Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (4-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-2)

When I saw last week that the Vikings were favored by a field goal here on the early line, I liked them a lot. Green Bay is a good team, but the Vikings with a healthy Sam Bradford looked like a good team as well, so I would have happily grabbed the field goal with the hometown team. Unfortunately, in the past week Sam Bradford has re-aggravated his knee injury and #1 receiver Stefon Diggs injured his groin, knocking both of them out for at least this game. The Vikings will turn back to Case Keenum under center and he’s played pretty well this season, but he’s still a journeyman backup and he could find life much tougher without Diggs and injured running back Dalvin Cook, who were such a big part of this team’s early offensive success.

Fortunately, they face a Green Bay team that enters with a very banged up secondary, as they’re missing both Morgan Burnett and Kevin King, arguably their 2 best defensive backs thus far this season. This line has has only shifted to 3.5, despite all of Minnesota’s injuries, so we’re not getting much line value with the Vikings, but they do have the better defense at home, so they should cover as 3.5 point underdogs. I’m not that confident in Minnesota, but this could easily be a field goal game, as about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal or more, so the Vikings are probably the smarter choice in pick ‘em leagues.

Green Bay Packers 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at New York Jets: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (3-2) at New York Jets (3-2)

Few people would have predicted both these teams would be 3-2 in their week 6 meeting, given that the Patriots were seen as arguably the best team in the league coming into the season, while the Jets were seen as arguably the worst team in the league. The Jets have gotten lucky during their 3 game winning streak, as they beat a bad Miami team at home before Miami had to go to London, an average Jacksonville team who had just came back from London, and a terrible Cleveland team that got 0 points on 3 drives inside the Jets’ 5 and missed 2 field goals. Their wins against the Jets and Browns came by just 3 points each. They still rank just 29th in first down rate differential at -4.81% and they rank dead last in my roster rankings.

The Patriots have definitely been disappointing and could easily be 1-4 if things hadn’t gone their way against the Texans and Buccaneers, but their offense has been as good as ever and their defense should get better as the season goes on, especially as linebacker Dont’a Hightower works back to 100% from injury. The Patriots should benefit from the extra time off after their Thursday night win in Tampa Bay last week, especially since Bill Belichick is 10-2-1 ATS after Thursday Night Football as head coach of the New England Patriots, and this game against the Jets is a good opportunity for them to get back on track in a big way. We’re not getting any line value with the Patriots as 9.5 point road favorites, but they’re the smarter pick in pick ‘em leagues since this could easily be a New England blowout.

New England Patriots 34 New York Jets 23

Pick against the spread: New England -9.5

Confidence: None

New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 5 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (2-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)

The Patriots lost last week at home to the Panthers 33-30 on a last second field goal, after the Patriots tied it up in the 4th with back-to-back touchdown drives. Historically, the Patriots have been a great bet after a loss in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. Brady is 36-17 ATS in his career after a loss, while Belichick is 46-24 ATS off of a loss since taking over as head coach of the Patriots in 2000. However, we’re not getting any line value with the Patriots this week, as this line actually jumped from 4.5 to 5.5 between the early line last week and the line this week.

Both casual bettors and the oddsmakers know not to doubt Brady and Belichick anymore after their 4th and 5th Super Bowls, so taking Brady off of a loss isn’t as intriguing of a bet as it used to be. Earlier this year, the Patriots/Saints line stayed at 6.5 even after the Patriots lost at home week 1 to the Chiefs as big favorites. The Patriots went on to cover that game, but that’s their only cover of the season, as they lost twice at home as big favorites and nearly lost a 3rd time, needing a last second touchdown drive to defeat the Texans by 2 as 14-point favorites.

The big concern coming into the season with the Patriots was Tom Brady’s age and whether or not he could continue being a high level quarterback at age 40, but Brady looks as good as ever despite his age. The reason the Patriots have been struggling to win games is because their defense looks as bad as it ever has. The Patriots are moving the chains at a 41.76% rate, 2nd in the NFL to Kansas City, but are still -1.77% in first down rate differential because their defense has allowed opponents to move the chains at a 43.53% rate. As good as their offense is, their defense is making opposing offenses look even better.

The Patriots are obviously very well coached and will probably figure out their defensive issues by mid-season as usual, especially since they return most of their 2016 defense, which was one of the better defenses in the league. However, I can’t justify taking them as 5.5 point favorites this week. My numbers have these two teams are 6 points apart, suggesting the Patriots should be favored by only a field goal. I like the advantage Brady and Belichick have on a short week, even on the road, and I think they have a good chance to bounce back, but the Buccaneers are probably the smarter choice against the spread. This is a no confidence pick.

New England Patriots 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +5.5

Confidence: None

Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (2-1) at New England Patriots (2-1)

The Panthers came into the season with a lot of upside, after an injury plagued 6-10 season in 2016, in which the Panthers lost a ridiculous 6 games by 3 points or fewer. They won their first two games against the 49ers and Bills without allowing a touchdown, but then they got smacked at home 34-13 by a previously winless Saints team last week. Injuries have continued to be a problem for this team. Cam Newton does not look all the way back from off-season shoulder surgery yet and he’s missing two key offensive players, tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil, with injury. On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are stronger, but this week they will be without #2 cornerback Daryl Worley, a 2nd year player who was coming into his own before the injury.

It certainly doesn’t help matters that the Panthers have to travel to New England to play the Patriots this week. The Patriots have issues in the front 7, but they get top linebacker Dont’a Hightower back this week and they’re still one of the most talented teams in the league and very tough to beat at home. That being said, the Patriots could be a little distracted by having to play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football against Tampa Bay, as favorites are just 58-88 ATS before Thursday Night Football since 2008. Even with the Panthers missing key players, I still have this line calculated at 8, so the Panthers have a good chance to keep this one close. There’s not enough for me to bet Carolina at +9.5, but if this lines goes up to 10 by game time I might reconsider.

