Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)

I have been considering this as my Pick of the Week all week and, with good injury news coming in on Saturday, I think this makes the most sense of my top options this week, for several reasons. For one, I think this line is way off, favoring the Cardinals by 1.5 points on the road in Dallas, where the Cowboys will have something resembling a crowd in the stands. This line was at Dallas -3 a week ago and, while it’s certainly understandable that Dak Prescott’s injury would cause this line to move, there have been some other injury developments in this game since last week, with the Cardinals losing top edge defender and pass rusher Chandler Jones and the Cowboys likely to get top linebacker Leighton Vander Esch back from a 4-game absence, which is the injury news that solidified this pick for me.

As much as Prescott’s injury hurts the Cowboys, they at least have a capable experienced backup in Andy Dalton behind him, as opposed to the Cardinals, who severely lack pass rush talent without Jones, who was one of the best pass rushers in the game. Dalton has plenty of weapons around him on this offense and the Cardinals don’t have the edge defenders to take advantage of the Cowboys’ missing offensive tackles, so the Cowboys should still be able to move the ball with relative ease in this one. Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense should have a much better chance of slowing down the Cardinals with Vander Esch back in the lineup. I have the Cowboys about 1.5 points better than the Cardinals in my roster rankings, suggesting the Cowboys should be at least field goal favorites at home with some homefield advantage.

The Cowboys are also in a much better spot. While they also have an easy trip to Washington on deck, the Cardinals have to turn around and host the undefeated Seahawks in a major divisional game and they could easily look past the Cowboys as a result, especially with Dalton under center. Underdogs are 118-68 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be favorites, including 11-2 ATS as home underdogs before being road favorites when their opponent will next be home underdogs. That should all be true here. Add in the additional motivation the Cowboys will have to silence doubters and win this one for Dak and I like their chances a lot in this one. Tampa Bay would probably be my Pick of the Week if not for Vander Esch, but the Cowboys are my top pick this week.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Arizona Cardinals 24 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Dallas +1.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-1)

Both of these teams started the season 4-0, but both teams also had disappointing results last week, with the Bills getting blown out on the road by fellow undefeated Tennessee by score of 42-16 and the Chiefs getting upset in shocking fashion at home against a middling Raiders team by score of 40-32. The odds makers seem more concerned about the Titans’ result, as this line has shifted from favoring the Chiefs by 3 points on the early line to now favoring the Chiefs by 5, but the Bills’ disappointing result was more excusable, seeing as they were missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White, top linebacker Matt Milano, and starting wide receiver John Brown, who could all return this week. The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be without starting guard Kelechi Osemele and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

I still have this line calculated at Kansas City -3, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills, but I’m no longer considering this for Pick of the Week, like I was when it seemed like Brown, White, and Milano would almost definitely return. All three practiced all week, but they’re still listed questionable and Brown and Milano were both downgraded to limited on Saturday after full practices all week. My calculated line factors in them all being questionable, but if one of them were to miss, my calculated line would increase, and vice versa if all three were able to play. If the latter ends up being the case, I’ll probably bet on Buffalo, perhaps for a larger wager, but this is a low confidence pick for now. If I decide to bet this one, it’ll be before gametime, when inactives are announced.

Update: Brown will play, but Milano won’t. It’s not ideal, but this line has moved up to 6 in some places. If you can get 6, I think that’s worth a bet. My calculated line is still -3 and this should be a close game.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Buffalo Bills 30

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +6

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (1-4) at New England Patriots (2-2)

This game looks like it is finally going to be played. It was originally scheduled to be played last week, but due to the Patriots’ COVID outbreak, the game was moved to week 6 and week 5 was made a bye week for these two teams. The Patriots had an additional COVID positive on Friday, but it appears to be an isolated case and, without a good re-scheduling option, the NFL will play this game this week, barring any further positives.

The Broncos get starting quarterback Drew Lock back for the first time since he injured his throwing shoulder in week 2, but the Patriots definitely benefit the most from the additional time off, as it allowed them to get starting quarterback Cam Newton and top cornerback Stephon Gilmore back from the COVID list and those are probably the Patriots’ most important players on either side of the ball. The additional positive test also doesn’t hurt the Patriots in this game because it was a reserve offensive lineman who was unlikely to see the field on offense. 

The Patriots are just 2-2, but, now with their key players back, they’re much better than their record suggests. Their two losses both came on the road against two of the better teams in the league in Seattle and Kansas City. The Seattle game came down to a goal line stop and the Patriots arguably would have won in Kansas City if they had Cam Newton starting that game rather than Brian Hoyer, as their defense managed to hold the Chiefs’ offense to just two offensive touchdowns all game. Their two wins, meanwhile, were both convincing victories by double digits over the Dolphins and Raiders.

The Broncos are much more in line with the Dolphins and Raiders than the Seahawks and Chiefs, but they’re better than their 1-4 record would suggest, so we’re not really getting line value with the Patriots as 9-point home favorites, especially with the Patriots being one of the few teams in the league to still not have any fans in their stadium. The Broncos have been ravaged by injury this season, even beyond the injury to their starting quarterback, as Lock will be missing his #1 receiver Courtland Sutton and their defense is without stud edge defender Von Miller, talented defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and expected top cornerback AJ Bouye, but their defense is still very well coached by Vic Fangio and ranks 2nd in the league with a 31.67% first down rate allowed. 

