San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (6-2)

The Saints started the season 1-2, but I was never that concerned. The Saints typically start slow, going 4-17-1 ATS in week 1 and 2 since 2010, as opposed to 87-57-2 ATS in weeks 3-17, and, while it didn’t seem likely that the Saints would go on a run until they got key players back from injury, most notably #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas, I always expected them to go on a run at some point and to be betting them heavily over that stretch. In Thomas’ first game back since week 1, last week in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, the Saints rolled over one of the best teams in the league, winning the first down rate battle by 8.73% in a 38-3 win.

Thomas wasn’t the primary reason for their victory, but he’s obviously one of the top wide receivers in the league and this is such a complete team that Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to dominate every game. In addition to Thomas’ return, the Saints have also gotten back defensive end Marcus Davenport (4 games missed), defensive tackle David Onyemata (1 game), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (2 games), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (1 game), tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) in recent weeks.

Despite all of the players who have missed time for this team thus far, the Saints rank 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.65% and, now healthy, my roster rankings have them as the #1 overall team in the league, as they were coming into this season. This line has shifted from favoring the Saints by 6.5 points on the early line last week to 9.5 this week, in the wake of the Saints’ blowout win and the 49ers’ big loss to the Packers, but I think we’re still getting good line value.

The 49ers are in slightly better shape than last week, but they are still missing starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, stud tight end George Kittle, their top-2 centers Weston Richburg and Ben Garland, their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, their top outside cornerback Richard Sherman, their top slot cornerback K’Waun Williams, rotational defensive linemen Ezekiel Ansah and Solomon Thomas, and starting safety Jaquiski Tartt. 

Missing all those players, the 49ers rank just 21st in my roster rankings and I have the Saints calculated at -12. The Saints are also in a good spot with only another easy matchup against the Falcons on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 52-33 ATS since 2018 before being favorites of 6+ again the following week, which the Saints almost definitely will be. The 49ers have double digit losses in three of their past five games, as injuries have piled up and the schedule has gotten tougher, and I would expect this to be another double digit loss. I don’t like the Saints quite as much at -10, but at -9.5, I like the Saints a good amount.

New Orleans Saints 30 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-2) at San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

The Packers had a disappointing home loss to the Vikings last week, but that didn’t really surprise me. The Vikings are significantly better than their record and the Packers were in an obvious look ahead spot, with this matchup against the 49ers coming up just 4 days later on Thursday Night Football. The 49ers embarrassed the Packers in their two matchups last season and ended their season in the NFC Championship, so I expect a significantly better effort out of the Packers’ this week. Betting on Aaron Rodgers after a loss is typically a winning proposition in normal circumstances, as he’s 37-21 ATS off of a loss in his career, and Rodgers should be especially motivated this week, given who the Packers are facing.

Even though the Packers and 49ers both were top-2 seeds and made the NFC Championship last season, the Packers were so uncompetitive in both of their matchups with the 49ers and were so far behind the 49ers in season long stats (+3.76% first down rate differential and +169 point differential vs. +0.25% first down rate differential and +63 point differential) that it seemed like the 49ers would beat the Packers 80-90 times out of a 100 last season, but this is a far cry from last year’s 49ers’ team, so Rodgers and company have a much better chance of getting their revenge.

The 49ers didn’t lose much this off-season, aside from defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, but they’ve been ravaged by injury this season and are even more depleted now, after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle for an extended period due to injury last week and then losing left tackle Trent Williams and wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk to the COVID list for this matchup.

In total, the 49ers are missing their starting quarterback, 3 of their top-4 running backs, their top-3 wide receivers, their dominant tight end, their top-2 centers, and their stud left tackle and that’s just from their offense. On defense, they’ve gotten healthier in recent weeks and have played better as a result, but they’re still significantly behind last season, without top cornerback Richard Sherman and their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. 

Making matters worse, the 49ers will have to be without all of their missing players, including their newly missed players, on a short week. Underdogs are typically at a disadvantage on a short week, as non-divisional underdogs of 3+ cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time on short rest, and it stands to reason that the 49ers would be especially at a disadvantage because they have several new starters. This line has creeped up to 6.5 with all of the 49ers’ losses, but my calculated line is Green Bay -7.5, so we’re still getting enough line value for the Packers to be worth taking. I have a hard time seeing this depleted 49ers team keep up with a motivated Aaron Rodgers on a short week.

