We are at the point in the NFL season when the lines should be razor-sharp. Usually, by now everyone has a general grasp of how competitive each team should be in a given week. This year, though, I believe the market is just as clueless as it was in the summer. For example, why are the Saints only 2.5-point favorites at the Atlanta Falcons?
Home field advantage is meaningless in 2020–the numbers bear it out–and yet, it seems as though some books are still charging the full three points for home advantage.
New Orleans Saints -2.5 at Atlanta Falcons
If there is truly no home-field advantage baked into the lines, then the market is saying that the Saints, #1 in the league in DVOA and DAVE per Football Outsiders, are just 2.5-points better than the Falcons on a “neutral” field. I say neutral because there is zero home field advantage for the Falcons in this particular game.
Let’s say that the market is indeed giving three points for home field. That would put this game at Saints -5.5 on an actual neutral field, and the line would move up to -8.5 at New Orleans. And -8.5 is exactly what I would expect the line to be if the home fields were swapped.
Look no further than the Packers hosting the Bears this past Sunday night when GB was -8.5. It was a divisional game, with one team clearly better than the other. But the Bears and Falcons are both competitive enough that the spread shouldn’t be double digits.
From this example, it’s clear that the books are handing out three points for home field. And this makes even less sense when it’s in a dome that the Saints play in every single year.
So I see a three-point edge right from the outset, and amazingly it puts the spread below the most key number in football.
The other argument is that the market is much higher on the Falcons than the general public. And that is true, the market has been backing the Falcons all year. But regardless of how good anyone believes Atlanta to be, they are not a team that should be getting less than a field goal to the Saints, even with Taysom Hill at the helm.
This line also assumes that Julio Jones is playing. Jones seems to be 60/40 at best in favor of playing, as he was limited on Wednesday, sat out Thursday, and practiced “a little bit” on Friday. At the very least, Jones won’t be 100%, and Matt Ryan’s splits without Julio are stark.
The Pick: Saints -2.5 — 5.5u to win 5u
Buffalo Bills +1 at San Francisco 49ers
The Bills are not considered an elite team by the market, but they would be if their defense was playing up to expectations. The problem with the season-long defensive numbers for the Bills, which have them at #16 in defensive DVOA, is that they have been missing key players at each level of defense throughout the season.
Whether it was a depleted secondary one week, another week without Trent Murphy in the trenches, or games without two Pro Bowl middle linebackers. The Bills have barely been at full strength on defense. And yet, they rank as a perfectly average unit on the season.
The offense is top 10 and can hurt opposing defenses in a variety of ways. It’s incredibly difficult for a defensive coordinator to scheme up a strategy against the Bills because of their breadth of weapons. Double-team Diggs and Cole Beasley will make it death by a thousand cuts. Drop eight back and the combination of Singletary and Moss will run all over you. And when Josh Allen decides its time to tuck it and run, as he often does, it’s generally for a first down.
The Niners have played good defense despite dealing with plenty of injuries of their own. But San Francisco doesn’t excel in any one area on defense, which leads me to believe that the Bills will find out what works best and exploit it, as they have all season.
The Pick: Bills +1 — 4.4u to win 4u
Other games I like for one-unit plays this week:
- Bears -3 hosting Lions. Mitchell Trubisky 12 TD – 1 INT in four games vs. DET.
- Chargers +1 hosting Patriots