Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
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Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
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