This is not going to be a normal season, and Week 5 was a great indication as to why. Due to COVID-19 protocols, not only did we have a game on Tuesday night, but the Broncos and Patriots were postponed to this upcoming week. Overall, though, this was a very telling week with a lot of compelling storylines.
Week 6 is a critical week when it comes to our analysis. We aren’t supposed to know how “good” a team is until about six weeks into the season, per Pro Football Focus, so, obviously, this is about the time where we don’t have to worry as much about being deceived by a smaller 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 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)
With that taken care of, let’s get to the games! We’ll start with multiple primetime games in Week 1, and make our way towards a healthy amount of tight matchups in tier 3.
*NOTE: Power Rankings Take Into Account Every Key Injury, Even If It’s Just For This Week
#1: Los Angeles Rams (4-1, 6th) at San Francisco 49ers (2-3, 7th)
Rams Win Probability: 46.8949366%
Should the Rams be declared the winners of the NFC East? After all, they’ve already swept that division, while the NFC East as a whole has just four wins combined. In all seriousness, though, it has been difficult to not be impressed with the Rams. Despite having one of the lowest average depth of targets in the NFL, Jared Goff’s production has been tremendous, which speaks to the job head coach Sean McVay has done scheming run-after-catch production for his receiving talent. Considering that most of Goff’s damage has come from a clean pocket, the offensive breakthrough should be expected to continue, while their defense ranks in the top-ten in Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade and coverage grade.
49ers Win Probability: 53.10506245%
The 49ers have struggled with injuries, and this was apparent in their recent blowout loss to the Dolphins. On the bright side, Jimmy Garoppolo should play better with an extra week to get healthier, and the same goes for the rest of their banged-up players. Interestingly, head coach Kyle Shanahan loves to attack the middle-of-the-field, which is where the Rams are weakest. In other words, be on the lookout for a massive performance by tight end George Kittle.
Spread Pick: SF (+3.5)
Recommended Spread: SF (-1.02)
Score Projection: 49ers 26 Rams 24
I get that the 49ers are injured and are coming off back-to-back losses to the Eagles and Dolphins. Yet, are we really going to say that they are 3.5 points than the Rams, and even more than that if you factor in home-field advantage? (Vegas has been keeping it at its normal level) This is a classic example of an overreaction by the betting markets, especially since San Francisco will be forced to play with a lot of urgency and will be at home for their third straight game. Let me just say that I am happy to be on the right end of a “Kyle Shanahan showing the world why he’s a genius” type of game.
#2: Cardinals (3-2, 24th) at Cowboys (2-3, 20th)
Cardinals Win Probability: 42.79375995%
At the very least, the Cardinals are a lot of fun to watch. Quarterback Kyler Murray has continued to take a leap in his second season in the NFL, and he has wasted no time developing a connection with star receiver De’Andre Hopkins, who has an absurdly high average depth of target induced. Those two should do a lot of damage against a putrid Dallas secondary, while Murray’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly and escape pressure in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme should help elevate the threat of the pass rush.
Cowboys Win Probability: 57.20624005%
The Cowboys are going to have to quickly overcome the loss of quarterback Dak Prescott. Luckily for them, they wisely made sure to have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, Andy Dalton is a lot more accomplished than several current starting quarterbacks, and is the type of mid-tier quarterback who could thrive with the proper pieces around him. Don’t be surprised when he is able to take advantage of playing with one of, if not the best recovering corps in the NFL. It also helps that Arizona’s defense is not exactly strong, to put it nicely.
Spread Pick: DAL (+2.5)
Recommended Spread: DAL (-1.88)
Score Projection: Cowboys 24 Cardinals 22
The look-ahead line for this game was DAL (-3), and now Arizona is favored by nearly the same amount. Prescott is a fantastic player, but the gap between him and Dalton is certainly not six points. Even with Dalton, Dallas is a better team than Arizona, and should exploit their defensive woes more than vise-versa. Any time you can pick an underdog who you believe should be favored, it’s probably a good bet to make.
