NFL Week 9 best bets: Picks for Sunday night game

Every Friday during the NFL season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian (0-3 last week, 9-12 overall), Joe Fortenbaugh (3-1, 19-26), Anita Marks (5-10, 29-43-1), Preston Johnson (2-1, 10-14), Mike Clay (0-1, 10-7) and Tyler Fulghum (6-10, 20-27-1), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (2-2, 16-8), Seth Walder (4-0, 25-11) of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz (1-4, 17-25-1) of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from Sunday’s slate. (The Detroit Lions-Minnesota Vikings game is off the board.)

Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Wednesday.

8:20 p.m. ET game

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4.5, 51.5)

Bearman: I might be in the minority on this one, but I like the Saints’ position here. They won the first matchup easily (yes, I know it was Week 1 and Tom Brady’s first game with the Bucs), and I was not impressed with Tampa Bay on Monday night vs. the Giants. The Saints are following the script from years past: struggle out of the gate and then real off a bunch of wins in a row (2019, 1-1, win nine of 10; 2018, 0-1, win 10 in row, 13 of 14; 2017, 0-2, win nine straight). Drew Brees hopes to have All-Pro WR Michael Thomas back this week, but the Saints have been scoring without him to the tune of 29.4 PPG. Brady’s offense looked awful in New Jersey on Monday night, gaining 344 yards against a below-average Giants defense. It’s a one-game sample size, but it’s enough for me to want to take 4.5 points with the Saints, who are 7-1 ATS as underdogs since 2018.

Much like Saints-Bears last week, this is a battle of a strong offense vs. one of the top defenses in the league. In taking the over 41 last week, I noted top offenses are beating top defenses this season, and last week’s game got to 49 with the two teams settling for five field goals. All seven Saints games have gone over the total, with five of the seven getting to 57 points. The 51.5 this week is a lot higher, but I am not opposed to it, especially if the Bucs’ offense rebounds from last week. Taking the 4.5 seems like the safer play, but I do like both.

Pick: Saints +4.5

Johnson: The general narrative is that people aren’t expecting Tampa Bay to lose both matchups this season to New Orleans. It’s a significant divisional game, at home, with revenge, etc. It doesn’t mean the Saints can’t win Sunday, however, let alone cover a spread of +4.5.

New Orleans has an advantage offensively and grades seventh in success rate compared to Tampa Bay’s 21st-ranked offense. Both teams have had injuries to key wide receivers this season, if you think that should be an excuse for the Bucs. Tampa Bay does have the advantage defensively, ranking in the top five against both the run and the pass in success rate. The Saints have the special-teams edge with Deonte Harris, who might be the most dangerous return man in the game. Home-field advantage is essentially nonexistent this season (more points have actually been scored by road teams this year so far). These teams are a lot more closely matched than the 4.5-point spread implies, and my personal projection comes in under a field goal. I took the points.

Pick: Saints +4.5

1 p.m. ET games

Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons (-4, 50)

Bearman: You should never be laying four points with the Falcons, even with a decent game vs. Carolina last week and 10 days’ rest. They could be covering easily and then give it all back, as we have seen this year. The Broncos can look awful at times (see the first half last week), but as you saw in the fourth quarter, they can also catch fire. That was against a Chargers team that has trouble holding leads, and now they play basically a carbon copy in the Falcons. Almost all the trends back taking the points. The Falcons are 0-4 outright as a home favorite this season and losers of seven of the past nine in this spot. The Broncos (5-2 against the spread) are 3-0 ATS on the road this season, winning two of them outright, and are 12-6 ATS as a ‘dog under coach Vic Fangio. I’ll be taking the four with Denver and sprinkling the money line in a couple of parlays.

Pick: Broncos +4

Walder: I selected Jerry Jeudy as my startable fringe fantasy player of the week in our ESPN+ roundtable this week, and for those same reasons I’ll happily nab this low receiving line. Jeudy’s opportunity has actually been quite strong this season, but he and QB Drew Lock are connecting at a well-below-average rate. Lock’s completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) when throwing to Jeudy this year has been an incredibly poor -12.5%. I’m no fan of Lock, but his overall CPOE over the past two seasons is just -2%. It’s fair to assume Jeudy is not an awful hands receiver, based on productivity in college, and that leads me to believe that this pair will be better going forward.

