Pick of the Week
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ATL +175 @ CAR
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
ATL +175 @ CAR
New York Jets (2-7) at Washington Redskins (1-8)
These two teams are very similar. Both have had awful seasons, as the Jets rank 31st in first down rate differential at -7.54% and the Redskins rank 30th at -7.07%, but both have been slightly better when a key player has been in the lineup. The Jets have a 31.14% first down rate and a -4.36% first down rate differential in the 6 games quarterback Sam Darnold has started, while the Redskins have a 31.81% first down rate and a -4.18% first down rate differential in the 7 games guard Brandon Scherff has started. Darnold has struggled in his second season in the league, but he’s been a massive upgrade over backup quarterback Luke Falk, while Scherff is one of the top interior offensive linemen in the league and his impact has been very noticeable for a team that wants to run the football up the middle.
In my roster rankings, I have these two teams with identical scores, tied for 3rd worst in the NFL ahead of the Bengals and Dolphins. This line, favoring the hometown Redskins by 2 points, suggests the Jets are slightly better, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Redskins, but not nearly enough to bet them confidently. The Redskins should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, if only because the single most likely outcome in any football game is the home team winning by a field goal.
Washington Redskins 19 New York Jets 16
Pick against the spread: Washington -2
Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1) at San Francisco 49ers (8-1)
The 49ers got off to a dominant 7-0 start to the season, winning their first 7 games by a 18.57 points per game, despite only a +4 turnover margin, and leading the league with an incredible +12.75% first down rate differential. However, then they went into Arizona for Thursday Night Football week 9. The 49ers won the game to improve to 8-0, but they won by just 3 points against a Cardinals team that has consistently ranked in the bottom-5 in first down rate differential this season and the 49ers actually lost the first down rate differential in the game by 7.77%. On top of that, they suffered a pair of serious injuries, with top linebacker Kwon Alexander going down for the season and tight end George Kittle out indefinitely.
Without Kittle and Alexander, the 49ers suffered their first loss of the season at home to the Seahawks last week and they suffered additional injury losses in that game. Valuable rotational defensive end Ronald Blair is out for the season, left tackle Joe Staley is out indefinitely, after just returning from a 6-game absence last week, and top wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is highly questionable after not practicing all week. The 49ers also got right tackle Mike McGlinchey back last week and could get cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon back this week, but their backups have played well in their absence, so neither is a significant re-addition.
The 49ers now face the Cardinals again, but, despite what happened last time and all of the injuries the 49ers are dealing with, the Cardinals should still be a relatively easy matchup for the 49ers in San Francisco this week, especially since the 49ers will have a full week to prepare this time. The Cardinals rank 26th in point differential at -59, despite a positive turnover margin at +4, and rank 28th in first down rate differential at -5.64%. The 49ers, despite their loss last week, still rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.94%. Their injuries have dropped them to 8th in my roster rankings, but I still have this line calculated at San Francisco -12.5, so we’re getting line value at -10. I can’t take the 49ers with any confidence because this is a tough spot for them in between a tough overtime loss and another big game on deck against the Packers, but the 49ers should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
San Francisco 49ers 31 Arizona Cardinals 20
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -10
Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) in Mexico City
The Chargers have gotten off to a disappointing 4-6 start, a year after going 12-4. They’ve been better than their record suggests though. While their six losses have come by just a combined 29 points, with none coming by more than 7, their four wins have come by a combined 42 points, giving them a point differential of +13 that ranks 13th in the NFL. They’ve done that despite a league worst fumble recovery rate at 30.43% and a -6 turnover margin that is tied for 5th worst in the NFL. Both of those stats are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL in terms of first down rate differential at +3.09%. Given how close all their losses have been, they could easily be 6-4 or so right now if they had an even turnover margin.
That’s despite the fact that the Chargers have been shorthanded for most of the season. Key contributors like tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games), left tackle Russell Okung (7 games), center Mike Pouncey (5 games), safety Derwin James (10 games), and running back Melvin Gordon (4 games) have all missed time for various reasons. The Chargers still aren’t 100%, with Pouncey, James, and possibly left tackle Russell Okung, who didn’t practice all week, still sidelined, but relatively speaking they’re not in a bad injury situation right now. They enter this game ranked 12th in my roster rankings and would fall to about 15th without Okung.
The Chiefs have had injury problems as well, most notably quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who missed about two and a half games with a knee injury. The Chiefs were able to tread water without Mahomes because their defense played at a high level in his absence, with 31.44% first down rate allowed in the 3 games in which he missed time, a massive improvement from the 41.85% first down rate they had allowed in the previous 22 games with Mahomes over the past two seasons.
When Mahomes returned last week, the question became whether or not the defense had legitimately turned a corner or if they were just playing extra hard without Mahomes. A 46.94% first down rate allowed in Mahomes’ return against the Titans suggests it was much more the latter than the former, but the good news is Mahomes didn’t look limited in leading the Chiefs to a 39.47% first down rate last week and they get their whole offensive line back healthy this week for the first time since week 2.
The Chiefs still have injury concerns on defense, however, especially at defensive end, where Alex Okafor and Emmnauel Ogbah are out and Frank Clark is playing at far less than 100%. Meanwhile, cornerback Kendall Fuller is questionable to return from a 4-game absence. I have the Chiefs as just a couple points better in my roster rankings, so we’re getting line value here with the Chargers as 4-point underdogs on a neutral field in Mexico City. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re getting good protection if the Chargers can’t pull the upset, and I like the Chargers’ chances of at least making this another close game, having not been blown out all season. I’ll elevate this to a high confidence pick if Okung ends up suiting up for the Chargers.
Final Update: Okung is out for the Chargers, but this line has moved all the way up to 6 to compensate. Even without Okung, the Chargers are not 6 points worse than the Chiefs on a neutral field right now, as the Chiefs have serious concerns on defense, especially with top edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah now out for the season. They’ll also be without top cornerback Kendall Fuller for the 5th straight week. The Chargers, who haven’t been beaten by more than a touchdown all season, should keep this game close and are only about 2.5 points worse than the Chiefs in my roster rankings. I like them a lot at +6.
Kansas City Chiefs 33 Los Angeles Chargers 31
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +6
New Orleans Saints (7-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)
The Saints suffered a shocking home loss to the Falcons as 13.5-point home favorites last week, not just losing but losing by the final score of 26-9 in a game in which they lost the first down rate battle by 8.57%. The peripheral numbers always suggested the Falcons weren’t as bad as their record, as they entered last week 18th in first down rate differential at -0.29%, despite being just 1-7, but the idea that they could somewhat easily upset the Saints, previously seen as one of the top teams in the league, was beyond anything even the biggest Falcons’ defender could have imagined.
Even with that loss included, the Saints still look like one of the top teams in the league. They rank “just” 11th in first down rate differential at +2.07%, but that’s because Drew Brees has only played a little bit more than 3 of their 9 games. Their offense has moved the chains at a 38.28% rate with Brees under center (most equivalent to the 9th ranked Packers), as opposed to 34.15% with backup Teddy Bridgewater under center (most equivalent to the 23rd ranked Cardinals), while their defense has been among the best in the league on the season, ranking 6th in first down rate allowed at 33.58%. Their offense has even more room for improvement too, as they had a 43.48% first down rate in Drew Brees’ 15 starts last season. They rank second in my roster rankings and, with all Super Bowl contenders having at least one bad loss, they still look very much in Super Bowl contention.
Teams tend to bounce back off of huge upset losses anyway, going 30-18 ATS over the past 30 years after losing as favorites or 13 or more. The Saints have typically bounced back off of a loss with Drew Brees under center as well, going 47-31 ATS after a loss with Brees since he arrived in 2006. I wish we were getting more line value as a result as the Saints’ loss and the absence of Saints top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, as this line didn’t move at all from last week to this week, but I have this line calculated at New Orleans -8 and I would be surprised if the Saints had back-to-back bad games, so they’re worth a bet as long as this line remains below 6.
New Orleans Saints 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5
Buffalo Bills (6-3) at Miami Dolphins (2-7)
The Dolphins have won back-to-back games after getting off to a horrendous 0-7 start, but they still rank dead last in the NFL in first down rate differential at -8.98%. Even in last week’s win in Indianapolis, they lost the first down rate battle by 6.40%, winning by 4 in a game in which Colts backup quarterback Brian Hoyer threw three interceptions. The Dolphins are undeniably a better team with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but they still rank dead last overall in my roster rankings. Five of their seven losses have come by double digits this season and getting blown out is a trend that actually dates back a few seasons for them, as they have 20 double digit losses since the start of the 2017 season.
This could easily be another big loss for the Dolphins, with the Bills coming to town. The Bills rank 7th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +3.90% and, while they’ve faced an easy schedule (31st in opponent’s DVOA) their schedule doesn’t get any harder this week. My roster rankings have the Bills 17th, but that still makes them 9-point favorites on my calculated line, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills at -6.5. I’ll need to know the status of Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes before committing to betting on the Bills because he’s their top defensive lineman and didn’t practice on Friday, but the Bills should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.
Buffalo Bills 26 Miami Dolphins 17
Pick against the spread: Buffalo -6.5
Chicago Bears (4-5) at Los Angeles Rams (5-4)
A year ago, this was a marquee matchup in the NFC, with both teams going on to win 12+ games. This season, however, both teams are having disappointing seasons. The Bears actually led the NFL in first down rate differential in 2018 at +6.64%, but they faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and this season, against a much tougher schedule, they’re without several key contributors on defense, including free agent losses Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos, departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and in season injuries Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, the latter of whom just went down last week. As a result of that and some regression on offense in the second year of the Matt Nagy/Mitch Trubisky era, the Bears have fallen all the way down to 21st in first down rate differential at -2.42% and already have more losses at 4-5 than they did all last season when they went 12-4.
The Rams have also exceeded their loss total from last season, starting 5-4 after going 13-3 a year ago. By far the biggest reason why is their offensive line. After starting the same five offensive linemen in every game in 2018, the Rams lost a pair of starters this off-season (left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan) and have since lost their replacements (Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen) to injury, as well as right tackle Rob Havenstein. Allen and Havenstein just went down last week, but both were struggling even before going down. Their only two remaining offensive linemen from 2018 are left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Blythe, both of whom are having down years compared to a year ago. Their offensive line issues have hurt their offense as a whole, dropping them from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th at 35.63% in 2019. In terms of first down rate differential, they’ve fallen from 3rd at +5.00% to 9th to +2.30%, despite an improved defense.
The Rams are the better team and I have this line calculated at Rams -7, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 6-point favorites, but that’s barely any line value and the Bears are also in a much better spot. While the Rams have a tough matchup against the Ravens on deck, the Bears get one of the easiest games of their season, hosting the Giants in Chicago. Underdogs of 6+ are 49-37 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ and the Bears are currently favored by 7 points on the early line next week. There’s not enough to take either side confidently, but the Bears should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Los Angeles Rams 22 Chicago Bears 17
Pick against the spread: Chicago +6