Denver Broncos at New York Jets: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (0-3) at New York Jets (0-3)

This is a tough one, because there are really no good arguments for either side. Both teams are 0-3 and deservedly so and, with the line being even, this is a straight win/loss pick ‘em. The Broncos came into the season with a lot of potential, but they’ve been derailed by injuries, losing starting quarterback Drew Lock, top wide receiver Courtland Sutton, starting right tackle Elijah Wilkinson, top defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, stud edge defender Von Miller, starting linebacker Mark Barron, and cornerback AJ Bouye already in this young season. Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel proved to be in over his head and has been pulled for third string quarterback Brett Rypien, a 2019 undrafted free agent who will make his first start in this game.

The Jets, meanwhile, came into the season with much less potential. Already an underwhelming team, the Jets lost linebacker CJ Mosley to an opt-out and traded Jamal Adams to the Seahawks before the season, stripping them of their top-2 defensive players before the year even began. Things have gotten even worse though, primarily due to injuries. The Jets haven’t quite had the Broncos’ injury issues, but they played last week without their top-3 wide receivers and their starting running back, leaving them devoid of skill position talent on offense. Quarterback Sam Darnold also hasn’t progressed in his third year in the league, so this offense has been tremendously stagnant, with a 29.14% first down rate differential that is not only dead last in the league, but 9.88% less than league average.

The Broncos have been the better team this season, ranking 22nd in first down rate differential (-2.24%), as compared to dead last 32nd (-10.65%) for the Jets, but I don’t really want to take an unproven third string quarterback on a short week on the road, even if it is against a team like the Jets in a year where homefield advantage is diminished. My roster rankings, which takes into account the Broncos’ quarterback situation, has the Broncos 31st and the Jets 32nd, giving the Broncos just a half point edge. Ultimately, this decision is going to come down to injuries. I’m taking the Jets for a no confidence pick, but they could be without talented rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton and/or could get wide receiver Jamison Crowder back to give them some much needed skill position talent. Depending on the injury report, I may change this to a no confidence pick the other way.

New York Jets 16 Denver Broncos 14

Pick against the spread: NY Jets PK

Confidence: None

2020 Week 3 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

NYG +3.5 vs. SF

High Confidence Picks

TB -5 @ DEN

CLE -7 vs. WAS

Medium Confidence Picks

TEN -2.5 @ MIN

NO -3 vs. GB

CHI +3 @ ATL

Low Confidence Picks

BAL -3.5 vs. KC

IND -12 vs. NYJ

NE -6 vs. LV

PIT -4 vs. HOU

SEA -5 vs. DAL

CIN +4.5 @ PHI

DET +5 @ ARZ

JAX -3 vs. MIA

No Confidence Picks

LAR +2 @ BUF

LAC -6.5 vs. CAR

Upset Picks

CHI +115 @ ATL

NYG +155 vs. SF

Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (0-2) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)

This is the toughest game of the week for me, as I have the line calculated right at 6.5, which is where it is on the board, and there aren’t any situational edges on either side. The Panthers are one of the worst teams in the league without their top offensive player Chrisitan McCaffrey and their top defensive lineman Kawaan Short, but the Chargers have a raw, unproven quarterback under center in Justin Herbert and, while he showed some success against the Chiefs last week after regular starter Tyrod Taylor was a late scratch with a medical issue, I wonder how much he benefited from the Chiefs game planning for a different kind of quarterback all week. 

Herbert will have a full week with the first team in practice this week, which he didn’t have last week, but the Panthers also won’t be caught off guard by him and at least have some professional tape of him in this offense. Ultimately, I’m taking the Chargers since the most likely outcome is then winning by a touchdown, but the Panthers could easily keep it closer and they have the kind of offense, even without McCaffrey, that is very capable of a backdoor garbage cover late in the game.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Carolina Panthers 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -6.5

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)

The Eagles’ season has gotten off to a terrible start, as not only are they 0-2, but they’re also tied with the Jets with the 2nd lowest first down rate differential in the league at -28. The Eagles were injury ravaged in week 1, missing right tackle Lane Johnson and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, among others, but they still lost by double digits to a Washington team that is one of the worst in the league and then they got blown out at home by the Rams in week 2, even though Johnson and Hargrave had returned. Part of the problem has been their league worst -5 turnover margin, which is a metric that tends to be inconsistent week-to-week, but they also rank 26th in first down rate differential at -5.58%, so their issues go far beyond the turnover margin.

The Eagles should be better going forward, if only because Carson Wentz is unlikely to be one of the worst quarterbacks in the league all season, but even if he bounces back, this team has real weaknesses on both sides of the ball, as Wentz’s growing cap hit has made it tougher to them to keep talent at positions like linebacker, safety, and running back, while their offensive line is missing both starting guards due to injury and their receiving corps is banged up as well.

