Pick of the Week
NE +140 vs. BAL
HOU +140 @ CHI
CAR +125 vs. NO
Pick of the Week
NE +140 vs. BAL
HOU +140 @ CHI
CAR +125 vs. NO
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
This game is tough to predict because even as of Sunday morning we don’t know the status of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who is dealing with a rib injury suffered in last week’s game. Herbert stayed in the game last week and practiced in a limited fashion earlier this week, so most assumed he would play, but then he didn’t throw in Friday’s practice, making him legitimately questionable and reportedly a gametime decision. As a result, this line plummeted from favoring the Chargers by 9 down to 3, with veteran backup Chase Daniel starting now being a legitimate possibility. With some optimism on Sunday morning that Herbert will play, this line moved back up to 3.5, but it’s hard to make any sort of definitive pick without knowing Herbert’s status and where this line will settle when his status is confirmed.
Early in the week, I liked the Jaguars as 9-point underdogs. While they have gotten off to an impressive start, ranking 6th in overall efficiency, the Chargers rank just 28th and, though it’s only been two games, my roster rankings suggest this line would be too high at 9 even if Herbert plays, especially since he’s unlikely to be 100% even in a best case scenario. Part of that is because, even if Herbert plays, the Chargers have significant injury concerns, down their top cornerback JC Jackson, stud center Corey Linsley, and possibly talented wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is questionable to return from a hamstring injury that cost him last week’s game. The Chargers also typically struggle at home, frequently playing in front of crowds who prefer the visitor and going just 16-24 ATS at home since moving to Los Angeles in 2017.
Unfortunately, it’s much harder to take the Jaguars with any certainty at 3.5. If Herbert doesn’t play, the Jaguars have a good chance to pull the upset, but if Herbert does play, this line would obviously be too low. I’m tentatively taking the Jaguars for now, especially since the line has moved up to 3.5, a key number given that 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, but I will almost definitely have an update to this pick before gametime once we learn Herbert’s status and where this line will ultimately settle.
Update: Herbert is starting and the line has subsequently jumped to 6.5. I don’t like the Jaguars at that number as much as I liked them at 9 earlier this week, but Herbert figures to be limited and he’ll be without Keenan Allen, on top of Linsley and Jackson being out, so the Jaguars should still be the right side for pick ’em purposes.
Los Angeles Chargers 26 Jacksonville Jaguars 20
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6.5
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at New York Giants (2-0)
The Giants are 2-0, but they haven’t been that impressive. Both of their wins have been close against below average opponents, with a combined margin of victory of 4 points against the Titans and Panthers, and their win over the Panthers was in large part due to the Giants having a +2 turnover margin, which is not predictive week-to-week. In terms of efficiency, which is much more predictive week-to-week, the Giants rank just 25th on offense, 17th on defense, and 20th overall, despite a relatively easy schedule. Even though the Giants are 2-0, they have still played more like the sub .500 team most were expecting them to be this season.
Unfortunately, the public doesn’t seem to be buying the Giants either, so we’re not really getting line value with their opponents, the Dallas Cowboys. If anything, we’re actually getting some line value with the Giants, as this line has shifted all the way from NY Giants -4.5 on the early line last week to NY Giants -1 this week, a huge shift, considering about 1 in 4 games are decided by 2-4 points. That line movement happened, despite the fact that the Giants won and moved to 2-0 last week, because the Cowboys pulled a shocking upset over the Bengals as 7.5-point home underdogs, with former undrafted free agent backup quarterback Cooper Rush making just his second career start.
However, the Bengals were likely overlooking Rush and caught off guard by a backup quarterback who they didn’t have much tape on, similar to the Minnesota Vikings last season, who lost to Rush in his first career start. The Giants should be better focused than the Bengals were a week ago and better prepared for a quarterback who they now have an extra week of tape on. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Rush led touchdown drives on his first two drives against the Bengals before being limited to two field goals and no touchdowns on his subsequent eight drives.
