Bleacher Report's Expert Week 9 NFL Picks
As we hit the midway point of the 2021 NFL season, underdogs and road teams continue to have an edge against the spread. However, there's a critical caveat to consider.
While favorites are just 54-65-3 ATS overall and 31-42 ATS at home this year, teams laying eight or more points are 13-8-1 ATS and 11-5 ATS at home. Games have generally been either extremely close or comically one-sided, with less of a middle ground than usual.
It's something to consider as we embark on November football.
Bleacher Report national NFL writers Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, B/R Gridiron editors Ian Kenyon and Wes O'Donnell, and B/R Betting host Connor Rogers appear to have that in mind in many cases this week.
Here are their ATS picks for every game on the Week 9 slate.
New York Jets (2-5) at Indianapolis Colts (3-5)
DraftKings Line: Indianapolis -10.5
The Indianapolis Colts are just 1-3 at home this season, and they're coming off what appeared to be a deflating overtime loss to the division-rival Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, the New York Jets displayed plenty of fight in October wins over the Titans and Cincinnati Bengals.
Add it all up, and most of our panelists are unwilling to lay more than 10 points with Indy hosting Gang Green Thursday night.
"How could anyone pick against Mike White?" Sobleski asked, tongue-in-cheek. "In all seriousness, White may not be the No. 2 overall draft pick, but he does know how the sling the ball all over the yard. He was the only college quarterback during the 2016-17 campaigns to finish top five in passing yardage. Meanwhile, the Colts' pass defense is mediocre. The Jets may not win, but they should be able to keep the contest close."
The Colts might simply be out of gas after that crushing loss to the Titans, and it doesn't help that star guard Quenton Nelson is dealing with a toe injury. You never know when the Jets will lay an egg, but Indianapolis just doesn't inspire enough confidence right now.
Davenport: New York
Gagnon: New York
Kenyon: New York
Rogers: New York
Sobleski: New York
Score Prediction: Colts 26, Jets 21
Atlanta Falcons (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-2)
DraftKings Line: New Orleans -5.5
Nobody ever wants to pick the Atlanta Falcons, but sometimes the oddsmakers and the public leave us no choice. In this case, almost nobody on the panel is willing to lay 5.5 points with a New Orleans Saints team that has arguably been playing above its head and is without starting quarterback Jameis Winston.
"It's hard to really pick either side of this contest with any real confidence," Davenport admitted. "The Falcons had all kinds of trouble moving the ball last week without Calvin Ridley, while the Saints just lost Winston to a torn ACL in last week's big win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"With that said, the Saints were 29th in total offense even with Winston on the field, and given that 5.5 points is just too many to lay here. New Orleans has a good chance to win this game, but covering is another matter."
This could also be somewhat of a trap game for the Saints, who are still far from 100 percent healthy and are coming off that win over the Bucs while potentially thinking about a tough stretch starting with the Titans in Nashville in Week 10.
O'Donnell: New Orleans
Score Prediction: Saints 21, Falcons 20
Denver Broncos (4-4) at Dallas Cowboys (6-1)
DraftKings Line: Dallas -9
It looks as though the Dallas Cowboys will have MVP-contender Dak Prescott back under center for a home matchup with a Denver Broncos squad that appears to have thrown in the towel at the NFL trade deadline. So it's not surprising that Dallas is favored by more than a touchdown or that the majority of the panel is willing to lay those nine points.
"I think it'll be tough for the banged-up Broncos to get up for a difficult road game following the Von Miller trade," Gagnon said. "But even without that factoring in, we're talking about a bottom-12 DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value over Average) team that had lost four in a row before limping past an inferior Washington Football Team at home last week. The Cowboys are the real deal. They should coast."
Still, Prescott might not be 100 percent, and Dallas might also be without stalwart left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle). With that in mind, we'll note that only the slimmest possible majority is backing Dallas.
"The Broncos have been sneaky tough this season," Kenyon said in defense of his Denver selection. "Only a three-point loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 7 separates Denver from being in second place in the AFC West right now. The Cowboys should win this game, but the line feels like it should be closer to -7 than -9."
Score Prediction: Cowboys 31, Broncos 20
New England Patriots (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-4)
DraftKings Line: New England -3.5
The first clean sweep of the week comes in Carolina, where the entire panel is willing to lay a field goal plus a hook with the New England Patriots on the road.
