Today is my 33rd birthday. I would like to think that I have learned many lessons during my 12,053 days on this planet. For instance, important things like always work hard, be kind to others, and honesty is the best policy—the core principles of being a decent and productive member of society that my parents, teachers, and 1990s sitcoms tried to instill in me as a kid. So thanks, mom and dad, Mrs. Potter, and the entire cast of Home Improvement and Family Matters, I would’ve never made it this far without you guys.
I’ve also learned some lessons the hard way watching professional football over the years, like the importance of humility, and I mention this specific lesson because it is the jumping off point for this week’s column.
I came out guns blazing a week ago, going a stellar 5-1 against the spread with my recommended picks, and as much as I’d like to tell you that happened because I’m indisputably the man, that wouldn’t be true. This, too, is a lesson I can assure you that I have learned the hard way.
You have probably been there before. After a big weekend when every bounce, call, and break goes the right way, it’s easy to feel like you can do no wrong. It’s a dangerous feeling. And also foolish.
“I’ve finally figured it out. All I have to do is__________________. It’s almost too easy.”
What follows goes something like this:
Step 1. Apply whatever incorrect concocted theory in the blank space above.
Step 2. Place an aggressive bet on “Team A.” One on “Team B.” And another on “Team C.” Hell, you might as well parlay them together, too, because you know what you’re doing.
Step 3. Wait. And brace for the inevitable fall.
Step 4. Reflect and ask yourself why you are the way you are.
And no, I’m not trying to sandbag anybody here. The truth is, there is no magic formula for success when it comes to picking games. Luck remains the most crucial factor, and all a person can really do is assess and utilize the data and trends to take educated and calculated risks. So remember, children: humility is key.
Cue the Family Matters intro:
Panthers at Redskins (-2), Over/Under 44.5
Game Matchup: It’s safe to say that Sunday afternoon’s game between the Panthers and Redskins features two teams that had very different outcomes a week ago. The Panthers hope to build on the momentum of Graham Gano’s game-winning walk-off 63-yard field goal that sunk the Giants a week ago when they traveled to Washington, while the Redskins are hoping to find their footing after being trounced on Monday night by the Saints.
Carolina is often cited as having one of the game’s top defenses, but the unit struggled against New York, allowing the Giants’ offense to eclipse 30 points for the first time since the final game of the 2015 season. In fact, the Panthers’ defense has been hard to figure out to this point. They’ve allowed only 95 yards per game on the ground, but have given up 4.6 yards per carry. Perhaps the biggest indictment is that they allowed Eli Manning to throw for 326 yards last week and made him look competent. That’s tough to do.
Washington will most certainly look to re-establish a ground attack that has generated 113 rushing yards per game after essentially abandoning it once things got out of control on Monday. Doing so would take some of the pressure off of Redskins’ quarterback Alex Smith, who will look to rebound after a shaky game against the Saints in which he completed only 4 of 12 passes that traveled 10 or more yards downfield.
Also looking to rebound will be a Washington defense that was gashed for 447 total yards by the Saints a week ago. To do that, Greg Manusky’s unit will need to slow down Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton, and that’s no small order.
Newton has accounted for 10 total touchdowns and is playing some of the best football of his career. McCaffrey, meanwhile, is on pace through four games to amass over 1,300 rushing yards, 100 receptions, and 2,000 total yards from scrimmage. But the Redskins present a challenging matchup for the second-year running back. Don’t believe me? Just ask Alvin Kamara, who was limited to only three catches for 15 yards last week. Washington linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster possess enough athleticism to limit McCaffrey out of the backfield and the Redskins have the NFL’s No. 8 rushing defense, allowing only 92.5 yards per game.
Things to know: The Panthers have won five-straight over the Redskins and are 4-1 ATS in those games, but I’m more interested in the contextual trends in this particular game.
Teams that are coming off a loss of 20 points or more and favored the next week, as the Redskins are this week, are 20-9-1 ATS since the start of the 2016 season. Home favorites in the same spot are 14-8 ATS during the same span. Another applicable trend I find interesting is that Cam Newton is only 3-11 ATS when his team enters on a two-game winning-streak, while Alex Smith is 19-11-2 ATS coming off a loss in his career.
Gambling trends: The consensus spread opened with Washington as a 1-point favorite and has reached -2 at some books. As of Friday morning, 70% of the total point-spread bets and 63% of the money is backing the Panthers. And for those of you in New Jersey looking for some value, FanDuel Sportsbook currently has the Redskins at -1, while DraftKings Sportsbook still as them at -2.
Prediction: The common perception is that the Panthers are the superior team in this matchup, but I don’t believe there is that much of a disparity between the two squads. From a contextual standpoint, there’s quite a bit to like about the Redskins this week. I love that they are coming off a blowout loss on national television, playing a Panthers team that may struggle getting up for this game after a remarkable and dramatic win a week ago. Making the Redskins even more attractive is that, as of Friday morning, 70% of total point-spread bets and 62% of the money back the Panthers. This sets up an opportunity to fade public money, something I often recommend doing. I also love that trend about favorites coming off a blowout loss and Cam Netwon’s struggles ATS after back-to-back wins. For those reasons, I’m on the Redskins in this one.
Redskins 27, Panthers 23
Bears (-3.5) at Dolphins, Over/Under 42
Game matchup: This isn’t the sexiest matchup, but it’s only one of three games on the Week 6 slate that pits two teams with winning records against one another. The Dolphins are looking to snap a two-game losing streak, while the Bears have won three-straight games and are coming off a bye week.
