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NFL picks against the spread: Vic Tafur likes the Bills and Giants to get to 3-0


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Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (+6) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

Tua Tagovailoa made like Dan Marino in that comeback last week and no one’s buying it? This spread has already moved up a couple of points after the Bills flattened the Titans on Monday night en route to a 17-0 record.

Tua will face a lot more pressure than he did last week against the Ravens. Among players with at least 30 pass rush snaps, the Bills are the only team with four players in the top 25 — Boogie Basham (19.4%), Jordan Phillips (19%), Von Miller (14.3%) and A.J. Epenesa (13.9%). And on the other side of the ball, the Bills have Superman. Josh Allen should be OK, even on a short week in the Miami heat.

The pick: Bills (-6)

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Never forget, Saquon Barkley was once drafted second overall by the Giants over Sam Darnold, and the Jets did a victory dance.

Barkley is finally healthy again and may have followed up a 164-yard performance in the opener with an even more impressive game last week.

The Giants had zero yards rushing on eight carries in the first half as the Panthers packed the box, but offensive coordinator Mike Kafka kept handing the ball to Barkley.

“We didn’t panic, we didn’t waver,” Barkley told reporters after.

The Giants?!?

Yeah, the Giants.

Barkley ran for 72 yards on 16 carries in the second half as they beat the Panthers 19-16 in a defensive battle to become one of only six undefeated teams in the NFL.

Is it too late to jump on the bandwagon? Nah. The Giants host a Cowboys team that can’t block, and first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux is expected back from a knee injury.

Our other favorite game of the week is the Seahawks, who had their anticipated post-Super Bowl hangover last week after beating arch-nemesis Russell Wilson.

Last week: 6-10 against the spread. The Ravens, Browns, Rams and Raiders were handicapped brilliantly, only for all four teams to lay down in spectacular/horrifying fashion. (The Rams won, but didn’t cover after being up 28-3, so yeah, horrifying.) Our two favorite picks, the Buccaneers and Packers, covered.

The only real regret was the Bengals pick. The Cowboys have won with Cooper Rush before and it was a statement game at home against an overconfident Bengals team that didn’t address its offensive line issues as well as it thought it did.

Season record: 14-18 ATS (Plays of the week are 3-1)

All odds are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-4.5) | 8:15 p.m. ET Thursday, Prime Video

The Browns lost last week because their running back, Nick Chubb, scored a touchdown. If he had taken a knee, his defense never would have allowed two touchdowns in the last two minutes. How is that for some logic? Well, Chubb will get the chance to score again, as the Steelers’ defense wasn’t that good before T.J. Watt got hurt.

The Browns defense is mad about that loss. Good thing for them that Mitch Trubisky stinks — hey, when does the Kenny Pickett era start? — and it’s going to be windy Thursday night. (The over/under is down to 38.5 points.)

The pick: Browns (-4.5)

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (+3) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

The Ravens have injuries on the offensive line and in the secondary — a big reason why they blew that huge lead to the Dolphins last week. But … they have Lamar Jackson, and Bill Belichick’s defenses have always struggled a little bit against running quarterbacks.

But … Lamar can’t play quarterback, running back and cornerback. The Patriots will attack the Ravens deep much like the Dolphins did. They rank seventh in share of throws that have traveled 20-plus air yards (15.4%). Mac Jones is fifth in air yards/attempt (9.32).

Give us the home underdog. Another win here and we might be talking about Matt Patricia as offensive coordinator of the year.

The pick: Patriots (+3)

Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets (+5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

The Bengals surely won’t start 0-3, even with their offensive line problems. The Browns ran for 184 yards against the Jets last week, and there is no reason that Joe Mixon won’t eat well Sunday.

But that point spread sure looks like a trap. Joe Flacco (yeah, go ahead and laugh) and Garrett Wilson are dangerous — especially in garbage time, as we saw last week. Among 83 qualified players with at least 55 routes run, Wilson ranks 16th in yards per route run (2.17). The rookie has seen a target on 31 percent of his routes — the eighth-highest rate among those players. Give us the home dog.

The pick: Jets (+5)

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (+3) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

A buddy of mine said I should buy a Baker Mayfield jersey since I love him so much. Yeah, I didn’t realize that I had the Panthers both weeks so far — and yeah, they’re 0-2 both straight up and against the spread. Both were very close, and I like their defense more than Mayfield.

