About a quarter of the way into the season, it is a great time to evaluate what has happened and where we are at.
While there will certainly be many words written in this article evaluating the state of various teams, I wanted to take this introductory space to share some evaluations I have made about my first month betting “professionally” (and I use this term as loosely as the Miami Dolphins do).
The first is that most of the time betting on spreads is for suckers. It is a really volatile way of predicting what will happen, and these are professionally (I use that word not loosely at all) developed spreads that are designed to create 50/50 odds. Put more straightforwardly, a line is meant to even the competitiveness of a pick. If we gave this team seven points that would make it 50/50, so now you choose.
With this in mind, a second observation is that moneyline bets (picking a straight-up winner) is the best place to be. Of course, picking a big favorite isn’t a great way to win money, but more often than not there are a lot of games that offer good enough odds to make the risk more than worth it. These bets protect against a lot of the variance that a spread doesn’t offer. Maybe a team runs bad and they don’t win by ten, but being the superior team they still pull out the win. The extension of this is that finding underdogs that pop can be the best way to make money on bets that offer some safety.
And finally, unders make more money than overs. The numbers vary depending where you look, but unders are successful at about a 55% rate across the league. This can be attributed to (among other things) Vegas’ understanding that most people want to root for points and are more likely to put their money on the over. Also, NFL games are more likely to have things go wrong (turnovers, injuries, weather, etc.) that lower the score. Sports books exploit this by making the lines slightly higher than they should and then cleaning up on the profits.
One thing that I want to continue to explore are prop bets. From everything I have seen these offer even more opportunities to make money, especially if we become familiar with the tendencies of teams and the game plans they may face.
Understanding this, and keeping in mind my promise to attack this slate with conviction, here are the Week 5 Best Bets. Let’s get this Owl eating once again.
NE -16 @ WAS
Ready for some conviction?
This might be the most egregious line of all time.
In fact, to prove I put my money where my mouth is, I put my entire bankroll on this game (and then loaded up some more money for my other bets...don’t tell my fiance).
If you’re looking for me to back this up, strap in.
Currently, Washington has three choices at quarterback. Case Keenum has made it known who he is on this team, and he was in a walking boot Wednesday, so we are not going to deal with him. Meanwhile, against a dreadful Giants’ secondary, Dwayne Haskins threw 3 interceptions in 17 attempts for an interception rate of 18%. Their other option, Colt McCoy, threw 54 passes in 2018 and managed to throw 3 INTs, but more importantly threw 7 interceptable passes in this same window. Bottom line, neither of these quarterbacks is able to protect the ball.
Meanwhile, the Patriots lead the league with 10 interceptions and 0 passing TDs allowed. Even more stunningly, they have allowed an unthinkable 181 passing yards per game and a QB rating of only 41.
In case you think that the running game will ride in and save the day, they rank 31st in the league with 49 rushing yards a game.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, the matchup on the line is even worse for Washington. With 2 offensive lineman injured and Trent Williams still holding out, there is a chance that Washington is starting more backups than starters this week. Oh, and the Patriots lead the league with 18 sacks.
If you are feeling like you need EVEN MORE data to back this up, Washington has a terrible defense. They have allowed 10 passing TDs (31st in the league), 29.5 points per game (31st in the league), and have only sacked the QB 5 times in four games.
Finally, of these two teams, Washington is dealing with several notable injuries. Besides Keenum and the two offensive lineman, their top receiver - Terry McLaurin - missed last week with a hamstring and their #2 tight end - Vernon Davis - joined their #1 tight end - Jordan Reed - in the concussion protocol.
This leaves few weapons for a bad quarterback to try to beat the best defense in the league. Why don’t we collect our free money, and if you want to double your bankroll like me, just don’t tell your significant other until after you win.
And that’s the best advice in this whole article.
MIN -5.5 @ NYG
Listen, this is the definition of a bet I am making with conviction.
