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Ross Jacobs is a budding football analyst/scout and a long-time friend of FFM. He’s been working on a project all season watching/studying all the games/studying the line play as a key indicator for handicapping and fantasy play.
Weekly, he’s been sharing his notes on each game with me…what he saw with the games that just happened and what he sees coming up with the games about to play.
I’ve enjoyed reading his study notes on the games all season and asked him if I could share them with the FFM audience, and he was happy to. So, please enjoy Ross’s takes on the games more from a line of scrimmage/O-Line standpoint but with an overall view of seeing all these teams and taking notes for data analysis all season.
These are his notes for the upcoming week's games…
*Forgive typos, just notes transcribed.
Cardinals +10 at Vikings
I so hate giving up 10 points. As I've pointed out before even good teams can struggle to cover spreads that large simply because a few goofy bounces of the ball can drastically change the outcome of otherwise straightforward games. Just look at the Bills/Vikings game from week 3. Now the Cardinals definitely aren't good, but the Vikings haven't exactly looked great either. They beat a decently solid 49'er team before Jimmy G got hurt, then muddled around and nearly lost to the Packers, collapsed against the Bills, played their best against the Rams although they were outclassed, and finally got a bit lucky to beat the Eagles last week. I honestly don't think this is a great team. They feel like a 9-7 team right now to me. The Cardinals have really bad metrics, but they are being dragged down by Sam Bradford's first two games. They actually hung around well with the Bears, then changed to Rosen and nearly beat the Seahawks along with getting lucky but still beating the depleted 49'ers. There's a gap here, but it feels more like a 7 point gap than a 10 point one. The Vikings could easily cover this with a few good bounces, but I just don't feel strongly enough about them to give up the points. I'll take the Cardinals and the 10.
Chargers +1 at Browns
My metrics really like the Chargers here, but I think it's being fooled by the Tyrod Taylor games a bit as well as the Charger's feast or famine schedule. They have played two games against two of the league's best in the Chiefs and Rams and 3 games against dregs. Never really threatened the better teams, but were solidly in control against the bottom of the barrel teams although the 49'ers made it close. The Browns have been an entirely new team since the Baker Mayfield takeover, and I've noticed a few interesting tidbits with them. They only come out with an average pressure score after five games, but then I looked closer at those five teams. They've played the Steelers, Ravens, Saints, Raiders, and Jets, five of the best pass blocking teams in the entire league. The Browns defensive line has obviously been looking up and coming to RC and I, but I suspect they are about to be unleashed against lesser blocking teams. Now the Chargers have a good score here too, but it's been waning in recent weeks and really isn't very impressive considering three of the teams they've played. In addition, since Baker took over, the Browns came back from 14 points down to beat the Jets in a half, should have beaten the Raiders but for some insanely bad luck and horrible calls by the refs, and just went toe to toe with a possibly underrated Ravens team. Add all of this up and I'm very seriously wondering if the Browns aren't...*gasp*...a good team. Not just ok or decent but actually good. I think it's on the table, and barring anymore bizarre luck this game should be a good litmus test for that theory. I'm tempted to take the Browns as a Blazing Five this week, but this all rests on some number manipulation and theorizing so I'm just going to take the Browns to cover for now.