Plus, Matt Rhule is remembering to give Christian McCaffrey the ball more often. The Panthers have been the third pass-heaviest team in the NFL (65.9% pass rate on early downs, first 28 minutes) despite being a better running team. They rank first in rushing success rate (54.3%) and EPA/rush.

Coaching, man, it’s not as hard as it looks.

I have gone against the Saints both weeks and I should be 2-0 and not 1-1. Now Jameis Winston is playing with fractures in his back. And the Saints are coming off an emotional game against the Bucs.

(Orders Mayfield jersey.)

The pick: Panthers (+3)

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (-6) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

This is a sucker bet — the national darling Lions getting six points against a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who played scared Monday night and faces a blitzing defense here. But I will be a sucker.

The Lions’ defense will give up some big plays, but they will hit Cousins. When blitzed this season, Cousins is 9-of-19 for only 66 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He can’t be as bad against the Lions as he was Monday night, but he probably won’t outplay Jared Goff in this matchup.

Goff is getting some offensive linemen back and D’Andre Swift will help make sure the Lions lose by less than six points. Even with the injuries up front, the Lions lead the NFL in yards before contact per carry (3.79), while the Vikings are tied for 30th in defensive rushing success rate (50%). They have allowed the fourth-most yards before contact per carry (1.84).

The pick: Lions (+6)

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (+5.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

Here is another hanging piece of bait. But we aren’t biting on this one. The mighty Chiefs only have to win by six against a Colts team that just got shut out by the Jaguars?

That was quite a performance by the 0-1-1 Colts. Matt Ryan had 3.08 seconds per dropback to throw (second most in the league) and couldn’t do anything.

What the heck?

Well, let’s check the computer chips implanted in the players’ shoulder pads. Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce were sidelined, and their replacements averaged the least amount of separation of any group in the league, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The league average is 2.91 yards and Ashton Dulin averaged zero yards of separation, while Dezmon Patmon and Michael Strachan came in at 0.99 yards and 1.64 yards, respectively.

Pittman should be back and that’s all I need to take the inflated line against a young Chiefs secondary.

The pick: Colts (+5.5)

Las Vegas Raiders at Tennessee Titans (+2.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

The Raiders, like a magician on the Las Vegas Strip, somehow turned an easy home win against a Cardinals team that didn’t want to be there into an overtime loss, and now they face a desperate 0-2 team in Nashville.

I would take the Titans — even on a short week — if I knew the injury status of tackle Taylor Lewan and Bud Dupree. But I don’t.

So I will take the 0-2 Raiders and assume that a revamped defensive line can slow down Derrick Henry and that Josh McDaniels and Derek Carr will lean on Davante Adams and Darren Waller against a Titans secondary that has already given up six touchdown passes. McDaniels is a great play caller, right?

The pick: Raiders (-2.5)

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Commanders (+6.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

The Carson Wentz revenge game against the Eagles. Yeah, baby.

The Commanders couldn’t stop Jared Goff last week, so what the heck are they going to do with eventual fantasy football MVP Jalen Hurts? And Miles Sanders averaged 7.4 yards a carry last week. (Washington is the only team to already allow two runs of 50-plus yards, while 25 teams haven’t even allowed one.)

We’re just asking Wentz to not throw the ball to Darius Slay and for a talented receiving corps to keep it close and not lose big at home to a team that played Monday night.

An ATS win still counts as revenge, right?

The pick: Commanders (+6.5)

Houston Texans at Chicago Bears (-2.5) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

The Bears are a notch above terrible. They would be 0-2 if not for a monsoon and yet they are favored here. I would lean toward the Texans if I had any faith in Davis Mills, but I don’t. I have an equal amount of apathy towards Justin Fields, who, in his defense, is throwing to Moe and Larry and being protected by a bunch of Curlys. But he is trying to show a different side of himself and grow into a franchise quarterback, so that’s something …

(Taps fingers.)

These two teams lead the NFL in three-and-outs!

(Taps fingers.)

We turn to comrade and stat ninja Aaron Reiss: The Texans scored three total points in two meetings vs. Matt Eberflus’ Colts defense last season. Boom.

The pick: Bears (-2.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers (-7) | 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

With all these comebacks this season, betting on football can seem a little silly. How about trying to pick a game where Justin Herbert’s ribs are hurt bad enough that he couldn’t run two yards last week, but good enough that he threw a perfect 30-yard dime on the next play.

