NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 10/7/2013
We had some interesting quarterback news out of Week 5, especially from Thursday's Bills-Browns game where both starting QBs, Brian Hoyer and E.J. Manuel, went down with injuries. Hoyer's season is over, a shame with how well he was playing. Cleveland won anyway as Brandon Weeden gets one last chance to prove he's an NFL starter. Manuel will miss a few weeks, meaning former practice squad player Thaddeus Lewis will start this week against Cincinnati, which opened as a seven-point favorite. I suppose he's better than undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who was 8-for-20 passing for 80 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown in relief of Manuel on Thursday.
In Philadelphia, Michael Vick had his annual injury, leaving in the second quarter of the Eagles' 36-21 win over the inept New York Giants. Nick Foles played very well in relief of Vick, but Coach Chip Kelly says Vick remains his starter as long as he is healthy. That's certainly up in the air for this week's matchup at Tampa Bay. There is no opening line because of Vick's unsure status. It looks like he's out.
The Bucs are perhaps the most dysfunctional team in the NFL outside of the Giants, and they rid themselves of the Josh Freeman headache last week, waiving the former first-round pick. Almost a dozen teams were interested in Freeman, and he chose the Minnesota Vikings over fellow finalists Buffalo and Oakland. I'm a bit surprised as Freeman could have started this week for either the Bills or Raiders, but he probably will start sooner or later in Minnesota, which appears to have run out of patience with its own former first-rounder, Christian Ponder. It's not clear if Ponder or No. 2 Matt Cassel will start this week against Carolina. Cassel started two weeks ago in the win over Pittsburgh, the Vikings' only victory this season. Ponder, incidentally, is now the third-highest paid QB on the roster.
And in Houston, it might be time to bench Matt Schaub. He threw an interception that was returned for a score in a fourth straight game, an NFL record. He threw three total picks before getting benched for T.J. Yates. Supposedly Schaub remains the team's starter, but he's going to be on a very short leash. I wonder if the Texans were among the clubs interested in Freeman. Houston is a seven-point home favorite this week against St. Louis.
The New Orleans Saints are the biggest risers on the Super Bowl odds, now up to 7/1 after Sunday's big win at Chicago -- the first time Drew Brees ever won there. You think of New Orleans as a quick-strike passing team, but it leads the NFL in time of possession, by far. Brees' 300-yard game streak ended one shy of tying his own NFL record, but Jimmy Graham continued to dominate with 10 catches for 135 yards. That ties an NFL record of four straight 100-yard games by a tight end. No full-time tight end has ever led the league in receiving yards since the merger, but Graham is tops in the league through Week 5 (not including Monday night's game). New Orleans plays in one of the marquee games this week at New England. The Pats, who looked pretty bad in Sunday's loss to Cincinnati, opened as three-point favorites.
Denver remains the 5/2 Super Bowl favorite after Sunday's hugely entertaining 51-48 win over Dallas, the fourth-highest scoring non-overtime game in NFL history. That's 16 straight regular-season wins for the Broncos, but this was the first in which they didn't win by at least a touchdown. Peyton Manning had four more touchdown passes, along with 414 yards, but showed he is at least mortal by tossing his first pick of the year. Manning, not very mobile these days, even scored on a bootleg keeper, shocking the Cowboys and just about everyone watching. Denver is the fourth team in NFL history to score at least 50 points in back-to-back games and looks to become the first to do it three times at home against Jacksonville on Sunday. Yes, the opening 27-point line is the largest in NFL history. If you are wondering, Denver could tie the NFL record for longest winning streak at 23 straight in Week 11 against fellow current unbeaten Kansas City. Manning's 2008-09 Colts hold the mark.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo threw for a franchise-record 506 yards but had a very costly late fourth-quarter pick, and the Cowboys have lost eight straight games when he throws one in the fourth quarter. Dallas leads the terrible NFC East with Philadelphia at 2-3. Could we see a replay of 2010 when Seattle won the NFC West with a 7-9 record? Dallas is the +110 favorite at Sportsbook.ag.
Indianapolis also made a nice jump to 18/1 after beating the visiting Seahawks on Sunday. It was yet another fourth-quarter comeback for Andrew Luck. He now has nine game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most of any QB through his first 21 games since the merger.
Week 6 Enticing Underdogs
Back to my winning ways on my three underdog picks from Week 5 with Baltimore (+3.5) winning outright at Miami and Indianapolis (+3) doing the same against the Seahawks. Missed on the Titans +3 at home against the Chiefs.
Jacksonville (+27) vs. Denver: I'm sorry, I will never lay 27 points. It's harder for NFL teams to have letdown games, but this is most certainly likely one as the Broncos travel to Indianapolis next week in what could be a playoff preview. The Jags offense looked slightly better with the season debut of receiver Justin Blackmon on Sunday against the Rams. Blaine Gabbert left that one with a hamstring injury, but it doesn't matter at all if he plays. Prefer he doesn't really if I'm taking the points.
Washington (+5.5) at Dallas: After going toe-to-toe with Denver in a track meet, the Cowboys are going to be spent. Plus, the Redskins, who swept Dallas last year, had last week off. Maybe that means we will finally see a healthy Robert Griffin III.
NY Giants (+7.5) at Chicago: This is the Thursday night game this week. The Bears were clearly overrated from their 3-0 start, and their defense just isn't that good this season. No. 1 cornerback Charles Tillman is hurting, and the Bears lost another starting defensive lineman in Nate Collins. Eli Manning will probably throw a few more picks -- he had three more Sunday and leads the NFL with 12 -- but also 300-plus yards and at least two touchdowns. Not saying the pitiful G-Men will win, but I think they cover.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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