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Sportsbooks couldn’t wait to tell anyone who would listen that they took baths in Week 9. Why? Because it’s a good strategy to try to convince people they can beat the house.
That might be a trap, but the truth is Bleacher Report NFL experts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have been doing a lot of house-beating in recent weeks. Davenport is 21-6 picking against the spread the last two weeks, and our group of analysts has gone 26-14-1 since Week 7.
Individually and as a crew, here’s where our predictors now stand through nine weeks (last week’s records in parentheses).
1. Gary Davenport: 70-59-5 (10-3)
2. Brent Sobleski: 65-64-5 (6-7)
3. Brad Gagnon: 61-68-5 (6-7)
Consensus picks: 64-65-5 (7-6)
Can the party keep roaring as we enter the second half of the 2018 regular season? Here’s where our guys stand on all 14 games this weekend.
Lines based on consensuses at OddsShark as of Wednesday.
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Home teams are 6-3 against the spread on Thursday Night Football this season, while favorites are 7-2. That might explain in part why the majority of our panelists are siding with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a 3.5-point home fave Thursday against the Carolina Panthers.
“The Panthers are surging,” Gagnon said, “but so are the Steelers, and to an even larger extent. Carolina has won five of its last six games, but the Panthers actually have a 1-1 record and a negative scoring margin on the road during that stretch. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has won back-to-back home games by a combined 39 points. This won’t be a blowout, but I wouldn’t bet on the Panthers falling by a field goal or less.”
But Steelers backers would certainly be more comfortable with a three-point spread, and that might be a reason we don’t have unanimity here. Both of these teams are playoff contenders, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see this game come down to a field goal late in the fourth quarter or in overtime.
Still, Pittsburgh appears to possess a clear advantage at home against an opponent that is traveling on short rest, and early-season precedents are on its side.
Davenport: Pittsburgh (-3.5)
Gagnon: Pittsburgh (-3.5)
Sobleski: Carolina (+3.5)
Consensus: Pittsburgh (-3.5)
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Carolina 24
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They’ll face them twice in the next three weeks, but because the revamped Chicago Bears have yet to meet the Detroit Lions this season, we don’t know exactly what to expect in Sunday’s divisional battle between the NFC North foes.
With Chicago laying slightly less than a touchdown at home, two of our three analysts are rolling the dice on the team that has won back-to-back games by double-digit margins rather than the team that has lost back-to-back games by double-digit margins.
“A Bears pick this week has less to do with Chicago and far more to do with the Lions and their Jekyll-and-Hyde performance,” Sobleski said. “One week, head coach Matt Patricia’s squad looks highly competitive, then comes out flat the very next game. Detroit is now dealing with a two-game skid and just surrendered 10 sacks to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. Imagine if Khalil Mack returns to the Bears lineup after missing the previous two contests to wreak havoc.”
Mack isn’t 100 percent, though, and an argument can be made that after back-to-back weeks of Hyde, we’re in for a Jekyll-like showing from the Lions. In fact, that’s basically the argument Davenport is making.
“There are a lot of games this week that are hard to get a read on—this one included,” he said. “And I get a tad queasy every time I think about taking a Lions team that just gave up 10 sacks to the Vikings against a Bears team that might get Mack back. He’s been out a couple weeks and may want to get back in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation by logging 10 sacks himself. But the Lions aren’t as bad (I think) as that clunker of a performance, and this is a division game. Chicago wins but doesn’t cover.”
It should be pointed out that Davenport is leading our predictor standings and that those among us who pick against the majority as lone wolves are 37-34 this season. So you might not want to empty your wallet here.
Davenport: Detroit (+6.5)
Gagnon: Chicago (-6.5)
Sobleski: Chicago (-6.5)
Consensus: Chicago (-6.5)
Score Prediction: Chicago 26, Detroit 17
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Ralph Freso/Associated Press
Have the books gone too far with the Kansas City Chiefs?
The New England Patriots are an anomaly, but only two teams other than New England have been favored by more than 16 points in the last five calendar years, and both failed to cover. The New Orleans Saints won but fell well short of a cover as 16.5-point faves against the New York Jets last season, and the Vikings lost outright with the same spread in their favor against the Buffalo Bills earlier this season.
This time, the Chiefs are laying 16.5 points for a Sunday home game against the Arizona Cardinals, and the majority of our experts aren’t buying it.
