2021 Week 5 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

CIN +3 vs. GB

High Confidence Picks

MIN -9.5 vs. DET

Medium Confidence Picks

ARZ -5 vs. SF

CLE +2 @ LAC

DAL -7 vs. NYG

KC -2.5 vs. BUF

LV -5.5 vs. CHI

BAL -7 vs. IND

Low Confidence Picks

ATL -2.5 vs. NYJ

PHI +3 @ CAR

TEN -4.5 @ JAX

TB -10 vs. MIA

SEA +2.5 vs. LAR

No Confidence Picks

DEN -1.5 @ PIT

NO -2.5 @ WAS

HOU +8 vs. NE

Upset Picks

CIN +130 vs. GB

CLE +115 @ LAC

New Orleans Saints at Washington Football Team: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (2-2) at Washington Football Team (2-2)

This is the toughest call of the week for me. The Saints have been easily the least predictable team in the league this season, beating the Patriots and Packers by multiple scores, but losing by multiple scores to the Panthers and losing in overtime to the previously winless Giants. The Saints haven’t played two straight bad games yet and have typically bounced back well after a loss in the Sean Payton era (51-30 ATS), but that was almost all with Drew Brees, who retired this off-season. 

This Saints team is missing a lot more than Drew Brees, after several key off-season departures and an injury/suspension list that includes top wide receiver Michael Thomas, talented kicker Will Lutz, top interior defender David Onyemata, starting linebacker Kwon Alexander, starting defensive end Marcus Davenport, and stud offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy. Fortunately for the Saints, their opponents aren’t that tough, as Washington is starting a backup quarterback and doesn’t have as good of an offensive line or defense as they did a year ago. 

My calculated line is actually right where this line is, favoring the visiting Saints by 2.5, another reason why this is a very tough call. With no line value, no situational trends, and a highly inconsistent Saints team, I want no part of picking this game, but I will take the Saints just because a field goal by the Saints is probably the single most likely outcome of this game, but the Washington could also pull the small upset if the Saints play like they have in their losses.

New Orleans Saints 20 Washington Football Team 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -2.5

Confidence: None

Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-1)

The Panthers suffered their first loss of the season last week, but their record still shows them to be better than they’ve played, as their wins have come against the Texans and Jets, two of the worst teams in the league, and the very inconsistent Saints, while their loss came in a game against the Cowboys that wasn’t close and in which the Panthers lost the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts (-7.09% and -1.99, respectively). They have a decent roster, but they are probably not a playoff caliber team, especially with the injured players they are currently missing, including top cornerback Jaycee Horn, stud feature back Christian McCaffrey, and every down linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone else is buying the Panthers either, as they are favored by just a field goal at home against the Eagles, who are also missing several key players with injury. Most notably they are missing their top edge defender Brandon Graham, as well as a trio of starting offensive linemen, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo. However, the Eagles have better depth upfront than a year ago and are not a bad offensive line now that left tackle Jordan Mailata has returned and they are getting good play from young quarterback Jalen Hurts and this young receiving corps, while also playing solid overall defense as well. I have this line calculated as Carolina -1, so we’re getting some line value with the Eagles, but not quite enough for them to be worth betting.

Carolina Panthers 24 Philadelphia Eagles 23

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (1-3) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

The Colts won their first game of the season last week, but they beat a Dolphins team that wasn’t as good as their 10-6 record a year ago and that could easily be 0-4 right now, with their only win coming by 1 point. The Colts also still have serious injury problems, which have been the culprit behind their slow start, most notably the extended absences of their top-2 offensive linemen Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson. 

Already having lost their left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement this off-season and replacing him with the injury plagued Eric Fisher, who has gotten off to a slow start, the Colts are seriously missing both Smith and Nelson and also have right guard Mark Glowinski drastically under-performing, turning an offensive line that was once this team’s biggest strength into a weakness. On top of that, the Colts are also going to be without at least one, if not two starters in the secondary, as well as promising young edge defender Kwity Paye and starting wide receiver TY Hilton, who has yet to make his season debut.

Despite all their absences, the Colts are still only 7 point underdogs in Baltimore, as the public doesn’t seem to have caught on to how bad they are without their offensive line playing at a high level. The Ravens have been a bit disappointing and underwhelming this season, despite a 3-1 start, but they are at least healthier on defense that they were to start the season and they have enough of a talent edge in this matchup to justify favoring them by more than a touchdown at home. My calculated line has the Ravens favored by 10, which is not quite enough for me to bet the Ravens confidently, but they should be the right side. If this line drops down to 6.5, I will definitely consider a bet.

Update: After thinking about this more, this line is just too low. The Ravens are worth a bet. They should be able to win by multiple scores against a Colts team that is a well below average team with their offensive line banged up and struggling.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -7

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (2-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)

This line shifted from favoring the Titans by 7 points on the early line last week to 4.5 points this week, likely as a result of the Titans losing in a similar spot as big road favorites in New York against the Jets last week, losing in overtime as 6-point favorites. However, the Titans are healthier than a week ago, with top wide receiver AJ Brown and starting cornerback Caleb Farley both set to return, while the Jaguars are an even weaker opponent than the Jets.

