Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 7 NFL Picks
The 2018 NFL regular season is barely more than one-third complete. And thank goodness for that, because it gives Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski plenty of time to recover after subpar starts picking against against the spread.
All three remain below the .500 mark entering Week 7, but the law of averages is on their side as we enter the heart of the season.
Here's where they stand through six weeks (last week's records in parentheses).
1. Gary Davenport: 43-46-4 (9-6)
2. Brent Sobleski: 42-47-4 (7-8)
3. Brad Gagnon: 38-51-4 (5-10)
Consensus picks: 38-51-4 (7-8)
Can they get back on track in a week that features only four home underdogs? It won't be easy. Only two of the 14 games pit a team with a winning record against a team with a losing record, and only one contains a spread higher than eight points.
Thus, we could be in for another tricky weekend.
Lines based on consensuses at OddsShark as of Wednesday.
Denver Broncos (2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (1-5)
On Thursday Night Football this season, favorites are 6-0 straight-up. And depending on the line you got for the TNF matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams in Week 4, they're either 6-0 or 5-1 against the spread.
Two of our three experts figure that streak will be extended with a Denver Broncos road victory by at least two points over the Arizona Cardinals to kick off Week 7, at least partly because the Broncos really need it.
"We've lost four games in a row, and everyone is fighting for their lives," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said early this week, per Joe Dahlke of Fox 31 in Denver.
General manager John Elway also once again called out his team Monday, and it's fair to predict that a relatively talented group will bounce back against an inferior opponent Thursday night.
"The Denver defense has allowed approximately all the rushing yards ever over the last two weeks," Davenport said. "However, while Denver's run defense is last in the NFL at a jaw-dropping 161.3 yards allowed per game, guess who's right behind them at 151.2? If you said the Cardinals, you get a cookie. With a spread of less than a field goal, I'll take the team that isn't last in the NFL in total offense and last in the NFC in scoring."
Plus, the Cards might not be able to take advantage of the Broncos' weak run D, as they rank last in the league with a 3.2 yards-per-attempt average on the ground.
Still, the Broncos have played poorly in both of their road games this season, and they're traveling on short rest to play a team that hung with the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks in its last two home games.
That might explain why we don't have unanimity on this one.
Davenport: Denver (-1.5)
Gagnon: Denver (-1.5)
Sobleski: Arizona (+1.5)
Consensus: Denver (-1.5)
Score Prediction: Denver 20, Arizona 17
Tennessee Titans (3-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)
Long known for stumbling out of the gate and losing games they aren't supposed to lose, the Los Angeles Chargers have enjoyed smooth sailing through six weeks. They have four victories over opponents they were supposed to beat and two losses as underdogs.
Does that mean you shouldn't have any misgivings about the Bolts as near-touchdown favorites over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in London? Our panel isn't convinced, partly because the Titans are due after back-to-back losses and the Chargers are due after three consecutive wins.
Plus, the Bolts just might be exhausted.
"The Chargers are clearly one of the AFC's best teams and Philip Rivers has been exceptional, but their current scheduling quirk is brutal," Sobleski said in defense of his decision to take Tennessee and the points. "First, the Chargers flew from Los Angeles to Cleveland to play the Browns last Sunday. The team then stayed in Cleveland this week to practice before flying to London for Sunday's contest against the Titans. Tennessee, meanwhile, played at home last weekend before making the trip. Funny things tend to happen during these international contests, and the Titans play up or down to their opponents."
The Titans have their share of issues, but a 21-0 Week 6 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens was likely an anomaly. Regardless, Davenport is still willing to give up those 6.5 points with the streaking Chargers.
"Maybe this is it," Davenport said. "Maybe this is the week that the Chargers lay an egg against a team they should beat handily. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the year those same Chargers become what they've appeared to be in flashes for years—legit. Rivers is playing like an MVP candidate. Melvin Gordon is running like the second-best tailback in the NFL, even if that makes him the second-best back in Los Angeles. There's also the matter of the 106 total yards and seven first downs the Titans had last week in a home game that was actually a home game."