“This is just too much for me,” Gagnon said. “Even if you think Kansas City could blow out the Cards, you’re inviting a backdoor cover. But I’m not even convinced this’ll be a laugher. Three of Kansas City’s four home games have been decided by 16 or fewer points, and Arizona showed signs of life in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8. They’re also coming off their bye week, whereas the Chiefs have yet to receive a break.”
The Cardinals have played two road games with Josh Rosen as quarterback, and they’re 1-1 in those affairs with an even scoring margin. They avoided embarrassment in Minnesota a few weeks ago, and they appear to have a shot to accomplish a similar “feat” in KC in Week 10.
Davenport: Arizona (+16.5)
Gagnon: Arizona (+16.5)
Sobleski: Kansas City (-16.5)
Consensus: Arizona (+16.5)
Score Prediction: Kansas City 31, Arizona 17
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Steven Senne/Associated Press
The Tennessee Titans are also showing signs of life after an impressive Monday night road victory over a Dallas Cowboys team that had been perfect at home during the first half of the regular season.
With that momentum in place, the majority of books are giving the Titans just 6.5 points for a home matchup with the New England Patriots on Sunday. And for the first time this week, all of our experts agree on something.
The Titans aren’t getting enough points.
“The Titans feature one of the game’s best defenses,” Sobleski said. “It’s a fundamentally sound group even if it doesn’t feature any real difference-makers. But it doesn’t matter. Why? Defense is now an afterthought, and the Patriots offense is getting better every week with James White, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Tennessee simply doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up with Tom Brady and Co.”
That unit didn’t even have Gronkowski or sensational rookie running back Sony Michel last week, but it still put up 31 points in a turnover-free performance against the Green Bay Packers on somewhat short rest. They could get those guys back in Tennessee, which might spell trouble for a Titans team that is now on short rest as well.
New England is gaining steam, and we still don’t have enough evidence to know if Tennessee is doing the same thing or just ran into a victory in Week 9. That’s why the Pats look like a relatively safe bet while requiring just a touchdown to cover.
Davenport: New England (-6.5)
Gagnon: New England (-6.5)
Sobleski: New England (-6.5)
Consensus: New England (-6.5)
Score Prediction: New England 28, Tennessee 20
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The New Orleans Saints haven’t lost since Week 1, and all but two of their wins during that stretch have come by six or more points. Our panel agrees unanimously that trend will continue Sunday when they face the Cincinnati Bengals in southwest Ohio, but Gagnon isn’t betting his savings account on this one.
“This pick is a result of my lack of trust in the Bengals,” he said. “I’m concerned the Saints could be a tad exhausted after a strenuous run against the Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams, and the Bengals could definitely keep this close at home following a bye. I’d probably even take them if this spread was at or above a touchdown.
“But 5.5 points? They’re playing the league’s hottest team, and they just gave up 107 points in a brutal three-game stretch against the Steelers, Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Throw in that quarterback Andy Dalton won’t have top receiver A.J. Green, and I’m simply not able to justify picking Cincy.”
Yeah, the Saints defense has been vulnerable against the pass this season, but Green’s toe injury could make it hard for Cincinnati to exploit that team’s most glaring weakness. Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine anybody slowing down a New Orleans offense that ranks tops in the NFC in scoring and just put up 75 in two games against the Vikings and Rams.
You’re welcome to roll the dice on Cincinnati sans Green against that buzzsaw, but our gang thinks New Orleans is the better bet.
Davenport: New Orleans (-5.5)
Gagnon: New Orleans (-5.5)
Sobleski: New Orleans (-5.5)
Consensus: New Orleans (-5.5)
Score Prediction: New Orleans 31, Cincinnati 24
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The Atlanta Falcons haven’t lost since Week 5. Their offense has often been unstoppable with red-hot quarterback Matt Ryan rolling, and even the depleted Atlanta defense has come around the last couple weeks.
The Cleveland Browns are operating with an interim head coach and an interim offensive coordinator. They haven’t won since Week 5, and three of those four losses have come by 15 or more points.
That has Gagnon confused as to why the Falcons are laying just 4.5 points in Cleveland on Sunday.
