Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2016 Week 1 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (1-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-1)

Coming into the season, I had the Rams as one of the worst teams in the league. They won 7 games last season, but they also needed good luck in close games to even go 7-9. Of those 7 wins, 5 came by 8 points or fewer, while only 3 of their 9 losses did, as they finished 30th in rate of moving the chains differential overall and their offense ranked dead last in rate of moving the chains. This off-season, they got even worse overall. They lost a pair of talented defensive starters in Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod in free agency and traded away their entire draft to move up to #1 to reach for California quarterback Jared Goff, who won’t even be the starter to begin the season.

The Rams sure looked like one of the worst teams in the league last week, when they lost to another one of the worst teams in the league, the San Francisco 49ers, in blowout fashion, by the final score of 28-0. Road favorites of 2.5 points going into the game, the Rams’ offense ended up moving the chains at a mere 41.67% rate, while their defense allowed the 49ers to move the chains at a 76.19% rate. Starter Case Keenum is a backup caliber quarterback, with little to no help on offense around him. Jared Goff will be active as the #2 quarterback this week, after being inactive as the 3rd quarterback week 1, but he’s reportedly nowhere near ready and head coach Jeff Fisher still would prefer Keenum to start all season, even after last week’s disaster. That tells us that either Jared Goff is alarmingly behind in his development or that head coach Jeff Fisher is a poor judge of talent. Neither option is good for the Rams.

This week, the Rams head home to their new home in Los Angeles, after their off-season move from St. Louis, and open with about as tough of an opponent as they could have had, with the Seattle Seahawks coming to town. The Seahawks were unimpressive in a near home loss to the lowly Dolphins last week, but that could easily prove to be a fluke. The game was not as close as the final score suggested anyway, as the Seahawks had 10 more first downs than the Dolphins and moved the chains at a 70.97% rate, as opposed to 54.55% for the Dolphins. The Seahawks just had two killer turnovers that the Dolphins didn’t. Turnover margin tends to be pretty inconsistent from week-to-week and the Seahawks typically do very well with the turnover battle.

I see no reason why the Seahawks couldn’t give the Rams their 2nd straight big loss in a row, especially since the Seahawks don’t have any upcoming distractions, with another easy game on deck after this one. Next week, they go to San Francisco, where they figure to be at least touchdown favorites against a team that the Rams were favored by 2.5 against on the road. Teams tend to do better the week before being big favorites. Since 2012, teams are 31-19 ATS before being road favorites of 7 or more. On top of that, favorites of 6 or more, like the Seahawks are here, are 84-50 ATS since 2012 before being 6+ point favorites again. This looks like a tough welcome back for the Rams. This line is at 7 in some places, but I’d hold out for 6.5. It’s probably still worth a play on 7 though.

Seattle Seahawks 20 Los Angeles Rams 6

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: High

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Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders: 2016 Week 2 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at Oakland Raiders (1-0)

The Raiders won a crazy shootout in come-from-behind fashion last week in New Orleans, winning 35-34 in a game that had a combined 993 total yards of offense. The Raiders moved the chains at an impressive 82.86% rate, just slightly better than the 79.49% rate at which the Saints’ offense moved the chains against the Raiders’ defense. Despite that, it’s unlikely that the Raiders will be in a ton of shootouts this season. It’s much more likely that the Saints will be in shootouts all season, as result of their strong offense and horrendous defense.

Coming into the season, I thought the Raiders’ offense was solid, but unspectacular and that it would be the defense that would carry this team. A good young team that added good veteran talent in free agency this off-season, the Raiders looked poised to take a big step forward this year, led by Khalil Mack and this defense. The Falcons, meanwhile, won 8 games last season, but largely as a result of an easy schedule and the 2nd best injury luck in the league. This season, they’re already without first round pick Keanu Neal with injury and, unlike many teams, do not have a key player returning from injury. The Raiders don’t either, but they added so much this off-season that it probably won’t matter.

The Falcons have a strong offense and a poor defense, so I wouldn’t rule out this game being another shootout, which is why this is not going to be a big play on Oakland as 4.5 point favorites, even though they’re significantly better than Atlanta. About 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer and the Falcons could engineer a late touchdown drive down by like 11 to get a backdoor cover. However, Oakland seems likely to take this one pretty easily in their home opener. Atlanta isn’t any better than the Saints and the Raiders likely would beat the Saints by a touchdown or so if they played them in Oakland instead of the Superdome, which is still a tough place to play. If this line drops to 4, it’s worth putting some money on it.

