Washington Redskins (2-3) at New York Jets (3-1)
The Jets have been pleasantly surprising to start the season. They beat Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Miami pretty convincingly, though they did lose at home to the Eagles. Still, a 3-1 record with impressive victories is a pleasant surprise for a team that wasn’t expected to do much this season. 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 solid 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. The Jets also get defensive end Sheldon Richardson, one of the best defensive players in the game in 2013 and 2014, back from a 4 game suspension this week, though it’s unclear how they’ll split up playing time between all their talented defensive linemen. Williams has played too well in Richardson’s absence to be a mere backup, but Muhammad Wilkerson is still dominant on the other side, while nose tackle Damon Harrison is equally established inside at nose tackle. It’s a good problem to have, but one the Jets will still have to manage properly. Overall, the Jets rank 4th in rate of moving the chains differential. It’d still be hard to argue that they’re a top-4 team or anything like that, but they’re definitely a playoff contender and it’s clear that they’re here to stay as a threat.
The Redskins, however, have also been equally surprisingly good, but you can’t really tell by their record, as they stand at 2-3. Still, they’ve been St. Louis pretty easily and also beat Philadelphia, while two of their losses were a return touchdown away from being completely different games, including a game in Atlanta last week where they took the then undefeated Falcons to overtime, only to lose on a pick six. A loss in New York to the Giants by 11 on a short week has been their only bad loss to date. Kirk Cousins hasn’t been great or anything, but he’s been serviceable, even with wide receiver DeSean Jackson going down with a severe hamstring injury week 1. Jackson could be back this week, but, just as he’s getting healthy, tight end Jordan Reed, such a big part of their offense with Jackson out, will miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion this week and is out indefinitely. On top of that, stud left tackle Trent Williams has been ruled out for this one.
The defense is where the Redskins have made their biggest improvement, despite starting cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver missing time with injury. Both will once again be out this week. New defensive coordinator Joe Barry has done a good job, 2nd year cornerback Bashaud Breeland has been massively improved and been a huge asset with injuries at that position, while the front 7 is dominant, led by budding superstar Ryan Kerrigan, along with talented 2nd year player Trent Murphy, veteran holdovers Jason Hatcher and Chris Baker, and free agent acquisitions Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton, and Ricky Jean Francois. Despite injuries, they rank 8th in rate of moving the chains allowed, significantly improved from last season. Their defense has been able to cover for a lackluster offense and they rank 9th in rate of moving the chains differential as a result. Like the Jets, it’s hard to argue that they’re actually as good as how they rank in that statistic, but, like the Jets, I think it’s clear that they’re here to stay as a threat.
The Redskins are also in a way better spot, as they have arguably the easiest game of their season, a home game against Tampa Bay, on deck, while the Jets have arguably their toughest game on deck, a trip to New England. The Jets will be rested off of a bye, which helps, but I think we’re going to have two different levels of focus for this game and history supports that theory. Underdogs are 112-68 ATS since 2010 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, while 6+ point favorites like the Jets are here are 48-83 ATS since 2002 before being 6+ point underdogs (the Jets are currently -9.5 in New England in the early line).
The Redskins are “only” 5 point favorites at home for Tampa Bay next week, but that could easily move to 6, while the Jets’ line could easily move to 10. If that happens, that opens up even more powerful trends. Teams are just 51-90 ATS before being 10+ point underdogs since 2010, while that 6 and 6 trend I mentioned earlier works the other way too. Teams are 69-57 ATS since 2002 as 6+ point underdogs before being 6+ point favorites, including 12-5 ATS since 1989 when their opponent will next be 6+ point underdogs. Even if those lines don’t move a little bit, the logic behind those trends still holds. This is one of the worst spots a team can be in.
Some might think it’ll be tough for the Redskins to bounce back off of a road overtime loss, that aforementioned game in Atlanta last week, and ordinarily that would be true, but it really helps that the Redskins are in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 119-85 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 97-58 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 200-207 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.43 points per game, as opposed to 293-404 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.95 points per game. That should nullify any effect of the Redskins’ overtime road loss last week, as teams are 18-17 ATS as road underdogs off of a road loss in overtime since 1989, as long as it’s their 2nd of two road games,.
The Redskins’ injuries caused me to switch this from being my Pick of the Week, but I still think they’re the right side for a high confidence pick. They’re banged up and clearly the less talented of these two teams going into this one, but they’re in by far the better spot and they have a touchdown of buffer room to work with as 7 point underdogs. Especially with the public taking the Jets pretty decisively, I’m confident in the Redskins to cover this week.
New York Jets 20 Washington Redskins 19
Pick against the spread: Washington +7