By Jason McIntyre
Week 5 was set up as the best teaser week of the year. That largely held true, except for two upsets, with Tampa Bay and Kansas City losing outright. But among favorites of seven, eight or nine points — the ones to target most in teasers because they cross through the key numbers of three and seven — teasers dominated.
If you did a standard six-point teaser (+150) last week, you cleaned up: New Orleans, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Arizona and the LA Rams went 5-0-1.
This week, the script is flipped: There are currently eight games on the board with a spread of between 2.5 and 3.5. There are still teaser opportunities we’ll get to below, but this week’s games offer some enticing money-line parlays:
Chicago (+3) at Carolina: Keeping in mind that professional gamblers bet numbers, not teams, Chicago (+3) is a side that will attract money. Yes, Carolina is playing better. You could make a compelling argument the Panthers have better skill position players, a better QB, and a better coach than the Bears. But consider this: The Panthers have won three straight as underdogs. Now, they are favored. A team that was supposed to be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick is favored against a 4-1 Bears team? I don’t think highly of the Bears, but the value is on Chicago in a money-line parlay.
Detroit (-3.5) at Jacksonville: Nobody wants to back the Lions because Matt Patricia has been consistently awful. The Jaguars are turning into the team we thought they were, one of the worst in the league. Jacksonville’s season-opening victory over the Colts looks fluky in hindsight. In consecutive weeks, the Jags have given up at least 500 yards to rookie QB Joe Burrow and got battered by the previously winless Texans. Jacksonville’s defense was down five starters against Houston, and its top receiver, D.J. Chark, left injured in the second half. The Jaguars’ pass defense is dead-last in the NFL in net yards gained per attempt (8.4). Matt Stafford has a healthy fleet of receivers off the bye week. My lack of trust in Patricia leads me to the money line.
Pittsburgh (-3.5) vs Cleveland: This is another “narrative” game. The Steelers haven’t beaten anyone good (opposing teams combined record: 3-15-1!), while the Browns are 4-1. The last time Cleveland was off to a start like this, Google, Netflix and Facebook didn’t exist. Never mind that the four wins came against teams that are a combined 7-12-1. The Steelers are the side here, as the Browns came away with numerous injuries in the secondary, to its top guard, and even QB Baker Mayfield (ribs) in the victory over the Colts. Pittsburgh is third in blitz percentage this season (38.7) and first in sacks; according to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield’s completion percentage this season under pressure is 42 percent, and he has thrown three interceptions. If the Browns can’t run Kareem Hunt against a run defense that has given up the fewest rushing yards this season (and permitting just 3.3 yards per carry), it’ll be a long day for Mayfield.
LA Rams (-3.5) at San Francisco: An obligatory warning: The 49ers were favored in this game on the lookahead line. Is the six-point move an overreaction? Perhaps, but that would mean you don’t think San Francisco’s injuries aren’t significant. There’s no pass rush, with the entire line nursing injuries. Down three starters in the secondary, the Niners backups made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Joe Montana. That’s what happens when you start a DB just called up from the practice squad. That might be the case again this week as Richard Sherman isn’t ready to return from IR. The offense isn’t much better as Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard were sacked a combined five times. Now, they face Aaron Donald, who leads the NFL in sacks and QB hits. The Rams special teams are terrible (31st per Football Outsiders), so I prefer the ML here.
PUTTING TOGETHER A FOUR-TEAM TEASER
Week 6 presents a much more challenging predicament than Week 5: There are only four games that fit that ideal teaser model. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami and New England.
Let’s dig into them.
Something feels off about Baltimore. Lamar Jackson’s nettlesome knee limited him to two carries for three yards, both career-lows in a 27-3 victory over Cincinnati. Why does that matter in a blowout victory? Because Philadelphia can pressure the QB (tied for first in sacks, third in sack percentage) and if Lamar isn’t 100 percent or as nimble as usual, he could be in for a long afternoon. That being said, the Eagles have never faced Jackson, and his speed and elusiveness are impossible to prepare for. The Eagles have no homefield advantage, and haven’t covered yet at Lincoln Financial Field in a loss to the Rams and a tie against the Bengals. If you buy into a “kitchen-sink game” from Doug Pederson, teasing the Ravens to -1.5 is for you.
Professional money has already come in on the Bengals, who were +9.5 Monday and are +8 now at Indy. It might drop more as the media narrative builds that Philip Rivers is “washed” after an ugly, two-interception performance on the road in Cleveland where he also gave up a safety. The good news is the Colts return home after back-to-back road games and they face a struggling run defense that just lost splashy free-agent defensive tackle D.J. Reader for the season. He’s the fourth Bengals DT to go on IR or opt-out since the start of the season. The Colts plodding run game should be able to take advantage.
Indy’s defense is the story here. The stingy run defense permits just 3.6 yards per carry (30th) and if Joe Mixon can’t get loose, rookie Joe Burrow will have to win the game for Cincinnati. Last week, he was hit 14 times, and sacked seven times against Baltimore. The Colts rarely dial up pressure (31st in blitz percentage), but defensive coordinators have confused a meek Bengals offensive line by blitzing defensive backs. Five different Ravens DBs recorded a sack against Burrow last week, and the Eagles resorted to similar exotic blitzes earlier this season.
The Dolphins being favored by 8 feels like a misprint, right? Unfortunately, the Jets are that bad. It’s unclear if Sam Darnold is starting at QB, but he did beat Miami last December in a 22-21 barn-burner, when 10 field goals were made between the teams. Regardless of who is under center, Miami has its top two CBs healthy in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard; the duo has yet to allow a touchdown this season, and that allows the Dolphins to blitz heavily. They registered five sacks against the 49ers, got Jimmy Garoppolo benched, and picked off two passes. Have the Jets quit on Adam Gase? The defense played like it Sunday, coming up with just one QB hit, one sack and one tackle for loss. Forget the “extra motivation” angle for Gase going back to Miami – many of the starters from his time have moved on – and found success elsewhere.
Although we still don’t know who will be the Patriots QB on Sunday against Denver, if we treat this like a Super Bowl –with both teams having two weeks to prepare – who do you feel more comfortable with, Bill Belichick or Vic Fangio? Whether it’s Cam Newton, Cam Neely, or Cameron Crowe under center, I will be teasing the Patriots down and taking them.
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