Big Five Picks for NFL Week 9

OK! We finally had a great week! 4-1! That brings our overall record to 20-19-1. Still not quite profitable (52.4%) but at least our head is above water with 51.25% accuracy. We were spot on with the two best teams in the NFL: 49ers and Patriots. We were also correct with two quality teams: Jaguars and Seahawks. If it were not for a bad beat with Tampa Bay (QB Jameis Winston committed 4 turnovers and Tampa lost by just 4 points with a spread of +2), last week would have been a perfect 5-0. Our goal from Weeks 8 - 17 is to alternate 4-1 and 5-0 weeks so that we finish the season with 70% accuracy or better. Hence, Week 9 needs to be 5-0. Now that we are at the official midway point of the NFL season, we have plenty of in-season data to make our models more robust and reliable. Here is how we will we will go 5-0 this week (spreads are based on the Super Contest).

  1. New York Jets -3. Let's start with the Toilet Bowl of Week 9. Logic tells us that this is a "stay away" game. After all, both of these teams are a combined 1-13. Also, both teams rank near the bottom in most offensive categories. However, notice that I said "offensive" categories, not "defensive". While the Dolphins rank near the bottom, if not the absolute bottom, in most defensive categories, the Jets are in the middle of the pack in such categories. Furthermore, the Jets have had an incredibly difficult schedule playing the 8-0 Patriots twice, the 5-2 Bills once, and three other teams with at least a .500 record. The Dolphins have seen the Patriots just once and played three other teams with losing records. Every one of Miami's losses has been by double digits except for their one point loss to Washington. If you want to use the transitive property (remember your days in Geometry?), the Dolphins lost to Cowboys 31-6 while the Jets upset Dallas 24-22.

All of those are good reasons why taking the Jets at -3 is a safe play. Even though the records are similar, they are not evenly matched teams. The Jets are bad but not nearly as bad as Miami. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick might have breathed a bit of life into the Dolphins but it's not enough. Last week we did well by taking the Jaguars to cover against the Jets mainly because the Jets' QB rating ranked dead last after Week 7 while the Jaguars boasted a strong pass defense. The Jets should have better luck passing the football as they continue their Florida road trip. Miami's pass defense is allowing a QB rating of 120.2, dead last in the NFL. The Jets passing offense currently ranks 2nd to last in QB rating so something has to give. We feel that Miami's ineptitude in practically every facet of football, especially since they are the only other team with a worse QB passer rating, is what enables the Jets to keep the Dolphins winless. Just no ties but would it shock anyone if this game ended in a 0-0 tie?! Our models disagree and instead like the Jets to win by at least 10 points with a 63.41% chance of covering the spread, good for the highest probability of any team covering this week based on our analysis.

  1. Indianapolis Colts -1. Don't be fooled by Pittsburgh's 3-4 record. All three wins were against winless teams with a combined record of 3-20 and a combined score of such games is 78-34. On the flip side, Pittsburgh's four losses were all against teams with winning records. Combined record of those teams is 27-4 and combined score of those games is 72-111. This is easy to explain given the departures of Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell in the offseason and losing Big Ben early in the season due to season ending elbow surgery. Meanwhile, the Colts have not skipped a beat even with Andrew Luck's surprise retirement and TY Hilton's nagging injuries. Indianapolis is 5-2 and has won 2 out of 3 road games this season. Make it 6-2 and a 3rd road victory. All we need is for the Colts to win and at worst we push. The Colts are a well-rounded team with strong QB and RB play and a defense that ranks 5th according to DVOA from Football Outsiders. The Steelers offense looks more like a 2nd or even 3rd string squad given James Conner's recent injury and of course all of the other personnel changes previous mentioned. Pittsburgh will have an awfully difficult time moving the football and the Colts offense sans Hilton will do enough to leave Heinz Field victorious. Our models like the Colts to win by a field goal with a 57.3% probability.

  2. Detroit Lions +2.5. This will be our only dog of the day and we feel this is phenomenal value. Money line this play for a bigger return. Why? Because what the Lions do very well will expose the Raiders biggest weakness: the passing game. Based on DVOA, the Raiders have the 4th worst pass defense while the Lions pass offense is 5th best. The Lions aerial attack is clicking on all cylinders with QB Matt Stafford passing for over 700 yards and 7 TDs for the last two games. It certainly doesn't hurt that Stafford's targets have been on point lately. Last week it was WR Kenny Golladay catching nearly every pass coming his way, good for 6 receptions, 123 yards, and 2 TDs. The week before, slot WR Danny Amendola kept the chains moving with 8 receptions for 105 yards and WR Marvin Jones was a dominant red zone machine catching 4 TDs. The Raiders corners rank dead last in fantasy points allowed to WRs and other metrics so expect the Lions WRs to feast all day against the NFL's worst secondary. Need further proof that the Raiders cannot handle strong passing offenses? Just take a look at the four teams the Raiders have lost to so far this season: Chiefs, Vikings, Packers, and Texans. All four teams rank in the top 7 in QB passer rating with three of those teams in the top 4. The Lions are 5th in QB passer rating and have the right recipe to outright win in Oakland. Expect a close victory (1 or 2 points) for Detroit. Our probability model gives the Lions a 61.38% chance of covering so even if they lose a close game, we still win!

