Week 9 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 – All betting odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
****Note – Public betting refers to the amount of wagers taken on the spread
Records to Date
Straight Up: 67-51-2 (.567)
Last Week: 7-5-1
Spread: 66-48-6 (.575)
Last Week: 6-6-1
Over/Under: 62-58 (.517)
Last Week: 9-4
Locks: 17-5 (.772)
Last Week: 0-0
Best Bets: 60-46 (.566)
Last Week: 7-5
*Note- Thursday Night prediction for Falcons vs Buccaneers was Atlanta 27-24; no best bets were placed for this game
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) vs Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
Spread: KC -7 Over/Under: 44
’16 DVOA: JAC (28) < KC (10)
Public Betting: KC 69%
Key Stat: The Jaguars defense ranks 18th in defensive DVOA, but 7th in yards per play
What’s the deal with Jacksonville? They seemingly have the pieces in place to at least be respectable. Instead, they’ve been prone to embarrassing performances against comparable teams, as evidenced by their blowout loss to the Titans last Thursday night. However, I’m optimistic they can keep things close at Arrowhead. Kansas City is dealing with a few notable injuries, including quarterback Alex Smith and running back Spencer Ware. Jacksonville is weak against the run, but I’m not sure the Chiefs can expose that without Ware. And with Nick Foles in for Smith, Kansas City may still be able to pass effectively, but they might not control the turnover-battle like they usually do. It’s too much to expect the Jaguars to beat a superior Kansas City team, but they’ll make things interesting.
Kansas City 20, Jacksonville 17
Detroit Lions (4-4) vs Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
Spread: MIN -6 Over/Under: 41
’16 DVOA: DET (24) < MIN (8)
Public Betting: DET 71%
Key Stat: Minnesota is 31st in the NFL in yards per play over the last three weeks
Fortunately for Minnesota’s struggling offense, they face a Lions defense ranked at the very bottom in most major defensive metrics. The problem, however, is that the Vikings have a few key players already ruled out for this game (Eric Kendricks, guard Alex Boone). Plus, there’s still no indication they have figured out a better way to protect Sam Bradford. Detroit’s defense may be bad as a whole, but their front four–which features the likes of Ziggy Ansah and Haloti Ngata, is solid and could certainly pose problems for Minnesota. The Lions will keep this close, seeing that it is a divisional game. Minnesota seems to play their best at home, though. They’ll find a way to get back on track.
Minnesota 20, Detroit 17
Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) vs New York Giants (4-3)
Spread: NYG -2.5 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: PHI (1) > NYG (17)
Public Betting: PHI 65%
Key Stat: Philadelphia’s defense ranks number one in DVOA despite playing the league’s 2nd toughest slate of offenses
Philadelphia’s defense is legit. They may not be quite as good as a defense like Denver’s or Minnesota’s despite their number one ranking in DVOA, but they have had success against a few of the league’s best offenses, like Pittsburgh and Dallas. The Giants offense, on the other hand, has been quiet this season. Odell Beckham may be a nightmare matchup no matter who he plays against, but will Manning be able to find him with Philadelphia’s front-four bearing down on him? I think not. The Eagles are stronger in many statistical metrics yet they are underdogs, albeit on the road. I’m rolling with Philadelphia.
Philadelphia 23, New York 14
Dallas Cowboys (6-1) vs Cleveland Browns (0-8)
Spread: DAL -7 Over/Under: 48
’16 DVOA: DAL (2) > CLE (32)
Public Betting: DAL 79%
Key Stat: The Browns have allowed 6.0 yards per rush attempt (t-32nd in NFL) over the last three weeks
In theory, it can’t get more lopsided than this. Dallas, the league’s 2nd best team according to DVOA, versus Cleveland, the league’s worst team according to everything. As evidenced by the key stat I mentioned, the Browns can’t stop the run. Dallas, of course, is excellent on the ground, which means Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys rushing offense should have no problem moving the ball on Sunday. That should help ease Dak Prescott, who could be a little rattled given his shaky performance against the Eagles as well as the prospect of Tony Romo returning to play sooner rather than later.
