The Steelers remain undefeated! The rookie quarterbacks continue to shine! Several upsets! Whatever you wanted from Week 8, it likely delivered. Now, it is time to shift our attention to Week 9.
Once again, it appears as though we have more questions than answers regarding each team’s outlook. Luckily, there are plenty of intriguing matchups this week the should help with us .
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).
Obviously, there isn’t a perfect way to know exactly what is going to take place in any game. However, using a model allows one to play the probabilities, and, in the end, it should work out in the long run. In other words, even though the results of projections may not always work out, the process is incredibly sound, and that is what truly matters.
With that taken care of, let’s get to the games! We’re back to having two green lights, while my model also sees small value in two “yellow light” games as well! We’ll start with a primetime game, and end with multiple exciting 1:00 PM ET Sunday games!
*NOTE: Power Rankings Take Into Account Every Key Injury, Even If It’s Just For This Week
UPDATE: After the model underwent an update, the following changes have been made:
- DEN at ATL pick switches to DEN (+4). Recommended Spread= ATL (-2.79)
- CHI at TEN pick switches to CHI (+6). Recommended Spread= TEN (-4.43)
- Also, due to COVID-19 concerns, GB at SF does not factor as a green-light game. There is too much uncertainty too recommend betting it.
#1: Packers (5-2, 4th) at 49ers (4-4, 12th)
Packers Win Probability: 53.24593646%
Even after a surprising loss to the Vikings, the Packers sit at 5-2, and are still in prime contention for the #1 seed in the NFC. With a 92.7 overall Pro Football Focus grade and a 6.99% big-time-throw rate, Aaron Rodgers continues to play at an elite level, and with star receiver Davante Adams healthy and dominating, they have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Sure, their defense has been inconsistent, yet they rank 11th in coverage grade (per PFF), and you figure their talented pass rushers will start playing better at some point.
49ers Win Probability: 46.75406354%
The 49ers will go into this game without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel. What they do have, however, is head coach Kyle Shanahan. Against all odds, San Francisco has the fourth-best offense, based on Pro Football Focus ratings, which speaks to the job he has done. No matter who has been at quarterback, Shanahan is able to scheme yards after the catch for his receivers, as Garoppolo’s average depth of target of 6.2 ranks second-lowest in the NFL. The Packers, who struggle when it comes to middle-of-the-field coverage, run defense, and tackling, have not been able to stop this type of offensive scheme in the past, and it showed in the two meetings these teams had last year.
Spread Pick: SF (+7.5)*
Recommended Spread: GB (-1.07)
Score Projection: 49ers 23 Packers 22
Shanahan has shown an ability to put up points regardless of who is at quarterback, and despite his one bad performance to the Eagles, Mullens has proven to be a competent passer. Not having Samuel or Kittle really hurts, yet Green Bay is also dealing with its fair share of injuries, and it is clear that the market is overreacting; there is a narrative that the 49ers’ season is over. I find that narrative to be foolish, and fully expect Shanahan to show why he’s arguably the best head coach in the NFL against a team he has had a substantial amount of success against. Market overreaction is the best way to find value, and that’s what my model sees here.
*With the 49ers shutting down facilities due to a positive COVID-19 test, there is a lot of uncertainty with this game. Thus, follow closely for updates on the status of this game in terms of it being a “green light” matchup.
#2: Patriots (2-5, 15th) at Jets (0-8, 31st)
Patriots Win Probability: 84.51555003%
The Patriots may be 2-5, but they aren’t a bad team by any means. They were 15 yards away from beating a very solid Bills team, as Cam Newton quietly played very well both as a passer and a runner. Regardless of their lack of playmakers, they have done a nice job leveraging Newton is the designed quarterback running game, something that Gregg Williams-led defenses have struggled to defend in the pass. Also, even though the defense has underperformed, we must always have faith in Bill Belichick; do you actually think the combination of Sam Darnold and Adam Gase is going to move the ball against him?
Jets Win Probability: 15.48444997%
On the bright side, the Jets have a better chance of winning this game than they did against the Chiefs! For what it is worth, their run defense has generally been adequate, and considering that is New England’s main source of offense, perhaps that plays a role in this game. When you’re a heavy-running team that plays a ball-control style offense, you’re more vulnerable to random upsets, so perhaps the Patriots get challenged by the Jets here.
