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Against the Spread: 2010 NFL Picks: Week 6

<I>TheStreet</I> goes hunting for underdogs as we pick against the spread for five NFL games in Week 6.

Updated from Thursday with new line on New Orleans/Tampa Bay game.



) -- It's déjà vu all over again! Against the spread, underdogs in the NFL are 46-26 with four pushes heading into Week 6.

Typically, your average bettor -- one who doesn't make sharp wagers looking for value -- will put their money on the favorite and will lay the points. That approach has only lost money so far this year, as evidenced by the underdogs' record

against the spread


Nearly every week, I've highlighted the underdogs' ability to cover. Unfortunately, I haven't been as lucky when it comes to sniffing out that value. My record in picking games in this column is back above .500 at 13-12, and I'm hoping to build on that total this week by searching out value picks in underdogs.

Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings

Week 5 was particularly interesting in that a handful of underdogs not only beat the spread but won outright. In Sunday's late-afternoon slate of games, all three underdogs (the

Arizona Cardinals


Oakland Raiders

, and

Tennessee Titans

) were getting six or more points and still managed to win straight up.

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In all, nine underdogs managed to win outright last week, and that number would have been one higher if

Minnesota Vikings

quarterback Brett Favre, who has been the subject of scrutiny for allegedly sending inappropriate cell phone pictures to sideline reporter Jenn Sterger in 2008, hadn't thrown a late-game interception that the

New York Jets

returned for a touchdown to cover the spread.

Thankfully, I picked the Jets to cover the 4-point spread, and as a result I ended with a winning record last week. Phew!

>>2010 College Football Picks: Week 7

Even the sharp bettors, though, have taken a beating. After Minnesota failed to cover Monday night, the top 10 picks in the

Supercontest at the Las Vegas Hilton

sports book had a 1-9 record in Week 5. Professional NFL bettors pony up $1,500 to enter into the Hilton's Supercontest, which has more than $200,000 on the line. The fact that a majority of the participants were so high on losers against the spread speaks volumes about how tough last week was for bettors.

That includes me, as I loved the

San Diego Chargers

in their game on the road against the Raiders. Emailer "Stan daMann" pointed out that "one trend that remains the same, that you (and the bookies) miss every year, is that the Chargers start slow. And if you haven't figured it out yet, Oakland is a team that is much better than last year." I'm considering myself warned, Stan.

Despite the outperformance of underdogs over the last several weeks, the favorites are still seeing a lot of public interest in Week 6. Like any stock picker, the goal is to find the best possible value in NFL picks and, once again, it looks like it will be with underdogs this week. That's why I've devoted my picks column this week to only games where underdogs look very appealing.

Once again, I've enlisted the help of Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site

. The Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down matchups as it simulates each game 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

Read on for the first game preview, the

New Orleans Saints

at the

Tampa Bay Buccaneers


New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4)

Last season, the Saints were 10-9 against the spread with a net point differential of +217. They were blowing out teams and covered the spread fairly often as they marched to ther first Super Bowl victory. It's a different story thus far in 2010, as the Saints have a net point differential of -3. Perhaps New Orleans is reverting to the mean.

The opposite is true for Tampa Bay. Last season, the Buccaneers were 6-10 against the spread and had a point differential of -156. The Bucs have improved that net point differential to -6 and they now have a winning record against the spread. That's come due partly to the emergence of quarterback Josh Freeman (pictured above), who has thrown only three interceptions this year.

As a team, though, the Buccaneers are a bit of an enigma. They allow teams to run the ball all over them but have done well limiting the number of yards opposing quarterbacks throw against them. That's the perfect recipe when facing the Saints, a team that is without two key running backs and has struggled a bit with passing.

Bessire's Take

: "Here, we love the underdog. One of our better plays last week was Arizona +7 against New Orleans. We were not sure that the Cardinals were going to win, but it was close even with a rookie quarterback in his first start. Josh Freeman is much better than that rookie quarterback, and the Buccaneers just passed a tough test to hang with and eventually win out against the Bengals. It's not that the offense is bad, the Saints just are not the same team when they are not generating turnovers. Some of that is luck. It went their way all year last year and hasn't this year. Some of it is scheme. They are not as aggressive because they don't have the same players. And some of that is not having a healthy Darren Sharper and Tracy Porter. If Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay offense can hold onto the ball, they should win this game. On average, we have New Orleans winning outright, but only 53.8% of the time and by about a point."

