Week 8 was our seventh winning week of the season, culminating in a 20-15 victory for the Steelers on Sunday Night Football for our Lock of the Week. Our record after eight weeks sits at 25-14-1 (64.1 percent). We’re currently 16-8 (66.7 percent) on spread picks and 9-6-1 (60.0 percent) on totals. We’re 49-40-2 (55.1 percent) against the spread overall through eight weeks, and on over/unders we’re 60-45-2 (57.1 percent).
Each week provides an exciting slate of games, along with the knowledge generated from an additional week’s worth of PFF data. After alternating between weeks with many large spreads and weeks with largely shorter numbers, this week we’re back to having a bunch of games within a touchdown (especially after the Deshaun Watson injury), with opportunities for underdogs not only to cover, but to win outright. We’re on an Atlanta Falcons game for the third-straight week, while backing the Saints for the first time since their trip to London in Week 4. After picking two unders (and going 1-1) in Week 8, we pick one over and one under this week.
Each of the five feature picks below comes with a point/counterpoint analysis, with a deeper dive into our “Lock of the Week” on the PFF Preview Podcast. The Lock of the Week is 6-2 so far (75 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 picks have been 7-2 (77.8 percent) so far this season as well, hitting the over in last night’s matchup in New York.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints (-7)
Pick: Saints 28-20 (Saints cover)
Point (Eric Eager): The Saints have been one of the league’s most impressive teams since their 0-2 start, rating as our fifth-best offense and our 10th-best defense through eight weeks. The Buccaneers have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league, with a defense that possesses the league’s 26th-best grade, which has substantially overshadowed an offense that has been a top-10 unit in the league in both PFF grades and yards per play. While this number is a bit high, the Saints’ combination of Drew Brees (86.7) and Michael Thomas (83.5) on offense and Cameron Jordan (91.9) and Marshon Lattimore (94.1) are too much for even a desperate Tampa Bay team to contend with on the road.
Counterpoint (George Chahrouri): Oh when the Saints. Go marching in. When the Saints go marching in. O Lord, I want to be on the other side of that number when the Mark Ingram fumbles twice in the last 10 min. Having served his time in the ‘pit of misery’ (dilly dilly), we can’t count on Marky Mark to fumble again. The Bucs do, however, have the ability to neutralize some of the Saints’ strengths. At right tackle, Demar Dotson has earned the best pass block grade among all RTs (89.4) and should be able to slow Jordan down a bit. Mike Evans currently sits 13th among all wide receivers and was second to only Julio Jones in the regular season last year at 93.7, so if there was a guy who could go up and get a couple over rookie phenom Lattimore it would be him. Lavonte David (94.4 – second) ranks fourth in the NFL allowing just 3.6 yards/attempt when targeted in coverage on a halfback and Alvin Kamara has been the ninth-most targeted back this season. If Jameis Winston is healthy he might just be able to walk right out of New Orleans with a cover, free of charge.
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers (over/under 43.5)
Pick: Falcons 24-23 (the over hits)
Point (GC): Last week, Matt Ryan was basically snapping a live fish in what looked like an awesome day to be outside in New Jersey (by the way I assume the precipitation were tears that evaporated sometime in February finally making a return to earth). While little to no video evidence exists of the Falcons executing a successful snap, rumor has it that Matty Ice connected on all three of his throws 20-plus yards downfield after entering the game with the lowest adjusted completion percentage on deep throws. Cam'ron Newton has a sub 39.6 passer rating (passer rating for a spike) on throws 10-plus yards downfield in each of his last three games – oh boy. However, this is apparently all Kelvin Benjamin’s fault, so the newly streamlined offense should be able to make a few trips to the end zone this week – hey ma. (If you didn’t get the music reference, you’re welcome, if you did, you’re welcome). Lastly, just remember that the Taylor v McCown sack-fest kickflipped all over the 42.5 total on a Thursday night, this number is just too darn low.
Counterpoint (EE): The Falcons’ offense does look good in our metrics, rating as the second-best unit through the season’s first eight weeks. However, the Panthers have been equally impressive defensively, with the fifth-best yards per play allowed (4.7). The Falcons are a surprising 10th in that metric (10), earning the 13th-best PFF grade defensively during the season’s first half. The star power that exists at the linebacker position, headlined by Luke Kuechly (89.4), Thomas Davis (80.0) and Shaq Thompson (74.9) on one side and Deion Jones (78.1) and De’Vondre Campbell (84.7) on the other, makes any over bet a tenuous one. However, until this number gets near 45, listen to George.
Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans (over/under 43)
Pick: Titans 21-19 (the under hits)
Point (EE): While Tennessee has struggled at times defensively, the Ravens (when they’ve had the services of Brandon Williams) largely have not. Couple that with the pace of both the Ravens and the Titans – teams more inclined to run the football and drain clock, and this game has under written all over it. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has not completed a touchdown pass on passes without play action so far this season, while the Joe Flacco-led Ravens have played games with an average total of 39.8 through the season’s first eight weeks (despite being aided by defense scores in some instances). Look for Sam Koch and Brett Kern to be busy, and for under bettors to be happy.
Counterpoint (GG): He may not be putting up elite football stats, but Joe “Lazarus” Flacco playing in this game is some real elite level life stuff. Prior to the Kiko Alonso mauling, Flacco had the second-lowest passer rating on throws 10-plus yards downfield (52.6) and just the 26th-ranked yards per pass average on third downs (5.7). Now that all the below average play has been knocked straight on out of him, the offensive juggernaut can re-assemble. The Titans defense could always help out and Adoree Jackson has struggled a bit during his rookie season ranking 79th among cornerbacks with a grade of 59.8. If there was a time for Mike Wallace to fulfill his yearly ritual of taking a five-yard ‘slant' to the house from 80 or more yards out this may be it – Wallace has generated a perfect passer rating on 24 ‘slant' targets from 2014-2016. According to their recent ad campaign you don’t need to be a whiskey drinker to drink Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey (hashtag: Fact) but you may want to become one before you commit to taking the over here.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Dallas Cowboys (-1)
Pick: Chiefs 26-24 (Chiefs cover)
Point (GC): Ranking of Returns: 5. The Jedi 4. Stanford-Cal 3. On Investment 2. A Christmas/Kwanza/Hannukah/Festivus present worth over $100 to a store that sells something other than socks 1. Tony Romo. With Papa Antonio watching, Dak Prescott might be feeling even more pressure than the absence of his fourth-ranked running back, Zeke Elliott, has already placed upon him – Prescott has thrown six of his 14 touchdowns off of play action this season (tied for second). Sticking with the QB matchup, Alex Smith has revamped both his arm and his style (seriously, he is crushing the postgame presser); he’s launched the third-most Big Time Throws (our highest graded passes) and made the third-fewest Turnover Worthy Plays (they are what you think they are). Meanwhile Dak sits at T-17th and tied for seventh, respectively and has made half as many Big Time Throws as Smith. In a close game, let’s roll with the guy who’s made the big throw more frequently, has all his sidekicks, is getting a point, and doesn’t have to play under the shadow of his godfather.
Counterpoint (EE): The Chiefs are 30th in our run defense grades, 30th in pass-rushing grades, and 24th in coverage grades through eight games. While replacing Terrance Mitchell and Phillip Gaines is a start, they let a meager Denver Broncos offense gain 364 total yards, including 177 on the ground. If the Cowboys can neutralize Justin Houston (12th in pass-rushing productivity and seventh in run stop percentage) and keep the ball away from Marcus Peters (68.0 passer rating allowed), there are yards and points to be had against the Chiefs defense. If those points are had, and Smith (87.2) regresses at all to his old form, Dallas could run away with this one.
Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins (+3)
Pick: Raiders 23-21 (Dolphins cover)
Point (EE): After losing 40-0 in Baltimore last Thursday night, the Dolphins are being viewed at the bottom of their market to this point, and while their PFFELO rating would seem imply that their 4-3 start is a bit of an aberration, this is a team that has won 13 of their last 18 regular season games. They are also playing at home, against a Raiders team that hasn’t scored more than 14 points in a road game since Week 1. Derek Carr and the Raiders’ passing offense is averaging fewer than 7.0 yards per attempt, and the 18 drops Carr has dealt with are the second-most in the league. Couple that with a run game that has been erratic, and this spot looks like a good one for Miami.
Counterpoint (GC): The Miami Dolphins.
You want more? I’d quote some Will Smith knowledge about all the Miami vices that prevent quality athletic play but that both seems inappropriate and would require way too many curse words for the poor editor (…) that surely needs a painkiller by this point. So, let’s leave it at this, Jay Cutler has a passer rating of 90.3 from a clean pocket (26th) and clocks in at 55.3 when under pressure (24th). The Dolphins defense is allowing a passer rating of 123.9 on throws 20-plus yards downfield which is the second-highest in the league. Unless the opposing team was somehow allowing a passer rating of 140.0 or higher on 20 or more yard throws, I wouldn’t get too excited about the Dolphins chances…I’ll let you take it from here.