Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (0-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)

This is another one I could go either way on. I think the line is essentially where it should be. I have these two teams as fairly even, as does this line, which favors the home team Buccaneers by 2.5 points. These two teams went 4-12 (Buccaneers) and 12-4 (Panthers) last season, but both should be much closer to the middle of the pack this season. The Buccaneers will be especially improved defensively, bring in Lovie Smith to work with Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, All-Pro caliber talents who fit his scheme like a glove, bringing in Michael Johnson to give them the edge rusher they needed, and bringing in Alterraun Verner as a cheaper scheme fit than Darrelle Revis.

The Panthers, meanwhile, lost their two best offensive linemen, their best blocking tight end, every wide receiver who caught a pass for them last season, 4 of their top 5 defensive backs in terms of snaps played, and had Cam Newton suffer a pair of injuries that will limit him and limited his time to get familiar with his supporting cast in the off-season. Gun to my head, I’m taking Tampa Bay because we’re not getting field goal protection with the Panthers and because Carolina is a public underdog, but this is a close one that could go either way and I’m not confident at all.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against spread: Tampa Bay -2.5

Confidence: None

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Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)

I don’t think we’re getting any line value with either side here. The Broncos are a very good team that deserves to be 7.5 point favorites over the Colts, who aren’t as good as their record has suggested over the past 2 seasons because of their improbable ability to win close games (14-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, 15-2 if you include playoffs). However, there’s still not really any line value with the Broncos.

I’m taking the Broncos here for three reasons and I’m not that confident. For one, Peyton Manning is great in night games, going 31-14 ATS in night games since 2003. Also since 2003, he’s 27-13 ATS in non-divisional revenge games against teams that he lost to the previous season. Manning obviously hasn’t forgotten about how the Colts knocked them off in Indianapolis last season is likely to get revenge in a big way. He’s also 7-3 ATS in week 1 in that time frame. I’m not that confident, but the Broncos here at home should be the right side.

Denver Broncos 31 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against spread: Denver -7.5

Confidence: Low

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Washington Redskins at Houston Texans: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)

Both of these teams are going to be better than they were last season. These two teams finished worst and 2nd worst respectively last season, after both made the playoffs the previous season. The Texans went from 12 wins to 2 wins in 2013 and the Redskins went from 10-6 to 3-13. Teams that have big declines in win totals like that generally bounce back an average of half of the decline and I think both of these teams could easily do that and more.

The Texans were much better than their 2-14 record last season, finishing 21st in rate of moving the chains differential despite a schedule that was 10th hardest in the NFL in terms of DVOA. Their defense ranked 11th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 69.40% rate. However, the offense was the issue, as they ranked 25th, moving the chains at a 66.87% rate. Still, they were better than their record. They just had some unlucky things not go their way.

They went 2-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less. As bad as their record was last season, they only lost 5 games by more than a touchdown and two of those came late in the season in their final 3 games after Gary Kubiak was fired and the team essentially quit. They had about 4.2 Pythagorean wins. On top of that they allowed 8 touchdowns off of returns, as opposed to 2 touchdowns off of returns for that. If we zeroed that out, they would have scored 262 points and allowed 372 points, which is a Pythagorean Expectation of 4.9 wins.

Speaking of turnovers, their turnover margin went to a league worst -20, as a result of a 44.44% fumble recovery rate, 26th in the NFL. They also picked off an absurd low amount of passes, 7, and they threw 22 interceptions. Turnover margins tend to be really inconsistent on a year-to-year and week-to-week basis though, as we’re talking about events that happen on such a small percentage of snaps. Teams with a turnover margin of +4 in a week on average have the same turnover margin the next week as a team that had a turnover margin of -4 the previous week, a turnover margin of about +0.0.

Meanwhile, teams that have a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season see their turnover margins drop by an average of about 15.8 the following season, resulting in 2.32 fewer wins. Teams with a turnover margin of -15 or worse in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +2.04. Meanwhile, teams with a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +3.42, a difference of about 1.38. If you’re using a team’s turnover margin from the previous season as a reason why they’re going to continue to struggle (or have success) the next season, it’s usually not going to work out well. They should be a lot better this season, especially with an upgrade at quarterback, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing coming back from injury, and Jadeveon Clowney coming in on defense.

