Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)

Pat Mahomes has not officially been ruled out for the second straight week, as he works back from a dislocated kneecap, but he worked with the second team in practice all week and is not expected to start this game, with oddsmakers already putting up a line of Minnesota -4 before an official confirmation on Mahomes’ status. I’m hesitant to lock this game in before confirmation, but if Mahomes does not play and this line remains about the same, I expect to make a wager on the Vikings.

It’s not exactly a bold take to say that the Chiefs are significantly worse without Mahomes, but they’ve fallen from a 44.96% first down rate with Mahomes over the past 2 seasons to a 32.29% first down rate with backup Matt Moore, who has quarterbacked this offense to just 27 first downs and 4 offensive touchdowns on 96 snaps across 18 drives. The Chiefs’ defense has allowed a 41.09% first down rate since the start of last season, so they need Mahomes back in a hurry if they’re going to lock down a first round bye in the AFC. 

The Chiefs are getting healthier on defense with stud defensive tackle Chris Jones back from injury, but they’ve struggled even with him on the field over the past two seasons, so he won’t fix their defensive issues by himself. The Chiefs could also still be without defensive end Frank Clark and slot cornerback Kendall Fuller, a pair of above average starters, who are listed questionable for this game, and they have injury problems around the quarterback on offense as well. 

Left guard Andrew Wylie returns from a 3-game absence, but right guard Laurent Duvarney-Tardif will take his spot on the sideline and left tackle Eric Fisher will miss his 7th straight game. I have the Vikings, one of the top teams in the NFL, calculated as 8.5-point road favorites in this matchup, so I’d take the Vikings as 4-point favorites confidently if I knew Mahomes was guaranteed to be out. This is yet another game I’ll likely be updating tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: Mahomes is officially out. The line has jumped to 5.5, but 5 is not a key number, so I still like the Vikings for a small bet as long as the line remains under 6. Clark and Fuller are also out for Kansas City.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Kansas City Chiefs 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-3-1) at Oakland Raiders (3-4)

The Raiders only lost by a field goal in Houston last week, but they lost the first down battle 29-15. While the Texans’ three touchdowns came on long drives, the Raiders scored twice on plays of 46+ yards, which is very tough to do week-to-week. Even with that loss being close on the scoreboard, the Raiders’ four losses this season have come by an average of 14.75 points per game, while their three wins have come by an average of 6.00 points per game, giving them a -41 point differential that ranks 24th in the NFL. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 27th at -4.15%.

The Lions aren’t much better, but we’re getting some line value with them as 3-point road underdogs, especially if Raiders center Rodney Hudson is unable to play through an ankle injury. The Raiders are also on a tight turnaround before next week’s Thursday game against the division rival Chargers and favorites only cover about 45% of the time before Thursday Night Football. The Lions have some key players uncertain with injuries as well (defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison), so I may ultimately end up deciding to make a bet on the Lions. I’ve been saying this a lot this week, but this is another game that I might update tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: There has been no update on Hudson this morning and I think all the +3s will disappear if he doesn’t play, so I’m leaving this as is.

Final Update: Hudson is inactive, while Harrison and Robinson are active for Detroit. I have this line calculated at Oakland -1 and, with the Raiders in a tough spot before another game in 4 days, I think the Lions have a good spot to pull the small upset

Detroit Lions 27 Oakland Raiders 26 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4)

The Steelers have been one of the most impacted by injury teams in the league this season. The big injury was obviously to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who went down for the season with an elbow injury in the first half of the second game of the season. With backup Mason Rudolph under center for most of the season, the Steelers have fallen to 21st in first down rate at 34.35%, a year after ranking 6th in at 40.55% in 2018. They’ve also suffered a major injury on defense as well, with All-Pro caliber defensive end Stephon Tuitt out for the season with a torn pectoral, though they have more talent on defense to make up for his absence, led by Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt, who have also played at an All-Pro level in 2019. This week, the Steelers will also be without starting running back James Conner and starting left guard Ramon Foster. 

The Colts have also been very impacted by injuries. They’ve had 7 expected starters miss time with injury this season: wide receiver TY Hilton, cornerbacks Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir, safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, linebacker Darius Leonard, and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. They were as healthy as they’ve been all season in a near home loss to the Broncos last week, but this week they could be without Desir, Hilton (already ruled out), Hooker, and defensive end Justin Houston. Despite the Colts’ 5-2 record, these two teams aren’t far apart, as all seven games the Colts have played have been decided by seven points or less. I tentatively have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -3, factoring in the Colts’ injury situation, but it’s hard to make a definitive call on this game without knowing the status of Desir, Hooker, and Houston. I’ll likely have an update tomorrow morning. 

