I tried to warn you. After a 5-1 debut back in Week 5, I wrote the following in last week’s piece:
“After a big weekend when every bounce, call, and break goes the right way, it’s easy to feel like you can do no wrong. It’s a dangerous feeling. And also a foolish one…The truth is, there is no magic formula for success when it comes to picking games. Luck remains the most crucial factor, and all a person can really do is assess and utilize the data and trends to take educated and calculated risks.”
A foreshadowing of a 1-3-1 week to come, indeed. But there was one lemon in particular that will enter my personal Pantheon of excruciating and maddening losses.
Miami 31, Chicago 28 (OT)
I locked in this play on Friday morning when Chicago was a light 3.5-point road favorite and expected to go up against Ryan Tannehill. As the weekend progressed, the line soared in Chicago’s favor, and so did my confidence.
Then came news that Tannehill would miss the game with a right shoulder injury – foreshadowed by Dr. Chao on Friday – the line ballooned to Miami -7, and although I generally don’t like when a late key injury changes the dynamic and context of a game, my Chicago -3.5 pick seemed like yet another stroke of overwhelmingly good luck.
“Brock Osweiler? You can’t make this spread big enough!”
And then…well, the Bears’ offense messed around throughout a scoreless opening half which included a goal line fumble that slipped out of Jordan Howard’s hands and thus took a 7-0 deficit into the locker room. “Whatever, no worries,” I reassured myself, as I knew the Chicago offense would find itself in the second half. And that’s exactly what they did. Nine plays and 3:32 into the third quarter, the Bears led 14-7 and would soon extend that lead to 21-10.
Osweiler and a double-digit deficit go together like Chip Kelly and emotional intelligence, particularly against what was billed as an elite defense. It was over—until it wasn’t. Come along for the ride as we relive my, or, if you followed me a week ago, our misery.
12:26 remaining—Mitch Trubisky hits a wide-open Tarik Cohen for an easy walk-in touchdown that is called back by offensive pass interference.
“Boom! Put it on ice…wait. A flag? Come on! Whatever. It’s still first down. It’s all good.”
12:13 remaining—Trubisky forces a pass into the middle of the end zone that is intercepted by T.J. McDonald.
“Not great, Mitch!” A touchdown might have sealed it, but even a field goal would’ve made it a two-score game. I could survive a cover with a field goal. Instead…
9:08 remaining—Osweiler caps an almost effortless 6-play, 80-yard drive when he hits Kenny Stills for a 43-yard touchdown, and then hits Stills again on the two-point try. Tie game.
“I’m in trouble now. Who is Mitch Trubisky to engineer a time-consuming, late-game touchdown drive on the road? This isn’t what I signed up for. I’m screwed.”
3:17 remaining—Trubisky, of course, engineers a time-consuming, late-game touchdown drive, capped by a 29-yard pass to tight end Anthony Miller that puts the Bears up 28-21.
“It’s been a tough day for the defense, but there is no way, absolutely no way, Osweiler responds here. Tough game, but I’m going to survive. I’ve earned this one.”
There's only one Brocktober!
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) October 14, 2018
:::Buries head in palms:::
2:00 remaning—Trubisky finds Tarik Cohen, who fumbles at his own 45. The Dolphins recover.
I’m now actively rooting against Chicago. I figure if they are not going to cover, then the second-best outcome is that the entire organization and city of Chicago is miserable with me. I’m vindictive like that, and I find it helps me cope with disappointment.
1:05 remaining—Osweiler fails to convert a 3rd and 10…Adam Gase doesn’t go for it on fourth down.
“Overtime! There’s life! Maybe a walk-off touchdown? The Bears just need the ball first.”
Coin Toss—The Dolphins get the ball first, because why wouldn’t they?
5:06 remaining—Kenyan Drake fumbles at the goal-line. It’s recovered by the Bears.
“They’re probably going to kick a field goal, or it’s going to end in a tie, but this game has been so crazy that maybe, just maybe, it’s going to end in a long touchdown. Yes, I can feel it. This is the way it has to be.”
2:10 remaining—With Chicago carving up the Miami defense, Matt Nagy elects to run Jordan Howard on 3rd and 4 at the Miami 35, settling for a 53-yard Cody Parkey field goal attempt. Predictably:
Parkey missed!!!! pic.twitter.com/LIk4LOnpGu
— TheSportsFury (@TheSportsFury) October 14, 2018
Admittedly, I feel much, much better after watching that.
