Joe Burrow is Being Undervalued
In-depth preview of the two biggest early afternoon games, KC/CIN & LAR/BAL
We will be featuring four games on Sunday as we wind down the regular season and these contests take on more importance. In this edition, we will look at the two of the biggest games in the early window, Kansas City at Cincinnati and Los Angeles (Rams) at Baltimore. Another email will follow this one with a deep-dive into the big late afternoon matchup (Arizona at Dallas), as well as the Sunday Night Game (Minnesota at Green Bay). Enjoy the football!
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-6), 1:00ET
Line: Chiefs -4, Total: 50.5
ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW
Cincinnati Bengals second-year quarterback Joe Burrow is showing everyone why he was the #1 overall pick in the 2020 Draft and has the Bengals on the verge of their first AFC North title since 2015 (currently a 74% chance to win the division according toa FiveThirtyEight). Of course, simply making the playoffs isn’t the goal for Cincinnati, as the franchise hasn’t won a postseason game in over 30 years (1990 Wild Card vs. Houston Oilers). While Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott is the overwhelming favorite (-625 at Sugarhouse) to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, Burrow has made a strong case for himself (currently second at +450) after returning from a torn ACL and MCL last November.
Burrow is second in the NFL in completion percentage at 69.9% (Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa is first at 70.1%) even though he attacks downfield; he’s tied with LA’s Matthew Stafford and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson for the most air yards per completion at 4.5 yards. According to Pro Football Reference, Burrow’s bad throw percentage of 10.9% is the lowest in the NFL and consequently his 82.7% on-target throw percentage leads the league. The 24-year-old also has a league-high 8.7 yards per pass attempt. There have been only nine other quarterbacks in NFL history with a better single-season YPA that were 24 or younger -- Y.A. Tittle, Patrick Mahomes, Dave Krieg, Norm Van Brocklin, Deshaun Watson, Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Dan Marino, Nick Foles and Greg Cook. Burrow is doing all of that despite leading the NFL in sacks taken (47) and a lack of a play-action passing attack – Burrow’s 784 yards passing off play-action are 22nd in the league. For reference, Buffalo’s Josh Allen leads the NFL with more than double that number (1,553 yards). It also tracks that Burrow is far and away the league’s best when it comes to one of our favorite stats: completion percentage over expected. Burrow has a CPOE of +5.5, which is 1.6 higher than the next-best passer (Arizona’s Kyler Murray). It seems the number that is holding Burrow back is the interceptions – his 14 picks are tied for most in the NFL. As a result, his 2.9% interception rate is nowhere near the 1.2% rate he posted as a rookie in 2020, which ranked third behind Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers (both 1.0%).
Perhaps Burrow also gets docked because of his supporting cast. Cincinnati already has two 1,000-yard receivers in Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase and could add a third (Tyler Boyd is 208 yards shy). If the Bengals can accomplish that feat, they would be just the sixth teammate trio in history with 1,000+ receiving yards each (and the first since 2008 Arizona – Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston). Their ability to run after the catch has given Burrow’s counting stats a bump – Joey B averages 6.0 yards after the catch per completion, which is fourth-most. Chase, in particular, is extremely good after the catch, averaging the second most yards after catch above expected, according to Next Gen Stats. Chase’s +3.4 YACOE trails only San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel (+4.9), which also helps explain why Jimmy Garoppolo has the highest YAC/completion in the NFL at 6.5.
Regardless, Burrow has been everything that Cincinnati could have hoped he would be, especially coming off a complete knee reconstruction in less than a year. His current MVP odds (+3000, eighth highest) don’t quite underscore how important he is to this Cincinnati offense. But none of it will matter if he and the team can’t get it done once we get past the regular season. That’s where his potential legend and legacy can truly begin to grow.
TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW
Middle-of-the-Road Spread Teams
Despite being two of the best teams in the AFC, both the Chiefs (8-7 ATS) and Bengals (8-6-1 ATS) are near .500 when it comes to beating the spread this season. However, the Chiefs are the hottest team in the NFL, having covered six straight games following a 2-7 ATS start. We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating after yet another cover last weekend: the Chiefs are STREAKY. From Week 11 of 2019 through Week 8 of 2020 (including playoffs), Kansas City went 15-2 against-the-spread. Then, from Week 9 of 2020 through Week 9 of this season (including playoffs), the Chiefs went 3-16-1 ATS. Since that Week 9 failed cover against the Packers, Kansas City has gone on that six-game cover streak. Additionally, the Chiefs are 4-1 ATS in their last five as road favorites. That Chiefs number is actually indicative of a very interesting trend in the NFL this season: road favorites have fared well at 52-46 ATS (53.1%). This is a big improvement from road favorites in 2020, which finished 48-62 ATS (43.6%).
