Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (2-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3)

The Seahawks are in trouble, sitting at 2-3 in the best division in the NFL, having now lost starting quarterback Russell Wilson for an extended period of time with a finger injury. Wilson hasn’t missed a start since joining the Seahawks in 2012 and has been about as valuable to the Seahawks as any quarterback has been to their team over that time frame. That being said, I do like the Seahawks chances of covering this week in Pittsburgh, as 5-point underdogs.

The Seahawks’ 2-3 record is more the product of a tough schedule and they’ve gotten about league average play from their defense and special teams, so the rest of this roster isn’t terrible. Their offense will obviously take a big hit without Wilson, but teams tend to play at 110% in their first game with a backup quarterback in the lineup and they have a solid offensive supporting cast, led by a talented duo of wide receivers, so the Seahawks aren’t in bad shape, facing a Steelers team that I have about four points below average.

The Steelers’ offense is no better than a year ago and, in fact may be worse, while their defense is still good, but not good enough to offset their offensive performance like they were last season, when the Steelers won a lot of close games against easy competition. The Steelers won week 1 in Buffalo, which was a big surprise at the time, but given how they’ve played in their past four games, only beating a banged up Broncos team, it’s pretty safe to say that week one result was a fluke. 

The Steelers shouldn’t be favored by 5 points over anyone but the worst teams in the league, which is not what the Seahawks are, even without Wilson. My calculated line has the Steelers as just 1.5 point favorites, so there is enough line value to take the Seahawks confidently, with about a third of games decided by 5 points or fewer. I didn’t have any one game I loved this week, so by default this is my Pick of the Week, but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks aren’t a strong value this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Seattle Seahawks 16

Pick against the spread: Seattle +5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (2-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-2)

The Vikings are just 2-3, but their three losses have come by a combined 11 points, giving them a positive point differential of +4, despite the fact that the Vikings have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, 2nd in terms of opponent’s DVOA. The Vikings have also missed some key players to injury that have since returned, with top linebacker Anthony Barr, starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, and running back Dalvin Cook missing two games, four games, and four games respectively.

All three of those players will be in the lineup for this matchup with the Panthers, who, despite their 3-2 record, are significantly worse than every team the Vikings have faced except for the Lions. The Panthers got out to a 3-0 start, but they took advantage of facing the Jets and Texans, two of the worst teams in the league, who both kept the game relatively competitive, as well as the inconsistent Saints. 

Since that 3-0 start, they have lost key players to injury like top cornerback Jaycee Horn, stud feature back Christian McCaffrey, and every down linebacker Shaq Thompson and, with the schedule getting tougher, they have lost to the Cowboys in a game that was not as close as the final score, with the Cowboys winning the first down rate battle and yards per play battle by 7.09% and -1.99, respectively, and then they lost at home to the Eagles, who are middling at best. 

In their certain state, I have the Panthers 2.5 points below average, so we’re getting some line value with the Vikings as 2.5 point road favorites. My calculated line is Minnesota -3.5, which might not seem like much line value except for the fact that 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. In a game in which the Vikings basically just need to cover to win, they are worth a play as they are the noticeably better team and should be able to take care of business, even on the road.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Football Team: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) at Washington Football Team (2-3)

The Chiefs are 2-3 right now, but there isn’t much real reason for concern. Their issues have almost entirely been concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, as they lead the league in first down rate, but also in yards per play allowed, and the offensive side of the ball is much more predictive week-to-week. The Chiefs have also been better on offense relative to how bad they’ve been on defense, as there is a bigger gap in first down rate between the Chiefs and the 4th ranked Chargers than there is between the Chargers and the 25th ranked Raiders.

The Chiefs have also faced a relatively tough schedule, with the Browns, Chargers, Ravens, and Bills all likely being playoff qualifiers and their only relatively easy game coming against the Eagles, who aren’t a bad team either. Despite that schedule, the Chiefs could easily be 4-1 if not for the turnover margin. Turnover margin is one of the least predictive metrics in the league and the Chiefs have the second worst turnover margin in the league at -7, which has cost them at least a couple games.