Spread Pick: NE (-7)
Recommended Spread: NE (-11.39)
Score Projection: Patriots 30 Jets 19
Had the Patriots not fumbled away in the red zone in Buffalo, they probably are a double-digit favorite in this game. That speaks to how much wins and losses are valued when assessing the talent of an NFL team, when the matter is that it isn’t that binary. The Jets’ -18 average point differential is nearly twice as worst as the second-worst team (Dallas), and the difference between them and an average Patriots team is massive. Also, you cannot overstate the dramatic coaching mismatch that will take place here. In other words, everything is working in New England’s favor to win by more than a touchdown on Monday Night Football.
#3: Raiders (4-3, 26th) at Chargers (2-5, 21st)
Raiders Win Probability: 42.52116356%
Say what you want about the Raiders, but they find different ways to win. Despite the second-toughest schedule in the NFL, they have a winning record, even if they have a negative point differential. They have a top-ten graded receiving corps this year from Pro Football Focus, and are finally pushing the ball down the field. Right now, they appear to control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs.
Chargers Win Probability: 57.47883644%
Although the Chargers have struggled to finish games, it takes a quality team to lead for most of the game against the Bucs, Saints, and Chiefs, while they also should’ve beaten the Broncos this past week. Justin Herbert’s overall play may be slightly overvalued right now, but his big-play ability gives this offense a lot of upside – they can change the game with one play – and he is facing arguably the worst defense in the NFL. The Raiders are only Pro Football Focus’ 31st-graded team this season, and at some point, that should catch up to them.
Spread Pick: LAC (PK)
Recommended Spread: LAC (-2.47)
Score Projection: Chargers 23 Raiders 21
Las Vegas has won in unsustainable fashion this season, while the Chargers have performed better than their record would indicate. This feels like a prime spot for Herbert to continue to have a productive rookie season, and overall, Los Angeles is the more talented team. Thus, in what surprisingly a pick-em, I am confident backing them, though this should be a very tight affair.
#4: Ravens (5-2, 4th) at Colts (5-2, 11th)
Ravens Win Probability: 52.21774352%
The Ravens came into this season expecting to be the clear second-best team in the NFL, but they haven’t met expectations this season. Nevertheless, they still rank as a top-ten offense and defense, per my models, and have talent at every level of their roster. They outgained the Steelers by over 200 yards last week, yet were letdown by uncharacteristic turnovers. Assuming Lamar Jackson can play better, there is plenty of reason to believe they get back on track this season.
Colts Win Probability: 47.78225648%
Yes, they have played an easy schedule, but the Colts have been as advertised in 2020. General manager Chris Ballard has built a very deep roster, and it’s showing; there isn’t a weak part of their roster. They are extremely well coached on both sides of the ball, and with their offensive line and middle-of-the-field coverage ability, are well-positioned to negate Baltimore’s two main strengths: tight end Mark Andrews and a blitz-happy defense.
Spread Pick: IND (+3)
Recommended Spread: BAL (-0.73)
Score Projection: Ravens 26 Colts 24
I do not feel good about my model’s pick for this game whatsoever; Baltimore is coming off a tough loss and Phillip Rivers has relied on a lot of production under pressure. However, the fact of the matter is that the Ravens have not played well this season. Their reliance on an explosive rushing game hasn’t worked out, given the low margin for error of a ball-control offense, while their defense has underperformed. My gut says that the Ravens rebound, but I can see why my model sees some slight value in the Colts as a three-point home underdog.
#5: Saints (5-2, 8th) at Buccaneers (6-2, 3rd)
Saints Won Probability: 39.99617429%
When the Saints hosted the Bucs in Week 1, they beat them by double digits. Since then, our views on these two teams has shifted, but it is also worth noting that New Orleans hasn’t been healthy. They should get receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders back in this game, and given that their offense still ranks in the top-ten in points/play and yards/play, there ought to be plenty of optimism about their ability to score points, even against a talented defense. The Bucs rely a lot on their blitz packages, but if Drew Brees gets rid of the ball quickly, he’ll negate that. Meanwhile, if head coach Bruce Arians continues to mix in too many early-down rush attempts against a productive run defense, then he’ll be putting the offense once again at a disadvantage against a strong pass rush.
Buccaneers Win Probability: 60.0382571%
Regardless, it is hard to not imagine Tom Brady and co. absolutely shredding the Saints secondary. Whereas Brees has the lowest average depth of target, Brady has had no issue pushing the ball down the field, and he’ll not only get Chris Godwin back in this game, but also will have the services of Antonio Brown. I have more confidence in them putting up 30+ points than New Orleans doing the same should Brees continue to be so conservative.
