It would be easy to give up on the Denver Broncos. There are plenty of reasons to do so, starting with Joe Flacco, who is playing his way into early retirement.
The Broncos look hopelessly lost with the 34-year-old Flacco slowly spinning his wheels for a winless team. It appears general manager John Elway has whiffed on yet another post-Peyton Manning quarterback project. It’s not a surprise.
Flacco, displaying the mobility of a mannequin, has been sacked 11 times and the Broncos have scored only 46 points in three games. The scoring problems are nothing new, as Denver is 10-1 under the total since the middle of last season. If searching for something positive, the offense is averaging a respectable 342 yards per game and did move the ball against two top-10 scoring defenses (Chicago and Green Bay) until Flacco failed to finish drives.
Denver’s defense has no sacks or takeaways, a surprising development considering Vic Fangio is the new coach and Von Miller and Bradley Chubb lead what was expected to be a fearsome pass rush. Bet on that defense finally denting the sack and turnover columns Sunday against Jacksonville rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew.
The Broncos rank ninth in the NFL in total defense (314 yards per game), better than the Jaguars (364.7) at 19th, though Jacksonville has put more pressure on QBs and might actually have its top cover corner, Jalen Ramsey, on the field after he was absent all week.
The price is now right, with the South Point and Westgate SuperBook lowering the Broncos to 2½-point home favorites over the Jaguars. Denver is playing with desperation and — this is a risky proposition — it’s up to Flacco to outplay a rookie sixth-round pick with a cool mustache. If Flacco fails to fire his best shot in this game, he has nothing left.
(I will pass here on two ‘dogs that I like — Lions plus-7 and Bills plus-7 — based on Matthew Stafford’s hip injury and a preference for Patriots-Bills under 42.)
Four more plays for Week 4 (home team in CAPS):
* Browns (plus-7) over RAVENS:
It’s time for Baker Mayfield to shut his mouth and start producing. Mayfield has completed just 56.9 percent of his passes with five interceptions. Freddie Kitchens might be the worst head coach in the league, and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh is one of the five best. This line is inflated for a few reasons, but I’ll play a motivated ‘dog and follow the trends. The Browns are 10-4 ATS in their past 14 as underdogs and covered both games against the Ravens last year. Baltimore is 1-6-1 ATS in its past eight at home.
* Redskins (plus-3) over GIANTS:
Jay Gruden’s job probably depends on the result of this game, but that’s not the reason to side with Washington. He will be fired sooner or later. Case Keenum is playing well enough to win and he’s facing a terrible pass defense. The Redskins are 5-2 ATS in their past seven on the road. The hype is all about Daniel Jones. But the Giants, who will miss Saquon Barkley, are 1-7-1 in their past nine at home.
* Vikings (plus-2) over BEARS:
Aside from a couple of Kirk Cousins blunders at Lambeau Field, the Vikings have shown few flaws. Minnesota and Buffalo are tied for the No. 5 spot in scoring defense (15.7 ppg). The Vikings rank No. 2 in rushing offense (193.7 ypg) with Dalvin Cook leading the NFL with 375 rushing yards. Before getting too excited about Mitchell Trubisky’s supposed breakthrough game Monday, when he passed for three touchdowns, keep in mind the Chicago offense produced only 298 total yards, a season-high mark after the Bears totaled 273 yards against Denver and 254 against Green Bay. Unlike the Vikings, the Bears are having trouble running the ball. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s aggressive, fast defense can contain Trubisky and force him to pass from the pocket, where he’s erratic. Minnesota is the better team and should win if Cousins can avoid costly mistakes with Khalil Mack in his face.
* SAINTS (plus-2½) over Cowboys:
The betting public is infatuated with Dallas, which seems to have all the pieces in place with an elite defense and Dak Prescott’s explosive offense. The Cowboys are 3-0 ATS with double-digit victories over the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins — three bad teams with a combined 1-8 record. The Saints are far superior to those teams on the defensive side, and they obviously can win with steady Teddy Bridgewater running the offense in Drew Brees’ absence. His best days were in the past, but Bridgewater is 24-7 ATS in his NFL career as a starter. The last time New Orleans was a ‘dog in the Superdome, the Saints (plus-2) beat the Rams 45-35 last season. Wait for plus-3 to resurface, because the public will bet the Cowboys, but take the 2½ if a better number never comes back.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread