NFL Week 5: Best Bets

John Kaufman – Betting Analyst

Week five is upon us, folks. The NFL season is flying by as usual, which is never good. What is nice about our rapid progress through the season is that our sample size keeps growing. More data means more knowledge and better picks. At least, that’s how it should work. Such was the case for me last week as I had my second consecutive perfect week. So, let’s definitely keep that going, eh?

We have 14 more games of NFL action ahead of us this weekend. The LA Rams traveled to Seattle this past Thursday night, a game in which the Seahawks barely held on to win, 30-29. The Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins both have byes this week. Now that we’re up to date schedule-wise, let’s mine for betting value, isolate it, and keep on cashing our tickets!

Week Four Postmortem – Results: 3-0 (2019 Overall Record: 8-2-1)

Like we always do, we need to quickly recap week four and see how I did, where I was right, and where I can improve. I know this statement is repetitive, but it needs to be included here every week:

I don’t care what my record is in any given week. You’ll always get this recap. I will never run from a bad week. Nor will I get too big an ego because of a good one. It’s always about the process yielding good results. As I mentioned above, I had another perfect 3-0, but let’s see how my process went to make sure I didn’t just get lucky.

CLE +6.5 (-110) at BAL – Result: WIN (CLE 40-BAL 25)

If you’ll recall from my Best Bets article from a week ago, I mentioned that the look-ahead line for this game was BAL -3.5. (The look-ahead line is the line that is posted a week prior to an NFL game. Therefore, just before the week three games Las Vegas posted the line for this week four contest between Cleveland and Baltimore, and the Ravens were favored by just over a field goal.) Then, the country watched the Browns offense struggle at home against the vaunted Rams defense, and boom; the line for this game ballooned to BAL -6.5. Cleveland backers picked up an extra FG for nothing.

When I say that I want my process to be good, this is what I mean. Obviously, I cannot predict the future. None of us can. I had no idea that Cleveland would go into Baltimore and essentially have that game wrapped up before the 4th quarter even began. Clearly, I thought that the Browns had a great chance to cover the spread in that game, if not win it outright. And while Cleveland roughing up Baltimore very soundly absolutely was in the predictable range of outcomes, it seemed like one of the less likely results that we could envision.

But that’s the point I’m making here. Finding value in a betting line isn’t about predicting the future or anything similar. It’s about pouncing on a bet when the sportsbook makes a mistake. In this case, the line was initially posted with Baltimore being favored over Cleveland by 3.5 points, and then very little new information was gathered, yet the line moved by an entire field goal. That was a mistake. Just because Cleveland lost a home game to the Rams – a game, by the way, they could have won had they been able to score on their last possession inside LA’s ten yard-line with a minute left in the game – does not mean that the CLE-BAL line should have moved that much. It was both an error by the sportsbook to move the line and by the betting public to back the Ravens. So, I identified it and we jumped on it. That is good process, and that is my goal with each and every pick that I make.

CHI -1.5 (-110) vs MIN – Result: WIN (CHI 16-MIN 6)

Returning to my prior week’s Best Bets article once again, I included this gem of a stat:

Since 2004, when Minnesota is playing an outdoor road game against a team with a .500 or better record, they are 0-10-1.

Well, make that 0-11-1 now.

Minnesota simply cannot win games on the road and outdoors against good teams. We saw them look pitiful in that same situation last week against the Bears. I mean, Mitch Trubisky even got hurt and had to leave this game very early on, and it didn’t matter one bit. Chicago was in control of this game from start to finish. I’ll take a victory any way I can get it, but boy oh boy do the easy ones feel extra nice.

Six Point Teaser of The Week (+ 6 points, -110) – Result: WIN

DET +13 vs KC – Result: WIN (DET 30-KC 34)

BUF +13 vs NE – Result: WIN (BUF 10-NE 16)

In this teaser, we pumped up the line with two home teams who were getting a touchdown. This was a fairly easy win as well which was fantastic. Detroit absolutely should have beaten Kansas City. They only lost on a late score, and the Lions had two immensely costly fumbles inside the Chiefs’ red zone. Even if they only get two field goals on those possessions, it would have been very hard for Detroit to lose that game. Tough break for them, but not for us.

Buffalo’s defense gave Tom Terrific fits all afternoon. Brady went 18-39 for 150 yards (which is a disgusting 3.85 yards per attempt), no touchdowns and one interception. That is Brady’s worst game in what feels like a lifetime. Buffalo’s defense kept them in the game, and that’s exactly what I expected to happen. Josh Allen’s early exit due to a concussion, and some costly turnovers by both Allen and his replacement, Matt Barkley, is what ultimately sunk the Bills’ battleship. But we took 13 points here and the cover was never in doubt. That’s what we like to see.

