Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-4) at Atlanta Falcons (3-3)

Both of these teams have won three games each, but that has more to do with who they have played than either team being good or even average. The Falcons’ three wins came against the Giants, Jets, and Dolphins, who are a combined 4-16, and none of them came by more than one score, while their three losses have come by a combined 53 points, even though the Buccaneers are the only team the Falcons have played who are .500 or better, having faced one of the easiest schedules in the league overall.

The Panthers, meanwhile, got their three wins in the first three weeks of the season, but two of those wins came against the Jets and Texans, who are among the worst teams in the league, and the Panthers have lost all four games since then by a combined 39 points, even though they faced just one winning team (Dallas) over that stretch. The Panthers have faced the tougher schedule overall and their week 2 win over the Saints is the only win either of these two teams has against even a decent team, but neither of these teams has an impressive resume.

The Falcons have had success more recently than the Panthers, which has led to this line shifting from favoring the Falcons by 2 points on the early line last week to 3 points this week, a significant shift given that 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, but the Panthers have played better statistically across the whole season, ranking 28th, 6th, and 27th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, as opposed to 24th, 30th, and 31st for the Falcons. 

The Panthers’ recent struggles have largely been the result of significant injury absences, most notably feature back Christian McCaffrey, top linebacker Shaq Thompson, and top cornerback Jaycee Horn, but, while McCaffrey remains out, Thompson seems likely to return this week, while recently acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore will make his debut, which should at least offset the loss of Horn and which could be a big upgrade for this defense if he is anything close to his top form. 

The Panthers are also in a better spot than the Falcons, desperate to bounce back off of last week’s embarrassing loss to the Giants, while the Falcons have to turn around and face the Saints in New Orleans next week. Teams cover at just a 41.1% rate all-time at home in a divisional matchup against a team with a sub .500 record before going on the road and facing another divisional opponent with a record better than .500. There isn’t quite enough here for the Panthers to be worth betting, but if Thompson plays I may reconsider.

Update: Thompson and Gilmore are playing, while Calvin Ridley is a surprise inactive for the Falcons for personal reasons. Lock in +3 while you can. I would not bet +2.5. The money line at +130 makes sense as well.

Carolina Panthers 24 Atlanta Falcons 23 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-4)

The Chiefs shockingly scored just 3 points last week against a Titans defense that was mediocre statistically coming into last week. Despite that uncharacteristically poor performance, the Chiefs still rank 1st on the season in first down rate at 39.5% and 5th in yards per play at 6.2. Their defense has been the problem for most of the season, ranking dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.3% and in yards per play allowed at 6.6, but defensive performance is much less predictive week-to-week than offensive performance and the Chiefs are much healthier on defense now than they have been all season.

Last week was the Chiefs’ first game with interior defender Chris Jones, cornerback Charvarius Ward, edge defender Frank Clark, and safety Tyrann Mathieu active at the same time, resulting in a solid defensive performance that was wasted by their terrible offensive performance. Assuming the Chiefs can bounce back on offense, their defense has enough talent to be a complementary unit going forward. The turnover margin has also been a problem for the Chiefs, as they rank tied for last with the Jaguars with a -10 turnover margin, but many of their turnovers have been on tipped balls or drops and turnover margin is not a predictive stat on a week-to-week basis in general. 

I would expect any team in the Chiefs’ turnover margin situation to bounce back going forward, but the Chiefs are better equipped than most teams to bounce back, as having an elite quarterback like Patrick Mahomes is the best way to consistently perform well in the turnover margin. Prior to this season, the Chiefs were +23 in turnover margin across Mahomes’ first three seasons in the league combined and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see their turnover situation swing dramatically over the remainder of the season. This line shifted from favoring the Chiefs by 13 on the early line last week to favoring them by 9.5 this week, as a result of the Chiefs’ disappointing performance in Tennessee and the Giants win over the Panthers last week, but that is a little bit of an overreaction. 

Unfortunately, we’re not getting quite enough line value with the Chiefs for them to be worth betting because I do think the Giants are still a little underrated, as two of their losses came by a combined four points, while their loss to the Cowboys was a tied game when they lost Daniel Jones to a concussion. My calculated line is Kansas City -11.5, so we’re getting some line value with the Chiefs, but they’re also in a bit of a questionable spot, with a much tougher game against the Packers on deck after a short week, following this Monday Night Football contest.

