New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-3) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

The Giants won their first game of the season last week, but it came against an overrated Saints team that has been inconsistent all season and that was missing several key players due to injury or suspension. That result shifted this line from favoring the Cowboys by 8.5 points on the early line last week to 7 points this week, even though the Cowboys were more impressive in a win over the Panthers. That line movement seems to be a mistake and my calculated line actually has the Cowboys favored by even more than the early line, as I have the Cowboys at -10.5. 

Overall, the Cowboys have been one of the most impressive teams in the league thus far this season, with an offense that ranks 2nd in first down rate and a defense that has been much improved over a year ago, even if only by default. The Giants are also in a tough spot because teams tend to struggle following big upset victories like the Giants’ victory over the Saints, especially if they are once again by underdogs. Road underdogs of a touchdown or more are 38-59 ATS over the past 30 seasons after a victory as underdogs of a touchdown or more. The Cowboys should be able to put this game away relatively early, though the possibility of a backdoor cover against the Cowboys’ shaky defense limits this to a medium confidence pick.

Dallas Cowboys 31 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -7

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-2) at Arizona Cardinals (4-0)

The Cardinals were favored by just 2.5 points in this matchup last week on the early line and have since shifted to 5 point favorites, a significant shift given that more than 20% of games are decided by 3-4 points. Normally I like to go against significant shifts like that because they tend to be an overreaction, but in this case I don’t think the line shifted enough. For one, the line was too low to begin with as the Cardinals have been a superior team to the 49ers throughout the season. I have had them as one of my top underrated teams since before the start of the season and, while they are getting more recognition after their upset win over the Rams, the public perception still might not have caught on to how good this team is, as they legitimately have one of the top few rosters in the league and have been as impressive as any team in the league on the field through four weeks.

On top of that, the 49ers have had significant injury losses in the past week, losing quarterback Jimmy Garropolo and stud tight end George Kittle. Rookie quarterback Trey Lance has a lot of upside, but has not looked ready in limited action thus far in his career and is a true backup quarterback at this stage of his career, one who will have to play without his team’s top overall offensive player in George Kittle. That alone should have shifted this line as much as it did, but when you add in that the Cardinals were highly underrated to begin with, we are still getting a lot of line value with Arizona as 5-point favorites. 

Like the Cardinals, the 49ers are a team I expected to make a big leap in win total this season. That was in part because they were significantly better than their 6-10 record suggested last season, but it was also because I expected them to be significantly healthier than a year ago. They haven’t been quite as banged up as they were a year ago, but Kittle and Garoppolo are far from their only key absences, as they have also lost starting cornerbacks Jason Verrett and K’Waun Williams, starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and lead running back Raheem Mostert just since the season began. The Cardinals have one key injury, with top cornerback Byron Murphy out, but still have a significant talent edge. In their current state, I have the 49ers as about a league average team, while the Cardinals are 7.5 points above average, suggesting they should be favored by about 10 points at home. We’re still getting enough line value with this team for them to continue to be worth betting.

Arizona Cardinals 27 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: Arizona -5

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (3-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-1)

Both of these teams have gotten out to impressive 3-1 starts, but the Browns have been the better team. They rank 4th in first down rate and 2nd in yards per play allowed, which are the most predictive offensive and defensive stats, while the Chargers rank 8th and 12th respectively. The Browns also hold a huge edge in special teams DVOA (5th vs. 31st), which has a lot of predictive value as well. Combining the three stats, the Browns rank 2nd in the league, while the Chargers rank 13th overall. 

The Chargers get a lot of credit for their win over the Chiefs, but they relied on a +4 turnover margin to win a one score game and turnover margin is very non-predictive week-to-week. In terms of first down rate, the Chargers were -7.92% in that matchup and that tends to be much more predictive. The Browns, meanwhile, lost their matchup in Kansas City, but had the advantage in first down rate (42.11% vs. 34.43%) and yards per play (8.16 vs. 6.51) in a one score loss in which they lost the turnover battle.