In addition to causing a significant line movement, the Cowboys’ upset win last week puts them in a bad spot this week, as teams cover at just a 41.3% rate historically after a home upset win as underdogs of 5 or more. Part of that is probably because big home upset wins tend to cause a significant line movement that usually tends to be an overreaction of a single week of play, but a big upset win could also make a bad team overconfident, which is not a good situation, even for a team facing a 2-0 division opponent.
Unfortunately, we’re not getting enough line value with the Giants to take them confidently, even with the significant line movement. If the Giants were mostly healthy, they would be the obvious pick, but they figure to be without key defensive lineman Leonard Williams, arguably their best defensive player, in this game for the first time this season, which will be a big loss. My calculated line is still NY Giants -2, so we’re getting some line value with the team in a better spot, but this pick is for pick ‘em purposes only.
New York Giants 20 Dallas Cowboys 17
Pick against the spread: NY Giants -1
Los Angeles Rams (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-1)
Going into the season, I considered the Cardinals among the most overrated teams in the league and a likely candidate to regress. They went 11-6 last season, but needed a +12 turnover margin to get to that record, which is not predictive, and they ranked just 14th in overall efficiency, barely above average. They also got a lot worse this off-season, losing starting wide receiver Christian Kirk, top edge defender Chandler Jones, top off ball linebacker Jordan Hicks, top cornerback Robert Alford, and their most efficient running back Chase Edmonds, with their only major addition being former Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who cost the Cardinals their first round pick in a trade and who isn’t a significant upgrade on Christian Kirk. They’ll also be without top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games of the season due to a suspension.
Given that, I’m surprised to be picking them against the spread in week 3, but they are a good value as 3.5-point home underdogs against the Rams. The Cardinals’ week 1 blowout loss to the Chiefs seems to have completely soured the public on them, but they were missing arguably their best defensive player JJ Watt and key offensive lineman Justin Pugh in that game, which also came against arguably the best team in the league. The Rams, meanwhile, were similarly embarrassed by another top team, the Buffalo Bills, in week 1 and, despite that, they are still favored by more than a field goal on the road in this one, even with the Cardinals pulling the upset win in Las Vegas last week with Watt and Pugh healthy.
My calculated line has the Cardinals as underdogs of just 1.5 points. The Rams may be a little overrated because they are defending Super Bowl champions, as they aren’t the same team as a year ago, with a pair of key starting offensive linemen, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Corbett no longer with the team, as well as top edge defender Von Miller. The Rams did add Bobby Wagner in free agency this off-season, but he doesn’t offset all of their losses.
The Rams have significant injury concerns right now too, with starting wide receiver Van Jefferson still not making his season debut this week, starting center Brian Allen missing his second straight game, and several cornerback options unavailable. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are relatively healthy and played a much better game last week with key players back in the lineup. The Cardinals might not be able to pull the upset here, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less and this should be a close game, so the Cardinals are worth betting at +3.5.
Los Angeles Rams 27 Arizona Cardinals 26
Pick against the spread: Arizona +3.5
Detroit Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1)
This is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week. This line shifted from favoring the Vikings by 8 points on the early line last week to now only favoring them by 6 points and ordinarily I would like to fade that kind of line movement, as significant week-to-week line movements tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but, in this case, I think the movement is appropriate, as the Lions beat the Commanders convincingly this week without stud center Frank Ragnow, who returns this week, while the Vikings lost by double digits to the Eagles last week and now are without safety Harrison Smith, one of their best defensive players. My calculated line still has the Vikings getting a little bit of line value as 6-point home favorites, but I would take the Lions at +6.5. That’s how close this one is for me. A push is also a strong possibility.
Minnesota Vikings 33 Detroit Lions 27
Pick against the spread: Minnesota -6
Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (0-2)
Both of these teams made the post-season last year and now are essentially fighting for their playoff lives, seeking to avoid a 0-3 start. They may have identical records, but the Raiders are definitely better positioned going forward. Both of the Raiders losses have been close games that could have gone the other way, despite the fact that the Raiders have had a -3 turnover margin, which is not predictive going forward. In terms of efficiency, which is much more predictive, the Raiders rank 9th, despite their 0-2 start. The Titans, on the other hand, rank dead last in efficiency, with all three phases ranking among the five worst in the league.
