Spread picks for NFL Week 2
What a start to the NFL season! On the back of four one-point games, two two-point games, and one game decided in overtime, this past Sunday was a statistical outlier in terms of the closeness of games. Despite this, our model faired pretty well against the spread, going 8-5-1 (61.5 percent) in its inaugural week. A week into the season means a week more of data, and a little less weight given to previous seasons’ data. Below are my picks for the week, with predictions two or more points away from the actual spread being games I’m most confident about. For my pick for Thursday Night Football each week, find me on Twitter at @EricEager82.
Tennessee Titans at Detroit Lions (-6)
Prediction: Lions win by 4
This game features two extremes from a week ago at the quarterback position. Matthew Stafford continued his solid play under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, producing the second-highest PFF passer rating while throwing three touchdowns in a win against the Colts on the road. Marcus Mariota, on the other hand, was the lowest-graded quarterback in the league during Week 1, surrendering two touchdown-inducing turnovers in a home loss against the Vikings. The Titans played fairly well defensively against Minnesota, though, holding Adrian Peterson to just 31 yards on 19 carries and generating the highest PFF run defensive grade as a group. If the Titans can keep Ameer Abdullah (the eighth-highest graded running back last week), Theo Riddick (fourth-highest receiving grade among RBs), and the Lions’ offense one-dimensional, they have a chance to do what the Colts couldn’t last week against Detroit: cover the spread.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (-2.5)
In a rematch of the Chiefs’ 30-0 playoff win last January, the Texans come boasting a new quarterback. Brock Osweiler had a good first week in Houston, producing the sixth-highest grade among all quarterbacks in a home victory over the Bears. The Chiefs’ defense, expected by many to struggle in the passing game after losing Sean Smith and Tyvon Branch in free agency, was actually worse against the run for most of the game last week against the Chargers. Defensive linemen Jaye Howard, Dontari Poe, Chris Jones, and Allen Bailey all graded negatively both overall and against the run, and new starter Justin March-Lillard had the second-lowest overall grade and lowest run-defense grade among inside linebackers, as well. If the Chiefs’ defense can rebound and play more like they did in 2015, they should be able to cover on the road.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-6.5)
Prediction: Patriots win by 8
Both of these teams exceeded expectations on the road in Week 1. However, only one team came away victorious, as the Dolphins’ defense gave up their only touchdown drive when it mattered most in Seattle. Be that as it may, Miami’s defensive front gave Seattle some fits, with Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Mario Williams combining for two sacks, one quarterback hit, and 10 hurries in a losing effort. Suh added four stops in the running game, as well. Like Seattle, New England is vulnerable up front, lacking even one offensive lineman with an overall grade above 70.0 from last week. That said, it always seems like Bill Belichick finds a way, and a second tough road game for Miami in as many weeks should be sufficiently difficult, preventing the second-straight cover for the Dolphins.
Baltimore Ravens (-6.5) at Cleveland Browns
Prediction: Ravens win by 1
The Browns are probably worse than some of us imagined, as evidenced by a three-score loss to a rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback in Week 1. They return home as underdogs to the Ravens, who won a hard-fought game last week at home to Buffalo on the back of a Joe Flacco deep touchdown pass to Mike Wallace and a solid performance defensively. CB Shareece Wright was particularly impressive, generating eight stops in the running game and allowing just 13 yards on 28 coverage snaps. New Cleveland starter Josh McCown graded positively in both starts against Baltimore last year, though, throwing for 457 yards and two touchdowns during a Week 5 matchup. After starting last season 1-6, the Ravens should begin this season 2-0, although the road cover is anything but certain.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
Prediction: Steelers win by 3
Despite being slowed by an injury, A.J. Green caught 12 of 13 targets for 180 yards and a touchdown en route to the highest grade and yards per route run (5.00) among all NFL receivers in Week 1. He and Brandon LaFell, who had a positively-graded game himself, face a Steelers defense that was able to create turnovers when it counted on Monday night, but has struggled in coverage, finishing in the bottom third of NFL teams in coverage grades the last two seasons. They will need an effort similar to their Week 1 showing to keep up with the Steelers, who, in the absence of Le’Veon Bell, got a brilliant effort from Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown in Week 1, connecting on eight of 11 targets for 126 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 150.0 passer rating (fourth-best among all wide receivers last week). In Bell’s stead, RB DeAngelo Williams also earned the fifth-highest overall grade among running backs in Week 1.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington (-2.5)
Prediction: Washington wins by 3
Will Washington shadow Dez Bryant with Josh Norman? Will it really matter? Dak Prescott was able to connect with Bryant just once for 8 yards on 45 routes in their loss last week to the Giants. Even if Washington can contain Bryant, rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott should be able to duplicate DeAngelo Williams’ effort against Washington from Monday night, where he forced five missed tackles and 79 yards after contact en route to 143 yards on the ground. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins (fifth-worst grade among quarterbacks in Week 1) should be able to rebound against a Dallas secondary that surrendered three touchdown passes to Eli Manning at home last week and avoid two home losses to start the season.
New Orleans at New York Giants (-5)
Prediction: Giants win by 4
The Giants went on the road last week and beat a team with a rookie QB and RB. At home this week, they face a far different opponent. Saints QB Drew Brees was great against Oakland, with an accuracy percentage of 83.3 overall (third in the NFL) and 100 percent when under pressure. Willie Snead came out of the slot in Week 1 to catch all nine of his targets for 172 yards and a touchdown, producing the second-highest grade among wide receivers. The middle of the field should continue to be open against a Giants’ defense that is perennially weak at the linebacker position; this season, Kelvin Sheppard had the 10th-lowest grade among all linebackers in Week 1.
