Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team: 2020 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at Washington Football Team (7-9)

The Washington Football Team has made the post-season at 7-9, just the third time in NFL history a team with a losing record has made the playoffs. Washington’s record and the fact that they only qualified for the playoffs because they’re in a terrible division in the NFC East has caused them to be seen as an illegitimate playoff team by some, but Washington actually could have had 9 or 10 wins fairly easily, as their went 0-3 in games decided by 3 points or fewer, including a pair of games against the Giants in which they lost by 4 points combined, despite winning the first down rate battle by a combined +4.60%, as a result of a combined -6 turnover margin in those 2 games. 

Turnover margin is highly inconsistent week-to-week and Washington was +2 in turnovers other than those 2 games, so it’s not hard to see how Washington could easily be 9-7 right now (not even including a near victory against Detroit). If Washington was 9-7, I think they would be getting a little bit more respect going into the post-season, especially since they are 5-1 in games started by Alex Smith, with the one loss being that loss to Detroit. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, Washington ranks 10th at +1.57%, which is also in line with roughly a 9-7 team.

Washington is led by their defense, which ranks 3rd in the NFL in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.36%. That’s somewhat of a concern because defensive play is much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play and Washington’s offense ranks just 27th in first down rate over expected at -2.79%, but Washington’s offense has been better in recent weeks. Not only because Alex Smith has been their best starting quarterback this season, but also because their offensive line is at full strength and playing at a high level in recent weeks. That helped them stay competitive even in the two games Alex Smith missed with injury down the stretch.

Unfortunately, Smith’s injury situation seems to be getting worse, not better, with Washington looking likely to rotate Smith and Taylor Heinicke at quarterback in this one, to keep Smith fresh. Heinicke even took most of the first team reps in practice on Thursday, though Smith is still expected to be able to go in a limited capacity. Heinicke is probably better than either Kyle Allen or Dwayne Haskins, Washington’s other quarterbacks besides Smith this season, and Washington’s offensive line should be a big help for him, but, of further concern, their feature back Antonio Gibson and top wide receiver Terry McLaurin are also playing at less than 100% through injuries, though they’re both in better shape than Smith. The injury uncertainty of their three most important offensive skill position players makes it tough to be confident in Washington.

What also makes it tough to be confident in Washington is that their opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are legitimately one of the best teams in the league and, while they might not quite justify being 8-point favorites over a capable Washington team, they come close to it, so we’re not getting the kind of line value with Washington that we could need to bet them in their current injury situation. Like Washington was better than their 7-9 record, Tampa Bay was also better than their 11-5 record, as their 5 losses all came against playoff qualifiers, including 3 losses by 3 points or fewer. 

Overall, Tampa Bay finished 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.46% and they were one of just two teams in the league (New Orleans) to finish in the top-10 in both first down rate over expected and first down rate allowed over expected. Their defense carried them early in the season and, though they had some expected regression on that side of the ball, they still finished 5th at -2.77%, while their offense improved as the season went on and Tom Brady got more familiarity in this offense and more consistency from his receiving corps, leading to them finishing 9th at +1.69%. My roster rankings also support the Buccaneers being seen as a top contender, ranking Tampa Bay 3rd among playoff qualifiers. We’re still getting some line value with Washington (my calculated line is Tampa Bay -6.5, with Washington’s injury uncertainty factored in), but not nearly enough to be confident in them in their current injury situation.

Update: Smith has been ruled out and this line has jumped to 10 in response. I don’t think Heinicke is a big downgrade from a banged up Smith and he’s played better than all of Washington’s other non-Alex Smith quarterbacks, so I like Washington against the spread little more at the new line, though not nearly enough to bet on them.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Washington Football Team 16

Pick against the spread: Washington +10

Confidence: Low

Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (6-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)

Washington is just 6-9, but they’ve been better than their record and have clearly been the best team in the NFC East this season, even though they have yet to clinch the division, which they’ll do with a win in this Sunday Night Football matchup. Washington’s point differential is even, despite an above average schedule and a -5 turnover margin, which is a very impactful, but largely unpredictable metric. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 8th at +1.54%, led by a defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.15%. 

