As we have come to learn over recent weeks in our NFL picks against the point spread, there is still a fair amount of ‘reactionary spreads,’ in which the number is chasing a team that it consistently has missed. Of course, as the season progresses, the spreads will balance out. We aim to identify these picks as they emerge, since we always want to be ahead-of-the-curve.
With so many spreads attempting to catch up to the action on the field-of-play, we have arguably the most polarizing set of numbers to date. Last week, there was only a single game with a spread greater than seven points. This week? Five. And all five are double-digit spreads.
The large number of points given from one team to another always sends mixed signals, and it is critical to decipher which message is accurate. The general expectation is that a spread of ten or more points means the favorite will win by double digits. But, it is just as viable that the favorite is such an often-picked team that it needs a large number for protection. Each of these matchups need to be assessed separately, especially since there is not only a high likelihood that a few underdogs beat the spread, but that one might win outright, as well.
If we are to believe the overall theme that Week 6 appears to be displaying, we should be prepared for a few organizations to assert themselves in a league currently with 21 teams owning records with either 2 or 3 wins. Four of the eight divisions are led by teams with 3-2 records and, almost by default, all four lead by no more than a single game – if that, as most are tied with another franchise.
Moves will be made in Week 6 and a few of the congested divisions might start to dissipate. In the meantime, we have more-than-enough wiggle room with some of the spreads to determine how accurate they truly are.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2017 Season: 16-14-1 (Last Week: 2-3-1)
(2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (3-Year Total: 183-158-7)
All Picks Against Spread – 2017 Season: 42-32-3 (Last Week: 7-5-2)
(2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (3-Year Total: 415-367-19)
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (-4.5)
Perhaps, we are starting to take for granted a trend that isn’t viable. And, it is a counter to what had previously been accepted as truth fairly recently. That is, the New Orleans Saints used to be one of the best teams in the league, but have since sunken into mediocrity from which they will not emerge. The former was true. The latter? Maybe not.
New Orleans, in a striking bout of consistency, lost again on Opening Day and fell into an early season tailspin that has become somewhat typical for the former powerhouse. Then, it responded with back-to-back wins before heading into a bye week, and now finds itself quietly waiting with an even 2-2 record. Neither good nor bad. Not surprising. Not disappointing. Just waiting.
The time has come for New Orleans to reemerge and, with it, we must determine if 2017 will finally provide the rebound it so desperately needs. Or, quite possibly, the downtrend will continue.
While the Saints had sneaked back to respectability prior to going into hiding, the Lions were busy undoing their hard work. A 2-0 start came within inches of 3-0, and bouncing back from the heartbreaking loss led to a brief stint at the top of the division until Detroit, again, faltered. The Saints’ current rise-and-fall has led them into a position where buying again might be wise, but the Lions are still living off their recent high point – a winning season that rewarded Detroit with a playoff berth. With a 3-2 record, the team is actually still in position to regress, not rise.
Impressively, the Lions rank tenth in both scoring offense and scoring defense, but this helps cover the yardage ranks, which are far more telling. Specifically, the Lions have the fourth-fewest yards in the league. These hidden offensive struggles play well into the hands of Saints defense that frequently needs all the help it can get.
Finally, now five weeks into the season, we can gauge the level of competition for each team’s opponents. When we do, the Lions look far less impressive than 3-2. The three wins were against the 0-5 Giants, 2-3 Cardinals, and a Vikings team that, while 3-2, was missing its starting quarterback. Detroit has losses against Atlanta and Carolina, two teams with a combined 7-2 record.
The Saints return from their bye week prepared to knock out a Lions team ready to take a step backwards. New Orleans wins by a touchdown and covers the spread.
New York Giants (+13)* at Denver Broncos
Let’s not overcomplicate things. The New York Giants – led by a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback – are 0-5and playing on national television. The team has fallen so quickly from grace that it is getting almost twotouchdowns worth of points.
This is rock bottom for the Giants.
This is also ‘buying’ territory.
New York’s offense has obviously been completely anemic for the better part of this disastrous 2017 season, and it is expected to only get worse now without both wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandon Marshall. Against the league’s top-ranked defense in yards allowed, the Giants’ offense has quite the mountain to climb. But, as our main focus of this column rests on a team’s chances against-the-spread, we care not about how the Giants can win, but how they can compete.
I am constantly selling the Broncos’ offense, and with good reason. The single outlier performance by Denver was a 42-point explosion against Dallas that was relatively expected. Indeed, the 42 points were a surprise, but the ‘statement win’ was not. The singular big offensive day was also the only time the Broncos have scored more than 24 points this year and, if we remove the anomaly, the Broncos average only 18.67 points-per-game otherwise. Not surprisingly, the 42-17 victory was also the only time Denver would have covered a spread of at least 13 points.
Circling back to the Giants, the 0-5 start to the season cannot solely be pinned on the lack of an offense. New York’s defense entered the year with high expectations and has missed the mark miserably – 24th in scoring and 26th in yards. More importantly, the defense has allowed a combined 16 points within the final three minutes of the last three games, all three times conceding a lead. Whenever a unit is collectively underperforming – especially when there is a recent history showing that the trendline is significantly higher – playing in front of a national audience can provide the added boost to reverse course.
Statistically, Denver’s defense has been so outstanding because it is utterly dominant in the ground game. The Broncos have allowed the fewest yards, touchdowns, and yards-per-attempt on the ground. But, this hardly affects the Giants. New York has the second-fewest rushing attempts. Instead, the eight passing touchdowns allowed by Denver are the seventh-most in the league, and it works perfectly into the Giants’ gameplan. They have the second-most passing attempts in the league.
Sunday night does not present the opportunity for a ‘trap,’ as the spread is far too large to mislead anyone, but it does completely overlook a former eleven-win team that has hit a low point. The schedule does not get any easier for New York in the coming weeks, as it hosts Seattle before heading into its bye. An 0-7 record at that point would be catastrophic – if it isn’t already.
The Giants shock the Broncos in a low-scoring, defensive battle, winning by two points and beating the massive spread.
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch – and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks.