One of the things I love the most about the National Football League is that every dog really does have its day.

As much as touts may like to shout that their pick this week is an absolute lock, the reality is that locks simply don’t exist in the NFL. The latest example came last week as the Bears steamed up to 7-point road favorites last week when it was announced that Ryan Tannehill wouldn’t play for the Dolphins, then lost outright to Brock Osweiler and company. (I had the Fish in that game, by the way, but wasn’t feeling great about my Dolphins +3.5 wager when I heard Osweiler would be getting the start.)

Buffalo went into Minnesota in Week 3 and shocked the Vikings, winning outright as 17-point dogs. San Francisco nearly did the same Monday in Green Bay as 10-point pups before Aaron Rodgers (with a bit of help from the refs) and the Packers scrambled to pull out the victory in the end. Tampa Bay put up 48 points on the Saints in Week 1, handing New Orleans a 48-40 defeat as 10-point road underdogs.

The nice thing about point spread betting is that you don’t even need the underdog to pull off the outright win — you simply need them to keep the game close. In a league that is probably the most unpredictable in professional sports, I’m always interested in backing the team catching points if the situation is right.

In honor of the underdogs that make NFL games so interesting, here are four dogs I’m backing in this edition of my NFL Predictions for the Week.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from Bovada at 2 p.m eastern on October 18, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

1. Arizona Cardinals +1.5 (-110) over Denver Broncos (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. eastern)

I successfully backed the Broncos as 7-point home underdogs last week against the Rams. But was it really that impressive of a performance? Denver was gashed for 270 rushing yards and trailed 20-3 at one point before rallying to back-door the cover against the Rams’ prevent defence late in the fourth quarter. The Broncos’ defense did do a good job of limiting LA’s explosive pass game, but part of that may have been Jared Goff not being used to playing in cold weather — just one of the several advantages Denver enjoys at Mile High and a reason I love backing the Broncos as home dogs (they’re now 20-12 against the spread in their last 32 in that situation).

If you read the writeup for that pick, you might recall me also explaining why I wasn’t that concerned with Denver’s blowout loss the previous week in New York. In case you don’t remember or didn’t read last week’s article, here’s an excerpt that is extremely relevant for this matchup against Arizona: “Denver’s been an awful road team under head coach Vance Joseph (1-9 straight up).”

How can a team with that road record be laying points to anyone on the highway, even when it’s against the Arizona Cardinals? They shouldn’t be, that’s for sure. And while Arizona’s 1-5 record doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for bettors, the Cards have been far more competitive than their record suggests. Since switching to Josh Rosen as its starting quarterback in Week 4, the Cards have covered three straight games, including last week’s 27-17 loss to defending NFC finalist Minnesota. They beat the 49ers by 10 points two weeks ago in San Francisco, a win that looks even more impressive after the 49ers’ near-upset in Green Bay last week.

Betting Prediction

Finally, just consider the mentalities of these respective clubs. Denver started the season 2-0 and with hopes of chasing down a playoff spot in the AFC, only to drop its last four — and allowing 27 points or more in three of those games. Meanwhile, Arizona knew all along that this would be a rebuilding year in the desert, and should continue to bring intensity and effort throughout the year. Short weeks for Thursday Night Football are always tough for both teams, but they take an extra toll on the visitors – especially when the visitors aren’t feeling that good about the way their year is going. The Cards gave the Bears all they could handle earlier this year on this field, and I love them to continue the Broncos’ misery this week.

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2. Buffalo Bills +7.5 (-115) over Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)

What’s crazier than the Broncos laying points on the road? How about the Colts laying more than a touchdown to anyone. Dating back to the beginning of last season, Indy has won a game by this margin just twice, and one of those wins came in the meaningless 2017 season finale. Go back even further than that, and the Colts have won just four games by more than one possession since the start of 2016. This is not a team that is used to winning comfortably, regardless of the opponent.

The biggest reason the Colts are laying this number – other than the simple fact that they’re facing the Bills – is because of Buffalo’s quarterback situation. Veteran journeyman Derek Anderson will be the latest to start under center for the Bills, mercifully putting Nathan Peterman out of his misery. The 35-year-old Anderson has been a clipboard-holder for the Carolina Panthers for the past seven years, throwing a grand total of 168 passes during that span as Cam Newton’s backup. But prior to that, Anderson was a serviceable pivot for the Browns (throwing for nearly 3,800 yards in 2007) and Cardinals. He’s obviously not Tom Brady, but he’s nowhere near as bad as Peterman, either.

