Pick of the Week
BUF +150 vs. JAX
DEN +150 vs. PIT
Pick of the Week
BUF +150 vs. JAX
DEN +150 vs. PIT
Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)
The Chargers lost at home to the Broncos last week, but they won the first down rate battle (-2.35%) and could have won the game if they made all their extra points. The Broncos are also an underrated team that has played the Texans, Chiefs (twice), and Rams close, so that loss isn’t as bad as it looks. Even with that loss, the Chargers are still 7-3 and rank 7th in point differential at +53 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.86%. The Chargers should also be better this week with stud defensive end Joey Bosa going into his 2nd game and likely to see close to his full snaps.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in first down rate differential (-6.78%) and 30th in point differential (-103) and they are going in the wrong direction injury wise, with left tackle DJ Humphries joining right guard Justin Pugh on the sidelines this week, meaning the Cardinals will be without their best two offensive linemen from an offensive line that was pretty underwhelming to begin with.
Normally when one of the better teams in the league hosts one of the worst teams in the league the line should be at least two touchdowns and this line is a little short of that at -13, but I wouldn’t bet on the Chargers for a couple reasons. For one, they don’t have a typical homefield advantage, as they have serious trouble attracting fans in Los Angeles, even as well as they’ve played this season. The Chargers also aren’t in a great spot this week with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck. Double digit favorites are just 61-80 ATS before being underdogs, which the Steelers will be this week. With a weak opponent coming to town, they might not be completely focused with that game on deck.
The Cardinals aren’t in a good spot either with another tough game in Green Bay on deck, a game in which they are expected to be double digit underdogs again. Double digit underdogs are just 26-51 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs again, as it’s very tough for a significantly inferior team to hang with a superior team when they have another tough game on deck. There’s not enough here to bet the Chargers, but they should be the right pick. I’ll probably downgrade this to a no confidence pick if running back Melvin Gordon is ruled out for the Chargers, but the fact that he was able to get some practice in on Friday suggests he at least has a good shot to play, even if he’s officially being called a gametime decision after tweaking his knee in practice this week.
Los Angeles Chargers 31 Arizona Cardinals 16
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -13
Oakland Raiders (2-8) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
First round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his second straight start for the Ravens in this one, with Joe Flacco still sidelined with a hip injury. Jackson won his debut, but the jury is still very much out on him as a passer. He barely beat a Cincinnati team that has not played well lately due to injuries and he carried the ball a ridiculous 26 times (most in NFL history by a quarterback), as opposed to just 19 pass attempts, which isn’t something he’s going to be able to do every week.
Fortunately, Jackson gets another easy game this week with the Raiders coming to town. The Raiders pulled off the upset in Arizona last week, but they’ve had a miserable season at 2-8. They rank just 27th in first down rate differential at -5.08% and are arguably even worse than that due to all of their personnel losses since the start of the season. The Ravens should be able to execute a conservative, run heavy offense again this week, knowing that the Raiders’ offense has little chance of consistently putting together drives against Baltimore’s talented stop unit.
I think this line is about right at Baltimore -10.5, but I’m giving the Ravens the edge in this one because the Raiders might not bring their best effort. In a lost season, they could easily be looking forward to next week’s home clash with the Chiefs, a game in which they are a ridiculous 14-point home underdogs. Teams are just 39-85 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs of 7.5 points or more, as upcoming big home games tend to be a distraction to teams. On top of that, double digit underdogs are just 26-51 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs again. We’re not getting enough line value with the Ravens to bet on them, but they should be the right side this week.
Baltimore Ravens 23 Oakland Raiders 10
Pick against the spread: Baltimore -10.5
Tennessee Titans (5-5) at Houston Texans (7-3)
The Titans are high on my underrated list right now, following a tough performance in Indianapolis last week. They lost that game 38-10, but the Colts have been playing legitimately great football for weeks (they’re also high on my underrated list) and the Titans also lost Marcus Mariota in the first half of that game with a stinger in his neck, which certainly didn’t help. As a result, this line shifted from Houston -4 on the early line to Houston -6.5 this week, which I think is a major overreaction. Mariota’s injury is not considered serious and he should be good to go this week after getting in full practices on both Friday and Saturday. Whenever Mariota is healthy this is a legitimately dangerous team.
