If the NFL could have it its way, there would be plenty of scoring in its featured prime-time games, but the season has been unpredictable as ever. The league was set to showcase the Rams' high-octane offense, powered by MVP candidate Matthew Stafford on Sunday night. Newly acquired mercurial WR Odell Beckham Jr. was making his debut against a San Francisco defense that allowed the Cardinals' Colt McCoy to dice it up for 31 points last week by completing 84% of his passes. The stage was set and the national audience saw a whopping 10 points out of the Rams.
I was confident the under was the right side of the total, but even I didn't expect such a poor performance from L.A.'s offense. Prime-time overs are fun, but they appear to be a thing of the past. Scoring continues to dip as we enter into the second half of the season. NFL teams averaged only 21.5 points per game last week, the second-lowest mark of the season, while totals hit their second-highest mark at an average of 48.7. I went 2-1 on this weekly feature in each of the last two weeks, so let's make it another positive weekend.
New England at Atlanta (Under 47)
Mac Jones' stock could not be higher right now as New England has quietly become a top-six scoring offense that averages 27.5 points per game. It's not a question of whether the Pats' offense will have its way with the Atlanta defense — it's how. New England is a run-first team, especially on early downs, and should look to impose its will behind an offensive line that rag-dolled the Browns in the trenches.
The odds imply approximately a 27-20 game and I am having trouble seeing Atlanta do its share of contributing to this total. Arthur Smith's offense is 29th in offensive DVOA behind Miami. Matt Ryan struggles under pressure, and Belichick's defense has a top-10 pressure rate and the talent in the secondary to take away Kyle Pitts. New England has held three of its last four opponents to under 14 points, while Atlanta has scored less than 14 in two of its last three. With Cordarrelle Patterson nursing injuries, I think the Falcons' offense struggles on a short week. Give me the under.
Pittsburgh at L.A. Chargers (Under 47)
There has to be a very explosive offense on the other side for me to consider an over on the Steelers at this number for Sunday night. Keep in the mind, the average combined score across all NFL games last week was 43. The Steelers are 6-0-1 to the under when the total is above 40 points. The Chargers average 24 points per game and are facing a top-seven defense in success rate. Even with T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick down, I still think this number is too high.
The Steelers' game plan will consist of a massive dose of Najee Harris with Ben Roethlisberger possibly out against the worst rushing defense in football. Coach Mike Tomlin will shorten the game to try to stay competitive. The Chargers' offense runs at the second-highest pace in the league, but its combined scores have been under 48 in five of its nine games. I can't see the Chargers carrying this total.
N.Y. Giants at Tampa Bay (Over 49.5)
The Tampa Bay offense got a wake-up call in Washington and now the Giants are going to bear the brunt of it on Monday night. The Bucs offense is elite, leading the NFL in passing yards and ranking No. 1 in offensive efficiency. It's hard to imagine New York slowing down Tom Brady when he is out to make a statement.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants are going to be forced to throw a lot more than they would prefer. Their 3.9 yards per rush isn't going to cut it against the No. 1 ranked rush defense in the league. I expect offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to try to mix it up early, but the Giants are going to have to abandon ship when Tampa's offense applies scoreboard pressure by mounting a lead. If the Giants aren't scoring through the air, they will be taking sacks or throwing interceptions that will ultimately result in points for Tampa. A win-win scenario when you have a solid wager on the over.