Not the best week for the blog as we go 1-2, winning on the NO/GB under 47.5 but losing on the Cardinals +3.5 and the Falcons +3.5. Again I’m not too miffed at the results. The GB total closed at 45.5, while the Falcons also went off at a heavily juiced +3, after getting hammered by sharp money all day. They then outgained the Patriots by 0.1 yard per play and were undone by a couple of missed field goals and some major red zone ineptitude. The difficulty here is how much of that is predictive. They still have per-play states that put them in the top five of the league, but things like running an end-around on fourth and goal are really hampering them.
How do you quantify bad coaching and/or play calling? I don’t really know to be honest. I’ve been burned a few times backing the Falcons this year, so I might need to see them turn their stats into some points before backing them again.
The good thing is that the Falcons ineptitude has helped carve the narrative that the Patriots defense is BACK. The Pats have allowed an average of 12.7 points over their last three games, against some pretty solid offenses including the Buccaneers and Falcons. But the underlying numbers show more than a fair amount of luck.
Opposing kickers are just 1-for-6 on field goals against the Patriots over the past three weeks, while in the same period teams have made 11 trips into the red zone and scored a measly total of 31 points.
Apart from the missed field goals, the Pats stopped teams twice on downs and forced that controversial Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumble which was definitely actually a touchdown.
As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell puts it: “Announcers love to fetishize the Patriots’ bend-but-don’t-break defense, but there isn’t much evidence defenses can execute better in the red zone than they do over the remainder of the field on a year-after-year basis. While the Patriots were sixth in the league in red zone performance last season, that was Bill Belichick’s best mark in a decade. Even if the Pats were to tighten up inside the 20, they’re not going to force fumbles for touchbacks and induce three missed field goals in three weeks.”
All of which means I’m looking to bet against that defense this week, so it’s the over 48.5, or the Chargers +7, which can be had at 2.04 at the time of writing. I prefer the Chargers here for a couple of reasons. First of all, as written previously, I think there some inherent value backing them on the road thanks to their home-field disadvantage. Secondly, I love that Chargers defense which now ranks fifth in the league in adjusted sack rate, fuelled by arguably the league’ best edge rushing tandem, Joey Bosa, and Melvin Ingram. Those two destroyed the Denver O-line on Sunday and as everyone knows, the key to containing Brady is pressuring him without blitzing. The Chargers look uniquely well set up to do that and are also worth a speculative punt at 4.15 to pull off the outright upset.
Oh when the Saints…
My other bet this week also comes from a topic I’ve touched on before; the Saints defense is for real. Let’s look at their last four games. They forced Cam Newton into the worst passing game of his career and held Carolina to 13 points. They shut out the Dolphins. The scored three touchdowns against the Lions and held Detroit to 18 first downs on 17 drives, and then on Sunday, held the Packers to 79 yards passing.
On an individual basis, the Saints are suddenly very talented. Rookie corner Marshawn Lattimore is the best corner in the league per Pro Football Focus while his cornerback partner Ken Crawley ranks seventh best. Defensive end Cam Jordan also ranks as the best edge rusher in the NFL so far this season. And this week, these Saints face a team that picked up 5 first downs on Sunday and scored 3 offensive points in the form of the Chicago Bears. It could be argued that’s all the Bears needed to do to win the game, but I’ not sure rookie QB Mitch Trubisky can do much more.
Per Football Outsiders’ QB expert Derrik Klassen: “Trubisky cannot throw to his left. In watching his college tape this offseason, it was clear he had mechanical issues when throwing to his left. He sailed throws high and wide at a much higher rate than when throwing to his right. The question was how much that would hurt him in the league and if he could fix it. Thus far, he has not fixed it and it has hurt him greatly. The coaching staff knows he can not throw to his left, too. Trubisky has been asked to throw beyond the line of scrimmage to his left just five times in two games, completing two of those passes.”
In short, coach John Fox, who is not a particularly imaginative coach in the first place, has a very limited scope of what he can do with Trubisky. With three games now on tape, the Saints are going to have a pretty good idea what is coming, and that generally means it’s not going to work in the NFL.
Personally I’ve already had good sized bets on the Saints -8 and the Under 48, but if you only want one lumpy bet, I’d say the under is slightly stronger, given the Saints slowing pace.
After operating at the fifth-quickest pace (seconds per snap) in 2016, the Saints have dropped to 19th this year. The Bears are 25th in the league in that same metric, and also boast the number-1 ranked defense per PFF. With two slow-paced teams with underrated defenses, I think this total is about 3 points too high.