Week 9 already. When the Bears and Steelers finish up on Monday night, we’ll be halfway through the 2021 NFL season. It seems like just yesterday/forever/exactly eight weeks ago that Dallas and Tampa were kicking the season off, and here we are at the midpoint…already. Before you know it, it will be the holidays, then the playoffs, and just like that, the season will be over. The major news of the week has shown us how fragile life can be. So take a little time to actually appreciate the things you enjoy; they may be gone before you know it.
Serious stuff aside, let’s get on to this week’s picks. There are only six multi-point line differences between ELO and the books this week, after three straight weeks of eight-plus. Are the books catching up to the numbers, or is this a small-sample blip?
(Standard disclaimer – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines.)
Best week of the year so far. ELO pulled in at 6-3, and my picks went 8-1, enough to get over .500 for the season <party horn blowing sound effect!!!> The positive trend continues, onward and upward!
Game of the Week – San Francisco at Chicago: ELO actually liked the Bears as small home favorites, while Vegas and I were on the Niners. Justin Fields showed some progress, but not enough to carry a struggling team. How much “missing” Matt Nagy hurt or helped is TBD.
Green Bay at Arizona: The Davante Adams COVID news kicked the line up three points toward the Cards. ELO and I both thought that was too much value to give up on the Packers.
LA Rams at Houston: My only miss this week; ELO also thought Houston could keep it under the number. They came close to a back door cover, but the initial hole was too deep to get out of.
Jacksonville at Seattle: ELO and I both thought the Hawks should be much bigger favorites than Vegas had them. Whether this was a bad team in a tough travel spot, flying cross-country following a London trip, even with a bye in-between, is tricky, or if they were just outclassed, is tough to parse.
Washington at Denver: A pretty uninspiring game between two uninspiring teams. The second straight road game for Washington, this one at altitude, was likely enough to make winners of Denver, ELO, and me.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans: The Jameis revenge game didn’t materialize, but he and Trevor Semien were enough to overcome the defending champs. ELO and I both favored the home dog.
Dallas at Minnesota: ELO liked the home Vikes. I was sweating things when Dak was a game-time scratch, but Cooper Rush and some non-typical Viking late-game hijinks were enough to get Dallas a win and cover.
New York Giants at Kansas City: Going against the KC betting line is almost free money at this point.
Upset of the Week – Cincinnati at New York Jets: Fundamentals, everyone. Fun-da-men-tals. Everything was screaming to go against Cincinnati. Mike White didn’t have to be great or even good; he just had not to be actively destructive to get the cover. The difference between not a disaster and actually pretty good was enough to go from cover to upset.
Last week: My picks, 8-1; Analytics, 6-3
Season: My picks, 27-24-1; Analytics, 30-21-1
Game of the Week
Denver at Dallas – Analytic Line: DAL (-7), Vegas Line: DAL (-10), PL: DAL (-10.5)
A Denver team that struggled to put up enough points to beat Washington at home travels to Dallas to meet the 6-1 Cowboys. Dallas is the lone unbeaten against the spread team in 2021 and is coming off an emotional last-minute win on Sunday night at Minnesota.
Verdict: It obviously hasn’t been profitable to pick against the Cowboys this year, but I’m going to side with ELO and do so this week. Even if Dak comes back, he likely won’t be at 100%, and Tyron Smith, one of the league’s best left tackles, is likely out. Ultimately, I think 10 points is too much to lay against a Denver team that can play defense and run the ball to shorten the game.
Make It A Parlay
New England at Carolina – Analytic Line: CAR (+1), Vegas Line: CAR (+3.5), PL: CAR (+1.5)
Ugh, back to picking my nemesis, the Patriots. Sam Darnold is questionable to play after sustaining a concussion last week against Atlanta.
Verdict: Like the Jets last week, Carolina’s backup QB doesn’t really have to be all that good to be better than the regular starter. Back-to-back road games for New England, after a west coast trip last week. I side with ELO that this should be closer to a toss-up than a field goal plus line, but it is the Pats, so caveat emptor.
Buffalo at Jacksonville – Analytic Line: JAX (+12.5), Vegas Line: JAX (+14.5), PL: JAX (+10.5)
I’ve been burned by these big lines so much this year. Typically it’s “take the big dog and the points and cash-out,” but that’s been flipped on its head so far.
Verdict: Buffalo either covers or loses, and I don’t see Jacksonville winning this outright, so I’ll take the Bills here and lay the big number on the road. I feel dirty.
Houston at Miami – Analytic Line: MIA (-7), Vegas Line: MIA (-5.5), PL: MIA (-4.5)
Tyrod Taylor returns for Houston. They had actually played a game-and-a-half of solid football with him at QB. Miami was as plucky as a team that lost by two touchdowns plus can be at Buffalo Sunday.
Verdict: Miami feels like a team that’s ready to take out some frustrations, and Houston could be the team to unleash it upon. Now that the trade deadline has passed and the Deshaun Watson rumors are over (at least until the off-season), they might be able to relax and play some football. Riding with ELO and laying the points with the Fish.
Tennessee at LA Rams – Analytic Line: LAR (-5.5), Vegas Line: LAR (-7.5), PL: LAR (-5.5)
Back-to-back roadies for the Titans, who face the prospect of life without Derrick Henry. They’re coming off a pretty amazing comeback win that likely clinches their division. Maybe a letdown spot here.
Verdict: I think the Titans will eventually be fine, but it might take some time to find their post-Unicorn footing. At the Rams, in front of a national television audience might not make for the best place to start. The hook makes me very nervous, but I’m going to buck ELO and take the favorites.
Upset of the Week
Green Bay at Kansas City – Analytic Line: KC (-5), Vegas Line: KC (-7.5), PL: KC (-3.5)
Talk about a line that’s done some traveling. From -3.5 to Pick ’em to -7.5 after the news of the Aaron Rodgers COVID positivity broke. You know what’s coming, right…?
Verdict: The…Chiefs… Don’t…Cover, even against backup quarterbacks.