But let's not forget that the Bolts have been known to choke, while the Titans have already come up big in several clutch moments with head coach Mike Vrabel running the show.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-6.5)
Gagnon: Tennessee (+6.5)
Sobleski: Tennessee (+6.5)
Consensus: Tennessee (+6.5)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 24, Tennessee 21
New England Patriots (4-2) at Chicago Bears (3-2)
Shame on those who eulogized the New England Patriots following a 1-2 start.
The Pats have scored at least 38 points in three consecutive victories, inspiring our panel to get behind New England as a three-point road favorite against the Chicago Bears.
"After watching the Patriots take down the Chiefs and the Bears implode against the Dolphins, my confidence level is way up with the former and way down on the latter," Davenport said. "The Patriots, as they seemingly always do, have put their September stumble behind them. Add in that Khalil Mack (ankle) is nicked up, and I think the Pats are going to handle the Bears on Sunday by double digits."
On Sunday, Mack and the Bears had trouble stopping the Brock Osweiler-led Miami Dolphins—a team that lost to the Patriots by 31 points late last month. While the transitive property can't be used to predict NFL scores, that doesn't seem to bode well for Chicago.
Still, Gagnon stands in dissent because the Bears offense has looked strong, the Patriots defense has continued to struggle, the Bears are 2-0 at home and the Patriots are 0-2 on the road.
All of that should at least cause you to think long and hard about this one.
Davenport: New England (-3)
Gagnon: Chicago (+3)
Sobleski: New England (-3)
Consensus: New England (-3)
Score Prediction: New England 28, Chicago 23
Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)
Our analysts unanimously agree on only three picks this week. In one of those cases, they sided with a Cleveland Browns team getting three points on the road, despite the fact the Browns haven't won away from home since Week 5 in 2015.
That's how ugly it's become for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"It's hard not to bet in favor of the team that didn't fire their defensive coordinator this week, especially when it's getting three points," Sobleski said. "The Buccaneers decided to dismiss Mike Smith since the defense remains among the league's worst. Basically, this will be a game of strength vs. strength since the Browns defense can be very good for stretches, while the Bucs rank first overall in passing offense. It's the weaknesses on the opposite side of the ball that could determine the outcome. Baker Mayfield versus a sieve-like defense becomes the deciding factor."
Indeed, the Bucs have surrendered a comical 6.9 yards per play, which would be the highest rate in modern NFL history by a sizable margin. Yes, their high-powered offense still scored 29 points in a Week 6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but this Browns defense is substantially stronger and healthier than Atlanta's.
This should at least be a close game, which is why you're better off rolling with the better, healthier and less tumult-ridden of the two teams with a field goal in your back pocket.
Davenport: Cleveland (+3)
Gagnon: Cleveland (+3)
Sobleski: Cleveland (+3)
Consensus: Cleveland (+3)
Score Prediction: Cleveland 26, Tampa Bay 24
Carolina Panthers (3-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
Have the Philadelphia Eagles recovered from their early-season Super Bowl hangover?
It appears so, and it helps that quarterback Carson Wentz and top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery have also recovered from injuries that kept them out for large portions of September.
Those two were were clicking as Jeffery caught eight of Wentz's 36 pass attempts and two of his three touchdown throws in a blowout road victory over the desperate New York Giants in Week 6.
"That game took place last Thursday, giving Wentz, Jeffery and Co. a mini bye week ahead of this matchup with the Carolina Panthers," Gagnon noted. "It's hard to trust the Panthers on the road, where they've lost twice already by a combined 13 points, but it's becoming increasingly easier to get behind the momentum the Eagles are building."
Wentz's passer rating has increased every week since he returned from a major knee injury in Week 3, which is part of the reason Gagnon and Davenport have Philadelphia covering as a five-point favorite against a middle-of-the-pack pass defense.
Still, Sobleski isn't convinced that an Eagles team that started the season 1-4 against the spread will beat a talented 2017 playoff team by more than a handful of points. He's riding with the underdogs.
