Pick of the Week
CIN +125 @ CAR
TB +105 vs. PIT
WAS +120 vs. GB
OAK +145 @ MIA
DEN +190 @ BAL
NO +120 @ ATL
Pick of the Week
CIN +125 @ CAR
TB +105 vs. PIT
WAS +120 vs. GB
OAK +145 @ MIA
DEN +190 @ BAL
NO +120 @ ATL
Tennessee Titans (1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-0)
This is probably the toughest game of the week to pick. A line is posted at Jacksonville -10, but we won’t know until tomorrow if Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota will be healthy enough to play, after missing last week and being limited all week in practice with a nerve injury in his elbow. If Mariota plays, this 10 point line is probably way too big, although Mariota has struggled when he’s tried to play through injuries in the past.
If Mariota doesn’t play and Blaine Gabbert starts against the Jaguars, this line is pretty appropriate. The Jaguars don’t have any upcoming distractions, with only a home game against the Jets on deck, and favorites of 7+ are 49-29 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 7+ again, so they could easily take care of business against an inferior Tennessee team starting a backup quarterback. I’m taking the Titans for now on the off change Mariota can play and keep this one close, but I may change my pick in the morning if Mariota is ruled out.
Jacksonville Jaguars 23 Tennessee Titans 14
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +10
Buffalo Bills (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0-1)
The Vikings are in a bad spot this week. Not only are they coming off of a tough tie in one of their biggest games of the season in Green Bay against the Packers, but, after this easy home game against the Bills, the Vikings have another one of the biggest games of their season in Los Angeles against the Rams. Favorites of 10 or more are 37-54 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs of 3 or more (the Vikings are 5 point underdogs on the early line), as big favorites understandably tend to struggle with a much more talented opponent on deck.
Making things tougher, that game against the Rams is on Thursday Night Football, just 4 days after this one, so it’s very possible the Vikings are not totally focused this week. Favorites are just 47-67 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2012. The Vikings are also pretty banged up going into this one, holding out several players with an eye on next week. Already missing center Pat Elflein, the Vikings will also be without featured running back Dalvin Cook, top defensive end Everson Griffen, and valuable blocking tight end David Morgan.
Does all this mean I would recommend betting on the Bills this week as 16.5 point underdogs? Absolutely not. The Bills are one of the worst, if not the worst team in the league. Even with all of the players the Vikings are missing, I still have this line calculated at -14. The Bills also aren’t in a good spot, with another tough game against the Packers on deck. Teams are 26-39 ATS since 2014 as 7+ point underdogs before being 7+ point underdogs again. It’s entirely possible the Bills could keep this a 10 or 14 point game against a banged up Minnesota team in a bad spot, but they could still easily lose by 17 or 21. I don’t want to bet my money one way or the other, though the Bills are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Minnesota Vikings 28 Buffalo Bills 13
Pick against the spread: Buffalo +16.5
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2)
At one point I considered these two teams potential playoff teams in the NFC, but they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries early on in the season. The Seahawks get stud middle linebacker Bobby Wagner back from a one week absence this week, but remain without stud outside linebacker KJ Wright and top receiver Doug Baldwin, two of their better players, while offensive linemen Ethan Pocic and Justin Britt are likely out this week and safety Earl Thomas reportedly may not play for personal reasons. The Cowboys, meanwhile, might get safety Xavier Woods for the first time this season, but remain without All-Pro center Travis Frederick, who is suffering from a rare illness. They’re also still missing top interior pass rusher David Irving, who was suspended for the first 4 games of the season.
I have these two teams exactly even in my roster rankings, suggesting we’re getting some line value with the Seahawks as mere 1.5 point favorites. However, I’m torn on this game for a couple reasons. For one, the Cowboys typically play pretty well on the road. While they are just 33-34 at home with an average point differential of +1.19 since 2010, they are 36-29 on the road with an average point differential of 0.26 on the road, not even a point less than at home. On top of that, the Seahawks are in a tough spot, playing their first home game of the season in week 3. Teams tend to struggle in that spot, going 26-51 ATS over the past 30 seasons. I’m taking the Seahawks, but would not recommend betting this game.
Seattle Seahawks 17 Dallas Cowboys 15
Pick against the spread: Seattle -1.5
Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1)
The Bengals are one of a few surprise 2-0 teams, as they’ve won games over the Ravens and Colts in which they were small underdogs. The Bengals were just 7-9 a year ago, but they significantly improved their offensive line this off-season and had several key skill position players returning from injury plagued 2017 seasons. They’ve continued to play well defensively, even with linebacker Vontaze Burfict suspended, while their offense has been much improved.