The Bengals have covered back-to-back games and are 4-2 ATS over their last six. But they’ve stumbled to a 2-4 ATS record as a home dog in their past six. Note that 52% of the bets and 60% of the money wagered so far has been on the Chiefs, but there has been some sharp action on the Bengals, according to Action Network. In terms of totals, the Over is 8-4 (66.7%) in Joe Burrow career home games and Cincy averages 27.2 points in those contests. The Over is also 18-10-1 (64.3%) in Patrick Mahomes career road games, where he has led KC to 31.9 points/game.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-4) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7), 1:00ET
Line: Rams -6, Total: 46.5
ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW
Former Penn State defensive star and first round pick Micah Parsons has been an absolute monster in his first NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys and has garnered a lot of headlines this season. That has allowed another first-round Penn State defensive star, Baltimore’s Odafe Oweh (formerly, “Jayson” Oweh) to fly somewhat under the radar. However, Oweh has been a major key for the Ravens this season and figures to be an important piece on Sunday if they are to pull off the upset, likely without Lamar Jackson again.
Oweh was picked with the penultimate selection in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He put up one of the most impressive Pro Days in the history of the NFL Draft, running the 40-yard dash in 4.36 and recording a 134-inch broad jump, both of which were the highest ever recorded by a defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus. And this was coming from an EDGE rusher, not a defensive back. What hurt his draft stock was that he did not produce a single sack for the Nittany Lions in 2020, leading some to believe that he was more of an athlete than a football player. That has been laid to rest in 2021 though, as he’s had five sacks in his first 15 NFL games after producing seven sacks in 24 career college games.
Now, those sack numbers may not blow anyone away, but just like in his career at Penn State, his ability to affect the game goes beyond just bringing the quarterback down. According to Next Gen Stats, Oweh leads the Ravens with 47 pressures on the season and ranks second in the NFL among rookie defenders with those pressures and his 12.2% pressure rate (Micah Parsons leads in both). Oweh has caused five “pressure turnovers” this season, which is tied for the most among ALL defense players in the NFL.
His pressure is going to be a key against Rams’ QB Matthew Stafford, who owns the NFL’s lowest passer rating when facing pressure (26.8 rating) according to NGS and he’s completing 43.2% of his passes with one touchdown against four interceptions. Not only that, but to return to our favorite stat, Stafford’s CPOE of minus-12.5 when facing pressure ranks worst among all non-rookie quarterbacks in the league. Fortunately for Stafford, he’s been able to avoid facing too much pressure, with his 15.2% pressure rate the second lowest among all quarterbacks (Tom Brady, 11.2%) thanks to an offensive line that ranks first in the league with a 69% pass-block win rate, according to ESPN Analytics. Oweh and the Ravens will need to break through one of the league’s best units if they want to win this game – a massive game for Baltimore whose playoff chances jump to 59% with a victory but fall to 6% with a loss, according to FiveThirtyEight.
TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW
Both of these teams are around .500 with regard to the spread this season, with the Rams slightly better (8-7 ATS) and the Ravens slightly worse (7-8 ATS). Both have been good recently, with the Rams covering four in a row following a five-game ATS losing skid and the Ravens covering four of their past six, despite going 2-4 straight-up in those games. Above we talked about the trend of home underdogs struggling this season, but Baltimore is actually 2-0 ATS in those opportunities in 2021 and 6-1 ATS in its last seven such games, dating back to 2015. Those last four such games have also finished Over the total. The Ravens have been a great wager late in the season since 2019, as they are 19-7 ATS (73%) in the second half of the year, including an impressive 10-1 ATS mark in the final four weeks of the regular season.
The tickets (81%) are very heavy on the Rams and the money (65%) is also majority on LA, along with sharp action according to Action Network. This line has moved quite a bit, mostly as news about Lamar Jackson was updated throughout the week. It opened with the Rams as 3.5-point favorites in most places (but as low as Rams -2.5 at DraftKings) but as Lamar’s chances to play diminished and bets started coming in on LA, it has since moved all the way to 6 points at nearly every book.