Their offense has been an issue, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.61%, which is especially a concern because offensive performance tends to be much more predictive than defensive performance, but their offense has clearly been better with quarterback Alex Smith in the lineup. In Smith’s 5 starts, which coincided with this offensive line getting healthy, Washington went 4-1, as opposed to 2-8 in their other ten games. Part of that is just how bad their other two starting quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins, have been, especially when their offensive line wasn’t healthy, but Smith has also played capably himself. 

Unfortunately, Smith has missed the past two weeks with a strain of his calf on the leg he needed many surgeries on a couple years ago. In addition, Washington has been without feature back Antonio Gibson and #1 wide receiver Terry McLaurin for periods of time in recent weeks. Washington’s offensive line is still healthy and playing well, as is their defense, but injuries to their key skill position players is definitely a concern.

Washington has rightfully been cautious with Smith, but he took most of the first team reps this week and is expected to start, albeit possibly not at 100%. In a must win game, Gibson and McLaurin are also expected to try to play, even without practicing this week. Even if they do play, these injuries obviously dampen my confidence in Washington, but I am somewhat confident in backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke if Washington has to go to him at some point, as he has been in the system for a couple seasons and looked like a noticeable upgrade on Haskins last week, nearly leading Washington to a comeback win over the Panthers. Even with their injury uncertainty, I have Washington ranked 12th in my roster rankings.

While Washington has injury uncertainty, Philadelphia has certainty that they’re going to be missing many key players. Already with a crowded injured reserve, Philadelphia has listed 8 plays out on their injury report this week. In total, they will be without starting running back Miles Sanders, starting wide receiver DeSean Jackson, two of their top-3 tight ends Dallas Goedert and Richard Rodgers, right guard Brandon Brooks (missed the whole season), their top-4 offensive tackles Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Andre Dillard, and Jordan Mailata, their top defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, two of their top-3 defensive ends in Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, starting cornerback Avonte Maddox, and starting safeties Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod. 

The Eagles haven’t played well in general this season, but without the players they are currently missing, I have them only ahead of the Jets and the Jaguars in my roster rankings. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has fallen back to earth now that teams have tape on him, but may still be a little overrated based on how he played in his first start against the Saints. As much as there is injury concern with Washington, I am still pretty confident they should be able to cover this 3.5-point spread against the skeleton crew Eagles.

My calculated line is Washington -7, even factoring in that Washington’s key offensive skill position players are at less than 100%. I don’t think the odds makers boosted this line enough to compensate for all that Philadelphia is missing, so let’s take advantage of that. Not only is this a high confidence pick, but this pick is also in the running for Pick of the Week, as I’m waiting to see what happens with a couple other games that have uncertainties.

Washington Football Team 20 Philadelphia Eagles 13

Pick against the spread: Washington -3.5

Confidence: High

Carolina Panthers at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-10) at Washington Football Team (6-8)

On defense, the Washington Football Team has consistently been one of the best teams in the league this season, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.26%. Their offense struggled mightily earlier this season, but, when they turned to Alex Smith under center and got their offensive line back together healthy, they improved significantly on that side of the ball, leading to a 4-1 stretch where their only loss came by 3 points. 

Unfortunately, the injuries have started to pile up on that side of the ball. Their offensive line is still together, but they lost feature back Antonio Gibson in week 13 and then quarterback Alex Smith in week 14, forcing Washington to start an underwhelming backfield of Dwayne Haskins and Peyton Barber. Gibson could be back this week, but Smith is not expected to start, still at less than 100%, and Haskins will be playing without Washington’s #1 wide receiver and only downfield weapon in Terry McLaurin.

