Game: Oakland Raiders (1-3, 2-2 ATS) at New York Giants (4-0, 4-0 ATS)
Spread: Giants -17.
Overview: According to oddsmakers, the Raiders are the most popular “bet-against” team in the NFL. In other words, no matter the opponent or the point spread, gamblers are lining up to bet their money against the Raiders.
It seems like a sound enough basic strategy, as Oakland is again among the NFL’s most dreadful clubs, and the team’s starting quarterback and head coach might soon be looking elsewhere for employment.
However, there is value in this line that cannot be ignored, out of principle if nothing else. The principle being, 17 points is an enormous spread for an NFL game, and the Raiders are 2-2 against the number this year. They failed to cover in last week’s 29-6 loss to the Houston Texans.
Oddsmakers are trying to combat an early-season trend of favorites covering, and they are doing everything in their power this week to prevent Raider haters from cashing at the cage.
So you might as well take what they are giving you, which is two touchdowns and a field goal before the game even starts.
Moreover, New York’s franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, might not even play. If he does, you can expect his impact to be limited, as coach Tom Coughlin will not want to risk further injury against one of the NFL’s worst teams and a non-divisional opponent. You can expect to see a lot of Brandon Jacobs and the Giants’ brand of smash-mouth football.
Although the Raiders have the league’s least-efficient offense, they do have a decent set of running backs in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. They have been unable to maximize their talents because Oakland falls behind so early and often.
But given the struggles of third-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell, coach tom Cable might decide his team’s best chance lies in relying on his running game to give the quarterback manageable down-and-distance situations and to shorten the game.
Oakland’s 18th-ranked defense is likely to stack the line of scrimmage against the ailing Manning to try and avoid getting pounded by Jacobs and friends.
Look for a low-scoring, defense-oriented affair. Betting the Raiders on Sunday rarely is good for your heart rate, but it makes sense in this game.
Trends: The Giants 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 as a favorite and 17-4-1 ATS in October games. The Raiders are 20-42-1 ATS following an ATS loss.
Pick: Raiders +17.
Game: Cincinnati Bengals (3-1, 2-2 ATS) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1, 3-1 ATS)
Spread: Ravens -9.
Overview: Both teams are enjoying newfound success in the early season. The Ravens are displaying a previously unseen explosive offense, while the Bengals are trying to restore respectability in what likely is a do-or-die year for coach Marvin Lewis.
As is the case with historically bad teams that are working on turning the corner, the Bengals are a much better value as an underdog than a favorite. This has already been proven in their first four games, as they won outright as an underdog twice but have failed to cover the number as a favorite.
Their reputation in part leads to lines that are a little inflated, particularly against AFC North rivals who have had the pleasure of pummeling them for years. That would be all of them.
Cincinnati gained some respect league-wide with its comeback win over the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago. The Bengals need to build on it here with another strong showing against the Joe Flacco-led Ravens, who rank in the Top 5 in all major offensive categories and average 31 points per game.
This will be a true test for Carson Palmer, who is still trying to regain form after a knee injury cost him most of last season. The Ravens still boast the league’s top rushing defense, so Palmer and Chad Ochocinco have their work cut out for them.
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Trends: The Ravens are 7-2 ATS in their last nine against the AFC North. The Bengals are 4-11 ATS in their last 15 against AFC opponents.
Pick: Bengals +9.