Watch certain teams and it's clear instantly - the Patriots and Packers are really good; the Bears and Bucs are really bad. But if beating the book were as simple as playing on the good teams and against the bad, sportsbooks wouldn't be in business.
As those who make a living on sports in Vegas would agree, the point spread is the great equalizer. The most successful bettors don't win because they take the best teams, but rather the best numbers. Those numbers often come with a "+" in front to denote taking points with the underdog, instead of a "-" to signify laying points with the better team. Here's to those + signs yielding a positive return this week.
Oakland +5 vs. Denver
Peyton Manning's decline is a factor in forecasting every Broncos game, but Denver's dominant defense has carried the team to a 4-0 start even with Manning's wear and tear often on display. This pick is more about the Raiders - not only the improvement they've shown with a promising young core of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray at the skill positions on offense and a cornerstone player in Khalil Mack on defense, but also the schematic advantage they should have under head coach Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio spent the 2012-2014 seasons as the Broncos' defensive coordinator, so if anyone is suited to assemble a game plan to withstand the Denver defense's strengths and exploit its few weaknesses, it's him. Having been with the Broncos for the last three years, including a stint as interim head coach in 2013, he also has intel on Manning and the offensive personnel that few other opposing coaches can bring to the table. Del Rio and the Raiders putting these advantages to good use could lead to a wild Sunday in the Black Hole.
Washington +9 at Atlanta
While the Falcons have played better than expected en route to a 4-0 start, a deeper dive suggests the market could now be overvaluing them. Their first win came at home against the disappointing-to-date Eagles, with Philadelphia a very makeable field goal from emerging victorious. The Falcons' second win was largely a gift from the Giants, who made an infamous habit of giving games away in Weeks 1 and 2. Their third win came against a Dallas team missing Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and multiple playmakers on defense, yet Atlanta trailed by 14 points on three different occasions. You have to do a lot right to go 4-0 in the NFL, but if the Falcons' record were instead a very possible 1-3 or 2-2, how differently would they be perceived?
Washington's running game has been a strength all season. Continuing that in Atlanta can shorten the game and keep it competitive. By protecting the ball, Washington might even have a chance to win late.
Pick of the Week: Tennessee +3 vs. Buffalo
This is the Titans' second straight home game in a stretch that will see them go six weeks without playing on the road. Fresh off a bye, they're well positioned to continue coming together as a team.
The Bills could come out flat after four straight max-effort matchups to start the season. Even if they don't, the book on keeping their offense under wraps is making the rounds. The Patriots and Giants have limited dual threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor by forcing him to stay in the pocket, minimizing his running opportunities and forcing him to beat them with an inconsistent arm. Further limiting Buffalo's opportunities in the ground game, running backs LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams have been ruled out out due to injury. No. 1 wide receiver Sammy Watkins' status is also in doubt. Taylor is unlikely to have much help on hand and he may not be talented or experienced enough to shoulder the load.
Considering each team's situation, the Titans look primed for a performance fans will remember.
Week 5 Record: 2-1
Season Record: 9-8
Picks of the Week: 3-0