Pick: Jeudy over 47.5 receiving yards (-115)

Seattle Seahawks (-2.5, 55) at Buffalo Bills

Fortenbaugh: Remember when a legitimate case was being made that Bills quarterback Josh Allen deserved some MVP recognition? Good times. Over the first four weeks of the season, the Bills posted a perfect 4-0 record with Allen tossing 12 touchdowns to just one interception. However, over the club’s past four contests, the Bills have gone 2-2 with Allen throwing four touchdown passes and four interceptions. Take a look at what has happened to this once potent offense:

First four games: 30.7 PPG, 409.7 YPG
Past four games 18.7 PPG, 334.2 YPG

Throw in the fact that Buffalo finally got over the hump by defeating the Patriots last Sunday and you have situation ripe for a letdown. It certainly doesn’t help matters that QB Russell Wilson will be on the other sideline this Sunday.

Pick: Seahawks -2.5

Kezirian: I was pretty disappointed with Buffalo’s performance last Sunday. The division was proverbially on the line and it nearly lost at home to a thin Patriots team. To me, Seattle is clearly the better team and needs this game, if you want to incorporate some narratives. I am not worried at all backing the visitors. The Seahawks are 11-4-1 ATS in their past 16 road games. Plus, MVP betting favorite Wilson delivers in tight games. Seattle is 11-4-2 ATS when the point spread is between -3 and +3.

Pick: Seahawks -2.5

Johnson: I will reiterate what I mentioned last week about the Seahawks: Their defense is getting an unfair rap. They rank 22nd in adjusted defensive EPA and eighth against the run. They’re also among the top 10 in success rate against the run. DE Carlos Dunlap is making his debut this week and safety Jamal Adams is likely a go for the first time since Week 3. Seattle’s defense is trending up, and it hasn’t been as bad as the general media like to make it seem.

Seattle’s offense is No. 1 in success rate, No. 2 in adjusted EPA and now gets a Buffalo defense that is second worst in the NFL in adjusted EPA. Only the Jaguars’ defense is worse. I’m a buyer on the Seahawks again this week at -2.5 or better.

Pick: Seahawks -2.5

Fulghum: Both defenses have been very accommodating this season. The Seahawks are allowing a league-high 358.7 passing yards per game. Allen is primed to break out of his mini-slump and return to the early-season form that had him mentioned in the MVP discussion. Speaking of MVP candidates … how about Russell Wilson? Mr. Unlimited has 26 TD passes in just seven games. He is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s season record of 55. We thought the Bills would have a stingy pass defense this season based on their personnel and head coach, but the Bills are 19th in net yards per attempt allowed and 24th in the NFL in interception rate.

Pick: Bills ML (+140), over 55, Wilson over 2.5 passing TD (+150), Wilson over 38.5 pass attempts (-105), Tyler Lockett over 70.5 receiving yards (-115), Lockett over 5.5 receptions (+100), Allen over 288.5 passing yards (-115), Stefon Diggs over 70.5 receiving yards (-130).

Clay: Last week, Wilson’s pass TD line against the 49ers was 2.5 at +155. He quickly blew by that mark and threw four touchdowns in the game. This week, Wilson heads to Buffalo and his line is almost identical, with over 2.5 pass TDs sitting at +150. The juice is shockingly generous for a quarterback who has thrown for three or more touchdowns in six of his seven games this season. Seattle continues to operate the league’s pass-heaviest offense (67.3% actual, 56.7% expected) and has put an unprecedented four-plus touchdowns on the board in every game this season. Buffalo’s defense has the perception that it is elite, but it has allowed 2.9 touchdowns per game this season (16th), and, if we adjust for strength of schedule, that number jumps to 3.3 per game (seventh-highest). Opposing quarterbacks tossed 15 touchdowns against the Bills in 2019, but that number is 12 through eight games in 2020. That includes three touchdowns for Ryan Tannehill and two each for Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Patrick Mahomes. Wilson’s pass TD projection checks in at 3.0 in what figures to be a shootout between two of the league’s top-three pass-heaviest offenses.

Pick: Russell Wilson over 2.5 pass TDs (+150)

Baltimore Ravens (-1.5, 47.5) at Indianapolis Colts

Walder: My favorite way to measure past receiving yard opportunity for receivers is by taking NFL Next Gen Stats’ expected completion probability — which incorporates factors such as receiver separation, depth of target, distance from sideline, whether the QB was under pressure and more — and multiplying that by air yards on every throw. Sum it up and we can get an expected completed air yards figure for every receiver. Marquise Brown’s 45.3 expected completed air yards per game ranks 15th in the NFL, a couple of spots behind Terry McLaurin and just a shade ahead of DeAndre Hopkins and DJ Moore. I mention all three of those receivers because they each have higher receiving total props this week, some by quite a bit. Given that we already know Brown is a talented receiver and he’s still catching passes from the same quarterback he always has, I’m willing to bank that this line is deflated because of luck.

