Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (5-0) at Arizona Cardinals (4-2)

The Seahawks are 5-0, but four of their five wins have come by one score. That isn’t anything new for the Seahawks, who have 14 wins by one score or less over the past two seasons, as opposed to 2 losses in one score games. In fact, in games decided by more than one score, the Seahawks are just 2-3 over the past two seasons. A team’s record in close games tends to even out in the long run and, while it might make sense that an elite quarterback like Russell Wilson could consistently pull out close victories, even elite quarterbacks don’t consistently win close games and, before the start of last season, Wilson was just 30-34 in his career in one score games.

Wilson is arguably playing as well as he ever has in his career right now, but even still, the Seahawks aren’t winning easily. Wilson probably won’t play quite this well all season, so the Seahawks will need their defense to play better to compensate or they could very easily start losing some of these games. They’re capable of playing better defensively, but it probably won’t be until they get stud safety Jamal Adams back from injury, which won’t be this week. That’s a problem for the Seahawks, who will be on the road for a key divisional game against the Cardinals, who sit just a game and a half back in the standings right now.

The Cardinals haven’t played a tough schedule, but they’ve won the first down rate battle in 5 of their 6 games, including a 3-point loss to the Lions in which they won the first down rate battle by 10.50%, but lost the turnover margin by 3. The Cardinals rank 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.10% and, even adjusted for schedule, they rank 6th at +3.61%. They’re probably overachieving right now, particularly on defense, and could regress, but even still, they’re certainly the kind of team that can give the Seahawks a competitive game and even pull the upset as home underdogs.

I have this line calculated at Seattle -1.5, so we’re getting good value with the Cardinals as 3.5-point home underdogs. The Seahawks are in a good spot coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3 or more are 75-40 ATS off of a bye since 1989, but I don’t know if that should apply, given that this line is too high. It’s enough to deter me from making a bigger play, because good teams often come out of their bye improved, but the Cardinals are still worth a bet, especially since they’re in their own good spot off of a blowout Monday Night Football win, as teams are 64-42 ATS since 1989 off of a MNF win by 21 or more points.

Seattle Seahawks 34 Arizona Cardinals 33

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-4)

Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert hasn’t won a game yet in his four career starts, but the Chargers have been competitive in all four losses, including games against top level teams in the Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Saints, all three of whom the Chargers led in the first half. That’s more or less been the story for the Chargers over the past two seasons, as they are just 6-15, but have lost a ridiculous 13 games by one score or less (3-13 overall in such games). In fact, in games decided by more than one score, the Chargers are actually 3-2 over the past two seasons, including a blowout 45-10 victory over the Jaguars last year.

This rematch could easily be a similarly easy victory, as the Jaguars are still one of the worst teams in the league. They finished last season dead last in first down rate differential at -6.64% and in 2020 it’s been all downhill since a fluke week 1 win over the Colts, as they’ve been outscored by 61 points over their past 5 games, despite a mediocre schedule. Their offense hasn’t been horrible, but their defense has allowed a league worst 44.27% first down rate and are every bit that bad on paper as well, especially with top linebacker Myles Jack and top safety Jarrad Wilson out with injuries. 

When adjusted for schedule, only the Jets have a worse first down rate differential than the Jaguars’ -6.79% rate and the Jaguars are arguably even worse than that suggests, while the Chargers have a +1.49% first down rate differential when adjusted for schedule and are getting healthier, with defensive linemen Justin Jones and Melvin Ingram and probably right tackle Bryan Bulaga set to return this week. This line might be a little high at 7.5, but if Bulaga is confirmed playing or this line drops to a touchdown, I would consider a bet on the Chargers.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7.5

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-2)

Contrary to pre-season expectations, these two teams have actually been pretty even this season. The Saints rank 9th in first down rate differential when adjusted for schedule at +2.08%, but the Panthers aren’t far behind at +1.08%. However, the Panthers have outplayed their talent level, particularly on defense, and could regress somewhat going forward, while the Saints typically start slow, have had a lot of injury absences thus far this season, and are still one of the most talented teams in the league when closer to full strength.

Given that, I was expecting to take the Saints in this one, even as 7.5-point home favorites over a capable Panthers team that has been competitive in all of their games, but the Saints are going to be without their top-2 wide receivers this week. They have gotten tight end Jared Cook, defensive end Marcus Davenport, and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore (among others) back from injuries that cost them time earlier this season, but I like the Panthers chances of keeping this one close enough to cover.

New Orleans Saints 31 Carolina Panthers 26

Pick against the spread: Carolina +7.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (5-1) at Denver Broncos (2-3)

The Broncos just got their second win of the season last week, but they’re a lot better than their record suggests, as they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league thus far. The Broncos did get to play the Jets, but they beat them pretty easily and they’ve also played the Buccaneers, Steelers, Titans, and Patriots and have lost by more than one score just once. They benefited from the Patriots not having a lot of practice time and missing key players on the offensive line, but that was still an impressive win last week in New England. The Broncos’ offense has struggled, but head coach Vic Fangio has once again coached up a defense that is outplaying expectations (1st in first down rate allowed at 30.86%) and, when adjusted for schedule, the Broncos rank 14th with a +1.62% first down rate differential.

The Broncos have done that despite significant injury problems and they are starting to get healthy. Starting quarterback Drew Lock has thrown just 37.3% of the team’s pass attempts this season, with bottom of the roster caliber quarterbacks playing in his absence, and Lock will also get a trio of weapons back this week that he didn’t have last week in wide receiver KJ Hamler, tight end Noah Fant, and running back Melvin Gordon. Even their defense is getting reinforcements with top outside cornerback AJ Bouye and starting defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones both set to return this week. Even if their defense can’t continue to outperform its talent likely significantly, the Broncos’ offense should improve enough to compensate.

The Broncos schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Chiefs coming to town, but they should be able to play the Chiefs close like they have most of their tough opponents this season, especially since the Chiefs are heading in the opposite direction injury wise. Already without starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins and starting guard Kelechi Osemele last week, the Chiefs will be without their top offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz this week. The Chiefs should still win this game, but this line is way too high at 8. Even going against Pat Mahomes, the Broncos should be a safe bet this week.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 Denver Broncos 20

Pick against the spread: Denver +8

Confidence: High

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

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1)

This is yet another uninteresting Thursday Night Football game the NFL has scheduled, although it’s understandable how the NFL thought this might be an interesting game, as it’s a divisional game between a team that has been good in recent years and a team that some thought was up-and-coming. However, the Eagles were not as talented coming into this season as they’ve been in recent years and they’ve been decimated by injury, while the Giants have also had injury problems and have not seen their young players develop as expected, particularly second year quarterback Daniel Jones and rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas. As a result, both teams have just one win, although in the horrendous NFC East, that means they’re right in the thick of the race, making this a meaningful game, if not a particularly interesting one.

I don’t feel strongly on this game, but I do think this line is a little high at 4.5, as the Eagles are so banged up and shouldn’t be favored by this many points over anyone except the Jets. They’ll get right tackle Lane Johnson and wide receiver DeSean Jackson back this week, but they lose tight end Zach Ertz, running back Miles Sanders, and defensive tackle Malik Jackson and are still missing several other offensive linemen and pass catchers. My calculated line is Philadelphia -3 and I think the most likely result is the Eagles winning by a field goal, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were able to win by more than that either. 

Philadelphia Eagles 23 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +4.5

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)

I have been considering this as my Pick of the Week all week and, with good injury news coming in on Saturday, I think this makes the most sense of my top options this week, for several reasons. For one, I think this line is way off, favoring the Cardinals by 1.5 points on the road in Dallas, where the Cowboys will have something resembling a crowd in the stands. This line was at Dallas -3 a week ago and, while it’s certainly understandable that Dak Prescott’s injury would cause this line to move, there have been some other injury developments in this game since last week, with the Cardinals losing top edge defender and pass rusher Chandler Jones and the Cowboys likely to get top linebacker Leighton Vander Esch back from a 4-game absence, which is the injury news that solidified this pick for me.

As much as Prescott’s injury hurts the Cowboys, they at least have a capable experienced backup in Andy Dalton behind him, as opposed to the Cardinals, who severely lack pass rush talent without Jones, who was one of the best pass rushers in the game. Dalton has plenty of weapons around him on this offense and the Cardinals don’t have the edge defenders to take advantage of the Cowboys’ missing offensive tackles, so the Cowboys should still be able to move the ball with relative ease in this one. Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense should have a much better chance of slowing down the Cardinals with Vander Esch back in the lineup. I have the Cowboys about 1.5 points better than the Cardinals in my roster rankings, suggesting the Cowboys should be at least field goal favorites at home with some homefield advantage.

