Pick of the Week
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Pick of the Week
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New England Patriots (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)
At one point it looked like this game might not go on as scheduled, with Patriots quarterback Cam Newton testing positive for coronavirus on Saturday, at the same time a Chiefs practice squad player tested positive. However, after re-testing both teams, it appears to be isolated to the two players and this game will go on as scheduled, with the obvious difference being that the Patriots will have to start to veteran backup Brian Hoyer rather than Cam Newton.
That’s clearly an impactful absence, as Newton has been one of the more effective quarterbacks in the league this season, leading an offense that ranks 2nd in the league with a 45.77% first down rate. More so than the passing game, the Patriots’ run game figures to be significantly affected by the switch to Hoyer, as the threat of Newton taking off and running has helped propel this running game to 5.09 yards per carry (5th in the NFL), as opposed to a 25th ranked 3.81 yards per carry last season, when they ranked 21st in first down rate even with Tom Brady under center.
The Patriots’ offensive line is better this season, but their wide receivers aren’t and their defense has taken a big step back, ranking 22nd in first down rate allowed after leading the league in that metric by a wide margin in 2019. Because of how many teams around the league have been plagued with injuries, the Patriots still rank 21st in my roster rankings even without Cam Newton and they do still have a solid supporting cast, but it’s hard to see this being a competitive game anymore.
Of course, the line has shifted to compensate, with the Patriots opening up as 10.5-point underdogs when the line was re-posted, after being 7-point underdogs earlier in the week. I was originally leaning towards New England, possibly for a bet, with my calculated line being -4.5, but without Newton, that calculated line shifts up to 9.5 points. We’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Patriots, who may be better prepared for the abrupt shift because they are going to a quarterback who has been in the system for years, while the Chiefs spent all week game planning for a very different kind of quarterback, but there’s way too much uncertainty for this to be worth betting.
Kansas City Chiefs 27 New England Patriots 17
Pick against the spread: New England +10.5
Atlanta Falcons (0-3) at Green Bay Packers (3-0)
The Packers won last week in New Orleans to push their record to 3-0. Making that more impressive is the fact that they were without top wide receiver Davante Adams and top defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who has actually missed each of the past two seasons. Both players are expected to return this week after getting limited practices in every day this week, but that’s not a guarantee and the Packers have other key players who are questionable, with both center Corey Linsley and cornerback Jaire Alexander missing practice on Friday. On top of that, top linebacker Christian Kirksey, blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis, and starting wide receiver Allen Lazard are expected to miss their first game of the season this week.
I can’t bet the Packers confidently given all their injury questions, but if they have most or all of their questionable players in the lineup, I think they’re worth a bet. Not only would we be getting some line value with the Packers (my calculated line is Green Bay -10 if Green Bay’s questionables are active), but the Packers are in a great spot at home as big favorites before a bye. Since 2002, home favorites of 7+ are 63-25 ATS before a bye. I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick for now, but if the Packers are relatively healthy, this line is too low. Even if they’re missing key players, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were still able to take care of business before a bye against this underwhelming Falcons team.
Update: Both Clark and Adams are out again for the Packers. The line has dropped to 5 to compensate, but my calculated line dropped to 6.5, so we’re not getting much value. The Packers are still my pick, but I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick.
Green Bay Packers 34 Atlanta Falcons 27
Pick against the spread: Green Bay -5
Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at Houston Texans (0-3)
Both of these teams qualified for the post-season last year, but they’ve both gotten off to 0-3 starts that will make it tough for them to make it back to the post-season, even with an extra wild card spot being added. With both teams desperately wanting to avoid going 0-4, this will be essentially a must win game for both teams. A lot of attention has been given to the brutal start to their season that the Texans have had schedule wise, as they’ve faced the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers, but the Vikings’ schedule hasn’t been much easier, as they’ve faced the Packers, Colts, and Titans.