The Redskins, meanwhile, get a healthy Robert Griffin back, and add in Jordan Reed, returning from injury, and DeSean Jackson, coming over from Philadelphia. Their defense isn’t much better than last season, even with Jason Hatcher coming in and they’re going to suffer more losses to injuries and suspensions (Brandon Meriweather is already suspended for two games) than last season, when they barely had any. However, their defense is only as bad as the Texans’ offense and their offense is as good as the Texans’ defense. These two teams are very evenly matchup and this line suggests it at Houston -3. I’m going to take the Texans and fade the public underdog, but I’m not confident at all.

Houston Texans 24 Washington Redskins 20

Pick against spread: Houston -3

Confidence: None

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New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

These two teams tend to be a lot better at home than on the road. Matt Ryan is 36-12 at home in his career, including 28-19 ATS and 5-3 ATS as home underdogs. The Saints, meanwhile, are 31-10 ATS at home since 2008 in the games which Drew Brees and Sean Payton were involved.  On top of that, they are 16-0-1 ATS at home over their last 16 home games with Drew Brees and Sean Payton. They’ve won all 17 of those games by an average of about 20.8 points per game, with just three being decided by 10 points or less and just one being decided by less than 6 points. That’s as opposed to 19-25 ATS (25-21 straight up) on the road.

In this rivalry, the home team is 8-4 ATS since 2008. The Falcons were awful last season and this was still a 4 point game when the Saints went to Atlanta. The Falcons should be significantly improved this season, both in terms of talent level and record. Given that, the Falcons should be the right side here, but the Saints are, in my opinion, possibly the best team in the NFL so it’s hard to go against them. I’m taking the Falcons, but I’m not confident and a push is very likely.

New Orleans Saints 26 Atlanta Falcons 24

Pick against spread: Atlanta +3

Confidence: None

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Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0)

This is another one where I wish I had bet earlier when the Rams were 6 point favorites before Sam Bradford tore his ACL. I thought the Rams were overrated before Bradford’s injury, as they finished 28th in rate of moving the chains differential at -5.32% last season. However, this line falling to 3.5 because of Bradford’s injury seems like an overreaction. Bradford has completed 58.6% of his passes for 6.29 YPA for his career and was coming off of a significant injury that has caused better quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Robert Griffin, Carson Palmer) to struggle in their first year back.

Meanwhile, backup Shaun Hill has completed 62.0% of his passes for an average of 6.69 YPA, 41 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions in his career. He’s going into his age 34 season and hasn’t started since 2010, but I don’t think he’s much of a downgrade. There’s simply no line value with the Vikings anymore. These two teams are essentially equal. In fact, gun to my head, I’m taking the Rams to fade the publicly backed underdog Vikings. Whenever the public thinks a team is going to pull an upset, they usually don’t. I expect the Rams to give 110% here in their first game without Bradford as well.

St. Louis Rams 20 Minnesota Vikings 16

Pick against spread: St. Louis -3.5

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at New York Jets: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)

I don’t understand this line. These two teams are essentially equal in my eyes, but the Jets are still favored by 5.5 points. This line should be about 3, the standard amount given for homefield advantage. The Raiders are going to be bad again, but the Jets should be equally bad. Their 8-8 record last season was not indicative of how bad of a team they were. They went 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less and had a points differential of -97 (7th worst in the NFL) and 5.4 Pythagorean wins. They finished the season 25th in rate of moving the chains differential and 24th in DVOA. They were essentially a 5-11 team that managed to win 8 games.

The Jets should have better turnover luck this season, after recovering a league worst 30.30% of fumbles, and they add Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, but this is still one of the least talent teams in the NFL. Decker is just one guy. Johnson isn’t nearly the player he used to be. Also, their secondary is in shambles to start the season thanks to injuries, so much so that converted safety Antonio Allen is going to play a significant role at cornerback this week.

I wish this line was at 6, instead of 5.5, not just because teams that finish 6-10 or worse cover about a quarter of the time as 6+ point favorites, but also to give us protection from something like a 19-13 Jets win. I also don’t love taking a bad Raider team on the road on the East Coast at a 1 PM start. However, they should be the right side. There’s just too much line value with them because people don’t seem to realize how bad the Jets are going to be this season.

Update: The line moved to 6.5 before game time. I’m moving this up to medium confidence.

New York Jets 20 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against spread: Oakland +6.5

Confidence: Medium

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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)

Those who follow these picks know I like to use a lot of situational trends. For example, if a team is big favorites before a game in which they are big underdogs, I tend to go the other direction expecting the team to get caught looking forward to the next week (the opposite is true for big underdogs before being big favorites and favorites before being bigger favorites). I don’t like to use those week 1 (instead relying solely on the work I’ve done projecting these teams in the off-season) because teams are almost always completely focused week 1, no matter who they are playing the following week.

