Expert NFL Picks for Week 6, Including Browns-Steelers and Packers-Buccaneers
Chris Altruda of PennBets.com, 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 PennBets.com, 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 shared their opinions on five Week 6 games, including the AFC North clash between the Steelers and Browns and the battle of the Bays between the Packers and Buccaneers.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Cleveland Browns (4-1) (+165/-196, +3.5, O/U 51) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0)
A compelling matchup because … the Browns can move into a tie for first place in the AFC North with a win. Were that to happen, there’d be much rejoicing in the streets of Cleveland and a statue might be erected in Baker Mayfield’s honor. The Steelers look like one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL so far but also have yet to play, or beat, a team with a winning record.
Altruda’s Angle: The AFC North is where it’s at these days, with the Ravens strong and the rekindling of this division rivalry thanks to Cleveland’s resurgence and Pittsburgh being, well, Pittsburgh. The Browns shook off the absence of injured running back Nick Chubb as Kareem Hunt did enough to move the chains offensively while the defense contributed nine points with a pick-6 and safety last. Pittsburgh remained unbeaten thanks to Chase Claypool’s coming out party as the rookie receiver had seven catches for 110 yards and four TDs and made Philadelphia pay for focusing on JuJu Smith-Schuster. The defense did have some issues as the Eagles nearly erased a 17-point in the second half. There is no love lost between these teams — recall Browns defensive end Myles Garrett hitting Mason Rudolph with his helmet last year — and Pittsburgh has won 10 straight at home versus Cleveland. The Steelers are getting their first real challenge of the season but should have just enough to hold off the Browns in what should be a back-and-forth game. Take the Steelers -3.5 and the OVER.
Gable’s Guess: Mayfield was very good in the first half last week aside from overthrowing some key passes, but the two interceptions in the second half and his dreadful quarterback rating should raise some eyebrows. The Steelers average five sacks per game and they’re surrendering the sixth-fewest points at 21.8 per game. They’re also second in the NFL in allowing only 64 rushing yards per game. That said, their secondary definitely needs to do a better job this week than they did last week because Cleveland has much more talented wide receivers than Philadelphia. With Myles Garrett still playing well, it might be a long day trying to protect Roethlisberger in this one for Pittsburgh’s offensive line. The public is all on Pittsburgh here rather than Cleveland. I’m certainly leaning to Pittsburgh here and laying the 3.5 points.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: These AFC North leaders enter with a combined 8-1 record. Cleveland (3-2 ATS) has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season. The Browns fell to the Ravens in Week 1 but have rebounded impressively with four straight wins, most recently beating the favored Colts 32-23. The Browns now face their stiffest test of the season as they travel to the Steel City to take on the undefeated Steelers (3-1 ATS). Despite the public laying the points with Big Ben, we’ve seen Pittsburgh fall from -4.5 to -3.5. This sharp reverse line movement signals wiseguy money grabbing Cleveland plus the points. The Browns also have value as a divisional dog. Plus, road teams with a line move are 64 percent against the spread this season. I’ll back the Browns to keep it within a field goal.
Our Pick: Cleveland scores and surrenders up points in bunches. Go over.
Baltimore Ravens (4-1) (-360, -7.5, O/U 47.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-3-1)
A compelling matchup because … despite their sub-par record, the Eagles are in second place in their division and are not out of the running for a playoff spot by any means. However, they’ll need to start winning some games in short order. That’s going to be difficult to do this week with the Ravens, who have allowed the fewest points in the league (76) this season and are explosive on offense, coming to town.
Altruda’s Angle: The Ravens did what they needed to do against Cincinnati last week, scoring on their first three possessions while shutting down rookie Joe Burrow and forcing the Bengals to be one-dimensional offensively. Lamar Jackson and company did not do all that much after halftime, but the defense contributed a second-half TD of its own. Still, Baltimore’s offense should feel confident getting its mojo back against an Eagles team that was picked apart by Pittsburgh in losing Pennsylvania bragging rights to the Steelers. Carson Wentz’s interception issues continued, and that could be a bad omen facing a Ravens defense that has three INTs and 10 takeaways overall. The high-side hook on the number is unappealing, but the Eagles are 0-5 versus the number in their last five games following a straight-up loss and the matchup favors Baltimore enough to continue that trend. Lay the 7.5 points with the Ravens and take OVER 23.5 points in the first half.
