Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-3)

This game is the toughest call of the week because the status of Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott is probably going to be a gametime call. Prescott is not only one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but his backup Cooper Rush is one of the least experienced backup quarterbacks in the league, so the dropoff would be enormous if Prescott could not play. Given that, it’s surprising that a line has been posted, favoring the Vikings at home by a field goal. 

That seems to suggest that the oddsmakers think it’s more likely than not that Prescott does not play, as the Vikings would not be considered better than the Cowboys if Prescott was healthy. My calculated line would have the Cowboys favored by 3 points in Minnesota even if Prescott was not quite 100%, as the Cowboys have been the significantly better team this season, ranking 1st, 28th, and 17th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, while the Vikings have ranked 9th, 17th, and 30th respectively. 

However, if Prescott could not go, my calculated line would have the Vikings favored by 6. If it’s truly 50/50, the Cowboys are a value play at +3, but I don’t want to make any pick on this game until we know Prescott’s status, even if that makes going up to gametime. I am leaving this as a no confidence pick on the Cowboys for now, but this could change considerably depending on Prescott’s status and any line movement related to whether or not he plays.

Update: Dak Prescott is officially out and the line has moved to Minnesota -4.5. We are getting a little bit of line value with the Vikings, who are better than their 3-3 record and could easily be 4-2 or 5-1 right now, despite an above average schedule. However, there isn’t quite enough here for Minnesota to be bettable.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Dallas Cowboys 21

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -4.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (1-6) at Buffalo Bills (4-2)

The Dolphins have struggled mightily this season, going 1-6 with their one win coming by a single point in a game in which the Patriots fumbled at the goal line at the end of the game. The Dolphins were 10-6 a year ago, but a dropoff always seemed inevitable, as 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%), which was actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL).

The public seems to have caught up with that though, as this line is right where it should be, favoring the vastly superior Bills by two touchdowns at home. There isn’t any line value to be had with either side, but I am taking the favorite for pick ‘em purposes just because I think a blowout is the most likely result of this matchup, which resulted in a 35-0 Bills victory in Miami earlier this season. This is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week though and it could easily be a push.

Buffalo Bills 31 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -14

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) at Seattle Seahawks (2-5)

It’s hard to understate how much the Seahawks miss Russell Wilson. Both of their full games without him have been close, but those games were against a mediocre Steelers team and a Saints team that was probably caught looking forward to their bigger matchup with the Buccaneers the following week. Their offense has struggled mightily without him and, with top running back Chris Carson also out, the Seahawks aren’t really good at anything on either side of the ball right now. 

The Seahawks have an easy matchup with the Jaguars this week, but they are favored by 3.5 points at home, suggesting they are a significantly better team, which I don’t think is the case right now. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less and the Seahawks shouldn’t be favored by more than a field goal against anyone other than the Texans or maybe the Jets. There isn’t enough here to take the Jaguars with confidence, but this line seems a little bit off as the most likely result of this game is either team winning by a field goal, both of which would cover this line.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-3) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4)

I was hoping we would get some value with the Colts this week, facing the Titans, who are coming off of upset home victories over the Bills and Chiefs, previously considered the two best teams in the AFC. The Titans played well in those two games, but this could be a let down spot against a team they have already beaten, with another tough game on deck against the Rams. Teams cover at just a 43.5% rate all-time after a home upset victory as underdogs of 4 points or more and the Titans are coming off two such games. 

This is also still the same Titans team that was blown out by the Cardinals and that lost in overtime to the Jets for the Jets’ only victory of the season, so it’s not hard to see how the Titans could struggle in a rematch with the Colts, who they only beat by nine at home in Tennessee in a game in which the Colts had Carson Wentz playing through two bad ankles, without his two best offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith and top wide receiver TY Hilton. 

Wentz has gotten healthy and is playing at a high level and he will have Nelson, Smith, and Hilton together for the first time all season this week, after they missed an average of five of the Colts first seven games. Despite those injuries, the Colts have been better than their 3-4 record through seven games, winning all three games by multiple scores, but losing two of their four losses by one score, against among the best teams in the league in Ravens and Rams. Unfortunately, the public and the oddsmakers seem to recognize that the Colts are better than their record, leading to them being favored by a field goal at home, suggesting they are actually seen as the slightly better of these two teams. 

My calculated line has the Colts favored by just a point, so we’re actually getting some line value with the Titans. The Colts being favored also puts them in a bad spot, as favorites tend to disappoint before a short week, covering at a 41.9% rate before a Thursday game, and the Colts face the Jets on Thursday Night Football next week. That might not affect the Colts since they have a worse record and have lost to the Titans already this season, but it’s another reason not to take the Colts. There isn’t enough here for either side to be bettable, but I am taking the Titans at +3, as they still have a good chance to win outright and, if not, they have a good chance to at least push this number.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Tennessee Titans 26

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-4) at Chicago Bears (3-4)

I expected the 49ers to make a big leap in win total this season, after finishing 6-10 a year ago. I expected that because they were likely to have better injury luck and a better turnover margin, after finishing worst in adjusted games lost and 2nd worst in turnover margin (-11). However, the 49ers still have the league’s 4th worst turnover margin at -7 and, while their injury situation isn’t as bad as a year ago, they are still one of the more banged up teams in the league. 