Green Bay Packers 27 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -6.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-3) at Seattle Seahawks (5-1)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to be betting on the Seahawks in this one. This line has shifted significantly since last week, moving from Seattle -6 to Seattle -3, as a result of the 49ers’ dominant win in New England and the Seahawks overtime loss to the Cardinals, which I think is an overreaction, especially since the Cardinals are a legitimately good team, ranking 9th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, led by an offense that leads the league in first down rate over expected. On top of that, Russell Wilson traditionally bounces back well off of a loss, as many top level quarterbacks do, going 22-10 ATS all-time off of a loss.

Most of the Seahawks’ games have been close over the past two seasons (17 one score games, with the Seahawks going 14-3 in those games) and the 49ers hold the edge in schedule adjusted first down rate differential in 2020, ranking 6th at +2.10%, while the Seahawks rank 15th at +0.92%, but the Seahawks have a big edge on offense, ranking 5th in first down rate over expected at +2.61%, while the 49ers rank 19th at +0.05%. The Seahawks have been held back by a defense that ranks 25th in first down rate allowed over expected, but defensive performance tends to be much more unpredictable on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and if the Seahawks can even be a middling defensive unit, this team should go a long way, as long as their offense can continue what it’s done so far.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks may need to get healthier before they can expect to even be middling on defense and this week their injury situation is going in the wrong direction, with cornerbacks Shaq Griffin and Ugo Amadi expected to join stud safety Jamal Adams on the sideline, where he would be for the 4th straight game. There’s a slight chance Adams plays because he returned to practice on Friday and was listed as questionable, but he’s had just one limited practice in over a month, so I wouldn’t expect him to be on the field. 

For that reason, it’s hard to be as excited about the Seahawks as I was earlier this week when I thought they were going to be healthier. The Seahawks also have injury concerns on offense, where their top-3 running backs are all listed as questionable after barely practicing all week. If the Seahawks get a favorable inactives list (meaning Adams and at least one of the running backs are active), I will still probably make a bet on the Seahawks, assuming the line doesn’t change, but for now this is a low confidence pick.

Update: Still no word on Jamal Adams, but this line has dropped to 1 overnight. That is likely a sign that Adams won’t play, but at that number, the Seahawks are worth a bet without him. I think it’s unlikely that Russell Wilson loses back-to-back games, even without Adams, and the 49ers, who have been streaky this season, haven’t faced a team as good as the Seahawks.

Seattle Seahawks 29 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: Seattle -1

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (3-3) at New England Patriots (2-3)

The Patriots have gotten a lot of attention for being 2-3 in their first season without Tom Brady, but Cam Newton has played well as Brady’s replacement, so Brady’s departure hasn’t been the problem. The problem is they’ve had arguably as tough of a start to the season as any team in the league. The Patriots have had to face two of the top teams in the league on the road in the Chiefs and Seahawks and their three home games have all come against capable or better opponents, but it hasn’t just been the schedule, as they dealt with a COVID outbreak for several weeks and have missed key players due to injury as well. 

The Patriots came within inches of winning in Seattle and likely would have won in Kansas City had they not had to start a backup quarterback, in a game in which the Patriots limited the Chiefs to just two offensive touchdowns. They beat both the Dolphins and Raiders relatively easily and their loss last week came against a better than their record Broncos team in a game in which the Patriots were missing several key offensive linemen and had barely practiced all week due to their facilities being closed. 

It’s not hard to see how the Patriots could be 4-1 or even 5-0 right now if they had gotten an extra inch in Seattle, if they had Cam Newton available for Kansas City, and if they got to practice with a more complete offensive line for the Denver game. If that was the case, we’d likely be talking about the Patriots as one of the best teams in the league, given their strength of schedule and track record. In fact, when adjusted for strength of schedule, the Patriots rank 4th in first down rate differential at +4.73% and that’s despite all of their absences and disruptions. 

