NFL Picks Week 7 Against the Spread: Which Underdogs Will Cover?

Jeff Grant@@JeffGrantSportsContributor IOctober 17, 2011

NFL Picks Week 7 Against the Spread: Which Underdogs Will Cover?

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    NFL underdogs aren't really biting through six weeks of the season, and many sharp bettors are looking for answers.

    We missed a potential 2-0 sweep last week due to the St. Louis Rams (+15.5) failing to cover despite outgaining the Green Bay Packers.

    Overall, during the 2011 regular season, teams getting points are 41-44-4 against-the-spread, with Monday night's contest between the Miami Dolphins (+7) and New York Jets remaining.

    Let's take a look at Week 7 from a betting perspective.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals

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    The casual bettor last saw the Arizona Cardinals getting hammered in a 34-10 contest to the Minnesota Vikings as 3.5-point road underdogs in Week 5.

    Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was a man possessed on that day, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter, demonstrating that he was worth the offseason contract extension that he signed.

    Arizona is now coming off a bye week and will look to push its home record to 2-1, while trying to stay somewhat in the NFC West division race, as San Francisco has jumped out to a 5-1 mark.

    The Cardinals will receive points for the second time this year inside University of Phoenix Stadium, dropping a 31-27 decision to the New York Giants when getting a point.

    It was an unfortunate loss due to being outscored 21-7 in the final 15 minutes, which likely attributed to getting jumped on by 28 points in the Twin Cities the following week.

    A bye came at the right time and will likely move the team's record to 4-0 ATS as a home underdog of 3.5 to 7 points.

    Pittsburgh comes in with a 4-2 record and will try to even its record away from Heinz Field, but the defending AFC champions have had trouble against passing teams on the road.

    Don't be blinded by the defense's No. 1 ranking against the pass, as many teams would fall into that position after playing three of six games against Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Seattle.

    Road defeats to Baltimore (35-7) and Houston (17-10) demonstrate that balanced teams can have success versus the defending AFC champions.

    The Steelers are in a major look-ahead spot with New England on deck, while also coming in with a 1-6 ATS record on turf.

    Head coach Mike Tomlin's squad is built to play in cold weather and on a natural surface.

    Early bettors agree.

    Pick:  Arizona Cardinals (+3.5 or higher only)

Seattle Seahawks at Cleveland Browns

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    The Seattle Seahawks aren't going to win a NFL popularity contest, but they are 3-2 ATS on the year and coming in off a bye.

    It's important to note that all three losses have come against quality opponents, including a 33-17 season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers due to allowing two special teams' scores in the final quarter.

    Cleveland is coming off a 24-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders as seven-point road underdogs, gaining just 268 total yards, while losing the time-of-possession battle by over nine minutes.

    The Raiders are one of the more physical teams in the league, likely taking something out of the Browns, which doesn't have me running to the windows to lay even the smallest of numbers.

    In fact, the team is 0-2-1 ATS as a home favorite already this year, coming in with the 30th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.

    Star running back Peyton Hillis is also likely out of the conversation this weekend, undergoing an MRI that confirmed an injured left hamstring that was suffered Sunday.

    He was a huge part of the team's success running the football last year but also caused the AFC squad to be overvalued due to being on the cover of Madden 2012.

    Oddsmakers already established this line with the potential of him not seeing the field.

    Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll just watched his nemesis Jim Harbaugh push his record to 5-1 on the season, providing the necessary motivation to fly around with excitement in practice, something he was known for at USC.

    He captured a 23-20 win over the Chicago Bears as six-point road underdogs off the bye last year, a team that ended up playing in the NFC Championship Game.

    Cleveland isn't making a run to the Super Bowl.

    Pick:  Seattle Seahawks (+3)

Chicago Bears vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    From a handicapping perspective, bettors need to first realize that this is a neutral field contest with both teams getting set to play in London.

    Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith had some interesting comments in his post-game news conference Sunday night, pointing out that he expects a partisan crowd in his team's favor in this contest.

    There's certainly no debate that the Bears are a more popular team than the Buccaneers.

    He also stressed the importance of heading into the bye week with a 4-3 record—the same mark it possessed in 2010 when making a run to the NFC Championship game.

    Tampa Bay finds itself in a scheduling anomaly, getting a week off after this contest, followed by a road game against the New Orleans Saints.

    The Buccaneers just handed the Saints a 26-20 defeat Sunday as six-point home underdogs.

    Pick:  Chicago Bears (PK)

Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers

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    This is a bit scary going against the early action, but Carolina is ready to pick up its second win of the season.

    Cam Newton is a dual-threat quarterback, not quite up to the standards of Philadelphia's Michael Vick, but Washington is going to have a similarly tough time defending him.

    The Panthers picked up a 16-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars as 3.5-point home favorites in Week 3, which was impressive due to Newton throwing for just 158 yards.

    He threw three interceptions last week, but I'm not down on him because of it, as I think it will help the team's focus in playing its second winnable game of the year.

    I'm not including the season-opening loss to Arizona due to that being his NFL debut.

    Washington is in a quarterback controversy again—something that I want no part of.

    Pick:  Carolina Panthers (-1.5)

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans

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    Whenever doubt starts appearing in the minds of NFL players, it's likely the beginning of the end.

