Happy Thursday! Week 10 kicks off in Pittsburgh tonight and, as per tradition, we kick off today’s notes with a prop (or two), which includes what could be a big night for Big Ben and JuJu. Then we turn our attention to Sunday as we bring you the need-to-know betting notes to help you crack the NFL odds this week.
BIG BEN IN FOR A BIG NIGHT?
Happy Thursday! Week 10 kicks off in Pittsburgh tonight and, as per tradition, we kick off today’s notes with a prop (or two). Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are hosting Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers tonight in a matchup that features two quarterbacks that are playing great football. Both could put up some big numbers tonight in what should be a tight but high-scoring game (Pit -4, o/u 52), but we like Big Ben’s matchup might be a little more enticing.
Roethlisberger is always on the cusp of having a huge game at home and under the bright lights, he’s even better. In 25 career primetime games at Heinz Field, Big Ben is 21-4, has averaged 284.2 passing yards, and has thrown 3.3 touchdowns to every interception. On Thursdays, he has a 6-0 record and has averaged 288.3 passing yards. The Panthers are hot but they aren’t a terrible matchup for quarterbacks, as they rank 14th as a defensive unit in DVOA but only 20th against the pass. Big Ben loves the bright lights and we’re backing him to go Over his passing yards total of 300.5.
MAKE IT TWO WITH JUJU
If Roethlisberger is going to have a big game through the air, chances are one of his receivers is going to have a nice night as well. We’re going to double down on the Steelers’ air attack and put some additional money behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. The second-year receiver out of USC has hit a bit of a dry spell after his torrid start to the season but there’s reason to believe a big performance is coming on TNF. First, he saw his targets get back on track last week with nine after he had just six two weeks ago against Cleveland. Second, Smith-Schuster is one of the most productive slot receivers in the league and the Panthers routinely get burned from the position. Through nine weeks, the Panthers have allowed slot receivers Adam Humphries, Russell Shepard, Tyler Boyd, and Cole Beasley to combine for 24 catches on 27 targets for 339 yards and three touchdowns. We expect JuJu to add his name to that list with a big night and we’re taking the Over 77.5 on his receiving yards total.
DARNOLD RULED OUT
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (foot) has been ruled out for Sunday’s home game against Buffalo, leaving Josh McCown to start. Darnold was spotted in a walking boot on Wednesday and will now get to rest through the Jets’ Week 11 (or longer). Darnold has really struggled of late with two touchdowns and seven interceptions in his last three games so the break comes at a good time.
McCown was the Jets’ starter last season until he broke his hand in Week 14 — that’s also the last time he saw the field in a regular-season game. McCown is 39 years old and a bit of a journeyman but at this point, he’s probably an upgrade at QB for the Jets. Darnold just isn’t ready yet and seems to be hitting the proverbial rookie wall. This week, however, McCown gets a tough matchup with a Buffalo pass defense that is ranked second in overall DVOA and third against the pass. The Bills held Mitch Trubisky to 135 passing yards last week and held Tom Brady out of the end zone two weeks ago. Last year, McCown threw for just 187 and 140 yards in two starts against Buffalo. We expect a similar number this week and we’re taking the Under on McCown’s passing yards total.
FOURNETTE ON TRACK
Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette practiced in full on Wednesday, putting him on track to return after a four-game absence. The Jaguars have struggled mightily without their star running back, losing four in a row and scoring just 11.5 points per game in the process.
Fournette has a solid matchup in his return against a Colts defense that is allowing 94.9 yards per game to opposing backfields, but it’s unclear as to how he’ll be used. Jacksonville can’t afford to lose him again and giving him 18-20 touches in his first game back would increase his risk of re-injuring his hamstring. Jacksonville has Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon behind Fournette and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them ease Fournette back this week with 12-15 touches. We’re not fading Fournette completely because of his importance to the Jaguars’ offense, so for this week, we’re passing on his yards total and instead are backing him to score a touchdown at any time.
BELICHICK VS BUTLER
New England heads to Tennessee this week where one of the top storylines is how cornerback Malcolm Butler will fare against his old team. Yes, the same team that benched him for the entirety of Super Bowl 52. Something happened in Minnesota during Super Bowl week. It’s a bit of a surprise that in 2018 we still don’t know what happened, but Bill Belichick knows, and Tom Brady probably know as well, and it’ll be very interesting to see how they approach the game this weekend. We’re betting on them attacking Butler as much as possible.
Butler has been a bust of a free-agent signing so far and has allowed a league-high 618 receiving yards to opposing wideouts on the season. Against the Patriots, he’ll do most of his coverage against Josh Gordon who is coming off a 5-130-1 line against Green Bay in what was his best game of the season. Gordon has been inconsistent in his Pats career (we missed badly on his Under last week) but this week he has an easy coverage matchup and we believe Belichick and Brady will be motivated to throw at Butler early and often. Take the Over for his receiving yards total.