Maybe the line is a little inflated. Maybe the sharp side is the home underdog. But there no doubt is a fear factor involved when betting against Aaron Rodgers.
Each time he steps on the field, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers is the best player on the field. It’s hard to believe Rodgers has been a starter in the league for a decade and won only one Super Bowl. Maybe that will change soon.
Each week in the NFL, there are a few games that pit the public Joes versus the pros. Most times, the pros are on the underdog. The Green Bay-Minnesota game is a definite sharp-square battleground on Sunday, with the Joes on Rodgers. So is this handicapper.
Most of the reasons to like the Vikings are due to their defense, an attacking, physical unit that ranks eighth in the league by allowing 18.6 points per game. Minnesota has the sixth-best defense at stuffing the run. But can it beat Rodgers?
It has been said by more than a few analysts this week that the Packers often struggle in Minneapolis. Yet that’s untrue as far as Rodgers is concerned. Rodgers has a 3-1 record, with seven touchdown passes and one interception, in his past four trips to Minneapolis. In his past seven games there, he has totaled 18 touchdown passes with one interception.
Green Bay’s offense, thinned by several injuries the past few weeks, is getting closer to full strength. Starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are listed as questionable and seem likely to return along with running back Ty Montgomery.
The Packers still are hurting on the defensive side of the ball — safety Morgan Burnett is out and linebacker Ahmad Brooks is doubtful — but the Vikings are in worse shape. Minnesota will be missing quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Dalvin Cook and wideout Stefon Diggs. Bradford’s absence probably means the least, because he was abysmal in Monday’s narrow win at Chicago, and Case Keenum is currently a better option.
While the Minnesota defense presents a challenge for Rodgers, he poses more of a threat. His top receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett — are healthy and rookie Aaron Jones rushed for 125 yards against Dallas while Montgomery was out. If their tackles do return, the Packers will be fully loaded offensively.
When we handicap the NFL, we are faced with some tough decisions each week. This week looks tough from the top of the card to the bottom.
When in doubt, roll with Rodgers. When the game is on the line, the fear is not being on his side, so go with the Packers as 3-point favorites.
The Cleveland Browns, as 9-point underdogs at Houston, just missed my cut this week. Here are four more picks for Week 6 (home team in CAPS):
* Lions (plus-4½) over SAINTS: This spot is better for New Orleans, which has won two in a row and is off a bye. The Saints won their past five home games when coming off bye weeks. Plus, Drew Brees is in fine form, and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is hobbled. Still, the Lions picked up wins the past two years in New Orleans, including a 28-13 victory as 6-point ‘dogs last year. With a total of 50, this shapes up a shootout. Brees will be a little better than Stafford as the Saints escape by a field goal.
* 49ers (plus-11) over REDSKINS: Next year at this time, Kirk Cousins could be the 49ers’ quarterback. But he’s playing for Jay Gruden now, and the Washington coach is 4-8 against the spread in his past 12 as a home favorite. San Francisco (0-5) has dropped four games by a total of 11 points, with two losses in overtime. The 49ers are on the road for the third consecutive week, a negative situation to say the least, but they continue to fight and quarterback Brian Hoyer can produce enough offense to keep it close. It helps his cause that the Redskins will be missing cornerback Josh Norman.
* Rams (plus-2½) over JAGUARS: The Jacksonville defense picked on Ben Roethlisberger in a big win at Pittsburgh last week, but it allows 146.4 yards per game to rank 31st against the run. Todd Gurley has turned into a battering ram, ranking No. 3 in the league with 405 yards rushing. The Los Angeles defense recently shut down Dallas in the second half and contained Seattle for four quarters. The Rams’ plan will be to stop the run and dare Blake Bortles to throw, which should be an effective plan.
* Chargers (plus-3½) over RAIDERS: Philip Rivers is a road ‘dog, and the Chargers quarterback is on a 24-11-1 ATS run in that role. The underdog has covered eight straight in these teams’ meetings in Oakland. The L.A. run defense is weak, meaning Marshawn Lynch might finally bust loose, and quarterback Derek Carr is returning from a back injury. Something is not right with the Raiders, though, and that was true even before Carr’s injury. Oakland should stop its three-game skid, but expect Rivers to make the ending dramatic.
Last week: 2-2-1 against the spread