Bears -3.5 at Dolphins
My formulas are screaming that this is the best bet of the week. Now the Bears haven't been that great on offense until that circus against the miserable Bucs two weeks ago, and the Dolphins have actually played ok. They were even in control for most of the game against the Bengals and somehow choked it away, a hair away from a 4-1 start. They actually have a pretty strong pass rush considering most of the teams they've played so far are among the better blocking teams in the league. Also the Bears are coming up with a very good pass blocking score, but that comes as courtesy of the Bucs and Seahawks. I project Chicago as having closer to average blocking. Now that reduces the computer to just thinking this is a pretty good bet instead of “best of the week”, but it still really likes the Bears here because it projects the Bears front seven to wreck shop against an overrated Dolphins line. I was a fan of the Dolphins line after week one against the Titans, but that was before Josh Sitton got hurt and now appears to be an outlier. They got clobbered against the Jets, Patriots, and Bengals, none of which is a particularly great pass rushing team. We're still not sure what this Bears offense is going to look like. If they unleash Trubisky the rest of the year like we saw against the Bucs then these guys instantly become my favorite to win the Superbowl. Trouble is I highly doubt that happens and we merely see an improved but still not great offense. Even just a league average attack will place them among the best teams in the league though, and I project them to beat the Dolphins solidly this week. I also see that Tannehill is questionable, Cameron Wake is doubtful, and Laremy Tunsil is questionable. That's the three most important players for the Dolphins, and each one that is missing only increases the odds of the Dolphins getting crushed and makes me love this bet more. I'll take the Bears for my Blazing Five.
Panthers -1 at Redskins
I wouldn't bet this game. My computer likes the Panthers by a hair, but it's not enough to make me comfortable. Both teams look like 9-7ish teams right now, and this line reflects that. The Redskins smacked the Cardinals with Sam Bradford, got crushed by a solid Colts team before injuries wrecked them, beat the Packers nicely, and then things got a bit out of control against a good Saints team. The Panthers controlled the Cowboys, lost to the Falcons before all their injuries, beat a good Bengals team, and then struggled to put away a Giants team that surprised everyone by hanging around. The raw numbers say the Panthers have the better offensive line, but that is skewed by going up against the nothing pass rushes of the Falcons and Giants. They would also seem to have similar pass rushes, but again the Panthers are benefiting from their one high pressure game against the Cowboys. They barely got anything going against both the Falcons and Giants, and both of those teams have struggled at times protecting the QB. The statistical profiles of both team's lines are similar, but adjusting for opponent I like the Redskins slightly, so that's who I'll take here.
Colts +2 at Jets
If the Colts didn't have their entire team on IR this would be my favorite bet of the week. When fully healthy they have a very similar profile to the Jets on both lines. Both have been above average pass blocking and pass rushing. The obvious difference in the two teams is that Andrew Luck has shockingly come back from his injury and played very well all things considered. Sam Darnold is Sam Darnold. Castonzo is actually coming back to protect Luck this week which is huge for the Colts. Unfortunately Hilton is out and Margus Hunt and Darius Leonard, Indy's two best defenders, are both questionable. If both of them play then I take the Colts with confidence. If both of them are out then I think I still take the Colts but I'm very scared. Even as banged up as they are, they still managed to put up a respectable game against the Patriots after nearly getting blown out early. This game will likely hinge on Darnold's turnovers so it could easily go either way.
Steelers +1.5 at Bengals
I like the Steelers here, but I don't love it. This line looks very accurate to me. Both teams have very good offensive lines although the Steelers have a slight edge as their right side isn't as exploitable as the Bengals. They also both have very good pass rushes. The Bengals appear slightly lower in those metrics, but they have played several very good offensive lines so far and that is holding down their raw numbers. Don't be fooled though, this defensive line is deep and talented. The trouble this week is they again play a very good line, and their own line is going to face one of the NFL's hottest rushers in TJ Watt who will be coming from the Bengals weak side. I favor the Steelers here, but I could absolutely see how the Bengals stay hot and get the win. Both teams have been rather up and down against some less than impressive opponents. If William Jackson is out for the Bengals though this looks like a clear Steelers win.
Buccaneers +3 at Atlanta
I have a general bias against Jameis Winston and the Bucs, but unfortunately I have to include them in my Blazing Five this week. My computer loves this bet for a couple of reasons. First, the computer sees these teams as nearly carbon copies of each other. Both teams can't stop anything on defense and have struggled pass blocking, but the one noticeable difference is the Bucs have a far superior pass rush to the Falcons completely inept one. The Falcons will also be missing one of their best defenders and top rushers in Grady Jarrett. This could easily turn into a track meet with both teams lighting up the scoreboard through the air. I do not like Winston at all, but even he should be able to throw on this horrible Falcons defense. Both teams are bad, but the Bucs have a respectable pass rush and the Falcons do not so give me the team with the edge and points.
