Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Denver Broncos (2-1)

Through 3 games, the Chiefs have been remarkably good on offense, but they’ve simultaneously been remarkably bad on defense. Much has been made of their offense, which has picked up a first down or touchdown on a ridiculous 50.28% of its offensive snaps, but their defense is making opponent offenses look almost as good, allowing a first down or touchdown on 48.82% of their snaps.

Not only would those numbers both be the highest in recent memory on either side of the ball over the course of a full season, they are significantly higher than the 2nd highest numbers in the league right now (45.23% first down rate, 42.86% first down rate allowed). The Chiefs could easily end up with statistically the best offense and the worst defense in the league when all is said and done, but at some point both of those numbers are going to come back to earth a little bit, just based off the law of averages. The Chiefs’ offense got out to a really hot start last year before fading as opposing teams caught on to their tendencies better, while their defense will be boosted at some point by the return of safety Eric Berry from injury.

As a result of their defensive struggles, they have not been blowing out their opponents, even with the first quarter leads they’ve jumped out to with their offense. They won by 10 in Los Angeles against the Chiefs, but lost the first down battle 33 to 19, and they won by 11 against the 49ers last week, but the 49ers had a touchdown that would have cut it to a 7 point game with 5 minutes left taken off the board by penalty, so neither of those games were really blowouts.

Despite that, they are favored by 4.5 points on the road against a solid Denver team. This line is the equivalent of the Broncos being 10-10.5 point underdogs in Kansas City, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because the 49ers were just 6.5 or 7 point underdogs in Kansas City last week and they came close to covering. That’s partially because the Chiefs have been playing it much more conservative in the second half with the lead, but if the Broncos are down two scores late, I don’t trust the Kansas City defense to keep the Broncos from getting a backdoor cover. I think the Broncos have a good chance to make this a game though. We’re getting too much line value with the Broncos at +4.5 to pass on.

Kansas City Chiefs 26 Denver Broncos 24

Pick against the spread: Denver +4.5

Confidence: High

Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

This line was all the way up to 6 earlier this week, before heavy sharp action on the Bengals bet the line all the way down to 3.5. While I obviously would have preferred 6, we are still getting line value with the Bengals at 3.5. This line suggests that the Falcons are slightly better than the Bengals, but I think that’s backwards. Coming into the season, the Falcons were one of the most talented teams in the league, but they’ve been hit by injuries as hard as anyone early in the season.

Already without top linebacker Deion Jones and top safety Keanu Neal, the Falcons’ defense will now be without their other starting safety Ricardo Allen for the season after he tore his achilles last week. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the league this year (42.23% first down rate allowed, 29th in the NFL) and they’re unlikely to get significantly better any time soon without a major addition. On offense, left guard Andy Levitre is out for the year, while lead back Devonta Freeman will miss at least another week with a knee injury.

The Bengals have players missing too, including suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict, injured running back Joe Mixon, and injured center Billy Price, but they enter the game with the 4th best first down rate differential in the NFL. They lost their first game without Mixon and Price last week in Carolina, but their offense wasn’t really the problem, as they topped a 40% first down rate for the 3rd week in a row, joining the Rams and the Chiefs as the only teams to do that. In fact, they won the first down battle 25 to 23 last week, losing by 10 primarily because of a -4 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Bengals aren’t more likely to lose the turnover battle this week as a result of losing it last week.

Burfict will be a big re-addition to an already solid defense next week and Price and Mixon were big parts of their offense before going down, but even without them they still have an improved offensive line and significantly improved skill position talent compared to last season. The Bengals are also in a better spot. While the Falcons have to turn around and go to Pittsburgh next week, where they will be underdogs, the Bengals will be favorites at home for Miami. Underdogs are 120-72 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. This isn’t a huge play, but the Bengals should be the right side.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Cincinnati Bengals 30

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-2)

The 49ers were dealt a crippling blow late in their loss last week in Kansas City, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL trying to extend a play in the 4th quarter. Already 2.5 games back in the division at 1-2 in a loaded NFC, with a mediocre roster around the quarterback, the 49ers now will have to turn to 2017 3rd round pick CJ Beathard, who was a backup caliber quarterback as a rookie. It’s possible he has a leap in his level of play in his 2nd year in the league, but he’s obviously a major downgrade from Garoppolo and he won’t get a ton of help from the rest of the roster.

