NFL Week 9 Picks
By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)

Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):
Best Bets: 6-2 (75%)
Units: 18.5-11 (63%)
All Bets: 12-9 (57%)

Week 8 Recap:

2 units (Best Bet): MINNESOTA (PK) OVER New Orleans

The final score of 30-20 certainly looked ugly, but the Vikings actually outgained the Saints 423 yards to 270. Unfortunately for us, Kirk Cousins’ uncharacteristic pick-six and Adam Theilen’s costly fumble were each 10-to-14 point swings in this one. Looking back, I don’t necessarily think the handicap was wrong, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.

1 unit: CAROLINA (+2.5) OVER Baltimore

In last week’s post, we highlighted the strong home-field advantage for Carolina, as well as how the Ravens may have been a bit overvalued in the spread. Thankfully, we got on the board with Carolina in Week 8, as Cam Newton led the Panthers to a convincing win.

Moreover, now that we’ve reached the midpoint of the season, our mindset as bettors must change a bit, as every team has enough data points to be evaluated reasonably in the market. So how do we identify when a spread is wrong, you may ask? Here are the two major elements we look for:

• Element #1: Situational advantages (i.e., rest, cluster injuries, motivation, etc.) or major changes within a team that lead us to believe it has either a) drastically improved or b) drastically regressed
• Element #2: Overreactions to the prior week – Most of us can’t help ourselves, but going against the public overreaction can be quite profitable. Even this late in the season, lines can move unnecessarily by two-to-three points based on the prior game.

Using these two general factors, we’ve identified a nice three-pack of games we like in Week 8. Let’s get to the picks! (HOME teams in all caps).

BEST BET

Tennessee (+6.5) OVER DALLAS – 1.5 units

Some quick facts:

• The over/under in this game is 40.5, which is 4.5 points lower than all but one game in Week 9.
• When a game is expected to be lower scoring, points become more valuable.
• Thus, a 6.5-point spread carries more weight in a lower-scoring game.

Right off the bat, Tennessee looks to have an inherent advantage, but there are certainly other reasons to believe the Titans are primed for a strong performance in Week 9. Now – let’s evaluate how our two major elements apply to this one:

Element #1: Situational advantages

Both teams are off a bye, so we should call it a wash, right?

Wrong.

Just think about it. Byes are beneficial for two reasons: 1) getting healthy and 2) extra preparation time for the following week’s game.

I’ll admit – Factor #1 is likely a tie: Although Titans QB Marcus Mariota is healthier and no longer needing a glove on his throwing hand, Cowboys defensive ace Sean Lee is back in the lineup.

However, while both teams have equal time to prepare, factor #2 heavily (and I mean, HEAVILY) favors Tennessee. Seriously – Dallas has called one of the least inventive offenses in the league this year. In fact, they actually asked Amari Cooper upon his arrival if he knew any “cool plays”. Could you see Bill Belichick doing that?

On the other side of the coin, we have an up-and-coming coach in Tennessee who, I’m sure, has been preparing a strong gameplan for this week. Don’t forget: This guy won 2 games earlier in the season with Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback.

Advantage: Tennessee

Element #2: Overreactions to the prior week

I mentioned both teams were on a bye last week, but for some reason the spread increased from 4 on the look-ahead line to 6.5 currently. Did Amari Cooper really make that much of a difference? I think not.

Advantage: Tennessee

Give us the better coach and the 6.5 points. We’ll take the Titans.

OTHER BETS I’LL DABBLE WITH

Pittsburgh (+3) OVER BALTIMORE – 1.5 units

You’ve all heard it before, but it doesn’t make it any less valid: In the last 21 games between these two teams, 13 of them were decided by 3 points are less. So historically, blindly taking the underdog in this rivalry has been profitable. However, here are some other reasons to believe Pittsburgh is the right side:

• Pittsburgh’s Defense is Better Than You Think: The three-point spread factors into season-long statistics, but Pittsburgh is first in the league in yards-per-play allowed in its last 3 games (all wins). Bonus Note: Offensively, the Steelers are 5th in that time span.
• Pittsburgh Tends to Be Streaky: After an embarrassing 30-9 loss to Jacksonville last season, Pittsburgh ripped off 8 straight wins. After losing four in a row in 2016, the Steelers ended the season winning 7 in a row. When Big Ben gets rolling, this team can get really hot. I’d expect this three-game winning streak to extend.
• The Revenge Factor: Speaking of the three-game Pittsburgh winning streak – do you know who the most recent loss was to? That’s right – the Ravens (26-14). The Steelers will be extra motivated to avenge that one.
• The Home vs. Road Myth: Since 2016, Pittsburgh is 5th in the league against-the-spread on the road, and 22nd against-the-spread at home.
• Baltimore Trending Downward: The Ravens are coming off two hard-fought losses in a row to New Orleans and Carolina, but still are being valued as equal to Pittsburgh in the marketplace.

Based on all of the above, give us the peaking Steelers team over an offensively-challenged Ravens’ squad.

Houston (+1) OVER DENVER – 1 unit

This one is all about the ‘situational-edge’. Remember that road-favorite-off-a-bye trend I brought up a couple of weeks ago? Well, the Texans played on Thursday last week (i.e., 10 days of rest and preparation), and they almost are favored here, so I believe the same logic applies. In fact, the rest will be especially helpful to Houston, as QB Deshaun Watson appears to be close to 100% after playing with a bruised lung the past two games.

Conversely, Denver comes in with losses in 5 of 6, and just signaled its rebuild with a trade of longtime wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Coincidentally, Thomas was traded to the very team the Broncos face this weekend, which only adds motivation to the Texans’ side.

So based on all of this, you’d be shocked if I told you the look-ahead line with Texans -1.5, wouldn’t you?

Well, it was. And I don’t understand it.

Therefore, all we can realistically do is take the profitable bet in Houston over an overrated Denver team.

There we have it – our Week 9 picks are officially in the books. Let’s get some “W”s!

“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” (The Color of Money). Good luck this weekend and may the picks be with us.

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Zach Zaffos
Zach is a South Florida native who doubles as a CPA and semi-professional poker player. He is also an avid sports bettor, with a specialty in the NFL. Known to be a bit of a contrarian, Zach provides insight into trends on the field not typically noticed by the casual fan.