Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

The Chiefs have gotten off to a hot start, winning each of their first 3 games. The most surprising part is how they’ve done it. The Chiefs have been a defense first team for several years, but they rank 2nd in first down rate through 3 games at 41.92% and they are tied with the Patriots with 12 offensive touchdowns. Their defense, meanwhile, actually leads the league in first downs allowed with 76 and ranks 4th worst in first down rate allowed at 38.86%, so they’ve been winning in spite of their defense, not because of it.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’re this good all season offensively. They currently have a quarterback rating of 132.7, just 1 turnover on 167 offensive plays (the first play of the season ironically), and a 6.85 yards per carry average on the ground. They’re on pace to break all sorts of offensive records if they keep on their current pace, but it’s highly unlikely that this is one of the greatest offenses of all time, so they’re likely to fall off their current pace significantly. Last season, they finished just 20th in first down rate. They’re obviously better than that now with Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill emerging as big playmakers and Alex Smith playing as well as he ever has, but they might not be a top-5 or even a top-10 offense when all is said and done.

If they’re going to keep winning at a high rate, they’re going to have to play better defensively. That’s definitely a possibility, as their schedule gets easier, after starting the year with New England, Philadelphia, and the LA Chargers, but this defense is simply not the same without safety Eric Berry, who is out for the season with a torn achilles. Berry isn’t the only injury the Chiefs are dealing with, as center Mitch Morse and outside linebacker Tamba Hali remain out, while left tackle Eric Fisher and Dee Ford could join them on the sidelines after missing practice time late in the week. The Redskins are relatively healthy and an above average team that should be able to keep this game close. I have this line calculated at about -4, so we’re getting significant line value at -7. The Redskins are worth a bet if you can get a full touchdown.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 Washington Redskins 20

Pick against the spread: Washington +7

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (2-1)

The Lions are 2-1 and were literally inches away from beating the Falcons and going to 3-0 last week, but they rank 29th in first down rate differential (-6.54%), as they have allowed 12 more first downs than they’ve picked up. Despite their record, they’ve lost the first down rate battle in each of their first 3 games. Their record is largely the result of a +6 turnover margin and a subsequent +2 return touchdown margin, but turnover margins are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t be able to count on that every week. Last season, they managed just 14 takeaways all season and finished at -1 in turnover margin, an example of how inconsistent turnover margins are. Given that, they’re highly unlikely to keep up their current pace, as they’re on pace for 43 takeaways, more than triple their 2016 total.

That will have a noticeable effect on the field, as the Lions defense has had serious problems getting teams off the field without takeaways this season, forcing just 11 punts, fewest forced by any team who has played 3 games except the Saints. That’s despite playing a couple of mediocre offenses, the Cardinals and the Giants, to start the season. Having Ezekiel Ansah healthy has helped this defense, but they’ve missed fellow starting defensive end Kerry Hyder, who is out for the season, and their offense is not as good as last season without left tackle Taylor Decker, who is out with a shoulder injury.

The Lions ranked 29th in first down rate differential last season too, when they went 9-7 with 8 wins by a touchdown or less and no wins over playoff teams, so they should be a smart team to bet against going forward. Unfortunately, we’re not getting great line value with the Vikings here as 2 point favorites with Case Keenum under center. The Vikings were +2 last week for the Buccaneers and, though they won pretty easily, that was primarily because the Buccaneers were banged up defensively and because they won the turnover battle by 3. I’m taking the Vikings still, but it’s a no confidence bet as long as the Vikings as favored.

Minnesota Vikings 23 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -2

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (1-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-2)

This is one of the toughest games of the week to predict against the spread. The Seahawks are favored by 12.5 and I have this line calculated at -13.5 because the Colts are one of the least talented teams in the league and the Seahawks are one of the most, but the Seahawks offense is so inconsistent that I don’t know if I trust them laying this many points. In a similar situation earlier this year against an equally bad San Francisco team, they managed just 12 points in a 12-9 victory, despite being favored by 14 points coming into the game.

