Against the Spread: 2011 NFL Picks: Week 5

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Perhaps now that he's on the unemployment line, I could get Hank Williams Jr. to sing about his rowdy friends for my NFL picks against the spread column. After all, I need something to help mask my weak record so far this season.

My picks against the spread went 2-3 last week, with wins thanks to covers by the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. Losses came on the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills.

I'm now 7-13 on the season, which is a tough record to swallow now that we're roughly a quarter of the way through the season. With hockey now back in full swing, I'm already starting to cringe at the thought of the end of the NFL season. Luckily, we have plenty of weeks to right this ship and get a respectable record against the spread.

Unfortunately, the task doesn't get much easier this week. We have a slimmer slate of games as this is the first weekend select teams take off. The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, and the Dallas Cowboys, who certainly need a week off after last week's late-game collapse against the Detroit Lions.

Given that so many bad teams are off this week, we're left with a schedule that features a lot of mediocre teams with no identities. Take, for example, the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs are coming off a big win against the Vikings and are two weeks removed from playing well against the Chargers, and yet they're getting points as the team goes on the road against an Indianapolis, which hasn't yet shown it can win a game this season. This isn't a new phenomenon, though, where home teams are giving a low number of points.

"We saw a lot of 1-point lines last week, which I was really surprised with. There was an overvaluation of the home teams last week," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site PredictionMachine.com. His Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

"While that's not nearly the case this week, but there are teams in the NFL where, if they are favored at home by anything less than 4 points, we'll be picking them no matter who they are playing. Specifically, the Packers or the Patriots," Bessire adds.

With that, let's get on to the picks for Week 5 of the NFL season. As I'll remind you through the entire season, these are for entertainment purposes only. Once again, I have enlisted the help of PredictionMachine.com's Paul Bessire, who offers analysis of the data his model provides for the games I've picked this week.

I have also collected commentary from Bryan Leonard, a professional sports handicapper with Pregame.com who is also part of the Tuesday Group, a collection of professional bettors in Las Vegas who get together to handicap the games each week.

Leonard's analysis focuses on the spread movement by Vegas oddsmakers to determine where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These trends prove to be critical for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value.

Read on for the first game pick, where the Cincinnati Bengals travel to play the Jacksonville Jaguars. And as always, I encourage you to leave comments below with your favorite picks against the spread this week. We had a great discussion last week on how terribly wrong my picks were, so I'm looking for more thoughts this week.

Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5)

When I first looked at this game, I thought for sure Cincinnati would be favored, albeit only by a point, even on the road against Jacksonville. The Jaguars haven't looked good at all this season after the Week 1 victory against the Tennessee Titans, whereas the Bengals have pulled off two upsets already this season against the Cleveland Browns and the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills. I believed the public would be all over the hot upstart Bengals.

But I was wrong. The problem is, I can't explain why. Thankfully, I'm not alone in my confusion. Jags quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked decent last week against a Saints defense that -- let's be honest here -- isn't all that great. Sure, Jacksonville can run the ball as well with Maurice Jones-Drew. The problem, though, is that their defense is weak, allowing an average of 335 total yards to opposing offenses. By comparison, the Bengals defense give up an average of 275 total yards. Oh, and Cincinnati has a legit rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, a legit rookie wide receiver in A.J. Green, and a good running game with Cedric Benson.

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton opened this game on Oct. 2 with Jacksonville favored by 2.5 points at -110. For a brief moment in time, the line climbed to -3 with Jacksonville at +100 and Cincinnati at -120, but the line has since moved back and has held steady at -2.5, -110 on both sides. Some books in Vegas have dropped the line to -2, presumably because of the large amount of money coming in early on the Bengals.

PredictionMachine.com's Bessire says the Bengals, as underdogs on the road, still look like a strong play with a solid opportunity to win outright against the Jaguars. Did someone say upset alert?

"Despite the play of the young offense, the defense has kept Cincinnati in every game it has played," Bessire says. "Clearly, the linesmakers have a different interpretation of Jacksonville than the Predictalator. I'm not sure what the linesmakers see in Jacksonville. The machine sees a team with the worst passing offense in the NFL that ranks 16th in rushing, 12th against the pass and 16th against the run."

Pregame.com's Leonard says that if the line was Jags -3, he'd be all over Cincinnati. Instead, at -2.5, he's teasing the line higher to 8.5 for Cincinnati.

"There is nothing that we have seen that would make me want to lay points with Jacksonville," Leonard says. "I'm still not sold on Cincinnati's offense, but the defense has been very good. They have a slight edge there. While both rookie quarterbacks have struggled, we've seen more out of Cincinnati's Dalton."

