Week 6 is upon us, and with another heavy dose of teams receiving their bye week, the pickings are a little slimmer than usual. Still, there is some good value to be had, and money to be made. So let’s not waste any time and get right down to the four games I think give you the best chance of having a successful Sunday:
Philadelphia -1.5 (-110) Over Washington
If you showed this pick to someone that had never watched football before, they may find it strange that not only was a 1-4 team a (slight) favorite over a team that had a 3-1 record, but also that I am making a strong endorsement to pick that 1-4 team to cover the spread. But, for those familiar with the NFL, you should realize that while the Eagles have been the league’s biggest underachievers this year, they have far too much talent to be 1-4. They are also at the point where another loss at this point and they can just about forget about any realistic shot at the playoffs. 4 out of 5 losses to start the season is a big hole to climb out of, and 5 out of 6 is near impossible. Desperation doesn’t guarantee results, but fear is definitely a motivating factor in football as much as anything, and the Eagles know that a loss here will have them forever remembered as the best team to do the least. Conversely, I’m still not sold on the Redskins despite their record. First and foremost, they have Rex Grossman as their quarterback. Sorry Rexy, in my eyes you should be nothing more than a high end back up quarterback, not a starter in this league. Let’s also keep in mind that aside from a week 1 win against the Giants, Washington hasn’t exactly beaten a murderer’s row of teams. They scraped by Arizona by a single point, then lost to Dallas, and then defeated the winless Rams by a touchdown. This suggests that the Redskins are not as good as their record suggests, and against stiffer competition should struggle. That includes Philly, who still have one of the league’s most dynamic quarterbacks in Michael Vick, and one of the most talented receiving corps in Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. We also can’t forget about LeSean McCoy out of the backfield, who is about as solid a back as there is in the game. The Redskins defense has been a pretty solid group this year, but again, they have yet to face an offense as dangerous as Philly’s. If the Eagles can avoid the costly turnovers they have been prone to giving up so far, they should have no problems getting back on track in this division rivalry. Something else to keep in mind: the Eagles are 13-6 ATS on the road against teams with winning home records, and have also shown the ability to rebound nicely, with a 23-11 record ATS after giving up 30 or more points the week before. Conversely, Washington is a measly 3-12-2 ATS in their last 17 at home against teams with a losing away record. They also haven’t won a game ATS in their last six games played on week 6. Andy Reid buys himself more time as his Eagles finally play up to their potential and win this won comfortably on the road.
Chicago -3 (-110) Over Minnesota
Although the numbers don’t reflect it, Jay Cutler played one of the best games of his career against the Lions last Monday night. He was absolutely bombarded with blitzes all night long from Suh and company, and Cutler remained poised and largely upright, keeping plays alive longer than they had any right to be. While he still needs to contend with Jared Allen, overall the Vikings defense is far less terrifying than Detroit’s, so Cutler should have a little more time to seek out his receivers. The main threat of Chicago’s offense definitely comes from Matt Forte though. Forte rushed for 116 yards last week, and that was almost 100 less than what he rushed for the week before. Through 5 games, Forte has rushed for 440 yards, and that includes a 2 yard effort against Green Bay where he was hardly used as a rusher. He also has 30 receptions for 345 yards, and could quite conceivably put up a 1,000/1,000 season. The Vikings have a good rush defense, but expect Forte to be used extensively as a receiver out of the backfield. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings offense lives and dies with the play of Adrian Peterson. If Peterson played on a team with a half decent quarterback and some better receivers, one can only imagine what sort of numbers he would put up. Still, against stacked boxes AP has delivered this season, but remains the only potent part of Minnesota’s attack. Donovan McNabb’s best days have long passed him by, as he hasn’t thrown for more than 228 yards all season, and has only 4 touchdowns through 5 games. He completed less than 50% of his passes last week against a weak Cardinals defense. The Vikings simply put aren’t a good team, and I think you need to take advantage of this smaller line coming off the heels of the Vikes’ only win of the year. Chicago is a different animal when they are at home, and they should rebound from their loss in Detroit with an impressive victory here. Minnesota does not play within the division well, going 0-5-1 ATS in their last 6 against the NFC North. They have also only won twice in their last 12 ATS when they go into it as an underdog. Meanwhile, Chicago has shown they rebound well, losing only once in 7 games when they have scored less than 15 in their previous game, and are 5-2-1 after giving up more than 350 yards the week before. While I don’t buy the Bears a serious threat to repeat as division champion, they certainly are good enough to take down a pretty weak Vikings team, who beyond Peterson and Allen, don’t have anything particularly impressive going on. The Bears should win by a touchdown at the least.
