Los Angeles Rams at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (3-3) at Atlanta Falcons (1-5)

The Rams made a splash move this week to acquire cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars for a pair of first round picks, but they still have significant problems on this team. One problem is edge defender, where Clay Matthews remains out with a broken jaw, but the biggest problem area is the offensive line, where they are getting worse play at all five spots across the line as compared to last year. 

They lost their starting left guard and starting center this off-season and have gotten terrible play from their replacements, while left tackle Andrew Whitworth is showing his age in his age 38 season, right guard Austin Blythe has played through injuries and has regressed after a breakout 2018 season, and right tackle Rob Havenstein has relatively been a disappointment as well. Quarterback Jared Goff, who has always struggled under pressure, has had an underwhelming season as a result of their suddenly poor offensive line play. 

On top of their concerns at edge rusher and on the offensive line, acquiring Ramsey really just allows them to tread water at the cornerback position, as the Rams started the season with a solid outside cornerback duo of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, but lost Talib with an injury and then traded Peters to Baltimore prior to acquiring Ramsey. Even if Ramsey can lock down one receiver by himself, opposing passers can just pick on fellow starting cornerback Troy Hill, a career backup and special teamer. 

Ramsey, who will have had little practice time with the Rams prior to this game in Atlanta, does not make this is a good secondary by himself, especially with safety John Johnson also going down with injury. Obviously having Ramsey is better than not, but anyone expecting him to turn this team around by himself is going to be disappointed. Some of their games could have gone either way, but the Rams’ 3-3 record is about right for how they’ve played, as they rank just 14th in first down rate differential at +1.47%. Even with Ramsey, they might not be much better than that going forward. 

This game in Atlanta seems like an easy way for the Rams to get back on track at first glance, as the Falcons are just 1-5, but they’ve played better than that suggests. They’ve struggled with turnovers, ranking 5th worst in fumble recovery rate at 31.25% and tied for 4th worst in turnover margin at -5, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 19th at -0.98%. 

Their defense has been horrendous, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 43.50% rate, only behind the Dolphins for worst in the league, but their offense has moved the ball well, ranking 3rd in first down rate at 42.53%. The Rams are favored here by a field goal, but I have this line calculated at even, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Falcons pull the upset at home. I don’t want to make a huge bet on the Falcons because their defense has been so awful, especially without top cornerback Desmond Trufant, but this offense has the firepower to keep a shootout close, so they’re worth a bet if you can get the full field goal.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Los Angeles Rams 30 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: Falcons +3

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (5-1) at Chicago Bears (3-2)

Coming out of the bye, the Bears get quarterback Mitch Trubisky back from a shoulder injury that cost him almost two full games (he got hurt 3 pass attempts into week 4), but I’m not sure how much that matters for this struggling offense. The Bears only had a 30.51% first down rate in the two games Trubisky missed, but they weren’t much better in his 3 starts, picking up first downs at a 32.96% rate, and they rank just 28th in the NFL overall with a 31.99% first down rate. Trubisky had seemingly regressed in his third season in the league before his injury and the rest of this Bears’ offense has struggled as well, with and without Trubisky. 

They still have a strong defense, but they aren’t quite as dominant as last year, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 34.24%. They lost talented safety Adrian Amos and key slot cornerback Bryce Callahan in free agency, while 2018 breakout star Eddie Jackson has not had the same kind of year in 2019. Losing defensive end Akiem Hicks, one of their best defensive players a year ago, indefinitely with an injury won’t help matters. The public doesn’t seem to have caught on that the Bears aren’t the same team as last year though, as they are favored by 4 points here at home over the Saints, suggesting they are noticeably the better team in this matchup. 

The Saints have had some good luck to get to 5-1 (4-0 with backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under center) and their offense has been noticeably worse without Brees, moving the chains at a 33.22% rate with Bridgewater in the game, as opposed to the 43.48% rate they moved the chains in 2018 in Brees’ starts. However, their defense has also been much improved in recent weeks, allowing a 29.88% first down rate in 3 games since defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins returned from injury, as opposed to 40.31% in their first 3 games of the season. When Brees returns, this team should be very tough to beat. 