Unsurprisingly, the selection has a lot to do with the Panthers' horrendous quarterback situation and a matchup with a quarterback killer.
"Sam Darnold has been in concussion protocol, and the Panthers might have to look for former XFL star P.J. Walker to take over at quarterback," Rogers said. "Even if Darnold can play, he's thrown six picks in three games against Bill Belichick's defense, notoriously struggling against New England. Mac Jones won't have to do much in this one for the Patriots to get back above .500, which they easily should."
In three matchups with Belichick's Patriots as a member of the Jets, Darnold threw one touchdown pass to six interceptions, took eight sacks and ran an offense that averaged just 5.7 points per game in those outings.
Our money's on him seeing ghosts again if he sees the field at all on Sunday.
Davenport: New England
Gagnon: New England
Kenyon: New England
O'Donnell: New England
Rogers: New England
Sobleski: New England
Score Prediction: Patriots 26, Panthers 17
Minnesota Vikings (3-4) at Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -6
Clean sweep No. 2 comes in Baltimore, where the entire gang expects the well-rested Ravens to easily take care of business as a six-point favorite over the potentially deflated Minnesota Vikings.
"The Vikings seem to be running damage control at this point in the season," Sobleski said. "Mike Zimmer's squad couldn't capture a victory against the Cowboys without Dak Prescott in the lineup. The offense looked out of sync and couldn't even manage 300 yards, and the effort came after having two weeks to prepare for the game. Enter the Ravens with Lamar Jackson and one of the game's best rushing attacks. Oh, the Ravens also had two weeks to prepare for this home game."
The Ravens have won four of their last five post-bye games, with two of those wins coming by a combined margin of 60-20 over the Patriots and Green Bay Packers. They're also really good at winning big. Two of their last three victories have come by 16-plus points, and they had an AFC-best six three-plus-score wins in 2020.
Throw in that Minnesota has lost veteran pass-rusher Danielle Hunter for the remainder of the season and it's understandably hard to back the Vikes at the moment.
Score Prediction: Ravens 31, Vikings 17
Cleveland Browns (4-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
DraftKings Line: Cincinnati -2.5
The fact that the Cincinnati Bengals are laying 2.5 points at home against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday indicates that oddsmakers view these teams as equals. But Cincinnati has the better record and is benefitting from an anti-hook.
Both teams are undoubtedly flawed based on recent results, but picking the hurting Browns on the road against a quality opponent is a bridge too far for the majority of the group.
"The Bengals didn't exactly strengthen confidence in their legitimacy as a contender after giving up over 500 yards of offense to the Jets last week," Davenport admitted, "but the Browns have even bigger problems. Cleveland hasn't scored more than 17 points in a game since Week 5, and the team's passing attack has been a mess the past few weeks. The Bengals aren't likely to have the same struggles moving the ball against a banged-up Browns defense, so laying less than a field goal isn't that difficult here."
That said, Gagnon and Rogers, who own the best records among this group in 2021, are rolling the dice with Cleveland after Cincinnati came back to earth against the Jets in Week 8. And it's worth noting that the Browns remain a top-six team in DVOA this season, while the Bengals rank in the bottom 12 in that metric.
Cleveland is likely also a lot more desperate, so this is a tricky one.
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 23
Buffalo Bills (5-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -14
Sirens should go off in your head when a significant portion of the public is backing one team against the spread, but when that percentage reaches a certain threshold, it sometimes indicates the line is out to lunch and oddsmakers have been stubborn about changing it substantially.
That may be the case this week with the Buffalo Bills, who are laying 14 points on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars and have support from nearly 90 percent of public bettors. Buffalo has failed to cover or push just twice this season and has won all five of its games by at least 15 points. Why shouldn't we expect more of the same against an opponent that hasn't won on American soil since last September and has fallen by at least 14 points in seven of its last 10 losses?
It's another unanimous decision.
"The league's top-ranked defense gets a chance to feast on one of the league's lowest-scoring offenses with a less-than-inspiring rookie quarterback who hasn't figured it out yet," O'Donnell said of this matchup. "Hmm. Even if the Bills didn't also have one of the league's best offenses, I'd be willing to lay the points because of Jacksonville's ineptitude. This one shouldn't be close."
