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Early leans & analysis Wk 7
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Posted Saturday, October 24

NFL 2020

NFL Week 7

TENNESSEE -1½ -106 over Pittsburgh

1:00 PM EST. In a year in which it feels like no team outside of Chicago and Tampa Bay are playing defense, the Steelers are allowing just 18.8 points per game while scoring 31.2. This is a group that managed to go 8-8 last season with Ben Roethlisberger hurt and a pair of replacement quarterbacks who seemed to do more harm than good. With Roethlisberger back, the Steelers rolled into this season with the highest of hopes and expectations, and it is fair to say that so far, they've looked as good as anyone (on paper). The Ravens and Chiefs each have losses. The Seahawks are unbeaten but struggle on defense. The Packers had a claim before Sunday, but after what happened to them in Tampa, they're no longer as spotless as the Steelers. Some team has to be the best and we’re going to trust that the NFL headlines circulating around this week will all feature the Steelers first. As impressive as Pittsburgh has been (on paper), we can absolutely pin the "Yeah, but who have they played" tag on it. The Cleveland win is a good one, given the way the Browns have played so far, but the other four teams the Steelers have beaten have a combined record of 5-17-1. 

Every game takes on a personality of its own and on Sunday, the Brownies made a bunch of very early mistakes that put them in an early 14-0 hole that they’re not well-schooled enough to come out of. Take nothing away from the Steelers for putting a licking on “little brother” again but we’re not going to overreact to the Steelers 5-0 record. The market will.

Tennessee is also undefeated but the Titans very simply do not have the same pedigree nor market appeal that the Steelers have. Furthermore, while Pittsburgh was burying the Brownies last week, the Titans were extremely lucky to beat the pitiful Texans. Any person that bet Tennessee and won last week are absolutely aware that they dodged a massive bullet. A performance like the one Tennessee put on versus the Texans last week leaves a sour taste behind. At the end of the day, it’s still about value. Tennessee is just 2-3 versus the spread while the Steelers have covered in three straight and in four of their five games. We now get a short priced favorite at home. Play Tennessee -1½

HOUSTON +3½ -113 over Green Bay

1:00 PM EST. Well, that was an unpleasant surprise. The Packers were dominating opponents on both sides of the ball but ran into a buzz saw in Tampa Bay that made them look ordinary. That was the first time that the Packers failed to score at least 30 points all year and the big return of Davante Adams was a dud. After jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead last week, the Packers played flat for the remaining 3½ quarters and got steamrolled by the Buccaneers. Chances are, they’ll bounce back.

The Packers may have lost the game but if they lost any market credibility, it was slight. In a year in which 10 teams have one win, Green Bay’s 4-1 record places them among the elite. Chances are that this one is going to attract a lot of Green Bay money and we can certainly understand why. The Packers are a small price against a weak team. They have covered four times in five games and have covered by big margins.

The Texans have played better in the two weeks since HC Bill O'Brien was fired. The Titans stayed up with the Titans last week and lost in overtime. The rushing effort remains more of a liability in most weeks but that's as much on the offensive line as it is on David Johnson. There's hope for the offense now that Watson is figuring out life without DeAndre Hopkins but the Texans defense remains a problem. One can only imagine the damage Aaron Rodgers will inflict on the Texans defense.

Romeo Crennel isn’t planning to institute a youth movement despite the Texans’ downward spiral from AFC South champions to a 1-5 start this season. Crennel insisted that the Texans aren’t going to simply utilize the remainder of the season to evaluate young players. The emphasis remains on trying to win as many games as possible, not turn the season into a preview of the future. The Texans rank 31st in the NFL in rookie snaps and that, too, has to get Rodgers licking his chops. 

