We’re coming off another nice week of bets in NFL Week 6. I managed to go 3-2 on my main slate wagers — 4-2 if you include my lean on the Lions — and followed that up with another awesome showing on Monday NIght Football. I was way off on my evaluation of the Cowboys, but I still managed to go 6-2 thanks to a 5-0 record on player props. We got off to a shaky start this season but have been a well-oiled machine over the past few weeks, putting us comfortably in the black on the year.
The NFL also had a relatively smooth week. There were a few COVID cases here and there, but it appears as though they avoided another widespread outbreak like the one that plagued the Titans earlier this year. There are another few situations to monitor heading into Week 7, but it appears as though the NFL has avoided a doomsday scenario so far.
We’ve got another 11-game schedule on tap for the Sunday main slate this week, and the schedule makers have actually done a solid job of balancing the times for these contests. There are seven games starting in the 1 p.m. ET window and four games starting in the 4 p.m. ET window. That’s a nice change after they gave us just two-afternoon games last week and one of them involved the Jets.
Let’s take a look at these contests and try to identify some potential betting value.
Cleveland Browns (-3) @ Cincinnati Bengals — 50.5 total
Moneylines: Browns -174/Bengals +146
This is the second matchup of the year between the Browns and the Bengals. They played in Cleveland on Thursday Night Football back in Week 2, and the Browns were able to secure a 35-30 win. That said, the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicates. The Browns were able to outgain the Bengals by nearly 100 yards in that contest, and Joe Burrow threw a touchdown with 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter to ultimately secure the backdoor cover.
The Browns were able to dominate that game on the ground, rushing for a whopping 215 yards on 35 carries. Nick Chubb did the majority of the damage, but Kareem Hunt also chipped in 86 yards on just 10 rushing attempts. That made life pretty easy for Baker Mayfield, who finished with a season-high adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) of 9.30.
However, it’s fair to question if the Browns can follow the same recipe this time around. Chubb remains out with a knee injury, and the Browns haven’t been nearly as successful on the ground with him out of the lineup. They have faced tough defenses the past two weeks in the Colts and Steelers, but they’ve managed just 3.6 yards per carry in those contests. They averaged 5.9 yards per carry in their first four games this season, which is a big reason why the team got off to such a good start.
Maybe they can turn things around in a better matchup vs. the Bengals — they rank just 23rd in Football Outsiders’ rush defense DVOA — but they may have to do it without one of their best offensive linemen. Starting guard Wyatt Teller was unable to play last week vs. the Steelers and did not practice on Wednesday. He is the top-graded offensive guard this season according to Pro Football Focus, so that would be a big absence.
Anything short of dominance on the ground could be a disaster for the Browns given the injury to Baker Mayfield. He was able to play through a ribs injury last week but was so bad that he ended up getting benched for Case Keenum. Mayfield has clearly regressed since his impressive rookie season, and any sort of limited version of Mayfield probably shouldn’t be on the field at this point.
The sharps have wasted very little time grabbing the Bengals in this spot, which has pushed the line all the way from Bengals +4 to Bengals +3. You can still find some 3.5s out there if you like the Bengals, and getting the best number in this spot is definitely important. The difference between 3.0 and 3.5 is massive since a whopping 14.5% of NFL games have landed on a final score of three between 2006 and 2017. That’s the most common margin of victory by a pretty substantial margin.
I’m ultimately going to pass on this game for now, but I may talk myself into a play on the Bengals if Teller is ruled out or if this line creeps back towards four.
The Pick: Pass
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Football Team (pk) — 46.0 total
Moneylines: Cowboys -110/Washington -110
It became pretty apparent why Andy Dalton was signed as a backup instead of a starter last week. He was dreadful vs. the Cardinals, finishing with two interceptions and an AYA of 3.63. He didn’t get a ton of help from his friends either — Ezekiel Elliott had two fumbles, Michael Gallup dropped a potential touchdown in the first half — but the downgrade from Dak Prescott to Dalton appears to be larger than originally anticipated.
