Maybe There Just Aren’t Any Good Football Teams This Year

josh allen sacked

Ever since the bye week was added in 1990, it has annoyed me and my mathematically inclined (and perhaps slightly obsessive-compulsive) brain that we couldn’t pinpoint an exact middle of the NFL season. But now that a 17th game has been slipped into the schedule, it gives us an even number of weeks, and therefore an exact midpoint of the season. And that midpoint is now.

Nine weeks down, nine to go. Exactly half of the 32 teams have had their bye weeks. We are right at the spot where the beam meets the fulcrum.

And what have we learned in half of an NFL season? That everybody stinks.

OK, maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s try again: That everybody is capable of stinking. That there might not be a single reliably good team in the entire league. Either that, or there’s so much parity that even the seemingly bad teams can beat the seemingly good teams on any given Sunday.

In Week 9, on the topsy-turviest Sunday yet, seven outright underdogs won, including one that was supposed to lose by two touchdowns plus a couple of two-point conversions.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen came into the game as the leading candidate for NFL MVP and then spent three hours not even being the best Josh Allen on the field! Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen sacked the other Josh Allen, intercepted the other Josh Allen, and recovered a fumble by the other Josh Allen, and the Jags managed to win the game without even scoring a single touchdown.

You name an NFL team, I’ll give you a reason not to believe they’re going all the way. Bills: lost to the Jags. Titans: lost to the Jets, and Derrick Henry might be done. Cardinals: History suggests you can’t rely on Kyler Murray’s health or Kliff Kingsbury’s competence. Rams: Did you see that dud against the Henry-less Titans? Cowboys: Mike McCarthy is their coach, and they just got whomped at home by the Denver Broncos. Buccaneers: probably the least obviously flawed team, but they’re 5-0 against opponents who currently have at least four losses and 1-2 against opponents who don’t. Ravens: 6-2 becomes 2-6 if you flip two overtime Ws, the wild comeback against the Chiefs, and the Justin Tucker 66-yarder. Patriots: looking better lately, but still rolling out a rookie QB and just 1-3 against over-.500 teams. Chiefs: Have you been watching them? Packers: Their MVP is consulting with Joe Rogan.

Nobody is shorter than +550 anywhere to win the Super Bowl. And maybe nobody is any good.

In a Week 10 with seven spreads larger than a touchdown, we’re unlikely to learn if anybody actually is any good. But we just might get more information about which teams aren’t any good. Let’s take an early look at the lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 10:

The consensus lines

Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the 14 games in Week 9 (the Bengals, Bears, Giants, and Texans have bye weeks):

  • Ravens (-7.5) at Dolphins
  • Falcons at Cowboys (-10)
  • Saints at Titans (-3)
  • Jaguars at Colts (-10.5)
  • Browns at Patriots (-1.5)
  • Bills (-13.5) at Jets
  • Lions at Steelers (-9.5)
  • Buccaneers (-10) at Washington
  • Panthers at Cardinals (-10)
  • Vikings at Chargers (-3)
  • Eagles at Broncos (-3)
  • Seahawks at Packers (-4.5)
  • Chiefs (-3) at Raiders
  • Rams (-4) at 49ers

Line move to watch

It looks like CBS is dodging a bullet in the Sunday late afternoon slot, as what might have been Geno Smith’s Seahawks vs. Jordan Love’s Packers on the not-yet-frozen tundra looks like it’s going to be Russell Wilson’s Seahawks vs. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. The line already moved from Green Bay -5.5 to Green Bay -4.5 on the confirmation Monday of Wilson expecting to play, but will the line move more once the Packers’ QB situation is official?

Rodgers is eligible to return on Saturday, as long as he is asymptomatic for COVID-19 at that time. If by chance he can’t play the next day, Seattle could flip from underdog to favorite. It’s a longshot, but you have that slim chance at a massive middle if you jump on the ’Hawks now.

Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider

Bronze medal: Pass. After all the upsets in Week 9, we figure it swings the other way in Week 10, and we only see two games on the board with ML ’dog value.

Silver medal: Falcons +360 (Caesars) at Cowboys. This is an all-or-nothing bet. If Dallas should win by 35 points over a 4-4 Falcons team that seems weaker than its record, would you be at all surprised? Of course not. But is there at least a 22% chance that one bad defeat at home opens the floodgates for the Cowboys (and opens the door for McCarthy to do more McCarthy things)? It’s worth a dart throw.