NFL Week Five – Best Bets

Okie dokie, bettors. Let’s move on to the week five action.

MIN -5.5 (2-2) at NYG (2-2) – 1:00 PM on FOX

We’ve already talked about how awful Minnesota looked last weekend in Chicago. Kirk Cousins went 27-36 for 233 yards and was sacked six times. Dalvin Cook had 14 carries for only 35 yards, with a long of nine yards. That means that his other 13 carries went for just 26 yards. Yikes. It was a terrible performance all around, to say the least.

The Giants, meanwhile, destroyed the Redskins at home, 24-3. The Redskins though, are not very good at football, so I’m not sure how much we can truly glean from that game. I mean, the Giants aren’t really a good team, are they?

No, they aren’t. Their defense is bottom-ten in the NFL; they are 23rd-worst in total yards given up, including being 15th-worst in rushing defense.

And what does Minnesota do well on offense? Run the ball. They are second in the NFL in total rushing yards (621), ahead of both Seattle and Los Angeles who have both played five games this season. The Vikings’ fifth game is tomorrow, of course. They are incredibly good at running the football, and the Giants aren’t very good at stopping the run. This is good for us.

Additionally, I think we’re going to see an incredible effort by Mike Zimmer’s defense against Danny Dimes and the Giants’ banged-up offense. The Giants will be playing without standout running back, Saquon Barkley, again tomorrow. That is terrible news for New York, as the Vikings have given up the 9th-fewest rushing yards in the league. Minnesota is also 10th in the NFL in sacks, so things won’t be any easier when they try to pass the ball. Minnesota is simply a much better team than the Giants in all phases of the game.

The real value with this bet is that, if this game were in week one or week two, we’d probably have to lay a touchdown or more to back Minnesota. But after last week’s debacle against the Bears, followed by all the bad news and snippy soundbites coming out from Vikings players all week, this line has been pushed down too far. The Vikings aren’t likely to have fixed all their issues in a week. But they are 2-2 on the year with both losses coming to division foes. Now, this isn’t a division game, but the Vikings know that dropping to 2-3 would be disastrously bad. It’s tough to call this a must-win game, but that’s pretty much what it is for the Vikings. Tomorrow we’re going to see them run all over NY. We’re going to see both Thielen and Diggs get the ball thrown their way early and often. (Have you ever heard the expression, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease?” Well, Thielen and Diggs couldn’t have been any squeakier this week, and Cousins will be peppering a lot of targets their way as a result.) Last, we’re going to see a pissed off Vikings defense handle their business against a rookie quarterback who, to be honest, played very much like a rookie last weekend, even though he got the win over the Redskins. Minnesota gets right in this spot and in a big way.

BAL (2-2) -3.5 at PIT (1-3) – 1:00 PM on CBS

The Ravens are coming off a bad home loss to Cleveland. The game was tight for a while but then the Browns took control and never looked back.

Conversely, the Steelers got their first win of the season last week on Monday Night Football, annihilating the winless Cincinnati Bengals, 27-3.

Perception is not reality, good people.

Let’s try to ignore our recency bias as much as we can. It is tough to do but do it we must.

Up and down the roster, Baltimore is the better team and I don’t think it’s very close. Taking out the Rams and Seahawks who have played one more game than almost every other NFL team, did you know that Baltimore’s offense is the best in the NFL? They are even better than Kansas City, which I’m guessing will surprise most people. The Ravens have gained 1930 total yards, including 1107 through the air and 823 on the ground. The second-best rushing offense in the NFL belongs to Minnesota, who have gained 202 yards less than Baltimore this year in just four games. That is simply amazing.

Here are Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers in 2019:

Total yards: 1134, 29th in the NFL (The 49ers have out gained the Steelers even though they’ve played one less game.)

Passing yards: 876, 22nd in the NFL

Rushing yards: 258, 28th in the NFL

The Steelers are a mess in on offense, and I just don’t expect them to have suddenly figured things out with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. They don’t have the same quality of players that the Ravens have, a fact that comes through loud and clear when you look at their 1-3 record. Baltimore is the better team, plain and simple.

Now, let’s add recent occurrences back into our analysis. Baltimore is coming off back to back losses to Kansas City and Cleveland. John Harbaugh is a damn good coach, and if there’s one guy I’d bet on not to lose three games in a row, it’s him.