Spread Pick: NO (+5.5)
Recommended Spread: TB (-3.31)
Score Projection: Bucs 26 Saints 22
The Bucs have been playing better, and will likely have marginal advantages when it comes to penalties and success in other traditional unstable metrics- New Orleans isn’t known for being a disciplined team. Thus, in the end, they will most likely win this game. Yet, 5.5 points is too much separation between these two teams. The Saints, for all their warts, have been finding ways to succeed without two of their key players, including their most valuable non-quarterback, and with head coach Sean Payton reverting back to a more pass-heavy approach, the offense appears to have more cohesion. In the end, Tampa Bay is indeed the better team, yet the only move here is to take New Orleans with the points; how many times is this team going to be such a massive underdog, especially without home-field advantage playing a notable role?
#6: Dolphins (4-3, 22nd) at Cardinals (5-2, 17th)
Dolphins Win Probability: 40.88128281%
How about those Dolphins? They have the sixth-best average point differential, which speaks to their excellent coaching on both sides of the ball. Head coach Brian Flores is an absolute defensive wizard, and with Byron Jones and Xavien Howard shaping up as one of the elite cornerback duos in the NFL, they have the pieces in place to limit opposing pass defenses. Although Tua Tagovailoa’s first game didn’t go as planned, game script (Dolphins were winning by a lot) played a role in that, and he will be in a much better position to move the ball against a weak Cardinals defense.
Cardinals Win Probability: 59.11871719%
The Cardinals have also been a pleasant surprise this season, albeit against an easy schedule. Kyler Murray’s abilities as a rusher continue to be maximized, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can have a big game; man-heavy defenses generally struggle against mobile quarterbacks. They’re also coming off of a bye, whereas Miami is coming off of an emotional win.
Spread Pick: MIA (+5)
Recommended Spread: ARI (-3.01)
Score Projection: Cardinals 24 Dolphins 21
This is going to be a very fun game between two exciting young quarterbacks! At home off of a bye, the Cardinals should win. Yet, don’t sleep on the Dolphins, who have one of the top coaching staffs in the NFL and an underrated amount of perimeter talent. If Tagovailoa plays well, Miami could win this game outright, and with that mind, taking them as a 5-point underdog is the logical pick.
#7: Giants (1-7, 30th) at Washington Football Team (2-5, 28th)
Giants Win Probability: 36.84440754%
The Giants just went toe-to-toe with the Bucs, and will head into this NFC East matchup with the better quarterback. Thus, there is a lot working in their favor here. Despite poor pass coverage, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had done a nice job patching up holes on their defense, and they have surprisingly had success rushing the passer. Who was their only win against this year against? That would be Washington.
Washington Win Probability: 63.15559246%
Whereas the Giants have done everything in their power to not help their quarterback- be it a lack of play-action passes, pre-snap motion, or down-the-field passes – Washington has done the opposite. With offensive coordinator Scott Turner at the helm, their early-down pass frequency in neutral situations has had the second most positive change from 2019 to 2020, and they have utilized a lot of pre-snap motion and play-action passes. Thus, although Kyle Allen is an inferior quarterback to Daniel Jones, I am guessing that doesn’t show up in the stat sheets, especially since Washington has the better pass defense.
Spread Pick: WSH (-3)
Recommended Spread: WSH (-4.34)
Score Projection: Washington 22 Giants 19
When all else fails, take the team that has actually shown signs of having a progressive coaching staff that knows what it takes to leverage every advantage they can. That certainly isn’t the team led by Joe Judge and Jason Garrett. Washington is also coming off of a bye, while the Giants just played a hard-fought primetime game and are on a short week, so, in the end, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Football Team be the more prepared team; this game quietly has some blowout potential.
#8: Texans (1-6, 20th) at Jaguars (1-6, 29th)
Texans Win Probability: 67.49526661%
The Texans have simply had a brutal start to the season, but that hasn’t stopped them from producing offensively. It has gone under-the-radar, but Deshaun Watson has taken another step forward in his progression, as he has a 86.3 Pro Football Focus grade and a 6.76% big-time throw rate. Interestingly, he has also lowered his pressure rate, which has the main flaw with him. His production throwing the ball down the field has been excellent, as it should be with a very fast group of receivers, and I’m expecting him to dominate a subpar Jaguars defense.
Jaguars Win Probability: 32.50473339%
Although Gardner Minshew is inactive for this game, I’m not sure Jake Luton is much of a downgrade. The former Oregon State quarterback performed well in his college career, and is described as a polished, “high-floor” quality backup option. He isn’t exactly facing the toughest of defenses, and Jacksonville has done a nice job from a play-calling standpoint when it comes to getting the ball in the hands of their top playmakers.