The Vikings have also outplayed the Texans. While the Texans have ranked 27th in first down rate differential at -4.45%, the Vikings have actually ranked 11th at +2.76%, with their struggles being primarily due to a -5 turnover margin that is the third worst in the NFL. Turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Vikings won’t necessarily continue struggling with turnovers just because they have in the first three games and they’ve had some other fluky things go against them as well, including teams making 12 of 12 field goals against them and converting 4 for 4 on 4th down (as opposed to 0 for 2 for the Vikings).
Despite the Vikings’ early edge and the fact that the Texans won’t have a normal homefield advantage, the Texans are favored by 3.5 points at home. Given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, this line is way too high. My calculated line is Houston -1, so Minnesota is worth a small bet this week. The two most likely outcomes of this game are either team winning by a field goal, two results that would both be covers for the Texans.
Houston Texans 24 Minnesota Vikings 23
Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3.5
Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Miami Dolphins (1-2)
The Seahawks have gotten off to an impressive 3-0 start, but their defense hasn’t been great, ranking 23rd in first down rate allowed, primarily due to their struggles on the defensive line. Their defensive line was expected to be a weakness coming into the season, but the Seahawks’ talented secondary looked like it could make up for that and it hasn’t been quite as good as expected. Making matters worse, cornerback Quinton Dunbar will miss his second straight game with an injury, while stud safety Jamal Adams will join him for his first game sidelined, further weakening their defense.
The Seahawks have a relative easy matchup this week in Miami, but they do have to travel cross-country and Miami has the kind of offense that can move the ball relatively easily on this defense, especially in garbage time. I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to lose this game, but the Dolphins could easily keep it relatively close or come up with a backdoor cover late. My calculated line suggests we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Seahawks as 5.5-point road favorites, but I’m not confident in them at all.
Seattle Seahawks 33 Miami Dolphins 27
Pick against the spread: Seattle -5.5
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1)
The Bengals haven’t done a lot of winning in the past couple years, finishing with the worst record in the league at 2-14 in 2019 and getting off to an 0-2-1 start in 2020, but they’ve generally been pretty competitive. Of their 14 losses last season, 8 of those came by 8 points or fewer, while their two losses this season have come by a combined 8 points. They finished last season 24th in first down rate differential at -3.47%, not great, but better than their league worst record suggested, and this year they should be better with the addition of quarterback Joe Burrow and the return of top receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams from injuries that cost them all of 2019. So far, the Bengals have been decent in first down rate differential, despite their lack of a win, ranking 18th in the NFL in this early season with a -0.70% first down rate differential.
The Jaguars have exceeded expectations after being expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, but they still only rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.47% and their 30th ranked defense is the kind of unit that could land this team among the worst in the league overall when all is said and done if their offense can’t continue playing at a high level (9th in first down rate). I don’t have the Jaguars as the worst team in the league and quarterback Gardiner Minshew can lead them to a few wins this season that they shouldn’t have otherwise had, like Ryan Fitzpatrick did for the expected league worst Dolphins in 2019, but the Jaguars rank just 29th in my roster rankings, so the 21st ranked Bengals have a significant edge in that as well. Despite that, this line suggests these two teams are about even, favoring the Bengals by just 2.5 points at home.
My calculated line is Cincinnati -5.5, even with minimal homefield advantage this year, so we’re getting good line value with the Bengals in a game where they have to win by only a field goal at home to cover. Unfortunately, the Bengals are in a couple of bad spots. Not only are they likely to be tired after last week’s tie, a spot in which teams are 9-17 ATS over the past 30 seasons, but they also have a big look ahead game on deck, going to Baltimore to face the Ravens, a game in which they are 16.5 point underdogs on the early line. Teams are 40-74 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs of 10 points or more, as that tends to serve as a big upcoming distraction. I’m still taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on them.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -2.5
Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-1)
This has been an especially brutal year for injuries in the NFL, but it’s possible no team is as banged up on one side of the ball as the Eagles are on offense. On the offensive line, they were already without left tackle Andre Dillard, left guard Isaac Seumalo, and right guard Brandon Brooks and now they’ll also be without veteran Jason Peters, who was signed originally to replace Brooks at right guard and had been playing left tackle since Dillard went down.