This week, the Patriots have had their normal practice and they are expected to get back at least one and likely both of Shaq Mason and David Andrews back, which would give them one of the best offensive lines in the league. They’re also in a good spot historically, as the Patriots have typically bounced back well from a loss in the Bill Belichick era, going 52-30 ATS off of a loss since Belichick’s first season in 2000. 

A lot of that came with Tom Brady under center, but Cam Newton has been an adequate replacement, so it stands to reason that the Patriots will continue bouncing back well after a loss and, for what it’s worth, Belichick was 22-17-1 ATS off of a loss in Cleveland from 1991-1995. The Patriots were coming off a loss last week, but they didn’t have the necessary practice time to be coached up and it would be even more rare for Belichick to lose three games in a row, something he hasn’t done since 2002.

The Patriots’ opponents this week, the San Francisco 49ers, have also had a tough start to the season, as they’ve been one of the most injury plagued teams in the league, but they’ve benefitted from one of the easiest schedules in the league and they aren’t really getting any healthier. Their offense has Jimmy Garroppolo and his top-3 weapons Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk all healthy after they all missed time earlier this year, but they are without their top-2 running backs and their top-2 centers, while their defense remains without a starting linebacker, their top-4 defensive ends, two of their top-3 cornerbacks, and this week will also be without both of their starting safeties for the first time this season. 

Given the state of the 49ers roster and the Patriots’ improving roster, this line is way too low at New England -2. I have the Patriots 4.5 points better than the 49ers, which puts the calculated line at New England -5.5, even before taking into account the Patriots’ track record of a loss. In a game in which the Patriots basically just need to cover to win, they have a great chance of covering and are worth a big play. 

New England Patriots 27 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: New England -2

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (4-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-3)

The 49ers were embarrassed last week, losing at home in blowout fashion to a previously 1-win Dolphins team, by final score of 43-17. The good news is that teams tend to be a good value to bet on after a game like that, as teams are 41-24 ATS since 1989 after losing by double digits as favorites of a touchdown or more. It’s not hard to see how that loss could have created significant line value, as the 49ers have gone from being 3-point home favorites on the early line last week in this game against the Rams to now being 3.5-point home underdogs.

The big problem for the 49ers last week was quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not looking remotely healthy in his first game back from a 2-game absence with an ankle injury, as Garoppolo completed just 7 of 17 before being pulled for backup CJ Beathard. If I knew Garoppolo would be significantly healthier this week, this would be an easier bet, but it’s hard to be confident in that, even if practice reports have been good. The 49ers also get one of their starting cornerbacks Emmanuel Mosley back, though their defensive injuries are still very significant and make this unit a far cry of what it was last season. 

The 49ers’ offense is much closer to full strength if Garoppolo is healthy, with starting running back Raheem Mostert, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, fellow starting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and stud tight end George Kittle all returning from absences in recent weeks, which theoretically should allow them to make this a competitive game, but if Garoppolo has to be pulled for Beathard, that will become a lot tougher. I’m taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t bet on this unless I hear something I’m more confident in regarding Garoppolo’s ankle.

Los Angeles Rams 24 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (1-3) at San Francisco 49ers (2-2)

The 49ers are a tough team to evaluate. They’re just 2-2, but they rank 4th in the NFL with a +5.32% first down rate differential, with their two wins coming in blowout fashion and their two losses being close. That’s more or less in line with how they played last season, when they finished 2nd in the NFL with a +5.29% first down rate differential, but the 49ers have also had a very easy schedule to start the season and, due to all of their injuries, they are very clearly not the same team as they were last season.

Their injuries have made them especially difficult to evaluate, as they’ve had pretty drastically different rosters available to them in each of their four games. Last week, they got their top-2 pass catchers George Kittle and Deebo Samuel back from injury and this week starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo will join them after a 2-game absence, as could starting running back Raheem Mostert after a 2-game absence.