Last week we suggested that if we were in the prediction business, we would “hammer” Tennessee at -3½ to beat Houston. We would have very luckily cashed that wager but Houston was supposed to cover. If you bet Tennessee, you got extremely lucky. Well, this one has the same feel. Houston can’t stop the marching band. Had the Packers whacked the Bucs or even won, we could anticipate this as a letdown spot but it’s not. They were embarrassed so it is a bounceback spot. Thus, we repeat, if we were in the prediction business, we would be betting the Packers but it looks “too easy,” and while there is no chance of us taking back a short number on Houston, we cannot get behind the easiest looking favorite on the board. Like the rest of the market, we’re “predicting” Green Bay by three TD”s but we’re “recommending” taking the points because it also has the feel of a massive trap. Play: Houston +3½

Cleveland -3 -120 over CINCINNATI

1:00 PM EST. Baker Mayfield was a disaster in a blowout 36-7 loss to the undefeated Steelers. If you bet Cleveland last week, as we did, the ticket was dead about six minutes into the game. If you bet Cleveland, as we did, you switched to another game very quickly and maybe checked back periodically to see if the Brownies were making a move. They weren’t. They didn’t. They were torched. One of the toughest things to do in sports betting is to come right back on the same team that made you vomit the week before. The narrative before last week is that the Brownies are legit and now, after a putrid game, the narrative is that Cleveland isn’t ready for prime time.

While the Earth Tones were getting frog-stomped in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati jumped out to a 21-point lead in Indianapolis and although they eventually lost, they were never in jeopardy of not covering the +7½-points being offered. If you played the Bengals, you were up 28½-0 and that feels pretty damn secure. The point being, Cinci’s stock is rising and Cleveland’s is sinking. 

These two also played in Week 2 back in Cleveland. The Bengals played them tough that day while showing they could score on them in a 35-30 Cleveland victory. Cincinnati has been ever so close to winning most of their games, while the Brownies' ugly loss last week is tough to get out of one’s mind.

In Week 2, Nick Chubb ran for two touchdowns and Baker Mayfield threw for two against Cincinnati. In the rematch, Chubb won't play in this one and who knows if Baker will. Mayfield was hampered by a chest injury from Week 5 and only made it through about half the game before being replaced by Case Keenum. Mayfield has failed to throw for over 200 yards in four matchups this year and frankly, we hope that he is out and Keenum is in because the market overreaction will be even bigger. Give us Case Keenum 100% of the time over Baker the Mistaker and now give us the Brownies after a poor performance and we’ll take our chances that we’ll see Week 5 Cleveland and not Week 6 Cleveland. We’ll update this on Sunday after it’s established whether Baker is a go or not. Play Cleveland -3 

Update: We have switched our lean to Cincinnati +3 or even to +155 on money line.

N.Y. JETS +11 -113 over Buffalo

1:00 PM EST. The Jets are in shambles and just released Le'Veon Bell for no compensation. HC Adam Gase is a poster boy for 2020, since like COVID-19, he just won't go away and keeps impacting the NFL. Each year, there are a few bad teams but it is rare that the worst team in the NFL is such a clear-cut award for this season. The Jets have only scored six touchdowns total over their six games.

The Bills built plenty of momentum with four straight wins that included victories over the Rams and Raiders. When they played the Titans in Week 5, the Bills were 4-0 and their stock was through the roof. We all know what happened next. Buffalo was buried by Tennessee and then they lost by 10 to Kansas City on Monday Afternoon Football but the final score was extremely flattering to Buffalo. They may as well have lost by 28 because that’s how one-sided the numbers were. Buffalo’s stock is down but the Jets stock is not even on the chart. 

For two weeks now, the oddsmakers overvalued the Jets and the sportsbooks dearly paid. Two weeks ago, the Cardinals were -7 in New York and easily won, 30-10 and covered by a landslide. Last week, the oddsmakers made the same mistake by overvaluing the Jets again when they made Miami a -7½-point choice in Miami to open. The market quickly got a hold of that number and bet it up to -9½ by the time it closed. The sportsbooks got buried early in the week and then got buried again on Sunday when the Jets failed to score and lost 24-0. How much money does it take for the books to overcompensate? What type of number must they put up to stop the onslaught of cash coming in against the Jets? The answer is right in front of us.