Given those absences, it’s unlikely the Broncos’ defense will be able to keep that rate up all season, but any decline on defense could be offset by improvement on offense if Lock can return healthy and progress going forward after 7 career starts. My calculated line is actually only New England -7, giving the Patriots a 6-point advantage over the Broncos and a point for their nominal homefield advantage.

Unfortunately, this is a bad spot for the Broncos, as they have another tough game on deck against the Chiefs, a game in which they are currently 9-point home underdogs on the early line. Teams are 44-106 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, including 17-44 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown or more before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, like the Broncos are this week. It’s very tough for an inferior team to keep a game close against a much better opponent when they have another tough game on deck. For that reason, I’m taking the Patriots, but you could make arguments for both sides in this game, as the Broncos’ well coached defense could easily be able to keep this game close.

New England Patriots 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: New England -9

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-3-1)

The Ravens had a stinker of a performance at home against the Chiefs week 3, a 34-20 loss that was worse than the final score, as the Ravens got 11 points of benefit from their special teams, didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the 4th quarter, and lost the first down rate battle by 14.50%, but, despite that terrible game, the Ravens still rank 7th in the league in first down rate differential at +4.12%. Even more encouraging is the fact that the Ravens have been led by their defense, which was their more questionable side of the ball coming into their season, as their 4th ranked defense (33.63% first down rate allowed) has made up for an offense that actually ranks just 20th in the NFL in first down rate at 37.76%. 

The Ravens’ offense will almost definitely be better than that going forward, as they’re obviously more talented than that on paper, so, if their defense continues to play at a high level, the Ravens have a good chance to end up as the top ranked team in the league in first down rate differential again at the end of this season, after leading the league by a wide margin with a +8.87% rate last season (the 49ers were 2nd at +5.29%). Even with their relatively “slow” start to this season, the Ravens still have a +8.64% first down rate differential over their past 16 games, including that loss to the Chiefs and their playoff loss to the Titans last year, which also happen to be their only losses over that 16-game stretch. 

Even more impressive, of the Ravens’ 14 wins over that stretch, 12 of them have come by 14 points or more and in total they have a ridiculous +262 point differential over those 16 games, which would be the 4th best differential in a single 16-game season in NFL history if the Ravens had done it across a single season, rather than split between the two. My calculated line suggests this line is about right, favoring the Ravens by 9.5 points in Philadelphia, but that might be giving too much weight to that one loss to Kansas City and not enough weight to the Ravens’ tendency to blow teams out, particularly inferior opponents like the Eagles, who are in especially bad shape this week without injured right tackle Lane Johnson. This is a no confidence pick because we’re not getting real line value with the Ravens, but the Ravens should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Baltimore Ravens 34 Philadelphia Eagles 24

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -9.5

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (1-3-1) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)

Going into the season, I had the Colts as a top-5 team and even after their loss to a good Browns team in Cleveland last week, the Colts still rank 5th in the league in first down rate differential at +4.64%, but this team is clearly not the same without linebacker Darius Leonard. Not only is Leonard arguably the top off ball linebacker in the league and arguably the best defensive player on a defense that was ranked #1 in the league before Leonard’s absence, but he’s also so much better than all of the Colts’ other linebackers, as they have a very mediocre linebacking corps without him. 

The Colts get an easier opponent this week, hosting the Bengals in Indianapolis, and they’re in a good spot as home favorites of more than a touchdown going into a bye, a spot in which teams are 62-26 ATS since 2002, but the Bengals have played a lot of close games over the past couple years, even if they haven’t done much winning. Last year, 8 of their 14 losses came by one score or less and this year, with a more talented roster, 2 of their 3 losses have come by one score or less. They rank 24th in first down rate differential at -2.38%, which isn’t great, but it suggests they can be competitive and they’ve played a tougher schedule than the Colts. I’m still taking the Colts because of the spot they’re in, but we’re not getting any line value with them and I can’t be confident in them with Leonard out.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -7.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-1) at Carolina Panthers (3-2)

The Bears have started the season 4-1, but they aren’t nearly as good as their record, as they could have easily lost any of their four wins, with all coming down to the final play and the Bears managing to win all 4 by a combined 13 points. The general public seems to recognize the Bears aren’t as good as their record though. What they may not realize is that the Bears’ opponents this week, the Carolina Panthers, are also not as good as their 3-2 record suggests. This line favors the Panthers at home by 1.5 with limited homefield advantage, suggesting these two teams are about even, but the Bears hold an edge in both first down rate differential (+0.94% vs. -1.18%) and a clearer edge in my roster rankings. 

The Panthers haven’t been terrible on either side of the ball this season, but their talent level on defense, especially without injured defensive tackle Kawaan Short, suggests they’ve overachieved on that side of the ball so far and could regress going forward. Overall, I have the Bears 3.5 points better than the Panthers, suggesting this line should be 1.5 the other way, giving the Panthers two points for having limited fan attendance. Games decided by 1 point aren’t overly common (4.1% of games), so we’re not getting great line value with the Bears, but I at least think the money line is worth betting at +105, as the Bears are slightly better than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

Chicago Bears 23 Carolina Panthers 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-5) at Miami Dolphins (2-3)

This game wasn’t originally on the schedule last week (part of the games that were moved around to accommodate COVID cancellations), but it’s hard to imagine the Dolphins would have been favored on the early line by 9 like they are now. With the Dolphins sitting at 1-3 last week, it’s more likely they would have been viewed as around 4.5 or 5 point favorites in this game. This line is where it is because the Dolphins are coming off of a convincing upset victory in San Francisco by score of 43-17, but significant line movements like that tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play and the 49ers are one of the most injury plagued teams in the league, missing several key defenders and having to bench a clearly not healthy Jimmy Garoppolo for CJ Beathard last week.

That being said, this line is actually justifiable, given how bad the Jets are. The Jets rank dead last by a significant margin in first down rate differential at -11.89% and in my roster rankings. They haven’t been competitive in any of their games, despite a middling schedule. They just cut arguably their most talented skill position player, they are starting their backup quarterback Joe Flacco, who has looked totally washed up this season, and they have one of the worst head coaches in the league in Adam Gase. I don’t have the Dolphins ranked highly at all (23rd in my roster rankings, 25th in first down rate differential), but they’re more talented and way better coached than the Jets. My calculated line is Miami -8, so we’re not getting any real line value with either side.

With that in mind, I like the Dolphins a decent amount this week, because they’re in a much better spot than the Jets. While the Jets have to turn around and play a much tougher divisional opponent next week in the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins are going into a week 7 bye. The Jets are currently 10-point home underdogs against the Bills in that game on the early line and teams are 44-106 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, including 17-44 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown of more before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, like the Jets are this week. It’s very tough for a bad team to keep a game close against a much better opponent when they have another tough game on deck. On the flipside of that, home favorites of a touchdown or more are 62-26 ATS since 2002 before a bye, so the Dolphins should be fully focused. There isn’t enough here for Miami to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

Miami Dolphins 24 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: Miami -9

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-4) at Tennessee Titans (4-0)

This is a tough one, as there are good arguments for both sides. On one hand, this line has shifted significantly since the early line last week, with the Titans going from being favored by 7 to being favored by 3.5. Normally I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. In this case, the line movement actually comes despite the Titans winning big over another good team in the Buffalo Bills, running away with the 42-16 victory on Tuesday Night Football last week, despite being without starting cornerback Kristian Fulton, starting wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, and defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, who are all expected back this week. The Texans also had a big win last week, but it came over the Jaguars and I’ve never seen a line drop like this despite the favored team winning big the previous week.

On the other hand, you could make a good case for this line being right. The Texans are 1-4, but they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league this season, starting the season with arguably the three best teams in the AFC in the Ravens, Steelers, and Chiefs and a Vikings team that is better than their record, before their blowout victory in their first easy game of the season against the Jaguars last week. The Texans rank 16th in my roster rankings and realistically are a middling team that just got dealt a tough schedule to start the season.

The Titans, meanwhile, started the season with one of the easiest schedules in the league over their first 3 games and they won those games by just a combined 6 points. That, of course, changed last week against the Bills, but the Titans might have benefitted from the extended rest in that game, while the Bills played the previous week. This time around, the Titans will have to play on a short week after just playing on a Tuesday, while the Texans will be on normal rest. My calculated line is Tennessee -4.5, as the Titans do have a top-10 roster on paper when healthy, but I’m actually going to go with the Texans for pick ‘em purposes because of the scheduling angle. I could really go either way on this one though.

Tennessee Titans 33 Houston Texans 30

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (4-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-3)

The 49ers were embarrassed last week, losing at home in blowout fashion to a previously 1-win Dolphins team, by final score of 43-17. The good news is that teams tend to be a good value to bet on after a game like that, as teams are 41-24 ATS since 1989 after losing by double digits as favorites of a touchdown or more. It’s not hard to see how that loss could have created significant line value, as the 49ers have gone from being 3-point home favorites on the early line last week in this game against the Rams to now being 3.5-point home underdogs.

The big problem for the 49ers last week was quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not looking remotely healthy in his first game back from a 2-game absence with an ankle injury, as Garoppolo completed just 7 of 17 before being pulled for backup CJ Beathard. If I knew Garoppolo would be significantly healthier this week, this would be an easier bet, but it’s hard to be confident in that, even if practice reports have been good. The 49ers also get one of their starting cornerbacks Emmanuel Mosley back, though their defensive injuries are still very significant and make this unit a far cry of what it was last season. 

The 49ers’ offense is much closer to full strength if Garoppolo is healthy, with starting running back Raheem Mostert, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, fellow starting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and stud tight end George Kittle all returning from absences in recent weeks, which theoretically should allow them to make this a competitive game, but if Garoppolo has to be pulled for Beathard, that will become a lot tougher. I’m taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t bet on this unless I hear something I’m more confident in regarding Garoppolo’s ankle.

Los Angeles Rams 24 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3.5

Confidence: Low