Tom Brady finally makes his long-awaited return, three undefeated teams look to stay unbeaten, and a terrific Sunday night matchup between the Packers and Giants looks to steal the attention away from Clinton/Trump II. Let’s get to the picks!
*Note – DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: It’s Football Outsiders’ primary efficiency statistic and I believe it to be the best and most predictive measure of assessing the strength of NFL teams
**Note – You may notice that on the link to Football Outsiders’ DVOA page, I will consult another statistic called DAVE. Simply put, DAVE is DVOA, only with preseason projections factored in.
***Note – All betting odds courtesy of Bovada
****Note – Public betting refers to the amount of wagers taken on the spread
Records to Date
Straight Up: 35-28 (LW: 7-8)
Spread: 37-23-3 (LW: 6-9)
Over/Under: 30-33 (LW: 9-6)
Locks: 7-4 (LW: 1-1)
Best Bets: 25-20 (LW: 3-8)
Houston Texans (3-1) vs Minnesota Vikings (4-0)
Spread: MIN -7 Over/Under: 40.5
’16 DVOA: HOU (29) < MIN (5)
Public Betting: MIN 71%
Key Stat: Both defenses rank in the top four in points allowed per drive
Everyone is high on the Vikings after their 4-0 start, and for good reason. They’ve looked outstanding on defense and Sam Bradford has played better than anyone could have predicted through four games. However, I’m skeptical that Minnesota can continue to avoid turning the ball over. Turnovers are widely considered to be one of the most random elements in football, so I find it hard to imagine that the Vikings will continue to avoid turning the ball over at their current clip. This week, they face a Texans defense ranked first in the NFL in defensive drive success rate (albeit against the league’s 26th hardest schedule) that I think could give Minnesota a game. I’ll take Minnesota to win but Houston with the points.
*Minnesota 21, Houston 16
Tennessee Titans (1-3) vs Miami Dolphins (1-3)
Spread: MIA -3.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: TEN (26) > MIA (27)
Public Betting: TEN 66%
Key Stat: Ryan Tannehill has been sacked on 7.38% of dropbacks, but Tennessee is only 24th in sack percentage
The Dolphins have been mediocre offensively aside from a strong second half against New England. Even though they are averaging 5.9 yards per play, which is good for 5th in the league, they’re 30th in yards per drive. In other words, they are capable of making the big play, but their offense tends to sputter on a majority of their possessions. Today they’ll play a Tennessee team that is pesky on defense, but leaves much to be desired offensively. Jarvis Landry and company will do just enough to move to 2-3, but it will be close.
Miami 24, Tennessee 21
New England Patriots (3-1) vs Cleveland Browns (0-4)
Spread: NE -11 Over/Under: 47
’16 DVOA: NE (7) > CLE (32)
Public Betting: NE 86%
Key Stat: New England defense ranks 21st in yards, but 5th in points per drive
Tom Brady returns to play a weak Browns defense and he projects to have most of his key playmakers listed on this week’s injury report–Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman being the two that stand out–active. I’d still be a tad skeptical of the Patriots blowing out the Browns, though. Betting on road favorites of more than a touchdown is usually a losing proposition and New England failed to cover a single double digit spread in 2013 and 2014. Nonetheless, I think Brady will find his rhythm as the game progresses. He’ll throw three touchdowns by day’s end.
*New England 31, Cleveland 14
New York Jets (1-3) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
Spread: PIT -8 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: NYJ (30) < PIT (2)
Public Betting: PIT 79%
Key Stat: Pittsburgh ranked first in offensive DVOA
I’ll make this short and simple: Pittsburgh’s offense is great and the New York’s defense is not great. The Jets’ secondary has been lit up by every quarterback they have faced this season. I find it hard to imagine they will slow down Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, even if the Jets’ offense delivers one of its unexpectedly great performances.
*Pittsburgh 35, New York 28
Washington Redskins (2-2) vs Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
Spread: BAL -4 Over/Under: 45.5
’16 DVOA: WSH (18) < BAL (9)
Public Betting: WSH 52%
Key Stat: The Redskins are third in the NFL in yards per play
Kirk Cousins hasn’t played as well as he did in the second half of last season, but that hasn’t slowed down the Washington offense. If anything, this unit has been better in 2016, as they’re 2nd in the NFL in yards per drive and 6th in points per drive. Based on what I saw Derek Carr do to the Ravens last week, I also think Baltimore’s defense is weaker than the stats indicate. I don’t know why I’m picking the Redskins to win for the fifth week in a row, but I think they are a little stronger than the Ravens.
Washington 23, Baltimore 21
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) vs Detroit Lions (1-3)
Spread: PHI -3 Over/Under: 46
’16 DVOA: PHI (3) > DET (22)
Public Betting: PHI 76%
Key Stat: Detroit is 30th in Net Defensive Drive Success Rate
Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense has feasted on opposing defenses this year. Now they’ll face a Lions team ranked dead last in defensive DVOA. Philadelphia also has an edge because they should be rested coming off a bye.
