I am starting to think that we here at SportSmasher should focus on moneylines, because we are a strong (40-23) on the NFL season picking outright winners, while we are a pathetic (27-33-3) against the spread. As always though, we plan on getting better as the season goes along when it comes to picking games against the spread, and believe the future ahead is bright. Week five will be a difficult week for both gamblers and those of us still in “Knockout Pools” alike, because the four teams below who have Bye Weeks have a combined two wins this season, so several of the worst teams in the league are impossible to target. Let’s get to the picks:
BYE WEEKS: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins
Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns (-4) The Cleveland Browns started the season (0-2), their quarterback was injured, and they traded their best offensive player to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick in the 2014 Draft. However, General Manager Mike Lombardi was adamant that the team was not tanking and giving up on the 2013 season, and everyone laughed. Since then, the Browns are (2-0) behind strong play from quarterback Brian Hoyer and an excellent defense, and nobody is laughing at them now. The Buffalo Bills are also (2-2), with home wins over the Panthers and Ravens, and the combination of head coach Doug Marrone and quarterback EJ Manuel seem to have the franchise headed in the right direction. I think that both of these teams are in a similar position, both underrated teams who cannot be taken lightly, but are a year away from becoming legitimate playoff contenders. I think that the Bills will struggle to move the ball on the Browns stingy defense, but do not expect a lot of yards from the Browns offense either, and expect a tight low scoring game. I think the Browns get another win, but expect a sloppy, low scoring game like many Thursday Night contests. Take the points.
THE PICK: Bills (+4) FINAL SCORE: Browns 20 Bills 17
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans (+3) The Kansas City Chiefs currently lead the NFL in sacks, with 18.0 during the first four games of the season, led by NFL Sack Leader and budding star Justin Houston’s 7.5 sacks. They have dominated opponents during the early portion of the 2013 season, they have gotten off to an unbeaten (4-0) start, and are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL with a smart offense and an intimidating defense. The Tennessee Titans have been one of the NFL’s most surprising teams this season, they have gotten off to a (3-1) start, but lost starting quarterback Jake Locker to a hip injury which will cost him at least a month of the season. The Titans will now look to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to replace Locker, as they will lean on their running game and excellent defense to win gritty football games. They will be able to do that against most NFL teams, but not against the Kansas City Chiefs, who I expect to stuff the Titans running attack and force Fitzpatrick into pressured throws all afternoon long. There is an adjustment period when switching quarterbacks, and the Chiefs are catching the Titans at the right time, expect them to take advantage and remain unbeaten.
THE PICK: Chiefs (-3) FINAL SCORE: Chiefs 24 Titans 16
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins (-3) It is not a must win situation for the Baltimore Ravens just yet, they are tied with two other teams at (2-2) in the AFC North, but the defending champs need to start clicking soon. A combination of offseason retirements and defections, injuries, and getting new additions up to speed has really make the Ravens look pedestrian so far this season. Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco threw five interceptions in last week’s loss to Buffalo, and he needs to get better protection and get on the same page as his wide receivers, if the Ravens are going to bounce back from a lackadaisical start. The team did trade for left tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, and he should be an immediate upgrade over Brian McKinnie, once he gets up to speed with the offense. The Miami Dolphins were annihilated by the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football last week, but they are still one of the most improved teams in the NFL, as they sport a (3-1) record. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved greatly between his first and second season, the Dolphins weapons in the passing game have been upgraded, and the defense is playing really well. This is a tough matchup to pick, I was leaning Baltimore because they need it more, but the Dolphins have been the better team in 2013. I expect them to defend home field and get another win.
THE PICK: Dolphins (-3) FINAL SCORE: Dolphins 27 Ravens 23
Jacksonville Jaguars @ St. Louis Rams (-11.5) This spread is absolutely ridiculous, there is no what that a team that features Brian Schottenheimer’s vanilla offense should ever be favored by more than a few points at home, against any opponent. I could not believe how poorly quarterback Sam Bradford and the Rams offense played on Thursday Night against the Rams, but a lot of it was Schottenheimer calling three yard outs and dumpoffs on third and long, and never attacking the 49ers downfield to keep them honest. Living in the New York area, I forgot about how badly his super conservative offense limited the Jets for years, and while he is the offensive coordinator of the Rams I do not see them covering a spread again. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL, there is no doubt about that, and I think that they have a legitimate chance to go (0-16) this season. I do think that the Jags have the right coach and general manager in place to turn this sad franchise around, but it is going to take a few years, and I expect them to take Teddy Bridgewater with the first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft to become the face of their franchise. Moral of the story, no team with Brian Schottenheimer calling their plays is covering an (-11.5) spread, it wouldn’t matter if they were playing a Pop Warner team.
