FOX Sports NFL Writer
This week’s NFL slate features some great matchups, including the Rams-Saints game on FOX.
As for how you should wager on the games, I ran my models to give you my favorite betting edges and predictions for Week 11 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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Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills (1 p.m., CBS)
The weather is the first thing to consider in a late-season game in Buffalo. And sure enough, this Sunday does not look pretty. As of Thursday morning, there is an 80% chance of snow with temperatures in the upper 20s. It will feel like the temperature is in the mid-teens, and winds in the upper teens, gusting to 30 mph.
If this forecast comes to fruition, it will be challenging to play a standard game.
By that, I mean passing beyond 10-15 yards will be an adventure. Punting will depend on which direction the wind is blowing. And forget kicking field goals beyond distances of a standard extra point.
Could the weather end up not being nearly this impactful? Certainly, but as of now, we have to predict the game using the predicted weather, so off we go.
Both teams will need to turn to the run more frequently.
The problem for the Bills is their run defense of late. They have allowed 471 yards on the ground to backs over their past three games. From an efficiency perspective, they’ve allowed:
- 5.5 yards per carry after contact, 32nd
- 32% of carries to gain a first down or touchdown, 31st
- 54.7% success rate, 27th
And that came playing three run offenses that rank worse than the third ranked Cleveland Browns.
This has been a stark contrast to how the Bills started off the first six weeks of the season, where they allowed opposing running backs just 3.1 YPC, 33% success and 2.5 yards after contact.
Unless the weather is absolutely terrible where passing is near impossible, and the Bills can stack the box without being punished through the air, we should expect Nick Chubb to have a strong outing versus this current-form Bills defense.
Unlike the Bills’ recent struggles, the Browns have been terrible against the run for virtually the entire season.
On the season, the Browns rank as the NFL’s worst run defense in a variety of metrics and are showing no signs of improvement.
This will keep the door open for the Bills to run efficiently if they cannot pass as often as they would like due to the weather.
From a betting perspective, with games like this, it’s most wise to get out in front of the projected line movement. And that would be to have bet the Under earlier in the week. But at this point, with a total sitting at 41, we really need to be certain the forecast will hold up before looking to bet against points.
Since 2019 the Bills have hosted six games from Week 8 onward with winds of 17+ mph. Four of the six games went under the total. The average totals were 41 points, and the average points scored in the games was only 35.7. If the winds were 20+ mph, the totals were 3-1 to the Under, with an average score of only 33.5 points.
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Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m., FOX and FOX Sports App)
The Carolina Panthers have played four games against top-15 defenses.
Aside from a nice 21-3 completely unexpected upset over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the results of those games:
- 37-15 loss to the 49ers
- 24-10 loss to the Rams
- 42-21 loss to the Bengals
The Baltimore Ravens have played three games against below-average offenses. The results of those games:
- 24-9 win over the Jets
- 37-26 win over the Patriots
- 27-13 win over the Saints
Now the Panthers, with Baker Mayfield, will take their No. 29 offense up against the Ravens. It will be the easiest offense the Ravens have played all season.
And after playing the second-toughest schedule of pass offenses on the year, the Ravens will face the 32nd best pass offense of the Panthers.
This should be a field day for the Ravens defense going up against Baker Mayfield, who owns the NFL’s worst completion rate (57%) and ranks 39th in EPA/att.
We have a clear edge to the Ravens to start this game.
The Panthers have scored a touchdown on 4-of-54 (7.4%) first-half drives, 31st in the league, while the Ravens have allowed a touchdown on 7-of-49 (14.3%) of opponent drives in the first half, No. 2 in the league.
Additionally, the Ravens have posted the following halftime margins:
- Up 10-3 at NYJ
- Up 28-7 vs. MIA
- Up 14-13 at NE
- Up 20-10 vs. BUF
- Tied 10-10 vs. CIN
- Up 10-7 at NYG
- Up 13-10 vs. CLE
- Down 10-3 at TB
- Up 14-3 at NO
At home, the Ravens have played the Dolphins, Bills, Bengals and Browns offenses. Those teams rank 2nd, 5th, 6th and 8th in efficiency.
And the Ravens still held them to 7, 10, 10 and 10 first-half points while leading in three of the four games.
Lastly, the Ravens are a very atypical run offense.
The Panthers run defense ranks 6th vs. early down RB runs, allowing -0.13 EPA/att and 4.0 YPC.
But the Ravens run primarily from 12 and 22 personnel.
On the season, 86% of the Ravens early down RB runs come from 12 or 22 personnel.
And the Panthers rank No. 30 defending these runs, allowing +0.09 EPA/att and 5.6 YPC.
And specifically, against 12 personnel, they are the worst run defense in the NFL.
In Baker’s last five starts vs. the Ravens, he is 1-4, completing 58% of his passes, averaging 6.2 YPA with 8 TDs, 4 INTs and -0.01 EPA/att.
As mentioned above, all the metrics point towards Baltimore. It’s tough to lay such a large number with the Ravens, but I absolutely wouldn’t want to take the points with the Panthers.
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints (1 p.m., FOX and FOX Sports App)
Los Angeles Rams
New Orleans Saints
In one of the lowest totals of the weekend, we have the absolutely inept Rams offense, down their best weapon, taking on the Saints with a bottom-10 offense despite playing the NFL’s 3rd easiest schedule of defenses.
Starting on the Saints side of the ball, this team has played just four offenses that rank above average this season. Here is what they’ve put up:
- 10 points against No. 7 Bucs defense
- 26 points vs. No. 10 Bengals defense
- 13 points against No. 12 Ravens defense
- 10 points vs. No. 14 Steelers defense
The 26-point outburst vs. the Bengals in mid-October seems like a year ago, as the Saints’ offense has regressed massively since then. In general, they are doing very little against above-average defenses, and now they must face another one in the No. 15 defense of the Rams.
The Saints are sticking with Andy Dalton, and they are leaning more and more into the run. They are the 7th most run-heavy team on the season, trying to keep the ball out of Dalton’s hands when possible. But now they’re going up against the toughest run defense they’ve faced all season, the No. 4 run defense of the Rams.
And this offensive line is in major flux, given injuries. Last week starting G Andrus Peat missed due to a triceps injury (his first missed game of the season). In Wednesday’s practice report, Peat didn’t practice, nor did the following linemen who started last week: LT James Hurst (concussion), RT Ryan Ramczyk (illness) and C Josh Andrews (illness). We would expect the two players with illnesses to be back in time for this game, but they might be down their LT, who has played 100% of offensive snaps in every single game this season before his concussion last week.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Alvin Kamara has averaged just 3.4 YPC over the last three weeks. Now you can only imagine how things will fare against the strongest run defense of the season, potentially down two season-long starters from this offensive line (Peat and Hurst).
The Saints saw the return of Jarvis Landry last week, but he runs into a bad matchup this week, as the Rams rank No. 3 in yards per target to slot WRs and No. 1 in yards per catch to slot WRs.
On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford has completed 77.4% of his passes for 8.7 YPA and six touchdowns to Cooper Kupp and then 66.5% of his passes for 6.0 YPA and two touchdowns to everyone else in the offense. And now he’s down his star pass catcher in Kupp.
This is also a slow-tempo offense, which ranks No. 29 in pace. To the Rams’ credit, this offense has played a difficult schedule of opposing defenses, facing the season’s fourth most difficult schedule. That includes playing five games against defenses that rank in the top-10. In their other games with Stafford at the helm, they won 24-10 over the Panthers, 20-12 over the Cardinals and 31-27 over the Panthers, in a game that featured a wild flurry of points at the end.
The Saints defense is one of the most disappointing units in the NFL this season. If Sean McVay chose to do so, he could likely blend in rushes from Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers and Kyren Williams and move the ball moderately well on the ground. That will be the biggest question – what approach does McVay take without Kupp? But even with Kupp, this was a bad passing attack that couldn’t protect Stafford.
With Stafford getting back from a concussion, I wouldn’t be surprised if McVay leaned more into the run game than usual to keep his quarterback out of harm’s way. Especially if the Saints get a couple of licks on him early in this game, and it stays relatively close and lower scoring.
I’d lean to the Under 39.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m., CBS)
When these two teams met in Week 1, the Steelers had T.J. Watt, and the defense played 55% two-high safeties.
But then Watt was injured. And the Steelers lowered their rate of two-high safeties to an average of only 32% from Weeks 2 through 8 without Watt.
Watt returned last week, and the Steelers promptly increased their rate of two-high back to 52%.
For context, the NFL average usage of two-high is only 39%.
A 52%-55% usage rate would be top-four in the NFL.
On the season, Joe Burrow’s Bengals are 5-4.
When defenses play at least 50% two-high against them, he is 0-4. When defenses play less than 50% two-high against him, he’s 5-0.
Look at their schedule and defensive usage of two-high:
- Wk 1, L against PIT: 55%
- Wk 2, L vs. DAL: 60%
- Wk 3, W against NYJ: 48%
- Wk 4, W vs. MIA: 27%
- Wk 5, L against BAL: 65%
- Wk 6, W vs. NO: 45%
- Wk 7, W against ATL: 33%
- Wk 8, L vs. CLE: 55%
- Wk 9, W against CAR: 45%
When defenses have used two-high at a 50% clip, the Bengals have never scored more than 20 points and averaged 17 ppg.
When defenses have used lesser rates of two-high, the Bengals scored 27+ points in every game and averaged 32 ppg.
Without Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals have played two of the NFL’s worst defenses. The Browns and the Panthers.
In their last game, they ran it all over the No. 22 run defense of the Panthers. That won’t be nearly as easy against the No. 7 run defense of the Steelers.
Leans: Steelers +4 and Under 41
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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