Score Prediction: Bills 34, Jaguars 13
Houston Texans (1-7) at Miami Dolphins (1-7)
DraftKings Line: Miami -6.5
Now we bring you to one of our deadlocks of the week, and in both cases it's Davenport, Rogers and Sobleski backing the road team and Gagnon, Kenyon and O'Donnell siding with the home squad.
That starts with Sunday's matchup between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins, which officially became unworthy of any of our attention the moment the trade deadline passed without these two coming to terms on a blockbuster deal.
Kenyon on Miami as a 6.5-point fave: "The Dolphins have lost seven straight games but have looked far more competent in the past couple of weeks with the return of Tua Tagovailoa. They face a Texans team that looked like a potential surprise team after a week 1 win over Jacksonville but has since seen the wheels completely fall off and has its best player on offense upset after the team just moved running back Mark Ingram. The rebuilding Texans have the NFL's worst roster, and there's no reason to believe they'll stay within a touchdown of the Dolphins."
Rogers on the underdog: "Remember when Tyrod Taylor played extremely well against the Jaguars and Browns to open the season and then got hurt? Well, he should be back this week against the spiraling Dolphins. The Texans offense can't get going early in games under Davis Mills. Seeing Taylor back on the field should inspire this group in a close game."
That said, feel free to avoid this one with a 10-foot pole.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 27, Texans 20
Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) at New York Giants (2-6)
DraftKings Line: Las Vegas -3
The other hung jury comes at MetLife Stadium, where the feisty New York Giants are getting three points at home from a Las Vegas Raiders squad that leads its division but is surrounded by turmoil.
Gagnon on the Giants: "The Raiders didn't look thrown off at all by head coach Jon Gruden's sudden and controversial resignation, and now they've had two weeks to prepare for an inferior team. But I still think Gruden's departure will eventually hurt that offense, and now they've lost a key target in Henry Ruggs III. The Giants nearly beat the Chiefs in Kansas City last week and hammered Carolina in their last home game. I'll gladly take the three points."
Sobleski on Las Vegas: "The Raiders seemingly rallied around interim head coach Rich Bisaccia with two consecutive wins. Now, the team had its bye week to take a breather and regather itself after all the drama it previously endured. They had two weeks to prepare for the Giants, who have lost three of their last four games. All three losses came against opponents with records of .500 or above. The 5-2 Raiders may be making the cross-country trip, but the extra rest should negate that usual betting advantage."
But again, this is a bettor beware situation. There's a lot of unpredictability at play.
Davenport: Las Vegas
Gagnon: New York
Kenyon: New York
O'Donnell: New York
Rogers: Las Vegas
Sobleski: Las Vegas
Score Prediction: Raiders 24, Giants 21
Los Angeles Chargers (4-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -2
The Los Angeles Chargers haven't won in nearly a month, and they didn't come close to covering in losses to the Ravens and Patriots. But the Philadelphia Eagles aren't on Baltimore or New England's level, and our gang is unanimously on board with the Bolts laying just two points in Philly on Sunday afternoon.
"The Chargers have come crashing back down to earth after a hot start," O'Donnell said, "and here they get a game against an Eagles team coming off its most dominating win. But Philly hasn't won at home yet this season, let alone won back-to-back games. That's enough for me to see the Chargers getting back on the right track."
Once upon a time, the Chargers were favored by at least a field goal in this spot at most books. Trends have pushed the line down, but this does seem like an obvious week for a talented L.A. team to bounce back and for an unreliable Eagles team to remind us not to expect much of what we saw from them in a blowout victory over the lifeless Detroit Lions in Week 8.
Against teams with winning records this season, the Eagles are 0-3 with an average margin of defeat of 12.3 points. We'll sacrifice two here.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Chargers 31, Eagles 20
Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)
DraftKings Line: Kansas City -8
At the beginning of the week, the entire panel except Gagnon was backing the streaking Green Bay Packers in what was essentially a pick'em matchup with the struggling Kansas City Chiefs. Then, the Packers ruled out quarterback Aaron Rodgers as he goes through COVID-19 protocol, the line shot up to Kansas City -8, and four of the five who were on Green Bay switched to Kansas City.
"The Chiefs have some very real issues this season after barely squeaking past a deeply flawed Giants team Monday night," Davenport admitted. "But I just can't get behind a Jordan Love-led Green Bay team at Arrowhead against the Chiefs. Getting by without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard is one thing. Getting by without No. 12 is another."
It is indeed important to remember that Green Bay was already shorthanded even before losing Rodgers. That said, Gagnon actually took the opportunity to jump on the Packers with what he saw as significant value, and Rogers joined him.
"Have you seen the Chiefs recently?" Gagnon said. "No way I'm laying a touchdown or more with them against a 7-1 team with extra time to prepare, even sans Rodgers. The Giants handily outplayed K.C. at Arrowhead on Monday night, and even a Love-quarterbacked Packers team is better than a banged-up Giants squad."
Davenport: Kansas City
Gagnon: Green Bay
Kenyon: Kansas City
O'Donnell: Kansas City
Rogers: Green Bay
Sobleski: Kansas City
Score Prediction: Chiefs 27, Packers 17
Arizona Cardinals (7-1) at San Francisco 49ers (3-4)
DraftKings Line: Arizona -1
The Arizona Cardinals are 6-2 ATS this season, while the San Francisco 49ers are 2-5. But Arizona is coming off a tough prime-time loss to Green Bay and in rough shape with Kyler Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) both missing practice time this week.
Still, the vast majority of the panel is happy to risk only a point with the team that is significantly better on paper when the two meet in the Bay Area on Sunday.
"Obviously, this game completely changes if Murray is officially ruled out," Rogers said. "If he can play (even in a limited capacity), I think Arizona continues to roll. This is a prime chance for the 49ers to turn around their season and go on a legitimate winning streak, but it's impossible to trust Jimmy Garoppolo in big games right now."
Gagnon begs to differ as the lone wolf on San Francisco, noting that the Niners won plenty of big games in 2019 with Jimmy G under center. He's siding with the home squad in a semi-pick'em, but he's certainly in the minority. The 49ers may be coming off their best win of the season, but they've been far from impressive or consistent this year, and they also remain far from healthy (as per usual).
Gagnon: San Francisco
Score Prediction: Cardinals 26, 49ers 20
Tennessee Titans (6-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-1)
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -7.5
In our fourth and final clean sweep of the week, the gang is unanimously backing the Los Angeles Rams (who seem to have everything going for them right now) as a 7.5-point home favorite Sunday night against the Tennessee Titans (who are facing a potential doomsday scenario without superstar running back Derrick Henry).
"The Titans are a different team this week," O'Donnell said. "We won't really know what they can do without Henry until we see it. Unfortunately, they're running into a buzzsaw known as the Rams. The hook might look a little scary. However, all but one of the Rams' wins this season have come by nine or more points.
"A prime-time game, with newly acquired Von Miller making his Rams debut against a team they will force into throwing the ball? Don't be surprised if this one is a double-digit victory."
Remember what we said about big faves this year. The Rams took care of business last week against the Texans and in a similar situation earlier this year against the Chicago Bears. Look for them to do the same against a potentially down Titans team Sunday evening at home.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Rams 34, Titans 20
Chicago Bears (3-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
DraftKings Line: Pittsburgh -6
"The Pittsburgh Steelers ride a three-game winning streak to a home matchup against the Chicago Bears, who have lost three in a row," Kenyon said of the Monday nighter. "Justin Fields seemed to have found his footing a bit against the 49ers last week, but the rookie quarterback should have a tougher time against T.J. Watt and the Steelers' seventh-ranked scoring defense.
"Pittsburgh has been feeding rookie running back Najee Harris with 84 touches in its past three games, and Harris should see a similarly heavy workload against a Bears defense that gave up 137 rushing yards to rookie running back Elijah Mitchell last week."
Don't forget that the Steelers have led the league in sacks in each of the last four years. They're slightly off the mark in that category this season, but with Watt, it might just be a matter of time. Fields, meanwhile, has been the most sacked quarterback in the NFL this season.
The Bears haven't covered in nearly a month. They may be due, but a six-point spread on the road against a surging and experienced opponent doesn't feel right.
Score Prediction: Steelers 27, Bears 16
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