Welcome back to another edition of Beating the Spread! I’m Jake Roy, and I’m leading the BTS team again this season. I’m joined by two-time Beating the Spread participants Tyler Gentile and Brennan Rampe, and newcomer Jason Wolf. We’ll be here every Friday throughout the season to crown a new champion.
Four weeks down, 13 to go. The panel is all still relatively close, hovering around the 50 percent mark. Jason still leads the way at 9-6. Last week, all four of us hitched our wagon to the Patriots over the Jets and secured a win. This week, we’re all backing the Vikings over the Panthers. Sometimes, a road favorite is just too good to pass up.
|Jake Roy (@Jake3Roy)||Brennan Rampe (@Phdinnfl)||Tyler Gentile (@808PaperBoi)||Jason Wolf (@J_Wolf_picks)|
|Pick #1||Falcons/Jagaurs under 43.5||Chargers -6.0||Jaguars -3.0||Vikings -3.5|
|Pick #2||Rams +1.5||Steelers -3.0||Vikings -3.5||Ravens/Browns under 41.0|
|Pick #3||Commanders/Eagles under 44.5||Vikings/Panthers over 45.0||Broncos/Bears over 46.0||Bills -3.0|
|Pick #4||Vikings -3.5||Chiefs -9.5||Chiefs -9.5||Texans/Steelers under 42.0|
|Pick #5||Raiders/Chargers over 48.0||Seahawks +1.5||Seahawks/Giants over 47.0||Broncos -3.0|
The 2023 Minnesota Vikings are currently experiencing some serious regression to the mean as Minnesota went 11-0 in one-score games in 2022 but are now 0-3 in such games to open up the new season. Luckily for them, they are facing the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, who most likely lack the offensive firepower to keep this contest within one score. The Panthers’ offense has been uninspiring, to put it nicely, through the first three weeks, looking its best when Andy Dalton was under center with the game out of reach against the Seahawks last week. Starting quarterback Bryce Young is back in the lineup this week, which is good for the franchise’s future, but bad for the Panthers’ chances this week; Dalton has demonstrated better command of the offense so far. In Young’s first two games, there was a clear lack of chemistry with his receivers. Behind the Panthers’ poor offensive line, Young wasn’t given enough time to operate comfortably; however, Dalton handled pressure like an experienced veteran in Week 3.
Dalton kept his eyes downfield, made plays on the run, and worked around pressure with good pocket awareness and a veteran understanding of NFL defenses, but that still wasn’t nearly enough to hang with the Seahawks. This week, the Panthers go up against the Vikings and their explosive offense, so I expect them to fall behind early. The Panthers are the second-lowest graded tackling team according to Pro Football Focus, and that could spell trouble against playmakers such as Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson. The Vikings, Top 3 in pass protection, should be able to neutralize the Panthers’ pass rush, especially given the absence of cornerback Jaycee Horn. Vikings take this one by more than one score. MIN -3.5
This meeting between division rivals should be a classic AFC North showdown featuring two top-rated defenses and some middling offense, making for an intense slugfest that should be tightly contested throughout. The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens are both teams at this point in the season with strong defensive identities and some question marks on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens are suffering from their usual litany of injuries on offense (J.K. Dobbins, Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Tyler Linderbaum, Ronnie Stanley) as well as going through growing pains with a new offensive coordinator and a few new offensive pieces. The Browns, in Year 2 with Deshaun Watson under center, are still trying to find consistency on offense. Their challenge has now increased twofold as offensive centerpiece Nick Chubb is out for the year. Jerome Ford has filled in admirably so far but Nick Chubb he is not. Not only are both offenses figuring things out on the fly but these two defenses are not ideal units to face while struggling to find offensive identity and balance.
The Browns are ranked number two in PFF’s pressure rating, and Lamar Jackson has historically struggled under pressure. Like most quarterbacks, being pressured affects the quality of throws and the ability to look downfield while increasing the likelihood of turnovers. All of these apply to Lamar but he is especially prone to questionable decision making when faced with pressure. The Ravens will likewise be able to attack the Browns’ strength on offense, however, as Baltimore has the second-best run defense, per PFF.
