Week 6 NFL Picks & Finding the Great Games

cowboys-packers

I famously wrote back in early September how I’ve started to view the NFL as nothing more than my personal piggy bank. How the enjoyment I get out of watching football these days is almost entirely due to winning money on bets, in Pick ‘Em leagues or via fantasy leagues. How the mismanagement of the NFL and the continually questionable behaviors of many of its employees has taken the shine off the pure football watching.

But sometimes the football & scheduling gods shine down upon us and we get a truly intriguing weekend of games.

Welcome to week 6, where I believe we have four great matchups and three above average ones.

The above average ones, in my opinion, are:

  • Baltimore (3-2) at NY Giants (2-3) – Why is this game interesting? Because both teams expect to be competing for their respective division titles, and after solid starts (3-0 for the Ravens and 2-0 for the Giants), both come into this game on losing streaks and in danger of falling too far behind their division leaders. And because let’s just be honest and admit that Odell Beckham Jr. is always intriguing because he’s either going to make some ridiculous catches or have a complete meltdown. Either way it’s Can’t Miss TV.
  • Carolina (1-4) at New Orleans (1-3) – A couple of 1-win teams…why the hell would this be on my list? Because we’re all still wondering if the Panthers can turn things around, and this is truly their last stand. If they fall to 1-5 at the hands of the worst team in their division, it’s over. And because any game in the Superdome is immediately intriguing because 60 points will be scored one way or another.
  • Indianapolis (2-3) at Houston (3-2) – OK, this one probably won’t be very interesting from an aesthetic standpoint. It might actually cause you to go temporarily blind if you stare at this game for too long. But it’s interesting because 1st place in the AFC South is on the line, and when the winner of this division isn’t likely to top 8 wins, every divisional game is crucial.

And the four great matchups are:

  • Kansas City (2-2) at Oakland (4-1) – Obviously this is an AFC West matchup…a division that’s still wide open among the three good teams. Kansas City has gotten off to their usual slow start, and it might be too early to call this a must-win, but they fall behind Oakland by three games if they lose. And the Raiders are simply so much fun to watch right now. Everyone’s hyping this up as Oakland’s first real test, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond.
  • Philadelphia (3-1) at Washington (3-2) – The NFC East looks ultra competitive again this year, and the Redskins were the first team in that division who was written off after an 0-2 start. But they have a chance to make a big statement here by giving the Eagles their second straight loss. And if the Cowboys lose in Green Bay, the Redskins move into a virtual tie for 1st in the East. Or Philly could reestablish that they’re still the best bet in that division.
  • Dallas (4-1) at Green Bay (3-1) – Speaking of the Cowboys, they finally get to see how they stack up against one of the NFC’s contenders. The Packers need this game badly to stay on the heels of Minnesota, and the Cowboys are trying to stay ahead of the entire NFC East. And if these teams are both as good as they’ve looked through five weeks, they could also be determining playoff seeding  in this game. This is about as big as it gets for a week 6 game.
  • Atlanta (4-1) at Seattle (3-1) – And this final awesome NFC matchup looks similar to Dallas/Green Bay, but the difference is neither of these teams is in danger of falling out of 1st place with a loss. The stakes aren’t quite as high, but we could also be talking about this game in January when we see how the NFC playoff seeding shakes out. If Atlanta puts up the same record as the Seahawks, but they end up having to travel to Seattle for a playoff game because they lost in week 6, that’s going to be a rough ending to their season. So this one is still important for the hierarchy of the conference.

So there you have it. Some truly intriguing games from a pure spectator standpoint. But let’s move on to the money making.

Here are the week 6 picks.

Teams on Bye: Minnesota, Tampa Bay

Denver (-3.5) at San Diego | over/under 44.5

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: Denver 27, San Diego 24

The Bets: Over (34.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

So if you think the score of a game is likely to come in very close to the spread, make sure to check your pick ‘em league or the SuperContest and see if there’s a middle to be had. For example, last week my pick ‘em leagues on CBSsports.com and the SuperContest had the Sunday night game as Green Bay -6.5 vs the Giants, but on my betting website it was Green Bay -7.5. So I picked the Packers to cover in those leagues, but I bet the Giants on my website, and I hit the middle and won everything when the Giants lost by exactly 7.

My point is: I like the Chargers at +3.5, but I like the Broncos at -2.5. So I’ll be making bets and picks on a line-by-line basis for this one, and ultimately will hope the Broncos win by 3.

San Francisco at Buffalo (-8) | over/under 44

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 29, San Francisco 20

The Bets: Buffalo (+2) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

Remembering what David Johnson did to the 49ers last Thursday, it seems that a major San Francisco defensive weakness pairs nicely with Buffalo’s favorite thing to do on offense. I could see this getting out of hand somewhat quickly, and to me it doesn’t really matter that Colin Kaepernick is starting at QB for the Niners. In fact, that could very well help the Bills’ cause. Upon my initial review of the week 6 lines, nothing jumped out at me more quickly than getting the Bills into a two or three team teaser.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington | over/under 45

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 24, Washington 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

I hate that this game hinges entirely on the health of Jordan Reed, and we probably won’t have clarity on his playing status until Saturday (long after this column is posted, picks are due, etc).

