Week 4 was an interesting week, with multiple games having to deal with COVID-19 implications. Alas, only the Titans and Steelers could not play, and there were plenty of takeaways to have.
With the COVID-19 surrounding the Titans hopefully in the dust, let’s look ahead to Week 5.. We’re still mostly going off of prior information, since we don’t know how “good” a team is until about six weeks into the season, per Pro Football Focus; it’s not a good idea to overreact to a one-game sample size. However, we’re starting to get a better idea on how teams will fare this season.
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 support. 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 smaller recommended spreads from 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 (probably later), 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 a double-digit spread in tier 1, and will several tight matchups in tier 3.
*NOTE: Power Rankings Take Into Account Every Key Injury, Even If It’s Just For This Week
#1: Bengals (1-2-1, 18th) at Ravens (3-1, 4th)
Bengals Win Probability: 31.7757046%
Do you believe in small sample size trends? Well, if you do, you’re in luck! Joe Burrow is currently undefeated versus the spread over the first four games of his career, and is living up to the hype so far in his early career. He is currently the ninth-highest graded quarterback, per Pro Football Focus, and is coming off of back-to-back tremendous outings. His accuracy in the intermediate passing game pairs well with the receiver duo of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins (sorry AJ Green), and he currently has one of the highest average depth of targets in the NFL. Plus, for all the criticism they get, Cincinnati’s pass coverage has been very impressive (fourth-highest coverage grade) this season.
Ravens Win Probability: 68.2242954%
The Ravens had the best record in the NFL last season, and by virtue of a +49 point differential, they haven’t shown any reasons why they can’t be a Super Bowl contender this season. Although they haven’t been as efficient running the ball this season, they’ve had more success moving the ball through he air. Meanwhile, you would expect their defense, which boasts an extremely talented secondary, to play better over time.
Spread Pick: CIN (+13)
Recommended Spread: BAL (-6.01)
Score Projection: Ravens 26 Bengals 20
The Ravens are favored by as much against the Bengals as they were against the Washington Football Team, which is incredibly disrespectful to Cincinnati. When you have a top-ten quarterback, which Joe Burrow may already be, you should not be a 13-point underdog to anyone. Burrow is not going to be fazed by Baltimore’s immense amount of blitzes, so if they pass coverage continues to simply not be a liability, I have an extreme amount of confidence that they cover this spread.
#2: Rams (3-1, 8th) at Washington Football Team (1-3, 32nd)
Rams Win Probability: 85.75862757%
One of the most surprising developments of Week 4 was the Rams only mustering 17 points against the Giants. However, that was likely due to them just not being in sync after several “big games”, and they probably will play with a bit of an edge against Washington. Considering that their offense looks like it did when they were in their peak form, that extra motivation is all they need; I’m not expecting much from the Washington Football Team.
Washington Win Probability: 14.24137243%
Washington is better than the Giants, so if New York was able to keep it close, shouldn’t they be able to do the same? For what it’s worth, Dwayne Haskins was playing at an atrocious level before being benched for Kyle Allen., and they’ve quietly gotten positive results from their pass defense. When you’re a star-driven team like the Rams are, you’re going to have some holes, and teams with holes theoretically are the ones who would be vulnerable to upsets.
Spread Pick: LAR (-7)
Recommended Spread: LAR (-11.8)
Score Projection: Rams 31 Washington 19
This spread started at LAR (-9.5), and now, seven-to-eight points is the highest you can find it at. That’s incredibly surprising, and eliminates any value there may have been on Washington. I could definitely see the Rams winning this game in a blowout, but the same could’ve been said last week, and are they well-rounded enough to support as a heavy favorite? I would have said no with Haskins starting, but with Allen, who was a below-replacement level quarterback, I would definitely back Los Angeles here.
#3: Raiders (2-2, 25th) at Chiefs (4-0, 1st)
Raiders Win Probability: 20.42898497%
Even without several offensive starters, the Raiders were competitive against the Bills. The Chiefs run a similar-style defense to Buffalo (limiting big plays), but have less talent, so, theoretically, Las Vegas should score some points in this game.
Chiefs Win Probability: 79.57101503%
The Chiefs haven’t clicked yet, but does anyone doubt that they will eventually? The Raiders are absolutely atrocious defensively, so this is a classic “get right” game for them- they may drop 50 points. Obviously, if they do that, then they should win this game easily; getting back cornerback Bashaud Breeland will help their defense too.