On paper, these are two 2-2 teams who both have weaknesses and who both have an opportunity to make a statement with a win here. On paper this line, with Minnesota on the road for the second straight week and the Giants playing their second straight home game, New York has an advantage. On paper, the Giants have outscored their opponents 56-34 with Danny Dimes as QB.
I get all that, but betting on paper is what lost us all out money last week.
In real life, the Vikings are a vastly superior team. They have a cohesive identity and the ability to dictate the pace and rate of games.
On the season so far, the Vikings have given up 63 points, for an average of just under 16 points per game. In that span they have not allowed a 300 yard passer, and have allowed only one 100 yard rusher (Aaron Jones).
The Giants will be entering this game with a rookie quarterback who just threw two interceptions against the second worst secondary in the NFL (second worst only to the Giants) and a backup running back. They get the return of Golden Tate, but that rounds out an unremarkable wide receiver core who will not strike fear in the hearts of the Vikings.
On the flip side, there is a large potential for the Vikings to lean into the pass game early to satisfy their two star receivers. Both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have made comments expressing frustration with the game plan and Kirk Cousins. The good news for all parties involved is that New York has one of the worst secondaries in the league, allowing 280 yards a game (even after playing Dwayne Haskins) and a QB rating of 99 (again after playing Dwayne Haskins).
But in all honesty, looking through the data, these two teams are closer in their rankings and numbers than you would think. The main reason for that, though, is that the Giants benefited a lot from their dominant won last week. Outside of that game, they are giving up an average of over 30 points. Meanwhile, with the Vikings scoring defense being so stingy and their run game being so strong, this has blown written all over it.
I trust a Vikings team that has made deep playoff runs and who has talented players all over the field. I don’t trust a rookie QB, backup RB, makeshift receiver core, and bad defense. Now let’s win some money.
BAL -3.5 @ PIT
This is going to be deja vu from our last pick, but here we have a good team coming off a loss and going on the road to face a bad team who is coming off of a dominant win against an even worse team.
Did you follow that?
Well, here’s the breakdown. Last week, Baltimore lost to Cleveland in what would not have been deemed a bad loss four weeks ago, but now doesn’t look great. The Browns used a combination of Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb to repeatedly gouge a Baltimore defense that looked overmatched.
But a big part of that gouging was the absence of Brandon Williams, the Ravens standout defensive tackle who missed the game with a knee injury but who seems to be on track to come back this week. Too often we do not pay attention to line injuries, but this is a case where it made a world of difference.
The main reason this is a crucial difference for the Ravens is because of how one dimensional the Steelers offense is with Mason Rudolph at the helm.
Against the Bengals, the Steelers put the game into the hands of their running backs, having Jaylen Samuels and James Connor run the ball 20 times total while also catching 16 (!!) of Rudolph’s 24 completions. Oh yeah, and Samuels was 3/3 passing out of the wild cat.
Rudolph himself was essentially not a quarterback, even when he was quarterback. He threw 12 of his completions behind the line of scrimmage, and had only one completion that traveled more than ten yards in the air. His average depth of target (aDOT) was 3 yards, and that dipped to 2 when his one long pass was removed.
In other words, the Steelers game planned the Bengals to death by targeting their inability to deal with running backs in both the running and passing games (hello David Johnson this week). When they play the Ravens, however, the Steelers are going to be hard pressed to have the same game plan, and it is not clear that any other game plan is feasible with Rudolph.
The Ravens have the most dynamic quarterback in the league who is playing a defense who has surrendered a rating of 100.8 to opposing QBs (even after Andy Dalton threw for 171 yards against them). Hollywood Brown is a prime candidate to shred this Pittsburgh secondary which has melted down against the Patriots and Seahawks and gotten lucky against the Niners (who had five turnovers in offensive territory) before playing a hapless Bengals squad. Add in Mark Ingram’s stellar play and a Ravens D that should get some of its firepower back and this is a much more lopsided matchup that it appears.
To steal an idea from a previous section: I trust a Ravens team that has a clear identity and talented players. I don’t trust a backup QB and bad defense. Now let’s win some money.
CAR -3.5 v JAX
If Jacksonville loses that game to Denver last week (which they should have) then the narrative around the team is so much different right now.
Without Jalen Ramsey playing, the Jags gave up 300 yards passing to Joe Flacco, who many consider to be more checked out than a library book (that’s my old English teacher humor rearing its head). Ramsey's replacement, Tre Herndon, gave up 6 of 9 targets for 119 yards against Broncos receivers.
So far this week, Ramsy hasn’t practiced on Wednesday or Thursday and is considered questionable for Sunday.
Even if he does play, the Jags are giving up 100 rushing yards per game and are about to face the best running back in the league (with Saquon out, or maybe even with him in). That stat becomes even more damning when you realize the Jags have faced Kansas City and Houston, two teams who do not run the ball often.
Last week, the Panthers could have looked even more dominant were it not for three Kyle Allen fumbles that killed scoring drives. While this is certainly repeatable by a quarterback who has struggled with turnovers his whole career, there is no doubt that holding onto the ball will be a priority for him this week.
But even in spite of those fumbles last week, Carolina won that game because of their defense. The Panthers currently lead the league in sacks (tied with the Patriots), they allow the fourth fewest total yards per game, and they have a shutdown corner in James Bradbury. Granted Carolina is not strong against the run, but they have the tools to make the Jags one dimensional and subsequently to limit that damage.
On offense for the Jags, although Minshew Mania is sweeping the nation, the team has actually been fairly pedestrian on offense with him behind center. They are averaging less than 20 points a game in his three starts, and he has yet to top 213 yards in any of those three games. Over that same span, he has taken 9 sacks and fumbled 4 times.
As a thought experiment, when trying to decide whether to bet this game, take a second and imagine what we would be saying if his name was Rob Smith and he was a clean cut, insurance salesman looking type. Certainly Minshew deserves credit for everything he has done to win games for this team (he could easily be 3-0 as a starter), but those three wins have come against a bad Denver team, an inconsistent Tennessee team, and a poorly organized Houston team.
This will be Minshew’s first test, and I will be betting that one man’s magic can’t beat a team that is complete on both sides of the ball and is rolling hot with its own back-up QB. He just happens to be named Kyle Allen and look like an insurance salesman.
Well, he sold me.
OAK @ CHI (in London) under 40.5
I have been toying with this bet for a while, but have finally decided that this is what I believe will happen:
I believe this will be a poorly executed game with limited offense and lots of ball control.
When looking at a total, I like to imagine what the most reasonable expectation is and then see where that falls in relation to the total. In this case, I do not see Oakland scoring more than 10 points; the Bears have surrendered totals of 10, 14, 15, and 6 to offenses that have a lot more to offer than Oakland’s.
Meanwhile, I do not see Chicago scoring more than 24 (ish). The only game in which they have eclipsed 16 is when they played Washington, a team who I could score 30 points on. Plus, with chase Daniels at quarterback and against Oakland’s terrible run defense, this feels like a recipe for a slow-paced, get out of dodge with a win type game plan.
Believing in those two scripts as strongly as I do our total is maxing out conservatively at 34, which puts us under, which wins us money.
Making this feel even more like a lock is the fact that this game is in London, and that London is 6,000 miles away from Oakland. A week after playing in Indianapolis (2,200 miles away from Oakland) there is a good chance we run into the “second road game in a row teams always lose” corollary.
There is an old adage that defense travels, and if that is the case, Oakland is in trouble and the score is going to be low.
In this case, the under will travel as well.
Bonus Best Bets
In what has become a tradition here are a couple of quick alternative Best Bets in case you’re looking for more action:
GB +3.5 @ DAL
This is not a Best Bet because it relies too much upon injury, but currently the Cowboys are going to be without star tackle Tyrone Smith and possible another star starter on the line in La’el Collins.
