NFL Division games matter more

Oct 9, 2019 3:00 AM

Situational handicapping is critical for college sports bettors because you’re dealing with 18, 19, and 20 year-old men. Are they ripe for a let-down spot after a big win the previous week? Could they get caught looking ahead toward next week’s rivalry game? Are they seeking revenge for something that happened last year?

Those same philosophies typically don’t apply as much toward professional sports, but one trend has remained constant throughout the early part of this season: Emphasis on division games.

Last year, the Chicago Bears went 6-0 against the spread in the NFC North during their 12-4 regular season. In two games against the Packers and Vikings this season, the Bears’ defense has allowed a total of 435 yards and 16 points. 

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That same Bears defense allowed 372 yards and 27 first downs to the Broncos in Week 2, then 398 yards and 25 first downs to Oakland last week. Chicago has shown a propensity for getting up for their NFC North games, then going flat for their non-division contests.

With control of the AFC North in the balance, the Cleveland Browns played their best game of the season in Week 4 against the Ravens, then immediately laid an egg against an NFC foe on Monday night.

Week 6 offers four divisional matchups - Carolina vs. Tampa Bay, Cincinnati vs. Baltimore, San Francisco vs. Los Angeles and Detroit vs. Green Bay. Which ones could present some value at the betting window? 

Bengals at Ravens -11.5: The Ravens are fortunate to be playing in the AFC North this season. The other three teams in that division have combined for three wins on the year. It’s really hard to walk away from Baltimore’s game at Pittsburgh feeling too confident in John Harbaugh’s squad. The Ravens’ defense allowed Devlin Hodges, a third-string rookie from Samford, to generate two second half scoring drives to put the game into overtime. Baltimore’s offense generated 3.8 yards per play against the Steelers, and Lamar Jackson committed three turnovers. Cincinnati has won eight of the last 11 meetings in this series. Baltimore is just 1-6-1 against the spread in their last eight home games. 

Seahawks -1 at Browns: When the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook released their look-ahead lines last week, Cleveland was a -2 home favorite in this spot. Following the Browns’ Monday Night Football debacle in San Francisco, Seattle is now favored. In sticking with our inter-division theme, the Seahawks have just played back-to-back games against the NFC West, and now have to travel across the country to play a non-division game. Will they carry the same level of motivation into this one that they’ve had the previous two weeks? Seattle is 7-1 against the spread in their last eight road games. 

49ers at Rams -3.5: Here’s one that we don’t see very often: The participants of the previous week’s Thursday night game (Seattle and LA) are playing the participants of the previous week’s Monday night game (Cleveland and San Francisco). So we’ve got two contests in Week 6 with a significant rest advantage. Even though the 49ers looked fantastic on Monday Night, it’s tough to ignore that disparity in preparation time. The Rams are just 2-6 against the spread in their last eight home games. 

Lions at Packers -5: This point spread zone has been a black hole for home favorites this season. According to The Gold Sheet, there have been 21 games this season where the home team has been favored between 3.5-6.5 points. Those home favorites have gone 5-16 against the spread. The Packers looked great in their victory at Dallas on Sunday, but the line has dropped from -6.5 to -4.5 at some shops. The Lions have won and covered the last four meetings in this series. Detroit is 5-2 against the spread in their last seven games as a road underdog. 

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