Spread Pick: LV (+13)
Recommended Spread: KC (-9.76)
Score Projection: Chiefs 29 Raiders 19
The Raiders are a pesky team with competent quarterback, so with Kansas City not playing their best football yet, there’s a solid chance they’re able to lose by less than 13 points. Still, there is massive blowout potential in this game, so call me relieved that this didn’t end up as a “green light’ game.
#4: Panthers (2-2, 26th) at Falcons (0-4, 16th)
Panthers Win Probability: 35.23364887%
Don’t look now, but the Panthers are a .500 football team! Teddy Bridgewater isn’t exactly playing well right now, yet with young offensive coordinator Joe Brady scheming opportunities for a talented receiving corps, they’ve been able to move the ball efficiently. Additionally, they’re relying on a lot of young players defensively, which gives them unit a certain level of upside. With the way they’ve been playing, it is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Falcons Win Probability: 64.76635113%
Although they’re 0-4, it’s important to remember the Falcons have not only had 20-point leads in two of their four games, but they’ve had to play the Seahawks, Packers, and Cowboys. Even without star receiver Julio Jones, they still possess a dynamic offense, and it’s not like Teddy Bridgewater is the greatest of tests for their thin defense. This is theoretically a good matchup for them.
Spread Pick: ATL (-2)
Recommended Spread: ATL (-4.88)
Score Projection: Falcons 24 Panthers 19
The Falcons have to win at some point, right? That’s at least what my model believes, as even without Jones, it believes the spread should almost be double what it currently is- it isn’t buying that Atlanta is really an 0-4 team, which is logical given how their first four games have gone. Carolina’s offense has had the luxury of playing some very poor defenses, and teams overall, and although the Falcons won’t provide much resistance, they should score enough games to come out on top
#6: Vikings (1-3, 14th) at Seahawks (4-0, 2nd)
Vikings Win Probability: 35.06037163%
Similarly to the Falcons, the Vikings are a better team than their record would indicate. Quietly, they’ve had one of the most productive offenses in the NFL; Kirk Cousins is airing the ball out this season, which is why he has the highest average depth of target in the NFL (11), per NFL Next Gen Stats. Once again, he is benefiting from a heavy dose of play-action passes, and with the emergence of rookie receiver Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs isn’t as missed as he was through the first two games of the season. Plus, their young defense is finally starting to get acclimated to one another, which is a very encouraging sign.
Seahawks Win Probability: 64.93962837%
Who would have thought the Seahawks would be the pass-heaviest team in the NFL this season? They already had one of the top offenses just with what Russell Wilson could create on his own, but with them finally helping Wilson, this offense is unstoppable. The dynamic receiver duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf should give Minnesota’s young cornerbacks a lot of trouble. Seattle is simply the better team, and it’s not like Kirk Cousins plays well in primetime.
Spread Pick: MIN (+7)
Recommended Spread: SEA (-4.37)
Score Projection: Seahawks 28 Vikings 24
Seattle should win this game, though my model and I aren’t convinced it will be a blowout. Minnesota is producing offensively, and given the Seahawks’ early issues on that side of the ball (they won’t be able to harass Cousins with zero pass rush whatsoever), I don’t anticipate that changing. This isn’t a pick I’m quite fond of, however.
#6: Broncos (1-3, 28th) at Patriots (2-2, 17th)
Broncos Win Probability: 28.25534694%
Despite all of their injuries, the Broncos have shown a lot of fight. Sure, their first victory of the season came against the Jets, but they also kept things close against the Steelers and Titans. With one of the top run defenses in the NFL, they’re perfectly tailored to slow down the Patriots, who will rely on their rushing attack to compensate for their deficiencies at quarterback if Cam Newton is once again unable to play.
Patriots Win Probability: 71.74465306%
When the best aspect a team has going for them is their run defense, it is usually a sign that they are at an advantage. Even without Newton, the combination of Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham is likely an upgrade over Brett Rypien, while their pass defense will be fine even without star cornerback Stephon Gilmore. New England showed their immense amount of roster depth and elite coaching by having a fighting chance to win in Kansas City, so they should be expected to find a way to defeat a depleted Broncos team.
