2017 NFL Picks Week 9: The Rams are Legit, but Blake Bortles Never Will Be
Welcome to the rough stretches of the NFL season. 6 teams are on bye this week, leaving us with just 12 games after the Jets oddly blew out the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football. That putrid combination of unseemly football and offensive aesthetics (seriously, has the NFL sold any color rush jerseys? Can’t we give up that experiment?) has me in a bit of a football funk heading into the weekend. I’m sure it will work itself out before Sunday, but at the moment I’m about as enthusiastic as Jay Cutler was about lining up at Wide Receiver.
With that said, one of the beautiful things about the NFL is that a quick review of the gambling lines can turn an otherwise-uninteresting matchup into an intriguing watch. We have a long way to go to climb back above .500, so let’s get started!
Los Angeles Rams -3.5 at New York Giants
We’ll start with one surprisingly good team traveling to face an undeniably bad team who for some reason people won’t give up on. Eli Manning and the Giants now rank 25th in DVOA, with a Week 6 win over the Broncos looking less impressive with each game Denver loses. Jared Goff and the Rams are now 2nd in DVOA, with above average play on offense (13th), defense (4th), and special teams (4th). Shouldn’t this line be a little higher? It isn’t like the Giants can run the ball (26th) or get after the passer (25th), two key components for upset victories. Both teams are playing football at a drastically different level than they were last year, but the sports books don’t seem to have responded accordingly yet. Fine by me!
New Orleans Saints -6.5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another team no one seems willing to give up on is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’re 2-6, coming off a 3-point outing in Carolina, and traveling to New Orleans where they’re 1-5 in their last 6 games. They’re dead last in the league in adjusted sack rate, and they have the second-worst passing defense by DVOA. Don’t those sound like bad characteristics heading into a game against Drew Brees? Is this “respect” all a lingering symptom of their appearance on Hard Knocks? Across the field, the Saints have continued to field a shockingly average defense, which is all they need when their offense ranks 3rd in the NFL. The Bucs will probably score more than 3 points, but nothing suggests they’re capable of slowing the Saints down.
Cincinnati Bengals +5.5 at Jacksonville Jaguars
On one hand, the Jaguars are statistically a considerably better team than the Bengals. Jacksonville ranks 7th in total DVOA almost solely on the strength of their top-ranked defense and Leonard Fournette. On the other hand, Blake Bortles is still their quarterback, and they’re favored here by nearly a full touchdown. I want to stay true to the stats, leaving my emotions and gut feelings out of the equation, but when Blake Bortles is involved I just can’t. Winning consistently in spite of your quarterback is really hard to do in the NFL (trust me, I’m a Bears fan) no matter how good your team is. They might be able to win this game, but there’s no way they’re blowing Cincy out.
Carolina Panthers +2 vs. Atlanta Falcons
Luke Kuechly returned to the field in Week 8. The Panthers gave up 3 points to the Bucs. In the games he’s been active, Carolina has allowed under 18 points per game compared to 23 points per game in the contests he missed. When Kuechly is on the field, this Panthers defense is elite, and plenty good enough to keep the Steve Sarkisian-coordinated Falcons in check. The Falcons (26th in adjusted sack rate) are one of the few teams ill-equipped to get pressure on Cam Newton, which should allow the mediocre (23rd in DVOA) Panthers offense to put a few drives together. I can’t figure out why the Panthers are home underdogs, so I’m just going to take the points.
San Francisco 49ers +2.5 vs. Arizona Cardinals
Prior to the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, this was easily the least exciting game on Sunday’s slate. Arizona, without David Johnson and Carson Palmer, traveling to the bay to take on the 0-8 49ers could only appeal to true football masochists. Even with Handsome Jimmy involved, I’ll probably do my best to avoid watching. But the home team getting points against Drew Stanton and a Cardinals defense that ranks 20th in DVOA? These teams played in Arizona in Week 4, when Carson Palmer was healthy, and it took until overtime for the Cardinals to win. Let’s go Jimmy!
Washington Redskins +7 at Seattle Seahawks
Washington seems to have injuries at every position, but DVOA still considers them a competent team. Jay Gruden will absolutely mismanage the game in some way, and Captain Kirk facing the Legion of Boom makes me nervous, but a touchdown is just too much. Seattle has won exactly 2 games by more than one score this season. Washington’s 9th-ranked pass rush should cause just as many problems for a Seahawks offensive line that is nearly talentless by design as Seattle’s will for their own. I don’t think Washington will be able to get the big road win they need to keep their season alive, but I don’t think the Seahawks are all the way back just yet.
Kansas City Chiefs +2.5 at Dallas Cowboys
Two top-4 offenses take on two bottom-3 defenses in what should be the most entertaining game of the week. Both teams can run the ball extremely well; Dallas ranks 1st and Kansas City 2nd in rushing offense DVOA. Neither team can stop the run; Dallas ranks 30th and Kansas City 31st in rushing defense DVOA. The Chiefs will be in trouble if the Cowboys sustain their recent pass rush success, but they’re still the better overall team. It’s probably going to be close, and with that in mind, I’ll take the coach who does everything but clock management well over the coach who does nothing perceivable well at all.
Oakland Raiders -3 at Miami Dolphins
Oakland can’t be THAT bad, right? Right?! The Dolphins gave up 44 points to the Ravens before trading their most talented running back. They rank 31st in total DVOA compared to Oakland’s 19th. There’s no doubt the Raiders aren’t as good as we thought they’d be at the beginning of the year, but they’re still miles ahead of teams like Miami.
Detroit Lions -2 at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is still injured, right? I like to make fun of the Lions as much as anyone, but watching the Packers flop around without a Hall of Fame quarterback and a mediocre defense is delicious schadenfreude. Even the Lions shouldn’t lose to Brett Hundley.
That's all for this week! Kick back, relax, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.