Every Friday during the NFL season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian (0-2 last week, 18-28-1 overall), Joe Fortenbaugh (1-3, 31-51-1), Anita Marks (10-10, 78-88-2), Preston Johnson (0-0, 14-19), Mike Clay (0-0, 15-10) and Tyler Fulghum (1-6-1, 57-73-2), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (4-1, 29-20), Seth Walder (0-4, 46-29) of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz (2-4, 36-43-2) of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from the weekend’s slate.
Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill and subject to change.
Sunday’s 8:20 pm. ET game
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers (-3.5, 56)
Fulghum: Derrick Henry will be up against a Packers defense ranked 21st in the league against the run, allowing 4.55 yards per carry. Dalvin Cook is probably the closest comparison in the league to Henry (at least this season), and Cook has posted 42 carries for 213 yard and five touchdowns against the Packers in two games. Tennessee is 10-3-1 to the over this season and 19-4-1 in Ryan Tannehill regular-season starts. Add in Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense on the other side and we should see a shootout.
Pick: Titans +3.5, over 56
Fortenbaugh: Green Bay’s weak spot is its run defense, with Henry and the Titans suited quite well to exploit that. Tennessee’s weak spot is its pass defense, with Rodgers and the Packers suited quite well to exploit that. On top of all that, overs are 20-6-1 in Tennessee games since Tannehill took over as the team’s starting quarterback last season. I think you know where I’m going here.
Pick: Over 56
Kezirian: Tannehill has started 24 regular-season games for Tennessee, and we now know to expect scoring. The over is 19-4-1 in those games. Tannehill is willing to throw deep, Henry can rip off big runs (Preston explains further below) and the defense ranks in the bottom third in yards allowed per play. I expect MVP candidate Rodgers to take full advantage of that. Plus, Green Bay ranks in the bottom half in yards per play allowed, so the Titans will find plenty of opportunities on offense.
Pick: Over 56
Johnson: My personal projection in this matchup is 2.5, so getting the hook on the other side of a key number like three is going to catch my attention. The Packers have been great on offense this season, but their defense still ranks below average. They come in at No. 25 in EPA against the rush and 21st in success rate. The Titans are coming in with the best rushing attack in football and an offense that overall also ranks No. 1 in success rate. Tennessee is Green Bay’s worst nightmare from a matchup standpoint, and I’m happy to take the 3.5 points while we get the hook.
Pick: Titans +3.5
Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET games
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs (-10.5, 53.5)
Fulghum: Kansas City has won nine straight games, but the past six have finished within one score. The Chiefs are just 1-5 ATS in those six games. Matt Ryan is 5-1 ATS in his career as a double-digit underdog. The past two times he’s been in that spot, Atlanta has won the game outright. The Falcons’ offense could get a boost from the return of Julio Jones, and the defense has played much better under Raheem Morris than it did under Dan Quinn.
Pick: Falcons +10.5, over 53.5
Schatz: Since 1978, the record for wins in a season without covering the spread belongs to the 1986 Bears, with eight. So far this year, the Chiefs have won without covering seven times. This game looks set up for No. 8. That 10.5-point line is perfect for a backdoor cover. Many people have argued that the Chiefs take their foot off the gas with a lead. That’s even more likely given that this game is almost entirely pointless for the Chiefs, who have clinched the No. 1 seed unless they lose out, Buffalo wins out, and then Kansas City loses a complicated strength of victory calculation dependent on a bunch of other results. Also, Atlanta is not bad. The Falcons are 17th in weighted DVOA, and they’ve actually outscored their opponents over the course of the season. In particular, Kansas City might be the cure for Atlanta’s problems in the red zone. The Falcons rank 30th in red zone offensive DVOA, but the Chiefs’ defense ranks 32nd.
Pick: Falcons +10.5
Marks: The Falcons are looking ahead to next season, and need to assess the talent they have on their current roster. Ito Smith is expected to get the start, and receive a lot of volume this week against the Chiefs. KC is allowing 150 total yards to opposing backfields at the moment.
