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Early leans & analysis Wk 5
Early leans & analysis

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Posted Saturday, October 10

NFL 2020

NFL Week 5

Jacksonville +5½ -105 over HOUSTON

1:00 PM EST. The Bill O'Brien era ends after only one month into the season. He set the fantasy world on fire by trading away all-world DeAndre Hopkins in exchange for broken-down David Johnson all because of a personal grudge after a heated argument. He set the Texans future on fire by trading away their first and second picks in the 2021 NFL draft. The play calling will continue the same so there are no changes to roles or game plans. Hopkins plays for Arizona, Miami owns the Texans’ 2021 first- and second round draft picks, and Houston’s NFL team is again among the worst in the NFL. A thin roster is filled with the same holes O’Brien inherited. But it’s outrageously overpriced, the defense is worse, the offense is a mess, and No. 1 wide receivers aren’t allowed to play for the home team inside NRG Stadium.

This week the market is going to overlook that and play the “new coach angle”, thinking that the players are thrilled that O’Brien is gone. They might be but interim Romeo Crennel is not really a new coach. The players very likely respect and like Crennel but dude’s record in five seasons as a head coach and three games as an interim head coach is 28–55, with one winning season and no playoff appearances. That Houston is a -6-point favorite is absurd.

Two weeks ago, the Jags had plenty of market appeal and then hosted Miami on Thursday Night Football and got waxed, 31-13. 10 days later, Jacksonville took a lot of money on Sunday morning in Cincinnati before getting waxed again. A garbage TD in the final minute made the 33-25 final look closer than it was but the market is now big sellers on the Jags and that makes us buyers.

To give you an idea of how volatile the market is, Jacksonville was taking back +7 at Tennessee on September 20th. They lost that game 33-30 but now they’re taking back a point less against the Texans. This is a great example of finding value in the number and subsequently buying low, which is precisely what we are going to do. Play: Jacksonville +5½ -105  

Indianapolis -1 -105 over CLEVELAND

1:00 PM EST. The Colts are 3-1 but are not being discussed as one of the league's top teams. Maybe it's because they are doing it with a defence-first approach that is not fantasy football friendly. Indianapolis' résumé doesn't look that impressive on paper, as they've yet to battle what is considered to be an "elite" team or even played in a high profile game for that matter, but they have taken care of business after that Week 1 stumble in Jacksonville. Week 1 was a complete wild card, as there were limited practice and no exhibition games so give the Colts or anyone else a pass for anything that happened in Week 1.  

Through four games, a look under the hood shows that Indy should very much be in the conversation when it comes to the teams at the top of the league. It sports the number one Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) defense and the number four ranked special teams unit. The offence is nothing to write home about at 24th, but the other two are so dominant that the Colts are the fourth-ranked team in efficiency overall. However, nobody is talking about the Colts this week. Instead, the spotlight is white-hot on their opposition.

The Browns broke out in a big way in Week 4 with an eye-popping 49-38 win in Dallas to move to 3-1 on the season. When a team puts up nearly 50 points, the market takes notice. On the surface, it appears that the final score flatters the Cowboys as well, as Cleveland was up 41-14 going into the fourth quarter. However, a closer look at the game script reveals that the Brownies were significantly aided by Cowboy turnovers. Dallas lost two fumbles and tossed an interception. When a team is on the positive side of a 3-0 turnover battle, you are supposed to win by double digits. The Browns didn't just get a high profile win in a game; they did it in style. From Jarvis Landry's bomb to Odell Beckham opening the scoring to over 300 yards gained on the ground, Cleveland put on an offensive clinic. The market loves offense and all that flash has the Browns getting all the attention. We couldn't have been the only ones that thought Cleveland being a pup at home after such a resounding victory stuck out like a sore thumb. 

A closer look shows that Cleveland is likely exceeding expectations. Early in the season, Football Outsiders ranks teams with something called DAVE, which combines their preseason forecasts into what's happened on the field so far. The Browns made a huge leap in their total DVOA (19th to 12th) based on that big win at Dallas, but when looking at their DAVE, it's still just 19th. Cleveland was not expected to achieve greatness this season but is off to a hot start. The Browns are ranked 19th in DAVE, while the Colts are sixth. Much closer to their DVOA rating, which suggests, they are what they appear to be.  Are the Browns for real? This will be a great week to find out. Play: Colts -1

WASHINGTON +7 -105 over L.A. Rams

1:00 PM EST. The 3-1 Rams  were a no-show against the Giants last week and yet their psychic imprints alone were enough to win the game (but only score 17 points). The 1-3 Redskins lost their last three games and the last two were both by 14 points to the Browns and Ravens. We’re going to trust that the market will give the Rams a mulligan for their disappointing effort against the Giants last week but we’re not going to follow suit. A close look at the Rams reveals that things aren’t as peachy as they appear. 

In Week 1, the Rams squeezed by Dallas 20-17. In a year in which Dallas’ defense is giving up boatloads of everything including points, the Rams scored 20. In Week 2, the Rams beat Philadelphia 37-19 but won the turnover battle 3-1. The Eagles had plenty of opportunities to change momentum and even take a lead but they failed. In Week 3, the Rams were down 28-3 to the Bills and eventually lost 35-32 after a furious rally but it was more a case of Buffalo letting up thinking they had the game locked up. Last week, the Rams had that weak effort against the Giants. To recap, the Rams three wins have come against all NFC East teams. Their only loss was against a Bills’ squad that had them down 28-3. L.A’s 3-1 record is more impressive than the performances. Situationally speaking, L.A. will travel east again for an early start just like they did when they fell behind by 25 points to the Bills. Next week, the Rams travel to San Francisco for a Sunday Night showdown with the hated 49ers (♪ I’ve been waiting all day for Sunday Night ♪). STFU. 

The Football Team might be the best name ever created for a sports franchise but more importantly, they were involved in perhaps the most misleading score last week when they lost 31-17 to the Ravens. 

In fact, the score was 31-10 with under a minute to go when Washington scored a garbage TD to make the final 31-17.  Although it doesn’t seem like it, if you wagered on Lamar Jackson and friends, count your blessings if you didn’t lose any money. Washington held a time of possession edge, they matched Baltimore yard for yard, Dwayne Haskins through for 314 yards and the Football team deserved better than a blowout loss. 

Ron Rivera preaches patience but he’s now switching gears in an attempt to win now — benching Dwayne Haskins to start Kyle Allen at quarterback. Rivera said the move was mainly due to the circumstances of the NFC East and Washington’s upcoming schedule: At 1-3, Washington is just a half-game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) for the division lead. The NFC East is off to the second-worst start in the NFL’s past 50 years, and after the Rams game, Washington faces New York, Dallas and New York again in a pivotal three-game divisional swing. By turning to Allen, Rivera believes Washington will be “better off ” with someone who is well versed in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s offense. Allen, who was acquired in the offseason, started 12 games for Carolina last year with Rivera serving as his head coach for 10 of them before his firing in December.

Advanced metrics grade Haskins as one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. According to Pro Football Reference, Haskins leads the NFL in “bad throws” with 34 — and made a bad throw 23.6% of the time, behind only Denver’s Jeff Driskel and Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, both of whom have been benched. Rivera had criticized Haskins’ mechanics and situational awareness in recent weeks.

In 2019, Allen went 5-7 as a starter, throwing for 3,322 yards and 17 touchdowns. But there was a stark difference in how he performed over the first half of the season compared to the last. In Allen’s first six starts, the quarterback posted an 87.4 passer rating (nine touchdowns, four interceptions) as Carolina went 5-1. But over his next six, Allen’s passer rating fell to 75.3 (eight touchdowns, 11 interceptions) and the Panthers lost all six games. Allen started those games because of Cam Newton’s season ending foot injury. An undrafted 2018 free agent, Allen said he was “thrown to the fire” in 2019 and believes it will help him for this season. 

The Football Team ranks No. 1 in adjusted sack rate after four games at 11.0%. That’s not surprising because Washington was fourth in adjusted sack rate a year ago and added Chase Young to the defensive line this season. They have a mobile QB that is gaining confidence to go along with a strong defense. They were a lot closer to beating the Ravens outright than the score suggested and now they catch the Rams in a horrible scheduling spot with that Sunday Night game in San Francisco on deck. Upset possibility. Play: Washington +7 

N.Y. JETS +7½ -115 over Arizona

1:00 PM EST. The Cardinals were ticket torchers for a second week in a row after losing to the Panthers in Carolina by a 10-point margin (31-21). In any other week, the Red Birds might be undervalued after a pair of unfavorable results, but that is not likely to be the case with the Jets on deck. However, the Cardinals don’t look like the kind of team that you should confidently back spotting points on the road. While the Jets are a putrid 29th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), the Cards are just 23rd. That gap isn’t nearly as large as the one in perception that exists in the market. 

We understand that there is nothing we could write in this space to influence you to bet your hard-earned dollars on the Jets? We’re not trying to. We’re actually suggesting it’s best to probably lay off this game because nobody is betting the Jets. That’s a big red flag. Surely this spread will not be enough to encourage the market to pull the trigger. In fact, it appears to be quite the opposite. Seriously, if oddsmakers posted this line at -9½ would that sway a bet? Last week, the Jets played in primetime on Thursday Night Football and lost 37-28. It’s worth noting that Gang Green also won the turnover battle 3-0 and still lost by nine fucking points. That. Should. Not. Happen. The Jets are 0-4 both straight up and against the spread. You’d have to go back to last season in a Week 17 win and cover as a 1½ point favorite over the Bills to find the last time the Jets cashed a ticket. Oh, the Bills were playoff bound and didn’t play anyone of note.

With the Jets shutting down Sam Darnold, it looks like they are fully committed to “Tanking for Trevor.” However, there is one bitter old man that could submarine those plans and his name is Joe Flacco. You’re telling us that Flacco gives two shakes about the Jets’ future? This dude is playing for his football life at this point. If Darnold was banged up all season, is it not reasonable to think that a healthy Flacco might be an upgrade? If we ran the Jets and truly wanted to ensure Trevor Lawrence was in green and white next season, we wouldn’t let Flacco anywhere near the field. He’s playing with house money and just might have enough left in the tank to ruin some plans. It’s also worth noting that when oddsmakers put out a line on this, they were aware of Darnold’s questionable status and didn’t give a hoot. What do we expect? Based on what we’ve seen we expect the Cardinals to win by 30 points. If you bet on what you think or feel will happen, you’ll be broke. Do not bet Arizona. Win or lose, it’s a weak bet that oddsmakers want you to make. Play: N.Y. Jets +7½

ATLANTA -1 -110 over Carolina

1:00 PM EST. If we were to focus on just recent results, the case to be made for the Panthers is an easy one. They went on the road and beat the Chargers in Week 3 as a 6½-point underdog and then followed that up with a double-digit win over the upstart Cardinals in Week 4, again as a pooch. Meanwhile, the Falcons are 0-4 in the standings and 1-3 against the spread, with their only cash-in coming against Dallas in a game they lost 40-39, but led 20-0 at one point. That was the second big ead the Falcons have blown this season, with the other coming against the Bears in Week 3. In their other two games, Atlanta got whacked by Seattle in Week 1 and by Green Bay in front of the world on Monday Night Football.

That whooping the Dirty Birds took on MNF is a fresh market wound that is not going away anytime soon. In fact, the market hammered the price down on Monday after the news that Devante Adamas would not play for Green Bay. Did it matter? Nope. Aaron Rodgers made Matt Ryan and the Falcons his bitch again. If this game were played two weeks ago, what would this line have been? Falcons by a touchdown? If the Chargers were spotting a major in Week 3 to the Black Cats, then we would have to trust that Atlanta would be spotting a similar price. 

We now turn to where the value lies. Atlanta is barely better than a coinflip against a team that was expected to be in the basement of the NFC and that was a projection with a healthy Christian McCaffery in the lineup. The Panthers have certainly seen their stock rise, but we can’t help but trust that the enthusiasm the market has for Carolina in this game has much more to do with the plight of Atlanta. The Falcons are being offered up at a significant discount on their home field. That’s our cue to step in. Play: Falcons -1 -110.

PITTSBURGH -7 -110 over Philadelphia

1:00 PM EST. These two teams had very different experiences in Week 4. On one side, you have the Eagles, who finally got off the schneid with a 25-20 win on the road in San Francisco on Sunday Night Football. While results are easy to play, Philadelphia was a great bet in that game. They were banged up while the 49ers were getting players back. The entire evening was billed as Nick Mullins’ coming out party, meanwhile, the pitchforks were out for Carson Wentz. In retrospect, it is quite ridiculous that the Eagles were taking back nine points with the superior pivot. If you cashed a ticket on Philly, you made a good bet, but now it’s time to switch gears.

The Steelers were sidelined after the Titans were placed into quarantine with multiple players and staff testing positive for COVID-19. We wish we’d never have to type those letters in that order again, but that is not the reality we live in. This NFL season is a house of cards and whether or not it all comes falling down before a Super Bowl champion can be crowned remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh’s case, it gave it an early bye and an extra week to prepare for the injury-plagued Eagles.

This number is a great example to show just how easy it is for a team to be overvalued after a primetime victory. If the Nick Mullens led 49ers were nine-point chalk, how can Ben Roethlisberger be spotting less? Just to recap. Philadelphia was a 9½-point underdog to a banged up squad with a backup QB. This week, the Eagles will travel again and they’re a smaller price against a better team with a healthy lineup that had an extra week to prepare. Where is the value? It’s not on the 49ers. Play: Steelers -7

KANSAS CITY -11 -109 over Las Vegas

1:00 PM EST. We wrote last week that we’ve entered the “Chiefs or nothing zone” and we see no reason to sway from that position here. In fact, our stance may be solidified after what we saw on Monday night. In the first game of that COVID-19 forced double-header, Kansas City struggled against a stout New England defense. Chiefs backers that were spotting double digits would have sold their tickets for pennies on the dollar at half time. K.C. was up just 6-3 into the last minute of the third quarter when Patrick Mahomes finally hooked up with Tyreke Hill for a major. The Patriots responded with a touchdown of their own to start the fourth and it looked like Chiefs -11 was done like dinner. However, Mahomes let his team down to another touchdown to go up 19-10, a cover at that point was still unlikely. Enter Tyrann Mathieu, who took a Jarrett Stidham pass to the house just nine seconds later. Easy win, easy cover. We can understand that there might be hesitation to spot double digits in a game against a division opponent on a short week with all kinds of COVID-19 hoopla surrounding them, but these Chiefs are no ordinary team. They can strike at any time and when they do, it’s over, Johnny, it’s over!

The Raiders are 2-2, but are coming off “good” losses to the Patriots and Bills. Good, in that they lost to teams that are not total trash and actually have some market credibility. Do we care? Nope. We’ve been critical of the Raiders since their decision to bring Jon Gruden back into the fold and we don’t plan on letting up any time soon. The Raiders made headlines off the field after multiple players were seen at a charity event without masking up. Guess what happened next. You got it, the positive COVID-19 tests started rolling in. The most notable (so far) is defensive tackle Maurice Hunt. What do you expect from an organization who is led by a man that has been fined for not following face covering rules? The Raiders have been fined a quarter of a million dollars so far for what’s being called “several” infractions for not following protocol.

On the field, the case for the Raiders to keep this one inside of two touchdowns comes from the play of quarterback Derek Carr, who had posted a quarterback rating of over 100 in each of his four starts this season. He also set the Raiders franchise record for touchdown passes at 151 in that loss to the Bills. You’ll likely read or hear that the Patriots drew up the blueprint on how to stop the Chiefs, at least for a half, but we’re not buying it. The Raiders have been the whipping boys of the Chiefs forever and now Kansas City has the best quarterback in the league. If Carr goes throw for throw with Mahomes and keeps this one close, good for him but after a poor game by their standards, K.C. usually responds with a massive game. Play: KANSAS CITY -11

SAN FRANCISCO -8 -111 over Miami

4:05 PM EST. The biggest market over and under-reactions occur for or against teams coming off a prime time game. Unlike the slate of 1 PM games when folks are watching the NFL Red Zone or flipping around like a madman, the isolated prime time games get watched in their entirety. Last week, on Sunday Night Football, the market watched in horror, as the winless Eagles, a team that looked un-bettable, went into San Francisco and beat the 49ers outright as a 9½-point underdog. You would have been hard pressed to find a single individual that was anxious to get down on the Eagles. 

Another game of high interest last week was Seattle as a 5 or 5½-point favorite over Miami in Miami. For every 10 people that wagered on that game, nine of them took the favorite and cashed their ticket but comfortable it was not. Miami scared the bejeebers out of anyone that faded them and gained some serious market credibility in the process. The week before, Miami crushed Jacksonville on Thursday Night Football. 

We understand that the 49ers are getting some healthy bodies back but trust us when we suggest that the market is going to overreact to San Francisco’s horrible showing last week. Ironically, the price on the 49ers here is almost identical to last week’s price over Philadelphia. which presents another hypothesis. Miami is better than Philadelphia therefore the Dolphins should be receiving far less points than Philadelphia was getting against the same team at the same venue. There is a massive double-reaction in play here and it sets up the 49ers to be one of the better bets of the week. Have you ever heard anyone mention Tua time? You will hear all about it at some point in this game. Fitzmagic gets benched and Tua comes in because the game gets out of hand. Play: San Francisco -8

DALLAS -7½ -110 over N.Y. Giants 

4:25 PM EST. Our goal is to try and figure out where the value is and combine it with market perception to come up with the right side, so here are the facts: Dallas lost last week at home to Cleveland, which isn’t the end of the world but they were down 41-14 and that resonates. Meanwhile, as a double-digit dog playing in Los Angeles against the Rams, the Giants hung around for all four quarters and covered comfortably. In terms of recency bias, give the edge to the Giants. The next thing to consider is that these two are division rivals and now we have a 1-3 team spotting significant points. That is going to be a decent selling point on the Giants but we’re not buyers. 

