Expert NFL Picks for Week 5, Including Eagles-Steelers and Colts-Browns
Chris Altruda of NJ Online Gambling, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for NJ Online Gambling, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 5 games, including the first-place Eagles taking on the first-place Steelers in an intrastate battle and the defense-heavy Colts battling the offense-heavy Browns.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Buffalo Bills (4-0) (-113, -1, O/U 49) at Tennessee Titans (3-0)
A compelling matchup because … if played, this will be a matchup between two undefeated teams that are leading their respective divisions. Clearly, there’s some uncertainty about this game due to the Titans’ ongoing issues with COVID-19, but as of this writing, Buffalo is still scheduled to head to Nashville and take the field. The game is set for Tuesday.
Altruda’s Angle: This game came off the board following two more positive COVID-19 tests on Wednesday for the Titans. The team has not been at their facility for more than a week because of the outbreak, which hamstrings Mike Vrabel’s team significantly in terms of both game-planning and player conditioning. Meanwhile, the Bills keep chugging along and have opened a two-game lead in the AFC East. Josh Allen took another step forward with a quality performance on the road versus Las Vegas — throwing for 288 yards and two TDs without an interception — and the Bills beat the Raiders without his dual-threat capabilities as a runner. Should this game be played, it is difficult going against the Bills, who have all the momentum on their side and a slender spread to cover. Take Buffalo -1 for the game and Buffalo again on the first-half money line.
Gable’s Guess: The Bills came up with a nice win against the Raiders last week. Their defense really stepped up in the fourth quarter a week after they allowed the Rams to score 29 unanswered points. Josh Norman created a key turnover and that was huge for the momentum for them in that game. Allen continues to stay hot and be impressive. Their receivers are delivering for them. The concern here for the Bills is they have some injuries. Linebacker Matt Milano has a pec injury and he’s probably going to be needed to stop Derrick Henry and what will be a well-rested Titan offense that plays tough, physical football. It’ll be interesting to see here with the Titans if there is some rust not having practiced. The Bills are hot right now and if the defense can continue to play well, they’re going to be a very dangerous team moving forward.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This showdown features a pair of undefeated teams with postseason aspirations. The Bills (3-1 against the spread) are coming off a 20-23 win over the Raiders, covering as 3-point road favorites. Meanwhile, the Titans (0-3 ATS) are playing for the first time in two weeks. Essentially, Tennessee enjoys a bye week in this one. This line remains off the board at several shops, so we’ll have to wait it out and see how it moves once available. The public will likely circle the wagons with the surging Bills, which might create a buy-low opportunity on the rested Titans. Buffalo is 2-0 on the road this season. Tennessee is 1-0 at home. Buffalo is +23 in point differential this season. Tennessee is +6.
Our Pick: It’s tough to see the Bills losing. Take ’em and lay the point.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-2-1) (+530, -13, O/U 51) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
A compelling matchup because … thanks to their win last week over the Jaguars, the Bengals are coming in having not lost for two games in a row for the first time since Weeks 4 and 5 in 2018. While that streak likely won’t go to three games against a tough Baltimore team that has dominated every week except one, seeing how Cincy rookie QB Joe Burrow fares against the Ravens, his division opponent for years to come, will be a good measuring stick of where he’s at in his young career.
Altruda’s Angle: The Ravens were workmanlike in securing DMV bragging rights in last Sunday’s victory over the Washington Football Team as Lamar Jackson had a highlight-reel touchdown run and two scoring tosses. But the betting intrigue for this game is about the back-door cover. Depending on when bettors grabbed last week’s line for Baltimore (any outcome was on the board), the touchdown Baltimore conceded with 2:05 left resulted in money changing hands in both directions, or even a push at a 14-point margin. That has the potential to happen again versus Cincinnati, which is a dangerous underdog with a multi-score spread and an impressive rookie quarterback in Burrow. The No. 1 overall pick is looking for a fourth straight 300-yard game and he looked at ease with a proper run-pass balance as Joe Mixon ran for 151 yards. The plan is to avoid late-game drama, which means jumping on first-half lines, some of which have been established with the Ravens -7. Take away a disastrous first half at Kansas City, and the Ravens are plus-39 in the opening two quarters while the Bengals are -11 in their two road games and -13 overall. Go with Ravens -7 in the first half and shop around to find something better.
