Division battles aplenty
Colts at Texans
Division games are incredibly important in the NFL because they amount to winning 1.5 games against your rivals. So this week is an important week for a lot of teams because they’re facing their division rivals. None is arguably more important than the Indianapolis Colts traveling to Houston to face the Texans. The winner not only takes sole possession of first place in the AFC South but they also get a game up in head-to-head contests, an all-too important ace to have later in the season. The Colts opened as -2.5 favorites, largely of the belief that they’re just a better team than the Texans despite their identical 3-2 records. But are the Colts really that better as a team? I don’t think they are, even if I’m willing to concede that Andrew Luck is a far better QB than Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the Colts don’t have a running game to speak of, especially if Ahmad Bradshaw misses the game. Houston, on the other hand, has Arian Foster who’s been beastin’ this year. I’ll even give the slight edge to the Texans defense over Indianapolis at this point. I see a lot of value in taking the home dogs for this game.
Steelers at Browns
Another division game to look forward to is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ visit to Cleveland to take on the Browns. Believe it or not, it’s an important game because the Browns don’t suck this year. It’s also the second meeting between these two division rivals and if their Week 1 game is an indication, expect it to be another close contest. The Browns are currently listed at -2.5, which indicates that Pittsburgh’s just a slight favorite against this team on a neutral field. But as good as the Browns are, they’re still a few years away from becoming a legitimate team. Remember, Pittsburgh traveled to Cleveland last season with an identical point spread and won the game handily, 27-11. I see a similar game happening here, maybe even a little closer than the 27-11 score suggests.
Patriots at Bills
Moving on to another division game, the New England Patriots travel to Buffalo to face a Bills team that doesn’t seem to have an identity these days. Really, can anybody figure out this team? It won its first two games. Then it lost its next two games. Then it yanked starting QB EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton. Then they go down, 14-0 against the Lions. Then they come back and win the game, 17-14. Then defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was hoisted to celebrate the win like he’s some kind of all-conquering hero. Then they complained to the NFL about laser pointers during that Lions game. Is it me or is Buffalo secretly becoming a drama-magnet team. I said all that and I didn’t even mention Bon Jovi and the recently resolved ownership situation. Guess what: I like New England here at -3.
Giants at Eagles
Finally, we have the rejuvenated New York Giants traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. If this game was played in Week 3, the spread would’ve probably been somewhere between -5.5 to -6.5. Maybe even a touchdown spread. But the Giants have stormed back the past three weeks while the Eagles have become their own version of a roller-coaster ride. The opening line for this game is at -2.5 for the home team, a clear indication that sportsbooks are either slowly losing faith in Philly’s running game, or they’re starting to respect the Giants as a pretty good team. I like the G-Men to make a statement in this game, leaving the Eagles with a whole lot of questions to answer in their bye week.
Falcons find solace at home
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Atlanta Falcons, having had to travel to Minnesota and New York the past two weeks only to get trampled in both games. So they return to the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome where they can breathe in the memory of their last home game: the 56-14 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Bucs. This week, they host the Chicago Bears, a team licking its own wounds after giving away a win against the Carolina Panthers after being in front for a majority of the game. The opening spread has the Falcons as -3 favorites. I do expect that line to move up a little, possibly to -3.5 or -4 leading up to the game. I don’t trust Chicago playing their fourth road game in six weeks. I think they’re tired and like Atlanta, they’re just looking forward to go home. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do that for another week. Lock in on the Falcons this early to get that -3 spread.
Broncos gallop to Big Apple
The Denver Broncos are laying -7.5 points to the New York Jets on the road. Actually, the line opened at -7, but was immediately bet up within hours. That goes to show you that nobody trusts the Jets these days. Do we even know who’s going to start at quarterback for this game? That’s troubling considering that Peyton Manning’s coming to town. There’s no rest for the weary in Jets country these days. If it’s bad enough that the team laid a goose egg against the San Diego Chargers, it’s going to have to come back from that against the game’s best QB. Good luck, Rex Ryan.
San Diego brings hot start to Oakland
Speaking of the San Diego Chargers, they take their 5-0 ATS record to Oakland when they face the Raiders. The line opened at -7 for the Chargers, a big number for a team playing a division rival. Oh, wait. It’s the Raiders. They’re fresh off a bye after getting slapped around by the Miami Dolphins in London. They also have a new “interim” coach in Tony Sparano. And, well, they’re the Raiders. I’ll probably stay away from this game because that -7 spread is obviously inflated but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers end up winning by three touchdowns. It’s the Raiders, everybody!
Are the Cowboys really this good?
It’s a fair question and one that shouldn’t be discounted. The offense seems to have found a happy balance between the running and passing games. DeMarco Murray’s been unstoppable, racking up five straight 100-yard games to open the season, and the passing game has been efficient, to say the least. This week, we get to see what Dallas is really made of when they travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks as +8.5 favorites. Believe it or not, I do think the Cowboys are going to cover this spread. I’m not so sure about winning the actual game, but if the line moves up to +9 or +9.5, I’m probably going to be tempted to take Big D in Seattle.