This is one hell of a week to handicap pro football games. The COVID situation went haywire this week, which muddied the waters. Overall, the Covid list is nearing 100 players total league-wide. It all started with Cleveland having 20 players on the Covid and Washington is right behind with 19.
With the way the testing protocols work we may get guys added to the list on game day and guys activated. So there is a lot of uncertainty in the NFL streets. But we will do our best to navigate around them. We are trying to bounce back from a 0-5 week where we had some horrible beats.
But we press forward, here are the picks, presented as always by DraftKings and the DraftKings Sportsbook.
Dallas at New York
Spread: Dallas (-11.5)
America’s team is heading to East Rutherford. Dallas was able to take advantage of some last minute Covid scratches against Washington last week, while New York was simply obliterated by Los Angeles.
There are a lot of little things to watch out for in this game. Former undrafted free agent Terrance Steele will get his third career start at left tackle. Through the second half of the season it has been the Dallas defense that has been leading the charge for America’s team. No one saw that coming. Dallas’s D is led by rookie linebacker/pass rusher Micah Parsons. Parsons is the co-favorite to win defensive player of the year with TJ Watt. Because of his versatility, Dallas’s defense ranks third overall in DVOA. Dallas will be playing a New York offense that ranks 27th in offensive DVOA.
Put simply, I just don’t see how New York moves the ball.
On the other side, Dallas’s offense has struggled in recent weeks. Dallas averaged only 4.1 yards per play against a Washington defense that was missing multiple starters, on late notice. The New York defense has some talent and they do some things well. They rank 18th in DVOA and are 12th against the pass but they are in the top 12 in points per drive, and top 10 in red zone defense. I expect Dallas’s defense to dominate and I expect them to have a ground and pound attack. The total has gone under in nine out of the last 10 New York games, and the under has hit in five out of the last six Dallas games. Ignore the spread and just take the under.
The pick: Under 44.5
Carolina at Buffalo
Spread: Buffalo (-13)
I Just think the number is a touch high here. It’s a must win for both teams. We don’t really know who’s starting at QB for Carolina. I think Carolina's defense is pressured by rushing four and playing cover 2 man underneath. Matt Rhule will employ a ground and pound offense that can take advantage of the Buffalo defense. The total sits at 44 and covering a nearly two touchdown number, is tough to do.
Buffalo has a top two DVOA rating and Carolina ranks in the Top 10. I know Buffalo’s tendency to run up the score. But that tactic also makes them overvalued. Buffalo is getting a bump after their fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay. Remember they were down three touchdowns in the second half. There were some good things I saw from the Carolina offense last week. If they can avoid the turnover bug, they can cover this spread.
We will also take the under since the plays are correlated.
The pick: Carolina +13 and Under 44
(Bonus: Josh Allen under 1.5 touchdown passes)
Tennessee at Pittsburgh
Spread: Pittsburgh (-1)
One of my favorite spots of the entire year. Pittsburgh is in desperation mode in Big Ben’s last year. Tennessee is coming off a 20-0 win against Jacksonville after consecutive losses to Houston and New England. Pittsburgh has Kansas City on deck, and they need to win this game to stay in the playoff race. The Tennessee run game won’t be able to take advantage of Pittsburgh run defense holes without Henry. The Pittsburgh pass rush should dominate in this one. T.J. Watt, linebacker Alex Highsmith and cornerback Joe Haden all practice in some fashion. Getting Highsmith back is incredibly important for defending the Tennessee run game. The Titans have given up 37 sacks to rank 28th in the league. Pittsburgh's defense has racked up 37 (second-most). The Tennessee defense is one of the more overrated units in the league. I think Pittsburgh's improving offense can put up some points. Give me Pittsburg at home in a must win spot.
The pick: Pittsburgh (-1)
Green Bay at Baltimore
Spread: Green Bay (-7)
Baltimore will be missing five corners against Aaron Rodgers on Sunday - FIVE!!! That is not ideal when facing one of the best gunslingers the game has ever known. On top of that, Lamar Jackson is expected to miss the game with an ankle sprain.
Despite it, I’m not trying to take road touchdown favorite - although they have hit at an alarming rate recently. If I learned anything from our Browns beat last week, Tyler Huntley can play. Baltimore is really going to emphasis Huntley’s legs and I think they will be able to put some puts up.
Without multiple starting corners, Green Bay is putting up at least four touchdowns in Baltimore. Which means we only need Baltimore to get in the end zone twice. I think they can manage that. Don’t over think it, take the over.
The pick: Over 43.5
New Orleans at Tampa Bay
Spread: Tampa Bay (-11.5)
Riding a four-game winning streak and looking very much like the defending Super Bowl champs, Tampa Bay hosts New Orleans this week. Tampa also has won nine straight at home. Sean Payton being out with Covid doesn’t help matters.
Despite that, I’m comfortable taking New Orleans here. The New Orleans defense is the one unit Brady has routinely struggled against. Even in the NFC Divisional playoff win, Brady hasn’t had a passing grade about 60 when playing New Orleans. Taysom Hill at quarterback gives New Orleans some versatility on offense. If anything the back door will also be open in this one. Remember New Orleans dominated Tampa with Trevor Siemian being inserted mid game. New Orleans physical corners on the outside gives the Tampa receivers trouble. They match their physicality and don’t give free releases, messing up with Tom Brady’s timing. Combine that with a solid interior pass rush, it’s the formula of “slowing down” Tom Brady.
Tampa is coming off an emotional overtime win, and New Orleans has positive momentum after dominating New York. I’ll take the points here.
The pick: New Orleans +11.5
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter @AmontgomeryLive
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