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, which applies to the Chiefs this week. It’s possible the Chiefs won’t overlook the Giants, given that the Chiefs are coming off of an embarrassing loss, but they also might feel this will be an easy game to “get right” with and not focus as much as they would if this was a tougher opponent. There is enough uncertainty here for the Chiefs to not be worth a bet, even if they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -9.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) at New York Jets (1-5)

These two teams had completely opposite weeks last week. While the Bengals pulled a big upset win in Baltimore by 24 points, the Jets were blown out in a 41-point loss in New England and lost their starting quarterback Zach Wilson for an extended period of time, forcing them to turn to unproven backup Mike White. As a result, this line has shifted in a significant way, with the Bengals going from being 3.5-point favorites on the early line last week to now being favored by 11.

That seems like an overreaction. The Bengals win was impressive, but it wasn’t as lopsided as the final score indicated, as it was close for most of the game before the Ravens were forced to go for it on several 4th downs late and failed. In first down rate differential, the Bengals held the edge by just 1.52%. That win also puts the Bengals in a bad spot this week, as teams cover at about a 41.9% rate all-time after a win as divisional underdogs of 6 points or more. They could easily be flat after last week’s emotional win.

The Jets, meanwhile, are in a good spot because teams tend to cover at a high rate after being blown out like the Jets were last week, bouncing back to cover at a 58.0% rate the following week after a 35+ point loss all-time. I’m also not that concerned that the Jets will be starting a backup quarterback because I don’t think the dropoff from Wilson to White is that significant, with Wilson struggling to this point in his career. A 7.5 point line movement like we had in this game from last week to this week is usually reserved for a franchise caliber quarterback getting hurt, so it’s hard to justify it in these circumstances.

The Bengals are also in another bad spot because they have to turn around and play another tough game against the Browns next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.4% rate all-time before facing an opponent who has a winning percentage that is 40% of better than their current opponent’s winning percentage. Given the situation, it’s hard to see the Bengals bringing their best effort for this matchup against a one-win team starting a backup quarterback, while the Jets should bring their best effort in response to last week’s embarrassment. We’re not getting much line value here with the Jets, but the spot is good enough that the Jets are worth a small play.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +11

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) at New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Typically, NFL teams gradually lose talent as the season goes on, with players getting hurt as the season goes on. The Saints haven’t followed that pattern though, as they entered the season missing several key players, lost a few more players along the way, but are now as complete as they’ve been all season, with several key players returning over the past two weeks. Last week, they got back a pair of defensive starters, edge defender Marcus Davenport linebacker Kwon Alexander, as well as left tackle Terron Armstead and center Erik McCoy, who are among the best players in the league at their respective positions. 

This week, they will get back interior defender David Onyemata, who is also an above average starter. They aren’t 100% healthy, but they are in much better shape than they’ve been in all season and, overall, I have them 3.5 points above average in my roster rankings in their current form. The Saints typically get better as the season goes on anyway, as they have covered at a 59.5% rate in week 6 or later since 2011.

The Saints didn’t play particularly well last week, even after getting back the players they did, barely beating the Seahawks without Russell Wilson in Seattle, but the Saints could have been caught looking forward to this matchup against the Buccaneers, which is a big game in the division against the team who ended their season in the playoffs last year and a big revenge game for former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who now starts for New Orleans. 

The Buccaneers are one of the top teams in the league, but they are even in the point differential on the road this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them struggle to pull away from a Saints team that is above average in their own right, led by one of the most talented defenses in the league. My calculated line has the Buccaneers as field goal favorites at best, so we’re getting good value with the Saints at +4.5, even before we take into account that they might have the extra motivation in this matchup. I wouldn’t make a big bet on the Saints, but they should be the right side.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 New Orleans Saints 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4.5

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (3-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)

The Patriots are just 3-4 with their three wins coming against the worst teams in the league in the Texans and the Jets (twice), but they’ve been very close to picking up a couple other wins, with three of their four losses coming by a final score of 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime. They lost to the Saints by 15, but across their other three losses they were losing by a combined 3 points at the end of regulation, including near wins over a pair of top level teams in the Cowboys and Buccaneers. Meanwhile, their three wins have come by a combined 63 points, with their win over the Texans only being close because the Patriots were missing almost all of their offensive line in that game. 