Philadelphia 24, Detroit 13
Chicago Bears (1-3) vs Indianapolis Colts (1-3)
Spread: IND -5 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: CHI (25) < IND (24)
Public Betting: IND 51%
Key Stat: Pro Football Focus has the Colts offensive line has been the lowest graded unit through four weeks
I always like to see matchups between teams that have met previously in Super Bowls (The Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI 29-17). Yet I think this contest might have a different outcome. The Bears rank higher in both yards per play and opponent yards per play than the Colts. In fact, they rank significantly higher, especially defensively, where Chicago is 9th and Indianapolis is 26th. Even with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, the Bears offense will move the ball against Indy and I think the Chicago pass rush can certainly make things difficult for Andrew Luck. I love the Bears at +5, but I still don’t have the balls to pick Hoyer and the Bears on the road.
Indianapolis 24, Chicago 23
Atlanta Falcons (3-1) vs Denver Broncos (4-0)
Spread: DEN -4.5 Over/Under: 46.5
’16 DVOA: ATL (14) < DEN (4)
Public Betting: DEN 58%
Key Stat: Denver is first in both opponent yards per pass attempt and opponent team passer rating
Oh look, another Super Bowl rematch! (Denver beat Atlanta 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami). This is an interesting game because we have a clear “strength vs strength” matchup. The Falcons rank first in the NFL in nearly every major offensive category while the Broncos defense continues to be the league’s best. Even though Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were able to shred Carolina’s very good defense last week, they won’t have the same success against the Broncos. Simply put, there is no better unit in the NFL than Denver’s pass defense. The problem for the Broncos, however, is that it is still unclear whether Trevor Siemian (shoulder) or Paxton Lynch will start. Given the uncertainty surrounding this game, I’d hold off betting on it; but I still have enough confidence in Denver’s defense.
Denver 23, Atlanta 21
Buffalo Bills (2-2) vs Los Angeles Rams (3-1)
Spread: LA -1 Over/Under: 39
’16 DVOA: BUF (15) > LA (20)
Public Betting: BUF 55%
Key Stat: The Rams are last in the NFL in yards per play
On one hand, I don’t want to back the Bills because their “impressive” shutout win over New England last week came against a third-string rookie quarterback who was just placed on IR for a thumb injury suffered before their game against Buffalo. With that said, Los Angeles’s offense is bad. In addition to their poor ranking in yards per play, the Rams also rank last in net drive success rate and 31st in DVOA. This is good news for the Bills defense, which has played well over the last two weeks.
Buffalo 24, Los Angeles 17
San Diego Chargers (1-3) vs Oakland Raiders (3-1)
Spread: OAK -4 Over/Under: 51.5
’16 DVOA: SD (16) < OAK (11)
Public Betting: OAK 50%
Key Stat: Oakland offensive line is ranked first in pass blocking and ninth in run blocking
The Raiders’ success starts up front. With the addition of guard Kelechi Osemele this offseason, Oakland’s offensive line is officially dominant, which explains why Derek Carr is an MVP candidate through the season’s first four weeks. I don’t see how San Diego wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. Oakland will control this one throughout.
*Oakland 30, San Diego 19
Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) vs Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
Spread: CIN -2 Over/Under: 45
’16 DVOA: CIN (12) > DAL (13)
Public Betting: CIN 65%
Key Stat: Dallas is second in the NFL in offensive drive success rate
I am very high on the Cowboys. Dak Prescott has been superb through four weeks and the Cowboys running game has allowed them to control the possession battle. Dallas’s offense, which likely won’t have Dez Bryant but will have All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith back from injury, will be too much for Andy Dalton and the Bengals to overcome, particularly with Tyler Eifert sidelined for another week.
Dallas 27, Cincinnati 24
New York Giants (2-2) vs Green Bay Packers (2-1)
Spread: GB -7 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: NYG (21) < GB (6)
Public Betting: GB 61%
Key Stat: Green Bay is allowing a league low 1.8 yards per rush attempt
That key stat I just noted is impressive. It won’t necessarily be a deciding factor tonight, but the Packers 1.8 opponent yards per rush attempt average is 1.3 yards lower than the team with the second lowest rush attempt average against. That’s damn good. Anyway, one thing that has been lost this year amid all of the Odell Beckham controversy is New York’s struggling defense: The Giants are 2nd to last in opponent sack percentage. Not being able to pressure Aaron Rodgers spells trouble for the G-Men at Lambeau.
*Green Bay 34, New York 21
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week Five…
- Houston vs Minnesota UNDER 40.5
- MINNESOTA (-260) over Houston
- Miami vs Tennessee OVER 43.5
- New York vs Pittsburgh OVER 48
- PITTSBURGH (-360) over New York
- Teaser: NEW YORK (+14.5) over Pittsburgh and CLEVELAND (+17.5) over New England
- PHILADELPHIA (-3) over Detroit
- CHICAGO (+5) over Indianapolis
- Atlanta vs Denver UNDER 46.5
- BUFFALO (+1) over Los Angeles
- Buffalo vs Los Angeles OVER 39
- OAKLAND (-180) over San Diego
- Teaser: Buffalo vs Los Angeles OVER 32.5 & Oakland vs San Diego UNDER 58
- DALLAS (+2) over Cincinnati
- Cincinnati vs Dallas OVER 45
- GREEN BAY (-290) over New York
- New York vs Green Bay OVER 48
Stay tuned tomorrow for a recap of today’s games as well as my pick for the Monday Night game between Tampa Bay and the Cam Newton-less Panthers.