BOSTON (TheStreet) -- I'm not going to lie: Week 6 looks like the toughest week for picking NFL games against the spread. Those hunting for value have a tough slate of games in which to find it this week.Through five weeks, my record against the spread is 10-14 with one tie. After a woeful start with 1-4 records in my first two weeks, I'm happy that the ship is turning around. After all, this NFL regular season is a 17-week marathon, not a sprint. I won last week by picking the undefeated Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. I lost on my pick of the Tennessee Titans, and my pick of New York Jets +9 tied, although some lucky bettors would have won with Jets +9.5.
|Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers|
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (-3)Minnesota won big last week to get their first victory of the season, while Chicago's good luck seems to be reversing this year as this team is 2-3 after a bad game against a division rival on national television. Bettors have to decide, though, whether the Vikings are getting too much credit after last week's victory over the lowly Arizona Cardinals. Where the line currently stands now, Vegas is essentially saying these two teams are evenly matched if this game were to be played on a neutral field. According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton opened this game on Oct. 9 with Chicago as -3.5 favorites at home. That line has moved down to -3. What's interesting is that Chicago was -110 as 3.5-point favorites but now the wager is +105 to take Chicago as 3-point favorites. Clearly, Vegas is looking for bets on Chicago from the public. Even with the Vikings' tough defensive line, PredictionMachine.com's Bessire says his model has this game as 50/50, or basically a coin flip, making it hard to be comfortable against a 3-point line that favors the home team. "It all comes down to running the ball and stopping the run," Bessire says. "Chicago is really incapable of sustaining a passing game because of that offensive line. They struggle with the run and they're pretty one-dimensional, even considering that one monster game Matt Forte had. For a team that has given up big double-digit leads, Minnesota is actually a lot more consistent at running the ball and stopping the run." Leonard says he initially thought this would be a good spot to pick Minnesota as Chicago is coming off a tough loss on Monday Night Football, giving the Bears one less day to prepare. "The more I thought about it, I'm not going to go against Chicago," he says. "In handicapping Monday night games, whoever looks bad is going to be deflated the following week." Leonard now says it's obvious Cutler won't be protected by his offensive line, which means giving 3 points at home in a division game isn't that much. "If this gets down to -2.5, I think there's a little value on Chicago. But at 3 points, there's no value on either side." The Pick: Vikings +3. Given that this game is at Soldier Field, I'm more comfortable with +3 than +2.5, as there is some cushion for a push. I hate the idea of laying points on a team coming off a Monday night game, even if they are at home. The Bears have been wildly unimpressive. After the Vikings lost to Chicago twice last season, Minnesota is looking to build on their win last week with some revenge. I like the Vikings in an upset win.
Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots (-7)I can't really pick against my beloved Patriots twice in as many weeks, can I? Actually, I can and I will! Make no mistake: I believe the Patriots win this game. However, a victory by more than a touchdown is highly unlikely. That's because Dallas, coming off a bye week, is probably the most well-rounded team the Patriots have played so far this season. Football Outsiders generates a statistic called DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) to measure performance of teams better than any other statistic. Think of it as the football equivalent of the VORP statistic that baseball numbers guys use to look at the value over a replacement player. Dallas' defense ranks 8th in DVOA, while New England's defense ranks near the bottom of the NFL at 27th. Out of all of New England's opponents so far this season, only the Jets rank higher than Dallas on defense. What could be the difference is Dallas' offense. We've all seen how the Patriots' pass rush is almost nonexistent. Football Outsiders ranks Dallas' pass offense 10th in the league according to DVOA, the highest ranked offense the Patriots have faced so far other than Buffalo. And we all know how that game against the Bills ended. According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted this game on Oct. 9 with the Patriots favored by a touchdown and that has held constant this entire week. The Cowboys and the Patriots are perhaps the two teams that see the most public bets, so it's hard to forecast where this line moves heading into the weekend with more bets coming in. Bessire says that if this game were in Dallas, the Cowboys would probably be favored at home over New England. "The Cowboys' defense is much improved and has shown success getting to the quarterback, while Dallas should be much improved offensively coming out of the bye week with Miles Austin and others healthy," Bessire says. "For the Cowboys, this comes down to health," Bessire adds. "Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have been banged up and are great weapons for the team. They should all be at full strength this week, and we have to anticipate this will be the best we've seen the Cowboys so far this year. Going into New England won't be too easy, but it should be a shootout and a pretty even game." Leonard says that Dallas is his top play this week. "You have a New England team that just played a big rival last week," he says. "Even the Boston sportswriters were saying it was the best mood they've seen Bill Belichick in. It was a huge game for them. So this extremely happy team that just beat their biggest rival has to play against a team coming off a bye week with everyone healthy. New England's defense is so pitiful that you can't lay these kind of numbers with them. That -7 won't be there by game day." The Pick: Cowboys +7. The Cowboys' record of 2-2 doesn't reflect the team's ability. Dallas has a point differential per game of only a half-point. This is a very good team, perhaps the best the Patriots will see all season. What has doomed the Dallas team has been allowing a total of three touchdowns to opposing defenses and special teams in two losses. Without those, this team is easily 4-0 coming off the bye week in good health.
