bad news for the 49ers’ chances this week. Since 2012, teams are 65-105 ATS before being 3+ point home underdogs, 35-73 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs, and 19-48 ATS before being 6+ point home underdogs. The reason for all three of those trends is the same: it’s very tough for NFL players to be completely focused with a huge home game on deck. Unlike last week, when I took Pittsburgh for a big play against San Francisco, I can’t bring myself to put money on the Cardinals this week because there is conflicting stuff, but they should be the right side.

Arizona Cardinals 20 San Francisco 49ers 10

Pick against the spread: Arizona -6.5

Confidence: Low

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Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-1)

The Colts lost last week at home to the Jets, but they are 14-2 ATS in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era off of a loss. I mentioned their dominance off of a loss in recent years last week and it didn’t work out for me, but I still like their chances of bouncing back this week for a number of reasons. Last week’s game did show the Jets to be better than most, including myself, thought they were. Ryan Fitzpatrick continues his solid play from the past 2 years, despite his age, and is arguably the best quarterback the Jets have had since Chad Pennington was healthy, while first year head coach Todd Bowles has the defense playing well. That game also showed the Colts to be worse than most thought, as they have serious issues on the offensive line and on defense, especially with several significant injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Greg Toler and Darius Butler remain out for this game and those are their #2 and #3 cornerbacks, while top defensive lineman Arthur Jones was knocked out for the season before it even began.

However, there were also a lot of fluky elements to the Jets’ win in Indianapolis. The Jets won the turnover battle by 4, which tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Teams who have a -4 turnover margin have, on average, a turnover margin of +0.1 the following week. The Colts are -7 in turnovers on the season, but that should improve going forward and that will have a noticeable effect in the standings and on the scoreboard. They also get Vontae Davis back from injury, after he missed more than half of last week’s loss with a concussion he suffered mid-game. He’s hands down their best defensive player and more important to this team than anyone other than Andrew Luck, so him being knocked out was a big deal.

Besides, 0-2 teams that made the playoffs the previous year are usually a safe bet, as they’ve gone 18-9 ATS week 1 since 2002. The Colts have never lost 3 straight regular season games in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era and I don’t expect that to happen this week. In fact, I expect the Colts to bounce back in a very big way. The Titans are also in a bad spot, playing their first home game of the season week 3. Teams that have their first home game week 3 tend to be less energized and it shows, as teams in that situation are 22-43 ATS since 1989.

On top of that, the Colts have always taken care of business in the division over the past few years. A 10-12 team outside of the division since 2013, the Colts have been propped up by a 12-0 record (12-0 ATS) against their weak division. They’ve always played weak opponents, especially weak divisional opponents, well, but have struggled mightily against non-divisional opponents, especially strong non-divisional opponents. The Colts are 18-4 ATS against sub .500 teams in week 4 or later since 2012. I know the Titans are technically 1-1 and it’s only week 3, but the logic holds.

The Titans are an improved team over last year’s 2-win team, adding Brian Orakpo, Da’Norris Searcy, and Perrish Cox on defense and Marcus Mariota on offense, but they’re still the type of opponent the Colts usually beat easily, especially with top offensive lineman Chance Warmack out with injury. I am concerned about Trent Cole’s absence for the Colts and the Titans secretly being a solid team, but, and I know I said this last week, but I like the Colts’ chances of bouncing back in a big way this week, this time against a below average divisional opponent.

Indianapolis Colts 31 Tennessee Titans 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3.5

Confidence: Medium

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Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (2-0) at Detroit Lions (0-2)

This game had a major line movement from last week to this week, as what was an even line last week now favors the visiting Denver Broncos by 3.5. I think that’s an overreaction. The Broncos won in Kansas City last week, but Peyton Manning still doesn’t look good and they could have easily lost, if not for a late, fluky fumble recovery touchdown. The Broncos have a strong team around Manning, particularly on defense, but I don’t think they deserve to be 3.5 point favorites here in Detroit. Road favorites are 15-28 ATS off of a Thursday night win since 2002 anyway, probably because hearing how great you are for 10 days after a Thursday night win, going into a seemingly easy game, can really hurt your focus.

The Lions are 0-2, but I’m still not convinced they’re a bad team. Their defense obviously misses Ndamukong Suh, who left as a free agent, and DeAndre Levy, who will miss his 3rd straight game to start the season this week with a hip problem, but they have Stephen Tulloch back after missing most of last season with injury and their offense is also healthier than it was last season too, with guys like Calvin Johnson and Larry Warford healthy. They’ve faced a pair of solid football teams (San Diego and Minnesota) thus far, both on the road, both games in which they were the underdog to begin with. The Lions probably won’t be an 11-win team again and could easily not be a playoff team again, but they’re better than this line suggests. Besides, 0-2 teams that made the playoffs the year before are 18-9 ATS week 3 since 2002.

