The Professor’s NFL Week 8 Best Games to Bet column profiles four games that the Professor is betting on this weekend. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (CLE -3.5, Total 42)
Model Projection: Cleveland 20.78 – Pittsburgh 19.73 (CLE -1.05, Total 40.51)
BET: PIT +3.5, 1 UNIT, Under 42, 1 UNIT
The Cleveland Browns finished the 2021 NFL season with back-to-back victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final week of the regular season and the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs. Cleveland appeared to be on an upward trajectory at the time, but this season has been a disappointment despite their Thursday Night win over the Broncos and both teams need this win to remain competitive in the AFC North race.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb could both return to action this week, which should provide a boost for the offense. Running back D’Ernest Johnson’s breakout performance on Thursday Night Football, where Johnson showed off a good combination of burst and agility, means the Browns won’t need to lean as heavily on Chubb, but he’s as talented as any back in the NFL and it doesn’t hurt to get him back. His return is of particular concern for a Pittsburgh defense that struggled to stop the run in Seattle two weeks ago; that was likely an emphasis in practice after the bye week, but given that the Steelers couldn’t stop Alex Collins, it’s easy to imagine Chubb and Johnson having some success this week.
Mayfield’s potential return is less certain to provide an upgrade, as backup Case Keenum played a decent game in his absence. Mayfield has played between below-average and bad as he fights through his shoulder injury; if he starts, he needs to step his game up against a Najee Harris-led Pittsburgh offense that is starting to gain some traction. These teams appear to be fairly even at this point in the season; the transitive property is fairly irrelevant in the NFL, but it’s worth noting that the Steelers beat the Broncos in a much more decisive fashion when they hosted Denver three weeks ago.
Weather forecasts indicate that this could be another high-wind game in Cleveland, so I’ll put one unit on the under at 42 and another unit on the Steelers at +3.5 in a game where the model indicates it should be closer to a pick ’em.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Seattle Seahawks (SEA -3.5, Total 43.5)
Model Projection: Jacksonville 25.27 – Seattle 24.96 (JAX -0.31, Total 50.32)
BET: JAX ML (+155), 1 unit, JAX +3.5, 1 unit, Over 43.5, 1 unit
It was impressive that receiver D.K. Metcalf evaded Saints safety Marcus Williams after the catch on the vertical route where cornerback Marshon Lattimore fell in coverage, but outside of that random New Orleans mistake, quarterback Geno Smith produced little in the way of encouraging moments during Seattle’s Monday Night loss to New Orleans.
Jacksonville has to make the long trip northwest to Seattle, but they are also coming off a bye week after their first victory and have a talented rookie quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who is already better than Geno Smith. Lawrence’s weapons aren’t as dangerous as the tandem of Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but running back James Robinson and receivers Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault give Lawrence plenty to work with. As neither one of these defenses is particularly impressive, Jacksonville’s advantage at quarterback should give them a reasonable chance to win this game.
The model has the Jaguars as a 0.31 point favorite and also indicates that the over 43.5 is a strong play. This is due more to the poor defensive ratings for each team rather than their offensive prowess but with a clear weather forecast in Seattle, even a Geno Smith-led offense should be able to flirt with twenty points against the Jacksonville defense.
I’ll place three bets for one unit each on this game: the Jacksonville moneyline at +155, Jacksonville at +3.5, and over 43.5
Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets (CIN -10.5, Total 42.5)
Model Projection: Cincinnati 29.13 – New York Jets 20.87 (CIN -8.26, Total 50)
BET: Over 42.5, 2 units
The model’s big win on this NFL season is its prediction that Philadelphia’s pre-season acquisition of Gardner Minshew would set them up to trade Joe Flacco back to the New York Jets after rookie Zach Wilson was injured and the Jets finally realized that they didn’t have a backup quarterback on the roster.
