Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-1)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. On one hand, the Chargers have the better offense and defense, ranking 4th in first down rate and 23rd in yards per play attempt allowed, while the Ravens rank 10th and 28th respectively, and are getting points. The Chargers are on the road, but they’ve done the aforementioned without the benefit of any real homefield advantage. The Chargers are 2-1 ATS at home this season, but they are also 2-0 ATS on the road, they don’t draw consistent crowds, and, dating back to their first season in Los Angeles, they are 13-19 ATS at home, as opposed to 20-12 ATS on the road.

On the other hand, the Ravens have the significant edge in special teams DVOA, which is more predictive than you’d think. The Ravens have consistently had among the best special teams in the league for years and currently rank 2nd in special teams DVOA, while the opposite is true of the Chargers, who rank 29th in special teams DVOA this season. That could especially matter in what figures to be a close game either way and the Ravens only need to win by a field goal to cover this 2.5-point spread. The Ravens also rank slightly higher than the Chargers in my roster rankings, in large part due to their special teams edge. I’m taking the Ravens because a field goal win by the home team is the single most likely outcome, but the Chargers could also easily pull the upset on the road, where they have traditionally exceeded expectations.

Baltimore Ravens 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -2.5

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (4-1) at Tennessee Titans (3-2)

The Bills went into Kansas City last week and won a nationally televised game against two-time defending AFC Champion Chiefs. That came after the Bills outscored their previous three opponents by score of 118-21 and, with their 38-20 win over the Chiefs, the Bills have the league’s best point differential by a wide margin at +108 (next closest is +62). Between that point differential and their nationally televised win over the previous de facto Super Bowl favorite, the Bills have become the league’s new de facto Super Bowl favorite. That can be seen in this line, which now favors the Bills by 6 points in Tennessee over a decent at worst Titans team, a week after the Bills were just -3 in this game on the early line.

The Bills may be the best team in the league, but I do think they are a little overrated right now. Even if we completely discount their week one home loss to the underwhelming Steelers, the Bills faced a very easy schedule during their streak of blowout wins, while their win over the Chiefs was aided by a +4 turnover margin, which is something that is not predictive week-to-week. In terms of first down rate, which is more predictive, the game was a lot closer, with the Bills winning the first down rate battle by just 1.84%. 

Overall on the season, the Bills have benefitted from a +11 turnover margin, which is the best in the league by a wide margin (no one else is better than +7), but also something that is highly unlikely to continue going forward, given the unpredictability of turnover margins. No team in the NFL had a turnover margin better than +11 on the season last year, so the Bills could play turnover neutral football going forward and still wide up as the league’s best turnover margin team when all is said and done. 

The Titans haven’t been great this season, but they are getting healthier, most notably with both star wide receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones expected to suit up this week, for the first time since both went down in week 3. My calculated line still has the Titans as field goal home underdogs, with the Bills 5.5 points higher in my roster rankings, so we’re getting line value with the Titans at +6. This isn’t a big play, but this should be a competitive game and the Titans will have the motivation edge to make a statement in this nationally televised game, with the Bills having already done so last week.

Buffalo Bills 30 Tennessee Titans 27

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-4) at Indianapolis Colts (1-4)

The Texans nearly won last week against the Patriots, losing by a field goal in their first competitive game since losing starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and having to turn to raw rookie backup Davis Mills, who saw the Texans get outscored 81-16 in his first 10 quarters of action prior to last week’s close loss. Even last week’s near win came against a Patriots team that was missing most of its offensive line with injury and, despite that, still won the first down rate battle play battle by 8.67%, with much of the Texans’ offense coming on 50/50 balls downfield that happened to go their way. The Texans were also likely giving their best effort after getting blown out 40-0 the previous week, something they could struggle to repeat in back-to-back weeks after last week’s demoralizing loss, especially since they will be without arguably their best player on either side of the ball, left tackle Laremy Tunsil. 

