Week 6 was hyped up as a week with a lot of great games, and it delivered! There were plenty of storylines to dissect from a fun slate of games, including a Monday Night Football double-header.
Now that we are through six weeks of the season, we are starting to get a sense of how each team will perform this season. However, in Week 7, there are several games that will provide us with far more information.
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! For the first time this season, there is just one game in tier 1, but fret not; there are plenty of intriguing value picks in tier 2!
*NOTE: Power Rankings Take Into Account Every Key Injury, Even If It’s Just For This Week
#1: Cowboys (2-4, 28th) at Washington Football Team (1-5, 31st)
Cowboys Win Probability: 61.38106881%
It goes without saying that in their 38-10 loss to the Cardinals, the Cowboys put together arguably the worst performance of the season. However, they still have talent, even with Dak Prescott. Andy Dalton is certainly a downgrade, but he has a strong track record of success, and he still has arguably the best receiving corps in the league to work with. Plus, for all of their defensive woes, the Washington Football Team doesn’t exactly pose much of a threat.
Washington Win Probability: 38.61893119%
That said, the Cowboys have found a way to underperform in every game they’ve played this season, and there is a chance that the injuries are too much for them to overcome. Washington’s defense has been surprisingly average, and their offensive play-calling has been strong this season. There is also the chance that star receiver Terry McLaurin goes for 200 yards against arguably the worst secondary in the NFL.
Spread Pick: DAL (PK)
Recommended Spread: DAL (-3.75)
Score Projection: Cowboys 24 Washington 20
The Cowboys are not a good football team, which is why they rank so low in my model’s power ratings. Nevertheless, they are still superior to Washington; they have the better quarterback and better receivers, which is a great recipe for success. The offensive play-calling in Dallas is generally tailored towards early-down passes, and if they get back to that with more comfort to the quarterback change, this could be a bounce-back game for them. Generally, huge movements in the look-ahead spreads don’t yield positive results for the team in which the spread moves in favor of; call this an overreaction to one terrible loss.
#2: Chiefs (5-1, 1st) at Broncos (2-3, 21st)
Chiefs Win Probability: 69.04221132%
The Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, and I’m still not sure there is anyone in the AFC that can challenge them. They’re clearly not putting together their best offensive play-calling, based on their run tendencies, and yet, they’re still managing to win against strong teams. One of these games, they are going to explode, though, regardless, I have no doubts they will continue to rack up wins.
Broncos Win Probability: 30.95778868%
Sure, the Chiefs could dominate any team based on their explosiveness, but it hasn’t happened yet. If Andy Reid continues to opt for early-down runs, the Broncos are going to put them in a tough position, as they have one of the better defenses in the NFL. Plus, despite his poor surface-level statistics, Drew Lock had arguably his best game of his career, based on his Pro Football Focus grade; with a high average depth of target, he’s the type of quarterback that can pull of an upset.
Spread Pick: DEN (+9.5)
Recommended Spread: KC (-6.28)
Score Projection: Chiefs 27 Broncos 20
Now that they aren’t the most injured team in the NFL, the Broncos are starting to look like the pesky team that they were expected to be. Now, I don’t think they win this game, but from what Kansas City has shown in terms of their conservativeness against teams that aren’t the Ravens, I wouldn’t feel comfortable backing them as such a heavy favorite. After a very encouraging performance from Lock, the smart play is to take him with the points; there is also a great chance for a backdoor cover here and you’re clearing a lot of key numbers.
#4: Buccaneers (4-2, 3rd) at Raiders (3-2, 25th)
Buccaneers Win Probability: 67.62588721%
My model has been high on the Bucs throughout the season, and even had them ranked higher than the Packers heading into last week. Well, now we know why. In my opinion, Tampa Bay has the best defense in the NFL; their secondary is tremendous and their pass rush complements them well. Plus, that’s not even the strength of their roster! Tom Brady is playing at an extremely high level- he has a big time throw rate, per Pro Football Focus, of 7.97% – and with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans fully healthy, it looks like their offense is ready to take off. Do not overlook this team.
Raiders Win Probability: 32.37411279%
With wins against the Saints and Chiefs, the Raiders have proven capable of dealing with top-tier teams, and the credit has to go to their offense. Derek Carr is taking more shots down the field, which can be seen as a clear result of the addition of young speedster Henry Ruggs III, and, thus, they are far more explosive than they were last year. When you outplay the Chiefs on the road, you have to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your ability to take down any team.
