Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0)

The Steelers are undefeated, but I haven’t been that impressed by them. They rank just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.39% and all of their games have been competitive, even though they’ve played probably the easiest schedule in the league, with their opponents combining for a record of just 3-15-1. The Steelers are better on paper than they’ve looked so far this season, but their schedule gets much tougher this week, with the Cleveland Browns coming to town, fresh off an impressive win over the Colts that pushed their record to 4-1.

The Colts were without a key player in linebacker Darius Leonard last week and the Browns will be without a key player in right guard Wyatt Teller this week, but the Steelers will also be without a talented right guard in David DeCastro, whose absence will be bigger for a couple reasons. For one, DeCastro is a more proven player, with Teller playing at a high level to start this season, but almost entirely having no track record of being a high level player before this season. On top of that, the Browns have a more proven backup for Teller than the Browns have for DeCastro, with veteran Chris Hubbard set to step in, and the Steelers are already in trouble on the right side of their offensive line with week 1 starting right tackle Zack Banner also out.

This line, favoring the Steelers by 3.5 at home, suggests the Steelers are about 1.5 points better than the Browns, but I actually have the Browns slightly higher than the Steelers right now. The Browns have a good chance to pull the straight up upset and, even if they don’t, 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so there’s a good chance the Browns cover anyway. The most likely results of this game are either team winning by a field goal, both results that would cover this spread. I wouldn’t make this a big play, but the Browns are worth a bet this week in what should be a close game either way.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cleveland Browns 23

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (1-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4)

The Jaguars were seen as probably the worst team in the league coming into the season, with some expecting them to not even win a game, but they surprised everyone with a week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars have fallen back to earth since then though, losing four straight. Their offense hasn’t been bad overall, ranking 15th in first down rate at 40.31%, but they are probably outplaying their talent level, which means they could regress on that side of the ball, while their defense is predictably a disaster, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed at 44.90%. It’s not hard to see how the Jaguars could be even worse going forward if their offense can’t keep exceeding expectations. 

The news isn’t all bad for the Jaguars though. For one, they’ll get their top cornerback CJ Henderson and top linebacker Myles Jack back from a one game absence, which should make their defense a little bit more respectable than the unit that struggled mightily against the Texans last week, and they could get top pass rusher Josh Allen back from a one game absence as well. On top of that, the Jaguars get to face another team that has gotten off to a horrible start to the season, as they will host a Detroit Lions team that ranks just 31st in first down rate differential at -8.84%, only ahead of the winless New York Jets. 

The Lions have one win, but it came in a game in which they only won by 3 over the Cardinals, despite winning the turnover battle by 3, and the Lions actually lost the first down rate battle in that game by 10.50%. The Lions’ defense has been particularly bad, as they are the only team in the league with a first down rate allowed worse than the Jaguars, and by a significant margin, at 47.15% (2.25% higher than Jacksonville). I don’t expect the Lions to be quite that bad all season, but it’s clear their defense is an obvious problem, especially with expected top cornerback Desmond Trufant out with injury.

The one thing that is stopping me from betting the Jaguars is that the Lions are coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3+ are 74-39-1 ATS since 1989 with extra rest, including 13-6 ATS for teams with a losing record. My calculated line is even for this game and I don’t know if that trend should apply if the line is off, but the possibility that the Lions could be significantly improved out of their bye is enough for me to stay away from betting on the Jaguars for now. I say for now because that will likely change if the Jaguars’ two key questionable players, Josh Allen and top wide receiver DJ Chark, are able to go and this line stays where it is at 3.5. The Jaguars are the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

Detroit Lions 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 33

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5

Confidence: Low

Washington Mascots at New York Giants: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Washington Mascots (1-4) at New York Giants (0-5)

These two teams have just one win between them but somehow this is a meaningful divisional game, in a division that is led by a 2-3 Cowboys team that just lost its starting quarterback for the season. Both of these teams are among the worst in the league, but this line suggests the Giants are the better team, favoring them by a full field goal at home, despite the fact that they won’t have any fans in attendance. I have been giving one point of home field advantage to teams without fans, so this line suggests the Giants are a couple points better than their nameless opponents. 

I have that the other way around though. Not only does Washington rank higher in first down rate differential (-3.33% vs -5.53%), but they’re also in a better injury situation. While the Giants are still without their top offensive playmaker Saquon Barkley and now are without top edge defender Lorenzo Carter, the Mascots will get their top offensive lineman Brandon Scherff back from a 3-game absence, which will be a big boost to this offense. My calculated line is about even, with the Mascots actually slightly better than 50/50 to pull the straight up upset, so we’re getting great value with them at +3. About a quarter of games are decided by three points or less, so even if Washington can’t pull off the upset, they still have a good chance to cover or at least push. 

Washington is also in a much better spot, as the Giants have to turn around and play another divisional game in four days on Thursday Night Football, when they head to Philadelphia for their week 7 matchup. Teams tend to be at a disadvantage before a short week, especially teams that are favored, as favorites cover at just a 44.3% rate before a short week historically. That rate drops further to 42.1% before divisional games and divisional home favorites in general have a horrible track record before being divisional road underdogs, covering just 34.9% of the time historically. 

