2-2 for the blog last week, with the two unders making me look part idiot, part football genius. The Steelers/Chiefs game went exactly as predicted, and did indeed look eerily similar to last years’ playoff game. The Lions/Saints under 50.5 went less well, with the Saints going over the total by themselves en route to a 52-38 victory. It might surprise you to know I still believe I had a decent bet. The market generally agreed with the under call, with the total being bet down a smidgeon to around 50 at kick-off. Then the Lions produced just 18 first downs on their 17 drives in the game, while the Saints threw for under 200 yards and went 2-12 on third down.
Of course there were 5 return touchdowns and a few more turnovers to boot, which is where a lot of the points came from. Those are essentially random and un-handicapable and I’ll treat them as such going forward.
It means I’m going back to the well with this Saints defense. As mentioned they held the Lions largely in check, making it the third impressive performance in a row after holding the Dolphins and Panthers to 13 points combined.
From DE Cam Jordan: “[Great defense] is what we’ve been missing as a team. You know, we’ve always had a potent offense … and our defense is finally playing how they should be.”
I expect more of the same when they travel to Lambeau to take on Brett Hundley, who will also be without his three or four of his top linemen. The point spread on this game has swung around 12 points for the absence of Aaron Rodgers and those linemen, yet the total has dropped maybe two or three points? As of writing 48 is widely available which seems way too high.
It’s also worth noting that Brees and the Saints have historically been less potent on the road especially outdoors because they’re such a precision offense, while the Packers defense might even change the way they play. With Rodgers, the defense was instructed to go after ‘splash plays’ like sacks and interceptions.
The idea is simply to get the ball back for Rodgers and if you get beat, well at least number 12 is back on the field. That, of course, leads to big plays both ways.
With Hundley under center, expect to see a lot more bend and don’t break defense and perhaps some extra focus from the Pack D as they try to make up for the loss of A-Rod.
Falcons to soar in Foxborough
My second bet is the Atlanta Falcons, who are allegedly suffering the dreaded Superbowl hangover, and perhaps more realistically missing Kyle Shanahan, with replacement Steve Sarkisian lacking in NFL experience.
That’s the narrative at least, but I think there’s been more than a bit of bad luck in their losses. They currently rank 27th in the NFL in turnover differential at -4 after finishing 4th in the NFL last season. That should regress towards average, while their per-play stats point to a dominant team.
The Falcons have played the toughest schedule in the league per analyst Warren Sharp, so when the Falcons’ yards-per-play differential is adjusted for opponent, they lead the league at +2.2.
That’s way clear of the three-way tie for second place between Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Washington at +1.4.
The Falcons also rank fourth in the league on rushing play success and fourth on passing success, per Warren Sharp again.
And you might be interested to know the Patriots rank 29th on the same adjusted YPP differential list, at -1.0. While they’ve improved on the scoreboard over their last two games, the Patriots are still getting ripped apart on a per-play basis, with McCown the sixth straight 300-yard passer they’ve allowed. Of course the Pats were saved some points by the refs bungling that touchdown/fumble call.
For the year, they are last in adjusted YPP allowed at 7.7, a long way clear of the second worst team in the league, Indianapolis at 6.9. I think the Falcons tear them up on Sunday and avenge their Superbowl loss.
Resurgent Cardinals head to ‘Twickers’
Over at Twickenham, there’s another game I like, with the Cardinals currently 3.5 point underdogs against the Rams. I’m loathe to overreact to small sample sizes, but it genuinely appears as if Adrian Peterson has given the Cardinals a new lease of life.
From Arizona beat reporter Kent Somers “Trading for Peterson was the equivalent of placing defibrillator paddles on a team that lacked vital signs. Peterson arrived on Tuesday and immediately energized his new teammates. On Sunday, he walked his talk against the Bucs, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Suddenly, quarterback Carson Palmer was throwing 22 passes in a game, not 44. Opposing safeties bit hard on play fakes, leaving receivers open.
That led to success in the red zone and a 31-0 lead.
After the game, there were smiles all around. Voices had a confident edge, something missing since running back David Johnson suffered a dislocated wrist in Week 1.
For one of the few times since 2015, the Cardinals offense looked like the 2015 version, which led the NFL in scoring.
“It’s huge,” Palmer said. “I can guarantee the Rams weren’t anticipating this two weeks ago. It’s a big lift.”
The key point here is that the running game took the weight of Palmer’s shoulders. If linebackers are respecting the run they aren’t dropping into his throwing lanes as quickly.
Defensive ends aren’t just crashing up-field in a race to the quarterback, so the offensive line has more of a chance. And protection is uniquely important for Palmer given his immobility, and predilection for the deep ball.
What also went under the radar was the return of the left side of the offensive line, with tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Alex Boone, returning from injuries. With the Rams and their 29th ranked rushing defense coming to Twickenham, expect to see more AP and more Cardinals points.
It’s also worth noting that Jard Goff has regressed significantly from the opening three weeks of the season where he averaged around 10 yards per attempt.
Over his last three, against admittedly tougher defenses, he’s down to a little over 6 YPA.
I like the Cardinals +3.5 and the +170 available on the moneyline.