THE PICK: Jaguars (+11.5) FINAL SCORE: Rams 21 Jaguars 13
New England Patriots @ Cincinnati Bengals (+1) This is an excellent game, in which we will learn a lot about two of the preseason favorites to win their divisions in the AFC, one who is off to an excellent start and one who is struggling. The New England Patriots (4-0) are cruising right now, despite missing several key players with injuries, they continue to win game-after-game against good teams. They just lost their best defensive player, nose tackle Vince Wilfork for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, a devastating blow to the defense. The Cincinnati Bengals are off to an (2-2) start, and they have had both impressive wins (Packers) and brutal losses (Browns), so you are always unsure which Bengals team is going to show up. The Bengals were without three key players (Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, Dre Kirkpatrick) in their secondary during last weekend’s loss to the Browns, and they should have most (if not all) of these players back to take on the Patriots. The Bengals need this game, while the Patriots are the better team, but we all know the Pats are not going (16-0). I think this is a game that the Bengals take at home to prove they are a worthy playoff team, and the class of the AFC North, but it will not be easy.
THE PICK: Bengals (+1) FINAL SCORE: Bengals 28 Patriots 27
Seattle Seahawks @ Indianapolis Colts (+3) Another excellent game, every “expert” thought that the Indianapolis Colts overachieved in 2012 and would regress in 2013, but with a (3-1) record and a win over the 49ers in San Fran it looks like everyone was wrong. The Seattle Seahawks (4-0) are simply the best team in the NFC at this point, a power running game with Marshawn Lynch and a ferocious defense has them punishing even good teams, as we saw last weekend when Seattle beat the Texans in Houston in overtime. If the Colts are able to hold home field against the best team in the NFC and win this game, they will start getting buzz as a legitimate contender. However, the Colts are a finesse team, and I expect the more physical Seahawks to roll into Indianapolis and punch them in the mouth. The Seahawks have struggled on the road, but won close games against the Panthers and Texans to stay unbeaten, and i think they do the same on Sunday. I think that a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch on the ground will make it a long day for the Colts defense, while the Seahawks defense will pressure Andrew Luck into some bad throws, as Seattle bullies the Colts for another road win.
THE PICK: Seahawks (-3) FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 28 Colts 20
***SportSmasher Best Bet: Seahawks (-3)***
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers (-7) The Green Bay Packers (1-2) are coming off of a bye week well rested, which they needed, because this is as close to a early season must win game as it gets because the team has a difficult schedule ahead. Aaron Rogers has looked sharp as always this season, and he has excellent weapons in the passing game, however the Packers patchwork offensive line needs to give him time to throw. They will be tested this week, when the Detroit Lions (3-1) come to town, led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is playing the best football of his career. The Lions defense has been excellent this season, and the offense has been able to move the ball and get big plays, as the addition of running back Reggie Bush has had a huge impact. I think that the Lions are legit, and since because of this, I think that this spread is far too high. This will be a tight game, but in the end, I think Aaron Rogers makes enough plays at home to get the Packers back to (.500).
THE PICK: Lions (+7) FINAL SCORE: Packers 31 Lions 27
New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears (+1) I spent the entire offseason ripping the New Orleans Saints defense, they allowed the most yards in NFL history last season, and were devastated by injuries in the offseason that I thought would make the unit worse in 2013. I was wrong. Through four games the (4-0) Saints statistically have the best defense in the NFL under new coordinator Rob Ryan, which has been the most surprising thing to me during the early portion of this season. The Chicago Bears (3-1) are a much improved team offensively, as their new offensive line has protected Jay Cutler and opened running lanes for running back Matt Forte, however they have taken a major step backwards on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears franchise has always been known for defense, however they have given up 114 points through four games, and their awful defense is one story that NFL experts are not yet talking about. You cannot give up that many points defensively and expect to beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. I think that this game will turn into a shootout, and if it does, the Bears will not be able to keep up with the Saints.
THE PICK: Saints (-1) FINAL SCORE: Saints 34 Bears 30
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants (-3) Two of the most disappointing teams from the most disappointing division in the NFL meet when the Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) head to the swamps of Jersey to take on the New York Giants (0-4). In the NFC East, the four teams are combined for four wins, and nobody is out of the race because the division winner may finish (8-8) or worse. The Philadelphia Eagles looked like the best offense in football after shredding the Washington Redskins in week one, but they have not been able to duplicate that offensive success, and have really struggled defensively especially in the secondary. The New York Giants have always been known for their pass rush, however in 2013, they have been able to generate zero pressure this season which has really exposed their thin secondary. Their biggest flaw has been on the offensive side of the ball, where a terrible offensive line has not been able to protect Eli Manning, or open rushing lanes for David Wilson. As a Giants fan, I did not think that I would be in a position to pick them to fall to (0-4) but I am disgusted with their effort this season. I think that Eli Manning will connect with Victor Cruz against a bad Eagles secondary and will move the ball, however, I see no way that a banged up Giants defense can stop Chip Kelly’s offense. The Giants may be without one of the most underrated players in the league in defensive tackle Linval Joseph and several cornerbacks (Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Jayron Hosley) in this game, and their linebackers have underperformed, so I think Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy will run wild. Giants fall to (0-4).
