Wednesday, March 22 2023

This week’s NFL slate features some great matchups, including the ColtsCowboys

As for how you should wager on the games, I ran my models to give you my favorite betting edges and predictions for Week 13 of the season. My goal for this weekly column is to always provide you with nuggets you didn’t know before reading this piece.

A couple of matchups stuck out from a betting perspective, so let’s look at my favorite edges of the week, with odds courtesy of FOX Bet.

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Colts at Cowboys  (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC)

The Dallas Cowboys are complete outliers in the realm of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. 

On the season, the Cowboys are recording pressure on over 45% of opponent early down dropbacks in the first three quarters.  No other team is even hitting 40% and the NFL average is only 32%. 

The last five weeks, they are recording pressure on over 55% of opposing QB dropbacks in the first three quarters. No other team is even hitting 45% and the average is less than 35%. 

When they don’t blitz, the Cowboys are still getting pressure at a 42% rate, which is once again way above the No. 2 team and the NFL average. 

The problem for Matt Ryan in this game is two-fold.   

First, even when he’s not being blitzed, he’s still throwing the ball at only 5.96 air yards, which ranks 37th of 38 QBs with at least 100 attempts this year. 

And when he is blitzed, he’s being pressured at a 45% rate (top-10 highest) and ranks No. 27 in EPA/att and has the No. 7 highest rate of sacks plus interceptions. 

Dallas might be able to get pressure without sending blitzes, which will make life difficult for the Colts’ passing attack, but it also might be able to blitz and completely neutralize the Colts’ passing attack. 

I envision the Colts will need to run and run early, which is a weakness of the Cowboys’ defense. Dallas allows the fifth-most yards before contact to running backs and ranks No. 29 in explosive rush defense. 

The problem for the Colts is their run game this year, like their pass game, has been terrible. But the lone bright point is they’ve faced a brutal schedule of run defenses this year (fifth-toughest schedule), so facing the Cowboys’ run defense won’t pose additional problems they haven’t seen thus far. 

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys have been playing intelligent offense and not forcing things with Dak Prescott, particularly when leading in the second half. Prescott has over 30 pass attempts just once since returning from injury in Week 7. 

The Cowboys will likely look to attack on the ground more frequently. But the good news for the Colts is that their run defense ranks No. 11 on the season, which is substantially better than any run defense the Cowboys have faced since Week 5. 

Examine the run defenses the Cowboys have faced in that span: 

That’s six games, and five were against bottom-eight run defenses and one against a league-average run defense. 

My concern is the Cowboys could run up the score, but if the Colts can keep it close enough early to keep running the ball and Dallas decides to take its foot off the gas in the second half, this game might sneak in under the total. 

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Broncos at Ravens (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)

I think our opinion of the Ravens this season is forever tarnished due to the fact that Lamar Jackson isn’t putting up fantasy QB1 numbers, and the team has given up early leads to allow for losses to opposing teams. 

But I think people are forgetting exactly how often that’s happened. 

It happened twice in the first four weeks to offenses that we know are elite, in the Dolphins and Bills

It happened in Week 6 in a strange loss to the Giants. 

But since then, the Ravens are 4-1, and their lone loss was another fluke that should have never happened to the Jaguars

The Ravens punted just one time in the entire game.   

They settled for field goals at the Jaguars 6-, 10- and 12-yard line after dropping three touchdown passes. 

They fumbled twice, setting the Jaguars up with short fields, including once at the Ravens 6-yard line. 

The Ravens outgained the Jaguars in virtually every metric but lost in a late flurry of Jaguars scoring. 

Jacksonville scored 10 points through the game’s first 54 minutes. In the game’s final six minutes, the Jaguars scored 18 points to win by one point. 

Somehow, I don’t see something like that happening for the Broncos.   

Denver has scored more than 16 points twice all season (in London and in Las Vegas). 

No team scores fewer points in the second half than the Broncos, who are averaging just 5.5 second-half points this season. 

Yes, this will be a test for the Ravens’ offense against a solid Broncos’ defense. But it looks like the lack of support from the Ravens’ offense is weighing on the psyche of the Broncos’ defense, as it was dominated by the Carolina Panthers‘ offense one week ago. Traveling to the East coast again in back-to-back games — in a totally lost season — to try and game plan and execute defensively against a unique Ravens’ offense will be a challenge. 

I like the Ravens in teasers this week. 

Browns at Texans (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)

This is a perfect game to bring Deshaun Watson back, and that’s not because he faces his old team. 

First, the Texans are terrible against the run, and are a bad team in general. So, the Browns might not need Watson to give them a lot here or to do so to perfection. 

Second, Watson had absolutely nothing to do for the last several weeks but study the Texans’ pass defense. If he so desired, he could have studied them for weeks, knowing this was the first game he was going to play. That’s a big advantage for a quarterback, as most often they are moving week-to-week, spending a couple of days early in the week studying film of their opponent that upcoming Sunday. 