Given their struggles on offense, Washington will be very reliant on their defense in this game, which is a concern, because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. It’s far from a guarantee that Washington will continue being as good as they’ve been defensively going forward, especially with injuries starting to pile up on that side of the ball. Overall, Washington ranks just 24th in my roster rankings, which is a significant drop off from where they were a few weeks ago.

That being said, we are still getting a little bit of line value with Washington, who are even at home with the Panthers. The Panthers have been competitive in most of their games and rank a decent 21st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.90%, but they’ve overachieved their talent level and are in even worse shape this week missing their best defensive player in Brian Burns, falling to 27th in my roster rankings. My calculated line is just Washington -1.5, so we’re not getting enough line value for Washington to be worth betting, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Washington Football Team 26 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Washington PK

Confidence: Low

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (9-4) at Washington Football Team (6-7)

I have bet on Washington in each of the past five weeks and they’ve come through every time. They’ve had one of the better defenses in the league all season and their underrated offense has been able to play complementary football in recent weeks, leading to a 4-1 straight up stretch that now has them atop the NFC East. The big reason for their offensive turnaround has been the insertion of veteran Alex Smith into the starting lineup, but Washington’s offensive line is also significantly healthier than it was earlier this season and is playing well and they’ve gotten good production on the ground as well.

Unfortunately, it looks like those days are coming to an end. Featured running back Antonio Gibson got hurt and missed his first game last week, which was a big blow in a game in which Washington won despite a poor offensive performance, and now Smith will join him on the sideline with a calf issue, leaving Dwayne Haskins, the least effective of their three starting quarterbacks from this season, to start this game against the Seahawks. Washington still has a strong offensive line, but without Smith and Gibson, this offense is going to have a much harder time putting together drives.

The Seahawks’ defense has been a problem this season, ranking 20th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.02% and holding back a team that ranks 4th in first down rate over expected at +2.76%, but defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play and the Seahawks have a better chance than most to be improved going forward, as they are significantly more talented than they were earlier this season, with safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaq Griffin back in the lineup after missing significant time with injuries and defensive lineman Damon Harrison and Carlos Dunlap added in mid-season acquisitions. 

The Seahawks could also get their other starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar back this week from an extended absence, which would be an additional boost to this defense. Even without Dunbar in the lineup, the Seahawks still rank 2nd in my roster rankings and figure to be a force going forward now that they’ve improved their defensive issues, as they typically are in the second half of seasons, going 44-22-3 ATS in weeks 9-16 in the Russell Wilson era, as opposed to 34-34-4 ATS in weeks 1-8. 

Unfortunately, we’re not getting great line value with the Seahawks, as this line has shifted from Seattle -3.5 to -6.5 in the wake of Smith’s injury and the Seahawks blowout win over the Jets last week. My calculated line is Seattle -7.5, giving us some line value, especially since about 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly a touchdown, but Seattle isn’t in a great spot, with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck, while Washington has a much easier game against the Panthers. Underdogs cover at a 54.4% rate before playing a team with a 40% or worse winning percentage when their opponent will next play a team with a 60% or better, which is the case here. I’m still taking the Seahawks for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Washington Football Team 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: Low

Washington Football Team at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (5-7)

I have bet on Washington in each of the past four weeks since they’ve turned to Alex Smith under center and it has paid off as they have covered each time, including three straight wins and an upset win over the previously undefeated Steelers last week. Despite that win and the 49ers’ double digit loss to the Bills on Monday Night Football, this line has more or less stayed the same since the early line, favoring the 49ers by 3.5 in what amounts to a neutral site game in Arizona, after favoring them by 4 on the early line last week, so Washington remains underrated.

Washington’s strength is it’s defense, which ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.05%, and, while defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, the 49ers are also a defensive lead team (10th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.89%) and Washington’s offense has been much improved since their offensive line got healthy and Smith took over as the quarterback. Their running game takes a hit without starting running back Antonio Gibson, who is out this week, but, even without him, I have Washington a couple points better in my roster rankings than the 49ers, who have their own obvious injury issues, with Tim Compton, Kevin Givens, and DJ Jones joining an ever growing players of unavailable players. 