Before I knew he was in the concussion protocol, my assessment of these NFC East rivals was that the Eagles should win this game by exactly two points. But since teams seem to be erring on the side of caution with injuries now, I bet the Skins hold their star tight end out, and that means the Eagles cover the spread. Too bad for Washington as this could have been a huge statement game for them.

Also, don’t go thinking this is the easy over that it looks like. Both teams have a worse run defense than pass defense, and I don’t think the Eagles are the 30-pt juggernaut that they looked like vs Cleveland and Pittsburgh earlier this year. I think they’re more like the 23-26 points per game team that they were last Sunday in Detroit.

Cleveland at Tennessee (-7) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Tennessee 20, Cleveland 15

The Bets: Under (43.5) / Under (53.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

Serious question: Do you think the Browns would be competitive in the AFC South this year? I do. And that tells you everything you need to know about the AFC South.

While you couldn’t force me to put money on either team in this game, I do think the line is too high. It’s an overreaction because everyone saw the Browns lose by 20 to the Patriots while suffering another quarterback injury. But the Titans, by rule, don’t blow out any teams this side of the Dolphins.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Vegas is projecting Tennessee for 25 points and that’s why I like the under, especially teased.

Baltimore at NY Giants (-3) | over/under 44.5

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: NY Giants 21, Baltimore 20

The Bets: Under (54.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

So now the Giants, who were talked up in a big way after their 2-0 start, are in danger of falling to 2-4 and disappointing even the most tepid expectations from their fanbase. I kinda like them in this desperation mode, and I don’t think Baltimore’s offense can take advantage of the Giants’ suspect pass defense. Should be a close, ugly, low-scoring game…and the teased under is one of my favorite bets of the week.

Carolina (-3) at New Orleans | over/under 53.5

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 29, Carolina 26

The Bets: Over (43.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with New Orleans (+3)

If football made sense, there’s no way you’d ever take the Panthers giving a field goal on the road, on a short week, with the Saints coming off a bye, and with Carolina looking piss poor all season but especially at home vs Tampa on Monday night (yes, I know Cam Newton was out, but still).

You know what? Sometimes football does make sense, and I hope this is one of those times. If Drew Brees can just avoid becoming a turnover machine in the 4th quarter, the Saints should be able to match points with Carolina. Give me the home underdog, and of course, since it’s a game in the Superdome, give me the over.

Jacksonville at Chicago (-3) | over/under 46

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 23, Chicago 20

The Bets: Under (56) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

Tough couple of teams to expect the expected to happen.

This is strange: The Bears are projected to put up 25 points according to the spread and total, but they’re averaging just 17 points per game. How are they supposed to put up eight more points than usual when they’re facing the 10th best defense in the league? (according to FootballOutsiders)

With Hoyer the Bears are up to 18 points per game over their last three games…big jump in production there.

I still think the Jaguars have enough talent to get to six wins even if they have a bad coach, a bad QB and some bad luck. The Bears are looking more like a three-win team.

Los Angeles at Detroit (-3) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 23, Los Angeles 18

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

I can’t begin to tell you how little interest I have in watching this game, let alone making predictions for it. I’m going with Detroit, just barely, because Trumaine Johnson is out with an injury for the Rams, and he’s a major piece in their secondary. And also because Jeff Fisher must be dying to get back to a comfortable 3-3 record.

Pittsburgh (-8.5) at Miami | over/under 48

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Miami 21

The Bets: Pittsburgh (-2.5 or +1.5) in a 2-way or 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

It took some time to figure this out last year too…The Steelers offense is a shell of itself on the road. But you gotta keep in mind that this Miami team just lost by 13 to the Titans, in Miami. Their only other home game so far was the ridiculously lucky overtime win against the Browns. So the Steelers teased is still a lock.

Looking back on the games from last year that Ben Roethlisberger was healthy for, the Steelers scored just under 26 points per game on the road, which is a touchdown lower than their 33 points per game average at home.

The Steelers are worse on pass defense than run defense, so this game probably falls on Ryan Tannehill’s sagging shoulders…good luck with that.

My one teeny tiny concern for Pittsburgh: Could this be a trap game where they’re looking ahead to a HUGE showdown against the Patriots next week?

Cincinnati at New England (-9.5) | over/under 47

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 34, Cincinnati 23

The Bets: New England (+0.5) in a 3-way tease / Over 47 / Over 37 in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with New England (-9.5)

I think we have a rare opportunity to capitalize on the Patriots while they’re at nearly full health. This team is pretty much unstoppable as long as they have the full arsenal of offensive skill position players along with a really solid offensive line. But when injuries come, that’s when winning ugly will be back in play. For now, ride them at home against a mediocre team (Tom Brady’s first game back home). And jump on it now before public pushes it up beyond 10.