New England Patriots 27 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Carolina +9.5

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 3 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1)

Ordinarily, you have to pay a pretty high premium to bet on the Patriots at home. As a result, they are just 21-21 ATS as home favorites of 7.5 or more over the past 8 seasons, despite going 35-7 straight up in those games. The casual public loves betting on New England, so we don’t usually get good line value with them. However, in this game, I think we are getting a little bit of line value with them. The Patriots are favored by 14 points, which is a lot, but this is a matchup between one of the best teams in the league and one of the worst, so you can make a case for this line being a couple points higher.

The Texans get a lot of attention for their front 7, but, when you look at the rest of their roster, this is one of the worst teams in the league right now. They’re starting a rookie quarterback behind arguably the worst offensive line in football with no receivers to throw to after DeAndre Hopkins. Even on defense, they have issues in the secondary, especially with Kevin Johnson hurt again. That all could be a recipe for disaster against a New England team that doesn’t have any upcoming distractions.

The Patriots host the Panthers next week in a game in which the Patriots are expected to be favorites of at least a touchdown. Teams that are favored by a touchdown or more are 61-36 ATS since 2012 before being favored by a touchdown or more again, as good teams tend to take care of business without upcoming distractions on their schedule. That’s what I expect to happen here. New England is worth a small bet at 14 and should win this game by at least two scores.

New England Patriots 31 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: New England -14

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 2 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (0-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-1)

One of the big surprises of week 1 was the Patriots losing at home to the Chiefs by 15. The Patriots entered the season as the consensus top team in the league and hadn’t lost a meaningful conference home game with Tom Brady since the 2012 AFC Championship. The Patriots’ defensive front 7 had a lot of problems, especially after Dont’a Hightower went down with a knee injury, while their offense seemed to really miss Julian Edelman, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Hightower will miss this game, meaning the Patriots are now without 4 linebackers they had in July (Rob Ninkovich, Derek Rivers, Shea McClellin). The Patriots will also be without wide receiver Danny Amendola, who joins fellow wide receivers Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on the sidelines.

All that being said, the Patriots still are one of the more talented teams in the league. Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski are a dangerous receiving duo who should have better weeks when not matched up with Marcus Peters and Eric Berry. They have a strong offensive line, a stable of running backs who can carry the ball and/or contribute in the passing game, a talented secondary and, of course, Tom Brady under center. Brady has been especially dangerous off of a loss in his career, going 35-17 ATS (Bill Belichick is 45-24 ATS as head coach of the Patriots).

That being said, this line didn’t really adjust for the loss, as it remains at 6.5, where it was on the early line. Part of that is probably because even casual bettors know how well the Patriots bounce back from losses at this point (New England is one of the most heavily bet teams on the week). Part of that is probably because the Saints had a disappointing week 1 performance in Minnesota, in a 29-19 loss. The Vikings are an underrated team, but there is reason for concern with the Saints, especially with cornerback Delvin Breaux, left tackle Terron Armstead, and wide receiver Willie Snead out. Right tackle Zach Strief will join them on the sideline this week, so the Saints are pretty short-handed as well. The Patriots should be the right side, but I would not recommend betting them at -6.5.

New England Patriots 34 New Orleans Saints 26

Pick against the spread: New England -6.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)

These teams finished with the two best records in the AFC last season and earned the AFC’s top-2 seeds, but the Chiefs were not as good as their 12-4 record suggested. Six of their 12 wins came by 8 points or fewer and many of them were decided by a turnover or a return touchdown going in the Chiefs’ favor. They finished last season with a +7 return touchdown margin and a +16 turnover margin, both best in the NFL. Unfortunately, turnover margin tends to be very inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. On average, a team that has a +15 turnover margin or better posts a turnover margin on average 12 points worse the following season and wins an average of 3 fewer games. If they don’t win the turnover battle as much, it’ll be tough for them to match the 5 defensive touchdowns they had last season.

If the Chiefs want to match or come close to last year’s 12 wins, they’ll have to win the first down battle more consistently because they won’t be able to rely on takeaways and return touchdowns as much. Unfortunately, the Chiefs had 37 fewer first downs than their opponents last season, scored just one more offensive touchdown than their opponents, and finished 24th in first down rate differential. Their opponents picked up first downs at a 1.04% higher rate than they did. There’s a reason why the Steelers were able to come into Kansas City and beat them in their first playoff game after the bye.

The Patriots, meanwhile, had 57 more first downs and 24 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents last season and finished 2nd in first down rate differential, en route to winning their 5th Super Bowl. Many believe the Patriots will repeat this season, as they were able to win last year without Rob Gronkowski, who returns from injury, and they add wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore this off-season. The Patriots took a hit when they lost #2 receiver Julian Edelman for the season and have also lost Rob Ninkovich (retirement), Shea McClellin, Cyrus Jones, and Derek Rivers over the past few weeks, leaving them thin at the slot cornerback and edge rusher positions.

The Patriots are still one of the best teams in the league though and the Chiefs enter this game with their own injury issues, losing running back Spencer Ware for the season and edge rusher Tamba Hali for at least the first half of the season. New England has the obvious talent edge and defending Super Bowl champs have had a good week 1 track record in recent years (8-1-1 ATS at home on Thursday night over the last 10 instances). This line is pretty steep at 9, so I can’t take the Patriots with confidence, but they should be able to open the season with a double digit victory.

New England Patriots 31 Kansas City Chiefs 20

Pick against the spread: New England -9

Confidence: Low