Bright spot: I went 3-1 for the second week in a row, bringing my overall record on the season to right at 60% (with one push). Somehow I have managed to go 9-6-1 on my blog and just 12-13 in the Pregame dot com Super Contest, which now has me ranked 399th out of about 1,300 players.
The not-so-bright spot: My favorite team ended up getting smoked 40-32 to the Raiders on Sunday. I ended up swapping that game (Las Vegas +11.5) out for Minnesota (+7.5), and both happened to be winners, so it doesn’t affect my overall standings. This week has a more challenging list of games, but for some weird reason I really like my picks.
Last week ATS: 3-1
Overal ATS: 9-6-1
1. Chicago Bears (+3) at Carolina Panthers
It’s kind of weird that every week I happen to like the Bears, even though the whole football world considers them to be the worst 4-1 team of all-time. I feel like those early season 4th quarter comebacks against the Lions (1-3) and Falcons (0-5) have clouded people into thinking the Bears should really be 2-3 — and maybe that’s true — when in reality they just beat the Buccaneers as 3.5-point underdogs and are only a half-game out of first place in the NFC North.
Meanwhile the Carolina Panthers opened the year with an over/under win total of just 5.5, one of the lowest totals in the league, and have somehow managed to be the most surprising bad-team-that-might-actually-be-good in the NFL. I remain skeptical and am still a good ways away from jumping on the bandwagon, but we’ll see what happens.
Ultimately, I’m doing a double-reverse on Chicago. I acknowledge they aren’t as good as their record, and at the same time I think because public sentiment is so against them it makes me actually like them more. Carolina has clearly overachieved through three weeks, but by virtue of making them 3-point favorites Vegas is actually saying they would be favored on a neutral field against the Bears.
To me, that’s an overreaction worth capitalizing on. I think the Bears defense will hold the Panthers down just enough to squeak out of this one with another boring, unimpressive win, and I look forward to betting them again next week.
Score prediction: Bears 23, Panthers 17
2. Detroit Lions (-3.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars
This isn’t a bet on Detroit as much as it’s a bet against the Jaguars. Jacksonville sent a pretty strong smokescreen to the rest of the league when they upset the Colts in Week One, and the fact that they’ve played relatively competitive a couple other times has kept the stench off the fact that they were only expected to win 5 games this season. As it turns out, since Week One they have lost games to all of the Bengals, Dolphins and Texans — all who look like surefire bets to be picking in the top-10 of next year’s NFL Draft.
The Lions, on the other hand, have the far superior QB (Matt Stafford), have played tougher than their 1-3 record would indicate, and are coming off a bye week. Their head coach is probably playing for his job, if not this week then some point down the road this season. If the Lions are going to exceed their 6.5-win expectations, it’s an absolute must that they take care of business and pick up cheap wins against bottom-feeders like the Jaguars.
I’m not saying I’m going to commit myself to watching even a single second of this game, but I think there’s some decent blowout potential and I really like the Lions to be motivated for a matchup where their skills players should have no problems putting up stats.
Score prediction: Lions 37, Jaguars 21
3. San Francisco 49ers (+3.5) vs. Los Angeles Rams
For the 49ers this one is for all the marbles. At 2-3, a loss this Sunday to the 4-1 Rams would put them 3.5 games behind the division-leading Seahawks (who are 5-0 and on a bye), 3 games behind the Rams (who would improve to 5-1), and at least a game behind the 3-2 Cardinals (who are favored by 2.5 points on Monday Night Football). Before the year that scenario would have been hard to imagine, but if the odds hold true it’s what the NFC West is going to look like through Week 6:
1.Seahawks: 5-0 2.Rams: 4-1 3.Cardinals: 4-2 4.49ers: 2-4
But something tells me that isn’t going to happen. Even in spite of all the injuries, and a quarterback situation where the starter (Jimmy Garoppolo) is dealing with a high ankle sprain along with underperforming in general, I still like the defending NFC Champs to keep this game close. I know the Rams have come out strong through the first five weeks, and I know the 49ers have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, but I don’t think these two teams have gone so far in opposite directions that it warrants the Niners being 3.5-point home underdogs.
In other words, what this line is basically saying is that the Rams would be 5-point favorites on a neutral field, and a whopping 6.5-point favorite if the game was being played in LA. That is a massive amount of respect being given to a Los Angeles team that has beat up on the worst division in football — the NFC East — and lost to the only team they played who has a winning record.
This game has low-scoring written all over it, and I’m betting on the better coach and more desperate team.
Score prediction: 49ers 23, Rams 20
4. Minnesota Vikings (-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons
I have two leans in this game and both go in the direction of the Vikings. The first is that, at a record of 1-4, I think Minnesota is the best bad team in the NFL. After taking it on the chin the first two weeks — losses to the Packers (by 9 points) and Colts (by 17) — the Vikings conceivably could have, and probably should have, won their last three games: they lost 31-30 to the Titans (on a late 54-yard field goal), beat the Texans, and lost 27-26 to the Seahawks (on a touchdown pass with 15 seconds left in the game).
In a different world the Vikings could be 3-2 and within striking distance of both the 4-0 Packers and 4-1 Bears. In this world, Kirk Cousins and the boys are 1-4 and will likely spend the rest of their season trying to chase down the 7th playoff spot. To accomplish that goal they are probably going to have to finish the season 8-3, an unlikely but not totally crazy proposition given remaining games against the likes of Atlanta, Detroit (twice), Chicago (twice), Jacksonville, Carolina and Dallas. I’m saying there’s a chance!
The second thing I think Minnesota has going for itself is that the Falcons are 0-5 and just fired their head coach and GM. Unlike the Texans, who I actually like more now that they’ve gotten rid of Bill O’Brien, I’m under the impression Atlanta actually liked their now-fired head coach. Even though they underperformed and underachieved, my gut tells me they played hard for Dan Quinn.
It’s not usually my thing to attribute so much heart into making a pick, but when you combine the Vikings maybe not being as bad as their record — they lost to three undefeated teams (Packers, Titans, Seahawks) and a plus-.500 team (Colts) — and the Falcons replacing a likable head coach on an 0-5 team that could be lacking motivation, and you might be looking at a blowout spot.
Score prediction: Vikings 38, Falcons 24