As for the bets I listed, remember that the Patriots are 28-3 in their last 31 home games when Brady plays. They will at least win this game outright. And New England averages over 30 points per game at home every single year. If you’re worried that the Bengals’ offense may not show up, put the over into a 3-way teaser. But I think you can confidently expect over 50 points in this game.

Kansas City at Oakland (-1) | over/under 47

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 27, Kansas City 20

The Bets: Oakland (-1) / Oakland (+9) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Oakland (-1)

I think this line is too low. The Chiefs’ 2-2 start is particularly unimpressive. An overtime win at home against San Diego and a beat down of the Jets at home when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions (somehow the Chiefs only put up 24 points in a game where the opponent gave them the ball six extra times). An ugly loss at Houston that looks worse now, and not showing up in Pittsburgh when the Steelers pummeled them.

The Chiefs come into this game with a good defense and a rested team after last week’s bye. So I’m not saying this will be the easiest game for the Raiders. And in fact, Oakland has played noticeably worse against the two good defenses they’ve faced this year—Tennessee and Baltimore—compared to their games against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, etc.

But as I crunched the numbers, I was baffled at how the Chiefs are supposed to keep up with the Raiders. Even if KC puts on a solid defensive performance, I still see Oakland getting to 24-27 points, and the problem with the Chiefs is that their offense sucks. I can’t picture their current offense getting past 20.

Atlanta at Seattle (-6.5) | over/under 46

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 28, Atlanta 20

The Bets: Seattle (-0.5 or +3.5) in a 2-way or 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Seattle (-6.5)

I really don’t see the Falcons as a 5-1 team and the class of the NFC, and I highly recommend that if you don’t think Atlanta can win outright in this one, you go with Seattle (or stay away entirely).

Atlanta was consistently dropping 35+ points on teams to start the year, right up until they faced a good defense for the first time. That number dropped to 23 points last week in a big win for the Falcons in Denver. Obviously, Seattle’s defense is much more in line with the Broncos than the Bucs/Raiders/Saints/Panthers quartet that Atlanta got to feast on in the first month of the season. And sure, Atlanta’s defense looked real good for a change against Denver, but remember they were facing Paxton Lynch in his first start, and I have to imagine a lot of the offensive problems for Denver stemmed from that.

Seattle, meanwhile, seemed to be finding its offensive groove before last week’s bye, putting up 37 points on San Francisco at home in week 3 before adding 27 against the Jets in New York. I think we essentially see Seattle throw its hat into the ring this weekend as the only other NFC team on Minnesota’s level.

Dallas at Green Bay (-4.5) | over/under 47.5

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Green Bay 28, Dallas 20

The Bets: Green Bay ( Pick or +5.5) in a 2-way or 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Green Bay (-4.5)

The Cowboys are so incredibly predictable on offense. Using FootballOutsiders’ defensive DVOA rankings, all five defenses the Cowboys have faced fall between the 16th best defense and the 23rd best defense. And they have scored 19, 24, 31, 28 and 27 points in their five games. They haven’t had any huge games, and they haven’t had any no-shows. Since Green Bay is clearly the best defense the Cowboys will have faced after this week, I’m pegging them for right around 20 points.

The Packers get the chance to take down NFC East teams in back to back weeks. Dallas’ problem is going to be Green Bay’s awesome run defense. The Packers haven’t allowed an opponent to rush for more than 50 yards in a game yet. So this one really is all on Dak Prescott (or the Cowboys could run on the Packers all day long and we’ll know that the O-line / Zeke Elliott combination is truly unstoppable). Similar to my rationale with Atlanta, I don’t see the Cowboys as a 5-1 team, and I think Dallas loses similar to how the Giants lost in Lambeau this past Sunday night.

Indianapolis at Houston (-3) | over/under 48.5

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 23, Houston 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

Part of the difficulty with this game is that the Colts have only played one true road game so far, a 34-20 loss at Denver. We don’t know how much worse they are on the road versus at home.

Either way, this game is a complete stayaway for me. I’m picking the Colts because there’s a chance Houston’s last-ranked offense is the worst unit in all of football, and because it would make sense that this whole division basically evens out after this week.

NY Jets at Arizona (-7.5) | over/under 47

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 27, NY Jets 17

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

The once mighty defense of the Jets has fallen all the way to 30th in the league. While their run defense continues to be great (3rd best in the NFL), their pass defense is the worst in the league.

The Cardinals finally looked good last week because David Johnson took over the offense and bludgeoned San Francisco up and down the field. But what if he can’t do that effectively against the Jets? Are we super comfortable with Carson Palmer at this point, even if it’s against the worst pass defense on the planet?

