Before I jump into the games, I want to take a brief second to touch on the Pats/Packers game. The Patriots/Packers game. When the model was run, the Pats were 10 point road dogs. The model threw out NE +10 with a strength of 3.74, which is typically within the range of a game we would recommend. Given that Patriots QB Mac Jones will not play (high ankle sprain), I thought there was a good chance the model wasn't properly accounting for the Patriots playing with a backup quarterback. As a part of our weekly process, we review every game that the model likes before officially recommending it. While we were debating it, the line then moved to 9.5, making it a much tougher bet. Enough about the shit that we aren't betting. Let's get into it.
Miami (+4.0) @ Cincinnati
Power rankings: Miami 12, Cincinnati 11
Spread thoughts: The line has since dropped to 3.5. That's not a huge difference, but the strength on this one is our lowest recommended bet of the week. Trend carefully, and don't you dare bet it if it goes to 3.
Keys to the game: Tua Tagovailoa, who definitely didn't get a concussion last week, is technically questionable with an ankle/back injury, but he is expected to play. This isn't surprising given his two limited practice sessions. The Dolphins did make the claim that Tua did not sustain any head injury in the linked video, and we all believe them. The NFLPA looking into the situation is frivolous at best -- teams would never jeopardize the safety of their players by allowing them to enter with head injuries. Never ever ever ever.
Thanks to Tua's improved play and the combination of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins rank 1st in offensive EPA/play. The offensive line still has it's issues, but LT Terron Armstead is one of the best in the game. He's questionable with a toe injury and did not practice all week, but reports indicate he will play. This is a major victory for Miami given how well Bengals edge rusher Trey Hendrickson is playing. Hendrickson lined up almost exclusively on the right side last season and doesn't have a single snap on the left this season, which should put him up against Armstead. DE Sam Hubbard, who is a solid pass rusher in his own right, will have a much more favorable matchup against Dolphins RT Greg Little. The Bengals do have a decent secondary, but none are capable of matchup up with either Hill or Waddle. The Dolphins run game has struggled -- a concerning sign given that new HC Mike McDaniel is a product of the Kyle Shanahan system -- but as long as Hill and Waddle are on the field, this offense will produce.
I am a bit nervous about how the Dolphins defense approaches Joe Burrow. Miami plays an aggressive style with lots of blitzes and man coverage schemes, which typically isn't a great strategy against Burrow. Per PFF grades, Burrow was the best quarterback in the league last year against the blitz, where he averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and completed 70% of his passes. The Bengals attempted to revamp their offensive line in the offseason, but they're still struggling, and the Dolphins slew of pass rushers (Melvin Ingram, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaealan Phillips, Trey Flowers, Christian Watkins) should be enough to generate pressure without blitzing. The secondary will need the help against the Ja'Marr Chase/Tee Higgins/Tyler Boyd combo. CB Xavien Howard is struggling and banged up (groin/glute) while Byron Jones (Achilles) will not play. I will give a shoutout to second year safety Jevon Holland, who is reeking havoc as a blitzer (he had 3 pressures on 5 pass rushing snaps last week) and playing well in coverage. It shouldn't be too much longer till we're discussing him as one of the best in the game. The Bengals are also struggling to run the ball (Joe Mixon is averaging just 2.8 yards per attempt) and the Dolphins are 7th in DVOA against the run.
Minnesota @ New Orleans (+2.5)
Power rankings: Minnesota 14, New Orleans 15
This game is being played in London at 9:30am. Get out of bed and have your mimosas ready.
Spread thoughts: This line is sticking at 2.5. I'd be surprised if it made a big jump away from the model to 3. I'd make this bet as soon as possible if you haven't already.
Keys to the game: The Vikings offense has had a very up and down season, landing them 15th in EPA/play. However, with an above average quarterback (Kirk Cousins), a stud receiver (Justin Jefferson), a stud receiver that's a touch past his prime (Adam Thielen), a pair of legit tackles (Bryan O'Neill and Christian Darrisaw), as well as a do it all running back (Dalvin Cook, although he may miss due to a shoulder injury)), betting on the talent to improve on that mark is where you should land. Jefferson has struggled the last two games (Cousins has a rating of 20.8 and 64.6 when targeting Jefferson the last two weeks), but treating him as anything other than a top receiver in the game is a mistake. The Saints can get pressure on the outside (Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan) as well as the inside (David Onyemata). It should be a good matchup in the trenches. Marshon Lattimore is the only corner somewhat capable of containing Jefferson, though they do have a decent safety tandem between Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu.
