Every Friday during the season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian (1-1 last week, 4-3 overall), Joe Fortenbaugh (2-5, 6-13), Anita Marks (1-7, 10-10), Preston Johnson (1-3, 6-8), Mike Clay (3-2, 6-3) and Tyler Fulghum (1-1, 1-4), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (2-1, 7-2), Seth Walder (2-2, 9-5) of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz (3-4-1, 10-8-1) of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from Sunday’s NFL slate.
Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Thursday.
8:20 p.m. ET game
Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers (-7, 46)
Kezirian: I never gave up on you, San Francisco. In fact, I doubled down following that opening loss to Arizona, which I chalked up to an impressive Cardinals performance more than a Super Bowl hangover derailing a season.This is a top-tier organization, and I have had faith it would stay the course despite the injuries. And now, George Kittle is expected to return and Deebo Samuel might not be far behind.
On the flip side, the only thing the Eagles and their supporters are good at is generating excuses. That Super Bowl run is not the norm; that was an anomaly, and they lost Frank Reich. Instead, this is a team that routinely disappoints with its consistent inconsistency. I trust San Francisco to get the home win.
Pick: 6-point teaser on San Francisco -1 with Tampa Bay -1.5 (the Bucs beat the Chargers 38-31)
1 p.m. ET games
Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys (-4.5, 56)
Schatz: Dak Prescott has put up a ton of passing yardage in his first three games but not a lot of touchdowns. Prescott has only five so far, with only one each against the Rams and Falcons. It’s going to be hard for the Cowboys to keep up their rapid offensive pace over the long term — currently No. 1 by a huge unsustainable margin — and we’re expecting Prescott’s passing attempts will drop a bit going forward. With fewer pass attempts should come fewer passing touchdowns. Minus-160 isn’t the best odds, but Football Outsiders projections say Prescott will go under this prop roughly 70% of the time.
Pick: Prescott under 2.5 passing TDs (-160)
Seattle Seahawks (-6.5, 53) at Miami Dolphins
Marks: The Seahawks are scoring 35 or more points per game this season. Russell Wilson is tossing four or five touchdowns per game, and the Dolphins’ secondary is one of the worst in the league. The Seahawks’ pass defense isn’t much better, and Ryan Fitzpatrick should tap into his Fitzmagic again in Week 4. I’m teasing the over down with the under in the Buccaneers-Chargers game. Tom Brady will be without wide receiver Chris Godwin, and the Chargers’ defense is better than most realize.
Pick: 6-point teaser on over 47 with Chargers-Bucs under 49
Kezirian: I am somewhat scared by how much I like this play, given it’s the lowly Dolphins. As much of a Super Bowl contender as Seattle seems, its defense is incredibly suspect right now. The Seahawks rank dead last in a few defensive categories: passing yards per attempt, passing yards per game and yards per completion. Essentially, this pass defense is weak and Miami’s only chance is to let Ryan Fitzpatrick work his magic. However, because Seattle is allowing Wilson to cook and thus they are capable of covering this number, I will isolate Miami’s team total.
Pick: Dolphins team total over 23.5
Fortenbaugh: The Dolphins have had 10 days to prepare for a Seattle club that currently ranks dead last in the NFL in total defense and 22nd in scoring defense. Throw in the cross-country travel and you’ve got a franchise in Miami that couldn’t ask for a more favorable situation entering a date with MVP frontrunner Wilson.
After falling by 10 points in New England to commence the season, Brian Flores’ team has made steady gains each week, with a 3-point loss and point spread cover coming against the undefeated Bills in Week 2 and an 18-point win over Jacksonville in Week 3. Keep in mind that 21 of Seattle’s past 25 games have been decided by one score.
Pick: Dolphins +6.5
Indianapolis Colts (-2.5, 45) at Chicago Bears
Fortenbaugh: Nick Foles the starter and Nick Foles the reliever are two very different quarterbacks. The former has lost jobs in Philadelphia (the first time) and Jacksonville, while the latter led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win (the second time) and Bears to a dramatic comeback victory in Atlanta last Sunday to give Chicago a 3-0 start to the season. I’m not buying that aforementioned 3-0 start, and neither are the bookmakers, who now have the visiting Colts and old man Philip Rivers installed as 2.5-point road favorites. This point spread is as big a red flag as I’ve ever seen. Foles will fall while Indy returns home with a 3-1 record.