The final result of these two teams’ games against the Chiefs may be skewing this line, as the Browns are 2 point underdogs, which implies that the Chargers are the slightly better team, as they should not be getting 2 points for homefield advantage in Los Angeles, where they are 12-20 ATS all-time and frequently draw large crowds in support of the visitor. Giving the Chargers one point for homefield advantage, I have the Browns favored by 2.5 points on my calculated line. They have a good chance to pull the small upset here and should be the ones slightly favored. This isn’t a huge play, but the Browns are worth a bet this week.

Cleveland Browns 27 Los Angeles Chargers 24 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-4) at Minnesota Vikings (1-3)

The Vikings are just 1-3, but they have played much better than their record, playing teams that are a combined 12-4 through four weeks who could all end up as playoff qualifiers and playing all of their teams close, losing by a combined 11 points to actually give them a positive point differential at +2 on the season. I thought the Vikings would be a significantly improved team in 2021 because their defense is much healthier and more talented than a year ago and, while their record hasn’t shown it, they have been at least a solid team overall and have been much more balanced than a year ago.

This week, things get a lot easier for the Vikings, who host a Lions team that was already one of the weakest in the league entering the season and now is very injury depleted. In total, they are missing their top-2 offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, their top edge rusher Romeo Okwara, and their likely top cornerback Jeff Okudah, with Ragnow and Okwara just going down in the past couple weeks. On top of that, talented edge defender Trey Flowers has missed the past two games and is no guarantee to return this week, while left tackle Penei Sewell, by default their best offensive lineman now, might also miss this game.

This line might seem high at Minnesota -10, but I actually have the Vikings favored by 15 in my calculated line, as they could easily be 3-1 with wins over quality teams and in that case would likely be favored by at least two touchdowns against one of the two worst teams in the league. The Vikings are also in a bit of a good spot in their third straight home game, which has about a 55.3% cover rate all-time. This is a smaller bet for now, but if this line happens to move down from 10, I would increase this play to a high confidence pick.

Update: Dalvin Cook has been ruled out for the Vikings, but this line has dropped to 9.5 to compensate. I already had Cook factored in as limited, so the line movement is the more important development to me. I am increasing this to a high confidence pick, as the Lions are still in much worse injury shape and are a much less talented team to begin with.

Minnesota Vikings 28 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -9.5

Confidence: High

New England Patriots at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (1-3) at Houston Texans (1-3)

The Patriots are 1-3, but they’ve had some bad luck to get to that point, as two of their three losses came by a combined 3 points in games in which they lost three fumbles. Fumbles and fumble recovery rate are among the least predictive stats and the Patriots have been as disciplined holding onto the football as any team in the league in recent years, so it’s unlikely that will be a long-term problem, while more predictive metrics like yards per play and first down rate give the Patriots a statistical edge in both their loss to the Dolphins and their loss to the Buccaneers. 

Their other loss was not nearly as close, losing to the Saints by 15, but they also could have been caught looking forward to their huge matchup with the Buccaneers the following week in that game. The Patriots continue to have bad luck though, now in the form of significant missing personnel, as their offensive line that was already struggling without injured right tackle Trent Brown will now be without right guard Shaq Mason and likely left guard Michael Onwenu and left tackle Isaiah Wynn, four of their five week one starters from a group that was supposed to be a strength of this team.

The good news is the Patriots face a Texans team that is easily the worst in the league without rookie quarterback Davis Mills under center, as they have not been remotely competitive since losing quarterback Tyrod Taylor to injury. Mills has looked lost as an NFL quarterback so far, but if possible, I expect him to look even worse this week, given Bill Belichick’s track record against rookie quarterbacks. We saw this defense completely confuse a more talented rookie just a few weeks ago and this week could be even worse.

Unfortunately, this spread (New England -8) is too high for me to confidently bet the Patriots without their whole offensive line on the road, even against a team as bad as the Texans. The Texans offense should struggle to sustain drives all game, so the Patriots won’t have to score too many points to cover, but if the Patriots allow a couple turnovers without their offensive line, the Texans could make this closer than expected.

