NFL Odds, Picks, Predictions: 3 Road Teams Our Expert Is Selling In Week 6, Featuring Cardinals & Cowboys
Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Kyler Murray
- The Cardinals, Cowboys and Chargers are off to hot starts -- but now is the time to fade all three.
- Our NFL betting expert explains why he's betting against that trio of road teams by taking their opponents to cover those spreads.
- He also examines the rest of the Week 6 NFL odds for Sunday afternoon's games, with additional thoughts and a couple more picks.
Editor’s note: The following was written before news broke that Kliff Kingsbury tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be on the sideline for Sunday’s game, impacting the line for Browns-Cardinals.
We are on to Week 6, where three road teams off to hot starts are getting too much market support. I’ll start with that trio of games, then finish up with some quick thoughts on the other seven Sunday afternoon games.
Week 6 NFL Odds & Picks
Browns -3 vs. Cardinals
The first road team I’m selling in Week 6 is the lone undefeated team remaining in the NFL. Sure, Arizona comes into Cleveland with a perfect 5-0 record, but I haven’t been anywhere close to as impressed with this team as others have to date.
I bet the Cardinals in Week 1 due to some issues going on with the Titans at the time; I didn’t make any massive adjustment after that blowout win. The Cardinals followed up that victory with a comeback win over the winless Jaguars, in a game Jacksonville led 19-10 late in the third quarter. Next, the Cardinals squeaked out a home win against the Vikings, who missed a game-winning chip-shot field goal as time expired.
The signature win over a very good Rams was legit and warranted a bump in my expectations for this club, but it’s still only one game.
Even in their latest win against an undermanned 49ers team — with a rookie quarterback making his first start — the Cardinals escaped despite getting out-played and out-gained. If San Francisco hadn’t gone 1-of-5 on fourth downs, including one at the goal line, Arizona likely doesn’t bring an unblemished record into the Factory of Sadness on Sunday.
I’ve actually been more impressed with the Browns, who could easily own a 5-0 record if not for two tight road losses to the Chiefs and Chargers. Cleveland led both games by double digits in the second half, but a couple bounces (and a botched call) went against the Browns.
This matchup in particular sets Cleveland up for a huge day on the ground. The Browns’ rushing attack leads the NFL in yards per carry and the Cardinals allow 5.4 yards per rush (31st). Their linebackers — particularly Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons, struggle against the run — and the Browns’ offensive line should own the trenches.
On the other side of the ball, Cleveland’s upgraded defense has played extremely well through five games. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods also excels at taking away opposing No. 1 wide receivers, which is critical with DeAndre Hopkins coming to town.
I also think we could see some potential third-down regression tilt in Cleveland’s favor. Arizona’s defense ranks 31st in success rate on early downs, but fourth on third downs. Conversely, Cleveland’s defense is first and 20th, respectively.
Cleveland does have a number of injuries on both sides of the ball, but I had a good enough report mid-week to pull the trigger on them at -2.5. Plus, the Cardinals just placed tight end Maxx Williams on IR and will be without star pass rusher Chandler Jones. The latter news is critical for Baker Mayfield, who really struggles under pressure. And Kyler Murray is potentially dealing with a shoulder injury that could have lingering effects this weekend.
Lastly, the Browns should have an advantage in two other key areas: Coaching, and weather.
I’ll take the Cleveland staff all day in this matchup. Meanwhile, heavy gusts in the forecast would greatly benefit Cleveland’s style of offense, while hampering a pass-happy Arizona — a dome team, I might add.
Patriots +4 vs. Cowboys
It’s time to sell high on the Cowboys after a 5-0 start against the spread (ATS) and four straight wins, with the past three all coming at home. And for what it’s worth, road favorites after three straight home games have gone just 20-35-1 (36.4%) ATS since 2003, per Action Labs.
Speaking of trends, there are plenty supporting Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as usual:
- He’s 28-13-2 ATS (68.3%) as an underdog since 2003, covering by more than six points per game.
- He’s 15-4 ATS (78.9%) as a home underdog since 2000 with 12 outright wins.
- He’s 51-23-3 ATS (68.9%) in October, when the Patriots usually start to figure things out after a slow start. He’s just 56.7% ATS in all other months.