Pick: Colts -2.5
Schatz: Indianapolis currently ranks first in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA ratings. Chicago ranks sixth. Both offenses have been below average, and both offenses have run at a below-average situation-neutral pace. Plus, based on his historical record, there’s really no reason to believe Foles is a major step up from Mitchell Trubisky when it comes to offensive efficiency.
Pick: Under 45
Baltimore Ravens (-13, 45) at Washington Football Team
Walder: FPI+ — a translation of our Football Power Index model to the betting market — is on Washington here, and it’s easy to see why. Our base FPI model thinks there’s about a 12.7-point gap between the Ravens and Washington on a neutral field. Even if we consider home-field advantage to be muted on two fronts — no fans and a marginal distance traveled — there presumably is still some edge to having home field. Add those two factors together and it seems like the Ravens are giving a few too many points in this one. FPI+ was on Washington even when the line was at 12.
Plus, there is one aspect of the Washington offense I’m quite fond of: They’ve embraced motion at the snap. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has a man in motion at the snap — an advantage for the offense, on average — 25% of the time, the third most of any team. And they’re having a lot of success on those plays. Of course, no team puts a man in motion at the snap as often as Baltimore, but we expected that coming into the season. Washington’s motion is a pleasant surprise.
Pick: Washington +13
Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7, 43)
Kezirian: Let’s not kid ourselves. The Chargers are mediocre, at best. I am writing off their near-upset of Kansas City, as the Chiefs were caught in a sandwich spot of a road game between two high-profile games against Houston in the season opener and Baltimore on Monday Night Football. In their other two games, the Chargers beat Cincinnati by three points in a rookie quarterback’s debut and lost at home to Carolina. The Chargers are who we thought they were … and so are the Bucs. They opened with a justifiable road loss to New Orleans but have bounced back with convincing wins over Carolina and Denver. I trust Tom Brady and this Tampa Bay defense to get the win.
Pick: 6-point teaser on Tampa Bay -1.5 with San Francisco -1
New Orleans Saints (-4, 54) at Detroit Lions
Bearman: If you told me in August that I could get the Saints -4 in Detroit in Week 4, I would have jumped all over it. Sure, Michael Thomas might be out and the Saints haven’t looked wonderful, but let’s not overreact here. The Saints have historically gotten off to slow starts, but at least this year’s slower start was against good teams, like an improved Raiders squad and a down-to-the-wire loss to the 3-0 Packers. They are still a contender in the NFC and are far more talented than the Lions.
Yes, Detroit upset the Cardinals last week, but it’s the same team that blew a late lead to Mitchell Trubisky and got blown out by the same Packers team the Saints almost beat. The Lions are near the bottom of every defensive category, which should be welcome news for Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and the rest of the Saints’ offense. And if Thomas does play, this looks even better.
As far as laying 4 on the road, the Saints are 12-4 as road favorites since 2016, best in the league. I’m looking at a bounce-back game for the Saints, and with an upcoming schedule that has Chargers and Panthers at home, the beginning of their usual run.
Pick: Saints -4
Schatz: It has been a tough start of the season for the Lions, but Matthew Stafford has still thrown five touchdowns despite going two games without No. 1 receiver Kenny Golladay. The Saints’ defense has fallen from 10th in pass defense DVOA last season to 21st so far this season and they boost opposing passing touchdowns per attempt by roughly 30%. Add that to some home cooking in a dome in Detroit and I like Stafford’s chances to throw two or three touchdowns this week, even if the Lions’ defense means Stafford is throwing those touchdowns in a comeback effort.
Pick: Stafford over 1.5 passing TDs (-140)
Arizona Cardinals (-3, 51) at Carolina Panthers
Bearman: Just like the Saints-Lions line, I think this line is based a lot on last week’s results and not on the overall body of work or talent of the teams. In the first two weeks, Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins showed they have an offense that can win games and even after struggling last week vs. Detroit are 10th in the league at 406 yards per game. Just as important, the Cardinals’ defense is in the upper half of most statistical categories.