I’m reluctantly taking the Cardinals because Ryan Fitzpatrick just played an interception-free game last week, he won’t do it again, and Arizona’s ball-hawking secondary will make him pay.

Here are the season-long stats I’m tracking:

  • Favorites are 31-45-1 against the spread
  • The point total has landed on Over 40 times, Under 35 times and Pushed 2 times
  • I’m 40-37 against the spread

Enjoy week 6.

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Week 6 NFL Picks: The Cream is Rising

qbs

With 30% of the NFL schedule in the books, it’s become pretty clear who the good teams are. Remember those top 8 teams I discussed last week? The ones that were a combined 26-4-1 against the spread through four weeks? Well, two of those teams were on a bye in week 5 (Carolina and the Jets), but the other six went 4-1-1 against the spread. That means these “great eight” teams are now 30-5-1 on the season.

Now maybe you don’t think all eight of them belong in the same category. The advanced stats at footballoutsiders.com supports your claim that these teams need to be separated into two categories. There’s the “top of the elite”: New England, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Arizona. And then there’s the “very good but we’re still not sold”: Atlanta, Denver, Carolina and the Jets.

The four elite teams have been head & shoulders above the rest of the league to the point where there’s a huge gap between them and everyone else in the footballoutsiders.com team efficiency stat. There are two ways of looking at all this:

  1. This is the NFL and it’s very rare for even one team to dominate, let alone four teams, over the course of the season. These teams will fall back to earth soon enough.
  2. We’re in one of those rare years where a handful of teams have truly separated themselves from the pack, and the sooner we recognize that this isn’t a random statistical blip, the sooner we’ll start making lots of money by backing these superior teams.

I think you’ll see from the picks below exactly what side I landed on. Here are the week 6 picks.

Atlanta (-4) at New Orleans

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, New Orleans 10

I tried to be a smart bettor by grabbing New Orleans with the 3.5 points on Monday because I thought there was a decent chance the Falcons would rule Julio Jones out for the game, and Vegas would appropriately lower the line. That hasn’t happened and it looks like Jones will give it a go on Thursday, but I still like the Saints. I think Jones will be much less than his normal self. I think the Falcons’ starting center being out is a big deal because center is always one of those underrated positions when it comes to losing your starter. I think the Falcons were already one of the sketchier undefeated teams in the first place, and that’s when they had everything going for them. And I know Drew “late-career Brett Favre impersonator” Brees can still put up a great game from time to time. As of Friday morning, we’ll be down to five undefeated teams.

Wait a sec. Am I really picking the 1-4 Saints to keep it close against undefeated Atlanta just four days after they no-showed against a putrid Philadelphia team? Here’s why I’m completely reversing my pick on this one and ultimately going with Atlanta: Despite my pristine record through five weeks (42-32-3 against the spread including an 8-5-1 mark in week 5), I’m actually 0-5 picking the Thursday night games. Some mental block is stopping me from getting the first game of the week right. Therefore, scratch everything I said. The Falcons are going to roll.

Washington at NY Jets (-6)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: NY Jets 15, Washington 12

It seems like almost every week there’s one game where I just can’t make a decision no matter how long I stare at the team’s names and their respective stats. Maybe I should make “My Can’t Pick Pick” a staple of the weekly column. Anyway, this week the Redskins-Jets game is the one.

On one hand, this feels like a bad matchup for the ‘Skins. On the road against a team coming off a bye. The Jets happen to have an awesome defense that will include Sheldon Richardson, their stud defensive end, for the first time this year. Washington’s offensive line is a little beat up. DeSean Jackson is probably out for one more week.

But are we really sure the Jets are good enough to be laying six points? And doesn’t it seem just a little too easy to say, “Yep, Jets coming off a bye are going to shut the Washington offense down completely?” Do we need to remind ourselves that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a little too competent this year and the New York offense still has to figure out a way to put up points?

For what it’s worth, I flipped a coin to determine that Washington is my pick.

Arizona (-3.5) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Pittsburgh 10

Well, Ben Roethlisberger is certainly making it difficult to have a confident pick here. He claimed at one point this week that he plans to play in this game. No one seems to believe it, and as the week goes on, it seems less and less likely.

But that makes me confused by this line. I’m sorry, but Michael Vick going up against one of the most balanced, well-coached teams in the league is going to be a bloodbath. I’m glad the Steelers pulled out that crazy win on Monday night because it probably kept this line down a bit and caused people to believe in Pittsburgh. If you saw that game with your own two eyes, you know Vick was terrible, the Chargers dropped three or four interceptions, and San Diego looked like one of the worst teams in the league. Arizona won’t look anything like the Steelers’ last opponent.

Kansas City at Minnesota (-4)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 26, Kansas City 15

This line feels about right. With a healthy Jamaal Charles, I would have only made the Vikings 3-point favorites. After all, we still don’t know much about them except that Teddy Bridgewater is definitely a bad quarterback. (OK, you’re right, he is a good quarterback. But only if we’re now using “good” to describe guys like Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, 2015 Joe Flacco, and yes, Bridgewater.)