The Lions and Texans are clearly the worst two teams in the league, but the Jaguars aren’t too far behind them, even losing to the Texans week one, albeit back when the Texans still had Tyrod Taylor healthy. Still, that game wasn’t that close, nor have any of the Jaguars’ games been, with the exception of last week’s close loss to the Bengals, against a team that was missing it’s top two defensive backs. Even with that result factored in, the Jaguars are still losing by an average of 10.3 points per game and have the 5th worst point differential in the league.

That near win in Cincinnati last week may also be part of the reason why this line shifted, but that wasn’t as impressive as it could have been if the Bengals were fully healthy on defense and last week’s result should probably be overshadowed by the situation that has developed with head coach Urban Meyer since last week’s game. Meyer, who already was unpopular with the players, could have completely lost the locker room, which could cause this winless team to quit if they get down big early. They’re also likely to be unprepared and unfocused after the week they had.

The Titans have the offensive firepower to put the Jaguars down big early and should be favored by a lot more than 4.5 points, but I am hesitant to bet on them because they’re not in a good spot either. After this easy matchup with the Jaguars, the Titans have a much tougher matchup with the Chiefs and may not be fully focused as a result. The Jaguars could be equally distracted and unfocused, but there isn’t quite enough here for the Titans to be worth betting. Their defense is still a problem and I would be worried about a backdoor cover if the Titans aren’t focused enough to pull away early.

Tennessee Titans 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -4.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (1-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1)

The Dolphins are off to a disappointing 1-3 start, a year after surprisingly winning 10 games, but I don’t think the public quite realizes how bad they are yet. They could easily be 0-4 if the Patriots didn’t fumble twice in a 1-point Miami win, a game in which the Patriots won the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts (+2.56% and +0.63, respectively). The Dolphins did take the Raiders to overtime a couple weeks and could have won that game, but they needed a long defensive touchdown to keep it close and lost the first down rate battle by 6.50% and the yards per play battle by 1.91. So far, the Dolphins rank 30th in first down rate and their defense hasn’t been nearly good enough to compensate.

The Dolphins are also starting from a lower base point than most realize, as they were not nearly as good as their record a year ago. They faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%) and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL). 

On top of that, they did not bring back by far their best quarterback option Ryan Fitzpatrick, who departed as a free agent this off-season. They were hoping for a big second year from Tua Tagovailoa, but he struggled before getting hurt and being replaced by backup Jacoby Brissett, who has also been a significant downgrade from Fitzpatrick. If the Dolphins hadn’t won that many games a year ago and were 0-4 right now, they would be viewed as one of the worst teams in the league right now, but instead we’re still getting some line value with the defending Super Bowl champions against them. 

The Buccaneers aren’t quite as good as they were a year ago, due to some injuries in their secondary, but they are still one of the best teams in the league, while the Dolphins are one of the worst right now. The Buccaneers should be favored by at least a couple touchdowns, given the gap between these two teams, but instead they’re only favored by 10. Ordinarily, I would jump on that line value, but I don’t like the spot the Buccaneers are in this week and we might not see their best effort, which could allow this game to be closer than the talent gap between these two teams.

Not only are the Buccaneers coming off of an emotional win in one of the most hyped regular season games of all time, but they have to turn around and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 43.4% rate all-time before a Thursday game and it’s not hard to see how the Buccaneers could look past a 1-3 non-conference team, especially given how big the win they got last week was. That’s enough to deter me from betting on the Buccaneers at -10, even though my calculated line is 15.5, but the line value might be too good if this line was to drop down to 9.5.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -10

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3)

Going into the season, I thought we could see the Broncos make a big jump in win total and at least compete for a playoff spot in the AFC. They upgraded their quarterback situation by adding Teddy Bridgewater and had a promising group of young receivers, while their defense seemed likely to improve due to significant upgrades at their biggest position of weakness, cornerback, as well as the re-addition of top edge defender Von Miller, who missed all of 2020.

The Broncos got off to a good start, winning their first three games and, even though they had a very easy schedule (Giants, Jaguars, Jets) they won all three games by at least 10 points and by an average of 16.7 points, so they were taking care of business and then some. Unfortunately, injuries have started to mount for this team, as wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, edge defender Bradley Chubb, and inside linebacker Josey Jewell have all gone down for an extended period of time just since week one.

The most impactful injury came in their week 4 loss to the Ravens, their first game against a capable opponent and their first loss of the season, a game in which the Broncos lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the game at halftime. Bridgewater will be back this week, but the Broncos were down 14-7 at the time Bridgewater went down and could have easily lost the game even if Bridgewater had stayed healthy, in part due to their other injury absences. On top of that, the Broncos could also be without another key wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who injured his ankle in Friday’s practice.

