This darned spread betting is difficult to judge at the best of times. The best of times are anywhere after Week 4, when statistical lines are becoming consistent and, more importantly, the pattern begins to emerge of which teams are covering the spread or, as is the vernacular, winning ATS (against the spread).
I will stop explaining the above acronym soon as I'm wary of patronising anybody, but as I'm unaware of who may be reading these posts for the first time after only two weeks of the season, some readers may appreciate the explanation.
The worst of times for spread betting is, naturally, if the first paragraph is to be believed, anywhere before Week 4, but I'm having a good run, having gone 6-1 over the first two weeks and 4-0 last week. Yes, I do comment on every game, but have picked out just seven contests I thought justified laying down your hard earned for. The one game that's been my undoing? The Seahawks (-2.5) in Arizona. In hindsight, that tip was extremely misguided, but hindsight is the perfect science and I was never any good at that in school so why would I suddenly wish to hold its hand and take it out to dinner now?
The Cincinnati Bengals did their utmost to fool me last week, covering by half a point, the merest margin there is, beating Cleveland by seven, but being available -6.5 right up until kickoff.
Right, let's delve into Week 3 and attempt to pick out a couple more gems. This doesn't include the Thursday night affair in Carolina, but that wasn't a game I was looking to bet on anyway. However, as a point of interest, I would've tipped up the Panthers to cover the spread (-2). The Giants didn't miss a beat despite missing a couple of key starters, but, after failing to cover the spread in the first two weeks, I'm in no mood to trust them just yet.
For this post and future reference, I'll preface each game with the best available line (BAL) for each team.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS at DALLAS COWBOYS
BAL Buccaneers +9...BAL Cowboys -7
The line on Tampa Bay, at first blush, looks like incredible value, but why would some bookmakers tempt us into almost buying money?
Dallas will be hurting after last week in Seattle, both figuratively and literally and the Bucs will be smarting after losing a big lead to the Giants. However, all that matters here is that Tampa covered the spread in that game and are 2-0 ATS, each time as underdogs, exactly the same as this week. This is almost too good to be true, which makes me wary as, personally, I wouldn't really want to lay the Bucs at anything more than +6.5.
The intangible here is that this is the Cowboys' home opener after two tough road games so they will invariably be much better than last week (for that, read Buffalo last week vs. KC after their mauling at the Jets in Week 1) while the Bucs are on the road for the second consecutive week against what is perceived to be a playoff calibre team; consecutive road games have a habit of making a mockery of any given line.
I really want to advise on backing Tampa and may yet have a small wager myself, but I've been stung on these bets before so, for interest purposes only, let's just keep a close eye on this one. Should the Bucs win SU (straight up) then they really are for real.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
BAL Jaguars +3...BAL Colts -2.5
Which quarterback do you trust more here? Blaine Gabbert +3 or Andrew Luck -2.5...at home? My very first thought on this matchup was Jacksonville +6.5, but, unlike the line afforded the Buccaneers in Dallas, I'm not wary here, purely because Indianapolis are playing in their own surroundings...for the second consecutive week. In addition, to trust the Jaguars +3 means placing your faith in a defense that gave up a whopping 216 yards on the ground last week, albeit to an elite Houston Texans backfield.
Jacksonville ranks dead last in the league in total offense and, while Indy's defense can't be compared to Houston, New England and San Diego (the top three defenses in the league right now...hang on, the Patriots' second ranked D lost to Kevin Kolb last week...didn't it...?), it's not their defense I'm necessarily relying on.
Anybody brave enough to bet on Jacksonville this week will be laying money on a team that was 0 of 9 on third down last week and had only one drive of longer than four plays, a literally astonishing statistic (thank you to Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk for those).
The Colts are currently giving up 273 yards per game through the air, a figure not likely to be threatened by Gabbert, who averages 147 passing yards per game. I plain don't get how this game has been pegged to be so close. Indianapolis represents tremendous value and is quite possibly the bet of the week.
BUFFALO BILLS at CLEVELAND BROWNS
BAL Buffalo -3...BAL Cleveland +3
Old news is that Cleveland are 0-2. However, they're 1-0-1 ATS and were a half point from being 2-0 on that score. The Browns could prove to the bettor's friend this season and I was all over them +9 in Week 1 at home to the Eagles.
