We’re officially past the halfway point of 2019, and Week 9 showed us we still don’t know as much as we’d like to think. I’m sure some people were on the Patriots not being as good as their record would indicate (we’d talked about it a few times in this column) but I don’t think anyone saw the Chargers completely shutting down Aaron Rodgers and company.
So how do we adjust based on what we saw in Week 9? I’m going to stick with the boring answer: season-to-date stats tend to be much better predictors of future performance than any single game. We adjust our expectations a little, but remember that outlier performances are called “outliers” for a reason. On to the picks:
L.A. RAMS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (+3.5, 44)
The Rams come off their bye but will be without Brandin Cooks for at least Week 10. That’s not good news for an offense that was already struggling. The Rams have been able to put up points against some weaker defenses, but still sit just 17th by EPA and have had prolonged struggles moving the ball as defenses have seemingly caught up to Sean McVay’s scheme.
This season, it’s been the defense keeping them afloat as much as the offense, and the addition of Jalen Ramsey can only help. The Rams sit 8th by defensive EPA, 6th by yards per play and 3rd overall in yards per carry against, giving up just 3.6 yards per run. That’s a recipe for success against a Mason Rudolph-led Steelers team.
Rudolph has been solid but completely unwilling to push the ball downfield. He sits last among starting QBs averaging just 4 air yards per completion (per Next Gen Stats) and was a checkdown machine Week 9 completing 13(!!!) passes to Jaylen Samuels out of the backfield. With the Rams shutting down the run and no downfield attack, it should be a long day for the Steelers offense.
Add in a resurgent Steelers defense (4th by EPA) and the Rams struggles on offense and we’ve got an Under we might not have predicted coming into the season.
PREDICTION: Under 44
BUFFALO BILLS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (-3, 40)
It’s not easy being a Bills fan, but how about those Cleveland Browns? This was supposed to be the year. All the pieces were in place, but what was supposed to be a great offense sits 29th by EPA. Now they get what looks to be a tough test in the 3rd ranked Bills defense, but I see light at the end of the tunnel for the hapless Browns.
That Bills D has looked very beatable the last few weeks, particularly against the run. They’ve given up more than 100 yards rushing in four straight games and 4.6 yards per carry on the season. Cue a big game for Nick Chubb, who sits fourth in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage and has looked excellent all season.
It also helps the Over case that the Browns D is giving up more than 25 ppg and allowing close to 5 yards per carry this season. With Devin Singletary looking like he’s finally usurped Frank Gore’s hold on the backfield, a healthy John Brown giving the Bills a true #1 wide receiver and Josh Allen making big plays (positive and negative), the Bills should do more than their share to push this one past 40.
PREDICTION: Over 40
CAROLINA PANTHERS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (-5, 47)
Remember early in the year when the Packers D looked great? Turns out it might have just been the Bears offense. The Packers are giving up close to 26ppg since Week 3 and now sit 20th by EPA after their strong start to the season. The Panthers have had some rough outings of their own recently, after getting crushed by the 49ers and making Ryan Tannehill and co. look like a functional NFL offense last week.
On the offensive side, Christian McCaffrey ranks first in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns, and Kyle Allen has been good enough filling in for Cam Newton. Despite the Packers lackluster week 9 performance, they still sit 7th in the NFL by offensive EPA and Aaron Rodgers, despite some mediocre stretches, looks back to his former self. This one could easily turn into a shootout.
PREDICTION: Over 47
Week 9: 1-2
Season to date: 12-15