Fortunately, the schedule does get easier for the Broncos. The Steelers aren’t quite as bad as the three teams the Broncos beat easily to begin the season, but it’s clear their offense is no better than a year ago and, in fact may be worse, while their defense is still good, but not good enough to offset their offensive performance like they were last season, when the Steelers won a lot of close games against easy competition. 

The Steelers won week 1 in Buffalo, which was a big surprise at the time, but given the results of their past three games, it’s pretty safe to say that result was a fluke and that the Steelers will continue struggling to beat capable opponents. My calculated line has the Broncos favored by two points, which doesn’t give us much value, given that this line is actually at Denver -1.5, but there is not nearly enough here to bet on the banged up Broncos with any sort of confidence.

Denver Broncos 19 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Denver -1.5

Confidence: None

New York Jets at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

New York Jets (1-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (1-3) in London

The Jets won their first game of the season last week, knocking off a very banged up Titans team in an overtime upset victory, but they might have trouble bringing that same energy for this week’s game in London against the Falcons. The Jets won as 6-point home underdogs last week and teams cover at just a 41.0% rate after a win as home underdogs of 4.5 or more, as teams tend to be flat off of an emotional upset win. That could be made even worse by the fact that the Jets have to travel all the way to London for a matchup with a fellow 1-3 team.

The Falcons are also the slightly better team, despite both teams having mediocre records, as I have them about 3 points better, even without top wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who will miss this game. The Jets still come in as the 4th worst team in my roster rankings, despite narrowly winning their first game of the season. This line, favoring the Falcons by 2.5 points on a neutral site, isn’t too far off, but it’s also a good rule of thumb to pick the favorite in international games, as they have gone 25-13 ATS, which makes sense, given that the better team is probably better equipped to deal with playing a game after an unusual week. There isn’t enough here for the Falcons to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Atlanta Falcons 24 New York Jets 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -2.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Las Vegas Raiders: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (2-2) at Las Vegas Raiders (3-1)

The Bears are 2-2, but one of their wins came against the awful Detroit Lions, while their other win came by just 3 points over the Bengals in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 3, but lost the yards per play battle by 1.22, which is much more predictive. Meanwhile, their two losses were not at all close. Their once dominant defense has been middling at best, thanks to several off-seasons of significant departures, along with some injury absences, but the biggest problem by far has been their offense, which ranks 29th in the NFL in first down rate. 

I expected the Bears’ offense to struggle mightily coming into the season and for their defense to not be nearly good enough to compensate and so far that has proven true, even if they have managed to go 2-2. It’s possible the switch to Justin Fields under center instead of Andy Dalton will provide a spark for this offense, but that’s far from a guarantee and hasn’t really proven to be true yet. On top of that, the Bears’ offensive issues go far beyond the quarterback position, most notably their issues on the offensive line and at running back, where the Bears are now without their top-2 expected running backs with David Montgomery out indefinitely. 

The Raiders haven’t been as good as their early record either, but they’re clearly the better of these two teams, as the Bears rank as the 5th worst team in my roster rankings, 7 points below average, where the Raiders are slightly above average overall. The Raiders’ offensive line and running game aren’t nearly as good as they have been in recent years, but Derek Carr is throwing to an improved group of young receivers and their defense has taken a big step forward, in large part due to a dominant pass rush, led by free agent acquisition Yannick Ngakoue. My calculated line has the Raiders favored by 10 in this matchup, so we’re getting enough line value at -5.5 for the Raiders to be worth a small play this week.

Las Vegas Raiders 24 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (3-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)

The Chiefs are in a position that is new to them in the Patrick Mahomes era, as they are just 2-2 through the first four games of the season, but there isn’t any real reason for panic on this team. Their two losses could have easily been wins, as their loss to the Ravens came by just 1 point and their loss to the Chargers came in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 7.92%, but lost a one-score game because of a highly uncharacteristic -4 turnover margin, which is not predictive of future turnover issues. 

Their offense has not been the problem, as they have the highest first down rate in the league by a wide margin and that is the most predictive offensive metric. The Bills have the best defense in the league in yards per play allowed, which is the most predictive defensive metric, but offensive performance is more predictive of future success than defensive performance and the Chiefs’ offense has been significantly better in first down rate relative to the rest of the league than the Bills’ defense has been relative to the rest of the league in yards per play. 

Despite that, this line is only favoring the Chiefs by 2.5 points, suggesting these two teams are about equal, or even that the Bills are a little bit better. The Bills have been impressive since shaking off a fluke week 1 loss to the Steelers, but their schedule has been pretty easy overall and I don’t think this line would be this low if the Chiefs were 4-0, which they could have been if a couple non-predictive things had gone differently. My calculated line favors the Chiefs by five points, so we’re getting enough line value with the Chiefs to take them in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover the spread.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Buffalo Bills 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -2.5

Confidence: Medium