NFL After Week 5: Contenders, Surprises, X-Factors
Through five weeks of NFL, I have more questions than answers in NFL, though entering Monday Night I have been fortunate enough to go 13-4-1 my last 18 10* NFL selections. In an effort to sort all the NFL betting madness out, I thought it might be helpful to separate the league’s 32 teams into five different categories. Note that these are not my actual “Power Rankings.”
The Contenders: These are the teams I thought would be good and have lived up to advanced billing.
- Houston (4-0 SU/ATS) – Entering Monday night vs. the Jets, the Texans are the only team in the league to be perfect at the betting window. They also have a +70 point differential despite playing one less game than every team but three. Yet, save for a 31-25 win at Denver, they have beaten no one of consequence. Yet, they appear to be the one team in the league with no holes. They average 31.5 PPG on offense while leading the AFC in both scoring & total defense.
- Atlanta (5-0 SU/4-1 ATS) – The league’s other unbeaten team, we have seen this act before from the Falcons, who were the NFC’s top-seed two years. Yet Matt Ryan, like Matt Schaub in Houston, has exactly ZERO playoff wins. Also like the Texans, Atlanta is likely to run away with their division, which gives them an excellent shot at gaining home field advantage yet again. Since the playoff format was re-tooled in 1990, 34 of 38 5-0 teams have qualified.
- San Francisco (4-1 SU/4-1 ATS) – Many people want to call the 49ers the best team in the league, and while what looked like a bad loss at the time to the Vikings isn’t looking so bad now, I’m not inclined to agree. They have outscored their previous two opponents 79-3 and are 16-5-2 ATS (incl Playoffs) under head coach Jim Harbaugh, so maybe I should? Their 621 yards gained against the Bills were the 3rd most in a non-OT game since 1970! They have a huge revenge match with the Giants coming this Sunday.
- Baltimore (4-1 SU/2-3 ATS) – The Ravens’ were at their best in their season debut, destroying Cincinnati on a Monday night. But since that time, they’ve been involved in four close games, including back to back narrow victories over Cleveland and Kansas City, who have exactly one win between them. Yet they have tremendous home field advantage, going 31-5 straight up in the John Harbaugh era. Something will have to give this week vs. Dallas as Harbaugh is 6-0 ATS as home chalk of 3.5 to 7 pts while Cowboys’ coach Garrett is 6-0 ATS as a dog of 3.5 or more pts.
- New England (3-2 SU/4-1 ATS) – Though only 3-2, those two losses are by a combined three points to a pair of teams that are a combined 8-2 straight up. In a five-quarter stretch that spanned the second half of the Bills game to the first three quarters of the Broncos game, New England scored 76 points, which is frightening as is the fact the offense got off nearly 90 snaps vs. Denver, almost Oregonian, to make a NCAA reference. They have a tough spot at Seattle this week.
- Chicago (4-1 SU/4-1 ATS) – There was no letdown for the Bears off last Monday’s win in Dallas as they demolished Jacksonville 41-3, scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter. All four wins have been by 16 points or greater, but came against non-playoff teams from a year ago. Most astounding has been a defense which has accounted for FIVE touchdowns the last three games! That’s as many as the offense! The Bears are off in Week 6 before a division matchup with Detroit at home.
The X-Factors – These are teams that I think can be good, but have not been totally playing up to their ability.
- NY Giants (3-2 SU/2-2-1 ATS) – The Super Bowl Champs’ three victories have come against Tampa Bay, Carolina and Cleveland. Both losses came within the division. They play San Francisco this week, on the road. Troubling is the fact that they were actually down 14-0 to the Browns, though encouraging is the fact that RB Ahmad Bradshaw went for 200 yards.
- Philadelphia (3-2 SU/2-3 ATS) – Despite all the talent, it seems that the Eagles should feel lucky to have a winning record. Those three wins have come by a combined four points. QB Mike Vick has become a turnover machine with nine turnovers the last two seasons in the red zone. No other QB has more than five. Even more depressing for Eagles’ backers is the fact Philly is 6-14 ATS the last 20 times it has been favored. They are laying 6.5 points to a Detroit team that is off its bye this Sunday.
