Pick of the Week
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Pick of the Week
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Detroit Lions (2-1-1) at Green Bay Packers (4-1)
I’ve thought the Lions are an underrated team all season, as much of the focus on this team coming into the season was how much their offense struggled down the stretch last year (with key players like Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones out and Matt Stafford playing through a broken back) and not how well their defense played down the stretch (after the addition of Damon Harrison in a mid-season trade). With Trey Flowers added to the defensive line in free agency, the Lions looked to have a solid defense coming in 2019 and an offensive improvement was expected as well with key players returning to health.
However, I think the public has caught on to the Lions following their near victory over the Chiefs back in week 4 before their bye, as they are only 4-point underdogs here in Lambeau, where the Packers are 40-20 ATS in games Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes. I still have the Packers as one of the top teams in the league and several spots higher than the Lions in my roster rankings, so I have this line calculated at Green Bay -6, before even taking into account the Packers’ home prowess in recent years.
The Packers have some injury concerns, with top wide receiver Davante Adams and promising rookie starting safety Darnell Savage both out, but the Lions aren’t in great injury shape either, despite coming off of a bye, with ex-Packer defensive tackle Mike Daniels out and several other key players (defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, cornerback Darius Slay, safety Quandre Diggs, and wide receiver Danny Amendola) questionable after not getting in full practices on Friday. There isn’t quite enough here to bet the Packers confidently, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and I would consider a bet if several of the Lions’ questionable players do not play.
Green Bay Packers 27 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4
Cincinnati Bengals (0-5) at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
The Ravens have been an overrated team all year, as the general public did not realize how much worse their defense has gotten since last year. During the off-season, they lost five of the 12 players who played at least 500 snaps for them in 2018, including key players like Za’Darius Smith, CJ Mosley, and Terrell Suggs, and then they lost another two due to injury, with cornerbacks Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith both out indefinitely.
Things have gotten worse on defense with starting safety Tony Jefferson done for the year with a torn ACL, leaving cornerback Marlon Humphrey, cornerback Brandon Carr, edge defender Matt Judon, and defensive lineman Brandon Williams as the only four players who played 500+ snaps on last year’s dominant unit that are still on the team. As a result, their defense has gone from ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed at 32.65% to 26th at 38.63%.
Fortunately, the Ravens get an easy matchup this week as they face a bad Bengals team that is also missing some key players. Already without left tackle Cordy Glenn and #1 wide receiver AJ Green indefinitely, the Bengals will also be without backup left tackle Andre Smith and a pair of starting defensive linemen, Ryan Glasgow and Carlos Dunlap, the latter of whom is one of their best and most important players on either side of the ball.
The Bengals haven’t won a game all year, including a loss last week at home to a previously winless Cardinals team, and are easily one of the worst few teams in the league right now. Even with the Ravens being overrated all year, I would say this line favoring them by 10.5 points over the Bengals at home is about right. In fact, I actually have this line calculated at Baltimore -12, so if anything we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Ravens. I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes because the Ravens are in a look ahead spot with a trip to Seattle on deck (double digit favorites are 64-84 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs), but this is a no confidence pick either way.
Baltimore Ravens 27 Cincinnati Bengals 17
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5
New Orleans Saints (4-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3)
Ever since Minshew Mania went to a new level in a Thursday Night win over the Titans in week 3, I’ve thought the Jaguars are overrated. Even with backup quarterback Gardner Minshew producing at the level he’s produced at so far, the Jaguars rank just 23rd in first down rate and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Minshew fall back to earth going forward. Defensively, they aren’t much better, as they rank 21st in first down rate allowed. Their dominant defense in 2017 has lost 8 of its top-13 in terms of snaps played, including cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who seems likely to miss his third straight game with a back injury, unwilling to risk further injury for a team that won’t commit to him financially long-term.
The Jaguars still seem to be overrated, favored by 3 points at home over the Saints, who have a much more complete team, especially with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins back healthy. The question for the Saints is quarterback play, with backup Teddy Bridgewater filling in while Drew Brees recovers from a thumb injury. Bridgewater has won all three of his starts, but the first two wins came despite Bridgewater struggling and despite the Saints losing the first down battle in both games.
