NFL Week 13: Cowboys, Seahawks, Falcons seek wins as favorites

Leave a comment

Dak Prescott and the streaking Dallas Cowboys will face a top pass rush against the Minnesota Vikings, who are tough to defeat twice in a row.

The Cowboys are listed as the 3.5-point favorite against the Vikings in the Thursday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Cowboys come in red-hot, going 6-0 straight-up and 5-1 against the spread in their last six games as a favorite.

Prescott has proven unflappable and his strong offensive line will have the challenge of nullifying the Vikings defense, which has an impressive 28 sacks. The Vikings are 8-2 against the spread in their last 10 games after losing the previous game in a matchup, but based on what they have shown, it’s doubtful whether QB Sam Bradford and their mediocre offense can keep pace with Dallas.

The Atlanta Falcons are four-point betting favorites against the Kansas City Chiefs. While Chiefs CB Marcus Peters might negate WR Julio Jones, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has many more weapons including WR Taylor Gabriel and RB Devonta Freeman. The Chiefs had a thrilling overtime win last week in Denver, but are 0-7 ATS in their last seven games after an ATS win.

The Arizona Cardinals are 2.5-point favorites against the Washington Redskins. Arizona’s No. 1 defense could cancel out Washington’s No. 2 offense. On the other side of the ball, Washington is susceptible to the run and Cardinals RB David Johnson is capable of taking over a game. The Cardinals, who were blown out by Atlanta in Week 12, are 7-3 SU in their last 10 games after a loss.

The New Orleans Saints are five-point favorites against the Detroit Lions. Chances are, quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford might trade touchdowns all afternoon. New Orleans, which is 2-8 ATS over its last 10 games as a favorite of at least 4.5 points, is giving up more yards per game on defense than Detroit but has faced a higher caliber of opposing offenses.

The Baltimore Ravens are favored by 3.5 points against the Miami Dolphins in a matchup of two teams that have crept into the AFC playoff picture. The Ravens’ No. 2-ranked defense, led by ILB Zachary Orr and SS Eric Weddle, should be able to slow down the Dolphins’ balanced offense that is built around QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Jay Ajayi.

The Indianapolis Colts are the one-point road favorite against the New York Jets in the Monday Night Football matchup. Colts QB Andrew Luck is practicing again, and he tends to make his teammates better while struggling Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick does the opposite. The Colts, who are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 Monday games, will have to keep Jets RB Matt Forte and WR Brandon Marshall from taking over the game.

And the Seattle Seahawks are favored by seven against the Carolina Panthers in the Sunday Night Football matchup. The Seahawks, sitting third on the odds to win Super Bowl 51, are 11-1 SU in their last 12 home games against teams with losing records. The Panthers, though, are 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven matchups as underdogs of at least seven points.

Five NFL players who could become stars in 2019

Leave a comment

By Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst

One of my favorite aspects of PFF data and grading is how it can spot the obvious coming when it’s still some ways off on the horizon—getting ahead of the curve and identifying talent before it becomes self-evident. Every year there are players who excel in limited snaps before ultimately being handed a larger role and workload for their teams. When they continue dominating, we wonder how they were ever seen as anything other than superstars.

Case in point: When Joey Porter was a star and the sack leader for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009, coming off a 17.5-sack season, we at PFF were clamoring for his backup –- a former undrafted pass-rusher who had not long before been playing in Canada -– to get more snaps because he was generating pressure at a far greater rate than Porter. Cameron Wake ultimately went on to be one of the best pass rushers of the past decade and looked it from Day 1 if you were seeing beyond the box score numbers.

Such examples are everywhere, and each year it’s always an interesting exercise to take a look through the PFF grading and predict the players that could take that next step if they get the right opportunity. This past week we unveiled our PFF 50—a list of the best 50 players in football entering the season—but in this case let’s look a year from now and predict some players who could make that list in 2020.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills: If there’s a player with the backstory to rival Wake’s, it’s Wallace. With precisely zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, Wallace walked on at Alabama, and eventually earned a starting job. Then he had to do it all over again when he went undrafted before signing as a collegiate free agent with Buffalo. As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.

Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Changing positions in the NFL can be a significant adjustment, and sometimes it takes time. The Vikings drafted Alexander in 2016’s second round and moved him inside to the slot after he principally played outside at Clemson. His transition wasn’t smooth, but he has now seen his overall PFF grade improve each year of his NFL career: from 47.5 as a rookie, to 54.1 in 2017, climbing to 78.1 last year. Over the final half of the season, he was the highest-graded cornerback in the league at 88.2, surrendering just 80 receiving yards in a seven-game span. Alexander could emerge as a force with the right opportunity in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.

Jon Halapio, C, New York Giants: The Giants are revamping their offensive line in a major way, but one of the unsung components of the rebuild is at center, where Halapio could emerge as a foundation piece to the new-look front. He began last year as New York’s starter before going down with an injury after just 116 snaps of action. But in those snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure, despite almost 50 pass-blocking snaps against the Jaguars and their array of pass-rushing weapons. With vastly improved players beside him, Halapio could prove to be a significant upgrade as a player who isn’t being talked about much heading into 2019.

Why Jameis Winston could win NFL passing title in 2019

Leave a comment

By Pro Football Focus

We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target. These throws put Winston in a position to do great things at times (he was second among quarterbacks in the percentage of throws we grade as “positive”), as well as bad things (he was 21st in limiting negatively-graded throws). New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston.  In 2015 Carson Palmer had an MVP-caliber season under Arians, posting roughly the same average depth of target as Winston in 2018 and leading the league in percentage of positively-graded throws.  With Mike EvansChris Godwin and O.J. Howard a very capable trio of pass catchers, look for Winston to either make good on his 2015 draft position or give the Bucs no other option but to find his replacement the following year.