With this game essentially being a neutral site game, this line suggests the 49ers are about 3.5 points better, so we’re getting significant line value with Washington, especially when you consider that 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. Even if they can’t pull the upset, Washington should be at least able to keep this game close. Washington +3.5 is my Pick of the Week and even if you can’t get that number anymore (still available in some places Friday Night), I would still recommend a big play on +3.

Washington Football Team 20 San Francisco 49ers 17 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Washington Football Team at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (4-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0)

Washington is just 4-7, but they’re the most competitive of the four teams in the NFC East, as their -2 point differential is significantly better than their record and significantly better than any other team in the division. If not for an 0-3 record in games decided by a field goal or less, Washington could easily be 5-6 or 6-5 right now, which isn’t amazing or anything, but it’s respectable. That’s despite the fact that they have struggled in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and that are likely to improve going forward, with a -5 turnover margin (tied for 7th worst in the NFL) and a -14.77% net field goal conversion rate. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, Washington actually ranks 7th at +2.16%.

Washington is led by their defense, with a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.98% and an offense ranks just 25th in first down rate over expected at -1.82%, which is concerning because defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. It’s far from a guarantee that Washington will continue being that good defensively going forward, especially with key players like Matt Ioannidis and Landon Collins out for the year, but any regression by their defense could be offset by their offense, which has improved significantly since turning to Alex Smith under center. They’re also as healthy as they’ve been all season around the quarterback on offense, particularly on the offensive line. My roster rankings don’t have them quite as high as they rank in first down rate differential, but they still rank 17th, suggesting this is legitimately a middling team, despite their record and public perception.

Washington gets a big step up in competition this week in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers have yet to lose a game all season at 11-0, but the Steelers have played a lot of close games, with just two of their 11 wins coming by more than 10 points (both coming against two of the worst teams in the league in the Bengals and Jaguars) and 6 of their 11 wins coming by 7 points or fewer, which is notable, considering this line favors Pittsburgh by 7. Pittsburgh also hasn’t faced a tough schedule, facing the 2nd easiest schedule in the league in terms of opponents expected first down rate differential. If teams like the Jeff Driskel led Broncos, the Garrett Gilbert led Cowboys, the Texans, and the COVID Ravens can keep it within a touchdown with the Steelers, a team like Washington, who is much better than those four, should be able to do so as well.

The Steelers are also a defensive led team, with their defense leading the league in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.65%, but their offense ranking just 27th in first down rate over expected at -2.06%, actually behind Washington, even though Washington was starting Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen at the beginning of the season before Smith came in. The Steelers’ offensive struggles bring them down to 5th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.60%, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as their undefeated 11-0 record, which has been built in part by close wins over lesser opponents. Given that offensive performance is more predictive and the Steelers aren’t a significantly better offensive team, it’s hard to justify Pittsburgh being 7-point favorites in this one, especially since they’ll likely be without starting center Maurkice Pouncey and starting running back James Conner for the second straight week and won’t have the benefit of any fans in their home stadium.

This line has shifted significantly from favoring Pittsburgh by 11 on the early line last week, but I think that was just a bad line. The line movement seems to have been almost entirely driven by significant sharp action on the visitor and I don’t think it went far enough. Normally I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements like that, but, even at 7, we’re getting line value with Washington, as my calculated line is Pittsburgh -3.5, giving the Steelers a 3-point edge and about a half point for nominal homefield advantage. Washington is worth a big bet if you can get the full touchdown.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Washington Football Team 13

Pick against the spread: Washington +7

Confidence: High

Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7)

Both of these teams are just 3-7, but Washington has been the significantly better team this season. While the Cowboys rank 30th in point differential at -83, Washington ranks a relatively respectable 22nd at -27. On top of that, Washington has struggled in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and could improve going forward, like turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL at -6) and net field goal percentage (-15.71%). In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate, which minimizes the value of outlier snaps, Washington actually ranks 9th at +1.55%.

