Pick of the Week
HOU +100 @ IND
Pick of the Week
HOU +100 @ IND
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) at Chicago Bears (2-1)
Ryan Fitzpatrick played incredibly well in the first two games of the season, but he fell back to earth last week, with a 3 turnover performance in a home loss to the Steelers, who have struggled defensively this season. Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger and has a lot of receiving talent to work with, so he could continue to post good passing yardage numbers, but he’s a 35-year-old career journeyman who is unlikely to suddenly be a different quarterback in his 14th season season in the league. With Jameis Winston returning from suspension this week, it would not be a surprise to see the Buccaneers pull Fitzpatrick if he turns the ball over early like he did last week. Winston may be an upgrade, but he’s had turnover problems in the past as well and has not seen a lot of first team reps.
Regardless of who is under center for the Buccaneers, the bigger concern is their defense, which ranks 28th in first down rate allowed at 42.13% and is unlikely to improve going forward. The Bears are a much more complete team, with one of the top defenses in the league, a strong offensive line and running game, and a solid receiving corps. Their obvious weakness is second year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who continues to look like a bottom-5 starting quarterback, despite an improved coaching staff and an improved supporting cast.
Trubisky should be able to have a solid game against a terrible Tampa Bay defense though. This line, favoring Chicago by 3 points at home, suggests that these two teams are about even, which is not the case. I have this line calculated at about 6.5, so we’re getting good line value with the Bears, who arguably have the most non-quarterback talent in the NFL. They’re a strong play this week and should win this one with relative ease.
Chicago Bears 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16
Pick against the spread: Chicago -3
New Orleans Saints (2-1) at New York Giants (1-2)
A popular Super Bowl pick, the Saints kind of stumbled out of the gate this season, losing to the Buccaneers week 1 and almost losing to the Browns week 2, despite being big home favorites in both games. As a result of that, it seems like people have kind of soured on them, as they are mere 3 point favorites here in New York against a Giants team that is one of the weaker in the NFC. I think that’s an overreaction. They still have one of the most talented rosters in the league and they’ve gotten off to slow starts before hitting their stride in other recent years too, going 2-12 ATS in the first two weeks of the season since 2012, but 51-38 ATS the rest of the season.
The Saints won last week in overtime in Atlanta and now head to New York to take on a Giants team that is pretty banged up right now. Already missing top edge rusher Olivier Vernon for the 4th straight week and starting cornerback Eli Apple for the 2nd straight week, the Giants will also be without starting tight end Evan Engram with an injury this week. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -7, so we’re getting plenty of line value with the Saints at 3. They’re still worth a bet at 3.5, but 3 is available in enough places that you should be able to find it. At 3, the Saints are my Pick of the Week.
New Orleans Saints 31 New York Giants 23
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3
Confidence: Pick of the Week
Detroit Lions (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (1-2)
This is another one I’m torn on. One one hand, the Cowboys are the slightly better team and are more likely to be focused, as the Lions could be a little flat a week after such a big victory over the Patriots. On the other hand, the Cowboys are missing linebacker Sean Lee, who they always miss significantly when he’s hurt, and they have had very little homefield advantage in recent years. Though they are 36-30 on the road since 2010, outscoring opponents by an average of 0.09 points per game, they are just 33-34 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.19 points per game, suggesting homefield hasn’t been worth a full point to them in recent years. I’m taking the Cowboys, but this is a no confidence pick and could easily be a push.
Dallas Cowboys 23 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Dallas -3
Baltimore Ravens (2-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1-1)
The Steelers held on for a 3 point win in Tampa Bay last week on Monday Night Football, but they’re still an overrated team, dating back to 2017. Just 5 of their 14 wins over the past 2 seasons have come by more than 7 points, including just 2 since the midpoint of last season, a span of 12 games. They’ve especially struggled since losing linebacker Ryan Shazier to injury, allowing 27.5 points per game in 8 games (2-6 ATS) without one of the better linebackers in the league.
