Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Detroit Lions (3-3)

The Lions went 9-7 and made the post-season last season and are 3-3 so far this season, but 9 of their 12 wins over the past 2 seasons have come by a touchdown or less and they’ve had trouble beating top level teams. They didn’t defeat a single playoff team in 2016, in a season that culminated with a 26-6 loss in Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, and the 3 teams they’ve defeated so far this season are not that impressive, as they’ve defeated the Cardinals, Giants, and the Case Keenum led Vikings. A year after ranking just 28th in first down rate differential, they rank just 27th this season and they are arguably worse overall this season, as they are without talented left tackle Taylor Decker.

The Steelers are the type of top level team the Lions typically struggle with, but the good news for the Lions is that the Steelers come in banged up, missing right tackle Marcus Gilbert and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who are among the best players on the team, as well as Vance McDonald, their starting tight end. As a result, I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Lions, as I have these two teams about 5 points apart in my roster rankings this week. That suggests that the Steelers should be -2. That’s not a ton of line value and I’m not that confident in the Lions, but grabbing the field goal with the home team is the smarter move for pick ‘em purposes this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (2-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-4)

The Browns and 49ers are both winless at 0-7, but you could make an argument that the Colts are worse than both of them. The Colts have 2 wins, but they both came by just a field goal at home, against the 49ers and Browns, and they’ve lost their other 5 games by a combined 109 points. As a result, they have a point differential of -103, by far the worst in the NFL, behind the Cardinals (-72), the Browns (-66), and the 49ers (-63). They also rank dead last in first down rate differential at -8.08%.

On top of that, they enter this game very banged up, besides the obvious Andrew Luck injury. Already missing their top interior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort for the season, the Colts lost their top defensive back, talented rookie safety Malik Hooker, for the season last week and will also be without cornerback Rashaan Melvin and outside linebacker John Simon for at least this week. Melvin had been their top cornerback, while Simon was an above average starter as well. Missing all of the players they are missing, I have the Colts dead last in my roster rankings.

The Colts are also in a tough spot with a trip to Houston on deck. They will likely be double digit underdogs again in that game and double digit underdogs are 49-79 ATS since 1989 before being double digit underdogs again. The Bengals aren’t in a great spot either though, as they figure to be underdogs in Jacksonville next week. Double digit favorites are just 57-77 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs.

The Bengals are not a great team at 2-4, but they rank 17th in first down rate differential and have been playing better offensively since firing their offensive coordinator after week 2, so they’re a lot better than the Colts. They have major problems on the offensive line, but they have one of the better defenses in the league and should be able to move the ball at least somewhat on this weak Indianapolis defense. 

This line is high at -10.5, but the Bengals should be able to cover it. I have this line calculated at about 12.5, so we’re getting some line value with the Bengals. There’s not enough here to bet on Cincinnati confidently, but the Bengals should be the right pick for pick ‘em purposes and they’re a smart survivor pick this week against the worst team in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals 26 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -10.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (4-2)

I’ve taken the Bears in 5 of 7 games this season, as I’ve thought all season they were an underrated team. In those 5 games, they went 4-1 ATS, including straight up victories as underdogs against the Steelers, Ravens, and Panthers. They have an above average defense, an above average running game, and an above average offensive line and can give good teams problems. However, I think the public is starting to catch on following Chicago’s wins over the Ravens and Panthers in the past 2 weeks, two games in which they didn’t allow a single offensive touchdown, so I don’t know if you can call them underrated anymore.

This week they go to New Orleans to face the Saints, another team that has been underrated for a while. As a result of that and Chicago’s two recent wins, we’re not getting much value with the Bears this week, as they are 9.5 point underdogs on the road against one of the better teams in the league. The Saints offense is still about as good as it’s ever been, but their defense has taken a major step forward this season, led by defensive end Cameron Jordan and cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who are both playing at an All-Pro level.

The Bears managed just 5 first downs last week in their 17-3 win over the Panthers, as the defense provided 14 points on two returns and a big play by running back Tarik Cohen set-up a field goal for another 3. That 5 first down performance dropped them to 28th in first down rate at 30.55%. They’ll need to do much better than that this week, as they’re unlikely to be able to rely on huge plays and return touchdowns for points. In order to do that, they’ll need rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky to make some plays, after running a very conservative offense in his first 3 starts. I’m not sure if he’s capable of that, not necessarily because I don’t believe in his talent, but because he’s inexperienced and working with arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. For that reason, I’m taking the Saints here at 9.5, but I would take the Bears at 10. That’s how close this is for me.

