Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at Indianapolis Colts (5-2)

Typically I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play and this line has shifted from Baltimore -4 on the early line last week to even this week, but this line movement is understandable. Not only did the Ravens lose the game at home last week to the Steelers, but they also lost arguably the top left tackle in the league in Ronnie Stanley and, to add to that, they had a COVID outbreak this week that disrupted their practices and will cost them at least top cornerback Marlon Humphrey, as well as potentially others. Given that, four points of line movement is pretty reasonable.

In fact, I don’t think the line movement went far enough. I had this game circled last week as a likely bet and we’re still getting line value at even, given all that the Ravens are missing. Even when healthy, the Ravens haven’t been nearly as good this season as they were last season, especially on offense. A big part of the reason why was the retirement of right guard Marshal Yanda, whose replacements have been a massive downgrade, and now without Stanley as well, the Ravens’ chances of bouncing back offensively take a serious hit. The Ravens have been strong on the defensive side of the ball this season, but Humphrey is a big absence and they could be without fellow defensive back Jimmy Smith as well.

The Colts, meanwhile, are relatively healthy, most notably getting dominant linebacker Darius Leonard back from a two and a half game absence last week, and have been slightly better on both sides of the ball thus far this season than the Ravens, even before these teams went in opposite directions injury wise. In my roster rankings, I have the Colts a couple points better, so they should be favored by at least a field goal here at home with limited fans. This isn’t a big play because the line has moved so much, but the Colts should be the clear favorite in this one, so this line is still mispriced.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis PK

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)

When these two teams met back in week 1, the Saints won 34-23 in New Orleans, but the Buccaneers were significantly better in both yards per play (+0.7) and in first down rate (+8.11), losing primarily because of a -3 turnover margin and two Saints return touchdowns, which seemed very unlikely to continue going forward. As a result, the Buccaneers became underrated and I bet on them in each of the next 6 weeks, with the Buccaneers covering in all but one of them, while the Saints have split their 6 games, putting them a game back of the Buccaneers in the NFC South at 4-3. All in all, the Buccaneers rank first in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at 5.46% and look like one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the league.

The Buccaneers have lost one of their key defensive players Vita Vea, but they’ve offset that in recent weeks by having Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both healthy on offense. However, they’ve stopped being underrated as a result of their success and, if anything, have become a little overrated, which teams like the Buccaneers with dominant defenses (#1 in first down rate allowed over expected) tend to be, as defensive play can be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. We saw this last week when the Buccaneers unexpectedly let the underwhelming Giants move the ball against them with relative ease and the Buccaneers’ offense barely had enough to pull out the win. If they can’t continue dominating on defense, far from a given, the Buccaneers will have a tougher time going forward.

The Saints, meanwhile, aren’t too far behind the Buccaneers overall, ranking 7th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.03% and are the noticeably better team on offense, ranking 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.86%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.48%. The Buccaneers have had injuries on offense, most notably to Chris Godwin, who is healthy now, but their offensive injury situation hasn’t compared to the Saints, as the Saints have been without top wide receiver Michael Thomas since week 1 and have had supplementary pass catchers Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook miss time as well. 

All three of those players are healthy now, most importantly Thomas who returns for the first time this week. With him back in the lineup, the Saints could easily go back to being the dangerous offense they’ve been in recent years. The Saints have also gotten key players back from injury on defense, with defensive end Marcus Davenport and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins all missing time earlier this season before returning in recent weeks. 

Now relatively healthy on both sides of the ball, the Saints actually rank atop my roster rankings, slightly ahead of the Buccaneers, who still have a key offensive injury due to the absence of stud guard Ali Marpet, who will miss his first game of the season this week. The Buccaneers will still be tough for the Saints or anyone to beat, but we’re getting 4.5 points with the Saints, so they should be a good bet. My calculated line favors the Buccaneers by a field goal at most and Drew Brees is 28-17 ATS in his Saints career as underdogs of a field goal or more. This should be a close game either way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 New Orleans Saints 23

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (5-2)

Both of these teams have impressive records that get less impressive when you look at the box scores. The Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final score and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks. The Titans, meanwhile, have not faced a tough schedule, but have still had to walk the tightrope this season, winning their first 3 games by a combined 6 points and winning a fourth game in overtime.

However, there is plenty of reason to expect the Titans to be the significantly better team going forward. One is simply that, even though the Titans have been unimpressive in the box scores, they’ve still significantly outplayed the Bears overall this season. They won the first down rate battle by 6.99% in their week 5 blowout victory over the Bills, by far more impressive than any of the Bears’ games this season, and last week they won the first down rate battle by 5.87% even in a loss to the Bengals, losing that game primarily because they lost the turnover battle and allowed a ridiculous 11 of 16 on 3rd and 4th down, two things that are very inconsistent week-to-week. The Bears, meanwhile, were down 21 and 16 in the 4th quarter of two of their losses and rank just 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.95%, while the Titans rank 15th at +0.53%. 

On top of that, the Titans are in much better shape going forward because they’re an offensive led team, while the Bears are a defensive led team. Offense is by far the more predictable side of the ball and the Titans rank 6th in first down rate over expected at +2.43%, while the Bears rank 30th at -3.67% and are arguably even worse than that suggests, missing a trio of starting offensive linemen in James Daniels (4th game missed), Cody Whitehair (2nd game missed), and Bobby Massie (1st game missed). 

The Titans have to play another game in 4 days after this one, facing the Colts on Thursday Night Football, and favorites cover at just a 43.8% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football, which limits the amount I like Tennessee as 6.5 point favorites, but the Bears will need to continue being significantly better on defense for this game to be close and that’s far from a given. 

