I was hoping that we’d get a late FG attempt by the Saints in Minnesota last week, but alas, they punted instead. That sealed the fate for the under, which was my only L from last week’s totals column. The good news is a 4-1 Week 8 puts me at 23-16 on the season and brings positive momentum into my Week 9 picks.
The bookmakers have clearly adjusted the totals up after an early season bloodbath of overs hitting, and I’m going to follow their lead.
Let’s dig in.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens – Under 48
This matchup is more aesthetically pleasing than it was 10 years ago when these two clubs used to pummel each other into submission, but it’s still as heated as any rivalry in the game. Baltimore comfortably won the first matchup in Pittsburgh back in Week 4, 26-14, shutting down both James Conner and the Steelers’ passing attack. That was the week before top cornerback Jimmy Smith returned from suspension and the Ravens haven’t skipped a beat since.
They’re stout against the run, ranking fifth according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and their pass defense ranks among the top three in net adjusted yards per attempt allowed, third-down conversion rate allowed, and percentage of drives ending in a score. The Steelers defense has improved as the season has gone along, buoyed by the play of Joe Haden in the back half.
Another data point working in favor of the under here is the historic struggles of Ben Roethlisberger in 1 pm EST road games. In particular, his past five visits to Baltimore have not gone well. According to Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar, Ben has thrown for just five touchdowns in his last five trips to Baltimore, averaging 234 yards, and an interception per game. This one probably tops 40 but falls short of 48.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers – Over 54
The Buccaneers are the Molotov cocktail for totals bettors. Tampa Bay games have gone over their total in six of seven contests this season, with the average score coming in 10.2 points higher than the closing total. They’re pairing a historically bad defense, particularly in the secondary, with a vertical passing attack that’s once again spear-headed by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Regardless of who has been under center for Tampa Bay, the Bucs have focused on their team strength, which is their plethora of play-making pass catchers. I’ve been looking to short all things Carolina pass defense, and there’s no better spot than against Todd Monken’s aggressive vertical offense. The Panthers have allowed 76.5 percent of the red zone trips against them to end in a touchdown, that’s the second-worst rate in all of football.
The only team worse? Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers have allowed their opponents to score on a staggering 88 percent of their red zone trips, as noted by Evan Silva on this week’s Move The Line podcast. In fact, I could write a thousand words just listing the stats that show how inept this Tampa Bay defense is, and they’ll likely be without starters Vinny Curry (ankle), Gerald McCoy (calf) and Jason Pierre-Paul (ribs, foot) all of who failed to get in a full practice on Wednesday or Thursday.
This all leads to a premier spot for Cam Newton and the Panthers offense, who have truly surprised under Norv Turner’s play-calling this season. Cam has been exceptional inside the red zone, where his ability to run raises his floor in fantasy, and he’s currently having his most accurate season as a passer, both in terms of completion percentage and interception rate. Here’s what our ‘Betting Tool‘ says after adjusting for strong passing games:
I was going to hone in on the Panthers’ team total here, but I think Tampa Bay runs up and down the field here as well. Give me the over.
Tennessee Titans @ Dallas Cowboys – Under 41.5
Unless you’re a fan of one of these teams, this game will be difficult to watch. I’m not a fan of taking unders this low, mainly because I worry about defensive touchdowns and their ability to blow up an otherwise predictable scoring environment, or lack thereof, in this case. The more and more that I look at this game, I’m struggling to see where to points come from.
Tennessee has been a massive disappointment offensively this season. After installing former Rams assistant Matt LaFleur as offensive coordinator, handicappers and fantasy players flocked to the potential upside of this Titans offense. They’ve been rewarded with an offense that’s 31st in pace and has produced just twenty plays of 20+ yards on the season. That’s four fewer than the vaunted Bills’ offense has delivered. That’s a problem when you see that their opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, have allowed the fewest explosive plays on the season.
The other side of the ball is more of the same. Dallas, 29th in pace, will likely try to show off their new toy, Amari Cooper, but with a talented defense and stout running game, I think expecting a massive shift in offensive philosophy here is a mistake. The public likes to cheer for points, so if you like the under I recommend waiting until shortly before the kick, as the total will likely rise.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins – Under 45
Go home, Vegas, you’re drunk.
Ok, pop quiz: excluding running backs, name three pass catchers that are suiting up for the Jets this weekend…
Week 2’s 20-12 barnburner in New York left a lot to be desired, and I anticipate that points will be at a premium again on Sunday. The Jets, 31st in situational neutral pace, have really struggled to move the ball of late, ranking 29th in pass efficiency and the injuries on that side of the ball only confound things.
Miami, 30th in total pace, will roll out Brock Osweiler again at quarterback, and will likely have more success on the ground than through the air against the Jets’ seventh-ranked pass defense according to DVOA.
Los Angeles Rams – Over 29.25
I’m so excited to watch this game. A potential NFC Championship preview, with the Rams traveling to New Orleans with the hopes of keeping their undefeated season alive. We’ve seen multiple instances in the past decade where a game’s total has closed north of 60, but we’ve never seen a game open at 60 as this one did. In the previous nine games where a total has closed north of 58, the over has hit in eight of the nine games.
I’m keeping this one simple; give me the best offense in the league to top their team total once again, something that they’ve done by an average of 4.1 points per game on the season.
Last Week: 4-1
Ryan Noonan utilizes analytics and his knowledge of Football to leverage sportsbooks, fantasy leagues, and DFS. He is a New England native now living in Chicago. You can find more of him @TheQuantEdge and @MoveTheLineTQE