The picks column is back for another week. We finished 2-3 last week and had some pretty horrendous beats. Josh Allen ran the ball in for a meaningless touchdown with seconds to go; Buffalo hadn’t covered for a single second before that moment. A Carson Wentz interception instead of a safety, cost us the under. But it’s time to bounce back and we have done pretty well so far this year. We are 29-21 hitting at a 58 percent clip, which is right where we want to be. This is another tough slate but we're going to find some value somewhere.
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Cleveland at Cincinnati
Spread: Cincy -2.5
This game has been headlined by the OBJ drama in Cleveland. After Cleveland released him Friday morning, his presence should be an afterthought.
It ironically gives a boost to the Cleveland offense since Baker has fared a lot better without the star receiver on the field. In games without Odell, Baker Mayfield's complete percentage goes 60 percent to 66 percent, his passer rating goes from 86 to 103 when Beckham is off, and his touchdown ratio is 20/4 without Beckham on the field. It allows Baker to do what he does best, throw to tight ends off play action, it puts an even greater emphasis on the run game, and allows the Cleveland offense to spread the ball out.
So maybe this is what needed to happen for Baker Mayfield to turn it around for Cleveland. After being my Super Bowl sleeper, a loss this week would bury their playoff hopes before Thanksgiving. I think we are getting Cleveland at the bottom of the market. Mayfield ranks 29th in the NFL in QBR. He is going against a Cincy defense that ranks 13th in DVOA. While the Cincy defense started out hot, they have been trending in the wrong direction recently. Cincinnati ranks dead last in rushing defense EPA over the last five weeks. Cleveland running back Nick Chubb should be at full strength.
Let's also not forget the Cincinnati defense got carved up against Mike White last week. Mike White had the most passing yards in the NFL last week despite averaging less than nine air yards per throw. Baker is good in the short passing and the screen game. They should be able to move the ball here.
Offensively, Joe Burrow should have success against the Cleveland defense. Cleveland gets Denzel Ward back at corner which is huge. It’s time for the Cleveland defense to have a stellar performance against a quality offense. Cleveland ranks in the top 3 in the NFL in pressure rate and Cincy offensive line ranks 20th in adjusted sack rate. Cleveland has won this matchup in five out of the last six meetings.
I like Cleveland more in a teaser. With a lack of options to choose from, we will have to use them here.
The pick: Cleveland +2.5
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans
Spread: New Orleans (-6)
Thankfully Trevor Sieman came through to save the day when Jameis Winston left the game with a gruesome knee injury last week. Now Sieman is expected to get the start against Atlanta.
Last week, the former Northwestern QB completed 16-of-29 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown. He was sacked once and fumbled once, but recovered the loose ball. Siemian hasn’t started a game since 2019, when he played just a handful of snaps against Cleveland before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. He has a career 59.9 percent completion percentage in 24 career starts.
Then there's Atlanta, which is stuck in a difficult place after a disappointing loss to the slumping Carolina in Week 8. Carolina was able to pressure Matt Ryan with four guys and Atlanta's QB was not able to move the ball downfield throwing for just 158 yards on 5.7 yards per attempt. Things won’t get easier against New Orleans, where their defense ranks 3rd in DVOA, 4th in scoring (15.9 points), and ninth in yards per play. Ryan has struggled against New Orleans recently. Atlanta has scored 9, 16, 26, and 18 points in the last four meetings. It’s fair to mention, Matt Ryan had Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones in these meetings. Calvin Ridley will be out with personal mental health issues in this one.
On the New Orleans side, they will play a conservative game plan with Sieman under center. Even with Winston at center, New Orleans ranked dead last in explosive play percentage. The Atlanta defense ranks around league average allowing 5.6 yards per play and they rank 15th in total defense. Rather than trying to mess with the spread we expect this game to get off to an ugly start and we will take the first half under.
The pick: First Half UNDER (21)
Minnesota at Baltimore
Spread: Baltimore -6
Minnesota is coming off an embarrassing loss on primetime T.V. Dallas came with backup QB Cooper Rush and took down Minnesota at home in primetime. Rush, making his first career start, threw for 324 yards and two touchdown passes. Mike Zimmer made a bone headed coaching mistake calling two consecutive defensive timeouts on Dallas’s final drive on a 3rd and 16, giving Dallas a chance to set up a game winning touchdown in regulation. Cooper Rush made them pay. It was a crushing loss for Minnesota, they dropped an opportunity to get back on track.
Now they have to face Baltimore coming off a bye. John Harbaugh is a ridiculous 9-4 ATS coming off a bye. Kirk Cousins is a career 0-9 ATS facing teams coming off a bye.