#3: Packers (4-0, 5th) at Buccaneers (3-2, 3rd)
Packers Win Probability: 44.32605653%
Practically by every metric, the Packers have been the best team in the NFL. That’s a testament to their offense, as Aaron Rodgers would have my pick for MVP right now; he’s thriving in an offense that is utilizing a lot of pre-snap motion, getting rid of the ball quickly, and a high average depth of target. Even more impressive, they haven’t even had star receiver Davante Adams for half of their games!
Buccaneers Win Probability: 55.67394347%
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Bucs, who are just 3-2 this season, and have failed to dominate in any of their wins. Yet, they have the second-highest overall team grade from Pro Football Focus, which speaks to positive regression coming their way. While most defenses have struggled to get up to speed, they have succeeded in every facet, including in pass coverage; their young group of cornerbacks have flourished. Plus, Tom Brady’s underlying metrics suggest his surface-level statistics should be much better than they currently are, and getting back receiver Chris Godwin will help with that.
Spread Pick: TB (+1.5)
Recommended Spread: TB (-1.87)
Score Projection: Bucs 26 Packers 24
The Packers have been extremely impressive, but their offense has also had the luxury of facing some subpar defenses- Tampa will be easily their greatest test. Expecting Rodgers to continue to be 100% flawless isn’t correct (no one can sustain his current pace), while Brady’s statistics are bound to improve with natural regression. My models are very high on the Bucs, and this could be where they prove them right.
#4: Bengals (1-2-1, 17th) at Colts (3-2, 11th)
Bengals Win Probability: 36.40168243%
The Bengals were one of our “green light” picks last week, and it’s safe to say they didn’t deliver; they were blown out by Baltimore. At the same time, the reasons for optimism surround this team before last week are still in place. Joe Burrow gets rid of the ball quickly and has a solid average depth of target, and there still is a lot of talent on this offense. Meanwhile, their pass coverage was once again tremendous against the Ravens, and the Colts don’t exactly have a high-flying passing attack.
Colts Win Probability: 63.59831757%
Although Indianapolis’ passing offense hasn’t been up to par this season, they still have enough talent to be better than they have been, especially with a very talented offensive play-caller in Frank Reich. Plus, Cincinnati’s offensive line can’t block anyone, and the Colts have spent a lot of resources revamping their pass defense; this could be the rare occurrence where an interior defender (DeForest Buckner) can actually take over a game.
Spread Pick: CIN (+7.5)
Recommended Spread: IND (-4.49)
Score Projection: Colts 24 Bengals 20
Despite their winning record, it’s hard to be impressed by the Colts; they haven’t exactly had the toughest of schedules. With the way Phillip Rivers is currently playing, the Bengals may have the quarterback advantage in this game, and I don’t think there’s as much of a gap between these two teams as the current spread would indicate. This line lost some value (it at one point got out to IND -9), yet Cincinnati remains a solid pick with this also crossing over a critical key number (seven points).
#5: Broncos (1-3, 25th) at Patriots (2-2, 9th)
Broncos Win Probability: 28.60449933%
Good news, Broncos fans; Drew Lock is back in the lineup! Sure, the second-year quarterback isn’t a trustworthy option at quarterback, yet he’s far better than Jeff Driskel or Brett Rypien. Additionally, tight end Noah Fant should return, receivers Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy are playing at a high level, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio leads a productive defense. For whatever it’s worth, their stout run defense may work well against the Patriots’ diverse rushing attack.
Patriots Win Probability: 71.39550067%
Whereas the Broncos are getting Lock back, New England will able to slot Cam Newton into their lineup, which will be welcomes after a disastrous performance by Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham. As long as Newton isn’t too rusty, they should score enough points to complement their defense- they probably only need about 20 points. That’s due to head coach Bill Belichick, who likely will have his way throwing the kitchen sink at Lock. I’d be shocked if they don’t induce at least a couple turnovers.
Spread Pick: DEN (+10)
Recommended Spread: NE (-7.06)
Score Projection: Patriots 23 Broncos 16
With both teams integrating their quarterbacks back into the lineup and coming off of short bye weeks, this is likely to be a sloppy game. In general, New England isn’t the type of team who is going to blow out anyone, which is generally the case for a defensive-first team whose offenses has some rushing tendencies. They should win this game, yet ten points is a lot to give to a Broncos team that has remained competitive, despite receiving putrid quarterback play.
