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, Paul Bovi, a sports betting expert from VegasInsider.com who’s been handicapping games for three decades, and Amal Shah, the co-host of Brent Musburger’s My Guys in the Desert on VSiN, shared their opinions on five games on the NFL’s slate of Week 5 matchups, including Sunday’s NFC showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Ravens (-180, -3.5, O/U 44.5) at Steelers
Two weeks ago this game would look like it wouldn’t have had any appeal at all, but the 2-2- Ravens now come into it on a two-game losing streak while Pittsburgh (1-3) gets a chance to host following their first win of the season on Monday Night Football. Divisional games are always tough and this one, believe it or not, could potentially be for first place depending on how the Browns do.
Bovi’s take: “The Ravens continue to have issues defending the pass which was further evidenced by Baker Mayfield’s 342-yard performance on Sunday. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry hauled in eight catches for 167 yards in the game. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson put up respectable numbers last week, though he suffered his first two interceptions of the year which did not further the Baltimore cause as they were defeated 40-25. The Ravens looked like the real deal in the opener against a much-maligned Dolphin defense, but over the last three games, they have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball. The Steelers appeared to have righted the ship on Monday courtesy of QB Andy Dalton and the hapless Bengals. The Cincinnati signal-caller was sacked eight times by the relentless Steeler pass rush. A Pittsburgh win here could have them tied for first place if the Browns are defeated by the Niners on Monday. We’ll look for the Steelers to get the win 24-20.”
Shah’s take: “Both of these teams are absolutely committing fraud because that’s exactly what they are. They’re the fraudsters. Pittsburgh beat up on a very bad Cincinnati team. Cincinnati’s without three offensive linemen right now. We saw that in effect with the Steelers getting pressure on Andy Dalton and company. Then, when you look at the Pittsburgh offense, everyone’s impressed by what Mason Rudolph was able to do in this last start. But the reality of it is he was not throwing the ball down the field. These were all check-downs, passes or short throws. He goes 24-of-28, but to me, this was very deceptive and I think we’re going to see Baltimore be able to take advantage of that from a defensive standpoint because it becomes easier to defend and play defense against the team that doesn’t stretch the field. On the flip side, everyone’s high on the Ravens, but let’s stop and take a look at who they’ve beaten thus far. They beat the Miami Dolphins, who haven’t covered a single spread, and then they beat the Arizona Cardinals, another team that can’t stop anyone. So Baltimore’s not quite as good as people think they are. They benefited from two quick wins. They had a bit of a comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 but they were really being dismantled in that matchup and the final score was really not indicative of how the game played out. And then we saw this week against the Browns. From a betting standpoint, this is a game that I would lean towards the Ravens. I think the Ravens are a little bit better offensively than Pittsburgh is.”
Our Pick: Hope Jackson and Rudolph come to play and take the over
Jaguars (+160, +3.5, O/U 41) at Panthers
It’s not how they drew it up at the start of the season, but here you have a pair of 2-2 teams each being led by their backup quarterback, Gardner Minshew for the Jags and Kyle Allen for the Panthers. Both teams played close games last week and both walked away as winners. Considering they both started 0-2, that was a surprise.
Bovi’s take: “The Panthers have prevailed in consecutive road games led by quarterback Kyle Allen who took over for the injured Cam Newton. He has yet to turn the ball over while throwing for four touchdowns and is completing 71 percent of his passes. On the other side, Jags QB Gardner Minshew has posted a 106.9 rating on the strength of seven TD passes vs. only one INT and a 69.4 completion rate. Jacksonville has won their last pair of games after an 0-2 start. While the jury is still out on both, each has provided a spark for his team and renewed excitement amongst the fan bases. While the Panthers did give up 138 yards on the ground to the Texans on 22 carries, they stymied Houston’s potent passing attack as they limited DeShaun Watson and company to only 160 yards passing. This appears to be another game in which the defenses should dominate. We’ll look for the Panthers to get a three-point win in a low-scoring game.”
