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Key NFL games for contest players


Week 5 in the NFL was very unorthodox for more seasoned bettors. The public crushed the books, with most tickets on the Cardinals, Titans, Buccaneers, Saints, Cowboys and Bills — and all cashed pretty easily. Bookmakers got middled with the Packers winning by exactly three points, cashing early bets on Cincinnati getting 3.5 and late bettors hitting the Packers at -2.5. Sharp plays on the Giants, 49ers and Jets lost. Some contrarian bettors took a stab with the Jaguars and, once again, Jacksonville came up short. 

Just a weird week, in my view, as the results seemed to lack any rhythm. The Raiders laid a complete egg, while key injuries were crucial in a few games — most notably to Russell Wilson, Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. That is the NFL, though. It’s extremely unpredictable and why we must work hard to learn more each week.

I am still scratching my head about the Philadelphia Eagles. Give them credit. They never quit and were able to come back and beat the Panthers outright. The Panthers are not as much of a question for me. I think they’ll be fine. Their defense is pretty solid. I have a lot of faith in coach Matt Rhule, and I think this team will get back to its winning ways when running back Christian McCaffrey returns. 

But Philadelphia is tough to figure out. The Eagles certainly earned some respect the first two weeks after I had them graded pretty low heading into the season. Then they got boat-raced by Dallas, and even though they put up 30 points on the Chiefs, they gave up 42. It is probably a good thing that they play Thursday night. I never like to use the Thursday game in contest play, so I’ll likely sit that one out and try to further educate myself on exactly what this Eagles team is.

I still don’t want to get too crazy about the Arizona Cardinals. As impressive as they were against the Los Angeles Rams, they have had some mediocre efforts against Minnesota, Jacksonville and, most recently, San Francisco.

The Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Chargers definitely look like the real deal. I noted last week that their matchup could be a postseason preview, and that still looks very possible. Buffalo also fits the template, with terrific talent on both sides of the ball and excellent coaching. Week 4 featured the storyline about Denver and Carolina, both 3-0 at the time, but many questioned the opponents they had beaten. One could have asked the same thing about Buffalo heading into Week 5 to face the Chiefs. The Bills had lost to the Steelers and then had beaten Miami, Washington and Houston. But I made the point on our new NFL show, “Pro Football Blitz” with James Salinas and me, that you can certainly argue the level of competition the Bills faced in those three wins — but they absolutely destroyed each of those teams, like a dominant team should. Two of those wins were shutouts. And as evidenced Sunday night, Buffalo looks pretty darn good — and the Chiefs, for the first time in quite a while, do not appear to be anything special.

In VSiN’s NFL Betting Guide, I wrote about playing the Chiefs’ season win total at Under 12.5. In our division predictions, I left the Chiefs out of the playoffs, with Denver winning the AFC West and the Chargers getting a wild card. I may have had that part reversed, but I don’t see the Chiefs getting any better soon with what is maybe the very worst defense in the league. And Patrick Mahomes is starting to play a bit more like a human being than a superhero.

I usually don’t like to have a bye week early in the season, but it might be perfect timing for San Francisco. We’ll see how things go, but I think the 49ers could be a bet-on team in Week 7, hosting Indianapolis.

Two interesting games this week are the Raiders visiting the Broncos and the Seahawks visiting the Steelers. I always recommend crunching the numbers and seeing where that takes you, but I firmly believe in incorporating situational handicapping into your analysis. With coach Jon Gruden stepping down, will the Raiders curl up and come out flat? I think it could be the opposite. This could be a wakeup call. The Raiders may come out with an inspired effort to honor their former leader — or they may come out inspired because he’s gone. I also believe it helps that they are on the road due to too many distractions at home in the wake of the Gruden news. Las Vegas could be a take getting 3.5 or 4 points based on what I believe will likely be a positive response to the developments.

Many times we see teams rally the troops and put together an all-hands-on-deck effort in the game after a star player has gone down to injury. Geno Smith didn’t look bad in relief of Russell Wilson on Thursday night, and I still don’t think the Steelers are that good. Their defense is, and that is the fly in the ointment, but I think you could get that all-out effort from Seattle in an immediate response to their guy going down with a finger injury. I’d be on the Seahawks catching 5 points.


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