Seahawks -2.5 vs Raiders
I'll take the Seahawks please and thank you. My computer very slightly prefers the Raiders here, but yet again I think a few adjustments need to be made due to some recent trends. The most important is that the Raiders offensive line has lost a few players to injury and now the Seattle pass rush is starting to look ok instead of very poor like they did early in the season. This is also a good matchup for the Seahawks because their biggest weakness is obviously the offensive line but the Raiders are even worse at rushing the QB than the Seahawks are at blocking for him. This one isn't a tough decision for me. The Seahawks have a little Chargers in them, so it always makes me nervous taking them to cover, but this line looks quite nice so I'll put Seattle in my Blazing Five for the week. They are my least favorite of the bunch though.
Bills +10 at Texans
I'm going to say it every time I see a +/- 10 line. I hate giving up 10 points no matter the quality of the two teams. It is just so difficult to cover that. I know the Bills are the worst team in the league despite their two wins. I've been saying that since before the season started. But the Texans aren't exactly a good team either. They've given up more points than they've scored and that's no accident. This isn't a good offense despite the perception. They've only scored 20+ points twice, and one of those was 22 on the Giants and the other was 37 on a beat up Colts defense in overtime. Their offensive line is among the league's worst as I've pointed out repeatedly, and they are facing a very underrated Bills defensive front. It's easy to forget that the Bills actually have an ok defense because the offense is so bad, but this is essentially the same unit as last year's playoff team. I also see that Deshaun Watson is questionable which is no surprise given the pounding he's taking this year because of how bad his offensive line is. I'm sure he'll play, but if he doesn't then this goes straight to the top of my Blazing Five. Even with Watson though I'm still taking Buffalo with the 10. I don't doubt Houston wins the game, but I think odds are the Bills can keep it within 7 or so.
Rams -7 at Broncos
Last week I gingerly took the Rams to cover 7 against a bad Seahawks team while noting that I was scared about the points because of Russell Wilson. Elite QB's are the one thing that can ruin pressure matchups between the offensive and defensive lines. Having a top 5 QB is like adding an automatic 10% to the metrics. This week I don't mind giving up the 7 at all because Case Keenum is no Russell Wilson. In fact he's been so bad this year that he may end up getting pulled this game if the Rams get a huge lead early. This just looks really bad for the Broncos all the way across the board. They have a poor offensive line which is good for the Rams because they haven't been as good at generating pressure as you would expect from a team with Suh and Donald. And even though the Broncos have Von Miller they also haven't generated near as much pass rush as expected. This is very, very bad for them though because the Rams have been one of the best blocking teams so far. If the Broncos want to have a chance to keep this close then Miller and Co absolutely must get to Goff. I don't expect this to happen which is why the Rams join my Blazing Five for the week.
Jaguars -3 at Cowboys
The only reason this line isn't 7+ is because the Jags are so inconsistent and the Cowboys are constantly overrated. Dallas sucks. Now as RC has pointed out they have a pretty good defense, but this week Sean Lee is again out and now Demarcus Lawrence and Chidobe Awuzie are both questionable. If those two are absent then say hello to Blazing Five number five. Blake Bortles is and always will be the biggest question mark in predicting Jaguars games. Does he melt down this game? Is he allowed to take easy passes with no pressure? You just never know with Bortles. If Lawrence alone is out the I want this in my Blazing Five because pressure turns Bortles from bad to league worst. Cam Robinson being out and now his backup Josh Wells gone too may not matter so much here though because Lawrence is a right side rusher and will be going up against Jeremy Parnell. We'll see how new starter Josh Walker fairs against the lesser Cowboys rushers, but having a 3rd string tackle in makes me nervous. Of course the Jaguars did just sign failed Giants tackle Erik Flowers, so it's always possible they put Flowers in at right and move Parnell to the left. That's one trouble with projecting this game right now. Either way it doesn't concern me too much because the Cowboys have a putrid offense and everyone knows that the ball is going to Elliott every play. Jacksonville doesn't even need Jalen Ramsey to play because the Cowboys can't pass anyways. The Jags can just stack the box and Elliott will have nowhere to go unless he gets a one on one with Myles “Shoulder Tackle” Jack. No, the Jaguars shouldn't have any problems holding the Cowboys to 10 points or so. Calais Campbell and friends should eat up the Cowboys overrated offensive line. Connor Williams in particular is likely in for a very long day. Give me the Jags to cover.
