Week 8 of the NFL is here and I’ll be breaking down all of Sunday’s games from a betting perspective. Last week was a decent week. I went 3-2 against the spread on The Nickel Package and added one more winner to my Recommended Wagers, finishing 4-2 overall for the week.
This week is a very tough week. I’m obligated to give five plays for the The Nickel Package but I very easily could have limited myself to two or three plays this week. I’ve turned a couple of my leans into plays to satisfy the masses. Also, I’ll make the same suggestion that I made last week—if you’re backing my plays, you’d be best off holding off until game time. Most people will be betting the opposite sides of my wagers, so you’ll likely get the best line value if you wait until late on Sunday.
The Nickel Package Record: 20-13-2 ATS (60%)
As always, you can check out The Nickel Package podcast, which includes my top five plays in order of confidence for the week. Each week, Joe Fortenbaugh from the National Football Post joins me to analyze those picks and provide additional insight to the games I’ve selected. You can listen or download the MP3 file here.
Recommended Wagers Record: 26-20-2 ATS (56%)
San Francisco 49ers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Friday Line: 49ers -15.5, total of 41
Public Consensus: 54% on the 49ers, 97% on the over
The Pick: I can’t imagine any way in which this game doesn’t end in a 49ers’ blowout. Even if Colin Kaepernick were to get injured and replaced by Colt McCoy, there’s a good chance San Francisco would still win this game by multiple touchdowns. There’s a conspiracy theory floating around with the premise that this game will remain tight throughout because the NFL doesn’t want to turn off fans in London, but I have a hard time buying into that crazy hypothesis. Minnesota already played Pittsburgh in London earlier this season and the Vikings entered the fourth quarter with a 17-point advantage. That’s a pretty stupid theory if you ask me. Colin Kaepernick has played much better for San Francisco in recent weeks and should have no problem picking apart a porous Jaguars’ defense. Jacksonville may employ the worst starting cornerback duo of the last decade—Alan Ball, a former 7th round pick of the Cowboys who used to be a safety, and Will Blackmon, an undrafted free agent out of Boston College. Not good. The Jaguars also surrender a massive 4.6 yards per carry which should allow for Frank Gore to enjoy another big game on the ground. Offensively, the Jaguars have been much better since the return of Justin Blackmon to the lineup, but it should be noted that the Jaguars have battled the Rams, Broncos, and Chargers in the last three weeks; all of whom rank in the lower half of the league in total defense.
There’s a very strong chance that the 49ers will lead this game from start to finish. Jacksonville isn’t bad; they’re epically bad. They’ve been outscored by an average of 31.7 to 10.5 and that’s includes double-digit losses to the Raiders and Rams. Good luck with the 9ers. 49ers 27, Jaguars 6
The Wager: Everything points to a 49ers’ blowout here but I have a hard time laying this many points. San Francisco has a bye next week and their main focus here will be getting the win and going home healthy. There could be backdoor cover potential if the 49ers pull their starters. Pass
The Trend: The Jaguars are 8-18-1 ATS in their last 27 games against a team with a winning record.
Dallas Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
Friday Line: Lions -3, total of 50.5
Public Consensus: 63% on the Lions, 95% on the over
The Pick: This is shaping up to be one of the better games of the week. The Cowboys enter this contest riding a two-game winning streak in which they limited the Redskins and Eagles to a combined 19 points. Since allowing a whopping 51 points to the Broncos three weeks ago, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has made some big adjustments and has the Cowboys playing more man-to-man coverage than usual. Brandon Carr, in particular, has been a huge asset at cornerback and while he won’t be able to completely shut down Calvin Johnson, he should be able to give him a battle on the outside all afternoon. The loss of DeMarcus Ware was expected to be big for the Cowboys, but Dallas’ front seven was still able to bring the heat against the Eagles last weekend with Jason Hatcher and George Selvie wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys should be able to make Matthew Stafford uncomfortable in the pocket all day. Meanwhile, the Cowboys received some good news offensively this week as DeMarco Murray is expected to suit up, only a couple of weeks after suffering an MCL sprain. The Lions have the worst run defense in the league, surrendering over five yards per carry to opposing running backs. Tony Romo should be working out of manageable situations all afternoon and should be able to connect frequently with Dez Bryant and the emerging Terrance Williams down the field.