Their defense still has a lot of injuries though, especially at key positions, with cornerback K’Waun Williams joining fellow cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Akhello Witherspoon, and Emmanuel Mosley on the sideline and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah joining fellow defensive ends Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas on the sidelines, though their linebacking corps will get a big boost this week with Dre Greenlaw returning from a 2-game absence. Fortunately for them, the 49ers’ schedule remains easy, with the Dolphins coming to town. My calculated line of San Francisco -10 suggests we’re getting a little bit of line value with the 49ers as 9-point favorites, but there’s far too much uncertainty here to take them with any confidence.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -9

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-1)

This has been an especially brutal year for injuries in the NFL, but it’s possible no team is as banged up on one side of the ball as the Eagles are on offense. On the offensive line, they were already without left tackle Andre Dillard, left guard Isaac Seumalo, and right guard Brandon Brooks and now they’ll also be without veteran Jason Peters, who was signed originally to replace Brooks at right guard and had been playing left tackle since Dillard went down. 

In the receiving corps, the Eagles are missing tight end Dallas Goedert and incredibly are without their top-4 wide receivers, leaving them with just two healthy wide receivers on the active roster (45 career catches between them), with the rest of the spots to be filled with practice squad players. The Eagles are much healthier on defense, but their offensive injuries are a major problem, especially since quarterback Carson Wentz is struggling independent of the problems around him. Overall, I have the Eagles just 26th in my roster rankings right now.

This week, the Eagles get to play a 49ers team that is also dealing with significant injury absences, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert, cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Akhello Witherspoon, and Emmanuel Mosley, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and defensive ends Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Solomon Thomas, but the 49ers are still significantly more talented than the Eagles in their current state. They have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league in Nick Mullens, fresh off an easy victory over the Giants in his first start of the season last week, and he’ll get a pair of valuable weapons back from injury this week in Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, though Samuel is expected to be limited. Overall, I have them 4.5 points better than the Eagles in my roster rankings.

Given that the 49ers are favored by a touchdown at home, where they’ll have minimal crowd noise, we aren’t really getting line value with them. The 49ers are in a much better spot though, for a couple reasons. For one, the Eagles could be exhausted after playing the Bengals to a tie last week and teams are understandably 9-17 ATS after a tie over the past thirty seasons. On top of that, while the Eagles have to turn around and go to Pittsburgh for another tough matchup next week, the 49ers have another easy game on deck at home against the Dolphins.

Favorites of 7+ are 102-59 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, while underdogs of 7+ are 55-90 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 7+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 7+ are 27-5 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again when their opponent will be underdogs of 7+ again the following week. Good teams tend to take care of business against bad teams without upcoming distractions on their schedule, while bad teams tend to struggle to keep it close against good teams with another tough game on deck. All of those conditions should be true this week. There’s not quite enough here for the 49ers to be worth betting with this line being where it is, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 21 Philadelphia Eagles 13

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at New York Giants (0-2)

Going into the season, I noted that the 49ers didn’t have the usual risk factors for a team that has a big decline after an impressive season, as they didn’t have an unsustainably high turnover margin, they didn’t win an unsustainably high percentage of their close games, they didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, and they didn’t have significant personnel or coaching staff losses this off-season. What couldn’t have been foreseen was the devastation that injuries would have on this team early in the season. I can’t remember a team that entered the season with this much promise losing this many key players to injury before the third week of the season.

In total, the 49ers are without their starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo, their top-two running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, their top-two pass catchers George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, their top-two edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and their top cornerback Richard Sherman. A team that entered the season as an obvious contender has fallen all the way to 24th in my roster rankings. This line has shifted from favoring the 49ers by 6.5 last week on the early line to 3.5 this week, with many of those players going down just last week, but I don’t think this line has shifted nearly enough. In fact, I actually have the Giants better than the 49ers right now, so I have this line calculated at Giants -3.

The Giants are 0-2 and just lost their best offensive player Saquon Barkley, but what’s lost in all that is that they’ve played pretty well so far this season, particularly on defense. They’ve allowed tied for the second fewest first downs in the league with 37, with only Indianapolis, who has been on the field 34 fewer plays, having allowed fewer first downs than the Giants, and they’ve done that despite allowing a 54.84% conversion rate on third down. 17 of their 37 allowed first downs.came on third down and, conversely, their 20 first downs allowed on first and second down are the fewest in the league.