Ravens -2.5 at Titans
Here's another game with two very similar line profiles. Both teams have excellent pass blocking units and above average pass rushing ability. The difference in overall team strength has been the QB play so far. Outside of one game, Mariota has looked very poor while Joe Flacco has been pretty good for the Ravens so far. In a matchup like this where things are evenly matched across the board I'm always going to side with the better team, so while I still think the Titans are decent and could win this, I have to side with the Ravens here. Should be a barn-burner of a game though. Eyeroll.
Chiefs +3.5 at Patriots
I guess we're going to ignore the fact that the Patriots struggled to put away an Indianapolis JV squad last week? I still don't think all is right in New England, but I understand why they are being favored at home. Still surprised this isn't a pick 'em seeing as how the Chiefs have been crazy hot, but I guess Vegas favors the Patriots having a still good offense and the better defense. Everyone and their mother expects a shootout here, and I see no reason why that wouldn't happen. Actually both teams profile similarly in their line metrics. The Patriots come out a tick better in both, but it's not as far off as you might think. The Chiefs in particular have finally been getting a respectable pass rush recently, and that bodes really well for their chances here if they can keep it up. If Justin Houston is out though that's a problem. Once again the Patriots make projecting them a pain because they list so many players on their injury report each week only to see every one of them play. If for whatever reason Gronk is out then I'm putting this firmly in my Blazing Five. Gronk simply changes the complexion of this Patriots offense by his mere presence. I fully expect him to play though, but I still like the Chiefs with the points. They played against a nasty Jaguars defense last week and still managed 30 points, so why should we expect the Patriots to fair any better? If both teams aren't over 30 here I'll be surprised, and this likely comes down to who gets the ball last. They are evenly matched on paper though so I'll take the magical St Patrick until he stops waxing teams.
49'ers +9.5 at Packers
I'm not going to repeat myself about giving up this many points. We all know how I feel about it at this point. Let's get something straight though: this Packers team is not good. They are average, and that's with Aaron Rodgers holding them up. If he's out then this is easily my favorite bet of the week. Assuming Rodgers plays though, I'm still not super impressed with this matchup despite my computer's insistence that this is a fair spread. The 49'ers have played far better than expected since Jimmy G went down for the year. CJ Beathard isn't very good, but he's moving the ball at least. That's more than you can say for the Cowboys and Giants. In addition my computer doens't like the 49'ers because of the amount of pressure they gave up early, but with their guards back healthy and Mike McGlinchey finally settling in this offensive line is much improved over their first three weeks of play. The Packers looked miserable rushing the passer their first few weeks, but have been sneakily effective the past two against the Bills and my much hyped Lions offensive line. It's something to monitor here, but I suspect it was simply a fluke against the Lions. The 49'ers rush hasn't been very good either, but they still have talent to be tapped into. After flashing early I haven't seen any more out of Solomon Thomas, but Cassius Marsh has really been stepping up in his place. With Aaron Rodgers likely in a bigger leg brace this week, he's not going to be able to move around like usual, and that helps this 49'ers front even more. The 49'ers are definitely a bad team, but the Packers aren't a playoff team either so I'm just not comfortable giving up the 9.5. Give me the underdog again.