Pick of the Week
LAC +105 vs. MIN
DAL +105 vs. LAR
ARZ +135 vs. CLE
Pick of the Week
LAC +105 vs. MIN
DAL +105 vs. LAR
ARZ +135 vs. CLE
Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) at Washington Redskins (3-10)
This was one of the toughest games of the week to decide. The Eagles are favored by 6 points on the road in Washington and my calculated line for this game falls slightly to either side of 6 depending on whether or not Redskins top cornerback Quinton Dunbar is able to play after not practicing all week due to injury. It seems like he won’t play, so I’m taking the Eagles, but I would flip to the Redskins if Dunbar is able to go. Either way, this would be a no confidence pick. I may have an update tomorrow morning.
Final Update: Dunbar isn’t playing, so I’m leaving this as is. Much has been made of how thin the Eagles are at wide receiver, but the Redskins have an awful group of cornerbacks without Dunbar.
Philadelphia Eagles 24 Washington Redskins 17
Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6
Miami Dolphins (3-10) at New York Giants (2-11)
The Dolphins still rank 31st in the NFL in first down rate differential at -6.92%, but that’s skewed by some horrific performances early in the season. Since committing to Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback after week 6, the Dolphins rank a somewhat respectable 19th in first down rate differential at -0.76%, led by an offense that ranks 11th in first down rate at 36.17%. Fitzpatrick still doesn’t have much of a supporting cast, especially on defense, which remains one of the worst units in the league, but the Dolphins have been far from the worst team in the league in recent weeks.
The Giants aren’t the worst league in the league either, but they’re a lot closer to it, ranking 25th in first down rate differential on the season and 26th since week 7 at -3.38%. They’re playing hard with backup quarterback Eli Manning under center, as they want the long-time Giant to end his tenure with the team on a high note, but they’re missing some key players. Right guard Kevin Zeitler is missing his first game of the season, tight end Evan Engram is missing his 6th game in a row, safety Jabrill Peppers is missing his 3rd game in a row, and the Giants cut top cornerback Janoris Jenkins this week. I wouldn’t bet on the Dolphins, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Final Update: This line has moved up to 3.5 in most places. The Giants shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal against anyone and the Dolphins haven’t been the worst team in the league since turning back to Ryan Fitzpatrick. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so we’re getting good protection with Miami if they can’t pull the upset.
New York Giants 24 Miami Dolphins 23
Pick against the spread: Miami +3.5
Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)
The Saints didn’t just lose a big conference matchup against the 49ers last week. They also lost a pair of key defensive linemen for the season in Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport. The Saints are still talented enough to win the Super Bowl without them, but that’s a big blow to their defense. Both were missed badly after going down last week in a game in which the Saints allowed the 49ers to move the chains at a 49.21% rate, dropping the Saints to 17th in the league in the season with a 35.98% first down rate allowed on the season. Their offense has been better, moving the chains at a 40.31% rate when Drew Brees is in the lineup, most equivalent to the 3rd ranked Chiefs on the season. They’ll need to continue playing at a high level for this team to make a deep playoff run without Rankins and Davenport.
The Colts also have injury concerns, with top cornerback Kenny Moore out and top wide receiver TY Hilton a gametime decision after a 2-game absence, but the Colts have been missing key players all season and are arguably in better injury shape now than they’ve been in most of the season, especially if Hilton can suit up. Despite their injuries, they’ve been competitive, losing just 1 game all season by more than 7 points.
The Colts are likely out of the playoffs at 6-7 barring a miracle, but they’ve played slightly better than their record suggests, ranking 14th in first down rate differential at +1.06%. Kicker Adam Vinatieri struggled mightily this season, making just 68.0% of his first goals and 78.6% of his extra points and costing them at least a couple games, but he’s been placed on injured reserve and replaced with Chase McLaughlin, who has a 75.0% field goal percentage and 100% extra point percentage on the season, so kicker isn’t as much of a problem anymore.
If Vinatieri hadn’t missed very makeable field goals against the Chargers and Steelers, the Colts would be 8-5 right now and very much in the mix in the AFC South. I doubt they’d be 9 point underdogs in New Orleans in that circumstance, so with that in mind we’re getting some line value with the Colts. How much line value ultimately depends on whether or not Hilton plays and if the line moves in response. If Hilton plays and this line stays above a touchdown, I’ll likely place a bet on the Colts. I’ll probably be updating this writeup before gametime Monday night.
Final Update: Hilton is active, so the Colts are worth a bet this week.
New Orleans Saints 30 Indianapolis Colts 24
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +9
Chicago Bears (7-6) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)
The Packers are 10-3, but there are reasons to be concerned, especially after an underwhelming home performance against the last place Redskins last week. That 20-15 victory was the Packers’ sixth win by a touchdown or less this season and, with two of their losses coming by more than 15 points, the Packers have a point differential of just +39, 11th in the NFL. That’s despite benefitting from a +11 turnover margin and turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they’re not necessarily going to continue winning the turnover battle going forward. In terms of of first down rate differential, they rank just 16th in the NFL at +0.43% and they’ve been even worse since a hot start, ranking 20th at -0.77% since week 7.
The Packers are also in a terrible spot, facing a divisional opponent they’ve already beaten with a much bigger divisional game on deck in Minnesota next week. Since 2002, divisional home favorites are just 53-79 ATS against a team they previously beat as road underdogs. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and the Packers are currently 4.5 point road underdogs in Minnesota on the early line. They could overlook the Bears a little bit with a bigger game on deck.
Given all of that, I was expecting to be betting on the Bears in this one this week, but unfortunately this line has shifted all the way from a touchdown last week on the early line down to 4 points this week, likely as a result of heavy sharp action on the Packers, with the sharps recognizing the Packers are overrated and in a bad spot. With this line now at 4, I actually think I’m going to take the Packers, at least for pick ‘em purposes.
Even though the Packers aren’t quite as good as their record, I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Bears have been a middling team at best this season. Facing a much tougher schedule than last season with a less dominant defense, the Bears rank just 19th in first down rate differential at -0.59%. Their defense will get a boost this week with defensive end Akiem Hicks set to return from injury (9 games missed), but I still have the Packers slightly higher in my roster rankings and the Packers have been very tough to beat in Lambeau with Aaron Rodgers, going 42-22 ATS since 2011 in games Rodgers starts and finishes. This is a no confidence pick, but with this line moving to where it has the Packers make sense this week.
Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 19
Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) at Oakland Raiders (6-7)
The Jaguars won some games against bad teams early in the season, but they’ve been awful in recent weeks, losing their last 5 games by at least 17 points. They’ve fallen to dead last in first down rate differential at -7.26% and don’t do much of anything well on either side of the ball. Their offense ranks 30th in first down rate at 31.12%, as Minshew Mania has fallen back to earth and the rest of this offense is not nearly good enough to compensate, especially without top wide receiver DJ Chark. Meanwhile on defense, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense and rank 28th in first down rate allowed at 38.38%.
The Jaguars do have a pretty easy matchup this week though. The Raiders have played much worse than their 6-7 record suggests and since week 7 the only team worse than them in first down rate differential has been the Jaguars. While all 6 of the Raiders’ wins have come by 8 points or fewer, all but one of their losses have come by at least 18 points, with the one exception being a 3-point loss in Houston in which they lost the first down rate battle by 9.28%, but managed to score from 46 and 65 yards out to keep the game close.
Given that, I don’t think the Raiders deserve to be favored by more than 6.5 points against anyone, so we are getting some line value with the Jaguars. I wouldn’t recommend betting on that for two reasons though. For one, this is the Raiders’ last home game in Oakland, so we should see their best effort in front of a crazy crowd. Last year, when it looked like it was the Raiders’ last game in Oakland, they had their best performance of the season against the Broncos. The second reason is that the Jaguars may have legitimately quit on head coach Doug Marrone and have shown little effort in games once down by a couple scores. I expect this game to be close, but if it’s not close the Jaguars could end up getting blown out again, even though the Raiders haven’t blown out anyone all season.
Oakland Raiders 30 Jacksonville Jaguars 24
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6.5
New England Patriots (10-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-12)
The Patriots have typically been a good bet to bounce back after a loss, going 51-28 ATS off of a loss in the Bill Belichick era and not losing three in a row since 2002. They enter this game on a two-game losing streak, after losing to the Texans and Chiefs, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a good bet this week as 10-point road favorites in Cincinnati. They’re actually just 8-14 ATS off of a loss in the Belichick era when favored by 7 points or more and they’ve had some struggles on the road in general in the past couple years.
The Bengals are also a much more competitive team than their 1-12 record suggests. They’re a significantly better offense with Andy Dalton under center rather than Ryan Finley, with a 32.67% first down rate in Dalton’s 10 starts and a 28.18% first down rate in Finley’s 3 starts. The return of Cordy Glenn from injury 3 weeks ago also helped this offense. Meanwhile on defense, they actually rank 14th in first down rate allowed on the season at 35.66% and 7th since week 7 at 32.80%, as they’ve gotten healthier in recent weeks.
Seven of their 12 losses have come by 8 points or fewer, despite playing the 5th toughest schedule in the NFL, so I wouldn’t assume the Patriots are just going to come into Cincinnati and blow them out. It’s pretty unlikely that the Bengals will give the Patriots their first 3-game losing streak in nearly two decades, but this game could be closer than expected. I wouldn’t recommend betting on it, but the Bengals seem like the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Final Update: Cornerback Jason McCourty is out for the Patriots despite practicing throughout the week, while Darqueze Dennard is playing for the Bengals despite missing Friday’s practice with injury. Despite that, this line has moved up to 10.5 in most places. I wouldn’t recommend a bet on the Bengals, but this should be a closer game than most expect.
New England Patriots 24 Cincinnati Bengals 17
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) at Detroit Lions (3-9-1)
The Lions’ season has been completely derailed by quarterback Matt Stafford’s back injury, as they’ve lost 5 straight games in his absence to fall to 3-9-1. Stafford was in the middle of one of the best seasons of his career before going down and backups Jeff Driskel and David Blough are among the worst backup quarterbacks in the NFL. The Lions ranked 15th in the NFL in first down rate through 8 games at 36.75%, but they have just a 31.75% first down rate in 5 games without Stafford, which is most equivalent to the 29th ranked Bengals on the season. With a defense that ranks 26th in first down rate allowed on the season at 37.90%, the Lions are one of the worst overall teams in the league. Also without wide receiver Marvin Jones, right tackle Ricky Wagner, and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson this week, the Lions rank just 28th in my roster rankings.
