New England Patriots at New York Jets: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (2-5) at New York Jets (0-8)

With the Patriots falling to 2-5 in their first season without Tom Brady, there has been a lot of talk that the Patriots made a mistake not trying harder to bring Brady back. However, I don’t know how this would have gone much differently even with Brady, minus Cam Newton’s brief bout with COVID that caused him to miss the Kansas City game and may have disrupted his next couple weeks. We saw Brady with this receiving corps last season and they were not a good offense, ranking 21st in first down rate, despite a much easier schedule than this season, when they rank 13th in schedule adjusted first down rate. It’s not like they were an offensive juggernaut and lost Brady and now they’ve fallen off a cliff. Brady looks good in Tampa Bay, but he has one of the best supporting casts in the league.

By far the biggest reason for their struggles winning games this season has been their dropoff on defense, which has fallen from being by far the top defense in the league by first down rate allowed to ranking just 16th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed. Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent year-to-year and week-to-week than offensive performance, but for the Patriots, the reason for their dropoff is clear. Of their top-8 players in terms of snaps played from last year’s defense, just two (Devin McCourty and JC Jackson) were active for last week’s loss in Buffalo.

The Patriots have still been better than their record though, as they rank 18th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at 0.18% and have been competitive in all but one of their losses. Both of their wins have come by double digits against competent opponents, but they are 0-3 in games decided by one score or less, which doesn’t even include a Kansas City game that was close throughout and that the Patriots easily could have won if they didn’t have to start a backup quarterback.

This week, the Patriots could get one of their top players back, with top cornerback Stephon Gilmore returning to practice after missing his first game of the season last week, and the Patriots also get a much easier matchup, going to New York to face a Jets team that has been the worst team in the league this season and that won’t have the benefit of any fans in the stands. The Jets also won’t have quarterback Sam Darnold due to a re-aggravation of his shoulder injury and, while he doesn’t been great this season any by stretch, he’s still been measurably better than washed up backup Joe Flacco, with whom this offense has been utterly inept this season, including one of the worst offensive performances I’ve seen in a while against the Dolphins in his most recent start.

The Jets are getting healthier in other areas, including wide receiver, but they still rank dead last in my roster rankings and they also rank last by a significant margin in schedule adjusted first down rate differential this season, at -8.78%. Not only have they not won a game, but they haven’t even come particularly close, with their closest loss coming by 8 points and their average loss by 18 points. This line jumped from 7 and 7.5 to 9.5 when the Darnold news was announced, but I have this line calculated at New England -12, as the Patriots are at least a middling team that should be able to handle the Jets like everyone else has. 

This isn’t a good spot for the Patriots, with a home game against the Ravens on deck, as road favorites cover at a 38.7% rate over the past 30 seasons before being home underdogs, but with the Patriots on a 4-game losing streak and needing a win just to keep their season alive, I would expect them to be focused for this one. I would probably need Stephon Gilmore to be active for the Patriots to be worth betting, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

New England Patriots 21 New York Jets 9

Pick against the spread: New England -9.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-5)

This line was finally reposted at Minnesota -3.5, after confirmation that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford would be able to play despite being placed in the COVID contact tracing protocol earlier in the week. Earlier in the week I liked the Vikings at that number and I like them even more now that Stafford will be playing despite not practicing all week. The Lions are also now without starting safety Tracy Walker and starting left guard Joe Dahl due to injury and likely will be without top linebacker Jarrad Davis as well, in addition to top defensive end Trey Flowers and top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who were ruled out earlier in the week.

The Vikings have just two wins, but they beat the Packers last week and, while that was in part due to the Packers looking ahead to a big rematch against the 49ers on a short week, the Vikings being competitive with high level teams is no fluke. They were a 4th down conversion away from beating the Seahawks and the Titans needed to go 6 for 6 on field goals, including 3 for 3 on 50+ yard field goals, to beat the Vikings by a single point. In total, the Vikings have allowed 19 of 19 field goals against, which is highly unlikely to continue going forward.

The Vikings could easily be 4-3 right now, despite a relatively tough schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account that the Vikings fared much better on a per play basis than the final score suggests in losses to the Falcons and to the Packers in their week 1 matchup, or that the Vikings were missing top offensive player Dalvin Cook in that Atlanta loss. In terms of first down rate differential, when adjusted for schedule, the Vikings rank 3rd in the NFL at +3.19%. While I don’t think they’re quite that good, I have them 14th in my roster rankings, and there’s definitely a strong case for them being significantly better than their record.