The Titans also had a much higher likelihood to regress coming into the season, finishing last season at 12-5, but ranking just 19th in team efficiency, benefiting from a 6-2 record in one-score games and a +4 return touchdown margin, two things that would be tough to maintain long-term. They especially struggled without AJ Brown last season, which is a problem because they traded him this off-season and, on top of that, they lost a pair of starting offensive linemen this off-season and top edge defender Harold Landry, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Adding to the Titans injuries this week is their other top edge defender Bud Dupree, as well as starting left tackle Taylor Lewan, who are both missing their first game of the season this week. The Raiders have injuries of their own, with top linebacker Denzel Perryman and talented slot receiver Hunter Renfrow both out and starting safety Trevon Moehrig questionable, but they still have a significant edge in my roster rankings. However, it’s hard to be confident in the Raiders against the spread this week, for two reasons.
For one, we’re just not getting much line value, with the public showing the Titans no respect after last week’s blowout loss in Buffalo. The Raiders are 2-point favorites here in Tennessee, suggesting they are the significantly better team, which they are, but that gives us next to no line value. The second reason is the Titans are better coached and that could give them enough of a boost to win a must win matchup. Since head coach Mike Vrabel took over in 2018, the Titans have especially been good as underdogs and after big losses, going 9-3 ATS after losing by 10 or more, including 5-1 ATS as underdogs. I’m still taking the Raiders for pick ‘em purposes, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week and, if Moehrig doesn’t play, I might switch this pick. That’s how close this one is for me.
Update: Moehrig is out, so I am switching this pick, still for no confidence.
Las Vegas Raiders 24 Tennessee Titans 23
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +2
Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1-1)
The Colts have gotten off to a 0-1-1 start, but they still rank 17th in overall efficiency, with their biggest problem thus far being a -4 turnover margin, which is not predictive week-to-week. However, they have faced one of the easiest schedules in the league across the first two weeks of the season, playing the Texans and Jaguars, two of the least talented teams in the league on paper, so their performance has been pretty underwhelming overall.
Their underwhelming performance is not terribly surprising though, considering the Colts lost a pair of offensive line starters this off-season and are playing without their most important defensive player Shaq Leonard to begin the season. The Colts do get top receivers Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce back from one-game absences this week, but are still a below average team in my roster rankings, especially with Matt Ryan seemingly showing his age, in his age 37 season.
The public and odds makers seem to be catching on that the Colts are not as good as expected this season, with this line shifting significantly from favoring the Chiefs by 3 on the early line last week to 5.5 this week, but I still think we are getting significant line value with the Chiefs, who I have calculated as 10-point favorites. That has as much to do with the Chiefs legitimately being one of the top teams in the league as it has to do with the Colts being a below average team without Leonard.
Overall, the Chiefs rank 2nd in the league in overall efficiency, only behind the Bills, led by an offense that leads the league in efficiency by about 1.5 points over the next best team and a defense that is significantly improved over a year ago, ranking 11th in defensive efficiency, despite facing a pair of high level quarterbacks in Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert. That largely mirrors my roster rankings, in which the Chiefs actually rank first, ahead of the currently banged up Bills. This isn’t a huge play, but the Chiefs are worth betting, even with this line shooting up in the past week. It shouldn’t be difficult for them to beat the Colts by multiple scores.
Kansas City Chiefs 30 Indianapolis Colts 20
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -5.5
Atlanta Falcons (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
The Seahawks were favored by 3 points in this matchup on the early line last week, but the line has since shifted to even, a big line movement, given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less. Both teams lost last week, but the Seahawks were blown out in San Francisco, while the Falcons came close against the Rams in a one-score loss and it appears the public is giving them much more credit for their performance.
However, the Falcons made that game closer than it would have been with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, which is not predictive week-to-week and, in terms of yards per play and first down rate, which are more predictive, the Falcons lost by 0.69 and 7.61% respectively, actually worse than the 0.73 and 3.73% respectively that the Seahawks lost those metrics to the 49ers by. The Seahawks also rank slightly higher in my roster rankings, so we’re getting good line value with them with this line being even and the Seahawks being at home, as my calculated line says the Seahawks are a good value up to 3.5. This isn’t a big play, but the Seahawks are worth betting this week.
