The Thursday night game this week features one of the better matchups we've had all season, as the Panthers head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers in a battle of two-loss teams. Bettors have flocked to the Panthers; after the Westgate opened this line at Steelers -6.5 on Sunday night, they quickly moved down to 5.5 within two hours and by noon Monday had Steelers -4 on the board. On Wednesday, the line made another move toward the Panthers, with many books making it Steelers -3.5.
It's almost as if no one has watched a Thursday game this season. Favorites are 7-2 ATS in Thursday games this season, and the two losses come with a pair of caveats: One is the Rams, who closed as a 7.5-point favorite against the Vikings before winning by seven. However, Rams -7 was available for most the week, and you probably pushed if you laid the points in that one. The second game last week, as the line swung from 49ers -2.5 to Raiders -1.5 on Thursday after it was announced that C.J. Beathard would miss the game. But Nick Mullens proved just as capable of rolling through the Raiders' Swiss cheese defense.
If you want to ride the trend that has by and large been paying off on Thursday, you want to be on the favored side. With the Steelers, that means getting them at a much better value now than they were just a few days ago.
If you want to know which sides I like this week, you can find that info at the SportsLine link below, where all my rated plays appear during the season along with my five SuperContest picks each week and plenty of great analysis from a fantastic collection of experts. You can also check out where all our CBS Sports staff lands on each game each week right here.
Each week in this space, I'm going to go behind the lines and picks to bring you a bit of a deeper dive into what you should know before locking in your plays. Let's get to it.
DVOA is a big fan of this Panthers team, as they rank No. 3 in the league overall on the strength of their 6-2 start. Yards per play differential goes the other way, giving the Steelers the clear edge thanks to a defense that has fifth in net yards per attempt allowed and ninth in yards per rush allowed.
What is DVOA finding so impressive? Well, the top-ranked rush offense paired with the sixth-best pass offense in the league will give you a pretty high ceiling, but traditional numbers don't paint quite a rosy picture of the passing game, which ranks 13th in net yards per attempt and only has one 300-yard game all season. If the rushing attack isn't working in Carolina the offense can get into trouble, and the Steelers haven't given up 100 yards on the ground since Week 2.
My power rating line assumes both teams will be using backup QBs in this matchup, but if Josh Allen is able to play, I think the Bills make for a solid value here. The offense would go from historically bad to just bad, and a Jets defense that ranks just 22nd in adjusted sack rate likely won't have a monster game against the overmatched Bills line.
The matchup features two awful offenses against two defenses that DVOA ranks in the top seven (Bills second, Jets seventh). No wonder the total for this game is a Marianas Trench level 36.5 points. With a total that low, you almost have to like the Bills if you can find it at 7 or better.
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Even with giving the Browns a bad home-field advantage, this line looks off. I have the Browns as my 25th team in power rating, and I can't put them with the dregs of the league as I think the defense is solid despite a string of tough matchups while the offense has flashed with Baker Mayfield. I have the Falcons tied for 12th with the Bears. Even with that gap and the reduced HFA, the line works out to Falcons -1.5
The Falcons defense could be exactly what the Browns need to get going. It's hard to find a metric that has something positive to say about Atlanta's stop unit, so if the Browns defense can put up any sort of resistance, the home team could be in for an upset.
The Saints are putting together an excellent ATS record, but their YPP differential isn't buying the "best team in the league" talk. The offense is excellent, coming in at No. 4 in overall DVOA and ranking just behind the Chiefs in points per drive. But the defense has looked beatable by good passing teams, ranking 31st in net yards per attempt allowed to go along with 29th in DVOA. They're also averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt, good for 27th in the NFL, despite a strong DVOA ranking.
Are the Bengals the type of team to pull off an upset? They can have big passing days, but the offensive ceiling comes down without A.J. Green. And while the Bengals put up big numbers against the bad pass defenses of Tampa Bay and Atlanta, they also threw up a dud against the Chiefs. Their effectiveness through the air will be the key to which side of this spread wins.
You can throw out a lot of what the numbers say about this matchup with Washington dealing with crippling injuries on the offensive line. When the injury bug keeping hitting the same unit on a team, the issues that unit will have compounds more than if the injuries were spread across different positions. So even though the Bucs have the worst defense in the league per DVOA, we should expect their front four to win the battle in the trenches here.
So it'll be on the Redskins defense to slow down a talented Bucs passing offense that ranks fourth in net yards per attempt in addition to 10th in DVOA. If the Bucs break through on offense like Atlanta did against Washington last week, game over.
The Titans have allowed the fewest points in the league, while the red-hot Patriots have won six in a row. Something has to give, and though the Titans defense is doing well on the surface, DVOA isn't a fan, ranking them 20th overall. Malcolm Butler has proven to be an exploitable liability in the Titans' secondary, and Bill Belichick will take advantage of any weakness he can find. Despite a couple shootouts against the Chiefs and Bears, the Patriots defense has played well during the team's six-game winning streak.
My power ratings think this line is inflated, as the Titans should be four-point 'dogs at home in this matchup. But the Patriots' four worst games on offense in terms of yardage gained were their four road games. If the Titans can continue to limit possessions and shine in the red zone, this one should stay inside the number.
The fact that the Dolphins have a winning record after nine games despite these underlying stats is pretty impressive. Pair the wide mismatch in YPP differential with the Packers' excellent home-field advantage, and this should be a runaway Packers cover, right?