    Houston raced out to a 3-1 record and now finds itself sitting at .500—the worst winning percentage imaginable for this AFC South squad.

    The Texans are 2-14 ATS in this situation and will likely be without wide receiver Andre Johnson for one more week.

    It doesn't help that the team is 3-7 ATS in this series against Tennessee, including spread losses in four of the last five meetings inside Sunday's venue.

    Tennessee is 19-6 ATS as a home favorite of three points or less, which means don't lay more than a field goal.

    Pick:  Tennessee Titans (-3)

Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions

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    Part of me thinks we're late to the party in backing the Detroit Lions here, but I think Jim Schwartz's post-game adventures with San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh will fire up his team.

    I haven't been impressed in the Falcons' play away from the Georgia Dome this year, dropping all three games against the spread.

    My recommendation isn't to go overboard on this contest, as I believe the betting odds are exactly where they need to be.

    Pick:  Detroit Lions (-3.5)

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland has withstood the emotional loss of Al Davis in winning consecutive games, but now another test awaits against a revenge-minded divisional foe.

    Kansas City has rallied from the brink of disaster in wining its last two games, including a 28-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts as one-point road underdogs.

    The impressive part of that victory was overcoming an early 24-7 deficit when the players could have easily thrown in the towel.

    Bettors will find that the visitor is 9-1 ATS in this series, while the Raiders have dropped four consecutive games against rested foes.

    That's enough for me.

    Pick:  Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5)

St. Louis Rams at Dallas Cowboys

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    Place "America's Team" in a must-win situation and the oddsmakers automatically inflate the line.

    Dallas has shown signs of brilliance this season, but never seem to put it all together for 60 minutes.

    Quarterback Tony Romo continues to say the right things in post-game news conferences, while the Rams are 0-2 ATS as a road underdog of 10.5 to 14 points the last two-plus seasons.

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones even questioned how conservative the team got in losing to New England Sunday, which suggests to me that head coach Jason Garrett has the green light to let the playbook loose.

    Pick:  Dallas Cowboys (-10.5)

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings

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    It's very difficult to suggest a selection on this game without the knowledge of who the Minnesota Vikings will start under center, but I'll recommend the Green Bay Packers.

    Despite receiving over 90 percent of early wagers, the line has dropped two full points in favor of the Packers.

    A suggestion that sharp bettors found the dog appealing at 9.5.

    Green Bay is riding a wave of momentum since late last year and I don't feel the team will want to fall flat going into a bye week.

    Minnesota's home-field advantage is lessened due to the team's disappointing 1-5 record, which may offer Green Bay fans an opportunity to scoop up tickets.

    Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also a monster indoors and I have a feeling the Vikings will turn to rookie Christian Ponder for his first NFL start.

    Pick:  Green Bay Packers (-7.5)

Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins

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    Initially, my intention was to play whoever Las Vegas established as an underdog, but the early wagering has flipped me to the other side.

    Denver is receiving over 85 percent of all straight-bets and will continue to be backed heavily due to Tim Tebow getting the start under center.

    Oddsmakers already knew that he'd attract money at any price, which signals to me that they are going for a major score in this contest.

    Simply put, the game opened on a key number of three, which has now been bet down.

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore is serviceable and will find the Broncos secondary much easier to face than the Jets on Monday Night Football.

    Ugly game, but somebody has to win.

    Pick:  Miami Dolphins (-1)

San Diego Chargers at New York Jets

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    One of those situations that the line have moved 3.5 points in most spots, matching what my handicapper odds would have been.

    I sent out the San Diego Chargers as two-point road favorites after watching the New York Jets hand the Miami Dolphins a loss on Monday Night Football

    The reasoning wasn't the flat performance of the Jets to start the game, but instead I was amazed at how easy Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall could make plays against the secondary.

    San Diego has two of the bigger targets in the NFL, with Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson, while Philip Rivers is a major upgrade from facing Matt Moore.

    The Chargers also have the advantage of traveling off a bye week and get the Jets on a short week due to playing in the prime-time event.

    Don't go crazy on this selection, as the line is right where it needs to be.

    Pick:  San Diego Chargers (-1)

Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton will likely be calling plays from the press box this weekend, which is an environment that he's already stated he's uncomfortable with.

    I'd be much higher on this selection if the Saints came away with three victories on their road trip, but their 3-10 ATS mark off a division game gives me confidence in playing the underdog.

    New Orleans is also just 2-5 ATS as a home favorite of 10.5 to 14 points.

    Indianapolis should only be trusted on carpet from here on out, possessing an outside pass rush that can cause problems for opposing quarterback Drew Brees.

    Coming off consecutive divisional games—expect a ho-hum performance out of the double-digit favorite.

    Pick:  Indianapolis Colts (+14)

Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Very difficult contest to handicap due to Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert already being 0-2 ATS as a home underdog in his career.

    With that being said, Baltimore is an unappealing 4-16 ATS as road favorites when coming in on a winning streak of any kind.

    The Ravens showed their historical might following a bye in last week's 29-14 victory over the Houston Texans as touchdown favorites.

    Problem is, they've dropped the following game in that situation the last two years, including a 26-21 loss in Atlanta as one-point road underdogs in 2010.

    Pick:  Jacksonville Jaguars (+8.5)