Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to make a big play on the Chiefs in this one, when they opened with an even line. The Packers are 7-1, while the Chiefs are just 4-4, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Chiefs still rank 2nd in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, despite having a down year by their standards, and their problems have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank dead last in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency. 

Fortunately, offensive efficiency tends to be much more predictive week-to-week than defensive efficiency and, on top of that, the Chiefs have gotten healthier on defense, as starting cornerback Charvarius Ward, talented safety Tyrann Mathieu, and their two best defensive lineman Frank Clark and Chris Jones have only all played together just in the past two games, with all four missing some action early in the season. 

The Chiefs underwhelmed last week against the Giants, but they were likely caught looking forward to this bigger matchup with the Packers this week. The Chiefs have also had issues with turnovers, as they have the worst turnover margin in the league at -11, which has significantly capped their upside this season, but turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and many of the Chiefs turnovers have been on deflected or tipped balls, so I don’t anticipate this being a problem all season. 

In fact, while I would expect any team with a turnover margin like the Chiefs have had thus far this season to improve in that aspect going forward, that should especially be true for the Chiefs, as having a top level quarterback is the only way to have any sort of consistent success in the turnover margin. Across Mahomes’ first three seasons in the league, the Chiefs had a combined +23 turnover margin, before Mahomes’ recent string of mostly unlikely interceptions led him to currently lead the league with 10 interceptions. I don’t see that continuing going forward and, with the Chiefs defense likely to improve going forward as well, the Chiefs should be much better going forward.

The Packers, meanwhile, have not played as well as their record suggests, as they rank 9th, 22nd, and 27th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and don’t have any overly impressive wins. Just two of their wins came 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. 

The Packers did go into Arizona and win last week, giving the Cardinals their first loss of the season, but the Packers were very reliant in the turnover battle in that game, losing the first down rate battle by 5.93%, but winning by a field goal in a game in which the Packers won the turnover battle by three, including a late takeaway to seal the game when the Cardinals were in range to at least send the game to overtime, if not win outright. The Packers scored off the Cardinals’ other two takeaways too, so if any one of those turnovers doesn’t happen, the Packers could have easily lost. Given how inconsistent turnover margins are on a week-to-week basis, the Packers can’t count on that again and, given that the Cardinals outperformed the Packers in other key metrics, the Cardinals would likely win a rematch more often than not.

Because most of the Packers wins have been close, while most of the Chiefs issues have been concentrated on defense or have come as a result of a fluky turnover margin, I thought these two teams were at worst even going into this game, with the Chiefs holding an edge if anyone did, so getting them on an even line at home was a good value. Unfortunately, this game has changed drastically since earlier this week, with Aaron Rodgers set to mess this game after testing positive for COVID and the line shifting a whopping 7.5 points as a result, now favoring the Chiefs by that amount. 

About half of NFL games are decided by seven points or fewer, so that’s a drastical line movement and I don’t think it’s warranted. As good as Aaron Rodgers is, his backup Jordan Love is a recent first round pick who made significant improvements this off-season, so I don’t expect quite as big of a dropoff as the oddsmakers and public seem to. The Chiefs could also be in a look ahead spot now that Rodgers is out, with a big divisional matchup against the Raiders on deck and, much like we saw out of the Chiefs last week against the Giants, we could see them play down to the level of their competition again this week what could be a look ahead spot for the Chiefs with Rodgers out. I am still taking the Chiefs for pick ’em purposes because we are still getting a little bit of line value with them, but this one is no longer bettable.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Green Bay Packers 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7.5

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (6-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-1)

A week ago, this line favored the Rams by 4.5 on the early line, but the line has since shifted to 7.5 points. Normally I like to fade significant week to week line movements like this, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week or play, but, given the circumstances, that movement seems warranted, as the Titans lost feature back Derrick Henry for an extended period of time with an injury, while the Rams added talented edge defender Von Miller from the Broncos in a trade. 

We are getting a little bit of line value with the Titans, as the Rams have been a little overrated in recent weeks and my calculated line has the Titans at +7, but there is too much injury uncertainty on both sides to take either side confidently right now. The Rams will get left tackle Andrew Whitworth back from a one-game absence this week, but their newest addition Von Miller is not a lock to play with an injury of his own, while quarterback Matt Stafford and starting wide receiver Robert Woods didn’t practice all week. Stafford is expected to play, but may not be 100%, while Woods seems legitimately questionable and would likely be limited if he did play.

On the Titans’ side, they’ll get starting wide receiver Julio Jones back this week, but they could be without fellow starting wide receiver AJ Brown, while left tackle Taylor Lewan is questionable to return from a two-game absence. With key players truly questionable on both sides (Miller and Woods for the Rams and Lewan and Brown for the Titans) it’s hard to pick either side confidently and my final pick will almost definitely come down to who has the better final injury report. Either way, I don’t see myself betting this game unless the final injury report is really skewed in favor of one team or another and the line doesn’t move. I’m taking the Titans now for a no confidence pick, but I will almost definitely be doing an update on this before gametime.

Update: Brown and Woods are both expected to play, but we don’t have confirmation on Lewan and Miller yet. If Miller plays and Lewan doesn’t, I may change this pick to the Rams, but it would be a no confidence pick either way.

Los Angeles Rams 31 Tennessee Titans 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +7.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

The Steelers have moved up above .500, but they’re still an underwhelming team overall. Their total margin of victory across their four wins is still less than their total margin of defeat across their three losses, giving them a point differential of -10. In efficiency ratings, they rank 23rd, 11th, and 18th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively. They were a 12-4 team a year ago, but their offense struggled and their wins were primarily because of their defense carrying them to mostly close victories against a relatively weak schedule. This year, their offense has been about the same, while their defense has fallen noticeably from last year’s dominant performance, even if they are still an above average unit.

That being said, I don’t have any desire to bet on the Bears, who are an even more underwhelming team. Their offense has remained stagnant like the Steelers’ offense and like the Bears’ offense has been for years, while their once dominant defense has declined significantly in recent years due to off-season losses and is significantly worse than Pittsburgh’s, especially with edge defender Khalil Mack and safety Eddie Jackson both likely out for this game. We are still getting some line value with the Bears at +6.5 because my calculated line is at Pittsburgh -5, but this is a pick for pick ’em purposes only, as even against an overrated Steelers team, it’s hard to be confident in the Bears covering the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6.5

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at New York Giants: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) at New York Giants (2-6)

This game is one of the toughest calls of the week. On one hand, the Raiders are in a good spot coming off of a bye week, as road favorites of more than a field goal cover at a 63.5% rate all time after a bye week, but the Raiders also have a much bigger matchup than this on deck, facing divisional rival Kansas City after this matchup with a last place NFC team. The Raiders also aren’t as good as their 5-2 record, as their schedule has been relatively easy and they have just a +14 point differential, 14th best in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean we are getting good line value with the Giants as just 3.5-point home underdogs. 

The Giants are a better team than their 2-6 record, but right now it’s only marginally so, as they have several key offensive skill position players dealing with injuries, with feature back Saquon Barkley and starting wide receiver Sterling Shepard out and fellow starting wide receiver Kenny Golladay questionable to return from a 3-game absence and very possibly to be limited even if he doesn’t play. We are getting slight line value with the Raiders so they are the pick for pick ’em purposes, but I don’t have any real confidence in them covering this spread.

Las Vegas Raiders 24 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas -3.5

Confidence: None

Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-7) at Miami Dolphins (1-7)

The Texans’ season got off to a good start, as they won their week one game by multiple scores, but they have yet to win a game since. It also hasn’t been close most of the game, as they have been outscored 220-82 since that week 1 game, giving them a point differential of -122 which is the worst in the league. That margin looks even worse if you take out a 25-22 point 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%, and if you take out the meaningless 22 points they scored in garbage time against the Rams last week, after trailing 38-0 through 3 quarters.

The good news for the Texans is they will get quarterback Tyrod Taylor back this week, for the first time since the first half of their week 2 game against the Browns. That game was actually 10-10 at the time Taylor went down, with all of their subsequent struggles coming with raw rookie quarterback Davis Mills under center. Taylor doesn’t return to quite the same roster around him, with left tackle Laremy Tunsil, arguably the Texans’ best player, being the most notable absence, but with Taylor back under center, the Texans at least have a serviceable starting quarterback and they have had some success with him this season, so it was surprising to me that this line didn’t shift more than it did, with the Texans still being 5.5-point underdogs in Miami.

The Dolphins have also lost seven straight games since winning week one. They haven’t gotten blown out quite as much as the Texans have, but they still have lost by an average of 13.7 points per game and their win wasn’t as impressive as the Texans’ week one win. They did beat a more competitive team in the Patriots, while the Texans’ win came over the lowly Jaguars, but the Texans at least won convincingly, while the Dolphins won by just one point in a game in which the Patriots lost a pair of fumbles and won the first down rate and yards per play battle. If not for one of those two fumbles, the Dolphins could easily be winless right now.

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 Dolphins also aren’t getting any key reinforcements back this week, unlike the Texans, who get Taylor back. 

We’re still not getting much line value with the Texans, who, even with Taylor back, have such a bad roster that they are still a few points behind the Dolphins in my roster rankings and they are on the road as well, but with Taylor back the Texans are at least bettable in the right situation. This seems like that situation, as the Dolphins have to play a much tougher opponent next week (Baltimore) and they have to do it on a short week. 

