Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-6)

The Buccaneers were embarrassed in a 38-3 loss to the Saints last week, losing the first down rate battle by 8.73%. I thought that win was more about the Saints though, as the Saints are arguably the top team in the league on paper when healthy and they showed it in a big way. I was expecting the Saints to come in, give the Buccaneers a game, and at least cover the 4.5-point spread. Obviously a 35-point win goes far beyond giving the Buccaneers a game and a 35-point loss to anyone is a concern for a team, but it’s definitely worth noting that the Buccaneers still rank 2nd in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.61%, even with that game factored in.

The Buccaneers’ offense gets the attention, but their defense has led the way with a -4.38% first down rate allowed over expected that ranks 2nd in the NFL, while their offense ranks 17th in first down rate over expected at +0.23%. Defenses tend to be more unpredictable on a week-to-week basis than offenses and the Buccaneers’ defense is not quite the same without the injured Vita Vea, but any regression from their defense could be compensated for by an offense that should be better with top wide receiver Chris Godwin healthy after missing four games and free agent signee Antonio Brown working into the mix after his first game back from suspension last week. 

It’s also worth noting how well Tom Brady has played after a loss in his career, going 44-22 ATS, including 34-10 ATS when not favored by a touchdown or more and 21-6 ATS after a loss by 10 points or more. There is no precedent for how Brady performs off of a loss by 35 points because he’s never lost by that many points in his career, but it’s safe to say he’ll be fully determined to avoid back-to-back bad outings and that we should get a much better effort from his team this week.

This line didn’t shift as much as I would have hoped, following that blowout loss, with the Buccaneers going from 6.5 point favorites on the early line last week to 5.5 point favorites this week, but I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -8.5, with the Panthers having minimal fans and homefield advantage for this one, so we’re still getting good line value. I would expect the Buccaneers to bounce back and win this one with relative ease, so they’re a strong bet at 5.5.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -5.5

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (7-2) at Arizona Cardinals (5-4)

These two teams have been pretty similar this year. Both have had dominant offenses, with the Cardinals ranking 1st in schedule adjusted first down rate at +3.55% and the Bills ranking 3rd at +3.09%, but both defenses have struggled mightily, ranking 25th and 28th respectively in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed. Typically, teams with dominant offenses and weak defenses are smart bets going forward because offensive play tends to be much more static week-to-week, while defensive play is more inconsistent.

The Bills have a much better chance of being improved defensively going forward than the Cardinals though, as they have more talent on that side of the ball. These two teams are about the same offensively, but the Bills’ defensive edge gives them a 2.5 point edge in my roster rankings overall. Given that the Cardinals will have minimal fans for this home game, I have this line calculated at Buffalo -1.5, so we’re getting some line value at Buffalo +2.5. 

The Cardinals are also in a look ahead spot, playing the Seahawks on a short week in Seattle on Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 44.0% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football and, making matters worse for the Cardinals, the Bills should be fully focused ahead of their bye. Favorites are just 13-24 ATS over the past thirty seasons before a short week when their opponent will next have an extended rest, which isn’t a big sample size, but it makes sense. I’d like the Bills more if this line creeps up to +3, but the Bills are still worth a bet at +2.5 and the money line is a smart bet as well.

Update: The Bills had two of their top-3 cornerbacks ruled out on Saturday because of COVID. I probably would not have bet them Friday night if I hadn’t known that was going to happen, but that’s the nature of predicting games in 2020. I do still have the Bills as slightly favored to pull the upset though.

Buffalo Bills 34 Arizona Cardinals 33 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at New England Patriots (3-5)

The Patriots have gone just 3-5 in their first season without Tom Brady, at one point losing four straight games for the first time since 2002 and only snapping that losing streak by squeaking out a field goal win over the Jets last week. Things haven’t been quite as bad as they sound though. The Patriots have lost a lot of close games, going 1-3 in games decided by one score or less and, if you exclude a game in which they were within a score of the Chiefs with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter despite starting a backup quarterback, the Patriots are 2-1 on the season in games decided by more than a touchdown. The Patriots have also faced an above average schedule and, when adjusted for schedule, have a -0.92% first down rate differential that is only slightly below average. 

Even better, the Patriots’ issues have primarily been on the defensive side of the ball this season, as they rank 10th in first down rate over expected at +1.25%, but just 23rd in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.17%. The defensive side of the ball tends to be the much more inconsistent side of the ball and the Patriots’ offense, while not being the passing game we’re used to from them, is still pretty effective at moving the chains, especially on the ground, and has one of the best offensive lines in the league. 

