Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (3-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2)

Both of these teams are off to surprising 3-2 starts, but I think the Jaguars are a little bit more for real than the Rams. Two of the Rams’ three wins came against the Colts and 49ers, two of the worst teams in the league, and they barely beat the latter. They also beat the Cowboys in Dallas, but the Cowboys were without Sean Lee and are not the same team as last year, so that’s not that impressive. Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ 3 wins have come against the Texans, Ravens, and Steelers, by a combined 80 points. Their +56 point differential is significantly better than the Rams’ +31 point differential, despite a tougher schedule.

The Rams are definitely improved offensively this season, but they still have problems on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have obvious problems in the passing game and on the offensive line, but they play incredible defense and can execute a conservative offense effectively if their defense plays like it can. I have these two teams about 2 points apart in my rankings, so we’re getting significant value with the Jaguars as mere 2.5 point favorites at home. The Jaguars should be able to win this game by a field goal or more, so the home team should be a smart bet in this one.

Jacksonville Jaguars 19 Los Angeles Rams 14

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 5 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (2-2) at Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

The Seahawks were favored by 3 points on the early line last week, but this line has since shifted a full 4.5 points to favor the Rams by 1.5 points. Typically I love fading significant week to week line movements like that because they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. This game is no different. The line moved because the Rams pulled an upset victory in Dallas, despite the fact that the Seahawks had their best game of the season, beating the Colts in blowout fashion 46-18. However, the Cowboys are an overrated team that is not as good as last season and that was missing its best defensive player, linebacker Sean Lee.

Even without Lee, the Cowboys are still arguably the toughest opponent the Rams have faced this season, so their 3-1 record doesn’t tell the whole story. Their other two wins came against two of the worst teams in the league, the 49ers and Colts, and they lost at home to the Redskins. The Seahawks haven’t beaten a good team yet this year, but their two losses came on the road against the Packers and Titans, who are better than anyone the Rams have played, and they have much more of a proven history than the Rams.

I don’t deny the Rams are significantly improved offensively this season, with Jared Goff showing improvement, improved talent around him, and improved coaching but this line suggests they’re only 1.5 points worse than the Seahawks, which I think is very premature for a team that was one of the worst in the league a year ago. I have this line calculated at -3.5 in favor of the Seahawks and that doesn’t even take into account that this game could have a very Seahawks heavy crowd. The Rams don’t have quite the same problem attracting fans in Los Angeles as the Chargers do, but they’ve struggled to sell their stadium out so far and the Seahawks have a big national following. The Rams are just 2-6-1 ATS in LA since moving there before the 2016 season. The Seahawks are a smart pick as long as we’re getting points.

Seattle Seahawks 17 Los Angeles Rams 13 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Seattle +1.5

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (2-1) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

The Rams are a little bit of an overrated team. They’re definitely better than they were last season, with an improved offensive talent around an improved Jared Goff, but I think the general public overestimates how much better. In my roster rankings, I have them 26th, so they’re not awful like last season, but they’re still one of the weaker teams in the league. They still have issues on offense, including Goff, who remains untrustworthy, and their defense has issues outside of the defensive line, even with Wade Phillips taking over as defensive coordinator.

They’re 2-1, but those two wins came against two of the worst teams in the league, the Colts and the 49ers, and they struggled to put away the latter last week in what ended up only being a 2-point win. Their loss came at home to the Redskins in a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed and lost the first down battle 21-14. The Cowboys are not the same team as they were last season, losing two starters on the offensive line this off-season (Ronald Leary and Doug Free) and losing top interior pass rusher David Irving for the first 4 games of the season with a suspension, but I still think they’re about 5 points better than the Rams right now.

However, I’m actually taking the Rams this week for two reasons. One is that the Cowboys’ homefield advantage is barely noticeable, as they tend to attract fans wherever they go. They are just 30-29 straight up at home since 2010, with an average differential of 1.80 points per game. Contrast that with their road record of 31-27 over that time period, with an average differential of -0.48 points per game. Their homefield advantage is really only worth about a point. Despite that, the oddsmakers usually don’t correct for that and the Cowboys are 21-37 ATS at home since 2010, including 13-29 ATS as a favorite and 6-16 ATS as a favorite of 6 or more.

The second reason is that outside linebacker Sean Lee could miss this game after not practicing all week with a hamstring injury, which would be a huge blow to a Cowboys defense that has a lot of problems even with Lee healthy. With Lee’s uncertainty and the Cowboys’ lack of homefield advantage, I have this line calculated at -5.5, so we’re getting slight line value with the Rams, although it’s not nearly enough for me to be confident in them. If Lee is ruled out and this line doesn’t move, I might move this up to a low confidence pick, but I wouldn’t bet on either of these teams this week.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +6.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2017 Week 3 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (0-2)

This is one of the least enticing games of the week from both a watching and a betting standpoint. I typically don’t like betting on Thursday night games. They are more unpredictable than regular games because neither team is able to be at it’s best on a short week. When I do make a Thursday night bet, I typically bet on a superior home team against an inferior non-divisional opponent. That’s because it’s very tough for an inferior team to go on the road on a short week and play a superior team with which they are unfamiliar.