Davenport: Philadelphia (-5)
Gagnon: Philadelphia (-5)
Sobleski: Carolina (+5)
Consensus: Philadelphia (-5)
Score Prediction: Philadelphia 27, Carolina 20
Minnesota Vikings (3-2-1) at New York Jets (3-3)
A lot of sportsbooks are listing the Minnesota Vikings as 3.5-point favorites, but midway through the week, the majority were still offering them minus a mere field goal for their Sunday matchup with the New York Jets.
Two of our three experts couldn't resist.
"I know the Jets have played well at home," Gagnon said, "but the Vikings have also impressed in three road games against the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles. They're due for a blowout victory against a Jets team that lost handily to the only good team it has faced this season (a 31-12 defeat at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars). But even if this isn't a lopsided win, I'll risk the push with that three-point spread."
Still, Davenport is one enthusiastic dissenting voice.
"Are the Jets as good as the Vikings?" he said. "No. On paper, not even close. But while the Jets are exceeding expectations, the Vikings seem hell-bent on playing to the level of their opponent. Two weeks ago in Philly, that meant an impressive win. Last week at home against the Cardinals, it meant, well, a win. And against Buffalo (in Minnesota) back in Week 3...well, we won't talk about that.
"Maybe this is the week they figure it out and the Vikings stomp a Jets team that has played over its head of late. But it's also possible this game follows a script that's equal parts concerning for Vikings fans hoping for a Super Bowl trip and cause for optimism for Jets fans hoping for a reason to actually watch Jets games. The latter may win outright, but just in case they don't, the points help."
Considering that lone wolves are 27-19 picking games against the spread for us this season, that passionately pleaded case might be enough to cause you to ignore the majority on this one.
Davenport: New York (+3)
Gagnon: Minnesota (-3)
Sobleski: Minnesota (-3)
Consensus: Minnesota (-3)
Score Prediction: Minnesota 27, New York 20
Detroit Lions (2-3) at Miami Dolphins (4-2)
Do you believe in Brocktober?
If so, you'll be thrilled to find the 4-2 Miami Dolphins are getting three points at home against an opponent with a losing record.
Even though interim Dolphins starting quarterback Brock Osweiler put together a strong performance in a Week 6 victory over the Chicago Bears, the majority of our panelists are siding with the visiting Detroit Lions straight up and against the spread.
"Not only are the Lions coming off a three-game stretch in which they earned a pair of statement victories over the Patriots and Green Bay Packers," Gagnon said, "but they're well-rested coming off their bye week. Let's not pretend that Osweiler is a good quarterback—his career 77.7 passer rating indicates otherwise—or that Miami has the talent to maintain its current pace. The Dolphins were also 4-2 last year before winning only two of their final 10 games."
Gagnon thinks Osweiler—who threw two interceptions while relying heavily on big gains after the catch against the Bears—will cough it up often against a defense that had three takeaways against Green Bay and is getting healthier, leading to a relatively easy Detroit victory.
However, it's worth noting that Sobleski is a voice of dissent, and those voices have performed well in this exercise in 2018.
Davenport: Detroit (-3)
Gagnon: Detroit (-3)
Sobleski: Miami (+3)
Consensus: Detroit (-3)
Score Prediction: Detroit 23, Miami 20
Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (1-5)
The Buffalo Bills will be using a Pro Bowl quarterback against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
The only problem? Josh Allen's replacement, Derek Anderson, made his only Pro Bowl back when George W. Bush was president.
Anderson threw 19 interceptions with the Browns in that 2007 season, and he's primarily been a backup ever since. The 35-year-old started only four games in seven seasons with the Panthers, and he completed just two of eight passes in relief of Cam Newton last year.
But because Allen is injured and Nathan Peterman can't kick his addiction to interceptions, Anderson is left starting for the Bills on the road against a desperate opponent.
That has the majority of our experts on board with Indy, even with 7.5 points on Buffalo's side.
"This feels like a trap game," Sobleski said. "The Colts are at home and about a touchdown favorite, while the Bills will start Anderson at quarterback due to Allen's elbow injury. Everything points toward an easy Indianapolis victory. It may be more difficult than expected, but too much weighs in the Colts' favor."
Davenport, however, isn't willing to give up more than a touchdown to a team that has allowed 37 or more points in three straight games, especially since Buffalo has been hanging in fairly consistently this season.