Third, the Texans’ own offense is in shambles. It is starting Kyle Allen now, who is worse than Davis Mills, and Mills was pretty terrible. Cleveland’s pass defense is superior to that of what Allen faced last week against the Dolphins. 

I do expect Dameon Pierce to get back on track on the ground against this terrible Cleveland run defense after he faced top-five run defenses the prior two weeks in the Dolphins and Commanders. But oddly, the Texans gave Pierce just 57% of backfield touches last week, his lowest rate since Week 1.   

I like the Browns in teasers this week and would look to back Nick Chubb rushing props. 

Mike White, Zach Wilson battle for Jets starting QB spot

Craig tells Greg whether he believes the locker room is more behind White than they are behind Wilson, and whether Zach was really pouting on the bench while watching Mike’s success.

Jets at Vikings (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)

Since Week 6, the Jets rank league-average in pressure rate and blitz at the fifth-lowest level of any defense. 

We know that Kirk Cousins has substantial splits when he’s pressured and when he’s not, and the fact that he’s unlikely to be pressured at a high rate after just playing the top-two teams in pressure rate in his last two games (Cowboys and Patriots) should absolutely help his efficiency. 

This is a 1 p.m. game at home in the perfect environment for Cousins to thrive despite a challenging opponent. 

But this is also a great spot for Mike White. The Jets played four games against top-10 defenses (Bills, Broncos and Patriots twice), including three against top-three defenses.   

When they finally took a step backwards to play the Bears, even in driving rain for a good portion of the game, they were able to put up 31 points. 

In fact, when we look at the caliber of defense played by the Jets, the results are pretty telling: 

In six games against top-12 defenses, the Jets have scored: 

  • 3 points vs the Patriots
  • 9 points vs the Ravens
  • 12 points vs the Bengals
  • 17 points vs the Patriots
  • 16 points vs the Broncos
  • 20 points vs the Bills

But in four games against defenses that ranked below average, the Jets have scored: 

  • 40 points vs the Dolphins
  • 31 points vs the Bears
  • 31 points vs the Browns
  • 27 points vs the Packers

As much as we’d like to look at the positive and ignore the negative with the Vikings, they have a bottom-10 defense. They rank No. 23 on the season.   

The Jets’ offense has played the third-toughest schedule of defenses, including the second-toughest schedule of pass defenses. Now it faces the No. 27 pass defense of the Vikings. I think that’s a situation for more Mike White success.   

Minnesota allows a 69% completion rate, which is second-worst in the NFL, and it allows 8.3 YPA, which is dead last in the NFL. 

Two other points to note that I think bode well for scoring:  

The Vikings rank No. 27 in red zone defense. They allow the eighth-most trips to the red zone, and when teams are in the red zone, the Vikings allow the seventh-highest TD rate. Furthermore, opposing offenses are recording the No. 1 highest success rate on a per-play basis inside the red zone against this Minnesota defense. 

Secondly, the Jets’ defense, while ranking top-10 in red zone defense, has played the sixth-easiest schedule of red zone offenses. 

Since Week 4, the Jets have played eight games. Six have come against red zone offenses that rank: 

  • 23rd
  • 25th
  • 26th
  • 29th x2
  • 32nd

And the only red zone offenses that ranked above the bottom 10 were starting backup quarterbacks (Miami and Chicago). 

Minnesota is the first red zone offense (ranking 11th best) the Jets have played that has its starting QB and doesn’t rank bottom-10 since Week 3. 

Final point: The Vikings are the defense most impacted by play action in the NFL. Since Week 6, they allow +0.65 EPA/att when teams use play action on early downs (quarters 1-3), which isn’t just dead last in the NFL, but it’s dead last by a mile. 

They’re also dead last in EPA/att since the start of the season. 

The Jets have used play action at a top-10 rate since Week 6.   

Only one of the prior five opponents of the Vikings used play action at an above-average rate: 

  • Patriots – 24th
  • Cowboys – 17th
  • Bills – 19th
  • Commanders – 4th
  • Cardinals – 29th

But look at the splits when these teams did use play action on early downs in the first three quarters: 

  • With play action: +0.78 EPA/att, 67% success, 13.0 YPA, 26-of-32 (81% completions)
  • Without play action: +0.18 EPA/att, 48% success, 7.5 YPA, 49-of-63 (78% completions)

If the Jets lean into play action usage at a top-10 rate like they’ve been doing over the second half of the season, they should have a ton of success. 

The Vikings were laying three points at home to the Patriots last week. Now they are laying three points at home to the Jets. I don’t view the Jets as equals of the Patriots (the Patriots are 2-0 vs the Jets this year), so I don’t think we are getting enough value on the Jets with only three points, but I wouldn’t consider laying the Vikings here because this game has a lot of variance. 

Top stories from FOX Sports:

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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