Underdogs have been strong plays this NFL season, and among our experts' best bets in Week 5, three of them seem primed to bark on Sunday.
Jaguars at Chiefs (-3)
Sun. 10/7, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Jacksonville +3
With Kansas City’s four-point win as a three-point favorite in Denver on Monday night, the Chiefs improved to 18-1 straight up and 15-4 against the spread over their past 19 games against AFC West opponents. Head coach Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit for consistently adding offensive wrinkles that succeed in keeping familiar opponents off guard—it’s a remarkable record of recent success against teams Kansas City faces twice each season.
The Chiefs haven’t enjoyed nearly as much recent success outside the division. Against AFC South opponents, Kansas City is 4-8 straight up and 2-10 against the spread in home games since the start of the 2007 season, a stretch that includes seven consecutive ATS home losses to AFC South teams since the start of 2012. All seven of those games have gone under the total, as the only one of the seven in which Kansas City reached 20 points was in this past January’s 22-21 playoff loss as an 8.5-point favorite against the Titans. The Chiefs have scored an average of fewer than 15 points per game over those seven contests.
As impressive as Kansas City has been in rolling out to a 4-0 start (both straight up and against the spread) for a second straight season, this sets up as an extremely tough spot for the Chiefs coming off a short week and facing one of the league’s best and most physical defenses after having just faced a physical defense in Denver’s thin air. Teams playing on a Sunday after having been on the road the previous Monday night went 5-11 straight up and 4-12 against the spread last season, with three of those four teams that won and covered doing so against weak opponents the following Sunday: 1) The Vikings came off a Monday night game in Chicago to beat a Green Bay squad that lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone in the first quarter; 2) The Lions followed up a Monday night game in Chicago with a Week 10 comeback victory over a Browns team that at one point had held its first double-digit lead of the season; and 3) The Falcons came off a Monday game in Seattle with a win over a Buccaneers team that would end the season with a 5-11 record.
The fourth Sunday win-and-cover by a team coming off a Monday road game last season was the Patriots, who had rested several starters in what was a relatively meaningless Week 14 game in Miami, winning by three as a 2.5-point road favorite in Pittsburgh in a game that turned on a controversial overturning of what had first been deemed a Jesse James game-winning touchdown reception. The lone team that won straight up but failed to cover the spread was Pittsburgh, which beat Baltimore 39-38 as a 6-point home favorite after having played in Cincinnati the previous Monday. Pittsburgh also happens to be the latest example of a team failing to win or cover a game on a Sunday after having been on the road the prior Monday night, as the Steelers suffered a double-digit home loss to the Ravens this past Sunday after having won in Tampa Bay the previous Monday. And this coming Sunday, it will be Kansas City that fails to pass the difficult test of winning and covering a Sunday games after playing on the road less than a week earlier. — Scott Gramling
New York Giants at Carolina Panthers (-7)
Sun. 10/7, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Carolina -7
Carolina has struggled at home against divisional opponents in recent years, going 4-7-1 against the spread when facing NFC South foes in Charlotte since the start of the 2014 season. It’s been in home games against non-divisional opponents where the Panthers have excelled, going 16-3 straight up and 14-4-1 against the spread when hosting teams outside the NFC South since the start of the 2015 season. Carolina is also 3-0 both straight up and against the spread when coming off a bye since the start of 2015, scoring an average of more than 30 points in those three games.
The Giants are one of only seven NFL teams allowing an average of more than 4.7 yards per rushing attempt this season; since Ron Rivera took over as Carolina’s head coach prior to the start of the 2011 season, the Panthers are 19-10 against the spread when facing an opponent that’s allowing at least 4.5 yards per rushing attempt, and they’ve scored an average of 30 points over those 29 games. The last time New York reached 30 points in a game, Tom Coughlin was the team’s head coach—Coughlin was let go after the 2015 season. — Ed McGrogan
Los Angeles Rams (-7) at Seattle Seahawks
Sun. 10/7, 4:25 p.m. ET
Pick: Seattle +7
Much was made before the season about how the Seahawks were poised to fall off in 2018. And while they're surely no longer the Super Bowl contenders they were for much of this decade, they've looked decent to start the year. After single-score road losses against solid Denver and Chicago teams to start the year, the Hawks rebounded with a decisive home win over Dallas in Week 3 and eked one out in Arizona last Sunday.
This week, Seattle's back at home to host the Los Angeles Rams, arguably the NFL's best team through four weeks. The Rams played one of the season's most exciting games last Thursday night, outdueling Minnesota in a 38-31 shootout. It was their third straight game played at home, and their first non-cover of the season as they pushed a seven-point spread.
It's obvious why the Rams are favored here, and you'll see public wagers weighing heavily in their favor. But seven points is too much to give the Seahawks in Seattle, where they possess one of the league's best home-field advantages. Russell Wilson is 25-20 against the spread at home in his career, and Pete Carroll's Seattle squads have gone 13-5 ATS in their few games as home underdogs over the years. Expect to see the Rams, who have yet to leave the state of California this season, have a fight on their hands against a division rival on Sunday. — Sam Chase
Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
Sun. 10/7, 4:25 p.m. ET
Pick: Minnesota +3
The Vikings are coming off of a tough loss to the Rams in last week’s Thursday Night Football game, but the fact that game was played on a Thursday can’t be overlooked. Minnesota is coming into this game with three extra days of preparation, and more importantly three extra days of rest. Considering star running back Dalvin Cook is dealing with a hamstring issue, it’s huge that he has had some extra time to get ready. Meanwhile, the Eagles are coming off of a deflating loss to the Titans in Tennessee. It's hard to imagine the Eagles aren’t feeling a bit exhausted after an overtime battle that ended in defeat.
Look for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to have his team more than ready to go in this one. Under Zimmer, Minnesota is 20-9 against the spread when playing as an underdog. He knows how to rally his troops. But it’s also worth noting that new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was on the Philadelphia staff last season. He's familiar with what this Eagles team likes to do, and he’ll know which buttons to push to give the Vikings the upper hand here. That could mean that quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been phenomenal in his first season with Minnesota, is in for yet another big game. But it also means that a struggling Vikings secondary will have some extra to help stop quarterback Carson Wentz. — Zachary Cohen