Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

Both of these teams had disappointing opening weeks, with the Vikings losing at home to the division rival Packers and the Colts losing on the road to the Jaguars by a slim margin in a big upset. For the Vikings, all of their problems were on defense, as they allowed the Packers to pick up first downs at a 47.37% rate, the 5th highest mark of the week. The Vikings were actually one of the four teams ahead of them though, even though they ultimately lost the game.

In fact, the Vikings led the week with a ridiculous 59.18% first down rate, picking up 25 first downs and scoring 4 offensive touchdowns, on just 49 offensive plays. The Packers’ offensive display was more impressive on the scoreboard, but they went 6 of 11 on third downs, they won the turnover battle by 1, and, while the Vikings failed on their only 4th down attempt, the Packers went 1 for 2, with their one failure coming on the goal line and leading almost immediately to a safety and re-gained position.

The Vikings were still able to put up 34 points despite running 27 fewer plays because they were hyper-efficient on 1st and 2nd down, winning the yards per play battle significantly as well (7.8 to 6.9) and needing to run just 6 third down plays (3 for 6) all game, by far the fewest in the league last week (next closest was 9). Turnover margin and third/fourth down conversion rates tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so it bodes well for the Vikings’ offensive chances that they were able to be that efficient on early downs against a capable defense. The Vikings have obvious issues on defense and those should continue at least until edge defender Danielle Hunter returns from injury, but their offense looks more than capable of winning shootouts in the meantime.

On the other side, the Colts disappointed on both sides of the ball in Jacksonville, but they lost the turnover margin by -2, something that won’t happen every week, and that week 1 result is probably the one we’ll most look back on as a fluke at the end of the season. The Colts were just a middling team last year, but they get an upgrade under center (even if Rivers isn’t what he was, he should be better than Brissett), they get their top wide receiver back from injury in TY Hilton, and they add a much needed stud defensive lineman in DeForest Buckner, so they should end up being noticeably improved this season when all is said and done, even if they didn’t gel right away with a new quarterback after a short off-season.

In my roster rankings, I give the Colts a 4-point edge over the Vikings and their banged up defense, so we’re getting some line value with the Colts as just 3-point home favorites. The Vikings have the offensive firepower to keep things close and even pull off the upset, especially if the Colts are still feeling the effects of installing a new quarterback on a shortened off-season, but I think there’s enough here for the Colts to be worth a small bet in a game they should win and only need to win by 3 to at least push.

Indianapolis Colts 30 Minnesota Vikings 24

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (0-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

Just a week into the season, the Broncos are arguably the most injury-affected team in the league. Already missing edge defender Von Miller for the season with injury before the season started, the Broncos will also be without middle linebacker Mark Barron, cornerback AJ Bouye, running back Philip Lindsay, and possible top receiver Courtland Sutton due to injury. The Steelers have injury problems of their own on the right side of their offensive line, with right guard David DeCastro and his backup Stefen Wisniewski both out, as well as right tackle Zach Banner, but they don’t have injuries affecting multiple units and team functions like the Broncos do. 

The Broncos only lost their opener by 2 at home to the Titans, but that would have been 12 if the Titans could have made makeable kicks and quarterback Drew Lock, whose development is the single biggest factor in this team’s chances this year, struggled against a banged up Titans defense, finishing 30th out of 32 eligible quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus in week one. There was a time earlier this off-season when I thought they could compete for a playoff spot, but they rank just 27th in my roster rankings right now. Given that, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Steelers as 8-point favorites. I have this line calculated at 9.5, which is not enough line value for them to be worth betting, but that may change if Sutton doesn’t play and they’re the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

Update: Sutton will play, but this line has fallen all the way to 6.5, crossing the key number of 7. The Steelers should be able to win by at least a touchdown against a Broncos team that is missing other key players and that still doesn’t appear to have a serviceable starter under center.

Pittsburgh Steelers 22 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: PIttsburgh -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) at Tennessee Titans (1-0)

The Jaguars pulled the biggest upset of week one, winning at home as 8-point underdogs against the Colts. That is likely to prove to be a fluke though, as the Jaguars still have one of the worst rosters in the league and are not going to be able to rely on winning the turnover battle by 2 every week. If Gardner Minshew can take a step forward in his second season in the league, he can lead this team to a few wins like Ryan Fitzpatrick did with the Dolphins last year when they had a similarly untalented roster, but the Dolphins were also blown out a lot last year.

This seems like one of those instances where the Jaguars are likely to be blown out, as the Titans are at home and became a legitimate top-10 team when they signed Jadeveon Clowney, who should play even more in his second game with the Titans. In his debut, the Titans only won by 2 in Denver, but they lost 10 points on makeable kicks, something that is highly unlikely to continue happening every week. 