“Look, I realize that a coin would likely have a better record than me picking games against the spread this season,” Gagnon admitted, “but I’ve been well above .500 since Week 3, and I’m still allowed to state emphatically that this line is ridiculous. It’s just one of those spreads that is originally set too low and then nobody moves because we’re all too terrified to challenge the books with a team like the Falcons. Atlanta is unreliable and frustrating and inconsistent and a whole bunch of other bad adjectives, but let’s not pretend it can’t beat the mess that is the Browns by a handful of points.”
But could this be a trap? The Falcons are indeed prone to letdown performances, they’re on the road, and Cleveland doesn’t match up horribly on defense. Atlanta has often had to rely on its passing game, and the Browns have the second-best pass D in the league in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) at Football Outsiders.
That might be why we don’t have a unanimous agreement.
Davenport: Atlanta (-4.5)
Gagnon: Atlanta (-4.5)
Sobleski: Cleveland (+4.5)
Consensus: Atlanta (-4.5)
Score Prediction: Atlanta 28, Cleveland 20
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AJ Mast/Associated Press
Sometimes you can predict a line without having to give it much thought because it’s clear nobody knows what to expect from either team. Take, for instance, Sunday’s matchup between the flawed-but-competitive Indianapolis Colts and their flawed-but-competitive division rival, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“When Vegas hits the home team with the dreaded -3,” Davenport said, “that’s a huge red flag that it’s a game even the sportsbooks don’t have a good read on. Neither do I—especially with both teams coming off a bye. The Colts have a little momentum, but that came against arguably the two worst teams in the NFL. The Jaguars were in free fall heading into the week off. But Carlos Hyde has had some time to get acclimated and get the ground game going, the Jags have had an extra week off to get healthy defensively, and I’m getting points to take a team everyone (me included) thought was head-and-shoulders better than the Colts as recently as a month ago.”
It’s not an overwhelming endorsement, but Sobleski is on board with the more talented home team laying just a field goal.
Still, it’s probably good Gagnon is jumping on the Colts so that nobody gets the impression our crew is remotely confident in its consensus pick.
“Are the Colts really the inferior team here?” he asked. “The Jacksonville offense has scored 32 total points in its last three games, and the defense hasn’t been right. Indy’s D has been solid with youngsters Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker and Kenny Moore emerging, and Andrew Luck is beginning to look like Andrew Luck.”
So, maybe pass on this one?
Davenport: Jacksonville (+3)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (-3)
Sobleski: Jacksonville (+3)
Consensus: Jacksonville (+3)
Score Prediction: Jacksonville 24, Indianapolis 23
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Once again, we’ve got a three-point home favorite. And once again, our analysts are siding with the home squad while lacking unanimity. But this one might be even trickier, but it’s almost impossible to know what to expect from a 5-3 Washington Redskins team that has been crushed by injuries ahead of Sunday’s matchup with a similarly unpredictable Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.
“Washington’s lineup is decimated,” explained Sobleski, who is with Gagnon on the Redskins minus a field goal. “Three different starters—Brandon Scherff, Shawn Lauvao and Paul Richardson—were placed on injured reserve this week. Plus, left tackle Trent Williams required thumb surgery and is considered week-to-week. That’s a lot to overcome, especially for an offense that lacks playmakers. Meanwhile, the Falcons gained 491 yards Sunday against Washington’s supposedly stingy defense. Jay Gruden’s squad is trending in the wrong direction.”
Few would dispute that, but the books are also aware of that dynamic and have presumably baked it into a spread that, under different circumstances, might have favored Washington on the road.
With that in mind, let’s hear Davenport’s powerful dissenting voice.
“Given that this same Redskins team just made the entire panel look foolish last week by getting pasted at home by the Falcons,” he said, “this should be another queasy call. But I actually feel pretty good about this one. Last week’s loss was against a Falcons team that appears to be building some momentum. This week it’s a Tampa team headed in the opposite direction, with a defense (sort of) that’s somehow worse than Atlanta’s. Washington circles the wagons and wins outright.”
Davenport: Washington (+3)
Gagnon: Tampa Bay (-3)
Sobleski: Tampa Bay (-3)
Consensus: Tampa Bay (-3)
Score Prediction: Tampa Bay 28, Washington 23
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Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
Rarely can a favored team suddenly lose its starting quarterback just days before a game and still be favored by a similar margin, but that’s the case with the New York Jets sans Sam Darnold ahead of Sunday’s home tilt with the Buffalo Bills.