Garoppolo is not the only injury the 49ers have suffered so far this season, thinning an already thin roster. Planned feature back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on the final play of training camp. Top cornerback Richard Sherman got hurt last week too and will miss a few games with a leg injury. Safety Jaquiski Tartt will likely miss his 2nd straight game with a shoulder injury. Running back Matt Breida and safety Adrian Colbert are expected to be gametime decisions. This is arguably the worst team in the NFL right now.

The Chargers are a significantly better team and they’re in a good spot with a home game against the winless Raiders on deck. Favorites of 6 or more are 78-48 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6 or more again. I’m not betting them for a couple reasons though. For one, they have almost no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, as a result of how few fans they have. I would expect the crowd to be mostly 49er fans, even with Garoppolo injured.

On top of that, the Chargers have a major injury of their own with top edge rusher Joey Bosa out for the 4th straight week. Without him, the Chargers’ defense hasn’t been nearly the same. The Chargers should be able to win by double digits, but if the 49ers are down 16 or 17 points late I don’t trust the Chargers’ defense not to give up a backdoor touchdown. The Chargers should be the right side, but we’re not getting enough line value with them as 10.5 point favorites for them to be worth a bet.

Los Angeles Chargers 33 San Francisco 49ers 19

Pick against the spread: Los Angeles -10.5

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

New York Jets (1-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1)

The Jets seemed to many to have a breakout week 1 performance on national television, beating the Lions by the final score of 48-17 on Monday Night Football. That win was not as impressive as the final score suggested though.  The Jets finished with just the 7th best first down rate differential at +5.94% that week and didn’t have a touchdown drive of more than 6 plays all game, benefitting from short fields off turnovers (5 takeaways), big plays on offense (2 touchdowns of 40+ yards), and return touchdowns (2 return touchdowns), all of which tend to be fluky and inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Since then, they’ve lost to the Dolphins and Browns, knocking their expectations back down to earth. They have upside, but on paper they have a bottom-5 roster and they could easily continue playing like it.

The Jaguars beat up on teams like the Jets all last season, playing arguably the easiest schedule in the NFL and winning 8 games by 12 points or more. They’re not in a good spot though, as they could easily overlook the Jets with the Chiefs on deck. The Jets, meanwhile, should be focused with only a home game against the Broncos on deck. Favorites are 72-120 ATS before being underdogs (which the Jaguars will be in Kansas City) when their opponent will next be favorites (which the Jets will be at home). I’m taking the Jaguars and expecting a blowout, especially with the Jaguars coming off of a disappointing home loss to a banged up Tennessee team, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. We’re not getting enough line value at 7.5.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -7.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (1-2) at Green Bay Packers (1-1-1)

The Bills pulled off the shocking upset in Minnesota last week, winning 27-6 and becoming the first team since 1995 to win as 16.5+ point underdogs. Despite that win, they are still -14.63% on the season in first down rate differential. Not only did they get blown out by the Ravens and Chargers in the first two weeks of the season, but they also lost the first down battle last week, picking up just 16 first downs to 21 by the Vikings.

They won last week in large part as a result of their +3 turnover margin, forcing fumbles in Minnesota territory on the Vikings’ first two drives and putting them down 17-0 early as a result, but turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, teams with a +3 turnover margin, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week.  Given their lack of talent, the Bills will probably need to win the turnover battle to be competitive again this week, but the fact that they won the turnover battle last week makes them no more likely to win it this week.