But if I have to pick one of these teams to overachieve even slightly, it’s Minnesota. When Charles has missed time (last week against Chicago or the playoff game in Indianapolis a couple years ago, for example), the Chiefs’ offense has come to a screeching halt. And a rested Adrian Peterson is probably a good Adrian Peterson.

Cincinnati (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 24, Buffalo 14

OK I had guessed this line would be Cincinnati -6.5. I was way off. But I think what happened is I was giving the Bengals a similar amount of respect as I’d give the Patriots or Packers while Vegas is not giving them that respect. So that’s your decision to make right there. Think about it. If there was a week 6 game of New England at Buffalo or Green Bay at Buffalo, and all other things stayed the same, both of those visiting teams would be 6 or 6.5 point favorites against the Bills. So do you believe the Bengals are that good right now? If so, it’s an easy decision.

And even if you’re not sure about the Bengals…EJ “shh, everybody keep not talking about how huge of a draft bust I turned out to be” Manuel might be starting for the Bills. And if he’s not, that means a gimpy Tyrod Taylor is.

Chicago at Detroit (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Detroit 16

This seems like a matchup tailor-made for Detroit’s first win of the season. But these two teams seem almost exactly even in every way I sliced it. I gave the nod to Chicago because believe it or not, they have the better quarterback and head coach at the moment. And that should be a scary thought for Detroit fans. Matthew Stafford is pretty bad and it doesn’t feel too fluky.

As it turns out, I made a preseason bet that at least one team will go 0-16. Detroit is my last hope. Go Bears.

Denver (-4.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 11, Denver 6

There’s definitely some stuff going against Denver this week. First of all, they’re on the road. Second, in every game this season the Broncos have struggled to score even an average amount of points. Third, DeMarcus Ware is out “a couple weeks” according to Von Miller. HUGE loss. Fourth, Cleveland might fit that description from my column last week of a team that can actually put up a decent amount of points on the Denver defense, meaning Peyton Manning and that offense will have to actually move the ball for once.

It might be too happy of an outcome for a city like Cleveland to knock off undefeated Denver and get that Browns record to a respectable 3-3, but if they can’t do that, maybe they keep it to a three-point loss?

Houston at Jacksonville (-1)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 23, Houston 17

The Texans and Jaguars are the exact same team, right down to the pitiful fact that neither of them could beat Matt Hasselbeck and the god-awful Colts. If they played each other 100 times on a neutral field, they’d each probably win 5 times and they’d tie 90 times. So obviously Jacksonville’s the pick based on the line + home game.

Random Side Note: The Texans may very well threaten the 2007 Chiefs for the worst “Hard Knocks” team of all time. Of all the teams that have been featured on HBO’s preseason reality show, the ‘07 Chiefs have the worst record in the season when they were profiled by HBO at 4-12. If Houston loses this game, they’ll be 1-5.

Miami at Tennessee (-2)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 16, Miami 12

It’s really as simple as not trusting the new coaching situation and locker room psyche in Miami anymore than I trusted the old coaching situation and locker room psyche.

Carolina at Seattle (-7)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Seattle 20, Carolina 17

This line is way too high, right? I’ll give you that the Seahawks should be favored as they’ll probably win, but Carolina can keep it within seven, can’t they? Coming off a bye, I feel like Carolina’s good for 17 points. And I kinda think that’s about the same amount that Seattle can put up. I think the Panthers’ undefeated record overstates how good they are, but I also don’t think they’re as mediocre as this line suggests.

Someone should tell Pete Carroll that it’s not too early for his team to start stringing together some wins. Their schedule is a bit easier than Arizona’s in the second half of the season, and they play Arizona twice during that time. They can easily catch them, but they have to win at least two of their next three before a bye week (Carolina this week, then at San Francisco and at Dallas).

San Diego at Green Bay (-10.5)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score:  Green Bay 38, San Diego 17

Look, I get it. A line this high never lets you feel invincible when taking the favorite, but I feel pretty damn good about this. This Chargers team lost to Michael Vick and an underwhelming Steelers team at home and they’re going into Green Bay on short rest and injury-ravaged on the offensive line.

As I already mentioned at the beginning of this column, Green Bay is near the top of the elite this year. They’re one of the few teams I’m riding under nearly any circumstance.

They also look to be the only anxiety-free Survivor Pool pick this week. I actually feel bad for anyone who’s already used them and has to decide between the other crappy remaining choices.

Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 23, San Francisco 9

Wow, how things have changed for these two teams in less than three years. The Ravens and 49ers faced off in Super Bowl 47 (though that was only the sideshow to the main event HarBowl). Here are some of the guys who played starring roles in that game: Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Frank Gore, Aldon & Justin Smith, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Willis, Jim Harbaugh, A 34-minute Power Outage…and not one of those guys is still on his respective team.

