On Sunday, I did that thing no self-respecting serious NFL bettor would ever do: I attended a live game. In the modern age, nothing limits your ability to sweat bets and DFS lineups and place in-game wagers more than watching one football game in person while eight other games are happening at the same time.
Fear not, though. I’m not a total weirdo. I made sure to spend a decent chunk of the game staring at my phone, refreshing box scores and whatnot, while life was happening all around me.
But, yeah, I did something I hadn’t done in about 20 years and attended a regular-season Philadelphia Eagles home game. My oldest friend was in from the West Coast and had an extra ticket and it was an excuse to hang out with him for the first time since COVID hit, so I sacrificed all the joys of Red Zone and all the comforts of my couch and watched some of the world’s greatest athletes running around right in front of me. And you know what? I had a great time. The weather was beautiful, the beverages were cold, and the TV timeouts were tolerable.
No, my Eagles didn’t beat the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, but that’s OK. The Birds are down four of five starting offensive linemen already — I thought they’d get to at least Week 6 before that happened — and it’s a lost season. The goal now is not to win games — it’s to mark time until the day they get to use their own 2022 draft pick and the Dolphins’ 2022 draft pick and maybe the Colts’ 2022 draft pick, and to find out between now and Game 17 whether one of those picks needs to be spent on a quarterback. (Spoiler: It does.)
I was at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday in part to be able to say I’d seen Patrick Mahomes play in person, and now I have, and he was frequently spectacular — although does it make me a sore loser if I note that I’m old enough to remember when forward laterals were illegal in football?
Instead of staring at screens all day in my living room, I stopped and smelled the roses, even if it was hard to pick up their scent over the waft of Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries. In any case, sweating games 2021-style could wait one week.
Let’s take an early look at the lines and assorted wagering odds and ends for Week 5. By the time these games kick off, I expect to have returned to my natural vegetative Sunday state.
The consensus lines
Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the 16 games in Week 5:
- Rams (-2.5) at Seahawks
- Jets vs. Falcons (-3.5) in London
- Packers (-3.5) at Bengals
- Lions at Vikings (-8)
- Broncos at Steelers (-2.5)
- Dolphins at Buccaneers (-10.5)
- Saints (-2) at Washington
- Eagles at Panthers (-4)
- Titans (-4) at Jaguars
- Patriots (-9.5) at Texans
- Bears at Raiders (-5.5)
- Browns at Chargers (-1)
- Giants at Cowboys (-7)
- 49ers at Cardinals (-5.5)
- Bills at Chiefs (-3)
- Colts at Ravens (-7)
Line move to watch
One of these lines has already undergone a significant swing, as the Browns on Monday morning were 1-point road favorites over the Chargers but the Chargers became 1-point faves after beating the Raiders on Monday Night Football.
The line to keep an eye on now is Denver at Pittsburgh. Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater exited Sunday’s loss to the Ravens in the second quarter with a concussion, and doubts about his availability in Week 5 already moved the Steelers from -1.5 on Monday to -2.5 Tuesday morning. It’s possible, but not likely, that “Teddy Covers” will clear the concussion protocol, and if he does, this line figures to move close to a pick’em.
Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider
Bronze medal: Colts +260 (FanDuel, Caesars) at Ravens. Carson Wentz’s Week 4 numbers vs. Miami: 24-32, 228 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, sacked twice. That’s not an All-Pro performance by any means, but it’s on the better end of the Wentz spectrum. If he can be closer to 2019 Wentz than 2020 Wentz most weeks, Indy is better than its 1-3 record suggests. The Ravens, who needed the longest field goal in NFL history to defeat Detroit two weeks ago, are worse than their 3-1 record suggests. For this moneyline to have value, you only need to believe there’s a 27.8% chance Indy wins. We say it has a dollop of value.
Silver medal: Jets +160 (Caesars) vs. Falcons in London. The combination of Zach Wilson starting to figure out this NFL quarterback thing, the Falcons being mediocre enough to go 1-2 so far against the NFC East without even having played Dallas yet, and neither team having home-field advantage makes any kind of plus money on the Jets mildly attractive.