Even with feature back Alvin Kamara also out of the lineup this week, I have the Saints as 3 points better than the overrated Bears, suggesting this line should be about even, so we’re getting significant line value with the Saints as 4-point underdogs, with about 30% of games decided by 4 points or fewer. The Saints may not win straight up, but they have a good shot to pull the “upset” and move to 6-1 and even if they don’t this is likely to be a defensive battle that could easily come down to a field goal. I like getting 4 points with the Saints here.

New Orleans Saints 17 Chicago Bears 16 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) at Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

The conventional wisdom is that the sky is falling in Dallas, with the Cowboys being on a 3-game losing streak. However, the Cowboys actually have a positive first down rate differential across those three games, at +1.98%. Their -4 turnover margin over those 3 games is the primary reason behind their losing streak, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Despite just a 3-3 record, the Cowboys rank 4th in first down rate differential at +6.48%, winning the first down rate battle in every game this season except last week’s loss to the Jets.

Their only three wins thus far have come against easy opponents, but they won all 3 games convincingly, by at least 10 points, winning the first down rate battle by +10.96% across the three games, while all three of their losses could have been wins if a couple things had gone differently. They are also still one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, so I still like their chances going forward. The Eagles also look like one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, but they haven’t played as well, coming into this game ranking just 16th in first down rate differential at 0.21%, very much in line with their 3-3 record. 

The Cowboys also seem to have the better injury situation, though both teams are pretty banged up. The difference is that it looks like most of the Cowboys’ injured players will try to play through their injuries, while the Eagles have ruled out several starters already. Left tackle Jason Peters and top linebacker Nigel Bradham will join top cornerback Ronald Darby, starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, starting cornerback Avonte Maddox, and starting wide receiver DeSean Jackson on the sidelines this week for a Philadelphia team whose injuries are starting to pile up. 

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have ruled out starting cornerback Anthony Brown, but top cornerback Byron Jones, wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb, and offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins are reportedly likely to play through their injuries, though all could easily be at less than 100% and at risk of in game setbacks. Despite being the better team in the better injury situation, the Cowboys are favored by just 2.5 points here at home, so we are getting good line value with them. I have this line calculated at -5.5. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because of all of the injury uncertainty, but this line really seems off.

Dallas Cowboys 28 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)

Typically, I like to go against significant week-to-week line movement, as it tends to be an overreaction to a single week of play. The Texans were 3-point underdogs in Indianapolis last week on the early line, but after their upset victory in Kansas City, they are now 1-point underdogs, significant as about 20% of games are decided by 2 or 3 points. However, I don’t think this line has moved enough.  The Texans, who are borderline a top-5 team, should be favored by at least a field goal in this game, as the Colts are incredibly banged up, especially on defense. 

The Colts are getting safety Clayton Geathers and linebacker Darius Leonard back off of a bye week, but they will be without top cornerback Kenny Moore, top safety Malik Hooker, starting defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, and possibly starting cornerback Pierre Desir, top edge rusher Justin Houston, and All-Pro offensive lineman Quinton Nelson, all three of whom did not practice on Friday, but have not been ruled out yet. The Texans are worth a bet this week and this could become a bigger play depending on who ends up being out for the Colts. 

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +1

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-4)

Going into the season, part of the reason why I liked the Titans was because they added Ryan Tannehill as a backup quarterback in the off-season, in case Marcus Mariota got hurt or struggled again. After Mariota led the Titans to a shutout in Denver last week, Tannehill is now under center for Tennessee. Tannehill is not a great quarterback, but he’s an experienced starter and is still arguably one of the top-32 quarterbacks in the league, so he’s a big upgrade over the kinds of backup quarterbacks they’ve had in the past. 

The Titans don’t need a great passing game to win either. Last year, led by a defense that ranked 4th in first down rate allowed, they went 9-7 despite Mariota struggling through injuries for much of the year and they went 4-5 in their league leading 9 games against playoff qualifiers. They had an 8-game stretch after the bye last season where Mariota was healthy and they went 6-2, including multi-touchdown wins over the Cowboys and Patriots. 

This year, they are just 2-4, but they rank 4th in first down rate allowed and 12th in first down rate differential, as much as their offense has struggled. Even with last week’s shutout loss in Denver, the Titans still have a +6 point differential, best among teams with a losing record, and that’s despite having a game in which they missed 4 field goals in a 7-point loss. If Tannehill can even be a little bit of an upgrade over a struggling Mariota, this could be a really competitive football team going forward, despite their underwhelming record.