Spread Pick: HOU (-6.5)
Recommended Spread: HOU (-5.77)
Score Projection: Texans 30 Jaguars 23
Deshaun Watson vs Jake Luton? Even if it takes 6.5 points, I’d much rather side with Watson. Not crossing the key number of seven is huge if backing Houston, though there is far too uncertainty with this game to feel confident one way or another.
#9: Seahawks (6-1, 2nd) at Bills (6-2, 10th)
Seahawks Win Probability: 56.018632%
We pushed cd for the Seahawks to “let Russ cook”, and they continue to do so. According to Mike Sando of The Athletic, Seattle has seen the greatest increase in early-down pass frequency in the first half, and the results have been incredible. They rank first in points/play by a wide margin, and also have induced the second-lowest amount of third downs per game. In other words, what they are doing isn’t a fluke, and no matter what defense they play, Russell Wilson is going to feast. Plus, with safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaquill Griffin back healthy, in addition to the acquisition of edge rusher Carlos Dunlap, their defense figures to be significantly better in the second half of the season.
Bills Win Probability: 43.981368%
The Bills also certainly fit the bill when it comes to an organization with a very smart offensive philosophy, and they have put Josh Allen is a tremendous position to succeed. Their 0.24 expected points added per pass attempt is impressive, and they do have the explosiveness to somewhat keep up with Seattle. For what it is worth, their defensive system is predicated on limiting the big play, so perhaps they decrease Wilson’s efficiency on vertical passes; that would help their chances significantly.
Spread Pick: SEA (-2.5)
Recommended Spread: SEA (-1.99)
Score Projection: Seahawks 29 Bills 24
After his four-game run to start the year, Allen has reverted back into the quarterback he was last year. That’s a concern for a Bills team that has a negative point differential, and I’m not confident in his ability to go head-to-head with Wilson. Seattle remains an undervalued team by those who focus too much on their defensive woes; as long as they have such a dynamic offense, I wouldn’t ever advise picking against them.
#10: Steelers (7-0, 6th) at Cowboys (2-6, 32nd)
Steelers Win Probability: 89.57451383%
If you would’ve told the Steelers they would go 2-0 in road games against the Titans and Ravens, they would’ve been ecstatic. They have rode their dominant defense to an undefeated start to the season, which should only continue to get better as their secondary starts to play up to its capabilities. I also can’t think of a better “tune up” game for their offense than against the Cowboys’ atrocious defense.
Cowboys Win Probability: 10.42548617%
Andy Dalton may be out again for the Cowboys, but at least they ruled out Ben Di Nucci starting again! To be honest, I’d be mildly surprised if Dallas scores a touchdown before garbage time.
Yes, I am aware that I am supposed to be stating how the Cowboys could win this game. If you see a possible edge for them, please let me know.
Spread Pick: PIT (-13.5)
Recommended Spread: PIT (-13.06)
Score Projection: Steelers 33 Cowboys 19
If the Cowboys actually score 19 points in this game, consider that a win for them. I’m fully expecting Pittsburgh to ambush them from the start. At this point, it is hard not to feel bad for head coach Mike McCarthy, who continues to stand no chance of succeeding. Hey, maybe Ezekiel Elliot can get his carries though*!
*Dear Cowboys, running the ball on early downs is not how you protect your quarterback. If you get forced into an obvious passing situation against this pass defense, you might as well punt.
#11: Lions (3-4, 19th) at Vikings (2-5, 14th)
Lions Win Probability: 39.00029774%
Who are the real Lions? One week, Matthew Stafford is firing bullets and they look like a playoff contender. The next week, they get absolutely steamrolled on both sides of the ball. Obviously, the answer is that they’re somewhere in the middle, which is that they are an average team that has more upside than teams of their caliber generally do- their range of outcomes is wider. The losses of wide receiver Kenny Golladay and edge rusher Trey Flowers hurt, but they still have receiving talent, while the acquisition edge rusher Everson Griffen should help soften the blow of Flowers’ injury. In any given week, Stafford can lead an explosive offense, and perhaps this will be one of those games- Minnesota’s secondary has been ravaged with injuries.
Vikings Win Probability: 60.99970226%
I’ve been stating for some time that the Vikings, who have multiple one-point losses and have faced a gauntlet of a schedule, are far better than their record would indicate. That came to fruition in their upset win in Green Bay last week, as they continue to field an offense loaded with playmakers. Kirk Cousins is unlikely to get overly pressured in this game, which would allow to function well from a clean pocket, while head coach Mike Zimmer has consistently given Stafford trouble in the past.