That would be unlikely to continue for any team, but that’s especially the case for the Chiefs, as having an elite quarterback is one of the few ways to consistently fare well in the turnover margin. Overall, the Chiefs were +23 in turnover margin in Mahomes’ first 3 seasons in the league prior to this season. Even this season, most of Mahomes’ interceptions have been off of drops or tipped balls, which are unlikely to continue recurring at this rate. 

Washington, meanwhile, could be 0-5 right now, if not for close wins over below average teams in the Giants and Falcons, with their three losses coming by a combined 37 points. They are starting a backup quarterback on offense, while their defense hasn’t been nearly as good as a year ago, as they aren’t getting the same level of play out of their back seven. Their offense could be in even more trouble than usual this week, as their injuries are piling up. 

Washington already lost top offensive lineman Brandon Scherff a couple weeks ago, but they will also be without promising rookie right tackle Samuel Cosmi, while their receiving corps will be without #2 receiver Curtis Samuel, tight end Logan Thomas, and could be without #1 receiver Terry McLaurin, who could be limited even if he plays, after injuring his hamstring in practice on Friday. That will make life even tougher for backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

The public doesn’t seem to be buying the Chiefs’ record, betting the Chiefs as touchdown favorites, even though this line has shifted up from Kansas City -5.5 on the early line last season, so we’re not getting great line value with the Chiefs. However, they should be able to handle this game pretty easily, as they still have a dominant offense and this is their easiest game of the season thus far. This isn’t a big play, but the Chiefs are still undervalued, as my calculated line has them as 9.5 point favorites, so they’re worth betting.

Update: Some -6.5s have popped up. This is a bigger play at this number. As long as the Chiefs can avoid fluky turnovers, there still isn’t a team in the league I trust more to score a touchdown on any given drive, so it’ll be tough for this underwhelming Washington team to keep it within one score.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Washington Football Team 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -6.5

Confidence: High

Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) at Detroit Lions (0-5)

The Bengals took the Packers to overtime last week, but even though the Packers were missing several key players due to injury and even though Aaron Rodgers typically struggles on the road, relative to how well he plays at home, the Bengals were still lucky to even take that game to overtime, as the Packers won the first down rate battle and yards per play battle by 5.12% and 1.75 respectively. The Packers had 12 drives, excluding end of half drives, and got into scoring range on 9 of them, but had to settle for 7 field goals and missed 3 of them, keeping the game close, despite the Packers dominating in key statistical metrics. 

Even with the Packers included, the Bengals have still faced one of the easiest schedules in the league this season, the 4th easiest by DVOA, and, while they are 3-2, they rank just 27th in first down rate and 11th in yards per play allowed, which are the most predictive offensive and defensive metrics respectively. On top of that, just one of their three wins have come by more than a field goal and they have lost to the Bears, while nearly losing at home to the Jaguars. My roster rankings have them as more middling than the statistics show, but either way, they are no better than an average team.

The Lions, meanwhile, are winless, but they’ve come close in some of their games, losing on game winning field goals twice and failing at the goal line in a one score loss in another game. Their defense is atrocious, ranking 31st in yards per play allowed, but their offense has ranked 6th in first down rate, despite an above average schedule (12th in DVOA) and they could easily pull the upset here at home in one of their easiest games of the season thus far. 

Even if they don’t win outright, we are getting 3.5 points of cushion with the Lions and about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. The Bengals could also be flat in between a long overtime loss to a tough opponent and a much tougher game against the Ravens on deck, which could lead to them overlooking an 0-5 Lions team that has been more competitive than their record. This isn’t a huge play, but my calculated line is Cincinnati -1, so between the line value and the good spot, there is enough here for the Lions to be worth betting.

