Sometimes you wake up and the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and everything just comes together perfectly. That was Week 5 for me. I was on the right side of the majority of my wagers, and I even managed to win a few where I wasn’t. Overall, I went 6-2 on my written plays for the Sunday main slate plus 5-0 on Sunday player props. I followed that up with a 5-1 performance in my Monday Night Football article, and the only loss was due to an injury. Add it all up, and it was a 16-3 week for me, which was more than enough to put me comfortably in the black for the season.
That said, it’s time to get back to work. Our ultimate goal as sports bettors is to beat the break even point over the long run, which is approximately 52.5% in NFL betting. One good week is not going to get us there, just like one bad week isn’t going to break us. This is a volume game, so let’s get some more shots up in Week 6.
Week 6 should also be an interesting one. We have a lot of short spreads, with seven of the 11 main slate games currently sitting at 3.5 or lower. Short spreads mean competitive contests, and that means there are viable arguments to be made for both sides winning the game.
Let’s dive into these contests to try and identify some potential betting value in Week 6.
Chicago Bears @ Carolina Panthers (-1.5) — 44.5 total
Moneylines: Bears +106/Panthers -125
One thing you can expect in games with short spreads is line movement and line variability at the various sportsbooks. The difference between a team being a small favorite and a small underdog is pretty minimal, so lines can move wildly in between those numbers. From 2006 through 2018, only 7.7% of NFL contests have been decided by less than three points. 14.5% of contests have landed exactly on three, so you can see why that is such a key number.
With that in mind, a spread moves from -2.5 to -3 matters a whole lot more than a spread move from -2.5 to +2.5. The spread is only moving half of a point in the first example, but that half point is worth a lot more than the five-point move in the second example.
That is definitely something to keep in mind in this contest, since it appears that this line is headed in the direction of the Bears. They opened up as three-point underdogs, but the line currently sits at just +1.5. It wouldn’t be shocking if it continued to move in their favor given how little those small numbers matter.
The reason for the line movement off the key number of three is because the sharps are clearly seeing some value with Chicago. They have garnered just 51% of the early spread bets, but those bets have accounted for 84% of the spread dollars. That’s a pretty large discrepancy early in the week.
So what are the sharps seeing with the Bears? For starters, they are coming off a Thursday Night Football contest in Week 5, which gives them the clear rest advantage vs. the Panthers. Underdogs have gone 70-65-2 against the spread in that situation since 2006, although they are just 1-4 in that situation to start the 2020 season.
Additionally, Carolina is probably being a bit overvalued by the public at the moment. They’ve won three straight games, which actually puts them in a tie for first in the NFC South. Their offense has been solid to start the year, and the public tends to place more value in offense than defense in terms of handicapping. The Bears offense has been dreadful, so it doesn’t seem that surprising to them that the Panthers are favored in this contest at home.
Still, the Panthers’ wins have not been all that impressive. They managed to beat the Chargers on the road in Week 3, but they were outgained 436-302 in terms of yardage in that contest. They followed that up with a home win vs. the Cardinals — who remain one of the more overrated teams in football — and a win vs. a winless Falcons’ squad. Overall, none of those wins really jump off the page.
Ultimately, I think the Bears are the correct side in this contest. That said, I would’ve preferred to grab them as three-point underdogs. Now that this line has moved into no-man’s land, I’m fine with passing.
The Pick: Pass
Detroit Lions (-3) @ Jacksonville Jaguars — 54.5 total
Moneylines: Lions -186/Jaguars +160
This is another short spread, but this one has seen a pretty important line move. The Lions opened up as just 2.5-point road favorites, but the line has jumped to 3.0. It’s even moved to 3.5 in some places, so this has been some massive line movement given the importance of the number three.
That said, it does appear that the sharp activity appears to be on Jacksonville at the moment. There have been a few separate steam moves tracked on Jacksonville +3, so most of the reason for this line movement stems from the fact that the Lions are a pretty overwhelming public team. They’re currently receiving 65% of the spread bets at the moment, and that number could increase later in the week. Most of the public doesn’t place their bets until the weekend.