The Jets were at home two weeks ago to the Cardinals and taking back +7. This week they are at home again and taking back nearly twice that against a comparable team to Arizona. The Jets have not covered once this year. They lose every game by 18, 28, 20 and 24 points in four of the past six weeks. In between all that, they lost at home to Denver by nine but won the turnover battle in that game 3-0. Had turnovers been even, they would have lost by 20 or more again. How effin bad do you have to be to win the turnover battle by 3 and lose by nine while surrendering 37 points? 

It doesn't matter if it’s Joe Flacco or Sam Darnold, who was famously laid up last year with the world’s longest bout of mono (or was that two years ago). Remarkable. Darnold also lost a toenail. Not since Robert Griffin III has an NFL team suffered so many unorthodox injuries. Dislocated nipples. Pickled testicles. Fractured ass cheeks. You have to be a sick bastard to bet the Jets but we promise you that they’re not going 0-16 against the spread. The books FINALLY compensated but in the case, they may have overcompensated a bit too much. This one could make our board. Plug your noses, friends. Play N.Y. Jets +11

NEW ENGLAND -2½ -113 over San Francisco

4:25 PM EST. Does it get any better than this in terms of buying low and selling high? Does it get any better than this in terms of backing the best coach in the history of the game after a disgusting loss as the GOAT prepares to face a QB he knows all too well?  

The Patriots on Sunday looked awful. They looked like a team that hadn't spent a lot of time together over the past couple of weeks, which is what they were. Outside of Tennessee, no team has endured more coronavirus-related schedule disruption than New England, and its offense looked pathetic in Sunday's 18-12 loss to the Broncos. Cam Newton endured four sacks and two interceptions. Dude looked lost. The Patriots committed turnovers and penalties and they will pay the price for it this week in practice. BB does not tolerate stupidity. His legend was built on not making the same mistakes as every other team. New England did not lose to Denver, they lost to themselves and Bill Belichick does not tolerate that. The team ran for just 117 yards on 25 carries. The Pats turned the ball over four times and it could have been more because they recovered two of the four times they fumbled. An uncharacteristic Patriots’ squad will not embarrass their coach again this week. New England managed to score the game's only touchdown, but it wasn't enough to overcome Denver's six field goals. As a result, the Patriots are 2-3. This is the first time they've been under .500 this late in the season since 2002, which was also the last season they failed to win at least 10 games. It was ugly. 

San Francisco’s win over the Rams in prime time was not what the market anticipated. We have emphasized time and time again that the biggest overreactions are against or for teams coming off strong or weak performances in prime time. The 49ers had perhaps their best game of the season when they put the Rams to sleep early and were never really threatened. It was a gate to wire performance that resonated. Although we might go down with this ship, we’re not going to believe a Bill Belichick team is going to miss the playoffs and this is truly the first time in a very long time that we get to buy the Patriots when their stock is this low. Play New England -2½

Detroit +2½ -103 over ATLANTA

The 2-3 Lions come off their win in Jacksonville and are 2-1 on the road. The 1-5 Falcons finally won their first game after firing their head coach and now they return home with a new lease on life.  The Falcons were impressive in handling the Vikings and like many other teams, got that first win after firing a head coach.

The Lions just beat the Jags. Did they gain any market credibility with that win? Probably not. The week before, the Lions were down 35-14 to New Orleans before a couple of garbage time TD’s made the final score look more respectable but once again, the Lions stock did not go up. They also lost 42-21 to the Packers so overall, we wouldn’t suggest Detroit’s stock is on the rise but make no mistake, the Lions are the superior team here that could just as easily be 4-1 instead of 2-3.

In Week 1, Detroit had Chicago by the throat and let them off the hook. The Bears outscored Detroit 21-0 in the final frame to win 27-23. In Week 2, Detroit was up 14-0 on the Pack before mistakes and turnovers did them in en route to a misleading 42-21 loss. In Week 3, the Lions beat the Cardinals. In Week 4, they lost by six to the Saints and last week, the Lions whacked the Jaguars.

Atlanta has given up 30 points or more in all of their games except for last week. Detroit has held three of its five opponents to 23 or less. While NFL math doesn’t work that way, we do know that QB’s Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford are the best of friends, thus, there is no venom on either side. That doesn’t leave us with much to go on other than we’re not sure where or not there is value here. The teams appear even. Their under the hood metrics both on offense and defense are comparable. On Thursday, there was lots of news coming out of Detroit that many players skipped practice because of an injury. We’re very undecided about this game and there is an old saying that says, “he who hesitates is lost.” That fits this game, so we’re likely to skip it. Play Detroit +2½

Update: We have switched our lean to Atlanta based on several criteria with the most influential being the line movement. The recoomendation now would be Atlanta -1½

DENVER +7½ -110 over Kansas City

4:25 PM EST. We don’t usually bet on teams like Kansas City, Alabama, Clemson, etc. because those teams are almost always carrying an inflated price no matter the opposition or venue. Two weeks ago, we suggested that we are in the “Kansas City or nothing zone” but came off that when the Chiefs beat the Bills on Monday Afternoon Football. We regretted it and won’t make that mistake again anytime soon. We cannot in good faith recommend spotting inflated points therefore, betting the Chiefs is off the table.

The 5-1 Chiefs made amends for letting the Raiders skate past in Kansas City during Week 5 by taking down the Bills. Maybe they were looking forward to that game when the Raiders punked them? The 2-3 Broncos have won their last two, including Week 6, when they surprised the world the Patriots with a stout defense and a lot of field goals. This is a divisional opponent and on the road, so unlikely the Chiefs overlook the Broncos.

The Chiefs swept the Broncos last season. They won 30-6 in Denver and 23-3 at home. Kansas City can usually name the score when they play Denver and there is no chance of us getting stuck holding a ticket on the Broncs when they are down 27-3 and trying to play catchup. Yeah, Denver can cover if they play mistake free or if the Chiefs turn the ball over twice or more but it’s a game we’re just not interested in because there is little upside to betting either. The recommendation is Denver because the points are inflated but we are 100% not wagering a penny. Play Denver +7½

Dallas -104 over WASHINGTON

1:00 PM EST, It's a battle for the NFC East. The 2-4 Cowboys were just crushed at home, on national TV, by the Cardinals in a sign that maybe Dak Prescott made a difference. The 1-5 Not-The-Redskins have lost their last five games but came within one point of beating the previously winless Giants last week. Now it’s time to pick your poison.

"Riverboat Ron" Rivera took a gamble last week. The Football Team trailed 20-13 at the Giants with 3:29 left to play and Kyle Allen led the team on an 11-play drive that ended with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cam Sims with only 43 seconds left to play. Instead of tying and heading into overtime, they attempted the two-point play for the outright win and outright threw an incomplete pass. It was the fifth straight game with under 20 points scored but at least the passing offense showed new life. Washington is known this year for playing a decent brand of defense and for applying pressure on opposing QB’s. Now think about Andy Dalton when you process that. Yeah, we want to puke too when thinking about betting on Andy Dalton after refusing to bet on him last week.

