NFL Week 7 best bets: Picks for Sunday night game

Every Friday during the NFL season, ESPN betting analysts Doug Kezirian (2-1 last week, 8-9 overall), Joe Fortenbaugh (2-3, 13-23), Anita Marks (5-5, 19-28), Preston Johnson (1-3, 8-13), Mike Clay (0-1, 9-5) and Tyler Fulghum (2-5, 10-14), sports betting deputy editor David Bearman (1-1, 11-6), Seth Walder (4-1, 16-11) of ESPN analytics and Aaron Schatz (2-2, 15-17-1) of Football Outsiders will tell us what they like from Sunday’s slate.

Note: Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Thursday.

8:20 p.m. ET game

Seattle Seahawks (-3.5, 56.5) at Arizona Cardinals

Fulghum: Here’s what we know about this game:

1. Russell Wilson is in God mode.

2. The Seahawks cannot stop anyone.

3. Kyler Murray is a dangerous man.

4. DeAndre Hopkins and DK Metcalf are unfair.

Expect points in this matchup and expect a lot. The Arizona defense is actually not bad, but “not bad” is no bueno when Mr. Unlimited is slingin’ it on the other side. Meanwhile, Murray and Kliff Kingsbury get to match wits with a defense giving up 370.4 passing yards per game — more than 35 yards per game worse than the next team. This game should be high-scoring and fun — and it might end up being the first L this season for the Seahawks.

Pick: Cardinals +3.5, Over 56.5

Bearman: I have been high on the Cardinals all year, for better and worse. They get Seattle off a bye and are on short rest themselves, which gives me slight pause. But you are also getting a very good team at home and 3.5 points. The Cardinals are quietly the only team to play all unders this year, which means the defense isn’t too bad, ranking in the top half of most league categories Seattle can’t stop anyone, so Arizona should be able to do what it wants at all times. This is a good test for the Cardinals, who have covered four of the past five in the series, including an outright win late last year.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Seahawks have covered seven straight games with at least seven days between games dating to 2018, but I would argue that they never had a defense this bad (last in the NFL in pass and total yards allowed). Kirk Cousins (249 pass yards in Week 5) is the only QB to not throw for over 300 yards against this defense. Murray and Hopkins should hook up early and often in this one. The 3.5 is good value and a little on the money line could help your parlays out.

Pick: Cardinals +3.5

1 p.m. ET games

Buffalo Bills (-13, 45) at New York Jets

Fortenbaugh: Everybody on planet Earth is lining up to fade the 0-6 Jets, who also happen to find themselves at 0-6 against the spread. Good, because that’s the type of herd mentality that can create value in a team like — gasp! — the Jets. First, let’s examine the situation. Buffalo has been forced to play on short rest in each of their past two games after a Tuesday night showdown in Tennessee in Week 5 and a Monday afternoon matchup against the Chiefs in Week 6. Further, how much attention do you think the Bills will be willing to pay the lowly Jets knowing that a showdown with the Patriots is on deck in Week 8? For as bad as New York has been this season, I think 13 points is just too many for Buffalo to lay given the situation.

Pick: Jets +13

Schatz: A game against the Jets suggests two things. First, that Josh Allen will not have as much opportunity to rack up passing yards because the terrible Jets offense ensures that he’ll be working with a lot of short fields. Second, that Allen will not have as much opportunity to rack up passing yards because the Bills will spend the second half running out the clock. (Seriously, is there a “Matt Barkley handoffs” prop?) Allen has gone under this number in his past three games, and the Jets have given up fewer than 250 passing yards in four of their six losses this season.

Pick: Allen under 286.5 passing yards (-115)

Walder: This will be my fourth time making this specific Stefon Diggs bet this season, and every time the reasoning has been the same. It’s hardly infallible logic, but it is 3-0 for me thus far. Despite this high line, Diggs ranks only 43rd out of 91 wide receivers in air yards per target, but the actual routes he’s running are even shorter than that would suggest: three seconds into the play, Diggs is 9.6 yards downfield on average, which ranks 69th among that same group.

Pick: Diggs longest reception under 26.5 yards (-115)

Marks: The Bills are coming in heated after losing two straight and have an opportunity to get back into the win column this week. The Jets just might be what the doctor ordered for Allen, who has struggled recently, completing under 60% of his passes over his past two games. Allen should connect long with Diggs this Sunday, considering the Jets are ranked 28th in yards per attempt. We are laying a lot of points here, but this matchup has the potential to get very ugly, quickly.

