For The Win: Week 5

NFL picks against the Las Vegas lines.

Here we are again this year, back for more NFL picks. It is with great pleasure that I take the reins from Jeff Pasquino after writing a guest edition last year. As someone who has won and lost their fair share of money on the NFL (and many other sports), this is bound to be a fun and unpredictable ride. Join me, won’t you?

As with the format in previous years, this article will help those of you who compete in confidence pools and in ranking selections, which may come in handy on those Las Vegas trips. Games are rated based on preference for both the point spread and other angles (such as totals or over/unders) with 1-3 “Stars”, which basically highlight the best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars are not preferred one way or the other, but will still be covered, discussed and a winner will be predicted for those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools.

Last week proved to be a humbling one for gamblers all over the world. We were unceremoniously smacked across the head with our expectations, as heavy favorites went down with a whimper and teaser bets were dead on arrival. Week 4 proved to us once again that the NFL is an untameable beast with many heads, each of them nipping away at our wallets.

But we shall not be deterred by one down week. Quite the contrary: we will use it to glean important lessons and do better as we enter Week 5. The bye teams this week are Detroit and Miami.

Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com

(Thursday) LA RAMS at SEATTLE (-1.5) (Over/Under 49)

In the shocking loss to Tampa Bay at home last week, could the Rams possibly have been guilty of looking ahead to this, a more important divisional clash against bitter rivals Seattle? It’s doubtful; these coaches and players are professionals and those kinds of things would never be openly discussed. In the bowels of the Rams’ offices late at night, however, it would not shock anyone to see Sean McVay grinding some Seahawks tape last week.

The short week could be a blessing for the Rams, who will be desperate to get the sour taste of defeat out of their mouths. This is a pivotal game in the division race, with both teams standing at 3-1 and San Francisco unbeaten and playing on Monday night. The line here is fair, though prior to the Bucs dropping 50+ points on the Rams they were favorites by 1.5 points. In this case, it would be wise to trust Seattle: in home games since Pete Carroll took charge in 2010, they cover 60.5% of the time. A measly 1.5 points seems doable.

Pick: Seattle

JACKSONVILLE at CAROLINA (-3.5) (Over/Under 41)

It’s the battle of the South in Charlotte this Sunday, as two of the NFL’s expansion teams clash. Both have endured their fair share of tumult this season; each team has lost their starting quarterback to injury, for starters, while both coaches are feeling their seats warm up just a little. The Panthers are 0-2 at home this season, an unfamiliar record for a team that has, under Ron Rivera, traditionally taken care of business. Interestingly, this will be Kyle Allen’s first regular-season start at home as well.

On the other sideline will be Gardner Minshew, who produced some wonderfully athletic moments last week in Denver to get the Jaguars a crucial win. Could he repeat the feat this week? Much will depend on the Carolina defense’s rush lane responsibilities. Against Houston, they were able to hem in Deshaun Watson, limiting his broken play passing game; Minshew will require a similarly disciplined approach. The Panthers will continue to lean on Christian McCaffrey, while the Jaguars try to test Carolina’s front seven with Leonard Fournette. This feels like a low-scoring arm wrestle; take the points.

Pick: Jacksonville

NEW ENGLAND (-13 to -15.5) at WASHINGTON (Over/Under 43.5)

The numbers speak for themselves with the Patriots under Bill Belichick. Since 2003, his team is 79-53-3 against the spread as the road team. Unsurprisingly, that is the best mark in the league over that period. The Patriots took a couple of stiff blows to the face last week but managed to counter-attack masterfully with their defense and special teams to put Buffalo on their backside.

A visit to Washington, who will be led by rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, looks like a smooth transition for Tom Brady and company to continue their unbeaten start. The line could rise over the next few days as people realize just how good this Patriots team – and especially its defense – really is. Washington’s head coach Jay Gruden made a wise move switching to Haskins but throwing him into this cauldron in his first start may be his undoing as head coach.

Pick: New England

BUFFALO at TENNESSEE (-3) (Over/Under 38.5)

The Bills could be relying on Matt Barkley at quarterback this week, but regardless of whether it is he or Josh Allen under center the line probably shouldn’t change. This is a classic slugfest between two of the AFC’s playoff hopefuls, which should make it an interesting game, if not one that will attract the attention of the RedZone audience on NFL Network.