Update: This line dropped to 4 Sunday Morning. This is now a medium confidence play.

Oakland Raiders 27 Atlanta Falcons 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland -4

Confidence: Medium

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New Orleans Saints at New York Giants: 2016 Week 2 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (0-1) at New York Giants (1-0)

The Saints’ defense was bad last week, allowing 35 points, 486 yards of offense, and 82.86% rate of moving the chains at home against an Oakland team with a solid, but unspectacular offense. However, their defense could be even worse this week, as they go on the road to face a Giants team with a solid offense and they have to do so without top cornerback Delvin Breaux, who broke his leg late in last week’s game. It’s no surprise that the Raiders’ 22-point 4th quarter, capping off a huge comeback win, came without Breaux in the lineup. Breaux was easily their best cornerback and, also without first round pick Sheldon Rankins with injury, the Saints have next to no talent left on their defense around Cameron Jordan. The Saints have finished dead last in rate of moving the chains allowed in back-to-back seasons, but their current defense might be less talented than both of those teams.

Of course, the Saints’ offense still looks strong, as 37-year-old Drew Brees has yet to slow down. We’ll see how they do this week on the road, away from the Superdome, but the Giants’ offense is better than their defense as well, so this figures to be another shootout. Given that, I’m very hesitant to put anything on the Giants this week, even though I think they should be the right side. About 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer and the Saints could easily get a touchdown down by like 10 late to get the backdoor cover, but the Giants are significantly better than the Saints and this line seems pretty fair.

New York Giants 33 New Orleans Saints 27

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -4.5

Confidence: None

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Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears: 2016 Week 2 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) at Chicago Bears (0-1)

Coming into the season, I thought the Eagles were one of the most underrated teams in the league. Even after trading Sam Bradford to the Vikings, their 3.5 point week 1 line at home against the Browns didn’t make any sense and neither did their 6.5 win over/under for the season. They’re starting a rookie quarterback and don’t have a ton of offensive skill position talent around him, but they have a strong offensive line, especially while Lane Johnson remains unsuspended, and a defense that should take a big step forward under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who is one of the best in the game. They have a talented defense, especially in the front 7, but always perennially underachieved under Chip Kelly hire Billy Davis.

The Eagles looked good in a week 1 29-10 victory over the Browns, but they remain underrated as the public is unimpressed by a team beating the Browns. The Browns are a very weak opponent, but a 19-point win is nothing to scoff at and I think we’re getting great value with them this week as 3.5 point underdogs in Chicago. One in 4 games are decided by 3 or fewer points and the Eagles have a good chance to win straight up, even without talented tight end Zach Ertz, against a Chicago team that isn’t that good, especially without top pass rusher Pernell McPhee. It’s a big play on the Eagles if you can get -3.5. If you can’t, I’d suggest paying to get it if you can get it at -125 or better. The money line at +150 is a nice value too. This game is at best a toss up.

Chicago Bears 24 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the Spread: Philadelphia +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers: 2016 Week 2 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1) at San Diego Chargers (0-1)

Before the season started, the Chargers were one of the teams I expected to have a significant jump in wins this season, after winning just 4 in 2015. That theory was based on the assumptions that the Chargers would have better luck both in winning close games and avoiding injury, two things that tend to be pretty unpredictable from season to season. Sure enough, the Chargers opened the season by blowing a 21 point lead in Kansas City and losing by 6 in overtime, after losing star wide receiver Keenan Allen for the season with a torn ACL mid-game.

The Chargers’ luck in close games still figures to improve going forward (they’re 3-10 in games decided by 8 points or fewer over the past 2 seasons), but Allen is a massive loss for this team. The Chargers moved the chains at a 76.49% rate when Allen was healthy last season, as opposed to 67.23% when he was out of the lineup. Injuries remain a problem for them, as Allen joins 2016 #3 overall pick Joey Bosa and #3 wide receiver Steve Johnson on the sideline. Bosa remains out with a hamstring issue and has yet to practice, following a long holdout, while Johnson is out for the year with a knee injury. Tyrell Williams, a 2015 undrafted free agent with 4 career catches, will have to play a big role in the passing game now, as the #2 receiver opposite free agent acquisition Travis Benjamin.