Favorites cover at just a 41.5% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football, while favorites of 5+ cover at just a 42.8% rate all-time before facing a team with a winning percentage that is over 60% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage, both of which should work against the Dolphins this week. I am hoping we get a +6 because I’m not sure I am going to bet on the Texans at +5.5, but I still may end up taking them at that number if we can’t get a better number. This is a low confidence pick for now, but that could easily change.

Update: It doesn’t look like we are getting 6 and, in fact, this line has dropped to 5 in some places. Taylor is a significant upgrade under center for the Texans and should make them more competitive than they’ve been without him, but when you consider that they have lost by multiple scores in 6 of their last 7 games, with the exception being a game against a team missing their whole offensive line, even capable quarterback play is unlikely to save this team. The Texans are still the pick for pick ’em purposes, but I don’t think they’re bettable unless we happen to get 6.

Update: Tua Tagovailoa is surprisingly inactive for the Dolphins, meaning they will start Jacoby Brissett under center. That doesn’t make a difference though, because they’re comparable quarterbacks, so nothing changes here.

Miami Dolphins 20 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: Houston +5.5

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-4) at Dallas Cowboys (7-1)

The Broncos are 4-4, but they’ve had one of the easiest schedules in the league and have yet to beat a team that has more than two wins on the season. On top of that, three of those four wins were the first three games of the season. Those wins all came by double digits, but the Broncos have had as many injury absences as any team in the league since then and, as a result, they are not nearly the same team, barely beating an underwhelming Washington Football Team last week. 

In total, the Broncos are without stud left tackle Garret Bolles, starting tight end Noah Fant, talented edge defender duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, every down middle linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, and impressive slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who all played for this team week one this season. That’s a lot of missing talent. The Cowboys are favored by 10 points in this matchup, but I don’t think the public quite realizes how much worse the Broncos are without all of the players they are missing, as my calculated line has the Cowboys favored by 13.5 points. 

The Cowboys have a key injury absence with stud left tackle Tyron Smith out, but the Cowboys are much better equipped to deal with an absence like that than the Broncos are with Bolles out, as the Cowboys have much more talent on the rest of this offensive line. Right tackle La’El Collins isn’t as good as Smith, but he has missed most of the season and the Cowboys hardly missed him and brought him back in a reserve role because of how well this offensive line played without him. Now Collins can plug into the lineup with Smith out and the Cowboys can still field a strong offensive front. 

This line has moved up from 7.5 last week on the early line to 10 this week, so we’re not getting as much line value as we would have last week, but the Cowboys did have an impressive upset win in Minnesota last week without Dak Prescott and much of this line movement is because of sharp action on the Cowboys. The Cowboys are still worth a bet at 10, and if this line happened to go back down below 10, I would probably make this a bigger bet.

Update: Some 9.5s have started showing up again Sunday morning. I am going to lock this in as a high confidence pick at that number. The talent disparity between these two teams is just so much more significant than this line suggests, with the Broncos losing so much talent since the beginning of the season.

Dallas Cowboys 31 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas -9.5

Confidence: High

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-2)

The Saints got a huge home win over the Buccaneers last week, but they still had a significant loss in that game, as quarterback Jameis Winston is now out for the season after tearing his ACL, leaving veteran journeyman backup Trevor Siemian under center. Siemian led the win in relief of Winston last week, but the Saints also won the turnover battle by 3 and had a pick six, which is not a sustainable way to win games, and they lost the yards per play battle by 2.3, which is much more predictive. 

The Saints are in many ways healthier than they have been for most of the season, with a pair of talented offensive linemen in Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy and a trio of defensive starters in Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, and Kwon Alexander back in the lineup after significant absences, but the downgrade at quarterback will hurt them. Despite that, this line has moved up from favoring the Saints by 5.5 on the early line last week to favoring them by 6 this week, as the public bought into the Saints’ win over the Buccaneers.

The Saints are also unlikely to have the same effort this week as they had last week, now coming off of an emotional home victory, as teams cover at just a 41.4% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 4 points or more. It could be especially tough for the Saints to focus this week because last week’s win came against a tough divisional foe, while this week they face a sub-.500 Falcons team. The Saints also have to turn around and face the Titans next week and favorites of 6 or more cover at just a 44.1% rate all-time before facing an opponent whose winning percentage is 30% better than their current opponent’s winning percentage.

We aren’t really getting line value with the Falcons, who have faced just one team with a winning record and whose three wins came by a combined 12 points against teams that are a combined 5-18, but the Saints’ quarterback situation and general lack of an explosive passing game makes it hard to justify them being favored by this many points against anyone other than the worst teams in the league and the Falcons don’t quite qualify. Even if we aren’t getting much line value, the Falcons are worth a small play at +6 because of how bad of a spot the Saints are in.

