By Joel Wirth
With six weeks in the books, we’ve hit the one-third mark of the season, and we can start to make some decent-sample-sized assessments. We have a nice, neat class stratification of nine elite (relative to the rest of the league) teams, nine bad teams, and the rest making up the creamy, delicious sandwich cookie center.
Elite teams – Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City, both LA teams, and Tampa Bay
Bad teams – Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, both New York teams, Philadelphia, and Washington
Unfortunately, three elite teams are on bye, leaving a rather uninspiring slate of games this week, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made (in places where responsible sports wagering is legal, of course).
Before we look forward, let’s see what we can glean from last week.
Standard disclaimer – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines.
ELO had a .500 week while I <enter celebration GIF> finally broke .500 at 5-3! So we’re only one positive week away from a trend!
Game and Upset of the Week – Minnesota at Carolina: We start with a dud. ELO and I both blew this one. In a game no one wanted to win, Carolina didn’t want it …worse? CMC didn’t come back, Sam Darnold continued to look Jets-level lost without him, and the Carolina receivers increased the degree of difficulty for poor Sammy by dropping literally every pass thrown their way (slight hyperbole). Yet the Vikings still had to go to OT and win the coin toss to pull this one out. Congratulations, …I guess. Maybe we pump the brakes on the “Joe Brady is the next coordinator to get an HC gig”?
Miami at Jacksonville (at London): ELO and I were both on the Fish. I thought Tua’s return would spark them. Unfortunately, while he was better than the Jacoby Brissett Experience, it wasn’t enough to keep the Jags from winning their first game in 13 months.
LA Rams at NY Giants: ELO saw value in the Giants. While Mike Glennon didn’t play, Daniel Jones was bad enough for my Rams pick to come through easily. The Giants are in injury hell.
Houston at Indy: ELO and I hit on Indy bouncing back from their tough Monday night loss the prior week. Going against Houston on the road looks safe at almost any line.
Green Bay at Chicago: Another game where ELO saw value in the home dog, but the road favorite took care of business. The ten-point Green Bay win was just what the doctor ordered for my heart and my picks after the debacle in Cincinnati.
Arizona at Cleveland: I struggled with this game but ended up agreeing with ELO on the visitors. Cleveland is approaching the Giants’ level of injury hell. When your foundational running game is down to your 3rd and 4th string backs, you may have a problem.
Dallas at New England: A third loss for ELO taking the home dog, while I <insert different celebration GIF> finally got a Pats game right! Quite the week for me. It took an OT touchdown by Dallas, but I’ll take it however I can get it.
Seattle at Pittsburgh: Overtime giveth, overtime taketh away. ELO nailed this one. When I turned the game on at halftime and saw it was 14-0 Steelers, I thought it was cruise control mode to a 6 – 2 week, but Geno and the ‘Hawks were plucky enough to make a game of it and actually make me sweat taking the Steelers in Survivor.
Last week: My picks, 5-3; Analytics, 4-4
Season: My picks, 13-21-1; Analytics, 18-16-1
Game of the Week
Kansas City at Tennessee – Analytic Line: TEN (+1.5), Vegas Line: TEN (+5.5), PL: TEN (+5.5)
One of two legitimately compelling games this week. KC’s second of back-to-back road games, Tennessee’s on a short week, after a big Monday Night upset of Buffalo.
Verdict: Going back to basics here, KC isn’t a good cover team against other non-bad teams. ELO and I will take the points.
Make It A Parlay
Carolina at New York Giants – Analytic Line: NYG (Pk), Vegas Line: NYG (+3), PL: NYG (+1.5)
Two teams looking (read: hoping) to bounce back from atrocious offensive performances. If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area and have your own equipment, report to the stadium at 8:00 AM for evaluations to suit up and be a Giant For a Day!
Verdict: First one to score 10 wins. I think the Panthers can get their <expletive> together enough to get there.
Washington at Green Bay – Analytic Line: GB (-11), Vegas Line: GB (-9.5), PL: GB (-9.5)
Winning the division last year must feel like forever ago for the Football Team fans. But, in true “No one repeats in the NFC East” fashion, they’re a mess. The defense just hasn’t come around, and we’ve predictably reached the point of the season where Taylor Heinicke has been fully exposed as a full-time starter.
Verdict: As mentioned here last week, the Packers schedule gauntlet kicks in next Thursday at Arizona. I think they’ll do everything in their power to get this game decided early and rest as many of their starters as possible. Although two of their wins have been by 10 points this year, this seems like a good spot for number three and a cover.
Atlanta at Miami – Analytic Line: MIA (-0.5), Vegas Line: MIA (+2.5), PL: Indy (-2.5)
I have absolutely no clue how or why the decision was made for Miami not to take their bye after the London game. The players didn’t want to spend their bye week jet-lagged?
Verdict: ELO likes the Fish, and for some reason, I agree. Total gut call here, but this feels like a “stand up and account for yourself” moment after losing to Urban Meyer. That’s a few layers of dirt above rock bottom.
Cincinnati at Baltimore – Analytic Line: BAL (-9), Vegas Line: BAL (-6.5), PL: BAL (-6.5)
The other compelling (on paper, at least) game of the week. Cinci tries to prove they’re for real in a division road game.
Verdict: I’m not buying the Bengals as a contender. They haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet. They may sneak into the playoffs on the back of a weak schedule, but I don’t see them hanging with the league’s elite on the road.
Philadelphia at Las Vegas – Analytic Line: LV (-4.5), Vegas Line: LV (-3), PL: LV (-6.5)
Well, I’m clearly higher on Vegas/lower on Philly than consensus. Glad to see ELO’s with me.
Verdict: Setting aside the societal implications of Jon Gruden’s atrociousness, I just don’t think he was a good HC. He was out of the league doing TV for so long for a reason. As a pure football move, this was addition by subtraction, and the Raiders continue to roll over a Philly squad that’s not all that good (sorry, Philly fans.)
New Orleans at Seattle – Analytic Line: SEA (+2.5), Vegas Line: SEA (+4.5), PL: SEA (+3.5)
It wasn’t just the aforementioned Geno Smith pluckiness that impressed me Sunday. Their defense actually looked respectable.
Verdict: If there’s a team outside of New England that has vexed me this year, it’s the Saints, but I think this is a must-win time for Seattle if they still want to be relevant when Russ comes back.
Upset of the Week
Denver at Cleveland – Analytic Line: CLE (-5.5), Vegas Line: CLE (-3.5), PL: CLE (-3)
This feels like cheating, but a short week game on the road is never easy, so I’m taking it.
Verdict: A bunch of injuries is tough to deal with, but when they happen to one position group, and that one position group is the strength of your team, *and* you have to start a backup QB with only a couple of days to get ready, that’s a lot to overcome. The Broncos look like the classic “beat up on the bad teams, lose to the good ones” team, but I think they have enough to win against an outmanned Browns squad.