If the Patriots’ offensive line had been healthy in that game and had a couple things broken differently in their losses, the Patriots could easily be 5-2 or 6-1 right now with several blowout wins and some close wins against tougher opponents. Obviously none of that matters in the standings, but from a handicapping standpoint it’s not hard to see how this team could be significantly better than their record, especially now with their offensive line healthy again.

The Chargers are 4-2, but they are kind of in an opposite situation, as just one of their wins has come by more than one score, a trend that actually dates back to last season, when their only multi-score wins came against the 1-win Jaguars and the Chiefs backups in a meaningless week 17 game. In fact, just 4 of the Chargers’ 11 wins over the past two seasons have come by more than 5 points, which is very relevant considering this line is at 5. 

Those wins have also come against those aforementioned Jaguars and Chiefs, as well as the 2-win Jets and a win over the Chiefs earlier this season by 6, in which they won the turnover battle by 4, which is not something they can count on every week. In two seasons, they have beaten just one quality team by more than 5 points and even that win could have been a loss if not for a takeaway or two. The Chargers are also somewhat going in the opposite direction injury wise from the Patriots, particularly on the offensive line, which is now down a pair of week one starters.

At the very least, these two teams should be considered about equal, as both teams are legitimately a couple plays away from having very different resumes, but my roster rankings have the Patriots actually as 2 points better with these two teams in their current situation injury wise. Add in the fact that the Chargers have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, where they usually play in front of road crowds, (13-19 ATS at home since moving, as opposed to 20-13 ATS on the road) and you could make an argument for the Patriots being favored by a point or two in this matchup, or at least being even. Given that, we are getting a ton of value with the Patriots at +5. Even if they do lose, it should be a close game, so I’m very confident in New England at that number.

New England Patriots 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +180

Pick against the spread: New England +5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (6-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-0)

The Packers have one loss and the Cardinals are undefeated, but these two teams aren’t that evenly matched. While the Cardinals have just two one-score wins and have won their seven games by an average of 15.9 points per game, the Packers have just two wins by more than 10 points and those came in games in which the Packers were down at halftime at home to the winless Lions and in which the Packers were outgained at home on a per play basis by a mediocre Washington team. Meanwhile, the Packers’ one loss came in blowout fashion to the Saints by 35. Add in an easy schedule and the Packers rank 5th, 22nd, and 28th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, while the Cardinals rank 7th, 4th, and 6th respectively. 

The Packers were 13-3 last season, but this isn’t the same team as a year ago due to key absences like left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, who are all among the best players in the league at their respective positions. This week, wide receiver Davante Adams will join them, another player who is one of the best in the league at his position. Aside from Aaron Rodgers, those are arguably their four most important players. That will likely catch up to them as they face tougher competition like the Cardinals. 

The Cardinals are going to be missing defensive tackle JJ Watt in this matchup, but they are in much better shape overall injury wise and will get edge defender Chandler Jones back from a two-game absence. I have them calculated as 7-point favorites in this matchup, so we’re getting some line value with the Cardinals at -6.5. That’s not a ton of line value, but it’s still significant because about 10% of games are decided by exactly a touchdown and I would probably bet the Cardinals in normal circumstances because they’re in such a great spot, with non-divisional home favorites covering at a 65.0% rate all-time on a short week. 

I say “normal circumstances” because the Packers are no ordinary road underdog, with Aaron Rodgers under center. That aforementioned trend works because it’s tough for inferior teams to travel on the road and face an unfamiliar opponent out of the division, but having an elite quarterback like Rodgers makes it a lot easier. Unsurprisingly, Rodgers is 10-5 ATS on Thursday Night Football in his career, including 5-3 ATS on the road. 

Rodgers does tend to decline more on the road than the average quarterback does, but I still think he’s as well equipped as any quarterback to take this team on the road and potentially play this game close or pull the upset. This isn’t a reason to bet the Packers, but it’s a reason not to take the Cardinals even though they’re getting some line value in a good spot. Arizona is still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but there is too much conflicting stuff here to be confident betting them.

Arizona Cardinals 31 Green Bay Packers 23

Pick against the spread: Arizona -6.5

Confidence: Low