The Buccaneers have their own injury problems though, with dominant wide receiver Mike Evans and starting left tackle Donovan Smith both out for this game. The most concerning injury might be the injury to Jameis Winston’s thumb on his throwing hand. Winston isn’t even listed on the injury report, but he has a small fracture in his thumb and, while he’s not likely to make the injury worse playing through it, there was some question this week whether or not it would limit him, which creates a lot of uncertainty with this game. If Winston is able to play through the injury without problem, this line is about right at Tampa Bay -4.5, as the Buccaneers rank 11th in first down rate differential on the season at +1.68% and are significantly better than the Lions even without Evans and Smith, but the uncertainty with Winston’s injury makes the Lions a safer choice. This is a no confidence pick either way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Detroit +4.5
Houston Texans (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-5)
The Titans saved their season by switching from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Sitting at 2-4 after week 6 when they made the switch, the Titans have won 6 of 7 games to get to 8-5 and climb into a tie for the AFC South lead with the Texans, who they will play twice in the next three weeks in games that would decide the division if either team managed to sweep both.
Tannehill isn’t just game managing the Titans to victory either, as Tannehill’s run at quarterback has actually coincided with a significant decline on defense. After finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and ranking 4th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 30.93% through 6 games this season, the Titans have allowed a 37.37% first down rate in Tannehill’s 7 starts, 24th in the NFL over that stretch, due to injuries to players like linebacker Jayon Brown, cornerback Malcolm Butler, defensive end Jurrell Casey, and cornerback Adoree Jackson. This offense is carrying the team, ranking 2nd in first down rate at 42.50% since Tannehill entered the starting lineup, giving them the 3rd best first down rate differential over that stretch at +5.13%.
Tannehill probably won’t continue playing this well going forward, but the Titans have a strong running game too and a good supporting cast around the quarterback, so the Titans’ offense is legitimately a strong unit. Defensively, they’ve gotten Casey and Brown back from injuries, though the two cornerbacks Butler and Jackson remain out, leaving them very thin at a key position. They’re still a couple points better than the Texans in my roster rankings though, ranking 11th, while the Texans rank 14th.
Deshaun Watson leads a strong Houston offense that ranks 4th in first down rate at 39.47%, but their defense ranks 27th at 38.12% and has been even worse in 5 games without JJ Watt, with a 39.51% first down rate allowed in those 5 games. We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Titans, but this line favoring them only by a field goal at home suggests these two teams are about even, which isn’t the case. I like the Titans for a small bet as there’s a good chance this game at least pushes.
Tennessee Titans 30 Houston Texans 24
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3
Los Angeles Rams (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
I normally like to fade significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. On the early line last week, the Cowboys were 3.5 point home favorites in this matchup against the Rams, but now a week later they are 1.5 point home underdogs. That’s a huge swing, but I actually think it can be justified somewhat. The Cowboys had an awful performance last week in Chicago, losing the first down rate battle by 7.54% to a middling at best Bears team, while the Rams were dominant in a home victory against a tough Seahawks team, winning the first down rate battle by a whopping 18.97%, with the game being a blowout aside from a long Seattle interception return.
Even with last week’s poor performance included, the Cowboys still rank 6th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +4.48% and in point differential at +67, as their 6 wins have come by a combined 107 points and their 7 losses have come by a combined 40 points. However, they’ve faced a much easier schedule than the Rams (47% opponents winning percentage vs. 57%) and their play has slipped in recent weeks, as they’ve ranked just 9th in first down rate differential since week 7 at +2.83%. The Cowboys are a poorly coached team and Jason Garrett’s lameduck status as head coach seems to be hanging over them in recent weeks.
The Rams, meanwhile, are very well coached, on both sides of the ball with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips. They were blown out a few weeks ago at home on Monday Night Football against the Ravens, but have bounced back very well with dominant performances against the Cardinals and Seahawks to keep themselves alive in the playoff race in the NFC. Their offense hasn’t been the same this season because of their offensive line, but their defense has quietly been one of the best in the league. Even including that blowout loss against a Ravens team that no one has really stopped this season, the Rams rank 4th in first down rate allowed on the season at 32.72% and first at 29.94% since acquiring Jalen Ramsey during week 7.
I have this line calculated at Dallas -1, so, while I don’t think the line movement all the way to Rams -1.5 is quite justified, we’re not getting nearly enough line value to bet the Cowboys confidently. The Cowboys probably have a slightly better than 50/50 shot to win this game at home, so the money line at +105 could be worth a small bet, but we’re not getting enough line value to bet the Cowboys against the spread unless this line somehow moves all the way up to Rams -3.
Dallas Cowboys 24 Los Angeles Rams 23 Upset Pick +105
Pick against the spread: Dallas +1.5