Shah’s take: “For Carolina, it’s the more important game because they’re in a much more competitive division. Even though Jacksonville’s in a division where everyone’s 2-2, I think Indianapolis, Houston and even Tennessee can be gotten at any point in time, whereas Carolina’s in there with the Saints. I liked Gardner Minshew a lot out of Washington State. I think he’s a very solid quarterback and that he’s going to have a very good career, but he’s not going to be great because he doesn’t stretch the field. I’m looking at the home team here. People forget, but last year Carolina started off the season 6-2. This was a team that was right there. The problem right now is Cam Newton, but Allen is doing a good job of managing the games. They’ve got one of the top five to seven running backs in Christian McCaffrey and they rely on defense. They could play it conservatively and allow the defense to make plays when the opportunity presents itself. I just think they’re a better team than Jacksonville. If Caroline’s at -3, you can take it. Or if you want to take them on the money line. I do think they win the football game.”
Our Pick: End Minshew’s magic and lay the points with the Panthers
Bills (+140, +3, O/U 38.5) at Titans
Undefeated until last week, the 3-1 Bills played a pretty solid game against the Patriots and are one of only three clubs in the AFC with three wins or more. Unfortunately, the status of starting quarterback Josh Allen is up in the air. The Titans (2-2) have been very inconsistent but have generally played good defense and run the ball effectively this year. Their issues mainly stem from QB Marcus Mariota and his erratic play.
Bovi’s take: “The Titans looked like a different team this past Sunday in their 24-10 victory over the Falcons as compared to their miserable performance 10 days prior, a game in which quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked nine times. This week, they take on the Bills only three months short of the 20-year anniversary of the Music City Miracle, a playoff game between these two teams which culminated in a 75-yard lateral as time expired resulting in a 22-16 Tennessee victory. The Bills had a 4-0 start within their grasp on Sunday but let victory slip away in large part due to three Josh Allen interceptions. The Bills’ QB was injured during the third quarter and was replaced by Matt Barkley who completed 9-of-16 passes for 127 yards along with a costly pick. In his only season of meaningful playing time, Barkley completed 60 percent of his passes but threw 14 interceptions vs. only eight TD passes. Much of the Titans’ inconsistency can be attributed to Mariota as he was sacked 17 times in three games prior to Sunday, a game in which the Falcons failed to get to him even once. Whether Allen plays or not, points should be at a premium so the play is under.”
Shah’s take: “If Josh Allen is unable to go, it negates the mobility of the quarterback position for Buffalo, which is a necessity right now. Their offense is just not that good. They’re not at a level where they can be confident in terms of putting up a certain number of points per game, so they need all hands on deck right now from an offensive perspective. They’re going to have their hands full against Tennessee. I liked Tennessee -3 at home. I think they have a very underrated defense. They have one of the best defenses, in my opinion, in the NFL. We saw what they did Week 1 against Cleveland. We saw what they did last week against the Atlanta Falcons. This is a team that has yet to yield more than 21 points in any game this year. They’ve been very impressive and whether it’s Josh Allen or Matt Barkley, I think Buffalo is going to be in a little bit of trouble. They’re going to be too reliant on their running game. So I expect Tennessee to win this game. I think when you look at this matchup, you can go with either Tennessee or play the under at 38.5. But, if it goes below 38 to 37.5 or below, I wouldn’t touch it.”
Our Pick: Hope for struggling quarterbacks and take the under
Packers (+157, +3.5, O/U 47) at Cowboys
In what is shaping up to be the game of the week, the first-place Packers travel to Dallas to take on the first-place Cowboys. Both teams enter the game at 3-1 after dropping their first games of the season to the Eagles and Saints, respectively. It’s early, but this game could have big implications for playoff seeding in the NFC.
Bovi’s take: “The Packers’ 10-0 lead was short-lived as the Eagles ended up dominating in a 34-27 win last Thursday. Green Bay has been gashed for 523 yards on the ground since their opening night victory over the Bears, that on less than 100 carries. Clearly, they are not the defensive juggernaut many thought they were after holding Chicago to a field goal in Week 1. After scoring 97 points in their first three games, the Cowboys were held to 10 points by the Saints in a game they lost by two. Shockingly, all-world running back Ezekiel Elliot was shut down as he was held to only 35 yards on 18 carries while wide receiver Amari Cooper failed to crack 50 yards. Both teams looked vulnerable while each could be without a key player as Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith will likely be sidelined while Green Bay’s premier WR Davante Adams is nursing a toe injury. Adams lit up the Eagles secondary to the tune of 10 catches for 180 yards before he was forced to exit last week. Have to give the edge to the team that figures to run the ball with success. We’ll look for the Cowboys to come away with a 23-20 win. Those injuries should impact the scoring to the low side.”
