Lines adjust as identities emerge

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The NFL made it to the quarter pole of its 2020 season, but not without mishap.

One game (New England-Kansas City) got pushed back a day, another (Pittsburgh-Tennessee) got postponed until later in the month.

Whether the result of the unusual lead up to the season created by COVID-19 that led to different levels of preparation and readiness or to other factors an unusually large number of teams have started the season unbeaten or winless.

Four teams are a perfect 4-0 (Buffalo, Green Bay, Kansas City and Seattle) and two more — the aforementioned Tennessee and Pittsburgh — are 3-0.

Four teams are 0-4 (Atlanta, Houston and both New York, er, New Jersey teams — the Giants and Jets).

As teams go deeper into the season, remaining either perfect or winless there are prices to pay or from which to benefit. Line adjustments are made when teams continue to win, often just a point or two, but those small adjustments can be meaningful and come into play more often than is commonly thought.

Winless teams often are the benefit of getting an additional point or point and a half as they continue to lose.

How important is an additional half point to point and a half? Over the past six regular seasons (1,536 games) roughly one game in eight (13.2 percent) falls within 1.5 points of the closing line. That’s an average of one or two games each week.

That’s why every half-point matters which makes it imperative to shop for the best line available when you bet to gain an edge over the “lazy, I bet only at one book” bettors.

Sunday

Panthers +2.5 at Falcons: Atlanta is still winless while Carolina’s followed two losses with a pair of wins.

After blowing 15- and 16-point fourth-quarter leads in back to back weeks Falcons’ coach Dan Quinn was hoping to have his team protect a lead Monday night. But powerful Green Bay was in front all the way.

They might get that chance here. Atlanta has controlled this series in recent seasons, going 8-1 SU and ATS since 2015, including the last five in which they were favored in four. The Panthers do have a new coach and QB but much of the key personnel on both teams are largely the same. FALCONS

Raiders +13 at Chiefs: The Raiders play a fourth straight playoff team from a season ago and a second straight unbeaten one.

Kansas City is off Monday night’s win over New England in which the defense played very well while the offense struggled for three quarters. Slow starts were an issue for the Chiefs throughout last season’s playoffs. K.C. was tested at the Chargers but their other three wins would have covered this line — wins over three playoff teams from last season (Baltimore, Houston, New England).

The Raiders do have a Bye next week. But they’re allowing 30 points per game and the defense has forced just two turnovers. And Kansas City’s turned it over just twice. CHIEFS

Jaguars +6 at Texans: Bill O’Brien became the season’s first coaching casualty Monday when he was fired as head coach and GM by Houston ownership. An 0-4 start that followed some controversial offseason personnel moves led to the decision.

The Texans are more talented than Jacksonville, but how will the players respond?

There are two schools of thought, both which suggest a strong effort. Those who didn’t like playing for O’Brien will feel a sense of relief as if a burden was lifted. Those who supported the coach will feel they let him down and will be out to prove they can play to their talent level.

QB Deshaun Watson has the edge over Gardner Minshew and Houston still has the more talented defense. They’ve also played much tougher opposition which explains their -5 turnover differential. TEXANS

Dolphins +8.5 at 49ers: The game is off the boards at many books due to the questionable status of 49ers QB Jimmy Garappolo, who has missed the past two games. If he plays this line likely goes a shade above 10. If not, the line probably drops to 7.

San Francisco’s next five opponents are a combined 15-5 with none having a losing record. At 0-2 at home this is an early-season critical game and the Niners catch Miami making its first trip away from the east coast this season.

GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have built a deep roster that is up to the challenge presented by the numerous injuries. 49ERS

Colts -1.5 at Browns: This might be both the week’s most attractive and most intriguing matchup.

Indianapolis has the NFL’s top defense as measured by total yards, points and yards per play. Cleveland has the NFL’s top rushing offense, averaging 204 yards per game and 5.9 yards per rush. RB Nick Chubb, who has contributed 335 yards with four touchdowns, was injured against Dallas and is on IR, putting more of the burden on Kareem Hunt and enabling the Colts to focus more on stopping Cleveland’s passing game.

Such matchups are often correlated with the total, suggesting either Colts and Under or Browns and Over. Although I am a believer in these Browns, my preference long-term has been to side with defense. COLTS

Vikings at Seahawks, Total 57.5: Both were playoff teams last season but the Vikes have started 1-3 while Seattle is 4-0.

Both defenses rank near the bottom of the league, allowing more than 6.1 yards per play. Offsetting this is that both offenses rank in the top-four, averaging at least 6.4 yards per play. Most of those yards have been via the pass although Minnesota has a very strong rushing attack.

Yes, this is a high total and the linesmakers have started to adjust for the high scoring. Two of Minnesota’s games have topped 60 total points as have three of Seattle’s. OVER

Last week: 2-3-1

Season: 10-13-1

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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