It’s no secret that Cleveland strives to center their offensive game plan around the run game. The Ravens can therefore disrupt Cleveland’s flow and prevent them from getting into the offensive groove by regularly stopping the Browns’ run game where other teams cannot. Forcing Cleveland to win with Watson’s arm is more likely to lead to defensive success, as he has yet to fully resemble the All-World quarterback we saw when he played for the Houston Texans. The Ravens are also due to get two starting offensive linemen back this week (their best two) in center Tyler Linderbaum and tackle Ronnie Stanley so that should help the Ravens keep the clock moving and sustain longer drives than they otherwise would without them. BAL/CLE U41.0
In what is easily my “gut pick of the week,” I am taking the Buffalo Bills to beat the scorching-hot Miami Dolphins in Buffalo. This pick is for those who like to sell high, as you won’t get a better opportunity to sell high all year than you will with a team that literally scored ten touchdowns before taking their foot off the gas against the Denver Broncos last week. The Dolphins seem to be a complete team as their offense looks like they are playing Madden on Rookie difficulty with all the sliders turned up to 99 and their defense is holding their ground without star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. I’m taking the Bills to come out with a win here on the backs of their defense and their ability to execute on offense, a combination Miami has not faced yet this year. All of their opponents to date have been significantly challenged on one side of the ball or the other. The Dolphins’ offense was contained for the most part against the Patriots, and their defense was lackluster against the Chargers. Even the Broncos had little to no problem moving the ball on the Dolphins in the first half of last week’s massacre before turnovers led to the game getting out of control.
The Dolphins find themselves in an unfamiliar position at 3-0 and are top dogs of the division, as well as the conference. Buffalo is feeling the pressure from this game much more than the Dolphins, as a loss would put them two games back of the division while losing their home leg in their season series against the Dolphins. Miami is young and hungry, but I want to ride with the team who has experience playing in big games and coming out on top. I like the Bills to step up at home and get a crucial win this week and stave off the Dolphins from cementing the pole position in the race for the AFC East crown…at least for one more week. BUF -3.0
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been hard to watch at times so far as offensive line troubles from last season have followed Pittsburgh into the 2023 season. Watching Najee Harris smash into his offensive line for a two-yard gain over ten times a game is a good way to drive a man insane. Credit to Head Coach Mike Tomlin as he has tried to shake things up with an increased role for Jaylen Warren, but without Diontae Jonhson, the Steelers are far too reliant on Najee Harris and the offensive line to move the ball consistently. Pittsburgh is dead last in PFF’s offensive rating thanks in large part to the offensive line being ranked dead last in pass protection and bottom-five in run blocking as well. The Houston Texans are not world-beaters defensively, so the Steelers’ offense has reason for optimism. Meanwhile, I am expecting constant short fields and turnovers for Houston. The Texans do get starting safety Jalen Pitre back, so that should help the defense limit big plays from Pittsburgh somewhat.
Give credit to the Texans, as they have looked surprisingly competent on offense (especially after Week 1) with new franchise quarterback C.J. Stroud‘s impressive play. Stroud has displayed excellent poise, pocket presence, ability to read defenses, and pinpoint accuracy from the pocket. However, he might be in for a long game this week against the Steelers’ terrifying pass rush duo of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. With the Texans likely missing multiple starters on the offensive line, most notably Laremy Tunsil, the Texans’ offense could be in for a tough day at the office. Essentially, I think the Steelers are able to bring the Texans’ offense down a notch while having enough to work with on offense to keep the game clock moving without scoring too many points. PIT/HOU U42.0
Am I a masochist for taking the Broncos the very next week after giving up 70 points? Absolutely. When it comes to betting spreads on the NFL, give me the ugliest, least desirable side and I will back them. The more unappealing the line, the more I want to bet it. Most sane people would stay away from this stinkfest of a game between arguably two of the NFL’s worst sides but I am jumping at the opportunity to back the Broncos again. They are just a bit less horrendous of a football team than the current iteration of the Chicago Bears. The Bears have played the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Kansas City Chiefs through the first three weeks. Understandably, the Bears were blown out in Week 3 by the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium, so let’s not hold that against them. But letting Jordan Love and the Packers hang 38 on you looks so much worse in hindsight given what the Packers looked like against the Saints in Week 3 and the Lions on Thursday Night Football. The Bears also made 2023 Baker Mayfield look like prime Tom Brady when he posted a 114.5 QBR and +14% CPOE (completion% over expected) in their Week 2 matchup.