Sunday Update: Houston and Hooker will both play, despite not practicing Friday. I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -2, so there’s not enough here to take the Steelers with confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh PK

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)

The Chargers have gotten off to a disappointing 3-5 start, a year after going 12-4, but all five of their losses were decided by a touchdown or less and they are getting healthier as the season has gone on. They’ve already gotten back tight end Hunter Henry (who ranks first in the NFL in yards per game by a tight end), talented defensive end Melvin Ingram, and top offensive lineman Russell Okung, who is likely to pull a full set of snaps this week after being limited in his return last week. They rank 12th in my roster rankings and could go on a surprise run down the stretch.

Unfortunately, they are only 3.5-point home underdogs here against the Packers. Not only are the Packers one of the top teams in the league, but the Chargers have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles (6-12-1 ATS since moving there, as opposed to 14-6-2 ATS on the road) due to their inability to draw home fans. The Packers are one of the most popular teams in the country, so I imagine the vast majority of fans at this game will be rooting for the road team. With the Chargers lack of homefield advantage taken into account, I have this line calculated at Green Bay -4.5, so, while we’re not getting much line value with the Packers at -3.5, they seem like the right side.

Green Bay Packers 31 Los Angeles Chargers 27

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -3.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

The Bears seemed to have a statement win week 4 over the division rival Vikings, but they’ve lost three straight games since then and now have matched their loss total from all of last season. It’s not exactly a surprise the Bears have regressed this season, after facing one of the easiest schedules in the league last season and losing a pair of valuable defensive backs (Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan) and their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (now head coach of the Broncos) this off-season. 

Also missing stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks for the year with injury, the Bears have fallen from their dominant 2018 unit, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed. Their offense, meanwhile, has gotten worse play from both their quarterback Mitch Trubisky and their offensive line and none of their skill position players aside from Allen Robinson have done much this season. Overall, they rank just 23rd in first down rate differential and 22nd in my roster rankings, suggesting their record is not a fluke. 

The Eagles have also disappointed this season, sitting at 4-4, but they’re getting healthier. Cornerbacks Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Avonte Maddox will all be active for the first time this season, while defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and wide receiver DeSean Jackson look likely to join them. They’re still without left tackle Jason Peters and outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, but the former has been replaced by first round pick Andre Dillard, while the latter was off to a poor start to the season before his injury. The Eagles, who are coming off of their best game of the season in Buffalo last week, have a significant talent edge in this game and should be favored by more than 4 points at home. I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7.5, so we’re getting enough line value to bet the Eagles confidently.

Philadelphia Eagles 26 Chicago Bears 19

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (5-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) in London

The Jaguars are back at .500 at 4-4 following their victory over the Jets last week, but they only rank 24th in first down rate differential at -2.60%, as they’ve allowed 4 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than they have gained on 18 fewer snaps. That rank is consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Jaguars ranked 26th. As much as Minshew Mania has taken over Jacksonville, this offense still ranks just 26th in first down rate differential and has generated just 15 touchdowns in 8 games, while their once dominant defense ranks just 11th in first down rate allowed and has just four of it’s top-14 in snaps played remaining from 2017.

The Texans, meanwhile, rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.41%, though the Jaguars are catching them at a good time because the Texans are very banged up right now. The big loss is obviously JJ Watt, who tore his pectoral last week, ending his season, but the Texans are also missing 3 of their top-5 in the secondary and could be without both left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard. In their current injury situation, the Texans rank 15th in my roster rankings, so we’re still getting some line value with them as 1.5-point favorites at a neutral site, but I would need at least Tunsil to play to bet them confidently. I will likely be updating this tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: A few developments have happened since yesterday. Tunsil is inactive for the Texans, but the Jaguars will also be without DJ Hayden, who has arguably been their top cornerback this season, and starting wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Meanwhile, this line has shifted to Jacksonville -1. One point games aren’t that common (about 4%), but we’re getting good line value with the Texans at +1. This line suggests the Jaguars are the slightly better team on a neutral field, but I still have the Texans significant better in my roster rankings (16th vs. 26th) and I have this line calculated at Houston -4. The Texans are worth a small bet, even at less than 100%.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Houston +1

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at New York Giants (2-6)

The Giants are just 2-6, but I like their chances of being a competitive team down the stretch. They’ve been without one or more of Saquon Barkley, Golden Tate, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard in every game thus far this season, but this week they are all active. They also have no major injuries on defense (and got better defensively at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Leonard Williams) and are one of the healthiest teams in the league overall right now. 

Despite some early season injuries, the Giants actually rank 18th in first down rate differential at -0.80%, with their 2-6 record largely being a product of their -9 turnover margin, 3rd worst in the NFL. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, however, and if a healthy Giants team can play turnover neutral football going forward, they won’t be an easy team to beat. 

If the Giants were playing a team other than the Cowboys, I likely would have placed a large bet on them this week, but the Cowboys are also underrated. The narrative on them used to be that they could only beat bad teams, but they blew out the Eagles a couple weeks ago before their bye and the Eagles subsequently blew out the Bills in Buffalo last week. The Cowboys did lose to the Jets three weeks ago, but their other two losses came to the Saints and Packers, who are a combined 14-2, and the Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in both of those games. 