- Dallas (2-2 SU/1-3 ATS) – Let’s stick in the NFC East. Since opening the season with an upset of the Giants, this team has not looked very good, particularly in a Monday night loss to Chicago where Tony Romo threw five interceptions. They are an underdog off a bye week at Baltimore this week, and that’s a good thing considering their horrific 4-17-1 ATS mark as chalk.
- Seattle (3-2 SU/3-2 ATS) – The strongest home/road dichotomy in the league belongs to the Seahawks, who just picked up their first away win of the year at Carolina. They are 2-0 SU/ATS at home and this week host New England. The team is 14-5 ATS at home under Pete Carroll including 11-4 ATS as a dog. A streak in greater jeopardy against the Patriots, however, is their 5-0 Under mark this season. No Seattle game has seen more than 36 total points scored. Look for that to change.
- Pittsburgh (2-2 SU/1-3 ATS) – Prior to a non-cover vs. the Eagles on Sunday, the Steelers were on a 9-0 ATS run when coming off a loss. I’m still unsure how they lost that game to the Raiders two weeks ago, blowing a double-digit lead. They have a potential flat spot this Thursday at Tennessee and are 0 for their last 8 against the spread on the road on a natural surface. Could another streak be snapped?
- Cincinnati (3-2 SU/2-2-1 ATS) – Before Sunday’s outright loss to the Dolphins, the general rule with the Bengals was to go against them when matched up with a winning team, take them against a losing team. Last year, all nine wins came against non-playoff teams. All seven losses came to playoff teams, eight if you include the playoff loss to Houston. They’d stayed true to that form through the first four weeks this season. This week, they are at winless Cleveland, who they beat in Week 2, 34-27.
- San Diego (3-2 SU/3-2 ATS) – This still might be the best team in the bad AFC West. They were in a tough spot Sunday Night playing at the winless Saints, who were celebrating QB Drew Brees breaking a 50+ year old NFL record with the suspended brain trust watching from above. Both losses have come to the NFC South as they got blown out at home by Atlanta. They do have a pair of division road wins though and host AFC West rival Denver Monday night.
The Surprises – I didn’t expect these teams to be good, but they are better than expected
- Minnesota (4-1 SU/3-1-1 ATS) – Could the Vikings be “this year’s 49ers”? They seem to be built in similar fashion, and remember they beat San Francisco convincingly 24-13. After getting both touchdowns from the special teams in an upset of Detroit the following week, I didn’t expect them to play all that well vs. Tennessee Sunday, but they blew out the Titans 30-7. Despite an alarmingly low yards per pass attempt, QB Christian Ponder isn’t turning the ball over. The defense allows just 15.8 PPG.
- Arizona (4-1 SU/3-2 ATS) – The Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season Thursday at St. Louis. I actually view them as more of a mirage than Minnesota. They were lucky to get by Miami the week previous. Still, going back to last year they have won 11 of 14 games. Much of that damage has been at home where they have won eight straight. This Sunday they host a bad-looking Bills team.
- St. Louis (3-2 SU/4-1 ATS) – The Rams could easily be tied with the Niners and Cardinals a top the division had they not blown a lead in Week 1 at Detroit. They’ve played just one bad game, at Chicago in Week 3. But the news was not all good from last Thursday’s upset of Arizona as they lost WR Danny Amendola to injury. Did you know that all four NFC West teams are over .500? According to Elias, no other division has had all four teams above .500 in Week 5 since the AFC South in 2010.
- Miami (2-3 SU/3-2 ATS) – Two of the Dolphins losses have come in overtime. The other was to the unbeaten Texans. This teams reminds me somewhat of Cincinnati last season where preseason expectations could not have possibly been lower, paving the way for them to exceed those projections. They draw the Rams at home this week with a chance to even their record up at .500.
- Washington (2-3 SU/2-3 ATS) – I realize that it seems like a stretch to include the Redskins in this category, but like Cam Newton last year, Robert Griffin III has made a smooth transition from Heisman Trophy Winner to strong rookie year. After sustaining a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, RG3’s status is unknown for this week’s home date with Minnesota. A defense allowing 29.4 PPG is concerning. So too is the fact that the team has lost eight straight road games.