In fact, over the past 2 seasons, they’ve scored fewer than 13 points in a game 7 times. Only the Browns, Jets, Rams, and Texans have more games with fewer than 13 points over that time period. That’s especially relevant because the Seahawks will need to not just score 13 points, but win by 13 points to cover here. The Colts have a weak defense and their offense should struggle mightily against Seattle’s defense, but that was true of the 49ers a couple weeks ago. This could easily be a 17-10 or a 16-9 game that the Seahawks struggle to put away, so I can’t take them with any confidence, even though I think Seattle has the talent to blow away the Colts.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Indianapolis Colts 10

Pick against the spread: Seattle -12.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (2-1) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

The Rams are a little bit of an overrated team. They’re definitely better than they were last season, with an improved offensive talent around an improved Jared Goff, but I think the general public overestimates how much better. In my roster rankings, I have them 26th, so they’re not awful like last season, but they’re still one of the weaker teams in the league. They still have issues on offense, including Goff, who remains untrustworthy, and their defense has issues outside of the defensive line, even with Wade Phillips taking over as defensive coordinator.

They’re 2-1, but those two wins came against two of the worst teams in the league, the Colts and the 49ers, and they struggled to put away the latter last week in what ended up only being a 2-point win. Their loss came at home to the Redskins in a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed and lost the first down battle 21-14. The Cowboys are not the same team as they were last season, losing two starters on the offensive line this off-season (Ronald Leary and Doug Free) and losing top interior pass rusher David Irving for the first 4 games of the season with a suspension, but I still think they’re about 5 points better than the Rams right now.

However, I’m actually taking the Rams this week for two reasons. One is that the Cowboys’ homefield advantage is barely noticeable, as they tend to attract fans wherever they go. They are just 30-29 straight up at home since 2010, with an average differential of 1.80 points per game. Contrast that with their road record of 31-27 over that time period, with an average differential of -0.48 points per game. Their homefield advantage is really only worth about a point. Despite that, the oddsmakers usually don’t correct for that and the Cowboys are 21-37 ATS at home since 2010, including 13-29 ATS as a favorite and 6-16 ATS as a favorite of 6 or more.

The second reason is that outside linebacker Sean Lee could miss this game after not practicing all week with a hamstring injury, which would be a huge blow to a Cowboys defense that has a lot of problems even with Lee healthy. With Lee’s uncertainty and the Cowboys’ lack of homefield advantage, I have this line calculated at -5.5, so we’re getting slight line value with the Rams, although it’s not nearly enough for me to be confident in them. If Lee is ruled out and this line doesn’t move, I might move this up to a low confidence pick, but I wouldn’t bet on either of these teams this week.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +6.5

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (0-3) at Arizona Cardinals (1-2)

The Cardinals finished the 2015 season #1 in first down rate differential when they finished 13-3 and then they finished #1 in that metric again in 2016, despite going 7-8-1, as they could have easily won 10-12 games if not for numerous special teams errors in close games. However, this Cardinals team is not the same team as the past 2 seasons. They lost five defensive starters in free agency, including defensive end Calais Campbell, safety DJ Swearinger, and safety Tony Jefferson, all of whom were among the best players in the league at this position in 2016. On top of that, they’ve been ravaged by injuries, most importantly a wrist injury to David Johnson that has him sidelined indefinitely.

As a result, the Cardinals are just 1-2, with their one win coming in overtime against the lowly Colts. The good news is they have arguably their easiest game of the season this week with the 49ers coming to town. After starting the season with back-to-back games on the road and then a home game against the Cowboys, this is a welcome sight for them. They’re also getting healthier, with middle linebacker Deone Bucannon set to make his season debut and left tackle DJ Humphries returning to the lineup for the first time since the first half week 1.