Detroit is in a bad spot, playing their first home game of the season week 3. Teams that have their first home game week 3 tend to be less energized and it shows, as teams in that situation are 22-43 ATS since 1989. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning led teams have always been great in night games like this one, going 33-17 ATS in primetime games since 2002, for what that’s worth. The Broncos also have the easier game on deck, as they host the Vikings next week, while the Lions have to go to Seattle. I’m not making a big play on Detroit or anything, but I’m taking the 3.5 points because they’re too good to pass up here.

Denver Broncos 20 Detroit Lions 19

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3.5

Confidence: Low

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Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at New England Patriots (2-0)

Jacksonville beat the Dolphins last week in Jacksonville, but I’m still having a very tough time believing they’re not one of the worst teams in the league, especially with left tackle Luke Joeckel, right guard Brandon Linder, tight end Julius Thomas, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, and defensive end Andre Branch all out with injury. The Linder one is new and he was arguably their best healthy player. The public isn’t buying the Jaguars either, heavily backing the Patriots here as two touchdown favorites at home. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense and the Patriots have had trouble covering big lines like this at home in recent years, going 5-12 ATS as double digit home favorites since 2009, but I actually do agree with the public that this is going to be an easy New England victory.

In addition to the sheer difference in talent level between a bottom dwelling, injured Jacksonville team and a New England team that won the Super Bowl last year and has arguably been the best team in football through 2 games, the Patriots are also in a great spot as huge home favorites before a bye. Teams are 48-16 ATS since 2002 as home favorites of more than a touchdown before a bye and it makes sense that the vastly superior team would be able to cover at a high rate with a week of rest on deck, allowing them to be completely focused. The Patriots, as you can imagine, have been in this spot a fair amount of times over the years, going 8-3 ATS since 2002.

Jacksonville is in a good spot playing their first road game of the season week 3. Those teams tend to be better rested than their opponent and it shows, as they are 40-27 ATS in that spot since 1989. They’re also in a bad spot though, with another tough game in Indianapolis on deck. Underdogs of 7 points or more are 78-99 ATS since 2008 before being underdogs of 7 points or more. New England should be the right side here, but I can’t quite bring myself to put money on such a big line.

New England Patriots 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Survivor Pick

Pick against the spread: New England -14

Confidence: Low

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Houston Texans: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) at Houston Texans (0-2)

Ordinarily, I love fading significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be overreactions to one week. For example, the Buccaneers were 8.5 point underdogs in this game in the early line last week, but now they’re only getting 6.5 points, as a result of an upset win in New Orleans against a Saints team that isn’t that good and whose quarterback was playing hurt. However, I actually think this line is still too high. Houston isn’t a very good team, especially with left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Jeff Adams, and running back Arian Foster all hurt. They don’t deserve to be favored by 6.5 points against anyone, especially not Tampa Bay, who proved last week that they are far from the worst team in the NFL.

One of the most powerful trends in betting is the six and six trend, which is very simple. Teams that finish with 6 or fewer wins only cover about a quarter of the time as favorites of 6 or more. It makes a lot of sense, but it’s usually very tough to know whether or not a team is going to finish with 6 or fewer wins. However, I think the Texans have a very good shot to. I had them at 6 wins in my season preview and they’ve ranked 26th in rate of moving the chains differential through 6 games, despite playing Kansas City and Carolina, who aren’t exactly elite teams. Even if the Texans do end up with 7 wins, it’ll be as a result of their weak division and I still don’t think they deserve to be favored by more than even 4 points in this one. Tampa Bay is improved over their 2-win 2014 team and also could win 7 games as a result of a weak schedule. These two teams are way more even than this line suggests, so I’m taking the 6.5 easily.

Houston Texans 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +6.5

Confidence: Medium

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Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-2)

I had the Ravens winning 11 games, the AFC North, and making the playoffs coming into the season, after finishing 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential in 2014. However, they have started the season 0-2. Losing in Denver was understandable, but their loss in Oakland was shocking. Their offense bounced back from an awful game against a tough Denver defense week 1, but the same defense that held the Broncos without a touchdown week 1 couldn’t stop the Raiders all game.

You can point to the loss of Terrell Suggs for the season late in the Denver game as a reason, but they still have a very talented defense around him. Losing Suggs (along with Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee this off-season) really hurts what was arguably the best front 7 in football last season, but they still have talented players like Elvis Dumervil, Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, CJ Mosley, and Daryl Smith and they have a remade, improved, and healthy secondary behind them. Their defense should be much better than they were against Oakland this season and I still like the Ravens’ chances of competing for a playoff spot. They might be 0-2, but they could just as easily be 2-0 with two road wins right now. Besides, 0-2 teams that made the playoffs the year before are 18-9 ATS against the spread week 3 since 2002.