The biggest reason for Dalton’s struggles was the Cowboys’ offensive line. They have sustained a variety of injuries at the position, and losing Zack Martin in their last game may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. They are now down their projected starter at all five spots on the line, and even backup offensive tackle Brandon Knight has gone down with a knee injury.
They will likely get Cameron Erving back off the IR this week, but this line that was the envy of every team in football is now being held together by scotch tape.
That’s a problem for any quarterback, but it’s a BIG problem for Dalton. He has historically been dreadful when under pressure, particularly in his last few years with the Bengals. The Cowboys still have plenty of weapons for Dalton to lean on, but he may not be able to find them behind this patchwork offensive line.
Washington doesn’t do a lot well, but the one thing they are equipped to do is rush the passer. They should be licking their chops at the prospect of facing the Cowboys this week, just like they were when they racked up eight sacks vs. the Eagles in the first game of the year.
Washington currently ranks third in adjusted sack rate, and they have plenty of guys who know how to get to the quarterback. Chase Young entered the league with a serious pedigree after being drafted with the No. 2 overall pick, and Washington’s entire defensive front is comprised of guys who were drafted in the first round. They also still have Ryan Kerrigan, who has been able to rush the passer since entering the league back in 2011. They should be able to absolutely dominate the trenches in this contest.
Washington has been much less impressive on the offensive side of the ball, but they shouldn’t have any problems scoring against the Cowboys. This team has been a disaster this season and could find themselves on the wrong side of the record book at the end of the year:
I don’t think the Cowboys could stop a good high school team at the moment, so I’m not worried about Washington scoring points in this contest.
This line has moved pretty heavily to start the week — it opened at Cowboys -3 — but I still think there’s plenty of value with Washington. 64% of the early spread bets have also come in on Cowboys, so the public doesn’t appear to realize just how much of a disaster things have become in Dallas.
The Pick: Washington pk
Detroit Lions @ Atlanta Falcons (-2) — 55.5 total
Moneylines: Lions +114/Falcons -130
The theme of this game should be offense. Both of these teams have displayed the ability to put points on the scoreboard, and both teams scored at least 34 points last week.
Let’s start with the Lions. They currently rank just 19th in offensive DVOA, but they have looked much better with Kenny Golladay back in the lineup. He is a dynamic player at the WR position, and the Lions have unsurprisingly scored at least 26 points in all three games with him active. Matt Stafford has also played much better over those three contests, increasing his AYA from 6.81 to 7.84.
Additionally, the Lions finally decided to unleash DeAndre Swift in their last game. Swift had been relegated to just the passing downs over their first four games, with Adrian Peterson leading the team in carries. That changed in Week 6, and Swift responded in a big way. He finished with 116 yards and two touchdowns, which should buy him some more touches moving forward.
Peterson has been a great RB in the NFL for a long time, but he is clearly on the decline. Swift gives the Lions’ an extra dimension in their backfield with his ability to take any touch to the house. He ran a 4.48 40 at the NFL combine, which puts him in the 83rd percentile for NFL RBs per Player Profiler.
The Lions should have another excellent day offensively vs. the Falcons, who rank merely 25th in defensive DVOA this season. They have been brutal against the pass in particular, so expect Stafford to carve them up through the air.
On the Falcons side, they welcomed Julio Jones back to the offense in their last game. You never know what you’re going to get with Jones when he’s dealing with an injury — he’s been known to play a decoy role if he’s not 100% — but he appeared to be all systems go in that contest. He finished with eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns, which was his best game of the entire season.
Pairing him with Calvin Ridley gives the Falcons one of the best WR duos in the entire league. Matt Ryan should have no problem funneling targets to both players against the Lions’ shaky defense. They were down two of their top three cornerbacks vs. the Jaguars, and injuries have plagued them in their secondary for most of the year.
Everything points to this game being a shootout, but is this total too high? History suggests that it might be. Offense is definitely up across the NFL this year, but the over has gone just 2-8 against the spread in games with a total of at least 55 points. Historically, the over on games with a total of at least 55 points have gone just 27-38 since 2004. That’s good for a cover rate of just 41.5%.
