Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

The Eagles got off to a disappointing 2-3 start, but it was clear they could easily turn it around. Those three losses came by a combined 11 points, with the Eagles winning the first down rate battle in two of them, and they still had one of the most talented teams in the league on paper. Last week, the Eagles looked much more like their Super Bowl team from 2017, blowing out the Giants 34-13 in New York on Thursday Night Football. Despite the slow start, the Eagles rank 4th in first down rate differential at +5.17% overall on the season, so they could easily go on a big run.

That big victory shifted this line significantly, as the Eagles were mere 3-point favorites on the early line in this home game against the Panthers and are now 4.5-point favorites, a big line movement, considering about 1 in 5 games are decided by 3 or 4 points. That being said, I think we’re still getting some line value with the Eagles, who are significantly better than a middling Panthers team that ranks 15th in first down rate differential at +1.50% and 10th in my roster rankings. I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7, so the Eagles are worth a bet.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4.5

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-2)

The Ravens are probably the team I was most wrong on coming into the season, as they’ve proven to be much improved on both sides of the ball. Their defense put up good numbers in 2017, but they also played 6 backup quarterbacks, which made their numbers look better than how they actually played. In 2018, the Ravens already have wins against the Broncos, Steelers, and Titans, all capable opponents, with their two losses coming on the road in Cleveland and Cincinnati in games in which they were competitive in the first down rate battle.

Despite a decent schedule, the Ravens have statistically been the top defense in the league through 6 weeks, allowing a 27.52% first down rate, and it hasn’t been close, as 2nd ranked Jacksonville allows a 31.28% first down rate. In 6 games, they’ve allowed just 93 first downs and 8 offensive touchdowns. Offensively, they haven’t been great, but they still rank 17th in first down rate, a big improvement over last year’s stagnant unit, and more than good enough to win games the way their defense is playing.

That being said, I think we’re still getting some line value with the visiting Saints this week, as 3 point underdogs. This line suggests these two teams are about equal, but the Saints are one of the top few teams in the league and I don’t quite put the Ravens in their class, especially with top cornerback Marlon Humphrey questionable after getting hurt in practice this week. This line shifted from Baltimore -1 on the early line to Baltimore -3 this week, a big line movement considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, as a result of the Ravens’ shutout win in Tennessee last week, but the Saints are a much tougher test, even if this one is back in Baltimore. The Saints, who have been on a roll since getting off to one of their trademark slow starts, are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 24 Baltimore Ravens 23 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)

Going into the season, the Browns were high on my underrated list. Their defense has possibly exceeded my expectations, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 34.17%, but their offense has struggled mightily, ranking 30th in first down rate at 29.71%, only ahead of the Cardinals and Bills. Both quarterbacks they’ve started have been inconsistent at best and their supporting cast hasn’t been much help, especially their banged up receiving corps. As a result of their struggling offense, the Browns rank 28th in first down rate differential at -4.47%.

The Browns have a 2-3-1 record and have been competitive in every game until last week’s blowout loss at home to the Chargers, but that’s largely because they rank tied for first in the NFL in turnover margin at +7. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis, so the Browns won’t necessarily be able to count on that going forward. One of the reasons I liked the Browns coming into the year was that I expected them to improve drastically on their abysmal -28 turnover margin from 2017, but I wouldn’t expect them to keep up their current pace for the rest of the season.

The Browns defense also takes a big hit this week with the loss of every down linebacker Joe Schobert with injury. Fortunately for them, they have one of their easier opponents this week, as they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers. Even at full health, the Buccaneers are a mediocre team because of a horrendous defense that ranks 31st in first down rate allowed at 46.08%, but they will also be without two of their better defensive players, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Vinny Curry, with injury this week, making matters even worse. As bad as the Browns’ offense has been this season, they shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against this defense.

