Week 5 Edition
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*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
****Note – Yards per Play Differential calculated as Yards per Play minus Opponent Yards per Play
Records Entering Week 5
Straight Up: 46-17 (.730) Last Week: 10-6 (.625) Total: 210-118-2 (.640)
Spread: 44-16-3 (.722) Last Week: 12-3-1 (.780) Total: 193-125-12 (.603)
Over/Under: 38-23-2 (.619) Last Week: 7-9 (.438) Total: 180-148-2 (.549)
Locks: 5-1 (.833) Last Week: 1-0 (1.000) Total: 37-7 (.841)
Best Bets: 22-9 (.710) Last Week: 4-2 (.667) Total: 151-109-1 (.581)
*Note: Total records date back to 2016 season.
*Prediction for TNF: New England 38, Tampa Bay 31 (No Best Bets were placed)
Buffalo Bills (3-1) vs Cincinnati Bengals (1-3)
Spread: CIN -3 Over/Under: 39.5
DVOA: BUF (16) > CIN (19)
YPP Differential: BUF (-0.1) < CIN (+0.4)
Public Betting: BUF 56%
Under normal conditions, I would take Cincinnati to win this game. Pundits have focused solely on the Bengals disappointing offensive showings during their 1-3 start, but what has been neglected is their solid defense, which ranks 3rd in opponent yards per play through four weeks. Buffalo’s offense, meanwhile, ranks in the bottom ten of yards per play.
However, with rain in the forecast, the advantage shifts to the Bills. Expect their offense to lean heavily on LeSean McCoy, allowing them to control clock and maintain solid field position throughout. Their defense, which hasn’t allowed an opponent to score over 17 points all season, will control Cincinnati from there.
BUFFALO 17, Cincinnati 13
*CAPITAL LETTERS signifies pick with the spread
Los Angeles Chargers (0-4) vs New York Giants (0-4)
Spread: NYG -3 Over/Under: 44.5
DVOA: LAC (24) > NYG (25)
YPP Differential: LAC (+0.4) > NYG (-0.3)
Public Betting: NYG 50%
Something has to give in this matchup between two of the NFL’s only winless teams: both the Chargers and Giants have had horrible luck in close games this season, with each losing two games on field goals during the final play of regulation. I’m worried how New York’s pass defense (26th in the NFL in opponent QB rating) will hold up against an offense that is in the top ten of yards per pass attempt, but I think the Giants will take advantage of an LA team traveling across the country to play a 1:00 in the Eastern Time Zone (the Chargers are just 2-5 in these situations over the past two seasons).
NEW YORK 27, Los Angeles 21
New York Jets (2-2) vs Cleveland Browns (0-4)
Spread: Pick ’em Over/Under: 40.5
DVOA: NYJ (27) > CLE (32)
Yards per Play Differential: NYJ (+0.4) > CLE (-0.7)
Public Betting: NYJ 61%
Are the Jets actually going to win three games in a row? I can’t believe it either, but they probably will. Cleveland’s offense is poor in every respect. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has been especially bad, as he’s already thrown eight interceptions. Even though New York is dealing with a few key injuries (Matt Forte has already been ruled out, as have three other defensive players and possibly Muhammed Wilkerson, as well), I have enough faith in Josh McCown to pull out a road victory over the hapless Browns.
NEW YORK 23, Cleveland 20
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
Spread: PIT -8 Over/Under: 42.5
DVOA: JAC (17) < PIT (1)
Yards per Play Differential: JAC (+0.1) < PIT (+0.9)
Public Betting: PIT 59%
I don’t see Blake Bortles (24th in QBR) going into Pittsburgh and leading the Jaguars to victory. Le’Veon Bell will take advantage of Jacksonville’s 32nd ranked run defense, which will then open up opportunities for the rest of the Pittsburgh offense to have success against an otherwise stout Jaguars defense.
PITTSBURGH 27, Jacksonville 17
Tennessee Titans (2-2) vs Miami Dolphins (1-2)
Spread: TEN -2.5 Over/Under: 43
DVOA: TEN (21) < MIA (29)
Yards per Play Differential: TEN (+0.2) > MIA (-1.5)
Public Betting: MIA 61%
Marcus Mariota is a game-time decision to start against the Dolphins. Given this uncertainty, I’ll hesitantly take Miami. I think the Dolphins offense, due to statistical ascension to the mean alone, will rebound after two awful performances over the past two weeks and perform better against a Titans defense that is far from being formidable.
MIAMI 24, Tennessee 17
San Francisco 49ers (0-4) vs Indianapolis Colts (1-3)
Spread: IND -1.5 Over/Under: 44.5
DVOA: SF (30) > IND (31)
Yards per Play Differential: SF (-0.2) > IND (-1.7)
Public Betting: IND 60%
Let’s really analyze the 49ers’ body of work this season. Their four losses have come against teams with a combined record of 10-6, yet their average margin of defeat is just 7 points — and in their last three games specifically, they lost by a combined total of just eights points to the Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals. By coincidence, those are the same teams the Colts have happened to lose to…yet they’ve lost these games by a combined 68 points. San Francisco, who is the far superior team based on yards per play differential, will defeat Indianapolis.