  3. New England Patriots -3. Finally! The Patriots play a good team! The combined record of the Patriots first 8 games is 15-44. Now they get to face the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens ... on the road. You know what, SO WHAT! In our blog post last week, we went into great detail about how this Patriots defense is arguably the greatest defense of all time. While the Ravens have a strong rushing attack, it doesn't necessarily translate to wins if the passing offense is stuck in first gear. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has shown tremendous growth in his 2nd NFL season but he is not unbeatable. Jackson's career record as a starter is 11-4 which is impressive but let's dig deeper into his four losses. The Chiefs beat Jackson twice (once last year and once this year). The Chargers ended the Ravens 2018 season in the wild card playoffs 10 months ago. Finally, Cleveland upset Baltimore 40-25 on the road.

What were the common denominators of those teams? (1) Winning the time of possession battle, (2) Limiting 3rd down conversions, and (3) Low pass completion %. If you make Jackson one dimensional and don't let the Ravens hog the clock, you can beat them by at least 3 points. Jackson's completion % in his two games against Kansas City was barely above 50%. It was less than 50% in the playoff game with the Chargers. While Jackson completed 70.59% of his passes when he faced the Browns a few weeks ago, the Ravens lost the time of possession battle and completed 4 out of 10 3rd down attempts. For the 2019 season, the Ravens rank #1 in time of possession by controlling 58.35% of the game clock. Last year, Baltimore was also #1 in time of possession. As for 3rd down conversion, Baltimore ranks 6th right now and was 7th last year. The Patriots defense has a ridiculously low opponent's 3rd down conversion rate: 15.62%. This is not just #1 in the league for 2019 but #1 all time. The Patriots are also #1 in opponent's pass completion % and rate 3rd with time of possession. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the master at taking away the opposition's best offensive asset. Not just will his defense make it tough for Jackson to complete many passes and convert 3rd downs, but he will make sure his trusted QB Tom Brady will run an offense solely geared on eating up the clock. The Patriots have the personnel to make that happen.

FYI, the Ravens have not covered any of their three homes games this season. The Patriots just cover, period. Taking New England as a 3 point favor is a gift. Our model likes the Patriots to win by double digits, again. Expect a 27-17 win for New England with a 58.35% chance of covering.

  1. Dallas Cowboys -7. Monday Nights have been good to us this season and we haven't had a Monday Night play in a while so we will go back to the well here. Like the Patriots, the Cowboys have a strong 3rd down defense. In fact, the Cowboys are 2nd in opponent's 3rd down conversion at 26.25%. The Giants are showing some promise with QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley but if they can't convert 3rd downs, forget about them even staying close in this game. The Giants have won 2 games this season and their combined 3rd down conversion rate for those games was 53.8% (14 for 26). In the Giants' other 6 games, the 3rd down conversion rate drops precipitously to 35.6% (26 for 73). If you want go deeper, the Giants converted 11 out of 24 3rd down attempts in two of their close losses to Arizona and Detroit. That means that in the 4 games in which the Giants lost by at least 10 points, the 3rd down conversion rate is 15 for 49 or 30.6%. This is close to what the Cowboys allow for 3rd downs. What makes the Cowboys so good at preventing 3rd downs? The linebackers. Cowboys LB Sean Lee is finally healthy after having two Pro Bowl campaigns for Dallas in 2015 and 2016. 3rd year LB Jaylon Smith and 2nd year LB Leighton Vander Esch are putting up solid numbers and are both on pace for 120+ tackles each. The Cowboys invested high draft picks on those two young linebackers and that investment is paying off. Our models really like Dallas this week: predicted point differential of 17 point with a 61.43% probability of covering. This is our 2nd highest delta from the true point spread and our 2nd highest probability (NY Jets are 1st this week). Take the Cowboys with confidence as they create more separation between them and the Giants in the Big Apple on national TV.

We have plays at various times this Sunday so the best strategy would be to parlay the Jets and Colts in the early action and then press your winnings on the Lions in the afternoon game. Keep pressing your winnings on the Patriots and then the Cowboys in both of the night games. By starting with a $100 wager on the Jets/Colts parlay, you would end up with over $1,800 should our picks go 5-0. Perfect for buying Xmas presents this holiday season!