THE PICK: Eagles (+3) FINAL SCORE: Eagles 31 Giants 24
Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals (+2) The Carolina Panthers are better than their (1-2) record this season, and clearly Vegas thinks so too, because they are favored on the road in Arizona. The Panthers have an excellent defensive front seven, which makes it impossible to run the ball on them, and Cam Newton has been able to make plays out of nothing offensively. However, the Panthers do have two major weaknesses, their inability to run the football and their secondary. The Arizona Cardinals (2-2) should not be home underdogs in this game, although they have struggled offensively, they are excellent on the defensive side of the ball. Carson Palmer is enough of an upgrade at quarterback from previous seasons that the Cardinals can move the ball enough to win, despite totally lacking a running game, and having some issues along the offensive line. I think that Arizona’s excellent defense will force Cam Newton into some mistakes, while either the dangerous Patrick Peterson or “The Honey Badger” will burn the Panthers for a big defensive or special teams touchdown, and the Cardinals will get a win at home. To me, this is one of the safer bets on the board, the Cardinals should not be getting points.
THE PICK: Cardinals (+2) FINAL SCORE: Cardinals 23 Panthers 17
***SportSmasher Best Bet: Cardinals (+2)***
***REXRATED Best Bet: Panthers (-2)***
Denver Broncos @ Dallas Cowboys (+8) The Denver Broncos (4-0) are the hottest team in the NFL right now, and are not just beating good teams, but have been blowing them out. Peyton Manning looks like one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, as he is finding receivers Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas wide open for easy touchdowns every week. Denver’s defense has played well, despite the fact that they have been without linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Champ Bailey, two of their best defensive players. The Dallas Cowboys (2-2) edged an (0-4) Giants team that committed six turnovers in week one, and beat the lowly Rams (1-3) week three, that’s two wins over teams with a combined one win. The Cowboys lost to the Chiefs at the Chargers, making them (0-2) against the AFC West, the Broncos division. Dallas is the best team in the worst division in football, while the Broncos are the best team in a division that has already beaten the Cowboys twice, I think the Broncos roll in Dallas.
THE PICK: Broncos (-8) FINAL SCORE: Broncos 41 Cowboys 20
***SportSmasher Best Bet: Broncos (-8)***
Houston Texans @ San Francisco 49ers (-7) Two teams that were expected to be contenders in their conferences meet in what is a huge game for each, when the (2-2) Texans head to San Francisco to battle the (2-2) 49ers, in a game where the loser is going to have major questions. The Texans were expected to have a cakewalk through the AFC South, but after four weeks they trail the Colts and the Titans, who are both (3-1). Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown in each of the last three games, and fans in Houston are burning his jerseys in the parking lot, but the Texans do not have a backup worthy enough to make this into a quarterback controversy. The 49ers have struggled, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the defense played much better last Thursday Night, and it looked as though the team may have righted the ship. Both of these teams are strong defensively, I think that the 49ers win this game, but I am taking the points.
THE PICK: Texans (+7) FINAL SCORE: 49ers 27 Texans 23
***REXRATED Best Bet: Texans (+7)***
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders (+4.5) I actually think the San Diego Chargers (2-2) are a year or so away from being a good football team, if they spend next offseason acquiring some playmakers at wide receiver and reinforcing the offensive line and the secondary, they could be ready to make a run at the postseason in 2014. They are a much better team than the Oakland Raiders (1-3) are right now, whose only hope of victory seems to hinge on quarterback Terrelle Pryor making a few “wow” plays and teams being unsure how to contain his off-the-charts athleticism for the position. Terrelle Pryor missed last week’s game win a concussion, and with Matt Flynn under center, the Raiders fell apart offensively. We are unsure if Pryor will play on Sunday, but if he is unable, Matt McGlion will apparently get the start for Oakland. I have been impressed with San Diego, take the points.
THE PICK: Chargers (-4.5) FINAL SCORE: Chargers 24 Raiders 13
***REXRATED Best Bet: Chargers (-4.5)***
New York Jets @ Atlanta Falcons (-9.5) The Atlanta Falcons (1-3) have been ravaged by injuries, to several key players including Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Sean Weatherspoon and Sam Baker. This is a must win game for the Falcons, who entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, but now trail the New Orleans Saints by three games in the NFC South. The New York Jets (2-2) are playing with some fire, however they will be without two of rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s favorite targets in this game, as Santonio Holmes and Geno Smith are out. I think that the Falcons know they have to impress on Monday Night Football, and without Steven Jackson against a sturdy Jets run defense, I expect a big game through the air by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. I think that a desperate Falcons team capitalizes off more rookie mistakes by Geno Smith and covers this spread at home, and the talking heads will be discussing “do not count the Atlanta Falcons out just yet”.
THE PICK: Falcons (-9.5) FINAL SCORE: Falcons 31 Jets 17
Against The Spread (6-9-1) Outright (6-10)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (2-1)
Against The Spread (7-8-1) Outright (13-3)
SportSmasher Best Bets (0-3) RexRated Best Bets (1-1-1)
Against The Spread (7-8-1) Outright (11-5)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (1-2)
Against The Spread (7-8) Outright (10-5)
SportSmasher Best Bets (2-1) RexRated Best Bets (0-3)
Against The Spread (27-33-3) Outright (40-23)
SportSmasher Best Bets (4-8) RexRated Best Bets (4-7-1)