Recommended Wagers: New Orleans and Jacksonville

New Orleans @ Tampa Bay
Recommended Wager: NO +5.5
Strength: 3.08
Wager sizing: 1 unit

Key Injuries:
New Orleans Saints: (Week 6 bye)
-WR Michael Thomas (ankle/hamstring) was INACATIVE weeks 2 – 4 and SUSPENDED week 5. He was good to return with the ankle injury, but injured his hamstring in practice and was INACTIVE week 7. He was INACTIVE week 8, but got in limited sessions Thursday and Friday. He’s likely to return.
-WR Marquez Callaway (ankle) was INACTIVE week 8, but got in two limited sessions ahead of week 8.
-G Nick Eaton (concussion) was injured week 5 and INACTIVE week 7 and INACTIVE week 8 after missing practice all week.
-LB Kwon Alexander (ankle) was INACTIVE weeks 6 – 8. He returned to practice ahead of week 8 for the first time as limited.
-DT Sheldon Rankins (sprained MCL) was injured week 8. He’ll likely miss at least 2 weeks.
IR: WR Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19), LB Kiko Alonso (knee)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (Week 13 bye)
-WR Chris Godwin (fractured finger) was injured week 7. He’ll miss week 8, but will likely return week 9.
IR: TE OJ Howard (Achilles – season ending), RB Kejon Barner (suspension), DT Vita Vea (ankle – season ending)

Spread watching: This line opened at 4.5 and has stuck there.

Keys to the game: You’d probably be a bit surprised to hear that the Saints offense, despite having an aging QB and without their star receiver for every week except week 1, are 7th in DVOA and 12th in EPA/play. This week, Thomas should return, as should Emmanuel Sanders, who missed the last two weeks due to COVID-19. They’ve been extremely successful targeting RB Alvin Kamara underneath and relying on him to get yards after the catch, but the additions of Thomas and Sanders should allow them to be less one dimensional. The matchup, however, is as tough as it gets – the Bucs defense is the best in the NFL in terms of DVOA and 2nd best in EPA/play. Finding an area to exploit is essentially impossible – they can pass rush, cover all areas of the field, and defend the run.

The Bucs on offense are 6th in DVOA and 8th in EPA/play. They’ve been plagued by injuries at the skill position — but they should get WR Chris Godwin back, and Antonio Brown will play his first game of the season. How much Brown makes a difference remains to be seen — HC Bruce Arians has said that they’ll design limited packages with Brown, and will deploy it depending on how successful it is in the game. Either way, with Brady playing well, the line playing well, and the skilled guys healthy, it’s a flat out dangerous offense. The Saints defense is sitting at 8th in DVOA – though they’ll looked worse if you’re checking stats that don’t adjust for opponents (i.e., they’re 20th in EPA/play. The strength is the defensive line — though they have skill in the secondary, guys like Marshon Lattimore have underperformed.

Houston @ Jacksonville
Recommended Wager: JAX +7
Strength: 2.57
Wager sizing: 1 unit

Key injuries:
Houston Texans: (Week 8 bye)
-TE Jordan Atkins (ankle/concussion) was INACTIVE weeks 5 – 7. He was questionable ahead of week 7, but still isn’t practicing.
-CB Bradley Roby (ankle) was injured week 7.
IR: LB Benardrick McKinney (shoulder), CB Gareon Conley (ankle)

Jacksonville Jaguars: (Week 8 bye)
-QB Gardner Minshew (thumb) is OUT week 9.
-TE Tyler Eifert (neck) was injured week 6 and INACTIVE week 7 after missing practice all week.
-RG A.J. Cann (shoulder) was injured week 6 and INACTIVE week 7. He was questionable ahead of week 7, but did not practice.
-LB Myles Jack (ankle) was INACTIVE week 7 after missing practice all week.
-S Jarrod Wilson (hamstring) was INACTIVE week 7 after missing practice all week.
IR: RB Ryquell Armstead (reserve/COVID-19), DE Josh Mauro (suspension), DT Al Woods (opt out), DT Abry Jones (ankle/hamstring), CB Rashaan Melvin (opt out), S Jarrod Wilson (hamstring), K Josh Lambo (left hip)

Spread watching: The line opened at 4, but that was likely before it was ruled that Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew wouldn’t be playing. The model grabbed it at 7, but it looks like it’s back down to 6.5 now. 7 is a key number, so I wouldn’t bet it unless it’s 7 or better.

Keys to the game: The Texans offense is middle of the road, ranking 15th in DVOA and EPA/play. Deshaun Watson has played well, earning the 5th highest PFF grade from all QBs, but his offensive line is again a disaster (except for Laremy Tunsil. Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks are a decent 1-2 punch at receiver — it should be enough to be better than the advanced stats indicate, which is a good reason why they fired HC Bill O’Brien. The good news for them is the Jaguars are the stone worst defense in terms of DVOA, and 31st in EPA/play (more on the the defense that’s 32nd later). I have nothing nice to say about them, except that Josh Allen is a solid pass rusher. They’ll get a second solid player if Myles Jack (ankle) can return.

The big story for the Jaguars offense is QB Gardner Minshew will miss with a thumb injury. It looks like rookie Jake Luton will make his NFL debut. Luton is a 6th round pick out of Oregon State. In his senior year, he only completed 61.8% of his passes, but gained 7.6 yards per attempt and had an impressive 28:3 TD:INT ratio and 88.5 PFF grade. He’ll be joining a Jaguars offense that ranks 19th in DVOA and 23rd in EPA/play. DJ Chark, rookie Laviska Shenault Jr, and Keelan Cole are decent enough receiving options, but naturally we don’t expect much from a rookie 6th rounder making his debut. The good news is the Texans defense is downright awful, ranking 28th in DVOA and dead last in EPA/play. This is essentially the story of two horrid defenses, and as such, we’re taking the points.

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