SAN FRANCISCO 27, Indianapolis 20
Arizona Cardinals (2-2) vs Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)
Spread: PHI -6.5 Over/Under: 45.5
DVOA: ARZ (26) < PHI (9)
Yards per Play Differential: ARZ (+0.3) > PHI (-0.6)
Public Betting: PHI 66%
Arizona needed overtime to beat both the 0-4 49ers and 1-3 Colts. Translation: the Cardinals aren’t that good. I’ll take them to keep this game within 6.5 points because the Eagles are still dealing with key injuries on defense (namely DT Fletcher Cox), but I’m confident that Philadelphia will take care of business.
Philadelphia 24, ARIZONA 20
Carolina Panthers (3-1) vs Detroit Lions (3-1)
Spread: DET -2.5 Over/Under: 42.5
DVOA: CAR (13) < DET (8)
Yards per Play Differential: CAR (+0.2) > DET (-0.8)
Public Betting: DET 69%
The public seems to be shifting its opinion on the Lions, as I’ve started to see them creep up on many pundits power rankings. However, I see Detroit as a flawed team that has relied so far on unsustainable turnover success. After ranking no higher than 20th in turnover margin since 2015, the Lions now lead this important category through four weeks. It would be reasonable to say that Detroit’s seemingly improved defense has been responsible for this reversal, but I consider it to be more as a result of luck because the Lions have one of the best fumble recovery rates in the NFL this season. Fumble recovery rates, for the record, are completely random.
I’m also not sold on Detroit because its offense ranks just 28th in yards per play. In other words, its offense isn’t as good as you think. For these reasons, I’m taking the Panthers to pull a minor upset.
CAROLINA 21, Detroit 16
Seattle Seahawks (2-2) vs Los Angeles Rams (3-1)
Spread: LA -1.5 Over/Under: 47.5
DVOA: SEA (4) < LA (3)
Yards per Play Differential: SEA (+0.3) < LA (+0.7)
Public Betting: SEA 52%
This early-season NFC West battle will be decided in the trenches. One of the main reasons why Jared Goff has been able to be so effective this season is LA’s revamped offensive line. Thanks to new acquisitions like left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Goff has the fourth-lowest sack percentage in football through four weeks. Seattle’s defense, on the other hand, has the fourth-lowest pressure rate in the league. In other words, it struggles at harassing opposing QB’s.
Moreover, the Rams’ front-four should dominate the Seahawks’ putrid offensive line. You’re aware of how bad their pass-blocking is, right? If not, watch these clips. All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald is going to be chasing around Russell Wilson all…day…long. Combined with another solid performance from their offense, the Rams will move to 4-1.
LOS ANGELES 27, Seattle 23
Baltimore Ravens (2-2) vs Oakland Raiders (2-2)
Spread: OAK -3 Over/Under: 39.5
DVOA: BAL (14) > OAK (22)
Yards per Play Differential: BAL (-1.0) < OAK (-0.4)
Public Betting: OAK 52%
Even though Baltimore has been outscored 70-16 over the past two weeks, I can’t bring myself to take the Raiders. With Derek Carr out, Oakland’s offense–which was already off to a relatively poor start–will disintegrate with E.J. Manuel under center. That’s a fortunate scenario for the Ravens, given how much trouble their offense has had scoring points in 2017.
BALTIMORE 19, Oakland 16
Green Bay Packers (3-1) vs Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Spread: DAL -3 Over/Under: 53
DVOA: GB (5) > DAL (11)
Yards per Play Differential: GB (+0.0) < DAL (+0.6)
Public Betting: GB 59%
Dallas’ defense is shaky, and that is bad news considering it will face Aaron Rodgers and company on Sunday. The Cowboys rank just 24th in defensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders, and even though this unit has been generating more pressure this season thanks to early defensive player of the year candidate DeMarcus Lawrence (7.5 sacks), there is little to suggest that much has changed since last season’s playoff meeting. You almost certainly remember the play in which Rodgers found tight end Jared Cook for that ridiculous 36-yard completion to set up the Packers’ winning field goal, but let’s not forget how superb Rodgers was in guiding Green Bay’s offense throughout that afternoon, as he passed for over 350 yards and finished with an 80.1 Total QBR.
The Packers are still not as healthy as they would like to be, but their offense should be enough to top a Dallas team that still hasn’t regained mojo it had last season.
GREEN BAY 30, Dallas 27
Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) vs Houston Texans (2-3)
Spread: Pick ’em Over/Under: 45
DVOA: KC (2) > HOU (15)
Yards per Play Differential: KC (+1.3) > HOU (-0.4)
Public Betting: KC 60%
I was originally going to pick Kansas City to win this matchup because I figured Deshaun Watson would struggle in his toughest defensive assignment to date. But is this Chiefs’ defense really that good? It is allowing 5.5 yards per play–that figure is only the 22nd best in the NFL. And even though Kansas City’s pass defense has allowed the seventh-lowest opponent quarterback rating through four weeks, I no longer consider that unit to be as formidable after losing its best player, safety Eric Berry, to a torn achilles.
With a little help from its home crowd, J.J. Watt and company should keep Houston in the game. From there, I don’t expect the lights to be too bright for Watson, who has already shown through three starts that he is capable of coming through in big moments like he did at Clemson.
When it’s all said and done, the ’72 Dolphins will be able to celebrate with another champagne toast.
HOUSTON 27, Kansas City 23
And lastly, here are my best bets for Week Five…
- TEASER: PITTSBURGH (-1.5) over Jacksonville & PHILADELPHIA (-0.5) over Arizona
- SAN FRANCISCO (+1.5) over Indianapolis
- GREEN BAY (+3) over Dallas
- Green Bay vs Dallas OVER 53