There was no Thursday night game in the NFL this week, and I think I’m OK with that. Just move the Thursday night tilt to Tuesdays permanently. This past Tuesday the Bills were slaughtered by the Titans as 3.5-point favorites. After starting 3-0 with just a +6 point differential, the perception of the Titans has gone from potential paper tiger to a possible top-flight team. Tennessee hosts a Texans team that finally got its first win over Jacksonville and now find themselves as 3.5-point dogs to the Titans. I don’t think anyone would be too surprised to see Deshaun Watson go into Nashville and come away with a win. But I don’t know what to make of either of these teams and will be staying away from that game.
With Bills vs. Chiefs moving from Thursday night to Monday, we will be treated to yet another MNF doubleheader. The Bills are 3.5-point dogs to the Chiefs in a game that should be especially revealing after both teams suffered disappointing Week 5 losses. The highlight of Week 6 is likely the Brady vs. Rodgers showdown in Tampa Bay as one of just two late afternoon games on Sunday. It feels as though the Packers are an easy bet at pick’em or -1, but for that reason, I may stay away from a pre-flop bet and look to play it live after getting a feel for the teams.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5
Are we really going to get duped by the Browns again? To be fair, this Browns team has plenty of talent and finally has a competent head coach. But is anyone sure that Baker Mayfield is a legitimate franchise QB? Mayfield takes longer to get rid of the ball than any quarterback in football with a time to throw of 3.19 seconds. I can’t wait to see how that works out against this Steelers pash rush. Pittsburgh leads the league in adjusted sack rate at 11.1% while Cleveland similarly leads in the league in adjusted sack rate on offense at 3.5%. The matchup at the line of scrimmage when Cleveland has the ball should be fascinating to watch.
But in the battle of the quarterbacks, Big Ben is the clear winner in my mind. The case can be made that Baker Mayfield is simply a more confident and charismatic version of Mitchell Trubisky. That comparison might not be completely fair, but their career numbers are incredibly similar.
Beyond Baker, the Browns are already down one running back in Nick Chubb. And now Kareem Hunt is questionable with a thigh injury after playing through a groin injury in recent weeks. Hunt will likely play, but if he does it will be at less than 100% and against the #1 defense against the run.
The Browns identity on offense is to run the football over and over again. Both because they can, and because it limits Baker from making mistakes. But without Chubb and with a hobbled Hunt against the #1 run D in the league, this is a nightmare match up for the Browns.
The Pick: Steelers -3.5
Green Bay Packers -1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Godwin should be back for the Bucs, but Tampa suffered a significant blow to their run defense when nose tackle Vita Vea went down at the end of the Bears game. Vea had been one of the keys to Tampa’s suffocating run defense, taking up multiple blockers and allowing the Bucs talented linebackers to fly around untouched. The resurgence of Tampa’s run defense is what has turned them from a laughing stock to a legitimate unit. And while Vea isn’t the only talented run defender on the team, his presence will be sorely missed.
The Packers may have overachieved last year, but that shouldn’t take away from their success in 2020. Green Bay’s point differential of +51 is tops in the NFC and second to just the Ravens in the NFL. Granted, the Packers are producing solely due to their #1 ranked offense, as the defense is the 29th worst in the NFL per DVOA. Overall though, the Packers rank 6th in team efficiency. However, the Buccaneers find themselves all the way up at #2 in the same category thanks to their #2 ranked defense. But without Vea, the defense is going to take a significant hit.
What this game will come down to is the Packers pass rush affecting Tom Brady. In the game against the Bears, all Brady had to do was catch a whiff of Khalil Mack before crumpling to the ground to protect himself. Green Bay features the Smith brothers Za’Darius and Preston coming off the edge and if they can get home, it will be another long day for Brady.
With Davante Adams returning, Vea out, and Rodgers playing at an MVP level, it’s hard to imagine Green Bay losing on Sunday. The sharps will be on the Bucs so maybe this line shifts by game time. But this is the “too sharp for your own good” special of the week. While it may appear to be the square pick, every now and then, it’s good to be square.
The Pick: Packers -1
Detroit Lions -3 at Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville entered the season as the consensus worst team in the NFL. While a few teams may have overtaken them at the bottom of the heap, Jacksonville was upgraded far too much after beating the Colts in Week 1. Gardner Minshew isn’t exactly a bad quarterback. In fact, after deeming him Captain Checkdown in my head, NFL Next Gen Stats actually show him in the middle of the pack when it comes to intended and completed air yards. But for as suprisingly average as Minshew is, Matthew Stafford will clearly be the better quarterback on the field this Sunday.
Neither team has a good defense. But the Lions D was battered in the early going and is finally coming back to complete strength. The Jaguars are dead last in the league in defensive DVOA and the #32 next to their name doesn’t do it justice. The Jaguars are last in pass defense and are 15% worse than the #31 Jets. Matt Stafford is licking his chops watching tape this week.
The Pick: Lions -3
Chicago Bears +1.5 at Carolina Panthers
Of course I’m taking the Chicago Bears. This line suggests that the Panthers are a better team than the Bears and that simply is not the case. I understand the support for Carolina. Teddy Bridgewater has impressed, the Carolina receivers are dangerous, and Mike Davis has been surprisingly effective replacing CMC. On the other side of the ball, though, while the Panthers haven’t been as brutal as expected on defense, at #23 in the league, they haven’t impressed either. And at fourth from the bottom in run defense, it’s clear how to exploit the Panthers defense.
The only top 10 unit on the field in the game this Sunday will be the Bears D. The Bears got a look at Bridgewater last year, admittedly in a loss. But Teddy isn’t the type of quarterback that is going to run away and hide with a big lead. The Bears defense should keep this game within reach and the Bears will do what they’ve done all year and pull another win out of thin air.
The Pick: Bears +1.5
LA Rams -3 at San Francisco 49ers
I don’t want to be a slave to recency bias, but you could not have looked much worse than the 49ers last week. And that was coming off a loss to the Eagles the week before, which at the time appeared to be a blip on the radar. The previous three weeks, the Niners beat up on both New York teams after losing to Arizona at home in their opener. The 49ers have a massive question mark at quarterback and their entire starting defensive line is injured.
Meanwhile, the LA Rams have the second highest run differential in the NFC at +46 as they play efficient offense and Aaron Donald terrorizes on defense. The Rams currently have the #8 defense per DVOA and #7 according to DAVE. On offense, the Rams are #4 in DVOA and #7 in DAVE. This current version of the 49ers has shown that it can beat bad teams but cannot compete over four quarters with even average teams. The Rams look to be a top 10 team in the league and should be able to easily cover this number.
The Pick: Rams -3