New York Giants at New Orleans Saints: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-4)

The Saints were only 2 point favorites in this one last week, but, after their upset victory in Indianapolis, this line moved to 3.5, significant, considering 1 in 6 games is decided by a field goal. Typically, I like to go against these line movements because I think they’re based on week-to-week overreactions, but, this week, I’m not so sure. The Saints have a worse record than the Giants, but they rank 16th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Giants rank 23rd, so we might still be getting line value with the Saints. The Giants have been overly reliant on a +10 turnover margin, which is tough to count on every week. For example, they beat the Cowboys by a touchdown last week because they won the turnover battle by 4, which increases a team’s chances of winning to 95.5%. However, teams that win the turnover battle by 4, on average have a +0.0 turnover margin the following week. They’ll probably have to find a different way to win in this one and they might not find one.

Then again, the Saints aren’t very good so it might not take much to beat them. None of that is enough to take the Saints with any sort of confidence. The Saints are also pretty banged up, missing linebackers David Hawthorne and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Keenan Lewis, well paid veteran starters. However, this is true of the Giants too, as they’re missing cornerback Prince Amukamara, wide receiver Victor Cruz, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Both teams have struggled with injuries all season though, so there really isn’t any sort of tiebreaker here.

This is the closest game of the week for me, as there isn’t a clear better side at all. The line’s a little off in New Orleans’ favor, but not measurably. Both teams are banged up. They also have similarly easy games on deck, as the Saints host the Titans and the Giants go to Tampa Bay. New Orleans has enjoyed a great homefield advantage in recent years, going 35-17 ATS since 2008, excluding the season Sean Payton wasn’t on the sideline. However, the Giants have enjoyed equally impressive success against the spread on the road in recent years, going 59-39 ATS on the road in the Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin era (since 2004). I’m going with the Giants because the Saints are just 2-6 ATS in their last 8 home games, but this one is as tight as it gets. I like that I get field goal protection with the Giants. If this line shifts significantly, I’d probably have a different pick. I’m expecting a field goal game.

New Orleans Saints 27 New York Giants 24

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3.5

Confidence: None

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San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-5) at St. Louis Rams (3-3)

The Rams are not as good as their 3-3 record, as they rank 29th in rate of moving the chains differential. Given that, it might seem a little silly that they’re favored by 9 here against the 49ers. However, I think this line is pretty legitimate, as San Francisco is the worst team in the NFL by a wide margin, at least in terms of rate of moving the chains differential. Following their 20-3 loss at home to the Seahawks last week, this line has moved from 6 in the early line to 9 now, but I still think it’s appropriate. Typically, I like to fade significant line movements because they tend to be overreactions a single week, but I’m not going to be doing that this week.

The 49ers are also in a bad spot, as they host the Falcons next week, a game in which they’re expected to be 4 point home underdogs. Teams are 72-118 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs of 3+, 40-79 ATS over that same time period before being 4+ point home underdogs, and 21-51 ATS before being 6+ point home underdogs. If that line were to move to 6, it would open up another dooming trend, as 6+ point underdogs are 40-61 ATS before being 6+ point underdogs since 2012. Even if the line doesn’t end up going to 6, the logic still holds. Bad teams tend to struggle and lose big when they have an upcoming distraction. I’m not confident in the Rams at all, but they should be the right side.

St. Louis Rams 20 San Francisco 49ers 10

Pick against the spread: St. Louis -9

Confidence: None

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Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (1-5) at Houston Texans (2-5)

The Texans are going into a bye this week. That might sound like a good thing, but it’s not, as counterintuitive as that might seem. Big home favorites (6+) typically do very well before a bye (59-20 ATS since 2002), but, for whatever reason, small home favorites like the Redskins are here do not. Teams who are favored by 1-5.5 points at home going into the bye are just 37-61 ATS over that aforementioned time period, as they tend to get caught looking forward to the bye. That could definitely happen to the Texans, who are 4 point favorites here against the Titans.

This line is also probably too high, as the Titans rank 15th in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Texans rank 18th. The Titans are missing quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Perrish Cox for the 2nd straight game, but the Texans aren’t in a great situation injury wise either. Defensive starters Kareem Jackson and Benardrick McKinney remain out, while the Texans were dealt a crippling blow last week when Arian Foster tore his Achilles and went down for the season. I’m not confident in the Titans, but I’m taking them here.

Houston Texans 20 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +4

Confidence: None

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Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-4) at Carolina Panthers (6-0)

Andrew Luck hasn’t looked right this season. His recent shoulder injury hasn’t helped, but he wasn’t playing well before that either, as he’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked quarterback, only ahead of Matt Stafford, on the season. It might be in the Colts’ best interest to rest him for a few weeks and go back to starting Matt Hasselbeck, who played decently in two spots starts in Luck’s absence earlier this year. He currently ranks as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked quarterback and the Colts moved the chains at a 73.85% rate in his two starts, as opposed to 69.57% in Luck’s five starts. Their defense has been solid, but that hasn’t been enough offensively, as they rank 18th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season, much worse than they have been in recent years.

