The Kansas City Chiefs are in last place. They’re below .500. They have a negative point differential.
They are not the betting favorites to win the Super Bowl — they aren’t even the favorites to win the AFC. They’re only co-favorites to win the AFC West.
And their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, has thrown as many interceptions through five weeks (six) as he threw the entire 2020 regular season and one more than he coughed up the whole 2019 season.
All of which serves as a reminder that sports are unscripted entertainment and anything can happen. There are no sure things, no matter what your local pick-slinging tout might tell you. ‘Round here, the term “prohibitive favorite” is prohibited.
The Chiefs seemed destined for a dynasty after they won the Super Bowl in February 2020. They spent all of the next season marching toward an assumed repeat, favored to win the championship from wire to wire, from the preseason right up until sometime in the second quarter of the Super Bowl.
Then they opened the 2021 season as clear favorites again, partially because the world was operating under the assumption that they would have beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the title game if not for a multitude of offensive line injuries. Through five weeks of this NFL campaign, that assumption has been severely challenged. The Kansas City defense is a real problem. No team in the entire league has given up more points through five games than the 163 that K.C. has allowed.
You have to be careful with overwhelming championship favorites that offer modest returns. The Nets and Lakers were both short-money options when the last NBA playoffs began, but all it takes is an injury or a toe on a line to make for a lousy investment. The defending champion L.A. Dodgers have returned short money all MLB season, and now, as we write this on Tuesday morning, they sit on the brink of elimination after failing to push a single run across Monday night.
And how are bettors feeling who put money on the Alabama Crimson Tide to win it all at barely better than even money?
Bottom line: Beware that team that’s around +200 or +300 to win any title with a whole season to play and 30 or so other teams to beat.
Right now, though, the NFL doesn’t have such a team. The Chiefs’ early stumbles mean the favorites — currently the Bucs and the Bills — still return +600.
Is there value on one of them? Or on the sub-.500 Chiefs at +750? It’s a long season. We still have 13 weeks, plus the playoffs, to figure it out.
Let’s take an early look at the lines and assorted wagering odds and ends for Week 6:
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 14 games in Week 6 (with the Falcons, Saints, Jets, and 49ers all off during the league’s first bye week of the season):
- Buccaneers (-7) at Eagles
- Dolphins (-3.5) at Jaguars in London
- Packers (-4.5) at Bears
- Bengals (-3) at Lions
- Texans at Colts (-10.5)
- Rams (-10.5) at Giants
- Chiefs (-7) at Washington
- Vikings at Panthers (-1.5)
- Chargers at Ravens (-3)
- Cardinals at Browns (-3)
- Raiders at Broncos (-3.5)
- Cowboys (-4.5) at Patriots
- Seahawks at Steelers (-5)
- Bills (-5.5) at Titans
Line move to watch
Monday night is nearly a week away, giving the Buffalo-Tennessee line a lot of time to keep drifting. The Bills opened as 4.5-point favorites, and by Tuesday morning they were 5.5 at most books (though still -4.5, -115 at FanDuel). Everybody believes in the Bills right now. After a semi-fluky Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh, they outscored their next three opponents 118-21 and then trounced the Chiefs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see bettors keep talking themselves into the Bills until this one hits -6.5 — opening up a nice middle if you got in on Buffalo early.
Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider
Bronze medal: Texans +425 (Caesars) at Colts. We considered giving this third spot on the podium to the Jags at +170 (we’re not sure anyone should be +170 against the Dolphins on a neutral field), the Cardinals at +130 (they’re undefeated and plus-money), or the Seahawks at +185 (almost a big enough number to take a swing on Geno Smith). But they’re edged out by the massive return on the Texans. Sure, Houston is a bottom-of-the-barrel team rolling out a backup rookie QB. But the Texans got a taste of success in nearly upsetting the Pats on Sunday. And Indy is coming off a short week and a devastating collapse against the Ravens that might have sucked all the will to win out of them.
