It looks like I have been trading off good weeks with bad weeks. Week 1 was 4-1 but Week 2 was 1-3-1. Week 3 was 3-2 but Week 4 was 1-4. Yikes! Overall I am 9-10-1. I will admit that last weekend was a busy one for my household given that we had a big event at my workplace, one in which my better half was receiving an award. No need for me to get into the finer details of that weekend but it was a fun event in which we got to reconnect with a lot of people we hadn't seen in quite some time. Sometimes life gets in the way of football and sometimes it's the other way around!
I think I have thought through the games in a more thorough fashion this weekend, especially now that we have 33% more in-season data than we had at this time last week. The one thing I have done in the past when predicting the outcomes of the games is to run my model that I built several years ago. The model requires DVOA or defense-adjusted value over average which is a metric developed by Football Outsiders. Sadly Football Outsiders is now a defunct site and the rights to that metric were bought out by FTN Fantasy. It is a metric that several of the top football writers use in their analysis, especially those who write for ESPN. The correlation between DVOA and win percentage is remarkable and DVOA pretty much does a fantastic job of encapsulating a team's performance for all facets of the game of football (offense, defense, and special teams) while adjusting for their opponent's strength of schedule. No one really know what exactly goes into the secret sauce given that DVOA is highly proprietary but it has been a metric that is incredibly reliable for measuring how team's are truly performing.
At first FTN required a subscription to its site to access DVOA which I thought was a bunch of BS given that it had always been free on Football Outsiders. Fortunately FTN has made DVOA free for everyone to access. I recently ran my model with DVOA as the input and projected point differential as the output. I then compared those inputs with the published spreads. Usually I will highlight the games with the largest discrepancy between those two numbers but sometimes the eye test wins out. For tomorrow, the model is loving Detroit, Kansas City, Baltimore, and NY Jets. Yes, the Jets! It could be due to the fact that the Jets finally get a weak opponent after having to battle with Buffalo, Dallas, and Kansas City. As for the eye test as well as picking with heart instead of my head, I will select the 49ers over the Cowboys in what we will arguably be the biggest game of the year in this young season.
Without further ado, here are my picks and analysis!
- Baltimore -4.5
This line opened at -2 and has moved 2.5 points. That is significant movement! My model has the Ravens winning by 6.38 points so the math likes Baltimore and supports the line movement. Typically I don't like to feature games between fierce division rivals, especially in the AFC North. However, these are two teams going in opposite directions and all we need is a TD to cover. Pittsburgh also happens to be missing their starting tight end (and a very good blocker) and two starting offensive linemen. Baltimore should have no trouble applying pressure on QB Kenny Pickett. Meanwhile, the Steelers' defense has been shredded by the opposition's top vertical threat. Brandon Aiyuk, Amari Cooper, Davante Adams, and Nico Collins all put up huge numbers against the porous Pittsburgh secondary. I fully expect Lamar Jackson to hit rookie Zay Flowers often for some deep plays and then utilize his favorite target, tight end Mark Andrews, for several mid-range passes just to keep the chains moving. Take the road team here. Baltimore 24 - Pittsburgh 17.
- Detroit - 9.5
The line movement has not been in favor of the Lions considering that the line opened at -10. Still, it's not a significant shift and my model has Detroit winning by 13.05 points. When you peel off some of the layers, there are plenty of reasons for Detroit to beat the living crap out of Carolina. First off, it's a home game where the Detroit offense was much better last year than on the road. The stats don't lie: 5.1 yards per carry and 109.3 QB rating at home compared to 3.9 yards per carry and 87.4 QB rating on the road. Secondly, the Panthers have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL allowing 4.7 yards per carry (5th worst) and 6 total rushing TDs (tied for 2nd worst). Did you see what Lions RB David Montgomery did to Green Bay last week? Expect more of the same ground and pound game from the Lions tomorrow. Third, the Lions have 3 extra days of rest compared to Carolina and no travel the day before the game. Lions head coach Dan Campbell has forged an identity for the Lions. He is a no nonsense type of coach and was a very physical players during his NFL career. The Panthers are no match to the Lions' bruising style. Lions win big. Detroit 31 - Carolina 13.