In the receiving corps, the Eagles are missing tight end Dallas Goedert and incredibly are without their top-4 wide receivers, leaving them with just two healthy wide receivers on the active roster (45 career catches between them), with the rest of the spots to be filled with practice squad players. The Eagles are much healthier on defense, but their offensive injuries are a major problem, especially since quarterback Carson Wentz is struggling independent of the problems around him. Overall, I have the Eagles just 26th in my roster rankings right now.
This week, the Eagles get to play a 49ers team that is also dealing with significant injury absences, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert, cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Akhello Witherspoon, and Emmanuel Mosley, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and defensive ends Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas, but the 49ers are still significantly more talented than the Eagles in their current state. They have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league in Nick Mullens, fresh off an easy victory over the Giants in his first start of the season last week, and he’ll get a pair of valuable weapons back from injury this week in Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, though Samuel is expected to be limited. Overall, I have them 4.5 points better than the Eagles in my roster rankings.
Given that the 49ers are favored by a touchdown at home, where they’ll have minimal crowd noise, we aren’t really getting line value with them. The 49ers are in a much better spot though, for a couple reasons. For one, the Eagles could be exhausted after playing the Bengals to a tie last week and teams are understandably 9-17 ATS after a tie over the past thirty seasons. On top of that, while the Eagles have to turn around and go to Pittsburgh for another tough matchup next week, the 49ers have another easy game on deck at home against the Dolphins.
Favorites of 7+ are 102-59 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, while underdogs of 7+ are 55-90 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 7+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 7+ are 27-5 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again when their opponent will be underdogs of 7+ again the following week. Good teams tend to take care of business against bad teams without upcoming distractions on their schedule, while bad teams tend to struggle to keep it close against good teams with another tough game on deck. All of those conditions should be true this week. There’s not quite enough here for the 49ers to be worth betting with this line being where it is, but they should be the right side.
San Francisco 49ers 21 Philadelphia Eagles 13
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7
Arizona Cardinals (2-1) at Carolina Panthers (1-2)
The Cardinals have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start to the season on both sides of the ball. They have won the first down rate battle in each of their first three games of the season and not only do they rank 4th in the league in first down rate differential at +5.60%, but they’re also the only team in the league with an offense and a defense that both rank in the top-12 in first down rate and first down rate allowed. The Cardinals picked up their first loss of the season last week, but they only lost by three, despite losing the turnover battle by 3, and they won the first down rate battle by 10.50%. Turnover margins are very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and it was actually impressive to see them keep it close despite their turnover issues.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are very beat up this week, missing safeties Budda Baker and Chris Banjo and possibly wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. I wouldn’t expect their defense to continue playing this well all season either way, as they’ve largely outperformed their talent level and have had an easy schedule, but missing their safeties is a big blow, particularly Budda Baker, who has been arguably their best defensive player this year. Meanwhile, their offense, which has a good chance to maintain their high level of play long-term, will obviously find that much more difficult this week if Hopkins can’t go after not practicing all week.
The Panthers have a big injury absence with running back Christian McCaffrey on the sidelines, but they get a big boost on defense this week with stud defensive tackle Kawaan Short returning from injury, as well as cornerback Eli Apple, whose return should help to a lesser extent. With Hopkins being highly questionable for the Cardinals, I have the Cardinals just 3 points ahead of the Panthers in my roster rankings right now, so we’re getting value with the Panthers at home as 3-point underdogs. I wouldn’t recommend betting them unless Hopkins misses or unless this line moves up to 3.5, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.