And I don’t think Austin Ekeler can bail him out. A whopping 29.5 percent of runs vs. the Jaguars have gone for 0 or negative yards — the highest rate in the NFL — while Ekeler has averaged just 0.32 yards before contact per carry. That’s second-worst among RBs with 25-plus carries.

No, their defense is the reason to go with the Chargers here. Trevor Lawrence has had some success with a real coach in Year 2, but hasn’t faced anyone that brings the heat like Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa.

The pick: Chargers (-7)

Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

We’re 2-0 with the Bucs this season, and we’ll continue to ride with that defense even as their offense struggles with injuries on the offensive line. And now Mike Evans is suspended. (Wait, the Bucs just signed Cole Beasley to save the day?)

The Packers leaned on Aaron Jones against the Bears last week, but that won’t be so easy against the Bucs — even with the return of Elgton Jenkins. Plus, the Bucs’ zone defense has given Aaron Rodgers trouble in the past — and it’s better now. In a 38-10 win in 2020, the Bucs played zone 75.4 percent of the time, and they have played even more zone so far this season — 84.6 percent, the fourth-highest rate in NFL.

Rodgers vs. Bucs zone in 2020: 11-of-28, 99 yards, 1 INT, 2 sacks
Rodgers vs. Bucs man in 2020: 5-of-7, 61 yards, 1 INT, 2 sacks

And that was with Davante Adams …

We were going to take the Bucs under again (also 2-0) but it’s already down two points to 41.5.

The pick: Buccaneers (-1)

Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks (-1.5) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

There is some line value here as the Falcons were helpless against the Rams until the Rams stopped trying, so that final score from last week is misleading. The Falcons won’t be able to run the ball against the Seahawks, so you would have to be a big Marcus Mariota guy to take such few points on the road. Or maybe you really love their recent draft class.

Pete Carroll, meanwhile, said he is going to open things up now with Geno Smith. (Note to self: trademark “Let Geno Cook”.) It’s probably no coincidence that the Falcons have the fourth-worst pressure rate in the NFL. Or that they can’t stop the run — they rank last in defensive rushing success rate (48.8%) — so there will also be ample play-action opportunities for Geno. Mama Mia!

The pick: Seahawks by 17. Wait, it’s only (-1.5). Sweet.

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (+3.5) | 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

I was in the house in Vegas last week and I swear Kyler Murray refused to run until the fifth time the Raiders said, “No, we don’t want to blow you out.” And then he was like a Madden video character come to life. The Rams, unlike the Raiders, know Murray well. They are 6-1 against him, both straight up and against the spread.

And the Cardinals are not good defensively, so Matthew Stafford’s arm issues won’t matter. He was smart last week — he was 23-of-26 for 191 yards and three TDs when passing 10 yards or less downfield, as opposed to 4-of-9 for 81 yards, no TDs and two INTs when targeting guys further downfield. That will work again. And hopefully, the Rams won’t turn the ball over four times this week.

The pick: Rams (-3.5)

San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos (+1.5) | 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC

One of the biggest surprises this season has been new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s disastrous play calling and game management. Hackett was a successful coordinator who everyone in the league — from coaches to players to national media — loves and was confident in as a rookie coach this season. Luckily, he has enough talent on the roster to be 1-1 and not 0-2.

Now he faces a 49ers team celebrating how smart it was to not have faith in Trey Lance, keep Jimmy Garoppolo around and run Lance into the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo is good — and rusty — but he will remind people how this mess all got started with a couple of turnovers.

The home dogs are barking, and the Broncos win assuming cornerback Pat Surtain II and receiver Jerry Jeudy are back from injuries.

The pick: Broncos (+1.5)

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-1) | 8:15 p.m. ET Monday, ESPN

What a great way to cap off a winning week, by watching Barkley have a star turn and the Giants make Cooper Rush some bad throws. (I’m here all season, folks. Please tip your servers.)

The Cowboys have allowed pressure on 58.3 percent of third-down pass plays (25 such plays) — that’s the highest rate in the NFL. And Rush averaged 2.25 seconds to throw in Week 2, the second fastest time behind only Derek Carr, and just 12.9 percent of his passes traveled 15-plus yards in the air. Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson may be the beneficiary of the Giants pass rush and coverage working together.

The Giants will be 3-0 and host the Bears next week, fueling some Super Bowl talk. (I am totally setting us up for Daniel Jones to fumble twice against a Cowboys four-man rush, aren’t I? OK, shhh.)

The pick: Giants (-1)

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”
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