In addition to my perceived edge with the Cowboys on the field, it should be noted that the Lions are coming off of a tough, emotional loss to the Bengals last weekend. As is frequently the case with teams losing closing games, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Detroit lay an egg in this contest. The Cowboys look like they’re turning a corner and I think they continue their run this weekend. Cowboys 26, Lions 23
The Wager: The Cowboys are 6-1 ATS this season; the best against the spread record of any team in the NFL. Normally, I’d expect that number to regress to the mean but I think that oddsmakers have been significantly undervaluing Dallas. The Cowboys have been an underdog in five of their seven games this season and they continue to pull out wins when they aren’t expected to. Cowboys +3
The Trend: The Lions are 8-18 ATS in their last 26 games against NFC opponents.
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles
Friday Line: Eagles -5.5, total of 51
Public Consensus: 60% on the Giants, 78% on the under
The Pick: The Giants finally picked up their first victory of the season on Monday night against the Vikings, but they’ll be hard pressed to make it two in a row. Michael Vick makes his return under center for the Eagles, and while I’m not the biggest fan of Vick, he can’t possibly be a downgrade from the Nick Foles that we saw last week. Vick’s presence should open things up for LeSean McCoy as the Giants will be forced to respect Vick’s playmaking skills. New York did a good job of shutting down Adrian Peterson on Monday but that was mainly because they were able to stack the box without the threat of Josh Freeman beating them down the field. The Giants’ defense is still an atrocity; they give up over 30 points a game and don’t have much of a chance of limiting the Eagles’ offense here. Meanwhile, Eli Manning is still the same pile of garbage that we’ve all come to know this season. He may have finally went through a game without committing a turnover, but he threw two balls directly into the hands of Vikings’ defenders and was lucky not to have one of those horrible thrown balls returned for a pick six. Manning plays behind a poor offensive line and has no running game to rely on, which means he’ll likely have to force the issue on many occasions on Sunday. Not good. Philadelphia’s defense is susceptible to the pass, but their pass rush has also been improving in recent weeks. They held the Cowboys to just 17 points last week and that’s pretty impressive when you consider the fact that their offense turned the ball over three times in that contest.
Everyone seems to be pointing to the Giants of the past and their mid-to-late season runs. The only problem is that this Giants team isn’t similar to their teams of the past. Their defense is an abomination, their offense makes a ton of mistakes, and they’re lacking personnel on their offensive and defensive lines. The Eagles haven’t won at home in what seems like forever, but that’ll change come Sunday. Eagles 26, Giants 20
The Wager: There’s no chance in hell I would ever consider laying this many points with the Eagles. Most of my write-up above is anti-Giants, not pro-Eagles. Philadelphia can’t be trusted, especially considering their track record at home in recent years. Pass
The Trend: The Giants are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 road games.
Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs
Friday Line: Chiefs -7.5, total of 39.5
Public Consensus: 62% on the Browns, 57% on the over
The Pick: The Kansas City Chiefs may be the worst 7-0 team in the history of football, but week after week they find themselves with favorable matchups. If taking on the Browns with Jason Campbell under center isn’t a favorable matchup, I don’t know what is. Campbell is a plug. He was awful with the Bears last season and at this point in his career he’s nothing more than a game manager. Campbell is in for a world of hurt this week. The Browns’ offensive line has surrendered a whopping 27 sacks this season and that’s not a good omen against a Chiefs’ defense that’s forced 35 sacks; ten more sacks than any other team in the league! Campbell will be running for his life when he drops back to pass and if the past is any indication, that can’t end well. It’s not like Campbell can rely on his running game either. Willis McGahee is due to have a grandchild this week while Chris Ogbonnaya is nothing more than a pass catching back. If the Chiefs can manage to score a couple touchdowns in this game, they shouldn’t have any issues pulling out the victory. Alex Smith has proven to be a pretty solid quarterback for the Chiefs. Primarily known for being a checkdown quarterback, Smith is still capable of throwing the occasional deep ball and is slowly becoming more and more of a threat to move the chains with his feet. The Browns have an elite cover cornerback in Joe Haden but there really isn’t a single Chiefs’ receiver that’s worth covering one-on-one for the entire game. Smith is good at distributing the ball and allowing his speedy receivers to pick up chunks of yards after the catch. Kansas City can also rely on Jamaal Charles to move the chains on the ground as he’s been arguably the most consistent running back in football this season.