The Cowboys’ offense has been as good as advertised, but the defense still has major holes. New England should control the line of scrimmage and exploit a vulnerable run defense. Dallas also ranks in the bottom five in Pressure Rate and Adjusted Sack Rate, per Football Outsiders, meaning Mac Jones should have plenty of time to work in the pocket when he needs to throw; that’s extremely important for a rookie quarterback.
The Cowboys’ defensive numbers are respectable, but it’s a unit that has benefited from an unsustainable frequency of takeaways, ranking second in both EPA from turnovers and net turnovers. Their +7 turnover margin through five games trails the only Bills, who have faced three backup quarterbacks in five games.
The Cowboys have also recovered five of their own seven fumbles, plus two of the three lost by opposing offenses. They’ve averaged 20 fewer penalty yards per game and have had 12 fewer penalties accepted against them.
Regression looms in multiple areas.
The cherry on top of this play is the decided advantage the Patriots should hold on special teams and in the coaching department.
Belichick as a home pup against a Dallas team at its potential peak? Sign me up.
Ravens -2.5 vs. Chargers
With everyone falling in love with the Chargers’ offense and the Ravens’ defense notably faltering in primetime games, we’re getting good value on Baltimore as a short home favorite.
First off, I have to give credit to Justin Herbert. He’s turning into one of the league’s top quarterback right before our eyes. He’s truly elite. That said, the Los Angeles offense has some serious regression coming its way on third and fourth downs.
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s offense has been extremely unlucky on third downs. Removing garbage time, the Ravens offense ranks second in EPA per play and third in success rate on early downs, compared to the Chargers’ ranks of 23rd and 20th, respectively; when dropping back on early downs, the Ravens sit first overall while the Chargers sit 25th.
Simply put, Baltimore’s offense has been dominant on early downs, while Los Angeles has struggled. (For reference, the Ravens defense has performed slightly better on early downs than the Chargers.)
However, the Chargers have had no issues scoring due to their success on third downs, which are higher variance and less predictive:
- Chargers’ third-down offense: 0.485 EPA per play (second); Success Rate 56.5% (fourth)
- Ravens’ third-down offense: -0.56 EPA (32nd); Success Rate 33.3% (32nd)
That’s not the end of the story.
I haven’t even mentioned fourth downs, where L.A. has enjoyed incredibly good fortune. The Chargers have converted all eight fourth-down attempts (excluding fake punts) while their opponents have gone just 3-8 — despite LA averaging almost 2.5 yards more to go (6.12 vs. 3.75).
The regression is coming for this Los Angeles offense sooner than later.
In regards to this particular matchup, we should see the vintage Ravens rushing attack return against a horrid Chargers rush defense. That unit has allowed a league-high 5.6 yards per carry and ranks 31st in Adjusted Line Yards, 10+ Yard Runs Allowed and Run Defense DVOA (per Football Outsiders).
They also struggle to defend tight ends, which could set up another monster game for Mark Andrews. Outside of Joey Bosa, it’s just an underwhelming unit up front and at linebacker.
Lastly, it’s worth pointing out a massive special teams advantage for Baltimore. From a DVOA perspective, Baltimore ranks second, while Los Angeles ranks 29th. Per my personal special teams ratings, Baltimore ranks No. 1 overall and LA sits dead-last by a decent margin.
Don’t be surprised if a special-teams play swings the outcome, which makes getting -2.5 that much more vital.
More NFL Odds & (Some) Picks
Below are some brief thoughts on the other seven Sunday afternoon games.
Bengals at Lions
The Lions (+3.5) will try to pick up their first win of the season at home against the Bengals.
Cincinnati is in an awful situational spot, with a trip to Detroit sandwiched between a heartbreaking overtime loss to Green Bay and a date with divisional rival Baltimore. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Bengals come out very flat and unfocused early on.
I personally bet Under 48 here in a matchup of two teams playing on the slower side. In fact, the Bengals rank dead last in the league in pace during neutral game states.
The Lions play hard for head coach Dan Campbell, but the offense is void of talent, especially following the recent injuries at wide receiver and along the offensive line; it’s simply a bad offense. Plus, Campbell mentioned this week he may simplify the playbook to cut down on Jared Goff’s mistakes.
