How to bet NFL week 4: Go against the undefeated and for the winless

Saturday, 28 September 2019 20:10 EST

Just to be clear: When we talk undefeated and winless teams, we’re talking by the only standard meaningful to the proper NFL bettor, i.e. in terms of wins Against The Spread (ATS).

Week 4 in any given NFL season is typically an opportunity for bettors to exploit the universal trending toward the mean .5000 to which all ATS win-loss records go. NFLbets isn’t saying (writing?) that a four-game ATS win streak is impossible in the NFL, but 4 marks a tipping point for upsets.

Last season, for example, the Kansas City Chiefs came out well more monstrously than the bookmakers had expected and after three weeks had gone 3-0 with a margin a victory of 8.0 ppg. For week 4, bettors caught the line of Chiefs -3½ or Chiefs -4 when Kansas City played in Denver. The result was a 4-point victory. Kansas City did indeed manage to start the season 4-0-1 (or 5-0) ATS and ran off another four-game ATS win streak. But no other team ran off four in a row until the Chicago Bears, the 2018 leader in ATS W-L record, pulled it off in weeks 14 through 17 – only to get the doink-doink in the following game to end that streak.

In fact, the Chiefs were the sole team to emerge from week 4 of 2018 without an ATS loss, and only Denver had managed not to land a single ATS win. This pattern of 3-0 teams losing ATS and 0-3 teams winning ATS is seen every year, and in week 4 of 2019, we’re wagering thusly.

On Thursday night, the 3-0 ATS Green Bay Packers lost 37-23½ to the 0-3 ATS Philadelphia Eagles in a classic week 4 balancing game. Still remaining at the extremes are the 3-0 ATS Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams, plus the 0-3 ATS Miami Dolphins. After last week’s Patriots-Jets game in which a second-string special-teamer and backup quarterback cost those betting on New England a glorious 22½-point spread victory, NFLbets will stay away from these mammoth point spreads for a bit and therefore back away slowly from Los Angeles Chargers -14½ at Miami.

Instead, NFLbets likes these bets…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +9 at Los Angeles Rams, over/under 49 points

NFLbets will admit it’s a bit difficult to buy the trend here – unless we entertain the notion that Tampa Bay may be a better team than upon initial appearance. Only a missed field goal kept the Buccaneers from pulling off the SU win last week against the New York Giants; though, had Matt Gay not shanked the attempt, the Giants still would’ve won ATS.

When considering these Buccaneers, NFLbets is reminded of just how seriously small a three-game sample size can be. After getting spanked by the San Francisco 49ers in the opener, Tampa Bay followed with their only SU/ATS win of the year *at* Carolina. And after not even managing 300 total yards in games 1 and 2, Jameis Winston & Co. teed off for 499 against a weak Giants defense.

The Rams have by no means a weak defense but are they truly, in the immortal words of Danny Green, who we thought they were? The passing game has never been exactly high-flying with Jared Goff in charge, but has statistically declined since way back to last season’s 105-point game against Kansas City. What appeared to be a nice two-headed rushing attack with Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown was reduced to 50 yards on 17 carries plus two targets and zero receptions against the Cleveland Browns as Gurley dissolves before our eyes.

The Rams defense? Yeah, they’re what we thought they were, with the previous two games going emphatically under and Aaron Donald apparently consciously trying to prove that a defensive player (namely him) should get serious consideration for MVP.

But sneakily, the Buccaneers D has done nicely this season, “Danny Dimes” Jones’s outstanding second half last week notwithstanding. They’re top-10 in most statistical categories per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric and no. 2 overall against the run.

So, applying a little reverse logic to justify taking that +9 on Tampa Bay, figure that a defensive struggle leads to a low-scoring game with a differential of around a touchdown. Two top-10 defenses versus sputtering offenses? Sounds like way less scoring than 29-20. We can buy that narrative. Take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers +9 at the L.A. Rams and take the under on an O/U of 49 points.

(Incidentally, if you’re a believer in such, this one has “trap game” written all over it for the Rams with that “at Seattle Seahawks” on the horizon for week 5.)

Dallas Cowboys -3 at New Orleans Saints

NFLbets is trying to find justification for covering the Saints +3 here, but it may be easier to accept that the Cowboys will go into week 5 and a home game against the Green Bay Packers at 4-0 ATS. The truth is that New Orleans has exactly three plusses going into this one: homefield advantage (if any); Alvin Kamara, who went for a badass 169 total yards and two TDs; and, well, the relative sustainability of the Cowboys’ 3-0 ATS win streak.

The most quantifiable of these is of course Kamara, who is rapidly becoming a one-man show in New Orleans. To say that Kamara was the focal point of the Saints offense last week against Seattle is severe understatement: Those 169 yards represented a crazy 60.75% of the team’s total output and included16 of the team’s 23 carries plus 10 targets on Teddy Bridgewater’s 27 attempts.

Now perhaps Kamara is altogether next-to-unstoppable, even against what is probably a top-5 defense – but such a lack of diversity in game plan is not enough even against an average coaching staff such as Dallas’s. Nobody’s biting on Michael Thomas as a deep threat without Drew Brees at QB and no other “skill player” has Bridgewater’s confidence at all, apparently.

True enough, the Saints have thus far drawn three fairly decent offenses in Houston, the Rams and Seattle, they’ve generously allowed from 380 to 514 yards and 27 or 28 points in each of the three games. Key to the week 3 win were the Seahawks’ special-teams gaffes and a criminally weak offensive line. Simply put, you’d have to figure the Saints won’t be able to keep up with the points they’ll allow.

NFLbets believes the overriding reason for this low point spread – 3 points for home field or no – is simply that the Cowboys’ schedule reveals nothing about this team’s true abilities. What can one tell from 30-point totals against the likes of Eli’s Giants, Washington and Miami? Unless we’re willing to entertain the notion that New Orleans just isn’t that good. Which we do.

We’re going against the numbers and with the football here: Take the Dallas Cowboys -3 at New Orleans.

-- written by Os Davis