Bridgewater showed a lot of progress last week though, leading the Saints to a 43.28% first down rate on 11 drives, after leading them to a 30.63% first down rate on his first 27 drives. He has a history of being a solid starter in this league before his injury, so it’s possible he’s turned a corner and he has a strong team around him either way. The one concern is running back Alvin Kamara, who missed Friday’s practice with an ankle injury, but it sounds like he’ll be able to play through his injury. This line is up to a field goal in some places, and I have this line calculated at even, so the Saints are worth a small bet.
New Orleans Saints 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 23 Upset Pick +125
Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-3)
The Chargers went 12-4 last season, but benefited from a 6-1 record in games decided by 8 points or fewer, and came into this season without their top offensive lineman Russell Okung and their All-Pro safety Derwin James, so I’ve bet against them frequently this season, especially at home in Los Angeles, where they have next to no fans and are just 6-11-1 ATS since moving there in 2017 (as opposed to 13-5-2 ATS on the road). However, with the Chargers now at 2-3 and coming off of a home loss to the Broncos, we’re not getting the same value betting against them, as they are just 6.5-point home favorites over a Steelers team that is missing top defensive back Steven Nelson and that is starting third string undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges.
Hodges looked serviceable on 9 attempts in his debut last week, coming in for an injured Mason Rudolph, but that was against a Ravens defense that hasn’t stopped anyone this year, so I don’t have much confidence in him at all. We’re still getting line value with the Steelers, as I have this line calculated at Chargers -4.5, but I don’t think it’s worth betting on the Steelers this week, given their quarterback situation. Hodges could easily prove to be a disaster against a tougher defense in his first full game.
Los Angeles Chargers 19 Pittsburgh Steelers 14
Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +6.5
Denver Broncos (1-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-3)
This is a matchup of two teams that are both better than their record. The Titans are just 2-3, but their two wins came by a combined 44 points, while their 3 losses came by a combined 22 points, giving them a +22 point differential that is best in the NFL and best among teams with a losing record. That’s despite the fact that they missed 4 field goals in a 7-point home loss last week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 11th at +2.52%.
The Titans’ defense is the strength of their team, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed, as it was last year, when they also ranked 4th in first down rate allowed, but, with a healthy Marcus Mariota under center, their offense isn’t bad either, ranking 22nd in first down rate. The Titans went 6-2 for a stretch last season with a healthy Mariota under center, including wins over the Patriots and Cowboys, and went 9-7 overall despite playing 9 playoff teams (4-5). They’ve had some bad luck early in the year, but they could easily go on a similar 6-2 run at some point this season.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are 1-4, but they could easily have 2 or 3 wins, with two of their losses coming on last second field goals. Their average margin of defeat in their four losses is 5.75 points and they rank a decent 19th in first down rate differential at -0.81%. If these two teams were playing other teams this week, we likely would have gotten line value with both of them. Unfortunately, they are playing each other, so this line, favoring the Broncos at home by 1.5 points, is exactly what I have it calculated it, so we aren’t getting significant line value with either side.
The Titans are in a better spot though, as the Broncos have to turn around and face the Chiefs next week, while the Titans host the Chargers. Underdogs are 67-29 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. Making matters worse for the Broncos, that game against the Chiefs is in 4 days on Thursday Night Football and favorites cover at just a 43.8% rate all-time before a short week. I’d need a full field goal to bet the Titans confidently, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line is a smart bet as well.
Tennessee Titans 19 Denver Broncos 17 Upset Pick +110
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1.5
Dallas Cowboys (3-2) at New York Jets (0-4)
The narrative with the Cowboys right now is that they play well against weak competition, but struggle in big games. Their 3 wins have come against teams that are a combined 2-13, while their 2 losses have come against teams that are a combined 8-2, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In both of their losses, they won the first down rate battle, losing the two games in large part due to a combined -5 turnover margin, which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. They also won the first down rate battle by a combined 10.98% in their three wins, which came by an average of 17.7 points per game, so it’s not as if they were barely squeaking out wins against their easier opponents. On the season, they rank 3rd in first down rate differential at 8.86%, only behind the Patriots and 49ers.
