The Las Vegas lines appear to be getting longer the further we get into the 2015 NFL season, now that there's at least some idea of which teams are contenders and pretenders in this campaign.
Several squads are favored by more than a touchdown, and a couple of teams are surprising favorites on the road. This week is also notable for the year's first London game, a scrap between the New York Jets and the "home" Miami Dolphins at the famous Wembley Stadium. Good luck picking a winner from those jet-lagged squads.
Here are the latest Vegas lines and some predictions heading into Thursday. Odds are courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of 7 a.m. ET, October 1.
|Thursday, October 1|
|Time (ET)||Matchup (Spread)||Over-Under||Prediction|
|8:25 p.m.||Baltimore Ravens (-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers||43.5||PIT 29-28 BAL|
|Sunday, October 4|
|9:30 a.m. ET||New York Jets (-2) at Miami Dolphins*||41||MIA 17-16 NYJ|
|1 p.m.||Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-9)||48||IND 28-20 JAX|
|1 p.m.||New York Giants at Buffalo Bills (-5.5)||46||BUF 28-21 NYG|
|1 p.m.||Carolina Panthers (-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||40||CAR 24-19 TB|
|1 p.m.||Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Washington Redskins||44.5||PHI 30-27 WAS|
|1 p.m.||Oakland Raiders (-3) at Chicago Bears||44.5||OAK 20-10 CHI|
|1 p.m.||Houston Texans at Atlanta Falcons (-6)||46.5||ATL 31-23 HOU|
|1 p.m.||Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals (-4)||44.5||CIN 30-20 KC|
|4:05 p.m.||Cleveland Browns at San Diego Chargers (-7.5)||44.5||SD 27-24 CLE|
|4:25 p.m.||Green Bay Packers (-9) at San Francisco 49ers||48.5||GB 38-21 SF|
|4:25 p.m.||St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-7.5)||42.5||AZ 24-20 STL|
|4:25 p.m.||Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos (-7)||43||DEN 30-27 MIN|
|8:30 p.m.||Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints (-7)||N/A||DAL 23-17 NO|
|Monday, October 5|
|8:30 p.m.||Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (-10)||43||SEA 28-17 DET|
|OddsShark.com, *game held at Wembley Stadium in London|
Odds Shark also has a few prop bets for Week 4, including one for Julio Jones—currently scribbling his name all over the record books—and some for Michael Vick, who is taking over quarterback duties in Pittsburgh while Ben Roethlisberger recovers from a painful knee injury. Odds are updated as of September 30, per Odds Shark.
|Will Julio Jones record 135 or more receiving yards in Week 4?||Yes +250, No -400|
|Michael Vick's total TD passes in Week 4||Over-Under 1.5, -115|
|Michael Vick's total passing yards in Week 4||Over-Under 230.5, -115|
|Michael Vick's total rushing yards in Week 4||Over-Under 37.5, -115|
|More carries in Week 4||Alfred Morris +110, Matt Jones -150|
|More carries in Week 4||Jeremy Hill -140, Giovani Bernard +100|
Oakland Raiders (-3) at Chicago Bears
The Raiders did it! They're favored to win a game! This is the first time Oakland has been favored to win in 27 games, per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, a feat made all the more remarkable in that it's a road contest for the Silver and Black.
Granted, the Raiders are facing a Chicago team coming off a 26-0 throttling from the Seattle Seahawks, a game in which the Bears punted on all 10 possessions. It begs for a Joe Budden "Punt it Up" commemorative song.
Anyway, with the Bears offense defanged, Oakland shouldn't have to do much when they have the ball to win this game. Second-year quarterback Derek Carr is progressing well. He currently sits at seventh in the league in total QBR, per ESPN.com. That's well ahead of the likes of Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith, the other three quarterbacks in the AFC West.
Rookie wideout Amari Cooper looks like the real thing, with 20 receptions for 290 yards and one touchdown in three games. Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey felt he exposed Cleveland corner Joe Haden in Week 3:
Grantland's Robert Mays noted the under-appreciated offensive line has been a boon to the team's success:
Through three games, no quarterback in football has been pressured less often than Carr (13 percent of his dropbacks). The importance of that has been twofold. First, it’s allowed the Raiders to avoid some of the issues Carr dealt with in college when faced with pressure. And second, it’s given Musgrave the chance to utilize plays that rely on slower-developing route combinations to create space.