The Titans have a strong defense that ranks 9th in first down rate allowed at 34.42%. They’re a middle of the pack team in first down rate differential on the season, ranking 20th at -1.86%, but that’s because Mariota was limited with an elbow injury for most of the first half of the season, which really limited their offense. When he’s at full strength, the Titans have a capable offense to complement their strong defense and they are a tough team to handle as a result.
Prior to last week’s game in Indianapolis, the Titans covered their previous 3 games, losing by 1 on a failed 2-point conversion against a now 7-3 Chargers team, pulling an upset win in Dallas against the Cowboys, who haven’t lost since, and of course blowing out the Patriots, who were playing as well as anyone going into that game. Given that, it really makes no sense that this line is this high. In fact, I have these two teams close to even in my book, so we’re getting significant line value with the visitors.
The Texans are 7-3, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out. Just 2 of their 7 wins came by more than a touchdown and 4 of them came by 3 points or fewer, including a pair of overtime wins. I wish we were getting a full touchdown with Tennessee, but I expect this to be a close game, one that Tennessee could win straight up, so they’re still a great bet at +6 or +6.5. The only thing that stopped me from making this my Pick of the Week is the off chance that Mariota gets knocked out of the game again, as he has not been durable throughout his career.
Houston Texans 19 Tennessee Titans 17
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6.5
Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)
The Packers haven’t lost at home this season, but they also haven’t won on the road. Now at 4-5-1, the Packers have their season on the line this week in Minnesota. If they lose this game, they’ll fall two games behind the Vikings for the final wild card spot and the Vikings will own the tiebreaker, so they’ll essentially be 3 games out of the playoffs with 5 to play. If they win this game however, they’ll own the tiebreaker with Minnesota and would be just a half game behind Washington (who is starting a backup quarterback) for the final wild card spot.
The good news for Packers fans is that home/road disparity tends to be more random than anything. This is the 19th instance of a team being winless on the road and undefeated at home in week 8 or later. The previous 18 are 9-9 in their next road game and 10-6-2 ATS. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Packers, but it shows you shouldn’t just blindly bet against the Packers just because they are away from home. Last week, I bet the Packers as 3-point underdogs in Seattle in a game they led throughout (including 14-3 in the first half), before the Seahawks eventually came back with a late drive and caused the line to push with a 3-point win.
Unfortunately, we’re not getting nearly as good as a line this week with the Packers, as they are once again 3-point underdogs, but against a much better team. While the Seahawks are a middling team, the Vikings are quietly a tough opponent. They had injury problems early in the season, but they are much healthier now, with players like defensive end Everson Griffen, running back Dalvin Cook, and linebacker Anthony Barr back from extended absences. The general public hasn’t caught on yet because they lost last week in Chicago, but the Bears are legitimately a top level team, so there isn’t much shame in that.
The Packers, meanwhile, are going the other way injury wise, losing stud defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the second half of their loss in Seattle, a big part of the reason why the Seahawks were able to mount a comeback late. Daniels doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he’s one of the better defensive linemen in the league, so his absence will certainly be felt. With that in mind, I like the Vikings a little bit this week. This line suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Vikings slightly better in my roster rankings right now with Daniels out.
The Packers are in a better spot than the Vikings, as they have an easy game home against the Cardinals on deck, while the Vikings have another tough game in New England. Underdogs are 90-54 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. However, because this game is so big for both teams, I don’t expect the Vikings to be looking forward to that New England game much at all this week, so I’m not sure how relevant that trend is to this game. There isn’t enough here to bet them and this could easily end up another push, given how frequently games are decided by exactly a field goal (about 1 in 6), but the Vikings should be the right side.
