Remember when people used to joke that N.F.L. stood for the No Fun League? Not anymore. Points are being scored in bunches so far in 2018, thanks to rule changes that continue to favor the offenses and penalize the defenses.
Half of the teams in the league are averaging more than 24 points per game, including the Buccaneers, Bears and Jets. Overs are cashing at nearly a 54% success rate, which would make it profitable to blindly bet the Over every game at -110 odds. Heck, things have even got to the point where the quarterbacks themselves are complaining about how easy things are getting, with Tom Brady saying this week that the NFL is transitioning to “glorified college football.”
But if you’re looking to continue cashing in on all this offense, oddsmakers are making it tougher and tougher. Five games this week have totals of 48 or higher, while the highly-anticipated Chiefs/Patriots matchup (more on that later) had an Over/Under of 60 at the time of writing.
Here are my four favorite point spread plays in these NFL predictions for Week 6.
All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from Bovada.lv at 1:00 p.m. eastern on October 11, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.
1. Miami Dolphins +3.5 (-105) over Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)
If there was a more misleading score last week than the Dolphins’ 27-17 loss in Cincinnati, I haven’t seen it. Miami led that game 17-0 midway through the third quarter and the Cincinnati offense finished the game with just 332 total yards, one offensive touchdown, two field goals and 332 total yards. But a couple of defensive scores by the Bengals — one on an interception return, another on a fumble return — not only turned the game around, it also resulted in the Dolphins not even covering the 6-point spread.
Maybe savvy bettors who were on the Dolphins that game are bitter, or maybe people are just looking at Miami’s 10-point loss last week that came on the heels of a 38-7 blowout defeat the previous week in New England. Whatever the reason, we’re seeing no respect at all here for a Miami team that is still 3-2 on the year and remains undefeated at home.
Part of this line is also the improved play of the Chicago Bears, especially with the Bears having a big advantage in preparation time after enjoying a bye last week. But I’m not convinced that these young Bears are ready to be laying more than a field goal on the road against a potential playoff team (laugh it up, but the Dolphins are one of four teams currently in wild card positioning in the AFC). As impressive as Chicago looked in its last game, a 48-10 rout of Tampa Bay in Week 4, a lot of that had to do with a Buccaneers team that was in a horrible spot following a Monday Night Football loss at home and was prime for regression anyway. This Chicago defense is absolutely legit, but I’m not expecting another 354-yard, six-touchdown performance from Mitch Trubisky anytime soon. In the Bears’ two road games this year, their offense generated 16 points in each of them (a Khalil Mack fumble return accounted for one of their touchdowns in Green Bay).
Miami isn’t exactly known for being a hostile environment for opposing teams to visit, but the Dolphins are still 4-1 against the spread in their last five at home. The recent scoreboard results of both teams has opened up a ton of value on the Fish here as a 3.5-point home underdog, and I’m happy to take advantage.
2. Cincinnati Bengals -2 (-110) over Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)
I just finished writing about how fraudulent the Bengals’ victory and point-spread cover were last week against Miami, when Cincinnati’s offense spun its wheels all game but was bailed out by two touchdowns from its defense. So why am I on Andy Dalton and company here, especially against a Pittsburgh team that appeared to turn a corner last week with a blowout win over Atlanta?
The other reason is the anticipated renaissance of the Steelers, who showed signs of life last week after stumbling to a 1-2-1 start to the campaign. I was wrong to go against Pittsburgh last week as Atlanta was simply too banged up with injuries to put up a fight (especially on defense), but one big game against a struggling opponent isn’t enough to convince me that the Steelers are back to being a power in the AFC. As dominating as the Steelers’ 41-17 victory may have looked, Pittsburgh gained just as many first downs as the Falcons (22) and outyarded its visitors by only 57. But many bettors are willing to overlook the statistics because they’re convinced by the Steelers-are-back narrative, one they’ve been waiting for all along.
The fact remains that the Steelers are 3-9 against the spread in their last 12 games overall, and are 0-8 against the number following a victory in their previous game. Yes, they’ve enjoyed plenty of success in Cincinnati over the years (14-3-2 ATS in their last 19 visits to the Bengals), but this Steelers team might be the weakest Pittsburgh squad during that span, especially on defense. Cincinnati is a bargain here at under a field goal.
3. New England Patriots -3 (-125) over Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. eastern)
Outside of the Rams, the Chiefs are the hottest bet in the NFL these days, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re 5-0 straight up and against the number (although I successfully went against them with Denver +5 two weeks ago, a game that Kansas City won by four to beat the closing number of -3.5), and their incredible offense is showing no signs of slowing down. Through five weeks, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the favorite to win NFL MVP, an incredible feat considering he had one career start under his belt coming into the season. That’s what 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions in your first four games will do, even if Mahomes did come back to earth a bit last week against Jacksonville with a zero-touchdown, two-interception performance.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are the perfect foil to expose that Chiefs defense because they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers. Brady’s eight interceptions last season were the second-fewest among quarterbacks who threw 18 touchdown passes or more. And while Brady’s thrown six picks already this season, we’re talking about a QB with a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 500-166. His two interceptions last week were total flukes (bouncing off the hands of receivers into the waiting hands of defensive backs), and now that Brady has his full complement of receivers available again, look for the G.O.A.T. to start lighting up defenses the way he’s used to.
If home field advantage, Kansas City’s expected regression and the Patriots’ potential for improvement aren’t enough to put you on New England, here’s one final thing to consider: the Patriots haven’t played since last Thursday night versus Indianapolis. Bill Belichick with extra preparation time is an angle you don’t want to bet against, especially when he’s facing a quarterback who is still essentially a rookie. New England gets its revenge for a season-opening loss last year at home to the Chiefs, and Andy Reid’s tendency for fast starts to seasons before unraveling (remember, K.C. started last year 5-0 before losing six of its next seven) rears its ugly head as well. Lay the field goal here, although I suggest selling half a point and playing New England -3.5 at cheaper juice.
4. Denver Broncos +7 (-115) over Los Angeles Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. eastern)
As I mentioned in the previous writeup, I successfully backed the Broncos two weeks ago as 5-point home underdogs to the visiting Chiefs. That may look like a lucky cover, considering that K.C. won the game by four and that the Broncos didn’t actually cover the closing line (one reason to get your bets in early), but Denver actually controlled much of that game. The Broncos led 23-13 midway through the fourth quarter before Mahomes and the Chiefs came up with a pair of touchdown drives to steal a victory in Mile High.
As good as Jared Goff is, he’s not as elusive as Mahomes. If you watched that game two weeks ago, Mahomes was under constant pressure from the Broncos’ fierce pass rush but was able to survive by rolling out of the pocket (192 of his passing yards came from out of the pocket, the most by any QB in 10 years.) Heck, Mahomes even completed a key pass for a first down with his wrong hand. Goff doesn’t have that scrambling ability as Mahomes (few do) and I expect Denver’s pass rush to be a much bigger factor here, forcing the young Rams QB into quick decisions or sacking him to force third-and-long situations.
This is also a tough spot for the Rams. Not only is LA playing its second of three straight road games, it’s also facing a non-conference foe between games against NFC West rivals. The Seahawks and 49ers aren’t exactly the Patriots and Chiefs, but they’re still divisional opponents who are extremely familiar with the Rams and bring max intensity to the field. This looks like a potential letdown spot for the Rams, who could be excused for not bringing full focus here with the NFC West all but sewn up already. Denver plus a touchdown at home may be my favorite pick of the week.