TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis has previewed the four nationally televised games of Week 5, including last night’s Buffalo-Cleveland game. Now we’ll take a look at the 10 games on Sunday that constitute the undercard, that will be shown to more regional audiences.
This Sunday is one where the undercard games are, more often than not, the better games on the schedule, making one wonder about the wisdom of those who make up the TV schedule.
We’ll start with six games that would be attractive in any of the marquee spots, from the national late afternoon game to either Sunday or Monday in prime-time. All games, as usual, are picked on the moneyline. I’ve won three of four weeks, including last week’s (+360), but a disastrous Week 3 has me at (-600) for the year.
New England (-115) Cincinnati (-105): This will be the first full game for the Patriots without Vince Wolfork anchoring that defensive line. It’s also going to be a challenge for the Pats to find Tom Brady enough time to find his emerging young receivers. There’s a lot of reasons to like Cincinnati to win this game at home, but I’m very disgusted with the Bengals after last week’s loss to the Browns. The difference in the moneylines is not substantial, so I’ll take New England.
New Orleans (-115) Chicago (-105): We’re watching the transformation of Chicago into an offense-first team, and of New Orleans to one that might be not be defense-first, but at least has defense as a part of the equation for the first time since 2009. It’s no coincidence that the Saints won a Super Bowl that year and they have a chance to do it again this year. I’ll pick them to get this win on the road.
Seattle (-145) Indianapolis (+125): No two teams were more hyped in the offseason than the 49ers and Seahawks. Now Indianapolis has the chance to knock off both in the first five weeks of the schedule, and this one’s at home. Seattle’s coming off that emotional comeback win in Houston last week and on the road for a second straight week. I like the Colts even if everything was equal, and getting (+125) adds to the attraction.
Detroit (+270) Green Bay (-340): This is a big-time game for both teams. A Detroit win, on top of last week’s home win over Chicago, and the Lions are the team to beat in the NFC North. And it would drop the Packers to 1-3. But Green Bay has had two weeks to get ready for this game, and while I expect Aaron Rodgers to run for his life most of the afternoon, #12 at home in a must-win game is not someone you bet against. It’s a risk at this price, but I’ll take the Pack.
Baltimore (+125) Miami (-145): Miami has the chance to show that Monday Night’s disaster was more about the Saints than it was about the Dolphins. Baltimore has the chance to show it can play a good football game against a good team for four quarters ,something they haven’t done yet this year. The lack of a running game in Baltimore is alarming and without that, the Dolphins are going to be comfortable teeing off.
I’m taking the Fish in what we’ll call a “sea change pick”. I liked the Ravens and did not like the Dolphins, but the early evidence suggests it’s time to rethink both.
Kansas City (-150) Tennessee (+130): Jake Locker is out 4-6 weeks and while the Titans win with running the ball and defense, Locker had delivered some clutch play. At least backup Ryan Fitzpatrick got extensive starting experience in Buffalo. Fitzpatrick’s long-term track record tells you that mistakes will come, but it also tells you he’s capable of looking really good for a week or two. This will be one of those weeks, as Tennessee hands Kansas City their first loss.
Then we have four undercard games that truly deserve the label…
Philadelphia (+105) NY Giants (-125): The Eagles have at least looked like a competent football team even if their defense is lacking. The Giants have done nothing well, and after picking them four straight weeks, I give up. I’ll take the Birds.
Carolina (-130) Arizona (+110): My disgust level with Arizona’s narrow escape at dysfunctional Tampa last week can’t be underestimated. For that reason alone, I’m picking the favored Panthers.
San Diego (-230) Oakland (+195): San Diego has been good to me this year. I’ve picked them all four games and though they are 2-2, they’ve been moneyline underdogs each week, meaning it’s been profitable. But now the market has caught up, and this is a really hefty line for a road game in odd circumstances–it will kick off at 11:35 PM EST on NFL Network, because the Oakland A’s have the stadium the day before and it takes 24 hours to get the field ready.
The Chargers are also missing Malcolm Floyd and Dwight Freeney, while Terrelle Pryor will come back for the Raiders. That (-230) is just way too much exposure on a game I can see going either way, so I’m picking Oakland.
Jacksonville (+450) St. Louis (-600): We’ll see if the return of Justin Blackmon make any difference for Jacksonville. But what does it say about the Jaguars that they’re the biggest underdog on the board this week, even against the Rams?