The Steelers do get right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert back from 2-game and 1-game absences respectively this week though, and they’re facing another overrated team, the Baltimore Ravens. Over the past 2 seasons, the Ravens have played 8 games against teams quarterbacked by Deshone Kizer (x2), EJ Manuel, Tom Savage, Brett Hundley, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Moore, and Nathan Peterman. They are just 3-8 in their other 11 games, including two losses in Pittsburgh last year. We’re not getting enough line value with the Steelers for them to be worth betting, but they’re the slightly better team.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Baltimore Ravens 23
Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -3
Miami Dolphins (3-0) at New England Patriots (1-2)
After a solid week 1 win at home over the Texans, the Patriots have been embarrassed in back-to-back weeks on the road, losing by double digits in Jacksonville and Detroit. Now they return home to face a surprise 3-0 Dolphins team. This line has shrunk to 6.5 as a result, but I think that’s an overreaction that’s created some line value with the Patriots. The Dolphins have not been dominant in any of their 3 wins and have faced a pretty easy schedule, facing the Raiders and Jets, two of the worst teams in the conference, and a banged up Titans team. Ryan Tannehill is playing at a high level in his return from injury, but they have a pretty underwhelming roster overall.
The Patriots, meanwhile, should continue to get the benefit of the doubt, despite a slow start, as we’ve seen them come back from slow starts in the past and make Super Bowls. The Patriots have also been great off of a loss in the Belichick era, going 47-25 ATS after a loss since 2000 (37-19 ATS with Tom Brady). I know they didn’t win last week, despite coming off of a loss, but they’ve actually been even better off two straight losses, going 8-3 ATS in Brady’s career and incredibly not losing 3 straight games since 2002. Perhaps even more incredible is Tom Brady’s career record against teams with better records than his, as he’s 34-12 straight up and 36-10 ATS.
Their offense probably won’t hit its stride until it gets Julian Edelman back, but Josh Gordon could be active this week and their defense would get a big boost in this game if defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung can return after missing the last game and a half with concussions. Two of their most important defensive players, it’s no surprise their defense has struggled since losing them, after a solid performance against the Texans week 1. Flowers and Chung are not guarantees to return this week, but both returned to practice this week and could be cleared from the concussion protocol. I’m keeping this as a low confidence pick for now, but depending on the status of Chung, Gordon, and Flowers and how the line reacts I may decide to make a bet on this one in the morning.
Sunday Update: Gordon, Flowers, and Chung are all active for New England, while Reshad Jones is out for the Dolphins, but the line has stayed put at 6.5. I’m bumping this up to a medium confidence pick.
New England Patriots 31 Miami Dolphins 20
Pick against the spread: New England -6.5
Cleveland Browns (1-1-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-3)
I’m torn on this one. On one hand, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield looked like an upgrade on underwhelming veteran Tyrod Taylor in his debut and the insertion of him into the starting lineup could take a team with a capable supporting cast to the next level. If that’s the case, this line shouldn’t be Oakland -3, which suggests these two teams are about even. The Browns have easily the better supporting cast and could be about equal at quarterback if Mayfield continues playing well.
Of course, we’ve only seen Mayfield for about a half, so it’s tough to be confident in him as starter yet. On top of that, the Browns could be a little flat this week, against an 0-3 team, coming off the excitement of their first win in over a year. They might get a little bit ahead of themselves and have a disappointing performance against a team that has held the halftime lead in all 3 of their losses and that will be desperate for their first win. They also could get caught looking forward to a divisional clash with the Ravens next week. If the Browns aren’t fully focused and the Raiders can finally close, they could easily win this game, so I can’t take the Browns with any confidence, but they’re the pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Oakland Raiders 26 Cleveland Browns 24
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3
Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Denver Broncos (2-1)
Through 3 games, the Chiefs have been remarkably good on offense, but they’ve simultaneously been remarkably bad on defense. Much has been made of their offense, which has picked up a first down or touchdown on a ridiculous 50.28% of its offensive snaps, but their defense is making opponent offenses look almost as good, allowing a first down or touchdown on 48.82% of their snaps.
Not only would those numbers both be the highest in recent memory on either side of the ball over the course of a full season, they are significantly higher than the 2nd highest numbers in the league right now (45.23% first down rate, 42.86% first down rate allowed). The Chiefs could easily end up with statistically the best offense and the worst defense in the league when all is said and done, but at some point both of those numbers are going to come back to earth a little bit, just based off the law of averages. The Chiefs’ offense got out to a really hot start last year before fading as opposing teams caught on to their tendencies better, while their defense will be boosted at some point by the return of safety Eric Berry from injury.
As a result of their defensive struggles, they have not been blowing out their opponents, even with the first quarter leads they’ve jumped out to with their offense. They won by 10 in Los Angeles against the Chiefs, but lost the first down battle 33 to 19, and they won by 11 against the 49ers last week, but the 49ers had a touchdown that would have cut it to a 7 point game with 5 minutes left taken off the board by penalty, so neither of those games were really blowouts.