The Jaguars likely fluke win shifted this line all the week from Tennessee -11 on the early line last week to -7.5 this week and, while some of that is justified due to the Titans missing starting cornerback Malcolm Butler and top receiver AJ Brown (in addition to fellow cornerback Adoree Jackson continuing to be out), I still have this line calculated at Tennessee -10.5 (it wouldn’t have been about -13 with Butler and Brown in the lineup). There’s enough line value with the Titans for them to be worth a small bet this week.

Update: Some 7s have shown up Sunday morning. This bet is worth increasing if you can get that number.

Tennessee Titans 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -7

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (1-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-1)

The Bills started their season with a big home win over the Jets, winning by score of 27-17 and finishing with a +9.90% first down rate differential, 4th best of the week. That result shifted this line from 3.5 on the early line last week to 5.5 this week, as bettors seem to think that the Bills will continue that into another easy matchup with the Dolphins. That’s not necessarily the case though, for a few reasons.

For one, they’ll be on the road in Miami, where the Dolphins will have at least some fans in attendance. The Dolphins are also a better and healthier team than the Jets and they play harder and are better coached as well. On top of that, the Bills will have to play this game without their talented young linebacker duo of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, who are both out for this game. That’s a big blow to this Buffalo defense and should make it easier for the Dolphins to keep this close. I’ll need to confirm Devante Parker’s health status before the game, as the Dolphins #1 receiver is a gametime decision with a hamstring injury, but if he’s in the lineup and the line doesn’t move, the Dolphins may be worth a bet.

Update: Parker is playing, but this line has crept up to 6 in some places. I think that’s worth betting if you can get it. Without both of Buffalo’s linebackers, this line shouldn’t be any higher than 3.

Buffalo Bills 23 Miami Dolphins 21

Pick against the spread: Miami +6

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-0)

The Chargers snuck out a close victory in Cincinnati last week, on the strength of a +2 turnover margin. That was certainly not the norm last season, as the Chargers finished with a 2-9 record in games decided by 8 points or less and had a league worst -17 turnover margin on the season. It’s not unexpected though, as turnover margin and close game record tend to be highly inconsistent year-to-year. Case in point, the Chargers were 6-1 in games decided by 8 or less and had a +1 turnover margin in 2018, with largely the same roster as 2019.

The Chargers only finished 5-11 last season, but they actually ranked 7th in the NFL in first down rate differential (not far behind their 2nd ranked finish in 2018), which bodes well for their chances in 2020, as first down rate is a much more predictive stat than turnover margin or close game record. I wouldn’t expect the Chargers to be as good this season in first down rate differential, downgrading from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor under center, and they haven’t started the season with better injury luck, losing stud safety Derwin James for the season after he missed 11 games last season, but Taylor is better than most give him credit for, now in an offense that fits his skillset well again, and the Chargers are getting healthier this week, as big off-season addition Trai Turner will make his debut at right guard after missing the opener, which should give this offense a boost.

The Chargers are running into a juggernaut in the Chiefs, but they played the Chiefs twice down the stretch last season when the Chiefs were hot and on their eventual Super Bowl run and the Chargers kept those games between 7 and 10 points and were even closer in first down rate differential at -2.12% and -1.75% respectively. This line gives them 9 points of cushion and they’ll also have one benefit that they didn’t have last season, which is that they won’t have to face a road crowd, something they always do against the Chiefs, regardless of where they play, even at home. In fact, with the Chargers able to pump in fake crowd noise, this team might have some real homefield advantage for the first time in years. 

The Chiefs are also in a tough spot, as they could easily look past the Chargers with a huge Monday night matchup in Baltimore on deck, while the Chargers have an easy game against the Panthers on deck. Underdogs are 76-38 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions are almost definitely true here. I like the Chargers’ chances of keeping this close, especially with the Chiefs pretty banged up on defense with starting #1 cornerback Chavarius Ward and rotational defensive linemen Alex Okafor and Khalen Saunders out. This would be my Pick of the Week if I wasn’t terrified of the Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Los Angeles Chargers 27

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +9

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (0-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)

The Buccaneers lost by double digits in Tom Brady’s debut in New Orleans last week and, as was seemingly the case every time Brady lost in New England over the past half decade, the questions are now swirling about Tom Brady’s long-term ability and even his relationship with his head coach. I think the Buccaneers played a lot better than the final score suggested though, as they actually won the first down rate pretty substantially on the road against the top ranked team in my roster rankings last week in the Saints. The Buccaneers’ +8.18% first down rate differential was actually the 6th highest of the opening week.