The Chiefs aren’t as good as their record indicates but it’s hard not to see them emerging from this game undefeated. Cleveland does not match up well with them at all and it’ll be a struggle for the Browns to score points all afternoon. Chiefs 21, Browns 9
The Wager: I considered taking the Chiefs here but I quickly realized that I can’t trust them to score enough points to cover a touchdown spread. Kansas City only put up 17 against a reeling Texans’ squad last week, and it’s entirely possible that they don’t hit 20 again this week against an underrated Browns’ defense. Pass
The Trend: The Browns are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games overall.
Buffalo Bills @ New Orleans Saints
Friday Line: Saints -11, total of 48
Public Consensus: 72% on the Saints, 84% on the under
The Pick: This is one of the tougher games for me to call this week. New Orleans has been a machine at home in recent years, and when you add in the fact that they’re coming off of a bye week, common sense would dictate that this outcome would be fairly easy to predict. There’s just something about this Bills team though. Thaddeus Lewis has been pretty solid in his two starts this season, and it’s not like he’s gone up against cupcake defenses either—the Bengals and Dolphins both boast pretty strong stop units. Lewis has been able to benefit from the Bills’ strong ground attack, and that shouldn’t change this week against the Saints. New Orleans is tied for the worst rush defense in the league, surrendering a whopping 5.1 yards per carry. C.J. Spiller may miss this contest for Buffalo but Fred Jackson is fully capable of carrying the load for the Bills with some occasional help from Tashard Choice. The Saints’ bread and butter on defense is their pass rush but Lewis should be able to neutralize some of that with his ability to run the ball. New Orleans also has some question marks on offense. Jimmy Graham is likely to miss this week’s contest with a foot injury which means that Drew Brees will be without his favorite target down the field. The Saints’ offense suffered greatly without Graham two weeks ago in New England, and there could be some issues again this week. Brees is undoubtedly going to put up points for the Saints’ offense but it won’t come easy.
In the end, I think the Bills can give the Saints a game here. Lewis will be out of his element in a hostile Superdome atmosphere, but Buffalo’s running game should eat up the Saints’ weak run defense. The Bills are better than they’re getting credit for; good enough to hang with a Saints’ squad coming off of their bye week. Saints 27, Bills 23
The Wager: I strongly considered taking the points here but ultimately decided against it. I went back and looked at the Saints’ outcomes at home under Sean Payton, and needless to say, there were a ton of blowouts. I may change my mind come Sunday morning but for now, this is a no play. Pass
The Trend: The Saints are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games following a bye week. (I realize this goes against my pick in this contest—I think the line is inflated because the public has gotten a hold of this trend.)
