Week 1 results were a bit mixed. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers crushed the New Orleans Saints on Sunday but neither the Buffalo Bills nor the Dallas Cowboys were able to muster enough points to cover the spread, let alone win outright. As the season progresses, the underlying stats that fuel our weekly projections will get a greater sample size and, as a result, provide keener insight into weekly matchups.
Our league-projection formula helps determine how often one team should beat another based on its actual and projected win rates. That gives us win probabilities for every game, as well as an implied margin of victory — helpful for picking games against the spread.
The process of creating proprietary point spreads is done by computer but there is an eye-test element involved. For example, the Carolina Panthers appear to have a high edge against the Atlanta Falcons, but injuries to right tackle Daryl Williams and tight end Greg Olsen on Carolina’s side and a season-ending injury to starting safety Keanu Neal for Atlanta makes this game a pass. When you see the potential for so much variance from the projection, a game is usually just not worth the money.
With that in mind, here are this week’s prime picks against the consensus point spreads from multiple sports books in Vegas.
Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints (-8.5)
Pick: Cleveland Browns +8.5
The Browns didn’t earn a victory on Sunday but they didn’t lose, either, which is a “win” for the franchise. Now they get to face a New Orleans defense that allowed a league-high 3.7 points per drive last week, setting them up to at least keep the game close for one more week.
If the Saints are going to beat the Browns in Week 2, they will have to do it with the passing game — since 2017, Cleveland’s defense has allowed 96 points fewer than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each carry. Only the Denver Broncos have been better in that span (allowed 108 points fewer than expected via the rush).
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5)
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs +5
Running back Le’Veon Bell is no longer featured on the team’s depth chart and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a bruised elbow, paving the way for the Chiefs to start 2-0 for the second year in a row, as our system sees Kansas City as the favorite in this game.
The Chiefs tallied 2.8 points per drive in the opener against the Los Angeles Chargers with quarterback Pat Mahomes II and Tyreek Hill connecting on seven of eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Those two should be a handful for Pittsburgh, whose secondary was ranked as the 23rd best in the league by the game charters at Pro Football Focus.
Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins (-5.5)
Pick: Washington Redskins -5.5
Adrian Peterson, the Redskins’ 33-year-old running back, showed he’s still got it, tallying 96 yards on 26 carries in the opener. More than half of those yards (58) were after contact, a troublesome statistic for the Colts, owners of the fourth-worst run defense in the NFL per PFF.
Washington’s defense will also make life difficult for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The Redskins’ pass-rushers sacked, hit or hurried Sam Bradford 25 times on Sunday, which means Luck won’t enjoy a clean pocket often. And when that happened to him on Sunday his passer rating dropped from 114.3 to 25.7. In 2016, his last full season, his passer rating dropped from 112.0 to 72.0 under pressure.
The three games above represent my best plays of the week because my analysis shows the point spreads are the most divergent from what I expect to happen once the teams take the field. One reason the house wins so often is because bettors try to make too many plays when the odds aren’t in their favor. This makes trying to pick every single NFL game something of a fool’s errand. The odds should be in my favor in the three games above, which is why I think they’re worth a bet. Below you’ll find our chart predicting the betting edge for every game.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (Pick ’em)
Pick: Baltimore Ravens 0
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-5.5)
Pick: Carolina Panthers +5.5
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-1)
Pick: Green Bay Packers — 1
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (-3)
Pick: New York Jets -3
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (No line yet)
Pick: Tennessee Titans -1
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -3
Los Angeles Chargers (-7) at Buffalo Bills
Pick: Buffalo Bills +7
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (-12.5)
Pick: Los Angeles Rams -12.5
Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers (-5.5)
Pick: Detroit Lions +5.5
New England Patriots (-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars +2
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (-6)
Pick: Denver Broncos -6
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3)
Pick: Dallas Cowboys -3
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (-3)
Pick: Chicago Bears -3
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