However, I did go against them last week with Cincy, a bet that scraped over the line, which makes me wary of betting against them this week. Yes, even when missing stud cornerback Joe Haden and up against a Buffalo team that scored 35 points last week. A better view of the Bills this week is to look at their last game on the road, an abomination of a performance at the Jets on opening weekend.
I suppose, unsurprisingly, the key to the whole contest is the performance of C.J. Spiller. He's having the breakout year of all breakout years, averaging 10.1 yards per carry over the first two weeks of the season, a number so staggering that I struggle not to laugh at it. Success on that scale is impossible to sustain and it has to come to a shuddering halt at some time. Why wouldn't it be this week?
It might not be, but there's no way I'm betting against Cleveland right now and especially when the memory of Buffalo being mauled 41-7 during the third quarter of their last road game is still too vivid. The Jets allowed the Bills to flatter themselves late on in that one by giving up in the fourth quarter.
NEW YORK JETS at MIAMI DOLPHINS
BAL NY Jets -1...BAL Dolphins +3.5
No man is an Island. Unless your name is Darrelle Revis.
Revis missed last week's let down in Pittsburgh with a concussion, but has stated that he definitely starts this week.
The importance of Revis to the Jets' secondary can never be underestimated and whereas he can often be counted on to shut down one half of the field, that looks to be a nailed on certainty on Sunday when you consider he'll be up against Davone Bess, who lines up at flanker for Miami.
Ryan Tannehill fared fairly well last week against the Raiders, but the Silver and Black were missing Ron Bartell, their top cover corner, a complete 180 to what Tannehill will see this week.
If the current Dolphins could ever generate some crowd noise (heck, even a crowd would be nice), you'd think entertaining the hated Jets would entice a few more through the turnstiles.
This once proud franchise suffer from arguably the worst home field advantage in the NFL and, as simple as this analysis might be, fan apathy (even against a division rival) plus the return of Revis plus a pumped up Rex Ryan (despite the weight loss) makes the Jets giving up just one point look like a small steal.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
BAL Chiefs +9...BAL Saints -7.5
N'Awlins are staring down the barrel of a horrible season already. This game should see them peg back a W (SU), but their schedule immediately thereafter ain't pretty: Green Bay, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Denver, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
OUCH, ouch, ouch, OUCH, ouch and OUCH.
And if that wasn't enough, they're giving up 186 yards per game on the ground so far (worst in the league), a statistic that could look very familiar again this week because the Chiefs roll into town averaging 151 rushing yards per game.
Something will have to give here and it does figure to be both defenses as each one has yielded 75 points over two games, another league worst.
I'm advising to leave this one alone, although if pushed, I take KC and the points. However, an interesting bet here is the over/under, which is worth a small buy at 53.
CINCINNATI BENGALS at WASHINGTON REDSKINS
BAL Bengals +4...BAL Redskins -3
Washington probably pulled the biggest shock in Week 1 when they dismantled the Saints in the Superdome only to show the rest of the NFL in Week 2 how difficult it is to win on the road in consecutive weeks, even when up against a team perceived to be lesser than the now dominant you.
As if the fall back to Earth wasn't enough, the dreams they held, built around a heavenly new quarterback who floated like an angel amongst the Saints, were dealt a considerable blow this week when it was announced that stud OLB Brian Orakpo (pectoral tear) and DE Adam Carriker (torn quad tendon) were both lost for the season.
The Bengals have suffered their own defensive woes recently, losing weakside linebacker Thomas Howard, last year's leading tackler, and the effect of this will be felt the longer the season wears on.
Anybody with an inkling for the ‘Skins here is able to factor into the equation that this is RG3's home debut and emotions will be running high all around FedEx Field.
I have no interest in betting on this one. The Bengals do look to be good value, particularly against a depleted Washington D, but this is still a tough road game for a team who embarrassed themselves in Baltimore two weeks ago and then made Brandon Weeden look half decent last week. Then again, maybe he is.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES at ARIZONA CARDINALS
BAL Eagles -3...BAL Cardinals +4.5
Here's why Arizona is good to bet on this week:
Philly's coming off an emotional win over the Ravens.