With that in mind, I’d be hesitant to back the over in this contest. I think the Lions are probably my preferred side — particularly if Desmond Trufant is able to return from injury — but there are better spots available this week.
The Pick: Pass
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (-7.5) — 51.0 total
Moneylines: Panthers +275/Saints -335
The Lions and Falcons both got nice offensive boosts when their star WRs returned to the lineup, and it could be the Saints turn this week. Michael Thomas has been out of the lineup since Week 1 with a high ankle sprain and was then suspended after getting into an altercation with a teammate during practice. He’s still dealing with that ankle injury, but it does seem like he’s trending in the right direction.
Adding him back to the Saints’ offense gives Drew Brees back his favorite weapon. Thomas led the league in receptions each of the past two seasons, and he also led the league in receiving yards in 2019. Thomas is also one of the most efficient WRs in football, converting at least 80.5% of his targets into receptions in each of the past two years.
The Saints have not been the same team offensively with Thomas out of the lineup for most of 2020. Emmanuel Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith have done an admirable job filling in for him, but both guys are better suited as complimentary pieces than featured ones. Overall, the Saints’ offense ranks just 10th in offensive DVOA after finishing fourth in that department last year.
The Panthers are also waiting for their biggest offensive star to return from injury in Christian McCaffrey, but it seems like he’s still at least one week away. Mike Davis has been great in relief of CMC, but McCaffrey is one of the few RBs in the league who is an actual difference maker at the position. The rest of the Panthers’ offense has been solid this year — they rank 11th in passing DVOA — so he has the potential to push this team into the top 10.
One angle that I’m looking at in this matchup is that the Saints are favored after getting the week off. That has historically been a profitable situation, with those teams posting a record of 162-121-9 against the spread. Brees has also been excellent with extra time to prepare, posting a record of 12-5 against the spread since 2004. He’s been favored by at least a touchdown in five of those contests, and he’s covered in four of them. That’s about as good as it gets in that situation.
I would lean towards the Panthers at the current number if both teams were on normal rest, but I think this is a great spot to buy the Saints. That said, I really only have interest in doing that if Thomas is back in the lineup.
The Pick: Saints -7.5
Buffalo Bills (-13) @ New York Jets — 45.0 total
Moneylines: Bills -720/Jets +534
The Jets have been a bit of a laughing stock for a while now — butt fumble anyone? — but they have taken things to epic proportions this season. They are currently 0-6 straight up and against the spread, which is basically impossible to do. They are only the third team since 2004 to start the year with six losses in both categories, joining the 2011 Dolphins and the 2011 Rams. Interestingly enough, both of the previous teams were able to cover in their seventh game, so the Jets have the potential to make some betting history this week.
Unsurprisingly, this spread has become massively inflated against them. The Bills are playing on the road and on just six days rest, yet they’re still favored by nearly two full touchdowns. Essentially, this line is saying that the Bills are approximately 15 points better than the Jets on a neutral field. That is pretty aggressive.
So is this the spot that the Jets finally get their first cover of the season? I don’t see it.
This team isn’t just bad, they are an absolute disaster. They rank dead last in total DVOA by a country mile, and they were just shut out last week by the Dolphins. I think the Dolphins are actually a solid football team, but getting shutout in 2020 is inexcusable. Things weren’t much better for them the week prior when they scored just 10 points vs. the Cardinals.
Things should hopefully get a bit better for the Jets with Sam Darnold back at QB. Joe Flacco was abysmal, while Darnold has just been bad. The Jets offense is also as healthy as they’ve been all season at the skill positions after Breshad Perriman rejoined the team last week. He wasn’t particularly effective, but he’s still an upgrade over guys like Braxton Berrios and Chris Hogan. Rookie LT Mekhi Becton also practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday after missing the past two games.
We may get to a point where the lines are so crazy against the Jets that they look like a value, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I was thinking this line should be closer to 17, so 13 points might actually be a value for the Bills!
The public certainly seems to think this isn’t enough points, with 66% of the early spread bets landing on the Bills. The sharps seem to like the Jets, but I’m not falling for them again. Until the Jets show some signs of life, they are in a fade or pass situation.
The Pick: Pass
Green Bay Packers (-3.5) @ Houston Texans — 57.0 total
Moneylines: Packers -182/Texans +160
The Texans caught a lot of heat for their decision to go for two up seven late vs. the Titans last week — which I think was actually the correct move — but they have definitely played better under interim head coach Romeo Crennel. They were able to beat the Jaguars by a comfortable margin in Week 5 and had a win probability of approximately 94.5% with just under two minutes left in Week 6 (according to NumberFire).
The biggest reason for improvement has been the increased production on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve scored at least 30 points in back-to-back weeks, albeit against subpar defensive teams in the Jaguars and Titans. That said, this team was also expected to do well offensively with DeShaun Watson at QB.
Watson may not get the same praise as guys like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, but he is arguably just a notch below them from a production standpoint. He owns a career QB Rating of 101.3 and is an absolute magician when it comes to escaping pressure:
He lost his favorite target when Bill O’Brein foolishly shipped DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals during the offseason, but he still has a pair of solid receivers at his disposal in Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks.
They’re in another great spot for success this week vs. the Packers, who have not been nearly the same defensive team that they were last year. They’ve dropped all the way to 30th in defensive DVOA, including just 25th vs. the pass. Jaire Alexander is still one of the best cover corners in the business, but Josh Jackson has been absolutely torched on the opposite side of the field. He will likely spend most of his time on Cooks in this contest, who has the ability to run by anyone.
Of course, the Packers should have no problem moving the ball either. They had a brief hiccup last week vs. the Bucs — who possess arguably the best defense in football — but Aaron Rodgers has still had a resurgence in 2020.
He started the year by throwing 13 TDs and zero INTs through his first four games, and what makes that even more impressive is that he’s done it with a shorthanded group of pass catchers. Davante Adams has missed two games with an injury this season, and Allen Lazard also went down with an injury. Rodgers has had to lean on guys like Robert Tonyan and Marques Valdez-Scantling, so his production should theoretically improve with his favorite target back in the lineup.
I do think the Texans are probably undervalued at the moment, but this still seems like a great spot to buy low on the Packers. They’re coming off a loss of 28 points, and teams with a winning percentage of at least 60% have historically posted a record of 26-12-1 against the spread the following week. That’s good for a return on investment of nearly 31.5%.
Rodgers has also been excellent coming off a loss throughout his career, posting a mark of 33-21-1 in that situation. Elite quarterbacks don’t make a habit of losing back-to-back games, so I love to target those players after a subpar performance.
The Pick: Packers -3.5
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Tennessee Titans (-1) — 50.5 total
Moneylines: Steelers +104/Titans -122
This is easily the best game of the week. Both of these teams are undefeated at 5-0, which leaves them as two of the final three teams to record a loss.
Pittsburgh has found success this season thanks to an excellent defense. They were able to smother the Browns last week and continue to boast one of the best pass rushes in football. They currently rank first in adjusted sack rate after leading the league in sacks last season. Pittsburgh has also been the best team in the league against the run in 2020, ranking first in rush defense DVOA.
Add it all up, and Pittsburgh ranks No. 2 overall in defensive DVOA.
On the other side, the Titans have quietly blossomed into one of the best offensive teams in football. It starts with Derrick Henry, who is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses in the running game. Not only is he capable of grinding out the tough yards in between the tackles, he’s also capable of taking any carry to the house. Just ask the Texans about Henry:
There are a bunch of impressive statistics to throw at you about Henry following his dominant performance from last week, but my favorite is that 174 of his yards came AFTER contact. No other running back in the league had more than 118 rushing yards in general last week.
Henry has gotten plenty of help from Ryan Tannehill, who continues to play at an elite level with the Titans. He led all QBs in AYA in 2019, and he currently ranks fifth in that category in 2020. He may be a “game manager” instead of a truly elite gunslinger, but no one is managing the game better than Tannehill at the moment.
So who stands out in this matchup, the elite offense or the elite defense? You can make a case for either side, but I’m giving the edge to the Titans based solely on the injury report.
