The two busiest bye weeks of the season are upon us with six teams out of action in each of Week 8 and 9. Let’s review what the Niners, Steelers, Giants, Dolphins, Rams and Ravens have done thus far, and what we can expect from them when they get back on the field after sitting out this weekend.
(Don’t forget to check out last week’s analysis of the Panthers and Cowboys before they hit the field after their Week 7 respite.)
Following a 5-11 season under Jim Tomsula, the 49ers changed coaches in the offseason. They hired Chip Kelly, who was much maligned by the end of his tenure in Philadelphia but actually won 10 games in two of his three seasons with the Eagles. In San Fran, Kelly’s luck has been no better than Tomsula’s. The Niners beat the Rams (28-0) in their annual Week 1 anomaly, then promptly lost five straight to Carolina, Seattle, Dallas, Arizona, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay. Aside from the win over Los Angeles, the 49ers have not covered a game, losing by an average margin of more than 17 points. Five of their seven games have gone over, with their average total at 51.9 points.
Kelly won two of three games following regular season byes in Philly, but San Francisco has dropped three straight after a week off.
Statistically, the Niners have a lot of concerns on both sides of the ball. While they’ve run it decently, they have the worst passing offense in the league. The defense is second-last in scoring (31.3 points a game).
Chip Kelly’s up-tempo style keeps the D on the field way too long, and that has a cumulative effect as the weeks pass. If San Francisco is going to win, cover, or play a low scoring game, it stands to reason that they’ll do it while rested. However, their three games following the bye are against the Saints, Cardinals, and Patriots – not an easy slate. The Niners will continue to play high-scoring affairs and it is unclear whether sportsbooks can make their totals high enough.
It felt like the Steelers were rolling along at 4-1, posting lopsided wins over Washington, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and the Jets. But two weeks ago, problems surfaced in Miami; Pittsburgh was unable to stop the run against the Dolphins and wound up losing as massive road favorites (30-15). Adding injury to insult, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a knee injury. Without Big Ben, the Steelers fell at home to New England (27-16) on Sunday. They’re now 4-3 ATS with five of seven games staying under the total.
Roethlisberger’s injury makes now a great time for a bye. However, Pittsburgh has dropped back-to-back games following regular season byes, including last year’s 39-30 loss at Seattle. They’re now 5-4, total, under Mike Tomlin.
When Roethlisberger returns (likely in Week 9), the offense should get back to its high-scoring ways. (Even without Ben and Le’Veon Bell for parts of the year, the unit is still 11th in the league in scoring at 24.3 points a game.) The defense has been average thus far, allowing 21.4 points a contest.
The whole offense functions at an elite level when Roethlisberger, Bell, and Antonio Brown are on the field at the same time. In the two games that both Ben and Bell played the entire 60 minutes, Pittsburgh beat the Chiefs 43-14 and the Jets 31-13. They will score points when healthy, and when fully cranked, the over will be worth considering.
If you like close games that could go either way in the fourth quarter, the Giants are for you. They are 4-3 straight up and 2-3-2 against the spread. A few points here and there is the difference from being 7-0 or 0-7.
It’s been a season of runs so far for New York, opening with back to back wins over the Cowboys and Saints, before dropping three straight to Washington, Minnesota, and Green Bay. They bounced back with low-scoring Ws over the Ravens and Rams the last two weeks, and are now averaging 19 PPG and giving up a shade over 20. Thanks in large part to red zone struggles, a brutal rushing attack, and a better-than-expected defense, five of their seven games have stayed under.
Coach Ben McAdoo is in his first year but was on New York’s staff when they lost following byes in each of the last two seasons. As an assistant with the Packers the previous two years, Green Bay won after a week off.
With the Eagles and Cincinnati coming to town after the week off, expect more close games; laying a field goal or more is not recommended.
After starting the year 1-4, Miami shocked the league – most of all their own fans – by winning two straight before the bye, both against plus-.500 teams (Pittsburgh and Buffalo). Before those wins, they’d only managed to beat winless Cleveland in OT. Their four losses have come against Seattle, New England, Cincinnati, and Tennessee. They’re now 3-4 against the number.
The biggest difference the last couple weeks has been a healthy offensive line and, in turn, the emergence of RB Jay Ajayi (back to back 200-yard rushing games). They’re now averaging almost 21 PPG while giving up 22.7.
First-year coach Adam Gase was the OC in Chicago last year and his Bears lost a hard-fought game against Minnesota following their bye. The previous six years, he worked with the Broncos, who went 5-1 after byes.
As for Miami, they have won three of four following bye weeks, including a blowout victory over Tennessee last year. Winnable games against the Jets, Chargers, Rams, 49ers, and Ravens are up next for Miami.
So long as the offensive line is healthy, the Fins will be able to score points. They’re never going to be great on defense this season, particularly against the pass with safety Reshad Jones out for the year. Expect more overs as the year moves along.
The Rams have had a strange season. They looked awful in Week 1, getting shutout by the 49ers, but rallied to beat divisional rivals Seattle and Arizona in addition to Tampa Bay during a three-game win streak. That promising stretch was abruptly halted by a three-game losing streak at the hands of Buffalo, Detroit, and the NY Giants. They’re 3-3-1 ATS.
The performances from the defense have been a microcosm of the year, as a whole; the unit has held three opponents to under 17 points but also given up 30-plus in three other games. The offense is subpar despite a couple promising weeks.
Veteran coach Jeff Fisher is 2-1-1 following byes with the Rams franchise. Last year, he beat Cleveland handily.
After this year’s bye, home games against the Panthers and Dolphins sandwich a road game against the Jets.
Predicting which Rams team is going to show up each week is a lesson in futility. As such, betting on or against LA should largely be based on how you assess their opponents from week-to-week.
The Ravens went 5-11 last season, an uncharacteristically bad year under John Harbaugh (who’s won 10-plus games in five of his seven seasons with the team and never posted a losing season). Most pundits chalked that up to brutal injury luck, and that seemed to be true after a 3-0 start this season. But the squad has now dropped four straight, and their trio of close wins over Buffalo, Cleveland, and Jacksonville don’t inspire confidence.
Continuing a trend from last year, almost every game has been within a touchdown, and they sit at 2-4-1 ATS entering the week off.
Harbaugh’s teams have gone 6-2 following regular season byes though they fell at home to Jacksonville 22-20 last year. Baltimore’s defense is top-ten, allowing fewer than 20 points a game. However, they are scoring just 19 points a contest, and have had a lot of difficulty running the ball efficiently.
The Ravens record and tight results indicate they are a fairly average team, though keep a close eye on the health of their OL. They have played multiple games without one or more starters this season and the effect, especially on the ground game, is palpable.
The Ravens should play a close game against rival Pittsburgh in Week 9 and are probably better than the Browns, whom they face four days later in Week 10. Generally, I like them getting points but wouldn’t lay too many on them moving forward.
Photo credit: SteelCityHobbies (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.
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