If Buffalo even gets mediocre play from the quarterback position, the Bills have the potential to hang in the game. That’s exactly what they did last week in Houston, holding Deshaun Watson and the Texans’ attack to just 15 first downs and 13 points before Peterman lost the game on a soul-crushing interception. Buffalo’s defense is quietly one of the best in the NFL in total yards (third), passing yards (sixth) and rushing yards (eighth) allowed, and that includes a 47-3 loss to Baltimore in Week 1.

Betting Prediction

Since Week 2, the Bills have allowed 60 points in four games despite Peterman and previous starter Josh Allen often putting the defense in a tough spot with turnovers. Meanwhile, the Colts have been lit up for 117 points over their last three outings, including 37 against the Houston offense that Buffalo just held to 13 points. Look for Anderson and the Buffalo attack to do just enough to keep this game competitive throughout.

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3. New York Jets +3.5 (-105) over Minnesota Vikings

At first glance, this line looks short. That’s certainly been the betting public’s reaction so far, as I heard one bookmaker report that the ticket count for this game was 8:1 on the Vikings. Yet, the bookies have been reluctant to move this line that much, going up just half a point from the opener of Minnesota -3 — a line that they had to know would generate a lot of action on the Vikings from the betting public. That’s a big signal that the oddsmakers are taking a position on New York, and I’m always happy to be on the same side as the guys who built those massive casinos on the Vegas strip. But what are the bookies seeing on the Jets, especially against a Minnesota squad that many of us expect to get back to the NFC championship game once again this year?

Well, one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL is just how well the Jets consistently play at home. New York’s virtually been an ATM machine recently when playing in front of its home fans, covering 10 of its last 12 games at MetLife Stadium. Last week, they hung 42 on the Indianapolis Colts to cover easily as 2.5-point home chalk. The previous week, the Jets whipped the visiting Broncos 34-16, covering the spread by 17 points. And rookie QB Sam Darnold seems a lot more confident when playing in familiar territory, averaging more than 250 passing yards and throwing six touchdowns in three home starts. Contrast that to Darnold’s performance in three road outings, where he has yet to crack the 200-yard plateau and thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (three apiece).


Betting Prediction

Of course, the other part of this equation is the Vikings, a team that many of us pencilled into the playoffs before the season began. But if you forget how good the Vikes were last year and simply look at their 2018 performance, you’d be a lot more reluctant to lay more than a field goal with Minny on the road. The defense really hasn’t been any better than average, ranking 16th in the NFL in yards (19th against the pass) and allowing 24.7 points per game. And though Minnesota comes into this game above .500 with a 3-2-1 record, two of its three wins came at home over San Francisco and Arizona.

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4. New York Giants +5 (-110) over Atlanta Falcons (Monday, 8:15 p.m. eastern)

What a mess it is right now in Big Blue Nation! The same fan base that was outraged when Eli Manning was benched last year is now calling for Manning to take a seat. Odell Beckham Jr. seems more interested in doing interviews with Lil Wayne and punching sideline fans than he does in supporting his teammates. And as great as Saquon Barkley has been in his rookie campaign, many are questioning whether the Giants made a mistake spending the #2 pick in the draft on a running back instead of a quarterback.

The circus going on right now in New York is precisely why the G-Men are probably better off hitting the road right now. Rather than worry about getting booed by the MetLife Stadium crowd every time something goes wrong, the Giants are able to relax and try to keep things simple when they’re in enemy territory. It’s a formula that’s worked well for New York lately. In their last two road games, the Giants won outright in Houston as 6.5-point underdogs in Week 3, then would have pulled off a similar upset in Carolina if it weren’t for Graham Gano’s 63-yard field goal on the final play.

While New York can play loose with nothing to lose, the Falcons will be tight as a drum as they continue to fight to save their season. At 2-4, Atlanta isn’t dead in the water yet, but a loss to the visiting Giants would essentially doom their chances in the tough NFC South, considering that they’ve still got games with the Saints, Ravens, Packers and Panthers on their schedule. The Falcons have a tough enough time winning games by a comfortable margin at the best of times (only six of their last 12 victories have come by more than seven points), and all of the pressure on them right now won’t make things any easier.

Betting Prediction

Injuries have played a huge role in the Falcons’ disappointing start, and the injury news didn’t get any better this week with the announcement that Devonta Freeman has been placed on injury reserve. Atlanta’s also struggled historically in its final game before a bye week under head coach Dan Quinn, going 0-3 in this spot during Quinn’s tenure. Finally, the Giants have a big advantage in preparation time, having been off since last Thursday’s double-digit loss at home to the Eagles. That’s a lot of time to bounce back from an embarrassing home defeat, something the Giants have done well in the Manning era (13-6-2 against the spread in their last 21 following a loss at home by 10 points or more).Add it all up, and I don’t like the Falcons’ chances of winning this game by a touchdown. Plug your nose if you need to, but Giants +5 looks like the right side this week on Monday Night Football.

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