Washington’s mess of a quarterback situation will probably cause me to go elsewhere with my Pick of the Week, but I like Washington a lot this week regardless and this is one of several picks I am considering for my top play this week, which will be posted tomorrow. This line is dropping to 2.5 in some places because of heavy sharp action. Obviously getting the full field goal is definitely preferable, but if you can’t, I would still make a smaller bet at +2.5.

Washington Mascots 17 New York Giants 15 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Washington +3

Confidence: High

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (0-5) at Minnesota Vikings (1-4)

The Vikings are just 1-4, but they’ve played much better than their record has suggested. For one, their early schedule has been absolutely brutal, with their easiest game coming on the road in Houston against a Texans team that is also a lot better than it’s 1-4 record. The Vikings won that game and have been competitive in most of their other games, despite the tough competition and despite some fluky things going against them that should even out in the long run (opponents are 6 for 8 on fourth downs, Vikings are 3 for 6, opponents are 15 for 15 on field goals, the Vikings have recovered just 33.33% of available fumbles). In terms of first down rate differential, the Vikings rank 10th in the league at +2.79%, despite the toughest schedule in the league. 

The Vikings’ schedule gets a lot easier this week, as they are hosting the winless Falcons in Minnesota. They’ve been about as bad as there record would suggest, ranking 29th in first down rate differential -4.95%.Their offense is better than it’s played so far (23rd in first down rate differential at 37.57%) but their defense is undoubtedly one of the worst in the league and, with the Vikings being a formidable opponent, I have this line calculated at Minnesota -7.5, even taking into account that the Vikings won’t have star running back Dalvin Cook due to an injury and that they won’t have any traditional fans for this game. This line is at just 4 because the general public doesn’t realize the Vikings have played so much better than their record suggests and we’re getting great line value as a result. This is one of my top picks I am considering for Pick of the Week and, even if it’s not my top pick this week, this still is worth a big play.

Minnesota Vikings 31 Atlanta Falcons 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -4

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2)

The Buccaneers have a pair of losses in their first five games, but they still rank 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +5.19%. They won the first down rate battle by 8.18% in their first loss to the Saints (losing the game primarily due to a -3 turnover margin, which was not going to happen every week) and they only lost the first down rate battle for the first time all season last week, finishing at -4.21% in a narrow 1-point loss in Chicago. The Buccaneers can definitely keep this up going forward and it should translate to more wins on the scoreboard than it has in their first 5 games, but how they achieve their success might be different.

In their first 5 games, the Buccaneers have been heavily reliant on a 3rd ranked defense that has allowed a 32.46% first down rate, while their offense has actually been pretty mediocre, with a 21st ranked first down rate of 37.65%. Going forward, their defense probably won’t be quite as good, due to the loss of stud defensive lineman Vita Vea with an injury, but their offense should be significantly improved, as not only does new quarterback Tom Brady now have more familiarity with this offense, but he also has arguably the top wide receiver duo in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both finally healthy at the same time. That should at least offset the loss of Vea and if this team can be more balanced and consistently good on both sides of the ball, this is going to be a very tough team to beat.

The Packers, meanwhile, have set the standard for offense so far this season, leading the league with a 45.98% first down rate, but their defense has been a major concern, allowing a 43.35% first down rate, 30th in the NFL. It hasn’t caused them to lose any games yet, but the Packers’ wins have been closer than they should have been, given the otherworldly level the offense is playing at. The defense should be better going forward, even if only by default, but their offense might regress by default as well and even if it doesn’t, the Packers still figure to drop a few games because of their defense, especially in games like this against another top level team.

Given that, we’re getting great value with the Buccaneers as home underdogs. They’re only 1-point underdogs, but if we give the Buccaneers 2 points for being at home with partial fans, that suggests the Packers are three points better than the Buccaneers, when in reality these two teams should be considered at least even. I actually have the Buccaneers slightly ahead of the Packers right now, but even if we call it even, we’re still getting good value with the Buccaneers.

A week ago, this line favored Tampa Bay by a field goal on the early line, which is still currently my calculated line, and it’s unclear why the line moved so drastically, as the Packers had a bye week and Buccaneers could have easily gotten into field goal range for the win at the end in the game against the Bears. I suspect if that had happened, we wouldn’t have such a drastic line movement. The Vea injury could be part of the reason for the line movement, but, as I mentioned, the Buccaneers having their wide receivers healthy is equally important, if not more so.

Tom Brady has also always traditionally done well in situations like this where his team is doubted. His record off of a loss is famous at this point, but his ATS record off of a loss is even more incredible at 43-22 and that becomes 20-3 ATS if you look only at instances where Brady is an underdog or favorite of fewer than 3 points, which is the case here. He’s also a ridiculous 38-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including 27-9 ATS in week 5 or later (when records are more likely to be indicative of talent level). 

Those numbers were accumulated in New England with Bill Belichick and Brady is now in his age 43 season, but it stands to reason that Brady still will be at his best when his back is up against the wall, even if that best isn’t quite what it was in his prime. This is one of several games I am considering for Pick of the Week (including BOTH Monday games). I will have a final decision on my Pick of the Week tomorrow after I review the Monday games more thoroughly, but the Buccaneers are worth a big bet either way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34 Green Bay Packers 31 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +1

Confidence: High