*Dallas 42, Cleveland 17
New York Jets (3-5) vs Miami Dolphins (3-4)
Spread: MIA -3.5 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: NYJ (31) < MIA (18)
Public Betting: MIA 54%
Key Stat: Miami is 3rd in the NFL in yards per play
The Dolphins quietly have a good offense, particularly since they found a way to unleash Jay Ayjai in October. They face a stout Jets run defense this week, but New York might be down two integral players in Pro Bowl tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and linebacker Darron Lee. That could free up Ayjai as well as Ryan Tannehill. The fifth-year quarterback, who has posted QBR’s north of 70 since Adam Gase has made Miami more reliant on the run, also gets to take on a New York pass defense that continues to struggle. I like the Dolphins to come out on top in what is somehow their fourth consecutive home game.
Miami 27, New York 20
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) vs Baltimore Ravens (3-4)
Spread: PIT -1 Over/Under: 43.5
’16 DVOA: PIT (14) < BAL (20)
Public Betting: PIT 74%
Key Stat: Before last week’s bye, the Ravens led the NFL in passing attempts, but were last in passing touchdowns
The key to this game is Ben Roethlisberger’s health. If his recently surgically repaired knee holds up, the Steelers should move to 5-3. But I doubt that Big Ben will be ready to go two weeks removed from injury. I also have very little faith in Pittsburgh’s defense, which currently ranks 29th in opponent yards per play. Though the Ravens have yet to find their rhythm offensively in 2016, they’ve held a second-half lead in each of their last four losses. I expect this to be another physical battle, and with Roethlisberger at less than full-strength, I’ll take Baltimore to end their four-game losing streak in a quasi-upset.
Baltimore 24, Pittsburgh 20
New Orleans Saints (3-4) vs San Francisco 49ers (1-6)
Spread: NO -3.5 Over/Under: 52.5
’16 DVOA: NO (23) > SF (29)
Public Betting: NO 81%
Key Stat: The 49ers are 10th in defensive yards per drive
The NFL doesn’t make sense sometimes. Last week, for instance, the Vikings played the Bears and, on paper, it should have been a mismatch: Minnesota was clearly the superior team statistically, even though they were by no means a superpower. Of course, Chicago was the one that delivered the ass beating. Go figure.
When I looked at this game initially, I was shocked to see the spread so low. The 49ers are terrible!…at least that’s what everyone says. I’m not disagreeing with that statement, but like I just said, the NFL doesn’t play out the way you think it’s going to sometimes. San Francisco’s defense isn’t as bad as you think and their offense may be able to get things going against New Orleans’ awful defense. I’m not crazy enough to pick against Drew Brees and the Saints, but I’ll go against the grain and be one of 19% of people taking the 49ers with the spread.
New Orleans 23, San Francisco 20
Carolina Panthers (2-5) vs Los Angeles Rams (3-4)
Spread: CAR -3 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: CAR (21) > LA (25)
Public Betting: CAR 77%
Key Stat: Carolina’s defense is 9th in yards per drive
All that talk about Carolina’s defensive struggles was overblown. The Panthers got lit up by two prolific passing offenses in Atlanta and New Orleans. Big deal! This week, the Panthers face a weak Los Angeles offense that has struggled to do much of anything well. Todd Gurley has been particularly disappointing, as he’s averaged just 3.0 yards per carry this season. Carolina may be up against a very good defense on the road, but they’re better in more facets than the Rams.
