This week’s NFL slate features some great matchups, including the Bears–Cowboys game on FOX. While not all of these games feature Super Bowl contenders, they present value from a betting perspective.
I ran my models to give you my favorite betting edges and predictions for Week 8 of the season. My goal for this weekly column is always to provide tidbits you didn’t know before reading.
So, let’s leap into my favorite edges of the week, with odds courtesy of FOX Bet.
Impressed with Dak Prescott’s return to Cowboys lineup?
David Helman discusses the return of Dak Prescott to the Dallas Cowboys starting lineup.
Bears at Cowboys (1 p.m. ET Sunday, FOX and FOX Sports App)
Overall, Dak Prescott’s return to the NFL last week was a success.
First and foremost, the team won.
Second, there naturally was some rust to shake off, and Prescott performed much better in the second half:
- First half: -0.19 EPA/att, 40% success, 7.4 YPA, 64% completions, 14.2 air yards/att
- Second half: +0.63 EPA/att, 83% success, 9.4 YPA, 91% completions, 6.4 air yards/att
Finally, the day could have been even better if Dak was better on third downs:
- Third downs: -1.10 EPA/att, 25% success, 25% conversion rate, two sacks taken
But the good news was, vs. the terrible Lions defense, the Cowboys were forced into just nine third downs on the day. Four of them were passes (one conversion), and five were runs (40% conversions).
Now that Dak’s rust is shaken off, the Cowboys host the Bears, who are off a short week.
The good news for the Cowboys is they’ve played the sixth-toughest schedule of run defenses and now get to take on the 24th-ranked Bears run defense. That should give Dak Prescott plenty of support.
But if this is such a good matchup for the Cowboys, why didn’t they dominate an even worse 31st-ranked Lions run defense last week?
As Dallas eased Dak in, this rushing attack was problematic in the first half of the game against the Lions. But in the second half, Dallas averaged +0.32 EPA/rush, 59% success, and 4.6 YPC.
I’m intrigued by the matchup with the Cowboys defense vs. the Bears offense. But I also recall that the absolute best outcomes for the Bears this year have come against the best defenses.
- Week 1: outright win vs. the No. 7 San Francisco defense
- Week 7: outright win vs. the No. 9 New England defense
Now they face the second-best defense in the Cowboys. To succeed in this game, they will need to run the football.
The Cowboys run defense ranks No. 12 but is only 22nd in EPA/att and has played the fifth-easiest schedule of opposing run offenses. Dallas has played three bottom-10 run offenses (LAR, WAS, TB) and No. 20 Bengals. The Bears rank better than all of them.
But Chicago just lost their starting center against the Patriots. And I don’t know if they’ll have enough success on the ground against the Cowboys in this one. And if that happens, they’ll have to drop back to pass more.
Additionally, their heavy reliance on Justin Fields to run with the ball will absolutely not catch the Cowboys by surprise as it did the Patriots on Monday night.
And when they do drop back to pass, it will be very problematic.
The Patriots ranked above average in pressure rate on early downs in the first three quarters (32%) but are not close to the top-ranked Cowboys pass rush (42% pressure rate).
Fields is being pressured on 50% of his dropbacks (the highest rate in the NFL) but has played an insanely difficult schedule of opposing pass rushes.
There’s a reason Fields has been pressured a ton. Some of it is on the line, some of it is on him, but some of it is absolutely on the defenses faced.
It won’t be easy to overcome when Fields gets pressured by the Cowboys. Quarterbacks gain just 3.9 YPA and complete just 39% of passes when the Cowboys pressure them, and have recorded 28 sacks.
If the Bears lost against the Patriots last game, this would have been a perfect spot to bet on Chicago this week. I’m passing but leaning towards Chicago despite being worried about the game script and the potential for Dallas to deliver a well-rounded effort after Dak shook off last week.
Raiders at Saints (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)
One of the season’s most under-discussed and underrated stories is the efficiency of this Raiders offense.
The only team in the NFL converting early downs into first downs at a higher rate than the Raiders is the Chiefs.
On the year, the Raiders are converting 32% of their early-down plays into a new set of downs, second-best in the NFL.
Look at how many points teams scored vs. the Broncos:
- 32 points – Raiders
- 19 points – Chargers
- 17 points – Seahawks
- 16 points – Jets
- 12 points – Colts
- 10 points – 49ers
- 9 points – Texans
Now the Raiders get to take on the Saints defense, and there may not be a more disappointing defense year-over-year.
