A Super Bowl hangover is not reserved for the losers. The defending champion Los Angeles Rams are feeling the pain too, and quarterback Matthew Stafford is not the one to blame.
Stafford is not playing well, but he’s among many culprits in the Los Angeles blame game. The Rams are 2-3 because their offensive line is a mess, the running attack is absent, only one wide receiver is a threat and coach Sean McVay lacks the pieces to put the puzzle back together.
It should not come as a big surprise that the Cowboys beat the Rams 22-10 on Sunday. It has to be a little surprising when a 5-point road dog rolls by double digits, but it was the type of result I could see coming. While the Dallas defense has developed into a dominant force, the Rams have been stumbling in the dark and unraveling on the offensive side.
Los Angeles’ downfall starts up front, where three offensive line starters were missing against the Cowboys. McVay has started five different offensive line combinations in five games. In the past two games, Stafford was sacked a total of 12 times while the Rams totaled 95 rushing yards, one touchdown and 19 points.
If not for Cooper Kupp, the Rams would resemble one of the worst teams in the NFL. Kupp kept his team in the game with seven receptions for 125 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown that started with his spectacular one-handed catch.
To be fair, Los Angeles faced arguably the league’s top two defenses — Dallas and San Francisco — the past two weeks and its other loss came to Buffalo in the opener. Still, it would not be surprising if McVay fails to find the answers and the Rams miss the playoffs.
Stafford is a Super Bowl champion -- a title that can never be taken away – but he isn’t a superstar who can carry a flawed offense. The truth is the Rams were not a dominant team last season when they got hot at the right time, got a little lucky and won three postseason games by exactly three points each on their title run.
Last season’s Super Bowl teams — the Rams and Bengals — are each 2-3 and just winning their respective divisions will be a huge challenge. Los Angeles is nowhere near as good as they were last season, a lesson too many bettors learned the hard way Sunday.
“The Cowboys winning outright was really good for us in the afternoon,” Red Rock sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said after a winning day on his side of the counter.
Dallas is 4-0 with Cooper Rush filling in for Dak Prescott as the starting quarterback, but the defense should get more of the credit. The Cowboys have allowed a total of five touchdowns in five games.
Prescott, who had right thumb surgery on Sept. 12, hopes to return this week at Philadelphia. The 5-0 Eagles, who opened as 5-point favorites, have an elite offensive line that can slow Micah Parsons and the Cowboys’ relentless pass rush.
“I think once the Cowboys get Dak back, you can make a case they are the best team in the NFC East,” Esposito said. “The Eagles haven't beaten anyone yet — just my opinion.”
Five weeks into the season, this much is clear: Jalen Hurts and the Eagles have risen to the top spot in the NFC power rankings as quickly as Stafford and the Rams have fallen from the mountaintop.
It should be obvious to everyone now that the Rams are in real trouble, one of 10 lessons to take away from Week 5.
The Jaguars are always a risky proposition
More storm clouds were forming in the Circa Survivor contest, which already had 80% of the field wiped out through four weeks. Only 1,222 of 6,133 entries survived to Week 5, when the Jaguars were the most popular pick by 449 entrants.
When your all-in bet is riding on Jacksonville, beware of the dog. I warned a friend not to play the Jaguars, who were 7-point home favorites against the Texans. I warned him because the Jaguars had lost eight straight to the Texans and those types of trends in division games should not be ignored.
Houston ran its winning streak against Jacksonville to nine games with an ugly 13-6 decision that was capped by Dameon Pierce’s 1-yard touchdown dive with 3:11 remaining. Pierce turned into Earl Campbell reincarnated as he ran through the Jaguars defense late in the fourth quarter.
The Circa Survivor field is down to 718 entries, with 26 riding on the Chiefs as 7-point home favorites against the Raiders on Monday night. As for positive trends in division games, Kansas City crushed Las Vegas 41-14 and 48-9 in last year’s meetings.
Don’t expect bad teams to do good things for you
I made the mistake of using the Commanders + 1.5 as a pick in the Circa Millions and Westgate SuperContest. The play was based on reading the betting market, with the public heavy on the Titans and the sharps siding with Washington. I did not really like the play, yet hoped for a good result.
I got what I deserved with this ugly dog. On the brink of victory, Carson Wentz threw an interception at the 1-yard line with six seconds left and Tennessee survived, 21-17.
Washington had a major edge in total yards (385 to 241), but the Wentz-led offense also went 1-for-11 on third downs. It’s never comforting when you need a below-average quarterback and a bad team to close the deal.
The Jets are legit, to a certain extent
No fourth-quarter comeback was needed this time as the Jets routed the Miami Dolphins and their third-string quarterback, 40-17. The Jets blew it open with a 21-0 fourth quarter, stopping a 12-game losing skid to AFC East opponents.
Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson passed for 210 yards without an interception, and rookie Breece Hall rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown. The Jets (3-2) beat Cleveland and Pittsburgh on the road before taking down the shorthanded Dolphins, so while they are not giant killers, they are no longer a joke, either. The Jets’ next four games before their bye week (at Green Bay, at Denver, New England, Buffalo) will tell us a lot, and a split in those games would be a great accomplishment for New York.
