Pick of the Week
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Pick of the Week
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Detroit Lions (3-4-1) at Chicago Bears (3-5)
This line is currently off the board because of the uncertainty of Matt Stafford’s status, as Stafford is expected to be truly a gametime decision, playing through hip and back injuries that some have advised him to sit out and rest so he doesn’t make them worse. Stafford, whose 136 consecutive starts streak is the 2nd longest active in the NFL, is as tough as they come and will play if he can, but that is far from a certainty and even if he does play he could be limited and subject to in-game setbacks. Stafford would be replaced by ex-Bengals backup Jeff Driskel, who showed little in 5 starts in place of an injured Andy Dalton last season, and he would undoubtedly be a significant downgrade for this offense. With a banged up Stafford in the lineup, I have this line calculated at Chicago -1. Without him, I have the Bears favored by 5.5.
Regardless of Stafford’s status and the eventual line, I don’t envision myself making anything other than a no confidence pick on this game. Before news broke that Stafford was legitimately questionable, this line was Chicago -2.5, so weren’t getting significant line value either way with my calculated line being Chicago -1. The Lions have other injuries, missing defensive linemen Da’Shawn Hand and Romeo Okwara, safety Tracy Walker, and possibly defensive tackle Mike Daniels and left guard Joe Dahl, but if Stafford can suit up, even at less than 100%, they should be the slightly better of these two teams. The Bears have been every bit as bad as their 3-5 record would suggest, ranking 24th in first down rate differential at -3.01%, a year after they went 12-4 across a much easier schedule with a defense that was playing much better before losing a pair of starters and their coordinator this off-season. Without a line, I can’t make a pick on this game, but I will undoubtedly have an update on this game when inactives are released.
Update: Of course, right when I hit submit on this article, Stafford was ruled out. I will have an update when we have a new line. I expect the new line to be somewhere around my calculated line of 5.5, so this will almost definitely remain a no confidence pick regardless of who I end up choosing.
Final Update: This line has been re-posted at Chicago -6.5. We’re getting a tiny bit of line value with the Lions, as the Bears may still be a little bit overrated because of what they did a year ago, but I have no desire to risk anything on the Lions with Driskel under center. Not only is Driskel an underwhelming backup, but he also didn’t spend the off-season with the Lions (he actually spent some time at receiver in camp with the Bengals) and likely barely got any first team reps this week with Stafford presumed playing for most of the week. On the road against a tough defense, I expect a pretty rough game from him. Of course, even at home against an easier defense with an offense he is familiar with, I still don’t expect much out of Mitch Trubisky, so the Lions are the pick for pick ’em purposes in what should almost definitely be a low scoring game.
Chicago Bears 19 Detroit Lions 13
Pick against the spread: Detroit +6.5
Atlanta Falcons (1-7) at New Orleans Saints (7-1)
This was one of the tougher games of the week to decide. On one hand, the Saints are arguably the top team in the league. They’ve gone 7-1, despite Drew Brees only playing about nine quarters all season. Their defense ranks 5th in first down rate differential at 33.05% and has been even better over the past 5 games at 27.90%, since the return of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins from injury. They’re at home this week for a 1-win Falcons team and could easily get a multi-touchdown blowout win and cover this 13.5-point line.
On the other hand, the Falcons have statistically been better this season than their record, especially in garbage time, which really matters for a line this big. They rank 18th in first down rate differential at -0.29%, struggling to win games primarily because of a -11 turnover margin that is the second worst in the NFL. Their defense ranks dead last in the NFL at 41.70%, but their offense ranks 2nd in first down rate at 41.41%, even moving the ball effectively with Matt Schaub under center in their last game (45.07% first down rate). Now with Matt Ryan back healthy, they could keep this game close, even against a top level opponent. My calculated line is New Orleans -13, so we’re getting a tiny bit of line value with the Falcons, but that’s it.
New Orleans Saints 33 Atlanta Falcons 20
Pick against the spread: Atlanta +13.5
Seattle Seahawks (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (8-0)
The 49ers are the NFL’s lone undefeated team and have been every bit as impressive as that suggests. Their average margin of victory has been 16.63 points per game, with just two wins by one score or fewer. They haven’t overly benefitted from the turnover margin (+4), which tends to be inconsistent, and they’ve actually missed the 2nd most field goals in the league with seven. They lead the league with a +10.36% first down differential, with a pretty decent lead over the second place Patriots (+8.95%).
The 49ers have done this despite missing some key players: left tackle Joe Staley, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, and cornerback Athello Witherspoon. All three of those players are above average starters and could return to action this week, after absences of 6 games, 4 games, and 5 games respectively, but their backups have played so well in their absence that those players might not be that much of a boost. At the same time, the 49ers lost linebacker Kwon Alexander for the season with a torn pectoral last week and will also be without tight end George Kittle in this game with a leg injury. Both of those players are much more irreplaceable than the players who might be returning.
The timing of those two players going down is bad too, as the 49ers have a big matchup this week against the Seahawks, who are 7-2 and still within striking distance for the division title. The Seahawks haven’t played as well as their record would suggest they’ve played though, with six of their 7 losses coming by one score or fewer. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 12th at +1.71%. Still, with the 49ers missing Kittle and Alexander, we’re not really getting any line value with them as 6-point home favorites. I have this line calculated at San Francisco -6.5, so the 49ers are the pick I would make if I had to, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.
San Francisco 49ers 31 Seattle Seahawks 24
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -6
Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)
The Buccaneers are 2-6, but they’ve been competitive in most of their games, despite facing the 5th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA (6 of 8 opponents are 5-3 or better). Only two of their six losses have come by more than one score and the Buccaneers actually won the first down rate in both of those losses. Against the 49ers week 1, the Buccaneers won the first down rate battle by 3.85% but lost the game 31-17, primarily because they lost the turnover battle by two. Against the Panthers week 6, they won the first down rate battle by 1.33% but lost the game 37-26, primarily because they lost the turnover battle by 6. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and the Buccaneers rank 19th in first down rate differential on the season at -1.05%, despite that tough schedule.
The Cardinals have one more win than the Buccaneers, but they haven’t played nearly as well. Their 3 wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 3-22, while 3 of their losses have come by 17 points or more. They have a significantly worse point differential than the Buccaneers (-56 vs. -22), despite a significantly better turnover margin (+3 vs. -5), and they rank just 29th in first down rate differential at -6.12%, despite an easier schedule.
I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with the Buccaneers at -4, although not enough to take them confidently. The Cardinals aren’t in a good spot, between a close loss to the 49ers and a rematch next week, but the Buccaneers aren’t either, between a close loss to the Seahawks and a home game against the division leading Saints. Both teams could be flat this week, so while Tampa Bay should be the right side, this is just a low confidence pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34 Arizona Cardinals 27
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -4
Los Angeles Rams (5-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)
The Steelers are 4-4, despite losing franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season week 2. Even in their losses, they have been competitive, losing 3 of the 4 games by a combined 9 points, despite all 4 losses coming against teams that are 6-2 or better. However, they’ve been very dependant on the turnover margin, coming into the week with a +11 margin that is second in the NFL behind the Patriots, which is in large part due to a 65.52% fumble recovery rate that ranks 3rd in the NFL.
Both turnover margin and fumble recovery rate tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Steelers won’t necessarily be able to count on that going forward. In terms of first down rate differential, the Steelers rank 22nd at -2.71%, which lines up with where they are in my roster rankings (20th), as not only are they missing Roethlisberger, but also dominant defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who is also out for the season. Also out this week are running back James Conner, left guard Ramon Foster, and possibly top wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The Rams are a little overrated as well, as some of their wins could have gone the other way and they are not as good offensively as they have been in recent years because they don’t have the same offensive line. They rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.68% and 10th in my roster rankings, so we’re not getting any real line value with them as 4-point road favorites in Pittsburgh. They are in a great spot though, coming out of a bye, as teams are 40-11 ATS since 2002 as favorites of 3.5+ after a bye. There’s not enough here for the Rams to be worth a bet, but they should be the right side.