— FOX Bet Sportsbook (@FOXBet) October 12, 2021
Silver medal: Raiders +165 (DraftKings, Kambi books) at Broncos. Jon Gruden’s sudden resignation can go one of two ways. It can death-spiral the Raiders, who’ve gone from 3-0 to 3-2 and could wake up in a few weeks totally out of the playoff hunt. Or it can galvanize them, as they lean into an old-school un-P.C. football locker room mentality and rally against whatever perceived “cancel culture” brought down their coach. Talent-wise, they’re competitively matched against a Broncos team that has also followed a 3-0 start with two straight losses.
Gold medal: Chargers +144 (FanDuel) at Ravens. Hopefully, you jumped on this when it opened at +160. But +144 is still a good return. The Ravens will be coming off a physically and emotionally draining short week. Justin Herbert is the real deal and the Chargers just might be also. This is a great game on paper and a great opportunity to get plus-money on what we see as the slightly superior team.
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:
- Bucs: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em on Thursday night in Philly.
- Colts: Can tease down to -4.5 over -3.5 at home against the Texans.
- Rams: Can tease down to -4.5 over -3.5 against the injury-ravaged Giants.
- Chiefs: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em against the Football Team.
Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. We’ll pass on the Colts for the reasons noted above in the moneyline underdogs section. But 6 points apiece with the Super Bowl contender triumvirate of the Bucs, Rams, and Chiefs against the NFC East’s second, third, and fourth-best teams (in some order) feels like a favorite to connect.
Most Valuable MVP bet
We gave you Josh Allen two weeks ago at +1000; he’s now the favorite at +450. We also gave you Dak Prescott two weeks ago at +1800; he’s now +800. We recommended Tom Brady last week at +1200; he’s now +800. There’s not much value in any of those guys anymore, nor in the relative short money on Kyler Murray (+550) or Herbert (+650).
So this is a week to maybe take a stab at a longer shot who has a chance of heating up. Mahomes is +2000 at BetMGM (+1400 to +1600 elsewhere). He’s still probably the best actual player in the league and his team is capable of going on a winning streak. If the Chiefs get to, say, 12-5 with a lousy defense, even if a couple of teams boast better records Mahomes will get more credit than other QBs for overcoming his team’s shortcomings. And remember, he’s only won one MVP award and that was three years ago, so the MVP voters won’t need their arms twisted to give him some love.
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: We were more or less correct to tell you to tease with caution last week, as the Vikings and Patriots might have screwed it up depending on exactly what line you got. But our more clearly defined piece of quality advice was when we pointed out that 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 paid +246 at FanDuel. All five teams won last week, some extended their division leads, and if you try to make that parlay bet now it only pays +160.
Of course, it only takes one team slipping to mess that up, so by the end of the season we might come back to this as a “worst call.” Speaking of which …
Last week’s worst call: For the first time this season, we struck out on our three “moneyline underdogs to consider.” The +210 49ers came close, and the +260 Colts came more than close, but alas, close only counts in made-for-TV golf exhibitions where those egomaniacs pick up anything within 5 feet of the cup and assume they would have drained it.
- Will the Titans’ Derrick Henry break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record? Jeff Edelstein has a worthwhile analysis on TN Bets of why there might sorta-kinda be some value there if you squint hard enough.
- The Jaguars and Lions are both winless, but neither team is winless against the spread. In fact, those heartbreaking, kneecap-biting Detroit Lions are 3-2 against the spread while failing to actually win any games. Nobody in the NFL is 0-5 ATS, but there is one team that’s 5-0 ATS: the Dallas Cowboys. Keep winning people money every week, and you have a legit reason to call yourself “America’s team.”
- The 3-2 Bears are +280 to make the playoffs? Looks tempting … until you check their schedule and see Packers and Bucs the next two weeks and then no sure things among the Niners, Steelers, and Ravens after that. If you have a strong feeling on who will prevail this week between the Panthers (+230 to make the playoffs) and Vikings (+225), that’s a better use of your will-make-the-playoffs money.
- Joe Burrow at +850 (BetMGM) for Comeback Player of the Year is intriguing. You probably need a Dak Prescott injury to make it viable, and nobody should be rooting for injuries, but still — that price on Burrow ain’t bad.
Photo: Denny Medley/USA TODAY