They're travelling to face a Cardinals team who still aren't being taken seriously despite shocking the Patriots in their own back yard.
Dallas Reynolds (exactly) is filling in for the injured Jason Kelce at center for the Eagles.
Arizona are 2-0 ATS; Philadelphia are 0-2 ATS. Spread betting form sides with the Cards.
Would you trust Michael Vick with your hard earned?
Yes, after last week, and ridiculous as it sounds, I have more faith in Kevin Kolb than I do Vick to cover the spread.
I think that's everything.
ST. LOUIS RAMS at CHICAGO BEARS
BAL Rams +9...BAL Bears -7
My Super Bowl XLVII tip ain't looking so hot right now. Chicago was bullied and battered in Week 2 by a Green Bay team motivated to the hilt by the (stoopid) words of Jay (stoopid) Cutler. I've rarely seen a player have his words shoved straight back down his throat in quite the manner of last Thursday.
I'm glad it happened this early and not in January, although Brian Urlacher himself admitted that perhaps the Bears aren't as good as they thought they were.
Like New Orleans, Chicago should pocket the W here, but that's not the salient point. Can they win by eight? I'm not so sure and it's why I like St. Louis with nine points.
Sam Bradford has looked extremely assured so far, his 2011 nightmare moving farther away in his rear view mirror and his numbers give me confidence in supporting his team here. He's completed 71.7% of his passes, has a TD-INT ratio of 4-1 and is facing a Bears pass defense that ranks 20th in the league.
Matt Forte, perhaps my favourite player not wearing a Seahawks jersey, is missing and, while Michael Bush is a capable running back, he ain't no Matt Forte.
I take the Rams and the points.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS at MINNESOTA VIKINGS
BAL 49ers -6.5...BAL Vikings +7
Adrian Peterson's been shooting from the hip this week about how San Francisco this season won't have seen anything like the running game Minnesota will be bringing to the table this week.
Maybe he's talking about the juggernaut of a running game that's averaging a whopping 109 yards per game going against a Niners D giving up just 63.5 yards on the ground. Yeah, that'll be the one. Fortunately for Peterson, he has the ability to back those words up, but you get the feeling that he's had a little too much time to think while rehabbing his knee.
At face value, San Fran look good being asked to only win by a touchdown, especially as they've already covered the spread against the Packers and Lions in the first two weeks. However, I'm wary. I just am.
Probably because those two wins were against playoff calibre teams and the Vikings are nothing of the sort, meaning they may take their foot off the gas a little this week.
Plus, they're on the road at the Jets next week, kicking off at 10 a.m. PT, a game they'll really need to focus all of their energies on.
DETROIT LIONS at TENNESSEE TITANS
BAL Lions -3.5...BAL Titans +3.5
This line looks to be a little off. Maybe I'm wrong. Admittedly, both teams are 0-2 ATS, but Tennessee have been blown away twice in a row. Perhaps that's why the line on Detroit looks skinny. I mean, can the Titans look any worse? Can Chris Johnson look any worse? Tennessee averages 29 rushing yards per game. There must be an improvement here soon. But how soon is soon? 0-16 soon? Yes, a little dramatic.
It's actually not easy for Detroit to travel south after a tough loss in San Fran, but they can surely cover here by four...can't they? I know, I shouldn't be posing all these questions.
Betting on this one frightens me. Really frightens me. I can't have my 6-1 record being tarnished by advising anything here.
Matt Stafford's my fantasy QB and is the only reason I'm watching this one.
Who'll cover the spread? You tell me.
ATLANTA FALCONS at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
BAL Falcons +3...BAL Chargers -2.5
It's way too early to call either team a covering machine, but they are both 2-0 ATS so something's gotta give on Sunday, which straight away leads me to the Falcons and the points on offer.
Both offenses average less than 100 rushing yards per game, but we all know that that isn't Atlanta's MO.
No, Mr. Regular Season (sorry, Matt Ryan) has superfluous weapons at his disposal and will look to the air first. Ditto for Philip Rivers. Well, at least until he has Ryan Mathews available again at running back, which will surely be the case this week with Mathews fully participating in practice up until Friday.