That becomes more likely if the Titans are missing key personnel on defense in this game and edge defense Jadeveon Clowney is a gametime decision after not practicing all week, but even if he doesn’t play, the Titans could offset his absence by getting top cornerback Adoree Jackson back for the first time all season. If one of those two play and this line doesn’t increase, I will bet the Titans and if both play, this could be a big Tennessee bet. For now this is a low confidence pick, but I will likely have an update this weekend, probably after Saturday afternoon, when Jackson’s status will need to be decided.

Tennessee Titans 26 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -6.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (4-3) at Arizona Cardinals (5-2)

The Dolphins made the surprising decision during their week 7 bye to bench veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Tua is the obvious long-term franchise quarterback for this team, but there was speculation he wouldn’t play at all as a rookie, working his way back from a serious leg injury that ended his collegiate career, and, with Fitzpatrick playing well in the first 6 games of the season, including back-to-back 24+ point wins in weeks 5 and 6, it seemed like Tua would be stuck with mop up duty for the foreseeable future. Instead, those two starts ended up being Fitzpatrick’s last as, seemingly sticking to a plan decided in the off-season, the Dolphins installed Tua as the starter during their bye and he made his season debut last week at home against the Rams.

I had a lot of concern that this offense would take a step back in the short-term with Tua under center, because Fitzpatrick was playing well and doing a great job of being successful despite poor offensive line play in front of him, something I didn’t expect Tua to be able to do as well right away. That concern was legitimized against the Rams, as Tua finished as PFF’s 2nd worst ranked quarterback for the week and led the Dolphins to just 8 first downs/touchdowns on 48 snaps, but that’s largely been ignored because the Dolphins won the game 28-17 on the strength of a +2 turnover margin and a whopping three return touchdowns, something they definitely won’t be able to count on every week. I would expect this offense to continue to struggle and for the Dolphins to not be able to compensate for that nearly as well going forward.

The Dolphins have the edge on defense in this matchup in Arizona against the Cardinals, as they rank 18th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.92%, while the Cardinals rank 22nd at -1.64% and have some significant absences on that side of the ball as well, but offense is a much more consistent, predictable side of the ball and the Cardinals have an enormous offensive edge, ranking 2nd in first down rate over expected at +3.36%, while the Dolphins rank 23rd at -1.04% and will likely be even worse than that going forward because of their quarterback switch. This also could be a tough spot for the Dolphins because they are coming off of a big home upset win and now have to travel cross country to face a team coming off of a bye. Teams only cover at about a 42% rate all-time after a win by 11+ points as home underdogs of 3.5+ points.

Despite that, the Cardinals are just 4.5-point favorites because the general public sees the Dolphins being 4-3 and coming off of a big week and ignores that they’ve likely downgraded their quarterback, that they’re in a tough spot, and that they’ve faced a relatively easy schedule thus far this season, with two of their wins coming against the two worst teams in the league in the Jets and Jaguars and a third win coming against a banged up 49ers team that had to bench a hobbling Jimmy Garoppolo for CJ Beathard (and the fourth win being last week’s fluky game). Arizona should be favored by at least a touchdown (my calculated line is Arizona -7.5), so we’re getting good line value at Arizona -4.5. This is a high confidence pick for now, but it’s one I am considering for Pick of the Week. If I decide to upgrade this game, I will do so on Saturday.

Arizona Cardinals 31 Miami Dolphins 23

Pick against the spread: Arizona -4.5

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-2) at San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

The Packers had a disappointing home loss to the Vikings last week, but that didn’t really surprise me. The Vikings are significantly better than their record and the Packers were in an obvious look ahead spot, with this matchup against the 49ers coming up just 4 days later on Thursday Night Football. The 49ers embarrassed the Packers in their two matchups last season and ended their season in the NFC Championship, so I expect a significantly better effort out of the Packers’ this week. Betting on Aaron Rodgers after a loss is typically a winning proposition in normal circumstances, as he’s 37-21 ATS off of a loss in his career, and Rodgers should be especially motivated this week, given who the Packers are facing.

Even though the Packers and 49ers both were top-2 seeds and made the NFC Championship last season, the Packers were so uncompetitive in both of their matchups with the 49ers and were so far behind the 49ers in season long stats (+3.76% first down rate differential and +169 point differential vs. +0.25% first down rate differential and +63 point differential) that it seemed like the 49ers would beat the Packers 80-90 times out of a 100 last season, but this is a far cry from last year’s 49ers’ team, so Rodgers and company have a much better chance of getting their revenge.

The 49ers didn’t lose much this off-season, aside from defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, but they’ve been ravaged by injury this season and are even more depleted now, after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle for an extended period due to injury last week and then losing left tackle Trent Williams and wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk to the COVID list for this matchup.

In total, the 49ers are missing their starting quarterback, 3 of their top-4 running backs, their top-3 wide receivers, their dominant tight end, their top-2 centers, and their stud left tackle and that’s just from their offense. On defense, they’ve gotten healthier in recent weeks and have played better as a result, but they’re still significantly behind last season, without top cornerback Richard Sherman and their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. 

Making matters worse, the 49ers will have to be without all of their missing players, including their newly missed players, on a short week. Underdogs are typically at a disadvantage on a short week, as non-divisional underdogs of 3+ cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time on short rest, and it stands to reason that the 49ers would be especially at a disadvantage because they have several new starters. This line has creeped up to 6.5 with all of the 49ers’ losses, but my calculated line is Green Bay -7.5, so we’re still getting enough line value for the Packers to be worth taking. I have a hard time seeing this depleted 49ers team keep up with a motivated Aaron Rodgers on a short week.

Green Bay Packers 27 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -6.5

Confidence: Medium