- Indianapolis (2-2 SU/2-2 ATS) – I thought coming into the year that the Colts could have a shot at 6-10 due to a favorable home schedule. So I was concerned when they lost outright at Jacksonville three weeks ago. But hats off to a stunning emotion-filled come from behind win over the Packers on Sunday. Still though, as we’ve seen with the Saints, it is not advantageous to be without your head coach for any significant stretch. Up next they do play the sorry Jets on a short week .
- Green Bay (2-3 SU/1-4 ATS) – Who would have ever thought it would take me this long to get to the Packers, the team who went 15-1 last regular season. But they are just 4-4 straight up the last eight games including the playoff loss to the Giants. They were clearly jobbed at Seattle in a game that lives in infamy, and you have to wonder if that costs them a playoff spot? They have opened as a 5.5-point underdog at Houston for a big Sunday Night clash next week. The offensive line stinks.
- Denver (2-3 SU/2-3 ATS) – Hmmm. Despite an upgrade from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos record isn’t all that better from last year. But alas, the schedule has been harder. If they can win at San Diego Monday night, they will be tied for first place in a bad division and will be fine.
- Buffalo (2-3 SU/2-3 ATS) – Many called this a possible playoff team before the year. They did start 2-1, but those wins came against Kansas City and Cleveland. Incredibly, the defense has already surrendered 45 or more points THREE times this season!
- Kansas City (1-4 SU/2-3 ATS) – Believe it or not, but many also considered the Chiefs as a dark horse in the AFC West before the season started. They are lucky not to be 0-5 considering their only victory was a big come from behind effort at New Orleans. Turnovers have killed this team as they have 19 through five games (at least 3 every week), and things could get really ugly after last week’s episode with fans cheering an injury to QB Matt Cassel.
- New Orleans (1-4 SU/2-3 ATS) – Safe to say now that the Saints have won a game and Drew Brees has his record, things are probably on the upswing. All four losses were by eight points or less.
- Detroit (1-3 SU/0-4 ATS) – The Lions are the only team to have not covered a single spread this season and quite frankly they are fortunate not to be 0-4 SU as they escaped late in the opener vs. St. Louis. Maybe a bye week can help fix things as they are at turnover-prone Philadelphia this week. Like the Saints, this is a playoff team from last season that certainly seems like it will be on the outside looking in this winter.
- NY Jets (2-2 SU/2-2 ATS) – Probably the “worst” 2-2 team in the league as they have lost their top playmaker on both sides of the ball and will probably be turning to Tim Tebow at quarterback sooner than later just to get the circus over with. It will be interesting to see how ugly things get Monday night vs. Houston.
- Tennessee (1-4 SU/1-4 ATS) – Had it not been for a wild OT win over the Lions, the Titans would be 0-5. All five of their touchdowns in that game came on plays of 60+ yards, a NFL record. I think there could be some value Thursday night though plus the points vs. Pittsburgh. All four of the Titans’ losses have come to teams that are in first place of their divisions, but then again all four losses came by at least three touchdowns.
- Carolina (1-4 SU/2-3 ATS) – It’s probably a good time for the Panthers to have their bye. Cam Newton appears to have been bitten by the proverbial “sophomore slump.”
The Bad – Teams I didn’t think would be very good, and aren’t.
- Tampa Bay (1-3 SU/2-1-1 ATS) – Since pulling off a minor upset of Carolina at home in Week 1, the Bucs have lost three straight, though all by seven points or less. Off a bye and hosting Kansas City this week, perhaps this team can start working its way up this list.
- Oakland (1-3 SU/1-3 ATS) – Still don’t understand how they upset the Steelers. They are off a bye this week, but at Atlanta, and this team is horrible in the Eastern Time Zone.
- Jacksonville (1-4 SU/1-3-1 ATS) – The Jags are off this week, which is good because things were downright ugly in a 41-3 home loss to the Bears. This could be the worst team in the league.
- Cleveland (0-5 SU/2-2-1 ATS) – The Browns are now the league’s only winless team. Yet they have been in almost every game. Before last week loss to the Giants, they had four losses by 10 pts or less and they led the G-Men 14-0 at the start.
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