College Football Pick’em
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Hello, and welcome to the first Football Friday edition of the newsletter for the 2022 season. We’re still a couple of weeks away from the NFL regular season beginning, but college football starts Saturday, so I’ve got a jam-packed letter for you this afternoon.
I’ve got two MLB picks for you tonight, two more college football picks on Saturday, and three soccer bets to get you through the entire weekend. Seriously, it’s a lot, but before we get to the picks, let’s catch up on some of the day’s biggest stories.
All right. Buckle up. Football Friday begins now.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
Guardians at Mariners, 10:10 p.m. | TV: Apple TV
So far this season, we’ve taken out futures on the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox to win the AL Central, so of course, the Cleveland Guardians have taken control of the division as we approach September. But while the Guardians are in the best position to win the AL Central, it’s important to remember that the division is still mediocre.
Yes, Cleveland is 66-57 on the season, but it’s gone 31-24 against the Central. Against the rest of MLB, it’s only 35-33. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not rushing to the window to bet the Guardians as a road favorite against a Seattle team with a better record overall (68-57) while playing in the more difficult division.
The Guardians are favored because Shane Bieber will start, and he’s lived up to his billing as the team’s ace this year, posting an ERA of 3.10 with excellent strikeout and walk rates. But Seattle starter Logan Gilbert isn’t a pushover. Gilbert has an ERA of 3.52 and an excellent walk rate of his own. Both are backed by excellent bullpens, but Seattle has the more potent offense in the matchup.
Cleveland relies on a lot of contact but offers little power (it ranks 29th in HR% and 26th in ISO), making it difficult to rely on to score a lot of runs. With Bieber on the mound, it might not need many, but the Seattle offense has been hitting the ball well in the last week, while Cleveland’s has struggled.
Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model doesn’t see much value on either side of the money line, but has B-graded plays for both the total and run line available.
Reds at Nationals, 7:05 p.m | TV: MLB.TV
The Pick: Reds (+140) — Any chance to fade the Nationals as a favorite is a chance I’m willing to take, particularly when they’re going against the constantly underrated Reds. Honestly, I don’t understand this line at all. Cade Cavalli will make his MLB debut on the mound for the Nats tonight, but while he’s one of the team’s top prospects, it’s still his first MLB start. No offense to the teams in the International League where Cavalli has posted a 3.71 ERA over 97 innings this season, but it’s not quite the same. Plus, as promising as Cavalli is, he’s like many young pitchers in that he’s had serious control issues to this point.
Yes, it’s hard to put too much faith in the Reds tonight with Mike Minor and his 5.50 ERA in 53 starts since 2020, but the Reds offense has been superior to Washington’s lately. I don’t expect this to be a low-scoring game, so if you’d prefer the over, you have my support, but the better value is on the Reds.
Nebraska vs. Northwestern, Saturday, 12:30 p.m | TV: Fox
The Pick: Under 51.5 (-110) — The season kicks off in Ireland with a Big Ten battle between two teams that lost their last six games of the 2021 season. In fact, Nebraska’s last win of 2021 was a 56-7 rout over Northwestern. Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost enters the season on one of the hottest seats in the country, and the prevailing theory is that he needs to reach a bowl game, at minimum, to keep his job. Winning this game would be a boost to that goal. Northwestern, meanwhile, won the Big Ten West in 2020, but followed that up with a 3-9 effort in 2021 after the defense fell off a cliff under first-year defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.
Honestly, this game isn’t easy to figure out. Since the spread gives Nebraska a little too much credit, the under seems like the smarter play. The Huskers have a new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, who helped lead Pitt to an ACC title last season, and a new QB in Texas transfer Casey Thompson. It’s not unreasonable to expect all of these new parts to stumble out of the gate. Also, O’Neil is entering his second year as the Wildcats’ DC, and a young defense is now older. Given that defense is a big part of the program’s identity, I expect the Wildcats to stiffen up in 2022. Even if they don’t, I’m not expecting their offense to score a bunch of points. I see a low-scoring affair regardless of Nebraska’s margin of victory, and Northwestern’s path to winning isn’t a shootout. Every way I break this game down suggests going with the under.