In 2021, the Saints had the No. 1 defense on early downs, allowing a first down to be gained just 21% of the time.
This year they are struggling massively, and it starts up front.
They are recording the lowest pressure rate of any defense on early downs in the first three quarters.
Just 17% on the year.
The other part of their problem?
They allow a ton of rushing efficiency because their line is getting moved off the ball too easily.
On the season, they rank 31st in opponent yards before contact per rush, allowing over two yards before contact. Only the Giants run defense is worse.
Over the last three weeks, the Saints are allowing the second-most EPA/rush and the second–most yards before contact to opposing running backs.
That’s a scary proposition when facing Josh Jacobs.
Because Jacobs is leading the Raiders offense to the best ranking in the NFL in EPA/carry, and they rank seventh in yards before contact per rush. And over the last three weeks, the Raiders rank first in EPA/carry and second in yards before contact per rush.
With the Raiders likely to be able to run efficiently, it will set up Derek Carr in the passing game. And we know Carr is sensitive to pressure, so the fact that the Saints rank dead last in pressure rate is huge for the upside of the Raiders passing attack.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints offense should be looking forward to this matchup vs. the Raiders defense.
The Raiders defense will be the easiest faced by the Saints since Week 1.
The Raiders are average vs. the run but have not played a single above-average rushing offense.
The Saints rank second in rushing efficiency despite not having Alvin Kamara for two of the first four games this season. He returned in Week 5, and since then, he’s totaled 251 yards in three games, and the Saints offense is averaging 33 points per game.
Not only is he a difference maker on the ground, but he’s added 172 yards through the air.
And the Raiders rank as the 25th-best pass defense against RB targets.
They also rank 32nd in red zone efficiency. They not only allow red zone touchdowns at the highest rate per red zone drive, but they also allow 39% of drives to reach the red zone, which is 30th in the NFL. And when opponents are in the red zone, the Raiders rank in the bottom 10 in both EPA/play and success rate.
Many trips and terrible red zone defense is a huge problem vs. any opponent, particularly the Saints.
That’s because the Saints are one of the NFL’s best red-zone offenses. They simply have a ton of plays at their disposal. Mainly because of their personnel. They have the Swiss army knife of Taysom Hill. They have Alvin Kamara, who can run and catch the ball. And they have a myriad of TEs and receivers that you may not overly respect but can be schemed open. And that’s why the Saints rank third in EPA per play inside the red zone and sixth in red zone TD rate.
PICK: Over 49.5 points scored by both teams combined at FOX Bet
Dolphins at Lions (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)
Last week we discussed how the Dolphins offense was more efficient than given credit, on account of the brutal schedule of defenses they faced and the fact that backup QBs played half of their games on the season, and, even worse, backups of backups.
The Dolphins game was closer than expected, largely on account of the offense turtling up in the second half and playing ultra-conservative in an effort to keep Tua healthy in a primetime game once the game was won.
In the first half, the Dolphins had five drives and didn’t punt once. Those first five drives, they had the following pass rates:
- 1st downs: 53% pass
- Early downs: 64% pass
When they passed the ball, they were outstanding.
- 1st downs: +0.33 EPA/att, 10.0 YPA
- Early downs: +0.22 EPA/att, 9.0 YPA
But in the second half, playing with a lead, they massively changed course and essentially only passed on third down when they absolutely needed to:
- 1st downs: 30% pass
- Early downs: 39% pass
And that’s despite the fact that these plays were not efficient at all.
First down runs averaged -0.28 EPA/att and 2.3 YPC. All early down runs averaged -0.22 EPA/rush and 3.3 YPC.
What was a great sign, however, was that Tua came out the gates playing really well. Most quarterbacks off multi-week layoffs have to shake off early rust. Tua led three-straight scoring drives.
Now, a week after his first start, playing in a non-National TV 1 p.m. kickoff, Tua finally gets to face a bad defense.
His first three starts of the season, Tua played nothing but top-10 defenses: Buffalo, Baltimore and New England. Last week was a game against No. 14 Pittsburgh, with his former coach calling the defense against him.
Tua never played an average defense, and he never played a below-average defense… until now.
The Lions rank No. 31 defensively and are No. 31 vs. the pass and No. 29 vs. the run.
Detroit employs a coverage scheme akin to what Tua faced a lot in practice from the Dolphins – a blitz-heavy scheme (fifth highest) that runs a ton of man coverage (second highest).
