We are officially at the midway point of the NFL season. This means we have a decent amount of in-season data at our disposal when it comes to prognosticating NFL outcomes. There are many data scientists/statisticians who have machine learning models to predict point differentials and totals as well win probabilities (me included) and will try to find the best value when comparing their model outputs to the Vegas lines. While I firmly believe that you should leverage the data to inform your decisions with NFL wagers, the eye test can carry as much value, if not more.
Last week, I finally got back into getting some action with the NFL games and decided to parlay the Pittsburgh Steelers with the Las Vegas Raiders (I almost started to type Oakland!). The Steelers should not have been a 4 point underdog. They were 6-0 going into Week 8 and with a healthy QB who has been to the Super Bowl 3 times, so making them a dog was a total slap in the face. Yes, the Steelers were on the road against Baltimore who was 5-1 at the time and has been projected to make a run at the Super Bowl. After all, Baltimore seemed poised to make it to the Super Bowl last year until Tennessee got in the way. However, the Steelers have not scored fewer than 26 points this season and have been solid on defense. The result was not just covering the spread but outright winning the game 28-24. My model had the Steelers as a 2 point dog so taking the 4 points was an easy decision.
The other team I took last week was the Raiders. While I don't think of highly as them as I do of Pittsburgh and they were a road dog getting just 1 point, they were playing a very overrated Cleveland Browns team. I understand that they have done a fine job of collecting young talent through the draft and free agency but the Browns have not done anything to make us think they are a true playoff contender. In fact, the Browns have only been to the postseason ONCE since they were re-establish in 1999. They have also had 4 different head coaches since 2018 and major injuries to their starting RB and WR. Add in the fact that it was a super windy game and that the Raiders have a strong rush attack, the decision to bet on Vegas (I kind of like saying that!) was not a tough one to make. The result was a 45 carries for 209 rushing yards for the Raiders en route to a 16-6 win. My model had the game as a pick 'em so it was not far fetched to think the Raiders can win.
So who do we go with for Week 9? Arizona at -6 and the over with the Carolina - Kansas City game at 52.5. Here are my reasons.
Arizona is hosting the Miami Dolphins, team who cannot stop the run game whatsoever. According to Football Outsiders, Miami ranks dead last in rush defense DVOA and are currently allowing 4.9 yards per carry (4th worst in the NFL). Meanwhile Arizona ranks 4th in rush offense DVOA and are currently gaining 5.2 yards per carry (2nd best in the NFL). This is also a home game for Arizona meaning that Miami will have had a long travel day and two time zone changes. Even though Miami is on a 3 game winning streak, so is Arizona. In fact, the Cardinals have scored 30+ points 4 times out of their 7 games thus far this season and well most likely be 5 times after Week 9 is over. On the flip side, the Miami offense is hurting. Both Myles Gaskin and Matt Breida are out so Miami is stuck with "has-beens" at RB. We should also consider that this is Tua Tagovailoa's first NFL road game as a starting QB. He didn't even crack 100 passing yards in his first start last week and he is by no means a QB who likes to run unlike Kyler Murray. Expect Murray, Chase Edmonds, and the rest of the Cardinals to run circles around the this overrrated Dolphins squad. I am predicting a 30 - 10 victory and the line has already moved from 4 to 6 points in the last 48 hours. Don't worry about the line movement in favor of Arizona. The public is correct here.
We all know that Kansas City is the gold standard when it comes to offense. They have not skipped a beat since winning Super Bowl LIV last season and right now they are averaging over 30 points per game, good for 1st in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes is now the face of the NFL regardless of how well Tom Brady is playing in Tampa Bay. His offensive weapons are healthy and he has a lot of them: Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Leveon Bell, Sammy Watkins, ... Shall I keep going? The Chiefs are also at home where they thrive and the Panthers defense is mediocre at best. However, the tipping point for me is the return of Christian McCaffrey. The line has moved from 51 to 52.5 but it should be more. Typically the return of an All Pro QB will cause a big swing in the Vegas lines and while McCaffrey is not a QB, he should be having the same influence. This is a player last year who had rushing statistics like a top 5 RB and receiving statistics of a top 20 WR. For those who play fantasy football, you know that McCaffrey can outperform any player in the league with his fantasy output. He will put up big numbers today and when he does, the Panthers tend to get into a shootout with the opposition. His injury was a high ankle sprain which takes 6 weeks for proper recovery and usually those injuries are 100% healed. It's not a nagging groin or knee injury. McCaffrey is ready to play and could have played on Thursday Night Football during Week 8 but the Panthers exercised caution so that he would be ready to take on the defending World Champions at Arrowhead Stadium. Just some more stats before I make my prediction: KC is 5th worst in rush defense DVOA and also allow the 5th most rushing yards per carry at 4.8. Carolina has consistenly had a top 10 rushing offense based on DVOA, even this season with McCaffrey missing 6 out of 8 games. Finally, the game time temperature will be in the mid 70s in KC. Perfect for a shootout. I will predict a 34-27 victory for the Chiefs which will be enough to get the over.
Good luckand enjoy the games!