Unfortunately, the Bengals didn’t make it out of their Thursday night win over the Ravens without some key injury losses, with both center Billy Price and running back Joe Mixon out for at least a couple weeks. Price was one of the offensive line upgrades they added this off-season, while Mixon’s emergence as a feature back in his 2nd year in the league has been a big part of the reason why the Bengals have been improved offensively. Without them, passing down back Giovani Bernard will have to carry the load behind a downgraded offensive line.
Fortunately for the Bengals, they face an even more banged up opponent this week. For the second week in a row, the Panthers will be without three projected starting offensive linemen, left tackle Matt Kalil, right guard Trai Turner, and right tackle Daryl Williams due to injury (after losing left guard Andrew Norwell to the Jaguars in free agency this off-season). They’ll also be without tight end Greg Olsen and safety Da’Norris Searcy. There’s not quite enough line value with the Bengals to bet on them as 3 point underdogs, but the money line makes sense at +125, as this game is close to a toss up.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 Carolina Panthers 19 Upset Pick +125
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
This line briefly opened at Pittsburgh -3, but sharp action quickly bet the line down to 1.5. I regret not grabbing Tampa Bay +3 when I saw it, as, not only is it obviously a better number, but the Steelers have really had a lot of trouble covering decent sized or bigger lines as non-divisional road favorites in the Mike Tomlin era, going 7-18 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 3+ (6-4 ATS as road favorites of less than 3).
Despite that movement, we are still getting line value with the Buccaneers, who have been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises at 2-0, with wins over 2017 playoff teams in the Saints and Eagles. Their strong play is not coming out of nowhere though. Despite being just 5-11 a year ago, the Buccaneers finished 12th in first down rate differential and lost just 4 games by more than 7 points, against one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. That was even with Jameis Winston missing 3 games and being limited in others with a shoulder injury.
Before Jameis Winston got suspended, I thought this team could easily be a surprise playoff team in the NFC, but I backed off after the Winston suspension and other troubling news about him this off-season. Instead, Ryan Fitzpatrick has come in and played better than Winston ever has. It’s unclear how much the 35-year-old career journeyman can be trusted to continue playing like this, but I definitely have a lot more confidence in him now than I did a couple weeks ago.
On the other side, the Steelers are off to a disappointing 0-1-1 start, with a tie in Cleveland followed up by a home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh’s early season struggles are not out of nowhere either. They went 13-3 in 2017, but went 8-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less and could have easily been a 10 win team or worse. They especially struggled down the stretch, winning just 2 games by more than 4 points in the final 8 games of the season and then losing in their first playoff game at home to Jacksonville. That was in large part due to the loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier with injury and they did not adequately replace him this off-season.
Shazier isn’t the only player the Steelers don’t have on the field right now either. In addition to the holding out Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers are also missing arguably their two best offensive linemen, right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert, DeCastro missing his second game and Gilbert missing his first. They get Joe Haden back from a one game absence with a hamstring injury, but cornerback Artie Burns remains limited by a toe injury and is expected to be a reserve in this game, while safety/linebacker Morgan Burnett is expected to be out with a groin injury. Given all the guys they’re missing, the Steelers don’t deserve to be favored by any amount in Tampa, as I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings right now. The Buccaneers are worth a small bet this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +105
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +1.5
New York Giants (0-2) at Houston Texans (0-2)
A trendy pre-season Super Bowl “sleeper”, the Texans have gotten off to a disappointing 0-2 start, but they’ve been better than their record has suggested. Their first loss was in New England and last week they had a +7.27% first down rate differential in a 3-point loss in Tennessee. They had 21 first downs to 15 for the Titans, but they missed a field goal and couldn’t get the ball snapped for another field goal try to tie it at the end of the game, while the Titans scored on a 68 yard fake punt.
The Texans finally return home for their home opener this week, but the history of week 3 home openers is not good, as teams are 26-51 ATS over the past 30 years. The Texans could be tired after starting the season with back-to-back road games. They don’t have a tough opponent, as the New York Giants are a mediocre team at best, especially without edge rusher Olivier Vernon and cornerback Eli Apple, but we’re not getting any line value with the Texans as 6 point home favorites. For pick ‘em pool purposes I would take the Giants, but I would need at least 7.5 points to consider betting the Giants.
Houston Texans 20 New York Giants 16
Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6
Chicago Bears (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (0-2)
Through 2 games, the Cardinals have been the worst team in the league. Not only have they lost both games by wide margins (24-6 and 34-0), but they have looked awful while doing it, ranking dead last in first down rate differential at -21.68%. Last week’s game in Los Angeles was the one of the worst single game performances by a team in years, as they managed just 5 first downs to 24 for the Rams and did not even make it past midfield until the final drive of the game, after the outcome was far from in doubt.
