Yesterday, we wrote about the lack of receiving options the Indianapolis Colts have ahead of their tasty matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ No. 19 DVOA pass defense. With T.Y. officially out, that leaves Zach Pascal and Paris Campbell as the No. 1 and No. 2 WRs for Jacoby Brissett.
The Bucs have the league’s best run defense which will force the Colts to move the ball through the air, whether they prefer to or not. Luckily for Indy, Tampa Bay also has one of the worst secondaries in the league. Bruce Arians’ defense is giving up 83.7 yards a game to opposing WR1s and 72.4 yards to WR2s. That makes Pascal, the team’s leading receiving, a strong play for Sunday especially coming off a seven-catch 109-yard performance last week.
We are riding the Over on Pascal’s receiving total of 46.5 yards.
MY BETTER HALF
The Cleveland Browns are still trying to make something of the season as they are winners of three of their last four but still sit in third place in the AFC North at 5-7. One thing they have been better at than 29 other teams of late, is to score in the first half. Over the last three weeks, Cleveland has been putting up 17.3 points as well as allowing just 4.3 in the first half since Week 11 and they'll hope to keep that going this week against the rival Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals have been getting beat up all year but even more so in the first half. In the seven games versus Top-20 offenses, Cincy has been outscored 124-60 in the first thirty minutes and hasn’t covered a first-half spread of +4 or greater in six of those seven games.
We are taking the Browns on the first-half spread at -4.
A WALK IN THE WOODS
L.A. Rams receiver Robert Woods has been turning heads of late. The 27-year-old WR has hit the 95-yard mark in three straight games as he has seen 38 targets and has accumulated 364 yards over that stretch. Considering the Rams have only thrown the ball 100 times since Week 11, Woods owns 38 percent of the team’s target share and a whopping 46 percent of its total air yards.
The Seattle Seahawks will have their hands full with Woods, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Tyler Higbee meaning Woods’ could find the vulnerable deep areas in Seattle’s Cover 3 zone defense as well as the open passes in the flats. Jared Goff passed for 396 yards against the Seahawks in Week 6 where Woods saw nine targets that he turned into five catches and 48 yards — numbers he can improve on this week.
Take the Over on Woods’ receiving total of 68.5 yards.
WAKING UP EARLY
Sticking with first-half plays, the New Orleans Saints will host the San Francisco 49ers in a game that has major home-field playoff implications. Both these teams sit Top-5 in first-half points scored in the last three weeks with the Saints and 49ers combining for 33.7 first-half points.
Since November, these two clubs are a combined 6-2 O/U on first-half totals of 22 points or less and this week both these offenses get to play in the warm and quick confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. We are getting behind the first-half Over 22.
Patrick Mahomes has looked like his old self as the 2018 MVP has rushed for 84 yards and a TD in his last two games. Up next is New England’s No. 1 defense. If the KC QB can’t find his receivers against the No. 2 passing defense, Mahomes may have to improvise which one would think could lead to some QB rushing yards, but the Pats defense has also stuffed that this year.
Lamar Jackson ran for 3.6 yards per carry which is 3.4 yards lower than his average. Dak Prescott couldn’t gain any yardage on the ground either and most recently Deshaun Watson managed negative yards on four carries against New England.
Mahomes could still use his legs to help the team in the form of the more profitable QB rushing TD. Jackson did rush for two scores while Josh Allen also ran one in back in Week 4. With RB Damien Williams out, Andy Reid may have to get creative in the red zone which could possibly increase Mahomes rushing TD probability.
Sprinkle a little cheddar on a Mahomes’ rushing TD for a juicy return.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have sent starting linebacker Myles Jack to the injured reserved, ending his season. Jack leads the Jags in tackles and his absence is bad news for the Jaguars’ 31st-ranked DVOA rush defense but great news for the Los Angeles Chargers’ running backs.
Under new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Melvin Gordon is averaging 89 rushing yards and 21.5 receiving yards a game while the pint-sized Austin Ekeler is putting up 85 total yards himself. The Chargers’ offense hasn’t been putting up many points on the board this year but they have managed 370 yards of offense per game over their last three games — the seventh-most between Kansas City and San Francisco.
We are throwing down on Gordon’s Over 75.5 rushing yards but shying away on Ekeler’s receiving total of 53.5, which we feel is a little too high.
ARE YOU GOING TO THE SCARBROUGH FAIR?
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough has more rushing yards than Nick Chubb, Ezekiel Elliott and Mark Ingram over the last two weeks as the 2018 7th-round pick has the second-most rushing attempts since Week 12. The Lions’ back also has 2.4 yards per carry after first contact which is the best mark in the leauge. The Lions are rushing the ball nearly 30 times a game as they try to take pressure off their inexperienced backup quarterback play.
Detroit will be in tough versus a Minnesota Vikings team that is giving up the seventh-fewest rushing yards at home. We don’t expect the Lions to totally abandon the run even if they fall behind early as they have nothing to play for. Therefore, we aren’t afraid to take Scarbrough’s rushing attempt total which sits at 18.5. We are playing the Over on that carry total but may shop around first and look for a lower total closer to Sunday.
RETURN OF THE MACK
The Indianapolis Colts got some great news this week as running back Marlon Mack returned to practice on Thursday. Mack had been sidelined with a hand injury for nearly three weeks. The Colts are one of the league’s best running teams, averaging 139 yards per game (4th) and are banged up in the receiving department (T.Y. Hilton, Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers). That might force them to lean on the run more ahead of Sunday's game against the Tampa Buccaneers and their No. 1 DVOA rush defense.
Tampa is giving up just 76 yards on the ground this year, 72 over its last three games and have held teams’ leading rusher to under 40 yards in three of their last four games. We don’t trust Mack’s rushing total (once his markets open when he is declared active), but we do like his anytime TD.
The Colts have scored six rushing TDs over their last three games and will need Mack to cross the pylons with a lack of receiving talent and their playoff hopes still alive. Take Mack's anytime TD.
Matt Ryan and Kyle Allen are the most sacked quarterbacks over the last three weeks. Combined, Ryan and Allen have been taken down 34 times since Week 11. As luck would have it, the Carolina Panthers travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Sunday, making a play on the total sack prop quite mouthwatering.
Atlanta’s QB will face a hungry Panthers team under new direction while also getting to opposing QBs nearly four times a game. Things could turn ugly as the Falcons are giving up pressure Ryan on 31 percent of plays (23rd-worst).
Carolina’s rookie QB has looked horrendous at moments and has been sacked 39 times in his 10 games this year. Carolina’s O-line is allowing pressure at a 32-percent rate. Take the Over 5.5 sacks.
LORD OF THE VANCE
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee hit the prop trifecta against the Arizona Cardinals and their league-worst tight end defense last week. Higbee hit the Over on both his receptions and yards while also hitting paydirt. If you have been playing TEs versus the Cardinals all year then you are probably doing your best Scrooge McDuck impersonation these days.
In the Cardinals' 12 games this year, TEs have hit the trifecta (receptions, yards and a TD) five times. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Tight ends have gone Over their reception totals in 10 games, Over in their receiving yards in nine games and have scored a touchdown in nine of 12 games. That smells like winning to me.
SLICE AND DICE WITH GUICE
Since being drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft, Washington running back Derrius Guice has played just four games. Last week, the 22-year-old back topped 100 yards on just 10 carries against the worst DVOA rush defense. Expectations should be tempered as Guice faces a lot of competition for snaps as Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson saw 72 percent of the snaps while Guice saw 30.
This week the Redskins play against the Green Bay Packers who have a bottom-five rush defense sandwiched between 27th-ranked Cincinnati and 29th Miami. Not great company. Green Bay is also tied for the fourth-most rushing TDs allowed at home at 1.2 which might benefit Guice as the young back has received eight red-zone carries over the last three weeks while Peterson has seen just three.
Guice is a hot name this week so beware of his rushing total of 50.5 yards. The real worth could be on his anytime rushing TD which could fetch backers some good plus-money.
Pittsburgh TE Vance McDonald is next in line for the ride as the Steelers travel to Arizona. McDonald’s totals sit at 3.5 receptions and 33.5 yards. You know what to do, and don’t forget the TD for good measure.
