Three weeks into the season, we can finally start to use our predictive metrics with up-to-date numbers from the NFL's 2017 season, none more important than YPP, which we teased last week and is back in a major way.
Before we start all that, it's time to eat some crow here as our picks a week ago went 1-2, which is entirely my fault (your humble statistician), as our in-house predictive metrics had huge weeks going straight up against the spread. As our estimated win metric (or EW) went 10-and-4 while YPP went 10-6.
In a week marked by home underdogs coming through in the NFL, our metrics cleaned up. Which is why the frustration of not listening to the numbers is even greater. As any of our regular readers know, I LOVE HOMEDOGS.
So is the life of a better, the human element will always ruin good solid stats and unbiased metrics. With that in mind, we’ve updated our EW metric using this year’s numbers and not the preseason ones.
Thus, we have two updated “sets” of picks for you this week. Of course, it’s still early but three weeks in is when we can really start to apply the 2017 metrics and everything seems to come into place.
Once again we have a little bit of everything sprinkled into the NFL slate, three home-dogs that look tricky as ever (the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens) and another London game. No to mention two teams coming off the game at Wembley Stadium last week who are actually playing, something that hasn’t happened since the league started doing regular games in England back in 2007. Meaning the Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars will be hard teams to predict.
It’s also worth noting that a line for the Minnesota Vikings game is still unavailable as of Thursday morning, as Sam Bradford’s injury and uncertain return at quarterback has made them a problem for sportsbooks the last couple of weeks.
With all that, strap on tight. Here’re our picks for the week.
YPP picks of the week
Los Angeles Rams +7 at the Dallas Cowboys
Our preseason EW metric was so low on the Rams that it actually favors the Cowboys beyond the touchdown advantage they already have, but that's the beauty of updating everything. Going off the early season stats, this LA team has been quite impressive as they’re third in the league for positive yards per play with 1.1 (behind only the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons) and are third in point differential having outscored their opponents by 32.
That’s what makes LA a favorite not only for YPP but also our updated EW numbers. As far as the eye test, with their blossoming young receiving core and passing game, the Rams have the goods to hurt the Cowboys inexperienced secondary.
This is far from a sure thing as the Rams two wins came against the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts so the stats could we skewed a bit here. However, Dallas has shown some limitations and their Ws against the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals aren’t exactly looking impressive either right now.
We’ll roll the dice on these young Rams who are loaded with talent.
New Orleans Saints -2.5 against the Miami Dolphins
Off to the other side of the pond and once again taking the Saints on back to back weeks. It’s worth noting the Dolphins have only played in two games so we need to still get a larger sample size from them, but last week's loss to the Jets was pretty troubling.
Jay Cutler looked bad and the Dolphins seemed very beatable. The Fins have also had to put up with one of the more brutal travel schedules in recent NFL history, having a hurricane-imposed Week 1 bye, then having to travel across the country to Los Angles and then to New York. Now they have to fly to London and, mind you, this is a team that's already had to replace their starting quarterback well into the preseason with a street free agent who’d signed a contract with Fox as a TV analyst.
The Saints aren’t great but they have a quarterback and head coach you can trust and while they’re 1-2 on the season they’ve played three teams that all have winning records this year.
New Orleans is also 1-0 in London games while the Dolphins are 1-2, just another reason to take Drew Brees and his crew once again.
EW picks of the week
Tennessee Titans -1.5 at the Houston Texans
We’re going against a home dog here so beware, it’s also worth mentioning that if Houston’s rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson can keep up what we saw in Week 3 this becomes riskier.
Having watched these teams, logic says there are only two ways this plays out with two division rivals that are fairly one-dimensional; either the two grind it out and then it’s a toss-up, or the Titans overwhelm the Texans with their ground-and-pound style the way they did the Seattle Seahawks a week ago.
Thanks to their reliable running game and a QB in Marcus Mariota that can make plays when needed, Tennessee is eighth in point differential and ninth in YPP at 0.4 per game (compared to Houston’s -0.8) this season. All while playing an intimidating brand of football that's hard to beat because they're just so talented in the offensive trenches.
These Titans look for real and they’re just reliable, something the Texans are not.
Jacksonville Jaguars -3.5 at the New York Jets
Are we getting sucked into the Jaguars once again? After betting on them Week 2 we should have learned our lesson right? but we’re back at it again. After all, with the Jets having just pulled off a win at home to their divisional foes in Miami you never know what could happen.
Here’s the thing about Jacksonville though, if they face a team with a powerful enough offense to put up points on their vaunted defense (which is the NFL's stingiest in YPP allowed), they’ll struggle because their offense can’t overcome any sort of deficit, against the Jets that’s much less of a concern.
Jacksonville’s defense has just been tremendous thus far, with the development of some young talent on the unit and some key free agents signings already paying off in a big way.
The Jets will need to find a few big plays like they did against Miami and play really stifling defense against a Jags ground attack that’s quietly the fifth best in the NFL, gaining 140 yards per game thus far.
We’ll take our shot here against Josh McCown and the lifeless Jets attack, as our EW spread has Jacksonville favored by -12 points in this game.