The Jets were generally favored by 7.5 points before SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano reported on Wednesday that the rookie signal-caller would miss this game due to a foot sprain. Our entire panel of experts was siding with Gang Green as a 7.5-point fave, and at the time, all three panelists agreed they’d still take the Jets at that number.
That the line has dropped to -7 (and -6.5 in some spots) is gravy.
“I understand why Darnold was starting for the Jets, but that doesn’t mean he gave them the best chance to win every week,” Gagnon said. “He was playing before his injury because he’s the future and the team isn’t a contender, but let’s not pretend veteran backup Josh McCown isn’t more reliable at this point.”
Darnold has turned the ball over eight times in his last three games, all of which were losses with poor offensive outputs. McCown has yet to attempt a throw this year, but he was the league’s 11th-highest-rated passer during a formidable 2017 season. He led the Jets to 34 points in a double-digit victory over the Bills last season, and this Buffalo team is much worse on paper.
Buffalo has been outscored 103-20 in its last three games and hasn’t scored more than 13 points since Week 3, making the Jets a seemingly safe bet at home with a veteran quarterback running the show.
Davenport: New York (-7)
Gagnon: New York (-7)
Sobleski: New York (-7)
Consensus: New York (-7)
Score Prediction: New York 27, Buffalo 13
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Are the Oakland Raiders still trying?
When intangible factors like those have to be accounted for, it becomes even more difficult than usual to handicap a game. That might explain why the streaking Los Angeles Chargers aren’t two-touchdown favorites in Oakland this weekend.
Our experts aren’t willing to chance it with a team that looks as though it has given up.
“A 10-point spread isn’t nearly enough,” Sobleski said. “The Chargers have established themselves as an elite team, while the Raiders organization can be best described as a sinking ship. In fact, the team that was already worst in the league at sacking opposing quarterbacks released their best pass-rusher, Bruce Irvin, last week. Philip Rivers already made fun of the Raiders’ defensive approach the last time these two teams met, and Oakland is worse now than the version that lost by 16 points in Week 5.”
Indeed, the Bolts beat their division rival handily in October. Maybe this number is nearly a touchdown lower because teams often make adjustments for rematches, Oakland is at home, and the Chargers are due for a letdown. L.A. is coming off a road trip to London and a taxing road game in Seattle, which could also be playing a role. But this doesn’t appear to be a good matchup for an Oakland team that has lost four consecutive games by 14-plus points.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-10)
Gagnon: Los Angeles (-10)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-10)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-10)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 35, Oakland 13
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Rob Carr/Getty Images
Speaking of intangible elements, how much consideration can one give to the so-called desperation factor? When our panel looked at the Green Bay Packers as a 9.5-point home favorite for Sunday’s matchup with the Miami Dolphins, that component weighed heavily.
“After losing successive games against two of the NFL’s best teams in the Rams and Patriots, the Packers are 3-4-1, in third place in the NFC North and in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a second straight season,” Davenport said. “In other words, Green Bay is desperate for a win this week when they host the Dolphins. Yes, the Dolphins have a better record than the Packers, but no one outside the most fervent Fins fans would say they have a better team. Though 9.5 points is a lot to lay here, I expect the Packers to pull out a double-digit win and cover.”
It’s probably important to consider the Packers went toe-to-toe with the Rams on the road in Week 8 before taking the Patriots into the fourth quarter with a tie score last week in Foxborough. The Dolphins are several tiers below Los Angeles and New England. They lost to Detroit and Houston by double-digit margins before scoring just 13 points at home against the Jets in Week 9. They probably aren’t a true contender.
It’s also important to consider that when Aaron Rodgers had his back against a similar wall following a 4-6 start to the 2016 season, he went into lights-out mode and carried his team to six straight victories to wrap up the season.
Might this be the start of a similar run? With the spread still in the single digits, betting on it doesn’t carry a tremendous risk.
Davenport: Green Bay (-9.5)
Gagnon: Green Bay (-9.5)
Sobleski: Green Bay (-9.5)
Consensus: Green Bay (-9.5)
Score Prediction: Green Bay 30, Miami 16
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Harry How/Getty Images
Are there cracks in the armor for the Los Angeles Rams? If so, could those vulnerabilities be exploited by one of their most familiar foes?
Our panelists unanimously agree the Seattle Seahawks could do exactly that when the NFC West rivals meet Sunday in Southern California.
