The column is back after another winning week. We got off to a brutal start with a beat in the over on Thursday Night Football. But as Jalen Hurts says, we flush the deuce and press on. The column will be partnered by DraftKings going forward and we will continue to use DK Sportsbook lines.
Week 4 is the week where teams start to separate themselves. We won’t waste your time, we know what you care about. Without further to do, here are the picks:
Cleveland at Minnesota
Spread: Cleveland (-2)
It's Kevin Stefanski return to Minnesota in a game Sunday that pits two of my favorite teams together. The reason: They both have favorable ATS trends, Cleveland is 4-1 ATS in their last five road games as a favorite, while Minnesota is 6-1 ATS in their last 7 as a home underdog. Something has to budge here.
Cleveland’s defense got a major upgrade after a stellar performance where they limited Chicago's offense to less than 2.0 yards per play. Thanks to that performance, Cleveland's defense shot up from 25th in overall defensive DVOA to 10th. While we have to give Cleveland some credit for that defensive performance, a lot of that had to do with the dysfunction of Chicago- playing a rookie quarterback that simply wasn’t ready.
They will get a much tougher test this Sunday against this Minnesota offense. Quietly, Kirk Cousins has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season; he’s thrown for 918 yards completing 73 percent of his passes and has had eight touchdowns with zero interceptions. Cousins ranks third overall in the QB PFF rankings. The Vikings offense ranks fifth overall in passing DVOA. That's especially important this week, as Cleveland starting corner Greg Newsome is still out with an injury. While I like this Cleveland defense long term, they are still figuring things out. Cousins and company are in a good spot to take advantage of them.
Defensively, we are aware of the woes of the Minnesota defense. Like last week, Zimmer can make some defensive adjustments like he did against Seattle. In the first half, Seattle averaged over nine yards per play compared to 3.6 yards per play in the second half. Minnesota hasn't been stout against the run this year, but they have the personnel to get it done. This is a big week for both teams, but Zimmer's club gets it done at home.
The pick: Minnesota (+2)
Indianapolis at Miami
Spread: Miami (-2.5)
Did someone see the Jacoby Brissett revenge game coming? Sign me up. Things haven’t gone well for the football team in Indy. After an 0-3 start, folks there have already started to question the validity of Carson Wentz at quarterback. Things won’t get better on Sunday, as the banged up Wentz will have to go against one of the best pass rushing defenses without All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson, who went on the IR Saturday. Despite the pedigree of the Indianapolis offensive line, the unit ranks 23rd overall in adjusted sack rate, after finishing in the Top 10 last season.
The question I have to ask myself is this an offensive line problem, or a Carson Wentz problem? Wentz can hold the ball against a team with a blitz percentage of 40.2 percentage. If Wentz doesn’t get the ball out, things will get ugly in Miami Sunday afternoon. In addition to Nelson being injured, Indy had eight other key players miss practice on Wednesday —tight end Jack Doyle (back), tackle Eric Fisher (rest), linebacker Darius Leonard (ankle), defensive end Kwity Paye (hamstring), tackle Braden Smith (foot/thumb), safety Khari Willis (ankle/groin), defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (back) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle).
Miami is the more talented and healthier team coming into this game. We get to lay less than a field goal. Give me Miami at home.
The pick: Miami -2.5
Seattle at San Francisco
Spread: San Francisco (-2.5)
San Francisco nearly pulled off a miracle comeback win against the Packers on Sunday Night Football. However, Aaron Rodgers just needed 36 seconds to rip their hearts out. Now after facing Rodgers they have to respond by facing …. Russell Wilson.
Seattle is coming off a beatdown on the road against Minnesota. Now Wilson is in danger of losing three straight games (check notes) for the first time in his 10-year career. Thankfully for Seattle, I don’t think that happens on Sunday.
This is the perfect case where we are getting points with the better quarterback. Wilson is 23-10 in his career as an underdog. San Francisco has been a great fade at home since Kyle Shanahan has been the head coach, going 10-19 ATS during his tenure so far. San Fran's secondary has struggled to defend the deep ball. They let Detroit gash them in the 4th quarter, and they didn’t have an answer for Davonte Adams.
San Francisco’s power ratings are influenced by what they did two years ago. I don’t know if you have noticed, the world has completely changed since they made it to the Super Bowl. It’s not the same defense, they rank 15th in EPA and are essentially average in basically every category. But they are priced like an elite defense, that’s simply not the case. Give me Russell Wilson to outduel Jimmy G.
The pick: Seattle (+2.5)
Baltimore at Denver
Spread: Denver (-1)
This line simply doesn’t make sense. The look ahead line was Baltimore -3.5. Yes, Baltimore escaped Detroit. But it was a perfect letdown spot, and they also beat Kansas City two weeks ago. While Denver has looked good under Teddy Bridgewater, they have also only beaten Jacksonville and the two New York teams - these teams have won a combined zero games this season and entered Week 4 ranked 22nd, 31st and 28th in Football Outsiders DVOA.