"The Bills have quietly played well on defense," Davenport said. "They're ranked third in the league in total defense, sixth in passing defense and are tied for third in sacks. The Colts may well win here, but covering is another matter."
Davenport: Buffalo (+7.5)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Sobleski: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Consensus: Indianapolis (-7.5)
Score Prediction: Indianapolis 26, Buffalo 16
Houston Texans (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3)
The Jacksonville Jaguars entered 2018 as the favorites to win the AFC South, and that didn't change when they started 2-0 while the division rival Houston Texans started 0-3. But the Jags have since lost three of four, including consecutive lopsided October losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, while the Texans are suddenly riding a three-game winning streak.
When the two meet Sunday in Jacksonville to break the tie atop the division, our analysts won't be putting much stock into momentum. All three are siding with Jacksonville as a five-point favorite at home.
"For the Jags, this feels like an inevitable bounce-back game as they return home to face a mediocre opponent," Gagnon said. "They crushed the Texans in both meetings last year, and Houston needed a lot of luck the last three weeks. The way the Texans are winning isn't sustainable, and the talented Jaguars are bound to turn it around. This feels like the week that'll happen."
The Jags offense hasn't been right, but Jacksonville scored a combined 74 points in those aforementioned 2017 victories over Houston. And the Texans did indeed need late breaks to sneak past the Colts (in overtime), the Cowboys (also in overtime) and the Bills (they can thank Nathan Peterman).
Don't be surprised if this is another rout.
Davenport: Jacksonville (-5)
Gagnon: Jacksonville (-5)
Sobleski: Jacksonville (-5)
Consensus: Jacksonville (-5)
Score Prediction: Jacksonville 23, Houston 16
New Orleans Saints (4-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-2)
In the "something has to give" game of the week, the league's top-ranked scoring offense meets the league's top-ranked scoring defense in a matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens in Maryland.
"So what?" he said. "The same Baltimore defense surrendered 342 passing yards to rookie Baker Mayfield. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is whom Mayfield dreams of becoming one day. The Saints offense with the points is far too tempting to avoid."
We're only talking about 2.5 points for a road game, but that's enough for a majority in favor of New Orleans among our analysts. And it certainly helps that the Saints are coming off their bye, while Baltimore probably can't sustain the incredible defensive effort it put together against the Tennessee Titans last week.
But Gagnon isn't on board. Baltimore's at home, and its defense has given up more than 14 points just once this season. It's possible the Saints lost some momentum during that bye and will be flat following a historic home game in Week 5, so nobody will fault you for taking the Ravens by a field goal at a site in which they've won 12 of their last 15 games.
Yeah, nothing's coming easy this week.
Davenport: New Orleans (+2.5)
Gagnon: Baltimore (-2.5)
Sobleski: New Orleans (+2.5)
Consensus: New Orleans (+2.5)
Score Prediction: New Orleans 27, Baltimore 26
Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Washington Redskins (3-2)
When picking games, we often get lost in the numbers. Sometimes, the better strategy is to step back and assess the trends at play.
That was Sobleski's mindset when he joined Gagnon on the Washington Redskins' side as 1.5-point home favorites for Sunday's matchup with the division rival Dallas Cowboys.
"The key to the stock market is not buying high while selling low," Sobleski said. "Football is similar in many ways, especially when predicting games. Right now, too many are buying the Cowboys' stock at an all-time high this season after dropping 40 points on the Jaguars. Maybe Dak Prescott and co. finally figured it out. Or, it's more likely Dallas regresses to its mean against a rival, who is also coming off an impressive victory over the Carolina Panthers."
An argument can be made that Washington's stock is also inflated—that was one ugly loss to the Saints in Week 5—but the Redskins have two impressive victories already under their belt at home (31-17 over the Packers and 23-17 over the Panthers).
It's also worth noting that while the Cowboys have averaged 28.7 points in three home games (all wins) this season, they've averaged just 12.3 points in three road games (all losses).
It's rather surprising to see them getting only 1.5 points in D.C., but our leading picker isn't giving in. Davenport believes in the Cowboys.
