Week 5 of the 2021 NFL season continued the theme of chaos that we saw in the early weeks of the season. The Bills were able to upset thte Chiefs and drop the reigning AFC Champions to 2-3 on the year. The Chargers knocked off the Browns in a game that saw 89 combined points scored. The Steelers and Bears earned impressive upset wins over favored AFC West teams.
Underdogs continue to do well, and they roughly split games with the favorites last week. That makes it hard for bettors to truly know or understand which side will be the best, since the underdog advantage appears to have evaporated, but there are still plenty of ways to identify undervalued teams to make some easy money.
The three things that matter above all else at this point at the spreads, schedules and injuries impacting each team. We’ve officially reached bye weeks, so rest advantage will become a bigger factor for teams in the future, as the 49ers, Falcons, Jets and Saints will all have had a week off before their Week 7 game. So, that’s something for which to look out.
That said, the rest advantage won’t come into effect much this week, so the size of each spread and health of each team will be the most important elements to look at. Teams are getting more banged-up as the season progresses, and some teams are decimated by injuries.
Look at the Giants, for example. They lost their top quarterback, running back and receiver last week. If they all can’t play in Week 6, fading them will be a smart play.
Elsewhere, the Dolphins are hoping Tua Tagovailoa can return to action this week while the Panthers are hoping the same for Christian McCaffrey. And the first big injury watch of the week will be for Rob Gronkowski on “Thursday Night Football.” All of these injuries will have a big impact on betting odds and could move the lines significantly depending on which players are available for the top squads on the slate.
Here’s a look at Sporting News’ best bets for Week 6 of the 2021 NFL season, including picks against the spread, moneyline bets, over/under wagers and some player props.
(All odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.)
Cardinals (+3) at Browns
The Cardinals are the lone 5-0 team in the NFL, but they are coming up on what appears to be a tough game against the Browns. That said, betting them as underdogs seems appealing considering that Cleveland is banged up right now.
The Browns were without left tackle Jedrick Wills, edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, cornerback Greg Newsome II and top receiver Jarvis Landry on in Week 5, and it’s unclear whether those three players will return to action. The team also suffered plenty of injuries during Sunday’s contest, as right tackle Jack Conklin and corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams exited the game and didn’t return.
Myles Garrett is also dealing with a couple of injuries to his knee and ankle, so he might not be at 100 percent.
So, long story short, the Browns are banged-up, and worst of all, they’re missing depth at two key positions: offensive tackle and cornerback. If Wills and Conklin can’t play against the Cardinals, Cleveland will be starting their fourth and fifth-string tackles, as top backup Chris Hubbard is out for the season. They could move Joel Bitonio outside, but that would weaken the interior offensive line.
At corner, the Browns would have trouble covering Kyler Murray’s plethora of weapons, including DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore. It’s not a good time to be without their top players there.
Making matters worse, the Browns play on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 7, so they may have to think about resting players to get healthy for that game. The mini-bye after it will be helpful, but if they rush players back to play against the Cardinals, they may not be ready to face the Broncos.
With all that said, it seems like a good time to bet the Cardinals. They’re winning, playing well and have the receiving weapons and pass rush needed to take advantage of Cleveland’s weakest positions. They could win this game outright, so bet on them while they remain a three-point underdog. It might not last long.
Raiders (+3.5) at Broncos
I know, I know. The Raiders just saw their head coach Jon Gruden resign because of the email scandal. Won’t they be distracted by that ahead of a tough, divisional road game against one of their rivals?
Sure, it’s possible. But strangely enough, teams that undergo midseason coaching changes have actually won more often than not in recent years. Since 2015, teams have posted an 8-5 record straight up with an interim coach at the helm. That tilts the scale a bit in the Raiders’ favor.