So this is a statement game to see if Denver is really for real. I simply believe they are not there yet. Baltimore's 10th ranked run defense should slow down Melvin Gordon. Can Teddy Bridgewater prove he can be the guy to WIN you games, and not be the guy that avoids losing them? Bridgewater will need to make some plays to put Denver in a position to win here.
On the Baltimore side, they rank third in pro football in Net Yards Per Play but they rank in the bottom 12 in the league in Net Points Per Play. Defenses and run games travel well on the road, and Baltimore is a great matchup to knock off the undefeated Broncos here.
The pick: Baltimore (+1)
Tampa Bay at New England
Spread: Tampa (-7)
Total under: 49.5
You know I couldn’t complete this column without writing about the game of the week, right? The narrative doesn’t need an introduction, Tom Brady is going back to New England to face his old team and former coach Bill Belichick. We got Al Micheals and Cris Collinsworth on the call and we are ready for all the drama. It’s must-see television. A classic football movie playing in front of our very eyes. Who’s going to get the sweet “revenge” win on Sunday night?
Really, I haven’t seen anyone bet New England in this game. The spread hopped from -5.5 to 7 in less than 24 hours. The ticket count is 90% towards Tampa, and every single person in Vegas will have their teasers tied to Tampa Bay. While the narrative is this is a “Tom Brady” revenge game. I remember Tom Brady leaving New England on his own free will. Then he won a Super Bowl the very next season. Guys, Tom Brady won the divorce. He’s the wife that left her husband, takes the kids and finds a more handsome, richer guy. Or he’s the husband that leaves his wife for a 22 year old model. Bill Belichick is the disgruntled ex in this game. Tom Brady left him! Belichick hates Tom Brady right now, and he is going to do his best to make him pay.
I think the New England defense is going to give Brady a rude homecoming. New England ranks 8th in defensive DVOA and 5th in defensive EPA. Belichick is going to come up with a nasty game plan for Tampa’s one dimensional offense. Tampa Bay’s biggest weakness is they can’t run the football right now. They are averaging just 3.9 yards per rush and they are passing it 64 percent of the time. While Byron Leftwich wants a balanced offense, running the ball has been incredibly inefficient for them. Tampa has been in 2& 8 or more, more than any team in the league. They rely on Brady to bail them out, which he has been successful at doing so far this season. I think that’s the key for New England, disguising coverage on passing downs, and making Brady want to press the ball downfield. An ultra aggressive Brady can give opportunities for a New England defense that leads the league in interceptions. Really that’s the only angle for the Patriots winning this game.
While I want to bet Belichick's team, based on principle alone, it’s hard to pull the trigger with the way this offense is playing. They are playing a Tampa defense that has given up the most passing yards in the NFL right now. Analytically, Tampa ranks 17th in DVOA, and they have played two of the best passing offenses in the league against Dallas and Los Angeles. Can Mac Jones replicate the success of Matt Stafford and Dak Prescott? Mac Jones is only averaging 5.7 yards per pass attempt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. He is coming off a game where he threw three interceptions. Running back James White likely won’t be available. If New England couldn’t run the ball on New Orleans, they sure as hell are not going to be able to run the ball on Tampa.
So it will be interesting to see how far New England releases the reins on Jones. Because of this uncertainty I’m not backing New England here, instead I will keep on brand for ATM media by picking the UNDER in the most anticipated game of the year. When Torres picks more than unders in a week, I’m contractually obligated to pick one too. I love this one on Sunday night football. Let’s enjoy Tom Brady's struggle together. Under 49.5 is the pick.
The pick: Under 49.5
Las Vegas at Los Angeles (C)
Spread: Los Angeles -3 (-120)
This is a line that’s very weird to me. Is Las Vegas for real? I realize Monday Night will basically be a Las Vegas home game, as Justin Herbert and Co. look to hand them their first loss this season. Vegas has surprised many by defeating the Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Miami to start the year 3-0.
Now they face an LA team that is pretty legit. The road win at Kansas City showed me this team knows how to win. Matchup wise, I think this is a perfect match up for them too. Brandon Staley's club has the sixth ranked scoring defense despite facing the fourth toughest schedule of opposing offenses. LA's defense ranks eighth in pressure rate while blitzing 18.1% of the time. Derek Carr has routinely been one of the worst quarterbacks facing pressure throughout his career. Richie Incognito will be out on Sunday. Las Vegas has excelled at throwing the ball deep, Carr ranks first in the NFL in air yards. Will he have time to make those plays happen? LA's defense will have its answer.
Defensively, Vegas has significantly improved ranking 11th overall in DVOA. But they have also faced a washed up Ben Rothelisberger and Jacoby Brissett in their last two games. Herbert is a significantly better talent. Herbert ranks fifth overall in air yards, his top two receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have been getting separation on nearly 50 percent of their routes. LA's offense has been rolling, they just need to be more efficient on third down and in the red zone. Thankfully for LA, Vegas has surrendered a touchdown 100% of the time in the red zone to opposing offenses. If this trend continues, LA's offense rolls on Monday.
Herbert and Co. are legit this season, and I’m not sold on Jon Gruden's club just yet. Give me LA in what is going to be a crazy environment.
The pick: Los Angeles (-3)
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