It’s also possible that Hasselbeck’s success in his two starts has to do with the fact that he played 2 divisional opponents. The Colts play in arguably the worst division in football and, while they’ve gone 15-0 in the division since 2013, they are just 12-16 outside of the division over that time period and just 0-4 this season, as they’ve underachieved. That’s going to make it hard for them to keep it close in Carolina, against a Panthers team that ranks 5th in rate of moving the chains differential. It’s not enough for me to be confident in them, especially with the public all over them, but the Panthers should be the right side.

Carolina Panthers 27 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Carolina -7

Confidence: None

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Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

The Steelers get a huge boost this week, getting Ben Roethlisberger back from injury, and it comes at a perfect time, with the undefeated Bengals coming to town. The Steelers moved the chains at an 81.25% rate in the first 2 games of the season, before Roethlisberger went down midway through week 3, and have moved the chains at a 65.19% rate in 5 games since. Both Michael Vick and Landry Jones were major downgrades from Roethlisberger, who was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked quarterback before going down.

Roethlisberger’s supporting cast is also even better than it was in the first 2 weeks of the season. Running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t return from his suspension until week 3 (the game when Roethlisberger went down), while wide receiver Martavis Bryant didn’t return until week 6. Bell is arguably the best running back in the NFL, while Martavis Bryant is a talented 2nd year receiver who has played really well in the past 2 weeks. They’re still not at completely full strength, like they were for almost all of last season (when they ranked 3rd in rate of moving the chains), as center Maurkice Pouncey is still out, but this is still one of the most talented offenses in the league. As long as Roethlisberger is close to as good as he was before getting hurt, the Steelers’ offense will be tough to stop this week.

The Bengals could easily be up to the challenge, as they’re one of the best teams in the league, ranking 2nd in rate of moving the chains differential. Unlike the Steelers, they’ve had next to no injuries this season. That’s been huge for them, after all the injuries they had last season. They ranked 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential in 2013, the last time they were healthy, and now they’re back up there, only with a better record. They also get linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from injury for this one. It’s tough to know how much he’ll be able to contribute in his first game back from microfracture surgery, but he was one of the best linebackers in the league before he got hurt, so his return is notable.

The Bengals are in a tough spot though, as they have to turn around and play Cleveland on a short week next week. Favorites are 41-66 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. Cleveland isn’t that tough of an opponent, but neither is the Steelers’ upcoming opponent, the Oakland Raiders, and they don’t have to play them on a short week. I’m also not sure the Bengals really deserve to be favored here, even if only by a point.

They’re obviously a very good team, but so are the Steelers now that Roethlisberger is healthy. Not only do they now have an explosive offense again, like they did last season, their defense is much improved. They ranked 25th in rate of moving the chains differential in 2014, but have ranked 13th thus far this season, picking up the slack for the offense, though having breakout 2nd year defensive end Stephon Tuitt out for this one hurts. Still, they have a very good chance to hand the Bengals their first loss of the season. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +1

Confidence: Low

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New York Jets at Oakland Raiders: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

New York Jets (4-2) at Oakland Raiders (3-3)

Both of these teams have exceeded expectations this season, after being among the worst teams in the league last season. However, the Jets have been significantly better, ranking 4th in rate of moving the chains differential, while Oakland comes in 17th. Ryan Fitzpatrick has bounced back well from a broken leg that ended his 2014 season and has continued his surprisingly solid play from 2013 and 2014 in Tennessee and Houston, giving the Jets arguably the best quarterback they’ve had since Chad Pennington. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker give him a pair of talented targets to throw to and running back Chris Ivory has broken out as a legitimate feature back. Meanwhile, a veteran offensive line has rolled back the clock a little bit and played very well.

Defensively, new head coach Todd Bowles has improved a defense that was already pretty solid to begin with, in large part due to big contributions from free agent acquisition cornerback Darrelle Revis and first round pick defensive end Leonard Williams. Last week, they led in the 4th quarter in New England, before eventually losing by a touchdown. Oakland is better on both sides of the ball this year too, thanks to rookie wide receiver (4th overall) Amari Cooper, free agent acquisition wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and much improved 2nd year quarterback Derek Carr on offense, and free agent acquisitions defensive tackle Dan Williams and outside linebacker Aldon Smith on defense. Williams and Smith lead a solid front 7 with holdovers defensive end Justin Tuck and outside linebacker Khalil Mack, both of whom have played better this year than last year.

