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Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
Here we are again this year, back for more NFL picks. It is with great pleasure that I begin my third season writing this column. As someone who has won and lost their fair share of money on the NFL (and many other sports), this is bound to be a fun and unpredictable ride. Join me, won’t you?
As with the format in previous years, this article will help those of you who compete in confidence pools and in ranking selections, which may come in handy on those Las Vegas trips. Games are rated based on preference for both the point spread and other angles (such as totals or over/unders) with 1-3 “Stars”, which basically highlight the best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars are not preferred one way or the other, but will still be covered, discussed and a winner will be predicted for those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools.
Through four weeks of action, the underdogs have gone 38-26 against the spread, a mark that will adjust itself over time as Vegas becomes more familiar with the teams. Until such a time, we have a window to pounce. Let’s take advantage with the Week 5 lines.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
(Thursday Night) LA RAMS (-1.5) at SEATTLE (Over/Under 54.5)
The NFC West has been a division to watch on a perennial basis for the last decade or so, but the Rams’ loss to the Cardinals turned things asunder. As Kyler Murray added some fuel to the fire in support of his MVP candidacy, Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense simply couldn’t keep pace. More concerningly, the defense that had been stifling against the Bucs just a week earlier fell horribly short of their usual standard. The quick turnaround to face Seattle may suit Sean McVay in terms of motivation, but there will be some fragile egos in the locker room with four days to prepare.
Seattle, meanwhile, dug deep to knock off the 49ers and reminded the doubters that the death sentence for their season was premature. Russell Wilson should be prepared to face a fired-up Rams pass rush, a unit that obliterated Seattle’s offensive line in the playoffs last season. The high total of 54.5 is sensible given the shootout that these teams are capable of. Given the short turnaround, the edge has to go to the home team on Thursday night.
(London) NY JETS at ATLANTA (-3.5) (Over/Under 44)
The first London clash of the season will have us up earlier than usual setting our fantasy line-ups on Sunday – and maybe kicking off the first leg of a teaser bet. The Jets’ win against the Titans was rousing, with the reaction of head coach Robert Saleh saying it all. When the Jets players return to work this week, they will have a spring in their step. Zach Wilson’s signature throw, when he signaled to Corey Davis to go deep, was his true "Welcome to the NFL" moment and should give down-on-their-luck Jets fans a glimmer of hope for this season and beyond. Wilson shouldn’t be running scared of an Atlanta defense that simply can’t find its way.
The 34-30 loss to the Washington Football Team was entirely predictable. There may be a different head coach in town in Atlanta, but the script appears to be the same. Matt Ryan performed well, but the sieve-like defense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Vegas may have made a miscalculation in making Atlanta 3.5-point favorites this week; after all, what have they done to deserve that extra half-point? Jump on the underdog Jets before that half-point gets shaved off.
Pick: New York
MIAMI at TAMPA BAY (-10) (Over/Under 48)
The Dolphins withered against a committed and bullish Colts team on Sunday, dropping Brian Flores’ team to 1-3. In a lackluster AFC East, it puts them tied with the Patriots and Jets – not the company the regime wants to be keeping. It is expected that Tua Tagovailoa will return from injury in Week 6, so it will be the bumbling, stumbling and fumbling Jacoby Brissett starting once again. The Fins will have to put forth their best performance to even be able to keep up with the Bucs.
Indeed, Tom Brady may be able to sit back a little bit and let his defense set the table for success in this contest. After the emotional high of last week’s game in Foxborough, it may be just what TB12 needs. Tied atop the NFC South at 3-1 with the Panthers, the Bucs are into their stride now and should flex their considerable muscles against an inferior opponent here. Ten points may not be enough.