Washington is led by its defense, ranking 5th in first down rate allowed over expected but just 27th in first down rate over expected, which is the significantly less consistent and predictive side of the ball, so Washington could easily regress on that side of the ball going forward, especially since they have outplayed their defensive talent level and have lost key players like Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis to injury, but that should be offset somewhat by the fact that their offense has looked much better since Alex Smith took over at quarterback.

Dallas is better than their point differential, as they have also struggled with turnovers (2nd in the NFL at -12), which is something that is very inconsistent week-to-week, and they have played better since getting healthier, with stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), quarterback Andy Dalton (2 games), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players returning from injury in recent weeks, but, even with that factored in, they are still behind Washington in my roster rankings and in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. 

In fact, I have Washington 2.5 points better than Dallas overall, which, even with Dallas having some homefield advantage, still gives us a calculated line of Washington -1. Getting the full field goal with Washington at +3 is a great value in a game they could win straight up. Washington is worth betting both against the spread and on the money line. I am also locking in TB +3.5 and TEN +3.5 for later this weekend before those lines move. I will have full write ups for those games with all of this weekend’s picks.

Washington Football Team 20 Dallas Cowboys 19 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Washington +3

Confidence: Medium

Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-6-1) at Washington Football Team (2-7)

Neither of these teams have impressive records, but Washington has been clearly the better of these two teams this season. Washington has the slightly better point differential at -38 vs. -46, but the difference is more pronounced than that. Washington has faced a much tougher schedule and has struggled more in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and could improve going forward, like turnover margin (-3 vs. -7, in large part due to Washington’s league worst 32.14% fumble recovery rate) and net field goal percentage (+9.53% vs -23.85%). 

In terms of first down rate differential, which minimizes the impact of outlier plays that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, Washington has a massive edge at +1.64% vs. -3.65%. The Bengals have played a lot of close games, with four of their six losses coming by one score or less, but they are worse than their box scores suggest, as their close losses to the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. The Bengals lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. 

Offense is the more consistent side of the ball and, as a result, it’s the more important side of the ball for projections and the Bengals have the edge on that side of the ball, with Washington being led by their defense, but it’s a slight edge for Cincinnati, as they rank 23rd in first down rate over expected at -1.17%, while Washington ranks -2.34% at 27th, and that slight edge may be made up for by the fact that, with Alex Smith resembling his old form at quarterback, Washington has their most competent quarterback under center right now, for his 3rd start of the season. 

Washington also has a massive edge on defense, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.98%, while the Bengals rank 28th at +2.49%, which can’t be ignored, even if defense tends to be inconsistent week-to-week and even if Washington has some injuries on that side of the ball. Washington holds the slight edge in my roster rankings as well and, even without any fans in the stadium, they should be favored by at least a field goal in this home game against the Bengals, if not more. Given that, we’re getting decent line value with Washington as mere 1-point favorites. This isn’t a big play, but Washington is worth a bet this week.

Washington Football Team 17 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Washington -1

Confidence: Medium

Washington Football Team at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (2-6) at Detroit Lions (3-5)

The Lions have lost back-to-back games by multiple touchdowns, pushing them down to 27th in point differential at -43, but they still continue to be overrated, favored by 4.5 points at home over the Washington Football Team. The Lions have been even worse than their point differential suggests, as they’ve faced a below average schedule and barely won two of their games.

They beat the Falcons by 1 in a game in which the Falcons would have won if they had just taken a knee late and kicked a field goal. They beat the Cardinals by 3 in a game in which the Lions won the turnover battle by 3 but lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%. Their other win and only convincing victory came against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. They nearly beat the Bears earlier this year, but they still lost the first down rate battle in that game to a mediocre Bears team. Overall, the Lions rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.62%.

