I don’t read books anymore — I blame society, phones and all the TikToks — but when I did, I remember “Zorba the Greek” eating so many cherries in one sitting that he got sick. He loved cherries and couldn’t afford them, so one day he ate so many that he threw up and never craved them again.
That’s where I’m at on my guy Dan Campbell. The Lions have come from being way overrated, thanks to “Hard Knocks,” to my favorite team, as they have covered the spread for me (us?) five weeks in a row. But now, everybody loves them again and they are 2.5-point favorites against the 10-2 Vikings (the spread has moved 5.5 points, and yeah, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit).
So, I am done with the Lions. I would also love to take a break from Brock Purdy and the 49ers, but the effing public is romanticizing Tom Brady again after his comeback win Monday night, so I will have to go against the Buccaneers in that matchup.
We were 3-1 in our best bets last week and I am riding with Geno Smith and the Seahawks over the Panthers, the Bills over the Jets, the Cowboys big over the Texans and the Broncos not getting blown out by the Chiefs.
Last week: 8-7 against the spread.
Season record: 91-99-5 ATS (Plays of the week were 3-1 last week and 16-17-3 overall)
All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.
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The Raiders are finally rolling, having won three in a row, and the Rams are tanking to the point where they signed Baker Mayfield off waivers and are actually considering playing him. Aaron Donald is one of many players not suiting up for the Rams, who will have a hard time getting any pressure on Derek Carr.
That’s bad news considering how dominant running back Josh Jacobs and receiver Davante Adams have been. Since Week 9, Adams is first in yards per route (3.59), targets/route (36.2 percent) and touchdown receptions. Meanwhile, the Rams rank 31st in pass defense DVOA vs. No. 1 wide receivers.
The Rams have the NFL’s worst record against the spread at 3-8-1 and everyone is back on the Raiders this week. We, however, remember what happened against Jeff Saturday’s Colts last month and are picking the Rams to lose by less than six.
Player Prop that pops: Receiver Mack Hollins to catch seven passes at +600. Hollins has hit seven twice this season, and has averaged five the last three games. The Raiders could definitely rely on him more on a short week to reduce the wear and tear on Jacobs and Adams. (We split our two props last week on the Bills-Patriots.)
The pick: Rams +6.5
We loved going against the Jets last week as they were facing a Vikings team coming off 10 days’ rest. The game was not close until the Vikings hit cruise control too early. This week, the Jets are facing a Bills team that is … coming off 10 days’ rest. And not only that, but Buffalo wants to avenge a 20-17 road loss last month.
In that game, the Jets blitzed Josh Allen just 7.1 percent of the time, the lowest rate he has seen this season, but he took sacks at the highest rate of the season (12.8 percent). Allen was off target on 17.6 percent of his throws in that game — also a season high.
Well, Allen is healthier and sharper now and the Bills have since established running back James Cook as a pass-catching weapon.
Running back Zonovan Knight has given the Jets offense a spark. And it was cool last week when all his teammates wore Mike White T-shirts (I don’t think Zach Wilson did, but he’s not too worried about getting another shot). White ranks 32nd among 42 quarterbacks in EPA/DB on “true” dropbacks — no play-action or screens — while Wilson ranks 35th and Joe Flacco 37th. The Bills defense is also much healthier since the first meeting.
The pick: Bills -9
The Bengals have covered the spread nine of the last 10 weeks, the one exception being a 32-13 loss to the Browns. Their offensive line is better than it was last season, having allowed pressure on 26 percent of Joe Burrow’s dropbacks (the third-lowest rate in the NFL) compared to 33.4 percent last season.
The Bengals are coming off a huge win over the Chiefs, which has inflated the point spread from 4 to 6 points. That’s why we’re going to take the Browns, who have an opportunistic defense and should at least be able to keep it close if not beat the Bengals again (they have won eight of the last nine matchups).
Deshaun Watson was extremely rusty in his first game back from suspension last week. But in his one matchup against Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, in 2020 with the Texans, Watson was 24-of-33 passing for 324 yards, three TDs and no interceptions as the run-conscious Bengals played eight men in coverage on just four of Watson’s 37 dropbacks.
The pick: Browns +6
Last week was the Texans’ Super Bowl against their former quarterback Watson, but horrible teams don’t play in Super Bowls … and the Browns smoked them despite not playing well. And now they drag a horrible run defense into a game against a team with a huge offensive line, Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott.
The backdoor-cover possibilities also appear bleak. It doesn’t matter if Kyle Allen, Tim Allen, Davis Mills or Patty Mills is playing quarterback (it’s Davis Mills, by the way). Among 42 qualified quarterbacks (minimum 70 attempts), Allen ranks last in EPA/DB. Mills ranks 37th. The Texans have ranked last in EPA/drive the past two weeks with Allen under center after ranking 31st in Weeks 1 through 11. The Dallas defense is drooling.
