St. Louis Rams at Washington Redskins: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

St. Louis Rams (1-0) at Washington Redskins (0-1)

Last week, the Redskins were 3.5 point home underdogs for the Miami Dolphins and ended up losing 17-10. This week, they are 3.5 point home underdogs again, but to a team that I think is significantly inferior to the Miami Dolphins, the St. Louis Rams. The Rams had an impressive performance last week in a 34-31 overtime win over the Seahawks, but they likely just caught the Seahawks off guard, especially since they were missing safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks were on the road, where they haven’t been as good as they’ve been at home and the team that lost the Super Bowl the previous year is notoriously bad week 1. It was only a 3 point upset, but everyone is acting like it was so much more than that.

The Rams upgraded the quarterback position this off-season by bringing in Nick Foles, arguably the best quarterback they’ve had since Marc Bulger, and they have arguably the best defensive line in football, but their offensive talent around Foles is limited, especially without wide receiver Brian Quick and running back Todd Gurley, who are expected out again this week, and their defensive back 7 has plenty of issues, especially with cornerback EJ Gaines out for the season with a foot injury. The Redskins have their own injury issues with top receiver DeSean Jackson out with a hamstring problem and quarterback Kirk Cousins might be the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, but they’ve drastically improved one of the worst defenses in the league this off-season with the additions of Chris Culliver, Stephen Paea, and Terrance Knighton. They don’t deserve to be 3.5 point underdogs here. That means they would be 9.5 point underdogs in St. Louis, which I don’t think makes sense.

The Rams’ victory last week pushed this line from 2.5 to 3.5, over the key number of 3, and yet the public continues to be all over the Rams. I love betting against huge public leans whenever it makes sense because the public always loses money in the long run. In this case, I think the public is overreacting to one week and underestimating homefield advantage. The Rams could also be flat off of such a big, emotional victory. Teams are 1-10 ATS since 1989 as favorites off of an overtime win as home underdogs. I know it’s a small sample size, but it makes sense and it’s worth noting. It’s hard to be confident in the Redskins with Cousins under center and Jackson out, but they should be the right side here.

St. Louis Rams 17 Washington Redskins 16

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Low

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San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

San Diego Chargers (1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)

This is one of the toughest games of the week for me, but I’m going with the Chargers for two reasons. For one, I think San Diego is a little bit better. Going into the season, I had them as a 10-win playoff team with the Bengals just outside of the playoffs with 9 wins. Even though right guard DJ Fluker is out for this game with an ankle injury, the Chargers should still have fewer injuries on offense than they did last season, when they had the most offensive adjusted games lost to injury.

Their offensive line and running game are much improved and their receiving corps is more than equipped to deal with the loss of Eddie Royal in free agency and Antonio Gates to suspension, thanks to the addition of Steve Johnson, Danny Woodhead’s return from injury, and talented backup tight end Lardarius Green, all of whom had big games in San Diego’s 33-28 win over Detroit last week. Defensively, they still have major issues in the front 7, but they get Jason Verrett back from injury and have a strong trio of defensive backs in Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett, and Eric Weddle.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, started off the season with a 33-13 victory in Oakland in a game that was 30-0 before garbage time. Their receiving corps is much healthier than last season, with AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and week 1 star Tyler Eifert all back from injury. They have a strong offensive line and will have a full season of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard working in tandem at running back, as they did so well to end last season. Andy Dalton might not be the best quarterback in the world, but this is his best offensive supporting cast.

Defensively, they add Michael Johnson to a defensive line that really needed it and should get a better season from Geno Atkins, who was one of the best defensive players in the game prior to a 2013 ACL tear, from which he’s now almost 24 months removed. They still have problems on the defensive line, in the linebacking corps, and in the secondary and they’ll be without talented linebacker Vontaze Burfict for at least the start of the season, but they’re a solid squad. It’s hard to pick a team between these two, but I like San Diego. The 2nd reason I’m going with the Chargers here is because the line has moved off of the key number of 3 to 3.5, so we’re not getting field goal protection with the Bengals anymore. I’m not confident, but the Chargers are my pick.

Cincinnati Bengals 27 San Diego Chargers 24

Pick against the spread: San Diego +3.5

Confidence: None

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San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)

The 49ers had an impressive week 1 victory, beating the Vikings 20-3, but I still think they could end up being a 5 or 6 win team. It’s very possible that their week 1 play isn’t representative of how good they’ll be this season and that they were able to take advantage of a Minnesota team that isn’t as ready to take the next step as people think, after losing two key offensive linemen for an extended period of time (center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt) before the season even started.