This is a toss-up game for me. I can see both results. I’m breaking the tie by going back to my preseason predictions for these two teams. Baltimore is still a better team, even if injuries and bad luck have ruined their season.

New England (-10) at Indianapolis

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 65, Indianapolis 3

I’m as excited at the notion of the Patriots purposely running up the score on the Colts as anyone. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather see than a 62-0 score late in the 3rd quarter and Chuck Pagano sheepishly asking the referees if they’re sure the Patriots aren’t cheating.

So I’ll be rooting for some scenario like that on Sunday night.

But I thought about that 2007 Patriots season for a while this week. You can absolutely make the case that they were out for blood and pissed that the world thought they cheated their way to all the recent glory. They were murdering teams. But what did they do to the Jets in the second meeting between the two teams that year? After all, it was specifically Eric Mangini who turned in New England to the league after the Patriots beat his team in week 1. Well for all their anger, all the talk about payback, they went out in week 15 and beat the Jets in a close game, 20-10, in Foxboro. It wasn’t a blowout at all. In fact, it took an overturned touchdown call late in the game to help the Patriots keep the lead. And no, the Jets weren’t a super competitive team that year. They were actually one of the worst teams in the league with a 3-10 record going into New England.

So no, I don’t think the Patriots are now, or have ever been, an immortal collection of football players who can decide week to week whether they want to punish an opponent or not. Their philosophy is simple: Beat every team by as many points as we possibly can. Some weeks that looks like a 56-10 drubbing where they’re running up the score. Some weeks it’s a 27-24 nailbiter that gives the media a week of easy content…Is there now a blueprint to keep up with the Patriots?

Having said all that, I’m going with the Patriots because Andrew Luck’s return to health isn’t going to be the difference between the Colts being a true contender or not. They still have a myriad of problems, and the Patriots will exploit them like usual.

Also, if you’re scared of laying all those points on a road favorite, just know that there have been three instances this season where a road team has been favored by a touchdown or more. Here they are:

  • Week 1: Green Bay (-7) at Chicago
  • Week 4: Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco
  • Week 5: New England (-10) at Dallas

The favorite covered in each of those games. Considering we’re talking exclusively about Green Bay and New England, you might have to throw out your usual concerns over backing such huge road favorites.

NY Giants at Philadelphia (-4)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 26, NY Giants 17

This is another game where I initially had a different outcome and decided to switch it. At first I thought either the Giants would win or they’d lose by just a field goal. So I loved getting them at +4. But it turns out I’m frightened by all their injuries. They were banged up before they played San Francisco last Sunday night. Now they are going to be without a starting defensive back, and guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle are banged up.

One other  thing I’m cognizant of while picking this game is that, by rule, the Giants aren’t allowed to have things going too smoothly for very long. They’ve won three straight. This would seem like the time for them to lay an egg. They host Dallas in week 7. I think they’ll handle Matt Cassel and company. So unless you think the Giants are capable of a five game winning streak (they’re not), you should pick against them here.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 4 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

NFL Week 6 Picks: How Many Road Favorites is Too Many?

tampa

Five weeks is a pretty small sample size if you’re trying to figure out which NFL teams are good & bad and who will make the playoffs. Some teams have only played four games. Some teams haven’t been healthy. Some teams have been extremely lucky. And of course some have been very unlucky.

Consider the following from the 2013 season:

  • Philadelphia and Carolina each started the year 1-3. People were convinced Chip Kelly’s system wouldn’t work in the NFL, and that Ron Rivera & Cam Newton would never win together in Carolina. The Eagles finished the year 9-3 and won their division while the Panthers ripped off an 11-1 finish to win their division and secure the #2 seed in the NFC.
  • New Orleans began the season 5-0, and Kansas City started out 9-0! The Saints closed their schedule with a 6-5 stretch and missed out on a chance to win the NFC South. The Chiefs, meanwhile, went 2-5 after their ridiculous start and also had to settle for a wildcard spot.
  • The Giants got off to an 0-6 start, and the Steelers began 1-4. New York went 7-3 from that point on, and the Steelers went 7-4. Neither team made the playoffs, but both came damn close to recovering from a disastrous beginning.

At the moment, 25 of the NFL’s 32 teams have two or more wins. With no undefeated teams after five weeks and many of the perennial playoff teams already having one or two losses, it feels like we’ve hit the closest thing to parity that we’re ever going to see.

Do any of the one-win or no-win teams have a chance to do what the Panthers and Eagles did last year? Of course. The season is young. I wouldn’t expect Jacksonville or Oakland to suddenly become teams of intrigue, but if I had to place my money on one of the other struggling teams (Tennessee, the Jets, Washington, Tampa Bay and St. Louis), I’d go with the Bucs.

