Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-4) at San Francisco 49ers (0-8)

The 49ers entered the season with among the worst rosters in the NFL and things have just gotten worse from there thanks to injuries. The 49ers are currently without left tackle Joe Staley, #1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon, defensive ends Solomon Thomas, Aaron Lynch, Arik Armstead, and Tank Carradine, and safety Jimmie Ward, all of whom were valuable players for this team. I have the 49ers currently dead last in my roster rankings.

That being said, we are still getting line value with them as 2.5 point home underdogs against the Cardinals because the Cardinals also enter with significant injury problems and one of the worst rosters in the NFL. The Cardinals have lost left guard Mike Iupati, running back David Johnson, outside linebacker Markus Golden, and most importantly quarterback Carson Palmer to injured reserve. Palmer was not playing at an elite level or anything, but he wasn’t playing badly either and backup Drew Stanton is among the worst backups in the league. They shouldn’t be favored by this many points no matter the opponent, given the current state of their roster.

The 49ers have been blown out in each of the past two weeks against the Cowboys and Eagles, losing both games by 21+ points, but they have a great chance to bounce back against a much easier opponent this week. Teams tend to cover off of back-to-back losses by 21+ points, going 45-30 ATS in that spot since 2002. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, as teams coming off back-to-back blowouts tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed. The 49ers should be some combination of those this week.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are in a terrible spot because they have to turn around and host the Seahawks in one of their toughest games of the season. Favorites are just 60-92 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football and that’s before you even take into account how big of a game it’s going to be for the Cardinals. The early line has them as 7 point home underdogs and teams are 30-70 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs of 6 points or more, as big upcoming home games tend to present a distraction for teams.

On top of that, road favorites like the Cardinals are here are 17-36 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs. With a much tougher game 4 days after this one, the Cardinals could easily look past the 49ers and lose this game as a result. The difference in talent level between these two teams is less than you’d think right now. I’m holding out hope that this line creeps up to 3 before game time, in which case this would become a high confidence pick, but I’d bet the 49ers at 2.5 regardless and I’d also take the money line at +125.

San Francisco 49ers 16 Arizona Cardinals 13 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-3)

The Panthers made a bizarre move at the trade deadline on Tuesday, trading #1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills for a 3rd and 7th round pick. With Benjamin going into the final year of his contract in 2018, it’s the kind of move that would make some sense for a team that is out of playoff contention, but the Panthers are right in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC at 5-3, making the move a real headscratcher. They’ve already had major issues offensively this season with center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen out with injury. Taking Benjamin out of the mix just hurts this offense even more. Their primary weapons in the passing game are now Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey, and Ed Dickson and they haven’t been able to run the ball consistently all season.

That trade prompted this line to shift from about -1 in favor of Carolina to -2.5 in favor of Atlanta. That seems like a significant line movement, but it’s within the field goals, so it’s the kind of line movement that likely won’t have an actual effect on the outcome against the spread, as about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. With that in mind, I’m taking the Falcons here, as I have this line calculated right between 2.5 and 3 in favor of the visiting Falcons. This is just a no confidence pick though, as we’re not getting much line value with Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -2.5

Confidence: None

Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (3-4) at Seattle Seahawks (5-2)

The Seahawks have to play again 4 days after this game as they are on Thursday Night Football in week 10. Favorites typically do not do well before Thursday Night Football, going 60-92 ATS since 2008 in that spot. There are two big problems with betting against Seattle this week though. The first is that the Seahawks are only facing the Cardinals next week, so it’s not like they have a tough upcoming matchup on the short week. The early line has the Seahawks favored by a touchdown in Arizona. Teams are 73-54 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 5 or more. On top of that, favorites of 6+ like the Seahawks are this week are 103-63 ATS since 2012 before being favored by 6+ again the following week.

The second problem is that the Redskins come in here incredibly banged up and I don’t know if this line fully takes that into account. They’ll be without left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Shawn Lauvao, center Spencer Long, wide receiver Jamison Crowder, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive end Matt Ioannidis, middle linebacker Mason Foster, and defensive end Jonathan Allen, a whopping nine week 1 starters. On top of that, they could also be without cornerback Bashaud Breeland and right guard Brandon Scherff, another two week 1 starters.