The Cowboys are second in fourth-quarter point differential (53), while the Texans are 31st (-36).
The pick: Cowboys -16.5
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It’s going to be hard for me to quit Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown. When St. Brown has played more than 50 percent of the Lions’ snaps (Weeks 1-3, 8-13), Detroit has averaged 2.74 points per drive and converted 44.7 percent of third downs. When St. Brown didn’t play more than 50 percent of snaps (Weeks 5 and 7), Detroit averaged 0.29 points per drive and converted 33.3 percent of third downs. His 20 first-down receptions on third or fourth down ties Justin Jefferson for the league lead.
The Vikings have been a little overrated this season, but they already beat the Lions once this season. Jefferson had a quiet day in that win while Dalvin Cook averaged 5.6 yards a carry. And Minnesota’s defense has struggled, though it has improved when it has counted the last month. Since Week 10, the Vikings are tied with the Rams for most red zone drives allowed (18), but they have allowed touchdowns just 33.3 percent of the time. Only the 49ers defense has a better red zone TD rate during that span.
The Lions have definitely turned the corner, but give me the line value.
The pick: Vikings +2.5
Teams usually respond well after a coach is fired during the season, but how about a general manager? And Jon Robinson was a pretty decent one. Since he took over in 2016, the Titans have the ninth-best overall winning percentage (.606) and fifth-best winning percentage in divisional games (.667).
But Robinson traded away A.J. Brown, who made his former team look foolish last week, and QB Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been good since coming back from injury in Week 10. The Titans rank 25th in points per drive (1.59) and 23rd in EPA per drive (-0.26) since then, and they’ve posted a red zone TD rate of 38.5 percent, which ranks 27th. (They were first in red zone TD rate at 78.9 percent the first nine weeks.)
The Jaguars are a young team who understandably got too high after beating the Ravens and were crushed by the Lions last week. But they will bounce back and they have a huge edge at quarterback and receiver in this matchup. Since Week 9, Trevor Lawrence is fourth in EPA/DB (0.23) and second in completion percentage (71.9 percent), with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
The pick: Jaguars +4
The Giants are slowly fading away while Jalen Hurts is making an MVP case for himself. He can run away from defenders then he loft the ball deep to Brown, whose dominant performance last week helped get his old general manager fired in Tennessee. Brown has seven receptions for 256 yards and five touchdowns on 16 targets thrown 20 or more yards in the air, compared to three catches on 12 targets for 112 yards and one TD last season.
The Giants will have trouble getting their blitzes to affect Hurts too much, but the bigger issue may be on offense. They were seventh in EPA/drive and 10th in points per drive (2.11) the first seven weeks of the season, but those rankings have since dropped to 23rd in EPA/drive and 24th in points per drive (1.64). QB Daniel Jones has been a lot less effective on play-action plays, and RB Saquon Barkley has gone from picking up 3.4 yards after contact per carry to 1.81.
There is no reason to pick the Giants, as they will have the full attention of a division rival with a game against the Bears on deck. New York does have heart, but I don’t know how many points that’s worth.
The pick: Eagles -7
The Ravens would have covered the spread last week despite Lamar Jackson’s injury if not for a ridiculous WR option pass into quadruple coverage in the end zone. Tyler Huntley did engineer a game-winning drive, and the shift in the point spread for this one does indicate the drop-off from Jackson to him:
The Ravens offense since 2021 with Jackson: 44.1 percent success rate, 41.1 percent third down conversion rate, 7.24 YPA, 33.9 percent first down rate on pass attempts.
The Ravens offense with Huntley: 41.6 percent success rate, 32.1 percent third down conversion rate, 5.74 YPA, 28.5 percent first down rate on pass attempts.
Huntley, like Jackson, can make plays with his legs, and that should deter Alex Highsmith and the Steelers pass rush from being too aggressive. The Ravens defense has to step up and should be able to contain Steelers RB Najee Harris and put the game in rookie QB Kenny Pickett’s hands. He has been average thus far, but I might take Huntley over him. In fact, I am.
The pick: Ravens -2.5
We might go with our hearts on this one. We (yeah, I’m including you) feel bad for Russell Wilson. He has always been a little quirky/eccentric, but when he was winning with Seattle, people didn’t say much about it. Now that he has been saddled with a bad coach and an offense that doesn’t fit him, he is struggling and the guy can’t open his mouth without people making fun of him.
This is not a great spot, considering the Chiefs are coming off a loss and have owned the Broncos. The Chiefs have won 13 straight games in the series and are 10-3 against the spread in those games. And the Broncos are averaging just two red zone drives per game, which ties for 15th fewest of any team this century and the fewest since the 2018 Cardinals’ 1.75.
But … the Broncos should be able to run the ball against the Chiefs and my guy Wilson is getting better. Over the last four games, he has completed 71.9 percent of his passes (at 10.34 yards per attempt) when he is blitzed, compared to 48.8 percent and 7.12 in his first seven games.
Still not sold on taking the 9.5 points? What if I told you that you would be backing one of the best 3-9 teams in history. The Broncos are tied for the second-best point differential through 12 games (-38) among the 56 teams since 2000 to start 3-9. Only Priest Holmes and the 2001 Chiefs (-31 through 12 games) were better.
The pick: Broncos +9.5
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Ah, the storylines. Brady trying to impress his dream team by outplaying Purdy, then telling Kyle Shanahan he is available for a Super Bowl run. Brady looking all of 45 years old as he tries to avoid getting hit by a fast and aggressive 49ers defense. Purdy having to go through his whole life being called Mr. Irrelevant.
I didn’t really want to back Purdy here, as rookie QBs are 4-11 all-time vs. Todd Bowles as a head coach or defensive coordinator. But then I realized that one of those was this season against Pickett. Not to mention that Purdy got rid of the ball in an average of 2.48 seconds last week, whereas Jimmy Garoppolo averaged 2.52 for the season. The two are actually pretty similar.
But you can’t take Brady and the Bucs here. Their offensive line is bad and no match for the 49ers defensive line. And as cool as the comeback win over the Saints was, it was more on the Saints’ poor execution — and the Bucs still didn’t cover the spread. I don’t know how much Purdy can do, but he doesn’t have to do much for the 49ers to win by more than a field goal.
The pick: 49ers -3.5
RB Kenneth Walker III may not play because of an ankle injury. Is that why the Seahawks are favored by only 3.5 points over the Panthers? Or is it because the Seahawks have a look-ahead game against the 49ers next Thursday night? Maybe it’s that the Panthers are coming off a bye? Sam Darnold truthers?
Whatever the reason, I hope that people aren’t still doubting Geno Smith. He had his first game-winning drive since 2014 against the Rams (in a game in which the Rams were missing a lot of players and came out with something to prove, and the favored Seahawks just kind of showed up at kickoff).
Smith is having a great season, even better than people think. He has the lowest off-target rate of this season (6.4 percent). Since TruMedia began tracking the stat in 2019, only Drew Brees has been more accurate: 5.8 percent in 2019 and 5.9 percent in 2020. And he’s not dinking and dunking. Smith has the lowest off-target percentage of any QB this season on throws of 20-plus air yards (13.5 percent).
D’Onta Foreman and a young offensive line will have a good day against the Seahawks run defense, but I don’t see Seattle losing two home games in a row.
The pick: Seahawks -3.5
Tua Tagovailoa was a walking turnover last week, as going against the 49ers defense with two backup tackles will make even the coolest, most relaxed guy a little stressed out and jumpy. The Dolphins lost and fell down the power rankings, but luckily for him, the Chargers don’t create a lot of pressure without Joey Bosa.
The Chargers also can’t keep the pressure out of their own quarterback’s face, due to even more injuries. They have allowed pressure at the sixth-highest rate (37.6 percent). Somehow, Justin Herbert has taken a sack on just 13.3 percent of pressured dropbacks, the third-lowest rate among 32 qualified QBs. He ranks 11th in EPA/DB on pressured dropbacks.
There is no value with that point spread, but it’s hard to not like the better-coached team coming off a loss. (The spread just moved to 3.5 from 3 and man, I can see Herbert keeping the score close in the fourth quarter. I just changed my pick. Oh wait, the line moved again back to 3. Changing my pick again.)
The pick: Dolphins +3
Let’s be honest. No one has any idea when it comes to the Patriots this season. Do they beat only teams with bad quarterbacks? Is Mac Jones any good?
Jones was clearly unhappy with the offensive scheme last week, and maybe the Patriots should let him cook somewhere and not just fling the ball short of the sticks all the time. In 2021, Jones ranked 15th in percentage of his throws (42.8 percent) at or past the sticks. This season he ranks 29th (37 percent). Luckily for him and the Patriots, the Cardinals don’t have anyone who can slow down running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
That’s why the Patriots are the pick. Some pundits say that Bill Belichick has a tough time against scrambling quarterbacks, but who in the heck knows what to expect out of Kyler Murray? Not only is he wildly inconsistent and moody, but there are games when he has no interest in leaving the pocket.
The pick: Patriots -1
— TruMedia research courtesy of NFL editor Aaron Reiss.
(Graphic: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photo of Geno Smith: Harry How / Getty Images)