The Cowboys are also in a much better spot. While they also have an easy trip to Washington on deck, the Cardinals have to turn around and host the undefeated Seahawks in a major divisional game and they could easily look past the Cowboys as a result, especially with Dalton under center. Underdogs are 118-68 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be favorites, including 11-2 ATS as home underdogs before being road favorites when their opponent will next be home underdogs. That should all be true here. Add in the additional motivation the Cowboys will have to silence doubters and win this one for Dak and I like their chances a lot in this one. Tampa Bay would probably be my Pick of the Week if not for Vander Esch, but the Cowboys are my top pick this week.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Arizona Cardinals 24 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Dallas +1.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-1)

Both of these teams started the season 4-0, but both teams also had disappointing results last week, with the Bills getting blown out on the road by fellow undefeated Tennessee by score of 42-16 and the Chiefs getting upset in shocking fashion at home against a middling Raiders team by score of 40-32. The odds makers seem more concerned about the Titans’ result, as this line has shifted from favoring the Chiefs by 3 points on the early line to now favoring the Chiefs by 5, but the Bills’ disappointing result was more excusable, seeing as they were missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White, top linebacker Matt Milano, and starting wide receiver John Brown, who could all return this week. The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be without starting guard Kelechi Osemele and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

I still have this line calculated at Kansas City -3, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills, but I’m no longer considering this for Pick of the Week, like I was when it seemed like Brown, White, and Milano would almost definitely return. All three practiced all week, but they’re still listed questionable and Brown and Milano were both downgraded to limited on Saturday after full practices all week. My calculated line factors in them all being questionable, but if one of them were to miss, my calculated line would increase, and vice versa if all three were able to play. If the latter ends up being the case, I’ll probably bet on Buffalo, perhaps for a larger wager, but this is a low confidence pick for now. If I decide to bet this one, it’ll be before gametime, when inactives are announced.

Update: Brown will play, but Milano won’t. It’s not ideal, but this line has moved up to 6 in some places. If you can get 6, I think that’s worth a bet. My calculated line is still -3 and this should be a close game.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Buffalo Bills 30

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +6

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (1-4) at New England Patriots (2-2)

This game looks like it is finally going to be played. It was originally scheduled to be played last week, but due to the Patriots’ COVID outbreak, the game was moved to week 6 and week 5 was made a bye week for these two teams. The Patriots had an additional COVID positive on Friday, but it appears to be an isolated case and, without a good re-scheduling option, the NFL will play this game this week, barring any further positives.

The Broncos get starting quarterback Drew Lock back for the first time since he injured his throwing shoulder in week 2, but the Patriots definitely benefit the most from the additional time off, as it allowed them to get starting quarterback Cam Newton and top cornerback Stephon Gilmore back from the COVID list and those are probably the Patriots’ most important players on either side of the ball. The additional positive test also doesn’t hurt the Patriots in this game because it was a reserve offensive lineman who was unlikely to see the field on offense. 

The Patriots are just 2-2, but, now with their key players back, they’re much better than their record suggests. Their two losses both came on the road against two of the better teams in the league in Seattle and Kansas City. The Seattle game came down to a goal line stop and the Patriots arguably would have won in Kansas City if they had Cam Newton starting that game rather than Brian Hoyer, as their defense managed to hold the Chiefs’ offense to just two offensive touchdowns all game. Their two wins, meanwhile, were both convincing victories by double digits over the Dolphins and Raiders.

The Broncos are much more in line with the Dolphins and Raiders than the Seahawks and Chiefs, but they’re better than their 1-4 record would suggest, so we’re not really getting line value with the Patriots as 9-point home favorites, especially with the Patriots being one of the few teams in the league to still not have any fans in their stadium. The Broncos have been ravaged by injury this season, even beyond the injury to their starting quarterback, as Lock will be missing his #1 receiver Courtland Sutton and their defense is without stud edge defender Von Miller, talented defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and expected top cornerback AJ Bouye, but their defense is still very well coached by Vic Fangio and ranks 2nd in the league with a 31.67% first down rate allowed. 

Given those absences, it’s unlikely the Broncos’ defense will be able to keep that rate up all season, but any decline on defense could be offset by improvement on offense if Lock can return healthy and progress going forward after 7 career starts. My calculated line is actually only New England -7, giving the Patriots a 6-point advantage over the Broncos and a point for their nominal homefield advantage.

Unfortunately, this is a bad spot for the Broncos, as they have another tough game on deck against the Chiefs, a game in which they are currently 9-point home underdogs on the early line. Teams are 44-106 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, including 17-44 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown or more before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, like the Broncos are this week. It’s very tough for an inferior team to keep a game close against a much better opponent when they have another tough game on deck. For that reason, I’m taking the Patriots, but you could make arguments for both sides in this game, as the Broncos’ well coached defense could easily be able to keep this game close.

New England Patriots 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: New England -9

Confidence: None