Spread Pick: TB (-3)
Recommended Spread: TB (-6.21)
Score Projection: Buccaneers 29 Raiders 23
Sure, the Raiders are pesky, but a lot of their success is luck; they have the third-highest third-down conversion rate and Derek Carr is vastly overachieving, based on his underlying metrics. I expect regression to hit him hard against the best defense in the NFL, while there is a great chance that their defense looks helpless against Tampa Bay’s dynamic offense. Honestly, I think there is more value backing the Bucs here than even my model is indicating; call this a “green yellow light” game!
#4: Steelers (5-0, 10th) at Titans (5-0, 11th)
Steelers Win Probability: 46.77363274%
My model wasn’t convinced the Steelers were a superior team to the Browns heading into last week, and by virtue of a 38-7 victory, that is no longer in doubt. Currently, Pittsburgh is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defense, and their pass rush could cause trouble for Ryan Tannehill- he generally takes his fair share of sacks. On the other side of the ball, even if Ben Roethlisberger is more of a game manager, he has a lot of weapons to work with, and Tennessee’s pass defense is a concern (worst graded pass rush, 10th-worst coverage grade).
Titans Win Probability: 53.22636726%
Coming into the season, the Titans were expected to regress offensively. Well, it’s safe to say that hasn’t happened yet:
As it turns out, Derrick Henry does NOT engineer this offense (who could’ve seen that coming?) Even as their rushing production hasn’t been great, they still have the best passing offense in the NFL, as Ryan Tannehill is in the MVP conversation, while offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will likely be a head coaching candidate. With AJ Brown back in the lineup, this is not an offense you want to play right now.
Spread Pick: TEN (+2)
Recommended Spread: TEN (-1.07)
Score Projection: Titans 25 Steelers 24
At the end of the day, good offenses beat good defenses, and that’s what I think will happen here. As much as I like them, there is no team right now that is being overvalued by the market quite like the Steelers (many see them as the best team???); at the very least, this should be a pick-em. There is no justification for Pittsburgh being a two-point road favorite against a team with such a prolific offense, so although the outcome of this game feels like a coin-flip, it’s clear why my model is all over the Titans here.
#5: Seahawks (5-0, 2nd) at Cardinals (4-2, 19th)
Seahawks Win Probability: 66.57432973%
They have always had a lot of talent, but due to the conservative nature of their coaching staff, the Seahawks have generally been more of a 9-10 win team that struggled to separate themselves than a lethal threat. This season, however, that has changed- they look like the best team in the NFC. That’s a product of them “letting Russ cook”- they’re amongst the pass-heaviest teams on early downs, which is allowing Russell Wilson to connect down the field constantly with the lethal receiver tandem of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. I expect them to feast on a poor Arizona defense, while getting safety Jamal Adams back ought to assist their defense tremendously.
Cardinals Win Probability: 33.42567027%
The Cardinals are a very fun team to watch, and a lot of that is due to their playmakers on offense. Kyler Murray has developed into a dynamic rushing quarterback, De’Andre Hopkins looks even better than he did in Houston, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. For what it’s worth, they were able to take down Seattle last season despite Murray getting injured, and they’re coming off of easily their best performance of the season.
Spread Pick: SEA (-3.5)
Recommended Spread: SEA (-5.7)
Score Projection: Seahawks 29 Cardinals 24
The Cardinals were impressive on Monday in Dallas. Yet, they still aren’t close to being on the same level as the Seahawks, making this spread too light. Murray did not perform well as a passer, and in general, Arizona is a highlight-driven team with clear fundamental flaws. Those ought to get exposed against the premier team in the NFC, which is why this spread should be monitored- does it get below the key number of 3 at any point?
#6: Bills (4-2, 13th) at Jets (0-6, 32nd)
Bills Win Probability: 83.62212248%
Although they are coming off of back-to-back losses, the Bills have the excuse of playing the Titans and Chiefs, who have a combined 10-1 record. The Jets, on the other hand, have a negative 110 point differential. That is all.
In all seriousness, though, regression to the mean is starting to hit Josh Allen, but I still have faith in the infrastructure in place, while their defense is much more talented than their performance this season would indicate.