New Orleans Saints 27 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)

The Broncos started the season 3-1 before their bye week, with wins over the Chargers, Cowboys (by 25), and Raiders, but they’ve lost back-to-back games to the Giants and Chargers since the bye and the public has soured on them as a result. They’ve been outscored 44-10 in those 2 games, but their defense has still played at a high level, allowing just 26 first downs and 3 offensive touchdowns combined. On the season, they still rank #1 in first down rate allowed at 27.95%. Despite an offense that ranks 23rd in first down rate, the Broncos have the 5th best first down rate differential in the NFL.

The Broncos offense is worse than that right now with Emmanuel Sanders likely to miss his 2nd straight game with an ankle injury, but they face a Kansas City defense that ranks just 31st in first down rate allowed at 40.75%, only ahead of the New England Patriots. They have not been nearly the same unit since losing safety Eric Berry for the season week 1 and now outside linebacker Justin Houston is dealing with a knee injury that could have him at less than 100% this week.

The Chiefs offense is what’s been winning them games, as they rank 2nd in first down rate, so the Broncos’ defense will have their hands full, but they should be able to slow them down considerably, even with right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and center Mitch Morse likely to return. They should also be able to establish their running game and make life easier for quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has been struggling mightily since losing Sanders midway through the loss to the Giants. This line is way off at 7.5, as the Chiefs are at best 1-1.5 points better than the Broncos right now. I have this line at Kansas City -3.5, so I like the Broncos enough to make them my Pick of the Week in a 13-game week.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 Denver Broncos 20

Pick against the spread: Denver +7.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)

The Chargers are just 3-4, but they’ve had a more impressive season than that suggests. They lost their first 2 games by a combined 5 points, in games in which they missed a combined 3 makeable field goals, and then their 3rd loss came by just 2 points. On the season, they rank 7th in first down rate differential at +3.52% and have a +6 point differential. Making that even more impressive, they’ve done that despite the fact that their home crowds tend to be primarily road fans, meaning they’ve more or less played 7 road games thus far this season. As a result, they are 3-0 ATS in their 3 actual road games. This trend actually dates back to San Diego where they had trouble drawing crowds too. They’re 13-6 ATS since 2015 on the road, including 12-5 ATS as road underdogs.

Going into New England is no easy task, but the Chargers are used to opposing crowds and are capable of playing well despite them. The Patriots are also a little overrated right now. The common narrative is that they’ve fixed their defensive issues after last week’s 23-7 win over the Falcons, but they still allowed the Falcons to move the chains at a 39.29% rate. The Falcons just couldn’t cash in, missing two makeable field goals and failing from 4th and goal from the 1 late in the game. On the season, they rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 40.97%. The Patriots have also lost defensive tackle Malcom Brown and outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower with injuries in the past week, hurting this defense even more.

The Patriots could still figure out their defensive issues before the post-season, given how well-coached they are, but I need to see it before I believe it, especially given who they are missing defensively right now. Given the state of these two rosters, I have the Patriots as just 2.5 points better than the Chargers right now, so we’re getting some line value with the visitors at +7.5. It does concern me a little bit that the Patriots are going into a bye, as home favorites of 7 or more are 61-40 ATS since 1989, but the Chargers are going into a bye too and that record drops to 13-12 ATS when the opponent is also going into a bye. On top of that, I don’t think the Patriots deserve to be favored by this many right now, so the Chargers are worth a small bet at +7.5.

New England Patriots 24 Los Angeles Chargers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (4-2)

Expected to be an AFC contender, the Raiders got off to an underwhelming 2-4 start, but things are looking up for them following last week’s last second home victory over the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. After getting knocked out with a back injury in a week 4 loss to the Broncos, missing a week 5 loss against the Ravens, and struggling in his return in a week 6 loss to the Chargers, Derek Carr played one of his best games last week against the Chiefs and should be close to 100% after an extended rest following the Thursday game. Despite their record, there’s a case to be made that the Raiders are still a top-10 team, given how few true contenders there seem to be this season and how talented this roster still is.