|Year||Team||Coach fired||Game after firing|
|2020||Falcons||Dan Quinn||Win over Vikings 40-23|
|2020||Texans||Bill O’Brien||Win over Jaguars 30-14|
|2019||Panthers||Ron Rivers||Loss vs. Falcons 40-20|
|2019||Washington||Jay Gruden||Win over Dolphins 17-16|
|2018||Packers||Mike McCarthy||Win over Falcons 34-20|
|2018||Browns||Hue Jackson||Loss vs. Chiefs 37-21|
|2017||Giants||Ben McAdoo||Loss vs. Cowboys 30-10|
|2016||Bills||Rex Ryan||Loss vs. Jets 30-10|
|2016||Jaguars||Gus Bradley||Win over Titans 38-17|
|2016||Rams||Jeff Fisher||Loss vs. Seahawks 24-3|
|2015||Eagles||Chip Kelly||Win over Giants 35-30|
|2015||Titans||Ken Whisenhunt||Win over Saints 34-28|
|2015||Dolphins||Joe Philbin||Win over Titans 38-10|
Granted, Gruden’s situation is a bit different than the other coaches on the list above. They were largely on the hot seat while Gruden’s departure came together rapidly over the span of four days, so perhaps it will be a bit harder for the Raiders to get motivated for this one.
At the same time, they could see this as an opportunity to refocus on football, and they have had the Broncos’ number in recent years. They hold a 7-4 record against them in their last 11 meetings and have taken four of the last five. Two of the Raiders’ losses in that span have been by a single point, too, so they would have covered a 3.5-point spread in nine of these 11 games.
The Raiders may be without their coach, but they still are a solid 3-2 team and the Broncos’ stout defense just surrendered nearly 400 yards and 27 points to the hapless Steelers’ offense. Las Vegas often plays Denver close even on the road, so trusting them to keep this game within a field goal is a fine move.
Rams (-10.5) at Giants
There’s nothing sexy about trusting a 10.5-point road favorite, but there is plenty to like about the Rams in this matchup. Or, at least, there’s plenty to dislike about the Giants.
The Giants already had issues with consistency on offense, and they only figure to be heightened with Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Kenny Gollday (knee) out of action in Week 6. And if Daniel Jones can’t clear the NFL’s concussion protocol, the team will be in even worse shape, as they’ll be without their top quarterback, running back and receiver against a solid defense.
Jones’ status will be the most important thing to watch in this game. If he’s out of action, Mike Glennon will be the starter. Glennon usually puts up decent stats, but he has won just once in nine starts since 2017. During that span, Glennon’s teams have been beaten by an average of 14.1 points per game; his teams have averaged just 16.8 points per start.
That doesn’t bode well for Glennon, especially considering that the Rams are averaging 28.2 points per game (eighth-best in the NFL) and are allowing just 23.2 points per game (12th-fewest in the NFL).
The Giants are averaging just 20.6 points per game with Jones, and that number figures to decrease if Glennon starts. So, feel free to trust the Rams if Glennon starts, even as big favorites.
Panthers moneyline (+102) vs. Vikings
Bettors appear to be apprehensive about betting the Panthers. They just struggled to move the ball on offense against the Eagles and saw Sam Darnold have his worst game for them as a starter. They’re also playing a Vikings’ defense that has allowed no more than 17 points in each of the team’s last three games.
That said, Carolina may be getting a boost this week in the form of Christian McCaffrey. He was trending in the right direction last week but was held out just so that the Panthers could ensure that he;’s fully healthy. He should have a chance to return against the Vikings and provide the team’s offense a boost.
Since the start of 2020, McCaffrey has played in six games for the Panthers and missed 15. The team is averaging 24.5 points per game with him in the lineup and 21.2 without him. The Vikings have allowed the 11th-most rushing yards per game this season at a mark of 130, so McCaffrey should be able to take advantage of that weak spot — if he gets healthy.
The Panthers are 3-0 with McCaffrey in the lineup this year, too, and their defense should match up well against the Vikings, who have averaged just 13 points in their last two games against the Browns and Lions. They should probably be the favored side instead of home underdogs, sot this is a nice value pickup here.
NFL POWER RANKINGS: Bills proving to be serious contender
Lions moneyline (+158) vs. Bengals
Here’s a nice underdog sleeper to consider this week. The Lions may be 0-5, but they have two 19-17 losses on the books that were genuine heartbreakers.
Their first close loss saw Justin Tucker make an NFL-record 66-yard field goal to give the Ravens a last-second win. Tucker had just a 10.4 percent chance of making that kick, per Next Gen Stats.
Justin Tucker’s 66-yard game-winning field goal is the longest made field goal in NFL history.
