- Coming off of disappointing losses in Week 5, both Atlanta and Miami need to get back in the W column on Sunday. But are they smart plays against the spread?
Two home teams and two road teams, two favorites and two underdogs—our experts' Week 6 best bets are a perfect balance.
Chicago Bears (-3) at Miami Dolphins
Sun. 10/14, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Miami +3
If you listened to me last week either with Max Meyer on YouTube or with Jimmy Traina and my brother Gary on The MMQB Gambling Show, one of the betting systems I highlighted in breaking down the Ravens–Browns game as one of my best bets was NFL teams with a point differential of at least plus-10 having gone 2-14 against the spread since the start of the 2014 season when coming off back-to-back games in which they allowed 14 or fewer points. Make it 2-15, as Baltimore lost outright in overtime as a three-point road favorite in Cleveland.
That same system applies this week to the Bears, which have an average point differential of plus-11.5 points over their first four games. Chicago enters this one coming off a bye week, but the team is 0-4 both straight up and against the spread when coming off a bye since the start of the 2014 season, having been outscored by an average margin of more than 19 points per game despite not being a double-digit underdog in any of the four contests. (In two of those four games the Bears have played on the road when coming off a bye, they were outscored by an average margin of 33.5 points.) Miami, which is 5-3 straight up and 5-2-1 against the spread as a home underdog of seven points or fewer since the start of the 2016 season, is a strong moneyline play here at anything north of +125. — Scott Gramling
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5)
Sun. 10/14, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Atlanta -3.5
The Falcons slipped to 1-4 after a 41-17 loss to the Steelers last week, but this team is a lot better than its record suggests. Other than the blowout loss in Pittsburgh, the Falcons’ other three defeats have come by a total of 13 points. If a few plays had gone differently against the Eagles, Saints or Bengals then Atlanta’s season would look a lot different. Instead, head coach Dan Quinn’s team desperately needs a victory against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
But fortunately for Atlanta, this is the perfect matchup for the team to get back on track. The Buccaneers have the league’s worst passing defense, as they are allowing a ridiculous 358.0 yards per game and have allowed a league-worst 13 touchdowns through the air. Considering quarterback Matt Ryan leads an Atlanta offense that is sixth in the league in passing yards per game, this should be a rough game for the Bucs.
There’s also the fact that Tampa is giving quarterback Jameis Winston the keys to the offense again. Winston might have had the bye week to get himself up to speed, but the Buccaneers had the league’s best passing game under backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. Turning to an erratic Winston will definitely complicate things. It’s also worth noting that the Falcons are 8-2 against the spread after gaining 75 or fewer rushing yards in their previous game over the past three seasons. They know how to reemphasize the run, which will be easier with star running back Devonta Freeman having knocked off some rust against Pittsburgh. — Zachary Cohen
Los Angeles Rams (-7) at Denver Broncos
Sun. 10/15, 4:05 p.m. ET
Pick: Rams -7
No one has stopped the Rams offense this season. Through five weeks, Los Angeles has scored at least 33 points in every single game, and is averaging a tremendous 468.4 yards per game. Through Week 5's Sunday slate of games, QB Jared Goff led the league in passing yards per game (345.5) and RB Todd Gurley led the league in touchdowns (nine).
Heading into the year, L.A.'s Week 6 tilt at Denver seemed like it would present a strong early test for Goff, Gurley and Co., as the Broncos finished third in the league in total defense in 2017, allowing 200.6 yards per game. This season, the Broncos are allowing 395.6 YPG, and took a huge step backward last Sunday in a 34-16 loss to the Jets. Allowing rookie Sam Darnold to throw for three touchdowns was one thing, but Denver's real problems were on the ground: Isaiah Crowell ran for a Jets franchise-record 219 yards, and Bilal Powell added 99 yards on top of that. New York racked up 512 total yards by the end of the afternoon.
Things are better on offense, thanks to the running game. Rookie running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman lead a backfield that's averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The problem is the passing attack, namely quarterback Case Keenum. Through Sunday's games, Keenum was 25th in the league with an average of 7.11 yards per passing attempt and had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Fans are already clamoring for 2017 seventh-round pick Chad Kelly to take his job. Until the Broncos address their dysfunction on at least one side of the ball, there's no reason to believe they can keep up with the dominant Rams. — Sam Chase
San Francisco at Green Bay (-9.5)
Mon. 10/15, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: San Francisco +9.5
Should a team that is 2-2-1—with one of those wins by just one point—be laying 9.5 points against anybody? It depends how much you value Aaron Rodgers. At his peak, the answer would be yes, especially against a 1-4 San Francisco team that just lost to previously winless Arizona. But aside from a few highlight throws this season, Rodgers hasn’t looked like the same peerless player at the game’s most valuable position. Even last week’s stat line of 442 passing yards and three touchdowns came largely after Green Bay trailed Detroit by 24 points at halftime. The typically explosive Packers haven’t been able to assert themselves on offense this year, scoring under 30 points in each of their five games. Rodgers’s play—which can be attributed at least in part to his opening-week knee injury—is the obvious reason why.
I can understand the hesitancy to take the 49ers given last week’s dud, but there’s still hope in the Bay Area. Cornerback Richard Sherman returned from a calf strain a week earlier than expected, played every snap and didn’t allow a single completion. On offense, the 49ers outgained the Cardinals 447 yards to 220, and had 33 first downs to Arizona’s 10. If San Francisco has that kind of production on both sides of the ball, don’t expect another 10-point, turnover-ridden defeat. And if you’re looking for a betting trend to consider, the 49ers are 4-2 ATS in their last six games as road underdogs of nine points or more—and not a single one of those games featured Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter. In fact, the last time it happened, quarterback C.J. Beathard nearly beat the Los Angeles Chargers outright on Sept. 30.
This week’s matchup for Beathard should play out similarly—a loss in the standings, but a close game to cover the spread. Don’t sleep on that extra half a point, either. — Ed McGrogan