Pick: Bills -13

Dallas Cowboys at Washington (Pk, 46)

Walder: After the Dak Prescott injury, FPI knocked the Cowboys all the way down to the 25th-ranked team in the league. I’ll be honest, when I saw that I thought, “a little harsh, no?” Then Monday night happened, and it didn’t look harsh enough. Apparently FPI agreed, knocking the Cowboys down a few more pegs to 29th.

Most critically, the offense, which our model thought was the fourth best in the preseason, is now 2.5 points below average, it thinks. While both teams in this contest also have below-average defenses, the combination of Dallas’ now anemic offense (it’s not just Andy Dalton, the offensive line was a problem last week too) with Washington’s bottom-three offense has FPI+ on the under. FPI+ is a translation of our traditional Football Power Index to the betting market.

Pick: Under 46

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans (-1, 50.5)

Fortenbaugh: Not all undefeated teams are created equal. Case in point, Sunday’s Week 7 showdown between the Titans and Steelers. Pittsburgh ranks in the top three in total defense, scoring defense and opponent yards per play, and Tennessee ranks 26th in total defense and 28th in opponent yards per play. Further, Mike Tomlin’s crew can run the football with consistency (ninth in rushing at 136.8 yards per game), and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is having a rock-solid season under center (69.1% completion percentage, 11 TDs, 1 INT). The Titans have been living on the edge, with four of their five wins coming by a grand total of only 12 points against teams with a combined record of 5-18 (Denver, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Houston). For Tennessee, the other shoe drops Sunday.

Pick: Steelers +1

Marks: The biggest problem for Tennessee heading into this matchup is the loss of the tackle Taylor Lewan. The Steelers can get after quarterbacks, and the loss of Lewan will be an issue. The Titans will rely on Derrick Henry to carry the load, but the Steelers’ defense is giving up a league-low 2.8 yards per carry on first down, which will force Ryan Tannehill to pass more on third down. Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson will be active and hopefully attractive this week against a Titans pass defense that has a weakness against opposing wideouts.

Pick: Steelers +7 teaser with Panthers

Green Bay Packers (-3.5, 57) at Houston Texans

Bearman: My first thought when I saw this line was that it was an overreaction to a bad Green Bay game and a tough OT loss for the Texans. The Packers were a 2.5- to 3-point favorite in Tampa last week, so this implies the Bucs and Texans are about the same to a one-point difference, and I just don’t agree with that.

The Texans have looked better under Romeo Crennel, but in reality all they did was beat a bad Jaguars team and rally after an awful first half vs. the Titans before giving up the lead and the game. Houston’s defense, ranked 30th in total yards allowed and dead last in rush defense, is giving up 33.6 points per game vs. non-Jaguars offenses and should be ripe for Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and the Packers’ offense. Green Bay struggled against a very good Buccaneers defense that is head and shoulders better than the Texans. Tampa scored 38 on Green Bay, but one TD was a pick-six and one was a one-play drive. The Packers have only four regular-season losses in the Matt LaFleur era and are 3-0 ATS after the previous three. Packers win this one easy.

Pick: Packers -3.5

Schatz: Rodgers is very good and the Houston defense is very bad — 27th in DVOA, although a little better (20th) against the pass. Rodgers has at least two passing touchdowns in each game this year except for last week’s debacle in Tampa Bay, and the Houston defense has given up 13 passing touchdowns in six games. The imbalance is enough to make this a good bet even at the odds of -190.

Pick: Rodgers over 1.5 passing touchdowns (-190)

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-7.5, 51)

Schatz: The Saints have been better than their record this year, ranking seventh in DVOA despite being 3-2. They are the only team in the Football Outsiders top 10 that has played a harder than average schedule. Carolina has been an average team so far, ranked 16th. Add in whatever home-field advantage exists this season, and that difference is enough to make New Orleans 7.5-point favorites over Carolina.

However, you also have to bake in our preseason knowledge. Our research shows that even this far into the season, preseason projections predict the future as well as the season results so far. That’s why Football Outsiders has a rating called DAVE that mixes the two. And while New Orleans was No. 1 in our preseason projections, Carolina was near the bottom of the league. Mix preseason projection with in-season results, and we have New Orleans at No. 4 and Carolina at No. 23, and that makes New Orleans an even clearer favorite here.