Cleveland +6.5 (-110) Over Oakland
As a fellow football writer recently put it, Oakland have become so underrated that they are now overrated. I couldn’t agree more. The Raiders have been able to keep most games close this year, so even when they lose they usually cover the spread. But now we have got to the point where they have their biggest spread thus far, at 6.5 against the Browns. Cleveland are a lot like Oakland in my eyes. Not the most talented team in the world, but gritty and rough — real grinders. They had a bad loss to the Titans in week 4, but now they are coming off a bye, while Oakland is still recovering from a tough loss against Houston. Working in favor of the Browns is the fact that Peyton Hillis is upset with his current contract situation, and therefore has extra incentive to showcase his worth. While Hillis hasn’t been the same back that he was in his breakout 2010 season, he is still a beast that is tough to take down. The Raiders have been quite generous in allowing 122.8 rushing yards per game, so this could be a big day for Hillis. Of course through the air the Raiders haven’t fared much better, giving up a shade under 300 passing yards per game. Colt McCoy showed in his last game that he is not afraid to air it out, throwing a remarkable 61 times against Tennessee, completing 40 of them. Even discounting that game as something of an anomaly, McCoy has thrown for over 200 yards every game this season, as the Browns are becoming more of a balanced attack despite the lack of a real superstar at wide receiver. Look for rookie Greg Little to break out in this one though, as he gets his first start of the year, replacing Brian Robiskie as the Browns’ “X” option. While I don’t know if the Browns have the firepower to win this one outright, they do have a solid enough team to keep it close, with a possible Janikowski field goal helping the Raiders scrape by. But 6.5 is a lot of points for a team that is giving up 26.6 points per game. Also, consider this: the Browns are an impressive 7-0 in their last 7 games ATS when they are a road underdog by more than a field goal. They are also 16-5 when they pass for over 250 yards the game before. Meanwhile, the Raiders are a pathetic 2-12 ATS as a home favorite, and 7-21 overall as a favorite. They simply aren’t used to being a favorite, as they play much better when they aren’t expected to win. Take the Browns here in an ugly one.
Dallas +7 (-110) Over New England
While many people marvel at New England’s impressive offensive juggernaut, they overlook the gaping holes they have at defense. The Patriots are dead last in passing defense, giving up 326.6 yards per game. Unlike the Jets, the Cowboys have more than enough fire power to take advantage of this. Tony Romo, despite his penchant for late game collapses, can still throw the ball with the best of them, and he has an assortment of great weapons in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and the reliable Jason Witten. With a little help from Felix Jones in the backfield, the Cowboys are capable of responding to anything New England does offensively. The Cowboys also have the title of best rushing defense in the league, allowing a miniscule 61.8 yards per game. While the Pats are obviously a pass heavy team, Dallas can sell out to stop the throw a little more knowing they have the talent to stop Green-Ellis and Ridley. They are one of only a handful of teams to allow under 300 total yards per game, while the Patriots rank dead last with 433 yards allowed. Eventually the Pats poor defense will be too for even Tom Brady to overcome. Throw in the fact that New England may be emotionally drained after defeating their rivals in the Jets last week while Dallas had a bye to rest, and this one could quite conceivably be an upset for the Cowboys. Even if they don’t manage quite that, they certainly are more than capable of keeping it close until the end, in what should be a shootout and a great game to watch. Based on the stats, its clear the Cowboys thrive as underdogs: they are 6-0 ATS when they aren’t favored to win, and 4-0 when they are underdog by more than a touchdown. They are also 5-2-1 against teams with a winning record. While its always an adventure with Tony Romo, I’m expecting him to emerge from week 6 as the hero rather the goat, as Dallas rides into New England and steals a victory away from Bill Belichek’s squad, as the Cowboys roller coaster season continues. The NFC East just may be the most interesting division in all of football right now, and I fully expect the Cowboys to be in the thick of it until the very end.