Here’s the deal with Tampa right now. They’re 1-4 but have lost three games by less than a touchdown. Their start seems worse because of that 56-14 blowout at Atlanta on national TV. They still have six home games, they have some winnable road games against Cleveland and Washington, and Mike Glennon may actually be average enough to help this team.

The NFC South may also be the second worst division in football. On Bovada right now, the Bucs are 25/1 to win their division. Am I the only one that thinks it’s worth a couple dollars just in case?

I’m guessing if I could hear my readers’ reactions as they read this, I’d hear a very loud “YES” to that question.

While the sample size of five weeks is too small to predict the NFL playoffs, the sample size of 76 games is plenty big to get a sense of how I’m doing against the spread so far this year.

Well, I’m 36-38-2 after last week’s 8-7 record. Even though my march to get above .500 is going at a snail’s pace, I’m still encouraged. I haven’t had a week where I’ve bottomed out (but I haven’t had a week where I’ve crushed it either), and I seem to have a pretty good read on a lot of teams (just not enough of the teams, apparently).

But here’s why the first month of the season has been profitable for me: I’m 17-8 against the spread in my confidence picks. I define confidence picks through my Pick ‘Em leagues where you have to assign more weight to your five most confident picks each week. And I am absolutely crushing that so far.

So while I’m not good enough to turn you a profit if you bet on all my picks each week, I’m certainly good enough to get you to the top of your own Pick ‘Em league standings. And if you’re smart enough, you follow just the picks that I feel great about. I think it’s pretty obvious in my picks column when I’m extra excited about a pick or extra pessimistic about one. Try to keep up.

Before we dive into the week 6 picks, let’s check in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • Kansas City: At 2-3, it seems like the Chiefs can only beat AFC East teams. That’s a bummer because they only get two more of those matchups. They actually might trick some people because after they lose to San Diego in week 7, they have games against St. Louis, the Jets and Buffalo. I could see them being 5-4 and then losing five of their final seven games. The ceiling for this team remains 8-8.
  • New Orleans: The optimist would say the Saints are going to be fine because two of their three losses came by a field goal or less, and they still have six home games. The pessimist would point out that these first five games were supposed to be the easy portion of their schedule, and they’re only 2-3. Unless Drew Brees and the offense starts playing exactly how we expected, this team’s in trouble. We know they suck on the road, but they also have to host Green Bay, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore. An 8-0 home record is definitely not a given. I think they scrape their way to 9-7, but I’m not sure that’s good enough for the playoffs.

And now for the picks.

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Indianapolis 30, Houston 27

This feels like the rest of the AFC South’s best chance to give the Colts one division loss. With so much noise made, especially in the past week, about the constant Thursday night blowouts, this seems like as good a time as any to expect a close game to shut everyone up. Arian Foster looked very healthy last Sunday and the Colts have one of the worst run defenses. I can’t pick the Texans to win outright, but I certainly expect them to make it a game.

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (-2)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 33, Cleveland 24

I’m way into this Browns team. I’m tempted to predict a blowout in favor of the Browns. The Steelers might be walking into the proverbial buzz saw as this Cleveland team seems to be riding higher than they have in the past 12 years. Until Brian Hoyer proves otherwise, this is a team to be feared.

Upon further research, however, I learned that Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 against the Browns over his career, and there’s a chance Joe Haden, Cleveland’s best defensive back, is either out or limited in this game. I’m frightened of what this Steeler offense might do if the Browns are truly banged up (remember that Tennessee dropped 28 on them in the 1st half last week).

New England (-3) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 24, Buffalo 16

It seems as though we have two “stay away” teams from a betting standpoint in the NFL this year. And wouldn’t you know it, both teams reside in the AFC East. I already tagged the Dolphins as a schizophrenic team, but now I’m adding the Patriots. I just have no feel for them. So what I’ll be doing going forward is pick against my instincts.

My instincts told me to pick Buffalo so I’m going with New England.

Carolina @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 33, Carolina 23

I’m very reluctantly taking the Bengals. I’m expecting a push, but I’m leaving the possibility open that A) Cincinnati is a juggernaut at home, and B) Carolina’s running game is so banged up that they won’t be able to take advantage of Cincy’s one weakness.

I’m aware that A.J. Green is hurt and got carted off the practice field on Wednesday. But I’m not sure it matters when the Bengals are playing a below-average team at home.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-6)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 29, Tennessee 21

First of all, I don’t think any of the teams that play exclusively in the loser’s circuit should be favored by more than a field goal over any of its fellow losers (Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee and the Jets all fall into the AFC’s loser’s circuit).

The reason I’m picking the Jaguars to win outright is because I see two teams of equal talent who are at very different points of stability. The Jaguars know that Blake Bortles will be leading them for the foreseeable future and the goal is simply to make incremental improvements over the rest of the season. The Titans don’t know what the fuck is going on with their QB situation, and they also have the stench of that choke job suffered at the hands of the Browns on them still. If any team is going into Week 6 totally unprepared, it’s the Titans.