Pick: Tampa Bay
PHILADELPHIA at CAROLINA (-4) (Over/Under 45.5)
Jalen Hurts hasn’t put the complete package together yet, and one wonders if he ever will. The better question is this, perhaps: will ownership be able to resist the hollers and cries of derision from the Eagles faithful long enough to let Hurts develop? The trip to Carolina represents a good test for Hurts, who has produced moments of magic amid some crucial errors. Philadelphia’s offensive and defensive lines are steady units that can keep them in any game.
Carolina’s defense was humbled against the Cowboys, with their inability to stop the run a major concern moving forward. Sam Darnold performed reasonably well, with the negative game script eventually dooming him and his team to defeat. Nevertheless, Carolina has been in every game this season and comes into this at 3-1, prompting Vegas to make them four-point favorites. Expect the line to move in Philadelphia’s favor a bit, but back the Panthers to make it home win number three of the season.
NEW ORLEANS (-1) at WASHINGTON (Over/Under 44.5)
It is hard to make sense of the Saints’ loss to the Giants on their return to the Superdome, but it happened. Sean Payton must be at a loss about how to approach the quarterback position, while the injuries continue to pile up. Defensively, the Saints are a bit of a seesaw unit, at times producing shutdown performances and at others looking like they are utterly unable to keep track. Vegas has kept the faith here, making the Saints narrow road favorites. That said, anything but a victory here would be another red flag.
Ron Rivera has seen plenty of Sean Payton’s team over his years in Carolina, so he will have his charges ready for what the wily offensive mind has cooked up. Washington’s defense continues to be a liability, however, forcing Taylor Heinicke to throw up prayers into the end zone. Terry McLaurin should have his way with this Saints secondary based on recent displays. Washington gets the slight edge here, but this one is best avoided.
TENNESSEE (-4) at JACKSONVILLE (Over/Under 48.5)
With the loss at the Jets, the Titans fell to 1-4 ATS in their last five as the road favorite. Reprising that role this week and looking for a different result, the Titans will be heartened to see the winless Jaguars on the schedule. Missing his top two receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones last week, Ryan Tannehill looked lost at times and had to make do with what he had. Expect Derrick Henry to feature heavily and to pummel a Jaguars defense that should scare no one.
Trevor Lawrence and company will have had 10 days’ preparation in the lead up to this game, giving them a mini bye week to review things and to take a breather. Lawrence’s performance against the Bengals deserved better, in truth, though the signs are good that the Jaguars are close to getting one in the win column. Tennessee tends to respond under Mike Vrabel after a defeat, however, so they get the slight edge.
DETROIT at MINNESOTA (-8) (Over/Under 49.5)
While the Lions are 0-4, there always seems to be a glimmer of hope in their games, a fleeting moment of encouragement. Then, without warning, the talent trap comes into focus and Dan Campbell’s team falters, realizing they are overmatched. This is a far cry from the 0-16 Lions of yesteryear, of course, but a win would go a long way to giving this regime some hope for the future.
The Vikings represent a stiff test this week, especially coming off a disappointing loss to the Browns that saw their offense blunted for long periods. Against a friendlier defense like Detroit, Kirk Cousins could well produce one of his ho-hum, three-touchdown performances. Either way, this game will not reveal too much about these franchises’ trajectories for the long term. The Lions have a way of keeping things interesting, so the eight points is appealing.
DENVER at PITTSBURGH (-1) (Over/Under 40.5)
The question marks over the status of Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) will be preoccupying the Broncos brass this week. The injury bug has bitten them hard this season, with nine starters going down already. Drew Lock would be a fine replacement, but either way the Steelers defense should be favored to win this side of the match-up.
Where Denver can create some disruption is on defense or, more specifically, when facing the stuttering Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s offense has lacked rhythm, spark, and any kind of flow this season as Roethlisberger is beginning to look like he has hit a wall. The low total tells you everything about this game’s prospects: likely a slugfest with points at a premium. Given what Cincinnati did going into Pittsburgh and winning handily, the Broncos should like their chances.