The Giants finally found a coach who makes a difference
“We need the Giants,” Rampart sportsbook manager Duane Colucci said. I stopped by for the 6:30 a.m. kickoff of the Giants-Packers game in London and strongly suspected which side the books needed before Colucci confirmed it.
Green Bay led 17-3 midway through the second quarter, when everything looked good for the betting public. But the Packers fell apart in the second half, when Aaron Rodgers disappeared and their offense went scoreless in a 27-22 loss.
It was clear which team has the better coach. It’s up to Rodgers to lift Green Bay to victory on a weekly basis — coach Matt LaFleur is nothing without Rodgers. The Giants’ Brian Daboll is proving to be a difference-maker in his first year as a head coach.
Daboll’s play calling is bringing out the best in quarterback Daniel Jones, and running back Saquon Barkley is doing the rest. On a sprained ankle, Jones went 21-for-27 passing for 217 yards, added 37 rushing yards and outplayed Rodgers. Barkley finished with 106 total yards and one touchdown. The Giants’ 4-1 record is a bit phony, but their coach is the real deal.
The Packers’ loss, Colucci said, blew up “everything” in terms of money-line parlays and teasers, in addition to straight bets. The start of the day was a disaster for bettors.
Tom Brady’s act is getting old
Gisele Bundchen is not the only one who has soured on Tom Brady. The Buccaneers’ 45-year-old quarterback is getting extra-special superstar treatment from NFL referees, and the Atlanta Falcons are furious about it.
So was VSiN host Mitch Moss, who tweeted: “I’m so sick of Tom Brady. The refs completely screwed up three calls on this drive. On both sides. You’ve had a better 20-year stretch than any person ever. Go away already.”
Brady protested after Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett sacked him for a 10-yard loss on third down with three minutes to go. Brady’s lame case was heard by referee Jerome Boger, who said Jarrett “unnecessarily” threw Brady to the ground. A roughing-the-passer penalty allowed Tampa Bay to retain possession and run out the clock in a 21-15 win.
Tackling a quarterback to the ground is part of sacking the quarterback. This is football, not figure skating. The penalty was pathetic. Brady’s only offense was whining to draw the flag. The Buccaneers were on the verge of blowing a 21-point lead. Brady attempted 52 passes, compiled 351 yards and was not sacked — officially — while avoiding a three-game losing streak. If Brady is untouchable, he’s going to be tough to stop.
Bill Belichick is still worth a bet in the right spots
Jared Goff and the Lions came in hot, averaging 35 points per game, yet left New England with a 29-0 loss. Belichick put on a coaching clinic. Detroit coach Dan Campbell, who said his team “hit rock bottom,” can put on a dunce cap.
The game was a simple handicap for me: Belichick had a huge advantage against Campbell, and the Patriots were in a buy-low spot as 3-point home favorites. Not many winning bets in the NFL come so easily. A mediocre New England team outclassed Detroit in every way, even with third-string rookie Bailey Zappe starting at quarterback.
The handicap was not about any numbers. The spot was better for the Patriots and the situational advantages were all with Belichick.
Matt Rhule can pack his bags and go back to school
Rhule is officially out as Carolina coach. He’s 1-4 this year and 11-27 in three years. The Panthers failed to put up a fight in a 37-15 loss to the 49ers.
There were no signs the Panthers would be live home dogs, and the betting public got it right. Blowout wins by San Francisco and Buffalo were the only two big decisions the books lost in Week 5.
The big-picture lesson is to never believe the hype when a college coach jumps to the NFL. Rhule turned around the Baylor and Temple programs, but he’s out of his league at the next level. His gambles on quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield were busts. Rhule was not the exception and will soon be back in college where he belongs.
The Broncos were all wrong about their new coach and quarterback
Is it too soon to put Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett on the hot seat? Five games into his new job, Hackett appears clueless, and the Broncos’ new owners must realize they inherited big problems with Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson. This seems like a case in which the coach and quarterback have already lost the locker room.
Wilson has played so poorly that the team, following the Broncos’ 12-9 overtime loss to the Colts on Thursday, leaked information to the media about Wilson playing through an injured right shoulder. That explains it all, right? No, the injury report is an attempt at damage control because the Broncos look like fools for the Wilson trade and contract extension.
Denver is showcased in prime time again next Monday and opened as 6.5-point road dogs against the Chargers. Who’s riding with Wilson?
John Harbaugh was wrong this week, but he won anyway
The Ravens coach made the right call in Week 4, when he opted to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal on fourth down from the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh’s decision flopped and Baltimore lost to the Bills. He was proven correct that a field goal at that time was not enough to beat Buffalo, but the media critics ignored the evidence and ripped him for it.
A week later, early in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh second-guessed his decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches inside the 10-yard line. He called timeout and sent out Justin Tucker for a 25-yard field goal to take a 16-10 lead over the Bengals. The right call, again, was to go for it.
The Bengals, predictably, drove for a touchdown and a 17-16 lead with 1:58 left. The Ravens responded and won at the gun, 19-17, on Tucker’s 43-yard kick. Harbaugh got away with the wrong decision this week, and bettors who sided with the Ravens -3 got the worst of it. The lesson was to lay the cheap money-line price, not the points.