0:00 remaining—The Dolphins promptly move the ball down the field, and:
Jason Sanders had Kenyan Drake’s back 🤜🤛
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 14, 2018
It’s BROCKTOBER in Miami, Kenyan Drake is crying tears of redemptive joy, and I’m a loser.
Onto the picks.
Titans (+6.5) at Chargers, Over/Under 45.5
*Game will be played at London’s Wembley Stadium
Game matchup: When the Titans and Chargers square off in London on Sunday, it will be a matchup of two teams that appear headed in opposite directions. The Chargers destroyed the Browns a week ago, improving to 4-2. Those two losses came to the Chiefs and Rams, two teams that have gone a combined 11-1 this season. In fact, the Chargers’ run of quality play dates back to last October, having won 13 of their last 18 games. The Titans, meanwhile, have been a disaster over the past two weeks. They followed up a 13-12 loss to the Bills with a 21-0 blanking at home to Baltimore in which quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked 11 times. It’s no wonder the offense converted 1 of 10 third down opportunities and generated only 106 total yards and seven (SEVEN!) first downs. Just how bad was it? It was the Titans’ first shutout loss in the 20-year history of Nissan Stadium:
"It's a sack party." 😤 pic.twitter.com/7hvn8yGwNN
— RavenSSSSSSSSSSS (@Ravens) October 15, 2018
Fun fact: Here’s the number of touchdowns produced in each game by the Tennessee offense this season: 1, 1, 0, 3, 0, 0. The Titans have failed to produce an offensive touchdown in three of their six games this season. Somehow, they produced more total touchdowns (3) against the Eagles than they did in their other five games combined (2). Take a look at Tennessee’s statistical offensive output through six games, and it’s easy to see why the unit has struggled so much. The Titans’ offense is No. 30 in the NFL in both yards per game (262.7) and yards per play (4.6). They have the league’s No. 22 rushing offense and its No. 30 passing attack. Plainly, it has been a brutal product.
So is there any reason to believe offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur can get his unit on track this week? Maybe. You’re going to hear a lot about the 11 sacks, but that’s a bit misleading. The Titans have only allowed nine sacks total in their other five games, and have allowed the 13th least amount of quarterback hits this season. The Chargers’ defense has generated a just slightly better than league average 16 sacks this season, but clearly misses DE Joey Bosa. If the Tennessee offensive line does rebound, Marcus Mariota should have the ability to make some plays against a defense allowing the ninth-most yards per pass attempt (7.4) this season, and he’ll need to if the Titans are to ultimately snap their two-game skid.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers’ offense has been electric through six games. Only two teams average more than Los Angeles’ 6.8 yards per play, which is an outrageous 2.2 yards per play more than Tennessee’s offense. They will have their work cut out for them this weekend against a stout Titans defense that has allowed only 17.8 points per game and 5.2 yards per play this season. Both marks rank in the top-five among NFL defenses, and it should receive a boost this weekend with the expected return of linebacker Wesley Woodyard. If the Tennessee defense is going to continue its early success, coordinator Dean Pees will need to find a way to slow down Melvin Gordon, who has already amassed 745 total yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. That’s no small task for any defense, particularly one that has allowed the league’s seventh-most rushing yards per game (123.2).
To recap: The Chargers average significantly more total yards per play, yards per game, and points per game than the Titans. Tennessee’s defense holds several statistical advantages, but…did I mention the offense? Additionally, Los Angeles-San Diego-Alternative Destination to be Named Later has been red-hot for well over a year, and the Titans are coming off one of their most embarrassing losses in recent franchise history. Got it? Good. Because I’m about to go against all of that here in a moment.
Gambling Trends: The spread has bounced around between Chargers -6.5 and -7 at several sportsbooks this week. It has held steady at -6.5 throughout the week at DraftKings, despite an overwhelming majority of the money coming in on Los Angeles. In fact, as of Friday morning, 74% of total bets and 73% of the total money backs the Chargers. FADE ALERT?
Things to Know: The Chargers have won 10 of the past 11 meetings between the two teams. The favorite in neutral site games is 10-2-1 straight up and 10-3 ATS since the start of the 2015 season. Favorites are 12-7 ATS all-time at Wembley Stadium. Teams that have won three-straight that are playing a team on a two-game losing streak are 22-17-1 ATS since 2003.
Philip Rivers is only 9-14-1 ATS when coming off of a win of 24 points or more. Rivers has also struggled as a favorite when the total is over 44 points, going 39-49-1 ATS. I thought there may be some value in playing a team off a blowout loss against a team off a blowout win, but underdogs are only 31-30-2 in such a spot since 2003. Not bad, but not exactly eye-popping.