The Cowboys had every reason to win at home and give a tribute to their fallen quarterback but they played with all the passion of a meth head at a social gathering. After Sunday’s debacle, anonymous quotes seeped out of the locker room by players questioning the coaching staff’s competence to diffuse criticism of their own culpability. Make no mistake. All parties, players and coaches are responsible for this current mess. The security blanket that is the division, the idea that Dallas is fortunate to be the best of a bad lot, will disappear if the team doesn’t win this week. The ‘Boys current record is not confined to the first six weeks of the season. The issues extend back further. Dallas has lost 12 of 19 games since it opened last season with three consecutive victories. The team has won back-to-back games just once in the last 13 months. This group was in decline before McCarthy and his staff took over for Jason Garrett. Blame for the team’s current plight isn’t restricted to injuries. Flawed performances and poor coaching play a role but for the moment, let’s focus on a defense that has allowed more points (218) through six games than any other group in 59 years. The hiring of McCarthy is/was as head scratching as is the way this talented team underachieves every year. The first game out without Dak was not only embarrassing, it couldn't have been more disheartening.

We have emphatically stated that the biggest overreactions are to prime time games. It is an extremely common mistake to watch a team get steamrolled in prime time and then fade them the next week based on what you just saw. Sometimes it’s better to not even watch games because it poisons the mind. After last week’s disgusting performance at home versus Arizona, Dallas’ stock could not be lower. We all saw Andy Dalton look like the worst backup QB in the entire league and now Dalton will start again. There is no question that Dallas is probably the right play this week based on the overreaction of last week. The challenge is trying to figure out if the Cowboys are mentally in this thing or if they mentally checked out. We’ll keep our eye on social media this week to try and get a feel of the mood around practice and then we’ll make a decision on Sunday. For now, the recommendation is Dallas based on its stock being so low but there are other intangibles in play here that could influence us more. Play Dallas

NEW ORLEANS -7½ +107

1:00 PM EST. This is another game we’re likely going to skip because we are torn between two things. First, we prefer the Panthers but that opening point-spread of -7½ is an enticement into taking the points. -7½ is one of our favorite numbers to play the chalk in, so if we were to play the Saints, it would be a bet on the number and not the team.

The other side of that is we bet Carolina last week and lost. If we bet against Carolina this week, we would be guilty of “zig-zagging.” We don’t want to get caught in that position, so chances are we’ll sit this one out too. In fact, if the Saints were a -6 or even -7 point choice, we would be all over the Panthers. We’re laying off the Panthers for one reason and one reason only and that’s because the Saints opened at -7½ instead of -7.

Carolina’s stock took a hit last week after they fell to the Bears, 23-16. New Orleans’ stock started the season high but it has been middling ever since. Outside of a 34-23 win in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, the Saints results have been below average and included a loss to the Raiders and Pack and close wins over Detroit and the Chargers. That said, the Saints are coming off a bye and it sure looks like Michael Thomas will return from injury/team suspension. Thomas gives a big boost to the passing game that has felt his absence. The Saints are rested from their bye week and finally get all the same offensive stars back on the field together.

Too many moving parts here to get involved, which also includes a market overreaction to Thomas’ return and the team being rested off a bye. We’re recommending the Saints based solely on the number. Play New Orleans -7½

Jacksonville +7½ -110 over L.A. CHARGERS

4:25 PM EST. The 1-5 Jaguars dropped their last five games and are 0-3 on the road. The 1-4 Chargers are on a four-game losing streak and are 0-2 at home. The Chargers keep losing close games to quality opponents, while the Jaguars two most recent losses were by a combined margin of 34 points against the then-winless Texans and the visiting Lions last week.

Now we ask, which team has more market appeal? That’s easy but some things never change. We understand that the Bolts could easily be 3-2 or even 4-1 but isn’t that the case every year? Is there another team in the history of sports that somehow finds a more bizarre way of blowing a lead, losing a game and/or turning caviar into cat-food more than the Chargers? Just when you thought you have seen absolutely everything in football from watching it every Sunday your entire life, the Chargers make you go, “huh, what the f**k just happened”?

