Every week I’ll dissect various narratives affecting NFL betting lines. This is vital, considering 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 4 narratives.
Embattled Commanders Head to Dallas
Narrative: Why on Earth are the Commanders only 3.5 underdogs on the road against the Cowboys? Dallas is much better than Washington, so we must play on Dallas, right?
Behind quarterback Cooper Rush’s impressive throws and star linebacker Micah Parsons’ constant pressure the Dallas Cowboys improved to 2-1 after a win on Monday Night Football. The New York Giants came into that contest absolutely hyped, committing to a “white-out” at home in what felt like a playoff atmosphere. It didn’t matter.
The Cowboys had Daniel Jones scrambling around all game, and the Giants’ offense just couldn’t do enough to keep up with Dallas. Rush is slowly proving he may belong in this league. He has been dropping dimes in tight windows to his receivers in big-game moments. An over-the-shoulder throw to CeeDee Lamb for the go-ahead score proved Dallas is not going down easy this season.
Meanwhile, for two straight weeks, Washington has come out lifeless. They were outgained 400 to 260 in total yards and only mustered six points of offense (the other two came from a safety) in their 24-8 Week 3 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. Some of us (me) thought that was a great spot for Carson Wentz to play well at home against his former team. Apparently, I was wrong.
Now, Dallas returns home and, for some strange reason, they’re mere 3.5-point favorites against the Commanders. Why? How? The Commanders don’t look good, but this is an age-old rivalry between two division foes and even more importantly, this line has not moved. Check out our WAS vs. DAL game page and you’ll see it plain as day — a ton of money and a ton of bets are going the Cowboys’ way.
Usually, the line moves to attract more bettors to one side or the other. That’s not happening this time. Keep in mind sportsbooks know how to consistently win, and it’s often vital to forget what you’ve seen week-to-week with a line like this one. The Commanders, who still have plenty of talent, can absolutely go into Dallas and win outright. I’d avoid betting this or take a shot on Washington. Something’s off with this line and usually, the books win when this occurs.
49ers Looking to Repeat Recent History Against Rams
Narrative: The Rams haven’t beaten the 49ers (-2) in the regular season since 2018. Surely, the defending Super Bowl Champions can finally muster a win this go-round, right?
I wouldn’t count on it. For whatever reason, these games tend to matter more than others to Kyle Shanahan. He’s 5-1 ATS (against the spread) against McVay since 2019. Unfortunately for Rams’ backers, this game sets up for a San Francisco win, too.
The 49ers looked lackadaisical and unimpressive last Sunday night in an 11-10 loss to the equally underwhelming Broncos. Jimmy Garoppolo struggled to gain first downs, and George Kittle — finally returning to action — rarely saw the ball. Their run game never got going, either.
San Francisco’s defense looked as dynamic and stingy as ever, but in the only drive that mattered they let Russell Wilson move down the field like he was on the 2014 Seahawks again. It wasn’t a good look for a San Francisco team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Contrarily, when a buttoned-up franchise like the 49ers looks bad, it’s usually wise to play on them the following week. Week 2 was a great example of that — the 49ers annihilated the Seahawks, but the score didn’t tell the whole story.
Still, there is one reason to believe this game may be different. The last four times the 49ers faced the Rams in the regular season, they won, but they were also underdogs. Shanahan as a favorite is a putrid 17-26-1 ATS (38.6%). The 49ers know how to beat the Rams when they’re not expected to. Do they know how to make it happen when they’re expected to win? I wouldn’t be surprised by either result, and it’s why I’m staying off this game.
Heading Into Week 4, NFL Teams Displaying Their True Identities
Narrative: It’s Week 4 so most teams, and fans for that matter, are confident in who they are.
Wow, I’m fading a lot of narratives here, aren’t I? But we really don’t know who these teams are. I agree we have a better, more holistic picture of who most NFL teams are at this point. In fact, something I like to do throughout the season is write one-line narratives for every team. These narratives are usually altered often, especially during the first half of the season. Without giving too much away, here are a few examples of what I’ve iterated so far, in alphabetical order:
- Arizona Cardinals: Talent poor, overly reliant on Kyler Murray, but have upside because of his talent.
- Atlanta Falcons: Gritty, out to prove something, Marcus Mariota is a fighter, solid ATS dog.
- Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson is on a mission, the defense is just okay and they have liabilities in the passing game.
- Buffalo Bills: Setup to win it all, Josh Allen in his prime, better defense than most realize.
- Carolina Panthers: Biggest setback is Baker Mayfield’s limitations, underwhelming defense and you can’t trust Matt Rhule game-to-game.
From a betting perspective, it’s important to keep in mind the following statement: No team is as bad as their worst performance, and no team is as good as their best performance. That’s what I love about betting on pro football. On any given day, any NFL team can play exceedingly better than what they’ve shown before.
Which teams are up for much better showings this week? The Commanders, Raiders and Texans. I’d expect every one of those teams to be very competitive in their Week 4 matchups. I also wouldn’t expect to get a complete handle on the NFL until Week 8. That’s the point when I gain more confidence in my assertions, and that’s usually the point where we see more accurate betting lines from sportsbooks. So far, underdogs have covered at a rate of 60% ATS (29-18-1). That will regress and favorites will cover more as the season goes on. We haven’t seen what these teams are all about just yet; trust me.
Just How Good Are the Lions?
Narrative: The Detroit Lions are a different football team this season.
DO NOT FADE
Malcolm Rodriguez, Aidan Hutchinson and a first-class offensive line, oh my! HBO’s Hard Knocks tends to paint a bright picture for their subjects. That year was no different. Getting an up-close and personal view of how Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions do business was quite the treat this preseason.
Campbell seems to have a knack for coaching and for creating team chemistry — players genuinely love the culture he’s instituted — and it shows both on and off the field. The Lions have been impressive in the first three weeks.
The Lions are winning in the trenches, especially on offense, and it’s a big reason why they’re 3-0 ATS. Check out some of their rankings:
- 2nd in points per game (31.7)
- 3rd in yards per game (409)
- 2nd in TD red-zone scoring percentage (84.62%)
- 1st in yards per rush (5.9)
- 3rd in rush yards per game (170.3)
They put up those numbers against above-average defenses in Philadelphia, Washington and Minnesota. This is a capable offense– that much we know.
Even more unlike the Detroit Lions of old is what they showed last week from a betting perspective. Ultimately Detroit lost, but that’s usually a spot where Minnesota covers at home, especially when they’re coming off a disappointing result. Kirk Cousins loves a cushy 1:00 spot at home! But Cousins and his teammates didn’t thrive this time. The Lions were the aggressor from the start, ascending to a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter before the Vikings caught up. Regardless, Detroit covered the line (+6).
The Lions are listed as favorites for the first time in 26 games this weekend. They know how to cover as a dog, so let’s see if they can step up at home against an inferior team and cover as the favorite. The jury is still out on how good Campbell’s team can be, but it’s not fake news that they’re a much better outfit this season.