Gable’s Guess: Right now the Ravens are favored by 13. That’s down a full point from the opener of 14. The Ravens are 37-0 straight-up when they’re favored by double digits in the regular season. This is a road game for the Bengals. They’re 0-14-1 in their last 15 road games. Burrow has looked pretty decent, completing 65.5 percent of his passes on 177 attempts so far on the year, but the offensive line is just not playing well at all. Burrow’s running for his life a lot of times. Baltimore has a very good defense and I don’t see how they don’t get to Burrow in this game. Jackson is completing more than 68 percent of his passes for the Ravens. I think he’s probably going to be able to chew up a Bengals defense that really hasn’t been able to stop much throughout the year. I see the Ravens being able to cover this, especially if it gets any lower than 13.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This AFC North showdown features two of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks going head-to-head for the first time. Burrow and the Bengals (3-1 ATS) beat the Jaguars 33-25 as 1-point home favorites last week. The Ravens (3-1 SU, 2-1-1 ATS) bounced back from their Monday night loss against the Chiefs with a win, although they pushed as 14-point road favorites. This line opened with Baltimore listed as a 13-point home favorite. The public has no problem laying the points. Cincinnati has value as a contrarian road divisional dog. I’ll take Burrow to keep it close.
Our Pick: Hope Burrow and Jackson put in work and take the over.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) (+255,+7, O/U 44) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0)
A compelling matchup because … both of these teams are in first place in their respective divisions, albeit with vastly different records. Leaving that to the side, seeing how the Steelers perform after their impromptu bye week in Week 4 should be a good indicator as to how they should fare for the rest of the season. For the Eagles, this is an opportunity to prove that last week’s win was no fluke and things are back on the rails in Philly.
Altruda’s Angle: Well, someone has to lead the NFC East, right? And the Eagles are the division’s tallest midget, arguably saving their season with an impressive win at San Francisco on Sunday night. Carson Wentz still has some issues — he has thrown at least one INT in all four games — and the defense contributed a game-changing pick-6 versus the 49ers. The Steelers are coming off an unexpected bye week due to the COVID-19 outbreak among the Titans and some players were upset at being knocked off rhythm. But Pittsburgh looks to be a more complete team at the moment, and if the spread stays at 7 or moves in Philadelphia’s favor, the Steelers are the play. Take the Steelers -7.
Gable’s Guess: The Steelers are favored by 7. That 7 is juiced, so it quite possibly could move to 7.5 shortly. The total is dropping in this one. We opened at 47.5 and it’s already down to 44. The Steelers are rested and have an excellent pass rush that should give Philly’s offensive line fits. Their secondary should have no issues containing the very thin Philly receiving corps. Wentz doesn’t really have many targets left. They got by San Francisco, but I think it’s going to be a very tough task against a much better defense in Pittsburgh. Defensively, I think the Eagles are going to have a tough time. They were out-gained by 150 yards last week by a depleted 49ers offense. I certainly would be looking at taking the Steelers at the 7.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Welcome to the battle of Pennsylvania. After going winless in their first three games, the Eagles (1-3 ATS) bounced back with a huge 25-20 win over the 49ers on Sunday Night Football, winning straight up as 7.5-point dogs. The Steelers (2-1 ATS) are coming off a “bye” week after their Week 4 game against the Titans was postponed. This line opened with the Steelers listed as 7-point home favorites. The public still doesn’t believe in the Eagles and they’re all over the rested, undefeated Steelers at home. However, despite this lopsided betting, we’ve seen this line remain frozen at 7. Anytime it’s crept up to 7.5 it’s immediately been hit by sharps backing the Eagles and the hook. This signals some liability on the road dog Eagles. I’ll take the points in this one.
Our Pick: Not buying Philly. Steelers are rested and home. Lay the points.
Indianapolis Colts (3-1) (-125, -1.5, O/U 47) at Cleveland Browns (3-1)
A compelling matchup because … the Browns are 3-1 for the first time since 2001 and have been scoring points in bunches (at least 34 in every game since Week 1) behind a very strong running game. They’ll be without starting running back Nick Chubb here and taking on a tough Indy defense that has only given up 56 points this season. But the Colts offense has been shaky, as has the defense of the Browns.
Altruda’s Angle: The Browns silenced some doubters (myself included) with an impressive throttling of the Cowboys in Dallas last weekend, rolling up 49 points and 508 yards. The caveat is that game was defense optional, and Cleveland will not have that luxury this week against a formidable Indianapolis defense while also playing without injured running back Nick Chubb. The Colts exposed the Bears for the 3-0 frauds they were last weekend in Chicago, conceding a late touchdown that made the final score respectable. Still, there are some concerns about Indianapolis’s offense and whether Philip Rivers could win a shootout versus Baker Mayfield. This is a challenging game for picking purposes and, while the Colts defense looks to be the real deal, the play is some reverse jiu-jitsu with a 6-point teaser in which the Colts are getting points and sliding the number down to account for Cleveland’s big-play potential. I like a 6-point teaser with the Colts +4.5 and OVER 41 points.