Washington, meanwhile, is just 2-6, but they actually rank 9th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. Both of their wins have come by double digits, while two of their losses came by a combined 4 points against the Giants in games in which Washington won the first down rate battle by 4.47% combined, but lost the turnover battle by 6, missed a makeable field goal, and allowed a return touchdown, three things that are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. Even having played 4 games against the NFC East, Washington has still played an above average schedule and is legitimately a couple plays away from being 4-4 against that schedule.

That being said, there is certainly a big reason to believe Washington won’t be the 9th best team in schedule adjusted first down rate going forward, which is that they’ve been carried by a defense that ranks first in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.97%, but rank just 29th offensively in first down rate over expected at -3.47%. In addition to their defense outperforming it’s talent level, especially with players like Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis out with injury, defensive play also tends to be much more inconsistent than offensive play, so it’s very tough for any team to continue playing at the level Washington has played at defensively.

The Lions may rank significantly behind Washington defensively, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed over expected, but their offense ranks 13th in first down rate over expected, so if both defenses regress to average somewhat, the Lions would seem to be in decent shape. However, I was encouraged by how Alex Smith played in relief of an injured Kyle Allen last week and, while it’s hard to say how good Smith can be after his horrific injury two years ago, he was a solid starting quarterback before the injury and if he can even resemble his old form he should be able to be an upgrade under center for this team compared to the likes of Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins, which would be a boost to this offense and give them more life going forward. 

The Lions, meanwhile, are missing arguably their best player on either side of the ball, without top wide receiver Kenny Galloday and top edge defender Trey Flowers. They may be able to sneak out this victory at home over Washington, but there’s no good reason why they should be laying 4.5 points, especially since they won’t have the benefit of any fans in the stands at this home game. I like the WFT a good amount this week, to at least keep this close, but possibly pull the upset as well.

Detroit Lions 20 Washington Football Team 19

Pick against the spread: Washington +4.5

Confidence: High

New York Giants at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-7) at Washington Football Team (2-5)

With Washington still somehow unable to figure out how to get a real name, it seems that the Washington Football Team moniker is here to stay, with reports recently that they are keeping the name through 2021, so I will have to call them by their non-name officially going forward, but it’s still a stupid name and they should pick any other name as soon as possible. With that out of the way, when analyzing this game, something stood out in my numbers as very surprising, which was that the Giants rank 14th in the NFL in first down rate over expected at +0.62%. 

Whenever something is unusual like that, I look to see what is going on and in this case, what is happening is simple. The Giants rank just 27th in first down rate at 31.92%, but they have also faced a brutal schedule of defenses, including the Buccaneers (1st in first down rate allowed over expected), the Steelers (3rd), the Rams (5th), the Bears (9th), the 49ers (10th) and the nonames (2nd), who they previously played back in week 6. 

Is it possible the Giants are a secretly capable offense that has been made to look bad by its strength of schedule? It might not be the case that they’re the 14th best offense in the league, but it’s definitely possible they’re closer to middling than we expect, especially with wide receiver Sterling Shepard back from injury and quarterback Daniel Jones playing better in recent weeks. 

The Giants strength of schedule doesn’t get much easier this week in this rematch in Washington, but defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and the injuries are also starting to pile up for Washington, with defensive end Matt Ioannidis and safety Landon Collins now both done for the year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them regress defensively going forward, in which case they would be in a lot of trouble, because their offense ranks just 31st in first down rate over expected. 

The Giants might not be the 14th best offense in the league, but they have a significant advantage on the side of the ball that matters more for projection purposes. Unfortunately, it seems like the public and the sharp bettors have kind of picked up on this, shifting the Giants from 3.5 point underdogs on the early line last week to 2.5 this week, in the wake of the Giants’ near victory over the Buccaneers last week. If we can get a good +3, I might consider a bet on the Giants, but this is a low confidence pick at 2.5.

Update: +3s have popped up Sunday morning. The Giants will be without wide receiver Golden Tate for disciplinary reasons, but he hasn’t done much this season and is far less important to this team with Shepard back. +3 is worth a bet.

New York Giants 17 Washington Football Team 16 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3

Confidence: Medium