New quarterback Sam Bradford has not looked the same after missing most of 2017 with knee injuries and his supporting cast hasn’t helped much either. They’ve struggled on defense and on the offensive line and have little offensive skill position talent behind Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. They are expected to get defensive end Markus Golden back from injury this week and he could provide them with a much needed pass rusher opposite Chandler Jones. He had 12.5 sacks in 2016 before tearing his ACL 4 games into 2017, though it’s unclear how effective he’ll be in his first game back.
In addition to Golden’s return, the other good news for the Cardinals is that teams typically bounce back after getting blown out like the Cardinals did last week, as teams are 65-47 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 34 points or more. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense if you think about it, as teams tend to be underrated, overlooked, and embarrassed after a blowout loss. That loss shifted this line from Chicago being favored by 2.5 on the early line to now being favored by 5, the biggest line movement of the week.
Typically I like going against these big line movements, but I actually think this line is pretty appropriate. With the addition of Khalil Mack, the Bears are a top-10 team and have arguably the most non-quarterback talent in the league, while the Cardinals look like one of the worst teams in the league. I’m taking the Cardinals just because I think the Bears might overlook them a little bit and because I don’t think they’re as bad as they’ve looked thus far this season, but this is a no confidence pick.
Chicago Bears 17 Arizona Cardinals 13
Pick against the spread: Arizona +5
Los Angeles Chargers (1-1) at Los Angeles Rams (2-0)
This game features the crosstown Chargers and Rams for the first time in their new city in Los Angeles. The Rams are technically the home team, but this is not a true road game for the Chargers because they don’t have to travel. In fact, considering the Chargers have no fans, they are used to playing in Los Angeles in front of mostly opposing fans, so this game is much more similar to a home game for the Chargers than a road game.
Despite that, the Rams are favored by a touchdown over the Chargers. The Rams are obviously one of the more talented teams in the league, but they’ve had a pretty easy schedule so far, as both the Raiders and Cardinals are mediocre at best. It remains to be seen if they can beat quality teams like the Chargers by more than a touchdown, especially since the Chargers rarely lose by large margins. In fact, just 11 of their 31 losses since 2015 have come by more than a touchdown and 5 of those losses came against the Chiefs, who seem to have their number.
The Chiefs beat the Chargers in Los Angeles week 1 by 10 points, but the Chargers actually won the first down rate battle by 6.83% in that game, picking up 33 first downs to 19 for the Chiefs. The Chiefs won as a result of a +2 turnover margin and several big plays (including a long punt return touchdown), but that’s not the most sustainable way to win (or lose) games.
On the season, the Chargers rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +10.77%, just behind the Rams who rank first. The Rams are also in a tough spot because they have to turn around and play Minnesota in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 47-67 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2012. I’d be a lot more confident in the Chargers if they had a healthy Joey Bosa, but I like their chances of keeping this one close.
Los Angeles Rams 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +7
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)
The Chiefs’ offense has been incredible through 2 games, scoring a league high 10 touchdowns and picking up first downs at a 48.62% rate. Despite that, they still have a negative first down rate differential, as their defense has incredibly allowed opponents to pick up first downs or touchdowns on 50% of their snaps. They have given up 33 first downs each to the Chargers and Steelers in their first 2 games.
They still won the first down rate differential last week because of a ridiculous 55.56% first down rate by their offense, but they lost the first down rate differential in Los Angeles against the Chargers, winning that game as a result of a +2 turnover margin and several big plays (including a long punt return). That’s not the most sustainable way to win games. Their defense will be better when Eric Berry returns from his achilles tear, but it remains to be seen when that will be and their defense will have to be better if the Chiefs are going to keep winning.
Making the Chiefs’ offensive start even more impressive is the fact that their first two games were both on the road, as this game against the 49ers is their home opener. It could be a let down game for them though, as teams are 26-51 ATS over the past 30 years in week 3 home openers. The Chiefs have done well as underdogs on the road thus far this season, but being favored by 6 at home is a different dynamic. They could take their foot off the gas a little at 2-0, at home, against a non-conference opponent and at the very least allow the 49ers to hang around in a shootout.
All that being said, I would need a couple more points to take the 49ers with confidence this week. I have this line calculated right at -6, so we’re not getting any line value with the 49ers, who remain a little bit of an overrated team, as they lack a strong supporting cast around Jimmy Garoppolo, who has shown growing pains in his 2nd season as a starter. They struggled against a good team in Minnesota week 1 and then beat a mediocre Lions team in their home opener. The Chiefs have already beaten a pair of potential playoff teams and the 49ers are probably the easiest opponent they’ve had thus far. Getting Reuben Foster back from suspension helps, but not enough for me to bet on the 49ers this week.
Kansas City Chiefs 31 San Francisco 49ers 27
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +6