Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) at Carolina Panthers (4-1)

Ordinarily, in a Thursday night non-conference matchup like this, the smart move is to take home favorites, as they are 35-18 ATS all-time. It makes sense that better teams would cover at a high rate at home on a short week. Unfortunately, the Panthers, home favorites here, are not the better of these two teams, as I have these two teams about 2 points apart in my rankings. Both teams are 4-1, but the Panthers are not a top level team without Greg Olsen and Ryan Kalil, who remain out of the lineup on offense. The Panthers have had good offensive performances in the past 2 weeks against a pair of bad defenses (Detroit and New England), but they were held to just 13 points at home in week 3 by the Saints, who are not a good defense either.

The Eagles are by far the best defense the Panthers have faced all season, especially with Fletcher Cox expected back from a 2 game absence on defense, after practicing in full on Wednesday. The Eagles are likely going to be without right tackle Lane Johnson on a short week with a concussion, but they still have overall the more talented roster. On the season, they are +28 in first downs and +2 in offensive touchdowns, while the Panthers are +14 and +0 in those 2 categories respectively. We’re getting good line value with the Eagles, who are worth a bet at +3.5. I would hold off on +3 though, as about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

CLE +10 @ HOU

PIT +4.5 @ KC

Carolina Panthers 24 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 Week 5 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

The Cardinals finished the 2015 season #1 in first down rate differential when they finished 13-3 and then they finished #1 in that metric again in 2016, despite going 7-8-1, as they could have easily won 10-12 games if not for numerous special teams errors in close games. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points. Had they made the playoffs, they would have been a difficult opponent.

However, this Cardinals team is not the same team as the past 2 seasons. They lost five defensive starters in free agency, including defensive end Calais Campbell, safety DJ Swearinger, and safety Tony Jefferson, all of whom were among the best players in the league at their position in 2016. On top of that, they’ve been ravaged by injuries, losing running back David Johnson, left guard Mike Iupati, and, most recently, outside linebacker Markus Golden for the season with injury, three other key contributors from 2016. They now have one of the least talented rosters in the league. They’re 2-2, but their only two wins have come in overtime against the 49ers and the Colts, two of the worst teams in the league.

The Eagles, meanwhile, are 3-1 with wins over the Redskins, Giants, and Chargers and they won the first down battle in their loss in Kansas City. They finished last year 7-9, but 6 of their 9 wins came by a touchdown or less. This season, they have Lane Johnson back (5-1 with him last season), an improved receiving corps, and a more confident Carson Wentz under center. They could easily finish with 10-12 wins and win the NFC East, as they have one of the more talented rosters in the league.

However, I can’t take them with much confidence as 6.5 point favorites for two reasons. For one, they’re banged up as well in this one, as top cornerback Ronald Darby remains out after injured his ankle week 1, while stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox will miss his 2nd straight game with injury. I still have this line at 10.5, but the Eagles have to play again on Thursday Night 4 games after this one, which puts them in a tough spot. Favorites are just 58-90 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2008. They should be the right side, but this I’d need the line to go down to 5.5 to think about betting on them. They’re a smart survivor pick though.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Arizona Cardinals 14

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Chargers: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (0-3)

The Chargers are 0-3, but actually rank 4th in first down rate differential right now because they have 6 more first downs and just 1 fewer offensive touchdown than their opponents on 9 fewer offensive plays. They lost their first two games by a combined 5 points, missing a field goal to send it to overtime at the end of the Denver game week 1 and then missing two field goals in an eventual 2-point loss to the Dolphins. Last week, they lost the turnover battle by 3, which significantly hurt their chances of making it a much closer game against the Chiefs in an eventual 24-10 loss.

Fortunately, record in close games and turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis and the Chargers have much more talent than their record suggests. Unfortunately, they have two big issues working against them this week. For one, they have no homefield advantage in Los Angeles outside of the benefit of not having to travel and getting to sleep in their own beds. They struggle to sell out their 27,000 person soccer stadium and most of the fans who came for their first 2 home games were road fans.

The second big issue is that they’re facing a tough Philadelphia team. The Chargers are better than their record, but they’re an average team at best. The Eagles are one of the more talented teams in the entire league. It hurts that they’re missing defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who is one of their best defensive players, but I still have these teams about 3 points apart in my rankings. If I generously give the Chargers a point for homefield advantage, this line should still be about -2 in favor of the Eagles instead of -2 in favor of the Chargers. I’d need the full field goal to be confident betting on the Eagles against the spread, but the money line at +110 is worth a bet because the wrong team is favored.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +2

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 Week 3 NFL Pick

New York Giants (0-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)

Last week, when I looked at the early lines, Philadelphia -3 at home for the Giants was one of my favorites. The Eagles are legitimately one of the most talented teams in the entire league and have a great chance to win the NFC East, while the Giants are much more of a middling team, yet that line suggested these two teams were about equal. Needless to say, I am kicking myself for not locking that in last week because the Giants lost by 14 at home for the Lions on Monday Night Football and the line has subsequently jumped to 6.

We’re still getting some line value with the Eagles, who are still one of the better teams in the league, despite a loss in Kansas City last week (in a game in which the Eagles had 27 first downs to 16 for Kansas City). I have this line calculated at 7.5. However, we lost a ton of value with the line movement. The Giants were not as bad as the final score looked (24-10), as the Lions managed just 12 first downs and scored 10 points on a punt return and a 56-yard field goal, despite the fact that the Giants were without cornerback Janoris Jenkins and middle linebacker BJ Goodson.

Both Jenkins and Goodson are expected to be out again, but the Eagles are without cornerback Ronald Darby and could be without safety Rodney McLeod, which would be a big loss because backups Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham are also out. Odell Beckham should also be closer to 100% this week, which will help this offense, and their running game could be better if Orleans Darkwa starts taking more carries away from Paul Perkins. The Eagles should still win this game by a touchdown or so, but they’re not worth betting on given how high this line is.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 2 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

The Chiefs are one of the teams I underestimated going into the season. I knew they got significantly better down the stretch last season when Justin Houston returned from injury and talented rookies Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill started seeing more playing time, but their victory over the Patriots showed just how much better, especially when you add impressive 3rd round rookie Kareem Hunt into the mix. However, while the Chiefs got the win, they lost something more important when safety Eric Berry tore his achilles in the 4th quarter, ending his season.

Berry is one of the top safeties in the league and was having the game of his life covering Rob Gronkowski before the injury, so that’s a crushing blow for this defense. Getting the upset win was nice, but Berry’s absence is likely to cost them more than a win the rest of the way and puts a damper on the outlook on this whole team. However, if you ask the casual betting public, the only thing that was important was the win, as they are still on the Chiefs despite the fact that this line has actually shifted from -4 in favor of the Chiefs over the Eagles on the early line last week to -5 this week. The line has even moved up to 5.5 and 6 in some places.

That line shift occurred not only in spite of the Berry injury, but also in spite of the Eagles having an impressive week 1 as well, winning by double digits on the road against a capable Redskins team. The Eagles were near the top of my underrated teams list coming into the season, with Carson Wentz going into his 2nd year in the league, stud right tackle Lane Johnson no longer suspended (they went 5-1 with him and 2-8 without him last season), and the Eagles’ record in close games likely to regress to the mean (1-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less last season). They look good so far and should compete for the NFC East with the Cowboys. They lost cornerback Ronald Darby for 4-6 weeks with a dislocated ankle, which hurts because the recently acquired ex-Bill was their top cornerback, but that’s not nearly as big of a loss as Berry.

Even if the Chiefs still had Berry, I’d say these two teams were about even and this line should be around 3 in favor of the hometown Chiefs. Without Berry, this should be closer to 1 or a pick ‘em, so we’re getting a lot of line value with the Eagles. I locked this in at 5 earlier in the week, but you can get it at 6 now in some places. Either way, we’re getting a ton of value with the visiting team here and the Eagles are my Pick of the Week. There is great value with the money line too, as the Eagles are a 2:1 underdog.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23 Upset Pick +200

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Washington Redskins (0-0)

The Eagles are one of my favorite sleeper teams for 2017. Their 7-9 record last season was largely the result of a 1-6 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their +36 point differential was 10th in the league, ahead of playoff teams like the Raiders and the Eagles. This season, they get top offensive lineman Lane Johnson back from suspension (with whom they were 5-1 last season) and they addressed needs at wide receiver and cornerback in a big way with Alshon Jeffery and Ronald Darby. This looks like a 10-win team with the upside for a lot more if #2 overall pick quarterback Carson Wentz can step it up in his 2nd season in the league.

Despite that, I don’t love them week 1 because I don’t think we’re getting much line value. The Eagles are favored by a point and a half here in Washington, which is about where this line should be. The Redskins are also an underrated team. Many people are down on them because they lost Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson this off-season, but they added Terrelle Pryor, they could get a breakout year from slot receiver Jamison Crowder, and they get Josh Doctson and Jordan Reed back healthy.

They have a lot of room for improvement in the red zone on offense (they ranked 30th in red zone touchdown down percentage) and could be much improved in that area now that they have taller receivers, so they could score more points this season even if they end up with fewer yards. Meanwhile, their defense should be improved with the additions of Jonathan Allen, Zach Brown, and DJ Swearinger this off-season. I’m taking the Eagles in this one, but I’d need an even line to consider putting money on them.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Washington Redskins 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -1.5

Confidence: Low

Bills Trades

Buffalo Bills trade WR Sammy Watkins and a 2018 6th round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 2nd round pick and CB EJ Gaines

Buffalo Bills trade CB Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for WR Jordan Matthews and a 2018 3rd round pick

The Bills made a pair of big trades that don’t just impact their roster in a big way, but also the rosters of the Eagles and the Rams, who they traded with. The Eagles sent Sammy Watkins to the Rams and replaced him with Jordan Matthews, who they acquired from the Eagles in a trade that sent top cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia. Darby will be replaced in Buffalo by EJ Gaines, who was somewhat of a throw-in in the Sammy Watkins deal.