Gable’s Guess: This is an interesting stat for the Colts. In their wins, their kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has actually personally outscored all of their opponents. That also speaks to the Colts defense, as they’ve been very stingy in giving up points this year. They’re only allowing 14 points per game, which is best in the NFL. The other really big strength of the Colts is their offensive line. They’re going to need to continue to play well, as Myles Garrett has been tremendous the last two weeks for Cleveland. For Cleveland, losing Chubb at running back is a big blow, but they’re deep at that position and Kareem Hunt should be able to carry most of the workload while he’s out. I would still look to lay the points here with the Colts.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Both of these AFC foes are riding three-game winning streaks. The Colts (3-1 ATS) just waltzed into Chicago and beat the Bears 19-11, easily covering as 3.5-point favorites. Meanwhile, the Browns (2-2 ATS) are riding high after crushing the Cowboys 49-38, winning straight up as 3.5-point dogs. This line opened as a pick-’em, which means the oddsmakers view these teams as virtual equals. Despite a slight majority of bets backing the Browns at home, we’ve seen smart money hammer the Colts, driving this line up to Indianapolis -2.5. We’ve seen some natural buyback, dropping the line back down to -1.5. The Colts have value as a contrarian favorite. Road teams with a line move in their favor (at least a half-point) are 17-10 ATS (63 percent) this season. The Colts are +47 in point differential this season and the Browns are -2. Cleveland will miss Chubb. All liability is on the Colts. I’ll go Indy.
Our Pick: Indy has played bad teams. Take the Browns and the points.
Minnesota Vikings (1-3, +255/-331, +7, O/U 57.5) at Seattle Seahawks (4-0)
A compelling matchup because … the Vikings saved their season with a win last week but need another one here to have any shot in a division with the undefeated Packers and better-than-expected Bears. To get it, they’ll have to go into Seattle and do something that no NFL team has been able to do this season: beat the Seahawks. The Patriots came within a play of doing that in Week 2 — can Minnesota do what New England couldn’t?
Altruda’s Angle: The “Let Russ Cook” tour returns to the Pacific Northwest after the Seahawks labored to a win at Miami last weekend. Russell Wilson is still humming at an absurd rate with 16 TD passes and facing a Vikings secondary that has allowed four scoring passes of 20 or more yards and 19 completions of 20 or more yards that should allow him to continue adding to his staggering numbers. Minnesota narrowly escaped the “Desperation Bowl” in Houston last week for its first win of the season, and while Seattle’s secondary is beaten up, it is hard to envision Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense playing the error-free game that’s likely needed to deal the Seahawks their first loss. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 8.63 yards per attempt versus the Vikings pass defense and Wilson is averaging 9.38 yards per attempt. The Seahawks laying a touchdown or less at home is too good to pass up, so jump on it while the getting is good. I’ll go with the Seahawks -7.
Gable’s Guess: The total on this is 57.5, which is the highest total on the board of any game this week. The Seahawks defense is ranked dead last in the league in passing yards allowed this season. Every team they’ve played so far has passed for over 300 yards. Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins did seem to find some rhythm last week with his receivers and RB Dalvin Cook had a very good game. The Seattle offense is why they’re still undefeated. Seattle always plays well in primetime games. They’re 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight games when they’ve been a favorite. They’re favored in this one. I just think the Wilson will be continue his good play and be able to carve up the Vikings defense, which has been a liability all year. It’s a really high total. I’d look to lean on the under there, but I’d be more likely to lay the points with the Seahawks.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This Sunday Night Football showdown features a pair of NFC playoff teams coming off postseason appearances. After a putrid 0-3 start to the season, the Vikings (2-2 ATS) finally got off the schneid in Week 4, beating the Texans 31-23 as 3.5-point road dogs. Now they travel to Seattle to take on the undefeated Seahawks (4-0 ATS). Seattle is coming off a 31-23 win over the Dolphins in which they covered as 4.5-point favorites. This line opened with the Seahawks listed as 7.5-point home favorites. The Seahawks have covered every game this season and the public is going back to the Seattle well. However, despite two-thirds of bets laying the points, we’ve seen this line fall from 7.5 to 7. This signals some sharp action on the Vikings getting the hook. Minnesota has value as a contrarian road dog in a heavily bet primetime game. I’ll bank on the Vikes to keep it within a touchdown.
Our Pick: Until they fail to cover, take the Seahawks and lay the points.
Last Week: 0-5, Season: 13-7
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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