It’s good to have football back! Week 1 was filled with some spectacular matchups, and, despite the shortened offseason, it’s clear the quality of play was better than expected.
Now, we will shift our attention to Week 2. We’re still mostly going off of prior information, since we don’t know how “good” a team is until six weeks, per Pro Football Focus; it’s not a good idea to overreact to a one-game sample size.
All projections are computed based on a similar model that I used for my win total projections. In essence, it goes through the following steps:
- Computes the talent gap between the two teams
- Converts that to a win probability
- Converts that into a spread, factoring in home-field advantage (less this year)
- It also gives a score projection, though I’ll be allowing for a +/- 2 point change for those since certain scores are more likely than others.
In this article, we’ll be comparing the actual spreads to my model’s recommended spreads. Thus, we’ll order games by putting them into the following tiers. After accounting for the small margin of error when converting win probabilities to point spreads (0.40 points), qualifications for three tiers have differed slightly:
Tier 1 (“Green Light”)- 3.4+ point difference. These games present immense value.
Tier 2 (“Yellow Light)- 1.9+ point difference. These games provide some value, though you should proceed with caution.
Tier 3 (“Red Light)- <1.9 point difference. There isn’t any value to be found with these point spreads, so stay away from them at all costs.
Also, due to the margin for error, I will be using context at times to give slightly differing spread/game picks than what the model suggests. There are certain spreads where it wouldn’t make sense to back. For example, if a team is favored to win by 2, and my model thinks they should be favored by less, but will win, it wouldn’t make sense to pigeon-hole the underdog into only being able to cover by a very small range of possible outcomes. Additionally, since my model is computing recommended spread picks, rather than assigning an exact outcome for the game, it’s critical to not follow it 100% blindly- analysis of the information matters as much as the information itself! (0.9 points is a key number for there not to be statistically significant data)
As you’ll see, most of these games involve an underdog that my model is supporting. That speaks to there not being a sizable gap between the top teams and the bottom-feeders yet. Once we get to about Week 6, it’ll be more logical to back favorites, but, for now, rolling with the underdogs is the optimal approach.
With that taken care of, let’s get to the games! We’ll start with an intriguing divisional matchup in tier 1, and will finish with multiple primetime games in a larger-than-normal tier 3.
#1: Chiefs (1-0, 1st) at Chargers (1-0, 20th)
Chiefs Win Probability: 59.77578791%
I’ll admit; this win probability feels a little low. However, without fans, the Chargers don’t have any less of a home-field advantage for any other team, which makes this percentage easier to comprehend. Due to a major injury to the Saints, the Chiefs are currently the best team in the NFL, and they did an excellent job executing an efficient quick-passing attack in the opener versus the Texans. In fact, the idea that they scored 34 points without attacking Houston down the field should scare every other team.
Chargers Win Probability: 40.22421209%
Kansas City will have to diversify their offense more; they’ll go from playing the league’s worst defense to a top-ten unit, which includes a secondary led by Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr. Even though Tyrod Taylor isn’t going to be anything more than a game manager, he still has weapons to utilize, and with the Chiefs undermanned in the secondary, there will be opportunities for receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to produce.
Spread Pick: LAC (+8.5)
Recommended Spread: KC (-3.226332645)
Score Projection: Chiefs 26 Chargers 23
This is definitely a pick that scares me. We all are aware of the Chiefs’ ability to take over games, and the quarterback mismatch here is severe. At the same time, Los Angeles held Kansas City under 30 points in each of the two matchups last year, still have a fantastic secondary, and have built their roster in a way to avoid being blown out. In our current situation, where players are rustier than they’d be in a normal season, 8.5 points on the road is a lot.