The Lions, meanwhile, are 3-4, but one of their win came in an improbable comeback against the Falcons, another came by 3 in Arizona in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 3, but lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%, and the third came against a banged up Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. Their four losses, meanwhile, have come by a combined 51 points, giving them a -29 point differential, 22nd in the NFL.

In schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they are even worse, ranking 30th at -4.12%, as they haven’t played that well against a relatively easy schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account all of the Lions’ absences or the disruptions to their week this week. The Vikings should be favored by at least a touchdown, so we’re getting great value with them at 3.5. There isn’t a great choice this week, but the Vikings are my Pick of the Week.

Minnesota Vikings 35 Detroit Lions 27

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New York Giants at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-7) at Washington Football Team (2-5)

With Washington still somehow unable to figure out how to get a real name, it seems that the Washington Football Team moniker is here to stay, with reports recently that they are keeping the name through 2021, so I will have to call them by their non-name officially going forward, but it’s still a stupid name and they should pick any other name as soon as possible. With that out of the way, when analyzing this game, something stood out in my numbers as very surprising, which was that the Giants rank 14th in the NFL in first down rate over expected at +0.62%. 

Whenever something is unusual like that, I look to see what is going on and in this case, what is happening is simple. The Giants rank just 27th in first down rate at 31.92%, but they have also faced a brutal schedule of defenses, including the Buccaneers (1st in first down rate allowed over expected), the Steelers (3rd), the Rams (5th), the Bears (9th), the 49ers (10th) and the nonames (2nd), who they previously played back in week 6. 

Is it possible the Giants are a secretly capable offense that has been made to look bad by its strength of schedule? It might not be the case that they’re the 14th best offense in the league, but it’s definitely possible they’re closer to middling than we expect, especially with wide receiver Sterling Shepard back from injury and quarterback Daniel Jones playing better in recent weeks. 

The Giants strength of schedule doesn’t get much easier this week in this rematch in Washington, but defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and the injuries are also starting to pile up for Washington, with defensive end Matt Ioannidis and safety Landon Collins now both done for the year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them regress defensively going forward, in which case they would be in a lot of trouble, because their offense ranks just 31st in first down rate over expected. 

The Giants might not be the 14th best offense in the league, but they have a significant advantage on the side of the ball that matters more for projection purposes. Unfortunately, it seems like the public and the sharp bettors have kind of picked up on this, shifting the Giants from 3.5 point underdogs on the early line last week to 2.5 this week, in the wake of the Giants’ near victory over the Buccaneers last week. If we can get a good +3, I might consider a bet on the Giants, but this is a low confidence pick at 2.5.

Update: +3s have popped up Sunday morning. The Giants will be without wide receiver Golden Tate for disciplinary reasons, but he hasn’t done much this season and is far less important to this team with Shepard back. +3 is worth a bet.

New York Giants 17 Washington Football Team 16 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-4) at Atlanta Falcons (2-6)

Everyone knows the Falcons have blown three games where they had a very high win probability late and that the Falcons would be 5-3 if they hadn’t blown those leads, but the Broncos could also have a better record if quarterback Drew Lock had been healthy all season. Lock isn’t playing that well, but he’s supported by a strong defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.83% and he’s gone 2-2 in the four games he’s been healthy, with one of the losses coming on the road at Kansas City.

Defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense and the Broncos offense hasn’t been good this season even with Lock under center, but the Falcons haven’t been particularly good on either side of the ball, ranking 21st in first down rate over expected and 20th in first down rate allowed over expected. Despite the fact that they could easily have 4-5 wins right now, they still rank 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.78% and haven’t played well overall. 

The Falcons’ offense should theoretically be better than this because they’re more talented than how they’ve played, but on the flip side, their defense is very underwhelming, especially missing their top-2 edge defenders in Dante Fowler and Takkarist McKinley. Despite that, the Falcons are favored by 4 points at home with limited homefield advantage. There isn’t quite enough here for the Broncos to be worth betting, but if Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley is unable to play through a questionable tag after not practicing all week and/or Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris is able to get cleared from the COVID tracing protocol, the Broncos would probably be worth a play as long as the line remains above a field goal. I will have an update if needed.

Update: Ridley is out for the Falcons, but the Broncos will not only be missing Shelby Harris, but also surprisingly slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who practiced Thursday and Friday. Callahan is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league and his absence is an even bigger deal because the Broncos will also be without top outside cornerback AJ Bouye. The Broncos are simply too depleted in the secondary and on the defensive line to continue playing like they have in recent weeks. I’m still on the Broncos, but I would drop this to the bottom of your pick ’em pool.