Chicago is essentially getting zero pressure on opposing quarterbacks as they have registered just one sack through their first three games. The Broncos don’t generate much pressure themselves, but at least Russ Wilson can capitalize when given time to throw in the pocket. Justin Fields has shown almost nothing this year as a passer so far, with no visible improvement in his passing from last season. The Broncos have been decent on the offensive side of the ball and figure to get better as their skill positions round into game shape. Meanwhile, the Bears inspire little confidence or immediate reason for hope as the receivers outside of D.J. Moore are gaining zero separation on their routes and don’t even seem to follow through fully on blocks/decoy routes (we’re looking at you, Chase Claypool). From coaching to execution, the Bears are a mess from top to bottom. DEN -3.0
Step aside, soccer. We’ve got good old-fashioned American football on Sunday morning. England’s team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are once again playing in London against the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium. The Jags have been one of the greatest disappointments this season and could really use a win to keep in touch with the rest of the AFC. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t taken the step forward most people expected, despite having real weapons at the skill positions. The Falcons go into London playing a brand of football that the likes of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte would be proud of. Shoutout Tottenham Hotspur, COYS. Atlanta has used a conservative style centered around running the ball, preventing turnovers, and playing sound defense. It’s a style that should travel well, even across the pond. At some point, I expect the Jaguars to get it together, but London isn’t the spot for that. I see this one as another early morning slog. You won’t be too upset if you sleep in through this one. ATL/JAX U43.0
The Colts and Rams have both been a bit of a surprise this season. Los Angeles is just 1-2, but played a really tough game against San Francisco and stayed in the game as heavy underdogs. Indianapolis is riding high following a win against Baltimore, but I’m selling them in this spot. Anthony Richardson should be back, but I’m not sure that’s a positive in this particular game. Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is dating a girl, but wants to make the switch and start dating her roommate instead? The only thing more difficult than switching from one roommate to the other is switching back and forth between quarterbacks. With Aaron Donald on the opposing defensive line, I wouldn’t be confident in starting a rookie quarterback who’s already left two games early due to injury. Richardson may be able to take advantage of the chaos, but I could see him being skittish and making some bad decisions. I just don’t think the Colts have the experience to win this one. LAR +1.5
The Eagles are undefeated on the young season, but they haven’t quite looked like the team that got to the Super Bowl last season. Jalen Hurts hasn’t been quite as sharp through the air, leaving the ground game to pick up the slack. The Philadelphia offensive line is fantastic and can support that style of play, but the Commanders’ front seven should be able to neutralize the ground game and put a little more pressure on Hurts. Even if Washington can’t totally control the running game, it leads to long, clock-melting drives. For the Commanders offensively, I don’t think they have the firepower to put up a big number against a strong Eagles’ defense. Sam Howell may as well be a rookie, and the Commanders are still working out the kinks of their new offense under Eric Bienemy. They may gel eventually, but not this week. Mark me down for another under in Philly. 23-14, Eagles, or something like that. WAS/PHI U44.5
I hate picking road favorites, as it’s not a good long-term strategy. That doesn’t mean road favorites can’t cover every now and then. I’d imagine this will be a public pick as well, but if I’m going to break one of my own rules I may as well throw them all out the window. Simply put, the Vikings will not start the season on a four-game losing streak. That doesn’t guarantee they cover, but I have a hard time seeing Carolina turning this game into a dogfight. They don’t defend the run very well, which should keep Minnesota ahead of the sticks. They don’t keep teams out of the endzone on red zone drives, an area where Minnesota is struggled. And they don’t have anyone to cover Justin Jefferson, because nobody does. If the Vikings have any fight left in them, they’ll put this game away early. If they don’t, it’s curtains on their season. MIN -3.5
I typically don’t like betting overs because they’re generally low value, but the game in Los Angeles feels like one where both teams should get up and down the field with little resistance. The Raiders’ offensive struggles this season have been in part due to their inability to run the ball. The Chargers present a great opportunity for Vegas to get their run game together. The Chargers defense is allowing a full two yards before contact to opposing running backs. Before the game on Sunday night, Josh Jacobs said he felt fine physically, he just needed reps to get used to the speed at which he needs to hit the hole. Lucky for him, the holes should be gaping, and he can focus on breaking tackles. Through the air, Davante Adams is a monster and could replicate Justin Jefferson’s seven-catch, 149-yard performance.