The Buccaneers were hurt significantly by a -3 turnover margin and a subsequent defensive touchdown, two things that are totally inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The average team with a -3 turnover margin has a +0.0 turnover margin the following week and I don’t expect a Tom Brady quarterbacked team to continue turning it over like they’re a Jameis Winston quarterbacked team. I also was especially impressed with how the Buccaneers’ defense held the Saints to a 31.82% first down rate and held Drew Brees to one of his least effective starts in years. 

I had many more questions about the Buccaneers’ defense than their offense coming into the season, given that they were one of the worst defenses in the league for a year and a half before some young players came on down the stretch last season, so seeing them continue play well in week 1 of this season against one of the toughest tests in the league is a very good sign for this team’s long-term chances. The offense, which moved the ball well when not turning it over, isn’t the concern on this team.

Speaking of this offense and specifically quarterback Tom Brady, I like betting Brady in this spot, given his track record off of a loss in his career. In New England, Brady was 42-22 ATS off of a loss, frequently silencing critics who prematurely wrote off his team. He has a good chance to do the same thing this week, especially against an easy matchup. I wish we got some extra line value after the Buccaneers loss last week, but even with this line staying put at 8.5, we’re still getting good value with the Buccaneers, as this is a matchup of a top-5 team and a bottom-5 team right now.

I didn’t think much of the Panthers going into the season because, while they have some offensive firepower, their quarterback play and offensive line leave something to be desired, while their defense is arguably the worst in the league. That defense went from bad to worse this week when they lost defensive tackle Kawaan Short, arguably their best defensive player, to an injury. They’ll also be without rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who was supposed to be a big part of this defensive line rotation. Without those two, this is a very depleted group upfront. 

The Buccaneers will be missing wide receiver Chris Godwin, but they’ll get Mike Evans back healthy after he was far less than 100% last week and this team is much better equipped to deal with Godwin’s absence than the Panthers are to deal with Short’s loss. The Buccaneers still have Evans, promising young wide receiver Scotty Miller, and a trio of talented tight ends, while the Panthers are almost entirely devoid of defensive impact players without Short. I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -12.5, even with no fans in attendance for the Buccaneers’ home opener. This should be an easy win for the Buccaneers and I like them enough to make them my Pick of the Week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -8.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Both of these teams lost their season opener. For the Bengals, it was their 22nd loss in their last 25 games, dating back to their week 9 bye in the middle of the 2018 season, including a league worst 2-14 in 2019. The Bengals were better than last season’s record suggests though. Of their 14 losses, 8 were decided by 8 points or fewer, while both of their wins came by 10 points or more, even though they had the 3rd worst turnover margin in the league at -14.

Turnover margins and close game records tend to be unpredictable on a year-to-year basis and, in terms of first down rate differential, the Bengals ranked 24th at -3.47%, certainly not good, but not at the worst in the league either. They also should have better quarterback play with rookie #1 overall pick Joe Burrow coming in and they should have better health in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, particularly with top receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams returning after missing all of 2019.

The Bengals’ opener was more of the same though, losing the turnover battle by two and the game by three, despite winning the first down rate battle by 1.68%. That doesn’t necessarily mean that will continue though. Case in point, the Bengals’ week 1 opponents, the Chargers, had a 2-9 record in games decided by 8 points or fewer and a league worst -17 turnover margin in 2019, leading to them going just 5-11 despite ranking 7th in first down rate differential, but in week one they managed to win a close game and win the turnover battle. 

This week the Bengals go to Cleveland and are 6-point underdogs even though it’s a short trip and the Browns will be limited to 6,000 fans in the stadium. That suggests the Bengals are a little underrated because of all of their recent close losses. The Bengals are missing key defensive tackle Geno Atkins with injury and fellow starter Mike Daniels as well, but the Browns, while they aren’t missing anyone of Atkins’ caliber, are very thin at cornerback and linebacker, where they are missing multiple expected contributors at each position. I have this line calculated at Cleveland -4.5, so we’re not getting a ton of line value, but the Bengals should be the choice for pick ‘em purposes. They might not win, but they should at least keep it competitive like they have most of their recent games. 

Update: The Browns will be without defensive end Olivier Vernon as well, while right tackle Jack Conklin is reportedly only going to be available in emergency situations. Both got limited practice in this week, but it wasn’t enough for them to be cleared to start on a short week. Those are two significant absences, but this line hasn’t moved in most places. If you can still get +6, this is worth a bet. The Browns are very banged up and the Bengals have enough talent to be at least competitive in most of their games.

Cleveland Browns 26 Cincinnati Bengals 23

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +6

Confidence: Medium