Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2021 Week 7 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1)

The Buccaneers entered the season as one of the top Super Bowl favorites, bringing back all 22 starters from last season’s Super Bowl winning team, and they have gotten off to a 5-1 start thus far, but they’ve gone 3-0 in one score games, so they’ve gotten somewhat lucky to be where they are record wise. They also lost five regular season games last season before getting hot in the post-season and they are also dealing with something that they really didn’t last season, which is a significant amount of injuries, a list that has been growing by the week. In total, the Buccaneers will be without top cornerback Carlton Davis, fellow starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, top off ball linebacker Lavonte David, starting edge defender Jason Pierre-Paul, stud wide receiver Antonio Brown, and talented starting tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Despite that, the Buccaneers are still favored by 11.5 points in this matchup against the Bears. The Bears looked like one of the worst teams in the league to start the season, but they’ve been better in recent weeks, as their defense has gotten healthier, their offense is in marginally better hands with promising rookie Justin Fields under center rather than low upside veteran Andy Dalton, and their special teams has played great in recent weeks. The Buccaneers should still win this game relatively easily, but my calculated line has the Buccaneers favored by 10, suggesting we’re getting some value with the underdog at +11.5. This isn’t a bettable game, but the Bears are the better side for pick ‘em purposes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +11.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 7 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Baltimore Ravens (5-1)

Both of these teams have impressive records at 4-2 and 5-1, but both teams have also played a lot of close games, with the Bengals playing 4 games decided by a field goal or less (2-2), including a pair of overtime games and the Ravens playing 4 games decided by one score or less (3-1), including another pair of overtime games. Both teams are 2-0 in games decided by multiple scores, but the Bengals’ wins came against the Steelers and Lions, while the Ravens, who have faced a tougher schedule overall, beat the Broncos and Chargers by multiple scores.

The Ravens also have a talent edge on paper, about 6 points better in my roster rankings, suggesting we’re getting some line value with the Ravens as just 6.5 point favorites at home. The Ravens are also in a pair of good spots as they are big home favorites before a bye and they are in their third straight home game. Home favorites of 6+ cover at a 63.0% rate all-time before a bye week, while home favorites cover at a 55.6% rate in their third straight home game. 

Combining the two trends, teams have covered in 13 of 14 instances over the past 30 seasons as favorites in their third straight home game before a bye week. The Ravens should be fully focused for this game and give their best effort as a result. This isn’t a big play, but as long as this line is under a touchdown, the Ravens should take care of business against a Bengals team that has faced an easy schedule thus far and that has mostly overachieved their talent level this season.

Update: This line has dropped down to 6, which is a bigger number than it used to be because of the new overtime rules. I am upping this to a higher confidence pick.

Baltimore Ravens 33 Cincinnati Bengals 24

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -6

Confidence: High

Philadelphia Eagles at Las Vegas Raiders: 2021 Week 7 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (2-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (4-2)

The Eagles are just 2-4, but they’ve faced a tough schedule. Their losses have all come to above average teams, the 49ers, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Buccaneers, with two of those games being decided by one score or less, while their wins have come against the Panthers and Falcons on the road by a combined 29 points. Those two teams are much more comparable to the Raiders, the Eagles’ opponents this week, than any of the teams the Eagles have lost to. 

The Eagles’ defense has especially faced a tough schedule, as the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Buccaneers are all in the top-3 in schedule adjusted first down rate, and the Eagles held up all things considered, holding those three teams well below their collective season average and leading the league by allowing 1.24 yards per play less than expected. They’re probably not going to be the best defense in the league by this metric all season, but this is a much better defense than they’ve been given credit for if you take into account who they’ve played.

The Eagles’ offense has not been nearly as good, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted first down rate, but their offensive line is a lot healthier now than it’s been, getting left tackle Jordan Mailata back from a 2-game absence in week 5 and now getting right tackle Lane Johnson back from a 3-game absence this week, the first time the Eagles have had their two tackles together since week 2. The Eagles are still missing their starting guards Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo, but they’ve gotten good play from their replacements and should overall have a strong offensive line with Johnson returning this week. 