The Pick: Buccaneers +4

. The Saints have yet to cover the spread this season, while the Bucs are 3-1 against the spread. New Orleans has beaten bad teams like Carolina and San Francisco, but only by slight margins. The Bucs may not be dazzling on offense, but their defense will probably keep the game close. I've been riding Tampa Bay while fading New Orleans, so I'm going to keep that trend going by taking the points.

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (-4.5)

The Chiefs and the Texans are a tale of two very different teams. After a Week 1 victory against the Colts, the public felt the Texans were a legit team that was postseason bound. Similarly, the Chiefs had a big win at home against a division rival, but that victory was written off as a stroke of luck due to poor weather conditions.

Fast forward several weeks, and it appears the wheels are beginning to come off the Texans' bandwagon while the Chiefs are still rolling strong.

Yes, the Chiefs did lose last week by 10 points to the Colts, but they clearly looked like the better team in holding Indy quarterback Peyton Manning to zero touchdown passes. The Chiefs' success is confounding as quarterback Matt Cassel (pictured above) has thrown for only four touchdowns and three interceptions through four weeks of the NFL season. Instead, Kansas City has found great success in running the ball for an average of 158 yards per game.

Cassel now gets to play against a Texans secondary that is struggling mightily against the pass. Houston's defense has given up more than 245 passing yards in every game this season, which is exactly what Cassel and the Chiefs need to spark a struggling offense. Meanwhile, the Texans running game was largely ineffective against the Giants last week, rushing for only 24 yards. The Chiefs defense has allowed only one team (the Chargers) to gain more than 100 yards rushing against them in a single game this season.

Bessire's Take

: "We are calling this the 'Who Is For Real Bowl?' The Houston Texans were the darlings of the NFL after rolling up on the Colts at home with a powerful rush attack and then coming from behind against Washington. Then the Dallas Cowboys exposed the Texans, which paved the way for the new surprise team in the NFL, the 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Of course, that team lost to Indianapolis last week. So which of these teams is for real? More importantly, which of them will win Sunday -- and by how much, how often? The best way that I can describe where these teams stand is that Houston had to come out of its loss (now losses) terrified of how teams are going to attack their secondary and knowing that they are not as good as their early season success would suggest. On the other hand, the Chiefs came out of their loss looking like a team that is significantly better on defense, where there were question marks. That negativity for the Texans and positivity for the Chiefs shows through in the numbers. While the Chiefs are not necessarily expected to win this game on the road, they should be able to keep it close."

The Pick: Chiefs +4.5

. Believe it or not, the Chiefs defense has allowed the fewest points in the league (57), second only to the

Pittsburgh Steelers

(50). The Chiefs are also 3-1 against the spread this season, and the team could be a perfect 4-0 had it kicked a field goal last week against the

Indianapolis Colts

rather than try to go for it on fourth down with 2 yards to go. Kansas City certainly looks to be a great value pick if the spread remains this high.

Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5)

A team with an 0-2 record on the road travels to play a team that is 0-2 at home. They may not sound particularly interesting to the average NFL fan, but there is value to be had for bettors.

The 49ers are desperate for a win and are playing a second straight game at home. During the week, 49ers President Jed York predicted that San Francisco, which is off to a horrendous 0-5 start, will still make the playoffs. The pressure is now on 49ers Coach Mike Singletary and quarterback Alex Smith, who claims he will cut loose this week and play more aggressively. That won't help the 49ers' defense, which has had issues in the secondary. The team had to sign former Chargers safety C.J. Spiller earlier this week to fill holes.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have surprised me by hanging tough in several games. If you'll recall, they came within a botched field goal kick of beating the

Arizona Cardinals

and a winning record of 3-2. The Raiders may be without starting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski this week, after he was injured in the Week 5 win against the Chargers. That means that running back Michael Bush (pictured above) may see significantly more carries in order to keep the ball out of Jason Campbell's hands. Oakland averages 134 yards running the ball per game, which is bad news for a 49ers defense that allows more than 100 yards rushing on average per game.

Bessire's Take

: "Last week, it was mildly surprising that an 0-4 team was a 3.5 point favorite against a Philadelphia Eagles team, even at home. We were very high on the Eagles in what we viewed as a 50/50 game straight-up. This week though, the line looks about right at -6.5 favoring the 49ers. Even at 0-5, there are positive things to say about the progression of the defense and of Alex Smith - especially in his recent connection with Michael Crabtree. Meanwhile, Oakland was handed a gift last week in a game that San Diego really dominated. I can almost assure you that two blocked punts and three lost fumbles in field goal range will not occur in this game -- especially with the same team on the bad end of those. San Francisco should get a win here. It's not a line against where we have a strong opinion, but winning straight-up almost 70% of the time has to feel good for the winless 49ers."