Seattle Seahawks 24 Atlanta Falcons 20
Pick against the spread: Seattle PK
Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
Thus far, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rank dead last in the league in offensive efficiency through two weeks. Quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t necessarily been the problem, but he entered the season already missing a pair of starters on the offensive line for the season and then lost another starter, left tackle Donovan Smith, during week 1, while his receiving corps hasn’t been much healthier. Chris Godwin got hurt week 1, has missed most of the first two games of the season, and will remain out this week. Julio Jones missed last week and is a gametime decision this week, as is Russell Gage, while top wide receiver Mike Evans is out for this game with a suspension.
With Brady missing all of this key personnel, this line has shifted from favoring the Buccaneers by 3 points at home on the early line last week to favoring them by just a single point this week, a significant shift given that 1 in 5 games are decided by exactly 2-3 points. However, the other Hall of Fame quarterback in this matchup, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, isn’t working with the best supporting cast either, with a receiving corps that was already struggling to replace Davante Adams now missing Sammy Watkins and possibly missing Christian Watson and Randall Cobb. Rodgers’ offensive line has gotten healthier, with Elgton Jenkins and Jon Runyan returning last week and David Bakhtiari at least possibly returning this week, but he probably won’t be 100% even if does play, Jenkins did not look 100% in his return last week, and overall I don’t have the Packers’ offensive supporting cast as being significantly better than the Buccaneers’ in my roster rankings.
I also trust Brady a little more to make things happen with less, as he tends to play his best football when he needs to in tough games like this. Overall, Brady is a ridiculous 59-28 ATS against the spread as underdogs or favorites of less than a field goal, as he is this week, including 2-0 ATS already this season, winning in Dallas and New Orleans as 2.5-point road favorites, doing so despite their poor offensive performance, led by a defense that ranks 2nd in defensive efficiency. That defense is another big advantage Brady has over Rodgers and, overall, my calculated line suggests the Buccaneers would be a good value all the way up to -3.5, so they are a good bet at -1, especially since Brady has been close to automatic in his career in tough games where he just needs to win to cover. This is one of my top plays this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Green Bay Packers 20
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -1
CIncinnati Bengals (0-2) at New York Jets (1-1)
The Bengals are favored on the road against the Jets and have a much tougher game on deck against the Dolphins, which happens to be on Thursday Night Football. Typically, that is not a good spot for a team, as favorites cover at just a 42.7% rate before Thursday Night Football all-time, as having an upcoming short turnaround tends to serve as a distraction for teams, especially as favorites. However, the Bengals are desperate at 0-2, a year after making the Super Bowl and coming into this season with legitimate aspirations of making it back, so it’s hard to argue this is going to be a trap game, for a team seeking to avoid 0-3.
The Bengals have also played better than their record, primarily losing to the Steelers because they lost the turnover battle by -5, which is not predictive week-to-week, and then barely losing on the road in Dallas, leading to them actually ranking 11th in overall efficiency despite their 0-2 record. However, they’ve faced a pretty underwhelming schedule thus far and should have performed better than that if they were a playoff caliber team. They still have the talent to be, but they haven’t played like one yet.
With that in mind, the Bengals are a still a little overvalued, even at 0-2, favored by 6 points on the road in New York against a Jets team that has issues at the quarterback position, but that otherwise isn’t half bad and that figures to be significantly more competitive than a year ago, thanks to better health and some key off-season additions. My calculated line has the Bengals favored by 4.5, but that’s not enough line value for the Jets to be worth betting, especially since the Bengals could be very focused to avoid 0-3 and to make a statement, even in what would ordinarily be a tough spot for a team, with a tough Thursday night game on road. The Jets are my pick, but for pick ‘em purposes only.
Cincinnati Bengals 24 New York Jets 20
Pick against the spread: NY Jets +6