Every Friday during the NFL season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian (1-1 last week, 14-24-1 overall), Joe Fortenbaugh (1-2, 27-45-1), Anita Marks (13-4, 60-69-2), Preston Johnson (0-0, 12-19), Mike Clay (3-0, 15-10) and Tyler Fulghum (14-8, 46-53-1), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (4-0, 25-16), Seth Walder (2-3, 42-24) of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz (4-2, 32-37-2) of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from Sunday’s slate.
Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill and subject to change.
4 p.m. ET games
Indianapolis Colts (-3, 51.5) at Las Vegas Raiders
Fortenbaugh: The Raiders look like they’re running out of gas, which is exactly what happened last season — a 6-4 start, followed by a 1-5 finish. This time it’s a 6-3 start that easily could have been followed by a three-game losing streak if since-fired Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams didn’t serve last Sunday’s game up on a silver platter. Las Vegas is 29th in sacks, 28th in scoring defense, tied for 21st in opponent yards per play and tied for 19th in takeaways, making Sunday’s game against Indianapolis an awfully comfortable spot for Philip Rivers. Indy has performed well on the road this season, going 4-2 with a plus-35 point differential. Look for a Colts defense tied for seventh in takeaways and eighth in opponent yards per play to be the difference.
Pick: Colts -3
Marks: If not for a boneheaded defensive call, the Raiders would have lost to the Jets and would be on a three-game skid. Running back Josh Jacobs is dealing with an ankle injury, and the Raiders’ offense is not the same without him. T.Y. Hilton has finally come alive in the Colts’ past two games, totaling 191 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders are missing a number of defensive backs, and I expect Rivers to have a monster day.
Pick: Colts -3
New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks (-13.5, 46.5)
Kezirian: The situation could not be more ideal. The Jets are facing a team with playoff aspirations that just laid an enormous egg. Since 2010 there have been six instances in which a team lost outright as a double-digit favorite and happened to be laying double digits in the next game as well. All six times the favorite covered. I think the Seahawks do that Sunday, and my faith is only increased by the demoralizing nature of the Jets’ loss to the Raiders last weekend.
I trust quarterback Russell Wilson to score against a banged-up Jets secondary, so I will protect myself with a bet on the Seahawks’ total. However, Seattle has one of the worst pass defenses in the league (although it has improved with the return of Jamal Adams), and the Jets’ offense is significantly better with all the wideouts healthy. A play on the first half over is also on my card because I think that provides me more ways to win than lose. Essentially, if the Jets’ offense is successful, then the over is my protection because I doubt the Seahawks will have any issues on offense. And there’s a chance Seattle just lights up the scoreboard by itself.
Pick: Seahawks -13.5, Seahawks -7 (first half), Seahawks over 30.5, over 23.5 (first half)
Atlanta Falcons (-2.5, 49.5) at Los Angeles Chargers
Fulghum: This line seems like a major overreaction to what happened in Week 13. Yes, the Chargers got blown out by New England 45-0, but that was an outlier performance. The Falcons’ defense offers a tremendous opportunity for Justin Herbert and the Chargers to bounce back in a big way. Atlanta is allowing 285.3 passing yards per game (30th in NFL) and has given up 322 rushing yards to QBs (30th in NFL) and six rushing TDs by QBs (32nd in NFL). Wide receiver Keenan Allen should absolutely feast against the woeful Falcons secondary.
Pick: Chargers +2.5, over 49.5, Herbert over 279.5 pass yards (-115), Allen over 70.5 receiving yards (-115)
Walder: Even if wide receiver Julio Jones hadn’t missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practices with a hamstring injury, I’d still like Calvin Ridley’s overs. Ridley is earning 62.6 expected completed air yards per game, almost averaging the line for this prop without any YAC. Of course, Ridley also catches pass at a rate above expectation. The possibility of additional volume from a potential Jones absence only sweetens the deal.
Ridley is also a deep threat. He ranks 15th in depth 3 seconds after the snap and 12th in air yards per target among wide receivers with at least 150 routes run. Ridley is targeted on 24% of his routes, ranking 23rd among the same group.
Pick: Ridley over 63.5 receiving yards (-115), longest reception over 22.5 yards (-120)
Marks: Herbert is looking to redeem himself after an embarrassing performance last weekend against the Patriots. The Falcons might be just what the doctor ordered, with a defense that is allowing 285 passing yards per game. Atlanta is allowing only a little over 3 yards per carry to opposing running backs, but the Falcons are one of the worst at defending backs in the passing game. I expect Austin Ekeler to be a big part of the Chargers’ game plan.
Pick: Teaser: over 39.5 with Cowboys-Bengals over 32.5 and Titans-Jags over 42.5; Ekeler over 40.5 receiving yards (-110)
Green Bay Packers (-7.5, 55) at Detroit Lions
Kezirian: Are we giving the Packers enough respect? And Aaron Rodgers feels like an MVP afterthought despite having nearly identical statistics to Patrick Mahomes. The Packers are a premier team now that Mike McCarthy is gone, and I am going to continue to back them against bad teams.
Pick: Buccaneers -0.5 in 6-point teaser with Packers -1.5
New Orleans Saints (-6.5, 44) at Philadelphia Eagles
Fortenbaugh: A rookie quarterback making his first start, behind a bad O-line, against a unit that ranks first in total defense, third in sacks, fourth in scoring defense and seventh in takeaways? Sign me up. But first, give me six points to move the line from Saints -6.5 to Saints -.5 and let me tease them with Kansas City. The Chiefs will be taking on a rookie QB themselves in Tua Tagovailoa, who is completing just 63% of his passes and was capable of engineering just one touchdown drive against the lowly Bengals last Sunday.
Pick: Saints -0.5 in 6-point teaser with Chiefs -1
Bearman: Jalen Hurts gets his first start, against the top defense in the league — first in yards allowed, second against the run, fourth against the pass and second in DVOA. Over the past five games, the Saints’ defense has allowed two touchdowns, and one of them was in garbage time last weekend against the Falcons. The Saints’ offense is humming along with the return of wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has 22 catches on 29 targets for more than 250 yards in the past three games.
On the other side, the Eagles are a mess, making a QB change to help kick-start the 29th-ranked offense in the league. Hurts looked OK in his first extended playing time last weekend against the Packers, but it was mostly with the game already out of hand. A unit that is last in sacks allowed per pass attempt (11.7%) now faces a Saints front seven that is fourth in the league in that same category, averaging a sack on almost 9% of pass attempts. I expect the Eagles’ offense to do better with Hurts, but this isn’t a good matchup.
Pick: Saints -6.5, Eagles under 18.5
Marks: The Eagles made the switch from Carson Wentz to Hurts, but this Saints defense will be too much for Hurts to handle. The New Orleans defense has allowed a total of 44 points in its past five games. Not a great welcoming party for a rookie’s first start in the NFL. Saints quarterback Taysom Hill and his rushing attack, on the other hand, get a great matchup against an Eagles defense that is weak at linebacker.
Pick: Saints -6.5, Hill over 46.5 rushing yards (-115)
Washington at San Francisco 49ers (-3, 43)
Schatz: Washington’s pass DVOA has gone from minus-23% before Week 9 to minus-12% since Alex Smith took over under center. San Francisco in the same period, with Nick Mullens at quarterback, has dropped in pass DVOA from 18% to 4%. And the Washington defense (fourth in DVOA) is significantly better than the San Francisco defense (13th). In particular, it will be hard for the 49ers to get their running game going, as Washington ranks seventh in adjusted line yards on defense and San Francisco is just 28th in adjusted line yards on offense.
Pick: Washington +3
8:20 p.m. ET game
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (-2.5, 46)
Fortenbaugh: The Steelers have laid eggs in back-to-back outings despite closing as 10.5-point favorites over Baltimore in Week 12 and 5.5-point favorites over Washington in Week 13. Needless to say, the public is losing faith in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Josh Allen and the surging Bills have won five of their past six, punctuated by a 34-24 butt-kicking of the 49ers on national television this past Monday night. Needless to say, the public is gaining faith in Buffalo. This is a classic “buy low” spot on the Steelers. Remember, Mike Tomlin is 17-5 ATS in his past 22 road games as an underdog facing a team with a winning record.
Pick: Steelers +2.5
Fulghum: This line seems like an overreaction to Week 13 outcomes. Listen, we knew the Steelers were eventually going to lose a game and that Washington had the personnel on defense to make life difficult for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It was a classic sandwich-spot letdown between a matchup with the Ravens and this game with the Bills, and the Steelers seemed to lose interest after jumping out to a 14-0 lead.
But Allen will not throw for 375 yards and four TDs against this dynamic Steelers defense like he did against the 49ers. The Steelers (if not the Rams) are the best defense in the NFL, especially against the pass, where they lead the NFL in pressure rate and force QBs to lose their timing or turn the ball over.
Pick: Steelers +2.5
Marks: The Steelers are coming off their first loss and playing their third game in 12 days, and have to be a tired bunch. They are also dealing with a number of injuries on defense and on their offensive line. Meanwhile, the Bills looked great against the 49ers on Monday. Allen completed 80% of his passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns. This is a great spot for the Bills to beat a team they will possibly see again in the postseason.
Pick: Teaser: Bills +3.5 and over 40
1 p.m. ET games
Arizona Cardinals (-2, 45) at New York Giants
Fortenbaugh: Are the Cardinals good? It seemed so when Arizona opened 5-2 both straight up and against the spread, with quarterback Kyler Murray garnering some MVP whispers. But the Cardinals are 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS in their past five games, with the “Hail Murray” against Buffalo the only thing keeping them from a five-game losing streak. Arizona’s defense has surrendered 28 or more points in five of its past six games, so Murray can’t bank on the other side of the ball to bail him out. The Giants have held all four opponents to 20 or fewer points during the team’s four-game winning streak and now can boast of a defense that is tied for third in the NFL in takeaways, eighth in sacks, ninth in scoring defense and 10th in total defense.
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