However, there is one I’m going to use here. The Steelers could overlook the Browns with a game against the Ravens in a few days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are 30-52 ATS the week before Thursday Night Football since 2008. We’re not getting a ton of value with the Browns at +7 and I still expect the Steelers to get the win here as the superior team at home, but I think the Browns are the right side for a low confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against spread: Cleveland +7

Confidence: Low

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New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)

This is another game where I’m kicking myself for not betting it earlier as the Patriots used to be favorites of a mere 1.5 points. I would have been fairly confident in them -1.5. Tom Brady is 42-18 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of fewer than 3 points in his career. The Patriots have also won 10 of their last 11 season openers. The Patriots were underdogs of a point in Miami last season and only lost by 4, with a shot to win it at the end. It didn’t make sense that they would be favorites of just 1.5 points here in Miami in 2014, with a much improved team that includes Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, and Jerod Mayo coming back from injury, as well as Darrelle Revis coming over from Tampa Bay.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, aren’t really that improved. Branden Albert is a nice addition, but Mike Pouncey won’t play thanks to injury and they lost 3 defensive starters Nolan Carroll, Chris Clemons, and Paul Soliai and downgraded at all 3 spots. Now the Patriots are favored by 4.5, meaning this line jumped the key numbers of 3 and 4. I still like the Patriots’ chances of winning, but I can’t be confident in them against the spread without field goal protection.

New England Patriots 27 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against spread: New England -4.5

Confidence: None

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Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (0-0) at Chicago Bears (0-0)

The Bears had a great offense last season, but they also had a defense that was worse than their offense was good. This season, I expect their offense to be worse without their defense being much better. The Bears moved the chains at a 75.68% rate last season, 4th in the NFL, but they were only in the mid 73s in games that Jay Cutler started as a lot of their offensive dominance game in games started by Josh McCown. They’ll still be a good offense, but they’ll finish somewhere in the 8-12 range rather than 4th.

I don’t expect this team to move the chains at a 75.68% rate again or even close within 2% points of that, even if Jay Cutler plays all 16 games. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble because McCown is gone, now starting in Tampa Bay. On top of that, they should have more injuries on offense than last season as the games Cutler missed, which actually made them better, were their only real games lost to injuries offensively. The Bears have already lost 3rd wide receiver Marquess Wilson to a significant injury.

Defensively, they had injuries last season, losing Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and Henry Melton for significant periods of time, but Melton is gone and Briggs and Tillman are going into their age 34 and 33 seasons respectively and see could never be the same. I like what they did at defensive end bringing in LaMarr Houston, Jared Allen, and Willie Young to replace Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, and Shea McClellin, but Allen isn’t what he used to be and he gives them 4 players who are over 40 (Allen, Briggs, Tillman, and Tim Jennings). It’s not going to be a significantly improved unit and it’ll need to be with the offense likely “only” being an above average offense.

I’m not thrilled about the Bills either, but, as long as we’re getting a touchdown with them, they’re the right side. These two teams are essentially equal (the Bills’ offense is equally bad as the Bears’ defense and the Bears’ offense is equally good as the Bills’ defense) so this line should be around 3. I’m certainly not laying a touchdown with a mediocre Bears team. Teams that finish 6-10 or worse cover about a quarter of the time as 6+ point favorites. The Bills are the right side here.

Chicago Bears 20 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against spread: Buffalo +7

Confidence: Medium

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Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)

This game is between two teams in the Ravens and the Bengals who are much better at home than on the road. The Ravens are 41-9 at home since 2008, Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh’s first season with the team. As a result, they are 19-10 ATS as home favorites of less than 7 or home underdogs. Meanwhile, the Bengals went undefeated at home last season in the regular season, doing so by an average of 17.62 points per game and covering all 8 times. On the road, however, they went 3-5 and 2-5-1 ATS. That included losses to non-playoff teams like Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, and Pittsburgh and a close call in Buffalo.

The Bengals also lost last year in Baltimore and I don’t see why this season would be much different. The Bengals were better than their 11-5 record last season, finishing 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential, but that wasn’t the case on the road and, if anything, they’re less talented than last season with Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson, and Mike Zimmer gone. Geno Atkins returning from injury should help, but he’s a question mark in terms of his abilities in his first game back. Meanwhile, the Ravens should be better this season. I like them to once again defend their home field here and beat Cincinnati.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against spread: Baltimore -1

Confidence: High

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