Week 8 Edition
*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: 60-46-1 (.565)
Last Week: 8-6-1
Spread: 60-42-5 (.579)
Last Week: 7-7-1
Over/Under: 53-54 (.495)
Last Week: 8-7
Locks: 17-5 (.772)
Last Week: 3-0
Best Bets: 53-41 (.564)
Last Week: 9-8
*Note- Thursday Night Prediction for Jaguars vs Titans was Tennessee 24-17; no best bets were placed for this game
Washington Redskins (4-3) vs Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
Spread: CIN -3 Over/Under: 48.5
’16 DVOA: WAS (15) > CIN (16)
Public Betting: CIN 72%
Key Stat: Cincinnati is averaging 6.6 yards per play in their last three games, tied for second in the NFL
Injuries to key Washington players such as Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Matt Jones, and Jordan Reed make this game tough to call. Jones has already been ruled out, but Norman and Reed have at least been cleared to travel to London even after sustaining concussions in recent weeks. I’d feel more confident making a prediction if I knew the status of each of those players, but I’ll side with the healthier Bengals. Cincinnati’s offense has been stellar in recent weeks and they’re going up against a shaky Redskins defense ranked 26th in defensive yards per drive that could be without its top corners in Norman and Breeland.
Cincinnati 29, Washington 23
Detroit Lions (4-3) vs Houston Texans (4-3)
Spread: HOU -2.5 Over/Under: 45.5
’16 DVOA: DET (28) > HOU (30)
Public Betting: DET 56%
Key Stat: Houston’s sack percentage has dropped 10.53% (second in the NFL) to only 5.43% in their last three games without J.J. Watt
Matthew Stafford articles were everywhere this week! Good news for him, his recent success should continue. The Texans clearly miss J.J. Watt. Plus, Bill O’Brien doesn’t know what to do with the struggling Brock Osweiler. The only thing preventing me from picking the Lions to blowout the Texans, however, is their defense: When you’re dead last in defensive DVOA, you’re not a sure-bet to beat any team. Nonetheless, I like the Lions because Matthew Stafford has been thriving in recent weeks and I think their defense will do more than enough to keep the vaunted Houston offense in check.
Detroit 24, Houston 17
Seattle Seahawks (4-1-1) vs New Orleans Saints (2-4)
Spread: SEA -2.5 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: SEA (2) > NO (20)
Public Betting: SEA 54%
Key Stat: Seattle is first in defensive DVOA, but they’ve played the league’s easiest slate of offenses
Seattle reminded everyone last Sunday night that their defense is still terrific. Having said that, we’ll occasionally see a few breakdowns in that terrific secondary–refer back to the success Matt Ryan was able to have against the Seahawks two weeks ago for a reminder. New Orleans has a comparable offense to the Falcons, and they play markedly better in the Superdome, where they’re averaging over 35 points per game this year and 29.1 since 2014. Russell Wilson is still nursing a knee injury, making keeping up with the potent Saints that much more difficult.
New Orleans 30, Seattle 24
New England Patriots (6-1) vs Buffalo Bills (4-3)
Spread: NE -6.5 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: NE (4) > BUF (9)
Public Betting: NE 88%
Key Stat: Buffalo managed only 267 yards with a hobbled LeSean McCoy last week at Miami
Before I explain why the Patriots will win this game, let me outline a few reasons why Buffalo is an intriguing pick to cover the spread. First, they’re an underdog in a divisional game. Teams in these situations are 21-9-4 ATS in 2016. Home underdogs–like the Bills are on Sunday–in these divisional battles have been even more successful, posting a 10-2 record through seven weeks. Moreover, Buffalo is an underdog despite their top ten ranking in DVOA. In the last two weeks, top ten DVOA underdogs are 4-0 ATS, with Philadelphia and Seattle being the two teams that covered last weekend.
Of course, Buffalo already beat the Patriots in Week 4 as well. But, as we know, things have changed since then. Tom Brady is back and playing at an MVP-level while LeSean McCoy, Buffalo’s best offensive weapon, is doubtful due to a hamstring injury. Points have been hard to come by for Tyrod Taylor and the Bills in their last three meetings with the Patriots. It will be virtually impossible for them to keep pace without McCoy.
