It’s that time of the week again. We have another week of NFL picks. We went 4-2 last week and expect a lot of the same. This slate of games is pretty muddy. We only get a handful of big time matchups. You just have to pick what the slate gives you, even when it’s ugly.
Column Record: 24-20-2
New Orleans at Minnesota
Spread: New Orleans (-2.5)
We have a battle between two 5-4 teams in the middle of a playoff hunt. It’s one of the better games on the slate enriched with storylines. Joshua Dobbs makes his first start for Minnesota.
Last week Dobbs came in relief and led a comeback on the road against Atlanta. Dobbs didn’t know the playbook and receivers were telling him what routes they were going to run in the huddle. Pretty amazing stuff. Dobbs has a full week to prepare. New Orleans is coming off a scare against Chicago. New Orleans had a 5-0 turnover advantage but needed a touchdown late to pull through.
Many sharps are touting this as a “letdown” spot for Minnesota. I’m not buying that. This team is turning it around after a slow start.
Minnesota defense is the most improved unit in football. Minnesota’s run defense ranks 5th in the NFL in yards per rush at 3.7. New Orleans has a hard time working in 2nd/3rd in long situations. Micheal Thomas was arrested on battery charges on Friday so he will not suit up on Sunday.
New Orleans and Minnesota are essentially even teams at this point. Dobbs adds a running dimension to Minnesota’s offense. New Orleans is not in form plus they are dealing with off the field distractions. We are going to take Minnesota for the third consecutive week to win and cover.
The pick: Minnesota +2.5
San Francisco at Jacksonville
Spread: San Francisco (-3)
The momentum of these two teams are going in the opposite directions. San Francisco has lost three straight while Jacksonville has won five straight going into their bye week.
One of the main reasons for San Francisco’s struggles have been the play of QB Brock Purdy. Purdy was in the top tier of the MVP race early in the season, but he has regressed to the mean. Purdy has five interceptions in San Francisco’s three losses. Now Purdy faces a Jacksonville defense that leads the league in turnovers and ranks 3rd overall in EPA. San Francisco still ranks 2nd in offensive EPA despite the rough stretch.
Jacksonville has been rolling on offense too. Lawrence doesn’t have explosive stats but he has been very efficient. Lawrence has had a 66% completion percentage or better over the last five games.
It’s hard to imagine San Francisco losing five straight games. You are supposed to beat the best teams in the best situations. This is a game where Jacksonville cements themselves as a true contender in the AFC. You can get the better quarterback with points at home.
I’ll take Jacksonville here.
The Pick: Jacksonville (+3)
Atlanta at Arizona
Spread: Arizona +2
Arizona is welcoming back Kyler Murray to the party. Arizona is hoping Murray can help improve the team after a 1-8 start. This will be his first start since he tore his ACL in Week 14 last year. Handicapping Murray’s performance in his first game back is nearly impossible, but it is almost certain Murray will be a significant upgrade over Clayton Tune.
In terms of this game though, this is more of a fade of Atlanta than it is a plan for Arizona. Atlanta is 1-4 away from Mercedes Benz Stadium and their one win came at Tampa- they trailed until they kicked a game winning field goal at the end. Taylor Heinicke is expected to make his second start. He put up Atlanta’s highest scoring total of the season (28) but a lot of the same problems still existed- mostly turnovers, red zone blunders, penalties, negative plays, etc. Atlanta got most of their points off of good field position from Minnesota turnovers.
Arizona’s defense can’t be described as good. But they have been decent situationally. Their third down conversion rate and red zone defense are slightly below league average.
I think the return of Murrary brings a spark to Arizona. They have been scrappy all year and now get competent quarterback play. Atlanta has struggled against mobile quarterbacks all year. They have been horrible on the road. I’ll take Arizona to cover this short number.
The pick: Arizona +2
Detroit at Los Angeles
Spread: Detroit -3
One of the more entertaining games of the slate. Detroit is coming off a bye while Los Angeles is flying across the country after playing on Monday night. Los Angeles seems to have improved their defense. However, they did it facing the two worst active NFL quarterbacks. Jared Goff and the Lions offense is a major step up in class.
Brandon Staley stands up. This is the game he has to win to secure his job. Staley’s defense is going against a unit coached by someone who will probably take his job - Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who has this unit rolling. Detroit’s offense ranks second overall in total offense averaging 390 yards per game. The analytics don’t love the Lions as much, but they still rank 9th in EPA. Detroit is legitimately the third best team in NFC. It’s what coaches say, coaches are only looking at their own team. You have to know, Johnson’s agent has been in his ear to perform this particular week. Expect a lot of pre snap motion with Amon Ra St. Brown. He is playing in his home city for the first time. Expect a huge offensive performance from Detroit.
On the other side, I expect LA to have a good amount of success as well. LA is averaging over 25 points per game. This is the game Herbert steps up. The LA offense has been stagnant two of the last three weeks. After Herbert passed for just 136 yards on Saturday many pundits have dismissed him as a top QB. Now it’s time for Herbert to answer the bell and prove those same doubters wrong. While the Detroit defense will score a lot, I think Herbert keeps them close in a track meet.
While I don’t know who wins, I’m confident in this game going over the total.
The pick: Over 48.5
New York Jets at Las Vegas
Spread: New York -1
We have seen this story a thousand times. Antonio Pierce won his head coaching debut in dominating fashion.
Now, everyone is buying Las Vegas here.
Personally, I don’t buy it. Las Vegas dominated a poor New York Giants team that ranks in the bottom three on defense and they faced a quarterback that got benched at Syracuse. If he couldn’t play at Syracuse, it’s crazy how he made it on an NFL field. Let’s leave that for another day.
The New York Jets will be a tougher test. They just got humiliated on national tv. I think Robert Saleh’s squad bounces back. Sauce Gardner can take away Davonte Adams or Jacobe Meyers.
Las Vegas’s run defense is vulnerable, giving up 4.7 yards per rush. I’ll take New York to bounce back Sunday Night.
The pick: New York (-1)
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive