NFL Best Bets: Week 5

Last week against the spread: 3-1

2021 overall ATS: 7-8-1

Onward. I felt pretty low after Week 3 — as a sports fan, that is — because it was the first time in a solid year that I’ve experienced that certain twinge of powerlessness that can only come from investing so much time into something that goes absolutely nowhere. The catalyst to my shitty day was the Chiefs losing a winnable game against the Chargers, but it was no doubt exacerbated by all the bad picks I made across the board.

That is what rendered Week 4 extra sweet. Not only did I flip my 1-3 record from Week 3 into a solid 3-1 on my blog, but in real life I managed to go six out of seven in my ATS work pool (where a bunch of people pick 7 games against the spread every week), which turned out to be the high-water mark in the group and netted me a cool $600. Some weeks aren’t your week, other weeks are your week. That’s the way it goes. Week 4, however, happened to be my week.

1. Cleveland Browns (+1) at Los Angeles Chargers

We are moving ever closer to the phase of Justin Herbert’s ascending career where he is getting progressively more expensive in the point tax against the spread. The Chargers have been one of the best teams in the NFL through the first month of the season, and they are already at a point where they are being favored against one of a handful of Super Bowl contenders.

It’s not that I think this line is wrong, per se, just that I believe the Browns are the better team and not a very good matchup for the Chargers. Los Angeles has one of those defenses that is stacked in the secondary and has a pretty good pass rush — which is in line for a team in the same division as Patrick Mahomes — but isn’t necessarily built to handle the power rushing barrage of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland has a ball-control offense, one that is fully capable of generating double digit-play drives and keeping Herbert on the sidelines.

I also think the Chargers are around the top of their market right now. Not only did they beat the Chiefs in perhaps the best game of Week 3, but they followed that up with laying the smackdown on a 3-0 Raiders team on Monday Night Football. The Browns, meanwhile, played a game more competitive than expected against the Texans in Week 2 and thrashed Justin Fields in his first career start for the Bears in Week 3. Their most recent game, versus the Vikings, ended 14-7 and the offense produced just one touchdown.

So I’m betting that the Chargers aren’t quite as good as they’ve looked the last couple weeks, and that the Browns come out and take control of this matchup — cementing themselves as the clear frontrunner in a loaded AFC North division that features three teams with winning records at the moment.

Score prediction: Browns 26, Chargers 20

2. Carolina Panthers (-3) vs. Philadelphia Eagles

This one is pretty simple: the Panthers are a sneaky decent team, and the Eagles got an apparent upgrade after they played the Chiefs tough for three and a half quarters last week. The reality is Philly isn’t a very good football team; never forget their season win total was projected to be 6.5. The Panthers, meanwhile, just added former all-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, so they are sending a message to their team that they plan on making the playoffs this year.

That last bit is important. NFL trades — particularly involving big name players — are rarely as significant as they appear. But if you are an NFL general manage and can at least generate the perception that it’s significant, it can go a long way inside the locker room. As an outsider I still think the Panthers are somewhat overrated, but that doesn’t mean a goddamn thing if Carolina believes they have a real shot.

Score prediction: Panthers 27, Eagles 17

3. San Francisco 49ers (+5.5) at Arizona Cardinals

We are selling the Cardinals at their absolute peak in the market right now. Before the season I am relatively certain that San Francisco was roughly a pick ’em in this game, and nothing anyone can tell me is convincing enough to make me believe Arizona has somehow made up 5.5 points worth of difference.

There’s a real shot that Trey Lance starts this game at QB, meaning head coach Kyle Shanahan has all week to develop a run-dominant game plan to ensure the 49ers are on the field more than Kyler Murray. It’s also a thing, for me anyway, that the NFC West is not going to be a division that nets a team with a 5-0 record and another that’s merely 2-3. I just can’t picture it.

That’s why I’m banking on the team with the better head coach, and the better defense, to find a way to squeeze out a road win as time expires. Trey Lance might not be ready to be a full-time QB in the NFL, but I am betting that he makes enough plays to pull off a road upset against a team that is not as good as their record.

Score prediction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 21

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (PK) vs. Denver Broncos

Last week I wrote about how fading the Broncos was a good play. After all, up to that point — which ended up being a 23-7 home loss to the Ravens — their opponents were the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, who were all winless at the time.

This week is more of the same, only adding in that (a) they are playing a team inferior to the Ravens, (b) there’s a decent chance they are starting Drew Lock instead of Teddy Bridgewater, and (c) they are on the road. Add up all these items and I think that makes Denver an underdog, but if it gets announced that Lock will be the starter I could see this line getting adjusted as much as 2 points.

So we are essentially getting a free roll on the Steelers at pick ’em, especially if the concussion Bridgewater sustained in Week 4 is enough to keep him out of this one. I’m not hugely in love with anything about Pittsburgh, but at some point the offense has to figure out how to best utilize their statue of a QB.

Score prediction: Steelers 21, Broncos 16

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