The Rams pulled a no-show against the Giants and still won by eight points. The week prior, the Giants lost to the 49ers by 27. In Week 1, New York lost to Pittsburgh by 10 when spirits were high. Spirits aren’t high anymore and now the Giants make the trip from New York to L.A., back home to New York and then onto Dallas.   

The Cowboys defense is taking nothing but heat and harsh criticism. This was from the Dallas Morning News on Monday after the ‘Boys latest debacle:

“When shortcomings place you on a historic trajectory, when even an untrained eye recognizes there’s something rotten in the state of Dallas defense, nothing is off the table. Questions of scheme, effort and job security are fair game. Mike Nolan knows the drill. “We didn’t play very well,’’ the Cowboys defensive coordinator said Monday afternoon in the aftermath of a discouraging loss to Cleveland. “I’m not skirting the issue at all. We played very poorly. “I hope we don’t have to live through another one of those. But if we don’t get things corrected, it could happen.’’

So far, the Cowboys rank 25th in defensive DVOA against No. 1 receivers and 27th in DVOA against No. 2 receivers. After Sunday's loss to Cleveland, a lot of attention has been paid to the Cowboys' poor run defense, but the Dallas pass defense (25th in DVOA) has actually been worse than the run defense (23rd). The Cowboys have allowed four 100-yard receiving games so far, to Robert Woods of the Rams, Calvin Ridley of the Falcons and both Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf of the Seahawks. Dallas lost star cornerback Byron Jones in the offseason, and two of their three starters from Week 1 are currently injured, Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie. The third starter is a rookie, Trevon Diggs. 

The point here is that no matter where you turn, there is negative press surrounding the Cowboys and now a team perceived as being awful is spotting a Kansas City-like price. That’s a bit curious and it prompts us to move in. The Cowboys players and coaches are surely sick of hearing and reading how bad their defense is. They are surely sick of losing with all that talent. At some point, Dallas is going to really stick it to somebody and this enticing takeback on New York suggests to us that this is the week that Dallas indeed sticks it to someone. Play Dallas -7½ -110

Cincinnati +11½ -109 over BALTIMORE

1:00 PM EST. This game has been on the board, off the board and on again all because of the knee injury to Lamar Jackson. For the moment, it is on again and these Ravens are back to spotting double-digits. Even at his healthiest, it's really tough to spot a number like this with Jackson and the Ravens. Baltimore is a running team and the stats back that up, as it sports the 31st ranked passing attack in the NFL (180.8 points per game). Through four weeks there is a highlight reel worth of missed throws from Jackson to wide open targets. He went for just 97 yards against the Chiefs in Week 3. The Ravens' résumé appears more impressive than it really is. They smashed the Browns, who now have market credibility after a 3-1 start, while also beating Houston. When they played a true contender, in prime time, the Ravens were outclassed by Kansas City. Jackson and the Ravens were picked by many to make the leap to elite status, but we just can't get on board with that. If you spot this heavy lumber with these Ravens, you are spotting an elite-team price that is reserved for great QB’s like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Lamar Jackson is an elite running QB but in terms of passing, he’s the modern day version of Michael Vick. Don’t be surprised if dude gets into dog-fighting soon.  

The Bengals finally got off the schnide last week in rather impressive fashion. Cincinnati has a balanced offense led by Heisman winner Joe Burrow, who has not looked out of place on the next level. The Bengals feature one of the best runners in the league with Joe Mixon, who is coming off a breakout performance in Week 4. While it was nice that Burrow got his first win, we suspect that a W over a team like the Jaguars will not hold much weight in the market. What you're more likely to hear about is the Bengals 0-13-1 record in their last 14 road games or the 49-13 pounding they took in Week 10 at home to this enemy last season.

Now here this, Joe Burrow is a better QB than Lamar Jackson and it’s not even close. Sporting three consecutive 300-yard passing games, the Bengals are 1-2-1, but their two losses were by a combined eight points. Burrow, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon should produce enough offense to bring this game in under the number and perhaps even produce an outright win. Play: Bengals +11½ -109

Please Note: Minnesota at Seattle will be posted later today. 

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Early leans & analysis (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)