New Orleans Saints 20 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +6

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-4)

This is a game with a lot of injury uncertainty. The big question mark is Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been out since the Panthers’ week 3 game, a stretch in which the Panthers offense has struggled mightily without him. The Panthers 3-0 start was in large part due to an easy schedule, but there is no denying how much injuries have hurt this team as they have fallen from 3-0 to 4-4 and McCaffrey’s injury was the biggest one. The Panthers’ defense, which had its own injury issues earlier in the season, is in much better shape now with Stephon Gilmore and Shaq Thompson both healthy, so, if McCaffrey can play, the Panthers should be in much better shape on both sides of the ball than they were a couple weeks ago. 

I say “should” because, in addition to it being unknown how close to 100% McCaffrey would be if he played, the Panthers also have uncertainty at quarterback, with Sam Darnold dealing with both a concussion and a shoulder injury. Darnold has not played well this season, but the Panthers would be in even worse shape at quarterback if he played at less than 100% or if they had to turn to backup PJ Walker, who has struggled when called upon in limited action in his career. The Panthers also could get punter Joseph Charlton back this week, which would be a huge upgrade for their special teams, but also adds more injury uncertainty to this game.

The Patriots have been listed as 4-point road favorites, with the oddsmakers posting a line despite the uncertainty. The Patriots are just 4-4, but they could easily have anywhere from 5-7 wins right, as three of their losses came by 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime, meaning they were just -3 in point differential at the end of regulation across those three losses. Two of their wins are one-score wins, but one took a garbage time touchdown by the Chargers to make it a one-score game, while the other came in a game in which they were missing four of their five offensive line starters. 

The Patriots’ offensive line is healthy now and this is a much better team than their record suggests, ranking 11th in schedule adjusted mixed team efficiency, despite their offensive line injuries, while the Panthers have ranked 26th, albeit while dealing with injuries of their own. The Patriots won’t be an appealing bet at -4 if McCaffrey, Darnold, and Charlton all play at something close to 100%, but I don’t foresee that happening, so it’s very likely I will end up putting a bet on New England. I am leaving the Patriots as a low confidence pick for now because of the uncertainty, but I’ll probably have an update before gametime, likely on Saturday after the injured reserve activation deadline. 

Update: Both McCaffrey and Darnold seem likely to play, although there is no way to know how effective either will be. It’s enough for me to leave this as a low confidence pick though, particularly the McCaffrey news, as he’s probably their most important offensive player.

New England Patriots 20 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against the spread: New England -4

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

The Browns lost at home to the Steelers last week, but it was a game they likely would have won if not for a red zone fumble, as they won the first down rate battle, but lost by 5-points in a game in which they were -1 in turnovers. The turnover margin also likely cost them their week 1 game against the Chiefs, losing the turnover battle by 2 in a 4-point loss. The Browns also have another one score loss to a quality team, the Chargers, while their only mutli-score loss was the Cardinals, who were the league’s last unbeaten team. 

Overall, the Browns still rank highly in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, ranking 8th, 5th, and 4th respectively. They have a -3 turnover margin, which has likely cost them at least a game or two, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Browns do have some injury concerns with running back Kareem Hunt, right tackle Jack Conklin, and wide receiver Odell Beckham all out, while quarterback Baker Mayfield is playing at less than 100%, but they haven’t really been healthy all season and, even in their current injury situation, they still have a 4-point edge on the Bengals in my roster rankings. 

The Bengals got out to a 5-2 start on the strength of their defense, but their defense was always overachieving its talent level and has now fallen back to earth in a big way after being carved apart by the lowly Jets, now ranking 14th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, while their offense still ranks just 27th when you take into account they’ve faced the easiest schedule of defenses in the league. 

Add in a 10th ranked special teams and you have a Bengals team that ranks behind the Browns in all three phases and yet is being favored at home, albeit by less than 3 points. I wish we were getting the full field goal and that we had more certainty in Baker Mayfield’s health, but he practiced in full all season and the Browns have a very good chance to come on the road and get the upset, so I like the Browns both against the spread and straight up at +115.

Update: The more I think about this, the more I want to increase this bet. Baker Mayfield practiced in full all week, reportedly looked great, and was not listed with an injury designation. The Browns have been held to 14 points or fewer in three straight games with Baker out or playing at less than 100%, but they topped 26 points in 4 of their first 5 games before then, including 28.3 points per game in 3 road games, so if Baker can resemble the quarterback he was to begin the season, the Browns should be able to go on the road and win this game relatively easily. There may also be some added incentive for Baker to play well in the wake of the Odell Beckham situation and Baker’s statistical production has been noticeably better without Odell than with him since he arrived in Cleveland, so I’m not worried that Baker will miss Odell on the field. I’m moving this to a high confidence pick. I was waiting for a +3, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Cleveland Browns 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5

Confidence: High