In total, they are missing stud tight end George Kittle, starting running back Raheem Mostert, top cornerback Jason Verrett, rotational interior defenders Javon Kinlaw and Maurice Hurst, starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and possibly stud left tackle Trent Williams, who is questionable to return from a one-game absence after barely practicing this week. Turnover margin is a very unpredictable stat on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t expect this team to continue struggling in the turnover margin, but their upside is capped by the amount of talent they are missing. 

Still, the 49ers are better than their 2-4 record, especially since they have faced an above average schedule, with all but one of their games decided by a single score. Meanwhile, the Bears are not as good as even their mediocre 3-4 record suggests, as all four of their losses have come by at least 10 points, giving them a point differential overall of -61, which ranks just 27th in the NFL, with the five teams behind them combining for just five wins total.

The Bears’ offense continues to struggle even with Justin Fields in the lineup because he is a raw rookie and his supporting cast is mediocre at best, while their defense is not nearly the same as it once was, due to a combination of off-season losses over the past few years and players missing due to injury. The Bears should get Akiem Hicks back in the lineup this week, but they will also lose edge defender Khalil Mack, who is their most important defender. If the 49ers had Trent Williams in the lineup this week, we would be getting some line value with them, even as 4-point road favorites.

That being said, I am not planning on betting on the 49ers. Aside from the uncertainty around Williams’ status, the Bears are also in a good spot because they are coming off of a blowout loss, and should be fully focused to try to redeem themselves. Overall, teams cover at 58.0% rate the following week after a 35+ point loss all-time and this could easily be one of the Bears’ best efforts of the season. Because of that, I would only recommend the 49ers as a bet for pick ‘em purposes and if Williams is out, I would probably drop all confidence.

San Francisco 49ers 23 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -4

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (2-5) at Detroit Lions (0-7)

Neither of these teams has an impressive record, but both teams have been better than their record. The Lions are the league’s last remaining winless team, but they have faced an above average schedule and are not getting blown out most weeks. On average, their losses have come by an average of 10.3 points per game, but even that makes it seem like they’ve been blown out more than they have been, as five of their seven losses have been kept within 10 points, while one of their two losses by more than 10 points came in a game in which the Lions led the Packers at halftime in Green Bay.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have faced arguably the league’s three best offensive teams, the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Buccaneers, who rank 2nd, 1st, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency. Overall, the Eagles have held their own defensively this season, ranking 8th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, even after a disappointing performance against the Raiders last week. The Eagles have not been as good on offense, ranking 20th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, but they have gotten back a pair of key offensive lineman, left tackle Jordan Mailata and right tackle Lane Johnson, so they should have better offensive performances going forward.

Unfortunately, with both teams being a little underrated, we aren’t getting any line value with either side, as my calculated line is right at Philadelphia -3.5, where this line is in reality. I am taking the Eagles for pick ‘em purposes for one reason and that’s because the Lions could be flat after coming up short in Jared Goff’s revenge game against the Rams last week, but I’m not sure how much of a hangover effect there will be from that in this matchup, especially with the Lions having still not won a game and desperate to get into the win column (winless teams cover at a 58.0% rate all-time in week 6 or later).

Update: This line has dropped down to 3, which is significant because 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal. I still wouldn’t bet the Eagles, but I am upping the confidence on this a little bit.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -3

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) at Houston Texans (1-6)

The Texans were expected by most to be one of, if not the worst team in the league this season. They threw some people off the scent of how terrible they were by winning week one, but that was because veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor played a great game and because the Texans were facing a Jaguars team that also ended up showing themselves to be one of the worst teams in the league. The Texans were tied with the Browns the following week at halftime, but lost Taylor to an injury and have completely bottomed out since, with raw rookie quarterback Davis Mills under center, supported by probably the worst roster in the league on both sides of the ball.

Overall, the Texans have been outscored 138-46 since Mills took over the starting job and that’s even worse if you take out a 25-22 loss to the Patriots in a game in which the Patriots were missing most of their offensive line but still won the first down rate battle by 8.67%. Their other four full games with Mills have been losses by an average score of 27.3 points. Also missing left tackle Laremy Tunsil, arguably their best player, the Texans are 14 points below average in my roster rankings and even that might underestimate how bad they are right now.