Pick: Saints -7.5

Walder: Robby Anderson has hauled in 76.9 completed air yards over expectation this season, based on NFL Next Gen Stats’ model, the eighth most of all receivers this season. Teddy Bridgewater’s +11% completion percentage over expectation when targeting Anderson far outpaces his -1% to other receivers. And if Anderson had a history of lifting up his QB’s CPOE, that might be OK, but last season Sam Darnold’s CPOE targeting Anderson was roughly the same as when targeting anyone else. All that suggests Anderson has overachieved a bit thus far.

Pick: Anderson under 71.5 receiving yards

Marks: The Panthers have the offensive firepower to stay in this game, and I imagine Bridgewater has helped the Panthers’ defense game plan against an offense he knows well. The Saints’ defense has struggled this season and has given up a league-high three red zone touchdowns per game. Michael Thomas is still questionable, which is also an issue for the Saints.

Pick: Panthers +13.5 teaser with Steelers

Kezirian: The Saints will be a popular play for teasers, and I am part of that group. It feels like a good spot to back the Saints, who are coming off a bye. As much as I like what the Panthers are doing this season, they do have a ceiling, especially with the injury to Christian McCaffrey. New Orleans is kind of underrated this season. Is this a typical New Orleans season where the Saints crush teams? No. But the Saints are still dangerous, and I am confident they will win the game.

Pick: Saints -1.5 in teaser with Chargers

Cleveland Browns (-3, 50.5) at Cincinnati Bengals

Fulghum: Baker Mayfield will breathe a sigh of relief lining up against the Bengals’ defense as opposed to the Steelers. Why? He won’t have to do much. The Browns should be able to control this game with their preferred game plan of running the ball. Mayfield’s responsibilities will be limited — which at this point is beneficial for the Browns.

Expect Kareem Hunt to have a monster game in a matchup against a Bengals defense giving up 5.2 yards per carry and 149.5 total yards per game to opposing running backs. In Cleveland’s Week 2 win over Cincinnati, the Browns ran for 215 yards and three TDs. I expect something similar again in Week 7.

Pick: Browns -3

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons (-2.5, 56.5)

Fortenbaugh: The Falcons moved from -1 on the look-ahead line to -1.5 thanks to beating a 1-5 Vikings dumpster fire that is surrendering an average of 32 points per game. That might be only a half-point move, but I still see it as an overadjustment. And now it’s up to 2.5.

Detroit commenced the season 0-2 while recording zero interceptions and permitting an average of 34.5 points per game. Since then, the coaching staff has made some critical adjustments on the defensive side, going 2-1 with five interceptions while giving up an average of just 24.6 points per game. Meanwhile, the Falcons rank 32nd in opponent yards per play, 31st in total defense and 28th in scoring defense. Matthew Stafford should feast.

Pick: Lions +2.5

Bearman: The Lions were my top play last week, laying points on the road in Jacksonville, and it paid off. They are now getting points vs. an Atlanta team that has had documented trouble holding leads. Yes, the Falcons should be better than Jacksonville, but they are still 1-5. I wrote in this column last week that the Lions might still be the Lions, but they are better than most think. They blew a big lead to what we now know is a decent Bears team, held a 14-point lead and blew it against a really good Packers team, beat a very good Cardinals team on the road and blew another big lead vs. the Saints. So they are a team that can’t hold big leads against solid teams and blew out the one bad team they played. They at least are in every game.

The offense is steadily improving with rookie D’Andre Swift taking over the Jags’ game and providing Stafford a run game. They should be able to move the ball like everyone else has done against a Falcons defense that is ranked last or second-to-last in almost every defensive category. As Joe noted above, the Lions’ defense has been better of late and will look to force Matt Ryan into some interceptions. You have a battle of two teams that can’t hold leads, so I’ll take the points in what likely is a high-scoring affair.

Pick: Lions +2.5

Walder: The over for this prop would have hit three of five times this season, but I think it’s still a high line for T.J. Hockenson so I’m coming back to it — this is in danger of becoming the tight end version of my repeat Diggs under bet. Out of 124 wide receivers and tight ends, Hockenson ranks 107th and 111th in air yards per target and depth three seconds into the play, respectively. Even if we look at tight ends only, Hockenson is below average in both metrics.

Pick: Hockenson longest reception under 18.5 yards (-125)

4 p.m. ET games

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4, 52) at Las Vegas Raiders

Schatz: This pick seems counterintuitive because Football Outsiders has both Tampa Bay and Las Vegas as top-10 offenses so far this year.

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