It looks like the 1972 Miami Dolphins will be making their annual champagne toast earlier than usual this year. Only three weeks into the season, just three teams remain in their quest to become the first NFL teams to go undefeated since Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and company ran the table 46 years ago. (Whether or not the 1972 Dolphins actually do raise champagne glasses to each other each season when the last remaining undefeated team loses may be an urban myth, but it’s still a fun story to tell.)
Ironically, one of those teams is this year’s Dolphins — hardly a team that anyone projected to go 16-0 in 2018. There’s a good chance Miami’s hot start cools off this week, however, as the Fish are 7-point dogs when they visit a New England team desperate to snap a two-game losing streak.
The other two remaining unbeatens are the Rams and Chiefs, teams who have combined to average more than 35 points per game in the first three weeks. But with all of that offensive firepower comes great hype and expectations, and both teams are laying a significant amount of points to potential playoff teams this week.
L.A. and K.C. may indeed survive Week 4 still undefeated, but they’re two of the teams I’m looking to fade on the point spread in this week’s action. I explain why below in this edition of NFL predictions for Week 4.
All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from Bodog.eu at 10 a.m. eastern on September 27, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.
1. Minnesota Vikings +7 (-110) at Los Angeles Rams
If you were in a Survivor pool this season, chances are that you’re pretty sore at the Vikings right now. Minnesota was an overwhelmingly obvious choice in Survivor leagues last week as a 16.5-point home favorite against the Bills, then proceeded to go out and wet the bed in a 26-7 loss to a team that might quite possibly end up being the worst team in the NFL (Arizona may still have something to say about that).
But spite isn’t a good enough reason to fade the Vikings this week. If anything, their embarrassing loss to the Bills creates a terrific spot to back Minnesota here. Not only are we getting a much more favorable spread with the visiting Vikings (not a chance this line is over a touchdown if Minnesota came into this game with a 2-0-1 record), but we’re also getting the opportunity to back an extremely motivated team against a Rams squad that probably feels pretty content with itself these days.
And while Los Angeles has looked insurmountable to this point in the year, let’s not forget who the Rams have faced – the Raiders, Cardinals and Chargers, teams who have a combined record of 1-8. The easy schedule so far isn’t LA’s fault, and I can’t pretend that the Rams don’t deserve their status as NFC favorites. But it does make them a tad overrated at this point in my book, and I don’t think the Rams move the ball nearly as easily against this stout Minnesota defense.
Even though the Vikes are at a bit of a disadvantage as a road team traveling several time zones west on a short week for Thursday Night Football, I love the spot and the point spread value too much to pass up on the Vikings +7 – although I’ve also sprinkled a bit on the Minnesota +255 moneyline as well.
2. Chicago Bears -3 (-105) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We all knew that the Ryan Fitzpatrick Fitzmagic would wear off eventually. I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly and dramatically, as Fitzpatrick’s three first-half interceptions Monday night put the Bucs in a huge hole against the Steelers. Tampa outscored the Steelers 17-0 in the second half, but couldn’t quite dig its way all the way out of that hole as I lost my bet on the Buccaneers -1. That said, Fitzpatrick’s final line (30 of 50 for 411 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions) ended up looking decent enough that he’ll almost certainly get the start again this week in Chicago. And this is the spot in which I think Fitzy’s true colors are exposed.
Chicago is full value for its 2-1 record to date. In fact, the Bears would have been 3-0 if their offense hadn’t gone into the fetal position to protect a big second-half lead against Green Bay, allowing the Packers to storm back for a one-point win. Granted, Chicago’s offense hasn’t had much to do with the success, ranking near the bottom of the league in passing yards and total yards. But now they get to face a Tampa defense that is the worst against the pass, second-worst in total yards allowed and fourth-worst in scoring defense. Fitzpatrick and the Tampa offense have gotten all of the headlines in the Bucs’ surprising 2-1 start, overshadowing a defense that isn’t stopping anyone – and I don’t expect them to shut down the Bears, either.
