I think that this is a dangerous weekend in the NFL. Not just because of the dark, mystical forces that will be at work on All Saints' Day. But because the public seems to be crystalizing in its belief system about Who's Who and What's What in professional football.
There are 14 games on the board this week in the NFL. Stunningly, more than half of the games feature one-sided action with at least 72 percent of the bets coming down on one side. Four teams - Arizona, Tennessee, the Jets and Green Bay - are taking at least 80 percent of the early action.
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It's not at all surprising that the public is loading up on certain teams; that happens every week. But as we reach the midpoint of the season, a dangerous trend of NFL groupthink is starting to settle in. Once everyone thinks that they have everything figured out, that's the moment that the rug gets pulled out from underneath gamblers and The House starts to clean up.
Consider that last year at this time the Packers were just 5-3 and the Seahawks just 4-3 while the Eagles (5-2) and Cardinals (6-1) were the trendy NFC frontrunners. Green Bay and Seattle ended up being the two best teams in the best conference, while Philly missed the playoffs and Arizona bowed out early.
In the AFC, the Browns, Chiefs and Dolphins each scored big Week 8 wins (and against the spread covers). But those three teams were three of the worst bets in football down the stretch, and none made it to the postseason.
I hear posers throughout the gambling industry blabbing about "going against the public" and "fading the public". It's something that a lot of people preach but few people practice. But if there is a time to start trusting your own reads, following your own instincts, and making your own wagers based on betting against public perception in the NFL, I would say now is the time to do it.
Here is Doc's Sports NFL Power Rankings for Week 8:
1. New England Patriots (6-0) - That is now back-to-back weeks where the Patriots have gotten backdoored in brutal fashion. That isn't exactly scaring away the public - 70 percent of the early bets have come down on the Patriots this week - but at the same time this is the third week in a row where a lot of sharp bettors are stacking up on the underdog against New England. It is an odd trend - and probably a meaningless one - but the Patriots have suffered a three-game ATS losing streak in every odd-numbered year dating back to 2005. They haven't lost three in a row ATS in any of the even years. But in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 they managed to drop three straight at the window each season. That said: bet against Brady and Belichick at your own risk. They are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 home games and the home team in this series is 6-0 ATS.
2. Green Bay Packers (6-0) - The Packers are 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games out of a bye week. And I'm interested to see how Green Bay is set to attack this outstanding Denver defense this week. Remember: Mike McCarthy gave up play-calling duties to Tom Clements this offseason. I'm sure McCarthy is going to be itching to get involved this Sunday, especially if the Packers continue to push the pace at the rate they have. Green Bay has 10 touchdown drives of less than four minutes, including three that came in their last outing against San Diego. They want to play fast as that's the best way to keep Denver's pass rush at bay. The Packers are 23-9 ATS in their last 32 games against teams with a winning record.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) - I know that the Steelers absolutely own the Bengals. But I have a feeling that Cincinnati is going to win and win big this week. I found it telling that the Bengals were posted as a 'pick' this week even though Ben Roethlisberger is back. The books clearly acknowledge that Cincinnati is the better team in this matchup. Marvin Lewis is just 5-6 ATS after a bye week, and the Bengals are just 1-4 ATS in their last five games in Heinz Field. But, again, despite all that history the Bengals still have the upper hand, and it is likely because their defense is considered stronger. That - whose defense can generate the most stops - will tell the tale in this one. Also, Cincinnati is 5-1 against the total in its last six games and the Steelers are 1-6. Something has to give there.
4. Arizona Cardinals (5-2) - That is as brutal as a beat gets: losing a game on a missed extra point and a blocked punt in the final minutes. It really doesn't get any more B.S. than that. Arizona has outgained its last two opponents by 300 total yards. And if you take out Baltimore and Pittsburgh's two final drives in those games then it shoots up to almost 450 yards. But despite that, the Cardinals are 0-2 ATS in those games and 1-3 ATS in their last four. The public is not deterred, however, and Arizona is taking nearly 90 percent of the betting action this week despite A) a short week and B) travel into the Eastern Time Zone for an early start.
5. Denver Broncos (6-0) - I think that a 6-0 team being posted as a home underdog qualifies as being a red flag. I have to say that I am a bit surprised that more people aren't taking the points with a live home underdog this week. Four of every five bets in this one have gone against the Broncos. They are the No. 1 defense in football, but they still need to generate some offense. Denver has the third-worst rushing attack in football and they are last in the NFL in yards per passing attempt. Since they can't count on turnovers against Rodgers, the only way the Broncos can pull this one off is if they can outscore The Pack. Gary Kubiak is just 3-4 ATS after a bye week in his career, but the Broncos, as an organization, are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 after a week off.
6. Minnesota Vikings (4-2) - Minnesota has quietly become one of the best bets in football (20-8 ATS in their L28). I know I have them rated a lot higher than pretty much everyone else in the world. But I like how physical these guys are, and I'm still waiting for the offense to click. Stafon Diggs has been an absolute revelation. He's averaging six catches and 108 yards per game and is propping up the passing attack while Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace mend. Diggs' effort on his 36-yard go-ahead touchdown is something you can't teach. The Vikings hadn't won a divisional road game in three years before beating back the Lions last week. Now they have to go on the road for a second straight game against another rival.
7. Carolina Panthers (6-0) - I will admit that Cam Newton is working with a disgusting group of skill players. (Could you imagine how good these guys would be if Kelvin Benjamin were healthy right now?) But let's calm down with the talk about Newton as an MVP candidate and some kind of superstar. The guy is converting just 55.8 percent of his passes with 13 total touchdowns and eight turnovers. The Panthers are simply a system that that has taken advantage of one of the worst schedules in the league. Carolina is just 1-6 ATS in its last seven primetime games and 4-7 ATS on Thursday, Sunday night or Monday night over the past four seasons.
8. Atlanta Falcons (6-1) - I have absolutely no idea how Julio Jones' catch near the goal line wasn't ruled a touchdown last week. No idea at all. I also have no idea why Atlanta didn't take the points and kick the field goal to go up six points in the fourth quarter. Atlanta escaped with a win, so I suppose it doesn't matter. But it was really an idiotic decision - just from a game theory and win probability standpoint - that happened to cost a lot of Falcons backers their money. The favorite in the Bucs series is 4-0 ATS, and the home team has covered six of the last eight meetings.
9. New York Jets (4-2) - It is going to be impossible for the Jets to avoid a letdown this week. They wound up and took a shot at their nemesis last week in Foxboro, nearly knocking off the Patriots on the road. Now they have to travel all the way out to Oakland in the favorite's role. That is a lot tougher than it seems. The Jets are one of the squarest plays on the board this week, with 83 percent of the early action coming in on them despite the obvious situational disadvantages.
10. Seattle Seahawks (3-4) - Do not think for one second that the Seahawks aren't looking for revenge for their loss to the Cowboys last year up in Seattle. The Seahawks got pushed around in that game, outgained by 200 yards, and the Cowboys won outright as 10-point dogs. I don't think that Dez Bryant is going to have a major impact if he returns this week. Sure, he'll help the offense. But Seattle's secondary will shut him down, and I don't think that Bryant will be in game shape enough to test them. The favorite is just 2-7 ATS in the last nine meetings in this series, and Seattle is just 2-6 ATS in their last eight against the Cowboys. Seattle did have extra time to prep, though, and I think they will chew up and spit out Matt Cassel.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) - Last week's impressive reverse line movement in the Chiefs game was the perfect harbinger of doom for the Steelers. They opened as a small favorite but were down to a 3.5-point underdog by kickoff, despite over 70 percent coming in on the Steelers. Pittsburgh has been outgained in all four games that they played without Big Ben, who is back this week. I think that Ben will be fine and will be as sharp as normal this week. Especially with all of his weapons healthy. But I still don't have a great grasp on this team, and I think they've fluked their way to at least three of their wins this season. Pittsburgh has won three straight over the Bengals, and they are a ridiculous 22-8 ATS in their last 30 games against Cincinnati.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) - Some people are starting to catch on to two observations I made about the Eagles offense a month ago. First, the Eagles receivers are horrendous. Jordan Matthews stinks. He absolutely stinks and none of these guys can A) get separation from decent corners or B) consistently hold onto the ball. Second, forget about DeMarco Murray. Ryan Matthews looks so much better running the ball in this offense. He is the one that should be complaining about carries rather than mediocre Murray.
13. Oakland Raiders (3-3) - I know this section has become my weekly ode to Derek Carr, but the more I see of this kid the more I think that he has a chance to be a Really Big Deal. Carr has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in each game since the opener, with 1,400 yards, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. I'm also excited to see what Amari Cooper can do against this stellar Jets secondary. The Raiders have played the Jets three times since 2011, and the home team has won all three games. The home team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings in this series overall. The Raiders are just 20-40 ATS in their game following an ATS win and just 3-13 ATS in their last 16 games after an overall.
14. New York Giants (4-3) - Tom Coughlin may not like the implication, but yeah, the Giants were lucky to beat the Cowboys. A pick-six and a kickoff return qualify as "anomalous scoring plays" in my book. The Giants have been outgained by nearly 400 yards in their last two games, and their defense is a disaster. November has not been kind to this team, either, as they are a horrific 21-47 ATS in their last 68 games in this month. Their last three trips to the Bayou have also not gone very well, with the Giants going 0-3 SU and ATS and losing by a combined 142-58.
