Spread picks for NFL Week 9
Another week, another slate of interesting games, including two games that are currently pick ‘ems. We are bullish on several favorites for the first time all season, including some on the road. Last week, we were 6-6-1 overall, including 4-3-1 in games where our “spread plus” value was two or more points different than Vegas’ spread. There are six such games on the schedule this week, providing plenty of value on the board. For the season, we are 57-48-2 (54.3 percent) overall, and 32-20-1 (61.5 percent) on games where our spread value is two or more points different than Vegas.
For my pick of the Thursday Night Football game, as well as win probabilities for each game, find me on Twitter at @EricEager82.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here.]
Cowboys (7.5) at Browns
Prediction: Cowboys win by 9
While Dallas came back from a big deficit to win last Sunday night, securing the Cowboys’ sixth-straight win, the Browns surrendered a big lead to produce their eighth-consecutive loss. The Browns have been competitive in many of their games, but Dallas has too much going for them in this one. The Cowboys’ offensive line, boasting four starters with overall grades north of 78.6, faces a Cleveland defensive line with just one player (Danny Shleton) owning a grade above 50.0. Trade-acquisition Jamie Collins (87.5) will have to acclimate quickly to curb that deficiency and stop Ezekiel Elliott (80.7) and company at home.
Jaguars at Chiefs (-7.5)
Prediction: Chiefs win by 8
This line has moved toward Jacksonville as the week has progressed, with the news that Nick Foles will start for the injured Alex Smith, along with the lingering questions regarding running back Spencer Ware’s health. However, Andy Reid has done a tremendous job coaching a team playing most of the year without its two best players, so losing Smith and possibly Ware shouldn’t be that big of an issue. The Jaguars, coming off a long rest and an embarrassing loss to the Titans, have enough talent at the receiver position to stress the Chiefs’ secondary, and its offensive line is a respectable 10th in the league in pass-blocking efficiency (81.3). Their matchup with longtime stalwart Tamba Hali and youngster Dee Ford (who had four sacks and five QB hurries last week) should be a determining factor in Kansas City this week.
Lions at Vikings (-6)
Prediction: Vikings win by 10
While it’s odd to see a team that has only scored 10 points the last two weeks have a predicted margin of victory of 10, a few notes are in order. First, the Vikings’ offense will bring a new sense of urgency to U.S. Bank Stadium with their recent change at offensive coordinator—presumably moving back to the quicker passing game that served them well during Sam Bradford’s first four starts (his 2.37 yards to throw in those starts was third-quickest in the league, versus the 2.61 the last two starts, ninth-slowest). Also, Detroit has the second-lowest graded defense in the entire NFL through eight weeks, and has been especially slowed recently by the absence of their best player, cornerback Darius Slay. I think things turn around this week for the Vikings in Minneapolis.
Eagles at Giants (-2.5)
Prediction: Giants win by 3
Another week, another NFC East matchup between teams with winning records squaring off in what should be an excellent game. The Eagles, after starting 3-0, have really put the clamps on rookie Carson Wentz, whose average depth of target (7.0 yards) is the second-lowest in the league. The Giants have had a sneaky-good defense through seven games, surrendering just the fifth-most yards per pass, which has led to the fifth-highest total pass coverage grade thus far this season. They’ve also given up just 3.6 yards per carry (sixth-best). If they can continue these trends against the Eagles, the Giants should be able to cover at home.
Jets at Dolphins (-3.5)
Prediction: Dolphins win by 5
The Dolphins come off a bye at home against a team that struggled early against the winless Browns last week. Miami running back Jay Ajayi has been on something of a tear of late, with an average of 4.1 yards per carry after contact thus far this season. His elusive rating of 88.6 is the highest of any qualifying running back, while his breakaway percentage of 34.6 is 11th. The Jets have some manpower up front to abate this trend, with second-year interior player Leonard Williams leading all 3-4 defensive ends in run-stop percentage. This game may come down to the New York’s—specifically Ryan Fitzpatrick’s—ability to take care of the football. Although the Dolphins have recorded just three interceptions all season, they should see enough turnover-worthy opportunities to cover this one at home.