Marcus Mariota bought some more time last week, tossing three touchdown passes in a road win. One must wonder, though, how much patience Mike Vrabel will have if Mariota makes some costly errors which would be especially damaging in a game projected to be as tight on the scoreboard as this one. Defenses will be relied upon to make the plays here, and I trust Buffalo’s more.

Pick: Buffalo

BALTIMORE (-3.5) at PITTSBURGH (Over/Under 44)

The blueprint for the Steelers to crawl out of their 1-3 hole is simple: defensive dominance. It is a throwback to the halcyon days of the 70s when Super Bowl titles were plentiful and the hits, well, barely legal by today’s standards. The Monday night game was a glimpse into what this unit can accomplish, but that was against a porous offensive line. Baltimore’s unit will be a step up, but the incentive is there for Pittsburgh: two divisional wins in a row would really turn their season around.

The quarterback battle looks one-sided, certainly, with Mason Rudolph more than likely relying on the tools around him while Lamar Jackson plays a more freewheeling style. With Jackson, there is the ever-present rushing threat; with Rudolph, that is simply not going to happen with regularity. Baltimore’s defense has some questions to answer after last week’s debacle, but whether they will be able to front up to the challenge at Heinz Field, I am not so sure. Take the home dogs here.

Pick: Pittsburgh

ARIZONA at CINCINNATI (-3.5) (Over/Under 47)

That Cincinnati is not favored in the points spread by a touchdown or more against the lowly Cardinals is an indictment of the home team. Zac Taylor’s debut as head coach – a close defeat on the road in Seattle that showcased his prowess as a play-caller – was so promising, but things have faded a bit since then. The Bengals are dealing with offensive line issues and the absence of A.J. Green, but 0-4 is likely curtains for this team.

That sense of doom and gloom could be to the Cardinals’ advantage. Could Arizona’s offense pull a fast one on a reeling Cincinnati defense, or is it going to be Groundhog Day all over again for Kyler Murray as he takes hit after hit, sack after sack? Something’s got to give in this intriguing clash that is likely to be one of the higher-scoring affairs of the early window. Even with the Bengals’ many warts, however, Arizona has more.

Pick: Cincinnati

ATLANTA at HOUSTON (-5) (Over/Under 48.5)

After last week’s drubbing – 16-10 was a generous scoreline for Houston, whose only touchdown came off a short field – at home, Bill O’Brien will have gone back to square one. A meticulous coach, O’Brien’s play-calling was questionable at times against Carolina, particularly on a DeAndre Hopkins throwback pass that resulted in an interception. The offensive line is not capable of protecting Deshaun Watson, whose jittery pocket movement lends itself to more pressure. To top it off, the rushing attack has been near non-existent.

All of this would seem to portend well for the Falcons who, at 1-3, are in the NFC South basement. Unfortunately, Atlanta is just 9-11 under Dan Quinn against the spread as the away underdog, dating back to 2015. The game script for Atlanta is to win the arms race with plenty of involvement for Julio Jones and crew, while forcing a few key stops on defense. That is, of course, if the Atlanta offensive line can hold up their end of the bargain. Five points seems generous to Houston in what is a toss-up.

Pick: Atlanta

TAMPA BAY at NEW ORLEANS (-6.5 to -3.5) (Over/Under 47)

An NFC South barnburner, ladies and gentlemen! The Bucs offense is averaging a whopping 30.8 points per game, albeit the sample size is small. It is still an impressive feat for Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich, who have cooked up something special despite being 2-2. The Saints, meanwhile, give up 23 points per game. The Sunday night effort against Dallas was undoubtedly impressive, however, and there is the sense that this defense realizes the gravity of its play while Drew Brees is out. They must step up – and they did.

The total on this one is surprisingly low, but what is more puzzling is the three-point line move. The Bucs had been 6.5-point underdogs, but presumably, after the victory in Los Angeles, Vegas switched it to 3.5 points. It is always wise to be wary of such wild line moves, but in this case, it may be an advantage. No matter how you slice it, the Bucs are still going into battle with Jameis Winston as their quarterback. He has played decently this season, but the mistakes are still there. New Orleans will not let him away with too many.