As a result, we could see a heavy dose of the run. That’s good news for a Cincy defense that ranks in the top five in the following categories:
- Adjusted Line Yards
- Stuff Rate
- EPA per Rush
- Rush Success Rate
While the Bengals’ defense has been a pleasant surprise, the offense has been fairly disappointing, ranking 22nd in EPA per play in non-garbage time. The skill position talent is there, but the offensive line and play-calling continue to hold this unit back.
Detroit’s defense also completely lacks talent, but new coordinator Aaron Glenn has actually schemed up pressure at a top-five rate with the help of a defensive line that has some intriguing young talent. It’s scary to trust a raw secondary against Joe Burrow and the talented Bengals receivers, but the Lions should do enough to slow them down to keep this under 48 points.
Both the Bengals and Lions have gone under the total in each of their past three games. If that scares you because you think they are due (please don’t think this way when betting), consider this: Since 2003, when two teams meet with current streaks of at least three straight unders, the under has gone 36-22-1 (62.1%) and is staying under by almost three points per game, per our Action Labs data.
Packers at Bears
I like the Bears (+6) at home against the Packers.
Chicago can shorten this game with a heavy dose of its rush attack against a vulnerable Green Bay run defense. Justin Fields won’t have to worry too much about pressure, or star cornerback Jaire Alexander.
I also believe the Chicago defense can get enough pressure to bother Aaron Rodgers, who has the lowest rating under pressure this year of the 30 quarterbacks with at least 30 dropbacks under pressure.
Plus, this is not the same Green Bay offensive juggernaut we all saw in 2020. The line has seen a drop in production due to injuries, and the offseason departure of star center Corey Linsley to boot.
The rookies along the O-Line have flashed potential, but it’s definitely a work in progress and also requires tight end Robert Tonyan to help out more in the blocking department. Green Bay also misses the field-stretching ability of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who’s currently on IR.
Vikings at Panthers
The Vikings (-2.5) travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers in a matchup of two similar teams.
Both defenses have holes in the secondary, but rank top five in both pressure rate and third-down conversion rate. Minnesota and Carolina should have no issues getting into the backfield against two suspect offensive lines.
However, Kirk Cousins gets rid of the ball much quicker, and has superior numbers under pressure than Sam Darnold. Just take a look at their respective numbers when releasing the ball under 2.5 seconds, per PFF:
- Cousins: 6 TD, 0 INT, 89% Adjusted Completion %, 111 Rating
- Darnold: 2 TD 3 INT, 76% Adjusted Completion %, 78 Rating
It’s Vikings or nothing in my opinion.
Chiefs at Football Team
Can the Chiefs (-6.5) avoid falling to 2-4 on the season by picking up a road win in Washington?
After getting embarrassed again this past Sunday night, the Chiefs defense is now allowing an unfathomable 7.1 yards per play. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has plenty of work to do with this unit. Getting back to full health and having the schedule ease up should at least provide some relief.
Similar to Kansas City’s defense, Washington’s offense has a few key injuries that could impact this week’s game. The line has thrived this year but will be without promising young rookie tackle Samuel Cosmi on the right side.
The Chiefs’ offense has been humming along as usual and should eat against a Washington defense that continues to search for answers in coverage. Unless this vaunted defensive line finally has a breakout game, it’s difficult to envision KC getting many stops.
That said, I’m in no rush to back this Chiefs defense as 6.5-point favorites on the road right now.
Texans at Colts
Potential tough spot for the Colts (-10) at home against the Texans after Indy collapsed late in an overtime loss to the Ravens.
Houston has the worst rushing offense in the NFL by a substantial gap, so don’t expect much on the ground against a top-three Indianapolis run defense. Therefore, this comes down to whether rookie Davis Mills can exploit a beat up Colts secondary. He likely can’t do enough to win this game outright, but can potentially keep Houston within the number against a Colts defense that doesn’t get a ton of pressure.
Rams at Giants
I’m completely staying away from the Giants (+9) at home against the Rams given their injury situation.
Raiders at Broncos
The same goes for the Raiders (+3.5) at the Broncos. Las Vegas does tend to play up or down to its competition, so I’m expecting a competitive game.
However, I think the line is fair. I also want no part of this game due to the uncertainty surrounding the team after Jon Gruden’s departure.