With that in mind, this looks like a classic sharps vs. squares showdown.
I typically like to be on the side of the sharps in those situations — would you rather back a professional bettor or Joe the plumber? — but the injury report is giving me a bit of pause. Jacksonville is dealing with a host of key injuries at the moment, which Geoff Ulrich details in his Week 6 first-look betting preview.
D.J. Chark is the biggest injury to monitor here. He was unable to practice on Wednesday, and his availability is still very much up in the air. The Jags’ offense put together their worst performance of the year without Chark in Week 3 vs. the Dolphins, racking up just 13 points and 318 total yards. The Dolphins have been a very exploitable matchup for offenses this season — particularly early in the year with Byron Jones sidelined — so it’s fair to question if they’ll be able to move the ball if Chark is unable to suit up.
The good news for the Jaguars is that it does look like their defense should be close to full strength. Myles Jack, Josh Allen, and C.J. Henderson were all able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday, which bodes well for their availability moving forward.
Another factor to consider here is that the Lions are coming off the bye, and favorites have historically fared well in that situation. Teams who are favored after at least 13 days off have posted a record of 161-119-9 against the spread since 2004, which is good for a +12.1% return on investment. The Steelers were able to cover in that situation last week, so this trend is off to a solid start in 2020.
Even though I hate going against the sharps, I think there is enough here to push me in the direction of the Lions. I want to see Chark officially get ruled out before locking in this wager, but I’m fine with playing the Lions at anything less than -4 in that situation.
The Pick: Lions TBD (pending health of Chark)
Atlanta Falcons @ Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) — 54.5 total
Moneylines: Falcons +162/Vikings -189
I don’t get this line at all. I basically said as much during Tuesday’s Line Movement NFL Picks Against the Spread show:
Everything I said during that segment still holds true. The Vikings are favored by just 3.5 vs. the Falcons despite playing in Minnesota. Home field advantage supposedly has been adjusted to 2 or 2.5 points in 2020 with no fans in the stadium, so this spread is essentially saying that the Vikings are just one-point better than the Falcons on a neutral field.
Minnesota got off to a rough start this season, but they have looked like a completely different team over the past two weeks. They were able to throttle the Texans in a battle between winless teams and followed that up with an impressive showing vs. the Seahawks. They probably should’ve won that contest — they had a win probability of 96.39% according to NumberFire with 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter — despite the fact they were approximately seven-point underdogs on the road.
The big difference has been the emergence of Justin Jefferson at WR. He gives the Vikings a legitimate threat in the passing game outside of Adam Thielen. The Vikings didn’t lean on him heavily vs. the Seahawks, but he recorded at least four catches for 103 yards in each of his two previous contests. Jefferson entered the league as a promising WR after a dominant career at LSU, and his closest comp according to PlayerProfiler is Reggie Wayne. That’s pretty high praise.
Jefferson and Thielen should have no problems getting open vs. the Falcons, who have been an absolute dumpster fire to start the season defensively. They rank just 30th in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA, which puts them above only the lowly Jaguars and Jets in that department.
So the question remains — why is this line so low? Perhaps it stems from the absence of Dalvin Cook, who is undoubtedly one of the best running backs in the league. He leads the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns to start the season, and he’s also averaged a stout 5.2 yards per carry. The Vikings are one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, so they could miss Cook more than the typical NFL team would miss their starting RB.
Still, Alexander Mattison stands out as an elite replacement at the position. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry as a rookie, and he’s increased his production to 5.0 yards per carry in his second season. He logged 20 carries last week vs. the Seahawks and was able to turn those into 112 rushing yards.
I’m not going to overthink this one. The Vikings are improving, the Falcons are bad, and this line is simply too low. I’m locking in Minnesota -3.5 while I still can.
The Pick: Vikings -3.5
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans (-3) — 52.5 total
Moneylines: Texans +155/Titans -185
This is one of the most interesting games of the week. The Titans have basically been out of action for most of the past two weeks, but they showed no signs of rust in a 42-16 romp over the Bills on Tuesday Night Football. Tennessee now sits at 4-0 for the season, which puts them in the drivers’ seat to win the AFC South.