I also decided to examine how teams, and, in particular, the Chargers with Rivers, perform when heavily backed by the gambling public. Rivers is 15-21-1 when over 70% of bets back him, as is currently the case here. Meanwhile, underdogs receiving less than 30% of bets are 41-26-2 since the start of last season and 21-12-2 when the spread is between 6-10 points. Ou.
But here’s the trend that really does it for me: Teams that are coming off a game in which they scored between 0-9 points and are receiving less than 30% of total spread bets are 146-91-4 ATS since 2003.
Prediction: The Titans aren’t the play that you want to make, but the play you should make. If we’re going to point out that the Chargers’ two losses came against the Rams and Chiefs, then it’s also fair to point out the Titans have knocked off the Jaguars and Eagles. The Titans had done a good job limiting quarterback hits prior to last Sunday, and I expect the offensive line to bounce back against an average pass rush this week. While I don’t like the statistical output and efficiency comparisons, I do like getting seven points on a neutral field with a desperate team, and I love–LOVE–betting against nearly 75% of the public that looks at this game and says, “No way the Chargers don’t win this by 10 or more. Easy.” And while I don’t fancy myself a conspiracy theorist, I have to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NFL would like the fans assembled at Wembley Stadium this Sunday to see a competitive game after last week’s drubbing of the Raiders by the Seahawks. FADE ALERT!
Chargers 26, Titans 23
Saints at Ravens (-3), Over/Under 49
Game matchup: It will be one the NFL’s top offensive attacks against the game’s top-ranked defense when New Orleans travels to Baltimore for a 4:05 kickoff on Sunday. Drew Brees, author of 145 NFL victories as a starting quarterback, is winless in four tries against Baltimore, leaving the Ravens as the lone team he has not vanquished during his storied career. If he wins on Sunday, he’ll become only the third quarterback in league history to beat all 32 teams, joining the elite company of Brett Favre and Peyton Manning to own that particular video game achievement.
Brees has been scorching hot through five games, completing 77.9% of his passes for 1,658 yards with 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He’s currently on pace to post career-bests in quarterback rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, and he looks poised to pass for over 5,000 yards for the sixth-time in his career. With one touchdown pass on Sunday, he will become the fourth quarterback in league history to reach 500 career touchdown passes. Not bad for a 39-year-old. The passing attack has set the tone for a Saints offense averaging a league-best 36 points per game, but the ground game has chipped in 103.2 yards per contest and a league-leading 10 rushing touchdowns.
It’s hard to imagine any team slowing down the Saints right now, but if any team can do it, that team is probably the Ravens. They possess the No. 1 defense in terms of opponent points per game (12.8), opponent yards per game (270.8), opponent points per play (0.21), opponent yards per play (4.4), opponent touchdowns per game (1.3), opponent completion percentage (55.61%), and opponent yards per pass (5.3). Not bad, yes? They’ve also been lights out on third down, allowing opponents to convert only 26.5% of such opportunities, which is the NFL’s second-best stop rate.
The Saints have done a good job of keeping Drew Brees clean this season, allowing only eight sacks through five games. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s defense has generated an NFL-best (surprise!) 26 sacks this season, including 11 against Tennessee a week ago. Terrell Suggs is still playing at a high level, and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith is coming off a three-sack game against the Titans. This isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but the ability of offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramcszyk to keep Drew Brees upright may very well decide this game.
While the collision course between those two elite units will grab the headlines, it accounts for only half the battle. The Baltimore offense has been formidable, and it should have opportunities to make plays against a shaky New Orleans defense. The Ravens have the NFL’s No. 9 offense in terms of yardage (393 yards per game) and their 46.88% third down conversion percentage is the league’s third-best mark this season. More importantly, they are in the top-half of the league in points per game (25.5). Joe Flacco is well on his way to eclipsing 4,000 passing yards, something he’s done only one other time in his career, and has thrown nine touchdowns against only four interceptions. He should continue his solid start against a Saints defense that is No. 30 in opponent completion percentage (71.1%), opponent yards per pass (8.6), and opponent pass yards per game (297.6). Given the Saints are allowing a league-best 3.1 yards per rush, Flacco will need to be on his game.
Gambling Trends: Most books opened with the Ravens as a 2.5-point favorite and have held at that number, while some have pushed the Ravens up to a 3-point favorite. Only 42% of the total point-spread bets are currently on Baltimore, but 67% of the money backs them. As of early Friday morning, the sharp money is on the Ravens. I wouldn’t be shocked if the public continues to back the Saints over the weekend, but I don’t expect much additional line movement.