#2: Giants (0-1, 25th) at Bears (1-0, 29th)
Giants Win Probability: 48.36006531%
While it may have felt like a case of “new year, same team” in their 26-16 loss to the Steelers in primetime, there were encouraging signs from that game for the Giants. For starters, Daniel Jones was excellent, earning a Pro Football Focus grade of 82.5, and with better luck, his box score numbers should regress in a positive fashion. Not only did he and receiver Darius Slayton display a clear connection, but he’ll benefit by Golden Tate returning from injury, while he was facing arguably the best defense in the NFL. Plus, if the Bears once again adopt a run-heavy mindset on early downs, they have the personnel to avoid some third-and-long situations.
Bears Win Probability: 51.6399369%
The Bears played poorly for three quarters against the Lions, but they were able to stage a nice comeback attempt. The cornerback duo of Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson played tremendously, and their pass rush should have success against an offensive line that was atrocious in Week 1. Speaking of atrocious, New York’s pass defense isn’t in good shape, so perhaps Mitch Trubisky can play well; receiver Anthony Miller is coming off of the best game of his career.
Spread Pick: NYG (+5.5)
Recommended Spread: CHI (-0.54)
Score Projection: Giants 21 Bears 20
Let’s get bold! My model does say the Bears should win by 0.54 points, but when you take into account the margin for error, it could drop to 0.14, which means it could be theoretically be rounded down to an even spread (a pick-em). Thus, I’ll side with New York, who has the better quarterback. I’m worried about their lack of offensive creativity, but the Bears also had a much higher early-down run rate than expected last week, and that could signal a lack of trust in Trubisky. Chicago is the safe pick in this game, but rarely does math provide me with the chance to take the underdog (the Giants are rated as the better team though), so I’ll capitalize on the opportunity when I can. Either way, they’re an easy bet as 5.5-point underdogs.
#3: Bills (1-0, 19th) at Dolphins (0-1, 27th)
Bills Win Probability: 54.84965128%
I was very low on the Bills heading into the season, and their offense was a major reason why. However, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was very impressive last Sunday, utilizing the following concepts: a lot of play-action passes, a high early-down pass rate, and several designed quarterback runs. With a subpar quarterback in Josh Allen, they likely still are a bottom-ten offense, but they won’t be a liability; they should be able to move the ball against a Dolphins defense that’s still below-average. Also, they’re strong defense is in good position to succeed- Miami struggled all-around offensively in Week 1.
Dolphins Win Probability: 45.15034872%
For as poorly Ryan Fitzpatrick played last week, he’s still the better quarterback in this matchup, and that gives Miami a solid chance of winning. Their new acquisitions on defense should do better with more time to accumulate to one another, and the same goes for their new offensive scheme. Heck, even their offensive line play was encouraging, so perhaps that’s a positive sign?
Spread Pick: MIA (+5.5)
Recommended Spread: BUF (+1.6)
Score Projection: Bills 23 Dolphins 21
The Bills are the better team, so they should win this game. Yet, I can’t justify them being such a heavy favorite. They’re built to win low-scoring games in spite of their quarterback, and doesn’t translate to many convincing victories. I believe Miami has a great chance of winning this game, so they’re a great value at this current spread.
#4: Lions (0-1, 13th) at Packers (1-0, 7th)
Lions Win Probability: 41.951762%
For three quarters of their opening game versus the Bears, the Lions were dominant. The final quarter was a mess, but that isn’t a great predictor of future success. Matthew Stafford played adequately in his first game back, and if receiver Kenny Golladay is back healthy, the offense should get back to its explosive ways. Furthermore, their man-heavy defense will function much better if rookie cornerback Jeffrey Okudah is cleared to play.
Packers Win Probability: 58.048238%
It isn’t an understatement to say that Aaron Rodgers had a historically dominant performance last week- his 96 Pro Football Focus was one of the highest in their charting era. He clearly was playing in rhythm in a way that he hadn’t previously, and that could mean he’s much more in sync with this offensive scheme than he was last year. With Detroit banged up in the secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised he leads Green Bay to another 30+-point performance.
Spread Pick: DET (+6)
Recommended Spread: GB (-2.66)
Score Projection: Packers 26 Lions 23
The Packers offense was extremely impressive in Week 1. They’re the better team and are at home, so they should win. At the same time, the gap between them and Detroit is far less than the spread indicates, so depending on the injury report, they’re a great bet for this week.
#5: Saints (1-0, 2nd) at Raiders (1-0, 21st)
Saints Win Probability: 59.991150755%
The Saints struggled offensively against the Bucs in Week 1, but they still managed to win by 11 and score 34 points. That speaks to how well-rounded of a roster they have, as their secondary performed well, and the continuity they had played in their favor. The offense should start to heat up, and Las Vegas’ poor coverage unit should help with that.
Raiders Win Probability: 40.08849245%
In their win versus the Panthers, the Raiders performed very well on offense, and the addition of receiver Henry Ruggs III gave them the explosive element they lacked. Meanwhile, without star receiver Michael Thomas, New Orleans will likely run their offense through running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook, and Las Vegas spent a lot of resources upgrading their linebacking corps this offseason.
Spread Pick: LV (+6)
Recommended Spread: NO (-3.27)
Score Projection: Saints 27 Raiders 24
Without Michael Thomas, the value with this game is all with the Raiders, as they’re keep it very close- these two offenses are conservative and rely on efficiency rather than big plays. New Orleans, even without Thomas, is rated as the second best team in the NFL, so they’re still projected to win, but it’s unlikely they’ll cover the current spread.
#6: Broncos (0-1, 23rd) at Steelers (1-0, 10th)
Broncos Win Probability: 35.29398031%
The Titans are a playoff-caliber team, so the fact that the Broncos could’ve easily beaten them could be a sign of hope. Their offensive line held up better than expected, and the offense should be better if receiver Courtland Sutton returns from injury. Meanwhile, their defense played relatively well and is a top-ten unit.
Steelers Win Probability: 64.70601969%
It took about a quarter for him to settle in, but Ben Roethlisberger was fantastic in his first game back from his elbow injury. In fact, the offense looked really in sync, especially when they opened it up more as Roethlisberger got comfortable, and their defense is fantastic. Drew Lock isn’t exactly known for his pocket presence, so Pittsburgh’s pass rush could dominate, and I’d expect their secondary to rebound from a disappointing performance.
Spread Pick: DEN (+7.5)
Recommended Spread: PIT (-4.85)
Score Projection: Steelers 23 Broncos 18
The Steelers won’t be able to move the ball as effectively against the Broncos, so I’d be cautious when it comes to backing them as a heavy favorite; Denver should cover this spread. Still, it’s hard to have much faith in Drew Lock after a very poor performance last week, especially against a dominant defense; I’d probably stay away from this game.
#7: Washington Football Team (1-0, 30th) at Cardinals (1-0, 22nd)
Washington Win Probability: 37.76340592%
When they were down 17-0 early to the Eagles, the Washington Football Team appeared to be heading towards another tough start to another long season. However, something changed in the second half, as they were able to score 27 unanswered points. The defensive line lived up to its potential, and the receiving corps showed some promise. Plus, even though Dwayne Haskins struggled behind a poor offensive line, he’ll be facing a much worse pass rush, and defense overall, this week.
Cardinals Win Probability: 62.23659408%
The Washington Football Team wasn’t the only team to execute an upset last week, as the Cardinals managed to defeat the reigning NFC champion 49ers. Arizona utilized young quarterback Kyler Murray well in the running game, while receiver De’Andre Hopkins meshed with him immediately. Meanwhile, if cornerback Byron Murphy can take a second-year leap, this defense can be better than expected. In essence, they’re the clear better team in this matchup.
Spread Pick: WSH (+6.5)
Recommended Spread: ARI (-4.03)
Score Projection: Cardinals 24 Washington 20
Neither team really played well in their upset victories, especially the young quarterbacks. Right now, I believe the hype regarding Arizona is juicing this spread, which creates some value for Washington. It’s not one of my top value picks, but if it moves any further, then I’d definitely keep an eye on it.