Derrick Henry has started his assault on defenses a little earlier this year. In 2018, Henry averaged 146 yards rushing and 1.75 rushing TDs over the final four weeks while this year the ‘Bama back has 496 yards in his last three weeks. Henry has actually been quite consistent all year as the Titans’ RB has been held to under 70 yards rushing just twice since Week 4.
This week the Titans take on Oakland. The Raiders are coming off two weeks of football that saw them get outscored 74-12 and they might be waving the white flag at the worst possible time. Oakland hasn’t been giving up huge games to opposing backs, but it has allowed five rushing TDs in its last three and gave up 6.12 yards per carry over Weeks 10 and 11 combined.
With the Titans running the ball around 30 times a game, we could see another big game out of Tennessee's big back. We are doubling down on Henry and taking the Over 98.5 rushing yards and his anytime TD.
BUCS BAD BACKFIELD
Last week, we pushed Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones but he flopped. Jones missed a blitz pickup in the first quarter and was subsequently benched for a brief time. The starter watched teammate Peyton Barber take 17 carries for 44 yards and two scores in the Bucs’ 28-11 win over the Jaguars. We picked a bad week to play Jones’ TD prop.
This week, head coach Bruce Arians has said that Jones is still his starter for the Bucs game against the Colts, but we aren’t sure we believe him. Tampa only averages 3.7 yards per carry this year which is tied for seventh-worse while Jones is gaining just 3.56 yards per carry on his 11.6 touches per game.
Looking at this backfield's rushing totals, we see more value in Jones’ 44.5 than Barber’s 40.5 and will be taking the Under on the former as the Colts are allowing just 97 yards rushing in their last three games. Take Jones’ Under 44.5 rushing yards.
SHADING THE MVP
The Buffalo Bills' hype-train is chugging along after a convincing win in Dallas with the country watching in Week 13. But things will get much more difficult this week with the Baltimore Ravens traveling to New Era Field.
This game will feature the first and fourth-best rushing quarterbacks (rush yards/game) in Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. Jackson is nearly impossible to game plan against because no teams can mimic Jackson in practice - except the Bills.
The Bills Defense is used to practicing against a mobile QB and if any team in the league is prepared to slow down Jackson, the Bills stand the best chance. The same can be said with Allen as he will see a defense that faces an elite QB rushing talent in practice every week.
We think there’s a chance that the Allen and Jackson (not to be confused with the rugged country singer) rushing markets could be overvalued with all the attention they have been getting after Week 13. We are going to fade both dual-threat quarterbacks, taking the Under on Jackson’s rushing total of 75.5 yards and the Under on Allen’s on 39.5 yards.
The Arizona Cardinals may be 4-1-1 ATS at home this year but their opponents have enjoyed success on the offensive side of the ball in the desert. The Cardinals are giving up the second-most TDs at home (3.8) and have allowed their opponents to score 30 or more points in four straight weeks. Even the L.A. Rams scored 34 points versus Arizona last week after averaging just 11.6 points a game from Weeks 10 through 12.
The Pittsburgh Steelers under Devlin Hodges have scored in seven of their last 16 drives and are putting up 5.5 points a quarter. Not incredible numbers but facing the league’s 28th-ranked red-zone defense will make things easier. Getting center James Pouncey back from suspension certainly helps and if James Connor can suit up, the Steelers have a good chance at eclipsing their team total, even if JuJu Smith-Schuster is out.
We’re riding the Over on the Steelers’ total of 22.5 and are waiting for TE Vance MacDonald’s prop market to open as he faces the league’s worst TE-defending team.
Kansas City’s defense is amped up to play the Patriots and their anemic offense. We won’t put all the blame on Brady as that receiving corps has been a revolving door this year and there’s a serious lack of experience outside of Julian Edelman.
The Chiefs have six interceptions over their last two games and if Patrick Mahomes and the offense get up in New England, they will force Brady to pass - something the 42-year-old QB hasn’t been very good at. Brady is just 17th in QBR, between Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston.
Brady has only one interception at home this year but threw eight at Gillette Stadium last season. Aided by the eye test, we are putting our money on the Over 0.5 INTs for Tom Terrific.
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