Jets Win Probability: 16.37787752%
Who are the Jets starting at quarterback? Does it matter? For the sake of watching this game, I hope it’s Sam Darnold, who has the volatility to make this game somewhat competitive, while Gregg Williams is still a productive defensive coordinator. Jets fans, let’s be honest; the Clemson game on Saturday is your focus.
Spread Pick: NYJ (+13)
Recommended Spread: BUF (-11.1)
Score Projection: Bills 30 Jets 19
I can’t believe that I’m being forced to back the Jets. To be fair, 13 points is a lot, especially at home and if Darnold plays. Remember, when Buffalo was at their peak, New York only lost to them by ten, which is the product of supporting a heavy underdog- the backdoor cover is always in play. In actuality, Buffalo probably wins this game by four scores or more.
#7: 49ers (3-3, 5th) at Patriots (2-3, 9th)
49ers Win Probability: 48.07145273%
After their loss to the Dolphins, the public completely dismissed the 49ers- they were a 3.5-point underdog at home to the Rams. Predictably, the got back on track with a convincing victory, proving their merit as the Super Bowl contender they were expected to be. Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t very good, yet he looked much healthier, and with every week, he and the offense will look better- do not doubt Kyle Shanahan. Plus, as was the case against the Rams, their injuries in the secondary won’t be as much of a factor against a run-heavy Patriots offense.
Patriots Win Probability: 51.92854727%
Last week didn’t go as planned for the Patriots, who were upset at home by the Broncos. On the bright side, some of their struggles could be attributed to them getting back up to speed – Cam Newton was coming back from the COVID-19 reserve list – especially since they looked much better in the second half. As much as Shanahan is a genius, he relies on yardage after the catch, and New England is the best tackling team in the NFL.
Spread Pick: SF (+2.5)
Recommended Spread: NE (-0.63)
Score Projection: 49ers 24 Patriots 23
Are we sure the Patriots have a great offense? Newton’s grading profile at Pro Football Focus has been rather mediocre, and relying on a rushing attack leads to a lot of week-to-weak volatility. These two teams are even, making San Francisco the logical spread pick, and even if there’s a slight edge to New England, I have more faith in the 49ers moving the ball through the air. This will be a very fun game to watch, though, and unless you can get it at the key number, there isn’t value to be had here.
#8: Jaguars (1-5, 29th) at Chargers (1-4, 23rd)
Jaguars Win Probability: 30.94403934%
Remember when the Jaguars were considered a decent team? Once upon a time, Gardner Minshew was being labeled as the future in Jacksonville. Now, they’re in the running for Trevor Lawrence. Still, Minshew is very competent, and he has some weapons to work with offensively. The Chargers’ secondary has struggled this season, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minshew have some success through the air.
Chargers Win Probability: 69.05596066%
I cannot help but be impressed by Justin Herbert, who has played very well for the Chargers despite dealing with a subpar offensive line and injured receiving corps. His big-play ability gives this offense a dangerous/explosive layer, and I expect them to only get better with improved health. Meanwhile, despite their lack of defensive depth, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has done a great job masking their issues, as he’s generally done in the past.
Spread Pick: JAX (+8)
Recommended Spread: LAC (-6.29)
Score Projection: Chargers 22 Jaguars 16
Eight points is a lot for a Chargers team that has been rather inconsistent, and couldn’t win outright at home against the Panthers; for all of Herbert’s big plays, he’s also a rookie that has mixed in the negative plays you’d expect from a rookie. Thus, even though Los Angeles should win this game, I expect Jacksonville to keep it close. After all, it’s not like either of these teams are particularly good, and in that case, taking an eight-point underdog is just logical.
#9: Giants (1-5, 30th) at Eagles (1-4-1, 26th)
Giants Win Probability: 35.05736936%
Congratulations Giants fans; you got your first win of the season! I’m guessing most fans would rather see them get the top pick in next year’s draft, but after being competitive in some earlier matchups, it has to be a relief to finally pick up a victory. To his credit, Daniel Jones ranks middle-of-the-pack in terms of passing grade, and has reduced his turnover worthy play rate to 2.67% (via Pro Football Focus). Thus, he may be the better quarterback in this game, and getting back receiver Sterling Shepard should only help.
Eagles Win Probability: 64.94263064%
Although they have lost their last two games, the Eagles have to be encouraged with what they have seen from Carson Wentz, who may be recovered from his awful start to the season. The offense is certainly playing better, and if they can function against the Steelers and Ravens, why can’t they against a hapless Giants defense? It also goes without saying that they should be able to generate constant pressure on Jones, who generally induces high pressure rates and is playing behind a poor offensive line.