They also get another easy game this week, going to New York to face the 0-4 Jets. The Jets do get quarterback Sam Darnold back this week from a 3-game absence, but I’m not convinced he can turn this team around. Not only might he not be 100% in his first game back, but quarterback is far from the only problem the Jets have. They rank 2nd worst in the NFL with a -13.55% first down rate differential and even with Darnold on the field week 1 they had a -12.41% first down rate differential, in a game they lost at home to the Bills despite winning the turnover battle by 3.
Their defense remains without top linebacker CJ Mosley and likely remains without their only capable edge defender Jordan Jenkins. Their offensive line and receiving corps both have significant issues that have caused the Jets to pick up just 45 first downs and score just 2 offensive touchdowns in their first 4 games. Getting Darnold back should help even if he’s not at 100%, but him coming back isn’t going to save this team. I still have them ranked 28th in my roster rankings.
I’m concerned the Cowboys will likely be without their two starting offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, who were as good as any duo in the NFL before injuries, but fill-in left tackle Cameron Fleming has experience and the Jets don’t have the edge rushers to exploit the Cowboys’ injuries. Even with Smith and Collins out, I have this line calculated at Dallas -10. There’s not enough here to bet the Cowboys confidently, especially because they could be looking ahead to a matchup with the Eagles next week, but the Jets are in a look ahead spot as well, with the Patriots coming to town next week, and the Cowboys should be the right side.
Dallas Cowboys 26 New York Jets 16
Pick against the spread: Dallas -7
Washington Redskins (0-5) at Miami Dolphins (0-4)
This is the first time two winless teams have met this late in the season since 2004, when the Dolphins and Bills met in Buffalo, with the Bills winning by 7 as 5-point favorites. Since 1989, this is just the 4th meeting of winless teams this late in the season. In the previous 3 instances, the road team had never been favored by more than 2.5, but the Redskins are favored by 3.5 points in this one, actually making them the first winless team ever to be favored by this many points on the road late in the season.
It’s easy to understand why though, as the Dolphins simply have not resembled a professional football team through 4 games thus far this season. Their -21.14% first down rate differential is last by a mile, with only the Jets at -13.55% coming close. So far this season, there have been 6 instances of a team losing the first down rate battle by 20% this season. Three of those instances were the Dolphins and they’ve played one game fewer than most teams in the league. They start below average starters at most positions and the few talented players they have don’t seem to be trying hard for a coaching staff and front office that transparently doesn’t care about winning this season.
This line was actually -6 on the early line last week, before the Redskins’ blowout loss to the Patriots, and I think it should still be calculated at -5.5, since the Redskins getting blown out by the Patriots was to be expected. The Redskins also get back a pair of starting offensive linemen from injury this week, with both center Chase Rouiller and right guard Brandon Scherff, their top offensive lineman overall, set to return to their usual spots this week after 2-game absences. They also get quarterback Case Keenum back and he should be an upgrade over Colt McCoy, even if he’s not a great starter.
That being said, I can’t recommend betting the Redskins or wanting to bet this game at all. Both teams are terrible and, while the Redskins seem to not be as terrible as the Dolphins, that may not end up being the case. Both teams are also in terrible spots, with the Dolphins going on the road to Buffalo next week (Buffalo -15.5 on the early line) and the Redskins hosting the 49ers (San Francisco -8.5 on the early line). Road favorites are just 24-50 ATS before being home underdogs since 2012, while teams are 26-57 ATS since 2016 before being double digit underdogs. The Redskins are my pick, but only for pick ‘em purposes.