The Colts are missing their two best offensive linemen, Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson, and are not the kind of team that should be favored by double digits over anyone in a normal circumstance, but the Texans without Davis Mills are a different kind of bad, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were able to beat them by multiple scores, barring the Texans bringing their best effort for the second straight week. My calculated line actually has the Colts as 13 point favorites and, while they might not give their best effort either with a tougher game against the 49ers on deck, which makes them unbettable, they are still my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -10

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-0) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)

The Cardinals are the league’s last remaining undefeated team at 5-0, but they are dealing with significant absences in all parts of this team. Their offense will be without talented center Rodney Hudson due to injury. Their defense will be without stud edge defender Chandler Jones, who is in the COVID protocol. Their special teams unit will be without Ezekiel Turner due to injury and he’s probably their best special teamer. They also won’t have head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who is in the COVID protocol as well. Kingsbury’s absence will especially be a problem because he also calls the plays for this offense and is his own offensive coordinator.

The timing is bad for them too, as they have to go on the road to face a Browns team that is one of the best in the league, despite their 3-2 record. Their two losses came on the road against tough teams in the Chiefs and Chargers and they easily could have won either one of them, as both were close games throughout. Their offense ranks 7th in first down rate, their defense ranks 7th in yards per play allowed, and their special teams ranks 4th in special teams DVOA, which are the most predictive metrics for each unit. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank 12th, 15th, and 3rd respectively in those three metrics and have been more reliant on a +5 turnover margin, which is not predictive week-to-week (the Browns are even in turnover margin).

With all of the Cardinals’ absences, this line has shifted up from 3 to 3.5, but I thought the Browns were the slightly better of these two teams even before the Cardinals injury absences, so we’re still getting some line value with the Browns. That, however, depends on the Browns’ injury report. They’re already without running back Nick Chubb, which won’t be a crushing loss because Kareem Hunt can carry the load, but they could also be without both of their offensive tackles, Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin, who both did not practice on Friday. That would be a much bigger loss and I can’t take the Browns confidently until I know at least Conklin is playing. I’m making this a low confidence pick on the Browns for now, but depending on the Browns’ injury report, I may end up betting on them.

Cleveland Browns 33 Arizona Cardinals 27

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -3.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins vs Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (1-4) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) in London

Typically, the rule of thumb in these international games is to take the favorite, who has covered at a 66.7% rate all-time, which makes sense, given that the better team is probably better equipped to deal with playing a game after an unusual week. However, the favorite in this matchup is the Dolphins, who, despite being favored by 3 points, might not necessarily be the better team. The Dolphins are off to a disappointing 1-4 start after going 10-6 last season, but I still don’t think the public and odds makers have realized how bad they are.

Their only win came by 1 point against a middling Patriots team and the Patriots, who won the first down rate and yards per play battle, likely would have won if they had not lost one of their two lost fumbles, in which case the Dolphins would be 0-5 right now. The Dolphins did take the Raiders to overtime a few weeks ago and could have won that game, but they needed a long defensive touchdown to keep it close and lost the first down rate battle by 6.50% and the yards per play battle by 1.91 to a mediocre Raiders team. In total, the Dolphins rank 30th in first down rate and 22nd in yards per play allowed and their -75 point differential is the worst in the league, even behind the 31st ranked Jaguars (-59).

The Dolphins are also starting from a lower base point than most realize, as they were not nearly as good as their record a year ago. They faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%) and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL). The Dolphins get Tua Tagovailoa back from injury this week, but it’s unclear if he’s an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett, as both quarterbacks have played like backups this season. They’ll also be without top cornerback Xavien Howard and their two starting wide receivers Will Fuller and Devante Parker, due to injuries.

The Dolphins are still one point better than the Jaguars in my roster rankings, but that’s pretty insignificant, so we’re getting good value getting a field goal with the Jaguars, even if underdogs do tend not to cover in international games. The Jaguars are arguably the worst team in the league, so there isn’t nearly enough to bet them confidently here, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, as the Dolphins are also one of the worst teams in the league and are still overvalued.