Despite the Buccaneers’ injuries, this line has shifted significantly in Tampa Bay’s favor in the last week, moving from Tampa Bay -1.5 on the early line to Tampa Bay -3.5 this week, crossing over the ultimate key number of 3. The Browns didn’t look good at home last week against the Chargers and Schobert’s absence will likely be a big deal, but, at the very least, these two teams are about even as currently constructed, so we’re getting some line value with the visitors. It’s not enough to bet the Browns this week, but they have a good chance to keep this within a field goal or to pull the straight up upset.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Cleveland Browns 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5)

Last week, the 49ers played on Monday Night Football in Green Bay. I picked the Packers for a high confidence pick as 9.5 point home favorites, as they were going into a bye and seemed like the significantly better team. However, the 49ers surprised a lot of people and made it a game, losing by just 3 points, 33-30, in a game in which 49ers backup quarterback CJ Beathard matched Aaron Rodgers point for point until the very end, when Rodgers pulled off a game winning drive.

Many, including myself, completely wrote the 49ers off when they lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season, but, while they’re not going to contend for anything at 1-5 with a backup quarterback, their offense has actually played pretty well since turning to Beathard, as they’ve had a first down rate of at least 38% in all 3 of Beathard’s starts and still rank 9th in the NFL on the season in first down rate at 40.26% even without Garoppolo. Their defense hasn’t been great, ranking 24th in first down rate allowed at 37.94%, but they still rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.32%.

Their record won’t show they’ve played well, but none of their losses have come by more than 11 points, so they aren’t getting blown out, and they’ve played both the Chargers and Packers within a field goal on the road with Beathard under center. That’s all despite the fact that they are dead last with a -11 turnover margin on the season. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and basis, as teams, on average, tend to have a turnover margin of about +0.0 per game, regardless of what their turnover margin was in the previous game.

Even if the 49ers don’t play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they’re highly unlikely to continue losing the turnover margin by close to 2 turnovers per game. At their current rate, they are on pace for a turnover margin of -29 on the season, which would be the worst turnover margin in recent memory, even worse than the -28 mark the winless Browns finished with last season (the 2000 Chargers also had a -28 turnover margin in a 1-15 season). Beathard has had issues with turnovers, but he’s also shown a lot of arm talent, completing 64.0% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Beathard has played well. After all, he was a 3rd round pick last year, hand selected by new head coach Kyle Shanahan, who saw him as the potential future of this franchise before the opportunity to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo presented itself. Beathard is a great fit in Shanahan’s scheme and his supporting cast is also playing at a high level, thanks in large part to Shanahan’s coaching.

Unfortunately, it seems I’m not the only one who has been impressed by Beathard so far, as this line shifted from Rams -12.5 on the early line last week to -9.5 this week, undoubtedly as a result of the 49ers’ near win in Green Bay on national television. At +12.5, the 49ers would have been a no brainer, but we’ve lost a lot of line value at +9.5, as I have this line calculated at 7.5. The 49ers have a good chance to keep this one relatively close at home, especially since the Rams’ defense has not been as good since losing cornerback Aqib Talib to injury a few weeks ago, but I’d need at least 10 points to bet money on the 49ers. If this line moves back up closer to gametime, I will reconsider.

Los Angeles Rams 31 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +9.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (1-5)

After being blown out in the first two weeks of the season by a combined 55 points against the Ravens and Chargers, the Bills have played better football in recent weeks, going 3-1 ATS, pulling off two upset victories (@ Minnesota and vs. Tennessee) and nearly pulling off a third last week in Houston. The defense has been the reason for their improvement and they are now up to 12th in first down rate allowed at 35.45%.

That’s about where the good news ends for the Bills though. Even with an improved defense, the Bills have yet to win the first down rate battle in any of their 6 games, even their two wins, and they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -10.31%. The defense has been solid, but the offense has been horrendous, ranking dead last in first down rate, picking up a first down or touchdown on just 25.14% of offensive snaps.

Making matters worse offensively, the Bills lost starting quarterback Josh Allen for an extended period of time with an elbow injury. Allen was not playing well before the injury, but this offense’s problems go far beyond the quarterback position and, thanks to their bizarre pre-season trade of AJ McCarron to the Raiders for a 5th round pick, the Bills are completely without an even remotely capable backup. Second year quarterback Nathan Peterman has not resembled an NFL quarterback in limited action thus far in his career, so the Bills will have to turn to veteran Derek Anderson, who is 35 years old, hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2010, and just arrived in Buffalo last week. He’ll likely get better as he spends more time with his new teammates, but if Anderson is an upgrade over Peterman this week, it’ll only be by default.