The Pick: Cincinnati +2.5. I think Cincinnati pulls off an upset on the road, winning by more than one score. I think the only reason the Jaguars even have a win this season is because Tennessee had no running game in Week 1, putting up only 43 rushing yards against Jacksonville. Cedric Benson could have 43 rushing yards by himself sometime in the second quarter.

Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings (-3)

I hate the idea of picking either of these teams, so given that they're playing each other, I hate the idea of picking one even more.

However, there could be value in a stink-bomb of a game like this one should be. The Minnesota Vikings, once predicted by some sports pundits to go 8-8 in the NFC North division this season, could well be on their way to "Suck for Luck" in order to get the top draft spot and college quarterback phenom Andrew Luck. I mean, anything would be an improvement over Donovan McNabb right now, even -- gulp -- Brett Favre.

Here's what worries me about this game: The Arizona Cardinals don't have the best quarterback, but Kevin Kolb has shown the ability to throw downfield with Larry Fitzgerald as his receiver. Beanie Wells has also done well running the ball. The team played tough on the road, losing by 1 point to the Washington Redskins and only 3 points against division rivals the Seattle Seahawks.

Donovan McNabb, on the other hand, has no viable Vikings targets downfield. For that reason, opposing defenses can lay off the pass defense and instead crowd the box to stop runs by Adrian Peterson. With a winless start in a division that also features the Packers and Lions, you get the sense of "What's the point?" now from the Vikings. However, there could be value in picking this miserable team this week.

"This should be the week the Vikings hold a lead and win convincingly," Bessire says, noting that the Vikings have blown leads in all four games they've played this season. "Taking on a team that, while improved at quarterback, also struggles to move the ball through the air and defend the pass will even the playing field a bit and let the more talented home team shine for its first complete game all year."

According to Vegas Insider, the line opened at the Las Vegas Hilton on Oct. 2 with the Vikings as 3-point favorites at home. For a time, the line dipped to -2.5 before inching back up to -3. Two things are of particular importance. It's a big deal that Vegas oddsmakers moved the line off the critical -3 to -2.5 and returned it back to -3.

At -2.5, you had to put up $110 to win $100 on the Vikings. But at -3, you get even money on Minnesota, and instead it's +3, -120 for Arizona. While the underdog looks to have value at +3, it's not as attractive as you have to lay $120 to win $100. Vegas is begging you to take the Vikings as 3-point favorites.

Leonard says he lost on Minnesota for the last two weeks. While the natural reaction for burned bettors would be to hate on the team that has gone against them, he still thinks there is value on Minnesota now.

"I want no part of Arizona on the road," Leonard says. "At 2.5 points, you're basically asking Arizona to win straight up. Yes, this game is important for both teams since San Francisco is off to a hot start and the NFC North has two undefeated teams. I like Minnesota, but I honestly think I'm going to stay away from this one. From a strict value side, I think Minnesota is the right side even though both sides aren't to be trusted."

The Pick: Vikings -3. It's not often you get a home-team favored by 3 points at even money. To be sure, Minnesota has burned me this season and I really hate the prospect of taking them again, but when you're giving only 3 points at +100, the value opportunity is too hard to pass up. Vikings win by at least 4 points.

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-5)

This is a big, big week for the Detroit Lions. The team is 4-0 for the first time since I was born 31 years ago. They're hosting a bitter division opponent in the first Monday night game at the Lions' new home, Ford Field.

On this big stage, can the Lions continue their run of amazing luck? You have a Detroit team that has managed to stay undefeated because of amazing comeback wins against the Vikings and Dallas. One has to believe their luck will eventually run out.

That probably won't be this week, though. The Lions are good, but matchup advantages against Chicago have Bessire's Predictalator signaling a possible blowout in favor of Detroit.

"The biggest knock on the Lions is that they are one-dimensional, ranking 31st in rushing and 25th against the run," Bessire says. "Well guess what? The Lions are facing a team about as one-dimensional as they are and with far less overall ability. The Bears throw the ball 64% of the time, yet rank just 16th in passing efficiency offensively. The Bears under offensive coordinator Mike Martz love to pass, but that will not work against the Lions."

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton opened this game on Oct. 2 as Detroit -6. The line briefly moved to -6.5 and has been steadily falling since to -5 where it currently sits. Given that this game is on Monday night, Pregame.com's Leonard speculates the line could fall to -4.5 sometime during the weekend as more bets come in.