#8: Falcons (0-1, 16th) at Cowboys (0-1, 8th)
Falcons Win Probability: 42.45697946%
Week 1 didn’t treat the Falcons well, as they allowed 38 points and lost by multiple scores to the Seahawks. Regardless, their three offensive stars (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley) continued to play at an elite level, and they’ll give them a chance to beat any team. Dallas is weak in the secondary, which caters to Atlanta’s strengths, while they’ll also look to generate some pressure against an offensive line that has a clear hole at right tackle.
Cowboys Win Probability: 57.54302054%
They fell short to the Rams, but I was mostly encouraged by what I saw from the Cowboys. Their offense, led by offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, utilized a lot of early-down passes and other key concepts, and I’d expect their receiving corps to perform better- the Falcons aren’t exactly known for their pass coverage. The talent and coaching advantage lies with Dallas.
Spread Pick: ATL (+4.5)
Recommended Spread: DAL (-2.49)
Score Projection: Cowboys 25 Falcons 23
These two teams are similar in a lot of ways. They have explosive passing attacks with strong defensive lines and poor coverage units, which yields me to believe that this will be a high-scoring, close contest. With that in mind, I’ll side with the 4.5-point underdog, though this isn’t one I’d be rushing to Vegas in order to bet.
#9: Rams (1-0, 15th) at Eagles (0-1, 17th)
Rams Win Probability: 47.00462262%
Few teams were more impressive in Week 1 than the Rams, and I think it’s something they can sustain in the future. Last year, they were a one-dimensional, long-developing offense, but it appears head coach Sean McVay has adapted- he utilized the quick passing game much more against the Cowboys. That would help cover up their largest flaw (their offensive line), which would allow their perimeter talent on both sides of the ball to allow them to thrive.
Eagles Win Probability: 52.99537738%
The Rams did perform well with quarterback Jared Goff getting rid of the ball quickly, but he also had a very low average depth of target. Thus, if Philadelphia gets ahead, McVay may have to abandon that plan, and that would be a dream scenario for a tremendous pass rush. Carson Wentz did play poorly last week, but he’s a mid-tier quarterback, and his situation should get better this week with his offensive line’s health improving- regardless, it’d be difficult to imagine him struggling as much as he did for a second week.
Spread Pick: PHI (+1)
Recommended Spread: PHI (-0.98)
Score Projection: Eagles 24 Rams 23
I get that these two teams had drastically different performances in Week 1, but the fact that the Rams are a road favorite here seems like a classic overreaction to a very small sample size. Even though I’m not high on Philadelphia whatsoever, they’re on the same level as Los Angeles, and actually match up really well with them. Turnovers doomed the Eagles last week, yet if they force the Rams into an unfavorable game script, that narrative could flip completely
#10: Ravens (1-0, 3rd) at Texans (0-1, 26th)
Ravens Win Probability: 65.22415263%
As demonstrated by their 38-6 trouncing of the Browns, the Ravens are still a powerhouse. Lamar Jackson’s development as a passer continues to be marvelous, and with that being the case, Baltimore is a flexible, well-rounded team that I wouldn’t want to face right now. Their aggressive defense is going to have a field day when it comes to accumulating pressure- in Deshaun Watson, they’re facing a quarterback who constantly holds onto the ball too long.
Texans Win Probability: 34.77584737%
Even though they’re underdogs, the Texans have as talented of a quarterback as the Ravens do, which gives them a fighting chance in this game. Baltimore isn’t going to expose their lack of depth at cornerback like other pass-heavy teams will, and I’d expect Houston’s offense to get better as Watson learns how to play without star receiver De’Andre Hopkins.
Spread: HOU (+7)
Recommended Spread: BAL (-5.02)
Score Projection: Ravens 28 Texans 23
When the quarterback play is even, it doesn’t make sense to back a team as a seven-point favorite. Simply put, the gap between the top teams and the bottom teams hasn’t become apparent enough to warrant such a large spread, especially with a road team facing a team coming off of a ten-day rest period. Still, though, Baltimore is a much better team and is a poor matchup for Houston, so proceed with caution.
#11: Panthers (0-1, 28th) at Buccaneers (0-1, 4th)
Panthers Win Probability: 27.54291902%
As expected for one of the youngest teams in the NFL, the Panthers project as one of the worse rosters. Still, they did manage to score 30 points against the Raiders; they have certainly have a competent roster. Plus, their young players give them a chance for volatility in a positive way, and perhaps they can take advantage of the Bucs, who are struggling to get acclimated; each of their star receives (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) are dealing with injuries.
Buccaneers Win Probability: 72.45708098%
At the same time, the Panthers are atrocious defensively, so if Evans and Godwin can play, this is a prime opportunity for the Bucs offense to dominate. Despite the public narrative, Tom Brady played quite well against the Saints, per multiple data points, and they still have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them absolutely demolish Carolina.
Spread Pick: CAR (+9)
Recommended Spread: TB (-7.42)
Score Projection: Bucs 26 Panthers 19
The Bucs could win this game in a blowout, but with the injuries they’re dealing with, they may struggle to put the Panthers away. This feels like a classic seven-point game that isn’t as close as the score would indicate, and it’ll probably have to be the second meeting for Tampa Bay to assert their dominance.
#12: Vikings (0-1, 12th) at Colts (0-1, 11th)
Vikings Win Probability: 45.32725276%
Simply put, the Vikings defense was awful against the Packers in Week 1. They didn’t generate any pressure, their young secondary struggled mightily, and it looked like head coach Mike Zimmer was in over his head trying to mesh these players together. Still, between Zimmer and the team’s middle-of-the-field pass coverage, this should be a productive defense, especially against a less-explosive Colts offense. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins and Minnesota’s offense looked much better once they opened up the offense more, so perhaps that can carry over.
Colts Win Probability: 54.67274724%
Speaking of tough losses, the Colts lost to the Jaguars, of all teams. Yet, they didn’t deserve to lose that game- they never punted and severely out-gained Jacksonville in terms of total yards. As mentioned, Minnesota’s pass defense left a lot to be desired, and whereas they had one of the highest early-down passing rates in neutral context, the Vikings had the lowest.
Spread Pick: MIN (+3)
Recommended Spread: IND (-1.54)
Score Projection: Colts 24 Vikings 22
I think this game is a coin-flip, so with that in mind, I’ll take the underdog; there’s a better than 50% chance that Minnesota either loses by 3 or less, or simply wins the game outright. Both teams are evenly-matched, however, so I wouldn’t touch this game at the current spread.
#13: Bengals (0-1, 24th) at Browns (0-1, 9th)
Bengals Win Probability: 34.10303024%
It wasn’t the greatest of debuts for Joe Burrow last week, but the first overall pick got more comfortable throughout the game; he even executed a tremendous two-minute drill. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to have a much better performance against a much worse defense. Cleveland is dealing with multiple injuries on the offensive line, and, honestly, they just look out of sync.
Browns Win Probability: 65.89696976%
That said, all the pieces are in place for the Browns to be a very successful. Sure, they got blown out in their opening game, but that was against the Ravens, so the Bengals will represent quite the drop-off. Cincinnati was out-gained by the Chargers, of all teams, and their defense isn’t exactly a top-notch unit.
Spread Pick: CIN (+6)
Recommended Spread: CLE (-5.25)
Score Projection: Browns 26 Bengals 21
The difference in the spread is without the 0.9 points needed to go against the model, but it’s hard for me to do so. Cleveland has suffered a lot of injuries and didn’t look close to being on the same page last week, and I could see the Bengals winning this game in an upset. Thus, picking them with the points is logical.
#14: Patriots (1-0, 13th) at Seahawks (1-0, 6th)
Patriots Win Probability: 39.71621923%
The Patriots don’t have Tom Brady under center anymore, so they’ve decided to take a complete 180-degree shift in terms of identity. With Cam Newton, they’re embracing a power rushing attack, and against the Dolphins, it worked. Paired with a defense with an elite secondary, they’re the team of fundamentally-sound team that can win games with that strategy.
Seahawks Win Probability: 60.28378077%
Meanwhile, the Seahawks took the opposite approach, finally leaning on their passing attack with Russell Wilson at the helm. If they continue to do so, then they could have the best offense in the NFC, and could even be the favorites to win the conference. That’s what happens when you have a quarterback of Wilson’s caliber, and I’ll take his playmaking ability over New England’s ball-control offense any day of the week.
Spread Pick: SEA (-4)
Recommended Spread: SEA (-3.39)
Score Projection: Seahawks 26 Patriots 22
I’m a little skeptical of the Patriots’ approach working out in the long run, while I’m all-in with Seattle finally embracing Wilson. New England’s secondary is far greater test than the Falcons, but the Seahawks can win in sustainable ways, so if I had to pick, I’d back them as a favorite. This isn’t a game worth betting on though; just enjoy it on Sunday Night Football!
#15: Jaguars (1-0, 32nd) at Titans (1-0, 18th)
Jaguars Win Probability: 24.31915479%
Nobody gave the Jaguars a fighting chance to beat the Colts, yet they did exactly that. Gardner Minshew is very conservative, but he’s efficient and gives the offense a decently respectable floor. Plus, rookie cornerback CJ Henderson looked like a future #1 cornerback that they’ll look to build their defense around.
Titans Win Probability: 75.68084521%
The Titans have the highest win probability of this week, and it’s easy to see why. They were able to win in Denver despite their kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, costing them ten points in missed kicks, and they demolished the Jaguars in Ryan Tannehill’s lone appearance against them last year. I don’t think Jacksonville can deal with the physicality and explosiveness that Tennessee has to offer.
Spread Pick: TEN (-9)
Recommended Spread: TEN (-8.48)*
Score Projection: Titans 24 Jaguars 15
I’m not as high on the Titans as others are, but they should easily win this game. Jacksonville somehow managed to pull off an upset win against the Colts due to multiple turnovers, but Gardner Minshew will be forced to make plays down the field in this game, and I don’t think he can. When my model prompts me with the opportunity to back a heavy favorite, it’s probably a good indication that I should take advantage of it.
*Due to AJ Brown injury, line has shifted to TEN (-7.5). With that in mind, I’ll go with TEN (-7.5), as my model doesn’t have a statistically significant opinion of the new spread. JAX (+9) with this new information would be feel like cheating. This also is now game #16 in terms of difference in spread. Recommended Spread= TEN (-7.85).
#16: 49ers (1-0, 5th) at Jets (0-1, 31st)
49ers Win Probability: 69.64657899%
The 49ers will be without receiver Deebo Samuel and cornerback Richard Sherman, and they lack depth at those two key perimeter positions. At the same time, they’re a very well-coached team with enough talent in another areas. After all, they’re playing the Jets, who aren’t exactly a model organization.
Jets Win Probability: 30.35342101%
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for confusing quarterbacks, and Jimmy Garoppolo has always struggled against the blitz. If he commits a couple of turnovers, this could get interesting, considering that the 49ers don’t have the perimeter talent that they usually possess.
Spread Pick: SF (-7)
Recommended Spread: SF (-6.48)
Score Projection: 49ers 27 Jets 20
There’s no way I can back the Jets right now. They’re an absolute mess, and even without as much talent to work with, Kyle Shanahan should be able to expose New York’s clear deficiencies. Give me the functional organization over the current favorite for the #1 pick.