Despite the Allen injury, this line barely moved from last week to this week, as the Colts were 5.5 point favorites on the early line and are now favored by a touchdown. The Colts have injury problems too, but they’ve had them for most of the season and they are actually getting healthier, with left tackle Anthony Castonzo returning two weeks ago against New England, running back Marlon Mack returning last week, and wide receiver TY Hilton and defensive tackle Margus Hunt returning this week.

The Colts are still missing key players like tight end Jack Doyle and defensive tackle Denico Autry, but even without those two I still have this line calculated at Indianapolis -10, so we’re getting good line value with the Colts at -7. The Colts are just 1-5 on the season, but 3 of the 5 losses came by 8 points or fewer, with their other losses coming against the Bengals, who got a late return touchdown to push the margin of victory to multiple scores, and the Patriots, who are one of the better teams in the league.

The Colts are also in a much better spot. While they have another easy game on deck against the Raiders, the Bills have to turn around and play the Patriots on Monday Night Football next week, a game in which they are 10.5 point home underdogs on the early line. Big underdogs tend to struggle before being big underdogs again, going 46-65 ATS as underdogs of 6+ before being underdogs of 6+ the following week, and teams in general tend to struggle before big home games, going 30-54 ATS before being home underdogs of 6+.

All three of the Bills’ covers have come against opponents in bad spots. The Vikings were coming off of a tie with the Packers and had another game against the Rams in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. The Titans were coming off of an overtime upset win over the Eagles and had another tough game against the Ravens on deck. The Texans were coming off of an overtime win over the Cowboys and had a trip to Jacksonville on deck.

This week, it’s the Bills in a bad spot. With a quarterback that just arrived last week with a much bigger game on deck, the Bills could easily not give their best effort and if they don’t they won’t have much chance of keeping this one close. In a week without a good top choice (I may not have any other high confidence picks), the Colts are my Pick of the Week, as they should be able to hand the Bills their 4th double digit loss of the year and their 9th since the start of the 2017 season.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Buffalo Bills 10

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (1-5)

The Broncos are a tough team to evaluate. They won their first 2 games, but by a combined 4 points against the Seahawks and Raiders. Since then, they’ve lost their last 4, but they’ve also been competitive with both the Chiefs and the Rams, who are two of the best teams in the league. They lost by double digits in both Baltimore and New York, but Baltimore has played at a high level this year as well, while that Jets loss came in a terrible spot, sandwiched between the Chiefs and Rams on their schedule. They’ve also won the first down rate battle in 4 of 6 games and have a +3.01% first down rate differential on the season, with 133 first downs to 118 allowed, and they rank 13th in DVOA as well.

On paper, this is a solid team talentwise and one that shouldn’t have much trouble covering against a terrible Arizona team in a game they pretty much just have to win to cover as 1.5-point road favorites. However, they’re also poorly coached and have been prone to let down games following big games, like the one they had last week against the Rams, especially on the road, where they are just 1-8 (1-8 ATS) under head coach Vance Joseph. I’m taking the Broncos, but I can’t take them with any confidence.

Denver Broncos 20 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: Denver -1.5

Confidence: None

2018 Week 6 NFL Pick Results

Week 5

Total Against the Spread: 9-5-1

Pick of the Week: 0-0-1

High Confidence Picks: 0-2

Medium Confidence Picks: 3-1

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 3-3-1

Low Confidence Picks: 2-2

No Confidence Picks: 4-0

Upset Picks: 1-2

2018

Total Against the Spread: 54-36-3

Pick of the Week: 2-3-1

High Confidence Picks: 7-5

Medium Confidence Picks: 19-9

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 28-17-1

Low Confidence Picks: 9-9

No Confidence Picks: 17-10-2

Upset Picks: 8-9-1

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 739-635-39 (53.68%)

Pick of the Week: 53-37-3 (58.60%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 358-263-15 (57.47%)

Upset Picks: 115-145-1 (44.25%)