However, they’re going to have a very quick turnaround for this week’s matchup vs. the Texans. They will have just five days off, which essentially makes this like playing a Thursday Night Football contest after playing on Sunday the previous week.
That said, in a normal Thursday Night Football situation, both teams are playing on short rest. That’s not the case in this matchup. The Texans have had a full week to recover for their win over the Jaguars last week, so they have a clear edge in this department.
We have plenty of recent examples to look at on how teams with extra rest have fared against teams on normal rest, but there aren’t nearly as many involving teams on normal rest vs. teams on short rest. There are only two instances dating back to 2004 where a team will be playing on four or five days of rest while their opponent will be playing on seven. Those two occurrences happened all the way back in 2011, and both teams were underdogs in those matchups.
All of this is to say that we’re pretty much in uncharted waters with the Titans.
It should be noted that the sharps appear to see some value with the Titans at the current number. They have received 69% of the early spread bets in this contest and those bets have accounted for 80% of the spread dollars. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the juice has moved all the way to -125 if you want to bet the Titans at -3. If that betting action continues leading up to kickoff, this line could easily move to -3.5 or higher.
If this were a normal situation, the Titans would look like a strong wager. This is similar to the Vikings-Falcons game where the Titans are only laying a small number at home despite being the clearly superior team. Still, I’m not willing to take on the risk with the Titans given all the uncertainty involved.
The Pick: Pass
Washington Football Team @ New York Giants (-2.5) — 43.0 total
Moneylines: Washington +124/Giants -141
This is one of those lines that feels impossible to set. On one hand, the Giants have absolutely no business being favored over anyone at the moment. On the other hand, Washington clearly doesn’t deserve to be road favorites either.
The sportsbooks initially set this line at Washington +3.5, and the sharps immediately gobbled that up. 66% of the spread dollars have landed on Washington to start the week, which has caused the oddsmakers to adjust. The current line sits at just 2.5, and that ultimately makes much more sense to me. That basically means that these two teams are dead-even after adjusting for home field advantage.
Both of these teams have been pretty equal to start the year, with Washington ranking 28th in total DVOA and the Giants ranking 29th. Both teams have been particularly uninspiring on offense, where they occupy the bottom two spots in DVOA.
The one unit that really stands out in this matchup is Washington’s defense. They currently rank fourth in defensive DVOA, thanks in part to a dominant pass rush. They rank second in adjusted sack rate, which is not all that surprising given the amount of talent they’ve amassed on the defensive line.
Washington’s pass rush should be able to make life miserable for Daniel Jones. The Giants’ offensive line has been a bit improved this season, but they still rank just 20th in adjusted sack rate allowed.
Jones has not been able to duplicate his success from his rookie season, and his ability to produce while under pressure has been one of his biggest issues. He’s posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.6 when unpressured this season, but that mark drops to just 51.0 when under pressure. Fumbles also remain an issue for Jones in that situation, resulting in a PFF grade of 24.1 in that department.
On the offensive side, Washington’s offense did look a bit better with Kyle Allen under center vs. the Rams. I never thought I’d say that, but Allen looks like the best QB in Washington at the moment. He’s already been named the starter for Week 6, which should give them a boost in that department.
If Washington’s pass rush is able to force Jones into some mistakes, I expect the offense to do enough to secure a victory. I obviously would’ve preferred to grab Washington at +3.5, but I still like them at the current number.
The Pick: Washington +2.5
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) — 51.0 total
Moneylines: Browns +163/Steelers -190
The Browns were the team that I was probably the most off on last week. I backed the Colts as small favorites despite the Browns being a sharp target for most of the week, and Indy responded by laying an absolutely massive egg.
Baker Mayfield had probably his best game of the season in that contest, but he was still far from dominant. He finished with 247 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and an adjusted yards per attempt of 5.32. The Colts ultimately gave the Browns nine points without their offense ever stepping on the field — they had a pick-six and a safety — and that ended up being the difference in the scoreline.
With that in mind, I’m still not convinced that Cleveland is actually a good football team. Their wins have come against Washington, the Colts, the Cowboys, and the Bengals, and they were absolutely destroyed in Week 1 by the Ravens. They’re currently just 17th in DVOA, which suggests this team is a lot more mediocre than their record indicates.
We’ll find out a lot about the Browns this week vs. the Steelers. Pittsburgh is undoubtedly a good football team, particularly on the defensive end. They currently rank seventh in defensive DVOA and boast one of the best pass rushes in football. They led the league in sacks last season and are currently first in adjusted sack rate in 2020.
Perhaps more importantly, Pittsburgh currently ranks first in rush defense DVOA. Cleveland has relied on their ability to run the ball in order to win games to start the year. They’ve run the ball at the highest rate in the league, including the fourth-highest rate in one-score contests (per Sharp Football). If the Steelers can take away the Browns run game, I have zero confidence in Mayfield to actually win this game with his arm. The Browns will also be without star RB Nick Chubb once again, which should put even more pressure on Mayfield to deliver.
Finally, don’t forget just how good Ben Roethlisberger historically plays at home. He’s posted a record of 83-28 including the playoffs at Heinz Field, and he’s gone 51-41-4 against the spread as a favorite of 10 points or fewer.
Add it all up, and I love the Steelers this week. I was worried that they would be a public side, but 55% of the early spread bets have actually landed on the Browns. I’m locking this bet in at -3 for multiple units.
The Pick: Steelers -3
Baltimore Ravens (-7.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles — 47.0 total
Moneylines: Ravens -345/Eagles +280
Are the Eagles back? That’s the question that you ultimately have to ask yourself heading into this contest.
Their results from the past two weeks have been promising. They were able to take care of business vs. the 49ers, and while that win looks a lot less impressive in retrospect, the Eagles were still heavy underdogs in that contest. They followed that up with a loss vs. the Steelers that was much closer than the final score indicated. Jake Elliott had a 57-yard field goal attempt with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter that would’ve given them the lead, but he missed and the Steelers capitalized with a long touchdown pass to Chase Claypool to ice the game.
Claypool was a problem for the Eagles all game, and he finished with a ridiculous four touchdowns in that contest. He looks like yet another breakout star WR for the Steelers, who continue to draft better than everyone else at that position.
The Eagles won’t have to worry about defending a receiver like Claypool in this contest. The Ravens have gotten virtually no production from the WR position to start the year. Hollywood Brown has been their most productive WR by a pretty wide margin, but he’s still averaged just 4.4 catches and 63.8 receiving yards per game.
The Ravens have fallen all the way to 17th in offensive DVOA this season, which is a massive dropoff after finishing first in 2019. They continue to run the ball well, but their passing game has taken a clear step backwards. That’s obviously pretty troubling since Lamar Jackson should theoretically be getting better as he gets more experience.
The Eagles’ biggest struggle this season has been stopping the pass, so this matchup actually sets up pretty well for them.
The bigger question is whether or not they will be able to block the Ravens’ pass rush on offense. Philly is still down a host of starters on the offensive line, and star RT Lane Johnson was unable to practice on Wednesday. The Ravens are elite defensively, and they’ve racked up the fifth-most sacks to start the year. Part of that stems from the fact that teams are forced to pass against them after falling into big deficits, but they still rank 12th in adjusted sack rate.
If Johnson is out, it is very tough to get behind Philly in this matchup. That said, I do think they’re the correct side if he’s active. I don’t actually have the guts to wager against the Ravens at the moment, but I’m expecting the sharps to go there. They have much more courage than me and this line feels too high.
The Pick: Pass
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts (-8) — 46.0 total
Moneylines: Bengals +295/Colts -360
This is a sneaky-big game for the Colts. They have aspirations of making a playoff run this season, so they need a big bounce-back performance vs. the Bengals this week.