Minnesota Vikings 27 Green Bay Packers 23
Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3
San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)
These two teams have had similar seasons statistically. Both have poor records, but rank significantly better than their record suggests in first down rate differential. The 49ers rank 12th at +1.26%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.95%. Both teams have been crushed by the turnover margin, with turnover margins of -15 and -23 respectively, but turnover margins tend to completely unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Buccaneers were -4 in turnover margin last week in New York in 3-point loss to the Giants and, on average, teams with a turnover margin of -4 in a game have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week.
The 49ers’ offense obviously hasn’t been as good since Jimmy Garoppolo went down, but they haven’t been terrible either, moving the chains at a 36.30% rate in 7 games without Garoppolo, as opposed to 41.30% in the 3 games Garoppolo started. CJ Beathard took over the starting job after Garoppolo got hurt, but he missed a start with a hand injury and lost his job to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has been an upgrade in 2 starts.
After Beathard turned the ball over 10 times in 5 starts, the 49ers are just -2 in turnover margin in Mullens’ two starts, with both turnovers bouncing off receivers’ hands. Turnover margins tend to stabilize in the long run anyway, but Mullens has definitely been an upgrade over Beathard. They’ve also been decent defensively, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 36.49% rate, 17th in the NFL, and should force more turnovers going forward.
The Buccaneers have also switched quarterbacks several times this season, but under different circumstances. Ryan Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter, but the Buccaneers have switched quarterbacks mid-game three times this season and are now back to Jameis Winston for his second stint as their starting quarterback this season. Both quarterbacks have committed numerous turnovers, 13 for Fitzpatrick and 12 for Winston, but they’ve also averaged a combined 9.11 yards per attempt (3rd best in the NFL), taking numerous shots downfield to one of the better receiving corps in the NFL. As a result, they have moved the chains at a 43.34% rate, 4th best in the NFL. Regardless of which quarterback they start, they should continue moving the chains at a high rate and their turnover margin should be better, even if only by default, going forward.
The biggest problem for the Buccaneers is that they have the worst defense in the NFL. They rank 31st in first down rate allowed at 42.39% and have been even worse in recent weeks due to numerous injuries, including linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safety Justin Evans, and cornerback MJ Stewart. The injury bug has also spread to their offense, with tight end OJ Howard going down for the season, which is a big hit to their receiving corps. The 49ers, meanwhile, are getting healthier coming out of the bye, with both linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Jaquiski Tartt both expected back this week. For that reason, I’ll give them the edge in this one, but this could easily end up being a push.
Final Update: Foster will not play for the 49ers after being arrested for domestic violence last night. Despite that, sharp action on San Francisco has pushed this line down to 2. Given that, I’m changing my pick, but this is still a no confidence pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 San Francisco 49ers 27
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2
Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
Earlier in the week, I was considering betting the Bengals in this one. They have not played as well in recent weeks as they did earlier in the season due to injuries, but it looked like there would be a chance they’d get both #1 receiver AJ Green and every down linebacker Nick Vigil back from injury this week, after getting Vontaze Burfict back last week. Instead, both Green and Vigil are expected to be out again and the Bengals could also be without left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who both missed practice on Friday.
Given that, I’m actually going to take the Browns, who have been better offensively since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley and who are much better defensively with linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Schobert missed about 3 and a half games with injury, but made his presence known in his first game back, as the Browns pulled the upset over the Falcons in their last game prior to the bye. In the 6 games Schobert has started and finished this season, they have allowed a first down rate of 32.59%, as opposed to 46.69% in their other 4 games.
That’s not all him, but he’s playing at a legitimately All-Pro level this season, ranking 2nd among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus, so his presence in the lineup is much more important than casual bettors realize. There’s not enough line value with the Browns as 3-point underdogs to take them with any confidence and I’m concerned that the Bengals will have an advantage with Hue Jackson joining their staff immediately after being fired by the Browns, but the Browns are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Final Update: Both Glenn and Kirkpatrick are out for the Bengals and heavy sharp action on the Browns has pushed this line all the way down to even. With Glenn and Kirkpatrick out, I have this line calculated at Cincinnati -1.5, so we’re now getting a little bit of line value with the hosts. This is still a no confidence pick though.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 Cleveland Browns 19
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati PK