NFL Best Bets: Week 5

Note: For the second week in a row you can pretty much scrap my writeup for the Chiefs. Last week I picked the Patriots (+7) and even sprinkled a few breadcrumbs leading to the potential of a New England outright upset. As it turned out, Pats QB Cam Newton got scratched because of COVID, the game got moved to Monday night instead of Sunday afternoon, the line shot up to Chiefs -11.5, and Kansas City won and covered –26-10 — in sloppy fashion.

This week I took the Raiders (+13) with the handicap that the Chiefs were in an all-time bad spot, having to play back-to-back emotional Monday night games against the Ravens and Patriots, sandwiching in the Raiders this Sunday, and then playing the Bills on the road this coming Thursday.

As that turned out, the Bills got their Sunday game against the Titans rescheduled for Tuesday and their Thursday night game against the Chiefs moved back to next Sunday. Ironically, that actually puts Kansas City in an advantageous spot, since not only can they focus more of their attention against the Raiders this Sunday (given that they don’t have to worry about traveling to Buffalo on Thursday), but they will also be playing a Bills team that will be playing them on just four days rest. That’s a tough break for the unbeaten Bills.

Given these circumstances I actually like the Raiders a lot less right now, on Saturday night, than I did on Wednesday when I originally posted this. I just think the Chiefs will be able to go balls out knowing they will have a full week of rest heading into Buffalo next Sunday, rather than the scenario I listed above, where they would have to play two straight Mondays, then a Sunday (tomorrow), then a Thursday game against one of the five-best teams in the league. I think the Raiders can cover 11 points — the current point spread — but where it was once a play with about 60 percent confidence it’s now more of a coin-flip.

Last week ATS: 3-1

Overal ATS: 9-6-1

1. Minnesota Vikings (+7.5) at Seattle Seahawks

The TL;DR version of this pick is simple: The Vikings are underrated, and the Seahawks are overrated. Joe Public loves him some Russell Wilson, and Joe Public loves to hate some Kirk Cousins. Those are the two quarterbacks in this game, and that is the type of sentiment involved in thinking Seattle is a 7.5-point favorite.

The thing I like most about the Vikings is that they have one of the best head coaches in the game, and that eventually defenses are going to catch up to offenses. Minnesota replaced a bunch of starters on defense with rookie draft picks, and something in my gut tells me the first four weeks of this NFL season in particular — in a COVID year, with no preseason — served as a de facto preseason. To me, that means teams who have severely underachieved on the defensive end through the first four weeks will probably improve, and I’m betting on head coach Mike Zimmer to be the one to lead all these young guys to the promised land.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, haven’t exactly been feasting on strong competition to this point. Their opponents through four weeks are a combined 4-12, and the best team they’ve faced — the Patriots — missed on a game-winning goal-to-go play from the one yard-line as time expired. I’m not saying Seattle isn’t any good, or that Minnesota is any good, but rather if a few small things broke in different ways through the first month of the season this line would have been Seattle -4.5.

As an aside, another reason I like this game is specifically because the Vikings are 1-3. Remember, after the Bears Thursday Night win they are now 4-1, and Green Bay has started 4-0. With a lot of season left Minnesota still no doubt has playoff aspirations, so this feels like a spot where they will be playing all-in to keep pace.

Score prediction: Seahawks 26, Vikings 24

2. Cleveland Browns (+1.5) vs. Indianapolis Colts

You can call me a Colts skeptic. That would be fair. Last week I thought they were going to lose straight up on the road against the Bears, a game Indy ended up winning 19-11 that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. This week the Colts are, again, favorites on the road against a team they have no business being favored against.

My handicap for this game is simple: the Colts have yet to play an above-average offense. To this point they have played the Jaguars, Vikings, Jets and Bears, teams who combine for a cumulative record of 5-11 (but could be 3-13 if not for two miracle comebacks by Chicago in the 4th quarter). The best quarterback on those four teams is Kirk Cousins. Woof.

Being the low-man on a team led by Phillip Rivers at QB is absolutely a hill I am willing to die on. On the Colts, the offense has been secondary to a defense that leads the league in points allowed (14 per game). That’s great. But this week I’m guessing Indy is going to have to put up at least 25 points to win, since they are facing a team that has scored 124 points in four games despite putting up just 6 in their Week 1 contest against the Ravens.

Yes, the Cleveland fucking Browns have scored 118 points in their last three games, good for an average of 39.3 per, including a 49-point barrage against the Cowboys last week. Even without Nick Chubb at running back, they have more than enough star power with Kareem Hunt (who is the best “backup” in the league) to move the chains consistently.

Score prediction: Browns 30, Colts 28

3. Houston Texans (-6) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

One of my favorite bets before the season was Houston under 7.5 wins. A lot of people wondered why their over/under win total was so low, given the fact that they have won the AFC South four out of the last five years and their quarterback, DeShaun Watson, is objectively considered a top-5 to top-7 signal caller in the league. From my July article:

Not a lot adds up, to me anyway, for why this team only has a win total of 7.5. It just screams for you to take the over, yet I’m going the other way and betting that [head coach Bill] O’Brian has lost the locker room and Watson will play less than inspired football. It’s hard to imagine an offense led by Watson being any worse than league average, but I’m expecting the defense to remain this team’s achilles heel.

As it played out, Bill O’Brian got fired this week, paving the way for interim head coach Romeo Crennel to inherit an 0-4 team that has had very little go right for itself since leading the Chiefs 24-0 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year. Since that moment the franchise is 0-5, traded one of the best wide receivers in football (DeAndre Hopkins), and has been outscored 131 to 87.

The good news is the Texans no longer have O’Brian at head coach; they still have DeShaun Watson playing quarterback; and they are about to play one of the worst teams in the NFL. That’s all positive. There is no way I can use numbers to justify taking the Texans and laying any amount of points on them. This is just a good old-fashioned using my heart play. My bet before the season was that O’Brian had lost the locker room. My bet on the Texans now is that they will prove themselves to be better than bottom-feeders.

Score prediction: Texans 34, Jaguars 21

4. Dallas Cowboys (-9.5) vs. New York Giants

This is an exceptionally square selection. It’s not something smart people should or would do. The Cowboys are 1-3, could easily be 0-4, and their defense has allowed 146 (!) points in 4 games this year. It’s one of the worst defenses in the league. It’s a bad defense. Their defense sucks.

At the same time, they are playing a team in the Giants who have a terrible offense. Before he tore his ACL, pretty much the entire offense ran through stud running back Saquon Barkley. When he went down, the organization basically turned to quarterback Daniel Jones and said, “Okay, now you do it.”

The results have been, let’s just say, less than ideal. In four games this year the Giants have produced just 47 points, which is just 10.5 points more than the Cowboys average giving up per game. There are very few reasons to like Dallas in this game to cover 9.5, but at the same time I just can’t find a good reason to think Daniel Jones will keep this close.

Also, don’t you think the Cowboys are kind of sick of having everyone talk about how much they suck? Even in spite of being 1-3, the division-leading Eagles are only 1-2-1. There is every reason to expect Dallas to right the ship and tighten things up… eventually. Why not start this week against a team that has yet to win a game, who has a rookie head coach, and doesn’t appear to have an offensive identity.

Score prediction: Cowboys 38, Giants 17

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