Welp. Last week was a kick in the pants, but don’t fret I was right there taking it with you. People are saying it was the Vegas sportsbooks worst weekend of the year. Favorites went 9-4-1 ATS on the closing line, while underdogs are 87-70-4 ATS overall this year on the closing line. Finding any edges in this fake sport we all have an unhealthy obsession with is a process over the course of the season. That process has led me to a 4 pieces I found in research this week that have implication on not only this week, but the rest of the season overall.
Ravens Defense: Best in Football? (Source: Sports Info Solutions and Football Outsiders)
Lamar Jackson is the front runner for the MVP. He has been outstanding and deserves all the praise he is getting. However, the reason the Ravens went from fringy top 10 team a month ago to super bowl contender was the return of Jimmy Smith coupled with the acquisition of Marcus Peters. The Ravens currently rank #10 in total defensive DVOA. They were 18th in that category coming off the bye in week 8. They have made up that ground against two above average offenses in New England and Houston. They are deploying multiple defensive back heavy looks with Marlon Humphrey (#3 in success rate among qualifying corners), Brandon Carr (#13 in success rate among qualifying corners), Smith (Targeted on only ~3 times per game in 2019), Peters, and all-pro Earl Thomas patrolling behind them. This team is similar to the Chargers defense of 2018. This talent in the secondary is supplemented the #5 pressure rate in football and the #6 adjusted line yards defensively. They are allowing only 4.5 yards per play in the last 3 games. This defense is the best in football, and the fantasy points against numbers are slightly skewed by the early season. If you have any choice, sit your players against Baltimore.
Carson Wentz: Worst Year of his Career (Source: Sports Info Solutions and NextGenStats)
How many drops do the Eagles receivers have? It varies from service to service, but SIS has tabbed them with 17 on the season. This would put them near, or at the top, of the NFL. The league median for drops is 11. If you removed the 6 extra drops over the median and made them completions Wentz would have a 63% completion rate. This would still be over a percent lower than his expected completion rate, joining the likes of Mitchell Trubisky, Jared Goff, and Baker Mayfield. Those players are assuredly having bad seasons and are getting lit up by the media. Wentz has a decimated receiver core, but something else seems to be wrong in Philly. Wentz has shown before that he can succeed just with his safety blanket Zach Ertz and creative play calling from Doug Pedersen. While Wentz is having a negative luck factor, he is not having a productive year himself.
Nobody likes picking against an underdog Aaron Rodgers. Furthermore, nobody in the right mind likes doing so off a bye, with him catching more than a field goal, and in his “homecoming”. This is not a good recipe for success. All of that said, this is still a poor matchup for the Pack. The Packers have an average defense but have been gutted on the ground repeatedly. They are #32 in adjusted line yards defensively in the NFL. They have allowed 100 of more rushing yards to every opponent except the Bears, the Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes, and the Lions at home. Aside from the Lions, these teams do not have the ability to be threats in the passing game. While, the 49ers run game is likely slightly overrated (they really took it to some poor run defenses early in the year), George Kittle is trending towards playing in this game and is a major component to their run game success. Combine this with a Packers offensive line that is allowing Aaron Rodgers to be hit against an elite pass rush. I’ll be backing the Niners.
Sneaky Shootout of the Week: New England Vs. Dallas (Source: Football Outsiders)
I think the Cowboys versus the Patriots is set up for a ton of points. This comes with a caveat. It is currently projected to be 40 degrees and raining. If this turns from a drizzle, the wind starts howling, or the temperature drops, I would be much more likely to back off this prediction. The total has been pushed down to 45.5. This game is going to be extremely high paced as the Patriots are #1 in situational neutral pace and the Cowboys are #3. This game could feature the most plays in regulation this season. The Cowboys have the #1 offense in the NFL per DVOA, and while I do believe the Patriots defense is in the elite tier, they have only faced one upper-tier offense this season and were beaten to a pulp. Alternatively, the Patriot offense has stalled in recent weeks, but with the return of Isaiah Wynn to protect Tom Brady I expect some of the pressure that Dallas generates to be alleviated. The pressure rate is frankly the only positive on the Dallas defense. They are bottom ten in adjusted line yards and don’t have a corner back within the top 50 of success rate. This should be a fun, fun game.