#6: Browns (4-1, 10th) at Steelers (4-0, 13th)
Browns Win Probability: 47.4450006%
Don’t look now, but the Browns are 4-1 for the first time since Bill Belichick was their head coach. That’s the product of them finally finding the right leader for them, as Kevin Stefanski has done a fabulous job bringing much-needed stability to the organization. Despite the fact that Baker Mayfield isn’t playing well, Cleveland has maintained a productive offense, which speaks to their receiving corps, offensive line, and the benefits of playing in Stefanski’s play-action heavy system. Quietly, Pittsburgh’s defense has had some issues in pass coverage, and with Ben Roethlisberger serving more as a game manager, the Browns likely won’t have their defensive woes exposed in any particular way.
Steelers Win Probability: 52.55499594%
Even with Roethlisberger focusing more on getting rid of the ball quickly and not generating explosive plays, he still is the better quarterback in this matchup. Most importantly, his receivers have been fantastic creating yards after the catch, which is interesting considering the Browns rely on a lot of smaller-stature cornerbacks. With Mayfield dealing with a rib injury coming into this game, their aggressive defense may give him trouble; them winning the turnover battle seems obvious, even with turnovers mostly being random.
Spread Pick: CLE (+3.5)
Recommended Spread: PIT (-0.84)
Score Projection: Browns 23 Steelers 22
My model indicates that this game should be closer to a pick-em, which makes sense; Cleveland is likely the slightly better team. In their four games this season, the Steelers have played the Giants, Broncos, Texans, and Eagles- a combined 4-14-1 record. Yet, they have failed to win any game by over ten points, and nearly lost to their last three opponents. Thus, the market is overvaluing them due to their record and reputation, when the fact of the matter is that they have a relatively pedestrian offense. I’ll take the team with more explosiveness and a better offensive play-caller, especially since you’re not only getting 3 points here, but 3.5- it passes the most common margin of victory.
#7: Chiefs (4-1, 1st) at Bills (4-1, 12th)
Chiefs Win Probability: 56.60385076%
Even after losing to the Raiders, the Chiefs are easily the best team in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes is coming off a bounce-back performance in which he had six big-time throws, per Pro Football Focus, and he is once again benefiting form an offensive line that ranks in the top ten in pass-blocking grade and a receiving unit that is also grading in the top ten. Plus, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to give Josh Allen more resistance than he’s faced this season.
Bills Win Probability: 43.39614924%
Kansas City will be looking to bounce back, but so will the Bills, who are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Titans. Luckily for Buffalo, that loss shouldn’t be a sign of things to come, as they dealt with poor turnover luck and were without several key contributors. Their defensive scheme, which limits chunk plays, is the style of defense that generally does a good job of keeping Mahomes in check, and they might be able to scheme enough offense to go pound-for-pound with the Chiefs.
Spread Pick: BUF (+4.5)
Recommended Spread: KC (-2.18)
Score Projection: Chiefs 26 Bills 24
This has the makings of a three-point win for the Chiefs, who are better than the Bills, but this will be their toughest test outside of the Ravens. Buffalo is a smart organization that is likely to not be overwhelmed by what Kansas City throws their way, so 4.5 points is a little rich.
#8: Ravens (4-1. 4th) at Eagles (1-3-1, 22nd)
Ravens Win Probability: 65.0751561%
Currently, the Ravens rank first in point differential, and the same was true for them last year. From top-to-bottom, they have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, and don’t have an apparent weakness that a team can exploit. Their aggressive defense ought to be able to exploit Carson Wentz; the Eagles’ offensive line and receiving corps are both dealing with key injuries.
Eagles Win Probability: 34.96248439%
If all goes well, Philadelphia could get receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson back this week. That would be huge for their offense, especially since Wentz is coming off easily his best performance of the season. For what it’s worth, Baltimore’s offense hasn’t looked up to par so far; their offensive line has taken a step back and Lamar Jackson has had a Pro Football Focus passing grade below 65 in three of their five games. They’ve gotten past Washington and Cincinnati, but could the Eagles give them more trouble than expected?
Spread Pick: PHI (+7.5)
Recommended Spread: BAL (-5.27)
Score Projection: Ravens 27 Eagles 21
I don’t feel great about this pick whatsoever, but with the Ravens not looking very impressive, and the Eagles offense likely getting healthier, 7.5 points is probably too much. Really, though, this is one where I’m just hoping that Philadelphia is able to lose by seven, even if it comes via a backdoor cover.
#9: Bears (4-1, 22nd) at Panthers (3-2, 23rd)
Bears Win Probability: 48.42985384%
Although it has come in unconventional fashion, the Bears are now 4-1 after beating the Bucs in primetime last week. After being conservative with Mitchell Trubisky, head coach Matt Nagy ranks near the top of the league in early-down pass rate with Nick Foles under center, and over time, I expect Foles to connect with his talented receiving corps more often; Carolina’s poor pass defense is a great start. It also doesn’t hurt that their pass rush/coverage combination is up there with the best in the NFL.
Panthers Win Probability: 51.57014616%
It has gone under-the-radar, but the Panthers rank FIFTH in yards/play, which speaks to the job first-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady has done elevating Teddy Bridgewater. They’re constantly letting the receiver duo of DJ Moore and Robby Anderson do damage, and because of that, they have a very efficient offense with a very high floor. That’s the opposite of the Bears, who have a lot of volatility and could blow up in the way of turnovers.
Spread Pick: CHI (+2.5)
Recommended Spread: CHI (-0.52)
Score Projection: Bears 24 Panthers 23
My model has this game as essentially a pick-em, so I’ll ride with the team that I believe is slightly better and is getting points. Carolina’s defense is not only generally bad, but also is dealing with a lot of injuries, and I think their offense has benefited from playing the likes of the Falcons, Cardinals, and Raiders. Against a tougher defense and with Foles likely to exploit their secondary somewhat, there is a decent chance that they may come back down the earth.
#10: Lions (1-3, 17th) at Jaguars (1-3, 29th)
Lions Win Probability: 64.19706118%
It’s been a rough start for the Lions, who have blown multiple double-digit leads and are just 1-3- head coach Matt Patricia is definitely on the hot seat. At the same time, they’ve had a difficult early schedule, and their road ahead is far easier. That starts against the Jaguars, whose putrid defense ought to get exposed against an offense built to thrive in the vertical passing game. Plus, with Gardner Minshew taking a step back and regressing to the mean, this is a time for Patricia’s defense to finally hold its own.
Jaguars Win Probability: 35.80293882%
That being said, Minshew gives Jacksonville a high floor, and he should have plenty of time to work with against a poor pass rush; the Jaguars also have the receiving talent to give Patricia’s man-heavy defense some fits. This is certainly a winnable game for Jacksonville, even if it has more to do with Detroit’s propensity for disappointing than anything else.
Spread Pick: DET (-3)
Recommended Spread: DET (-4.69)
Score Projection: Lions 27 Jaguars 22
The Lions will probably find a way to lose this game, yet their talent still indicates that they are the far superior team in this matchup. While the public is ready to give up on them, I still see some potential for them to go on a mid-season push with a soft schedule coming up. The opposite is true for the Jaguars, who are starting to show their true colors, so when all is said and done, three points simply isn’t enough of a gap.
#11: Texans (1-4, 19th) at Titans (4-0, 14th)
Texans Win Probability: 37.0899454%
Was Bill O’Brien the problem for the Texans? After all, they ranked top-ten in neutral script early-down pass frequency after being much more run-heavy in the past- they let Deshaun Watson cook. Overall, the offense looked much more explosive with them placing an emphasis on targeting Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller, something that they should look to do again facing a mediocre Titans defense.
Titans Win Probability: 62.9100546%
Many expected the Titans to regress in 2020, so, naturally, they rank second in passing expecting points added per play (EPA/play) through their first four games. Ryan Tannehill continues to thrive in an offensive system that uses a lot of play-action passes, and do we really think the Texans defense is going to stop him?
Spread Pick: TEN (-3)
Recommended Spread: TEN (-4.26)
Score Projection: Titans 26 Texans 21
I’m a little wary of backing the Titans on an ultra-short week after making a statement in primetime, but they’re also definitely more than three points better than the Texans. The public may be slightly overvaluing Houston’s performance against the Jaguars; Tennessee is likely to win this game, so taking them (-3) just makes sense before looking at my model’s projection.
#12: Washington Football Team (1-3, 31st) at Giants (0-5, 30th)
Washington Win Probability: 38.78864477%
The Washington Football Team may not actually be a capable football team, but they’ve also had to play against the Ravens, Rams, and other top-tier teams. Thus, facing the Giants represents a very winnable game for them, especially as their defense continues to outperform expectations. I can only imagine Daniel Jones sitting in the pocket and getting destroyed by Washington’s pass rush.
Giants Win Probability: 61.21135523%
If the Giants cannot win this game, then I have no hope for them winning a game this season. They’ve remained very competitive against the Rams, Cowboys, and Bears, making this a prime opportunity for them to get in on the fun. They certainly have the quarterback advantage here (Jones>Kyle Allen), which isn’t the case often. It also helps that their defensive talent is limited to one productive cornerback (James Bradberry), and Washington only has one star receiver.
Spread Pick: NYG (-3)
Recommended Spread: NYG (-3.70)
Score Projection: Giants 21 Washington 17
As evidenced by my model’s power ratings, these are two of the worst teams in the NFL, so anything could happen here. However, Kyle Allen has not shown signs of being anything but a below-replacement level quarterback so far in his career, while Jones and the Giants offense have shown the ability to move the ball down the field. For a tier-3 game, I feel strangely confident in this spread pick.
#13: Jets (0-5, 32nd) at Dolphins (2-3, 28th)
Jets Win Probability: 22.43538647%
The Jets don’t rank last in team offense grade from Pro Football Focus, so they have that going for them! How is head coach Adam Gase still running the team? I wish there were positive signs with this organization, but we’ll have to wait until the draft for that.
Dolphins Win Probability: 77.56461353%
Are the Dolphins actually good? They rank 16th in yards/play, have been competitive with the Patriots, Bills, and Seahawks, while also blowing out the 49ers. I could see Ryan Fitzpatrick and their talented group of receivers doing damage against a putrid Jets defense, while their man-heavy defense should have no issue against a lifeless offense.
Spread Pick: MIA (-8.5)
Recommended Spread: MIA (-9.10)
Score Projection: Dolphins 23 Jets 14
If you had the Dolphins would be an 8.5 point favorite against anyone, and that I’d be backing them, I would’ve called you crazy. Yet, here we are. The Jets simply have nothing going for them as far as this season is concerned, while Miami may actually be a dark horse playoff contender, as crazy as that sounds. Their defense figures to continue to be better with cornerback Byron Jones back healthy, and with Fitzpatrick playing well, I’ll take them to cover the two-score spread.
#14: Falcons (0-5, 16th) at Vikings (1-4, 15th)
Falcons Win Probability: 40.46257827%
The Falcons are 0-5, have fired their head coach and general manager, and had to close their facilities after a couple players got COVID-19. Besides that, everything is going to plan! In all seriousness, Atlanta is better than they’ve shown, especially when considering they’ve had multiple 20-point leads. This is still a talented offense, and their early schedule has been brutal.
Vikings Win Probability: 59.53742173%
Speaking of teams that have had tough early schedules, the Vikings have had to play the Seahawks, Packers, Colts, and Titans. Yet, they have lost by a combined two points to Tennessee and Seattle, and quietly have an explosive offense (fifth in team offense grade, ninth in yards/play). I’m certainly not expecting them to slow down against Atlanta, and their young defense have shown some glimpses of hope as they get acclimated to one another.
Spread Pick: MIN (-3.5)
Recommended Spread: MIN (-3.14)
Score Projection: Vikings 25 Falcons 21
I wouldn’t be shocked with anything happening in this game, given the way the early portion of the season has gone for these two teams. However, Minnesota has more going for them at this point, especially with Julio Jones’ status for this game up in the air. Thus, I’ll take them and watch them win by exactly three points!