The Seahawks have injury problems of their own with left guard Luke Joeckel, running back Chris Carson, defensive end Cliff Avril, and safety Earl Thomas out and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson expected to be gametime calls. Their injury situation still is significantly better than Washington’s though and this line isn’t high enough at 7.5 to confidently bet on the Redskins unless Scherff plays for Washington and Wagner does not for Seattle. If that happens, I’ll revisit this pick in the morning, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Washington Redskins 17

Pick against the spread: Washington +7.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Green Bay Packers (4-3)

The Lions have been on my overrated last for a while. They made the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record, but 8 of those wins came by a touchdown or less and none of their wins came against playoff qualifiers. They finished the season 28th in first down rate differential, worst among playoff qualifiers. So far this season, they rank 25th in first down rate differential and are 3-4 on the season, with wins over the Cardinals, the Giants, and the Case Keenum led Vikings. They’re arguably even less talented than last season with left tackle Taylor Decker and defensive end Kerry Hyder out indefinitely. They have major problems on the offensive line and in the running game and their defense is middling at best.

Despite that, they seem to still be a little bit overrated, as they are 2.5 point favorites in Green Bay this week. They should only be favored by that many on the road against the worst teams in the league and, even without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are not among the worst teams in the league. They still have a strong offensive line, good pass catchers, and a capable front 7, and rookie running back Aaron Jones has given life to this running game for the first time in a while.

They played a good New Orleans team close before their bye in Brett Hundley’s first start without top defensive back Morgan Burnett. Now coming off the bye with Burnett back healthy, they should be able to give the Lions a close game too or even pull the upset. I’d need a full field goal to put money on the spread, but the money line is a smart bet at +115 because this game is a toss up at best. If this line creeps up to a field goal before game time, I’ll consider upgrading this to a medium confidence pick. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting protection against a field goal win by Detroit is key.

Green Bay Packers 21 Detroit Lions 20 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +2.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) at Dallas Cowboys (4-3)

After souring on the Cowboys after their 2-3 start, the public seems back on board with the Cowboys following back-to-back road wins, as they are now 2.5 point home favorites against the Kansas City Chiefs, who enter at 6-2. The Cowboys have always played well on the road though and they were playing the 49ers and a banged up Redskins team, so their level of competition wasn’t that high. Now they return home to face a much better opponent.

The Cowboys are 33-27 on the road since 2010 (35-25 ATS), outscoring opponents by an average of 0.27 points per game, as opposed to 30-31 at home (21-29 ATS), outscoring opponents by an average of 1.59 points per game. Because of their nationwide fanbase, they tend to draw support wherever they travel, so their homefield advantage hasn’t even been worth a full point in recent years. Given that, this line suggests the Cowboys are about 1.5-2 points better than the Chiefs.

I don’t think the Chiefs are quite as good as their record because of their defensive problems, but I think they’re still a little bit better than Dallas, who also have significant problems on defense. I have this line calculated at even. I’d need a full field goal to put money on the spread, but the money line is a smart bet at +120 because this game is a toss up at best. If this line creeps up to a field goal before game time, I’ll consider upgrading this to a medium confidence pick. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting protection against a field goal win by Dallas is key.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Dallas Cowboys 30 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Kansas City +2.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (4-4) at Tennessee Titans (4-3)

The Titans are 4-3 coming out of their bye and lead the AFC South, but I’ve been a little bit disappointed with them. Coming into the season, I had them at 11-5 and as one of the more talented and complete teams in the league. They were a year removed from a solid 9-7 season and did a good job addressing needs this off-season, but they’ve been underwhelming in their 4-3 start. The good news is they haven’t suffered any major long-term injuries and they come out of the bye about as healthy as any team in the league.

Free agent acquisition safety Johnathan Cyprien is expected to return for the first time since week 1, #5 overall pick wide receiver Corey Davis expected to return for the first time since week 2, and quarterback Marcus Mariota is likely healthier now 5 weeks removed from the hamstring injury that caused him to miss a game and a half and limited him in 2 games after his return. Guard Quinton Spain and tight end Delanie Walker could be out for this one, so they’re not at 100%, but those are short-term injuries and no team is completely healthy right now. Their best football should still be ahead of them and they could easily go on a run in what is overall a weak league right now.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 4-4, but have major issues on offense, with just 12 offensive touchdowns in 8 games, thanks in large part to injuries to guys like Marshal Yanda and Danny Woodhead. Their defense has played well, but they’ve faced a pretty easy schedule, with their wins coming against the Bengals, Browns, EJ Manuel led Raiders, and Matt Moore led Dolphins. Even the teams they’ve lost to have had offensive issues, including the Jaguars, the Bears, and the Case Keenum led Vikings. They’re not a terrible team, but I think the difference between these two teams talent wise is more than this line suggests at Tennessee -3.5, given that the Titans are at home. I have this line calculated at -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with the Titans. They should be a smart play this week.

Tennessee Titans 24 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3.5

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (5-2) at New York Giants (1-6)

The Rams are one of the surprise teams in the league this season, as they come out of their bye week at 5-2. They’ll face a different kind of surprise team this week, as the New York Giants, who went 11-5 last season, have started this season 1-6, thanks in large part to injuries. The Giants enter this game missing 8 starters from week 1, including some above average starters like defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, wide receiver Odell Beckham, center Weston Richburg, and guard/tackle Justin Pugh. The Rams, meanwhile, are about as close to 100% healthy as any team in the league, after getting talented safety LaMarcus Joyner back from injury before the bye.

As a result, the Rams are favored by 4.5 points here in New York. Big road favorites tend to cover after a bye, as road favorites of 3.5+ are 50-26 ATS since 1989, but there are two problems. For one, the Giants are also coming out of a bye and that trend drops to 10-10 ATS when the opponent is also coming out of a bye. The second problem is I don’t know if the Rams quite deserve to be favored by this many. Even with all of the Giants’ injuries, I still have this line calculated at -2, as the Rams are still a middling team that has been helped by an easy schedule. With that in mind, I’m actually taking the Giants here, though for a no confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 20 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (2-6) at Houston Texans (3-4)

These two teams have lost more to injury this season than perhaps any team in the league. The obvious big injury for the Colts was the loss of quarterback Andrew Luck, who has officially been shut down for the season due to complications from off-season shoulder surgery. Luck’s injury exposed what has long been one of the worst 53 man rosters in the NFL and the hits have kept coming from there, as the Colts have also lost safety Malik Hooker and left guard Jack Mewhort, two of their better starters, for the season, while several others have missed games, including talented outside linebacker John Simon and talented safety Clayton Geathers, who remain out for the Colts.

On top of that, center Ryan Kelly and cornerback Vontae Davis, who missed the start of the season with injury, have not looked anywhere near 100% since returning. This is arguably the worst team in the league right now, even though they have two wins. Those two wins have come at home against the winless 49ers and winless Browns by a combined 6 points and it’s arguable they would have lost both games had they not been in Indianapolis. Both of those wins also came before the injuries to Mewhort, Hooker, and Simon, three of their few talented starters.

That being said, the Texans’ roster right now also looks like one of the worst in the league. The Texans opened the season with Tom Savage under center, but he played so bad that he was benched after one half against the Jaguars for rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson took a couple games to get his feet under him, but then played a 5-game stretch that was as good as any quarterback in the NFL, finally giving the Texans the franchise quarterback they’d trying to find for years.

Unfortunately, right as that happened, they lost arguably their two best defensive players, defensive end JJ Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, in a week 5 loss to the Chiefs. Without them, they were still able to defeat the Browns with ease and then they lost a nailbiter in Seattle against the Seahawks when Deshaun Watson had the game of his life against one of the better defenses in the league. Just when it looked like Watson could carry this team even without a good defense, Watson tore his ACL in practice this week so they are now back to Tom Savage, a massive blow to this team.

When the news broke about Watson’s injury, this line shifted from 14 to 7. I was considering taking the Colts at +14 before the injury, but I like them a lot more than +7 against Savage as I don’t think this line shifted enough to compensate for how valuable Watson had been to this offense. Not only was he making big plays in the passing game and on the ground, but his mobility minimized the effect of what is a pretty terrible offensive line upfront for the Texans. In fact, Watson’s mobility was likely a big part of the reason why they felt comfortable trading left tackle Duane Brown to the Seahawks at the deadline this week, just days before Watson’s injury.

With Savage taking over, the Texans go from one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the NFL to one of the least mobile, which will maximize the effect of this terrible offensive line, even against a weak defense. Savage took 7 sacks in the first half against Jacksonville before being benched. The Colts are hardly the Jaguars, but Savage could still be under pressure all day as the Colts’ front 7 actually isn’t that bad, even without John Simon. Outside of center Nick Martin, the Texans have below average starters across the offensive line, including at left tackle where Chris Clark is arguably the league’s worst blindside protector.

Savage also has Will Fuller healthy, which he didn’t have in the opener, but he won’t be supported by nearly the same defense either, with not just JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus hurt, but also defensive end Christian Covington, who was having a mini-breakout season in Watt’s absence before going down for the season with a torn bicep last week. In 3 games without Watt and Mercilus, they’ve been torched twice by the Chiefs and Seahawks, with their only strong performance coming against the Kevin Hogan led Browns. And now you add the loss to Covington to the mix. We’re getting enough line value with the Colts for them to be my Pick of the Week at +7. They wouldn’t be my Pick of the Week in a normal week, but there are only 12 games this weekend and I don’t love a lot of the lines.

Houston Texans 20 Indianapolis Colts 16

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-5) at Miami Dolphins (4-3)

The Raiders finished last season 12-4, but are just 3-5 so far this season with essentially the same team. The biggest difference between this year and last year for the Raiders has been a huge swing of the turnover margin, from +16 in 2016 (tied for the best in the league) to -6 so far this year, 5th worst in the league. In terms of first down rate differential, the Raiders have actually improved from 19th last year at -0.49% to 10th so far this year at +2.93%, but they have been held back by not winning the turnover margin as often as they did last season.

The good news is turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. Just like the Raiders were likely to have a significantly worse turnover margin than +16 this season, they are also likely to be better than -6 over the final 8 games. The Raiders were -3 in turnover margin last week in Buffalo, allowing a return touchdown in the process, which led to them losing by 20 despite winning the first down margin 23 to 17. However, teams follow up a -3 turnover margin with a turnover margin of around -0.1, on average, essentially even. Talent wise, this is still an above average team that is capable of going on a run in what is an overall weak league right now if they can play turnover neutral football going forward.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are one of the worst teams in the league despite their 4-3 record. They rank 28th in point differential at -60 and 30th in first down rate differential at -5.64%. Their 4 wins have come by a combined 14 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 74 points. That being said, we aren’t really getting much line value with the Raiders here as 3 point road favorites, as this line has shifted significantly from Oakland -1 last week on the early line, as a result of the Dolphins’ 40-point loss in Baltimore on Thursday Night Football last week. Two points doesn’t seem like a ton, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so this line being at 3 is significant.

The Dolphins are definitely not a good team, as they ranked near the bottom in first down rate differential even before that huge loss in Baltimore, but they are not as bad as they looked last week on a short week with a backup quarterback, so that line movement is an overreaction that costs us significant line value with the Raiders. On top of that, teams tend to bounce back off of blowout losses like that, going 54-30 ATS since 2002 off of a loss by 35 or more points, as teams tend to be overlooked, embarrassed, and underrated after blowout losses like that. I don’t think the Dolphins are underrated, but they could definitely be overlooked and embarrassed this week. I’m still taking Oakland, but I’d need this line to at least drop back down to 2.5 to bet on them confidently. If that happens, I will revisit this pick.

Oakland Raiders 20 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: Oakland -3

Confidence: Low