The Chargers are actually the other team with a losing record and a positive point differential, at +2, but that’s in large part due to the fact that they’ve faced the Dolphins, who they beat by 20 points. Their only other victory came in overtime against the Colts in a game they would have lost if the Colts hadn’t missed multiple makeable kicks. Having already matched their loss total from 2018, the Chargers are clearly not the same team without left tackle Russell Okung, defensive end Melvin Ingram, center Mike Pouncey, and most importantly safety Derwin James. We’re not getting much value betting against them any more, but this line at Tennessee -2 suggests the Chargers are slightly better and I have that the other way around, so the Titans are worth a bet this week. If Okung, who could make his season debut after returning to practice this week, does not play, I will consider increasing this bet. 

Tennessee Titans 23 Los Angeles Chargers 19

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2

Confidence: Medium

Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-2) at Green Bay Packers (5-1)

The Raiders won back-to-back games before their week 6 bye and now seem to be overrated as a result. Those wins came against a banged up Colts team and a Bears team that hasn’t been nearly as good this season as last season. Those teams rank 20th and 23rd respectively in first down rate differential and the Raiders won those games by a combined 10 points. Including a 8-point week 1 home win over the mediocre Broncos, the Raiders’ 3 wins have come by a combined 18 points this season, while their two losses to the Vikings and Chiefs came by a combined 38 points, giving them a -20 point differential that is worst among teams with a winning record. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 21st at -1.68%.

Despite that, they are just 4.5-point road underdogs in Green Bay, against a 5-1 Packers team that is among the best in the NFL. Their win over the Lions’ last week was controversial because of some bad calls on Detroit, but they could have still won that game even without those calls, despite gifting the Lions a trio of turnovers. Turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and they won the first down rate battle convincingly (+9.33%) over a solid Detroit team. They failed to cover, winning by 1 as 4-point home favorites, but are still 40-21 ATS at home since 2011 in games Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes. 

The Packers have a banged up receiving corps with Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, and possibly Marquez Valdes-Scantling set to miss this game, but wide receiver is a big concern for the Raiders as well, who are without top wide receiver Tyrell Williams and lack depth behind him at the position. The Raiders are also likely to be without right tackle Trent Brown and, with right guard Gabe Jackson likely a week away from returning after being limited in practice all week, they are likely to be without the entire right side of their offensive line. I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10 and I expect this game to be similar to the Raiders’ big losses to the Vikings and Chiefs, so we’re getting great value with Green Bay at -4.5. This is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 27 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at Denver Broncos (2-4)

During last week’s Broncos/Titans write up, I said I was disappointed the two teams were playing each other because I thought both teams were underrated. Fortunately, when two underrated teams square off, they tend to remain underrated, which is the case with the Broncos. They won that game against the Titans to improve to 2-4, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, as two of their losses came on last second field goals. Their point differential is even and they rank 17th in the NFL in first down rate differential at -0.33%, suggesting they’ve been an average team thus far. Their offense is underwhelming, but their defense has allowed just 9 offensive touchdowns in 6 games and they rank 5th in first down rate allowed at 32.42%.

Despite that, they are 3.5-point home underdogs against a banged up Chiefs team. This line is at least in part because the Broncos are underrated, but the Chiefs may be a little overrated right now, even after back-to-back losses, as the general public may not realize how bad their injury situation is. They are missing the left side of their offensive line and their best defensive player Chris Jones, while starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins and starting cornerback Kendall Fuller are both banged up and may not play as well. 

Most importantly, quarterback Patrick Mahomes is playing at less than 100% through an ankle injury and has not played as well in the past couple games. That could become even more of a problem on a short week without normal rest, especially on the road against a tough defense. Everything this team does revolves around Mahomes and his otherworldly playmaking ability, so having him at less than 100% severely hurts the Chiefs’ chances of playing the way they want to play. Right now, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so a field goal or more with the Broncos at home is stealing. Thursday games can be unpredictable so I don’t want to make this my Pick of the Week, but this will definitely be one of my top plays of the week.

Denver Broncos 23 Kansas City Chiefs 20 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: High