You know that AllState advertising campaign about how they’ll protect you from Mayhem? It’s pretty fitting that those commercials air a lot during NFL games, because I can’t think of a league that has more carnage, craziness and turmoil on a week-to-week basis.
What mayhem lies in store for us in Week 9? Well, I’ve already circled two road underdogs as teams that may upset the applecart on Sunday against a pair of high-flying opponents. Read about them below, along with a 2-team teaser, in the latest edition of my NFL Predictions for the Week.
All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from BetOnline.ag at 1 p.m eastern on November 2, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.
1. Atlanta Falcons +1.5 -110 (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)
This line kinda smells, doesn’t it? It’s not often in the NFL that you find a 5-2 division leader laying just 1.5 points at home against a 3-4 opponent that sits at the bottom of its division. But that’s exactly what we have here as the NFC East-leading Redskins are just 1.5-point chalk over the NFC South cellar-dwelling Falcons. Since home field advantage is generally worth 3 points to the point spread, this line implies that the Falcons would be short favorites over Washington if this game were played on a neutral field, thereby suggesting that Atlanta is the better team.
Let’s start with the edge in freshness and preparation that the Falcons enjoy in this game. While Washington was busy slugging out a 20-13 win at the Giants last Sunday, Atlanta was on its bye week, getting a chance to nurse minor injuries as well as game plan for the Skins and make overall adjustments to their schemes. That latter point is something that head coach Dan Quinn has done well over the past two years, as Atlanta has been one of the league’s best teams in the second half of each of those seasons.
Atlanta’s also got advantages on the field as well. Washington’s defense is getting a lot of praise these days for ranking fourth in the NFL in total yards allowed and fifth in average points allowed, but that success has been based on the Skins’ run defense (second in the NFL). Their secondary is much more average (13th), which doesn’t match up well with an Atlanta offense that is leading the NFL in passing yards per game. Atlanta can get by in this game without establishing much on the ground, negating Washington’s greatest strength. And the Redskins’ pass defense may be more vulnerable than usual this week as they plan to start Ha Ha Clinton-Dix less than a week after picking him up from the Packers.
If the Falcons put up points as they usually do (30-plus in 4 of their last 6 games), it’s going to be hard for Washington to keep up. The Redskins rely heavily on the ground game with Adrian Peterson, but that strategy doesn’t work nearly as well when you find yourself behind on the scoreboard. Quarterback Alex Smith has been held under 180 passing yards in each of his last three games, so if the Falcons can contain Adrian Peterson and force Washington to beat them through the air, I’m not convinced that Smith can do it — even against Atlanta’s woeful secondary. Look for the hungrier and more-rested team (at 3-4, Atlanta can’t afford many more losses as it attempts to chase down a wild card spot in the NFC) to get the job done here against a Washington squad that I think has been playing over its head thus far.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers +6 -110 (Sunday, 1 p.m. eastern)
There’s a lot to be impressed with about the Carolina Panthers these days. Two weeks ago, they stormed back from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Eagles in Philadelphia. And last week, they rode the momentum from that comeback win to a 36-21 romp over Baltimore, a game that was much more lopsided than the final score suggests. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have stumbled badly since opening the season with 2 impressive victories, having lost 4 of their next 5 to fall into last in the tough NFC South.
This also looks like a potential letdown spot for Carolina. After the big wins over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles and then a tough Baltimore squad, it’s only natural for the Panthers to let down their guard against a divisional foe that they’ve beaten in 8 of the last 10 meetings. Carolina’s already shown a tendency to play to the level of its opponent (2-5 ATS in its last 7 games against teams with a losing record) and the Cats also don’t have the best track record of excelling after a blowout win (2-5 ATS in their last 7 games after winning by 14 points or more).
The Buccaneers have made life difficult for divisional opponents recently, covering 4 of their last 5 games against NFC South foes, and the underdog has cashed in each of the last 4 meetings between these 2 teams. Look for Tampa to give the Panthers all they can handle here as well, and don’t be surprised if these feisty Buccaneers even pull off the outright upset.
3. 6.5-Point Teaser (-120): Los Angeles Chargers +7.5 (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. eastern) and New England Patriots +1.5 (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. eastern)
If you’re familiar with standard football teaser strategy, you should understand the logic behind this wager – moving a point spread “through” as many key numbers as possible (particularly 3 and 7). You’ll also recognize that this isn’t the optimal use of a teaser, since we’re crossing the dead number of 0 by teasing the Patriots down from a 5-point favorite. But I don’t mind sacrificing a little bit of value here in order to get New England into a range where it simply has to win the game in order to cover its leg of the teaser, since I don’t see how the Patriots lose Sunday night at home to the Packers.
Let’s start with the first leg, however, as the Los Angeles Chargers are catching over a touchdown at Seattle. As any Chargers fan will tell you, LA simply doesn’t play many games that are decided by more than a possession, a trend that dates back way before the Chargers moved from San Diego. From the start of 2015 to the middle of last season (a 40-game stretch), 23 of LA’s games were decided by a touchdown or less. Since then, they’ve won 11 of their last 14 games, which obviously means 11 more games in which they didn’t lose by more than 7 points. When you’re able to get the Chargers over a touchdown, you take it, plain and simple.
There’s more to it than that, of course. LA’s in a pretty nice situational spot as well, coming off its bye week following a victory in London two weeks ago. Meanwhile, they might catch the Seahawks in a bit of a complacent spot, playing their first home game in nearly a month and having beaten up on the Lions (following Seattle’s bye) and Raiders in their past two games. Seattle’s always a tough out at home, but the Hawks haven’t exactly made a habit of blowing out opponents recently at CenturyLink Field. That’s especially true when they host an elite team like LA, as Seattle has gone 2-6-1 against the spread in its last 9 home games versus teams with a winning record on the road. I expect the Chargers to win the game outright, but taking more than a touchdown on the teaser adds some nice insurance.
If LA keeps things within 7 points in Seattle, I’ll be feeling pretty good about this wager going into the Sunday nighter. New England simply doesn’t lose at Gillette Stadium very much when Tom Brady’s playing quarterback, winning 23 of its last 28 home games – with one of those losses coming when Brady was serving his suspension for Deflategate and the Pats were down to their third-string quarterback. New England’s absolutely rolling after a mediocre 2-2 start, putting up 38+ points in four straight wins before grinding out a 25-6 win last week in Buffalo. The fact that the Patriots’ offense was kept under wraps last week actually favors us as well, as Bill Belichick will be focusing on getting the attack back on track in this one.
New England’s offense in a bounceback spot doesn’t bode well at all for a Packers defense that simply can’t match up. Green Bay hung tough with the Rams last week in LA, but now the Pack’s being asked to go all the way across the country the following week and stop another elite attack. Anything that the Packers did in the first half last week to stop LA will have been noticed by Belichick and company, and let’s not forget that the Rams put up 21 second-half points last week (it would have been even more if Todd Gurley hadn’t given himself up in the final minute, rather than waltzing in for a touchdown). Factor in some dissension in the Packers ranks after the fumble by Ty Montgomery that killed their comeback chances, followed by Montgomery’s release this week, and I don’t see Green Bay having what it takes to pull off the upset here.