Expert NFL Picks: How Chris Raybon Is Betting Steelers-Panthers, Falcons-Saints
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Desmond Ridder.
Our expert Chris Raybon breaks down his top NFL picks for Sunday's games, featuring positions on the Steelers-Panthers over/under and Falcons-Saints spread.
You can find all of Raybon's expert NFL picks in the Action App, where he has an all-time profitable win rate of 57%.
Expert NFL Picks
Is there any other way to play Sam Darnold vs. Mitch Trubisky than to take the under?
The Panthers have morphed into a 1970’s-esque, run-heavy offense with Darnold under center. Excluding kneel downs, Ben McAdoo has called a designed run on 87 of 136 plays (64%) since Darnold became the starter.
The Steelers defense should be up for the challenge. They rank 11th in DVOA against the run and have been stingy all around, allowing 17 or fewer points in each of their past three games against offenses of similar or better quality (Colts, Falcons, Ravens).
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Go over the Steelers' previous eight games, and they’ve only allowed more than 18 points twice, with both instances coming against two of the premier offenses (Eagles and Bengals). Obviously, the return of T.J. Watt in Week 10 helped tremendously.
Pittsburgh’s defense has averaged 208.5 passing yards allowed and 2.8 sacks in the six games Watt's played, compared to 286.3 passing yards and 1.3 sacks in the seven he missed.
When the Steelers have the ball, they’ll be forced to kick the tires on a quarterback they already benched once in Trubisky. No matter who has lined up under center for the Steelers, points have been hard to come by, especially on the road. The Steelers have averaged just 15.3 points per game on the road, and have only cracked the 20-point threshold twice.
Pittsburgh’s struggling offense does not bode well in a matchup against a Panthers defense that is surging. Carolina’s defense has allowed just 15.5 points per game over its past four.
Since Steve Wilks took over as the interim head coach, the Panthers have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 15 points at home, holding the Buccaneers to three points, the Falcons to 15 and the Broncos to 10.
Like the Panthers, the Steelers will likely try to lean on the run, as offensive coordinator Matt Canada has dialed up a designed run on 45.4% of plays over the past three games after doing so just 35.6% of the time in their first 10 contests. We shouldn’t see too many clock stoppages no matter who has possession of the ball.
According to our Action Labs data, Steelers road unders are 73-53-1 (57%) since Mike Tomlin became head coach, including a 48-22-1 (69%) mark since 2014.
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I think Atlanta's quarterback switch from Marcus Mariota to rookie third-round pick Desmond Ridder during the bye is advantageous for a couple of reasons.
For one, normally a team could use the bye to get extra prep on the upcoming opponent’s quarterback, but there’s no tape on Ridder. The Falcons offense is also functional enough for this to be a low-risk, high-reward move.
If Ridder ends up struggling, the Falcons have already shown they can field a top-12 offense in DVOA while effectively hiding the quarterback (Marcus Mariota averaged only 23.1 attempts per game). And the Falcons are even better on early downs, ranking fifth in early down success rate overall (47.6%) and top five with both the pass (52.1%, fourth) and run (47.6%, fifth).
But if Ridder is even a slight upgrade, that’s pretty significant for an offense that already graded well in terms of DVOA and was top five on early downs with an inferior signal caller.
Either way, this is too many points for a Saints squad that is arguably not the better team. New Orleans rank 22nd in overall DVOA, six spots below the Atlanta.
Of the Falcons’ 13 games played, only four ended with them behind by more than four points, and one of those – the 19-13 loss to Washington in Week 12 – is probably a win if Mariota isn’t the QB.
The bottom line is there’s not much you can point to to reliably separate these teams, even when accounting for the worst-case scenario with the quarterback change, which obviously makes getting 4-5 points massive.
Getting over a field goal is even more valuable in this spot because of how low-scoring these teams’ games have been of late.
The last six Saints games averaged a combined score of 31.6 and the last five Falcons games averaged a combined score of 39.0. Per our Action Labs data, dogs by more than a field goal with a total of 47 or less are 61-35 (64%) ATS this season, covering by 2.3 points per game.