Things to Know: Joe Flacco is 2-0 in his career straight-up and ATS against Drew Brees. At first glance, this looks like a good spot for Brees, but the closer you look, the less favorable the trends become. He is 37-26-4 ATS as a road dog, but is only 13-15-2 ATS in the same spot when the spread is three points or less and 2-5-1 in the same situation against non-conference teams. In general, NFC road underdogs coming off a 20+ point win are 38-55-6 ATS in their next game, but Brees has defied that trend throughout his career by going 5-1 ATS in the same situation.
For those wondering about “getting the Saints outdoors,” well, Brees and Payton are 9-2 ATS on the road when the temperature is between 45-55 degrees. The projected high on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore is 52 degrees. Flacco, for what it’s worth, is 10-10-1 ATS at home in the same temperature range.
Flacco is 10-7-1 ATS lifetime when he’s favored by three points or less at home and 25-17-2 ATS when he’s favored by seven points or less. He’s 13-9-1 ATS as a favorite against NFC opponents and the Ravens are 4-2 ATS as home favorites against NFC South opponents since 2003.
Prediction: The historical trends are split, so I’ll rely more on the betting trends and feel on this one. The public wants to bet on the Saints, and I get wanting to back Brees over Flacco, but I’m once again going to go the other way. After missing the postseason in excruciating fashion a season ago, this iteration of the Ravens feels a bit different. I can see a scenario in which the first-place Saints come into Baltimore for a non-conference game a little bit flat off an emotional blowout win in which Brees set the career passing yards record. Not convinced yet? Also keep in mind the Saints travel to Minnesota in prime time next week to take on the Vikings in what is the ultimate revenge opportunity after last season’s gut-punch playoff loss. You may recall how that game ended:
— paco (@AllaireMatt) January 15, 2018
The Ravens, meanwhile, have no room for a letdown in a hotly contested AFC North, particularly after losing to Cleveland two weeks ago. Could they be complacent after a 21-0 shutout win in Tennessee last week? Maybe, but I don’t see it. Admittedly, the aforementioned Payton/Brees sorcery in 45-55 degree temps totally weirds me out, but I like what Flacco has done as a light favorite at home throughout his career, and I’m really hanging my hat on what appears to be the league’s best defense.
Ravens 27, Saints 21
Panthers at Eagles, Over 45.5
The “Under” has cashed in 15 of 21 games coached by Doug Pederson at Lincoln Financial Field, including all three games this season and in six-straight regular season games dating back to last November. That has much to do with Jim Schwartz’s defense which has surrendered only 11.67 points per game during that span. If that makes you want to jump on the under, go ahead because I totally get it, though I advise against doing so. The Eagles’ offense appeared to get back on track a week ago at MetLife Stadium against the Giants, and Carson Wentz has gotten better every week since his return to action. I expect a big game from him Sunday in what should be a competitive contest. I like the Eagles to win the game, but Carolina should be able to make some plays against an Eagles defense that has been susceptible to chunk plays all season. If you need a trend to make you feel better about this recommendation, the over has hit in 36 of the 61 road games coached by Ron Rivera. So there’s that.
Take “Over” 45.5 points
Cowboys at Redskins (-1.5)
Both teams are coming off impressive wins a week ago, but it’s the Cowboys who really opened eyes with a 40-7 thrashing of Jacksonville. In the least surprising development ever, one win has changed the public’s perception of the Cowboys from afterthought to NFC East contender. It’s a total overreaction. The Dallas defense is legit, but I think the Redskins are the more complete team, they’re at home, and nearly 60% of the money is on the Cowboys. I’ll roll against the tide and take the Redskins.
Washington 24, Dallas 20
Browns at Buccaneers (-3.5)
I like Baker Mayfield, but he struggled a week ago, and the fact remains that he’s a rookie quarterback completing only 55.6% of his passes, with more interceptions (5) than touchdown passes (4). I think everybody has been looking for a feel good story with the Browns, and while they are certainly much improved from a season ago, I think the public got a bit carried away with the love fest. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s offense was humming against the Falcons in Jameis Winston’s return last week, and I’m not sure Mayfield and the Browns can keep up. Sharp money has pushed this spread up over a field goal, and although the Bucs don’t typically perform well as a home favorite (10-18 ATS since the start of the 2011 season), I’m going to back them here.
Buccaneers 31, Browns 23
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