Spread Pick: NE (-5)
Recommended Spread: NE (-7.17)
Score Projection: Patriots 20 Broncos 13
Due to the quarterbacks in this game, it’s very unlikely that there will be many points scored in this game; it’s a little to scary to back a favorite here. However, New England is a significantly better-run team with much more talent, and I expect Bill Belichick to have a field day against Rypien. Good teams find a way to win games even when faced with adversity, and the Patriots have been proficient at doing so for years.
#7: Dolphins (1-3, 28th) at 49ers (2-2, 3rd*)
Dolphins Win Probability: 19.98918612%
The Dolphins were supposed to get blown out by the Seahawks, but they were able to remain very competitive. Even though their offensive line is horrendous, they have the receiving talent to support Ryan Fitzpatrick, which always them to stay in games. Sure, their defense has struggled mightily this season, but they’d be boosted tremendously if cornerback Byron Jones is able to play.
49ers Win Probability: 80.01081388%
Right now, I’ve slotted in Jimmy Garoppolo back as the starting quarterback, which solves a lot of the 49ers’ problems. Considering they’re already in an early hole, they will likely play with a lot of urgency; their offense, outside of the quarterback, was much better with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle back in the fold. This is still one of the best teams in the NFL, and when a good team plays a bad team, the good team generally wins.
Spread Pick: SF (-8)
Recommended Spread: SF (-9.91)
Score Projection: 49ers 27 Dolphins 17
I’m not sure if this spread will hold if Garoppolo plays, but there’s some value in it if he does. Sure, San Francisco won’t challenge Miami vertically, yet Kyle Shanahan should pick apart their lackluster middle-of-the-field coverage. This is an opportunity to buy-low on a Super Bowl contender, so I’ll gladly do so.
#8: Colts (3-1, 9th) at Browns (3-1, 13th)
Colts Win Probability: 50.42466562%
It still feels like their stock is down, but following their disappointing Week 1 loss to the Jaguars, the Colts have blown through their next three opponents. Phillip Rivers is getting rid of the ball extremely quickly, and thus, he is able to lead an efficient offense that will likely neutralize the Browns’ pass rush. Oh, and it probably helps that they have the top defense in the NFL, per most metrics, after the first month of play.
Browns Win Probability: 49.57533438%
Coming into the season, my model believed that the Browns would field a top-five offense. Although it no longer is as confident in them, they do currently rank third in Pro Football Focus offense grade. Sure, their production has been boosted by an outlier rushing performance (over 300 yards versus the Browns), yet they’ve been able to field a strong offense. Baker Mayfield simply needs to be a game manager, and he’s been that by relying on his supporting cast and offensive scheme. I’m a little concerned by the Colts’ lack of production offensively, and I’m not buying their defensive success- they’ve gotten to play the Jets, Bears, Jaguars, and the pre-Justin Jefferson breakout Vikings.
Spread Pick: CLE (+2)
Recommended Spread: IND (+0.14)
Score Projection: Browns 25 Colts 24
This may be the most evenly-matched affair of the season so far. Both of these teams pride themselves on winning the game through the offensive trenches, which likely means we’ll see an old-school type of matchup that leads to this game going down to the wire. In the end, Cleveland has the explosiveness that the Colts don’t have, while Indianapolis has numerous injuries to worry about on both sides of the ball. If you got this at CLE (+3), congratulations. If not, enjoy what will be arguably the best game of the week.
#9: Cardinals (2-2, 21st) at Jets (0-4, 31st)
Cardinals Win Probability: 65.77377342%
The Cardinals have come back to earth following their 2-0 start, which was expected for those looking at their underlying metrics. On the bright side, though, Kyler Murray is having a fantastic season, and his connection with receiver De’Andre Hopkins has been tremendous. I’m not expecting the Jets defense to be the unit that hampers Murray’s promising development into a franchise quarterback; their pass coverage has been atrocious.
Jets Win Probability: 34.22622658%
The Jets may be without quarterback Sam Darnold, but is Joe Flacco actually a downgrade? In fact, he’s probably a more stable option than Darnold is currently, and their offensive playmakers are starting to get healthy. Had it not been for penalties, they would’ve likely beaten the Broncos last week, and Arizona’s defense is currently being boosted by an unsustainable third-down conversion rate.