Despite that, they are favored by 4.5 points on the road against a solid Denver team. This line is the equivalent of the Broncos being 10-10.5 point underdogs in Kansas City, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because the 49ers were just 6.5 or 7 point underdogs in Kansas City last week and they came close to covering. That’s partially because the Chiefs have been playing it much more conservative in the second half with the lead, but if the Broncos are down two scores late, I don’t trust the Kansas City defense to keep the Broncos from getting a backdoor cover. I think the Broncos have a good chance to make this a game though. We’re getting too much line value with the Broncos at +4.5 to pass on.
Kansas City Chiefs 26 Denver Broncos 24
Pick against the spread: Denver +4.5
Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
This line was all the way up to 6 earlier this week, before heavy sharp action on the Bengals bet the line all the way down to 3.5. While I obviously would have preferred 6, we are still getting line value with the Bengals at 3.5. This line suggests that the Falcons are slightly better than the Bengals, but I think that’s backwards. Coming into the season, the Falcons were one of the most talented teams in the league, but they’ve been hit by injuries as hard as anyone early in the season.
Already without top linebacker Deion Jones and top safety Keanu Neal, the Falcons’ defense will now be without their other starting safety Ricardo Allen for the season after he tore his achilles last week. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the league this year (42.23% first down rate allowed, 29th in the NFL) and they’re unlikely to get significantly better any time soon without a major addition. On offense, left guard Andy Levitre is out for the year, while lead back Devonta Freeman will miss at least another week with a knee injury.
The Bengals have players missing too, including suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict, injured running back Joe Mixon, and injured center Billy Price, but they enter the game with the 4th best first down rate differential in the NFL. They lost their first game without Mixon and Price last week in Carolina, but their offense wasn’t really the problem, as they topped a 40% first down rate for the 3rd week in a row, joining the Rams and the Chiefs as the only teams to do that. In fact, they won the first down battle 25 to 23 last week, losing by 10 primarily because of a -4 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Bengals aren’t more likely to lose the turnover battle this week as a result of losing it last week.
Burfict will be a big re-addition to an already solid defense next week and Price and Mixon were big parts of their offense before going down, but even without them they still have an improved offensive line and significantly improved skill position talent compared to last season. The Bengals are also in a better spot. While the Falcons have to turn around and go to Pittsburgh next week, where they will be underdogs, the Bengals will be favorites at home for Miami. Underdogs are 120-72 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. This isn’t a huge play, but the Bengals should be the right side.
Atlanta Falcons 31 Cincinnati Bengals 30
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5
San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-2)
The 49ers were dealt a crippling blow late in their loss last week in Kansas City, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL trying to extend a play in the 4th quarter. Already 2.5 games back in the division at 1-2 in a loaded NFC, with a mediocre roster around the quarterback, the 49ers now will have to turn to 2017 3rd round pick CJ Beathard, who was a backup caliber quarterback as a rookie. It’s possible he has a leap in his level of play in his 2nd year in the league, but he’s obviously a major downgrade from Garoppolo and he won’t get a ton of help from the rest of the roster.
Garoppolo is not the only injury the 49ers have suffered so far this season, thinning an already thin roster. Planned feature back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on the final play of training camp. Top cornerback Richard Sherman got hurt last week too and will miss a few games with a leg injury. Safety Jaquiski Tartt will likely miss his 2nd straight game with a shoulder injury. Running back Matt Breida and safety Adrian Colbert are expected to be gametime decisions. This is arguably the worst team in the NFL right now.
The Chargers are a significantly better team and they’re in a good spot with a home game against the winless Raiders on deck. Favorites of 6 or more are 78-48 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6 or more again. I’m not betting them for a couple reasons though. For one, they have almost no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, as a result of how few fans they have. I would expect the crowd to be mostly 49er fans, even with Garoppolo injured.
On top of that, the Chargers have a major injury of their own with top edge rusher Joey Bosa out for the 4th straight week. Without him, the Chargers’ defense hasn’t been nearly the same. The Chargers should be able to win by double digits, but if the 49ers are down 16 or 17 points late I don’t trust the Chargers’ defense not to give up a backdoor touchdown. The Chargers should be the right side, but we’re not getting enough line value with them as 10.5 point favorites for them to be worth a bet.
Los Angeles Chargers 33 San Francisco 49ers 19
Pick against the spread: Los Angeles -10.5