The Saints are dealing with a slew of injuries on offense, including Jameis Winston (back/ankle), Jarvis Landry (ankle), and Mike Thomas (foot). Winston has already said he plans to play and Landry got in a limited practice on Thursday, which indicates he'll likely be good to go as well. Thomas missed practice on Wednesday/Thursday, though his injury is supposed to be minor. The good news is rookie WR Chris Olave is already producing (he went off for 147 yards on 9 catches last week) and the Vikings secondary is poor. Whoever the Saints have to play at receiver, they should be able to move the ball efficiently. The trenches battle should be fun to watch as the Vikings have a slew of pass rushers (Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith, and Dalvin Tomlinson) and the Saints offensive line is legit. After losing Teron Armstead in the offseason, there was a big question about how the Saints would fare at left tackle -- James Hurst has stepped in and played extremely well, surrendering just 3 pressures on 137 pass blocking snaps this season. The biggest question, as always, is which Winston will we see -- 30 INT Jameis, or 30 TD Jameis? Or both?
Buffalo @ Baltimore (+3.5)
Power rankings: Buffalo 1, Baltimore 2
Spread thoughts: This line has shifted to 3. If you haven't bet it yet, you missed out on the hook. Shame on you #getyourdamnbetsinearly
Keys to the game: Josh Allen needs no introduction, but here is one anyway: He's completing 71.2% of his passes (3.3% over expectation), gaining 7.7 yards per attempt through the air, and 5.9 yards per attempt on the ground. Stef Diggs is an unstoppable force, but it's been a bit disappointing that Gabe Davis hasn't hit the ground running, compiling a 7/125/1 stat line through 3 games. Between Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and Jamison Crowder, the Bills will need their secondary receivers to play a role -- the Ravens have excellent corners (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters) and a solid safety core (Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark, and rookie Kyle Hamilton). However, their third corner (Kyle Fuller and Jalyn Armour-Davis) have been routinely picked on by opposing defenses, making the ability to spread the ball around an important factor. The Ravens are a blitz heavy team with a slew of pass rushers (Odafe Oweh, Justin Houston, Justin Madubuike, and Calais Campbell) who should not have an issue against the Bills below average offensive line. All members of the Bills line have been playing bad football, with the exception of LT Dion Dawkins. Josh Allen has carved up the blitz in his short career -- the Ravens should rely on their pass rushers to win one on one matchups and give the secondary some additional help.
Lamar Jackson has looked MVP caliber through 3 games (yes, it's only 3 games, I literally just said that). He's keeping the ball out of harm's way (just 2 INTs and 3 turnover worthy plays) despite pushing the ball downfield (11.5 aDOT). He's gaining 8.5 yards per attempt as a passer and an absurd 9.3 yards be attempt as a runner. With the exception of Mark Andrews, the receiving core is sub-par, but the same goes for a Bills secondary who is extremely banged up, currently missing CBs Tre'Davious White (ACL), Dane Jackson (neck, though he could play), and Christian Benford (hand) as well as safety Micah Hyde (neck). LT Ronnie Stanley appears ready to return -- Stanley hasn't played a full season since 2019, but when he's healthy he's a premier tackle in football. If he can get back to anywhere near that level, it'll help solidify the line. They'll have to deal with a strong pass rush that features Von Miller, Gregory Rousseau, Boogie Bashman, and Jordan Phillips -- though Phillips isn't practicing with a hamstring injury.
Washington @ Dallas (-3.5)
Power rankings: Washington 31, Dallas 18
Spread thoughts: This one is sticking at 3.5. It's unlikely to go to 3, but seeing it jump up to 4 or 4.5 wouldn't surprise me.
Keys to the game: The Commanders are a bit of a mess right now, ranking 29th in DVOA. Carson Wentz has been a below average quarterback, which makes sense since that's what he is. He's completing 63.1% of his passes (2.6% below expectation) and gaining 6.6 yards per attempt. As is typically the case with Wentz, he's struggling against pressure, gaining just 4.7 yards per attempt and completing 50% of his passes, good for a 44.1 PFF grade. That should be an issue against a Cowboys pass rush that features Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Dante Fowler. The Commanders do have at least two above average tackles (Charles Leno and Samuel Cosmi), but I don't expect them to hold up against Parsons and co. I will take Terry McClaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel over the Cowboys defensive backfield, which has struggled outside of S Malik Hooker. SS Donovan Wilson has been an effective blitzer (he has 5 pressures on just 10 pass rushing snaps), but he's losing in coverage. The Cowboys 3 starting corners, Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, are giving up 11.5 yards per reception, 11.6 y/r, and 11.6 y/r, respectively.
Cooper Rush is completing 62.7% of his passes (2.9% below expectation) and gaining 6.9 yards per attempt, about what you'd expect out of a backup quarterback. He'll get back Michael Gallup (knee) for the first time this season, and along with CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and Dalton Schultz, they should have more than enough against a Commanders secondary that ranks 29th in pass defense DVOA. The trenches should be a fun battle, with Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Efe Obada all playing well for the Commanders. On the Cowboys side, Tyler Smith has done a respectable job filling in for Tyron Smith while Zack Martin/Terrance Steele hold down the right side of the line. The Cowboys run game has assisted greatly with Dak Prescott out -- Zeke Elliot is averaging 4.5 yards per attempt and Tony Pollars is averaging 5.6. The problem is they give the ball to Zeke more, who has objectively been the lesser of the two for quite some time. It also isn't as easy of a matchup against the Commanders defensive line.