St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers (-14.5)My numbers have the Packers trouncing the Rams by nearly 20 points. So why am I leaning towards taking the points with St. Louis? The Packers are the best team in the NFL, which is why Vegas has given Green Bay the highest odds of becoming Super Bowl Champions again. What should scare teams is that, after a slow start in Week 1 where they could have easily lost to the Saints to open the NFL season, the Packers have built up a head of steam and have shown they can blow out teams much better than the St. Louis Rams. On the other hand, straight ahead numbers don't take into account motivation of teams. That, unfortunately, requires a lot of guesswork on the part of bettors. Will the Rams be motivated to take down the champs after they have had two weeks to prepare for Green Bay? Will Green Bay, coming off a big comeback win in a repeat of last season's playoff game with Atlanta, be able to get up again this week to win by more than two touchdowns? According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted this game on Oct. 10 with the Rams as 14.5-point underdogs even after the team's week off. After a very brief dip to 14 points, this line moved back up to -14.5 in favor of the Packers. Some sports books, however, have this line as high as 15.5 points, the biggest line so far this season. "If you talk about expectations, which is what we specialize in, the Packers should beat the Rams by about 17 points," Bessire says. "It's not a strong opinion in general, as they cover that spread 55% of the time, but the Packers should pull it off. But I start to get concerned about the motivation of NFL teams when the line is about 14.5 points, which you rarely see that high. It's hard to be confident and comfortable a team will not take their foot off the gas." Pregame.com's Leonard provides us with the stat of the week involving this game. "Winless teams coming off of a bye week are 22-3 against the spread," he says. "So that applies to both St. Louis and Miami this week. Every parlay card this week will have Green Bay, and all the wiseguys will be holding their noses taking St. Louis." With Green Bay coming off the Sunday night win in a rematch from the postseason and the Vikings next week, the Packers players probably aren't motivated to blowout this Rams team, Leonard adds. "For two weeks, St. Louis has heard about how bad they are. They have the motivation to go out there and try to prove that wrong. Plus, I never want to be on the same side as the public. You just don't want to lay double-digits in the NFL." The Pick: Rams +14.5. Count me among those holding their noses as I take the Rams. But so far this season, the Rams average 81 yards in penalties against them. They've allowed nearly one touchdown per game to opposing defenses and special teams, and their defense simply cannot stop the run. I have to believe, with two weeks off, they've improved enough in all of these categories. They'll lose, but the Rams keep it closer than more than two scores.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-4)Speaking of holding your nose, here come the Atlanta Falcons! Holy cow, this is a bad team. The consensus going into this season was that the Falcons were lucky last year and that they would regress after their 13-win season, much like the Bears. So far, we've seen that view proven right, and with more disastrous results for the Falcons. Despite having two wins, the Falcons have a point differential per game of -5.2. The Panthers, with only one win this season, has a point differential of only -3.2. However, Vegas still believes the Falcons are a better team. Personally, when I guessed the line to this game, I figured Vegas would have the Falcons as 2.5-point favorites, with the public overreacting to the miserable loss to the Packers on Sunday night. To my surprise, that hasn't been the case. According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted this game on Oct. 10 with Atlanta favored by 5 points. That line has slowly moved down to -4, with a brief trip to -3.5 on Oct. 11. However, don't be fooled by the fact that Vegas linesmakers are burning through dead numbers. "Carolina is the right side, but the problem is that the line opened around 6 points in some places and now it's about 4 points," Leonard says. "It's basically where it should be. Atlanta isn't as good as the team was in the past, but you also have to remember this is