Spread Pick: NYJ (+7)
Recommended Spread: ARI (-5.21)
Score Projection: Cardinals 25 Jets 20
The Jets are not a good football team, but the Cardinals don’t deserve to be a seven-point favorite on the road against any team. Their defense is atrocious, and as their third-down luck decreases, it will only be exposed more. Now, I’m not saying that they’ll lose this game, yet I completely understand why my model sees some slight value in backing New York here.
#10: Eagles (1-2-1, 23rd) at Steelers (3-0, 11th)
Eagles Win Probability: 31.98248954%
How could you bet against the team that is first place in the NFC East? All jokes aside, the Eagles did show some resemblance of the team many expected them to be in their victory against the 49ers. Carson Wentz’s accuracy has vanished, but he still has a track record of success, and their defense has been very strong this season; their pass rush is a problem.
Steelers Win Probability: 68.01751046%
The Steelers are undefeated, and should be fresh off of their abrupt bye week. Sure, those wins came against the Giants, Broncos, and Texans, but are the Eagles much more of a threat? Wentz is struggling to make quick decisions behind an injured offensive line and throwing to his second-team of receivers, so can you only imagine how ugly it could get against Pittsburgh’s defense?
Spread Pick: PHI* (+7)
Recommended Spread: PIT (-5.9)
Score Projection: Steelers 23 Eagles 16
This spread pick is completely tied to the health of the Eagles’ receivers. If DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery don’t play, then PIT (-7) is probably the logical pick. Yet, if they do, I wouldn’t see a reason why not to back Philadelphia, considering that the Steelers haven’t won by over a touchdown to any of the inferior teams they’ve played this season.
NOTE: With Jackson and Jeffery ruled out, the model’s recommended spread has jumped to PIT (-7.08). Thus, PIT (-7) becomes the pick.
#11: Jaguars (1-3, 30th) at Texans (0-4, 22nd)
Jaguars Win Probability: 29.55374219%
Right now, the Jaguars have a better point differential and record than the Texans, which alludes the fact that they could find a way to win this game. Gardner Minshew’s play under pressure has predictably regressed, but he’s still the type of high-floor quarterback than is able to keep Jacksonville’s offense functional; their playmakers should find success against a very poor Houston defense.
Texans Win Probability: 70.44625781%
The Texans finally moved on from head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien, which perhaps could provide a jolt for them. Considering that he was unpopular amongst the players, his departure probably turns into a positive, as he was clearly in over his head at the end. Deshaun Watson is an ultra-talented quarterback, and with the Jaguars defense not providing much resistance at all, this is precisely the type of game in which he explodes for 400-500 passing yards. Better quarterback, more talent, AND extra motivation? That’s a good recipe for winning.
Spread Pick: HOU (-6)
Recommended Spread: HOU (-6.75)
Score Projection: Texans 24 Jaguars 17
Almost all the money coming from bettors on this game is favoring Jacksonville, which really is just fading the Texans. This is a great chance to combat the public narrative that a) Houston is an incompetent team (their early schedule has been brutal) and b) that O’Brien’s firing is going to distract them. They have the better quarterback, and them winning by a touchdown with Watson carrying the load is an incredibly likely outcome.
#12: Giants (0-4, 29th) at Cowboys (1-3, 13th)
Giants Win Probability: 19.17849769%
Outside of a blowout loss to the 49ers in Week 3, the Giants have been within one possession in every game they played this season, and that’s despite playing playoff contenders in the Steelers and Rams. Thus, the gap from playing strong defenses to going about against the Cowboys could lead to positive results for their offense, while their defense hasn’t been a liability.
Cowboys Win Probability: 80.82150231%
The Cowboys may not be able to stop anyone, but their offense scores points as well as any other unit in the NFL. Their pass-heavy tendencies have yielded a lot of production through the air, and I don’t expect New York’s thin secondary to provide much of a threat. They also have one of the most aggressive head coaches when it comes to making analytically-friendly decisions, while Joe Judge is the opposite for the Giants.
Spread Pick: DAL (-9.5)
Recommended Spread: DAL (-10.17)
Score Projection: Cowboys 26 Giants 16
The Cowboys play their games like a big-12 team, so if they move the ball as effectively as they should, they should win this game by double digits. The gap in decision-making aggressiveness between these two teams is massive, and I’d expect Dallas to keep their foot on the gas pedal throughout. This is a rare situation where my model believes a heavy favorite should be favored by even more.
