Full disclosure: Originally when I posted this article I picked the Broncos (+9) against the Steelers, but after reevaluating I decided to change that to the Eagles vs. Rams game. Since it’s only Thursday night I think that’s fair.
Last week ATS: 1-2-1
Overall ATS: 1-2-1
Cleveland Browns (-6) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
I don’t want to say Week One doesn’t mean anything, but if there ever was a week that meant less than all the others it would be Week One. The Browns got molly whopped by one of the best teams in football — the Ravens — 38-6, and (obviously) very little went right for them. Baker Mayfield got intercepted early on, and their kicker missed a chip shot field got that would have made the game 17-9. Odds are they would have lost, anyway, but in the NFL little things like that turn fairly competitive games into blowouts real fucking quick.
On the flip side of that, the Bengals actually had a pretty good initial showing. Even though they lost to the Chargers, 16-13, rookie QB Joe Burrow had the game winning touchdown called back on a pretty weak offensive pass interference call, and the subsequent would-be game-tying field goal (that would have sent the game into overtime) was pushed to the right.
Long story short, Browns stock is low after their drubbing to the Ravens, and Bengals stock is about where it should be — i.e. they were three-point underdogs, and they lost by three. Had the Browns exceeded expectations against Baltimore or, I don’t know, not lost by 32 points, I think this line would have been closer to double-digits. And as such, I look for Cleveland to rebound in this one.
Score prediction: Browns 27, Bengals 17
Los Angeles Chargers (+9) vs. Kansas City Chiefs
In their last 10 games the Chiefs are 10-0 straight up, and 10-0 against the spread. That includes their three playoff wins — -9.5, -7.5 and -1.5 vs. the Texans, Titans and 49ers, respectively — and it includes their 34-20 Thursday night win against the Texans (where they were also 9.5-point favorites). It’s a massive winning streak, and it’s particularly impressive considering they have exceeded Vegas expectations in every victory.
The Chargers had an underwhelming performance in their 16-13 Week One win at Cincinnati, but only in the sense that the Bengals are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year (over/under 5.5 wins) and were breaking in a rookie quarterback. In reality the spread for that game was only Chargers -3, so a field goal win was more or less right on point.
The feeling I can’t shake is that Los Angeles knew they were facing off the Chiefs — a division rival — in Week Two, and they didn’t have a lot of reason to throw the kitchen sink at the Bengals. My best guess was they planned on saving their more exotic blitz packages and coverage schemes for their matchup against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City, and it’s therefore why I like getting 9 points for a home underdog.
I have written all offseason that Vegas is going to force the public to pay a premium on betting the Chiefs, and something tells me they are juicing up this line so they can start winning some of their money back.
Score prediction: Chiefs 28, Chargers 21
Las Vegas Raiders (+6) vs. New Orleans Saints
I don’t have to be all that in love with the Raiders to like them in this spot. The line opened at Raiders +5.5, and it’s climbed by half of a point even in spite of the likelihood that the Saints’ best receiver, Michael Thomas, will miss the game. If I am getting 6 points and the home team on Monday Night Football, I will usually make that pick blind, out of principle.
I also like that the Raiders are opening a new stadium in Las Vegas. Even though there won’t be any fans, it still makes sense that it will be an easy game to get up for. Throw in the fact that New Orleans are usually pretty slow starters, and they just came off an emotional win against Tom Brady and the Bucs, this feels like an easy letdown spot.
Even though I lack the intestinal fortitude to pick the Raiders to win this game outright, I do think Josh Jacobs and the running game will do enough to keep it close.
Score prediction: Saints 24, Raiders 23
Philadelphia Eagles (+1) vs. Los Angeles Rams
I’m in this league with some of my coworkers where every week we pick seven games against the spread, and the person who gets the most picks right wins all the money. Last Week I went 4-3, but two of my picks were Washington (+6) against the Eagles and Los Angeles (+2.5) against the Cowboys.
In spite of that — picking the Rams, and picking against the Eagles — naturally this week I’m going the other way. If everything went according to plan, or according to Vegas, the Rams should have lost to the Cowboys (by 2.5 points) and the Eagles should have defeated the Washington Football Team (by 6 points). As it turned out, the Rams won and the Eagles lost. That’s going to have an affect on public perception (as it should), and it’s also the reason why this week I am going to fade that perception.
A lot of what I do at this stage of the year is revert back to season win totals of teams, and heading into the year the Eagles were projected to be a 9.5-win team while the Rams were expected to win 8.5. To that end, this line should absolutely be Eagles -3.5 or -4. If we factor in Philly’s underperformance and the Rams exceeding expectations in Week One, then at worst it ought to be Eagles -2.
The fact that they lost Week One and are at home in Week Two, which should give them some extra motivation, make this pick a no-brainer. I’m not even suggesting that they will win, or that they should win, I’m just saying anything other than taking the Eagles plus points at home in this spot is a bad bet. For Philadelphia to win they are going to have to win ugly, but that’s something QB Carson Wentz is used to, so I think he’ll be fine.
Score prediction: Eagles 23, Rams 21