Week 9 was a weird week, as two of our picks pushed, while a Julio Jones dropped touchdown pass kept the Atlanta game from going over. A 1-2-2 week represented our second losing week of the year, and brought our record to 26-16-3 (61.9 percent) on the season. We’re currently 17-9-1 (65.4 percent) on spread picks and 9-7-2 (56.3 percent) on totals. We’re 53-44-3 (54.6 percent) against the spread overall through nine weeks, and on over/unders we’re 64-50-3 (56.1 percent).
Each week provides an exciting slate of games, along with the knowledge generated from an additional week’s worth of PFF data. Including Thursday night, six home teams this week are underdogs, while there are five games with spreads larger than a touchdown. We’re taking one of the home underdogs, and two underdogs in total. Even though it didn’t work last week, we’re going to pick against Cowboys for the second-straight week and for the third time this year.
Each of the five feature picks below comes with a point/counterpoint analysis, and a deeper dive into our “Lock of the Week” on the PFF Preview Podcast. The Lock of the Week is 6-3 so far (66.7 percent). For the remainder of our spread and over/under picks, check out PFF Elite and the PFF Elite Facebook Group. For our thoughts on Thursday Night Football’s spread and over/under, follow us at @PFF_George and @PFF_EricEager on Twitter each week. The Thursday night graphics have been 7-2 (77.8 percent) so far this season as well.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (-4.5)
Pick: Titans 23 – 20 (Bengals cover)
Point (Eric Eager): This is a value play here, with us likely buying the Bengals at rock bottom. While they are having difficulties offensively (failing to surpass 300 total yards since their bye), their defense has allowed only 4.6 yards per play this season (tied for best in the NFL). They can continue this success against the Titans this week, as Marcus Mariota has only the 24th-highest adjusted completion percentage among quarterbacks through nine weeks. The Titans offensive line is the second-most efficient pass blocking line in the league so far, but it hasn’t translated into success for Tennessee’s passing offense, with Mariota generating only an 83.7 passer rating when kept clean. If the Bengals, allowing only 3.8 yards per carry as a defense, can stop the runs on early downs it will be difficult for the Titans to generate enough points to cover the four and a half.
Counterpoint (George Chahrouri): I’m the last person to look at a team’s performance ATS in certain situations, but this one is too hard to ignore. I am, of course, talking about the last time a strong-willed red-haired warrior was an underdog to a deep-sea Titan. Despite what Disney would have you believe, the real Little Mermaid ends ups failing in her quest for human recognition despite the help of the maniacal and talented Ursula. Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis must overcome this prior loss only a few hundred years later. Talk about a trend. The Titan leader, Mariota, has not lost his secret weapon, the play-action fake, which he uses on 25 percent of drop backs (ninth-most) and has resulted in a deadly 137.5 passer rating (second-best). In fact, Mariota has thrown all but one of his six touchdowns using a play fake. While the Bengals have allowed the third-lowest completion percentage and yards per pass against play action, they’ve faced three of the four quarterbacks with the lowest passer rating when using play action.
New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills (+3)
Pick: Saints 25 – 23 (Bills cover)
Point (GC): The Saints have a legit shot at a Super Bowl run, but I am not about to fall prey to the fact that the better team overall doesn’t win every game. Buffalo has the extra rest and a home field advantage that combines bitter cold with a propensity for good quarterbacks off the winning side when visiting Orchard Park (see Carr, Derek). While Drew Brees is our second- highest graded QB, the gap between him and the eighth-ranked Taylor is just 1.5 (85.8 to 84.3). Taylor has done this without a wide receiver ranked in the top 50, so the addition of Kelvin Benjamin (79.1 – 28th) should provide a boost. No, I’m not worried about Kelvin eating all the buffalo wings. I’m not. At all. Topping things off, the Saints run defense is allowing the seventh-most yards before first contact per carry while also letting runners gain yards after contact on 83.2 percent of attempts (second-most), in case you are wondering that is not the best combo. Slim Shady, stand up.
Counterpoint (EE): While the market is likely overvaluing the Saints, how much should we guard against correcting for a blowout Thursday-night loss to the Jets? While the Bills defense has largely played well all year, they surrendered a 121.3 passer rating to Josh McCown when McCown was kept clean. The Saints’ offensive line is as healthy as they’ve been all year and is playing its best football to date, surrendering only four pressured dropbacks last week against Tampa Bay. If the Bills struggle to get to Brees it might be a long day for Tyrod Taylor and Co. as they try to keep up.
