College Football-NFL Best Bets: 3 Picks on Colorado, Raiders vs Bills, More
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Shedeur Sanders #2 of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Last week, my card offered a tasting menu of outcomes: one win, one loss, and a push. It’s time to rework this recipe and hone in on three winners this weekend.
Usually, I like to start at the bottom of the college football card where value hides out of sight for casual bettors. But this week, Coach Prime and his transfer super team have promised to run it up against Colorado State. Words were exchanged between coaches and Colorado’s staff and players have vowed that Saturday night’s nationally televised showdown will get personal. Pepper in a pair of defenses that seem fully capable of shutting the opposing offenses down and I smell a shootout.
As for the NFL slate, it’s bounceback weekend for a few MVP candidates at quarterback. We’ll start in Western New York and then head down to Tampa for a game set to be played in stormy conditions.
Colorado State vs. Colorado
The Rocky Mountain Showdown is featuring a ranked team for the first time in 20 years. Saturday night’s meeting between the Rams and Buffs promises fireworks and my model agrees. I have this total set at 66.5, six points higher than the current market. The reason is simple: pace, pace, and more pace.
Colorado State wants to push the tempo in Jay Norvell’s system and currently rank fourth nationally in plays per minute at a blistering 2.91. Colorado isn’t far behind at 29th, the second-fast tempo in the Pac-12 behind UCLA.
I believe this number has failed to steam up because of Colorado State’s move at quarterback. Norvell and his staff have settled on Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, a redshirt freshman, over incumbent starter Clay Millen. It’s unclear if Millen is still banged up or if Norvell and company view their offense’s ceiling as higher with BFN at the controls. What we do know is that Fowler-Nicolosi was a sought-after three-star recruit who had offers from three Power Five programs (Arizona, Oregon State, Pitt). He looked more than competent in mop-up duty against Washington State in the opener, tossing two touchdowns in the closing minutes.
Colorado State is loaded at the skill positions and should be able to move the ball through the air against a Colorado secondary that is in the bottom ten nationally in Defensive Passing Downs Success Rate. That’s a fancy way of saying that the Buffs, and their non-existent pass rush (99th in sack rate), can be exploited.
When Colorado has the ball, the sky is the limit. Colorado State looked powerless to slow Wazzu’s spread attack in the opener and as a result, they check in with a coverage grade of 127th according to Pro Football Focus. Shedeur Sanders has been dialed in from the jump and currently ranks as the nation’s 13th-best passer by ESPN’s QBR metric. The Buffaloes “Folsom Fast” offense should hit big plays left and right and pump in at least 40 points in this game.
An added bonus is that Jay Norvell gave Coach Prime and his team bulletin board material early in the week when he called out Sanders’ fashion choices (hat and sunglasses) when addressing the media and “grown ups.” I anticipate a Colorado offense, which is already averaging 40.5 points per game, to keep its foot on the accelerator in response.
Raiders vs. Bills
The Buffalo Bills are headed home after a baffling loss to the Aaron Rodgers-less Jets on Monday night. Josh Allen gave the game away with four costly turnovers (3 INTs, 1 Lost Fumble), and his meltdown wasted a gem of a performance by the Bills’ defense. The Jets scored just 16 points offensively, surrendered five sacks, and scored a single touchdown in the red zone despite three trips.
Now here comes a wounded Raiders offense. Their wide receiving corps will be decidedly less dangerous with Jakobi Meyers (concussion) on the shelf. Meyers dominated in the opener (9/81/TD) before the Broncos’ Kareem Jackson knocked him out of the game. Given the NFL’s concussion protocol and the fact that Meyers hasn’t practiced through Thursday, it’s highly unlikely he will suit up. That’s great news for the Bills secondary who can now focus their entire attention on Davante Adams. They blanketed Garrett Wilson in the opener, limiting the rising star to just 34 receiving yards on five targets.
According to the Action Network’s Evan Abrams, the fact that the Bills (0-1) are listed as a touchdown-plus favorite is a very good sign for Buffalo-backers. Since 2003, when 0-1 teams are favored by seven or more points over 1-0 teams, the winless team is 13-2 SU and 10-4-1 ATS.
The Raiders had serious defensive limitations coming into the season and sit with the 27th ranked defense according to DVOA. I’m avoiding the trap of being a prisoner of the moment, following their 17-16 road win over the Broncos last week. Their defense benefited tremendously from a very strange game script in the second half against Denver. The Broncos had just three second half drives, and the Raiders offense had two time-killing drives that combined to drain over 12:30 minutes of clock.
This game has the makings of Josh Allen bounce-back, but that’s predicated more upon the Raiders inability to take the ball away than Allen suddenly becoming risk-averse. Last season, the Raiders finished dead last in the NFL in takeaways with just 13 in 17 games. That trend persisted in the opener against Denver (0 takeaways) and should give Buffalo ample opportunity to run it up on Sunday afternoon.
Bears vs. Buccaneers
Why settle for one bounce-back candidate when you can grab two in the 1 p.m. slate? The Bears offense entered the season with with sizable hype, at least by Chicago standards. Justin Fields was one of the most bet players to win league MVP. Their 2023 debut fell flat against a Packers defense that clamped down on the Bears’ receivers downfield. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Fields or this offense, not with the Buccaneers defense on deck.
Tampa Bay gave up 5.9 yards per play to the Vikings and Kirk Cousins completed 75% of his attempts for 344 yards. Five receivers had receptions of 18 yards or more and the Vikings go-to man, Justin Jefferson, torched the Bucs’ secondary for 150 yards. This is a defense primed to bring out the best in Fields and his revamped receiving corps.
On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay is relying on journeyman Baker Mayfield. As Chris Raybon pointed out earlier this week, Mayfield is 11-23 ATS as a favorite having lost eight straight. He was Captain Checkdown in the opener, finishing with just 5.1 yards per attempt. Had it not been for an offside call on the Minnesota defense in the third quarter that turned a field goal attempt into a touchdown for Tampa, it’s very likely that Tampa loses that game instead of sneaking out a three point win. If the market wants to view the Bucs as a stronger team because of that win, I’m happy to be a contrarian.
One final note, the Action Network’s Luck Rankings quantifies breaks like the one I just described above. Unforced errors and timely penalties from your opponents play a big part in those rankings. After one week, Tampa is graded as the fifth luckiest team, while Chicago checks in at 27th. Let’s hope for some positive regression for Chicago during a road win at Raymond James Stadium.