Despite that, we are actually getting some line value with the Texans as 16-point home underdogs against the Rams, as my calculated line has the Texans as 15-point underdogs. Favoring a team by 15 or 16 points is kind of splitting hairs, but the Rams are holding out their top offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth with injury in this game, which could easily hurt their ability to win by three scores or more, and the Rams are in a bad spot as well, with a much tougher game against the Titans on deck. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 42.6% rate all-time before facing an opponent who has a winning percentage over 50% higher than their current opponent. I can’t have any confidence in the Davis Mills led Texans unless I have a very good reason to, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 31 Houston Texans 16

Pick against the spread: Houston +16

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (4-3)

The Browns have had among the worst injury luck in the league. In total, they have been without quarterback Baker Mayfield (one game), running backs Nick Chubb (2 games) and Kareem Hunt (1 game), wide receivers Jarvis Landry (4 games) and Odell Beckham (2 games), left tackle Jedrick Wills (2 games), right tackle Jack Conklin (2 games), Jadeveon Clowney (1 game), and cornerback Greg Newsome (2 games) for differing periods of time. Hunt remains out and top cornerback Denzel Ward will join him on the sideline, missing his first game of the season, but the Browns have enough depth at both running back and cornerback to compensate and, in general, the Browns have much more talent available to them this week than they have had most of the season.

Despite their injury issues, the Browns have been better than their record, as their losses have come to the Chiefs, Chargers, and Cardinals, with two of those games being decided by one score. In total, the Browns rank 11th in first down rate, 9th in yards per play, 8th in first down rate allowed, 2nd in yards per play allowed, and 4th in special teams DVOA, making them one of the most impressive and well-rounded teams in the league from a statistical standpoint, despite all of their injury absences to date.

The most questionable injury situation in this game is how effective quarterback Baker Mayfield will be, returning from a one-game absence to play through a serious injury to his non-throwing shoulder, which could knock him out of the lineup again. However, even with Case Keenum under center, I still have the Browns calculated at 10-point favorites over the Steelers. That’s in part because the Browns are healthier now and have played better than their record despite their injury absences, but also because the Steelers are still a little bit overrated. 

The Steelers have managed wins in their last two games but they were facing two teams in the Broncos and Seahawks who are both mediocre without the key players that both are missing due to injury. The Browns, meanwhile, still have one of the most talented rosters on paper even with some significant contributors out. The Steelers still have a good defense, but it’s not nearly as good as it was a year ago when they played well enough to mask a mediocre offense and led this team to an impressive record with a lot of close wins against mediocre opponents.

The Browns are somewhat in a bad spot because they have to turn around and face the Bengals in a tougher divisional game next week and teams cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time at home in a divisional matchup against a team with a .500 record or worse before going on the road and facing another divisional opponent with a record better than .500. However, that should be somewhat offset by the fact that the Browns are in their third of three home games, a spot with a 55.1% cover rate all-time. Even with conflicting trends, there is just too much line value with the Browns to not bet them, as they could beat the Steelers with relative ease even if Mayfield doesn’t play his best football or leaves the game for Case Keenum.

Cleveland Browns 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 14

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -4

Confidence: High

Washington Football Team at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (2-5) at Denver Broncos (3-4)

The Broncos got off to a 3-0 start, but have completely collapsed since then, losing four straight games by a combined 37 points. It’s easy to say that the Broncos stopped winning because their schedule got harder, as their three wins came against teams that are a combined 4-15, but the Broncos won those three games in convincing fashion, all by double digits, by a combined 50 points, and their schedule hasn’t been that difficult over the past four games, as the Raiders and Steelers are middling teams at best, while the Browns were starting a backup quarterback, leaving the Ravens as the only legitimately tough opponent the Broncos have faced all season.

A bigger deal than the schedule getting harder for the Broncos is simply how many players they have lost due to injury, as they have lost talented edge defender Bradley Chubb, their two starting inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, who were both playing above average, as well as promising young wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, though the former could return this week from a 6-game absence. Even bigger than any of those absences would be the loss of Von Miller, who is highly questionable for this game after not practicing all week. 

The oddsmakers and/or the public don’t seem to have caught up with how much less talent the Broncos have than they did earlier this season when they were beating bad teams convincingly, favoring the Broncos by 3.5 points in this home game against Washington. Washington isn’t as bad as the teams the Broncos have beaten and those wins were back when the Broncos were not missing so many key players, so this could easily be a close game or an upset. My calculated line has the Broncos favored by 2, so we’re getting some line value at +3.5, although I would need Miller to be ruled out for Washington to be worth betting.

Update: Von Miller sounds unlikely to play, but this line still moved up to 4. Jerry Jeudy will play for the Broncos, but this line is still too high. If Miller doesn’t play, Washington is the better of these two teams and homefield advantage isn’t what it used to be.

Denver Broncos 24 Washington Football Team 23

Pick against the spread: Washington +4

Confidence: Medium