Minnesota ranks 20th in rush defense DVOA and they have to sell out to stop the run against Lamar Jackson. When teams have utilized this strategy against Baltimore, Lamar has made them pay. Jackson is completing 66 percent of his passes this year and has thrown for 1943 yards so far. Baltimore will get another weapon in their passing offense with Sammy Watkins returning. Minnesota does rank 3rd in passing DVOA this season. Sunday Night Football showed that’s sort of misleading and they rank 18th in the NFL in passing yards per attempt- Hollywood Brown/ Rashad Bateman should test them deep.
The main mismatch in this game is between the Baltimore pass rush and the Minnesota offensive line. Baltimore's front ranks 4th in defensive line yards and they rank first in the NFL in stuff rate. Cousins has been pressured at the fifth highest rate among quarterbacks (27 percent) and Baltimore pass rush is tied 7th in pressure percentage (27 percent).
I typically don’t like giving up this many points in an NFL game and Baltimore feels public after the world just watched Minnesota lose to Cooper Rush.
But I like Lamar Jackson and trust him in this spot.
The pick: Baltimore (-6)
New England at Carolina
Spread: New England (-4)
New England got a big win against Los Angeles on the road last week, but coming into this one there are a lot of question marks - especially for Carolina. Sam Darnold is in concussion protocol. So we might see a Phillip Walker sighting on Sunday. Based on the way Darnold has played the last few weeks I don’t think that’s going to be a significant downgrade. In addition, Christian McCaffrey was activated from the IR return to practice in limited fashion. New England has to spend time preparing for McCaffrey.
A lot of people love New England in this spot since we get Bill Belichick facing an inexperienced quarterback. New England’s new rookie quarterback Mac Jones has looked above average. Jones has completed 68.1 percent of passes on the year. New England beat Los Angeles despite scoring just one offensive touchdown. Jones will face his toughest test against a Carolina defense that is eighth in overall defensive DVOA, they rank sixth in DVOA against the pass, and they get after the quarterback, ranking fourth in the NFL in pressure rate. Carolina does a great job getting pressure with four and they have a great secondary in the back end. Carolina is going to protect Walker with an efficient ground game.
New England ranks 20th in rush DVOA. McCaffrey is the obvious difference maker here, if he plays I think Carolina makes for a fantastic play. So hold until we officially know his status Saturday, but for now we will take Carolina at this number.
The pick: Carolina +4
Arizona at San Francisco
Spread: San Francisco (-2)
This is an identical situation to the Minnesota and Dallas game last week. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray is questionable with an ankle injury. If Murray isn’t able to go, Colt McCoy will get the start. So we will be handicapping this game ASSUMING Murray plays in a limited fashion.
his feels like a must win game for Kyle Shanahan and San Francisco. San Francisco nearly beat Arizona in Week 5 losing 17-10. It was Arizona's lowest offensive output of the season. San Francisco would have won that game if they had good production out of backup QB Trey Lance. San Francisco defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans scripted up a perfect game plan to stop Kyler. He had his defensive ends lined up in nine tech and instead of having them rush Kyler, they contained the edges outside and made him operate from within the pocket. With Kyler’s ankle injury, I don’t expect his legs to be as significant of a weapon as they typically are. San Francisco’s defense has been vulnerable against the run, but a lot of Arizona’s ground game is centered around the threat of Kyler’s legs. San Francisco should be able to run the ball against an Arizona rush defense that is now vulnerable without JJ Watt in the five technique.
Jimmy Garoppolo will show he is still the best option at quarterback for San Francisco.
The pick. San Francisco (-2)
Green Bay at Kansas City
Spread: Kansas City (-7.5)
The big story surrounding this one is obviously the absence of Aaron Rodgers after testing positive for Covid on Wednesday. Now former first round pick Jordan Love gets thrown into the fire. We really get to see how valuable Aaron Rodgers is. Vegas says "a lot" as this was a seven point adjustment to point spread.
For KC, this is a must win game, but - while you never want to see your QB sidelined - this is a great situation for Green Bay. They get to see what they have in Jordan Love in a non pressure situation. This is a great spot for Love to make his debut. Love will face a Kansas City defense that ranks 31st in overall DVOA. Kansas City defense has shown life the last couple weeks against Tennessee and New York. Kansas City’s offense is rolling like we are accustomed to seeing. They struggled to move the ball against a middle of the road New York defense Monday night. Andy Reid needs to adjust his offensive approach. They need to be more committed to the ground game, especially in the red zone. Patrick Mahomes needs to stop turning the ball over. This may feel like an overreaction and I can see the public pushing this number higher.
Green Bay has a great supporting cast around Love and he should move the ball against the Kansas City defense. Kansas City is 4-16-1 ATS in their last 21 games. I don’t trust them to cover a number that is over a touchdown. Give me Green Bay and the points.
The pick: Green Bay +7.5
Follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive
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