The Steelers lost linebacker Devin Bush to a season-ending ACL injury last week, which leaves a big hole in their defense. Bush is probably overrated as a player — particularly as in pass coverage — but he’s still a big part of the unit that has been the best run defense in the league. Dropping off slightly in run defense doesn’t seem like a huge deal in the long term, but it has the potential to be very detrimental vs. Henry.
Still, I think this line is pretty much spot on, so this is a good one to simply enjoy as a fan.
The Pick: Pass
Seattle Seahawks (-3.5) @ Arizona Cardinals — 56.0 total
Moneylines: Seahawks -180/Cardinals +155
There weren’t a ton of lines this week that jumped out to me as off, but this was one of them. Seattle is the other undefeated team outside of the Titans and Steelers, and they have been an absolute juggernaut offensively. They’re also coming off a bye, so why are they laying just 3.5 points?
The early betting action has been pretty much as expected in this contest. The Seahawks aren’t receiving as much public money as I would’ve anticipated — they’re garnering 63% of the spread bets — but the sharps have made up for it. Seattle has received 86% of the spread dollars, so most of the early big-money bets have landed on the Seahawks.
Seattle also fits the same trend as the Saints from earlier. They are favored and are coming off a bye, which is a situation that has historically rewarded bettors with a +11.6% return on investment. Russell Wilson has personally gone just 4-3 against the spread in that situation, but he has covered in his past two opportunities.
Additionally, this Cardinals’ team is one of the most overrated in football at the moment. They are sitting at 4-2, but which one of those wins was impressive? Their four wins have come against the 49ers, Washington, the Jets, and the Cowboys, all of which have dealt with their fair share of issues this season. They also managed to lose games to the Lions and Panthers, neither of which are all that good either. Basically, this team is very average despite their record and the fact that they have a potential star at QB in Kyler Murray.
This line is basically saying that the Seahawks are approximately 5.5 points better than the Cardinals on a neutral field, and I simply don’t think that’s enough. Maybe it would be enough in a normal week, but certainly not with Seattle coming off a bye. I’m not overthinking this one and locking in the Seahawks.
The Pick: Seahawks -3.5
San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots (-2) — 43.5 total
Moneylines: 49ers +108/Patriots -125
The 49ers were one of the easiest targets last week. They became undervalued after one poor showing, which caused the line to shift from 49ers -3 to 49ers +2.5 before kickoff. That kind of swing is almost an auto-bet barring an injury to a quarterback, and sure enough, the 49ers managed to right the ship and secure a victory on Sunday Night Football.
Now, the pendulum has swung the opposite way for the 49ers. This week, they’re the team that is being overvalued.
New England was dreadful vs. the Broncos in Week 6, finishing with just 12 points and 288 yards of total offense. That said, there are plenty of reasons why we can write that game off a pass. For starters, that game was played in Denver, which is historically one of the toughest places to go play a football game. Cam Newton also played his first game in nearly a month, so it’s not surprising that he struggled.
However, that one bad game for the Patriots has caused this line to drop from 5.5 on the advance spread to just 2.0. The betting numbers on this contest have been pretty even — the Broncos have received a slight edge in tickets, the Patriots have received a slight edge in dollars — so this shift is based purely on the perception of each team. I’m going to target the team with the line value in this situation 99 times out of 100.
Additionally, Bill Belichick has historically been elite coming off a loss. He’s posted a record of 41-16-0 against the spread in that situation dating back to 2004, including 5-2 without Tom Brady at quarterback. Belichick failed to win and cover in this situation last week, but he doesn’t have a single three-game losing streak during the regular season dating back to 2004.
“I don’t bet teams, I bet numbers” is a common saying among guys who do this for a living. This is a number I’m definitely interested in.
The Pick: Patriots -2
Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) @ Denver Broncos — 46.0 total
Moneylines: Chiefs -435/Broncos +350
Both of these teams managed to grind out low-scoring but solid wins in their last contest. The Broncos beat the Patriots thanks to six field goals and some strong defense, while the Chiefs managed to get the better of the Bills in Buffalo.
The big news for the Broncos last week was the return of starting QB Drew Lock. He missed the previous two games with a shoulder injury, and he should give them an upgrade over the Jeff Driskel/Brett Rypien combination.