The Jaguars are missing a pair of starters, cornerback Prince Amukamara and running back Chris Ivory, but the Chargers are still missing more players and more important players. I had the Chargers as better than the Jaguars coming into the season, but these two teams are about even now. On top of that, the Chargers near win in Kansas City could make it tough for them to give their best effort this week, as teams understandably are flat off of close road overtime losses, as long as they aren’t road underdogs the following week. Road underdogs tend to do well off of a road loss, so that cancels out. The Chargers are home favorites here though and teams that are not road underdogs are just 30-60 ATS off of a road overtime loss since 2002.

The Chargers also seem to have next to no homefield advantage, going 5-11 ATS at home since 2014, as opposed to 6-11 ATS on the road. That’s probably a big part of the reason why they’re considering moving up the road to Los Angeles in the near future, though it’s unclear if doing so would actually improve their home crowds. There’s not quite enough here for me to put money on Jacksonville, but I like getting the full field goal with them. If the line were to move to 3.5 by game time, I’d consider putting money on them because I think there’s a good chance this is a field goal game (1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal).

San Diego Chargers 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 23

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3

Confidence: Low

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San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers: 2016 Week 2 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-1)

The 49ers technically pulled the upset victory at home as 2.5 point underdogs against the Rams last week, but that shouldn’t really be considered an upset as the Rams are just as bad as the 49ers are, probably even worse if last week was any indication. That doesn’t necessarily mean the 49ers are good though and there’s little reason to believe they’re significantly improved from the 2015 team that finished dead last in rate of moving the chains differential and lost 11 games by an average of 16.45 points per loss. The Panthers are still one of the best teams in the league, despite losing in a tough spot last week against the Broncos in the week 1 home opener for the defending Super Bowl champions. They should have no problem winning by at least two touchdowns here.

The 49ers’ home upset loss last week puts them in a bad spot here, as teams are just 48-74 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs, including 31-48 ATS when they are underdogs again. That makes sense, as teams might not be 100% focused off of a big home victory like that. On top of that, the 49ers have to turn around and play the Seahawks next week, a game in which they figure to be home underdogs of at least a touchdown, which puts them in an even tougher spot. Teams are 24-59 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of 7 or more. On top of that, underdogs of 7 or more are 14-34 ATS since 2002 before being home underdogs of 7 or more.

The 49ers probably won’t overlook a great team like the Panthers, but it’s very possible they have less than their best game coming off a huge upset win, with another tough game on deck. Last week is one that I think we’ll look back on as their best game of the season, much like last year’s Monday night home opener, in which they won 20-3 against a Minnesota team that ended up making the playoffs. They followed that up by losing 43-18 in Pittsburgh the following week. Teams do tend to carryover the momentum from a huge Monday Night win into the following week, as teams who win by 21+ on Monday Night Football are 34-15 ATS the following week since 2002. That’s the only reason this isn’t my Pick of the Week, but I have a hard time seeing this not being a blowout. The Panthers are the obvious Survivor Pick this week.

Carolina Panthers 34 San Francisco 49ers 12

Pick against the spread: Carolina -13

Confidence: High

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Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2016 Week 2 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

The Steelers got a huge 38-16 win in Washington on Monday Night Football week 1, led by an offense that moved the chains at an 82.35% rate. They seem to have picked up right where they left off last season when Ben Roethlisberger was healthy. In his 12 starts last season, the Steelers moved the chains at a 75.00% rate, which would have been 5th best in the league over the whole season. Add in a solid defense and they’re a very formidable opponent once again this season. On top of that, teams tend to carryover the momentum from a big Monday Night win into the following week, as teams who win by 21+ on Monday Night Football are 34-15 ATS the following week since 2002.

Despite that, they’re favored by just a field goal here at home. The Bengals were one of the better teams in the league last season, especially before Andy Dalton went down for the season with a broken thumb week 14, but are not the same team this season. They lost two of their top-3 wide receivers (Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu) in free agency, as well as a pair of starters in the secondary (Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson). On top of that, they’re without talented tight end Tyler Eifert, talented linebacker Vontaze Burfict, first round pick William Jackson, and fourth round pick Andrew Billings with injury, after barely having any injuries outside of the quarterback position last year.

This line suggests these two teams are even. I disagree. I think the Steelers are better by a significant amount and, in a great spot coming off of a huge Monday Night Football win, are likely to win by a field goal or more. As long as this line is right at a field goal, this is my Pick of the Week. In some places, this line is 3.5. I’d still put money on 3.5, but it’d be a smaller play considering how many games are decided by exactly a field goal (1 in 6). I’d suggest paying to get -3 if you can get it at -125 or better.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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