By making this spread three points, oddsmakers are implying that these teams are essentially equal on a neutral field. The disparity between these defenses means that isn’t true at all. With the potential for Fitzpatrick’s regression to continue and Tampa Bay on a short week after playing on Monday Night Football, I’m loving the Bears to handle business with relative ease in this one.
3. Baltimore Ravens +3.5 (-120) at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ 30-27 victory in Tampa Monday night might make it seem like all is right in Pittsburgh again. I’m not so convinced. The Steelers’ defense was shredded once again, allowing 28 first downs and 455 total yards. And while Pittsburgh did score 30 points, 14 of them came on a 75-yard pass-and-run play to lumbering tight end Vance McDonald (who flattened Tampa Bay safety Chris Conte with a massive stiff arm on his way to the end zone) and an interception return for a touchdown. Pittsburgh is still struggling to adjust to life without Le’Veon Bell, collecting just 78 yards on the ground last week despite entering the second half with a 20-point lead.
A visit from the Ravens is the last thing Pittsburgh needs right now. This is a bitter AFC North rivalry in which the Steelers have covered the spread just once in the last seven meetings. Baltimore has won or covered in its last four visits to Heinz Field, and will have the benefit of an extra day of preparation time following an impressive 27-14 win over Denver on Sunday. And unlike Pittsburgh, the Ravens can actually play some shutdown defense, entering this game with the fewest total yards allowed and fifth-fewest points allowed in the NFL.
I like what Baltimore’s been doing this season (that ugly Week 2 loss at Cincinnati being the exception, although we could give the Ravens the mulligan of being the road team on Thursday Night Football in that one). But this is more of a fade of an overrated Steelers team than anything else. Pittsburgh is consistently being priced as one of the better teams in the AFC, but the Steelers’ recent performance doesn’t merit that. They’ve gone 2-8 against the spread in their last 10 games, and they’ve failed to cover the number in each of their last six at home. And just in case you think Pittsburgh’s going to gain momentum from Monday’s win, consider that the Steelers are 0-7 ATS in their last seven outings when coming off a victory.
Even if the Steelers do win, I don’t see it coming by any sort of comfortable margin. The ability to get the Ravens at over a field goal is more than enough value to put me on Baltimore in this spot.
4. Denver Broncos +5 (-110) over Kansas City Chiefs
If you were to hand out NFL awards after three weeks, the Offensive Rookie of the Year and league MVP trophies would both have to go to Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ freshman quarterback has been sensational so far, lighting up the skies to the tune of 13 passing touchdowns, ZERO interceptions, a 67% completion percentage and 896 passing yards.
A visit to Denver looks as likely a spot as any that Mahomes’ numbers will start to come down. Kansas City’s first three opponents this year — the Chargers, Steelers and 49ers — all rank in the bottom-third of the league in total yards allowed. (The Chiefs are dead last in that department by the way, something we’ll expand upon later.) Denver is 14th in the NFL in total yards allowed, and you could argue that the Broncos’ defense has underachieved to this point. Denver’s defense is still one of the best in the league, and you can be sure they’ll be bringing the heat for this prime-time divisional affair as a home underdog.
The Broncos and Chiefs play in Denver every year, and this is just the third time in history that the Chiefs have been favored as the visitor. The previous two times, Kansas City was laying under a field goal, and the Broncos won outright on both occasions. Obviously, games that took place a decade or longer ago don’t have any impact on this year’s matchup, but it just goes to show you how much the Chiefs are overvalued right now, laying nearly a touchdown in a stadium where they’ve historically struggled to beat their AFC West rivals. Denver catching points at home has been a cash cow for a long time (the Broncos are 18-12 against the spread in their last 30 as a home dog), and I’m loving the value on the Broncos in what might be the best Monday nighter of the season so far.