The aforementioned Air Ryan will be on full display on Sunday as there's little chance of the Falcons having any luck on the ground against a Chargers run defense yielding a measly 41 yards per game.
This has the makings of a shootout and, as much as I lean towards Atlanta, the best thing to do here would be to buy on the over/under at 47.5.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS at OAKLAND RAIDERS
BAL Steelers -3.5...BAL Raiders +4.5
Only the Raiders' mother could love their son enough to cover the spread in this contest.
What this matchup does is unlock memories of 1970's playoff contests, Immaculate Receptions, Snake Stablers and when smashmouth football meant exactly that. To times when it was the law that ALL linemen had to have beards. If you didn't you wouldn't make the final roster. I'm not making this stuff up. Go ask your Dad.
How much do we read into Oakland's second half abomination in Miami last week? Carson Palmer was 24 of 48 for 373 yards and the Raiders ended up scoring 13 points. It's because they ran for only 10 more yards than those points accrued while Reggie Bush tore through their defense for 172 yards on 26 carries.
The Dolphins controlled the ball and the clock beautifully in that second half and simply wore down the Silver and Black in the heat. Ah, perhaps there's the clue...(Silver and) Black in the heat.
Pittsburgh pulled the Jets back to earth, thumping them 27-10 and Ben Roethlisberger had a whale of a time, although it was made a little easier for him before even a ball was snapped seeing as he would be throwing against a secondary minus Darrelle Revis.
The Raiders will have to go some to reach three figures on the ground this week...they average 34 yards rushing per game and all this with Darren McFadden in the backfield. The Steelers are giving up 92 rushing yards per game so Palmer could very well be throwing the ball 48 times once again.
Being a Seahawk, it's difficult to like the Raiders at the best of times and, while I wouldn't advise lumping on Pittsburgh here, I prefer asking the Steelers to win by four than asking the Raiders to keep it close in order to cover.
HOUSTON TEXANS at DENVER BRONCOS
BAL Texans -1...BAL Broncos +4.5
Finally, a true test for Houston, having blown past the Dolphins and Jaguars in the first two weeks. Yes, the schedule isn't their fault and they wouldn't have paid any money into NFL coffers to be afforded a comfortable start to the season, but the Texans being 2-0 at this stage was the biggest certainty of the season...to this point.
In fact, more pertinently to us handicappers, is the fact that I am almost disregarding their stats over the first two weeks as any kind of form guide. We knew they were good, we knew they were a playoff calibre team, so what's new? Nothing.
This matchup fascinates me as do the lines on offer. Look at the disparity. Steer well clear of this. If you don't and you end up winning money on either team, then you're a better man than me. Then again, that probably isn't that difficult.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS at BALTIMORE RAVENS
BAL Patriots +2.5...BAL Ravens -1.5
I was all over Baltimore plus 2.5 in Philadelphia last week and it paid off handsomely, although not as handsomely as I would've liked when they led by ten at halftime. Ray Rice wasn't used properly enough protecting that lead and I can't see that happening again in a hurry.
There's no way I'm overreacting to New England's shocker at home to Arizona last week. Losing Aaron Hernandez didn't help matters, but never underestimate Bill Belichick and Tom Brady immediately after a loss that doesn't make sense.
I like the Patriots and the points a lot here. Not enough to go all out or to include them as a sure fire thing, but if I've had a bad Sunday afternoon, then this bet will be my saver.
I'm becoming increasingly protective of my 6-1 record ATS so far, which translates to me becoming increasingly nervous about predicting this week, which I know doesn't make sense, but the day to change all that passed too long ago to remember when it actually was.
My ‘Aaron Curry' this week is the Rams +9 and my bet of the week is the Colts -2.5. In addition, I advise the Jets -1 and the Cardinals +4.5.
Please gamble responsibly.
In addition to contributing here, Rob runs his own blog, Rob's NFL Yard, so make sure you head over there and check out more of his work. He'll be with us all season to give all you degenerate gamblers a better look at the ever-changing NFL odds, with a focus on the Seahawks, but attention to the NFL as a whole.