Jeffery has been out since Week 1, while Jimmy Clausen took over for an injured Cutler in Week 2 and got the start next week against Seattle, completing nine of 17 passes for an anemic 63 yards. Cutler isn't great, but he should be able to do better than Clausen, especially if Jeffery is up to the task.
If Cutler is back, keeping him upright could be a problem. The Raiders racked up five sacks in Week 3, including two from Khalil Mack, a superstar in waiting. With Aldon Smith wreaking havoc at the other end of the line, these two could make for a very long day for whichever quarterback the Bears trot out Sunday.
Matt Forte's putting together yet another solid campaign, and he has the ability to take the bite out of a pass rush if he gets going early. However, he can only do so much. Even if key starters come back for Chicago, this looks like a good chance for the Raiders to move to a surprising 3-1 on the year.
Baltimore Ravens (-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers
Likely owing to Roethlisberger's injury, the 0-3 Ravens are favored over bitter rival Pittsburgh (2-1) on the road for the Thursday night game this week. For two franchises long celebrated for punishing defenses, it's the offenses that will be the big draw to the contest.
The Ravens saw a fine performance from their attack in Week 3 against the Bengals. Joe Flacco threw for 362 yards, 186 of which went to 36-year-old wideout Steve Smith, who plans on retiring at the end of the year despite his continued excellence.
|Steve Smith 2015 Stats|
The only problem with the Ravens' performance was that they let Andy Dalton and A.J. Green run rampant in the 28-24 loss. Dalton threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns. Green picked up 227 yards and two of those scores. It was not an encouraging day for the Ravens D.
Thursday could, however, be another big game for Smith and Flacco. The Steelers have allowed a 108.8 rating to quarterbacks this year, per ESPN.com. They've managed to keep the points to a minimum in the past two weeks, beating San Francisco 43-18 in Week 2 and the Rams 12-6 on Sunday.
The pressure is on this young unit with Roethlisberger likely out for several weeks. Cornerback Antwon Blake is up to the challenge, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
As a defense we always want to step up. There are always questions about our defense and how we're in a building phase and all these things. It's not necessarily because of Ben. We have to step up because we have to win games and complement our offense.
There's perhaps even more pressure heaped on Vick, who completed five of six passes for 38 yards and fumbled once in limited action taking over for Big Ben in Week 3. Luckily, he's surrounded by weapons like Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and DeAngelo Williams.
Brown, the best wide receiver in the league not named Julio Jones, says the team has Vick's back.
“He’s a leader, and he’s been doing it for a long time,” he said, per the New York Times' Benjamin Hoffman. “It’s not only about him. We’ve got to be able to help him, catching passes, got to be able to run the ball, protect the ball and help him out.”
Vick will likely have to show consistency moving the ball through the air. Bell and Williams are a load, but Baltimore's allowed just 84 rushing yards per game on 3.4 yards per carry this season, per ESPN.com.
Baltimore hasn't exactly been opportunistic this year with a minus-one turnover differential. Getting pressure on Vick will be key in this one. Vick is no stranger to turnovers. He fumbled the ball five times in 26 rushing attempts last season with the New York Jets. His touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't that great, although his interception percentage overall has dipped in recent years, via Pro-Football-Reference.com. For an athletic player, Vick also takes quite a few sacks.
|Season||G (GS)||COMP/ATT||YDS||TD||INT||SACKS||Sack % Index (100 is avg, higher is better)|
If Baltimore can take Vick out of the passing game and get Flacco distributing the ball to Smith—who might like to get his first touchdown against Pittsburgh before he leaves the game—and tight end Crockett Gillmore, this could be the week it picks up that elusive win.
At the same time, Pittsburgh has the advanced weaponry on offense across all its skill positions. If you don't sack Vick, he can break plays wide open with his legs. Pittsburgh's scrappy defense should also have a good shot at shutting down Baltimore's Justin Forsett (3.2 yards per carry), leaving the game up to the passing attack. It should be a tight Thursday night contest, and a fine one to kick-start Week 4.