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers (-13.5)
Prediction: Panthers win by 9
After another solid performance to open a regular season, a regression appears to be in order for the 49ers this week on the road against the Panthers. Despite leading his team to victory Monday night, Blaine Gabbert was less than stellar, producing just the 21st-best accuracy percentage (72.7) among quarterbacks, despite being pressured on just 20 percent of his snaps (fourth-lowest rate). Whether or not the Panthers are able to cover such a large spread should hinge on how well their run defense (graded worst in the NFL in Week 1) can rebound and stop Chip Kelly’s zone read scheme this week in Charlotte.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals (-6.5)
Prediction: Cardinals win by 7
Tampa Bay will have to win again on the road to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2010. They face a Cardinals team whose lack of depth at cornerback was exposed against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football, and isn’t likely to go away against Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson this week. Evans hauled in five of seven targets for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons, while Arizona rookie CB Brandon Williams allowed 74 yards and a touchdown on seven targets in his direction against New England. That said, it’s difficult to envision one of last season’s best overall teams—led by PFF’s 2015 regular-season MVP, Carson Palmer, starting the season 0-2 at home.
Seattle Seahawks (-6.5) at Los Angeles Rams
Prediction: Seahawks win by 3
Both of these teams disappointed in Week 1, although Seattle was able to pull it together enough to get a win, while the Rams were embarrassed by the 49ers. With Russell Wilson hobbled, a big storyline is how well the porous offensive line of the Seahawks (with the ninth-worst pass blocking efficiency last week against the Dolphins) holds up against the defensive line of the Rams that disappointed last week against San Francisco. Both Robert Quinn (zero pressures last week) and William Hayes (one) will need to play like they have historically, while DT Aaron Donald will have to continue his strong play against a Seattle guard pair that includes J’Marcus Webb—who finished last week with the third-worst grade among 67 qualifying NFL guards. A limited Wilson plus a motivated Rams team in their new home will make the road cover difficult for the Seahawks.
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-6)
Prediction: Broncos win by 6
The Colts were one of the more disappointing teams a week ago, while the Broncos one of the more pleasant surprises. While Trevor Siemian isn’t likely to play like a positively-graded quarterback every week, he has enough talent around him and plays smart enough to keep Denver competitive. This week specifically, the Broncos will look to leverage their strength in the secondary, led by Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Darian Stewart, who all graded positively in Week 1, to neutralize the passing game of the Colts, where T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncreif, and Phillip Dorsett all played well last week against the Lions. If Andrew Luck can repeat his performance from a week ago (where he graded out as the best quarterback in the league) the Colts may be able to pull off the cover on the road.
Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders (-5)
Prediction: Raiders win by 4
Much like the Raiders’ game last week, this one figures to be a shootout between two teams with struggling defenses. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu hobbled, the question is whether or not the Falcons’ passing game can take full advantage of the reeling Raiders secondary, where newcomer Sean Smith looks to rebound from giving up 183 yards on 27 coverage snaps last week against the Saints. The Raiders strength up front, led by newcomer Kelechi Osemele (who had the third-highest grade among guards last week) and stud edge rusher Khalil Mack (who had two hurries and two stop), coupled with the third-highest graded quarterback from a week ago (Derek Carr), should be the difference for Oakland at home.
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers (-3)
Prediction: Chargers win by 2
A week after blowing a 21-point second-half lead in Kansas City, the Chargers come home and face a Jaguars team that gave the Packers a run for their money at home. The Chargers will miss Keenan Allen, for whom quarterback Phillip Rivers completed six of seven targets for 63 yards and a QB rating of 104.2 prior to his season-ending knee injury against the Chiefs. The Jaguars re-vamped secondary, led by rookie Jalen Ramsey—who allowed just 23 yards receiving in 31 coverage snaps last week against Green Bay—should provide enough resistance to allow Jacksonville to create more pressure than last week and cover the spread on the road in San Diego.
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Minnesota Vikings
Prediction: Vikings win by 2
Both the Vikings and the Packers came from behind and won road games against AFC South teams last week. The Vikings christen their new home, and presumably their new quarterback, against a team sure to seek revenge for losing a Week 17 matchup at home for the division title a year ago. If Sam Bradford is to be successful this, week he’ll surely lean on second-year wide receiver Stefan Diggs, who caught seven of nine targets for 103 yards a week ago, on his way to the fifth-highest grade among wide receivers. With Sam Shields dealing with a concussion, Diggs will probably face Damarious Randall on a number of snaps, as the Packers’ CB received the highest grade among NFL cornerbacks last week while covering a good group of Jaguars receivers. If Adam Thielen, TE Kyle Rudolph, and the other Vikings receivers can take sufficient advantage of the Packers’ defensive backs, the Minnesota should make a push to cover at home.
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears (-3)
Spread Plus: Bears win by 3
Rookie Carson Wentz received the second-highest grade among all quarterbacks last week against the rebuilding Browns, with an accuracy percentage of 81.3 (fourth-best in the league). Even without edge rusher Pernell McPhee, however, the Bears’ defense is sure to provide much more resistance. Willie Young and Lamarr Houston both finished in the top 15 among qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers last season in pass-rushing productivity, and rookie Leonard Floyd added two pressures in his first NFL game last week. Wentz was far less efficient (50.0 adjusted completion percentage) when under pressure last week, leaving the door open for a regression in Week 2.