NFL WEEK 6: We’re on to Week 6 now and the slate seems to be full of one-sided matchups, with no fewer than five games opening with double-digit point spreads. But in an NFL season that has given us plenty of surprises and several long-odds moneyline winners– Jacksonville last week being the latest– we might want to brace ourselves for some unpredictability.
I mean, who could’ve guessed that the Bills and Jets would be tied for first in the AFC East at this point, or that the Rams would be atop the NFC West, or that the Jaguars— the Jaguars!— would be all alone atop the AFC South? There have been some strange happenings thus far, and while some of the upstart teams are bound to fade, I have a feeling we’re going to see some new blood in the playoffs this year.
This week gets started with a good one on Thursday night, as the Eagles visit the Panthers in a battle of division leaders. Philly’s +38 point differential is the best in the NFC and second-year quarterback Carson Wentz looks like a star in the making, but the excellent Carolina defense will present a stiff challenge and Cam Newton seems to have awoken after an uneven start to the season. The Panthers are a 3-point favorite at BETDAQ, and this feels like a “statement game” for them.
Here’s a look at three games that I’ll be involved in this week:
DETROIT LIONS @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NO -4.5, 50)
Recommendation: New Orleans -4.5 at 1.91
The Lions are 3-2 and their two losses have come by a combined 7 points, but I think it may be time to jump off the bandwagon. They’ve really struggled offensively the past two weeks, producing only 242 total yards in a Week 5 loss to Carolina and 251 total yards in a Week 4 win over Minnesota. The Saints defense is vulnerable, but they did shutout Miami in London and they held Carolina to 13 points in Week 3, so they can dominate a bad offense. And right now, the Detroit offense is bad.
The Lions aren’t great on defense, either, ranking 18th in total yards allowed and 27th against the pass. They’ll have their hands full against Drew Brees and the Saints on the fast track of the Superdome, as Brees is averaging 277 pass yards per game, third-best mark in the league, and the New Orleans offense looks like a top-5 unit once again. Plus, the Saints are coming off a bye, and they’re 8-1 against the spread in their last 9 games following a bye. Brees is deadly when given an extra week to rest and prepare.
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS (GB -3, 46.5)
Recommendation: Minnesota +3 at 1.91
The Packers are riding high after a thrilling 35-31 win in Dallas, and it’s no surprise that they’re a popular public play here as a short favorite over a Minnesota team that has been sluggish on offense for the past couple of weeks. The Vikes were able to squeak out a win over Chicago on Monday night, but their quarterback situation is uncertain— Sam Bradford returned to the lineup for the first time since Week 1, only to be benched for Case Keenum at halftime— and they really miss rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who provided some much-needed explosiveness to the offense but is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
One thing is clear, however— the Vikings have an excellent defense once again. And since Mike Zimmer took over as coach in Minnesota prior to the 2014 season, the Vikings D has enjoyed tremendous success against the Green Bay offense, limiting Aaron Rodgers to 207 pass yards or fewer four times in six games. The Vikes have won two of the last three meetings, holding the Packers to 14 points or fewer in both victories. In other words, we’re not going to see Rodgers and the Packers putting up big numbers this week like they did last week in Dallas. This will be a very difficult matchup for them, and their only saving grace might be Minnesota’s own punchless offense. The Vikings do have some reliable options in the passing game, however, and Keenum has been efficient under center. Plus, the Green Bay defense, while improved, is still a middling unit. I’m expecting a close game here, and something tells me the home ‘dog is the right side.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (KC -4, 47)
Recommendation: Pittsburgh +4 at 2.0
Buy Low, Sell High— it’s a cardinal rule of investment strategy. Well, may I present to you this week’s Chiefs/Steelers game, the quintessential buy low/sell high opportunity.
In Kansas City, we have the NFL’s only undefeated team. And not only have the Chiefs been winning, they’ve been covering, going a perfect 5-0 against the spread thus far. But cracks are beginning to emerge— the defense has been bad statistically, ranking 27th in total yards allowed and 25th against the pass, and the offense could be without two key playmakers this week in Chris Conley and Travis Kelce, with the former rupturing his Achilles last week and the latter sustaining a concussion in the same game. Kelce in particular would be difficult to replace, as he might be the best tight end in the NFL at the moment and is undeniably Alex Smith’s “security blanket” in critical situations. This week Smith will be facing a Pittsburgh defense that ranks first in the NFL in pass yards allowed and 4th in total defense.
But despite their strong play on defense and their uber-talented offense, the Steelers are a clear Buy Low candidate here after an embarrassing 30-9 loss to Jacksonville that has some questioning whether Ben Roethlisberger’s time as an elite QB is over. Big Ben threw 5 interceptions in the game, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and generally seemed unable to produce the patented downfield lasers that have become his trademark. The Jags have an excellent secondary, however, and the Chiefs, as mentioned, do not. Kansas City surrendered 34 points and 392 total yards last week to a Houston offense that was led by a rookie quarterback, so I view Sunday’s game as a prime “get well” opportunity for a Pittsburgh offense that was supposed to be among the league’s best. And with the Chiefs missing a couple of their weapons in the passing game, I’m just not sure a 4.5-point number is warranted here. Expect the Steelers to keep this one close and possibly win outright.