Green Bay (-3.5) @ Miami

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Green Bay 20

The teams are irrelevant in this situation. I have to go with the 2-2 team coming off a bye playing at home, especially when they’re underdogs of more than a field goal. That extra half point feels big.

Don’t mistake Green Bay’s two weeks of competence for eliteness. (Is that a word?)

Detroit @ Minnesota (PICK)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 20, Detroit 16

Picking these games on Thursday is only a problem once in a while, and this week might be one of those times. I’m banking on Calvin Johnson not playing, but it hasn’t been officially decided. The Lions offense doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself when Megatron’s out. If he ends up playing, I don’t know if I’d still be confident in the Vikings.

But hey, the Vikings are at home, Teddy Bridgewater is 100% healthy and I love me some home underdogs. (I wrote all of this on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning the Lions were no longer favored by 1.5. I still like the Vikings.)

Denver (-10) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: Denver 30, NY Jets 23

This is what I wrote on Monday night when the line was Denver -8: “I don’t see how you could ever back the Jets in this situation. They’re as big of a mess right now as they’ve ever been during the Rex Ryan era. The secondary is the biggest problem not including the quarterback situation. A sketchy defensive situation against the quarterback with history’s longest-running deal with the devil. Hmmmmmmm.”

But, wow, this line has moved. Do the extra two points scare me? A little bit, yeah.

And don’t we know exactly how this is going to play out with Rex Ryan and the Jets? I feel like I’ve seen this movie 100 times. Rex says if they don’t improve, he should be fired. The Jets don’t immediately turn it around and start winning games, but he’s able to hang his hat on “we just played the Broncos and the Patriots extremely close. Would I like to have won those games? Yeah, of course. But we’re improving and we just went toe-to-toe with two of the best teams in our conference.”

After they drop to 1-6, the Jets proceed to win six of their final nine games, ending the season with a respectable 7-9 record, and Rex gets one more year to make the leap to the playoffs.

Bonus note: Remember that the most obvious pick of the week often doesn’t work out. Everyone’s ready to bury the Jets, but they always seem to hang around.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 24, Baltimore 20

See the intro to this column for why I’m taking the Bucs.

Also, similar to the Packers/Dolphins pick, the extra half point and the lure of a home underdog is too much to pass up.

San Diego (-7) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 34, Oakland 14

Absolutely it’s dangerous to back a road favorite in a divisional matchup who’s giving a touchdown or more. But the talent gap between these two teams is just absurd. We’re closing in on game-of-the-year candidate San Diego at Denver two Thursdays from now. That’s where the Chargers will get a stranglehold on the AFC West. No need to slip up now.

Chicago @ Atlanta (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Atlanta 27, Chicago 24

Did I just write three days ago that I’m quitting the Bears cold turkey? I guess I’m just a goddamn liar. This feels like another game decided by a field goal. And the extra half point on this line feels like an overreaction to the Bears’ suckiness last week.

Dallas @ Seattle (-8)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 38, Dallas 24

I thought Seattle would be favored by 14. Only the very best teams deserve the respect of being less than double-digit underdogs in Seattle. And Dallas is not one of the very best teams. With limited attractive options this week, I’m probably going with the Seahawks in my Suicide Pool. No getting cute this week. Just survive and advance and let the other people in the pool screw things up.

Washington @ Arizona (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 26, Arizona 20

I made a note to check on Arizona’s quarterback situation before making any prediction this week. So of course in the first article I click on, the first sentence says, “It’s anyone’s guess who starts under center for the Cardinals this Sunday…”

Perfect.

This is an extremely tough game to put any confidence behind right now. My gut tells me that Logan Thomas starts, which is why I’m choosing the Redskins. Also, the Cardinals keep losing key players. Calais Campbell is the most recent major injury.

If Carson Palmer was healthy and playing, this line would probably be closer to a touchdown, and I would be telling you the Cardinals are a sneaky good Suicide Pool pick. But with all this doubt and murkiness, I’m just going to say stay away.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 29, NY Giants 24

Wow, a spread of exactly 3 points instead of 3.5. That seems rare for this week. I don’t have much confidence in either of these teams so that’s why I’m taking the home team. But I could totally see a situation where the Eagles lose, the Cowboys lose (that’s a definite) and the Redskins win, and suddenly the good ole’ NFC East is one big clusterfuck gathered around the .500 mark.

San Francisco (-3.5) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 35, St. Louis 10

The 49ers are the seventh and final road favorite of the week. That’s an aggressive number of teams going on the road and still being favored. But St. Louis is one of the few home underdogs that I have no faith in. Their defense has one sack on the season and is terrible against the run. Their offense is nearly as bad. I just pray for the sake of my bet that the 49ers aren’t looking ahead to a big game against Denver in week 7.

It’s looking like a pretty balanced set of picks this week for me: Eight underdogs/six favorites, eight home teams/seven road teams.

Enjoy week 6!