GREEN BAY (-3) at CINCINNATI (Over/Under 49.5)
Few would have expected this Week 5 clash to feature two 3-1 teams, but the Bengals have been a battling bunch and deserve to be where they are. The victory over the Jaguars was the type of game they simply had to win, though it also exposed some vulnerabilities in their rush defense especially. Zac Taylor has his work cut out this week to ensure that Joe Burrow and the offense are primed and ready for a shootout.
The Packers are understandable road favorites, and they seem to have really found their rhythm again. It is another example of why we shouldn’t overreact to one week; the Saints game was clearly the aberration. The matchup of the Packers' cornerbacks against the Bengals receivers will be a fun one to watch, but most eyes will go to Burrow vs. Aaron Rodgers – a battle of the new breed and the older generation. The Bengals have come far this season, but this test might be coming a little too soon.
Pick: Green Bay
NEW ENGLAND (-9) at HOUSTON (Over/Under 39.5)
The main takeaway from the Patriots’ loss to the Bucs wasn’t Tom Brady; it was Mac Jones. The rookie performed to the level required to keep the Patriots competitive – and then some. Jones should find plenty of passing lanes this week against Houston, a defense that has offered little resistance once the games get out of hand. With Davis Mills slated to start at quarterback, the Patriots have been tabbed as just nine-point favorites, but expect that number to bolt up.
Houston will welcome Tyrod Taylor back with open arms in a few weeks, but until then they will be circling the drain and wondering where it all went so wrong. Bill Belichick will have fun toying with the inexperienced Mills on the way to a routine victory.
Pick: New England
CHICAGO at LAS VEGAS (-5.5) (Over/Under 45.5)
The Bears have relented and have named Justin Fields the permanent starting quarterback, a move that was both inevitable and, surely, comes as a relief to Bears fans everywhere. While the on-field results may not always be pretty with Fields as a rookie, this developmental period will be vital for him. Matt Nagy should have a game plan in place to keep Fields in good situations, though the feisty Las Vegas defense will offer plenty of pass rush to keep him on his toes. The loss of David Montgomery is a blow and subtracts a much-needed punch from the ground game.
As for the Raiders, the humbling defeat to the Chargers under the lights will remind them that they have much to work on. Jon Gruden’s team is in a good spot, however, and has a great chance to rebound here. Derek Carr will be keen to get Darren Waller more involved after he was shut down (by his standards) last time out. With the AFC West shaping up to be a bloodbath, this is the type of game the Raiders need to win.
CLEVELAND at LA CHARGERS (-1.5) (Over/Under 49.5)
As the defenses slowly get up to speed for some teams, the Browns boast one of the most talented groups in the league. How they match up against the Chargers offense will be a terrific matchup to sink our teeth into in this game of evenly matched teams. Baker Mayfield missed a few simple throws last week and was not the reason the Browns stole a march in Minnesota, with the ground game picking up most of the slack. If this turns into a battle between him and Justin Herbert, the latter will be the strong favorite to thrive.
The Chargers have a lot to be cheery about coming off their Monday Night Football triumph. The offensive line has come together beautifully, blasting open holes for the nifty Austin Ekeler and giving Herbert all the time he needs to survey the field. Brandon Staley has this team playing for each other and there is a sense that the Chargers curse could finally be lifted. The Browns will not be a pushover by any means, but a win here could be huge down the line for L.A. in terms of tiebreakers.
Pick: Los Angeles
NY GIANTS at DALLAS (-7) (Over/Under 51)
Don’t look now, but Daniel Jones is playing some of the best football of his career. When we put aside the gaudy 400-plus yard output of last week and review the last few weeks, the theme is consistency. That has been the factor sorely lacking from Jones’ game, but it seems Jason Garrett has found a formula to make Jones comfortable. It helps that Saquon Barkley is back to his best and rookie KaDarius Toney is showing well. A trip to Dallas will not faze this team after the rousing victory in New Orleans, but there is the chance of a letdown.