Arizona Cardinals 24 Carolina Panthers 23
Pick against the spread: Carolina +3
New York Giants (0-3) at Los Angeles Rams (2-1)
The Giants season has not gotten off to a good start, as they are winless at 0-3 and have lost probably their best player Saquon Barkley for the season. Their offense had a pathetic performance in their first full game without Barkley, managing just a 26.53% first down rate (13 first downs and no touchdowns on 49 plays) at home against a banged up 49ers defense in a 36-9 loss, pushing the Giants’ offense down to a 33.14% first down rate on the season that ranks 30th in the league, only ahead of the Broncos and the Jets. Those offensive issues should continue going forward without Barkley, which will overshadow a defense that has been surprisingly solid so far this season, ranking 11th with a 37.31% first down rate allowed.
The Giants have a tougher test this week, on the road against a solid Rams team that doesn’t have any significant injury absences. The Giants are also in a tough spot, as they have another tough game on deck in Dallas against the Cowboys, while the Rams have only an easy matchup in Washington on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 102-59 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, while underdogs of 7+ are 55-90 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 7+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 7+ are 27-5 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again when their opponent will be underdogs of 7+ again the following week.
Good teams tend to take care of business against bad teams without upcoming distractions on their schedule, while bad teams tend to struggle to keep it close against good teams when they have another tough game on deck. All of those conditions should be true this week. This line is steep at 13.5 (my calculated line is actually only 10, because the Giants have a solid defense), but the Rams should still be the pick for pick ‘em purposes because they’re in a great spot and they are much better coached.
Los Angeles Rams 26 New York Giants 10
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -13.5
Buffalo Bills (3-0) at Las Vegas Raiders (2-1)
The Bills got a huge victory last week at home over the Rams. Coming into the season, the big question was whether or not this team could elevate their level of play against tougher competition. The Bills made the post-season last year, but they had a very easy schedule and did not perform well in their tougher games. They went just 1-5 against teams that finished with a winning record, with their only win coming against the Marcus Mariota-led Titans in a game in which the Titans missed 4 field goals and lost by 7. Even with that win against the Titans included, quarterback Josh Allen completed just 51.7% of his passes for an average of 5.65 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions against winning teams, as opposed to 62.6% completion, 7.26 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions against .500 or worse teams.
With their schedule getting much tougher this season, the Bills needed to take a step forward against winning competition if they wanted to make it back to the post-season. I thought they had a chance to, given the addition of Stefon Diggs at wide receiver and the likely improvement of quarterback Josh Allen in his third season, and the Rams last week were their first chance to test that, after the Bills opened they season by taking care of business against a pair of bad teams in the Jets and Dolphins.
It wasn’t a convincing win for Buffalo, as they blew a 28-3 lead to allow the Rams to pull ahead at one point late, but ultimately they got the win by closing the Rams out with a late touchdown drive. Now 3-0, the Bills might not be an elite team, but they seem to have taken a step forward from last season. How much of a step forward might not be clear until they face tougher competition, and they’ve been lucky to avoid injuries thus far, but they currently rank 9th in my roster rankings, so they’re not going to be an easy team for anyone to defeat unless injuries strike.
The Bills won’t be tested as much this week as it looks as first glance. They are traveling to face a 2-1 Raiders team, but the Raiders have a negative first down rate differential at -0.15% and are really beat up in this game. In total, they are missing a pair of starting offensive lineman in left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown, their top-two outside receivers in Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, and top cornerback Damon Arnette, pushing them down to 22nd in my roster rankings.
The Raiders are also in a tough spot, as they have another big game on deck in Kansas City, a game in which they are currently projected to be 11.5-point underdogs. Teams are 40-74 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs of 10 points or more, as that tends to serve as a big upcoming distraction. At far less than 100% health wise, in a tough scheduling spot, the Raiders could struggle against a team like the Bills, even at home, where they won’t have the benefit of fans. I have this line calculated at Buffalo -4.5 even before taking into account that the Raiders could get caught looking ahead this week, so the Bills are worth a play this week at -3. The Raiders have had a tendency to get blown out over the past two seasons (7 of 10 losses coming by 16 points or more) and Buffalo is good enough to give them another big loss this week.
Buffalo Bills 24 Las Vegas Raiders 17
Pick against the spread: Buffalo -3