For Week 4 in the NFL, three games interest us for our underdog picks: Falcons vs. Jaguars, Bengals vs. Titans, and Buccaneers vs. Saints.
I like to invest three-quarters of a unit in the underdog ATS and one-quarter in the underdog ML.
- Atlanta Falcons +3 (+100) at Bet365
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 (+100) at Bet365
- Tennessee Titans +2.5 (-110)
Sunday, October 1, 2023 – 09:30 AM EDT at Wembley Stadium
Importance of Jacksonville’s Run Defense
It is critical to consider the quality of Jacksonville’s run defense because Atlanta loves to run the ball, owning the seventh-highest run-play percentage. They like to feature two different running backs, Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson.
Their quarterback, Desmond Ridder, is also a capable runner – he accrued 39 rushing yards in Week 2 against Green Bay.
Atlanta had to pass more often last week because they were down a lot against a Detroit team that has been stout against opposing running backs. When the Falcons can’t run the ball well, then their offense will struggle.
Jacksonville’s Run Defense
Atlanta’s offense will thrive on Sunday because it will be able to run the ball well. While the fact that Jacksonville’s run defense ranks highly may suggest the contrary, one has to realize that it is only Week 4, and statistics at this point in the season are easily misrepresentative.
In Week 1, Jacksonville got to face a Colts rushing attack that missed both Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss. Indianapolis was so bad with Deon Jackson that they released him.
Last week, the Jaguars got to face a Houston rush attack that, after exceeding its regular season rushing average, still ranks 28th. Jacksonville’s run defense merits pessimism because of its performances against the opponent’s top running back.
For the Chiefs in Week 2, Isiah Pacheco ran for 70 yards on 5.8 YPC, although he averaged 4.1 YPC against the lowly Bears and 2.9 YPC against the Lions.
Last week, Devin Singletary for Houston ran for 41 yards on 4.6 YPC, far exceeding his efficiency in his games against Indianapolis and Baltimore.
Atlanta’s Rush Attack
While Allgeier is strong and tough to bring down in his own right, Bijan Robinson will be the toughest running back that Jacksonville has seen thus far. Fast and hard to tackle, Robinson boasts the fifth-highest number of yards per touch.
Desmond Ridder will be effective too against a Jaguars defense that, last year, repeatedly allowed mobile and less mobile running backs to achieve strong rushing performances.
This year, the Jaguars already allowed Anthony Richardson to run for 40 yards in his first NFL game for the Colts.
Of course, Jacksonville’s defense clearly looks vulnerable on film – Ridder through the air can take advantage of what Houston quarterback CJ Stroud saw en route to his team’s 37-17 win last week over the Jags.
Trevor Lawrence vs. Falcons Pass Defense
I have always opposed the hype surrounding Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence because he constantly struggles to put up decent numbers against stronger pass defenses.
These struggles were apparent even during Jacksonville’s late-season run last year, and they continue to be evident. While his 84.5 season passer rating is anyhow awful, he was especially bad against Kansas City’s stingy secondary.
Atlanta, the eighth-best team so far at limiting opposing passer rating, poses another tough test.
The Falcons have been especially hard on wide receivers, which is worrisome for Lawrence given the extent to which he’s relied on Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk downfield.
It’s going to be hard for Lawrence to move the ball downfield on Sunday.
NFL Pick: Falcons +3 (+100) at Bet365
NFL Pick: Falcons ML (+150) at Bet365
Sunday, October 1, 2023 – 01:00 PM EDT at Caesars Superdome
Tampa Bay is the underdog in this game because it is the road team, yet its defense showed up in the Bucs’ one away game.
In Week 1, the Bucs held weapon-laden Minnesota to 17 points.
New Orleans’ Pass Protection Issues
The Saints’ offense suffers from a difficulty that Minnesota’s did not: pass protection.
New Orleans’ offensive line features struggling performers, injuries – specifically center Cesar Ruiz incurred a concussion – and moving parts that disrupt chemistry and amount to guys playing in positions in which they are less comfortable.
The results so far include an injured starting quarterback in Derek Carr, who might not be fit to play and an offensive line that ranks 26th at limiting its sack rate.
Tampa Bay enters this game with one of the better pass rushes, comparable in ranking to the Packers team that just benefited from facing New Orleans.
Scoring will continue to be difficult for the Saints, who have yet to exceed 20 points in a game, as they continue to struggle in pass protection.
Tampa Bay’s Pass Protection
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield will have more time to throw than his Saints counterpart because, ranking sixth at limiting its sacks allowed, his offensive line is significantly stronger in pass protection.
More time for a quarterback to throw means more time for his wide receivers to get open.
The Bucs feature an excellent duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the fact that it’s a duo being important because the Saints only have one very good cornerback, Marshon Lattimore.
With a more well-rounded offense, underdog Tampa Bay will have an easier time scoring.
NFL Pick: Buccaneers +3 (+100) at Bet365
NFL Pick: Buccaneers ML (+150) at Bet365
Sunday, October 1, 2023 – 01:00 PM EDT at Nissan Stadium
Cincinnati’s Run Defense
Don’t let the last performance of Cincinnati’s defense against the Rams obscure the struggles of its run defense.
Rams’ head coach Sean McVay is notorious for abandoning the run. On Monday against Cincinnati, despite being down two starting offensive linemen, his team achieved 5.1 YPC but only ran 13 times.
Defensively, the Bengals have been punished by teams determined to run. In Week 2, the Ravens, despite missing their top running back, ran for 178 yards against Cincinnati.
Cleveland, in Week 1, amassed 206 rushing yards against the Bengals.
Tennessee’s Rush Attack
Tennessee’s outlook on offense is strong because it resembles Cleveland and Baltimore in their determination to run the ball.
Being down late against New Orleans and falling behind early to Cleveland have deflated Tennessee’s run-play percentage, but in their Week 2 victory over the Chargers, the Titans ran ten more times than they passed.
They boast one of the NFL’s best running backs in Derrick Henry, plus a playmaker in Tyjae Spears, who has complemented him effectively, as evident when he ran for 49 yards against the Chargers, averaged nine YPC in Week 1 in New Orleans, and operated throughout the season as a reliable pass-catcher.
Passing Game Comparison
Titan quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s best game came against the Chargers – his passer rating was 123.3 – because he plays best when he doesn’t have to be the focal point of the offense.
With his offense centering around its two running backs, Tannehill will outperform Cincinnati’s quarterback Joe Burrow.
Burrow is a shell of himself because a calf injury is impairing his mobility. This season, his passer rating is 66.2 and he’s averaging 4.7 yards per pass attempt.
The fact that Burrow is a drastically weaker version of himself is decisive because pass defense has been the most vulnerable component of Tennessee’s defense.
Titans’ Run Defense
Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon’s productivity and efficiency have been critical in helping Burrow lead his offense downfield, although the Bengals still rank 28th in averaging 15.3 points per game.
Mixon, though, will struggle this week against a Titans run defense that continues to be one of the NFL’s very best.
The Titans’ defense is healthy this year and boasts a mean front seven that includes Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry, who are also consistently effective pass rushers, and Harold Landry III.
Cincinnati is favored, yet its offense will struggle mightily to score.
NFL Pick: Titans +2.5 (-110) at Bet365
NFL Pick: Titans ML (+115) at Bet365