Cincinnati Bengals 24 Detroit Lions 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)

The Buccaneers are obviously one of the best teams in the league, but they are dealing with more injuries than they were a year ago, when they were one of the healthiest teams in the league. In total, they are missing three week one starters from their secondary, top tight end Rob Gronkowski, and now the loss of one of the top linebackers in the league, Lavonte David, who will miss his first game of the season this week. The Buccaneers are coming off of a blowout win over the Dolphins, but the Dolphins are one of the worst teams in the league right now and could be 0-5, while the Buccaneers’ previous two games were a convincing road loss against the Rams and a near defeat against a middling Patriots team in New England.

Despite that, they are favored by a touchdown on the road against an Eagles team that has been better than most think this season. They are just 2-3, but their losses are all against above average teams in the 49ers, Chiefs, and Cowboys, while their two wins have come in blowout fashion against a below average Falcons team and a close win against a decent Panthers team.

My roster rankings have them as a middling team overall, especially with the re-addition of left tackle Jordan Mailata, who returned last week from a two-game absence, unsurprisingly their two least competitive games of the season (Philadelphia and Kansas City). Prior to his absence, the Eagles played the 49ers close and last week he returned for their victory over the Panthers.

They are still missing their top edge defender Brandon Graham, as well as a trio of starting offensive linemen, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo, but they have better depth upfront than a year ago and are not a bad offensive line now with Mailata back. They are also getting good play from young quarterback Jalen Hurts and this young receiving corps, while also playing solid overall defense as well. My calculated line has the Buccaneers favored by just 3.5 points, so there is value with Philadelphia +7. This is worth a play.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +7

Confidence: Medium

2021 Week 5 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

CIN +3 vs. GB

High Confidence Picks

MIN -9.5 vs. DET

Medium Confidence Picks

ARZ -5 vs. SF

CLE +2 @ LAC

DAL -7 vs. NYG

KC -2.5 vs. BUF

LV -5.5 vs. CHI

BAL -7 vs. IND

Low Confidence Picks

ATL -2.5 vs. NYJ

PHI +3 @ CAR

TEN -4.5 @ JAX

TB -10 vs. MIA

SEA +2.5 vs. LAR

No Confidence Picks

DEN -1.5 @ PIT

NO -2.5 @ WAS

HOU +8 vs. NE

Upset Picks

CIN +130 vs. GB

CLE +115 @ LAC

New Orleans Saints at Washington Football Team: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (2-2) at Washington Football Team (2-2)

This is the toughest call of the week for me. The Saints have been easily the least predictable team in the league this season, beating the Patriots and Packers by multiple scores, but losing by multiple scores to the Panthers and losing in overtime to the previously winless Giants. The Saints haven’t played two straight bad games yet and have typically bounced back well after a loss in the Sean Payton era (51-30 ATS), but that was almost all with Drew Brees, who retired this off-season. 

This Saints team is missing a lot more than Drew Brees, after several key off-season departures and an injury/suspension list that includes top wide receiver Michael Thomas, talented kicker Will Lutz, top interior defender David Onyemata, starting linebacker Kwon Alexander, starting defensive end Marcus Davenport, and stud offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy. Fortunately for the Saints, their opponents aren’t that tough, as Washington is starting a backup quarterback and doesn’t have as good of an offensive line or defense as they did a year ago. 

My calculated line is actually right where this line is, favoring the visiting Saints by 2.5, another reason why this is a very tough call. With no line value, no situational trends, and a highly inconsistent Saints team, I want no part of picking this game, but I will take the Saints just because a field goal by the Saints is probably the single most likely outcome of this game, but the Washington could also pull the small upset if the Saints play like they have in their losses.

