The 2017 NFL season is unfolding quite differently from what was expected by most back in August.
The New England Patriots, favored by as much as minus 2500 to win the AFC East and possibly go unbeaten, are tied with Buffalo and the New York Jets at 3-2 after 5 weeks of play.
The Jets entered the season with the lowest projected Season Wins Totals since those wagering offerings started to appear two decades ago. At a range of between 3.5 and 4.5 wins in the weeks leading up to the season, the Jets have a chance to cash the OVER tickets for some this weekend as they host the Patriots.
Only one team remains perfect while three teams remain winless. That Kansas City is 5-0 or that both Cleveland and San Francisco are 0-5 are not shocking developments. But the 0-5 start fashioned by the New York Giants is a major head scratcher. The G-Men were 11-5 and made the Playoffs as a Wild Card team last season and returned much of the defense from that team.
The questions revolved around the offense and a porous offensive line and sure enough that unit was inept starting the season, tallying 3 and 10 points in losses at Dallas and to Detroit to open the season. In the second half of their week 3 game at Philadelphia the offense started to gel and after scoring fewer than 20 points in 8 straight games dating back to last season the Giants have scored 24, 23 and 22 points in their last 3 games. In those games the defense was unable to protect fourth quarter leads.
At 0-5 the Giants will not make the Playoffs this season and are in danger of challenging for the top draft choice next spring, a dubious honor many thought would fall to their Meadowlands co-tenants. Coach Ben McAdoo may be losing control of his lockerroom but a more tangible issue for the Giants over the next few weeks is dealing with the injuries to 4 of their receivers in last week’s loss to the Chargers, including a broken ankle that will sideline start Odell Beckham Jr for the balance of the season.
The NFL is a week to week drama. Teams that look great one week can look as though they’ve never played the game the next week. Injuries have the greatest impact on a team’s fortunes in football because of the short 16 game schedule. Quarterback injuries have the greatest impact because of the importance and nature of the position.
That is why Sports Books routinely resist putting up lines on games in which the status of the starting QB is mostly uncertain. There are several such games this week and likely there will be a game or two each week of the season, especially with the rules concerning concussions that have been tightened in recent seasons.
Four more teams have Byes this week as Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas and Seattle will not be in action this week.
Last week was very unusual from a pointspread standpoint with only 2 teams favored by more than 4 points. Philadelphia was a 6.5 point favorite over visiting Arizona, winning 31-7. The other was Pittsburgh. Favored by 7 the Steelers were upset at home by Jacksonville.
In contrast, on Monday morning 5 of the 12 games on which there were lines posted featured favorites of between 9.5 and 11 points.
Here’s a look at the 14 games that will be played in Week 6.
Philadelphia +3 at Carolina (46): Philly is 2-0 on the road and the Panthers are just 1-1 home with their last loss being a 34-13 loss to Division rival New Orleans. Since that loss the Panthers have won as underdogs in back to back weeks at New England and Detroit. Both of these teams are worth backing going forward but the home field and the edge on defense, especially against the pass, make the stronger case for the hosts. CAROLINA
Cleveland +10 at Houston (44): Even without JJ Watt the Texans have a top flight defense although the numbers are down thus far. Laying double digits is always risky and if the Texans had fared better against the Chiefs, even in a loss, taking the points might be tempting. Yet QB DeShaun Watson continues to develop and has established a rapport with his receivers. The Texans’ offense should continue to improve and end up being a strength of this team as the season progresses. HOUSTON
New England -9.5 at NY Jets (47): Pats’ QB Tom Brady has had to get accustomed to several new skill position players this season which suggests a learning curve that will result in more offensive efficiency as the season rolls on. This is a big number to lay on the road, especially against a Division rival that is playing with newly found confidence. Not withstanding the effort display in Tampa, the New England defense is still a concern OVER
Miami +10.5 at Atlanta (47.5): The travel conditions faced by Miami over the first month of the season will eventually subside but the Dolphins are playing at their fifth different venue in five weeks, including their overseas trip to London two weeks ago. Miami has shown little to suggest their offense will suddenly come to life against a rested opponent that rates as one of the top teams in the league. ATLANTA
Detroit +3.5 at New Orleans (51): Both teams are allowing over 250 passing yards per game, ranking 27 and 28. Yet both are also allowing just 19.5 points per game. But with two pass first offenses this game should be played at a fast pace and feature multiple big plays. The Total is reasonable for this matchup and although it is tempting to back the rested Saints the preference here is to play on both offenses. OVER.
Green Bay at Minnesota (No Line): The status of Minnesota starting QB Sam Bradford keeps this game off the boards on Monday although he was upgraded to “probable” for Monday’s game at Chicago. Minnesota has to tinker with its ground game after rookie Dalvin Cook was lost for the season. Prior to the win at Dallas the Packers lost their only prior road game at Atlanta. As a FG underdog or more the Vikings would be playable as a home dog. More likely this game comes closer to Pick ‘em. GREEN BAY
Chicago at Baltimore (NL): Baltimore is a team for which the window of contention is closing with an aging QB and a lack of depth at many positions. Both teams have been weak on offense and both passing games are averaging a very low 8.1 yards per pass completion which results from a lack of big passing plays. Both teams have above average defensive stats which, when combined with their limited offenses, suggests the best play in this game will be on the Total. UNDER
San Francisco +10 at Washington (46.5): New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is to be commended for taking a team that has endured huge personnel turnover the past couple of seasons and having them competitive. Washington deserves to be solid favorites but laying double digits may be asking too much against a team that has shown an ability to play well from behind in late game situations. SAN FRANCISCO
LA Rams +2.5 at Jacksonville (43.5): Beware of home teams favored in that 2 to 2.5 point range which are numbers that “tease” you into backing the home team laying just under a FG. History over the past several season shows those short priced road teams have better than expected success. We saw it three times last week with Detroit, Dallas and the Rams themselves all losing at home in that price range. Both teams are much improved but we should not be surprised if the Jags regress from last week’s effort much as they did when they returned from London and lost at the Jets. LA RAMS
Tampa Bay -2 at Arizona (44.5): Arizona’s offense has struggled thus far and the Cards have topped 18 points just once, scoring 23 points in their opening loss at Detroit. Tampa is playing just its second road game of the season. The first was a loss at Minnesota in which the offense struggled. It may still be premature to favor the Buccaneers on the road against this caliber of team. ARIZONA
Pittsburgh +4 at Kansas City (46): Last week the Steelers lost at home to Jacksonville 30-9 as QB Ben Roethlisberger has perhaps the worst game of his career, tossing 5 interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The Chiefs are the lone remaining unbeaten team and have historically had one of the best home fields in the NFL. They have twice scored 42 points this season and have scored at least 24 points in each game. Pittsburgh’s offense should be much more in synch this week. OVER
LA Chargers at Oakland (NL): The Raiders have the better talent and although 4 of the Chargers’ 5 games have been decided by 5 points or less the preference is to back the hosts who are starting to fall out of favor with the bettors with 3 straight losses following their 2-0 start. OAKLAND
NY Giants +11 at Denver (41): The Giants running game is still a work in progress despite rushing for 152 yards on 25 carries in the loss to the Chargers. But now QB Eli Manning will need time to develop timing with mostly new receivers which plays into the strength of Denver’s defense. It’s tempting to lay the big number with the Broncos and that would be the preferred side to play. But the better play will be on the Total, which, barring multiple defensive or special teams TDs should result in a low score. UNDER
Indianapolis at Tennessee (NL): Tennessee does have the better running game. They are allowing 28.4 points per game but that average is skewed by the 57 points allowed to Tennessee two weeks ago. Their raw defensive stats are middle of the pack and although both teams are 2-3 the Titans are much more talented than the Colts. Indy’s first two road games this season were losses by 37 and 28 points at the Rams and Seattle. TENNESSEE
Last week: 6-7