Justin Herbert has already earned his starting spot and brought all new life to the passing offense. Tyrod Taylor never had a chance. Herbert threw for three touchdowns by halftime in New Orleans and ended with 264 yards and four scores. That gives him seven passing touchdowns over the last two games and only one interception in that time. Meanwhile, Gardner Minshew has 11 passing scores to go along with nine turnovers. Furthermore, the Jags are almost always playing from behind and therefore, many of Minshew’s stats are the direct result of trash time yards and points. There is no question who the better team is, who the superior QB is and whose stock is high and whose is low. No question at all. Justin Herbert is a tremendous talent that might quickly become the #2 most talked about QB in the league over the next 12 months or so behind the dude from K.C.

That said, we know better than to trust the Chargers spotting a converted TD. Every time one spots significant points with the Bolts, one gets hit over the head with a steel bat. This sacred autumnal drama, repeated nearly every football season since 1961, has become our collectively-acknowledged paradigm for the uneasy tension between trust and betrayal, hope and despair. The Chargers are Charlie Brown. The other team or oddsmakers are Lucy. This autumn tango, in light of this poignant origin story—a cycle of pain and humiliation endured and transmitted, takes on a darker edge. Lucy deals the stinging blow of failure each fall in order to recalibrate Charlie Brown’s focal point, and to drive home the lesson that Charles Schulz may well have meant all along: It’s not the football that matters, Chuck, it’s us falling for it. Well, to the oddsmakers we say, “We’re not falling for the ‘ol Charlie Brown trick again.” Play Jacksonville +7½

Seattle -3½ +104 over ARIZONA

8:20 PM EST. The NFL announced Thursday that Sunday's Tampa Bay/Las Vegas Raiders game, originally scheduled for 8:20 p.m. EST on NBC, now will start at 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox. The league said it made the move "out of an abundance of caution to ensure that a game would be available for fans on Sunday Night Football." This one will now be played Sunday night. Roger Goddell is doing it for the “fans.” What a good guy.

The Seahawks come off their bye having beaten the Vikings in the final 15 seconds when D.K. Metcalf caught a 6-yard touchdown on fourth down. The continual winning almost saw the Seahawks fall into a trap game but taking a week off and facing a formidable division rival on their turf should keep them plenty focused for this week. We’re not going to discuss the Seahawks much here because they are not our focus. Our focus is on fading the Cardinals, the Seahawks just happen to be their opponent this week.

In Week 1, Arizona went into San Francisco and won outright as a 7-point dog. As a -7½-point favorite in Week 2, Arizona won and covered against the Football Team, 30-15. After Week 2, there was “Kyler Murray for MVP” talk circulating and as an overvalued favorite in Week 3, the Cardinals would lose at home to Detroit. That didn’t sit well with a market that loaded up on the Cards. In Week 4, the Cardinals were a small -3 point favorite in Carolina and once again failed to green up in a straight up loss. If the Detroit loss didn’t turn the market against the Cardinals, the Panthers loss did.

In Week 4, the Cardinals went into New York to play the Jets and won 30-10. That victory didn’t hold much weight because the Jets win a game about once every leap year. Last week, the Cardinals destroyed the Cowboys on Monday Night Football and while that feat shouldn’t hold much weight, the combination of back-to-back 20 points or more victories does. The market is once again shifting back to being believers of the Cardinals.

Let’s now recap. Arizona’s first two wins came against San Fran and Washington. Its next two wins came against the Jets and Cowboys, both of whom were forced to use backup QB’s. The last three teams that the Cardinals beat have a combined record of 2 wins and 15 losses. Against Dallas on Monday night, Arizona and Dallas was 0-0 late in the first quarter when Dallas started to turn it over and make mistake after mistake after mistake, otherwise that game looked like it was going to be a 3-0 final. Do not put much stock into anything Arizona has done this year. Its 4-2 record was built against a bunch of dregs and backup quarterbacks. Spotting 3½-road points is not usually in our wheelhouse but we’re looking at value only and in that regard, Arizona’s stock is way higher than it should be. Play Seattle -3½

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