If neither of these players are in (or honestly just Smith might be enough), then the Cowboys ability to run on the weak Packers run D is suspect. Add in the fact that passing will be tough and that Dallas has gotten progressively less creative on offense while the Green Bay has had ten days to prepare, and this might be a layup.
I’m going to wait to the injury report gets more firmed up, but I am ready to pounce if it trends towards the Dallas line being incomplete.
LAR +1 @ SEA I came really close to pulling the trigger on this as a Best Bet, and may still pick it in my pool, but in the end there is just too much volatility baked into this line.
Yes, I think the Rams are the better team. Yes, I think Seattle has benefited from playing two back-up quarterbacks and Andy Dalton. Yes, I think Sean McVay will right the ship after a wonky and, quite frankly, nightmare game against Tampa Bay.
But with all that said, Seattle’s offense is very good and their home field advantage is real. With Jared Goff playing inconsistently and the short week throwing even more chaos into the mix, I could not, in good conscious recommend this as a Best Bet.
If you are looking for Pretty Good Bets that I still want credit for if they go right, but no blame if they don’t, then this is the one for you!
ARI +3 @ CIN
The purpose of this bet is twofold.
Number one is to win money. Number two is to figure out whether I should give up on this Arizona team forever.
In this case, I believe they are the better squad and that their strengths align well to beat a Cinci team that is reeling and who has done nothing on offense outside of the first week.
With a stable of receivers and a running back who is essentially a receiver, the Cardinals have a chance to move the ball all over a defense who has trouble stopping anyone.
Meanwhile, with John Ross out, the Bengals are down to Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate as their receivers. Both are slow, possession receivers who lack the explosiveness to make big plays. In other words, Cinci’s offense looks to be as poor as its defense.
Getting points in Cincinatti makes this an easy pick, and one that I am confident will either win us money or save us from betting on Arizona ever again.
TB @ NO under 47
I wrote a thousand words on this bet all the way back in the Early Best Bets article, but I wanted to give it another shout out here.
They say a rising tide raises all ships, but the inverse of that is that when you’re playing in the tub and the stopper gets pulled out, all your toy ships sink.
Teddy Bridgewater is the plug being pulled.
I think this is a hard bet to make given what is fresh in our minds from Tampa Bay, but if they get a lead here, there is plenty of evidence that they want to run the ball and sit on the clock if they can. If the Saints struggle to score against a pass funnel defense, then this game could be a running clock, ball control game before you know it.
In our first ever prop bet, I am going to recommend Russell Wilson over 19.5 rushing yards on Thursday Night at (-115).
This is our first prop, and so I won’t spend much time analyzing as I have more research to do. But in my gut, it seems as though this game gets going back and forth and Seattle needs a couple of crucial first downs. Wilson’s legs can get them those and he should be able to easily eclipse 20 yards.
The Big Money Makers
Well, folks, that is not how you do it!
A week after our parlays and teasers filled our coffers, last week’s quickly emptied them.
Perhaps you are thinking of Icarus flying too close to the sun with his wax wings and hubris, or perhaps you are just enjoying the roller coaster ride that is our big money makers, but we here at Owl Eats Football have learned something:
It’s only big money if you win the bet.
So, with that in mind, our Big Money section this week includes a lot of our Best Bet section and takes a shot at winning big money through more conservative means.
If this disappoints you, just remember that a couple of wins this week mean all of that goes out the window and next week’s Big Money Bets will all be shooting for four figures.
To get there, though, here’s what we need to happen:
TEASER (6.5 points)
NE -10 (-115)
MIN +.5 (even)
BAL +3 (-110)
CHI +1 (-110)
GB +10 (-120)
LAR +7.5 (-110)
$25 to win $125
CHI OAK under 40.5 (-110)
MIN -6 (even)
NE -16.5 (-115)
25 to win $152.60
TB to win (+150)
ATL to win (+185)
ARI to win (+135)
25 to win $393.59