Seeking truths in uncertain NFL season

In the midst of a perfect half-season, the Pittsburgh Steelers survived two scares Sunday when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger limped to the locker room with a banged-up knee.

The lowly Cowboys, who were 0-8 against the spread and playing a fourth-string quarterback, provided the other scare. But Big Ben came back in more ways than one. Dallas led deep into the fourth quarter before Roethlisberger passed for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:14 left in a 24-19 Pittsburgh win that was anything but pretty.

It was supposed to be easy, yet the Steelers, 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, narrowly escaped as two-touchdown road favorites.

“The NFL is so unpredictable, and that’s why it’s so popular,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director. “This is a good time to be a bookmaker. There is plenty of action, and the unpredictability is good for business. Look at the Dallas game.”

The Steelers, who have only two double-digit wins in eight games, have been playing with fire and are a Roethlisberger injury from potential problems. On the Super Bowl futures board at BetMGM, Pittsburgh is the second choice at 6-1 odds. Kansas City, the 7-2 favorite, also escaped an upset bid Sunday.

At this point in a season threatened by COVID-19 uncertainties, Super Bowl futures are foolish bets because odds value is hard to find and any wager is just a guess. That’s one of 10 inconvenient truths as the NFL goes full steam ahead to Week 10.

The Bucs are far from unstoppable. Tampa Bay, the BetMGM favorite in the NFC, took a 38-3 beating from the Saints on Sunday night in the most inexplicable game of the season. Remember when Tom Brady was turning back the clock and the Buccaneers were the hottest story in the league? That was one week ago. Life comes at you fast in the NFL.

Brady made his 333rd career start, including the postseason, in the lopsided loss to New Orleans. It was the first time his offense had gone three-and-out on the first four drives of the game. It was also the first time Brady had been swept by a divisional opponent in the regular season.

“The fact that it was so one-sided was a shocker,” Magliulo said. “You can’t predict some of this stuff.”

At least one bettor had a clue. BetMGM reported a $500,000 wager from Las Vegas placed on the Saints’ moneyline (+ 155) to win $775,000.

Teddy Bridgewater is a better bet than Brady. He’s not flashy or a future Hall of Famer, but Bridgewater boosts the bankroll. After producing a cover in the Carolina Panthers’ 33-31 loss at Kansas City, Bridgewater is 33-11 ATS as a starting quarterback.

First-time starting QBs are not automatic fades. In his first NFL start, Garrett Gilbert nearly led the Cowboys to an upset of the Steelers. Jake Luton, a rookie sixth-round pick from Oregon State, passed for 304 yards and accounted for two touchdowns as the Jaguars, seven-point dogs, covered in a 27-25 loss to the Texans.

Tua Tagovailoa has won his first two starts for the Miami Dolphins, who will be favored in at least three of their next four games and can make a run at winning the AFC East.

Beware of betting against big dogs. When something looks too good to be true, it probably is, especially if it’s a double-digit favorite in the NFL. All three teams laying 10 or more points failed to cover in a recent seven-day span, starting with the Buccaneers (-13) in a 25-23 victory over the Giants on Nov. 2. The Chiefs (-10) and Steelers (-14) came up short Sunday, making double-digit favorites 4-6-1 ATS on the season.

“I was starting to worry the gap between the haves and have-nots was widening too much in the modern NFL, especially when the Jets were unable to cover 19½ in their 35-9 loss to the Chiefs in Week 8 despite covering most of the game,” said VSiN senior reporter Dave Tuley, a devoted underdog player. “However, these last three covers by the Giants, Panthers and Cowboys show that parity still exists and any team can cover on any given Sunday.”

The Patriots did not qualify as double-digit favorites Monday night, when they escaped with a 30-27 victory over the winless Jets. New England hit -10 at times but closed as a 9½-point favorite.

The Giants are surprisingly hot dogs. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is 4-0 against Washington and 1-16 against all other opponents in his career. The Giants were three-point underdogs in Sunday’s 23-20 win, running their spread record to 15-2 in their last 17 games as road dogs.

Fraud alert: Bears were never for real. Chicago’s 5-1 start included fourth-quarter comebacks from double-digit deficits at Detroit and Atlanta. Mitchell Trubisky was benched and blamed for an impotent offense that has been no better with Nick Foles as the starter. After a three-game losing streak, the Bears have the league’s worst rushing offense (82.3 yards per game) and fifth-worst scoring offense (19.8 ppg). In Sunday’s 24-17 loss at Tennessee, the Bears piled up 175 yards and 14 points in the final six minutes to put lipstick on a pig.

Pin some of the blame on coach Matt Nagy, and put the rest on Ryan Pace, who might be the worst general manager in the NFL. Pace will be an ex-GM soon.

The Chargers are heartbreakers. While rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has been sensational, the Chargers have continued to blow leads and string together excruciating losses. It’s an undeniable trend, so blame coach Anthony Lynn. The Chargers, who have failed to cover their last two games, often flop as home favorites and happen to host the Jets on Nov. 22.

NFC West is not the best. Through the first half of the season, the Seahawks, 49ers, Rams and Cardinals formed what was considered the NFL’s top division. I now rank it No. 3, behind the NFC South and AFC North.

Seattle has quarterback Russell Wilson, so it always has a shot, but the Seahawks also have dropped two of their last three and own the worst pass defense (362 ypg) and third-worst scoring defense (30.4 ppg) in the league. Wilson has been passed by the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in the MVP race. San Francisco is wrecked by injuries as a Super Bowl hangover victim. The Rams have five wins, but L.A. swept the NFC East and beat the Bears, so who cares? Arizona has lost home games to the Dolphins and Lions.

“You are starting to see some cracks, and the NFC West might not be as strong as we thought,” Magliulo said. “We need to re-evaluate that division now. How about the NFC South?”

Doomsday has arrived in Dallas. Even before quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending ankle injury in early October, the Cowboys were coming apart at the seams. Now that the situation has gone from bad to worse to a lost cause at 2-7, Prescott’s absence is a convenient excuse.

The truth is the Cowboys, with an opening win total of 9½ that was bet to 10, were the league’s most overrated team going into the season. Former coach Jason Garrett was not the problem, and new coach Mike McCarthy is not the answer.


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