Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
CIN +155 vs. NYJ
MIN +140 @ SEA
TEN +105 @ IND
PIT +120 vs. CLE
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
CIN +155 vs. NYJ
MIN +140 @ SEA
TEN +105 @ IND
PIT +120 vs. CLE
Washington Redskins (2-9) at Carolina Panthers (5-6)
This was one of the toughest games of the week to decide. On one hand, the Panthers have struggled in recent weeks with Kyle Allen falling back to earth after surprisingly playing well in his first few starts of the season and, as a result, they probably shouldn’t be favored by double digits against anyone, even the Redskins. Dating back to week 7, the Panthers have a first down rate differential of -7.81%, 29th in the NFL over that time period. I still have them calculated as 7.5-point home favorites this week against one of the worst few teams in the league, but we’re getting line value with the visitors.
On the other hand, the Redskins are in a tough spot as big underdogs before being big underdogs again. It’s tough for an inferior team to keep it close against a superior team with another tough game on deck, as teams are 29-59 ATS since 2002 as underdogs of 10 or more before being underdogs of 10 or more again. The Redskins are currently 14.5-point underdogs on the early line for next week’s matchup in Green Bay with the Packers and, in a lost season, might not bring their best effort for this game with a tougher game on deck. I’m taking the Redskins for pick ‘em purposes, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week and a push is a strong possibility.
Carolina Panthers 20 Washington Redskins 10
Pick against the spread: Washington +10
New England Patriots (10-1) at Houston Texans (7-4)
Much was made early in the season about the Patriots’ weak schedule, but their schedule has definitely gotten tougher in recent weeks and their overall opponent’s winning percentage is now a respectable 48%. Despite the tougher schedule, the Patriots still rank very highly in first down rate differential at +6.81%, only behind the 49ers and Ravens, and they only have one loss, a 17-point loss in Baltimore that looks less embarrassing every time the Ravens take the field. The Patriots’ offense is a work in progress, but their defense is legitimately dominant and they’re clearly one of the top few teams in the league overall.
The Patriots face another opponent with a winning record this week, but the Texans are not the same team without JJ Watt on the field and he’s out for the season with a torn pectoral. Without Watt, I have the Texans just 14th in my roster rankings. I have the Patriots calculated as 5.5 point favorites, so we’re getting line value with them at just 3.5. I would need this line to fall to an even field goal before gametime for the Patriots to be worth a bet, but it seems to be trending in that direction, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up updating this writeup before gametime.
New England Patriots 23 Houston Texans 17
Pick against the spread: New England -3.5
Oakland Raiders (6-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
The Raiders are 6-5 and are very much in the mix for a playoff spot, but all of the Raiders’ wins have come by 8 points or fewer, while most of their losses have been blowouts, with the exception of a 3-point loss in Houston. As a result, they have a point differential of -56 that ranks 25th in the NFL and a first down rate differential of -5.26% that ranks 27th in the NFL. Last week, they arguably hit their lowest point of the season, getting blown out in New York by the Jets in a 34-3 loss.
That being said, I actually kind of like the Raiders this week because I think they’ll view this as a much bigger game than the Chiefs will. The Chiefs already blew out the Raiders earlier this season and they have a much tougher game on deck in New England, a game in which they will almost definitely be underdogs, so they might not bring their best effort. Favorites of 10 or more are just 65-86 ATS before being underdogs since 2002. Meanwhile, the Raiders are coming off of an embarrassing loss (probably in part because they were looking forward to this matchup) and now have an opportunity to not only gain a game in the standings on the division leader, but also to make a statement to the rest of the league with a signature win.
I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because of the Raiders’ tendency to get blown out, but 11 points gives us a good cushion and the Chiefs actually have just two wins by more than 5 points at home in the past calendar year (a 10-game span), primarily due to a very underwhelming defense (27th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 38.01%) that is easy to get garbage time yards against. A likely more focused Raiders team should be able to keep this game close, similar to their game against the Texans earlier this season.
Kansas City Chiefs 34 Oakland Raiders 27
Pick against the spread: Oakland +11
San Francisco 49ers (10-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
The Ravens are on some kind of a run right now, winning 5 straight games by at least 14 points or more, becoming just the 6th team to do so in the past 30 years (1993 49ers, 1999 Rams, 2005 Colts, 2007 Patriots, 2009 Saints). Over that stretch, they lead the NFL in first down rate differential by a mile, with a +13.31% rate that dwarfs the second ranked 49ers +7.22% rate. The Ravens aren’t doing this against a cupcake schedule either, with 4 of their last 5 opponents currently having winning records.
What makes evaluating the Ravens tough is how deciding how much value should be put into some of their underwhelming early season performances. Prior to their current stretch, the Ravens lost games against the Browns and Chiefs that they never had a real chance to win and they won by less than a touchdown against a pair of last place teams in the Cardinals and Bengals. They had just a +2.73% first down rate differential through week 6, despite a relatively easy schedule. Their only win by more than 6 points during that stretch came week 1 against a hapless Dolphins team.
If we include their earlier season performance into the equation, it’s hard to argue that the Ravens should be favored by 6 points over a 49ers team that would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t missed a makeable field goal in overtime against the Seahawks, but it’s very possible a switch flipped for this team after week 6 with Lamar Jackson growing more comfortable in this offense every week. If we more or less ignore how the Ravens played prior to their current 5-game run, then this line is certainly understandable, even with the 49ers leading the NFL with a +9.02% first down rate on the season. I typically don’t like to throw out early season results and only focus on a shorter stretch, especially since doing so in this case would mean throwing out 6 games to focus on 5, so I’m taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no intention of betting on this.
Baltimore Ravens 24 San Francisco 49ers 20
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +6
Minnesota Vikings (8-3) at Seattle Seahawks (9-2)
Prior to last week’s bye week, the Vikings barely escaped as double digit home favorites over a Broncos team that was quarterbacked by third string Brandon Allen. That’s not as concerning as that sounds though. Not only were the Vikings missing key players like wide receiver Adam Thielen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, safety Anthony Harris, and right guard Josh Kline, but the Vikings actually won the first down rate battle in that game by 10.32%, winning the game despite losing the turnover battle and despite allowing 4 conversions on 4th down. The Vikings had one more combined touchdown and first down in that game, even though the Broncos were able to run 17 more snaps, so I’m not worried about the underwhelming final score in that game.
Now the Vikings are healthy coming out of their bye and that comes at a perfect time, as they have a matchup with the 9-2 Seahawks this week. The Seahawks have obviously played well this season, but it’s definitely worth noting how many of their wins have been close, as teams with more blowout victories tend to do better moving forward than teams with more close victories. Of the Seahawks nine victories, just one came by more than a touchdown.
If not for missed makeable field goals by the Rams and 49ers, the Seahawks would be just 7-4 right now and in a battle to even make the post-season. They rank 9th in point differential at +29 and just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.19%. The Vikings are significantly better in both metrics at +84 and +5.08% respectively and, entering this game relatively healthy, they have a noticeable edge in my roster rankings as well. My calculated line for this game is even, so I like the Vikings getting a full field goal.
Minnesota Vikings 24 Seattle Seahawks 23 Upset Pick +140
Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3
Tennessee Titans (6-5) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
The Titans have been significantly better offensively since switching quarterbacks from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill before their week 7 game. Through their first 6 games of the season with Mariota under center, the Titans had a 32.69% first down rate that ranked 26th in the NFL. In 5 games since switching to Tannehill, the Titans have a 42.76% first down rate that is only behind the seemingly unstoppable Ravens over that time period. This offense probably won’t be the second best in the league over the rest of the season, but Tannehill is a capable starting quarterback and they have a good supporting cast around him, so they don’t need great play from him to be a tough opponent.
They’re especially strong on defense, finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and they rank 9th this season at 33.88%, despite key players like Jurrell Casey (2 games), Jeffery Simmons (6 games), and Jayon Brown (2 games) having missed time with injury. All three players have since returned. Relatively healthy overall, the Titans rank 9th in my roster rankings and could easily end up playing their way into a playoff spot in the unsettled and underwhelming AFC.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Titans in the past week, as a result of their blowout victory over the Jaguars last week. Underdogs of 3.5 points a week ago on the early line in this matchup with the Colts in Indianapolis, the Titans are just 1.5-point underdogs this week. I have the Titans as the better team in this matchup, but the Colts are no pushover, entering this game 11th in first down rate differential at +2.03% and 12th in my roster rankings. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the underdog, but not enough for this game to be worth betting.
Tennessee Titans 26 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +105
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1.5
Cleveland Browns (5-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
A week ago, the Steelers were favored in this game by a field goal on the early line. That line made sense, as the Browns were favored by a field goal in the first matchup between these two teams a couple weeks ago in Cleveland. Three points for homefield advantage is standard, so both of those lines suggested these two teams were about even. However, this line has since shifted all the way to Cleveland -2.5 this week, suggesting a significant difference between these two teams.
I don’t really understand that line movement. The Browns blew out the Dolphins last week in Cleveland, but that’s not all that impressive. The Steelers had an underwhelming performance in Cincinnati, but still managed a 6-point win as 6.5 point favorites. It’s possible this line movement has a lot to do with the Steelers benching Mason Rudolph for Devlin Hodges, but that could ultimately prove to be an upgrade. Although he’s seen very limited action, Hodges has a QB rating 17 points higher than Rudolph so far this season. Over the past 6 weeks, the Steelers have a first down rate of just 28.66%, second worst in the NFL over that span, so it would be hard for Hodges to be a significant downgrade. At the same time, the Steelers have the best defense in the league in terms of first down rate allowed at 29.35% over that time span, so they can definitely win games even without great quarterback play.
In the previous matchup between these two teams, the Browns won 21-7 at home, but that’s primarily because they won the turnover margin by 4 (due to 4 Rudolph interceptions) in a game in which the Browns actually lost the first down rate battle by 0.28%. That’s despite the fact that they had defensive end Myles Garrett in that game and he’ll be a very notable absence (for multiple reasons) from this matchup. The Browns could get fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon back from a 3-game absence, but that’s far from a guarantee, after he was limited in practice all week and he’s not the same caliber player as Garrett. The Browns will also be without both of their starting safeties from the previous matchup, with Morgan Burnett out for the season with a torn Achilles and Damarious Randall listed as out for disciplinary reasons.
The Steelers won’t have running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but both of those players barely played in the first matchup and the Steelers still were able to play about even in first down rate on the road. If Hodges can avoid throwing 4 interceptions like Rudolph did, the Steelers have a good chance to win this game at home. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re not getting quite enough line value with the Steelers for them to be worth betting, but if this line moves up to 3 and/or Vernon is ruled out I would reconsider.
Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Cleveland Browns 16 Upset Pick +120
Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +2.5
Los Angeles Rams (6-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1)
This is one of the tougher games of the week to predict against the spread. On one hand, the Rams were embarrassed last week against the Ravens in a 45-6 loss and teams typically bounce back from bad losses. Since 2002, teams are 60-38 ATS after a loss by 35 points or more and favorites, like the Rams are this week, have won 20 of 24 games straight up after a loss by 35 or more over that time period. On the other hand, this could be a look ahead spot for the Rams with a much harder divisional game on deck against the Seahawks. The Rams will almost definitely be home underdogs in that game and road favorites are just 26-55 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs.
We’re also not getting any line value in either direction. The Cardinals’ only 3 wins have come by a combined 10 points against teams that are a combined 5-29, while 4 of their 7 losses have come by double digits, with an average margin of defeat of 11.3 points per game. Their point differential of -69 ranks just 28th in the NFL and they rank 29th in first down rate differential at -5.73%. However, the Rams have been a pretty middle of the pack team this season, so they shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal in this game. I have this line calculated at Rams -3, which is exactly where the line is.
Ultimately, what I think this game will come down to is the Rams’ mindset about their playoff chances. Last week’s loss wasn’t a death sentence for their playoff chances, but they’re 2 games behind the 8-3 Vikings for the last NFC wild card spot right now with 5 games to go and probably need to win out and finish 11-5 to give themselves a shot. If the Rams believe their season is over, they probably won’t give their best effort against the Cardinals, especially with a much bigger game on deck. If they believe they still have a shot to make the post-season, we could see a very different level of focus and motivation from them this week after being humbled last week. I think the latter is more likely than the former, but I definitely wouldn’t bet on it. A push might be the most likely result.
Los Angeles Rams 23 Arizona Cardinals 20
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3
Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at Miami Dolphins (2-9)
The Eagles have had back-to-back bad offensive performances in home losses to the Patriots and Seahawks, scoring a total of 19 points combined in the two games. There are a couple reasons not to expect that to continue into this week, however. For one, the Eagles offense is much healthier now. The Eagles get back right guard Brandon Brooks, who has been out since the first quarter of the Seahawks game, and right tackle Lane Johnson, who has been out since the first quarter of the Patriots game. Those are two of the best players in the league at their respective positions. They’ll also get back top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who missed the entirety of both games, and fellow starting wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who missed the Seahawks game.
Even with those two bad offensive performances taken into account, the Eagles rank 19th in the NFL in first down rate 34.78%, so, when healthy, they’re not a bad offensive team by any means and their defense, which ranks 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.83%, is able to keep them in most games even when they don’t have a good offensive performance, as just one of their 6 losses has come by more than 8 points.
The second reason I don’t expect the Eagles’ offensive struggles to continue into this week is that their competition is getting much easier. After facing a pair of teams with 3 losses between them, the Eagles now get a Dolphins team that has just two wins all year. The Dolphins aren’t going 0-16 like many assumed they’d be a lock to do when they struggled at the start of the season, but even with their two wins they still rank dead last in first down rate differential (-9.08%), point differential (-183), DVOA (-47.9%), and in my roster rankings. The Eagles have faced the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA thus far this season, so this is a welcome change.
This line is pretty high at Philadelphia -10, but I’m not concerned about laying this many points. The Dolphins have already lost 7 games by double digits this season and a whopping 22 dating back to the start of the 2017 season. The Dolphins are at home this week, but with the Dolphins in the middle of a lost season in which they never actually had any intention of competing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the majority of the crowd supporting the visitor. The Eagles are also in a great spot, with an easy home game against the Giants on deck, a game in which they are currently 8 point favorites on the early line. Big favorites tend to take care of business without any upcoming distractions on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 106-69 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. This isn’t a huge play, but I like the Eagles enough to bet on them.
Philadelphia Eagles 31 Miami Dolphins 17
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -10