NFL teams’ identities being established

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The season is nearly one-third complete and teams have started to reveal their true identities, showing signs of whether they are improved, weakened or much the same as last season. They’ve faced different levels of competition with varying results that have also revealed strengths and weaknesses.

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So far, 29 underdogs have pulled outright upsets although only three have been as underdogs of seven points or more. Home favorites are just 17-33-1 ATS (34 percent) while the long considered profitable category of home underdogs are just 9-14 ATS (39 percent). Three games have closed pick ‘em and another was played at a neutral site in London.

Will this be a season of parity? Or one of haves and have nots? Through five weeks there are just two unbeaten teams (New England and San Francisco) but there are still four winless teams (Cincinnati, Miami, New York Jets and Washington) although one of that quartet should get its first win this week.

Sunday

Panthers -2 vs. Buccaneers (at London): Note the early 6:30 a.m. Pacific starting time. Both teams are playing well with the Power Ratings gap between the two narrowing.

Tampa QB Jameis Winston seems to be making better decisions. After three interceptions in an opening loss to San Francisco (36 attempts) he’s thrown just two in his last four games (130 attempts). Carolina backup QB Kyle Allen has filled in well for the injured Cam Newton, supported by the rushing and receiving of RB Christian McCaffrey (arguably the NFL’s best all around back). Coach Bruce Arians’ Bucs are showing improvement each week. BUCCANEERS

Texans +5.5 at Chiefs: A statistical comparison could suggest this line is too high. Two dynamic young QBs face off with Houston’s Deshaun Watson and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (nursing a “tweaked” ankle).

The Colts showed the blueprint for slowing down the Chiefs with last week’s heavily run-oriented game plan (45 rushes for 180 yards). KC coach Andy Reid has the coaching edge over Houston’s Bill O’Brien and is 3-1 SU and ATS in their four meetings, all of which were in Houston. And none had Mahomes behind center.

The Chiefs have not lost two straight home games since early in the 2015 season. CHIEFS

Saints +1.5 at Jaguars: New Orleans has fared well in the absence of QB Drew Brees as backup Teddy Bridgewater has filled in well, leading the Saints to three straight wins. Jacksonville QB Gardner Minshew has also played well replacing injured Nick Foles.

The Saints’ offense is built more on finesse than physicality. They play just their second game on natural grass. The first was at the Rams in the 27-9 loss in which Brees was injured.

Jacksonville’s is a physical defense which should pressure Bridgewater. Their running game has been effective, gaining 149 and 269 yards the past two weeks. The Saints haven’t rushed for more than 120 yards since gaining 148 in their opener. JAGUARS

Redskins -3.5 at Dolphins: Barring a tie, which might be what this matchup deserves, one team will gain its first win.

Of the nine combined teams played by Washington and Miami, eight made the playoffs last season. Each has lost to both Dallas and New England. The stats for both teams against those quality foes are fairly similar.

Washington fired coach Jay Gruden but still have issues at QB. Miami’s off its Bye and is at home. Although Miami ownership may be ‘tanking’ the players are playing hard.

This is one of the few games that either team appears capable of winning, making taking the points the better of two weak options. And there’s an old adage along the lines of “when garbage plays garbage take garbage plus the points, especially at home.” DOLPHINS

49ers +4 at Rams: The 49ers were impressive in Monday night’s win over Cleveland, improving to 4-0. They lead the NFL in averaging 200 rushing yards per game. Defensively they rank second overall (No. 2 vs the run, No. 5 vs the pass).

The Rams have lost back-to-back games to Tampa Bay and at Seattle following a 3-0 start. Both offenses have been prone to turnovers but the Niners’ defense is tops in forcing them at 2.8 per game.

Normally this would be a good spot in which to back the Rams. But given the 49ers’ balance, confidence and ability to control the clock getting a FG or more in a divisional rivalry is attractive. 49ERS

Cowboys -8.5 at Jets: Jets QB Sam Darnold is listed as probable after missing three games. In starting 3-0 the Cowboys beat the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins who are a combined 2-12 so far. They’ve lost their last two games to the Saints and Packers who are a combined 8-2.

The 0-4 Jets are in the class of those first three foes with an anemic offense that’s yet to top 262 yards in a game, gaining 128 and 105 in their last two losses.

Darnold’s availability should not have a major impact on the spread. Dropping down in class he Cowboys should flex their muscles on both sides of the line following a pair of losses to playoff caliber teams. COWBOYS

Last week: 2-4

Season: 16-14

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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