Steelers at Ravens (pick ’em)
Prediction: Ravens win by 1
In what is usually a marquee AFC matchup, the Ravens and the Steelers meet in a relatively low-key game this week in Baltimore. With Ben Roethlisberger’s availability in question, the Steelers will need Le’Veon Bell at his best. The Ravens, however, have the highest cumulative PFF run-defense grade through eight weeks, with Lawrence Guy and Timmy Jernigan generating the second- and third-best run-stop percentages of all 3-4 defensive ends so far. If the Ravens are able to slow Bell, this game will come down to which of the two struggling quarterbacks—presumably Landry Jones (45.8) and Joe Flacco (72.2)—can leverage their options in the passing game and take control of a weak AFC North.
Saints (-3.5) at 49ers
Prediction: Saints win by 6
The Saints appear to have figured some things out in recent weeks, winning three of four, while the 49ers are waffling towards another lost season. While there is always the chance that Colin Kaepernick will give us flashbacks to 2012, it’s more likely that Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense, which held the ball for more than 36 minutes against the Seahawks last week, will have their way against the 49ers’ defense. Couple that with the improving play of the Saints’ defense, led by Cameron Jordan (85.4), Kenny Vaccaro (83.4), and Nick Fairley (80.2), and you have the recipe for a road cover in the Bay Area.
Panthers (-3) at Rams
Prediction: Panthers win by 4
The Panthers got off of their slump last week at home against the Cardinals, relying on a running game that featured 25 carries from lead back Jonathan Stewart, our 19th-highest graded running back this year. The Rams’ defense, with star cornerback Trumaine Johnson a game-time decision this week, will need to apply pressure on the battered Cam Newton to overcome some of Los Angeles’ deficiencies in the secondary. Specifically, cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Troy Hill have surrendered 1.77 and 2.11 yards per coverage snap so far this year, 10th– and seventh-worst among all qualifying cornerbacks. Look for Kelvin Benjamin to rebound from his two-catch performance a week ago and elevate Carolina on the road.
Colts at Packers (-7)
Prediction: Packers win by 5
The Packers’ offense appears to have found a groove the last two weeks, with Aaron Rodgers generating his highest game grade since early last season in last week’s loss at Atlanta. That said, the Packers’ offense has probably become too pass-heavy, limiting Green Bay’s ability to take advantage of a Colts’ front-seven that has the vast majority of its players earning overall grades below 45.0 this season. With the Packers’ secondary still injury-stricken at the cornerback position, and Andrew Luck enjoying his best season so far, look for the Colts’ passing game (even with T.Y. Hilton’s availability in question) to keep this one close at Lambeau.
Titans at Chargers (-5)
Prediction: Chargers win by 3
One of the more underrated stories of the 2016 season is the solid play of the Tennessee Titans. Currently the ninth-highest graded team in the league, Tennessee has an offensive line that can neutralize the solid edge play of San Diego’s Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, and Kyle Emmanuel. If the Titans are forced away from their running game, however, they will have a difficult time against a Chargers’ secondary that has three cornerbacks with overall grades above 73.0. The Titans have played similarly-strong in the secondary so far this year, and will have to do so against Philip Rivers and company to cover this week on the road.
Broncos at Raiders (pick ’em)
Prediction: Broncos win by 3
The Raiders are off to a 6-2 start, have a legitimate MVP candidate in Derek Carr, and are home on Sunday Night Football against the Broncos. Our model was bullish on the Raiders in a similar situation a few weeks ago against the Chiefs. Not so this week. The Broncos’ offense, with Trevor Siemian producing just the 28th-best overall grade among quarterbacks so far, has been far from inspiring. However, Denver’s defense has been one of the league’s best again. Von Miller (89.9), Aqib Talib (90.8), and Chris Harris Jr. (88.7) have top-three grades in their position group, and are supplemented by top-20 players in Darian Stewart, Brandon Marshall, and Shaq Barrett. They’ll need all of this talent to equalize the Raiders’ offense, and I see them doing so this week on the road.
Bills at Seahawks (-7)
Prediction: Seahawks win by 1
The Seahawks’ offense is a legitimate concern, scoring just 13 points last week against a New Orleans defense allowing more than 30 points per game and 6 yards per play this season. The Bills, led by a defense with the majority of its front-seven possessing overall grades above 75.0, should be able to terrorize a Seattle O-line that has the seventh-worst pass-blocking efficiency in the league and the second-worst total run-blocking grade. Edge rusher Lorenzo Alexander (whose health is in question) has nine sacks so far, good for the ninth-best pass-rushing productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers, while inside linebacker Zach Brown has the second-best run-stop percentage among his position group. Seattle’s defense is its only saving grace in this one, and should keep this game close at home.