This line favors the hometown Bills by a field goal, suggesting these two teams are about even, which I don’t agree with. The Bills are 4-2, but they’ve been very reliant on the turnover margin, as they lead the league with a +10 turnover margin, but rank just 26th in first down rate differential at -3.00%. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they’ll need to do a better job of picking up first downs going forward if they want to continue having success in the win column. Their offense has major problems (29th in first down rate), so I don’t see that happening, and their defense is a little bit overrated because of how many takeaways they’ve gotten (12th in first down rate allowed). Their defense also enters this game banged up, missing cornerback EJ Gaines and safety Jordan Poyer, who have been a big part of their defensive success this season.

The Raiders are also banged up in the secondary, missing rookie slot cornerback Gareon Conley for the 6th time this season, in addition to cornerback David Amerson (2nd game) and safety Karl Joseph (1st game). However, their secondary isn’t as important to their success as the Bills’ secondary is to their success. They have easily the better offense, especially with Carr rounding back into form, and are about 2 points better than the Bills in my roster rankings. The Bills are also in a tough spot because they have to turn around and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 59-92 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. I locked this line in at -3 earlier this week on my Thursday pick, but I would take 2.5 if I had to. I also like the Raiders’ chances of the straight up upset.

Oakland Raiders 24 Buffalo Bills 23 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: High

Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (3-4) at Miami Dolphins (4-2)

The Dolphins are 4-2 and went 10-6 last year, but both of those records were the result of close wins and an easy schedule. Last season, 8 of their 10 wins came by a touchdown or less and 5 of them came against the Jets, 49ers, Browns, and Rams, who were among the worst teams in the league last year. Of those 5 wins, just one came by more than a touchdown. They did defeat the Steelers by double digits in week 6 of last season, but that was their only win over a playoff team and it came in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger got hurt. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the Steelers defeated them 30-12 in the first round of the post-season. They also lost by double digits to the Patriots, Titans, Bengals, and Ravens in the regular season.

This season, their 4 wins have come against the Chargers, the Titans, the Jets, and the Falcons, by a combined 14 points. The Falcons were a tough opponent, but they got caught looking forward to New England the following week. The Chargers missed 2 makeable field goals in a 2-point loss. The Titans were without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota and the deciding score was a return touchdown. The Jets, meanwhile, are one of the worst teams in the league. Despite that, the Jets were still able to beat the Dolphins by 14 in their first meeting. The Dolphins’ other loss came in London against the Saints by 20, so they have a point differential of just -20, 25th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they rank 29th at -4.10%.

In their victory last week against the Jets, the Dolphins had to come back from down two scores in the second half and likely would not have been able to if Jay Cutler had not gotten hurt. That injury allowed Matt Moore to take over at quarterback and he should have been their starter since Tannehill tore his ACL in the pre-season. Paying Jay Cutler $10 million to come out of retirement to be their starting quarterback was a questionable move, considering Moore is an experienced backup who knew the system with whom they had no drop off in offensive performance in 4 starts in 2016, and that move looks even more questionable given how much Cutler has struggled thus far this season. Moore isn’t the best quarterback in the world, but he should be an upgrade given how poorly Cutler was playing.

That being said, I still have the Ravens about a point and a half better than the Dolphins, given that the Ravens got key defensive lineman Brandon Williams back from injury last week. They should also be healthier in the receiving corps this week after being without their top-3 wide receivers in Minnesota last week. At the very least, they should be getting #1 receiver Jeremy Maclin back from a 2-game absence. The Ravens are far from a great team, but they are the better of these two teams. This line suggests they’re about even at -3, so we’re getting some line value with the hosts.

The Ravens are also in a good spot as the hosts in a non-divisional matchup on Thursday Night Football. Non-divisional home favorites are 28-15 ATS all-time on Thursday Night Football as long as both teams are on short rest, which makes sense because it’s very tough for a team to travel on a short week to face a comparable or better opponent, unless that opponent is a familiar divisional opponent. The Dolphins are relatively unfamiliar with the Ravens, so they should be at a huge disadvantage on the short week, especially since they are installing a new starting quarterback. This is worth a small bet if you can get the line at -3.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

DEN +7.5 @ KC (I would also take +7)

OAK +3 @ BUF

Baltimore Ravens 19 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3

Confidence: Medium