Last week, my card offered a tasting menu of results: a win, a loss, and a boost. It’s time to rework this recipe and focus on three winners this weekend.
I usually like to start at the bottom of the college football card, where the value is hidden out of sight of casual bettors. But this week, Coach Prime and his transfer super team vowed to take on Colorado State. Words were exchanged between Colorado coaches and staff, and players promised that Saturday night’s nationally televised showdown will get personal. Pepper on a pair of defenses that seem fully capable of stopping opposing offenses and I smell a shootout.
Looking at the NFL roster, it’s a bounce-back weekend for some MVP candidates at quarterback. We’ll start in Western New York and then head to Tampa for a game that will be played in stormy conditions.
Colorado State vs. Colorado
The Rocky Mountain Showdown features a ranked team for the first time in 20 years. Saturday night’s meeting between the Rams and Buffs promises fireworks, and my model agrees. I have this total set at 66.5, six points higher than the current market. The reason is simple: rhythm, rhythm and more rhythm.
Colorado State wants to push the pace of Jay Norvell’s system and currently ranks fourth nationally in plays per minute with a blistering 2.91. Colorado isn’t far behind at 29th, the second-fastest pace in the Pac-12 behind UCLA.
I believe this number has failed to increase due to Colorado State’s move at quarterback. Norvell and his staff have decided on Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, a redshirt freshman, instead of incumbent starter Clay Millen. It’s unclear if Millen is still banged up or if Norvell and Co. see the ceiling of their offense as higher with BFN at the controls. What we do know is that Fowler-Nicolosi was a highly sought-after three-star recruit who had offers from three Power Five programs (Arizona, Oregon State, Pitt). He looked more than competent in his mop-up duty against Washington State in the opener, throwing two touchdowns in the final minutes.
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Colorado State is loaded at skill positions and should be able to move the ball through the air against a Colorado secondary that ranks in the bottom ten nationally in defensive passing success rate. That’s a fancy way of saying that the Buffs, and their nonexistent pass rush (99th in sack rate), can be exploited.
When Colorado has the ball, the sky is the limit. Colorado State seemed powerless to stop Wazzu’s spread attack in the opener, and as a result, they earned a 127th-ranked coverage grade from Pro Football Focus. Shedeur Sanders has been guarded from the jump and currently ranks as the 13th best passer in the country according to ESPN’s QBR metric. The Buffaloes “Folsom Fast” offense should make big plays left and right and score at least 40 points in this game.
An added bonus is that Jay Norvell gave Coach Prime and his team bulletin board material earlier in the week when he mentioned Sanders’ fashion choices (hat and sunglasses) when addressing the media and “adults.” . He anticipates that a Colorado offense, already averaging 40.5 points per game, will keep its foot on the gas in response.
Raiders against bills
The Buffalo Bills return home after a disconcerting loss to the Aaron Rodgers-less Jets on Monday night. Josh Allen wasted the game with four costly turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble), and his collapse wasted a gem of a performance by the Bills defense. The Jets scored just 16 points offensively, allowed five sacks and scored just one touchdown in the red zone despite three trips.
Now here comes a hurt Raiders offense. Their deep receiving corps will be decidedly less dangerous with Jakobi Meyers (concussion) on the shelf. Meyers dominated the opener (9/81/TD) before the Broncos’ Kareem Jackson took him out of the game. Given the NFL’s concussion protocol and the fact that Meyers hasn’t practiced as of Thursday, it’s highly unlikely he’ll suit up. That’s great news for the Bills secondary, which can now focus all its attention on Davante Adams. They pinned Garrett Wilson in the opener, limiting the rising star to just 34 receiving yards on five targets.
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According to Action Network’s Evan Abrams, the fact that the Bills (0-1) are listed as touchdown-plus favorites is a very good sign for Buffalo supporters. Since 2003, when 0-1 teams are favored by seven or more points over 1-0 teams, the winless team is 13-2 SU and 10-4-1 ATS.
The Raiders had serious defensive limitations entering the season and rank 27th in defense according to DVOA. I’m avoiding the trap of being a prisoner of the moment, following their 17-16 road win over the Broncos last week. Their defense benefited greatly from a very strange game script in the second half against Denver. The Broncos had just three drives in the second half, and the Raiders offense had two time-killing drives that combined to drain more than 12:30 of the clock.
This game has the makings of Josh Allen coming back, but that’s based more on the Raiders’ inability to get the ball away from him than on Allen suddenly becoming risk-averse. Last season, the Raiders finished last in the NFL in turnovers with just 13 in 17 games. That trend persisted into the first game against Denver (0 points) and should give Buffalo ample opportunity to improve on Sunday afternoon.
Bears vs. Buccaneers
Why settle for one turnaround candidate when you can pick two on the 1 pm roster? The Bears offense entered the season with considerable enthusiasm, at least by Chicago standards. Justin Fields was one of the players most likely to win the league MVP. His 2023 debut failed against a Packers defense that clamped down on Bears receivers on the field. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Fields or this offense, not with the Buccaneers defense in check.
Tampa Bay gave up 5.9 yards per play to the Vikings and Kirk Cousins completed 75% of his attempts for 344 yards. Five receivers had catches of 18 yards or more and Vikings go-to man Justin Jefferson torched the Bucs secondary for 150 yards. This is a defense primed to get the best out of Fields and his revamped receiving corps.
On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay relies on journeyman Baker Mayfield. As Chris Raybon pointed out earlier this week, Mayfield is 11-23 ATS as a favorite after losing eight straight. He was Captain Checkdown in the first game, finishing with just 5.1 yards per attempt. Had it not been for an offside call by Minnesota’s defense in the third quarter that turned a field goal attempt into a touchdown for Tampa, Tampa would likely lose that game rather than pull out a three-game win. points. If the market wants to see the Bucs as a stronger team because of that win, I’m happy to be contrarian.
A final note: Action Network’s Luck Ranking quantifies breakups like the one I just described above. Unforced errors and timely penalties from your opponents play a big role in those rankings. After one week, Tampa is ranked as the fifth luckiest team, while Chicago is ranked 27th. Let’s expect a positive regression for Chicago during a road win at Raymond James Stadium.
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