The Pick: Raiders +6.5

. When the 49ers are favored to win a game during this 2010 season, they have been unable cover the spread. In Week 1 against the

Seattle Seahawks

, San Fran was giving 3.5 points but lost by 25 points. In Week 3, the 49ers were favored by 2.5 points over the Chiefs and lost by 21 points. Last week, the Niners pushed as a 3-point favorite at home against an East Coast team. I understand that they have their backs up against the wall and must win this game if they hope to make the playoffs -- and they may ultimately win this game -- but I find it incredibly hard to take an 0-5 team and lay nearly a touchdown.

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings (-1.5)

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (pictured above) threw for over 500 yards last week and yet his team still lost at home. For the average NFL bettor, that's maddening to witness.

Three interceptions were the difference maker in the Dallas loss to the Titans in Week 5. Romo is lucky this week in facing a weak Vikings secondary that Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez picked apart last week. The lone Dallas victory this year came on the road in Houston, when the Cowboys didn't turn the ball over once and managed to force three turnovers on defense.

On the flip side, the Vikings' defense is among the best, allowing the fewest points (67) of any NFC team. That said, the Minnesota offense is anemic, scoring the second fewest points (63) in the league. Only Carolina has scored fewer points (52), and the Panthers are generally considered the worst team in the NFL. The Vikings are also more prone to turnovers with a differential of -6, which could be a catalyst for a Cowboys defense that has forced only three turnovers in four games.

Bessire's Take

: "The numbers obviously suggest that both of these teams are better than their sub-.500 records. And right now, both teams actually still have a shot at the playoffs in the open NFC (win or lose). Especially with the addition of Randy Moss, there are similarities between the Vikings and Cowboys, enough to result in an even game on a neutral field. With the game being played in Minnesota, we like the Vikings to win by just more than their home-field advantage, or 4 to 5 points. On a 1-point line, we'll either be picking our straight-up winner or no one. In this case, we like Minnesota to win and cover just less than 60% of the time at home."

The Pick: Cowboys +1.5

. There are reports that Favre may sit if the tendinitis in his elbow worsens, which would force Tavaris Jackson under center. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is also battling a hamstring injury, which could spell trouble for the Vikings. Coming off a rough road loss on Monday night, it's hard to lay 1.5 points, even to the Cowboys.

Detroit Lions at New York Giants (-10)

Two weeks ago, the Giants were left for dead, and now the team is considered to be a contender for the NFC title. Now six weeks into the NFL season, we have a much clearer view of things, and it's obvious the Giants are good at beating weak teams, like the Panthers, Bears and Texans. In their losses, though, the Giants gave up 38 points on the road at the

Indianapolis Colts

and 29 points to the

Tennessee Titans

in the Meadowlands.

The Lions will prove to be a tough opponent, as Detroit scores an average of 25 points on offense and surrenders an average of 22 points on defense. Quarterback Shaun Hill (pictured above) is likely making his last start for Detroit before Matthew Stafford returns. That's good news for the Giants defense, which will likely put a ton of pressure on Hill, who is without star wideout Calvin Johnson. Even so, the Lions' defense is no slouch, forcing three or more turnovers in four of five games this season. Eli Manning, who has as many touchdowns as interceptions and has been sacked nine times this season, will certainly have his own trouble with the opposing defense.

Bessire's Take

: "While the Lions have done well, covering in four of their five games, I like the Giants to win by close to two touchdowns here. At home, playing the best football of any team over the last two weeks and facing a team that will probably be without its best player, the Giants have a great chance to blow out Detroit this week. New York has found the offensive and defensive balance to turn itself into the most well-rounded NFC team, a favorite to make the Super Bowl from the conference. Detroit just does not have the firepower to hang with the Giants. In fact, watch for pressure all game on Shaun Hill, leading to sacks and interceptions."

The Pick: Lions +10

. Detroit, along with the Jets, has the best record against the point spread in the entire NFL. Despite what the straight up win-loss records may be, the Lions have scored more points this season than the Giants, and Detroit has a net point differential of +14. When the Lions turn the ball over, they lose, but they do manage to keep the score close. When it comes down to it, I have a hard time laying 10 points, even to a home team that has played well in the previous two weeks.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston


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