16-18-1. That is where our record stands as we approach the midway point of the NFL regular season. Last week was another 2-3 week. While it is not our MO to cry over spilt milk, we felt we got screwed on two of our selections last week. We took the 49ers at -9.5 and they won 9-0. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, they had a chance to score a TD but instead settled for a second FG. It was, after all, 1st goal on the Washington 7 yard line. The Chargers were another heart break being a 2.5 point dog and losing by 3. They were even closer than the 49ers to scoring a game clinching TD: 1st and goal on the Tennessee 1 yard line with 34 seconds left in the game. The result: a fumble recovered by the Titans which sealed the Chargers' fate. Just to pour more salt on our wounds, the Chargers had a rushing TD right before the fumble but after replay review, the TD call was reversed.
We were spot on with Jacksonville and New England last week. Our models had the Jaguars winning by 14 points and they won by 10 while the Patriots won by 33 points with a predicted point differential of 31 points. Jacksonville and New England are two of our favorite teams again this week. We will admit that we were off with Houston but not with San Francisco and the LA Chargers. We should have been 4-1 last week but as they say about football ... it's a game of inches! Grit is a great characteristic to have in any endeavor so we won't give up on our methods. Ultimately the ball will bounce in our favor. Here is who we like for Week 8 (spreads based on Super Contest).
Seattle Seahawks -6.5. The Seahawks are rather pedestrian when it comes to covering spreads: 3-3-1. However, the Falcons have been downright awful both straight up and against the spread: both records at 1-6. What has been the main problem with Atlanta? Pass defense. The Falcons currently allow a QB rating of 116.3. Only Miami is worse. Guess which QB has the best QB rating through Week 7? Seahawks QB Russell Wilson at 114.1. Baltimore was successful in slowing down Seattle last week with a ball control rush attack that resulted in 199 yards on 35 carries. Baltimore also allows a QB rating of 85.3. The Atlanta run game and pass defense is nowhere close to Baltimore's so expect Russell Wilson to pad his already impressive passing stats. Our models have the Seahawks winning by about 13 points with a 57.28% probability of covering. There is a very good chance that Falcons QB Matt Ryan misses his first game in a decade and that Falcons head coach Dan Quinn finds himself on the chopping block come Monday should the Falcons continue its downward spiral. This is a case of two teams heading in completely opposite directions so we will gladly take the points here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +2.5. This will be our only dog of the day and we are excited for this pick. Our models have the Bucs winning outright by about 6 points with a 63.24% chance of covering (3rd highest probability from our models). Why is that given that both teams have losing records and that Tampa is the road team? Consider the DVOA metrics from FootballOutsiders.com. While the Bucs pass defense is not great (25th ranked according to DVOA), they have the #1 DVOA rush defense. Tennessee is a team that loves to run with a 44.47% rushing play percentage (8th highest in the NFL) but hasn't been that successful in doing so with just a 3.8 yards per carry average (ranked in the bottom 10). The Titans will have an awfully hard time moving the football, especially with a QB controversy brewing. Marcus Mariota, the face of the Titans franchise, was replaced last week as the starting QB in favor of journeyman QB Ryan Tannenhill. This presents a prime opportunity to roll with the underdog and consider a money line play. The Bucs offense should score at least 20 points against a mediocre Titans defense, especially since the Bucs should be well rested after a bye last week. A 24-17 road victory for the Bucs sounds about right.
Jacksonville Jaguars -6.5. This matchup is very similar to the Seahawks - Falcons game. While Jacksonville is not quite as strong as Seattle, the Jaguars are Jets are going in completely opposite directions. Also, when you look closely at what the Jaguars do well and where the Jets struggle, we feel that giving up just 6.5 points is nothing. Going back to the beginning of the 2017 season, the Jaguars pass defense has been one of the best in the league with a #1 ranking in allowed QB rating in 2017 and a #5 ranking last year. Right now the Jaguars pass defense is 9th in DVOA and allowing a somewhat stingy 87.4 QB rating. Guess which passing offense ranks dead last in DVOA? The J-E-T-S! Yes, even worse than the Dolphins and it's not even close. Our models have the Jaguars winning by 15 points with 2nd highest chance of covering the spread at 64.97%. Furthermore, Leonard Fournette has proven to be a good finisher with a solid 5 yards per carry average. Expect the Jets defense to be worn down thanks to an inept Jets offense. The Jets won't be quite as embarrassed as they were on national TV earlier this week but this won't be pretty either.