Additionally, Pittsburgh has only beaten the lowly Bengals. They lost at New England, at home against Seattle, and at San Francisco. I realize that those are all good teams. But that’s the point: the 2019 Steelers seem to lose to good teams. And according to basically every metric we can find, the Baltimore Ravens, are a good team. That’s enough for me to put my money on them, plain and simple.

DEN (0-4) +6.5 at LAC (2-2) – 4:05 PM on CBS

We’re going to take Denver in this game for a few reasons:

1. The Chargers have zero home field advantage playing in that soccer stadium that they call home. Also, California is full of transplants from all over the country. I lived in LA from 2012 to 2018, and I went to a Chargers game at that stadium when they faced the Cleveland Browns. There were so many Cleveland fans at that game that it was impossible to tell who the home team was. There will be a ton of Broncos fans at this game tomorrow, I promise you.

2. The Chargers are, as usual, incredibly beat up. Their star defensive end, Melvin Ingram, isn’t going to play in this game. They are still without Hunter Henry, and they just had to put Dontrelle Inman on IR this week.

3. Keenan Allen is very healthy, but he’s going to be covered by Chris Harris all day long. Harris is one of the best cover corners in NFL history. And if you don’t believe me, check out this stat that I pulled from a Scott Barrett Pro Football Focus article earlier this season:

Cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. has been thrown at 644 times in 132 career games. Over that span, only 10 wide receivers have ever caught a touchdown pass against him. Only eight times has a player ever totaled more than 50 yards against him in any game, and only once has a player totaled over 85 yards.

Can you believe that?!? This is incredible! What a career Harris has had! Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that Keenan Allen is going to have a rough game.

4. Denver runs most of their plays out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). Denver is extremely successful when running the football out of 11 personnel; they have a 62% success rate and are averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The LA Chargers, coincidentally enough, are allowing a 62% success rate against them, which is well below the league average of 42%. In other words, the Broncos are very good at what they do all the time, and LA can’t stop that. Sounds like a good spot to grab nearly a touchdown to me.

Six Point Teaser of the Week:

ARZ (0-3-1) +9 at CIN (0-4) – 1:00 PM on FOX

CLE (2-2) +9.5 at SF (3-0) – 8:15 PM on Monday Night Football on ESPN

(There is a teaser explanation below if you need it.)

Arizona is 5th in the NFL in rushing DVOA. (For an explanation about what DVOA is, click here.) Cincinnati is 28th in the NFL in defensive DVOA against the run. Simply stated, it seems like the wrong team is favored in this game. However, since Arizona is traveling to the eastern time zone and playing at 1:00 PM, which is typically a tough spot for pacific time zone teams, we’re going to move the line up past three points and through the other key number of seven, just to be safe.

Cleveland is getting 3.5 points on Monday night, so we’re going to push the line up through some key numbers in this one as well. San Francisco is coming off their bye which we typically think of as a good thing. But I did some digging this week and I uncovered this incredible stat, courtesy of The Lefkoe Show Podcast:

From 2011-2018, there have been 105 instances of a team coming off its bye and playing at home the following week. Those teams are 43-62 against the spread, which is a cover rate of only 41%.

I don’t know if I can explain why those home teams are so bad in those circumstances. Nor do I think that Cleveland is simply going to win because of that trend. But that is eight years’ worth of data which I simply cannot ignore, and which must be factored into my analysis.

The bottom line for the game is this:

I am fairly certain which 49ers team we’re going to see on Monday night. They’ll be their usual selves: a team with an efficient, solid offense to go with an incredibly stout defense. That’s what we’ve seen from them in their first three games of the 2019 season.

Cleveland, on the other hand, is the wildcard, so to speak. If the Browns team that played the first three games of their schedule shows up in Santa Clara, they are going to be in a lot of trouble. But, if the team that whipped the Ravens last Sunday gets off the plane to face the 49ers, they’ll have every chance to not only cover this spread, but to win the game outright. I am, quite literally, betting on the latter.

Alright, y’all, that’s it for week five. Good luck to you this weekend!! I hope all your tickets cash!!

(TEASER BET EXPLANATION: In case you’re not familiar with a teaser, it’s a bet in which you get six points to manipulate the point spread and/or game total in a favorable direction. For example, in week two this year Denver was underdog against Chicago; the Broncos were getting +2 points. In a teaser, you get to add six points to Denver’s line and increase it from +2 to +8. Or instead, if you liked Chicago in that game you could take the six points and tease their line from -2 to +4. Teasers are great ways to manipulate lines so that they’re more favorable to you. Last, just like a parlay, teasers must include two bets or more, and you must win all the legs in the teaser to win the bet. If you lose one leg of the teaser your whole bet is busted.)

John Kaufman – Across the Board Sports

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