The Bills downgraded both wide receiver and cornerback, but get an extra 2nd round pick and an extra 3rd round pick in next year’s draft, which combined is the equivalent of a mid-to-late first round pick on the trade value chart, depending on where the picks end up. It’s not a bad strategy for a team that was not expected to be a contender this season. In my season preview, I had the Bills winning 6 games. I may adjust that to 5 in the wake of these trades, but the picks they received probably make this worth it.

Their trade with the Rams was a smarter move than their trade with the Eagles. The 4th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Watkins is a big name receiver who still has a monstrous upside, ahead of only his age 24 season, but he’s coming off an injury plagued season and was heading into the final year of his rookie deal. If Watkins had a big season this year, the Bills still likely would not have been contenders and they would have had to either pay him a boatload to keep him next off-season or lose him for a 3rd round compensation pick in 2019. If he had a down year or got hurt again and had to settle for a one-year prove-it deal, the Bills would have been lucky to get a 4th round compensation pick for him in 2019, given that compensation picks are largely based on the size of the contract that the player signs with his new team.

Instead, the Bills swap a 6th round pick for a 2nd round pick and acquire cornerback EJ Gaines, who could be a starter in Buffalo now with Darby gone. Gaines was one of the worst starting cornerbacks in the league last year and missed all of 2015 with a foot injury, but was a pleasant surprise as a 6th round rookie in 2014 and has some bounce back potential now another year removed from that injury. He too is a free agent after the season, but, even if he has a strong bounce back season, he’ll cost significantly less to keep than Watkins would have if Watkins were to have a strong bounce back season.

From the Rams’ perspective, I do not like this trade at all. They needed a receiver like Watkins in a bad way, but a 2nd round pick is a lot to risk for an injury prone player going into the final year of his rookie contract and they are now thin at cornerback without Gaines. If Watkins gets hurt again or signs elsewhere next off-season, the Rams will have blown a valuable pick which could easily be in the top-40 if the Rams are as bad as expected. Prior to this trade, I had the Rams at 3-13 with one of the three worst records in football. Watkins may add a win or two, but he is unlikely to turn this into a playoff contender immediately, especially since he’ll have limited time to learn the playbook and get comfortable with his new teammates.

Best case scenario, Watkins plays well and the Rams keep him next off-season as a long-term building block, but he won’t come cheap. Next off-season is a strong off-season for free agent wide receivers anyway, so the Rams could have had their pick of guys like Alshon Jeffery, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, Terrelle Pryor, and Jarvis Landry even without giving up a 2nd round pick. It’s not a terrible trade for the Rams just because of Watkins’ upside and their need for someone like him, but they are giving up a lot and this trade could easily prove to be a mistake.

Darby, meanwhile, is not as big of a name as Watkins, but losing him could hurt the Bills even more because he still has two years left on his rookie deal. A 2015 2nd round pick, Darby burst onto the scene as a rookie, finishing 6th in the NFL in pass deflections with 21 and finishing 4th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t nearly as good in his 2nd season in the league, but still finished around average on Pro Football Focus and has the upside to develop into a long-term #1 cornerback, still only going into his age 23 season. Gaines is an obvious downgrade. Matthews is also an obvious downgrade from Watkins, though he could be Buffalo’s best receiver this year, ahead of 2nd round rookie Zay Jones and veteran Anquan Boldin.

Philadelphia had to surrender a capable receiver and a relatively high pick (3rd round) to get Darby, but I think they’re the overall winner here. Matthews is going into the final year of his rookie deal and likely would not have been re-signed next off-season anyway, so the Eagles are really only trading away a 2018 3rd round pick and the 2019 compensation pick they would have gotten for Matthews (either 3rd or 4th round pick depending on his contract). Unlike the Rams and Bills, the Eagles figure to be in contention for at least the division this season, so it makes sense for them to trade away picks. I have them winning 11 games and this trade makes them even better.

Matthews was also not really needed at wide receiver with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith coming in and 2015 1st round pick Nelson Agholor finally resembling an NFL receiver this off-season, while cornerback was a huge hole for an Eagles team that otherwise has one of the best rosters in the NFL. Darby becomes instantly their best cornerback by far and he has the upside to be one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL long-term. Unlike the other players on the move in these deals, he’s under team contract inexpensively for the next two seasons. If he develops, he’ll be expensive to keep, but the Eagles have two seasons until then.

Grade for Bills: B

Grade for Rams: C-

Grade for Eagles: A