Washington Redskins 26 Miami Dolphins 21
Pick against the spread: Washington -3.5
Seattle Seahawks (4-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-3)
I was hoping we’d see significant line movement in this game as a result of the Browns’ blowout loss in San Francisco on Monday Night Football, so we’d get a good line to bet this game. The Browns looked awful in San Francisco, but that was a really tough spot for them, facing a legitimately great 49ers team at night (East Coast teams are at a huge disadvantage against West Coast teams at night), and the Browns have been up and down all year and could easily be back up this week at home.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are not nearly as good as their 4-1 record would suggest. Their first 3 wins came against teams are a combined 2-12-1 right now, with two of those wins decided by a field goal or less. Their fourth win came last week against the Rams, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds, as the Rams blew a makeable game winning field goal at the end and the Rams have not been as good as their record suggests either, with their first two wins coming against teams that had injured quarterbacks.
The Seahawks certainly aren’t a bad team, but they rank just 13th in first down rate differential, despite a relatively easy schedule, and this team has too many weaknesses to be considered a true Super Bowl contender as many have anointed them following their close win over the Rams. They’ll also be without left tackle Duane Brown and right guard DJ Fluker in this game, a big blow considering those have been their best two offensive linemen thus far this season. Offensive line was already not a strength for this team, so they could have a lot of trouble keeping the Browns out of their backfield in this game.
Unfortunately, we aren’t getting the line value I expected with the Browns in this game. This line has shifted 4 points in the past week, going from Cleveland -2 on the early line last week to Seattle -2 now, but just 7.5% of games are decided by 2 or fewer points, so that’s largely superficial line movement. I have this line calculated at even, so if the Browns were field goal underdogs, they’d be a smart bet this week, but it’s hard to bet them confidently without field goal protection.
The one thing that would get me to reconsider that is if one or both of the Browns’ starting cornerbacks end up playing. Neither Denzel Ward nor Greedy Williams have played since week 2, but both returned to practice in a limited fashion this week, so both have a chance to suit up. Until that’s confirmed, I can only recommend the money line, but I could easily have an update on this game tomorrow morning.
Cleveland Browns 20 Seattle Seahawks 19 Upset Pick +110
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2
Atlanta Falcons (1-4) at Arizona Cardinals (1-3-1)
Going into the season, I thought the Falcons had a good chance to be significantly improved in 2019, after their 2018 season was derailed by injuries to key players like running back Devonta Freeman, linebacker Deion Jones, and safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal, who all missed close to the whole season last season. Instead, the Falcons have gotten off to a horrible 1-4 start and rank 28th in the NFL with a -50 point differential, only ahead of the four winless teams.
Turnovers were the problem to start the season, but in the past two weeks they’ve been outscored by a combined 35 points against the Titans and Texans in games in which they had a combined -1 turnover margin. Devonta Freeman and Ricardo Allen have not returned to form after their injuries. Keanu Neal is out for the season again. Damontee Kazee, who was a solid starting safety last year in the absence of Neal and Allen, has struggled mightily in his new spot at cornerback.
Deion Jones has been healthy and has played well, but, while the Falcons’ defense was not bad down the stretch with him healthy last year, that has not carried over into 2019. A defense that allowed a 41.13% first down rate in 2018 (31st in the NFL) and a 36.36% first down rate in the games in which Jones was healthy has allowed a ridiculous 43.73% first down rate allowed in 2019, which would be the worst in the NFL if the Dolphins weren’t a historically bad team. Their offense actually ranks 5th in first down rate at 40.00%, despite the lack of a running game, but even still the Falcons rank 27th as a team in first down rate differential. Making matters worse on defense, they will be without top cornerback Desmond Trufant in this game due to injury.
The Cardinals aren’t a great team, ranking 28th in first down rate differential and 27th in my roster rankings, but I still have this line calculated at even, so the Cardinals have a good chance to win this game outright at home. We aren’t getting great line value with the Cardinals at +2.5, but they’re in a much better spot than the Falcons, who have to turn around and host the Rams next week. Road favorites are just 24-50 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs, which the Falcons almost definitely will be next week. I wish we were getting the full field goal, but the Cardinals should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line is worth a bet as well.
Update: This line has moved up to a field goal in some places. The Cardinals are worth a bet at that number.
Arizona Cardinals 27 Atlanta Falcons 24 Upset Pick +135
Pick against the spread: Arizona +3