Pick: New Orleans

MINNESOTA (-5.5) at NY GIANTS (Over/Under 45)

The Vikings are a team that is difficult to trust when they get behind. As a frontrunner, Kirk Cousins can rely on play action, a strong rushing attack and a stifling defense. When Cousins is asked to chase the game, inevitably bad things happen. This franchise has a lot of internal questions to deliberate over the next few months regarding Cousins’ viability as the long-term answer. They are good enough to be in the NFC mix, but they will always be held back by inferior quarterback play.

Speaking of inferior quarterback play, that is something in the rearview mirror of the jubilant Giants fans as they frolic in the stands, embracing gleefully as Daniel Jones runs – yes, runs – for a first down. There is an understandable atmosphere of real, genuine excitement – and there should be. Even the much-maligned Giants defense came to life last week. They will face a stiffer test against Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but suddenly Big Blue looks competitive. Are they quite there yet, though? Hard to say. Mike Zimmer will have a plan for the wet-behind-the-ears quarterback.

Pick: Minnesota

CHICAGO (-4.5) at OAKLAND (LONDON) (Over/Under 41)

The Raiders continue their jaunt around the globe as that vein on Jon Gruden’s forehead bulges in frustration. Perhaps it won’t be as pronounced this week, however, as his Raiders produced a credible performance to knock off the fancied Colts. Derek Carr is still doing Derek Carr things, namely making expected throws and not adding a huge amount to the plays. The ground game is a major concern, with Josh Jacobs not quite finding his feet yet in the pro game. The setting in London, at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium that has been purpose-built for the NFL, should inspire every player on the field.

The Bears could be starting Chase Daniel at quarterback and that, ladies and gentlemen, might be a good thing. Mitchell Trubisky offers more as an all-around threat, rushing and passing, but Daniel is a crafty veteran who gets the ball out on time and accurately. It is hard to put a price on that for a defense-first team that will win most games if the offense can register 24 to 27 points. This defense is nasty and should find plenty to exploit in Oakland’s offensive line.

Pick: Chicago

NY JETS at PHILADELPHIA (-14) (Over/Under 44.5)

Sam Darnold is progressing well in his recovery from mononucleosis, but it seems doubtful that he will be ready to suit up and take hits this week. Luke Falk will start once again after a bye week of preparation with the starting gig in mind. At 0-3 and as a 14-point road underdog, Adam Gase’s team is not expected to cause any ructions here, but Gang Green could benefit from a close, gutsy loss.

The Eagles will be mindful of what happened the last time they played at home – an out-of-sorts loss to the Lions – and play accordingly. Jordan Howard showed his value in Green Bay behind an offensive line that mashed up all before it. Carson Wentz should be able to take a backseat in this contest, allowing the rushing attack and defense to ground the Jets. Even still, 14 points is a bit rich.

Pick: New York Jets

DENVER at LA CHARGERS (-6.5) (Over/Under 44.5)

The news of Bradley Chubb’s ACL tear must have hit Broncos head coach Vic Fangio hard. His first gig as the head honcho has not gone according to plan so far and it will be a real test of his resolve to rally his players. This game could be a decent opportunity, however. As we have all seen, the Chargers don’t exactly have much of a homefield advantage. In fact, it is a sketchy proposition to trust the Chargers, such has been their record over the past few years. They are rightly known as a Jekyll and Hyde squad; which one will show up this week?

Melvin Gordon III could make his return to give the L.A. rushing attack a boost, though Austin Ekeler has been doing just fine in his absence. The win over Miami didn’t tell us much about this team’s trajectory; this game is more likely to be indicative of how they are motoring along this season. As 6.5-point home favorites, Vegas expects L.A. to get the job done. Denver’s rush defense surrendered over 200 yards last week, so Gordon’s return could be a sweet one.