In their current state, I have them 2.5 points better than the Raiders, suggesting this line should be about even, with the Raiders getting about 2.5 points for homefield advantage. The Raiders have a better record at 4-2, but their victories haven’t been all that impressive, with none coming by more than 10 points and two coming in overtime, despite an underwhelming strength of victory that includes a mediocre Steelers team, a terrible Dolphins team, a banged up Broncos team, and a Ravens team that was travelling cross country for a night game in the Raiders home opener. 

Meanwhile, the Raiders’ two losses have each come by double digits, including a home loss to an underwhelming Bears team and the Chargers’ only multi-score win of the season. In hindsight I wish I had picked the Browns on Thursday Night Football as my Pick of the Week because I liked that matchup more than anything this weekend, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I am taking this as my Pick of the Week. The Eagles have a good chance to pull this straight up upset and even if they don’t, we get protection from a field goal loss.

Update: I am glad I locked this in because Darren Waller might not play and this line dropped to 2. I would still like the Eagles at a lot at +2, assuming Waller doesn’t play, but this is an afternoon game, so the line and the injury report need to be monitored before locking in a bet if you didn’t get this at +3.

Philadelphia Eagles 19 Las Vegas Raiders 17 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 7 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)

The rule of thumb in these Thursday games is to take a home favorite in a non-divisional matchup, as historically it has proven tough for inferior teams to travel on a short week and face a superior team that is out of their division that they are unfamiliar with. Overall, non-divisional home favorites cover at a 65% rate on Thursday nights, as long as both teams are on normal rest. The Browns are only favored by a point here, suggesting that the visitors are the superior team, but I think this line is way off.

Both teams are 3-3, but the Browns have been much better overall. Their three losses came against the Chiefs, Chargers, and Cardinals, who are all among the top teams in the league, with a combined record of 13-5 and no losses to opponents who are worse than 4-2, and two of those teams were decided by one score and could have gone either way. The Browns’ strength of schedule isn’t that impressive, but they went into Minnesota and won by a touchdown against a Vikings team that is better than their 3-3 record, while their wins over the Texans and Bears came in blowout fashion, with the Browns winning the first down rate battle by 11.26% and 18.86% respectively in those games and the yards per play battle by 1.02 and 4.24 respectively. 

The Browns’ one blowout loss, their loss to the Cardinals, did come just last week, which is concerning because the Browns were dealing with significant injury issues in that game that will carry over to this game, but the Broncos are equally banged up. The Browns are expected to be without starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, their two top running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, their stud right tackle Jack Conklin, possibly starting wide receiver Odell Beckham, and their most impressive linebacker this season, rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, while the Broncos have lost wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, edge defender Bradley Chubb, and inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson since the start of the season.

The common narrative is that the Broncos got out to a 3-0 start by facing weak competition and have fallen back to earth against tougher competition, but the Broncos largely dominated their weak competition and looked like a legitimately good team, while their tougher competition in recent weeks has only consisted of the Ravens, Steelers, and Raiders. It’s not just that their schedule has gotten tougher; they have legitimately played much worse the past few weeks and injuries are the primary culprit. 

This line has shifted from favoring the Browns by 6 points last week on the early line last week to a single point this week, largely due to the Browns injuries and their blowout loss last week, but it seems to ignore the Broncos’ injuries and their recent struggles, all against teams inferior to the Cardinals. When strength of schedule is taken into account, the Browns rank 16th in first down rate, 3rd in yards per play allowed, and 3rd in special teams DVOA, which are the most predictive metrics for each unit, while the Broncos rank 22nd, 23rd, and 25th. 

My roster rankings have these two teams closer together and overall the value of the Browns’ injured players is more than the Broncos’ injured players, but the Browns still have about a four point talent edge and are still in relatively good hands under center because backup Case Keenum is one of the better in the league. Add in their extra homefield advantage on a short week and the Browns should be favored by a lot more than a point in this matchup. This might be a Pick of the Week if this was a Sunday or Monday game, but I hate having my top pick on Thursday before I’ve gotten to review everything during the weekend, so I’m keeping this as a high confidence pick.

Cleveland Browns 23 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -1

Confidence: High