On the season, the Cowboys rank 4th in point differential at +66, despite an even turnover margin, and they rank 3rd in first down rate differential at +7.07%, only behind the Patriots and 49ers. Despite a less than stellar record, the Cowboys have been one of the better teams in the league this season and, not only are they healthy coming out of their bye, they’re also in a great spot, as teams are 39-11 ATS since 2002 as favorites of 3.5+ after a bye, including 15-3 ATS against a divisional opponent. We’re getting a little bit of line value with the Giants, as I have this line calculated at Dallas -6.5, but that’s hardly anything, so I’m following the trend and taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 31 New York Giants 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas -7

Confidence: None

New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (8-0) at Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

It goes without saying that the Patriots have gotten off to an incredible start. Their point differential of +189 not only leads the NFL by a wide margin, with the next closest team coming in at +133, but it also would have led the NFL last season, despite the fact that the Patriots have only played half of the season so far. They’ve benefitted from a +17 turnover margin, which is probably not sustainable, but Bill Belichick’s Patriots have proven to be the exception to the rule that turnover margins are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Since Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have a +204 turnover margin. No other franchise is higher than +90 over that time period. 

The Patriots also rank first in first down rate differential at +11.61%, with the 49ers falling to second after an underwhelming Thursday Night Football performance. For comparison, no team has finished the season with a first down rate differential higher than +8.45% over the past 4 seasons. The one big knock on New England is that they’ve done this over an easy schedule, facing the league’s easiest schedule by DVOA, but they’ve clearly played much better than replacement level football across that schedule. 

New England’s schedule gets tougher this week, with a trip to the 5-2 Ravens up next, but the Ravens haven’t been as good as their record, as they have also benefited from an easy schedule and have not looked nearly as dominant as New England. Four of their 5 wins came against teams that are currently a combined 6-27-1 (Dolphins, Cardinals, Steelers, and Bengals) and three of those four wins came by 6 points or fewer. Their signature win came 2 weeks ago before their bye in Seattle, but the Seahawks have not been as good as their 6-2 record either, ranking 14th in first down rate differential, and the Ravens actually lost the first down rate battle in that game by 4.10%, with the game swinging on a pair of Baltimore return touchdowns. 

The Ravens traded for cornerback Marcus Peters and are getting healthier on defense as well, with Jimmy Smith returning from injury, but they’re still a far cry from last year’s defense. They’ve been better on offense to compensate, but Bill Belichick’s track record against young quarterbacks can’t be denied (21 consecutive wins against first and second year quarterbacks), so it’s likely that starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has been much improved in his second season in the league, will have his worst game of the season against this dominant New England defense. Despite that, this line only favors the Patriots by a field goal. We’re not getting a ton of line value with New England, but if right guard Shaq Mason can suit up, they should be worth a bet this week. I will likely have an update on this tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: Similar to the Oakland/Detroit game, there has been no update on Mason this morning and I think all the -3s will disappear if he does play, so I’m leaving this as is.

New England Patriots 21 Baltimore Ravens 16

Pick against the spread: New England -3

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

New York Jets (1-6) at Miami Dolphins (0-7)

Remember when the Jets beat the Cowboys a few weeks ago? At the time, it looked like the Jets were turning a corner, beating a quality team in quarterback Sam Darnold’s return from illness, but instead it looks like one of those results that won’t make any sense when we go back and look at the season (remember the Bears beating the Vikings week 4?). In two games since, the Jets have lost by a combined 47 points to the Patriots and Jaguars. 

In four games started by Sam Darnold this season, the Jets have just a 30.97% first down rate and a -4.92% first down rate differential, which would rank 30th and 28th respectively over the course of the full season. Darnold is hardly the problem though, as they had a pathetic 18.01% first down rate in the 3 games he was out. Outside of running back Le’Veon Bell, the Jets don’t have a single above average starter on their entire offense and their defense isn’t nearly good enough to keep them in games, especially without injured linebacker CJ Mosley. Overall they rank just 30th in my roster rankings, ahead of only the league’s remaining two winless teams, the Bengals and the Dolphins.

The Jets get to face those winless Dolphins this week, but they might not have as easy of a time with them as the Dolphins’ other opponents have. The Jets are favored by just 3 points, giving the Dolphins their highest expected odds of winning a game all season. This line shifted from 6.5 on the early line last week and normally I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements, but I have this line calculated at exactly -3. 

The Dolphins have given much better effort in recent weeks, as they try to avoid a winless season for pride purposes, and they are a better team with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center as well. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them pull this small upset. I’m taking the Jets for pick ‘em purposes because I’ve said I’m not taking Miami this year unless I have a good reason to (which I would have is this line was still 6+), but this is my lowest confidence pick of the week.

New York Jets 20 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: NY Jets -3

Confidence: None