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
Friday Line: Patriots -6.5, total of 45
Public Consensus: 68% on the Patriots, 86% on the under
The Pick: It seems like this is becoming a broken record; but once again, the Patriots find themselves being a huge topic of discussion around the league. Most people assumed that the Patriots’ offense would get back on track once Rob Gronkowski returned to the lineup, but that wasn’t the case against the Jets last weekend. Tom Brady didn’t record a touchdown last week, marking the second time in three weeks where he failed to lead his team into the endzone. Brady seems to be under constant duress this season and the numbers back that up as he’s taken 20 sacks so far this year. Miami’s pass rush hasn’t put up the sack totals that they did last season but it will continue to improve as Cameron Wake eases himself back into the lineup. New England will try to run the ball to alleviate some pressure from Brady but that’ll be easier said than done against a Dolphins’ defense that’s pretty stout against the run. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, this Patriots’ offense still has a ways to go to find the form that they had in past seasons. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are suffering from many of the same issues on the offensive side of the ball. Ryan Tannehill deserves some blame for Miami’s lack of offensive consistency, but it’s tough for Tannehill to succeed behind an offensive line that’s surrendered 26 sacks in just six games. New England doesn’t have much in terms of a pass rush this season; especially with the injuries they’ve incurred on the defensive side of the ball, but it won’t take much to get into Miami’s backfield and disrupt Tannehill. The good news for the Dolphins is that they should find immense success on the ground. The Patriots have struggled mightily to stop the run since Vince Wilfork went down and they’ll have trouble limiting Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas’ yardage.
I think this game can be a lot closer than most people think. Ordinarily you’d almost always want to take New England after a loss but this Patriots’ team is much weaker than in years past. Miami didn’t look too good against Buffalo last week but I think they may have been caught looking ahead to New England. Patriots 21, Dolphins 19
The Wager: This is a tough one. Everything in my handicapping of this game is telling me to take Miami, but I’m mortified of betting against Brady again. It always seems like when people start counting New England out, they put in their best performances. Pass
The Trend: The Dolphins are 27-10 ATS in their last 37 road games against a team with a winning home record.
New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals
Friday Line: Bengals -6.5, total of 41.5
Public Consensus: 68% on the Bengals, 85% on the over
The Pick: Ordinarily I’d be inclined to believe that the Jets have a good shot to pull the upset here but there are a lot of factors working against them. For starters, they’re coming off of a hard-fought, emotional win over their biggest divisional rival. Time and time again, we see teams struggle the week following a tight victory. New York also doesn’t really match up that well with Cincinnati. The Jets are most effective offensively when they’re able to run the ball, but Chris Ivory will have a tough time duplicating his success from last week against a Bengals’ run defense that only gives up 3.8 yards per carry. Geno Smith will be working out of a lot of unfavorable third-and-long situations against a Bengals’ pass rush that finished third in the league in sacks just a year ago. Cincinnati’s secondary took a huge blow with the loss of Leon Hall to an Achilles injury, but Smith will only be able to exploit that deficiency if he gets time in the pocket. Unfortunately for the Bengals, games aren’t won solely by playing defense; Cincinnati will have to get something going offensively this week. Similarly to New York, Cincinnati loves to establish the run to setup the pass; however, the Jets rank first in the league in terms of yards allowed per rush. Andy Dalton has struggled mightily at points this season and it’d be safe to assume that he’ll continue to struggle if the Bengals can’t establish their running game. The Bengals have a game changing receiver in A.J. Green but it’s anyone’s guess if Dalton will be able to find him consistently down the field.
