Charlie Mullan takes a stats based look at Sunday’s NFL slate and the lines on offer from the sportsbooks and comes up with five picks that make statistical sense on Sunday.
Miami Dolphins @ Indianapolis Colts
The Dolphins (1-7) picked up their first win of the season at home to the Jets last weekend to show the rest of the league they are not ‘tanking’ in order to get first choice of the best college player at next year’s draft. The Colts (5-3) start this game as favourites despite losing to the Steelers by two points last weekend when QB Jacoby Brissett sat out the second half with a knee injury. Brissett is expected to start against the Dolphins who have shown in recent weeks how competitive they can be after seeing many of their star players leave in the last three months. Miami’s last four games have been decided by eight points or less and if Ryan Fitzpatrick can play as well as he has did against the Jets, this could be close game. Indianapolis are used to playing close games with all eight of their games this season being decided by seven points or less. Since losing by a point to Washington, Miami, who has covered the spread in each of their last four games, has scored an average 19.25 points per game and look good to score over 16.5 points in Indianapolis. The Colts have won three of their four games at the Lucas Oil Stadium scoring an average 24 points on their home turf. On the road, the Dolphins have only managed to find their opponents endzone once and that was a Ryan Fitzpatrick run in the fourth quarter of their 31-21 loss. Scoring in the second half has proved one of Miami’s many downfalls with a total of just 25 points posted after half-time while their opponents have racked up 136 in what is turning out to be a season to forget for Brian Flores’ team. With just one win all season, it’s no surprise to find the Dolphins languishing at the bottom of most of the key statistic categories. One that stands out is their rushing game on both offense and defense. Averaging 63.8 yards on the ground is the second worst in the league and they are also ranked 31st in stopping the run allowing their opponents to run for 150.8 yards per game. That is an area Indianapolis will look to exploit and they have the players to do so with Marlon Mack leading the way with 679 yards from 159 carries. The Colts should surpass their game average of 129.8 rushing yards on Sunday night. Don’t expect too many points in the third quarter in this game. Last weekend’s 26 yard field goal from Jason Sanders were the first points Miami have scored in the third quarter all season while the Colts have failed to score points in the 15 minutes following half-time four times. The Colts have the better roster and should improve their record to 6-3 and keep alive their hopes of finishing top of the AFC South division.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Ravens made a statement to the rest of the league last weekend when they became the first team this season to beat the defending champions New England by 17 points in Baltimore. It was the Ravens fourth successive win and improved their record to 6-2 and has them currently seeded number two in the AFC and many will see their trip to Cincinnati as a formality. The Bengals are now the only team in the NFL without a win from eight games this season and few will expect them to get it against an in-form Ravens team. Last season’s series was split with the home side winning both times which is a trend that has carried on into this season when the Ravens beat the Bengals 23-17 in week six. The last four meetings have averaged 50 points per game with three of those four games decided by six points or less. After losing 24-10 to the Rams in London, Cincinnati made the decision to bench veteran QB Andy Dalton in favour of rookie Ryan Finley who the Bengals drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Finley faces a baptism of fire against a Ravens defense that is ranked second at stopping the run. One of the reasons why the Bengals are struggling this season is due to their ineffective running game which is ranked last in the NFL with just 59.5 yards gained per game. That puts more pressure on the passing game and how rookie Finley deals with the Ravens defense will determine how close this game will be.Cincinnati have not been able to stop teams running the ball effectively so far this season and with a mobile quarterback in Lamar Jackson, it could be a long day for the Bengals defense that gives up 177.6 rushing yards a game. Jackson almost reached that total on the ground when the two sides met last month when he ran for 152 yards and a score. Cincinnati’s coaching staff have had a month to come up with adjustments to their defensive structures to limit Jackson who has ran for more yards this season than four teams have managed. Jackson rushes for an average 92.3 yards against the Bengals in the three games he has played and could go over 100 yards this weekend. Cincinnati’s scoring defense is among the worst in the league with an average 26.2 points being put up against them and they will have their work cut out trying to stop the Ravens’ high-scoring offense that has scored points in each of the last 14 quarters they have played including their overtime win at Pittsburgh. It is possible this game will serve up plenty of points if the eight games the Ravens have played this season is any indicator. Six of their games this season has seen 46 points or more scored so over 44 points looks like being the best bet here.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans
The Chiefs (6-3) are hoping last season’s MVP Patrick Mahomes is back under center sooner rather than later as they look to go one step further than last season when they were beaten in overtime by the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Mahomes has not played in Kansas City’s loss to Green Bay or the win over Minnesota last weekend because of a dislocated kneecap. One thing that has stood out in the Chiefs season is their ability to score points in the second quarter. Of the 161 total points Andy Reid’s team has posted, two thirds of them have come in the 15 minutes before half-time. The Chiefs have outscored their opponents 107-38 in those 15 minutes. Only once, against the Colts, the Chiefs have failed to score a point in the second quarter. In week two in Oakland, they scored all their 28 points in their favourite quarter and a week later they put up 23 points when beating the Ravens 33-28. Kansas City face a Titans team that has conceded more points in the second quarter and have been outscored 52-36. If both teams find their rhythm early, there is every possibility they could light up the scoreboard in the second quarter.Last week’s 26-23 win at home to the Vikings was the 26th time in their last 27 games that the Chiefs have scored 24 points or more. And in the last two weeks they had done so with Matt Moore under center as Mahomes recovers from his knee injury. Kansas City should have enough about them to beat the Titans (4-5) who need a win to keep their play-off hopes alive. Tennessee enter the game with a 4-5 record and know a loss will leave them with an uphill battle to make the post-season. They will look to get at the Chiefs defense that gives up an average 22.7 points a game. The Titans, with Ryan Tannehill leading their offense, have scored an average 23.3 points in the last three games and will feel confident of scoring the points to make this a competitive game. Derrick Henry could have a big game against a Chiefs defense that gives up 139.6 yards on the ground each game. Henry has only one game with 10 yards or more this year but this match-up is a great chance for him to double that total. With Henry’s power, look for the Titans to go for it on fourth and short given Kansas City’s struggles in that area this season. The Chiefs have allowed the chains to be moved 10 times from the 14 fourth downs they have faced.
Carolina Panthers @ Green Bay Packers
Christian McCaffrey is making a strong case for the MVP award to go to a player who does not play call the plays in the huddle. Since Vikings RB Adrian Peterson won the award in 2012, the league’s top accolade has gone to a QB. Peterson’s achievement of rushing for 2,097 yards remains the only non QB to win the accolade in the last 12 years. But the Panthers reliable runner is doing all he can to change things this season. McCaffrey entered week 10 second in rushing yards with 881, 13 behind the Vikings latest running sensation Dalvin Cook. McCaffrey leads the league in total yards from scrimmage thanks to the 363 receiving yards he has through the Panthers’ first eight games this season. The 23-year-old is on course to finish the season with 2,488 yards which would leave him 21 shy of Chris Johnson’s record for the Titans in 2009. The Packers (7-2) have their own Mr Reliable in the shape of Aaron Jones. The third year RB is proving his value to the offense both as a running threat and as a target out of the backfield for Aaron Rodgers. Since scoring four rushing TDs in the 34-24 win at the Cowboys, Jones has caught three scoring passes from Rodgers. Jones has scored the Packers’ first TD in four of their last six games and all four have been the first TDs of those games. Carolina (5-3) are giving up 25.1 points per game and in three of their last four games, they have conceded 25 points or more. The Packers score an average 25.1 points per game. They have scored a minimum of 25 points in three of their five games at Lambeau Field and if Rodgers and Jones can get the offense clicking early, the home fans should see their team score over 25 points. Twice this season, the Packers have registered wins after trailing at half-time, so they won’t be pressing the panic button if they are behind on the scoreboard after 30 minutes on Sunday. They trailed by a field goal at home to Detroit and at the Chiefs, but turned things around in the second half to win by one and seven points respectively.