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

Washington Redskins at Buffalo Bills: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (1-7) at Buffalo Bills (5-2)

It’s unfortunate that the Redskins won’t be starting Case Keenum in this game because I probably would have made a pretty substantial bet on the Redskins this week if he was starting. The Bills are 5-2, but shouldn’t be favored by double digits except anyone except maybe the Dolphins. Despite facing the 2nd easiest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA, the Bills have just one win by more than 10 points, with an average margin of victory of 7.2 points per game against 5 teams that are a combined 7-31. Their only win over a team that currently has at least a .500 record came by 7 points against a now 4-4 Titans team that missed 4 field goals in the game.  However, with Keenum still in the concussion protocol, the Redskins will have to turn to first round rookie Dwayne Haskins, which adds a lot of uncertainty to this game.

Haskins still has upside long-term, but he’s been horrendous in limited action thus far, completing just 12 of 22 passes with 4 interceptions, and behind the scenes he likely hasn’t been much better, as the Redskins have been very hesitant to let him play, even with a first round pedigree and an overall lost season. He also was pretty underwhelming in the pre-season, despite playing against mostly backups. Haskins came into the NFL very inexperienced and may ultimately benefit in the long run from being forced into some action as a rookie, but he could also go through some serious growing pains in his first few starts. I still have this line calculated at only Buffalo -7.5 even with Haskins in the lineup, but there’s too much uncertainty for me to bet the Redskins confidently, even with the line moving up to 10.5. 

Buffalo Bills 20 Washington Redskins 13

Pick against the spread: Washington +10.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (2-5) at Denver Broncos (2-6)

Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco is done for the season with a neck injury and, with expected backup Drew Lock still working back from off-season thumb surgery, the Broncos will instead turn to Brandon Allen, a 2016 6th round pick who has never thrown a regular season pass across stints with 3 teams: the Jaguars, Rams, and Broncos. As a result, this line that opened at Denver -1.5 has now moved all the way to Denver +4.

It’s always risky to bet on a quarterback with no regular season experience, but it’s hard to justify a 5.5-point shift like that given the way Joe Flacco has played this season, especially in recent weeks. This offense has problems beyond Flacco, especially with Emmanuel Sanders now with the 49ers and right tackle Ja’Wuan James again injured, but they’ve ranked just 29th in first down rate this season at 31.54%, so Allen is unlikely to be a significant downgrade. And given the way we’ve seen some inexperienced backup quarterbacks come out and play well in their first few starts this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Allen actually ended up being a little bit of an upgrade under center for a few games.

Even with their offensive struggles, the Broncos have ranked 17th in first down rate differential this season at -0.41%, as a result of a dominant defense that ranks 4th in first down rate differential. An already talented unit last season, they have been taken to the next level in 2019 by defensive minded head coach Vic Fangio and free agent acquisition Kareem Jackson, who has been one of the best defensive backs in the league this season. The Broncos are just 2-6, but three of their losses came on last second field goals, so they aren’t far away from being a 4-5 win team right now. 

The Browns, meanwhile, rank 25th in first down rate differential at -3.70% and have had below average play on both sides of the ball, ranking 25th in first down rate and 20th in first down rate allowed. They’ve had one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, but the Broncos haven’t had a cakewalk schedule either. This line suggests the Browns would be favored by about 10 points if this game was in Cleveland, so I think it’s way too high. I have the line calculated at Denver -1, even with the uncertainty of Allen under center. There’s too much risk here for this to be a big bet, but the Broncos are worth a play this week.

Cleveland Browns 17 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)

Prior to last week’s loss, the Panthers were undefeated with backup quarterback Kyle Allen under center and could have arguably been undefeated on the season had they started Allen to begin the season instead of a very injured Cam Newton, who started 2 games that were lost by a combined 9 points. However, a couple of their victories also could have gone the other way and they were embarrassed in their loss last week, losing 51-13 in San Francisco. 

On the season, they rank just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.41% after that loss. The 49ers are arguably the best team in the NFL, but that was still a humiliating defeat for a team that considered itself in contention, and even before that loss to San Francisco, the Panthers ranked just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%. Allen is seemingly regressing weekly and overall he ranks 5th worst in yards per attempt (6.66) among qualifying quarterbacks. 

The Titans are also starting a backup quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but he’s playing at a higher level (73.1% completion, 8.32 YPA) and is a much more experienced player. He’s not a great starter, but the Titans have a strong roster overall and don’t need much more than competent quarterback play from him. Even with underwhelming quarterback play, the Titans went 9-7 last season, despite facing a league high 9 playoff teams (4-5).

Their defense ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% in 2018 and that has carried into this season, as they rank 5th at 32.68%. If Tannehill can continue playing competently, they should be a tough team going forward. Even with Mariota starting the first 6 games of the season, the Titans rank 13th in first down rate at +1.14%, significantly better than the Panthers, who rank 22nd. That’s consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Titans 11th and the Panthers 18th. 

I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good line value with the Titans at +3.5, with about 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or fewer. They’d probably be my Pick of the Week if they had defensive lineman Jurrell Casey healthy, but the Titans are deep at that position with DaQuon Jones and Jeffrey Simmons, a first round rookie who has played well in his first 2 games back from a torn ACL, so losing Casey isn’t as big of a deal as it could have been. The Titans also will have cornerback Adoree Jackson, edge rusher Cameron Wake, and middle linebacker Jayon Brown, who’ve all missed time previously this season. I still like the Titans a lot as long as this line is higher than a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 20 Carolina Panthers 19 Upset Pick +165

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: High

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) at Seattle Seahawks (6-2)

I locked this line in at Tampa Bay +6 earlier this week during my Thursday Night Football write up and I’m glad I did because heavy sharp action on the Buccaneers has driven the line down to +5. The Seahawks are 6-2, but outside of MVP candidate Russell Wilson they have a pretty mediocre roster and have not played all that well that season, in spite of what their record suggests. Five of their 6 wins have come by a combined 15 points, including wins over the Bengals, Steeelers, Browns, and Falcons, who are a combined 6-24. They have just a +12 point differential and they rank just 14th in first down rate differential at +1.13%, despite facing the 8th easiest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA. 

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have faced the 5th hardest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA and they’ve been competitive, despite their record. They rank 15th in first down rate differential at -0.18%, not far behind the Seahawks. They’re also in a much better spot, as the Seahawks have to turn around and go to San Francisco next week, while the Buccaneers get to host the Cardinals. Underdogs are 68-31 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. This is definitely a look ahead spot for a Seahawks team that has had trouble winning by convincingly by big margins all season and I wouldn’t be surprised if this underrated Buccaneers team pulled the upset. This is my top Pick of the Week and I’d recommend a bet even if you didn’t get the +6 early. 

Seattle Seahawks 33 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week