On the other side, the Raiders’ defense isn’t particularly scary outside of Maxx Crosby. On the season thus far, they’ve surrendered 25.7 points per game, including games against the Steelers and Broncos. The only thing they’re stopping is Chandler Jones from playing football. Defense is optional in L.A. on Sunday. LV/LAC O48.0
Let’s go to London to kick off Week 4’s picks. If the Falcons are going to contend in any game, they are going to have to run the ball because Desmond Ridder ain’t it. Unfortunately for them, they square up against a solid defensive front seven that is third in rush EPA per play. The Falcon’s defense is adequate, but nothing special.
Jacksonville’s offense hasn’t been clicking, but the time to buy low on them is now. Trevor Lawrence was coming into his own towards the end of last season and finished the year as the 11th-best quarterback by EPA’s efficiency metrics. He really hasn’t played as badly as many think, and his receiving corps leads the NFL in drops with nine. Ultimately, this is a quarterback vs. quarterback play and Lawrence is significantly better than Ridder. Back the Jags at their home away from home. JAX -3.0
It’s time. The Vikings are finally going to get their first win of the season and should find a cover here as well. Bryce Young is expected to play and he’s still going through the growing pains of playing in the NFL. The Minnesota defense has been inconsistent at best, but Young won’t be able to keep up with the offense on the opposing sideline. The Vikings are 2nd in yards per play on offense, compared to Carolina who is tied for 27th. Carolina has been hit with a plethora of injuries and we just saw Seattle put up 37 points against them. MIN -3.5
I don’t think a matchup between two 0-3 teams has ever received this much attention, and there’s a decent chance it lives up to the hype. A shootout could be in the cards in Chicago as two of the worst defenses by EPA’s metrics go toe-to-toe. Sean Payton hasn’t found a win for Denver just yet, but it appears that he has fixed Russell Wilson. Mr. Unlimited is seventh out of 34 quarterbacks in terms of EPA’s QB efficiency metrics. They moved the ball just fine against Miami but just didn’t put up many points playing in catch-up mode against the Dolphins. They did, however, put up 32 points against the Commanders in Week 2.
There aren’t as many good things to say about Chicago’s offense, but at least they’re facing the team that just gave up 70 points. Denver is generating the lowest pressure rate among all teams this year, so if there was ever a week for Justin Fields to come alive, this would be it. A few key defensive pieces, Frank Clark, Justin Simmons, Mike Purcell, and Josey Jewell are all questionable to play as well. DEN/CHI O46.0
I will continue to fade the New York Jets until they replace Zach Wilson. As stated last week, over the last three years, there hasn’t been a worse quarterback. There have been 52 quarterbacks to be on the field for 200+ plays, and he is dead last by EPA’s QB efficiency metric. Sure, he has faced a gauntlet of tough defenses to start this year, but it doesn’t get any easier on Sunday Night Football.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Chiefs rate as one of the more elite defensive sides in the early going, and are fifth in EPA per play. Some of that has to be attributed to playing the Bears, but they also held the Jaguars to just nine points at home. With Chris Jones back in the fold, their pass rush is solid, ranking 11th in pressure rate. The Jets’ defense is elite too, but not enough to slow down Patrick Mahomes and company. Kansas City should make easy work of the Jets en route to a 27-10 type of win. KC -9.5
Similar to the Broncos and Bears selection above, these are two of the worst defenses in the league. When it comes to EPA per play, the New York Giants are 30th, and the Seattle Seahawks are 27th in EPA. Both teams are also tied for 29th in opponent yards per play and tied for 30th in pressure rate. We saw how easily Andy Dalton and the Panthers were able to move the ball against this Seattle defense last week, culminating in a 37-27 shootout. A similar outcome could be in store here with the Giants returning to health.
Even if Saquon Barkley doesn’t return, they are expected to have the left side of their offensive line back. Their offensive production has been skewed after taking on two of the best defenses in the game in the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. It took them a little while to get going, but they eventually got the offense rolling against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. After playing last week Thursday, they have had plenty of time to prepare for this game, and Brian Daboll should have a great game plan ready to go. The case for Seattle to score is a little more simple. They are fourth in EPA per play and have scored 37 points in back-to-back weeks. SEA/NYG O47.0
The Los Angeles Chargers won a thriller against the Vikings, while the Las Vegas Raiders lost to the Steelers because of awful decision-making by Josh McDaniels. Jimmy Garoppolo is in the concussion protocol after taking a beating by Pittsburgh’s defensive line. Brian Hoyer or rookie Aidan O’Connell would have to start if he can’t play. That wouldn’t be good for Las Vegas, but even if Garoppolo starts, he hasn’t played well two weeks in a row. Los Angeles’s defense finally made some plays when it mattered the most last week. Losing Mike Williams for the year with a torn ACL will hurt, but the team drafted Quentin Johnston in the first round for a reason. The Chargers should beat their divisional rival by a touchdown. LAC -6.0
Inside the Numbers: The Chargers are 7-5-0 in division games against the spread under Brandon Staley.
The Steelers beat the Raiders in a defensive battle while the Texans are coming off of an upset win against the Jaguars. C.J. Stroud has looked great through three weeks. Kenny Pickett has looked average, but he did play two of the best defenses in the league in consecutive weeks. He looked better against Las Vegas. Houston has been playing without most of their starting offensive linemen this year. That worked out against Jacksonville, but Stroud could be in trouble when he goes up against Pittsburgh’s defense. Their defensive line has been solid in generating pressure and sacks without defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. Stroud hasn’t struggled much as a rookie, but this could be the week where that happens. The Steelers should win by a field goal and cover. PIT -3.0
Inside the Numbers: The Steelers are 102-97-10 in conference games against the spread under Mike Tomlin.
The Vikings lost to the Chargers at home. They have nine turnovers in three games, which is just ridiculous. The Panthers lost to the Seahawks. Both teams are 0-3. First-overall pick Bryce Young didn’t play last week, but it seems like he will return. Both of these teams have defensive problems. Minnesota has allowed at least 20 points in each game, and Carolina has as well. It hasn’t helped that the Panthers lost Shaq Thompson to a season-ending injury, and top cornerback Jaycee Horn will be out for a while. Both of these teams look like they’re rebuilding. I have no idea who wins this game, but it should be high-scoring and entertaining. I hope so, I’ll be there! MIN/CAR O45.0
Inside the Numbers: The total has gone OVER in eight of Minnesota’s last 11 games, including four of five on the road.
The Chiefs dominated the Bears, while the Jets lost to their divisional rival Patriots for the millionth time. The difference between these two teams is clear. Patrick Mahomes is good at football. Zach Wilson is not…at least not in the NFL. It has been three years, so I can now confidently say that Wilson is a bust. He never should’ve been picked that high; I had a feeling the Jets would regret drafting him. Robert Saleh has said that Wilson is still the starter, but continuing to put him under center will tear apart the locker room. New York signed Trevor Siemian; he’s not going to be the starter this week but could be soon. Kansas City should have no problems covering this spread. KC -9.5
Inside the Numbers: The Chiefs are 36-34-2 against the spread in conference games since 2018.
I have no idea how the Giants are favored to win this game. They are terrible! Their only win of the season came against a Cardinals team that was without Kyler Murray, and they needed their biggest comeback since 1949 in order to pull it off. They were soundly crushed by Dallas and San Francisco in their two losses, and have shown nothing to indicate they’re capable of beating even a mediocre team, especially without Saquon Barkley.
Meanwhile, after a surprising loss to the Rams in Week 1, the Seahawks have won two in a row. Their offense is explosive, but the defense is still a work in progress. They’re making plays in critical situations, which is what matters most. Seattle’s roster is better than New York’s, and they should be able to go into MetLife Stadium and win. They’re undefeated when they play in that stadium! SEA +1.5
Inside the Numbers: The Seahawks are 32-26-3 as a road underdog under Pete Carroll.