It definitely helps the Ravens that they are back home now, after starting the season with two road games. They are 47-11 at home since the start of the Joe Flacco/John Harbaugh era, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.33 points per game, as opposed to 35-36 on the road, outscoring their opponents by an average of just 0.97 points per game. They’re also 22-12 ATS at home as underdogs or favorites of a touchdown or less over that time period. However, they’re also in a bad spot, coming off of two road games to start their season. Teams that have their first home game week 3 tend to be less energized and it shows, as teams in that situation are 22-43 ATS since 1989.

That trend is one of many reasons why I’m actually going against the Ravens this week, despite the fact that they’re a much better team at home and despite the fact that I still think this is going to be a playoff team. The Ravens are in an awful spot this week, with a Thursday Night trip to Pittsburgh on deck. The Ravens will try to be 100% focused for this game, given that they’re 0-2 and playing a good divisional rival, but it might just not be possible. Teams are 21-56 ATS as divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs since 2002. It’s one of the most powerful trends out there that makes any sense.

Meanwhile, the Bengals host Kansas City next week in a game in which they will almost definitely be favored. Road underdogs are 104-61 ATS since 2008 before being home favorites when their opponent will next be a home favorite. Combining that trend and the aforementioned trend, teams are 5-26 ATS since 2002 as divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs when their opponent will next be home favorites. The fact that the Ravens play on Thursday Night next week makes things even tougher for them, as teams are 41-62 ATS as favorites before Thursday Night Football since 2008.

On top of all of that, it’s not like the Ravens are playing a bad team here. Even though this is a home game and the Ravens are a good team, they’re no guarantee to bounce back, even before you consider all of those trends I’ve mentioned. Even if Baltimore ends up making the playoffs, the Bengals are probably still a better team than them. The Bengals actually rank 2nd in rate of moving the chains differential through 2 games.

It’s only 2 games, but they finished the 2013 season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential and now they’re finally fully healthy again, after struggling with injuries last season. AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert are all healthy after missing significant time with injury last season and, defensively, Geno Atkins seems back to his old dominant self, now two years removed from the torn ACL. The Ravens are the banged up ones, missing not just Terrell Suggs, but also left tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Their depth is awful at both of those positions and their absences have been very noticeable thus far this season. I wish we were getting a field goal with the Bengals, but they’re the better team in the much better spot and that should be able to cancel out the fact that the Ravens are a strong home team.

Cincinnati Bengals 24 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +2.5

Confidence: High

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Pittsburgh Steelers at St. Louis Rams: 2015 Week 3 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1)

Anyone who follows me knows I love to go against significant line movements, as they tend to be overreactions to one week. This game has one of those, as the Rams have gone from 2.5 point favorites to 2 point underdogs here at home in the past week. It’s easy to understand why. The Rams lost as favorites in Washington, while the Steelers destroyed the visiting San Francisco 49ers last week. However, that was still just one week. What about the Rams’ victory over the Seahawks in St. Louis week 1? That game made everyone overreact last week, moving the line in both the St. Louis/Washington and the Green Bay/Seattle game significantly, but now everyone seems to be overreacting the other way, as the public is on the road favorite here. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense and it does here.

The line movement is still within the field goal on either side, but it’s still significant. The Steelers have had troubling getting up for these seemingly easy non-divisional road games in the past, going 8-20 ATS as non-divisional road favorites since 2007. They also just don’t really deserve to be road favorites here. This line suggests the Steelers are 5 points better than the Rams, meaning they’d be -8 at home against the Rams. Well, they were just -5.5 at home for the 49ers. I know the Steelers blew the 49ers out, but that’s still just one week. The Rams aren’t a great team because they lack much on offense around the quarterback, but they still had one of the best defenses in the league last year, a unit that is led by arguably the best defensive line in football and a unit that has played well thus far this season, and they upgraded at the quarterback position by adding Nick Foles this off-season.

The Steelers have a good offense and will get even better on the offensive side of the ball with Le’Veon Bell back from suspension, but they’re still missing center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Martavis Bryant from an offense that was basically injury free last season. Meanwhile, their defense remains a huge problem and one that won’t get better with both nose tackle Daniel McClullers and middle linebacker Ryan Shazier hurt. Those are two of the few bright spots thus far on a defense that has ranked 30th in rate of moving the chains allowed through 2 games, after ranking 25th last season. The Rams, on the other hand, are healthier than they’ve been all season, with both Todd Gurley and Brian Quick seemingly set to return, in some capacity, from injury this week.

On top of that, the Steelers are in a bad spot with a Thursday Night game against Baltimore on deck. That could easily be a distraction, especially with a short week up next. Teams are 41-62 ATS as favorites before Thursday Night Football since 2008. Considering the Steelers have typically overlooked weak non-divisional opponents on the road like this in the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers could have a very tough team getting up for this game with a Thursday Night battle against their archrival on deck. This game screams trap game and I’m happy to take the points as long as I’m getting them.

St. Louis Rams 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: St. Louis +2

Confidence: High

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