Unfortunately, Tuck is now out for the year with injury, as of a few weeks ago. They were able to win in San Diego last week, in their first week without him, but their defense didn’t really play that well in that one, as they won on the strength of their offense. That’s going to be harder to do against the Jets, given that the Jets still rank 1st in rate of moving the chains differential after a trip to New England last week. The Raiders have barely had any injuries this season, so losing Tuck really hurts their defense. The Jets have some injuries of their own, as center Nick Mangold and safety Calvin Pryor are out for this one, which also definitely hurts, considering those players are both talented starters and considering they haven’t really had any injuries yet either. However, this line is still too low at 3.

The Jets are also in a better spot, as they’re in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 49-33 ATS as road favorites off a road loss since 2008, including 41-27 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. 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 204-212 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.51 points per game, as opposed to 296-411 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.94 points per game. On top of that, they have an easier game than the Raiders do on deck, as they host the Jaguars, while the Raiders have to go to Pittsburgh. With the public all over the Jets, I don’t think there’s not quite enough here for me to put money on the Jets unless this line goes under a field goal, but they should be the right side.

New York Jets 19 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: NY Jets -3

Confidence: Low

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Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys: 2015 Week 8 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (3-4) at Dallas Cowboys (2-4)

The Dallas Cowboys lost their 2nd most important offensive player (wide receiver Dez Bryant) to a serious injury in the first week of the season and their most important offensive player (quarterback Tony Romo) to a serious injury in the second week of the season. The Cowboys managed to win both of those games, but have lost all 4 since. However, as weird as this may sound, their offense hasn’t been that much worse, as they’ve moved the chains at a 73.48% rate in the past 4 weeks, as opposed to 75.36% in the first 2 weeks. Credit their offensive line and coaching staff for the Cowboys’ continued offensive success, despite all of their skill position losses (Bryant, Romo, and free agent departure DeMarco Murray).

So why have the Cowboys had significantly less success on the scoreboard in their last 4 games, as compared to their first 2? Well, their defense was fluky good in the first 2 weeks of the season and in weeks 3 and 4 started to look much more like they were supposed to, after ranking 26th in rate of moving the chains last year, getting linebacker Sean Lee back from injury this off-season, but losing defensive tackle Henry Melton (free agent), cornerback Sterling Moore (free agent), outside linebacker Justin Durant (free agent), cornerback Orlando Scandrick (torn ACL), and linebacker Rolando McClain (suspension).

They’ve been better over the past 2 weeks though, as McClain and free agent acquisition Greg Hardy have come back off of suspensions. Both are playing well and, combined with Sean Lee and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, they’ve got this front 7 playing pretty well right now. They should have won last week in New York against the Giants, dominating in rate of moving the chains (with 27 first downs to 13 for the Giants) and only losing by 7 because of a -4 turnover margin.

Teams that have a -4 turnover margin, on average, only win that game 5.0% of the time. Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent from one week to the next though, as teams that have a -4 turnover margin, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.1 the following week. Given that, it’s pretty impressive that the Cowboys were able to almost win despite getting crushed in turnovers and it bodes well for their chances this week. Teams are 61-44 ATS as home underdogs off of a loss in which they had a -4 or worse turnover margin, since 1989.

Last week’s game against the Giants was one of 3 games in which they’ve won the rate of moving the chains battle (along with the first 2), so it makes sense that they rank 11th in rate of moving the chains differential. They’re not quite that good, but their offense is respectable and gets Dez Bryant back this week, while their defense is more talented now than it was during last season or during the start of this season. The Seahawks, meanwhile, rank 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, only one spot ahead of Dallas.

However, the Seahawks have faced a tougher schedule (St. Louis, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Carolina, and San Francisco vs. NY Giants, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, New England, NY Giants). They are the better team, are essentially completely healthy right now, and are also in a much better spot, for a couple of reasons. For one, the Seahawks are going into their bye week after this one.  Good teams tend to take care of business going into a bye and win big as big favorites. Home favorites of 6+ going into the bye are 59-20 ATS since 2002. The Seahawks, unfortunately, are not at home for this one, but 3+ point road favorites are still 39-25 ATS going into a bye, for the same reason. It’s not as powerful of a trend as the other one, but the logic behind both is the same.

On top of that, they’re road favorites off of a road win, after winning big in San Francisco last week. Teams are 42-30 ATS since 2008 in that spot, as long as they are in their 2nd of two road games, as the Seahawks are. 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 204-212 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.51 points per game, as opposed to 296-411 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.94 points per game. Despite all that, I can’t take the Seahawks this week, especially considering all the public action pouring in on them. This line is just too high at 6, either way. The Cowboys are better than this line suggests, even in a bad spot. I’m not confident in them either though.

Seattle Seahawks 17 Dallas Cowboys 13

Pick against the spread: Dallas +6

Confidence: None

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