My calculated line is actually right where this line is at New England -8 and, with that in mind, I’m actually going to take the Texans for pick ‘em purposes, as teams tend to bounce back after a huge blowout loss like the Texans had last week, covering at about a 58.5% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more and a 55.9% rate all-time after being shutout. That’s not nearly enough for me to take the Texans with any confidence, but it’s a tiebreaker in a matchup where the line is about right.

New England Patriots 16 Houston Texans 9

Pick against the spread: Houston +8

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (3-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)

Both of these teams are 3-1, but one is clearly getting more respect than the other, with the Packers favored by a field goal on the road. It’s understandable, given that the Packers have a history of recent success and have reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers under center, while the Bengals do not have that history of recent success, but right now the Bengals actually have the better roster overall and, while they may not have Aaron Rodgers, they are at home and quarterback Joe Burrow is playing well enough that he could easily outperform or match Rodgers, who has about a 10 point drop in QB rating when he goes on the road in his career, well above average for a quarterback. 

The Bengals are coming off of an uninspiring performance against the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football, but they were missing their top-2 defensive backs, including safety Jessie Bates, who is one of the best safeties in the league. Both Bates and Chidobe Awuzie are back this week and, even with last week’s uninspiring performance included, the Bengals have had a significantly higher DVOA (14.8%, 10th in the NFL vs. 1.7%, 17th in the NFL) on the season than the Packers, who are the team with the much bigger injury concerns this week.

The Packers have been without stud left tackle David Bakhtiari all season, a huge blow to an offensive line that lost its other elite offensive lineman Corey Linsley in free agency and entered this season starting a pair of rookies upfront, after having one of the best offensive lines in the league for years. Elgton Jenkins, who has moved to left tackle from left guard to replace Bakhtiari, also missed last week with injury and, while he could be back this week, he may not be at 100% and, on top of that, rookie center Josh Myers will miss his first game of the season this week, a concern given that Myers had been holding up pretty well and the Packers don’t have a proven backup behind him.

Meanwhile, their defense, which was already missing its top edge defender Za’Darius Smith, will be without top cornerback Jaire Alexander. Not only are Smith and Alexander their two best defensive players, but, when healthy, they are among the best players in the league at their position. It’s going to be very difficult for this defense to adapt to not having either, while their offense is likely to continue having much shakier play on the offensive line than they are used to. With all of this taken into account, I have the Bengals a couple points higher than the Packers in my roster rankings, so getting a full field goal with them at home feels like stealing. This is my Pick of the Week.

Cincinnati Bengals 24 Green Bay Packers 20 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 5 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (3-1) at Seattle Seahawks (2-2)

The Rams got off to an impressive 3-0 start, capped by a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they lost at home last week to another impressive team, the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks, meanwhile, bounced back from two straight losses to win in San Francisco last week, a quality win on the road. Despite that, this line has shifted from favoring the Rams by 1.5 points a week ago up to 2.5 points this week. That’s not a significant shift, but it’s a shift away from what you would expect based on last week’s results.

One possible reason for the shift is that Seahawks running back Chris Carson will likely be out, or at least limited, but the Seahawks will get right tackle Brandon Shell back, which somewhat cancels that out because the Seahawks have better running back depth than offensive tackle depth. The Seahawks also have been close to an automatic bet on Thursday Night in the Russell Wilson era, going 9-0-1 ATS, including 5-0 ATS at home. 

I normally don’t put too much stock into those types of things, but the Seahawks have had the same coach and quarterback throughout that stretch, so it’s possible they just prepare better on short weeks. I would need a full field goal to bet the Seahawks against the spread, as my calculated line is even, but this is no worse than a 50/50 bet on the money line, so the Seahawks are worth a play at +120.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Los Angeles Rams 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Seattle +2.5

Confidence: Low