Gold medal: 49ers +210 (FOX Bet, Caesars) at Cardinals. With these NFC West divisional games, you just have to figure every underdog is live and there’s value in buying low. Arizona is coming off a huge win over the Rams, and the Niners stumbled against Seattle. Nobody should be priced at more than 2/1 in this matchup, but because of the power of short memories, San Francisco is.
Textbook teaser candidates
Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:
- Vikings: Can tease down to -2 or -1 against the high-draft-pick-bound Lions.
- Bucs: Can tease down to -4.5 or -3.5 against the DeShaun-Watson-tire-kicking Dolphins.
- Patriots: Can tease down to -3.5 or -2.5 at the DeShaun-Watson-shopping Texans.
- Cowboys: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em hosting Jason Garrett and the Giants.
- Ravens: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em against the glad-to-be-in-the-AFC-South Colts.
Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. For what it’s worth, we’re not overly comfortable with the Ravens (see the previous section of this article), while the Bucs should be fine even though we’re not getting across 3. But this isn’t the best week for teasers. You might want to limit your exposure and just pick your two faves among the five at a lower return.
Most Valuable MVP bet
Hopefully you jumped on last week’s pick, Josh Allen, at +1000, as the best price you’ll find on him now is +650. Our runner-up recommendation was Dak Prescott, who was +1800 a week ago and sits at +1000 now.
Both are still reasonable bets, but the best value has probably swung back to Tom Brady, who’s a tempting +1200 at FanDuel (and +800 at most other books). Look at the Bucs’ remaining schedule; if they stay healthy, they should finish around 14-3. And their 44-year-old quarterback is currently second in the league in passing yards.
If you’re in the market for an extreme longshot, what if those surprising 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals manage to win the NFC North? Joe Burrow’s stats are nothing great yet, but the sophomore slinger is improving week to week and figures to keep doing so. His MVP price: 100/1 at almost every sportsbook.
How did we do last week?
This column is not really about betting advice — it’s more an overview of the NFL week ahead and a collection of ideas to think about — but we may as well have some accountability. So …
Last week’s best call: Both our gold medal moneyline underdog pick (Cards +230 at Rams) and our silver medal pick (Giants +320 at Saints) got there. Not too shabby.
Last week’s worst call: We crunched a few numbers and concluded that Mahomes and Jalen Hurts to combine for over 699.5 passing and rushing yards at +105 wasn’t +EV. They finished at 738. But the over only got there after a long TD drive by the Eagles in the final three minutes of a 19-point game, a.k.a. garbage time. As “worst calls” go, it wasn’t so bad — but it still cost you potential winnings if you followed our advice.
Bad Beat of the Week
There weren’t any especially atrocious beats in the NFL. So instead, this week’s award goes to everyone who was planning to spend their Monday using Facebook to finish up their personal COVID vaccine research.
- For the first time this season, you didn’t come out ahead if you bet every underdog against the spread. But you didn’t come out much behind either, as the ‘dogs went 8-8 in Week 4.
- If you believe the Chiefs are going to beat the Bills at home in Week 5’s marquee game, this is ideal timing to bet on Kansas City to win the AFC West. (They’re as low at -110 at FanDuel.) On the other hand, if you believe the Bills are going to triumph this Sunday night, grab the Chargers now to win the division, at a puffed-up +375 at Caesars Sportsbook.
- Similarly, this is a good time to stake out a position on the stacked NFC West if you have a strong feeling on the Cards-Niners and Rams-Seahawks games. The best division-winning prices on each team: Cardinals +180 at Betfred, Rams +190 at FanDuel, Seahawks +475 at Caesars, and 49ers +600 at BetMGM.
- Who’da thunk before the season that the Cardinals would be the last undefeated team? And that this particular race would be decided by the end of Week 4? Five teams entered this past week’s slate undefeated, but the Panthers, Broncos, Rams, and Raiders all fell, leaving Arizona as the only team with a zero in the loss column. More predictably, the Jaguars and Lions are the last two teams remaining in the 0-17 sweepstakes.
- A parlay of the Bills to win the AFC East, the Titans to win the AFC South, the Packers to win the NFC North, the Bucs to win the NFC South, and the Cowboys to win the NFC East pays +246 at FanDuel. Which team screws that one up?
Photo: Denny Medley/USA TODAY