Miami Dolphins 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (4-1) at Chicago Bears (3-2)

The Bears are somehow 3-2, but their three wins haven’t been that impressive. They beat a middling Bengals team by 3 in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 3, but lost the yards per play battle by 1.22, which is much more predictive than turnover margin. They beat a Lions team that is 0-5 on the season. And last week they beat a Raiders team that needed two overtime wins to get to 3-1 and that was likely distracted by the situation with head coach Jon Gruden. Meanwhile, the Bears two losses came in uncompetitive games against the Rams and Browns. 

Their once dominant defense is not nearly as good as it once was, losing key personnel over the past few off-seasons and dealing with injuries to key players this season, including both Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack, who figure to be noticeably limited this week even if they can suit up. Overall, they rank 13th in yards per play allowed and it’s not hard to see how that would get worse if Hicks and/or Mack missed significant time, while their offense ranks 28th in first down rate. They are probably in better shape with rookie Justin Fields under center rather than Andy Dalton, but he also hasn’t been the spark this offense needs and he has a very underwhelming offensive supporting cast, in large part due to key injuries at the offensive tackle and running back positions. 

However, I think the public realizes the Bears are not as good as their record, as they remain 6-point home underdogs against the Packers. The Packers are 4-1, but they haven’t been as good as their record and, unlike the Bears, I don’t think the public realizes that. Two of their wins came on last second field goals, while their other two wins came in games in which they struggled to separate at home from inferior teams in the Steelers and Lions. And of course, their week one blowout loss in New Orleans can’t be completely ignored yet. 

It’s easy to think this is the same Packers team as a year ago, but with left tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander, and edge defender Za’Darius Smith all out, this just isn’t as talented of a team as a year ago. Those are three of the best players in the NFL at their respective positions and the most important Packers outside of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, so they can’t just be replaced, even if the Packers have managed to continue winning in relatively unimpressive fashion. On top of that, Rodgers isn’t quite playing at his MVP level from a year ago. 

This is still a good team, but they shouldn’t be regarded as if they were the same team as a year ago. Rodgers also has about a 10 point drop in QB rating on the road in his career, which is well above average for a quarterback, which is a concern if you want to take the Packers as 6 point road favorites here in Chicago. There isn’t enough here for the Bears to be worth betting, but they should be the better side for pick ‘em purposes, as this is more likely than not to be a close game. 

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (4-1) at New York Giants (1-4)

This line shifted from favoring the Rams by 6.5 points on the early line to now favoring them by 9 this week, crossing the key number of 7, a margin which decides about 10% of games. That shift is likely primarily due to the Rams winning by 9 in Seattle and the Giants losing by 24 in Dallas, but it’s hard to put much stock into the final score of either of those games because both games featured a quarterback getting injured and leaving the game at a time the game was much closer. In the Rams case, they were up just 9-7 in the third quarter and the Seahawks had the ball when Russell Wilson suffered a finger injury that hampered him before knocking him out of the game, while the Giants had played the Cowboys to a 10-10 tie in the second quarter when Daniel Jones left with a concussion and did not return. 

Jones is set to return for the Giants this week and, while they will be without top wide receiver Kenny Golladay and featured running back Saquon Barkley, Golladay’s absence should be more than offset by the return of both Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard, who missed each of the past two games, while Barkley’s absence alone isn’t enough to move this line as significantly as it did, especially since he hasn’t been 100% all season anyway. I also thought the early line was too high to begin with at 6.5 and, even with the Giants missing key players to injury, my calculated line this week has the Rams favored by just 5.5 points.

The Giants are just 1-4, but two of their losses were very close games that could have been wins, while their loss to the Cowboys could have been a lot closer had the Giants not lost their quarterback in the middle of the game, even though the Cowboys have been one of the best teams in the league thus far. Daniel Jones doesn’t get a lot of respect from the national media, but he played pretty well before suffering a serious hamstring injury last year, when you take into account the brutal schedule he faced and how many drops his receivers had. 

This year, it’s showing up more in the statistics, as he ranks 10th in QBR and 8th in yards per attempt, despite an underwhelming and injury plagued supporting cast. Despite his statistical success, he’s still regarded as barely better than a replacement level quarterback, with this line only shifting about 1.5 points when it became clear that Jones would be able to play this week, even though backup Mike Glennon looked like a clear downgrade last week. The Giants have an underwhelming roster overall and Jones’ play hasn’t translated to wins, but they’ve been competitive in all but one of their games with Jones healthy and they should be able to keep this one relatively close. This isn’t a big play, but this line is inflated.

Los Angeles Rams 27 New York Giants 21

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +9

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at New England Patriots (2-3)

The Patriots are 2-3 with their only wins coming against the Jets and Texans, and the latter was a near loss, but they also could have easily beaten the Dolphins and the Buccaneers, who beat the Patriots by a combined three points in games in which the Patriots won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost three fumbles on likely scoring drives across the two games. They didn’t look good last week against the Texans, but there was likely a hangover effect from their near win over the Buccaneers the week before and the Patriots were also missing four offensive linemen. They will still be banged up upfront this week, but they should at least get left guard Michael Onwenu back, which will be a big re-addition. 

With Onwenu back, the Patriots are about a middling team, but the problem is they will face the Cowboys, who have been one of the best teams in the league thus far. Their offense has been dominant in Dak Prescott’s return from injury, ranking second in first down rate, while their defense has been better than a year ago, even if only by default. This line, favoring the Cowboys by 3.5 is about right, as my calculated line is Dallas -4. I am taking the Cowboys for now, but there isn’t enough line value to take them with any confidence and, depending on injuries, I may switch my pick, as both the Cowboys’ stud left tackle Tyron Smith and their top cornerback Trevon Diggs are considered gametime decisions. 

Dallas Cowboys 27 New England Patriots 23

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3.5

Confidence: None

Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 6 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (3-2) at Denver Broncos (3-2)

In a normal situation, I would like the Raiders a lot this week, as 4-point underdogs in Denver. The Broncos got out to an 3-0 start, beating an easy schedule, but also winning by an average of 16.7 points. However, they have lost a lot of players to injury as the season has gone on and haven’t been the same team in back-to-back losses to the Ravens and Steelers. Most notably, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, edge defender Bradley Chubb, and inside linebacker Josey Jewell have all gone down since the start of the season. 

The Raiders have also lost back-to-back games since a 3-0 start, but they don’t have as many key players missing due to injury and have the slight edge in my roster rankings overall, despite this line suggesting that the Broncos are the better of the two teams. The Broncos are also in a tough spot as they have to turn around and play a tougher game on a short week next week and favorites cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football.

However, this is not a normal situation, with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigning mid-week. This is not the first time a team has gone to an interim head coach mid-season, but this is really an unprecedented situation. Some teams find success after going to an interim head coach mid-season, but that typically happens when the previous head coach was ineffective and/or disliked, which was not the case for Jon Gruden up until the revelations of the past week made him incapable of leading this locker room.

Gruden was just 22-31 with the Raiders, but usually got the most out of an underwhelming roster and most notably led the Raiders to a 17-10 record in one score games. Gruden’s roster management decisions have been questionable at best, but the Raiders undoubtedly have a worse head coaching situation now than they did a couple weeks ago. We may see a better effort from the Raiders this week than they had last week against the Bears, when the Gruden situation was likely a distraction, but I don’t want to bet on it, even if we are getting good line value. The Raiders are the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but aren’t bettable given the uncertainty over how they will respond.

Denver Broncos 19 Las Vegas Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +4

Confidence: Low