On paper, the 49ers just don’t look that good, after an 8-win season in 2014 and all they lost this off-season. They lost right tackle Anthony Davis, middle linebacker Chris Borland, middle linebacker Patrick Willis, and defensive end Justin Smith to retirement, left guard Mike Iupati, cornerback Perrish Cox, and cornerback Chris Culliver, outside linebacker Dan Skuta, and running back Frank Gore to free agency, and outside linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive end Ray McDonald with off-the-field issues.

They did add wide receiver Torrey Smith in free agency and they get cornerback Tramaine Brock, defensive end Glenn Dorsey, defensive tackle Ian Williams, and middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman back from injury. They have solid depth, good young players like running back Carlos Hyde, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, and cornerback Kenneth Acker, and they should have fewer injuries this season, but this still isn’t a very good team.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, won’t be as good offensively this season, after having the fewest offensive adjusted games lost in the league last season, already without center Maurkice Pouncey for an extended period of time with injury. They’ll especially struggle to maintain high level offensive play early in the season with stud running back LeVeon Bell and promising young wide receiver Martavis Bryant suspended. On the defensive side of the ball, they struggled week 1 against the Patriots, as they did all of last season.

However, I still think we’re getting line value with the Steelers as mere 6.5 point favorites here, especially with cornerback Brandon Boykin expected to play, after surprisingly missing the first game of the season. Boykin is one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL and only didn’t play week 1 because he was recently acquired in a trade from Philadelphia and hadn’t gotten the defense down yet. This line suggests that the Steelers are just 3.5 points better than the 49ers, which I disagree with. As long as the line stays under a touchdown, I’m comfortable putting money on Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -6.5

Confidence: Medium

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Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (0-1) at Carolina Panthers (1-0)

The Panthers are favored by a field goal here, but the public is actually on the Texans. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense, especially when the public is on an underdog. The public always loses money in the long run and whenever the public thinks one team is going to win and the odds makers think another team is going to win, you usually want to go with the odds makers. The reason the Panthers are favored is because they’ll be without star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is missing the first game of his career after playing the first 49 games, thanks to a concussion. They’ll likely also be without defensive tackle Star Lotulelei for the 2nd straight week with a foot problem.

The Texans aren’t exactly healthy either though, as running back Arian Foster, left tackle Duane Brown, and left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo are all expected out. The Texans’ defense is healthy and will get an added boost this week as Jadeveon Clowney is expected to get his snap limit lifted, after knee surgery limited him to 30 of 70 defensive snaps week 1. The 2014 1st overall pick looked good in limited action last week. However, the Texans’ offense is a mess, with little talent at quarterback and running back, a banged up offensive line, and no #2 receiving threat behind DeAndre Hopkins. I’m not confident, but I’m going with the favorite here.

Carolina Panthers 17 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: Carolina -3

Confidence: None

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Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at Chicago Bears (0-1)

Earlier in the week, I really liked Chicago here as 2 point home underdogs and was strongly considering putting money on them. The Cardinals had an impressive performance last week at home against the Saints, but that was at home and the Saints aren’t that good. The Bears aren’t that good either, but the Cardinals aren’t at home anymore. The Cardinals are 30-12 ATS as home underdogs or favorites of less than 3 since 2007, but they have no such advantage on the road.

For that reason, they don’t deserve to be 2 point road favorites here. They have Carson Palmer back from injury, but they’ve already lost Andre Ellington with injury again and they weren’t as good as their 11-5 record last season. Arizona’s 11-5 record was buoyed by a 4-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and their +11 point differential was 2nd worst among qualifying playoff teams. The Cardinals also benefitted from tough to sustain things like a 62.07% rate of recovering fumbles (best in the NFL), a +8 turnover margin, and a +4 return touchdown margin. They finished the season just 17th in rate of moving the chains differential, worst among playoff teams.

They’re not that much better than a Chicago team that is improved over last season and gave the Packers a fight last week. Jay Cutler should bounce back from the worst season of his career, the addition of Eddie Royal will help make up for the loss of Brandon Marshall, while the addition of Pernell McPhee more than makes up for the loss of Stephen Paea and Tim Jennings defensively. They also should have significantly fewer injuries than they did in 2014, when they were one of the most injury prone teams in the NFL. Importantly, guys like Matt Slauson and LaMarr Houston are back, after missing large chunks of last season. Neither one has a history of injuries so both should bounce back to their original form, which is consistently above average.

I don’t have the Bears as a playoff team or anything, but they were better than their 5-11 record last season (24th in rate of moving the chains differential) and I think they’re better this season than last season. I’m not going to put money on the Bears though, because both top receiver Alshon Jeffery and top edge rusher Pernell McPhee are serious question marks with injury and the line hasn’t really done anything to adjust to that. If the line moves to three or both of those guys end up playing, I may reevaluate, but, for now, I’m just taking the Bears for a low confidence pick.

Chicago Bears 20 Arizona Cardinals 19 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Chicago +2

Confidence: Low

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Baltimore Ravens at Oakland Raiders: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (0-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-1)

The Ravens lost by 6 in Denver last week and looked awful offensively. However, they were on the road against one of the best teams and one of the best defenses in the league and they could have won if not for two 55+ yard field goals nailed by Denver kicked Brandon McManus. This week, they get a much easier matchup as they play an Oakland team that might be the worst in the AFC. There was a lot of hope that this would be the year that the Raiders would get out of the cellar, but they played horribly week 1 in a 33-13 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a game that was 30-0 before garbage time. They’re better than they were last season, but they’re still one of the least talented teams in the league. The Ravens should have a much easier time of moving the ball against the Raiders, even without left tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver Breshad Perriman with injuries. I still have hope for the Ravens as a top AFC team, as I did coming into the season.

The Ravens aren’t nearly as good of a team on the road, or at least they haven’t been in the Joe Flacco/John Harbaugh era. They are 47-11 at home over that time period, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.33 points per game, as opposed to 35-35 on the road, outscoring their opponents by an average of just 1.04 points per game. However, they are in their 2nd straight road game, which helps. Teams are 197-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.25 points per game, as opposed to 278-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.10 points per game. This line is too high for me to put money on Baltimore, especially since we don’t know how their defense will handle losing Terrell Suggs for the season with a torn Achilles, but the Ravens should be the right side.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Oakland Raiders 10

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -6.5

Confidence: Low

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Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1)

The Giants almost won in Dallas last week, only losing after Dallas conducted a last minute touchdown drive and scored with 7 seconds left, resulting in a 1 point New York loss. The Giants’ performance was much worse than the final score suggested, as they needed to win the turnover margin by 3 to even keep it close. They lost despite winning the turnover margin by 3. Teams that win the turnover battle by 3 lose the game just 10.7% of the time over the past 25 or so years. On top of that, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In fact, over the past 25 or so years, teams that post a -3 turnover margin in a game, on average, have a -0.1 turnover margin the following week.

If the Giants couldn’t win last week despite forcing some fluky turnovers, I don’t think it says much good about their team. The Giants have finished with the most adjusted games lost in each of the last 2 seasons and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to correct itself this year. Already missing linebacker Jon Beason, left tackle William Beatty, wide receiver Victor Cruz, and Jason Pierre-Paul with significant injuries, the Giants are just too banged up to be considered a good team.

The Giants also aren’t that much better of a team at home than on the road, or at least they haven’t been in the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era (since 2004). They are 51-41 (44-48 ATS) at home over that time period, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.62 points per game, as opposed to 53-43 (58-38 ATS) on the road over that time period, getting outscored by an average of 0.10 points per game. The Giants are also in a particularly bad spot with a Thursday night game on deck. Teams are 37-56 ATS since 2008 as home favorites before a Thursday Night game. The Falcons aren’t that good of a team and I wouldn’t put money on them unless this line was a field goal, but Atlanta should be the right side.

Atlanta Falcons 27 New York Giants 24 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +2.5

Confidence: Low

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-1)

The Saints are in a spot here this week where they typically do well in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. For one, they’re at home, where they are 18-6-1 ATS in their last 25 home games. They’re also coming off of a loss and they are 24-7 ATS off a loss since 2008 in games where they have both Drew Brees and Sean Payton, including 16-4 ATS at home off of a loss. However, on the flip side, this line has moved from New Orleans -7 in the early line last week to New Orleans -10 this week and I love fading huge line movements whenever possible because they are almost always driven by public overreaction to something, which creates line value. In this case, that something is the fact that the Buccaneers lost 42-14 at home to the Titans week 1.

A year ago, I definitely would have just picked the Saints anyway because of how good they have been at home, but it’s important to remember that they’ve actually lost 5 straight home games right now, all of which were as favorites. They won their previous 20 prior to that, going 18-1-1 ATS, so they still have a fantastic ATS record in their last 25 home games, but that home magic hasn’t been seen for a few games. They’re also not that good of a team anymore, especially with safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and maybe running back CJ Spiller all expected out with injury. The Buccaneers are in a much better position injury wise, with Mike Evans expected back this week and no one else of note expected to miss this one. They’re also probably a better team than they looked last week. I’m still taking the Saints, but 10 points is way too high for me to be confident in them at all.