Well, DVOA is a much bigger fan of the Dolphins, putting them basically even with the Packers on the season despite an offense that has been held under 175 yards two different times this year, including in last week's win over the Jets. The Packers defense has had issues lately, and while you can't fault them from going on the road and failing to shut down the Rams or Patriots, they weren't exactly great before the bye either. Six of Green Bay's eight opponents have scored between 29 and 31 points; if the Dolphins get there, they'll cover.
Talk about a meeting of two opposites. The Jaguars can't get much going on offense these days, and they certainly don't look capable of taking advantage of Indy's weakness against the pass. The Colts rolled into their bye having scored at least 34 points in four of their previous five games, and while Andrew Luck has shown he can do it with his arm, it's the running game that's exploded over their last two games. The Jaguars play good defense against the run and the pass, so it's no given the Colts will find a way to move the ball consistently.
The Jaguars have won four of the last five in this series, but the Colts had won six straight before that run and the Jags have yet to face a Colts team coached by Frank Reich, so those trends aren't going to mean much, if anything. The Jaguars have also faced a lot of Colts QBs not named Andrew Luck over the last few years while he was injured.
Both YPP and DVOA say the Bears are a far superior team to the Lions. While you may figure it's strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness with these offenses and defenses, the Bears have just as good an offense as the Lions, if not better according to some metrics. The Lions' defense, on the other hand, is clearly the worst unit in this game, with bottom four rankings in both pass and rush defense, per DVOA.
Compounding the issue for the Lions is that the Bears had Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson practice in full on Wednesday, and both could be ready to return from a multiweek absence. The Lions, on the other hand, just traded away their most reliable receiver, and the offense predictably looked flat against the Vikings last week.
My power ratings get pretty conservative when we're talking about huge lines, and I don't think the Cardinals are among the 3-4 worst teams in the league. But I'm not in a rush to take the points against an offense that's playing historically well. Football Outsiders said on Tuesday that the Chiefs have the third-best offense they've tracked (through 1986) after nine games in a season.
Josh Rosen and company may have the chance at a backdoor cover in the second half, say if they're down 34-14. But can the offense get there? If not for the historically-bad Bills, the Cardinals would easily have the worst offense in the league, per DVOA. The 321 yards of offense they had against the 49ers in their last game before the break was the first time they even got to 270. The best way to attack the Chiefs is with the run, but the Cardinals rank last in the league in both rush DVOA and yards per carry, and they haven't managed a 100-yard game on the ground yet. Not from one player, but as a team. Good luck finding a path to this game being competitive.
This appears to be just as big a mismatch as the Cardinals-Chiefs game, but with the favorite on the road instead of at home. Will that matter? The Raiders showed up at home against the Browns in their only win of the season, but they've lost by at least 14 points in each of their four games since. It takes some trying to be worse than the Bucs in terms of pass defense, but the Raiders have managed it.
The Chargers on the other hand have the best YPP differential in the league thanks to an offense that almost as good as that of the Chiefs and a defense that's good-to-great rather than mediocre. They won at home 26-10 against the Raiders back in Week 5, and we could be in for a similar result here.
The Rams were a juggernaut before falling to the Saints last week, but they've actually had trouble covering big numbers this year. Outside of an easy win over the 49ers, the Rams haven't covered the closing number since Week 3. While the offense has been chugging along, the defense has had its issues this year, and in particular the rush defense looks like something that can be exploited by a Seattle offense that has topped 150 rushing yards in five straight games.
The Seahawks put up 31 points in the first meeting between these two teams, and there was nothing fluky about it; they didn't start on the Rams' side of the field once all game, and three of their four TD drives went at least 74 yards. If they can put together another complete performance on offense, this game has a good chance of staying inside the number again.
The last time these two teams met, Dallas won 6-0. Should we expect another snooze-fest here? While both defenses have played much better than their offense counterparts, DVOA isn't impressed with the Cowboys' pass defense, and the Eagles might have a hard time slowing down Ezekiel Elliott with their rush defense.
The Cowboys have scored a total of 28 points in their last three games against this defense, and a similar offensive output isn't going to get it done. Golden Tate caught all eight of his targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns against this defense earlier in the year, and the Eagles could try and exploit whatever was working in the matchup for the Lions.
Are you ready for some football? Nick Mullens will try and recapture his primetime magic against what on paper is a tougher defensive matchup, but not by much. The Giants might be 1-7, but five of those losses were by seven points or less, so they know how to hang around in games against most teams. The 49ers don't have a particularly strong defense, so if Eli Manning and company are going to find any kind of fight, this figures to be the matchup to do it in.
DVOA actually thinks the Giants are the slightly better team, and when you pair that with the 49ers' below-average home-field advantage, this one could be ripe for an upset.
Teaser of the Week
Bears -0.5 vs. Lions Chargers -3.5 at Raiders
The Bears are an easy call this week, considering the wild mismatch in stats between the two teams and Chicago getting stars back on both sides of the ball this week. The second leg of the teaser is a bit harder, and even though we're not going through 3 with the Chargers, they feel like a safe call against a Raiders team that has given up. The Eagles are also worth consideration here if all they have to do is beat the Cowboys on home with a huge rest disparity.
The teaser of the week is 5-4 after the Rams couldn't keep it within one score against the Saints. That one hurt.