🔹 Field Goal Probability: 10.4%
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 26, 2021
The second came last week when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph nailed a 54-yard kick to sink Detroit’s ship. The Vikings’ win probability before that kick was just 26.2 percent.
That said, the fact that the Lions were in the game against two superior teams is excellent news. The Lions have one of the most talent-bereft rosters in the NFL, but they are playing hard for Dan Campbell. Even in Week 1 against the 49ers, they didn’t quite despite being down 28 and nearly came back to tie that contest.
Campbell has the Lions playing well. They’ve just gotten unlucky, and this could be a bad spot for the Bengals. They are coming off a deflating, overtime loss to the Packers that they had a couple of chances to win. Evan McPherson just couldn’t make the long field goals to send the Bengals home. Now, they’re playing a winless team that they could overlook ahead of a key divisional matchup against the Ravens in Week 7.
Also, four of Cincinnati’s five games to date have been decided by three points. The Lions should have a chance to keep this close either way and while Lions (+3.5) looks like a strong bet, the value we’re getting on the moneyline here is worth the risk.
Campbell’s first Lions win will come soon enough. This isn’t a bad time to anticipate it.
Chiefs at Washington: OVER 55.5 (-110)
This is the largest point total of the week, but it’s OK to select the over here. After all, these are the two are the worst scoring defenses in the NFL right now.
|Team||Points allowed per game||Yards allowed per game|
The Chiefs have yet to allow fewer than 29 points to any team they have faced so far this season. That seems likely to change given that they’ve played many strong quarterbacks including Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Josh Allen, but their run defense ranks as one of the NFL’s worst. So, even if they do contain Taylor Heinicke, Antonio Gibson will still be able to score against them.
Meanwhile, Washington has allowed at least 29 points in each of its last four games, so the Chiefs seem likely to drop a 30-spot on them this week, if not more.
This feels a lot like the Chiefs’ bounce-back game against the Eagles from a couple of weeks ago. They came off a loss against the Chargers and scored at will against the Eagles, scoring 42 points. However, they could contain Jalen Hurts and Co. defensively and surrendered 30 points. Even if Washington can’t score as much as the Eagles did, the Chiefs can do a bulk of the heavy lifting here to get this 55.5 total over the finish line.
Buccaneers at Eagles: UNDER 52.5 (-114)
On paper, the Buccaneers-Eagles game might look like a shootout. Tampa Bay has one of the league’s best offenses and their secondary is very banged up, so why wouldn’t they put up another massive point total on the Eagles?
There are a few factors working against them in this game and in this spot in general. Chief among them is Tom Brady’s injury. He is dealing with a thumb problem and while the team has insisted that he’s fine, we simply don’t know the extent of the problem. If he’s just a bit off, as we saw with Matthew Stafford and the Lions on “Thursday Night Football” last week, that could hinder his scoring potential.
It also won’t help that Rob Gronkowski, one of Brady’s favorite red-zone weapons, is questionable for the game. Brady still has plenty of weapons that he can trust, but he struggled without Gronk against the Patriots. So, if he’s out, that could be a problem.
Elsewhere, it tends to be tricky to cover the over on Thursdays. Since Week 2, when Thursday night games began occurring just four days after Sunday games, the under has a 3-1 record. Teams have combined to score an average of 45 points per game, and that includes some dynamic offenses like the Rams, Seahawks and Bengals.
It’s never fun to bet against Brady’s brilliance, but given his injury and the fact that the Eagles had just six points late in the third quarter before Sam Darnold’s meltdown, it seems like the under is more likely to cash here.
Player props will be added throughout the week leading up to games.
Leonard Fournette rushing yards: OVER 62.5 (-114)
Let’s go over what we know about this game. Tom Brady is a bit banged up and it’s a short week. Rob Gronkowski might not play. The Eagles have allowed a running back to rack up at least 95 rushing yards in each of the last three weeks. That includes Ezekiel Elliott, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Chuba Hubbard.
Fournette, meanwhile, is the lead back for the Buccaneers. He has posted over 100 scrimmage yards in back-to-back games and if the Bucs take a run-heavy approach to this game in hopes of keeping Brady from throwing too much, Fournette could get 20 carries as he did against the Patriots a couple of weeks ago.
It seems like Thursday night’s game will provide a positive game script for Fournette and a lot of touches, especially if the Bucs build an early lead.