Three weeks of NFL games is not a terribly meaningful sample size. According to US Bets’ staff statistician, however, it is 50% larger than two weeks of NFL games.
And when a three-week sample size confirms something we already believed to be generally true, it becomes a reasonable basis upon which to risk some sports gambling dollars.
Conventional wisdom says that quarterbacks are not to be trusted if they get to start games during their rookie season, and 2021 is offering us confirmation, as rookie starting QBs, when not playing against other rookie starting QBs (in other words, throw out Mac Jones and the Patriots’ Week 2 win over Zach “Which Team Am I Supposed To Be Throwing To Again?” Wilson and the Jets), are 0-9 against the spread. In Week 3, Davis Mills and Justin Fields both struggled to get anything going as they fell to 0-1 ATS, while Jones and Wilson dropped to 0-2 in games not against each other and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence dipped to 0-3 ATS.
Justin Herbert, looking like an All-Pro as he led the Chargers to a 9-7 ATS record and a 7-9 actual record, was an outlier last year. Russell Wilson in 2012 was an outlier. Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 — asked to do as little as possible — was an outlier. Same with Dan Marino in ’83. There are exceptions, clearly — if you’re a future Hall of Famer. (Too soon to tell with Herbert, of course, but he looks like an all-timer if he stays healthy.)
But most of the time, rookie QBs — even those who will become elite in a year or two — get their butts handed to them. Five rookies are set to start this week. Four of them are underdogs of at least a touchdown. The fifth is at home against the Detroit Lions.
Let’s take an early look at the lines and assorted wagering odds and ends for Week 4 while we think long and hard before backing any of those rookies.
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 4:
- Jaguars at Bengals (-7.5)
- Washington (-1.5) at Falcons
- Texans at Bills (-16.5)
- Lions at Bears (-3.5)
- Panthers at Cowboys (-5)
- Colts at Dolphins (-2)
- Browns (-2.5) at Vikings
- Giants at Saints (-8)
- Titans (-7.5) at Jets
- Chiefs (-7.5) at Eagles
- Cardinals at Rams (-6)
- Seahawks at 49ers (-3)
- Ravens at Broncos (-1.5)
- Steelers at Packers (-7)
- Buccaneers (-7) at Patriots
- Raiders at Chargers (-4)
Line move to watch
There are plenty of injury situations to monitor that could shift lines: Herbert is officially listed as questionable, so is Fields (Nick Foles sighting perhaps?), so is Dalvin Cook (though the downgrade to Alexander Mattison is modest), etc.
But keep an eye on Carolina at Dallas. The Cowboys were -4.5 at most books on Monday and, after thrashing the Eagles, have only trickled up a half-point so far. But between public money on “America’s team,” the lingering glow of their performance Monday night (not to mention the victory over the Chargers the week before and near miss against the Bucs in Week 1), and creeping doubts about a Carolina team without Christian McCaffrey, you have to expect the number to climb. You can still get the Cowboys at -4.5 at FanDuel as of Tuesday morning (with -115 juice), opening up a nice middle possibility if this line gets as high as -6.5.
Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider
Bronze medal: Detroit Lions +135 (BetMGM) at Chicago Bears. We liked this one more when it was +155 on Monday. Honestly, +135 barely counts as an underdog bet, and you’re getting better value on Detroit +3.5 points than wagering on them to win at that number. Still, the frisky Lions are due to get off the schneid one of these weeks, and a divisional rivalry game against a rookie QB (if Fields gets the start) is as good a spot as any.
Silver medal: New York Giants +320 (Caesars) at New Orleans Saints. Do we really believe the Giants will win this one? Of course not. But more than 3/1 on any team against Jameis Winston, who bounces between extremes on the competence scale from week to week, has automatic value.
Gold medal: Arizona Cardinals +230 (Caesars) at L.A. Rams. I know the Rams are the better team. You know the Rams are the better team. But they’re coming off an emotional win against the defending champs, they’re now the NFC team everybody believes in, and we all know how that goes. Don’t think of it as betting on Kliff Kingsbury to outcoach Sean McVay (because you’d probably need +5000 odds to consider something like that). Think of it as betting on Kyler Murray to have the game of his life. Hail Murray, Part Deux, anyone?
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:
- Bengals: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 on Thursday against Urban Meyer’s winless Jags.
- Bills: Can tease down to -10.5 or -9.5 vs. the Texans, but we only recommend including this one if you’re going the full 7 points and getting on the safer side of -10.
- Saints: Can tease down to -2 or -1 vs. the bumbling (but, per above, possibly moneyline-able) Giants.
- Titans: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 at the perpetually fade-worthy Jets.
- Chiefs: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 at Andy Reid’s former team, the Eagles.
- Rams: Can tease down to pick’em or the not-so-recommended +1 against the (again, see above) kinda dangerous Cardinals.
- Packers: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em against frozen-in-carbonite Big Ben and the Steelers.
- Bucs: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em at Tom Brady’s old stomping grounds against the Pats.
Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. Do whatcha want, but any threesome among Packers-Titans-Bengals-Chiefs sure feels to us like a fine combo.
Most Valuable MVP bet
Here’s what we’re looking for in an MVP option: a quarterback (duh) who plays for a team that can win at least 12 games and might even be the top seed in its conference.
We’re still not feeling it on Derek Carr (+2800 at FOX Bet) or Murray (+850 at FanDuel) because of what a longshot the latter factor is for both. Instead, the best value at the moment looks like Josh Allen, who’s +1000 at FOX Bet and DraftKings. Also intriguing: Dak Prescott, who’s +1800 at DK and might just lead his team to a 6-0 record against the NFC East.
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: Our gold-medal moneyline underdog pick was the Bengals over the Steelers at +198. (Let’s ignore our silver-medal and bronze-medal options.)
Last week’s worst call: We can blame bad luck, but the over on McCaffrey’s receiving yards failed spectacularly due to injury — and it serves as a reminder to never go too big on a single player prop over.
Bad Beat of the Week
We’re giving this shoulder-to-cry-on award to anyone who had over 54.5 in Chargers-Chiefs. The Chargers scored late to make it 30-24. Then Tristan Vizcaino missed the extra point — his second missed PAT of the game. That was brutal enough, but then the Chiefs quickly got to midfield and you assumed Patrick Mahomes would do Patrick Mahomes things, and he somehow missed on three deep passes.
We’ll give an honorable mention to anyone who had the Raiders at -3.5 or -4. (My Gamble On podcast co-host John Brennan, who did indeed have the Raiders against the spread, would never forgive me if I didn’t acknowledge his pain over the Dolphins’ unlikely late rally to force OT.)
And then let’s pour one out for this brutal L, which is more of a “heartbreaking near miss” than a true bad beat, but still worth sharing:
So. Much. Pain.
If you need me I’ll be hanging in my closet. pic.twitter.com/FCRoZq6tri
— Joey Knish (@JoeyKnish22) September 26, 2021
If you’re Joey Knish, how do you resist the urge to rewatch every play of each game and see how many times the referees’ spotting of the ball gave Derrick Henry an extra yard or took a yard away from Mattison?
- Let’s give the usual disclaimer that lines vary and there is no official statistic with regard to underdogs’ record against the spread because there is no singular spread with which to measure … then tell you that according to at least one way of tracking, ’dogs are covering 62.5% of the time through three weeks.
- In theory, this is a fun prop to root for, courtesy of DraftKings: Mahomes and Jalen Hurts to combine for over 699.5 passing and rushing yards, paying at +105. But you need to do your homework before blindly betting a “fun” prop. Mahomes is averaging 313 passing yards and 22 rushing yards, and Hurts is averaging 260 and 60. That puts them at 655 combined. And Eagles coach Nick Sirianni is getting rightly roasted for calling three, count ’em, three handoffs all game against Dallas. It’s only natural that he’ll look to feed Miles Sanders — who did average 13.5 yards on his two carries Monday night — more against the Chiefs. Bet this if you like, but don’t confuse an enjoyable bet to root for with an actual +EV betting opportunity.
- Remember those people who bet on the Chiefs to finish the season with the fewest wins in the entire league and we all laughed at the pyromaniacs lighting money on fire? Well, now that Kansas City is 1-2 and in last place in the AFC West … we’re still laughing. Sorry, still a horrible bet with no chance of cashing.
Photo: David Butler II/USA TODAY