New England 34, Buffalo 20
New York Jets (2-5) vs Cleveland Browns (0-7)
Spread: NYJ -3 Over/Under: 44
’16 DVOA: NYJ (31) < CLE (32)
Public Betting: NYJ 66%
Key Stat: The Browns have averaged 22 points per game with Josh McCown as their starter since 2015 as opposed to 15.4 per game without him
I smell disaster for the Jets. Despite being backed by the majority of the betting public, they have a lot of key players listed on their injury report. And it’s not like Cleveland is that much worse: The Jets are only marginally better as measured by DVOA, and New York still doesn’t have a formidable secondary to slow down a passing offense as mediocre as Cleveland’s. Having said that, Josh McCown is the best quarterback the Browns have, so I think they’ll have success through the air. Cleveland’s month of owning the sports world ends with a bang! A Browns win! (Oh, and maybe a World Series, too.)
Cleveland 27, New York 24
Oakland Raiders (5-2) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3)
Spread: Pick ’em Over/Under: 49.5
’16 DVOA: OAK (18) > TB (24)
Public Betting: OAK 77%
Key Stat: Oakland’s defense ranks last in opponent yards per play
Tampa Bay’s offense ranks near the bottom in yards per play. But as I said last week, that figure is deceptive because they had two horrific performances against Arizona and Denver, two of the best defenses in football. Last week, against a subpar San Francisco team, the Buccaneers piled up points in bunches and finished the day averaging 7.0 yards a clip.
They face a similar defense in Oakland–the question is whether the Raiders have enough offensive firepower to match them. I think they do. Jack del Rio kept his team in Florida after last week’s game against Jacksonville to avoid another cross-country trip, so I expect the Raiders to be ready to play. Derek Carr will continue his Pro Bowl-caliber season and he’ll get help from Latavius Murray–now healthy coming off an injury–as the Raiders move to 6-2.
Oakland 28, Tampa Bay 26
Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) vs Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
Spread: KC -3 Over/Under: 49.5
’16 DVOA: KC (12) > IND (27)
Public Betting: KC 64%
Key Stat: Andrew Luck has been sacked at a higher rate than any other quarterback in 2016 (8.31%)
The Chiefs offense has feasted on some of the league’s worst defenses in the last two weeks (Oakland, New Orleans). They catch another break again this weekend, as Indianapolis has allowed the third most points per drive and the fifth most yards in the NFL. On the offensive side of the ball, the Colts struggle to protect Andrew Luck. The question, however, will be whether Kansas City’s below-average pass rush–they’re 29th in QB sack percentage–will even get to him. For that reason, I think the Colts offense can hang around even though they’re up against an otherwise stout Kansas City defense. It won’t make a ton of difference in the end, though. Kansas City will put up more than enough points.
Kansas City 27, Indianapolis 21
Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1) vs Carolina Panthers (1-5)
Spread: CAR -3 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: ARZ (10) > CAR (22)
Public Betting: ARZ (57%)
Key Stat: Arizona is 25th in yards per pass attempt
Much has been said about Carolina’s surprising 1-5 start, especially when it comes to its pass defense, which has allowed the 7th most passing yards through seven weeks. But let’s really examine Carolina’s defensive woes. They’ve played two teams ranked in the top ten in yards per play, Atlanta and New Orleans. Against those two teams, they allowed an average of 8.1 yards per play and over 10.5 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers are horrific. However, when the Panthers have gone up against weaker offenses like Minnesota and Tampa Bay, they’ve been much better, allowing only 4.6 yards play and 5.8 yards per pass attempt in their four games against offenses not considered to be elite.
The question, therefore, is whether Arizona has a great offense. I don’t think they do. The Cardinals have one of the better running backs in the league in second-year man David Johnson, but their passing offense has been out of sync in 2016. Coming off a brutal tie against Seattle, I also doubt that Arizona will be as mentally prepared as they need to be to take on a desperate Carolina team in their own backyard. Despite their flaws, Carolina will sneak by.
Carolina 24, Arizona 23
San Diego Chargers (3-4) vs Denver Broncos (5-2)
Spread: DEN -4.5 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: SD (11) < DEN (3)
Public Betting: SD 53%
Key Stat: In San Diego’s 4 losses, their turnover margin is -4; in their 3 wins, it’s +1
For San Diego, better luck in close games was inevitable after their agonizing 1-4 start. Yet the two main reasons for their turnaround involve more than just luck. They’ve protected the ball better. For instance, San Diego faltered late in their Week 4 game against New Orleans when they carelessly gave the ball away twice in the final minutes en route to a 35-34 loss. Similarly, they fell the next week to Oakland after turning it over four times. The Chargers have minimized mistakes in their last two victories; and yet, as evidenced by the fact that their turnover margin against Denver and Atlanta was only -1, they still have more room to grow.
The other reason is their defense. Since inserting Joey Bosa, who is already climbing the leaderboard in QB pressures and hurries on a limited snap count, into their lineup, the Chargers have improved to the point where their defense is no longer as much of a weakness. Moreover, their is a large discrepancy between the amount of yards San Diego allows per drive (8th fewest in the league) and the subsequent number of points per drive (21st). They could see some regression to the mean in the coming weeks.
Clearly the Chargers have even more room for improvement as the season moves along. With even ball protection and more progress on the defensive side of the ball, San Diego will take their hot-streak into Denver and upset the Broncos.
San Diego 24, Denver 20
Green Bay Packers (4-2) vs Atlanta Falcons (4-3)
Spread: ATL -3 Over/Under: 52.5
’16 DVOA: GB (6) < ATL (5)
Public Betting: ATL 55%
Key Stat: Green Bay has ranked in the top ten in every season that Aaron Rodgers has been the full-time starter; they’re only 22nd through the first seven weeks of 2016
What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers? Um….not a ton, really. Sure, his yards per pass attempt totals are down and he’s not playing at the absurdly-high level we’ve grown accustomed to. But the two-time MVP is still 5th in QBR and has only posted two below-average performances, one against Dallas a couple of weeks ago and the other against a tremendous Minnesota defense.
However, one critical thing I will say about Rodgers’ performance thus far is that he hasn’t protected the ball very well. This is a quarterback that has the NFL’s lowest interception percentage since 2010, too. So what’s the reason for his four INT’s and three lost fumbles thus far? I’m not sure. Yet what I do know is that I’m going to take the much larger sample size over the small, six-game window we have to judge Rodgers in 2016. I like Green Bay’s offense to roll through Atlanta’s pedestrian defense.
Green Bay 34, Atlanta 24
Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) vs Dallas Cowboys (5-1)
Spread: DAL -4.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: PHI (1) > DAL (8)
Public Betting: DAL 64%
Key Stat: Dallas’s offense is averaging the most yards per drive in the NFL (41.1)
I hope all the talk about the NFL ratings suffering due to lackluster primetime games ends this Sunday night. For the first time, we’ll get to see the two rookie quarterbacks everyone’s been talking about, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, square off with first place in the NFC East on the line. Yet the rookies aren’t the only intriguing component of this game. I’m curious to see how Philadelphia’s stout defense stands up to Dallas’s highly-efficient offense. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and the rest of the Eagles front seven should be able to hold their own against the Cowboys’ dominant offensive line. However, the same could’ve been said about Green Bay’s number one ranked rushing defense until they were man-handled by Dallas two weeks ago.
Philadelphia is strong enough on both sides of the ball to keep this game very close and cover the spread. Yet the reasons to pick the Eagles +4.5 go beyond that. For starters, betting on them would mean you’re positioned on the same side as the house given that a majority of the betting public likes Dallas. Moreover, Philadelphia is an underdog in a divisional contest as well as a higher DVOA underdog. As I said earlier, higher DVOA underdogs, particularly one’s ranked in the top ten, represent enormous value against the spread.
With that said, I’ve been high on Dallas for weeks now. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I said the Cowboys were the second best team in the NFC, and I got crap for it. I’m not giving up the ship.
Dallas 27, Philadelphia 24
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week Eight…
- Teaser: CINCINNATI (+3.5) over Washington & CIN vs WSH OVER 42
- DETROIT (+125) over Houston
- Seattle vs New Orleans OVER 48
- New England vs Buffalo OVER 47.5
- NEW ENGLAND (-240) over Buffalo
- Oakland vs Tampa Bay OVER 49.5
- KANSAS CITY (-3) over Indianapolis
- Teaser: ARIZONA (+9) over Carolina & Kansas City vs Indianapolis OVER 43.5
- CAROLINA (-155) over Arizona
- SAN DIEGO (+4.5) over Denver
- GREEN BAY (+3) over Atlanta
- PHILADELPHIA (+4.5) over Dallas
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Sunday recap, in which I’ll preview the Monday night game between the Vikings and Bears.