This statement is tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the trade was a humorous reminder of what a crazy league the NFL is and how difficult things can be to predict. The sequence that led to this trade makes projecting that the pre-weekend line of CIN -3.5 was too low seem like child’s play, though foresight on the line was more profitable than foresight on the trade.
The spread is up to -10.5 after quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase led a beatdown of the Ravens in Baltimore and the Jets played a pitiful game against the Patriots. Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has been among the NFL’s best at his position this season, was sorely missed against New England as his absence allowed the Patriots to dominate on the ground. Mosley wouldn’t necessarily have been as useful against all the trick plays the Patriots ran on the New York defense, but the Jets may have been less susceptible to those plays if running back Damien Harris wasn’t knifing up the middle for ten yards on seemingly every carry.
The Jets now face a highly talented Cincinnati offense that is realizing just what it has in rookie Ja’Marr Chase. Baltimore played two nickel cornerback packages against the Bengals: Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett played in both, but Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith were alternating. Humphrey played the slot with Smith in the game but followed Chase on the outside when Young was in, and early on, the Bengals elected to attack Averett with Tee Higgins rather than go after the All-Pro caliber Humphrey when Young was on the field.
Cincinnati struggled to score early but broke the game open when they realized that Chase had a bigger advantage on Humphrey than Higgins did on Averett. Averett’s strong performance had something to do with that, but it came down to Chase’s immense talent. Chase is halfway through his rookie season, but outside of Green Bay’s Davante Adams, it’s difficult to name another NFL receiver with a skill set as elite as Chase’s. Chase does a phenomenal job changing speeds in his routes, tracks the deep ball as well as anyone, and showed against the Ravens that he is an exceptionally hard player to tackle after the catch.
The Bengals should win this one comfortably, so I’m counting on the Jets to score at least 13 points to get the total to 43. Quarterback Mike White may start, but if he flops, I’m banking on Flacco coming on in relief and getting decent production, as he did when filling in for Sam Darnold for the Jets last season. I’ll put two units on the over 42.5.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (ATL -3, Total 45.5)
Model Projection: Atlanta 22.98 – Carolina 20.65 (ATL -2.33, Total 43.63)
BET: Under 45.5, 1 unit
The Atlanta Falcons are an over team between their talented offense and poor defense and the Carolina Panthers are an under team with their talented defense and poor offense.
Quarterback Sam Darnold was a gamble on the trade market this past offseason, but while his regression over the past four games has contributed to the offense falling off a cliff, the organization also bears some of the blame. It was the height of irony when head coach Matt Rhule announced that his team would run the ball more moving forward; that plan might sound great, but because the Panthers evaluated left tackle Cam Erving and guard Pat Elflein as starters rather than below-average backups on the free-agent market, Carolina doesn’t have a competent offensive line to run the ball behind; the fact that running back Christian McCaffrey averaged only 3.7 yards per carry during Carolina’s 3-0 start is symptomatic of the issue.
Carolina’s improved defense has held up better than the offense as the team has collapsed to 3-4 but the unit would get a huge boost if linebacker Shaq Thompson, safety Juston Burris, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore can play this week. Thompson and Burris would be involved in the formidable task of covering rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who has racked up 282 receiving yards in the past two games and showed he can produce in clutch situations on Atlanta’s game-winning drive against Miami last week. Pitts is now 20th among all NFL players and 3rd among tight ends in receiving yards; he’s also one of five players in the top 20 who have only played six games.
The battle between the Atlanta offense and Carolina defense should be competitive, so a bet on the under relies more on Darnold continuing to struggle. He faces a Falcons defense that has issues but features an elite inside linebacker tandem in Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun, which should allow them to slow down the Carolina ground game. Throw in the fact that Panthers’ right tackle Taylor Moton is the team’s only lineman who has any business lining up against Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett and the Falcons should make enough plays to limit Carolina’s offense.
The Atlanta defense makes me nervous, but I’ll put one unit on the under 45.5.
This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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