Pick: Brown over 51.5 receiving yards (-115)

Marks: I expected Baltimore to dominate this season, and boy, was I wrong. The Ravens have struggled offensively, and a matchup against the Colts will be a tall task for them to right the ship. The Colts have a top-five defense and can pressure QB Lamar Jackson without blitzing. Baltimore also has a number of players dealing with COVID-19 protocols and might not have all hands on deck.

Pick: Colts +7.5 in teaser with Kansas City over 46.5

Houston Texans (-6.5, 50.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars

Kezirian: Houston is not a good football team. Jacksonville isn’t either. I honestly think an old adage of first impressions has skewed the narrative surrounding this Jaguars team. They upset the Colts in the season opener, a result I view as a fluke. The Jags have lost six straight games since, and we still do not discuss this team enough as being among the worst. They’ve failed to cover in the past five and now rookie QB Jake Luton will start in place of Gardner Minshew II. Plus, in case you are wondering, Houston does not own its 2021 first-round pick, so tanking is not a concern. I think the Texans get the win.

Pick: Texans -.5 in teaser with Patriots

Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs (-10.5, 52.5)

Fortenbaugh: The Panthers are bringing a rock to a bazooka fight on Sunday, and that simply won’t work against the defending champions. Carolina’s defense, which has performed somewhat better than expected, has been one of the worst in the business when it comes to generating pressure on the opposing quarterback. In fact, the Panthers have notched just eight sacks (29th in the NFL) through eight games so far this season. Allowing Patrick Mahomes to sit back in the pocket while scanning the field for opportunity is a recipe for disaster. So is the fact that Carolina is scoring just 22.4 points per game this season (25th in the NFL).

Pick: Chiefs -10.5

Marks: The Panthers are hopeful Christian McCaffrey returns to action this week against a Chiefs defense that is allowing over 150 total yards per game to opposing backfields and will possibly be without defensive lineman Chris Jones. QB Teddy Bridgewater and this Panthers offense has been surprisingly good this season, and it has enough firepower to try and keep pace with Mahomes. Teddy is a road warrior, and the Panthers have only one loss by over eight points this season.

Pick: Over 46.5 in teaser with Colts

Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans (-6.5, 47)

Schatz: Teams shy away from attacking the Bears’ pass defense, which ranks fifth in DVOA, in favor of running the ball, because the Bears’ defense is 11th in DVOA. So the Bears increase opposing run plays by 9% over the usual average. Derrick Henry has topped 100 rushing yards in four out of seven games this year, and we’re projecting him to go over 100 rushing yards again in this one.

Pick: Henry over 90.5 rushing yards (-115)

New York Giants at Washington Football Team (-2.5, 42.5)

Kezirian: The Giants have played pretty well the past couple of games and nearly upset the Bucs on Monday Night Football. But Washington is quietly playing better as well, and I like it to handle its business. It’s a good situation for Washington, coming off a dominant win and a bye, hosting a team that is off another heartbreaking loss on a short week. Since Kyle Allen became the starting quarterback, Washington has looked a lot more competent on offense. The defense is respectable, so I think we see a Washington win.

Pick: Washington -2.5

Schatz: For the second straight week, I’m going with Daniel Jones to throw a pick. Jones now has nine picks in eight games, and Dallas is the only defense that didn’t force him to throw one. The Washington defense has eight picks in seven games, with Baker Mayfield surprisingly the only quarterback they did not pick off. When these teams played in Week 6, Jones threw an interception in the end zone late in the third quarter. Football Outsiders projections for this game average 1.17 interceptions for Jones.

Pick: Jones over 0.5 interceptions (-190)

Marks: New York looked impressive last week against the Buccaneers, taking them to the final play of the game. The Giants are a better team than their record indicates, considering they are 1-6 in games decided in the last 60 seconds. Joe Judge and his coaching staff will have the G-Men ready to rebound after last week’s disappointment. Jones is 3-0 against Washington and has a chance to make that 4-0 on Sunday.

Pick: Giants +8.5 in teaser with Raiders

4 p.m. ET games

Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (PK, 51.5)

Schatz: Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert is fourth in the league in passing yards per game.

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