Gable’s Guess: The Ravens are averaging 168 yards per game rushing the football. They’re also allowing only 15.2 points per game and only 335 yards per game defensively. When you match them up on paper against a team like the Eagles, they certainly look like the heavy favorite that they are. One of the most troubling things here for the Eagles is Carson Wentz, who continues to turn the ball over. He has nine interceptions already on the year. Overall, the Eagles have a -7 turnover ratio and, against a very good Baltimore defense, this isn’t setting up well for the Eagles. The Ravens are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven road games. Conversely, the Eagles are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven home games. I wouldn’t look to buck any trend in this one and would lay the points with Baltimore.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: These non-conference opponents have gotten off to completely different starts this season. The Ravens (3-1-1 against the spread) have picked up right where they left off in 2019. Baltimore is riding a two-game winning streak and just crushed the Bengals 27-3 as 12.5-point favorites. On the flip side, the Eagles (1-4 ATS) have struggled mightily out of the gate, most recently falling to Pittsburgh 38-29 and failing to cover as 7.5-point dogs. This line opened with Baltimore listed as a 7.5-point road favorite. The public is rushing to the window to lay the points with the Ravens, yet the line has remained frozen and hasn’t ticked up to -8. This signals some liability on the Eagles plus the points. Philadelphia has value as a contrarian home dog. Also, it’s been profitable to buy low on bad ATS teams who don’t cover playing good ATS teams who have covered a lot. It makes for shaded and inflated lines based on recency bias. I’ll put on my hazmat suit and root for a desperate Eagles team to keep it within a touchdown.
Our Pick: It’s the square play, but we’ll lay the points with Baltimore.
Chicago Bears (4-1) (+105, +2, O/U 45) at Carolina Panthers (3-2)
A compelling matchup because … the Bears haven’t played since beating Carolina’s division rival Tampa Bay last week on Thursday Night Football. In Week 6, they’ll be taking on a plucky Panthers team that has been surprisingly competitive and somehow won three games despite only having a +4 point differential on the season.
Altruda’s Angle: The Bears continue to find ways to do just enough to win, rallying from a 13-point deficit against Tom Brady and edging the Buccaneers on a late field goal in Week 5. Nick Foles was okay in his first start since replacing Mitch Trubisky under center, but the offensive line has yet to really help running back David Montgomery find his groove without Tarik Cohen. Montgomery has not had a run longer than 11 yards in the last three games. The Panthers are not expected to have All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain, but they have won three consecutive games after holding off winless Atlanta. Teddy Bridgewater is coming off an impressive performance, throwing for 313 yards and a pair of scores, and Robby Anderson has had four games of 99 or more yards receiving. Carolina spent part of the week in enhanced COVID-19 protocol after Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson tested positive. This game has the feel of a one-possession contest, and with both offenses not showing much consistency, the feeling is the first to 20 wins. Take UNDER the 44.5 points.
Gable’s Guess: Carolina was expected to be one of the worst teams coming into this season so their start has been a pleasant surprise for them. The Bears are averaging just 21 points per game, which is 26th in the NFL, but they do have the fourth-best scoring defense and are allowing just 20 points per game. Bridgewater has been great this year and the Panthers have the fifth-best passing offense so far, but it’s going to get a lot more difficult this week against a tough Chicago defense. They haven’t allowed a quarterback to throw for more than one touchdown in a game this year. I would expect a close game. Chicago has had four of their five games this year settled by four points or fewer. I like Chicago plus the 2.5 in this one.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: After suffering their first loss of the season to the Colts 19-11 in Week 4, the Bears (3-2 ATS) rebounded in a big way in Week 5. Now they travel to Carolina to face the surging Panthers (3-2 ATS). After starting the season 0-2, Carolina has ripped off three straight wins, all of which have come without their star running back. Most recently, the Panthers are coming off a 23-16 win over the Falcons as 2.5-point road dogs. This line opened with Carolina listed as a 3-point home favorite. Spread bets are split down the middle and the public doesn’t know who to back. However, we’ve seen this line drop from Panthers -3 to -2.5. In a vacuum, a line shouldn’t move at all if bets are even. So we know this was a result of pros grabbing the road dog. The Bears enjoy a rest advantage in this one, having last played on Thursday night while the Panthers played on Sunday. Give me Chicago, maybe even on the money line, to win straight up.
Our Pick: The Panthers are due to drop one. Take the Bears and the points.
Green Bay Packers (4-0) (-110, -1, O/U 55) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2)
A compelling matchup because … Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have only faced off against one another twice in their careers, with the former winning in 2014 in Green Bay and the latter winning in 2018 in New England. Now, the third part of the trilogy will take place in Tampa Bay. Rodgers has been spectacular to start the season. Brady hasn’t been, but he should be locked in for this game with the Buccaneers coming off a loss.
Altruda’s Angle: There’s no notable advantage in terms of rest as the Packers are coming off their bye week and the Buccaneers will have had 10 days to stew since their loss to the Chicago Bears. Brady was without injured receiver Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard versus the Bears, and Mike Evans was not at 100 percent. The more healthy any or all three are, the more Tampa’s passing game will resemble the one that picked apart the Los Angeles Chargers as Brady fired five touchdown passes. Rodgers has been lights-out in guiding Green Bay to its first 4-0 start since 2015, throwing for 1,214 yards and 13 TDs without an interception, and has done a significant portion of that damage without top wide receiver Davante Adams, who should be available after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. The key, though, could be if either defense slows down the opponents’ running game as both Aaron Jones and Ronald Jones have been handfuls for Green Bay and Tampa Bay, respectively. Both quarterbacks are capable of late-game magic, but even coming off the bye week, the Packers get the nod here in what should be a shootout. Take the Packers -1 and the OVER.