Los Angeles Rams 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -4
Minnesota Vikings (6-3) at Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
The Cowboys have a solid 5-3 record, but I think they’re even better than that suggests. While their 3 losses have come by a combined 14 points, their 5 wins have come by a combined 99 points, giving them a point differential of +85 that ranks 3rd in the NFL and they’ve done that despite minimal benefit from turnover margins (+1 on the season), which tend to be inconsistent week-to-week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 3rd at 7.58% and they actually won the first down rate in two of their three losses and in seven of eight games overall.
The 6-3 Vikings have played well this season and have faced a slightly tougher schedule than the Cowboys, but the Cowboys still have a significant edge in first down rate differential, with the Vikings coming into this game in 6th at +4.41%, and the Cowboys have an edge in my roster rankings as well, especially with the Vikings missing key defensive tackle Linval Joseph. I have this line calculated at Dallas -5, so we’re getting some line value here with Dallas only favored by a field goal at home.
There is also the matter of Kirk Cousins’ well documented issues in primetime games. Not only are his teams 6-13 straight up in night games, but they haven’t performed well against the spread either at 5-13-1 ATS, including 1-7-1 ATS on the road. The Vikings are more than just Kirk Cousins and have a strong roster around the quarterback, but in a tough matchup like this they will need Cousins to play well it’s entirely possible he just doesn’t play as well in later games. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because the Vikings are still a tough opponent, but the Cowboys should be able to win by a field goal or more at home.
Dallas Cowboys 26 Minnesota Vikings 20
Pick against the spread: Dallas -3
Buffalo Bills (6-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-6)
These two teams have mirror image records, with the Bills at 6-2 and the Browns at 2-6, but it’s fair to wonder if they’d have a similar record if they played the same schedule. While the Browns have faced the 4th toughest schedule in terms of opponents DVOA, the Bills have faced the second easiest. The combined record of the 6 teams the Bills have defeated (by an average of 8.5 points per game) is 9-42 and they’ve lost both games they’ve played against teams with a winning record. The Browns, despite having 4 fewer wins than the Bills, are the only team in this matchup that has defeated a winning team, beating the now 6-2 Ravens 40-25 in Baltimore back in week 4. The Browns’ 6 losses have come against teams that are a combined 34-17.
Unfortunately, we still aren’t getting any line value with the Browns, who are favored by 2.5 points here at home over the Bills. I still have the Bills slightly higher in my roster rankings right now, especially with the Browns missing talented defensive end Olivier Vernon. The Browns are also on a tight turnaround with another game against the Steelers on deck 4 days after this game (favorites cover at a 45% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football), and though I do expect them to be focused, having lost 4 straight, the Bills are in a great spot, with only a trip to Miami on deck (underdogs are 57-36 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites of 4.5+). I have this line calculated at even and, while there’s not enough here to bet the Bills confidently at +2.5, I do like the money line at +120 in a game that should be a toss up. If this line moves up to 3, I might consider a bet on the Bills against the spread as well.
Update: +3s are showing up Sunday morning. If you can get that line, the Bills are worth a bet.
Buffalo Bills 20 Cleveland Browns 19 Upset Pick +120
Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3
New York Giants (2-7) at New York Jets (1-7)
Earlier in the week, I thought I would be making a big play on the Giants this week, as they opened as mere 1-point favorites in what is effectively a neutral site game against their stadium co-tenants the New York Jets. That has changed for two reasons. For one, both the public and the sharps jumped on the Giants at -1, causing the odds makers to push this all the way up to -3 throughout the week. The Giants were +1.5 on the early line last week, so all in all this line has moved pretty significantly and we’ve lost a lot of line value.
At the same time, the Giants’ injury situation has taken a turn for the worse. Last week, it looked like the Giants would be the healthiest they’ve been all season, but Sterling Shepard had a setback and went back in the concussion protocol indefinitely before last week’s game against the Cowboys and the Giants have since lost a pair of starters on the offensive line (right tackle Mike Remmers and center Jon Halapio) and talented tight end Evan Engram as well.
Fortunately, the Giants get a very easy matchup this week, as the Jets rank 2nd worst in first down rate differential at -9.06% and just lost to the team that is worst (-9.38%), the Miami Dolphins. Part of that is because Sam Darnold missed three games, during which the Jets managed a pathetic 18.01% first down rate, but they’ve had a -6.02% first down rate differential even in the 5 games Darnold has started, which would be 29th in the NFL over the full season. Darnold isn’t the problem on this team, but he has hardly been the solution in his second season in the league. Most of the off-season additions the Jets have made in the past two off-seasons to build around Darnold are either hurt or have not been as effective as the Jets expected.
Even with the Giants banged up, I still have them about 4 points better than the Jets. The Giants haven’t been good this season, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, ranking 20th in first down rate differential at -1.94%, but getting killed by turnovers, with a -10 turnover margin that is 3rd worst in the NFL. Turnovers tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis though and I like the Giants chances of at worst playing turnover neutral football this week against one of the worst teams in the league. We’re not getting enough line value with the Giants to bet them confidently, but they should still be the right side.
New York Giants 24 New York Jets 20
Pick against the spread: NY Giants -3
Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-5)
When Pat Mahomes went down in severe pain during the Chiefs’ Thursday Night Football game against the Broncos a few weeks ago, it looked like the Chiefs’ season might be over. Instead, Mahomes only missed about two and a half games, the Chiefs only lost once in his absence, and now Mahomes returns to a team that is 6-3 and still very much in the mix for a first round bye in the AFC.
The Chiefs may have treaded water without Mahomes, but his return is undoubtedly a major boost for this team. In 32 drives in place of Mahomes, backup Matt Moore led this offense to 44 first downs and 6 offensive touchdowns on 154 plays, a 32.47% first down rate. That’s down significantly from the 44.96% first down rate the Chiefs have had in the 22 games Mahomes has started and finished over the past two seasons.
The reason the Chiefs were able to stay afloat without Mahomes is that their defense stepped up, allowing a 31.44% first down rate over the past 3 games, after allowing a 41.85% first down rate in the 22 games Mahomes started and finished over the past couple seasons. Has this defense finally turned a corner? It’s possible, but there were no major changes on this defense, so I’m skeptical they are for real based off of just three games. More likely, the Chiefs’ defense was just playing extra hard for a short stretch while their quarterback was out. Now with Mahomes back, they may not be able to maintain that level of effort. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this whole team relax a little bit with their MVP franchise quarterback back.
If that happens, the Titans could easily catch this Chiefs’ team off guard at home in Nashville. The Titans led the league with nine games against eventual playoff opponents in 2018 and won four of them, including multi-touchdown wins over the Cowboys and Patriots. Despite the tough schedule, the Titans finished last season at 9-7, falling just short of qualifying for the post-season. This season, they have started 4-5, but they’ve been better than their record suggests.
They have a positive point differential at +5 and, while they have benefitted from the turnover margin (+5, 6th in the NFL), which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, they have also missed a league leading 8 field goals, which is effectively 8 turnovers, as not only do you lose out on the 3 points, but the opposing team gets the ball at the spot of the miss. The Titans first down rate differential (13th, +1.47% in the NFL) is very similar to last season’s (14th, +1.35% in the NFL), but they’ve fallen to a 46.7% field goal percentage from 86.7%.
Normal kicker Ryan Succop returned last week from injury and, while he went 0-3 in his season debut, he was an 86.6% field goal kicker for the Titans over the previous 5 seasons and may have just needed a game to shake off the rust. His poor performance was a big part of the reason why the Titans couldn’t pull the upset in Carolina in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 3.95% but lost by 10.
Even though the Titans have a good chance to catch the Chiefs off guard and possibly pull the upset, they’re still 6-point home underdogs. I have the Chiefs at -1, so we’re getting significant line value with the host. The odds makers (and the public) seem to forget that the Chiefs lost at home to the Colts and Texans and nearly lost in Detroit even with Mahomes under center. Unless the Chiefs’ defense can keep up their recent intensity, this should be a close game. The Titans are my Pick of the Week.
Tennessee Titans 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23 Upset Pick +225
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6
Confidence: Pick of the Week