Pick: Smith over 59.5 combined rushing and receiving yards
Indianapolis Colts (-1.5, 44.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
Fortenbaugh: Monday night’s loss at Cincinnati was just the latest debacle in a horrific month for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are averaging a paltry 17 points per game in their past four, failing to eclipse 20 each time. Ben Roethlisberger has thrown at least one interception in five straight games. Indianapolis is tied for first in turnover differential, is ninth in pressure rate and has been rock solid on the road since that Week 1 loss at Jacksonville, going 5-1 both SU and ATS with a +59 scoring differential. By the way, Pittsburgh is on short rest for the third time in the past four weeks.
Pick: Colts -1.5
Marks: I’m not certain how this line is only 1.5, but I’m rolling with it. The Steelers have been a hot mess the last three weeks, and losing to a Bengals team that was starting a third-string quarterback had to be a season low. Roethlisberger is a shell of himself at the moment, struggling to complete a pass longer than 10 yards, and it is evident he is dealing with a knee injury. The loss of linebacker Bud Dupree was a huge hit as well. Meanwhile, the Colts and Philip Rivers are peaking at the right time. This is not the week the Steelers want to face one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Pick: Colts -1.5, Hines over 21.5 receiving yards, Pascal over 3.5 receptions
Chicago Bears (-7.5, 47) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Marks: I love the Bears in this spot. Chicago’s playoff hopes are alive and kicking and the Bears now face a Jags team that is looking to keep its No. 1 draft position to select Trevor Lawrence. The last thing the Jags want is to win and miss out on Lawrence. The Bears are averaging 30-plus points a game with Mitchell Trubisky and David Montgomery back in action. Each team will get what it wants at the end of the day — the Bears one step closer to the postseason and the Jags closer to getting their franchise quarterback.
Pick: Bears alternate line -9 (+105), Trubisky over 1.5 passing touchdowns, Montgomery to score and Bears to win parlay (-120)
Kezirian: The Jaguars are now two losses away from winning the Lawrence sweepstakes, thanks to the Jets pulling off an improbable win last weekend. Will they blow it? It is absolutely possible, especially considering that the players couldn’t care less about draft position. With that being said, there is a reason the Jags have not won since the season opener. Meanwhile, the Bears have shown signs of life, winning their last two games and scoring a combined 69 points. I have to believe Chicago will win this game.
Pick: Bears -1.5 in teaser with Bills -1
Cleveland Browns (-9.5, 47.5) at New York Jets
Fulghum: Don’t let the Jets’ win over the Rams fool you. The Jets are allowing 7.8 yards per pass attempt (fifth most in league) and they struggle to pressure the quarterback. Their 4.6% sack rate is 26th in the league, and Baker Mayfield has been balling lately even without Odell Beckham Jr. Of course, Kevin Stefanski prefers to run the ball, and the Browns can inflict their will there too.
Pick: Browns -9.5
New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens (-11, 45)
Bearman: The Giants haven’t gone over 17 points since November. They’ve failed to get there in half their games this season and haven’t even broken 300 total yards in the past three games. Their offense is fourth worst in the league at 17.4 points per game, and they now face an improved and healthier Ravens defense. Daniel Jones has missed two of the past three games due to hamstring and ankle issues and won’t be able to use his legs a lot if he does play. If he’s out, in steps Colt McCoy, who has looked OK but not great. Both teams are fighting for the playoffs, but Baltimore’s road is much easier, and I expect the Ravens to pull out all the stops.
Pick: Giants team total under 17.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-8, 46)
Kezirian: Cincinnati’s win on Monday Night Football as a two-touchdown underdog was extremely impressive. Given it was just the Bengals’ third win, that was their season’s high point. So that means this has all the makings of a poor week of practice and performance on Sunday. I expect a similar effort to what we expected the week before that clash with the Steelers, which saw Cincy lose 30-7 at home to Dallas. I do not love backing such a poor Texans squad, but the situation is too enticing for me to pass up a teaser leg.
Pick: Texans -2 in teaser with Saints -1
Marks: Giovani Bernard is coming off a great game last week against a good Steelers defense and came close to posting 100 yards. The Bengals keep it going this week against a more favorable match up against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL.
Pick: Bernard over 49.5 rushing yards
Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET games
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-1.5, 47.5)
Fulghum: Following one of the biggest regular-season upsets in the past decade, this seems like a good time to buy low on the Rams. They should be focused and bring a tremendous effort with what’s on the line against Seattle. A win and Los Angeles is in the playoffs. The Rams are 13-5 ATS after a loss under Sean McVay and have covered in each of the past three meetings against the Seahawks.
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