Thank goodness for Atlanta, as their win against the Dallas Cowboys stopped our losing streak on the “Lock of the Week” at one. In total, a 2-3 mark represented our third losing week of the year, and brought our record to 28-19-3 (59.6 percent) on the season. We’re 60-49-3 (55.0 percent) against the spread overall through ten weeks, and on over/unders we’re 73-55-3 (57.0 percent). Last week on said picks we were 6-5 and 8-5, respectively.
Each week provides an exciting slate of games, along with the knowledge generated from an additional week’s worth of PFF data. We’re going back to the well again with Atlanta, with the feeling that the public perception is still a little low on Matty Ice and the gang. After kicking ourselves for not picking New Orleans or New England against the spread last week (even going against New Orleans…) we’re going to back two of the best teams in football. We pick the Vikings against the spread for the first time all season against a public favorite in the Rams.
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 7-3 so far (70.0 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 9-2 (81.8 percent) so far this season, after we correctly picked the Steelers against the spread and the over in last night’s game.
Washington at New Orleans Saints (-7.5)
Pick: Saints 28-17 (Saints cover)
Point (George Chahrouri): Last week, I told you the Saints were legit Super Bowl contenders while also agreeing with our model and picking the Bills to cover at home. So, on Tuesday, I used my back up laptop and fixed my main computer on Twitter dot com all day to show it what life is like when you don’t have real things to do. Parenting at its finest. A major key for the Saints on their seven-game win streak has been the play of the defense; they rank fourth in pressure rate, fifth in average time to pressure, and first in opponent passer rating allowed. Marshon Lattimore is the highest graded cornerback in the entire league while allowing the third-lowest passer rating on throws into his coverage (42.3). Offensively, the Saints are running the ball 28 times a game, the most since 2009 when they won the Super Bowl. That is called a “trend,” those never lose, you can Venmo me your appreciation. Meanwhile, the Redskins have about 20 players on their injury report, making it the longest report yet to come out of Washington this year. Brees-Payton 2020.
Counterpoint (Eric Eager): While the Saints have been fantastic, both straight up and against the spread, their last seven games, the best quarterback they’ve faced during that time has been somewhere between a banged-up Matthew Stafford and a banged-up Cam Newton. They face a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who is in the top 10 in adjusted completion percentage, passer rating on deep passes, passer rating when kept clean, and passer rating on play action (where he’s first). If the Saints defense (among the top five in our metrics) is simply the product of facing poor offenses, there’s a chance Washington can surprise people in this one.
Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)
Pick: Vikings 23-20 (Vikings cover)
Point (EE): While the Rams are one of the season’s best stories, if you would have told me that the Vikings would be 7-2 after nine games, having started Case Keenum for seven of those games, I would have called you crazy. With the league’s best receiving corps, the Vikings will have a decided edge when they throw the ball. Like the Saints above, the Rams’ schedule has afforded them an opportunity to put up some nice numbers defensively, despite poor play from their franchise player Trumaine Johnson. Johnson has given up the seventh-most yards per coverage snap among cornerbacks through ten weeks (1.59), despite playing on a defense that includes Aaron Donald; who is first among his position group in pass-rushing productivity (16.2, and it’s not close). If the Vikings can keep Keenum clean (where he’s got a passer rating of 103.4), the combination of a solid passing game and a devastating defense can certainly get the Vikings over this short number at home and move them to 8-2.
Counterpoint (GC): On a dark desert highway, cool wind in his hair, warm smell of colitas rising up through the air, Sean the Shimmering Light McVay has opened the doors and welcomed Jared Goff and the Rams into his hotel of play action bliss. Goff is averaging a league leading 12.1 yards per attempt off of play action, and has had the benefit of playing behind a line that has given up only eight sacks this season (sixth-best) after dropping back into the ocean on every pass play of 2016 while his line allowed the most sacks in the NFL (30). On the other side of the ball, Donald has a 97.0 pass-rush grade while the next best interior defender comes in at 89.6, that’s bigger than the difference between second and 13th, this is analytics that should be behind a pay wall and you are getting it for free. AD will be looking to put Cold Case six-feet under pressure and remind him that he can check out anytime he likes, but, he can never leave.
Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers (over/under 43.5)
Pick: Chargers 22 – 19 (the under hits)
Point (GC): The benching of Tyrod Taylor seems strange for many, but let’s be very clear that there is no better place for Peterman to reintroduce the Urban Sombrero than the city of Los Angeles. I expect attendance to quadruple and reach the thousands with the news of this beautiful piece being on display. On the field, rookie Nathan Peterman will have to deal with Joey Bosa (93.1 pass-rush grade – second) and Melvin Ingram (94.0 – first) coming after him anytime his drops back to pass. With the passing attack neutralized and Tyrod not there to provide that extra weapon in the run game there should be plenty of scoreless drives for no one to witness. You can skip the game, go to an overpriced bottomless brunch, and pay for it with you winnings – America the beautiful.