#13: Chargers (1-3, 24th) at Saints (2-2, 5th)
Chargers Win Probability: 26.31687152%
Head coach Anthony Lynn appears to not have confidence in him, but Justin Herbert has been impressive in his rookie season so far. Sure, the signal-caller is making the type of mistakes than Joe Burrow isn’t, but he at least is producing big plays and taking shots down the field, which isn’t something he always did in college. In essence, he is giving his star-studded playmakers a lot of opportunities, and Los Angeles probably has the more explosive passing offense in this game.
Saints Win Probability: 73.68312848%
That said, I’m not implying at all that the Chargers have the better offense in this game; New Orleans’ efficiency on that side of the ball is fantastic. Drew Brees not only doubled his average depth of target last week, but he also displayed much better accuracy and timing. Assuming star receiver Michael Thomas is back from his ankle injury, they should look more like the offense that many expected them to be, especially since Los Angeles’ defense is a great fit for this style of offense; they’re all about limiting big plays and letting teams beat them in the short passing game, and Brees has historically played very well against traditional cover-three defenses.
Spread Pick: NO (-7.5)
Recommended Spread: NO (-7.32)
Score Projection: Saints 27 Chargers 19
There are so many unknowns with this game. Not only do both teams have an extreme amount of injuries on both sides of the ball, but due to Hurricane Delta, there’s. good chance this game isn’t even played in New Orleans. Now, it being played in Indianapolis at least preserves some travel advantage for the Saints, but it certainly isn’t ideal for them. Herbert has benefitted from a lot of unstable production under pressure, and since he faces it a lot, regression could hit him extremely hard. Only having to give up seven points would be ideal, yet New Orleans on paper should win this game by over a touchdown.
#14: Buccaneers (3-1, 7th) at Bears (3-1, 19th)
Buccaneers Win Probability: 61.04579949%
It may not be showing up in the terms of a dominant point differential, but the Bucs are clicking on all cylinders right now, especially offensively. Per Pro Football Focus, Tom Brady’s big-time throw rate is more than four times that of his turnover-worthy play rate, which just to speaks to how tremendous he has been this season. In fact, the reality that his success hasn’t translated into top-notch surface-level statistics is incredibly intriguing; he is due for positive regression. On the other side of the ball, their aggressive defense is coming off of a poor outing against Justin Herbert, yet is the type of defense that could take advantage of Nick Foles’ general carelessness when it comes to taking of the football.
Bears Win Probability: 38.95420051%
At the same time, Foles gets rid of the ball very quickly while taking shots down the field, so he is in position to stretch Tampa’s defense vertically. His play style leads to a lot of volatility, but if he hits the right side of the bell curve, then the Bears could be in position to win this game- they continue to get adequate returns from their defense.
Spread Pick: TB (-3.5)
Recommended Spread: TB (-3.6)
Score Projection: Bucs 26 Bears 21
I’m not sure there has been a game this season with such little value present in the spread. The Bucs jumped out to a six-point favorite, which led there to be reason to support Chicago. However, at just 3.5 points, we have to acknowledge that both teams are due for regression in opposite fashion; Brady’s surface-level statistics will soon represent his play better, and you want to be on his side when that happens.
#15: Bills (4-0, 10th) at Titans (3-0, 17th)
Bills Win Probability: 56.41447675%
It’s early to declare that you or your model was flat-out wrong about a team, yet I’m willing to admit that about the Bills. Josh Allen’s progression when it comes to accuracy, particularly down the field, is completely unprecedented, and even if his production under pressure goes down, he’s performed admirably from a clean pocket. With an elite group of receivers, a stable offensive line, and a fantastic play-caller in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, their offense is built to score points, while their defense will play better as their third-down luck improves.
Titans Win Probability: 43.58552325%
The Titans had a very dynamic offense at the end of last season, and they’ve stuck through to their principles with a heavy dosage of play-action passes and pre-snap motion. This may sound extremely old school, but their toughness at the line of scrimmage may actually cause them to run unsustainably well against a weaker Buffalo defensive line, and Allen could always revert back to his old ways.
Spread Pick: BUF (-1)
Recommended Spread: BUF (-2.12)
Score Projection: Bills 24 Titans 22
With receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, interior defender Jeffery Simmons, and cornerback Kristian Fulton all on the COVID-19 list, the Bills may be playing the Titans’ B team when this is all said and done. To be honest, I’m skeptical that this game actually gets played, but if it does, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who will back Tennessee here.