Pick of the Week
BUF +160 @ MIA
LAC +155 @ PIT
Pick of the Week
BUF +160 @ MIA
LAC +155 @ PIT
Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)
This is a tough one. On one hand, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Colts. The Jaguars were just 2.5-point home underdogs against the Colts on the early line last week and -2.5 road underdogs in Indianapolis a few weeks ago (in a game they ended up only losing by 3), but now they are -4.5 point home underdogs. The Jaguars have had a disappointing season, but they’re better than their 3-8 record suggests, as their defense is still one of the best in the league, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.58%.
It’s not quite as dominant as it was last year and it certainly hasn’t played well enough to compensate for their offense, but they still rank a respectable 19th in first down rate differential at -1.49%. Their record looks worse than they’ve played because they are just 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less and because they have one of the worst turnover margins in the league at -11. Both of those metrics tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and year-to-year basis though, especially turnover margin.
Case in point, these Jaguars had a -16 turnover margin in 2016 and then a +10 turnover margin in 2017 before this season’s struggles in that department. The Jaguars have also played a much tougher schedule than the Colts. Their opponents are a combined 52% on the season, as opposed to 45% for the Colts. The Jaguars obviously lost in Buffalo last week, but they were in a tough spot, sandwiched between a home game against the Steelers and this home game against the Colts. Now against a hated divisional foe, they’ll probably bring more effort and they kept it close against the Steelers the last time they did that.
On the other hand, the Jaguars have lost so much on offense this year and are starting mediocre backup quarterback Cody Kessler under center, having seen enough of Blake Bortles’ turnover proneness. Kessler is less turnover prone, but he really struggles to make plays downfield because of his lack of arm strength and he’s shown himself to be very injury prone thus far in his career.
Kessler’s supporting cast is also as bad as it gets, as the Jaguars are without running back Leonard Fournette with a suspension and added talented left guard Andrew Norwell to injured reserve this week, joining their top-3 offensive tackles, their top-3 tight ends, talented center Brandon Linder, and #1 receiver Marqise Lee on the sidelines. I can’t take the Colts with any confidence because we’re not getting a good line, but it’s the Colts or nothing this week, as the Jaguars are currently one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -4.5
Washington Redskins (6-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
The Eagles have had a disappointing season at 5-6, but they’ve been better than their record. Five of their 6 losses have come by a touchdown or fewer, despite the fact that they’ve had one of the worst turnover margins in the league at -8. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Eagles should have a better turnover margin going forward, which will be noticeable on the scoreboard, even with key players like Jordan Hicks, Ronald Darby, and Rodney McLeod out for the year with injury. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 11th at +2.11% and have won the first down rate battle in two of their losses. They could easily be about 7-4 right now, in which case I expect they’d be favored by more than a touchdown in this game.
The Eagles have just one win by more than a touchdown all season, but this is one of their easiest games, as the Redskins have a lot of issues, despite a 6-5 record. Their record is largely the product of a +9 turnover margin and a 3-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and they rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.94%. They’re even worse than that suggests, as they are missing starting quarterback Alex Smith and stud right guard Brandon Scherff for the season with injury, leaving them to start backup Colt McCoy with a weak offensive supporting cast. Given the talent gap between these two teams, the Eagles should be favored by closer to 10 points this week, so we’re getting some line value with them at -6.
Unfortunately, the Eagles are in a terrible spot, with back-to-back tough divisional games, this game against the Redskins and then next week’s game in Dallas. The Redskins, on the other hand, only host the Giants next week. Underdogs are 90-55 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 18-34 ATS since 2008 before being divisional road underdogs. The Eagles are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I can’t be confident in them this week.
Philadelphia Eagles 24 Washington Redskins 17
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6
San Francisco 49ers (2-9) at Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
The Seahawks have a solid record at 6-5, but this is not nearly the Seahawks team we’ve seen in recent years. Despite their record, they rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.78%. Their offense has been solid, moving the chains at a 37.03% rate, 14th in the NFL, but their defense, a shell of its former self, has allowed opponents to move the chains at a 39.81% rate, 27th in the NFL. Their defense has been on the field for fewer snaps than any defense in the league, as a result of the offense going 9 of 12 on 4th down on the season and only turning over the ball 9 times, fewest in the NFL, but 4th down percentages and turnovers tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t always be able to depend on those to make life easy for their defense.
Given that, this line is a little high at 10. The 49ers have major issues at the quarterback position, but they have a capable defense (17th in first down rate allowed) and a strong running game. They’re just 2-9 largely because of their -17 turnover margin, 2nd worst in the NFL, but, like I said, turnovers tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Given their quarterback situation, it wouldn’t surprise me if the 49ers continued turning the ball over frequently, but their defense should have more takeaways than they’ve had (5 in 11 games) just from random chance alone. We’re not getting enough line value to bet the Seahawks, but this line is a few points too high.
Seattle Seahawks 24 San Francisco 49ers 17
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +10
New York Jets (3-8) at Tennessee Titans (5-6)
The Titans have been one of the most unpredictable teams in the league this season, having the 3rd most DVOA variance in the league, only ahead of the Bills (who have started 4 different quarterbacks) and the Titans’ opponents this week, the New York Jets. For that reason, I’m not too excited to bet either side, but the Titans should be able to win this one with ease. They rank just 21st in first down rate differential at -2.25%, but they’ve also faced the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL, with their opponents combining for a 56% winning percentage.
By contrast, their opponents this week are just 3-8 and are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 29th in first down rate differential at -5.69%. If the Titans can win by double digits against the Cowboys and Patriots in recent weeks, they should be able to blowout the lowly Jets. However, because both of these teams have been unpredictable, it’s hard to say that with much certainty.