Counterpoint (EE): While we’ve been good overall picking over/unders (57 percent), we’ve had difficulty the last few weeks in the ones we’ve chosen for this article. Additionally, rooting for unders is no fun, as fluky scores on special teams and defense can really derail such picks (see NE/DEN last week). While the Chargers have been a decidedly under team this campaign, going under 40 in six of their nine games, they generally find ways to lose, and one of these weeks such a way will involve chunks of points for their opponent. While the Bills starting rookie Peterman (and likely slowing the game down as a result) is probably a notch on the belt for this bet, young quarterbacks often turn the ball over, and short fields result in points. Get ready to sweat.
New England Patriots versus Oakland Raiders (+7) in Mexico City
Pick: Patriots 29 – 20 (Patriots cover)
Point (EE): While this number has moved from five to seven, and that gave us some reluctance, this is a game for which it would be easy to overthink (and shy away from). The Patriots simply have too many edges, starting with our top-graded quarterback (Tom Brady – 93.8) facing a Raiders defense surrendering the fourth-most net yards per pass attempt. The Patriots are going to be able to exploit this in many different ways. Brandin Cooks is tops among wide receivers in receiving yards on deep passes (315), Rob Gronkowski is second among tight ends in yards per route run (2.16), and James White is among the league leaders in the same metric for running backs (1.98). If the Patriots can keep Khalil Mack off of Brady, and keep things in front of them defensively (where all of their starting defensive backs have a PFF grade greater than 70.0), this could be a boat-race below the border.
Counterpoint (GC): Neutral site? Please. The taco is the state food of California, and you actually need to eat an avocado per day in order to maintain residency (in addition to being either a super model or the founder of an app that doesn’t generate revenue but is used constantly by everyone in the 5-26 demo). Derek Carr has been far more productive when he gets the ball out quickly this season, his completion rate drops from 71.9 percent on throws in 2.5 seconds or less (sixth) to 46.5 percent when he takes 2.6s or longer (30th). The Patriots have allowed some success in the quick passing game this season giving up a passer rating of 108.3 to passes in 2.5 seconds or less (fourth-highest). The biggest reason to worry about the Raiders making a run for it is on the other side of the ball where Mack (91.2 overall grade – T-fifth) will get to attack perhaps the most unfortunate name in NFL history, LaAdrian Waddle (44.0 overall grade – 64th). Should the Avocados from Mexico not be #pliable enough for the greatest living American we could see the Raider Nation keep this one close. Guac is $1.50 extra, that okay Tom?
Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks (-3)
Pick: Seahawks 22-20 (Falcons cover)
Point (GC): The Dirty Birds were our lock of Week 10 and managed to overcome another Matt Ryan interception that he doesn’t deserve credit for (he leads the league with six of those bad boys). The Seahawks ability to create opportunity on defense takes a huge hit without Richard Sherman and possibly Kam Chancellor. Sherman has been targeted 474 times in his career, on those throws, opposing quarterbacks have a cumulative passer rating of 47.7, that’s over 10.0 points lower than the next corner with at least 150 targets since 2011. Seems like a guy you’d like to have out there when you face the most productive receiver of the generation. With no Sherman, you can find Ryan (86.1 – third) and Julio Jones (88.0 – third) down by the schoolyard playing a little pitch-and-catch into the end zone. Russell Wilson may not be the Queen of Corona but his offensive line has made a habit of saying “goodbye” this season; he’s been under pressure on 41.8 percent of his dropbacks – highest among quarterbacks who haven’t suffered season-ending injuries. Falcons show the Seahawks who comes first in the bird kingdom in a tight one out west.
Counterpoint (EE): While the Seahawks’ defense is banged up, the Falcons are similarly shorthanded offensively, likely without one of the league’s best runners and receivers in Devonta Freeman (90.2). It’s likely up to the trio of Jones, Mohamed Sanu (80.2) and Taylor Gabriel (75.9) to generate efficiency against a defense missing one of the league’s best corners in Richard Sherman. While Ryan has generally played well from a process standpoint, the outcome has been drastically different, with Ryan averaging almost a yard-and-a-half less per pass attempt than he generated last year. If they can be slowed, there’s a few advantages to be had for the Seahawks versus a surprisingly-strong Falcons defense. For example, Doug Baldwin (398 yards and zero drops generated from the slot) will be matched up against second-year player Brian Poole for much of the day, and Poole not had quite as good a season as he did as a rookie (allowing a 100.1 passer rating there).