Davenport: Dallas (+1.5)
Gagnon: Washington (-1.5)
Sobleski: Washington (-1.5)
Consensus: Washington (-1.5)
Score Prediction: Washington 23, Dallas 20
Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5)
It should be noted that two of our three analysts jumped from the San Francisco 49ers as double-digit home underdogs to the Los Angeles Rams as 9.5-point road favorites, so by no means is our crew brimming with confidence despite the unanimity on L.A.'s side.
"If you had a chance to grab the 49ers when they were 11-point underdogs early in the week, you've got a shot," Gagnon said, "But the drop below 10 seems like an overreaction to a strong Monday night performance from C.J. Beathard and co. Now they've traveled back from Green Bay on a short week. The backdoor cover is a major risk here, but the Rams might be due for a blowout win after three consecutive one-score victories."
"That said," Gagnon added, "I wouldn't touch this game with a 10-foot pole."
San Francisco put up a surprising fight at Lambeau, but the 49ers might be tired and deflated following a tough road loss. And it's important to remember they lost by double digits at home to a bad Arizona team one week prior.
The yo-yo nature of this league could have them getting hammered by the NFL's only undefeated team Sunday at Levi's Stadium. Or not.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-9.5)
Gagnon: Los Angeles (-9.5)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-9.5)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-9.5)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 31, San Francisco 21
Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-1)
Do you believe in the Cincinnati Bengals?
Two of our three experts do not, at least coming off a heartbreaking loss ahead of a prime-time game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead.
"One week after the Bengals lost a close home game to the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers last year, they were smashed by the Bears," Gagnon said. "One week after they were dealt a tough home loss by the Steelers in 2016, they scored just 10 points against the Texans. Their 28-21, last-second Week 6 loss to the Steelers could be a bad omen, especially as they prepare to play a Chiefs team that has outscored its opponents 68-41 in two home victories this season."
There were already clues that the Bengals were going to hit a wall. They lost to the Panthers by a double-digit margin and needed late heroics to get past the Falcons and Dolphins. It's fair to wonder if they're coming back to earth after a 2-0 start, which is why Davenport is joining Gagnon in believing the Chiefs will come away with at least a one-touchdown victory Sunday night.
Sobleski, however, isn't on the same page. And that's fair too, because the Chiefs' 27th-ranked scoring defense is vulnerable, and Cincy has experienced some promising moments on both sides of the ball. Anything could happen here, but Kansas City feels like the safer bet minus only six points at home.
Davenport: Kansas City (-6)
Gagnon: Kansas City (-6)
Sobleski: Cincinnati (+6)
Consensus: Kansas City (-6)
Score Prediction: Kansas City 33, Cincinnati 24
New York Giants (1-5) at Atlanta Falcons (2-4)
The New York Giants are trying to save their season, as are the Atlanta Falcons. But the Falcons appear to have more fight in them.
See, while Big Blue didn't even show up for a prime-time home matchup with a vulnerable division rival in Week 6, the Falcons fought back from an ugly Week 5 loss with a gritty performance in a victory over the division rival Buccaneers.
Davenport and Sobleski might not have a lot of trust in either team here, but they can't resist the home team laying just 5.5 points against a broken opponent.
"This is a matchup that looked a lot better in August than it does now—two teams trying to outdo one another in the disappointment department," Davenport said. "And it can't be argued that Atlanta's injury-ravaged defense is anything but garbage. But when it comes to stinking, it's just not possible in 2018 to outreek the reeling Giants. Even against that bad defense, I have a hard time trusting Eli Manning to get things going offensively. Actually rather depressing to see another great NFL career end with a whimper instead of a bang."
Gagnon cautions that the Falcons have been particularly weak against the run, and that Giants bright spot Saquon Barkley has been one of the most effective backs in the league this season. He thinks that'll be enough to keep this close, but he's in the minority among our experts.
Davenport: Atlanta (-5.5)
Gagnon: New York (+5.5)
Sobleski: Atlanta (-5.5)
Consensus: Atlanta (-5.5)
Score Prediction: Atlanta 31, New York 23