Atlanta Falcons 27 Denver Broncos 23

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: None

Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (4-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)

The Raiders have a couple more wins than the Chargers, but the Chargers have the edge in most of the key season-long stats, including point differential (-6 vs. -16), DVOA (-4.1% vs. -12.3%) and first down rate differential (+1.92% vs. -1.58%). The Raiders have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, but the Chargers’ schedule hasn’t been much easier and they have managed to keep all of their losses within a touchdown, something they did frequently last year as well, when 9 of their 11 losses came by a touchdown or less. On top of that, the Chargers have led, in some cases by significant amounts, in most of their losses and rank 11th in the league in average lead. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Chargers rank 6th at +2.08%, still significantly above the Raiders in 22nd at -0.38%.

The bad news for the Chargers is that they’ve been very reliant on their 6th ranked defense in first down rate allowed over expected (their offense ranks just 26th in first down rate allowed over expected) and defenses tend to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offenses, where the Raiders have the edge with a 17th ranked offense in terms of first down rate over expected. Making matters worse for the Chargers, their defense will be without it’s best player this week in Joey Bosa, who is out with a concussion, and they could also be without top outside cornerback Casey Hayward, after already trading away top slot cornerback Desmond King to the Titans this week.

It’s not all bad news on the injury front for the Chargers, as the injuries aren’t anything new for them and key players like defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games missed), defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games missed), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games missed), wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game missed), and possibly right guard Trai Turner (6 games missed) are set to play this week after missing time earlier in the season. Meanwhile, the Raiders remain without a pair of starting offensive linemen in left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown and could be missing a third with left tackle Kolton Miller questionable, while their defense will be without one of it’s top players in defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. 

I still have the Chargers as the better team in my roster rankings, but only by a half point. With fans still not allowed in the Chargers’ home stadium, we’re not getting much line value with them on an even line against the Raiders, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes. Depending on the status of Trai Turner, Casey Hayward, and Kolton Miller for this game, I may issue an update before gametime, but I don’t expect to be betting on either side regardless.

Los Angeles Chargers 26 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers PK

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-5)

Last week, I picked the Cowboys as a low confidence pick as 11-point underdogs. My reasoning was that teams that fail to cover in their first 7 games tend to be solid bets going forward (62% all-time) because books know they can over-inflate their lines, as evidenced by the Cowboys being 11-point underdogs in Philadelphia against a middling at best Eagles team, but I also didn’t want to risk any money on a quarterback in Ben DiNucci who had never played before and might not be good enough to even be a backup in this league, which is why I limited it to a low confidence pick.

Sure enough, the game went as I expected, with the Eagles actually trailing 9-7 late in the third quarter and at one point leading by just 15-9 midway through the fourth quarter with the Cowboys driving, before DiNucci gave up a strip sack fumble that was recovered for a long return touchdown to not just secure the win for the Eagles, but to also push them to a front door cover. The Cowboys were probably the right side in that game because things like return touchdowns tend to be fluky on a week-to-week basis (not to mention that the touchdown easily could have been called back on replay), but I was also right to not bet any money on it, given the untrustworthiness of the Cowboys’ remaining healthy quarterbacks.

This game seems about the same to me, with the Cowboys being 14.5-point home underdogs against the Steelers. The Steelers haven’t lost all season, but they also have just one win by more than 10 points, including competitive games against lesser teams like the Giants, Broncos, and Eagles, so the Cowboys being competitive enough to keep this within two scores is certainly a possibility, especially if the Steelers look past the Cowboys, which they’ve had a tendency to do against lower ranked non-divisional opponents on the road in the Mike Tomlin era. Since Tomlin took over in 2007, the Steelers are just 5-15 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more and have lost 8 of those 20 games straight up. 

However, even though the Cowboys seem like the right side, I have no desire to place any money on it because I have no faith in whoever will start at quarterback this week, whether it be Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert this week, with Ben DiNucci getting the hook after one dismal game. Like last week’s game against the Eagles, this is a low confidence pick on the Cowboys. If they can avoid getting killed in the turnover battle and don’t give up any return touchdowns, I would expect this to be a little closer than most people think, but the Cowboys can’t be trusted to do that right now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas +14.5

Confidence: Low

Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (6-1) at Buffalo Bills (6-2)

The Seahawks are 6-1, but four of their six wins have come by one score, including a pair that came down to fourth down stops against the Vikings and Patriots, and they rank just 12th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. However, there is reason to expect they will be better going forward. The Seahawks have been carried by their offense, ranking 1st in first down rate over expected at 3.52%, but just 26th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.15%, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent on a week-to-week than defensive performance. If the Seahawks can even be an average defense going forward, they’re going to be a very tough opponent. 