This is a tough game to call. Both quarterbacks can blow up in any given week, so I’m going to take the lame way out and side with the home team. It really wouldn’t surprise me to see this game go either way, but it’ll be hard for the Jets to get up for this contest after their win over New England. Bengals 23, Jets 16
The Wager: I really have ZERO read on this game. As I mentioned above, there is so much inconsistency at the quarterback position for both of these teams that it’s impossible for me to feel confident in one side over the other. Pass
The Trend: The Bengals are 17-8-1 ATS in their last 26 games following a win.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Oakland Raiders
Friday Line: Steelers -2, total of 40
Public Consensus: 51% on the Steelers, 68% on the under
The Pick: After beginning the season 0-4, the Steelers have reeled off back-to-back wins to get their season back on track. The returns of Le’Veon Bell and Heath Miller to the Steelers’ lineup have been a big reason for their turnaround. Oakland has a strong rush defense so they should be able to mitigate Bell’s effectiveness in the running game and force the Steelers to throw the ball more often. Pittsburgh has thrown the ball an average of 26.5 times during their mini winning streak, whereas, they threw the ball an average of 40.5 times during their four-game losing streak. If the Raiders can keep Bell in check and force Big Ben to win the game with his arm, they have a great shot of pulling off the upset. Oakland has also been especially strong against opposing tight ends this season, so the return of Miller shouldn’t factor much into the equation either. On the other side of things, I’m not completely sold on the Steelers’ defense. Pittsburgh has limited the Jets and Ravens to 22 points combined in the last two weeks, but that number isn’t that impressive when you consider they battled Joe Flacco on the road and an inconsistent Geno Smith. Terrell Pryor will have had two full weeks to prepare for this defense, and he should have a clean pocket all afternoon considering that the Steelers have only generated a paltry eight sacks in six games this season. Pryor will also have the luxury of handing off to Darren McFadden who should be close to one-hundred percent coming off of the bye week.
I can’t believe I’m typing this but I actually think Oakland is the better team in this contest. I’m not convinced Pittsburgh has completely turned it around just yet and I don’t like this matchup for the Steelers at all, especially with the Raiders coming off of extra rest. Raiders 24, Steelers 17
The Wager: Any time I feel that the wrong team is favored I’ll jump on board with the underdog. All of the situational angles in this game favor the Raiders and they’ll be ready to go in front of a sold out group of crazies at the Coliseum. Raiders +2
The Trend: The Steelers are 4-11 ATS in their last 15 road games.
Washington Redskins @ Denver Broncos
Friday Line: Broncos -11.5, total of 58
Public Consensus: 85% on the Redskins, 84% on the over
The Pick: I would hate to be any player on the Redskins’ defense this week. The Broncos were upset by the Colts on Sunday Night Football last week and predictably, the national media has overreacted to the loss. Peyton Manning’s arm strength is once again being called into question despite the fact that he threw for 386 yards, three touchdowns, and led the Broncos to 33 points. Nothing is wrong with Manning! The Redskins just gave up 41 points to the Bears with Josh McCown playing in place of an injured Jay Cutler for half the game. Washington can’t do anything right on defense and they’ll be in for a world of hurt against Manning, especially since he’ll be steaming off of that loss to his former team. Washington’s only realistic chance of keeping this game close is for Robert Griffin III to match scores with Manning. Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Nope. Griffin has been more mobile in recent weeks and he’s definitely playing better than he was earlier this season, but he’s still nowhere near his form from last year. Griffin’s completion percentage of 55.5% over the past three weeks still leaves much to be desired. Griffin should conceivably be able to torch an inept Broncos’ secondary but that’s assuming that he isn’t plagued by the inaccuracy that he’s shown all season. The issue for the Redskins in this contest will be their running game. The Broncos boast the second best run defense in the league, surrendering a measly 3.3 yards per carry and 77.1 yards per game. Washington’s entire offense is reliant on their ability to run the ball, so there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves in trouble when they can’t pick up yardage on the ground.
Washington may have pulled out a victory against the Josh McKown-led Bears last week but they’re also only two weeks removed from losing by 15 points in Dallas. The Redskins have an abomination of a defense and to expect them to match scores with Denver isn’t realistic. Broncos 49, Redskins 28
The Wager: I want to take Denver so badly here but I’ve never been comfortable laying double-digit points in the NFL. I missed an opportunity with the Packers last week and I may miss out on this one as well, but my discipline is what usually keeps me profitable by season’s end. I’ll continue to think about this one all week and may consider a play on Sunday, but I’ll leave it off for now. Pass
The Trend: The Broncos are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games against a team with a losing record.