15. Buffalo Bills (3-4) - I've said it once and I'll say it again: neither Rex nor Rob Ryan should have jobs in the NFL. These guys are proven losers, and Rex is piloting the Bills right into the side of the mountain. This locker room has imploded, and this season is ready about to get away from the Bills entirely. I said at the outset of this season that I felt it was a major mistake for the Bills to shift from the 4-3, which had been dominant the last two years, to Ryan's preferred 3-4. The results speak for themselves. Buffalo is just No. 11 in total yards and No. 19 in scoring defense one year after virtually the same personnel finished the season No. 4 in both categories.
16. New Orleans Saints (3-4) - I grant you that turnovers have been the primary factor in New Orleans' last two wins (they are plus-five). But I couldn't help but think as I watched the Saints dismantle Indianapolis that New Orleans might actually be improving and becoming a real team. As I expected, they have become more of a run-oriented offense. They have 68 rushes (for 271 yards) in their last two outings, and I am a big fan of their one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson (who could use more touches). The favorite in the Giants series is 6-1 ATS, and the home team has covered six of the last seven meetings.
17. Miami Dolphins (3-3) - The Dan Campbell Hard Rocker Maniac Express rolls on to Foxboro this week after two devastating efforts. The Dolphins have outscored their last two opponents 58-3 in the first half of their games. Those were Tyson-esque knockouts. But here is the thing: you have to keep in mind who Miami has beaten the last two weeks. That's not to take away from how well Miami has looked and how great it is that they have reverted to old-school, smash-mouth football. I love that. But I'm just saying we need some perspective. Miami beat the Patriots at home in Week 1 last year. But they are just 1-4 ATS in their last five trips to Foxboro and 0-5 ATS in their last five divisional games.
18. Chicago Bears (2-4) - Head coach John Fox is 7-0 in his last seven games after a bye, with his last loss coming back in 2007. Chicago has had some off-field drama this week surrounding the release of starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. We'll see how the locker room - and that already sagging defense - holds up this week. The Bears have dominated the Vikings in recent years, going 6-1 ATS in their last seven home games against Minnesota and 8-3 ATS in the last 11 meetings overall. Chicago is still just 5-12 ATS in their last 17 divisional games and 7-19 ATS in their last 26 home games.
19. St. Louis Rams (3-3) - Last Sunday's final score suggests domination by the Rams over the Browns. But that game not nearly as one-sided as it seemed. St. Louis' pass rush was raging. And they will need to do the same thing this week to supplant the 49ers. But be wary. I still think this team is really overrated nationally, and they are just 3-8 ATS after covering the spread and just 2-7 ATS after a straight up win. These guys aren't going to be a strong favorite in the second half of the season because their offense, outside of the electric Todd Gurley, is still erratic and undermanned.
20. Indianapolis Colts (3-4) - I hate to keep patting myself on the back (that's not true), but I'd just like to once again point out that all of the conversations that the bobblehead media are having about Andrew Luck are EXACTLY the conversations that I was mocked for having about him for the past three years. Face it: talking about him as one of the best two or three quarterbacks in the NFL (which a majority of people have done) was an absolutely joke. The guy is still a good, quality NFL starter. But yes, the Colts are losing in large part because he can't stop turning the ball over and because he's not nearly as good as everything thought/thinks he is. (Admittedly, having one of the league's worst defenses doesn't help.)
21. San Diego Chargers (2-5) - The Chargers traveled to Baltimore last year and played a wild one with the Ravens, scoring with just 38 seconds left to steal a 34-33 victory in a game that featured 31 fourth-quarter points. The underdog is 3-1 SU and ATS in the last four meetings, with the one loss coming in overtime in a 2012 matchup. San Diego, despite the No. 1 total offense in the league, continues to be a team to bet against. They are just 1-12 ATS in their last 13 games against AFC opponents, and they are 0-6 ATS in their last six games against teams that are below .500.
22. Washington Redskins (3-4) - You really can't ask for much more than that - a franchise-best comeback - heading into a bye week. Washington definitely needs this two-week break to rest and recover. And stunningly they will enter November in the thick of the NFC East race.
23. Cleveland Browns (2-5) - Here is another team that needs a bye week. Unfortunately for Cleveland they have three weeks' worth of brutality to endure before they get a break. Cleveland's had an emotional month, and now they have to play two games in five days against a pair of playoff-caliber teams. Cleveland had too many big plays taken off the board last week due to penalties. They are third-worst in the NFL in terms of offensive penalties and penalty yardage, so this is a longer-term problem. Josh McCown should start this week despite his ailing shoulder.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2-4) - Say it with me now: Matt Cassel is a noodle-armed loser. I've actually been laughing at his lack of arm strength for about five years now , but somehow he continues to gain employment in the NFL. How Dallas is treating the Greg Hardy situation - ignoring all of his scumbag behavior because cynically they believe it will give them an advantage in signing him to a long-term deal - is absolutely perfect. It is exactly how you would expect such a grotesque organization to react and is a microcosm of why this franchise has been full of perpetual losers for the past 20 years.
25. San Francisco 49ers (2-5) - You really can't pin last Thursday's feeble three-point showing on Colin Kaepernick last week. He was sacked six times and hit on at least eight other drop backs. He had zero time to maneuver all night. It's not going to get any easier this week against the Rams' front four. San Francisco is 0-6 ATS in its last six divisional games and they are 3-10 ATS in their last 13 games overall.
26. Kansas City Chiefs (2-5) - I suppose that the positive sign for this group is that they have outgained three of their last four opponents. But that's about all I've got. Kansas City outplayed the Steelers last week. But you could see from Pittsburgh body language early in that game that they were already looking ahead to Cincinnati this week. This week's London matchup features the stoppable force that is the Chiefs offense against the moveable object that is Detroit's putrid defense. Whichever of those units is least incompetent will mark the winner of this week's overseas slopfest. The Chiefs are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games against teams with a losing record.
27. Baltimore Ravens (1-6) - As recently as last season I said that the Ravens had one of the best and most undervalued home-field advantages in all of football. They would absolutely pounce on opponents in M&T Bank Stadium. But just like New Orleans last season, the Ravens have suddenly fallen apart on their home turf. Baltimore is 0-5 ATS in its last five home games, and they are a feeble 6-16 ATS in their last 22 conference games. Baltimore showed a lot of guts on Monday night in Arizona. But, mentally, I almost think it would've been better if they had just gotten blown out and moved on rather than to come so close to sending the game to overtime only to lose in the final seconds.
28. Detroit Lions (1-6) - Joe Lombardi was given the axe this week and has taken the fall for the surprising collapse of the Lions offense. However, as I have pointed out, look at the schedule that Detroit has faced this year. Five of their seven games have come against Denver, Seattle, Arizona and Minnesota (twice). Those four teams are all in the Top 7 in the NFL in total defense. With that perspective, scoring 20 points per game isn't all that bad. Detroit's biggest problem is its defense. These guys are horrendous defensively and can't stop anyone. They've allowed 24 or more points in six of their seven games and have surrendered 34.8 points per game in their last three. Not surprisingly, three straight Lions games have gone 'over', and I see that trend continuing in November.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) - All you've heard the last few days is everyone associated with the Bucs talking about what a "heartbreaking" and "scarring" loss that was last Sunday. There is no way that the Bucs will quickly bounce back from blowing a 24-point lead. And the fact is that for the rest of the season they won't be able to play with confidence no matter how big their lead is while opponents will never feel like they are truly out of any game. I mean, the Bucs weren't even covering Jordan Reed - who had killed them all day - on the game-winning touchdown pass. Tampa Bay is clueless in the secondary and facing a Falcons offense that's due for a breakout. Tampa's last trip to Atlanta was last season's 56-14 massacre.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) - Yup, three of the four worst teams in football hail from the AFC South. I've heard people try to compare it to last season's impressively-inept NFC South, which sent a below-.500 team to the postseason. But I assure you that this year's South is so, so much worse. Last year was a bit of an aberration in what has been one of the league's most competitive divisions over the last decade. But the South has been a train wreck for at least the last five years.
31. Houston Texans (2-5) - Good riddance, Ryan Mallet. That guy is a major loser. He'll catch on somewhere. But if he is ever a team's starting quarterback then that team is in a ton of trouble. The current Texans offense is already in a ton of trouble. They can't throw the ball to anyone other than DeAndre Hopkins, and the rushing game is averaging a league-low 3.4 yards per attempt. Houston has dominated the Titans, however, going 7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings and scoring two blowout wins last season (combined score: 75-37). Regardless of who starts for the Titans (there is currently no spread on this game), I expect the Texans to be a token 3.0 or 3.5-point favorite. But you have to ask yourself: why on earth would anyone get money involved in a game featuring such gross incompetence on both sides.
32. Tennessee Titans (1-5) - I don't think I've ever seen a team lose every game of a four-game homestand. But the Titans pulled that off - with all but one of the losses coming against teams that are currently below .500, by the way - when they fell against the Falcons last week. Granted, three of the four losses were by three points or less. But they are still losses, and the Titans can now enjoy the title as the league's worst team (even though they should be 3-3). Marcus Mariota is going to practice this week, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on Sunday. Anyone that thinks there's no difference between Mariota and Zach Mettenberger, who will never be an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, doesn't know the first thing about football.
Throughout the season I will have my NFL Power Rankings every Wednesday. My next ones will be released on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
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