None of that applies here. These divisional rivals are very familiar with each other and the road team is the superior team. There aren’t that many teams that the Rams are better than, but the 49ers are one of them, as they have arguably the worst roster in football (I have them only ahead of the Jets). The Rams have to travel and start a young inexperienced quarterback on a short week though, so they’re not an enticing bet as 3 point favorites. This game is probably more of a toss up than this line suggests, so I’m taking the 49ers, but neither side is worth any sort of bet this week.

Los Angeles Rams 19 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3

Confidence: None

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.

JAX +4 vs. BAL (I would take 3 or 3.5)

 

Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 2 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (0-1) at Los Angeles Rams (1-0)

The Rams had an impressive week 1 performance, dismantling the Indianapolis Colts in a 46-9 victory. They had a first down rate differential of +13.97%, 2nd best in the NFL last week, and scored 16 points just with their defense (two pick sixes and a safety). Now they get defensive tackle Aaron Donald back from his holdout, which should be a big boost to this defense, even if he’s rusty and on a pitch count in his first game back. As a result, some people are talking about the Rams as a surprise team this season and this line has moved to compensate, going from a pick ‘em on the early line last week to now -3 in favor of the Rams, the 2nd biggest line movement of the week.

I typically like to fade big line movements because they tend to be overreactions to a single game and this is no exception. As good as the Rams looked last week, they were facing an Indianapolis team that is arguably the worst in the NFL without all of the players they are missing, including quarterback Andrew Luck. On paper, they Rams still have one of the least talented teams in the league. That could change if Jared Goff continues to develop, Sammy Watkins continues to stay healthy, and this defense continues to significantly outperform their talented level under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. That’s certainly a possibility, but I am not sold on this team yet.

Even if I didn’t think the line movement was an overreaction, I would still disagree with this line, which suggests that these two teams are more or less even. When I looked at week 2’s early lines last week, Washington PK in Los Angeles was one that stood out to me even then. Now we’re getting a full field goal with the visitors. That doesn’t just give us line value with the Redskins, but it also puts the Rams in a tough spot, as favorites are 58-86 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. Coming off of a huge win, with another game in 4 games, the Rams could get caught by surprise a little here, which would really hurt them against a superior opponent.

Not only are the Rams a little overrated right now, but I think the Redskins are underrated too. The common assessment of the Redskins seems to be that they’re not as good as last season because they lost a pair of 1000+ yard receivers in free agency (DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon), but they also added a 1000+ yard receiver (Terrelle Pryor), they have Jordan Reed and Josh Doctson healthy for now, and they could get a breakout year from slot receiver Jamison Crowder, so I don’t think this receiving corps is much worse than it was last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, they’re arguably better, with DJ Swearinger, Zach Brown, and Jonathan Allen added this off-season. They might not make the playoffs, but I don’t think they’re much worse than last season and they should be right in the mix for a playoff spot again. They lost week 1 by double digits at home, but they were playing an underrated Philadelphia team that could end up being one of the better teams in the league, so I don’t hold that against them as much as the general public might. The Redskins are a smart bet both against the spread and on the money line.

Washington Redskins 23 Los Angeles Rams 20 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Washington +3

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)

I thought about taking the Rams as 3.5 point home underdogs in this game in early August because I was concerned about Andrew Luck’s early season availability and I am kicking myself that I didn’t, now that Luck has been ruled out for at least the first week of the season, as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. Luck’s injury shifted this line in a big way, as the Rams are now favored by 4.5 points at home. That’s more points than they’re projected to be favored by all season, suggesting the oddsmakers see the Colts without Andrew Luck as being even worse than the 49ers, who are projected as 3.5 point underdogs in their week 17 trip to Los Angeles.

The Colts are certainly up there (or down there) with the worst teams in the league without Luck, not just because they have a weak supporting cast, but because the dropoff from Luck to journeyman backup Scott Tolzien is one of the biggest starter to backup quarterback dropoffs in the league. The Colts also aren’t just missing Luck, as they also start the season without center Ryan Kelly, top cornerback Vontae Davis, and safety/linebacker Clayton Geathers. However, the Rams have a huge absence that doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention, as defensive tackle Aaron Donald, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is still holding out for a better contract and will not play this week, significantly hurting this defense.

Even with a new offensive coaching staff, a new #1 wide receiver (Sammy Watkins), and a new left tackle (Andrew Whitworth), the Rams’ offense should still struggle this season, unless Jared Goff can take a huge leap forward from last season, so the Rams need Donald on that defensive line if they are going to be competitive this season. Maybe outside of the Jets, it’s hard to justify the Rams without Donald being favored by 4.5 points over anyone, especially considering about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer. I wouldn’t be confident in Indianapolis at all, but they’re the better choice here in against the spread pick ‘em leagues.

Los Angeles Rams 17 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +4.5

Confidence: None

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