The Eagles face another 0-2 team this week, a less surprising 0-2 team as the Bengals are coming off a season in which they finished 2-14 and had the worst record in the league. The Bengals were better than that record suggested, with 8 of their losses coming by 8 points or fewer in 2019, primarily due to a defense that is better than you’d think, and their offense should be better this season with #1 overall pick Joe Burrow taking over under center and getting back top wide receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams, who both missed all of 2019 with injury, but the Bengals are still unlikely to win many games and their defense has struggled early in the season, likely in large part due to the continued absence of defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

If the Eagles play like they have, the Bengals could steal this one in Philadelphia, especially with the Eagles having limited homefield advantage, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles bounced back this week, with Carson Wentz likely to work through his issues at some point. I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -3, so we’re getting line value with the Bengals at +4.5, but not enough for them to be worth betting against a desperate Eagles team that is used to making playoff appearances.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (2-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-2)

I wasn’t high on the Bears coming into the season because their defense wasn’t what it once was and their offense didn’t appear to be noticeably approved. It’s early and they’ve had a relatively easy schedule, but their quarterback play and offensive line play have both been better than expected and, perhaps most importantly, they’re one of the few teams in the league that haven’t had significant injury problems yet and they enter this game as close to full strength as anyone. As a result of that, they have shot up to 14th in my roster rankings.

That’s a few spots higher than the Falcons, who are dealing with injuries to several players, as wide receiver Julio Jones, right tackle Kaleb McGary, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, and edge defenders Dante Fowler and Takkarist McKinley are all highly questionable after either barely practicing or not practicing this week. It’s tough to make a pick without knowing the status of all of those players, but I’m tentatively on the Bears and may even wager on them depending on how many Falcons are out.

Update: The injury report is not good for the Falcons, with Jones, McGary, Oluokun, and McKinley all out, along with cornerback AJ Terrell, who is on the COVID list. Unfortunately, this line moved down to 2.5 to compensate. An Atlanta win by a field goal at home is still a likely possibility, so I don’t love this play against the spread, but I think the Bears have a slightly better chance of winning this game overall than the Falcons (my calculated line is Chicago -1.5), so I like the value getting them +115 to win straight up.

Final Update: Some +3s have started showing up again, with higher vig. Field goal games are so common that I think it’s worth betting that line even if you have to pay a higher vig.

Chicago Bears 26 Atlanta Falcons 24 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Chicago +3

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-1)

The Colts surprisingly lost week 1 in Jacksonville, but that game largely swung on a -2 turnover margin by the Colts, which tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, and the Colts bounced back in a big way with a 28-11 home victory over the Vikings last week. In total, the Colts have the 5th highest first down rate differential in the league at +5.33%. In early, but that’s in line with where I had them before the season. 

The Colts were just a middling team last season, but they get an upgrade at quarterback in Philip Rivers, they get their #1 wide receiver back from an injury riddled season, and they add a much needed difference maker on defense in DeForest Buckner. They haven’t been immune to the injury bug, most notably losing safety Malik Hooker for the season with a torn achilles, but they still rank 8th in my roster rankings overall and are healthier than most of the league

The Colts also have a very easy matchup this week, hosting a Jets team that entered the year as one of the worst teams in the league and that has only gotten worse due to injuries. The Jets lost their two best defensive players before the season even started, with linebacker CJ Mosley opting out and safety Jamal Adams getting traded to the Seahawks, and they have since lost their top-3 wide receivers (Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims), their starting running back Le’Veon Bell, and their starting right tackle George Fant due to injuries. Through two weeks, they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -8.85% and they’re arguably the worst team in the league overall in their current state.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost all line value with the Colts, as this line has shifted from Indianapolis -7 on the early line last week to -12 this week. The Colts should still be the right side because this should be a blowout, but my calculated line of -13.5 isn’t much higher than this actual line, so there isn’t enough here for the Colts to be worth betting. The Colts are my pick, but for pick ‘em purposes only.

Indianapolis Colts 27 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -12

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (0-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)

The Texans are off to an 0-2 start, which is not a surprise, as their season began in pretty much the most difficult way imaginable, with games against the Chiefs and Ravens. The bigger concern is that the Texans weren’t particularly competitive in either game, losing by a combined 31 points and having a first down rate differential of -5.79% across the two games, 5th worst in the NFL through 2 weeks. Also concerning is that their schedule doesn’t immediately get easier, with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck.

The Steelers haven’t really been tested yet in their 2-0 start, but I had them as a top-10 team coming into the season and they’re getting healthier, with stud right guard David DeCastro set to return, which will give them a big boost upfront. I have them 6th in my roster rankings right now, about 4.5 points above the Texans. Adding two points for reduced homefield advantage, I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with them as only 4-point favorites.

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend betting the Steelers, because the Texans are in a good spot. Not only are the Texans in desperate need of a win at 0-2, while the Steelers are 2-0, the Steelers also have a much tougher game on deck with the also 2-0 Titans in Tennessee, while the Texans will be hosting the also 0-2 Vikings in Houston. Underdogs are 78-38 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions should be true here. I’m taking the Steelers for pick ‘em purposes, but I’m not confident.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Houston Texans 23

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -4

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

One of the big early surprises of this young season has been the play of Arizona’s defense, which has the 5th lowest first down rate allowed in the league at 33.88%, after finishing 30th in first down rate allowed with similar personnel in 2019. The Cardinals have an impressive offense with Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins giving them a pair of offensive playmakers around quarterback Kyler Murray, who has taken a step forward himself this season, so if their defense can continue playing like this, this could be a dangerous team.

I don’t expect this level of defensive player to continue though. On paper, they are much more in line with how they played last season and they haven’t faced a tough schedule thus far, facing a banged up 49ers offense and a Washington team that has one of the worst offenses in the league. At the very least, I don’t expect the Cardinals to keep up their league leading 26.1% third down conversion rate allowed, over a 20% improvement from their 2019 defense.

The Cardinals schedule gets tougher on their defense this week with the Lions coming to town. Detroit’s offense hasn’t been that impressive thus far this season, but they get top wide receiver Kenny Golladay back from injury this week, which is huge, as he’s gone for a 75/1226/9 slash line in his last 16 games with Matt Stafford, and they could be healthier on the offensive line this week as well. The Cardinals shouldn’t have much problem moving the ball against this Detroit defense, but this could easily be an evenly matched shootout. With reduced homefield advantage for the Cardinals, I have this calculated at Arizona -3, so we’re getting some line value with the Lions at 5. There isn’t enough here for this to be worth betting, but the Lions should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as the most likely outcome of this game is the Cardinals winning by a field goal.

Arizona Cardinals 34 Detroit Lions 31

Pick against the spread: Detroit +5

Confidence: Low

Washington Mascots at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Washington Mascots (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)

The Browns got blown out in week 1 in Baltimore, losing 38-7 in a game in which they lost the first down rate differential by 17.39%, but the Ravens are on a dominant regular season run dating back to last season, and the Browns bounced back in week 2. They only beat the Bengals by 5, but the Browns actually won the first down rate by 10.78%, with the Bengals only able to keep it close because they went 5 for 5 on 4th down and got a late meaningless touchdown. 

The Browns have some injuries, missing defensive end Olivier Vernon and probably top cornerback Denzel Ward, but they’re hardly the only banged up team right now and they still rank 15th in my roster rankings. Their opponents this week, in addition not having a team name, are missing one of their few top level players, Brandon Scherff, without whom they have one of the worst offensive lines in the league. They pulled off the upset week 1 against a banged up Eagles team that looked bad again in week 2 even when they were healthier, but they’re still one of the least talented teams in the league, about 8 points behind the Browns in my roster rankings. That suggests a line favoring the Browns by about 10, so we’re getting good line value with this number at 7. This isn’t a big play, but the Browns are worth a bet this week.

Update: Denzel Ward is a surprise active for the Browns, and Adrian Clayborn, a valuable situational rusher who was questionable, will play as well. Strangely, this line has stayed put at a touchdown. I like the Browns enough for this to be a bigger play. They should win this one fairly easily.

Cleveland Browns 24 Washington Mascots 12

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -7

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Rams at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (2-0) at Buffalo Bills (2-0)

The Bills made the playoffs with 10 wins last season, but they faced a very easy schedule and their performance against tougher competition is concerning. They went just 1-5 against teams that finished with a winning record, with their only win coming against the Marcus Mariota-led Titans in a game in which the Titans missed 4 field goals and lost by 7. Even more concerning is the statistical split of quarterback Josh Allen between games against winning teams and non-winning teams.  

Even with a solid game against the Titans included, he completed just 51.7% of his passes for an average of 5.65 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions against winning teams, as opposed to 62.6% completion, 7.26 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions against .500 or worse teams. With the Bills’ schedule getting much tougher this season, the key to them making it back to the post-season will be Josh Allen and the rest of this team playing better than they have against tough competition. 

Whether or not they can do that is still up in the air, as the Bills started their season with a pair of easy games against divisional opponents, taking care of business in both games. This week, their schedule gets tougher, as they play host to the Rams. The Rams came into the season with several glaring weaknesses, but, one of them, their offensive line, has been pleasantly surprising this season thanks to the emergence of young players and bounce back years from veterans. They haven’t faced the toughest schedule to get to 2-0 and they barely won their week 1 game, but the Rams are exceeding expectations and have mostly avoided injuries so far, and they should easily compete for a playoff spot if that continues.

The Bills are better on offense since adding Stefon Diggs this off-season and Josh Allen is another year experienced, now in his 3rd season in the league, so I give them a better chance of beating a team like the Rams than I would a year ago, but I still have the Rams about a point higher in my roster rankings. This line, favoring the Bills by 2 at home, suggests these two teams are about even, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Rams, but the Bills could easily end up winning this game by a field goal, so this isn’t one I’m confident in. In fact, a Bills win by a field goal is probably the single most likely outcome, even if the Rams overall may have a better chance of covering.

Buffalo Bills 24 Los Angeles Rams 23

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +2

Confidence: None