How well a defense performs on third down tends to match how well a defense performs on first and second down in the long run, which is a good sign for the Giants going forward. Overall, they’ve allowed just a 32.81% first down rate on the season, 2nd lowest in the league, giving them a positive first down rate differential at +2.90%, despite the Giants 0-2 record, which is primarily driven by a disparity in third down performance. That’s a good indicator that they should be better going forward.

The Barkley injury obviously hurts, but running back is one of the more replaceable positions and the Giants have to be happy with the process of quarterback Daniel Jones and their young defense. They may not win a lot of games, but they should at least be competitive in most of their games and they’re actually slightly more talented than this beaten up 49ers team right now, so they should be able to get the win here at home. Getting the extra 3.5 points as protection is just a bonus. This is my top pick this week.

New York Giants 24 San Francisco 49ers 20 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (0-1) at New York Jets (0-1)

Going into the season, I thought the 49ers had a good chance to continue being a top level team after making the Super Bowl last year, as they didn’t have the factors that usually indicate a coming regression by a top level team. They didn’t benefit from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+4). They didn’t win an unsustainably high amount of close games (5-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer). They didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, actually having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury of any team in the league last season. They also mostly avoided the significant personnel losses that high level teams often have, ranking 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and generally doing a good job of replacing the few key players they lost. They also brought back all key members of their coaching staff. 

However, injuries have really taken their toll on this team thus far and were a big part of the reason why they fell flat in a game they should have won at home against the Cardinals. The 49ers were without their starting receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and stud tight end George Kittle spent most of the game as a decoy after suffering an injury of his own. Aiyuk is back this week, but Kittle will be out, as will top cornerback Richard Sherman (47 snaps last week) and possibly talented edge defender Dee Ford (46 snaps last week). In their current injury situation, the 49ers have fallen to 12th in my roster rankings.

Fortunately, the 49ers get an easy matchup this week, as not only are the Jets one of the worst teams in the league, but they have their own injury problems, down starting running back Le’Veon Bell, starting wide receivers Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder, and possibly top linebacker Avery Williamson. We’re not getting any line value with the 49ers as 7-point road favorites, but the 49ers are also in a good spot with only another easy matchup with the Giants on deck, as teams are 63-42 ATS as 6+ point favorites since 2016 before being 6+ point favorites again the following week. I don’t have much confidence in this banged up 49ers team, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 28 New York Jets 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)

Every year there is at least one team that proves to be overhyped. The Cardinals seem like the leading candidate going into this season. Much of their hype is based around second year quarterback Kyler Murray, who many are expecting will follow in the footsteps of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and breakout as an elite quarterback in his second season, after a nondescript rookie year. 

However, Mahomes and Jackson are the exception to the rule when you look historically and Murray has a long way to go to become that level of a quarterback. He doesn’t have the size of either quarterback, the athleticism of Lamar Jackson, or the throwing ability of Patrick Mahomes and finished his rookie year as just Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. Despite that, he enters the season with the 6th highest MVP odds, ahead of much more established players like DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Drew Brees.

That hype is showing up in this line, favoring the reigning NFC Champion 49ers by just 6.5 points at home over the Cardinals. The Cardinals have more talent around the quarterback this season with Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins, but they still have issues on the offensive line and their defense, which finished last season 30th in first down rate allowed, isn’t noticeably improved either. The Cardinals should be a better team this season, but they finished last season 27th in first down rate differential last season at -3.87%, so they have a long way to improve.

The 49ers, on the other hand, finished last season 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.29%. This season, they have injuries in the receiving corps and they won’t have their normal homefield advantage in this one, but they’re still close to last year in terms of talent level. It’s typically tough for teams to be as good as the 49ers were last season in back-to-back years, but the typical risk factors for regression aren’t really present here. 

The 49ers didn’t benefit from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+4). They didn’t win an unsustainably high amount of close games (5-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer). They didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, actually having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury of any team in the league last season. They also mostly avoided the significant personnel losses that high level teams often have, ranking 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and generally doing a good job of replacing the few key players they lost. They also bring back all key members of their coaching staff. They should be able to win this one with relative ease, so I like them a lot if you can get them less than a touchdown. Including playoffs, the 49ers won 10 of their 15 games by a touchdown or more last season.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -6.5

Confidence: High