Spread Pick: PHI (-4)
Recommended Spread: PHI (-4.93)
Score Projection: Eagles 22 Giants 17
As is the case with any NFC East matchup, this is likely to be a close game with a lot of mistakes made. However, with Philadelphia getting healthier, it’s important to note that they are still the better team. Ideally, the spread wouldn’t go over 3, but I’m pretty confident that Philadelphia wins this game outright, so they should be able to to cover; the spread is rather fair, however.
#10: Bears (5-1, 20th) at Rams (4-2, 8th)
Bears Win Probability: 31.53425875%
Say what you want about the Bears, but they are 5-1, and are in prime position to make the playoffs. They currently rank in the top-six in both coverage grade and pass-rush grade, per Pro Football Focus, and, thus, have relied on their defense in a similar way to 2018. Jared Goff is notorious for playing poorly under pressure, so if their coverage holds up enough for the pass rush to get to him, then they could continue their defensive success. Plus, as I say every week, Nick Foles’ volatility gives you a chance to win- he has a 5.39% big-time throw rate (per PFF).
Rams Win Probability: 68.46574125%
With just a +15 point differential despite a relatively easy schedule, I think it goes without saying that Chicago’s record isn’t representative in how fundamentally “good” they are. While Foles produces plenty of big plays, he also commits his fair share of turnovers, and the Rams have performed well defensively this season. Really, though, Los Angeles’ offense is the only unit you can trust in this game, and that gives them a distinct edge.
Spread Pick: LAR (-5.5)
Recommended Spread: LAR (-6.1)
Score Projection: Rams 26 Bears 20
I’ll take a talented offense over a performing defense any day of the week, which is the conundrum we find ourselves in here. I don’t think the Rams have been properly tested yet, but I’m rather confident that they’re a superior team to the Bears, who have relied on a lot of fluky aspects to get to their 5-1 record. I’m very intrigued by this matchup; we should have a much better idea of both teams after this game.
#11: Lions (2-3, 17th) at Falcons (1-5, 16th)
Lions Win Probability: 43.40004248%
It may have come against the Jaguars, but the Lions picked up a necessary win to inch one step close to .500, and with an easy schedule coming up, they could be poised to go on a run here. With Kenny Golladay back, their offense has looked much better, and you’d assume that Matthew Stafford plays better than the 26th-graded quarterback (per Pro Football Focus). Plus, their pass coverage is coming off of their best game of the season, and if their young cornerbacks are taking a step forward, they can at least be competent defensively.
Falcons Win Probability: 56.59995752%
How about those Falcons! This time, when they got a 20-point lead, they held onto it, making them one-for-three in converting said leads into wins! Despite their 1-5 record, it’s clear that Atlanta is not a bottom-feeder whatsoever, and you’d expect that to be the case for a team that has Matt Ryan and an elite receiver duo (Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley). Look for Jones and Ridley to cause trouble for a Lions defense that utilizes a lot of man coverage, and if they’re producing explosive plays, this could turn into another 40-point outing. Defensively, they have performed better in the past couple weeks, and rookie cornerback AJ Terrell has quietly played well this season.
Spread Pick: ATL (-2.5)
Recommended Spread: ATL (-2.18)
Score Projection: Falcons 25 Lions 22
My gut says the Lions win this game, yet with Jones and Ridley going up against a man-heavy defense with young cornerbacks, it’s also to easily see why my model sides with Atlanta here. I don’t know why Stafford isn’t playing well, but it is looking like his explosive passing production last season was an outlier, making the difference in quarterback play currently noticeable. In fact, going on a winning streak after losing the first five games of the season would be such a Falcons thing to do, so that is exactly what is going to happen!
#12: Browns (4-2, 14th) at Bengals (1-4-1, 22nd)
Browns Win Probability: 58.2794637%
Their blowout loss to the Steelers was a clear step back, but let’s not forget that the Browns are a talented football team that just beat the Colts by multiple scores the week prior. Even though Baker Mayfield isn’t playing well, the offense is playing well, which is a function of tremendous play-calling by head coach Kevin Stefanski. When these two teams faced off in Week 2, Cleveland’s offense dominated them, and I don’t expect that to change here. If they do their part, that forces Joe Burrow to operate in obvious passing situations, which could be troublesome for him given the team’s inability to protect him.