The Cardinals still have injury issues, with Johnson, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, and left guard Mike Iupati out indefinitely, but the 49ers have injuries too, with safety Eric Reid and middle linebacker Reuben Foster out and running back Carlos Hyde limited at best with a hip injury. Given the state of these two rosters right now, I have this line calculated at -9, suggesting these two teams are about 6 points apart. We’re getting some line value with the Cardinals as 6.5 point home favorites, but there isn’t quite enough here for me to be confident in Arizona covering.

Arizona Cardinals 24 San Francisco 49ers 16

Pick against the spread: Arizona -6.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

The Ravens won their first 2 games by final scores of 20-0 and 24-10, but they got destroyed last week in London 44-7 by the Jaguars. Many people are chalking that up to the Ravens being unprepared to play in London, but there are several bigger reasons why they lost. For one, they were facing their toughest opponent yet, as the Jaguars are better than both the Bengals and the Browns, who the Ravens defeated in weeks 1 and 2. Their schedule unfortunately does not get any easier this week. They return home, but will host the Steelers, who are definitely better than the Bengals, Browns, and Ravens.

The second reason is injuries, as the Ravens were without their top offensive lineman Marshal Yanda and their top defensive tackle Brandon Williams, both of whom remain out this week. The Ravens had injury issues even before those two went down (Danny Woodhead, Alex Lewis, Dennis Pitta, etc), but those two are huge losses and their absences will be felt again this week. The third reason is turnover margin, as the Ravens were a league best +7 through the first 2 weeks of the season, but then lost the turnover battle by 3 against the Jaguars. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so, while the Ravens might not necessarily lose the turnover battle again this week like last week, it’s unreasonable to expect them to continue winning the turnover battle the way they did in their first 2 games, especially with injured players and the schedule getting tougher.

As a result of the Ravens’ loss last week, this line has moved from even to the Steelers being favored by a field goal, even though the Steelers blew a winnable game in Chicago last week. I typically like to go against significant week-to-week line movements, but I have this line calculated at -4 given all of the players the Ravens are missing, so we’re still getting a little bit of value with the Steelers. Teams tend to cover off of blowout losses, going 54-28 ATS since 2002 off of a loss of 35+ or more (17-8 ATS since 2012), as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed after a huge loss, so I can’t be confident in the Steelers, especially given how heavily the public is betting them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -3

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) at Cleveland Browns (0-3)

After not scoring a touchdown in either of their first 2 games, the Bengals nearly beat the Packers in Green Bay last week, taking a 21-7 lead early before eventually losing in overtime. The Browns, meanwhile, blew their first opportunity to be road favorites since 2007, losing 31-28 in Indianapolis in a game in which they got down 28-7 early. As a result, this line has shifted from 1.5 in favor of the visiting Bengals on the early line to 3 this week.

Ordinarily, I like to go against significant line movements like that, but I think this line is about right. The Bengals’ offense is better than it looked when they were held without a touchdown by 2 of the better defenses in the league (Baltimore and Houston) and they now have a new playcaller with Ken Zampese getting relieved of his duties after week 2. Green Bay was missing several key players in that near loss, but the Bengals should still be pleased with their progress, as taking the Packers to overtime in Lambeau is not easy feat as long as Aaron Rodgers in healthy. They’ll have offensive issues all year because of their offensive line, but they have an underrated defense and they’re definitely better than their record suggests.

The Browns, meanwhile, have major issues, as they are missing arguably their three best front 7 players with injuries. Linebacker Jamie Collins will miss his 2nd straight game. Defensive end Myles Garrett will miss his 4th straight game. And defensive tackle Danny Shelton will join them on the sideline for the first time. Without those three, the Browns have arguably the worst defense in the entire league. I have these two teams about 6 points apart in my roster rankings, so this line is about right. I’m taking the Browns for one reason only and that’s because the public is betting heavily on Cincinnati, but this is maybe my lowest confidence pick of the week. A push seems like a good possibility as well, as about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3

Confidence: None