As a result of the Bills win, this line shrunk from 14.5 on the early line last week all the way down to 9.5, which is a major overreaction. The Packers did lose last week in Washington, but the Redskins are an underrated team who I picked to win, so I don’t hold that against them too much. The Packers could easily return home and blowout a Bills team that is still one of the least talented in the league, much like they were blown out in their first two weeks. We’re getting too much line value with the Packers to not bet on them. Teams also have a poor track record historically after big upset wins, going 51-74 ATS since 1989 after a win as 10+ point underdogs.

Green Bay Packers 31 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -9.5

Confidence: High

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (0-3)

The Cardinals threw 10th overall pick quarterback Josh Rosen into action late in the 4th quarter down by 2 against the Bears last week, pulling ineffective veteran Sam Bradford and hoping the rookie would spark them to victory. He did not, but that’s not exactly an easy situation for a rookie to be making his debut in, so it’s tough to take much away from his brief performance. He’ll get a full week with the first team this week in preparation for his first career start.

Rosen still is not in an ideal situation for a rookie quarterback, as he will have one of the worst rosters in the NFL around him. He will be at home for his first career start though and he’s facing a Seattle team that is a shell of what it was a few seasons ago. With wide receiver Doug Baldwin and center Justin Britt returning from injury, they are getting healthier, but their defense remains without talented every down linebacker KJ Wright and their offense will likely continue to struggle as long as new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer bizarrely continues to force Russell Wilson into being a pocket passer only (7 carries for 21 yards on the season). They rank 29th in first down rate differential at -5.13% and have been one of the least impressive teams in the league through 3 weeks.

The Seahawks are also in a terrible spot with a home game against the Rams on deck, a game in which the Seahawks are projected to be 7 point home underdogs. Teams understandably tend to struggle before big home games, going 39-82 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs of 6 or more. Road favorites like the Seahawks are this week are also just 20-39 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs. The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league, so we aren’t getting much line value with them as 3.5 point home underdogs, but the Seahawks could easily have one eye on next week’s game and allow the Cardinals to hang around and maybe even pull off the upset.

Seattle Seahawks 17 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-1)

Both of these teams are getting healthier. The Eagles got Carson Wentz back from an ACL tear last week, while his #1 receiver Alshon Jeffery looks likely to make his season debut this week, after off-season shoulder surgery. The Eagles are also getting Jay Ajayi back from a game and a half absence with a back injury, though their defense remains without Timmy Jernigan (out for the first 6 weeks on the PUP) and is now without safety Rodney McLeod with a knee injury, although replacement Corey Graham is experienced and has played well in limited action this season.

The Titans, meanwhile, got left tackle Taylor Lewan back last week from a one game absence with a concussion and his bookend right tackle Jack Conklin will make his season debut this week, after missing the first 3 games of the season recovering from an ACL tear. Lewan and Conklin have been arguably the best offensive tackle duo in the NFL when healthy. Marcus Mariota will also make his first start since week 1, though he did play last week after Blaine Gabbert got concussed.

Mariota might not be 100% with his elbow injury and he has never proven he can play well while hurt, but he should be improved over last week after a full week of practice and even at less than 100% he’s an improvement over Gabbert, especially with his full offensive line in front of him. The Titans’ defense has been strong so far this season, allowing the 6th lowest first down rate at 31.25%. If their offense can take a step forward now that they’re healthier (currently 30th in first down rate at 28.42%), the Titans could easily be a solid team going forward.

As 3.5 point home underdogs, I think we’re getting some line value with the Titans, who are also in a great spot with only a trip to Buffalo on deck. Home underdogs tend to cover before easy road games, going 36-18 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites. The Titans should be completely focused this week, while the Eagles may have one eye on an NFC Championship rematch with the Vikings next week. This isn’t a big play, but the Titans should be able to keep this one close at home.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Tennessee Titans 23

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium