Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings: 2022 Week 8 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-1)

The Cardinals were at the top of my overrated teams list coming into the season. They went 11-6 last season, but needed a +12 turnover margin to get to that record, which is not predictive, and they ranked just 14th in overall efficiency, barely above average. They also got a lot worse this off-season, losing starting wide receiver Christian Kirk, top edge defender Chandler Jones, top off ball linebacker Jordan Hicks, top cornerback Robert Alford, and their most efficient running back Chase Edmonds, with their only major addition being former Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who cost the Cardinals their first round pick in a trade and who isn’t a significant upgrade on Christian Kirk.

The Cardinals are off to a 3-4 start, which is disappointing compared to last season, but I think they are still overrated, as they have been reliant on a +5 turnover margin to win them games, as they rank just 29th in schedule adjusted efficiency. Injuries have also become a significant concern, with two starting offensive linemen, Justin Pugh and Rodney Hudson, starting wide receiver Marquise Brown, and feature back James Conner all out indefinitely, hurting an offense that has thus far been their better side of the ball this season. Despite that, they are just 3.5 point underdogs in Minnesota against the 5-1 Vikings.

The Vikings came into the season as one of my top underrated teams, due to improved coaching on offense and better health on defense and so far they have gotten off to a good start. Beyond their record, they also rank 5 points above average in my roster rankings and 8 points higher than the Cardinals. Given that, we’re getting a steal with the Vikings as mere 3.5-point home favorites, as they should be favored by at least a touchdown, if not 10 points, considering how mediocre the Cardinals have played aside from turnovers. This is my top Pick of the Week.

Minnesota Vikings 30 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: 2022 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (4-2) at Houston Texans (1-4-1)

The Titans have two key players who are highly questionable after not practicing on Friday, one on each side of the ball, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and stud interior defender Jeffrey Simmons. Both players could still play, but I want to lock in a bet on the Texans either way, as they are a good value as field goal home underdogs, especially if one or both of Tannehill and Simmons does not play. The Titans are 4-2, but they’re not blowing teams out, with their only victory by more than a touchdown coming in a game against the Colts in which they had a pick six and, even with that game taken into account, the Titans have a -13 point differential. 

Schedule adjusted efficiency paints an even worse picture, with the Titans ranking 28th, 4.5 points below average, as a result of an offense that ranks 24th in first down rate and a defense that ranks 29th in yards per play allowed. The Texans are one of the worst teams in the league, but the Titans shouldn’t be favored by a field goal on the road against them, especially without Tannehill and Simmons. With Tannehill and Simmons factored in as highly questionable, I have these two teams about 1.5 points apart in my roster rankings, giving us a calculated line that favors the Texans by a point. We would lose some value if Tannehill and Simmons both played, but this line will likely shift in Houston’s favor if one or both are ruled out, so I am locking this bet in now. The money line is a good value as well.

Houston Texans 17 Tennessee Titans 16 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Houston +3

Confidence: Medium

Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions: 2022 Week 8 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (4-3) at Detroit Lions (1-5)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week, as both teams are probably a little overrated. The Lions began the season as the highest scoring team in the league through 4 games, averaging 35.0 points per game, before being held to six points in their past two games by the Patriots and Cowboys. The common thinking seems to be that the Lions’ dominant offensive start was somewhat legitimate and that they just happened to run into dominant defenses the past two weeks, but I don’t think that’s correct. Even with the last two games taken into account, the Lions still rank 9th in the NFL in points per game at 24.3, but, in terms of first down rate, which is much more predictive than points, the Lions rank just 14th.

That’s still pretty solid, but it’s a big concern for a Lions team that has one of the worst defenses in the league and relies on their offense’s ability to keep up in shootouts to win games. A year after ranking 30th in defensive efficiency, about 4 points below average, the Lions have somehow been even worse this season, ranking dead last, about 5.5 points below average, especially struggling since losing two of their better players, safety Tracy Walker and edge defender Charles Harris, due to injuries a few weeks back. This week, they will be without starting cornerback Mike Hughes and starting safety Deshon Elliott as well. Because of their defensive struggles, the Lions rank just 26th in schedule adjusted efficiency, about 4.5 points below average.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are 4-1 in games started by Tua Tagovailoa, but they aren’t blowing teams out, with their only win by more than a touchdown coming against the Patriots, in a game in which they won the turnover margin by 3, but lost the first down rate battle by 0.85% and only won the yards per play battle by 0.18, a concern because yards and first downs are significantly more predictive week-to-week than turnovers. The Dolphins still rank 14th in schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, even with the injuries they’ve had at quarterback, but my roster rankings suggest this line should favor the Dolphins by 3 more than it should favor the by 3.5, a big difference considering how many games are decided by 3 points exactly.

In total, about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, with 1 in 4 games decided by a field goal or less. In large part because of this, 3.5-point underdogs cover more often than any other line, doing so at a 53.0% rate, actually enough to be profitable in the long run. A line of 3.5 is actually much higher than most realize, in real probability terms it’s closer to 5.5 or 6 than it is to 3, and as a result, odds makers will often use 3.5 to trap bettors into betting the favorite, as bettors don’t realize how high the line actually is. That alone isn’t enough for the Lions to be worth betting and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the Dolphins won by more than a field goal, but the Lions are the pick for pick ‘em purposes by the slimmest of margins. At -3, I would take the Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins 30 Detroit Lions 27

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3.5

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills: 2022 Week 8 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (5-1)

The Packers have started 3-4, a year after going 13-4, but their drop off isn’t all that surprising. Despite their record last season, the Packers finished just 10th in point differential and 11th in overall efficiency, despite an MVP season from Aaron Rodgers who, as good as he is, was no guarantee to play at quite the same level in 2022, now in his age 39 season. Add in the loss of by far their top wide receiver Davante Adams this off-season and some regression was to be expected from them, especially on offense.

In many ways, things have gone how you might expect, given the circumstances. The Packers’ defense has remained middling, ranking 17th in defensive efficiency in 2021 and 18th in 2022, but their offense has fallen off significantly, falling from 4th in offensive efficiency a year ago to 16th this season, while their horrendous special teams that ranked dead last efficiency a year ago has only been slightly better this year, ranking 28th. All in all, the Packers rank just 23rd in overall efficiency when adjusted for schedule, about two points below average, and my roster rankings only have them slightly higher, about one point above average. Despite the big name at quarterback, this team isn’t much more than a slightly above average team any way you look at it.

Making matters worse, now the Packers have to go on the road to face arguably the best team in the league, the Buffalo Bills, who rank first in my roster rankings and in schedule adjusted efficiency, about 12.5 points and 12 points above average respectively. This will be especially tough for the Packers because they tend to struggle away from home, in large part due to Aaron Rodgers having a 10 point drop off in QB rating on the road in his career, significantly above average. This line is 11, which is high, but I don’t think it’s quite high enough, with my calculated line at Buffalo -15.5. If that seems high, consider that 15 of the Bills’ last 17 wins have come by 12 points or more, with an average margin of victory over those 17 wins of 21.8 points per game, dating back to the start of last season. There isn’t quite enough here for the Bills to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Buffalo Bills 31 Green Bay Packers 16

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -11

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2022 Week 8 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (2-5) at Atlanta Falcons (3-4)

The Panthers pulled the massive upset at home against the Buccaneers last week as 13-point home underdogs, but teams tend to have a hard time following up a big home upset win, covering at a 41.9% rate all-time after a home upset win as underdogs of 5 points or more. The Panthers effectively won their Super Bowl last week and likely will now have a hard time bringing their best effort again for this game against the Falcons this week, now on the road in Atlanta. The Panthers also still rank just 31st in the league in schedule adjusted efficiency, even with last week’s upset win taken into account, so they are overvalued as mere 4-point underdogs against a more competitive Falcons team.

The Falcons lost last week by double digits in Cincinnati, which, along with the Panthers’ upset victory, caused this line to shift from originally favoring the Falcons by 6.5, but the Panthers’ win was likely more of a fluke than anything, while the Falcons still rank 9th in schedule adjusted overall efficiency, about nine points better than the Panthers. The Falcons’ 4th ranked offense in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency probably won’t perform at that level all season, while their 29th ranked defense is now missing it’s two best cornerbacks due to injury, but their defensive problems won’t be as big of a deal against the Panthers’ dead last ranked offense and, overall, my calculated line still favors the Falcons by 6, before taking into account that they are in a better spot than the Panthers. This isn’t a big play, but the Falcons are bettable this week.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Carolina Panthers 16

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -4

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2022 Week 8 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)

The Buccaneers have lost back-to-back games as big road favorites against last place teams to fall to 3-4 on the season, but they still rank 8th in schedule adjusted efficiency, about 2.5 points above average and, even with some key players missing due to injury, they rank even higher than that in my roster rankings, about 3.5 points above average. On top of that, they return home this week on a short week, which puts them at a significant advantage, with non-divisional home favorites covering the spread at a 63.8% rate on Thursday Night Football.

The Buccaneers are only favored by a point, but they arguably deserve to be favored by more, as it’s hard for a team to go on the road on a short week and play an unfamiliar opponent who is comparable to or better than them. This is also a spot where Tom Brady quarterbacked teams tend to be close to an automatic bet, going 59-30 ATS as underdogs or favorites of less than three in his career. That’s especially true after a loss, with Tom Brady led teams going 36-12 ATS after a loss as long as they are not favored by more than a touchdown. Brady also hasn’t lost three in a row since 2002, going 9-3 ATS after back-to-back losses. Most of this was from his New England days, but the Buccaneers will definitely be the hungrier and more desperate team, which should give them an advantage.

The Buccaneers are missing some key players, including top safety Antoine Winfield and starting cornerback Carlton Davis, but the Ravens have some key injury absences as well, most notably top safety Marcus Williams and top interior defender Calais Campbell, as well as potentially their top pass catcher Mark Andrews, who is very questionable after not practicing all week. The Ravens are still the better team, ranking 3rd in schedule adjusted efficiency, 6.5 points above average, as well as 7 points above average in my roster rankings, even with their current injuries, but the Buccaneers are at a significant advantage as a desperate team at home in a non-divisional game on a short week, so, in a game in which they basically just have to win to cover, I think they are worth betting. This is a small bet for now, but it would become a bigger play if Andrews didn’t play, unless the line moved significantly to compensate.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -1

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at New England Patriots: 2022 Week 7 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (2-4) at New England Patriots (3-3)

Coming into the season, many regarded the Bears as among the worst, if not the worst team in the league. They won a couple early games, but the way they won those games suggested they were still one of the worst teams in the league and that they would have a hard time continuing to win games going forward. In both of their wins, the Bears lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle, by 0.41% and 1.30 respectively against the 49ers and by 1.39% and 0.08 respectively against the Texans, a big concern because those stats are much more predictive than the final score.

Sure enough, the Bears have lost three straight games since their 2-1 start and, in terms of schedule adjusted overall efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Bears rank 30th, about 7 points below average. Even that may be the Bears overachieving their talent level, as my roster rankings have them 8.5 points below average and the 2nd worst team in the league, only behind the Broncos, who this week will have to turn to Brett Rypien, one of the shakiest backups in the league, in the absence of Russell Wilson.

The Patriots, meanwhile, were written off by many after a 1-3 start and an injury to starting quarterback Mac Jones. However, they were competitive in all of their losses, barely losing to the Packers in overtime and losing to the Dolphins primarily because of the turnover margin (-3 vs. Miami and -2 vs. Baltimore), which is not predictive week-to-week. In the past two weeks, the Patriots have since seen their turnover issues go the other way, posting turnover margins of +1 and +3 over the past two weeks in blowout victories over the Lions and Browns respectively, with backup quarterback Bailey Zappe under center.

Not only did those two wins get the Patriots back to .500, but they’ve also pushed them all the way up to 5th in the NFL in point differential at +28. Schedule adjusted overall efficiency doesn’t rank them quite as highly, but they still are 14th in the NFL, about one point above average. My roster rankings suggest they are even better than that, having them about 4 points above average, suggesting their high level of play in recent weeks is more indicative of their talent level than their slow start, which was likely the result of a significant change in offensive scheme this off-season.

Mac Jones is expected to return this week, but the way Bailey Zappe has played the past two weeks, I’m not really sure it matters for the purposes of handicapping this game, as either quarterback should be capable of leading the Patriots to a blowout win over the lowly Bears. This line is 8.5, which seems high, but the Patriots have shown a penchant for blowing teams out over the past three seasons, especially bad teams, with 13 of their 20 wins over that span coming by double digits. This isn’t a big play, but the Patriots should be bettable this week.

New England Patriots 23 Chicago Bears 10

Pick against the spread: New England -8.5

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers: 2022 Week 7 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-3)

The Chiefs have a pair of losses, but both of them were games they easily could have won. One of the losses came by 4 points on a late drive against a Bills team that is arguably the best in the league, while the other came against the Colts in a game in which the Chiefs lost the turnover battle by one and in which their backup kicker missed an extra point and a field goal, leading to a 3-point loss, despite the Chiefs winning the first down rate battle by 5.50% and the yards per play battle by 1.50, which are both significantly more predictive than turnovers or special teams. Even with their two losses, the Chiefs still rank 1st in the NFL in every major offensive category, points, first down rate, and schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, with the latter being a metric in which they are over two points better than any other team in the league. 

That’s a great sign for the Chiefs going forward because offensive performance is significantly more predictive week-to-week than defensive performance, and the Chiefs haven’t been bad on defense either, ranking 15th in schedule adjusted efficiency, while their typically strong special teams unit should be better going forward with regular kicker Harrison Butker now healthy again. Even with a mediocre special teams unit taken into account, the Chiefs still rank 2nd in schedule adjusted overall efficiency, only behind the dominant Bills, who happen to be the only team to beat the Chiefs in a game in which the Chiefs had a healthy kicker this season.

The 49ers, on the other hand, are known for their offensive skill position players like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk, but rank below average in points per game (20th), first down rate (19th), and schedule adjusted offensive efficiency (20th). Some put the majority of the blame for that on their quarterback play, but the bigger culprit has been their offensive line, which hasn’t played nearly as well as a year ago. They’ll get left tackle Trent Williams back this week for the first time since week 3, a huge re-addition because he is arguably the best left tackle in the league when healthy, but the 49ers are still missing a trio of offensive line starters from a year ago, all of whom have been replaced by players who are not playing as well.

The 49ers acquired former Panthers feature back Christian McCaffrey in a trade this week to give them yet another offensive playmaker and, while he could easily have a big impact for them in the future, he’s unlikely to factor significantly into this game, having just joined the team a few days ago. The 49ers have dominant defense, ranking 4th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, which more or less matches how their defense ranks in my roster rankings, but their special teams has struggled again this season, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted efficiency after ranking 28th last season, and, overall, I have them 5.5 points behind the Chiefs.

With that in mind, my calculated line has the Chiefs favored by a field goal in this game, on the road in San Francisco. Given that, we are getting some line value with the Chiefs as mere 1-point favorites, but that’s not quite enough for the Chiefs to be betting. They are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes and, in matchups between dominant offenses and dominant defenses, the team with the dominant offense tends to win more often, but this is only a low confidence pick because we’re not getting significant line value.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -1

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys: 2022 Week 7 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (1-4) at Dallas Cowboys (4-2)

The Lions began the season as the highest scoring team in the league through 4 games, averaging 35.0 points per game, before being shut out in week 5 against the Patriots. The common thinking seems to be that the Lions’ dominant offensive start was legitimate and that they just happened to run into a dominant defense in week 5, but I don’t think that’s correct. Even with the Patriots’ game taken into account, the Lions still rank 3rd in the NFL in points per game at 28.0, but in terms of first down rate, which is much more predictive than points, the Lions rank just 13th, 18th when adjusted for strength of schedule.

That’s still pretty solid, but it’s a big concern for a Lions team that has one of the worst defenses in the league and relies on their offense’s ability to keep up in shootouts to win games. A year after ranking 30th in defensive efficiency, about 4 points below average, the Lions have somehow been even worse this season, ranking dead last, about 5.5 points below average, especially struggling since losing two of their better players, safety Tracy Walker and edge defender Charles Harris, due to injuries. My roster rankings tell the same story, with the Lions’ defense being 5 points below average without Walker and Harris. Overall, both my roster rankings and schedule adjusted efficiency have the Lions about 5 points below average overall as a team, making them one of the worst in the league, despite an impressive points total.

With that in mind, I like the Cowboys a lot this week. Many thought the Cowboys’ season was over when they lost quarterback Dak Prescott for an extended period of time in a week 1 blowout loss to the Buccaneers, but the Cowboys’ defense has been dominant this season, ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted efficiency, and, led by that defense, backup Mike White won 4 of 5 games in Prescott’s absence. With Prescott set to return to the lineup for a 4-2 team with a dominant defense, the Cowboys are in position to be a serious contender going forward. 

I’m a little wary of betting on the Cowboys in Prescott’s first game back, especially considering how he struggled in his first game back from a shoulder injury last season, and the Cowboys have offensive problems beyond Prescott, ranking just 24th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency thus far this season, but, even with Prescott factored in at less than 100%, the Cowboys still rank 4 points above average in my roster rankings, 9 points ahead of the Lions. 

In addition to how well their defense has played thus far this season, the Cowboys also rank 4th in schedule adjusted special teams efficiency. Given how big the gap between them and the Lions is, we are getting significant line value with the Cowboys as mere 6.5-point home favorites, with my calculated line being Dallas -11. This isn’t a big play, but the Cowboys are worth a bet this week if you can get this line at less than a touchdown.

Dallas Cowboys 26 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas -6.5

Confidence: Medium