The Seahawks are also getting a huge boost on the defensive side of the ball this week with stud safety Jamal Adams returning for the first time since week 3, further increasing their chances of being significantly improved defensively going forward. On top of that, the Seahawks have typically been a better team in the second half of the second under Pete Carroll, going 51-31 ATS in week 9-17, as opposed to 41-36 ATS in week 1-8. 

All that being said, we’re not getting a ton of line value with the Seahawks as 3-point favorites in Buffalo, even though the Bills won’t have any fans in attendance. I have the Seahawks calculated as 4-point favorites, but the Bills are similar to the Seahawks in that they’ve had a strong offense and an underwhelming defense, ranking 3rd in first down rate over expected at +3.14% and 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.51% and could be significantly better on defense going forward. The Bills have faced an easier schedule than the Seahawks and they aren’t getting much healthier on defense, with top linebacker Matt Milano now missing time for the second stint this season, but they could keep this close. The Seahawks are the pick, but for pick ‘em purposes only.

Seattle Seahawks 35 Buffalo Bills 30

Pick against the spread: Seattle -3

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

It may seem strange to see a 1-win Texans team favored by 6.5 points in this game in Jacksonville, but this is the 19th time in the past 30 seasons that a team with 1 win or fewer has been favored by 6.5 points or more in week 6 or later, so it’s not unheard of. The previous 18 teams are 9-9 ATS, which isn’t a reason to bet the Texans, but it shows we shouldn’t be afraid of betting them, because when teams with poor records are big favorites, it’s generally for a good reason.

That definitely is the case in this matchup. The Texans may only have one win, but they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, with their one easy matchup resulting in a 30-14 blowout victory over these Jaguars in week 5. The Texans are -2.22% in first down rate differential even when adjusted for schedule, but they’re an offensive led team, which is a good sign for their chances going forward, as offense tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defense. If the Texans can even be a middling defensive team going forward, they should be a competitive football team.

The Jaguars have also been better on offense than defense and their defense should be better going forward because they have players like defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack, cornerback CJ Henderson, and safety Jarrod Wilson returning from injuries, but their defense still has a long way to go to be respectable, having ranked dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.25%. On top of that, the Jaguars offense should take a hit going forward, as long as starting quarterback Gardiner Minshew is out with injury.

Minshew hasn’t been a great quarterback, but, similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Dolphins last year, he’s kept a bottom tier roster competitive in games where they otherwise would have been blown out. Now without him, the Jaguars could resemble what the 2019 Dolphins looked like with Josh Rosen under center, when they were regularly losing by several scores. Sixth round rookie Jake Luton is very raw and figures to struggle mightily, bringing down an offense that hasn’t been horrible, ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.24%. With Luton under center, the Jaguars are in serious trouble on both sides of the ball, even against a middling at best team like the Texans.

The Texans are also in a great spot as big road favorites off of a bye, as teams are 54-28 ATS as regular season road favorites of 3.5 or more after a bye over the past 30 years. The Jaguars are coming off of a bye as well, but, as a bad team, they won’t benefit as much from it and road favorites of 3.5 or more are 13-8 ATS off of a bye even when their opponents are also coming off of a bye. This isn’t a big play, but I have the Texans calculated at -8.5 even before taking into account their good spot, so they’re worth a play at 6.5. I would expect them to win by at least a touchdown.

Houston Texans 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)

It might go without saying, but the Chiefs are on an incredible run right now. Dating back to last year’s bye, a 16-game stretch including the post-season, the Chiefs have just one loss and 12 wins by double digits and have a first down rate differential of +5.44% over that stretch. They have a competent opponent this week with the Carolina Panthers coming to town, but the Panthers have some injury issues and I have the Chiefs as likely to get another double digit win, with a calculated line of Kansas City -10.

That is exactly where this line is, but the Chiefs are also in a great spot, as big home favorites before a bye. Since 2010, home favorites of 7+ are 34-18 ATS before a bye. The Panthers, meanwhile, have back-to-back tough games, which typically makes it tough for a team to play as well needed to keep it close against a superior opponent. The early line has the Panthers as 6.5 point home underdogs against the Buccaneers next week and teams are 114-208 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, including 38-72 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown or more. The Panthers will need to be fully focused in this one, but they may have an eye on next week as well. This isn’t a big play, but I don’t see this being close.

Kansas City Chiefs 38 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -10

Confidence: Medium