Spread Pick: MIN (-4)
Recommended Spread: MIN (-3.63)
Score Projection: Vikings 25 Lions 21
Just like with so many games this week, my model sees no value here. I’m forced to make a pick, however, and although taking the underdog is generally the smart play, there is a lot working in Minnesota’s favor. This figures to be a game where they can run their preferred game script and work from a load, whereas Stafford has not looked good in the past without Golladay. Pre-injuries, I would have definitely taken the Lions here. Now, it’s more complicated.
#12: Panthers (3-5, 25th) at Chiefs (7-1, 1st)
Panthers Win Probability: 18.65417703%
With an offense that ranks 8th in yards/play, the Panthers aren’t a team to be taken lightly- their coaching staff is tremendous. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady may be a head coach by next year, while the team continues to play hard under head coach Matt Rhule. With their reliance on young players, they could also be a team that continues to get better over the course of a season.
Chiefs Win Probability: 81.34582297%
After weeks of holding back their offense, the Chiefs let Patrick Mahomes pass the ball 42 times, and he responded with 416 passing yards and five touchdowns. With a similar philosophy, Kansas City should completely dissect Carolina’s young defense that has struggled in pass coverage. Also, with the third-best Pro Football Focus coverage grade this season, it’s time to give credit to what they are doing defensively- they are a more well-rounded team than they get credit for.
Spread Pick: KC (-10.5)
Recommended Spread: KC (-10.35)
Score Projection: Chiefs 30 Panthers 14
This score projection is probably too light (over 51 points seems like a good bet), but my model has Kansas City as around 15 points better than Carolina on a neutral field, meaning they should be able to cover this spread. Now, they could go back to a run-heavy strategy and keep this game to close, but this is time of year where head coach Andy Reid may stop taking games for granted, and if they open up the offense, they’ll put up a lot points. The talent discrepancy between these two teams is extreme, though since it goes through several key numbers and the Panthers are a smart, pesky team, I wouldn’t rush to bet the Chiefs.
#13: Broncos (3-4, 23rd) at Falcons (2-6, 16th)
Broncos Win Probability: 38.09267397%
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Broncos are 3-4 and still are in contention for a playoff spot! A lot of the credit has to go to their stingy defense, which ranks first in coverage grade, and third in overall defense grade from Pro Football Focus. If this team is going to take a step forward, though, it will be up to Drew Lock and the offense. On the bright side, his big-play ability (5.59% big-time throw rate) has been on display, and he should have opportunities against a Falcons defense that has been vulnerable to explosive passes.
Falcons Win Probability: 61.90732603%
Every week, it feels like I am mentioning that the Falcons’ point differential and games in which they lost despite having a 98% win probability or higher speaks to how much better they are than their record, but that is because it remains true. Matt Ryan has the sixth-highest Pro Football Focus passing grade right now, and if the team’s red-zone luck improves, that will be better reflected on the scoreboard. Here is a fun stat: the Falcons have averaged 0.21 expected points per pass attempt. The Broncos? Negative 0.16!
Spread Pick: ATL (-4)
Recommended Spread: ATL (-3.93)
Score Projection: Falcons 24 Broncos 20
The quarterback mismatch here is notable, and when that is the case, you are always going to be better off taking the far superior option under center. You can never trust the Falcons, especially with a four-point spread, but there isn’t any reason to trust Denver’s offense. Overall, this is a very fair spread and this matchup should exciting to see play out; this is quietly a huge game for Broncos.
#14: Bears (5-3, 18th) at Titans (5-2, 9th)
Bears Win Probability: 33.33838703%
It has been a struggle for the Bears offensively. Their pass protection has been atrocious, while their quarterback play has been unstable, to say the least. At the same time, Nick Foles is coming off of his best game of the season, and Darnell Mooney is developing into a legitimate #2 receiver. The Titans have really struggled defensively, while their offense has also taken a step back after a blazing hot start.
Titans Win Probability: 66.66161297%
The Titans are averaging 0.32 expected points per pass this season. That’s still very impressive, and it helps that their receiving corps is playing at an elite level. Good offenses beat good defenses, and it’s not as though Chicago has an elite defense anyways. The quarterback/offense mismatch here is substantial.
Spread Pick: TEN (-5.5)
Recommended Spread: TEN (-5.5)
Score Projection: Titans 26 Bears 20
There we go! This is the closest that my model and Vegas have come to having the exact same spread! Obviously, that means that betting this game is complete fool’s gold. As far as picking this game, though, Chicago’s offensive line is in shambles, and I’ll always take the team with the far superior offense. With star cornerback Adoree’ Jackson expected to return this week, Tennessee is the safer option (I think?).