Gold medal: Raiders +135 (DraftKings) vs. Chiefs. No, it’s not a huge payout. But the 5-3 Raiders, with their plus-7 point differential, are only an underdog at home against the 5-4 Chiefs, with their minus-7 point differential, because of Kansas City’s reputation, which is based on things that happened in 2019 and 2020. You’re getting +135 on a coin flip game.

Textbook teaser candidates

Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:

  • Ravens: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 Thursday night at the Dolphins.
  • Cowboys: Can tease down to -4 or -3 at home against the Falcons.
  • Colts: Can tease down to -4.5 or -3.5 as they try to halt the Jags’ one-game winning streak.
  • Bills: Can tease down to -7.5 or -6.5 against the Jets in New Jersey.
  • Steelers: Can tease down to -3.5 or -2.5 hosting the winless Lions.
  • Buccaneers: Can tease down to -4 or -3 on the road against the Football Team.
  • Cardinals: Can tease down to -4 or -3 against the visiting Panthers.

Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. Sticking with our not-too-nervous-about-a-ton-of-upsets-this-week attitude noted above, this feels like a reasonable week for teasing — but you ought to take the full 7 points with most of these. Buffalo -6.5, Tampa -3, Arizona -3 feels like … well, there are no sure things, so let’s say it feels like a not particularly unsure thing.

Most Valuable MVP bet

Off a week in which the stock of every top MVP contender in action went down, Tom Brady’s stock went up as he sat there on a bye.

Lamar Jackson at +1400 at the Kambi sites such as BetRivers might look like value, but he was much better value last week when we recommended him at +2500. The Ravens have a tough remaining schedule and Jackson’s stats are middle of the pack — we’re just not feeling it at 14/1.

Sorry, but at a modest +400 at almost every sportsbook, TB12 is your best bet right now — even coming off a pre-bye week upset loss in which he threw two interceptions. At age 44, he’s leading the league in yards per game and touchdown passes, and the Bucs are probably going to win 13 or 14 games. There still might be a kernel of value at 4/1.

How did we do last week?

This column is not really about betting advice — it’s more an overview of the NFL week ahead and a collection of ideas to think about — but we may as well have some accountability. So …

Last week’s best call: The Titans at +290 were our silver medal moneyline underdog pick — if you slapped a few bucks down on that, you’re welcome. But our best advice was telling you not to tease. If the Cowboys, Rams, or Saints were included in your teaser, the sportsbooks got your money. Sometimes, the best wagers are the wagers you don’t make.

Last week’s worst call: It’s hard to brag about the Titans upset pick when our other two underdog recommendations (Jets and Texans) failed on a week when seven underdogs won outright.

Gadget plays

  • Let’s do the weekly check-in on the five-team division-winner parlay (Bills, Titans, Cowboys, Packers, Bucs) we proposed five weeks ago. Somewhat to our surprise, the odds swung even higher into the minus zone for a fifth straight week. It’s gone from +246 to +160 to -103 to -123 to -171 and now -191. With the Bills just a half-game up on the Patriots, one leg has tightened up, but the others keep widening — particularly Tennessee, now -5000 to win the AFC South at FanDuel despite the Henry injury. The Bucs at -650 and the Bills at -700 are the two teams to be a wee bit nervous about. So, if you’re cool with risking a lot to win a little, you can now bet just the Titans, Cowboys, and Packers on a parlay at -637.
  • If ever there was a game to bet the under using PointsBet’s “pointsbetting” option, it was that Chiefs-Packers game before the Rodgers COVID news. The total opened at 55, and, with a little help from Jordan Love playing down to expectations, and a little more help from the continuing un-Chiefs-iness of the Chiefs offense, only 20 points were scored. The past four weeks, Chiefs games have finished with 44, 30, 37, and 20 points.
  • In Week 10, the highest total is 55 in Cowboys-Falcons, and the lowest is 44 in Steelers-Lions.
  • It had to end eventually: The Cowboys are no longer undefeated against the spread. With the disclaimer that not all closing lines are exactly the same, and thus ATS records might vary depending on the source, Dallas now has the second-best ATS record in the league at 7-1. Leading the way are the Packers at 8-1, who covered their eighth in a row in losing by 6 in Kansas City.
  • Kingsbury has the shortest odds for Coach of the Year at +400 at BetMGM. But the guy who might be worth a look is the Titans’ Mike Vrabel at +900. Tennessee just beat the Bills, Chiefs, Colts, and Rams in succession, and the last one was without Henry. It’s possible they won’t be underdogs again this season — games visiting New England and Pittsburgh are the only question marks.

Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck /USA TODAY

Author: Wanda Peters