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October 7, 2018

There are two NFL picks today; both were released on Saturday.

#1: Oakland Raiders +6 spread (buy the half point) against LA Chargers for 3% of the bankroll.

This game is likely to be a closely contested one. We do believe the Chargers are the better squad but this is a team that can't seem to get out of its own way. They've had problems with kickers and other issues for years, almost regardless of who's got the kicking job and we don't see Caleb Sturgis inspiring confidence right now. Sturgis has missed field goals and extra point attempts this year and seems to be really lacking self-esteem. He might well be the next kicker to lose his job if he continues to falter. When a team doesn't have a reliable kicker, they often end up forcing things in the opponent's half, leading to costly turnovers as a byproduct of extra stress.

The Chargers have been involved in close games for years and rarely win by big margins. Win or lose, this team is almost always competitive but also plays up and down to the level of its competition. They had more games than any other NFL team decided by 1-4 points last season and it wouldn't surprise us if that trend continued. Even when they get up to big leads, the opposing team often makes a comeback as they let their foot off the gas pedal. 

Anthony Lynn's offense is a good one but their defense really misses Joey Bosa right now. The star pass-rusher is the one that adds a lot of punch to this front seven and without him to start the season, they've really struggled to get to the quarterback. It's not just about sacks but QB pressures that make signal-callers uncomfortable and unfortunately for the Chargers, and Raiders for that matter, both of these teams lack a potent pass rush unit right now. It's an area both squads have to improve. 

The Chargers defense has a star in the back in rookie Derwin James but their coverage has been below-par so far overall in the secondary while the front seven fails to properly hurry opposing quarterbacks. In the offense, there are lots of skill players but they are missing two of their starting linemen in tackles Joe Barksdale and Russell Okung! These two veterans protect Phillip Rivers very well and without them, Rivers might have to get the ball out a lot quicker. Oakland's D has finally found a bit of pass rush and Jon Gruden will find a way to put some pressure on the veteran quarterback. 

Speaking of close games, the Raiders have been the epitome of such matchups this season. They led their first game against the high-flying Rams before eventually losing by double-digits but other than that, they've been involved in some very tight games. They led against Broncos and Dolphins as well before seeing those teams mount late comebacks to seal the game. Most importantly however, in their last game against Cleveland, they finally got the elusive first 'W' of the season and having gotten that monkey off their back, we believe they'll now play with more poise and confidence in this game. There was a lot of pressure building on Gruden and his team and that was leading to some bad decision-making on the field. The Raiders could use the momentum from last week's overtime thriller to keep this one close and cover the spread.


#2: Pittsburgh Steelers -3 spread against Atlanta Falcons for 3% of the bankroll.

This is a matchup between two desperate teams looking to get back on track. Seen as preseason contenders in their respective conferences, it's fair to say the Falcons and the Steelers have both struggled so far. Atlanta is 1-3 on the season while Pittsburgh also has only one win on the season, albeit with a 1-2-1 record thanks to a 'tie' in Cleveland earlier this season! It goes without saying that both of these squads want to bounce back and get in the win column but there are reasons to believe that'll be much tougher for the visitors to accomplish.

The Falcons have been very unfortunate with injuries this season. They not only have more key players out than any other NFL roster, what's compounded their problems is that they've all come on the defensive side of the ball and all primarily right in the middle of the defense! There's not a squad in the NFL that would not struggle if you take out their middle linebacker and leading tackler, their pro-bowl safety, another safety and also their best player on the defensive line interior! That is exactly what has happened to Dan Quinn's defense with Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and now most recently Grady Jarrett out injured. The Falcons have had to rely on backup players right in the middle of their secondary all season but what makes this particular matchup even tougher is that Grady Jarrett's injury is a new one meaning this is the first game he will personally miss. Therefore just as perhaps they were getting used to playing without Jones and Neal and company, they now lose a big part of their defense and the captain right up front. 

The absence of Jarrett should open up the running game for James Conner. The Steelers have become a somewhat one-dimensional pass-heavy team after a solid balanced start on offense in the first week of the season but offensive co-ordinator Randy Fichtner admitted that he needs to get Conner more involved and strike a better balance and we expect that to happen today. If Conner can gash the ATL defense on the ground, it'll open up the passing game much more for the dangerous duo of Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster! Then there's Vance McDonald and Jesse James who can do damage on intermediary routes in the middle of the field against this depleted Falcons defense from the tight-end position. It's also worth noting that Conner is more than capable as a pass-catching back, something that Quinn's team has struggled to contain for a number of years now! All in all, we believe the Steelers have enough offensive weapons around them to take what the defense gives them and punish the injury-depleted Falcons.

Steve Sarkissian is no longer on the hot-seat having done a great job of calling plays in the red zone. They had to settle for field goals in that first game against the Eagles but since then this Atlanta offense and Matt Ryan have been red hot and delivering touchdown after touchdown from a wide variety of sources. They're going up against a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled to start the year but one that is at least healthy and has room for improvement. It's worth mentioning that Ryan and company have been putting up 35+ points recently without any turnovers over their last two games and we just don't see that happening. They will likely get their fair share of points again but it'd surprise us if they didn't have a turnover in this game. Keith Butler's defense should show some improvements at home after being embarrassed against the Ravens and might just do enough to win what should be a high-scoring affair. In the end, in what is likely to be a shootout, we believe Pittsburgh will pull away and cover this short spread in the process.

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