New Orleans Saints 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -10

Confidence: None

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Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)

I had the Eagles as being a little bit better than the Cowboys coming into the season, winning 10 games and the NFC East, while the Cowboys win 9 and come up just short. The Cowboys barely beat the Giants week 1, needing a miracle last second drive to win by 1, and also lost starting left guard Ronald Leary, starting defensive end Randy Gregory, and top receiver Dez Bryant with injuries. This line was 4 last week and now has shifted to 5.5, all of which seems reasonable at first glance.

However, I actually really like the Cowboys this week for a few reasons. For one, when I predicted the Cowboys at 9 wins, it was because I expected them to have more injuries on offense, after having the 2nd fewest offensive adjusted games lost in the league last season. Losing Dez hurts, but this is still a talented offense. Meanwhile, Randy Gregory is just a 2nd round rookie anyway and Leary can be replaced in the lineup by La’El Collins, an undrafted rookie, but one who would have been a 1st round pick if not for the fact that he was wanted for questioning in the case of his pregnant ex-girlfriend’s death around the time of the draft. Collins was able to clear his name a few days after the draft and the Cowboys got a steal when he signed with them as an undrafted free agent.

The Cowboys should not be 5.5 point underdogs here in Philadelphia against the Eagles, who lost week 1 to an Atlanta team that isn’t very good. I’d say the Cowboys had a more impressive week 1 performance because they were able to win in spite of a -3 turnover margin. Teams that lose the turnover battle by 3 win just 10.7% of the time over the past 25 or so years. On top of that, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In fact, over the past 25 or so years, teams that post a -3 turnover margin in a game, on average, have a -0.1 turnover margin the following week. If the Cowboys can win despite some fluky turnovers, I think it speaks better to their long-term outlook than losing in Atlanta does.

The Cowboys are also arguably a better team on the road than at home, so I’m not concerned that they almost just lost at home to the inferior New York Giants. Since 2010, the Cowboys are 22-20 at home (14-28 ATS), outscoring opponents by an average of 2.21 points per game, as opposed to 22-19 on the road (24-16 ATS), getting outscored by an average of 0.37 points per game. The road team generally tends to do well in NFC East matchups overall anyway, for what that’s worth. The road team in NFC East divisional matchups is 53-34 ATS since 2008.

The reason this isn’t a higher confidence pick is because the Eagles have an easy game on deck, going to New York to face the Jets, where they are projected to be 3.5 point favorites. Teams are 96-70 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of a field goal or more. The Cowboys do host the Falcons up next, but, when both teams are 100% focused with no upcoming distractions, it tends to benefit the favorite more than the underdog. I’d still put money on Dallas though.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Dallas Cowboys 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas +5.5

Confidence: Medium

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Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2015 Week 2 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (0-1)

I had both the Lions and the Vikings as 9-win playoff teams this season during my season previews and both teams lost on the road week 1. However, the Lions’ 33-28 loss in San Diego was not nearly as bad as the Vikings’ 20-3 loss in San Francisco. Detroit’s game was much closer and they also faced a much better opponent. The Vikings got dominated in rate of moving the chains by a 49er team that could still finish the season with 5 wins, after an 8-win season in 2014 and a rough off-season full of losses.

That’s one reason I’m way more concerned with the Vikings than the Lions. The second is that the Lions were the much better team last season so I wasn’t predicting that they’d take a leap like I did with the Vikings. I think that makes them a safer bet. The third reason is injury related. Part of the reason why the Lions’ loss in San Diego last week wasn’t surprising (in addition to the fact that they were playing a quality team on the road) is because the Lions were missing starting right guard Larry Warford, starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and top defensive player DeAndre Levy with injury.

The Lions are unfortunately still likely to be without Levy in this one, but they get Waddle and Warford back, which will help this offense. The Vikings, meanwhile, lost two talented offensive lineman, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, for an extended period of time before the season even began and it showed as their offense couldn’t move the ball against the 49ers. They could easily continue to have trouble here against Detroit, even without Levy.

The Lions are also in a better spot, in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 117-79 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation.  This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 197-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.25 points per game, as opposed to 278-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.10 points per game. I’m not putting money on Detroit unless this line moves up to 3 or, by some miracle, Levy (doubtful with a hip injury) plays, but the Lions should be the right side here.

Detroit Lions 23 Minnesota Vikings 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Detroit +2

Confidence: Low

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