Carolina 24, Los Angeles 16
Indianapolis Colts (3-5) vs Green Bay Packers (4-3)
Spread: GB -7.5 Over/Under: 54.5
’16 DVOA: IND (27) < GB (7)
Public Betting: GB 72%
Key Stat: Green Bay’s offense has averaged only 5.3 yards per play (22nd in NFL) over last three weeks
Even though Green Bay’s offense still doesn’t look quite as prolific as it has in recent years, they face one of the league’s worst defenses in Indianapolis this Sunday. However, why isn’t anyone talking about the Green Bay defense? They’ve allowed the 7th most points per drive (the Colts have allowed the 5th most) and they’re ranked just 16th against the pass. Andrew Luck certainly is capable of tearing up this defense just like Matt Ryan did last week enough to keep Indy in the game. Unfortunately for the Colts, whose playoff hopes are already hanging the balance, it won’t be enough yet again.
Green Bay 30, Indianapolis 24
Tennessee Titans (4-4) vs San Diego Chargers (3-5)
Spread: SD -4.5 Over/Under: 47.5
’16 DVOA: TEN (22) < SD (15)
Public Betting: SD 64%
Key Stat: Tennessee’s offense ranks in the top ten in both rushing and passing
After years of mediocrity, are the Titans the best team in the AFC South once again? Well, we at least know their running game is legit. Good news for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry: San Diego is 7th in defensive DVOA, but just 20th against the run. I envision the Titans pounding away at the Chargers’ defense, and if Tennessee can force a key turnover–which Phillip Rivers has been susceptible to do this season–then I see the Titans moving to a surprising 5-3.
Tennessee 28, San Diego 20
Denver Broncos (6-2) vs Oakland Raiders (6-2)
Spread: OAK -1 Over/Under: 44.5
’16 DVOA: DEN (3) > OAK (11)
Public Betting: DEN 69%
Key Stat: Derek Carr’s been sacked fewer times than any other quarterback (2.71% sack percentage)
In Sunday’s most compelling game, the key matchup to watch will be Denver’s pass rush versus Oakland’s offensive line. Why do you think Derek Carr is having such a fine season? Simple: His offensive line doesn’t allow him to get touched often, giving him ample time to find Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. However, even though Oakland is 4th in offensive DVOA, they have only played the NFL’s 21st toughest slate of defenses. That will change after they face the Broncos, who rank 2nd against the pass after Philadelphia. Moreover, the Broncos pass rush, led by Von Miller, is third in the NFL in sack percentage, meaning Carr might be under more pressure than usual.
On the other side of the ball, Trevor Siemian and the Denver offense hasn’t looked as sharp in recent weeks after Siemian hurt his shoulder in their Week 4 game against Tampa Bay. Luckily for them, Oakland’s defense still ranks last in opponent yards per play, although they’ve allowed a much more reasonable 5.5 yards per play over the past three weeks.
The only thing preventing me from confidently picking Denver is Aqib Talib’s absence. News just broke that he will miss this weekend’s game due to a back injury, which means Carr might have more of a chance to exploit the Broncos defense. Nonetheless, I’ll take the stingy and more-experienced Broncos to upend Oakland.
Denver 24, Oakland 21
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week Nine…
- Teaser: MINNESOTA (+0.5) over Detroit & MIN vs DET UNDER 47.5
- PHILADELPHIA (+2.5) over New York
- Philadelphia vs New York Giants UNDER 43.5
- Teaser: PHILADELPHIA (+9) over New York & PHI vs NYG UNDER 50
- DALLAS (-300) over Cleveland
- Dallas vs Cleveland OVER 48
- Teaser: DALLAS (-0.5) over Cleveland & DAL vs CLE OVER 42
- MIAMI (-180) over New York
- CAROLINA (-160) over Los Angeles
- INDIANAPOLIS (+7.5) over Green Bay
- Teaser: GREEN BAY (-0.5) over Indianapolis & NEW ORLEANS (+3.5) over San Francisco
- TENNESSEE (+4.5) over San Diego
- Teaser: DENVER (+5.5) over Oakland & DEN vs OAK OVER 38
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Sunday Recap, in which I’ll break down this week’s action and preview Monday Night’s game between Buffalo and Seattle.