NFL Week 6 Picks Against the Spread: Top Quarterbacks Hit the Road
Welcome to this season's first prediction article in slideshow format, as we'll take a look at five NFL games across the Week 6 landscape.
As I predicted in last week's top play, the Kansas City Chiefs would avoid losing three consecutive home games by a touchdown or more for the first time since 1985, and they covered the six-point spread against the Ravens.
This week, although at home, the Ravens will have a tougher test in the Cowboys, while other games I'll discuss will feature elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady squaring off against some emerging but unproven competition.
With 53 articles in the books over the last two years and a record of 34-17 with a couple of ties, I'll put these five teams to the test and look to win three of them against the spread.
Read on for the reasons why, and good luck!
Buffalo (+5) at Arizona: Bills Look to Bounce Back
There's nowhere to go but up after a 45-3 loss.
That was, of course, followed by a 52-28 loss in a game they led at halftime. But that was before the Patriots scored 45 points in the second half.
When an NFL team gives up 52 points in a game, it's not always front-page news. It happens.
But what happens to a team that gives up 97 points in two games?
A phrase comes to mind: Shape up, or ship out!
Following the awful loss to the 49ers, the Bills will be staying in Arizona all week in lieu of coming back to Buffalo.
It's probably the best thing that can happen to the team.
When a defensive unit gives up 97 points in two games in the NFL, owners and coaches take extra notice. Jobs are at stake. There are players on the bench who are always ready and willing to step up. And the coaching staff might begin to look for replacements in the following year's draft.
There's only one way to fix this problem, and the Bills defense knows it. And after scoring just three points at San Francisco, the offense must step up as well.
Players from both sides weighed in on the week of preparation in Arizona.
"Right now I can confidently say now that we’re here all together as a team all week, guys aren’t going home to be with their families or going to do this and that,” said Bills linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “We’re here together as a team all week and that’s going to add a lot to help us jell as a team for the situation that we’re going through.”
“I think this is a perfect week to get things fixed,” said Bills center Eric Wood, who was pushed and shoved around by the 49ers all day. “We’ve got an isolated setting. We don’t have a whole lot of distractions out here, and it’s time to get it straight.”
And that's exactly what the 49ers did after losing at Minnesota, as they stayed in Youngstown, Ohio after the loss to the Vikings and were ready to go to New York for their second straight road game, which they dominated.
This is a bit different, as the 49ers are a more powerful team, but the concept is the same.
But if one thinks the Bills will come out flat as a five-point underdog after a bad loss, recent history would dictate quite the contrary.
Last season, the Bills suffered consecutive losses at Dallas and Miami by scores of 44-7 and 35-8. Virtually written off the following week at the New York Jets as nine-point underdogs, they covered the spread and lost by just four points.
They almost won the game.
Trailing 28-24 with seconds remaining, Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass for Stevie Johnson was thrown behind him in the end zone in a game the Bills controlled, at least with time of possession (they held the ball for 36 minutes).
It's not the only time the Bills have bounced back.
In 2010, the Bills hung tough with the Patriots a week after a 34-7 loss at Green Bay. They lost the game by a touchdown but covered the 14-point spread. .
In 2009, the Bills lost at New Orleans by a score of 27-7 and again at Miami (38-10) in the next game, and after scoring just three points at home against the Browns in a three-point loss, they won their next game at the New York Jets as nine-point underdogs.
Later in 2009, the Bills lost at Tennessee by a score of 41-17, and they almost did it again. Heading to Jacksonville as eight-point underdogs, they lost by three points but covered the spread. A few games later, they lost 31-3 at Atlanta, but they won the next game at Indianapolis 30-7.
In 2008, the Bills lost 41-17 in what would end up being their worst loss of the season. The next game, they defeated San Diego straight up.
And let's not forget the early part of the season in 2007 when the Bills lost at Pittsburgh and New England by scores of 26-3 and 38-7 to open the season, only to win their next game against the Jets as four-point underdogs.
Arizona is a bit overrated at 4-1, and its offensive line is a mess. The defensive unit has been playing well thus far, but one must wonder how much gas the increasingly inept offense will have left against a Bills unit with a "do or die" attitude.
Coming off consecutive blowouts, the Bills have a week of isolation to pull it together, or some of their players might end up out of a job sooner than later or even broke, possibly ending up on another ESPN documentary someday about players who lost it all.
As an underdog against a winnable team, after two ugly losses and 97 points given up, look for Fitzpatrick and company to bounce back in the third chance.
Take Buffalo to cover five points
Dallas (+3.5) at Baltimore: Tired Ravens Will Be Tested vs. Rested Cowboys
Last week in my article about the Chiefs-Ravens game, I talked about how well the Chiefs have fared at home when facing the adversity of having two previous home losses behind them and suggested Kansas City (+6) was the best bet of the week.
Kansas City opened the season with consecutive home losses by double digits, but the last time the Chiefs lost three consecutive home games by a touchdown or more was in 1985. They came through with a 9-6 loss and covered the spread, but also had a few chances to win it.
Matt Cassel fumbled near the goal line, and the Chiefs had three additional turnovers in Ravens territory before having a touchdown called back for an illegal pick, which is offensive pass interference, the second such call on the same drive that negated a big play.
At the end of the day, the Ravens were out-gained by 40 yards but survived and now have a 3-1 record, but several Ravens players reported fatigue at the end of their game with the Cleveland Browns, which could spell trouble against the rested Cowboys.