Specifically, Philip Rivers needs to prove that he’s still capable of being a starting QB at the NFL level. His play this season has left a lot to be desired. His numbers on the surface don’t look terrible — 70.8% completion percentage, 7.0 AYA — but you have to remember that he’s played an absolute joke of a schedule. He’s also tossed just four touchdowns compared to five interceptions.
There has been some talk about whether Jacoby Brissett would give this team a better chance to win, so Rivers is officially on the hot seat moving forward. Brissett was competent last year for the Colts, and he’s obviously a much better athlete at the position.
That said, Rivers isn’t the only one to blame for the Colts’ struggles offensively. They lost Marlon Mack to a season-ending injury in Week 1, which put the rushing attack squarely on the shoulders of Jonathan Taylor. Taylor entered the league as one of the most promising rookie RBs in recent memory, but he has been pretty dreadful to start his NFL career:
Taylor isn’t a lost cause yet by any stretch of the imagination, but he definitely needs to start playing a bit better.
If the Colts can clean up their act offensively, they should be a very good football team. They rank first in defensive DVOA this season, including first vs. the pass and fourth vs. the run. If their offense could get to even just a league-average level, they’re going to win a bunch of games given their cupcake schedule.
Most people think this is too many points to give Joe Burrow and the Bengals — they’re currently receiving 59% of the spread bets — but I’m leaning in the opposite direction. The Bengals defense has not been great this season, so the Colts offense should be able to move the ball much better than they did last week vs. the Browns. If that happens, I don’t expect the Bengals to score enough points to keep up.
The Pick: Colts -8
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots (-10) — 45.0 total
Moneylines: Broncos +330/Patriots -400
This game has moved around the schedule quite a bit. It was initially scheduled for last Sunday, then it got moved to Monday, and it finally landed on Week 6. This was due to the fact that the Patriots were dealing with positive COVID tests, and the Broncos were not that happy with this game getting postponed:
He has a point. They no longer have to play the Dolphins on a short week, but it still leaves this team without a bye for the final 12 games of the season. That’s a tough gauntlet for any team to have to run, especially when it wasn’t exactly prepared for. Remember, the Broncos spent all of last week preparing to play the Patriots, so their players didn’t get the benefit of a traditional bye week. I would be pretty pissed off too.
The one positive for Denver is that Drew Lock is expected to be back a QB for this contest. Lock hasn’t been all that impressive to start the year, but he’s still their “QB of the future” at this point in time. Getting him as many reps as possible is clearly a good thing for the Broncos.
That said, it’s unclear if Lock will have Melvin Gordon available at RB in this contest. He was charged with driving under the influence and speeding on Tuesday night, so he may face some sort of discipline from either his team or the league. Gordon has served as the Broncos’ bell-cow back recently, but Philip Lindsay is expected to return to the lineup this week. If he’s active, it will make it a lot easier for their offense if forced to play without Gordon.
On the other side, the Patriots are also expected to get their starting QB back for this contest. Cam Newton was officially removed from the COVID list on Wednesday, so he is clear to rejoin his teammates at practice on Thursday. Brian Hoyer was dreadful in place of Newton in their last contest, and Jarrett Stidham didn’t fare any better in relief.
Newton is obviously a huge upgrade from both of those players, and he also allows the Patriots to play their preferred style. They have run the ball at the third-highest rate during one-score games this season, and a big part of that is Newton’s ability to run the ball from the QB spot.
However, stopping the run has been the Broncos’ calling card this season. They currently rank seventh in rush defense DVOA compared to just 18th in pass defense DVOA. If they can slow down the Patriots’ rushing attack, this game could be a bit closer than expected.
I don’t have any real lean on this contest, but I would side with the under if I was forced to make a pick. Both of these teams have run the ball at above-average rates this season, which makes me think this game should be played at a relatively slow pace.
The Pick: Pass
Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (pk) — 55.0 total
Moneylines: Packers -110/Buccaneers -108
This is undoubtedly the best game of the week and it is absolutely fascinating from a betting perspective. The advance line on this game was Buccaneers -3, but it dropped all the way to Packers -3 following the Bucs disappointing loss to the Bears on Thursday night.
