It's that time of the week once again. We try to cap off an excellent Thanksgiving weekend, and we have a great NFL slate. There are multiple big divisional matchups with playoff stakes on the line.
We are going to break all of those games down from New Orleans-Atlanta, Jacksonville-Houston, Los Angeles-Baltimore- Cincinnati-Pittsburgh and more.
Let’s get down to it.
Jacksonville at Houston
Spread: Jacksonville (-1.5)
One of the more intriguing matchups on the slate. Let’s talk about Houston’s rookie quarterback CJ Stroud. The former Ohio State star is having a rookie campaign for the ages; he already has thrown for 2,962 yards, 17 touchdowns, and is averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. He ranks in the top 8 in PFF's QB rankings. He is willing his team to a playoff spot. Houston is playing with house money and nobody expected them to be in this position.
On the other side, Jacksonville is going to try to avenge a loss from earlier this season. After a mediocre start, Jacksonville is playing some of their best football. Jacksonville has won six of their last seven games, (three against teams winning records) and in those games Trevor Lawerence is completing over 70 percent of his passes.
The one loss did come against San Francisco, and Houston coach Demeco Ryans plays the same aggressive single gap, cover 3 press scheme. As a result, the Texans rank 3rd against the run. However, the Texans don’t have the same talent on the edge to create pressure and are average at corner. As a result, they have given up plenty of explosives in the passing game. I think this is where Trevor Lawerence can take advantage. Calvin Ridley has come up to speed and Jacksonville has burners on the outside.
On the defensive side, Jacksonville’s been average against the pass too. They have faced the most pass attempts of any defense in the league but still rank 18th in pass defense EPA. Jaguars play a lot of zone coverage interchanging mostly cover 4 and cover 2 concepts. Stroud has been very efficient against both throughout his college and pro career. Jacksonville will concede yards in the passing games but they have done a good job forcing turnovers through the air. They rank 10th in the NFL in interceptions.
While I like CJ Stroud, I’m going to take Jacksonville here. They have the more experienced quarterback and head coach. Jacksonville’s defense will make a play to turn the game around. Give me Jacksonville ML at home.
The pick: Jacksonville ML
New Orleans at Atlanta
Spread: New Orleans (-1.5)
Someone has to win the NFC South, right? The winner of this matchup will be the front runner.
Atlanta ranks in the top 5 in third down conversion rate (34.88%) and they have 6th best in red zone TD conversion rate (44.83%) - yet they have allowed 24 or more points in four out of their last five games. That's because every team is moving the ball at will on them, and Atlanta has been on the lucky end during those situations.
Those numbers are due to regress. Atlanta has lost three straight games to mediocre teams. I think I am going to fade them here again.
New Orleans defense is big up front, they cause havoc and negative plays. They will overwhelm Taylor Heinicke. The New Orleans offense isn’t great, but they have explosive play makers.
As I mentioned before, everyone is moving the ball in Atlanta. Typically, I would take the home underdog. I need more points.
Take the better team on the road that is laying a short number.
The pick: New Orleans ML
Buffalo at Philadelphia
Spread: Philadelphia (-3)
Philly got their Super Bowl revenge on Monday Night Football. Now they have to face another team with Super Bowl caliber talent.
The Eagles enter this one having won four straight games but they have been outgained by 100 yards or more in three of them. Buffalo covered their first NFL spread in six weeks. But does beating up on Zach Wilson actually count anymore? This is a really interesting game.
The spot screams Buffalo here. Philadelphia coming off their biggest win, on a short week- Buffalo is desperate to win in order to get back into playoff contention. Philadelphia is the better team, but oddsmakers make this an even matchup. (Home field is generally worth three points in the NFL).
Based on this line, the Eagles/Buffalo are power rated the same-something I disagree with; however the situational spot favors Buffalo. What do we do here- fade both teams and bet the under. Both teams are going to want this to be a physical battle. Buffalo ranks 29th in yards per rush. With Dallas Goedert out, Philly is going to use more blocking tight ends. They are going to run the football. Buffalo recently fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. Head coach Sean McDermont is a more conservative coach, I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo ran more too. Buffalo corner Taron Johnson is expected to play after suffering a concussion a couple weeks ago.
I expect this to be a time of possession and ball control centered game. Let’s take the under here.
The pick: Under 48.5
Cleveland at Denver
Spread: Denver -1.5
Let’s keep this write up short, Dorian Thompson Robinson is making his first road start. According to the VSIN Betting database, rookie quarterbacks are 41-120-1 straight up in their first road starts, during the first 9 weeks of the season dating back to 2013. I realize we are past Week 9, but this is still Robinson’s first career road start.
That particular datapoint still means something. Cleveland will have to rely on their run game and number one overall defense.
Meanwhile there's the Broncos, and over the course of the season, Denver is one of the most improved teams in the league. Their defense still ranks 30th in the NFL. But the defense was giving up 40 points per contest during the first month. They have held teams to 21 or less in four out of their last five. The defense is improving. Russell Wilson is making plays.
Denver is back in the playoff hunt with a win. I’ll take Denver home here.
The pick: Denver (-1.5)
Baltimore at Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday Night Football)
Spread: Baltimore (-3.5)
Believe it or not, the sharp money is in Los Angeles here. Los Angeles lost at Green Bay last week and has an uphill climb to make the postseason. Justin Herbert has been playing at an MVP level the last two weeks. Baltimore just lost their best offensive weapon, Mark Andrews. Baltimore also has injuries at offensive tackle Ronnie Staley and corner Marlon Humphrey is also questionable. Also, this will be the first home game where Los Angeles will have a home field. Baltimore’s fan base doesn’t travel like Dallas, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, or Las Vegas.
Los Angeles always plays close games, five of those six losses are by three points or fewer. I expect this game to play in a similar way. Despite being 4-6 and in last place, Los Angeles is being power rated as a top 12 NFL team according to team rankings, PFF, and Football Outsiders. I see both Quarterbacks going back and forth. I’ll take Los Angeles to lose by three on a heartbreaking field goal. That's still a cover.
The pick: Los Angeles +3.5
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive