NFL Week 9 Best Bets: Back the Commanders and Patriots to generate surprising offensive production

2T3P54E Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) in action against the New York Giants during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

• Trust the offenses of the Washington Commanders and New England Patriots: These two quarterbacks are in rare situations where they can succeed and score at a high rate.

• Bet on a defensive battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys: Both offenses are not as good as they seem and are bound to regress.

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Week 9 of the 2023 NFL regular season is upon us. Here, we identify two quarterbacks who have great matchups and should be able to put points on the board. We will also use our late-down variance angle to fade two offenses that are overvalued. Let’s get into it.

Washington Commanders @ New England Patriots (-3, 41)

The angle we’ll be playing in this game between two struggling teams is their quarterback play, which has been highly erratic all season. Mac Jones and Sam Howell are young quarterbacks looking to prove that they are worthy of being starters in the NFL. Like many fringe NFL signal-callers, pressure can significantly impact their performance.

Elite quarterbacks are capable of thriving even when facing pressure from an opposing defense, which is something Jones and Howell are unable to do. However, when they are given a clean pocket and time to throw, both are capable of finding success. Quarterback EPA+ has a strong negative relationship with pressure rate. And with these quarterbacks, there is an even more extreme relationship than the NFL average.

Here, you can see that the slope lines are steeper for Jones and Howell than for the rest of the league.

Both the Patriots' and Commanders' defenses should struggle to generate pressure in this game. New England sits 30th in pass-rush win rate, and although the Commanders currently rank a respectable 17th, they just traded their two best pass-rushers, Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Jones and Howell should have all day to throw against two secondaries that rank in the bottom seven in expected points allowed per dropback. This is especially key for Howell, who has been taking sacks at an astronomical rate.

The Commanders quarterback also has a favorable schematic matchup against the Patriots' defense. Howell has extreme splits depending on whether he’s facing man or zone coverage, as he ranks 14th in EPA per dropback against man and 31st against zone. Luckily, New England plays man at the fifth-highest rate in the league despite a shaky cornerback room after losing stud rookie Christian Gonzalez to injury early in the season.

This Patriots' defense is also extremely banged up, with six starters carrying a questionable tag heading into this game. Bill Belichick can only do so much with what he is given, and the reality is that this unit is simply not that good and should be even worse this week due to injury.

Unfortunately, New England also lost WR1 Kendrick Bourne to a season-ending injury last week, which was a significant blow to an already weak group of pass-catchers. However, New England can still find success against a bad Commanders defense by leaning on the tight end duo of Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, along with impressive rookie wideout Demario Douglas, who has graded out highly early in his career.

Best Bet: Over 41 (to 42)

I think this number being two or three points below league-average scoring is due to the market's respect for the Patriots' defense. The defensive talent and production aren't there, though. I’m buying both Howell and Jones to produce enough offense to push this game over the total.

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles (-3, 47)

This game is an exciting battle between two NFC East rivals with a lot of playoff implications. My angle here focuses on the offenses, which are rated very highly by the market despite their underlying metrics not being as impressive as you’d think.

On early downs, the Cowboys' offense has a negative EPA+ and has been the 11th-worst team in the league at moving the ball. Fortunately, they have been dominant on the key late downs and have gained the most EPA on those plays. It's a similar story for the Eagles, who have been around average on early downs but rank second best in the league in EPA+ on late downs.

The key signal here is these offenses' relative struggles on first and second downs, which are more predictive because of their stability and higher sample size. Yes, good offenses are going to perform well on third and fourth downs, but when there is this extreme discrepancy between early- and late-down performance, some negative regression should be looming for both units. If they continue to struggle to move the ball on early downs and their late-down conversion rates come back down to earth, these offenses are not going to keep producing the way they have.

The Eagles have a particularly difficult matchup against an elite Cowboys defense that has held opposing offenses to the worst EPA+ on early downs and is also a top-five unit on late downs. Dallas should be able to pressure Jalen Hurts with a defensive front that ranks first in the NFL in pass-rush win rate.

Although the Eagles' defense has not been elite, they haven’t been pushovers and should be able to handle a Cowboys offense that may be without left tackle Tyron Smith. Philadelphia ranks second in pass-rush win rate and should be able to disrupt a lot of what Dallas wants to do, especially if Smith is out.

Best Bet: Under 47 (to 45.5)

I’m fading both of these offenses because of their extreme early- and late-down splits that indicate their output is not sustainable in the long run. Take the under in a game with the third-highest total on the board.

Player Prop Best Bet: Elijah Moore o3.5 Receptions +100 (to -115)

Using PFF metrics, we can identify players whose actual production doesn't match their expected production based on the usage and targets they are garnering. One of the players who has underperformed their expected stats the most so far this season is Browns wideout Elijah Moore, who is averaging 55.7 expected receiving yards per game while producing 36.7 actual receiving yards per game — the third-most extreme underperformance among all pass-catchers.

The angle I’ll be playing here is on Moore’s reception prop, as he has become a reliable short-to-intermediate target for returning Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. PFF data has also expected Moore to tally 4.5 catches per game instead of the 3.9 that he has averaged this season. This is, again, one of the most extreme deviations in the NFL.

The Browns slot receiver also has a favorable matchup against rookie backup slot cornerback Garrett Williams, who has played less than 65 snaps in his career. Additionally, Moore has a higher target share against zone coverage, which he will see a lot of against a Cardinals defense that plays zone at the eighth-highest rate in the league. Back Moore to perform to his expected numbers and record at least four receptions.

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