a Carolina team that used to get between 7 points to 10 points when these two teams played." Bessire says his Prediction Machine puts this game as close as it gets to an upset pick without actually expecting an upset, as Atlanta is predicted to win 50.3% of the time. Bessire agrees that Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton are the real deal on offense, which is bad news for a Falcons team that has shown a propensity recently to give up big plays in the passing game. "With the way the NFL works these days, the pass sets up the run," Bessire says. "Carolina is vastly improved year-over-year because of the improvement at the quarterback position. Their offense is capable of keeping them in games at all times. Atlanta has been notably better at home during Matt Ryan's career, but we would still expect this Falcons to be underdogs on the road at Carolina." The Pick: Panthers +4. The Panthers may only have one win, but Carolina is 4-0 with one tie. The public hasn't yet caught onto the fact that Cam Newton has lead the Carolina offense and can keep games close. The Panthers aren't a great team yet, but they're looking better and they're fun to watch. They keep this game close against Atlanta. Hey, if Seattle can come within a field goal of beating Atlanta, the Panthers have a chance.
Buffalo Bills at New York Giants (-3.5)Thank you, New York Giants. Hypothetically speaking, if you're in a survival pool and you didn't take the Giants to win last week, you're probably very happy right now. Various reports have somewhere near 70% of survival pool participants booted last week after the Giants lost to the Seattle Seahawks despite being 9.5-point favorites at home. While people still in these pools are cheering the early exit by so many participants, Vegas bettors who don't think much of the Giants are cursing the performance. If the Giants had taken care of business in Week 5 against Seattle, you can be sure this line would be higher than it is. If you believe like I do that the Giants are not a good team, it's unfortunate that the loss to Seattle has exposed them as not being very good to the public at large. According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton posted the Giants as 3.5-point favorites on Oct. 9, exactly where the line is now. For a brief time, the moved to -4 in favor of the Giants, an indication perhaps that early bettors expected the public to come in on Buffalo. Still, given Buffalo's impressive 4-1 start and the Giants' lackluster start to the year, some argue this line still has value. Vegas may not be buying into an opportunistic Buffalo Bills team, but Bessire and his team at PredictionMachine.com are. He notes the Bills defense has eight interceptions through five games, a spectacular feat that makes the team look more lucky than good. However, Bessire argues there's more than luck to the success of the defense, which could feast on a mediocre Giants team this weekend. "The Giants are not better than average at anything," Bessire says. "Brandon Jacobs is banged up and Ahmad Bradshaw is clearly regressing as he takes on more of the workload. They don't have an offense that is explosive enough to win by more than 3 points at home over anyone, let alone a Buffalo team with the ability to control the tempo of the game and bash teams with big plays from Fred Jackson." Pregame's Leonard says the Tuesday Group of handicappers was split over which team is better. "If they're equal, the line should be 3 points," Leonard says. "Linesmakers have moved off the key number to 3.5 points, so I think there is value in Buffalo. It's a close situation. You have a Buffalo team that could win the turnover battle. The Giants, remember, haven't played anyone good. Buffalo is the better team." The Pick: Bills +3.5. Honestly, I don't love the idea of constantly riding the Bills. That already cost me a few weeks ago when I took the Bills to cover the spread against the Bengals. However, the Bills have done a great job at running the ball and the defense has forced so many turnovers. With what I saw from the Giants last week against a terrible Seahawks team, they're the perfect target for the Bills to get to 5 wins. I'm taking the points, especially with the attractiveness of the hook.
- BENGALS -7 over Colts
- LIONS -4 over 49ers
- Eagles -1.5 over Redskins
- RAIDERS -6.5 over Browns
- Saints -4.5 over Buccaneers
- JETS -7 over Dolphins
- STEELERS -12 over Jaguars
- RAVENS -7 over Texans