Every week, I’ll dissect various narratives that affect NFL betting lines. This is vital, considering that most bettors digest these same narratives weekly. The betting public is more grandiose than ever. While that’s exciting, it also means sportsbooks can lure and fool action-junkies into taking a lousy wager based on repeated narratives purported by the media. My job is to ensure these narratives do not trick you.
Let’s get into some Week 5 narratives.
The Falcons (+9), Texans (+7), and Steelers (+14) are all big underdogs on the road in Week 5. None deserve to be undervalued as much as they are.
Underdogs have covered at a shockingly high rate of 59% so far this season. However, this week looms as a situation where favorites could reign.
The Steelers haven’t been as big of an underdog as this since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. The last time they were close? Super Bowl 30: they were 13.5 point underdogs to the Troy Aikman-led Dallas Cowboys, one of the greatest teams of all time. They covered but lost 27-17. Still, one has to believe that this scenario, where the Steelers are tremendously devalued by the market, could create a motivational opportunity for Pittsburgh. Kenny Pickett threw three interceptions last week, sure. However, two of them weren’t his fault, and he looked sharp in 10 completions. The Buffalo Bills are a potential juggernaut at home, no doubt. That’s a huge line for a Mike Tomlin-led team who loves to prove doubters wrong, though. The Steelers were 6.5-point underdogs on the road Week 1 last year against Buffalo. They won outright.
Just because I think all of these lines are correct doesn’t mean I think all of these underdogs can’t cover. The Falcons are 4-0 against the spread (ATS) so far this season, with recent wins on the road against Seattle and against a talented Browns team at home. They’re a top-10 offense in a ton of categories (you’ll read more about that, below). Their defense, although inferior on paper, plays with great effort. While all that is true, they could still get blown out this week in Tampa. Since Tom Brady became Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, the Bucs are 4-0 against Atlanta, and they’ve outscored the Falcons 153-96. Only one of those wins were by single digits.
The Texans-Jaguars story is a little different. The Jacksonville Jaguars have only been favored two times since the start of the 2020 regular season, and guess who they opposed in those two previous contests? The Houston Texans. Houston won both of those games outright, and by margin. Still, the Jaguars have looked much better than last year’s iteration through 4 games. Turnovers and sloppy weather resulted in a loss last week against one of the NFL’s best in the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Jaguars still nearly covered.
Jacksonville’s offensive line is protecting Trevor Lawrence (he’s only been sacked on 4.29% of their plays, good for 7th overall), and their defense has held opposing offenses to less than 17 points per game. They own a formidable rushing attack behind James Robinson, and their defense is inexperienced but talented and spry: Josh Allen and Travon Walker made multiple big plays to cultivate big wins against the Colts and Chargers in consecutive weeks. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jags covered on Sunday.
The Seahawks and Falcons are better than we thought.
DO NOT FADE
Come on, you have to admit it. This is true, and it’s one of the more surprising results of the early NFL season. The Atlanta Falcons are 2-2 and in a competitive position in the NFC South. In fact, they’re in a tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for first place. Who saw that coming?
Both the Falcons and Seattle Seahawks are thriving primarily because of their offenses. Check out some of these eye-popping stats on Atlanta and Seattle through four games:
- 10th in yards per game (361)
- 11th in points per game (23.8)
- 3rd in yards per play (6.3)
- 2nd in third down conversion rate (55.32%)
- 5th in yards per rush (5.2)
- 4th in yards per pass (7.4)
- 8th in points per game (25.8)
- 9th in yards per play (5.9)
- 4th in rush yards per game (168)
- 6th in yards per pass (7.4)
While all these stats are good evidence that Seattle and Atlanta are better than we thought, I wouldn’t be overly confident that it will continue. That’s especially true this weekend. Both the Seahawks (+6) and Falcons (+9) are big underdogs for good reason. It’s an ideal spot, in Tampa, for an angry Tom Brady to unleash his frustration after two straight losses on a young Falcons team. The Buccaneers lost at home and allowed 41 points last Sunday Night in a revenge spot for the Kansas City Chiefs. Needless to say, their defense will be looking for redemption this weekend; I don’t like that for Atlanta bettors.
It’s equally likely that the Seahawks, who impressed in a road win last week against the Detroit Lions, are due for some negative regression, as they head to New Orleans for their second-straight road game. That’s not an easy travel spot, and the Saints are dying to put together an exceptional game from both units on Sunday. Geno Smith can’t throw for 75% in every game (can he?), so I wouldn’t be overly confident on your Seahawks wagers, either.
This might be the last year Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield are starting QBs in the NFL.
DO NOT FADE
I’ve been among the loudest critics on Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield for quite some time. It doesn’t take a sports psychologist to see that Wentz needs more than most NFL quarterbacks to succeed. He’s particular, reserved, and easily affected by in-game chaos and pressure. The Washington Commanders’ offensive line hasn’t helped: Wentz is getting sacked on 8.99% of his dropbacks, and he’s scrambling much of the other 91.01%. We can’t just blame his protection, though. Wentz is a terrible decision-maker and makes risky throws in dire situations, and it hasn’t worked out well for the seven-year pro. He already has five interceptions through four games, and the Commanders lost three straight games heading into Week 4.
Baker Mayfield is on a different level of stink right now. Completing only 54% of his passes (he threw well-under 50% in two games this season) and only throwing 4 touchdowns while forfeiting 3 interceptions, Mayfield’s rendezvous in Carolina hasn’t gone well. The Carolina Panthers quarterback was received with optimism in the preseason, with many thinking he could serve as the catalyst Carolina needed to get to the next level of success. They did not fool us.
On many podcasts over the last two years, I asserted that Baker Mayfield is undersized, not nearly as athletic as he thinks he is, and that he will struggle mightily behind Carolina’s offensive line. I believe this has all come to fruition. I apologize to Baker and his fans, but, I’m reveling in it. Sports bettors enjoy being right; what can I say?
With enough evidence, even a No. 1 draft pick can ride the bench if he doesn’t make a difference in the NFL. In all likelihood, many will blame the Panthers’ struggles on Matt Rhule. It’s clear he doesn’t seem fit to continue his service as an NFL head coach. Antics on the sideline, aggressive free-agent signings that haven’t hit, and a 5-21 ATS record against opponents that score more than 17 points are all indictments on his ability to transform an offense. Carson Wentz doesn’t have the same security. Now on his third NFL team, it’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Wentz, as whispers of benching him for local favorite Taylor Heinicke are in the air.
Making matters worse for both Wentz and Mayfield, talent at the NFL quarterback position is growing. Next year, it’s likely that Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Will Levis will all be first-round selections in the 2023 draft. Second-year starters Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones and Davis Mills have the trust of their respective franchises. Even Zach Wilson played well in his return last week.
Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield are in serious jeopardy of losing their starting jobs. That’s not fake news, and it’s something to keep an eye on as these teams either positively regress or continue to disappoint their fans. Through four games, the outlook is grim.