Eli’s Week 4 NFL Picks: My 3 Favorite Situational Spots

Written By Eli Hershkovich on October 2, 2022
NFL Picks

After an 11-4 mark through three weeks, let’s keep things rolling. Below are my NFL picks for Week 4 — centered around three wagers against the spread. As always, these are bets I have wagered my own money on as well and will never post a bet I haven’t also made.

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Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints

  • Editor’s note: This section was written before Wednesday’s news on Jameis Winston.

This spread was initially Vikings -1 when sportsbooks released look-ahead lines in May. It hit as high as -3 on Sunday evening before settling in under the key number of a field goal at most shops.

Mind you, this matchup is a neutral-site affair, as it’ll take place at Tottenham-Hotspur Stadium in London. Minnesota has obviously yet to play an international game under its new coaching staff, while it represents the Saints’ first game overseas since 2017.

New Orleans possessed a preparation advantage offensively — in that matchup and many others — thanks to former head coach Sean Payton. Couple that with Jameis Winston’s back injury, and the Saints are tallying the eighth-lowest Dropback EPA thus far.

“Every time (Winston’s custom backplate) presses down on his psoas muscle, it makes it really hard when he applies weight on his back foot.”

Saints head coach Dennis Allen, following New Orleans’ Week 3 loss at Carolina

For comparison’s sake, a healthy Winston, along with Payton calling plays, delivered the 10th-highest rating in that department through six-plus games in 2021. The drop-off from Payton to longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. appears more severe than bettors first anticipated.

To make matters worse, New Orleans owns a bottom-12 Run Block Win Rate. That metric illustrates the rate in which linemen sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. Essentially, the Saints’ offense is struggling on all cylinders. It isn’t exactly set up to break out against an average Vikings defense, either.

Although first-year defensive coordinator Ed Donatell doesn’t showcase any elite coverage corners, he’s carried over Vic Fangio’s defensive principles. Minnesota has relied on less men in the box on base downs than any other defense across the NFL. Albeit a reduction in pressure rate, this zone scheme is a safeguard against opposing passing attacks.

The Vikings’ pass defense is exposable, surrendering the league’s third-most Yards Per Attempt (YPA). However, Winston’s declining deep-ball touch and accuracy rating against zone looks don’t lend much confidence versus Donatell’s unit. It should have safety Harrison Smith (concussion) and possibly rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (quad) on the field, too.

Moreover, Winston is averaging the highest target depth in a season since 2015 (via Pro Football Focus). Thus, he appears to be reverting to his most glaring deficiency, which plagued him throughout his Buccaneers tenure.

When Minnesota has the ball, the New Orleans’ secondary presents concerns outside of cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Tyron Mathieu. They’ve also only faced one efficient passing offense to date — the surprising Falcons.

Minnesota ranks below league average through the air, but Kirk Cousins & Co. have been at their best while playing uptempo. Expect Kevin O’Connell’s 11 personnel-driven game plan to speed up the pace and find some success through the air. Even if Lattimore shadows star wideout Justin Jefferson, Cousins will have mismatches against defensive backs Bradley Roby and Paulson Adebo.

Overall, I’m high on the Vikings despite their last two performances, getting outgained in Yards Per Play (YPP). Those results are indicative of their the Eagles and Lions’ respective advancements.

Don’t be ultra-concerned if tailback Dalvin Cook (shoulder) is out, or the notion that New OrIeans will be more prepared because it arrived overseas on Monday. It’s still dealing with injured tailback Alvin Kamara (ribs), along with wideouts Michael Thomas (toe) and Jarvis Landry (foot). I’d back the Vikings at -2.5 or better for the first of my NFL picks.

Beat The Closing Line Podcast: Eli Goes In-Depth On His Vikings Bet


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Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens

Shockingly, the Bills managed to run 51 more plays than the Dolphins in their Week 3 loss. Nevertheless, evaluating a team through a betting lens isn’t as simple as gauging a box score.

For starters, Buffalo’s secondary is extremely banged up, dealing with injuries to defensive backs Michah Hyde (IR), Jordan Poyer (foot), and Dane Jackson (neck). Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davius White (knee) was placed on the PUP list to begin the season, too.

Despite surrendering the 13th-lowest Dropback EPA thus far, Sean McDermott’s inexperienced secondary will be tested against the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, who finds himself near the top of the NFL MVP odds board.

Not only has Jackson accrued the third-most YPA (8.5) in 2022, but he’s also tallied the No. 1 Big Time Throw Rate (via PFF). That category is determined by a pass with excellent ball location and timing — normally heaved further down the field and into a tighter vicinity. The oft-maligned signal caller is set up to produce with Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, and the emerging Devin Duvernay — especially if Poyer and Jackson remain out.

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On the other hand, the Ravens aren’t necessarily built to hinder an explosive Bills passing offense on paper, yielding a below-average Dropback EPA. But Baltimore cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey appear to be fully recovered from their respective injuries, providing this unit with its fair share of upside.

Plus, Josh Allen is dealing with plenty of heat in the backfield, as his offensive line has generated the eighth-lowest Pass Block Win Rate. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald utilizes blitz packages 28.1% of the time. Tantrum-thrower Ken Dorsey, employing the league’s sixth-highest passing rate, could be in for another long day in the press box if Allen’s protection doesn’t hold up.

Buffalo’s offense could undergo some lingering effects from its 90-play outing in the extreme heat as well. I’d grab one of the last Baltimore spreads with the hook for the second of my NFL picks. Anything at +3 (-110) or better is worth a wager, though.

Speaking of disappearing numbers, DraftKings Sportsbook displays the lone Ravens +1800 on the Super Bowl 57 odds board, as of Tuesday evening. Considering my personal investment in Baltimore’s long-term outlook, I recommend taking a piece of that price tag in case Baltimore pulls off the outright upset on Sunday.

Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys

Even after the Commanders cashed our Week 1 bets, their latest showing against an elite Eagles team likely made you light your hair on fire. Well, we’re going back to the well — for better or worse.

Similar to last week’s wager on the Colts, this game constitutes another buy-low, sell-high spot. The betting market couldn’t be higher on Cooper Rush’s Cowboys after Monday’s win over the Giants, steering this spread from -2.5 to -3.5, as of Tuesday evening.

Conversely, Washington’s Carson Wentz compiled the lowest Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) in Week 3. That metric isolates a QB’s performance from his opponent — if you needed any more proof that Wentz was horrific.

Even so, I still have these teams right near one another in my NFL power rankings, which makes this spread a tad bit inflated. That’s particularly intriguing with this line sitting above the key number of a field goal.

While Rush has exceeded expectations in his first two starts this season, his own CPOE is still beneath the league average. His offensive line is churning out the 10th-lowest Pass Block Win Rate as well. Should the Commanders’ blitz-heavy defense accumulate pressure, they could very well flip the script on Rush.

Those situations could also present themselves as a byproduct of Washington’s undervalued run defense. It’s allowing the second-fewest EPA per carry, which is right on par with last season’s standing. That makes it less likely that these results are because of short-term variance. Dallas’ stretch of controlling the line of scrimmage offensively should come to an end if Jack Del Rio’s unit shows up.

It’s worth noting that Dallas receivers Michael Gallop and Dalton Schultz, who are both dealing with knee injuries, may return to action. Regardless, plug your nose and bet the Commanders. Be sure to monitor this page for additional NFL picks.

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