As bad as their near loss to the Jets was, the Patriots actually exceeded expectations on offense with a 39.47% first down rate against a Jets defense that isn’t hapless, ranking 20th in first down rate allowed over expected. The problem was their defense surrendered a 40.91% first down rate to an offense that had been anemic all season, but defensive issues are easier to fix week-to-week and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is one of the best of all-time at defensive adjustments. It’s also very possible the Patriots got caught looking forward, facing a last place Jets team before this Sunday Night Football game against Baltimore. I would expect a better effort this week.

The Patriots’ schedule gets harder this week as the Ravens are obviously a much tougher opponent than the Jets, but not as much as you might think. This once dominant Ravens offense ranks just 27th in first down rate over expected at -1.86% and, while they are better than that on paper, they are also missing their top-2 offensive linemen from last season in Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley and, with defenses catching on to how to defend this offense, it looks less and less likely that the Ravens will consistently find their 2019 form again this season. 

The Ravens have still played well defensively this season, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.94%, but defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive play and the Ravens are missing a pair of key players this week with defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined. Given all that the Ravens are missing, this line is too high at a touchdown.

I’m going to bet the Patriots at least a little bit at +7, but unfortunately the Patriots have listed 17 players questionable this week, including cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who missed last week’s game against the Jets and may be needed if this defense is going to bounce back, so I’m leaving this as a small bet until we get more clarity before gametime. This could easily end up being a higher confidence pick though, depending on injuries.

Baltimore Ravens 27 New England Patriots 24

Pick against the spread: New England +7

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (6-2)

The Saints started the season 1-2, but I was never that concerned. The Saints typically start slow, going 4-17-1 ATS in week 1 and 2 since 2010, as opposed to 87-57-2 ATS in weeks 3-17, and, while it didn’t seem likely that the Saints would go on a run until they got key players back from injury, most notably #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas, I always expected them to go on a run at some point and to be betting them heavily over that stretch. In Thomas’ first game back since week 1, last week in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, the Saints rolled over one of the best teams in the league, winning the first down rate battle by 8.73% in a 38-3 win.

Thomas wasn’t the primary reason for their victory, but he’s obviously one of the top wide receivers in the league and this is such a complete team that Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to dominate every game. In addition to Thomas’ return, the Saints have also gotten back defensive end Marcus Davenport (4 games missed), defensive tackle David Onyemata (1 game), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (2 games), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (1 game), tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) in recent weeks.

Despite all of the players who have missed time for this team thus far, the Saints rank 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.65% and, now healthy, my roster rankings have them as the #1 overall team in the league, as they were coming into this season. This line has shifted from favoring the Saints by 6.5 points on the early line last week to 9.5 this week, in the wake of the Saints’ blowout win and the 49ers’ big loss to the Packers, but I think we’re still getting good line value.

The 49ers are in slightly better shape than last week, but they are still missing starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, stud tight end George Kittle, their top-2 centers Weston Richburg and Ben Garland, their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, their top outside cornerback Richard Sherman, their top slot cornerback K’Waun Williams, rotational defensive linemen Ezekiel Ansah and Solomon Thomas, and starting safety Jaquiski Tartt. 

Missing all those players, the 49ers rank just 21st in my roster rankings and I have the Saints calculated at -12. The Saints are also in a good spot with only another easy matchup against the Falcons on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 52-33 ATS since 2018 before being favorites of 6+ again the following week, which the Saints almost definitely will be. The 49ers have double digit losses in three of their past five games, as injuries have piled up and the schedule has gotten tougher, and I would expect this to be another double digit loss. I don’t like the Saints quite as much at -10, but at -9.5, I like the Saints a good amount.

New Orleans Saints 30 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (6-2)

This one is a tough call. The Colts have been better overall this season, ranking 8th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.75%, while the Titans rank 21st at -0.54%, but the Titans have been a much better offensive team than the Colts, which is important because offense is a much more predictable side of the ball. The Colts have a big edge on defense, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.06%, as compared to 21st at +1.61% for the Titans, but, if the Colts regress defensively, it would really expose their offense, which ranks 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.31%. The Titans, meanwhile, rank 11th in first down rate over expected at +1.07% and could easily be better defensively going forward, especially after acquiring slot cornerback Desmond King from the Chargers, one of the best players at his position in the league. They will also get edge defender Jadeveon Clowney back from a one-game absence this week.

Ordinarily, I would take a team like the Titans’ at home as small favorites against a team like the Colts that has struggled offensively, but my roster rankings have the Colts’ offense much higher than their performance so far, in large part due to their dominant offensive line. That suggests the Colts have underachieved offensively and could be improved going forward. In fact, in my roster rankings, these two teams are about even overall, suggesting this line is right about where it should be. I’m taking the Titans, but mostly only because the home team winning by a field goal is the most likely outcome in a tight matchup like this. This is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

Tennessee Titans 27 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -1.5

Confidence: None