The Titans also have to play again in a few days on Thursday Night Football, which is usually a bad spot for favorites, as they are 55-72 ATS since 2012 before being a Thursday game, but the Titans have another easy game next week, hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars, so that kind of cancels that out. Favorites of 7+ are 58-35 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 7+ again. There’s not enough here to confidently take the Titans, but I like their chances of covering this 8-point spread.
Tennessee Titans 24 New York Jets 13
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -8
Denver Broncos (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
The Bengals got off to a solid start to the season, but they’ve had terrible injury luck and are now one of the worst teams in the league with backup Jeff Driskel, a 2016 6th round pick, making his first career start this week. It’s a shame Dalton went down because he was one of the bright spots for this team and they were just starting to get healthier around him, with top receiver AJ Green, every down linebacker Nick Vigil, and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick returning to the lineup this week, after their other every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned last week. If Dalton were healthy, this team might have enough to compete for a playoff spot, as Dalton could mask some of their flaws, but they’re in serious trouble without him.
Struggling left tackle Cordy Glenn is the only regular starter actually listed on the injury report this week, but Dalton also joins a sizeable list of key players on injured reserve, including talented edge rusher Carl Lawson, starting defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, swing tackle Jake Fisher, and their top-2 tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft. Making matters even tougher for the Bengals, they’ve faced the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL this season, with their opponents having a combined 56% winning percentage, and their schedule doesn’t get much easier this week.
The Broncos are only 5-6, the same as the Bengals, but the Bengals are 1-5 since a 4-1 start, while the Broncos rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.22%, despite being the only team to face a tougher schedule than the Bengals (58%). They’ve lost just 2 games by more than a touchdown, with 4 of their losses coming by a combined 16 points to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice), who are a combined 27-6.
The Broncos have lost key parts of their offense as the season has gone along, with right guard Ron Leary and center Matt Paradis both out for the season and starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded to the Broncos, but quarterback Case Keenum is playing his best football of the season right now and the same is true for this team on defense. We’re not getting much line value with the Broncos at -5.5 and the Broncos haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, with just one of their wins coming by more than a touchdown, but the Bengals are the easiest team they’ve faced in weeks. There’s not enough here to bet the Broncos, but they should be the right side.
Denver Broncos 24 Cincinnati Bengals 16
Pick against the spread: Denver -5.5
Carolina Panthers (6-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
The Panthers, once 6-2, are losers of 3 straight, but they could have easily won each of their past two games. The Panthers lost by 1 in Detroit two weeks ago, in a game in which they missed a field goal, an extra point, and a 2-point conversation late when they didn’t trust their kicking unit to tie the game. Last week, they lost by a field goal at home to the Seahawks, but outgained the Seahawks by 1.9 yards per play in a game in which the Panthers missed another field goal, threw a red zone interception, failed on a 4th down, and allowed the Seahawks to go 2 for 2 on 4th downs.
The Panthers won the first down rate battle in both games, +5.98% in Detroit and +11.53% against Seattle. On the season, they have a first down rate differential of +2.11%, 12th in the NFL, and that number is significantly better if you ignore their blowout loss in Pittsburgh, in game in which the Panthers were caught off guard by a strong team on the road on a short week. The Panthers are just 2-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less, but still are 6-5, as a result of 4 wins by more than a touchdown. They could easily be 7-4 or 8-3 right now, in which case this line would likely be higher than 3.5 in Tampa Bay.
While the Panthers are a solid team, the Buccaneers are a mediocre bunch. Their offense has moved the ball well, thanks in large part to arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL. They have picked up first downs at a 42.90% rate (4th in the NFL) and they lead the league with 3,914 passing yards (on pace for an NFL record 5,693 on the season). However, they’ve also started two historically turnover prone quarterbacks this season in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston and have the most giveaways in the league with 29.
Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and the Buccaneers are unlikely to continue losing the turnover battle at the rate they have been (a league worst -21 through 11 games), but the Buccaneers have two gunslinging quarterbacks that take risks downfield, a style of play that lends itself to a lot of turnovers. It’s part of why they’ve gotten so many yards through the air this season, but there are also obvious downsides.
The Buccaneers have also been hurt significantly by the injury bug. Their receiving corps is one of the best in the NFL at full strength, but they’re missing both tight end OJ Howard and wide receiver DeSean Jackson with injury, so they’re far from at full strength. They are also expected to be without starting right tackle Demar Dotson. Defensively they’re getting healthier, with safety Justin Evans and linebacker Lavonte David due back this week, after defensive end Vinny Curry returned last week, but they’re still without linebacker Kwon Alexander and they could be down their top-3 cornerbacks with injury. Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart have already been ruled out, while Brent Grimes is highly questionable after sitting out Friday’s practice.
Their defense has been horrible all season, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed at 42.18%, but they’re even worse when they’re missing starters. Even at full strength, their offense just isn’t quite good enough to keep up with what their defense is allowing most weeks, especially if the offense commits several turnovers. The Buccaneers rank 17th in first down rate differential on the year at +0.72%, but they’re not nearly as good as that suggests right now.
The Buccaneers are also in a tough spot, with the Saints coming to town next week. Teams are 22-44 ATS since 2014 before being home favorites of 7 or more (Tampa Bay is +11 on the early line), as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction. With back-to-back tough home games, the Buccaneers might not be as focused this week as they need to be to pull an upset over a significantly more talented opponent. There’s not quite enough here for the Panthers to be worth betting, but I’d change my mind if this line dropped down to 3 before gametime.
Update: Carolina -3 has popped up in some places, so, as I said I would, I’m making this is a medium confidence pick.
Carolina Panthers 30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
Pick against the spread: Carolina -3