Unfortunately, he didn’t play particularly well in his first game back from injury. He did manage to lead six scoring drives, but no touchdowns is not going to get the job done most weeks. He also tossed two picks and finished with an AYA of just 4.13. Basically, the Broncos were able to win in spite of him, not because of him.
That said, I think we can give him a pass for that contest. Not only was it his first game back, but the Patriots are a solid defense. They may not be as good as they were last year, when they finished first in pass defense DVOA, but they still boast an impressive group of corners.
Additionally, the Broncos were down three key skill players in that contest. Melvin Gordon missed that contest with a non-COVID related illness, and Noah Fant and K.J. Hamler were also inactive. Courtland Sutton also remains out after tearing his ACL, so Lock didn’t have much to work with last week.
There is a chance that Gordon will miss another contest — the league could suspend him following his DUI charge — but Lock should have at least a few additional weapons at his disposal vs. the Chiefs.
He’s going to need them since the Chiefs have an awesome pass defense. They’ve been able to stifle virtually everyone they’ve faced this season — with the lone exception being Derek Carr — and they currently rank fourth in pass defense DVOA.
Their defense doesn’t get as much credit as they deserve thanks to their explosive offense. Patrick Mahomes obviously needs no introduction, and he has plenty of help from Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Mahomes will get a new toy to play with this week in Le’Veon Bell. It remains to be seen just how much playing time he’ll get, but if anyone can get the best out of him, it’s Mahomes and Andy Ried.
Surprisingly, the betting numbers on this game are pretty evenly split to start the week. The Broncos have actually seen a slight edge in the betting tickets at 53%. However, the big bets have landed squarely on the Chiefs, with Kansas City garnering 72% of the betting dollars. It will be interesting to monitor this dynamic throughout the week, but it appears as though this could be the rare “sharps vs. squares” showdown where the public is actually on the dog.
Finally, if you’re worried about Mahomes and the Chiefs playing in the altitude in Denver, you probably don’t need to be. Mahomes has gone a perfect 3-0 against the spread to start his career at Mile High Stadium.
I definitely lean towards the Chiefs if forced to pick a side, but I don’t like to make a habit out of backing big favorites. That makes this a pass.
The Pick: Pass
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5) — 49.0 total
Moneylines: Jaguars +295/Chargers -357
The Jaguars threw everyone off the scent a little with their Week 1 win over the Colts, but they have been about as bad as expected since then. They were the preseason favorites to finish with the worst record in the league, and they’ve lost each of their past five games. They’ve also been pretty thoroughly dominated over their past four contests in particular. They’ve lost each game by at least eight points and an average of 15.
On the other side, the Chargers have been pretty frisky since making the switch to Justin Herbert at QB. They were blown out by the Buccaneers, but they suffered close losses to the Chiefs, Saints, and Panthers. The Chiefs and Saints games even went to overtime, so the Chargers are a lot better than their record indicates.
Herbert has definitely lived up to the hype in his rookie season. He was in contention to be the No. 1 overall pick while playing at Oregon thanks to his elite arm talent, and he has put that on full display during his first four games. He’s finished with an average of 298.8 yards per game — good for an AYA of 8.8 — and he’s also tossed nine touchdowns to just three interceptions. That’s almost unheard of for a rookie.
Given the brutal schedule he’s faced so far, his matchup vs. the Jaguars should be a walk in the park. They rank dead last in pass defense DVOA this season.
Herbert’s pass catchers should also be as healthy as they’ve been all year. Keenan Allen was forced to leave their last game but was reportedly just dealing with back spasms. He’s fully expected to be back in the lineup this week. Mike Williams is coming off his best game of the year in Week 5, so it will be interesting to see what Herbert can do if both of these guys are good to go.
The Chargers are another team that fit the “favorite coming off a bye” trend, and I also think they’re being undervalued by the sportsbooks at the moment. I think they’re average — possibly even slightly above average — while the Jaguars are quite possibly the second-worst team in the league. I have no problem laying 7.5 with them coming off a bye.
The Pick: Chargers -7.5