Gable’s Guess: The Packers have the best point differential in the league at +51. That’s despite playing one less game than the Seahawks, who are undefeated. They are scoring a lot of points and outscoring their opponents in a big way. Rodgers is second only to Russell Wilson with a 128.4 passer rating. He has 13 TDs and zero interceptions this year. Very, very impressive offensive numbers here for Green Bay. Everybody wants to talk about Brady, but Tampa’s strength this year has really been on defense. They’re second in yards allowed and third in opponents yards per play. They’re ninth in points allowed, and that also factors in two pick-6s Brady has thrown already. This should be the toughest defense Green Bay has faced so far this year. Green Bay is 4-1 against the spread in their last five games. I think they’re going to improve to 5-1 here. I’d lay the points here with the Packers.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: Bettors are in for a treat with this late afternoon matchup. We get to see two of the game’s greatest quarterbacks go head-to-head as Rodgers faces Brady. The Packers (4-0 ATS) are off to a fantastic start this season, winning and covering every game thus far. On the flip side, the Bucs (2-3 ATS) saw their three-game winning streak snapped last week. This line opened with Green Bay listed as a short 1.5-point road favorite. The public is absolutely hammering the Packers on the short spread, which has pushed some books to adjust Green Bay up to -2. But then we saw heavy steam buy-low on the Bucs, dropping the line down to -1 or a pick’em. The Bucs will have heightened contrarian value as they are only getting about one-quarter of bets in what will be an extremely heavily bet game. I’ll follow the sharp action and take the Bucs.
Our Pick: This seems like a pick ’em. Given that, we’ll side with the over.
Arizona Cardinals (3-2) (-125, -2.5, O/U 55) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
A compelling matchup because … in what should have been a matchup of two of the game’s best young quarterbacks in Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray, we’ll instead see the latter face off against veteran Andy Dalton. Oh well. Dalton is actually slightly better than advertised, and the Cowboys should be able to score against a Cardinal defense that just lost All-Pro pass-rusher Chandler Jones. Thus far, the Dallas defense has not been able to stop a nosebleed.
Altruda’s Angle: A challenging start for first-year coach Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys looks like it may continue for the rest of the season following the horrific season-ending injury to quarterback Prescott. While the Cowboys have a capable replacement in Dalton, who guided Dallas to a late win over the New York Giants to stay atop the NFC East last week, the veteran signal-caller is going to be under immense pressure to keep the Cowboys’ offense clicking at the high rate Prescott did because the defense cannot stop anyone right now. Yes, the Giants scored two defensive touchdowns, but the Cowboys rank last in scoring defense (36.0 ppg) and 27th in yards allowed per game (404.4). The Cardinals will be a road favorite for the second straight week, having pulled away from the winless New York Jets on Sunday as Murray threw for 380 yards and a TD while adding another score rushing. This is the first of two marquee games for the Cardinals to announce themselves as NFC West contenders — they host the Seahawks next week. Losing Jones for the season to a biceps injury is a huge blow, and coach Kliff Klingsbury will try to replace him by rotation. That could prove difficult against a formidable offense, but the hedge here is believing Murray will be able to tear through the Dallas D and see Arizona through for a win. I’ll take the Cardinals -2.5.
Gable’s Guess: Arizona is a 2.5-point road favorite here. Obviously, that number is a lot different than what it would be if Prescott was going to be playing. Dalton played well against the Cardinals when he faced them when he was on the Bengals. He’s never had the type of weapons around him with what he finds himself surrounded by in Dallas. I think the Cowboys are going to need to lean on Ezekiel Elliott even more now with some short dump-offs and screen passes. Arizona needs to get more out of their running game besides just Murray scrambling, but I do expect a big week for Murray throwing the ball. This Cowboy defense is going to continue to struggle, I think all year. I think there are going to be a lot of points scored in this game with the defense being what it is for Dallas. I’d take the Cowboys plus the 2.5, but I also see this game going over.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This late Monday night showdown features a pair of NFC foes who just snapped two-game losing skids. But public perception of these teams couldn’t be more different. The Cardinals (3-2 ATS) just crushed the Jets 30-10, easily covering as 7-point favorites. The Cowboys (0-5 ATS) just beat the Giants 37-34, but failed to cover as 7.5-point favorites. This line opened with Arizona listed as a 3-point road favorite. The public is happy to bet against the Dak-less Cowboys and roughly two-thirds of bets are laying the short spread. However, we’ve actually seen this line fall to 1.5 in some places, signaling pro money hitting the Cowboys. Dallas has value as a buy-low dog off a big injury and also a contrarian team in a heavily bet primetime game. I’ll be grabbing the points in this one, not laying them.
Our Pick: Primetime games equal points and Dalton isn’t bad. Go over.
Last Week: 2-3, Season: 15-10
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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