The Cowboys are going from strength to strength and look every bit a playoff team. Their offense is elite and can hang points on any team, while their defense is playing above itself, with the likes of Micah Parsons adding to his Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy every game. The seven-point favorites tag is fully justified; it will be up to the G-Men to stay in the fight and knock off the early favorites for the NFC East crown.
Pick: New York
SAN FRANCISCO at ARIZONA (-5) (Over/Under 51.5)
The Cardinals shocked many of us last week with their demolition of the Rams in L.A., another huge step in the right direction for Kliff Kingsbury’s regime. Kyler Murray is unstoppable at times, while the defense is nasty enough to stay in games. Even still, there is a feeling that this Cardinals team is capable of slipping up in any game (see Minnesota, missed field goal) and the 49ers will not be afraid of facing their rivals.
Indeed, the 49ers are two games back on the Cardinals at 2-2 and are by far the more desperate team. We have seen this script before with Kyle Shanahan’s team; they have a habit of punching their way out of a corner. In the always wild NFC West, the 49ers are fancied to if not keep it close, then win outright, in the desert.
Pick: San Francisco
(Sunday Night) BUFFALO at KANSAS CITY (-3) (Over/Under 57)
A potential classic at Arrowhead rounds out the longest football Sunday of the young season as we go from London in the morning to Kansas City last thing before bed. The Bills and Chiefs have played some terrific games recently, but this might be Buffalo’s best chance yet to get one over on their AFC rivals. Indeed, it is early to look at tiebreaker scenarios for the number one seed in the conference, but this is a game that could have a bearing. The Bills have tossed aside inferior competition in the last few games; now comes the big test.
For the Chiefs, the AFC West is looking more competitive than in recent seasons, so they can’t afford too many slip-ups. If Patrick Mahomes II can play the mistake-free football he usually plays, they should be able to take care of business here. However, that brand of football has been a bit hard to come by for the Chiefs – and the Bills defense is a unit that can hang with them. The safe bet is to lay the points as long as it stays at -3, but the better bet might be to just sit back and enjoy.
Pick: Kansas City
(Monday Night) INDIANAPOLIS at BALTIMORE (-7) (Over/Under 47)
The Colts visit the Ravens to finish off the week on Monday night, with the visitors hoping to make it back-to-back wins behind a stubborn ground game and a respectable, safe Carson Wentz performance. Based on what the Ravens defense did last week, however, the Colts shouldn’t be too confident of upsetting the apple cart.
Baltimore is off to a 3-1 start and looks like they could establish themselves among the most dangerous teams in the AFC despite the injury woes they’ve had. Lamar Jackson should be able to have his way with the Colts defense, and this looks every bit like an opportunity for another forward flip into the end zone (or two). Back the Ravens to get the job done.
Once again this year this article will give out not only the Best Bets but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 Star scale. The more stars, the bigger the emphasis on that side of the game.
This week, we will focus our bets around the following lines:
- 1 KANSAS CITY (-3) vs. BUFFALO
- 2 SAN FRANCISCO (+5) at ARIZONA
- 3 LA CHARGERS (-1.5) vs. CLEVELAND
- 4 CAROLINA (-4) vs. PHILADELPHIA
With these likes in mind, here are the Week 5 selections:
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.61-1 ODDS)
- CAROLINA (-4)
- LA CHARGERS (-1.5)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.42-1 ODDS):
- SAN FRANCISCO (+5)
- KANSAS CITY (-3)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- 4-TEAM MONEY LINE (7.06-1 ODDS)
- LA CHARGERS - FOR THE WIN
- GREEN BAY – FOR THE WIN
- CAROLINA – FOR THE WIN
- DENVER – FOR THE WIN
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: Kansas City, Carolina, LA Chargers, San Francisco
Last Week / Season
- LAST WEEK: 3-13
- SEASON OVERALL: 28-36 (43.75%)
- BEST BETS: 5-11 (31%)
- PICK OF THE WEEK: 5-16 (23%)
Good luck this weekend!
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