San Francisco 49ers -5.5. Unlike the other favors we are taking this week, the 49ers face a strong team and get their stiffest test yet by taking on the Carolina Panthers who just had a week off and sit at 4-2. The Panthers also have the best offensive player in Christian McCaffrey. The kid is simply dominating the game like he did at Stanford. He is one incredible athlete which should be no surprise given his pedigree: father Ed McCaffrey had an illustrious career as a WR for the Denver Broncos during John Elway's tenure at QB, mother Lisa Sime was a soccer star at Stanford, and maternal grandfather David Sime won the silver medal in the 100-meter dash in the 1960 Olympics and held several world records in various sprint events.
So how do the 49ers stop McCaffrey? Simple ... keep doing what has worked which is bring the pressure against the QB and force him to make mistakes. The 49ers rank 1st in adjusted sack rate at 11.5%. What's crazy is that the next closest team is Carolina with 9.4%. However, the 49ers offensive line has done an admirable job of protecting the QB with an adjusted allowed sack rate of 4.4% good for 5th lowest in the NFL. The Panthers are in the bottom 10 of the league with that metric, allowing an adjusted sack rate of 7.5%. Three of the 49ers opponents this season have a similar percentage for that metric: Washington (7.5%), Cincinnati (7.5%), and Cleveland (8.2%). What happened when the 49ers played those teams? 11 total sacks, 6 forced turnovers, and a combined score of 81-20. 2nd year QB Kyle Moore, who is pretty much a rookie, will be in for a long afternoon against the 49ers relentless pass rush and might also experience the adverse effects of cross country travel and significant time zone change.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers have an effective run offense ranking 3rd in adjusted line yards for run blocking while the Panthers run defense ranks 21st in adjusted line yards allowed. McCaffrey might still put up strong numbers but that won't be enough if the 49ers dominate at the line of scrimmage, both on offense and defense. Winning the war in the trenches has been the 49ers identity this season and what has proven to be the recipe for success for so many great NFL teams. The future looks bright for the 49ers and 7-0 is in sight given that our models are predicting an expected point differential of 10 in their favor and a 58.88% chance of beating Carolina by more than 5.5 points. Perhaps a double digit victory against a playoff contender will silence some of the 49ers critics.
- New England Patriots -13. We end our Week 8 selections by picking arguably the best defense in NFL history. Yes, I am going out on a limb and calling the 2019 Patriots the best defense ever. I was only 8 years old during the 1985 season and still hadn't become a diehard NFL fan so I don't have much memory of the 1985 Bears but I have seen their documentaries/highlights on NFL Films and studied their numbers. No doubt that defense will always be the measuring stick for great defenses since the Bears almost went undefeated and were never challenged in the postseason. Three other defenses I feel can measure up to the 1985 Bears would be the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Bucs, and 2013 Seahawks. All three won Super Bowls in dominant fashion just like the 1985 Bears and their defensive metrics are close or better. This year's Patriots defense belongs in that group and the only thing that would keep the Patriots out is if they don't win the Super Bowl. You know we love DVOA from FootballOutsiders.com and right now the Patriots have the best defensive DVOA ever at -49.7%. Here is a link showing some of greatest DVOA numbers since 1950.
As for mainstream metrics, the Patriots rank #1 in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed, and forced turnovers. In fact, the Patriots are on pace to break the record for fewest points allowed for an entire season. The 2000 Ravens currently hold the record for fewest points allowed in a regular season at 165. Right now the Patriots have allowed 48 points and are on pace to finish the regular season allowing just 110 points.