New York Jets at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (over/under 43.5)
Pick: Jets 24 – 21 (the over hits)
Point (EE): This is a revenge game for both quarterbacks, with Josh McCown coming back to Tampa to face Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs. Betting the over, at first blush, would seem to imply that we have a ton of confidence in the two offenses starting these journeymen passers. That’s partly true, as McCown is playing legitimately good football (for him), grading as our 20th-best quarterback at 76.3. Tampa Bay will be more than accommodating in McCown’s return, as they’ve allowed the fourth-highest yards per play defensively through the season’s first nine weeks. On the other side, Fitzpatrick will be there to take chances for the 2-6 Bucs, and we’re envisioning him throwing for multiple scores (and this bet is impervious as to which team scores on those throws).
Counterpoint (GC): McCown and Fitzpatrick own the second- and fourth-highest percentage of turnover worthy plays since 2013. Sprinkle in a little revenge, the absence of Mike Evans (80.3 – 19th), two defenses that are neither horrific nor remarkable (Tampa ranks 10th and New York 19th in our opponent adjusted grade based rankings), Jameis on the sideline adding an enormous boost with his motivational tactics and you end up with a low-scoring catastrophe. The number on this game moved up a point or two depending on where you look, so all signs point to me softy whispering colorful words at my television as I stare at a score that adds up to 41 while one team is inhumanely killing the clock. I just read Fitzpatrick’s Wikipedia in hopes that he never graduated from Harvard, while there was nothing to confirm nor deny, I did learn that he majored in math yet missed two questions on the Wonderlic exam, pathetic.
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons (-3)
Pick: Falcons 27 -23 (Falcons cover)
Point (GC): Matt Ryan is just a soul whose intentions are good, yet so misunderstood (well this season at least). He has just two “Turnover Worthy Throws” (our lowest-graded throws) which is the fewest in the NFL this season. Both of those passes were picked off which makes him one of only two QBs who’ve had all their egregious mistakes converted into turnovers by the defense. To boot, Ryan’s five interceptions that didn’t occur on horrific throws also leads the league. To summarize, Ryan is playing better than his box score stats would lead you to believe. Julio Jones (88.3 – third) hadn’t dropped a pass 40 yards downfield in his career prior to last week, so Mr. Jones and me look into the future, yeah, stare at all of the beautiful long touchdowns coming our way (you are welcome, yet again). Assuming Ezekiel Elliott will be at home making crop-tops, the Cowboys run game figures to lose a little juice without the third-ranked runner. This is important not so much for the run game itself but rather because Dak Prescott has dominated off of play-action this year, as he has a passer rating of 126.2 (fourth) when using play-action and his 7:0 touchdown to interception ratio is the best in the NFL. With Coach Jerry Jones caught up in the recent lawsuit, he probably won’t have time to text Dak an alternative game plan from his cellular device.
Counterpoint (EE): While Elliott is a generational talent at the running back position, there is some question as to how important running the football (and who does that running) is to winning football games in the NFL. Additionally, Dallas has played well defensively so far this season, with DeMarcus Lawrence ruining drive after drive by generating 42 total pressures and a 14.5 pass-rushing productivity through the season’s first nine weeks. If Sean Lee (84.5) can contain the running backs of the Falcons in the passing game, it’s possible for Dallas to slow the Falcons enough to cover these three points on the other side of the ball.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (over/under 46.5)
Pick: Patriots 27-17 (the under hits)
Point (EE): While the Patriots are still surrendering 6.6 yards per play defensively (worst in the league), they’ve given up 14, 17, seven and 13 points the last four weeks, and are coming off a bye. They’re also facing Brock Osweiler, who’s more likely to generate points for the Patriots than he is for the Broncos, especially with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas banged up. Throw in that this total is likely inflated by an overreaction to a good defense (Denver) surrendering a ridiculous number of points (51) to an upstart Eagles offense last week, and the under is the right play. A matchup to watch as the night goes on is how the Patriots tackles (both of whom have PFF player grades below 50.0) hold up against a Denver defense that boasts Von Miller (first among 3-4 OLB in pass-rush productivity) and Shaq Barrett (15th).
Counterpoint (GC): If it ain’t Brock don’t fix it… That dumpster fire of a play on words is only outdone in futility by the Osweiler passing attack. Since 2015, no quarterback has completed a lower percentage of his throws 20-plus yards downfield or made a “Big Time Throw” (they are good) less frequently (that’s bad). The short field that Osweiler promises to provide Tom Brady and his league-leading 101.7 passer rating under pressure should result in some early points. And then… Release the Brocken! Still bad? Okay that’s the last one. Forced to try and catch up against a Patriots defense that has given up the most touchdowns on throws of 20 or more yards downfield (albeit they’ve been better of late) means more points though I can’t say who scores them. What about Brady struggling against the Denver defense? Go watch a Victoria’s Secret fashion show or five and then get back to me about how the TB12 method can’t score. Brock me momma like a wagon wheel, Brock me momma any way you feel.