As far as the Panthers, in the past two weeks they allowed the Bucs’ top wideout Mike Evans seven catches for 104 yards and a TD and the Chargers’ top wideout Keenan Allen 13 receptions for 132 and a TD. All Hopkins has done is average 11 catches and 118 yards per game through three weeks, and he should feast in this matchup as well.
Carolina survived its first game without Christian McCaffrey, and if Mike Davis has another big day this could come down to the wire, but I am counting on the Cardinals rebounding and pushing the ball on a below-average Panthers defense. The hook bothers me, so I would buy it down or shop for -3s.
Pick: Cardinals -3
Kezirian: This is an incredibly strong opportunity to back the Cardinals. Arizona received a lesson last week about what it takes to succeed over the course of the season. The Cardinals were riding high with a 2-0 start and fell flat at home to Detroit. I still believe in Arizona and think the team will approach this game with the right mindset. Teddy Bridgewater is a covering machine, especially as an underdog (17-4 ATS lifetime as an underdog), but I just think the Cardinals have too much firepower. Carolina is still without McCaffrey, and the defense is among the NFL’s worst.
Pick: Cardinals -3
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (-3, 49)
Johnson: Last week in our market watch, we noted that the Dolphins-Jaguars total had moved from 44 to 47. I agreed with the move and relayed that my projection was 47.1. By Thursday leading up to kickoff, however, the total had reached 49. Forty-nine! I found myself playing against the five-point move and grabbed some under. I think that might be in store again in Week 4 in Cincinnati.
We’re talking about a total, so let’s start with the pace metrics in this matchup first. You might see the Bengals are the fifth-fastest team in the NFL, running 24.57 seconds between plays. Well, that doesn’t always paint the truest picture. Remember that game in Cleveland that saw Joe Burrow throw 61 times and Cincinnati run 88 plays? The Bengals were trailing for the majority of that contest. They actually rank 18th in the league in situation-neutral pace, according to Football Outsiders data. You know who is finally a favorite in a football game in Week 4? The Bengals. We can expect Cincinnati to be leading or for this to at least be a relatively close game. Fun fact: The Jaguars rank dead last in the NFL in situation-neutral pace, at 34.15 seconds per play.
I have another surprise. The Bengals have graded out as sneaky-awesome defensively through three weeks — particularly against the pass. The defense ranks ninth in DVOA, seventh in opponent pass yards per attempt (6.3) and second in success rate against the pass. I’m not leaving out their rush defense because it skews the narrative; they have been nearly league average in that regard. It just surprised me how elite they have been in defending the pass. Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield and Carson Wentz aren’t quarterbacks who will get anybody too excited, but Gardner Minshew II and the Jacksonville passing attack that could be missing DJ Chark Jr. for the second consecutive week isn’t either.
This is pushing 49.5 at some shops after opening at 46.5 early. I project the opener closer to the fair number, so at this point, I would look to be betting only under in the matchup.
Pick: Under 49
Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans (-4.5, 54.5)
Kezirian: I have been planning to back the Texans for a couple of weeks, and I think the time has finally come. No one has had a tougher schedule than Houston: at Kansas City, home against Baltimore and at Pittsburgh. The Texans are not that good and will probably miss the playoffs, but those top-tier opponents have made them look worse than they are.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have major issues and relief is nowhere in sight. Kirk Cousins is shaky, and the entire defense is even shakier. I am optimistic Houston can put it all together and cover this number.
Pick: Texans -4.5
Walder: This is a run-blocking vs. run-stopping mismatch, with the Vikings toward the bottom of the league in winning their ground game blocks and the Texans toward the top at beating their blockers, per our win rate metrics. J.J. Watt hasn’t played quite enough interior line snaps to qualify there, but if he had, he would lead the position in run stop win rate.
Plus, while both of these teams are off to awful starts this season, at least the Texans have a reasonable excuse — a brutal opening schedule. That plus home field makes it more likely than not that the Vikings are playing from behind, giving Dalvin Cook fewer potential run opportunities.
Pick: Cook under 78.5 rushing yards (-115)
4 p.m. ET games
New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams (-13, 48)
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