The Bears are viewed by the public as the better team in this matchup, and with good reason. A quick look at the tale of the tape shows Chicago is the superior team is several key categories on both sides of the football. The Bears are scoring 8 ppg more than the Dolphins, and are allowing 7.1 ppg less. What’s more, Chicago runs and passes for more yards per game, while also doing a better job of limiting the opposition through the air and on the ground.
The Dolphins have several injuries along the offensive line, as they are missing both left guard Josh Sitton and center Daniel Kilgore. With those two already on the shelf, all hell broke loose last week in Cincinnati after starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil left the game early in the second half with a concussion.
The Bengals overcame a 17-3 third quarter deficit, aided by an interception and fumble returns for touchdowns. Tunsil is expected to play Sunday, which helps, but they still have a decidedly difficult matchup with a Bears defense that is second in the NFL with 18 sacks.
Of further concern for Miami is that its offense has only converted on 30.9% of its third downs this season, which is the fourth-worst percentage in the NFL. Chicago’s defense, meanwhile, is the seventh-best in terms of preventing third down conversions with a 33.3% stop rate. That’s bad news for a Dolphins offense that is producing just 288.2 yards per game. The Bears, meanwhile, have the league’s No. 12 third down conversion percentage at 41.2%, while the Dolphins defense has struggled to get off the field, allowing a 44.4% conversation rate.
These numbers help explain why the Bears have outscored opponents by an average of 11.5 points per game, while the Dolphins have a -3.6 average score margin. At first glance, it’s a pretty ugly picture, but there is hope for the Dolphins. While they trail the Bears in yards per game averages, Miami’s offense has been more efficient in terms of yards per play, yards per pass, and yards per run. The primary reason for the total yardage discrepancy is that Chicago averages 64 plays per game to Miami’s 52. It will be absolutely imperative for Adam Gase’s offense to stay on schedule move the chains this week, which will be a difficult task against the NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense.
Gambling trends: The consensus spread opened with Chicago as a 2-point favorite and has since hurdled the all important line of -3. As of Friday morning the line is set at Bears -3.5. Also worth noting is that 61% of the total bets and 55% of the money is backing the Bears. If you’re in New Jersey, you can bet on the Bears with our partners at SugarHouse Sportsbook.
Things to know: There are some trends that stood out during my research of this game that very heavily favor Chicago. Namely, road teams favored off a bye are 58-30-2 ATS since 2003 and 8-2 ATS since the start of the 2017 season. All road teams off a bye week are 11-5 ATS since the start of last season, and visitors in non-conference games off a bye are 38-23-3 ATS since 2003. The Bears are only 4-10-1 ATS in their last 15 games off the bye week, but Miami is only 8-19-1 ATS at home in non-conference games over the past 15 seasons. Not great.
It’s going to be hot and humid in Miami on Sunday afternoon, which may be a factor, but the Bears are 6-3-1 ATS in their past 10 contests when the average temperature is between 80-89 degrees.
Prediction: The question you have to ask yourself here is if the Bears are ready to go on the road and knock off a decent opponent in a fairly difficult environment. Miami has lost two consecutive games, but they were good enough a week ago to build a two touchdown lead on the road against a pretty good Bengals team. From a football standpoint, it’s hard to see how the Dolphins beat the Bears, but there is some value in what should be a desperate Miami team now that the line has pushed up over a field goal. While I don’t know if I trust Mitchell Trubisky, I’m going to put my faith in the convincing trends that back the Bears in this contest.
Bears 23, Dolphins 17
Chiefs at Patriots (-3)
Backing the Patriots in a primetime game after they just covered last week in primetime feels like a completely square move, and I’m a big believer in Patrick Mahomes. But…I’m a bigger believer in Tom Brady when “F-You” mode is activated, which I believe it will be this week. I’m sure the Patriots haven’t forgotten about last season’s Week 1 blowout loss to the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium, and they most certainly haven’t forgotten about their poor showing in Detroit three weeks ago on Sunday Night Football. The Patriots are well-rested having played last Thursday, while the Chiefs are coming off two difficult games with the Broncos and Jaguars. Plus, with the Chiefs at 5-0 and emerging as a favorite in the AFC, I think we are just about due for Andy Reid to pull an Andy Reid and do something stupid. Those angles alone are enough for me to ride with the Pats.
Patriots 33, Chiefs 26
Seahawks at Raiders (+2.5)
Note: This game will be played at Wembley Stadium in London.
Seattle is already three games back of the Rams in the NFC West and need a win this week in order to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card race. I don’t think it’s going to happen. It feels like the Seahawks are on the brink of unraveling, and I think this week is when it becomes apparent. I know Seattle kept it close with the Rams at home last week, but Los Angeles was also down their top two receivers after the second quarter and still managed to drop 33 points against a defense that is a shell of its former self. Seattle is simply not very good, and I think the spread in this game has more to do with a favorable public perception and past performance of Pete Carroll’s team than its current play. The Raiders, meanwhile, haven’t done much to inspire confidence through five games, but their struggles have been exacerbated by a difficult schedule, so I’ll take the opportunity to back what I think is an equal team, with the points, while fading the public.
Jaguars (-3) at Cowboys
The Cowboys are averaging 16.6 points per game this season and have failed to reach 17 points in three of their five games. Now they get to play a pissed off Jaguars team that allowed 30 points to the Chiefs in an embarrassing loss a week ago. Good luck to you, Dak Prescott!
Be sure to check SugarHouse Sportsbook if you’re in New Jersey for the latest odds and get a $250 deposit bonus when you sign up.