"At the sharper books, you can get even money playing Detroit -5, which means they're going to move to -4.5," Leonard says. "Chicago can't protect their quarterback, and Detroit has probably the best front seven in the NFL. Chicago won't score many points against these defense. I hate to be on the same side as the general public, especially on a Monday night game, but I'll probably be on Detroit because you need to put up a lot of points on Detroit."

The Pick: Lions -5. In 12 of the last 13 games, the Lions have covered the spread. They've been the most consistent pick for bettors dating back to a year ago. Does that guarantee future success? No, but I'm with Leonard on this. Cutler will be on his back a lot because of Detroit's defense, and the Lions offense will simple be too much for Chicago's defense to handle. I would guess the Lions can win this game by 10 or 11 points, easy.

New York Jets at New England Patriots (-9)

Picking against my hometown New England Patriots is never fun. Picking against them in favor of the Jets is an even worse proposition.

There is so much on the side of the Patriots this week. They're at home, they're playing a Jets team that is sliding after two consecutive road losses. The Jets are now on their third straight game away from home, and they're going up against a Patriots team looking to avenge the horrible loss in the playoffs earlier this year.

I would say that the Patriots would be the best pick based on the revenge factor, but that's what Vegas wants you to think. New England is one of the most public teams in the NFL, which is why this line has gone higher and could continue to climb still.

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton opened this game on Oct. 2 with the Patriots as 8.5-favorites. The line fell as low as 6.5 points before Sunday night, but rebounded as high as 9.5 points after the Jets' woeful performance against the Ravens late Sunday. Vegas now has the Jets as 9-point underdogs.

"As I stated last season in the playoffs, the New York Jets do not deserve to be nine point underdogs against anyone in the NFL," Bessire says. "Even though they lost by double-digits last week, this team is not that different than last season. And neither are the Patriots."

Some other interesting notes on this big rivalry game: Vegas is looking for a fairly high scoring game, with the over/under line at 49, the second highest of the week. Most attractive, though, is the Jets at +350 on the money line. If you think the Jets can win in a third-straight road game against a rival looking for revenge, that's quite a payoff.

The Pick: Jets -9. I was wrong last year in picking the Patriots as a double-digit favorite in the playoffs. I can't believe that the Jets would put up three lackluster games in a row. Sure, they may lose, but by 9 points? I don't see it happening, especially against a Patriots defense that Mark Sanchez could have success throwing against, especially with Patriots defensive player Jerod Mayo out for this game.

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)

The surprisingly strong team against the surprisingly weak team.

I'm personally shocked that the Steelers are favored by so much, even at home. Yes, they're coming off of two straight lackluster performances on the road to play in the comfortable confines of Heinz Field. They're also getting the Titans, who are traveling for the second straight week.

However, even though the Titans offense is weaker now without wide receiver Kenny Britt, the Steelers are plagued for a second straight season with injuries to crucial players. I'm exaggerating, but I feel like there have been at least 25 different players on the Steelers offensive line already this season.

Speaking of injuries, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play at full strength in Bessire's Predictalator simulations of this game, yet the Titans still win outright to pull off the upset more often than not.

"The Titans should be able to grind out another victory," Bessire says. "Quite simply, Tennessee should have success this weekend playing with toughness, smarts and physicality on the road against the team that has staked its reputation on those characteristics for forty years."

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton opened their line on Oct. 3 with Pittsburgh as 8-point favorites. Given Roethlisberger's injury, the game was taken off the board and returned on Oct. 5 with the Steelers favored by only 3.5 points. The line has now dwindled to only 3 points, reflecting the little faith early bettors have in the Steelers, their QB, and their offensive line. Several Vegas books, though, still have Pittsburgh favored by 3.5 points at even money, whereas the Hilton has the Titans at +3, +100.

The Pick: Tennessee -3.5. I'm calling for another upset here. I think the Titans not only win, but win convincingly by about a touchdown. The Steelers are showing their age, and I don't think they can stop a rejuvenated Matt Hasselbeck and Chris Johnson, who looks to be warming up as each week goes on.

Although I've given my five picks against the spread for Week 5, I thought I'd also add in my selections for the other games this week. I won't include these in my overall record, but instead I'm just merely adding them as a bonus. Again, please leave your comments below with your picks this week and why. Have a great weekend.

  • BILLS +3 over Eagles
  • Chiefs +2 over COLTS
  • Seahawks +10 over GIANTS
  • Saints -7 over PANTHERS
  • Raiders +6 over TEXANS
  • Buccaneers +2.5 over 49ERS
  • Chargers -4 over BRONCOS
  • Packers -6 over FALCONS

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Robert Holmes.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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