Shah’s take: “Green Bay’s coming off a loss on Thursday night and one advantage they have is a few days extra to rest, but I think this game favors Dallas tremendously. Yes, Dallas played in Sunday night’s game, but the travel wasn’t much from New Orleans to Dallas. I think Dak Prescott will play much better at home. This Green Bay defense is solid, but let’s not go crazy here. Let’s look at the three quarterbacks they’ve beaten thus far: Mitchell Trubisky, Joe Flacco and Kirk Cousins. I don’t think anybody who’s a fan of football wants any of these three guys near their favorite football team. Matt LaFleur’s offense ranked 30th last year at Tennessee. How he got the Green Bay head coaching job is beyond me and I don’t think he’s been able to have an impact on them offensively. I don’t think they’re good enough right now to go on the road to Dallas. Not my favorite number, 3.5, but I like my chances here. If you’re going to lay a number at home with a team that’s over three, I think Dallas is the spot to do it. I just don’t think Green Bay is that good. I think if we see a lot of Ezekiel Elliott, ground and pound, and the Dallas Cowboys win this game.”
Our Pick: Hope Dallas responds and lay the points with the ‘Boys
Colts (+450, +11, O/U 56) at Chiefs
After losing Andrew Luck before the season, the Colts being 2-2 is one of the better storylines of the young season. Unfortunately for Indy, they have a pretty good shot at dropping below .500 in Week 5 as they have to travel to Kansas City to take on the 4-0 Chiefs at Arrowhead. KC was tested last week by an upstart Lions teams and, though they were shaky, they passed. Meanwhile, the Colts dropped a winnable Week 4 game to the Raiders.
Bovi’s take: “The Chiefs keep winning though they are getting it done in an ugly fashion of late. They escaped with a five-point win over the Ravens at home followed by a four-point, come-from-behind nailbiter over the Lions. The Chiefs have been vulnerable to the ground game as they have been gashed for 389 yards on 5.7 yards per carry in those two wins. The Colts have been beset with injuries on defense, notably to linebacker Darius Leonard who racked up 163 tackles last year and was off to a great start with 18 in the first pair of games in 2019 before he was injured. They will need him back on defense this week along with wide receiver TY Hilton who sat out Sunday’s loss to the Raiders with a quad injury. Without his favorite target, quarterback Jacoby Brissett will struggle as the remainder of the Colts’ receivers are average, and that would be a stretch. If Hilton plays, we’ll look for a 34-27 Chiefs win. Without both him and Leonard, it will be ugly.”
Shah’s take: “I don’t think the Chiefs played particularly well on offense last week against Detroit. The reality of it is, they were fortunate to get out of Detroit with a win, but I still think they’re fine. I think Detroit’s a better football team than people realize. Patrick Mahomes, to me, is the best player in the NFL right now. This team is in great shape. There’s nothing they need to concern themselves with. For the Colts, the game comes down to one thing: is T.Y. Hilton healthy? Even if he can play but can’t really run the way he’s capable of, I think the Colts are in serious trouble. If you look in their passing game a couple of weeks ago against Atlanta, they get out to a 20-3 lead at home and it was simply because of what Hilton could do. Without him in the lineup, they just don’t have that threat. I just think this is a tough spot for them, but I would not lay 10.5 with Kansas City because I think their defense is vulnerable still. I think the Colts will have a conservative game plan — run the ball, run the ball, run the ball simply because you believe the offensive line can control the Chiefs’ defensive line. I think that’s what [Indy coach] Frank Reich thinks will happen if they’re going to have a chance to win this game.”
Our Pick: If Hilton plays, take the Colts with the points
Last Week’s Picks: 2-3, Season: 11-9
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.