Atlanta Falcons @ Arizona Cardinals
Friday Line: Cardinals -2.5, total of 46
Public Consensus: 71% on the Falcons, 87% on the over
The Pick: It’s amazing how far the Falcons have fallen since the beginning of the year. A team that was considered a Super Bowl candidate going into the season is now an underdog against the lowly Cardinals; and worst of all, they deserve to be the underdog. Atlanta is a train wreck. Throw last week’s victory over the Bucs out the window because Tampa Bay has completely given up on their coaching staff, as evidenced by their beating at the hands of the Panthers on Thursday night. The Falcons welcome Steven Jackson back into the fold this week but it’s clear that they’re rushing him back into the lineup at less than one-hundred percent. Jackson isn’t likely to make a big impact against a stout Cardinals’ run defense that limits opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. Matt Ryan will likely have to convert a bunch of third-and-longs to keep the chains moving in this contest, and he’ll likely have to do so without Harry Douglas, who will be shadowed by Patrick Peterson all afternoon. Arizona’s pass rush has also been significantly better since the return of linebacker Daryl Washington, so Ryan should have pressure in his face all afternoon. On the other side of things, Carson Palmer is a complete ass clown, but this is an ideal matchup for the 68-year-old statue. Palmer has been plagued by sacks and turnovers all season, but Atlanta has no pass rush (14 sacks this season), and they’ve generated only five turnovers on defense all year. The Falcons have had one of the worst stop units in the league since losing Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon, and they won’t have much success against a Cardinals’ unit that’s had extra time to prepare for this contest.
It’s almost sickening to take a Carson Palmer-led team to win any matchup, but that’s what I’m doing this week. Atlanta is so decimated on both sides of the ball that it’s hard to expect them to compete in a raucous road environment against a team on extra rest. Lots of people see upset potential here—I don’t. Cardinals 27, Falcons 17
The Wager: This is the trap line of the week. Everyone is asking themselves how Atlanta is an underdog but they haven’t done their due diligence on this matchup. All situational angles favor the Cardinals, plus I actually believe that Arizona matches up very well with the Falcons. Cardinals -2.5
The Trend: The Falcons are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 games overall.
Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
Friday Line: Packers -9, total of 47
Public Consensus: 66% on the Packers, 56% on the under
The Pick: Call me crazy, but I think this game has big upset potential. I know what you’re thinking—Pizzola has been sniffing glue again—but I can assure you that I haven’t. Everyone saw the Vikings get blasted by the Giants on Monday Night Football but it’s important to note that that embarrassing loss came with the atrocity known as Josh Freeman under center. Freeman is now suffering from a fictional concussion, which thrusts Christian Ponder back into the starting role. Ponder was effective against Green Bay last season, throwing for four touchdowns in two games, and he’ll have a huge chip on his shoulder as this might be his last shot to regain a starting quarterback position in the NFL. Adrian Peterson was barely used against the Giants on Monday night and rest assured, he’ll get a huge workload against a banged up Packers’ front seven on Sunday. Peterson ran for 409 yards an unbelievable 7.4 yards per carry in two regular season matchups against Green Bay last season—and that was against a Packers’ linebacking core that wasn’t decimated by injuries. Meanwhile, it’s no guarantee that the Packers are going to score at will on the Vikings. Green Bay will be without Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley for this contest which essentially leaves Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin as Green Bay’s only real threats through the air. The Packers will continue to try to pound the rock with Eddie Lacy, but the Vikings have a solid run defense that surrenders just 3.6 yards per carry. The Packers also had one of the worst red zone offenses in the league when they were completely healthy, so even if they’re able to move the ball consistently, there’s a good chance that they’ll be settling for field goals.
Minnesota isn’t nearly as bad as they looked on Monday night and the Packers have notoriously been a poor road team in recent years. That combination and the fact that Minnesota played Green Bay tough twice last season has me leaning to this game being a lot closer than most people think. Packers 24, Vikings 23
The Wager: There is some INSANE line value with Minnesota this week. This line suggests that the Vikings would be approximately 15-point underdogs if this game was at Lambeau Field, and any football fan knows that that wouldn’t be the case. I’ll plug my nose and back the dog here. Vikings +9
The Trend: The Packers are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games following a win of 14+ points.