That said, it didn’t sit at Packers -3 for long. The Bucs have seen a variety of steam and reverse line moves to start the week, which have driven this line all the way back down to a pick ‘em. The majority of the bets in this contest have still landed on the Packers — they’ve received 68% of the spread bets at the time of writing — but it seems like the more important bets have landed on the Bucs.
Another factor that makes this game so interesting is that both of these teams will be well rested. The Packers are coming off their bye week, while the Bucs have had 10 days off after Week 5. There have only been nine occurrences where a team with 10 days of rest has played a team with at least 14 days of rest since 2012. It’s obviously a very small sample size, but the team with 10 days of rest has historically gone 6-2-1 against the spread in those contests. I’m not putting a ton of stock into that trend, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
Additionally, we have conflicting trends here regarding the quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is coming off a bye, and he’s unsurprisingly thrived in that situation throughout his career. He’s historically posted a record of 8-2-1 against the spread with at least 13 days of rest during the regular season. Still, it should be noted that he actually started his career 7-0 in this situation before going 1-2-1 over the past four. Rodgers has had a career resurgence to start the 2020 season, so this will be an interesting test to see if he’s back to being vintage Rodgers.
On the other hand, Tom Brady fits some sick trends of his own here. He’s historically gone 17-9-2 against the spread with at least 10 days to prepare during the regular season. He’s also coming off a loss, and Brady has gone 37-14 the following week since 2004. That’s good for a cover rate of 72.5%, which is absolutely stupid.
It is definitely fair to question just how valid all these trends are now that Brady is playing in Tampa instead of New England, but Brady has gone 1-0 straight up and against the spread following his only loss this season.
As far as DVOA goes, Tampa Bay definitely gets an edge in that department. They currently rank second in overall DVOA while the Packers rank sixth. With that in mind, you would expect the Bucs to be favored with this game being played at home, which is exactly what the initial line reflected.
I’m still not convinced that Brady is an elite QB anymore, but it’s hard to ignore everything pointing in Tampa’s direction this week. Not only are we getting a player who has very rarely lost two straight games in a row, we’re also getting approximately three points of spread value compared to where this line opened up at. That’s enough to push me towards taking the Bucs in this contest.
The Pick: Bucs PK
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins (-9.5) — 47.0 total
Moneylines: Jets +330/Dolphins -400
The Jets were the other team I lost on last week. I didn’t think they deserved to be underdogs by more than a touchdown at home vs. the Cardinals, but I was clearly wrong. They lost that game by a score of 30 to 10 and were outgained by a ridiculous 211 yards.
Of course, the drama didn’t stop once the game ended. The Jets have become such a laughingstock that they had no choice but to release Le’Veon Bell after his vocal displeasure with how he was being utilized offensively.
Bell is definitely a headache, but his complaints are obviously valid. Jamal Adams was the guy who supposedly recruited Bell to New York, and he had already forced his way out before the start of the season. Overall, Bell’s tenure with the Jets can be described as nothing short of a disaster:
Sam Darnold will also miss his second straight contest with a shoulder injury, which means Joe Flacco will earn another start. Flacco wasn’t an abomination in Week 5 — he finished with a 6.52 AYA — but he’s certainly not good enough to win games on his own. The Jets have easily the worst group of offensive skill players in the league, especially now with Bell off the roster.
The Jets unsurprisingly fit a bunch of trends this week, and it appears that the sharps will be going back to New York for the second straight contest. It makes sense on the surface since Miami probably doesn’t deserve to be favored by nearly 10 points vs. anyone.
That said, this team is such an atrocity at this point that I’m not willing to consider betting on them anymore. The players have to be completely fed up by the fact that Adam Gase still has a job while their high-priced teammates have bailed for greener pastures.
The only thing that is left for the Jets at this point is to try to finish with the worst record in the league, clean house, and start over next year with a new rookie QB. It is the same cycle that the Jets have been stuck in for nearly two decades, but nothing could be worse than it is at the moment.
Ultimately, this is a sinking ship. I’m not going to bet against the Jets this week, but I certainly don’t blame you if you do.
The Pick: Pass