NFL Week 4 Picks
By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)
Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):
Best Bets: 3-0 (100%)
Units: 9.5-2 (83%)
All Bets: 6-2 (75%)
Week 3 Recap:
2 units (Best Bet): WASHINGTON (+3) OVER Green Bay
Keep the best bets rolling! Once again, we dipped into the well of home underdogs, and once again, it delivered. Our handicap questioned Aaron Rodgers’ health and Green Bay’s fatigue, and touted the bounce-back potential of Alex Smith and the underrated Washington defense. After a 31-17 outright victory for the ‘Skins, we’re feeling pretty good about our forecast.
1.5 units: ARIZONA (+5.5) OVER Chicago
Sense a theme here? We love the home ‘dogs, especially coming off a loss. Our theory held true once again, as the pick we probably caught the most heat for was ultimately a winner. Last week, we highlighted the home-run spot for Arizona (0-2 start; backs against the wall at home) and the prime letdown potential for the Bears (road game off a Monday Night victory; multiple defensive TDs in the first two weeks masking the poor QB play). Looking back, our handicap was right on, as the Cards came out energized, and the Bears were a bit lethargic to start. Despite the outright win for Chicago, this game is Exhibit A of why you generally want to take the points.
1 unit: SEATTLE (-1.5) OVER Dallas
Last but not least, Seattle helped us complete our first perfect week of the season. We emphasized multiple trends that pointed to Seattle as a strong home team against the spread, and Russell Wilson and the ‘Hawks lived up to our expectations.
Now that we’ve recapped out prior week, let’s try to duplicate our successes in Week 4. For the first few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about identifying over-and-undervalued teams going into the season and about fading teams that significantly over-or underperformed in the first couple weeks. However, I believe the game has shifted a little bit now that we’ve entered Week 4. At this point, we have three data points on each team, and can at least begin to compile a solid baseline of each team’s capabilities in 2018. Furthermore, Vegas slowly has begun to adjust to these changes in its betting lines, so many of the value spots evident in prior weeks have dried up.
However, don’t worry, my fellow bettors, because Week 4 presents new types of opportunities. This week, we’ll examine a couple of situational edges I absolutely love.
OAKLAND -2.5 OVER Cleveland – 1.5 units
I get it. Baker Mayfield is the man. He’s exciting. He led an awesome comeback last week. And you want to bet on him. I understand that the Raiders have experienced a massive downfall since our initial over/under column, where we pegged them under 8 wins. However, like Arizona (and apparently Buffalo) last week, sometimes the best time to back a team is when it has hit rock bottom, and I believe Oakland’s 0-3 start – plus its trade of its star player – qualifies as rock bottom.
On the surface, the 2.5-point spread may not seem preposterous to some of you. Cleveland has exceeded expectations in all three of its games this season with a 3-0 ATS record, and Oakland has blown leads in the second half all season long. So why should Oakland not only be the favorite, but also our best bet? Turnovers.
In the past, we’ve talked a bit about how many professional bettors identify undervalued teams based on which teams have the worst turnover differential. The logic is simple: turnovers (especially fumbles) can be fluky, and wins and losses (which are the primary driver of future spreads) often come down to the turnover battle. Thus, if a team has gotten unlucky with an unsustainable amount of fumbles recovered, then that team is likely being overvalued in the following weeks’ spreads.
Well, get this: Cleveland is #1 in the league with a plus-9 turnover differential – a full 5 turnovers above #2. Oakland, conversely, is dead last in the league (#32) in turnover differential at -4. Cleveland’s plus-9 differential includes six fumble recoveries and zero fumbles lost in three weeks. It’s the perfect storm of overvalued versus undervalued.
In addition, there are a couple of other factors that pointed us toward Oakland:
- Misleading 0-3 start for the Raiders: While the team hasn’t come away with a win thus far, its losses aren’t as bad as you think. Oakland definitely let the Broncos’ and Dolphins’ games get away from it in two consecutive weeks, but I believe the team’s late-game mishaps actually present some value here for us. To expand, I believe that if Oakland had won both of its last two games – which it easily could have – we would be looking at a 6-to-7 point spread here. Additionally, Oakland’s opponents are 5-1 in its other six games.
- Exaggerated impact of Baker Mayfield’s arrival: Just listen to this quote – “We were not prepared to play against [Mayfield]” – Jamal Adams, Safety – New York Jets. Many will jump on the Baker hype train, but let’s remember that he came in mid-game last week, and the Browns’ opponent (the Jets) had practiced all week to defend Tyrod Taylor. With a week to prepare for Mayfield, I believe Oakland will be better equipped to slow down the rookie.
To recap, give me a hungry 0-3 Raiders team over an overvalued Cleveland Browns squad.
OTHER BET I’LL DABBLE WITH
Cincinnati (+5) OVER ATLANTA – 1 unit
Did you know that since 2011 (when Andy Dalton came into the league), the Bengals are #3 in the NFL against the spread (#2 ATS on the road)? Seriously – for all of its postseason failures, the combination of Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis sure does crush regular-season expectations.
And I see no reason for that to change this week.
I’ll admit – there aren’t many quarterbacks worse than a bad Andy Dalton. When he is bad, he is BAD. Yet, somehow, even though we’ve seen him quite a bit, the public tends to think of Dalton in that light, and does not consider how great Dalton is at his best. Thus, he tends to be perennially undervalued, even in Vegas spreads. So how do we know if we’re going to get a good Dalton or a disastrous Dalton? Throughout his career, the numbers have pointed to one major factor: protection.
When Dalton has time to throw, he doesn’t get flustered, and generally makes good decisions. Luckily, we’ve identified a nice two-sided trend here that leads us to believe he should have plenty of time to throw versus Atlanta. Though the Bengals were #27 in sacks allowed a year ago, the team has shielded its pocket passer quite well in 2018, which is not surprising given its overhaul of last year’s offensive line. In fact, the Bengals are 2nd in the NFL with only 4 sacks allowed this season. Compounding matters are the cluster injuries on Atlanta’s defense (both starting safeties are out), which already ranks 28th in the NFL with 5 sacks so far this season. The duality of Cincinatti’s improved protection and Atlanta’s injuries and poor pass rush really shape up nicely here for the Cincy side.
Furthermore, based on the change in personnel, which includes investing its first-round pick in an offensive tackle, I believe the improvement of Cincinnati’s offensive line to be a legitimate and sustainable factor that hasn’t really factored into Vegas’ spread considerations yet for 2018. For that reason, I like Dalton to bounce back after a tough loss in Carolina, and for a fatigued Atlanta team to struggle to generate enough of a pass rush to disrupt the Red Rifle. Give me undervalued Cincy, a team that is probably equal to Atlanta, yet is catching a whopping five points.
“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” (The Color of Money). Good luck this weekend and may the picks be with us.