What is truly mind blowing is that if the Patriots had not scored a single offensive TD during their 7 games played this season, their record would be 4-1-2. Let that sink in for a little bit. The Patriots would still have an impressive record with just FGs and defensive/special teams TDs. Most likely those two hypothetical ties would result in victories for the Patriots since the Patriots were in the red zone for most of their offensive TDs in those games. The one hypothetical loss would be to the Jets in the first meeting but the Jets scored 14 points near the end of the game on defensive TDs. Hence the Patriots could still be 7-0 without a single offensive TD. Please tell me that your mind is blown.
For comparison purposes with this hypothetical scenario of a championship quality defense having an inept offense, consider the 2000 Ravens. They had a stretch of 5 games of not scoring an offensive TD and went 2-3 in those games causing some serious concern for their offense and a QB change. Once Tony Banks was replaced by Trent Dilfer, the Ravens went on a 7-0 run to finish the regular season and crushed everyone they faced in the postseason to win their first Super Bowl. The 2019 Patriots defense is arguably just as good, if not better, as the 2000 Ravens defense and if the 2019 Patriots had similar offensive troubles as the Ravens did in 2000, the Patriots would still be winning every game.
Want one more impressive stat? The allowed QB rating for the 2019 Patriots is 35.4. The next closest team is San Francisco at 64.6 and we know how exemplary their defense has been this season. Keep in mind that QB rating takes into account completion %, passing yards, passing TDs, and turnovers. If a QB were to simply throw the ball out of bounds on every passing play or take a knee on each down meaning that he would not have thrown an interception, complete any passes, gain any yards, and of course not score any TDs, his passer rating would be 39.58, better than the Patriots allowed QB rating of 35.4. Don't believe me? Try for yourself using the NFL passer rating calculator at Pro-Football-Reference.com and simply type in zeros for all categories except pass attempts (put some arbitrary number such as 15 or 20).
My head has now officially exploded!
Can the Patriots keep this up? We should expect the Patriots metrics to show some regression once they start playing better competition. Their seven victims so far have been the Jets twice, Dolphins, Bills, Redskins, Giants, and Steelers. Except for the Bills, the rest of their opponents are bottom feeders. We shall see how the Patriots defense fares against playoff quality teams such as the Ravens, Chiefs, Cowboys, and Texans. For this week, the Patriots host the Browns, a team the 49ers dismantled a few weeks ago. Our models are anticipating a similar outcome for the Patriots with a 26 point victory and our highest probability of the week to cover at 67.64%. Only twice the Patriots have not covered this season and our models correctly predicted they would not cover against the Jets during their first meeting and a week later against the Bills. Hence, we feel that we have the Patriots outcomes dialed in and this week should be no different against Cleveland. The Patriots defense will continue to suffocate the opposition's offense while getting above average production from their own offense.
Hopefully you don't mind the long analysis for the 49ers and Patriots. What both of those teams have accomplished in this young season is truly remarkable and I am hoping we get a 49ers - Patriots Super Bowl. That would be an epic battle between two great defenses and Patriots QB Tom Brady would be facing the hometown team he grew up admiring during the 80s and 90s. He would also be facing his former protege: 49ers QB Jimmy Garopollo. Maybe there will be a stare off between these two QBs who could be GQ models. In fact both of them have been on the cover of GQ! Such a matchup would attract football purists like yours truly and casual female football fans who are simply attracted to tall, dark, and handsome QBs. A Super Bowl between these two powerhouses would have it all and I am sure the NFL is hoping it will happen which would be a ratings bonanza.
As for betting strategy, parlay Seattle and Jacksonville against the spread and take the Bucs on the money line. With a $100 bet on each of those plays, you would make $380. Then, later in the day, parlay those winnings on the two best teams in the league: 49ers and Patriots. Of course take those teams against the spread. You will walk away with $1,368 profit on an initial investment of $200. Not bad for a Sunday morning/afternoon! Good luck!