New Orleans Saints 20 Washington Football Team 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -2.5

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-1)

The Panthers suffered their first loss of the season last week, but their record still shows them to be better than they’ve played, as their wins have come against the Texans and Jets, two of the worst teams in the league, and the very inconsistent Saints, while their loss came in a game against the Cowboys that wasn’t close and in which the Panthers lost the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts (-7.09% and -1.99, respectively). They have a decent roster, but they are probably not a playoff caliber team, especially with the injured players they are currently missing, including top cornerback Jaycee Horn, stud feature back Christian McCaffrey, and every down linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone else is buying the Panthers either, as they are favored by just a field goal at home against the Eagles, who are also missing several key players with injury. Most notably they are missing their top edge defender Brandon Graham, as well as a trio of starting offensive linemen, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo. However, the Eagles have better depth upfront than a year ago and are not a bad offensive line now that left tackle Jordan Mailata has returned and they are getting good play from young quarterback Jalen Hurts and this young receiving corps, while also playing solid overall defense as well. I have this line calculated as Carolina -1, so we’re getting some line value with the Eagles, but not quite enough for them to be worth betting.

Carolina Panthers 24 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (1-3) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

The Colts won their first game of the season last week, but they beat a Dolphins team that wasn’t as good as their 10-6 record a year ago and that could easily be 0-4 right now, with their only win coming by 1 point. The Colts also still have serious injury problems, which have been the culprit behind their slow start, most notably the extended absences of their top-2 offensive linemen Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson. 

Already having lost their left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement this off-season and replacing him with the injury plagued Eric Fisher, who has gotten off to a slow start, the Colts are seriously missing both Smith and Nelson and also have right guard Mark Glowinski drastically under-performing, turning an offensive line that was once this team’s biggest strength into a weakness. On top of that, the Colts are also going to be without at least one, if not two starters in the secondary, as well as promising young edge defender Kwity Paye and starting wide receiver TY Hilton, who has yet to make his season debut.

Despite all their absences, the Colts are still only 7 point underdogs in Baltimore, as the public doesn’t seem to have caught on to how bad they are without their offensive line playing at a high level. The Ravens have been a bit disappointing and underwhelming this season, despite a 3-1 start, but they are at least healthier on defense that they were to start the season and they have enough of a talent edge in this matchup to justify favoring them by more than a touchdown at home. My calculated line has the Ravens favored by 10, which is not quite enough for me to bet the Ravens confidently, but they should be the right side. If this line drops down to 6.5, I will definitely consider a bet.

Update: After thinking about this more, this line is just too low. The Ravens are worth a bet. They should be able to win by multiple scores against a Colts team that is a well below average team with their offensive line banged up and struggling.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -7

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (2-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)

This line shifted from favoring the Titans by 7 points on the early line last week to 4.5 points this week, likely as a result of the Titans losing in a similar spot as big road favorites in New York against the Jets last week, losing in overtime as 6-point favorites. However, the Titans are healthier than a week ago, with top wide receiver AJ Brown and starting cornerback Caleb Farley both set to return, while the Jaguars are an even weaker opponent than the Jets.

The Lions and Texans are clearly the worst two teams in the league, but the Jaguars aren’t too far behind them, even losing to the Texans week one, albeit back when the Texans still had Tyrod Taylor healthy. Still, that game wasn’t that close, nor have any of the Jaguars’ games been, with the exception of last week’s close loss to the Bengals, against a team that was missing it’s top two defensive backs. Even with that result factored in, the Jaguars are still losing by an average of 10.3 points per game and have the 5th worst point differential in the league.

That near win in Cincinnati last week may also be part of the reason why this line shifted, but that wasn’t as impressive as it could have been if the Bengals were fully healthy on defense and last week’s result should probably be overshadowed by the situation that has developed with head coach Urban Meyer since last week’s game. Meyer, who already was unpopular with the players, could have completely lost the locker room, which could cause this winless team to quit if they get down big early. They’re also likely to be unprepared and unfocused after the week they had.

The Titans have the offensive firepower to put the Jaguars down big early and should be favored by a lot more than 4.5 points, but I am hesitant to bet on them because they’re not in a good spot either. After this easy matchup with the Jaguars, the Titans have a much tougher matchup with the Chiefs and may not be fully focused as a result. The Jaguars could be equally distracted and unfocused, but there isn’t quite enough here for the Titans to be worth betting. Their defense is still a problem and I would be worried about a backdoor cover if the Titans aren’t focused enough to pull away early.

Tennessee Titans 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -4.5

Confidence: Low