- New York Jets +2.5
Quite a bit of chalk so far so it's time to balance things out with an underdog. I am perplexed as to why Denver is favored. Yes, they are the home team and the Jets have struggled so far this season but to be fair to the Jets, they have had to play three Super Bowl contenders so far and they won one of those games and nearly won the other against the defending Super Bowl champions. Meanwhile, Denver had to pull a rabbit out of their ass to beat the Bears last week, was punked by Miami the week prior by surrendering 70 points, gave up 35 points to Washington (an offense that has looked completely lost in its last 3 games), and lost to Las Vegas (a 1-3 team) in its home opener. The Jets are a more battle tested team and QB Zach Wilson showed tremendous growth against Kansas City last week. The Denver defense is really, really bad. They rank dead last in DVOA at 38.9%. Of course there was the outlier game to Miami in Week 3 but they still gave up a ton of production to the Dolphins while the Patriots and Bills have been able to hold Miami to 24 and 20 points, respectively. My model has the Jets winning 2.39 points so I will go with the slight upset if you want to call it that. NY Jets 23 - Denver 20.
- Kansas City -3.5
Back to chalk city with Kansas City! The Chiefs are my best pick of the day. The model has them winning by 8.92 points and, like the Jets-Broncos game, I am confused by the spread. The Chiefs offense is clicking again while the Vikings defense is mediocre at best. The line should be 7 points so I will gladly give up 3.5 points when rolling with the best QB in the universe who also happens to have the best tight end in the universe who happens to be dating the most popular musician in the world. Sorry, I couldn't help myself! Taylor Swift or no Taylor Swift, the Vikings won't be able to stop the best QB-TE connection of all time. Also, defensive tackle Chris Jones is a major disruptor at the line of scrimmage. He is playing for a big contract which he will get once the season is over. Kirk Cousins is notorious for forcing throws in tight spots when under duress so I expect the Chiefs to have some short fields to work with after a couple of Cousins' turnovers. We all know Mahomes will exploit such mistakes by the opposition. Some of you might remember the QB show on Netflix (actually called Quarterback) which had three QBs one of whom is great, one of whom is middle of the road, and one who is a journeyman. Go with the great one and go against the mediocre one. You like that?! Kansas City 34 - Minnesota 20.
- San Francisco -4
This is purely a pick where I am going with my heart. The model has the 49ers winning by 2.10 points which seems about right. I can see a 23-21 victory where the 49ers win with a last second field goal. After all, the last two times the Cowboys clashed with the 49ers, the game came down to the wire losing both times by just one score. One would think that Dallas really wants to win this game badly and will be highly motivated to finally beat San Francisco. Still, there are few reasons why the 49ers win this game and cover the spread. It's a home game on Sunday Night Football. That is plenty of motivation for the 49ers to show up big time in this big time game. Secondly, the 49ers are 4-0 and have scored at least 30 points in each of those games. Third, the 49ers beat Arizona by 19 whereas Dallas lost to that same team the week prior by 12 points. While I don't fully believe in applying the transitive property with football (sorry for my math geekdom), I think there is some merit in comparing those results. Yes, the 49ers haven't played an opponent as good as the Cowboys but the Cowboys played anyone as good as the 49ers. After all, the Cowboys beat up on three struggling teams: Giants, Jets, and Patriots.
My last reason for going with San Francisco is Brock Purdy. I believe he is a special QB, the kind of special QB who will do something special in a high pressure situation to get the 49ers to that coveted 6th Super Bowl title. We haven't quite seen it yet since Purdy will need to have that game where he pulls the 49ers out of the abyss. This could be that game. If you think about it, most champions in all sports had such a player. We saw that with the San Francisco Giants during the 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series runs when Tim Linceum, Barry Zito, and Madison Bumgarner all pitched lights out in those respective years. We saw that with Stephen Curry as he has helped build a dynasty for an NBA franchise that used to be the laughing stock among all sports teams in the four major North American sports leagues. We saw that with Joe Montana, especially in Super Bowl XXIII against the Bengals, one of my first memories of the 49ers.
It's not enough for Purdy to be a game manager. He will need to elevate his game to a whole other level to be a Super Bowl champion and it starts with Sunday Night. The 49ers will find themselves down 20-13 in the 4th quarter and Purdy becomes a household name by hitting Brandon Aiyuk for a game tying score with a few minutes left and then hits Deebo Samuel for the game winning TD after a Dak Prescott turnover. It's how Super Bowl dreams are made of and Purdy will make that dream a reality. San Francisco 27 - Dallas 20.
There you have it. Two early games, two afternoon games, and a Sunday Night 49ers victory as the nightcap. Enjoy the games and GO NINERS!