Nevada at New Mexico State, Saturday, 10 p.m | TV: ESPN2
The Pick: New Mexico State +8.5 (-110) — You know it’s Week 0 when we’re betting on a New Mexico State program that has gone 8-30 since 2018. While it seems nuts to take the Aggies against a Nevada team that went 8-5 last year, the Wolf Pack are a vastly different team in 2022. First of all, QB Carson Strong and WR Romeo Doubs are in the NFL. Furthermore, coach Jay Norvell, who went 33-26 in five seasons, left to take over Colorado State. That’s the same Colorado State program that went 18-35 in those same five seasons.
Norvell also took his coaching staff and a few key players with him via the transfer portal. What’s left is a new head coach, Ken Wilson, who is familiar with the program after serving as an assistant in Reno from 1989 to 2012. The only time he wasn’t coaching Nevada in that span was when he was the school’s associate AD. He’s never been a head coach and inherits a roster that isn’t near the level of what the team had last year, and I don’t think most power ratings have caught onto that.
Meanwhile, New Mexico State will be led by first-year coach Jerry Kill. While the Aggies are destined to struggle, Kill has plenty of experience getting the most out of what he has available and plays a style of football designed to keep things close. I think the Aggies can do that Saturday.
Brighton vs. Leeds United, Saturday, 10 a.m | TV: USA
The Pick: Brighton (-115) — Will Graham Potter do what Thomas Tuchel wouldn’t last week and simply pass the ball over Leeds United’s press to get his forwards the ball against Leeds’ defenders in space? My suspicion is yes! Both these teams are currently in the top five of the Premier League, but Brighton is the one with the best shot of hanging out at the cool kids’ table all season long. As exciting as Leeds’ style can be, it’s not only chaotic on the field. The lows match the highs, and Brighton is a team I believe equipped to handle what Leeds will throw at it.
Brighton is still underperforming its xG (Brighton’s gonna Brighton), but it’s been spectacular defensively, so it hasn’t mattered. Through three games, it ranks third in the Premier League in xG allowed (2.49), and it’s done much better in xG allowed of shots on target (0.84). Basically, opponents are heaving prayers at the net because Brighton isn’t allowing good shots. While Chelsea handed Leeds opportunities last week, Brighton will make it work much harder for them, and I’m skeptical Leeds is good enough to get them.
Juventus vs. Roma, Saturday, 12:30 p.m | TV: Paramount+
The Pick: Juventus (+135) — I’m a firm believer in fading the narrative early in the season when we don’t have a lot of data to work with. Roma has been one of the most overhyped teams in Serie A this summer and in Europe. This happens when a team with a famous manager goes on a spending spree signing names people recognize. Roma, a team that improved last season under Jose Mourinho, but was far from perfect, was suddenly a top-four team in Italy and would compete for the Scudetto. I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now, even with Roma winning its first two matches.
Roma has vastly underperformed its expected goals (xG) so far. It leads Serie A with an xG of 5.23 but has scored only twice. However, I don’t think it’s as much bad luck as it is inefficient shots. Roma has taken more shots than any other team in the league, but its xG per shot ranks sixth. It’s also done this against two teams (Salernitana and Cremonese) likely to be fighting off relegation all year. So if Roma can’t finish efficiently against them, why would I trust it against Juventus? Juve hasn’t been great to start the year itself, but it’s far and away the best team Roma has faced, and it’s also the first team that will test a Roma defense that looked vulnerable against the league’s best teams last year. We’ll see if signing all those forwards this summer solved that problem. My suspicion is it didn’t.
Nottingham Forest vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Sunday, 11:30 a.m | TV: USA
The Pick: Over 2.5 (-135) — Nottingham has spent a lot of money in the transfer window to put together a team that can play the way manager Steve Cooper wants them to and also play well enough to survive in the Premier League after earning promotion. I’m rooting for them because I enjoy watching them play, but the pragmatist in me wonders how they’ll feel about it in December. As for this weekend, Tottenham doesn’t strike me as a great matchup for Forest. Forest wants to be on the ball, but Antonio Conte will be happy to let them have it. Conte’s teams are built on a foundation of being difficult to break down defensively and quickly striking on the counter after dispossessing the opponent.
Nottingham will give them plenty of chances to do so, and I worry about its ability to stop Harry Kane and company. Honestly, I think Tottenham could get the over on its own in this match. Still, I’m betting the match total because as good as Tottenham has been defensively to start the season, Forest is dangerous with the ball and is capable of getting at least one of its own.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: Illinois is hosting Wyoming in its season opener Saturday and the Projection Model sees a lot of value on the spread.
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