“The Seahawks hung with the Rams when the two met last month, falling 33-31 at home,” Gagnon said. “They also beat a still-emerging Rams team in L.A. last October. They’ve suffered some blows, but they’re still extremely well-coached and still have Russell Wilson under center. Even if they don’t pull off the upset on the road, I don’t think they’re getting beat by a double-digit margin in a pivotal game like this.”
The Rams might be a little more desperate than they were before cutting it close against Green Bay and losing in New Orleans, but there’s little doubt the 4-4 Seahawks need this more. They were rolling before they slipped up at home against the Chargers last week, but they haven’t lost a road game by more than one score since 2016.
Against a Rams squad that has surrendered 72 points the last two weeks, our analysts believe they’ll stick around on Sunday.
Davenport: Seattle (+10)
Gagnon: Seattle (+10)
Sobleski: Seattle (+10)
Consensus: Seattle (+10)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 27, Seattle 24
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Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
When the Philadelphia Eagles smoked the Dallas Cowboys 37-9 last November in Texas, a Super Bowl team was gaining momentum against an opponent that was reeling without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott. Philly is much less hot now, and the Cowboys have Elliott.
Does that mean we’re in for a closer affair when the two meet Sunday night in Pennsylvania? Philadelphia opened as a mere 4.5-point favorite, but few believe this’ll be that tight. The line has risen to seven in most spots, and our panelists are still unanimously on board with the Eagles.
“This pick is less about my confidence in the Eagles than my absolute lack of confidence in the Cowboys—especially offensively,” Davenport said. “Dallas’ new offense looked a lot like the old one Sunday night, and that’s not a compliment. In half of the Cowboys’ last 16 games, the team has scored 14 or fewer points. In their last four games away from Jerruh World, Dallas has six offensive touchdowns. The Cowboys just can’t be trusted to score—as evidenced by a 26th-ranked scoring offense.
“The Eagles may actually have made the bigger addition at wide receiver of the two teams with the acquisition of Golden Tate, and at home I expect Philadelphia to win by at least a touchdown.”
Also worth consideration? The Eagles are coming off a bye, which was preceded by a solid British victory over the Jaguars, and quarterback Carson Wentz has posted four consecutive triple-digit passer ratings. He should continue to excel as his knee progresses. Meanwhile, Dallas is on short rest coming off a deflating Monday night loss to an unimpressive Titans team.
Add it all up, and it looks safe to lay the touchdown with Philly.
Davenport: Philadelphia (-7)
Gagnon: Philadelphia (-7)
Sobleski: Philadelphia (-7)
Consensus: Philadelphia (-7)
Score Prediction: Philadelphia 28, Dallas 16
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Josie Lepe/Associated Press
Eleven days removed from a jaw-dropping blowout victory over the Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers are merely laying a field goal for a home matchup with the struggling New York Giants, and the majority of our experts think the books aren’t giving San Francisco enough love.
“Had the Texans made one more big play in their Week 3 meeting with the Giants,” Gagnon said, “we’d be talking right now about the Giants’ chances of going 0-16. I don’t care if they have more talent than a banged-up 49ers team, because San Francisco is still playing hard for Kyle Shanahan, and I’m not seeing that from the downtrodden G-Men.
“Both teams are essentially coming off bye weeks with the 49ers playing last Thursday night, and the element of surprise is still probably there with Week 9 breakout sensation Nick Mullens under center for the Niners.”
But a streak of unanimity has been thwarted by our midseason picks leader, who still doesn’t trust a 49ers squad that had lost six in a row before hammering Oakland.
“This is the portion of the pick where I’m supposed to say something good about the Giants,” Davenport said. “OK…Saquon Barkley. That about sums it up. But that alone might be enough to beat the 49ers. Lost in the hullabaloo over the greatness that is Nick Mullens (the undrafted third-stringer, if you’re a buzzkill) is the fact that this is the same team that lost to the Cardinals—twice. The Giants might stink—OK, they definitely stink—but they’ve been a tough out on the road of late, losing by three in Atlanta and two in Carolina (on a 63-yard field goal). This is another tossup in the eyes of the folks who set the spreads, and in those instances, I usually take the points.”
However, this is the type of game in which you might want to consider not giving or taking the points.
Davenport: New York (+3)
Gagnon: San Francisco (-3)
Sobleski: San Francisco (-3)
Consensus: San Francisco (-3)
Score Prediction: San Francisco 23, New York 20