Bengals Win Probability: 41.7205363%
Are the Bengals heading in the right direction? Their performance against the Colts was arguably the best from their offense all season, and they even got star receiver AJ Green involved. I continue to be very impressed by Joe Burrow’s ability to play well with a poor offensive line and subpar play-calling, and his production in the intermediate passing game has been elite. Right now, especially with Mayfield dealing with a rib injury, they clearly have the better quarterback, and when that is the case, you’re going to be have a good chance to win.
Spread Pick: CLE (-3)
Recommended Spread: CLE (-2.73)
Score Projection: Browns 26 Bengals 23
It is certainly tempting to take the superior quarterback with the points. However, Burrow’s surface-level numbers aren’t matching his actual play, which says a lot about the coaching staff and offensive line. I have far more faith in Cleveland’s infrastructure with Stefanski, and from what I saw from these teams when they matched up in Week 2, I just think that the gap between the Browns and Bengals is worth three points. Getting Cleveland at the key number of three was critical for this pick, however, which just shows how little value there is to be had here.
#13: Panthers (3-3, 24th) at Saints (3-2, 7th)
Panthers Win Probability: 27.64155302%
Coming into the season, the Panthers were expected to compete for the #1 pick. Instead, they’re a 3-3 team with a very respectable (-3) point differential. First-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady has done a fantastic job elevating an offense that ranks 11th in yards/play; they have one of the most underrated receiving tandems in the NFL in DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. With the way the Saints have played defensively, in addition to their conservative, subpar offense, you can make the case that Carolina has been the more impressive team so far this season.
Saints Win Probability: 72.35844698%
Let’s be honest- the Saints are much better than the Panthers. You don’t want to read too much into a five-game sample, especially since they played four of them without star receiver Michael Thomas and have dealt with injuries on both sides of the ball. Drew Brees may not be able to push the ball down the field, yet I’d bank on him being able to pick apart a young defense that isn’t fundamentally sound, and he has played better as of late. Meanwhile, most of New Orleans’ issues defensively have been with surrounding long passes down the field, but since Teddy Bridgewater is as conservative as Brees, those problem aren’t likely to be exploited. In essence, this is a good matchup for them to get back on track.
Spread Pick: NO (-7.5)
Recommended Spread: NO (-7.37)
Score Projection: Saints 27 Panthers 19
I’m very scared to go through the key number of seven here, especially since the Saints haven’t shown the ability to separate even from inferior teams this season. At the same time, their weaknesses aren’t likely to get exploited by Carolina, and Thomas ought to provide a nice jolt to the offense. I think the Panthers have probably peaked, while New Orleans is better than they’ve played; I’ll sell high on one team and buy low on the other.
*NOTE: With Emmanuel Sanders and Michael Thomas injured, this pick will be NO (-7); with the new information, my model would not have justified taking NO (-7.5).
#14: Packers (4-1, 6th) at Texans (1-5, 18th)
Packers Win Probability: 60.54749128%
After a fast start, the Packers dramatically come back to earth last week, losing 38-10 to the Bucs. Still, there is a reason why they are still one of the best teams in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers still has nearly six times as many big-time throws as he does turnover-worthy plays, and he’s done most of his damage without star receiver Davante Adams. Facing arguably the worst defense in the NFL, they’re going to score a lot of points, and when you score a lot of points, you generally win. That’s as much of a cliche as there is, but hey, it’s true.
Texans Win Probability: 39.45240872%
Although they are 1-5 and have a putrid defense, the Texans aren’t a team to be taken lightly. Deshaun Watson is playing at an elite level right now, and, finally, the speed of their receivers is allowing them to dominate in the vertical passing game. By virtue of playing the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, and Titans, they’ve had a brutal slate to start the season, and, yet, they’ve played well in their two games since firing head coach Bill O’Brien. They should be able to get into a shootout with Green Bay.
Spread Pick: GB (-3.5)
Recommended Spread: GB (-3.48)
Score Projection: Packers 28 Texans 24
So far, this is the most accurate spread of the season, according to my models. Thus, it goes without saying that betting this game would be foolish. Coming off of an embarrassing loss, I wouldn’t want to pick against Aaron Rodgers, and when my model doesn’t see value in backing an underdog, it’s usually a good sign to pick the favorite. In the end, a lot of points will be scored, but Green Bay is the team I’d trust to come out on top.