Pick: Los Angeles

GREEN BAY at DALLAS (-3.5) (Over/Under 47)

The Cowboys fell out of the lofty ranks of the unbeaten on Sunday night in a narrow loss to New Orleans, but there is no shame in dropping a game at the Superdome. Back in Jerry World this week, Jason Garrett’s team will be ready to let out their frustrations on Green Bay, also 3-1, in what could end up being a pivotal game in the NFC seeding picture.

Since Garrett took over in 2011, the Cowboys have covered just 40.3% of the time at home and only 36.5% of the time as home favorite. Conversely, Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback (since 2008) has covered 59% with a rest advantage. The 10-day layoff could be crucial for the Packers, who could be without Davante Adams due to a turf toe issue. Matt LeFleur’s offense still has many issues to iron out, but the defense is more than capable of keeping this game close. The matchup of Green Bay’s defensive backs against Dallas’ receiving corps will be popcorn-worthy viewing.

Pick: Green Bay

(Sunday Night) INDIANAPOLIS at KANSAS CITY (-10.5) (Over/Under 57)

When you watch the great ones play, you become almost numb to their greatness at times, such is its frequency. Patrick Mahomes II fits that bill perfectly. Perhaps it is premature to label him as such, but who are we kidding? This young man has a preternatural feel for the position and produces moments of magic every time we lay eyes on him. This week the Chiefs play at home for only the second time this season, with the Vegas line suggesting a big performance – likely Mahomes-inspired – is expected.

The Colts’ last visit to Arrowhead Stadium came in last year’s playoffs, with Andrew Luck and his team having to brave the elements on a bitterly cold day. Jacoby Brissett will face a similar blizzard of pressure, though not from the weather: rather, it will come from a Chiefs offense that will force him to open things up and a hostile crowd. Indianapolis has the tools to stay within reach, with their offensive line and ground game poised to play a starring role in slowing the game down. If T.Y. Hilton doesn’t play it blunts the Indianapolis attack, but the back-door cover means 10.5 is just too good to pass up.

Pick: Indianapolis

(Monday Night) CLEVELAND at SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) (Over/Under 46.5)

The Monday Night Football game that few people thought would be highly intriguing – and yet here we are. The resurgent Browns seem to have found some answers to their ailing offense, with Nick Chubb gearing up for another heavy workload this week, undoubtedly. Football Outsiders ranks Cleveland’s defense eighth best, so the 49ers will have their hands full.

But the men from the West Coast have their fair share of weapons to cause Cleveland problems. The receiving corps rotation is talented, deep and versatile, allowing Kyle Shanahan to pick his poison depending on the opponent. The 49ers defense, going by the same Football Outsiders metric, ranks third in the league and has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season. This one feels like a close affair between two legitimate playoff contenders.

Pick: Cleveland

BEST BETS

Once again this year this article will give out not only the Best Bets but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 Star scale. The more stars, the bigger the emphasis on that side of the game.

Though we may have more clarity after two weeks of play, things are still developing in the 2019 story. Week 4 was a humbling one, but this week provides plenty of fascinating clashes to sink our teeth into. With a lot of efficient lines this week – and few open to teasers – we are going to focus on the best spreads:

  • 1 CHICAGO (-4.5) vs. OAKLAND (in London)
  • 2 SEATTLE (-1.5) vs. LA RAMS
  • 3 CINCINNATI (-3.5) vs. ARIZONA
  • 4 NEW ORLEANS (-3.5) vs. TAMPA BAY

With these likes in mind, here are the Week 5 selections:

* ONE STAR GAMES *

  • 2-TEAM SPREAD BET (2.5-1 ODDS)
    • CHICAGO (-4.5)
    • CINCINNATI (-3.5)

** TWO STAR GAMES **

  • 3-TEAM SPREAD BET (5.67-1 ODDS):
    • SEATTLE (-1.5)
    • NEW ORLEANS (-3.5)
    • CINCINNATI (-3.5)

*** THREE STAR GAMES ***

  • None this week.

PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Cincinnati, Buffalo, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Seattle

RESULTS

Last Week / Season

  • LAST WEEK: 8-8
  • SEASON OVERALL: 36-28 (56%)
  • BEST BETS: 8-9 (47%), last week 0-3
  • PICK OF THE WEEK: 12-10 (54%), last week 1-4

Good luck this weekend!

Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to larkin@footballguys.com

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