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:
- 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.
- 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