Kansas City utilized an effective game plan by running the ball 50 times, thus keeping Baltimore's potentially potent no-huddle offense off the field for the majority of the game. It almost worked. Expect Jason Garrett to draw up a similar plan for the Cowboys, but DeMarco Murray will need to be much more effective than he was in the last three games.
Against the Giants, Murray rushed for 131 yards on 20 carries, but he has less total yards than that in the other three games combined.
One thing is fairly certain, however: Tony Romo won't have two interceptions returned for touchdowns like he did in the Bears game.
Pass protection will be helpful for this, which will be the focal point of the bye week. Jerry Jones stressed better offensive line play on his radio show Tuesday morning, and hinted about the capability of the backups on the bench.
Translation: The starters had better shape up or ship out.
Either way, look for the Ravens to fade down the stretch, and go with the Cowboys getting more than a field goal off the bye week.
Take Dallas to cover 3.5 points
New England (-3.5) at Seattle: Third Time's Not a Charm for Seahawks
The Seahawks wanted to make a statement after losing at Arizona. The statement was that they could beat the NFL's elite teams at home.
They did it in the now-infamous Monday night game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
So the question becomes: Can they do it against the Patriots, too?
Don't expect the third time to be a charm.
Except for the two interceptions, Russell Wilson had a fine day passing at Carolina, as he completed 19 of 25 passes, but the Seahawks are still limited offensively. Take away the last-second Hail Mary pass against the Packers, and Seattle's offense has scored just one touchdown in four of its first five games.
New England's offense has scored more than double the amount of touchdowns in its last six quarters.
But take away the stats, and it's still the rookie Russell Wilson against the veteran Tom Brady.
Belichick and the Patriots have won their last five trips out West, and they embarrassed Tim Tebow and the "hot" Broncos in Denver last season, so he has a knack for making the long road trip west and calming down the firestorm.
The Patriots might not lose another game all season, but most likely, they also won't be this little of a favorite again, even against San Francisco in December.
In that case, take advantage of the low number, assuming the Seahawks won't be able to match the Patriots point-for-point and pull off a third straight win as an underdog against an elite quarterback with a rookie of their own.
The Seahawks were three-point home underdogs against the Cowboys, three-point home underdogs against the Packers and are now 3.5-point home underdogs against the Patriots.
After covering the first two, don't expect the third time to be a charm.
Take New England to cover 3.5 points
Green Bay (+3.5) at Houston: When the Packers Are Underdogs, Jump in Headfirst
The Packers thought they had the game in hand in Indianapolis when the scoreboard read 21-0. They also thought they had it in the bag at Seattle.
As a result, don't expect Aaron Rodgers and company to take anything for granted against the Texans.
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Andrew Luck and the Colts, the Packers find themselves in unfamiliar territory as an underdog in the regular season for the first time in 24 games, save for last season's game against the Lions when they had already clinched a first-round bye (they won that game anyway).
Oddsmakers have the Packers as about a 3.5- or four-point underdog at the undefeated Texans, but when the Packers lose, they lose close games. Just one of the Packers' last 45 regular season games resulted in a loss of more than five points, and that was to the NFC's best (arguably) team, the 49ers, in the season opener.
The Texans have the third-ranked defense in the NFL through five games, but if Aaron Rodgers can throw for 300 yards against the 49ers, he can do it against the Texans. Additionally, the Texans lost linebacker Brian Cushing to injury in their game against the Jets.
Houston's defense still has yet to be tested. So far, the unit has been graced with an early-season schedule which included games against the Dolphins and a rookie quarterback, the Jaguars and a second-year quarterback with an inept offense, the Titans and a second-year quarterback and the New York Jets, which are a mess.
Last season, Drew Brees was the best quarterback Houston faced, and the defense gave up 40 points at New Orleans.
Having yet to face an elite quarterback and getting an angry Packers team coming off the loss to a rookie quarterback, look for the Packers, who are 8-1 after allowing 30 or more points, to put forth their best effort of the season in lieu of falling to an unthinkable 2-4 against a Texans team that can afford a loss much better.
Take Green Bay to cover 3.5 points
Denver (+1.5) at San Diego: Peyton Manning's Second Monday Night Chance
The Broncos are the fifth and final selection for the Week 6 NFL picks.
Many teams this season won't look good after playing the Patriots, but from a wagering standpoint, it's a good time to play on them, as they could be falsely devalued.
Despite the loss, the Broncos played well and had chances to score more points at New England, but they lost two fumbles inside the red zone as well as another fumble that gave the Patriots the ball inside their red zone.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers return home after consecutive road games at Kansas City and New Orleans, but expect the Broncos to be the more focused team, being that Peyton Manning will have more to prove after the loss in this matchup where the road team has won five of the last six games.
Both teams beat Oakland and lost to the Falcons, but the Broncos had to play the Texans and Patriots instead of the Titans and Chiefs.
In the common matchup with the Falcons, Denver out-gained Atlanta by 61 yards while the Chargers got out-gained by 104 yards, and the Chargers defense allowed Matt Ryan to connect on 30 of 40 pass attempts. Drew Brees was able to pass for 370 yards against the Chargers, while Tom Brady got 223 against the Broncos.
Last season, the Chargers gave up an average of 37 points to the four best quarterbacks they faced in Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Jay Cutler.
Additionally, the Chargers were out-gained at Kansas City this season but benefited from six turnovers by the Chiefs.
The last time Peyton Manning played on Monday night, he threw three early interceptions and got the Broncos in an early hole.
Don't expect him to relinquish his chance on the second prime-time opportunity.
Take Denver to cover 1.5 points