This should help Tua a ton.
Additionally, Tua has been great against these schemes.
Against man coverage, Tua averages +0.25 EPA/att and 8.3 YPA. Those rank sixth and eighth in the NFL.
Most teams haven’t been ballsy enough to use man coverage against the speed of this WR corps, with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
In Weeks 1 and 2, the Patriots and Ravens used it on a combined 24 dropbacks.
Tua went 18-of-21, 85% completions for 11.2 YPA, 4 TDs and 0 INTs while averaging +0.80 EPA/att and 71% success.
After that, teams didn’t play it against the Dolphins very often.
But the Lions?
They tried twice to play a zone-heavy scheme – once vs. Carson Wentz and once vs. Geno Smith.
Wentz had one of his best days as a pro in years: 337 yards, 7.3 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT, 65% completions.
Smith threw for 320 yards on just 30 attempts while averaging 10.7 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT in his second-best output of the season.
It’s clear the Lions are in a pickle. When they try to use zone, they aren’t great, but they can’t use too much man vs. Tua or these receivers will eat them alive.
We also should mention Mike McDaniel was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers against this Aaron Glenn Lions defense in Week 1 of 2021. The 49ers led 31-10 at halftime and the Lions clawed back, as they always do, to a final score of 41-33.
This looks like a good spot for the Dolphins offense. And with the way the Lions offense pushes things, a backdoor will be open for this game to get over the total, but I don’t see enough value to play the full game over at 51 points.
Giants at Seahawks (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, FOX and FOX Sports App)
Last week I warned about the Giants down in Jacksonville. It seemed like the PERFECT spot to take the Jaguars from a buy low, sell high perspective. Made a ton of sense.
But the MATCHUP was terrible for the Jaguars.
And unless you’re digging deep into the metrics, you wouldn’t have noticed it.
Trevor Lawrence was the fourth most sensitive QB to pressure and the Giants were getting pressure at the fourth-highest rate.
Geno Smith on the other hand?
He laughs at your pressure.
On all downs vs. your pressure, Geno ranks:
- Second in completion percentage
- Fifth in success rate
- Fifth in YPA
- Sixth in EPA/att
How do the Giants get pressure?
And I’ve got a secret about the Giants defense.
They actually aren’t an efficient pressure team.
All downs, all game, look at the Giants pressure rates:
- No blitz pressure rate: 26% (No.25)
- Blitzing pressure rate: 38% (No.23)
- Blitz rate: 43% (No.1)
That’s right – the Giants are a BOTTOM-10 pressure team whether they blitz or don’t blitz.
BUT, because they blitz on 43% of quarterback dropbacks and the NFL average is only 25%, and because pressure rate for every team is higher when blitzing than when not blitzing, the Giants overall pressure rate per dropback is 31% which is 21st in the NFL.
The Giants play the NFL’s highest rate of man coverage, and it’s way more than even the second-highest team.
And Geno is the man-coverage killer.
He has the best splits in the NFL when teams play man against him:
- Geno vs. man: +0.62 EPA/att, 51% success, 10.4 YPA
- Geno vs. zone: -0.03 EPA/att, 49% success, 7.3 YPA
Geno vs. Wink will be the biggest story of this game, but on that side of the ball, it’s also going to be the Seahawks run game vs. the Giants terrible run defense.
After playing three league-average defenses, the Seahawks get the No. 30 Giants defense which also ranks bottom-5 vs. the run.
And that’s where the Seahawks rushing attack can take advantage.
The Giants run defense is allowing an insane 2.5 yards before contact on early down RB runs.
In fact, it’s the NFL’s worst rate for any team since 2015.
Last week the Giants played the Jaguars. Before the game, the Jaguars RBs were averaging 1.6 yards before contact per early down rush, which ranked No.11 in the NFL.
Against the Giants, they gained an insane 5.6 yards before contact per early down rush.
Now, they have to go up against the fourth-best RB corps of the Seahawks.
Seattle ranks fourth in yards before contact for RBs on early-down runs and fourth in EPA on these runs.
The best rushing attack the Giants will have faced this season.
PICK: Seahawks (-3 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 3 points
Warren Sharp is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He is the founder of Sharp Football Analysis and has worked as a consultant for league franchises while also previously contributing to ESPN and The Ringer, among other outlets. He studied engineering before using his statistical acumen to create predictive football models. You can follow Warren on Twitter at @SharpFootball.
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