When you’re betting on the NFL, it can be helpful – and fun – to think about it like March Madness. Who should be on the one-line? Clearly the Packers and Patriots are one seeds.
Through five weeks, Atlanta, Carolina, Cincinnati, and Denver are also unbeaten. But would they really deserve to be on the same line as the Pack and Pats? Are they really a cut above the rest of the league?
Their performances against the spread make the answer pretty clear.
In 12 games last Sunday, six teams were favored by at least six points. While the Packers covered nearly a double-digit spread against St. Louis, and the Patriots steamrolled the Cowboys, the other four big favorites lost. The Falcons and Giants were both favored by more than a TD, and both were extremely lucky to escape with wins straight up. The Ravens lost as a 6.5-point choice over Cleveland, and Kansas City dropped an 18-17 battle with Chicago as 9.5-point faves.
Green Bay and New England are a combined 8-0-1 ATS this year. Their average margin of victory is more than two touchdowns. They are covering by over a touchdown per game. That means the point spread, designed to make teams even and create equal betting on both sides, has been off by a margin of more than seven points on the Packers and Patriots this year.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are 4-0-1, but have eked out victories three times. They trailed Seattle, 24-7, on Sunday and needed overtime to win at home. They barely covered a field goal spread at home against the Chargers in Week 2, and won a game that could have gone either way against 1-4 Baltimore in Week 3.
The Broncos inspire as little confidence as a 5-0 team can. They are 4-1 against the spread, and the defense has allowed fewer than 16 points per game. That said, they have covered two games by less than a two points, Peyton Manning has been suspect, and the running game is inconsistent at best. The team has needed exceptional defensive performances week after week – including a few defensive scores – to get where they are. Four of Denver’s five games have gone under, and that number seems likely to continue.
Not only have the Panthers started 4-0, they have done so without top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (out for the year) and with star linebacker Luke Kuechly playing sparingly. Carolina has been a favorite in each of their games, and covered three times. Kuechly will return to the lineup when the Panthers travel to Seattle on Sunday. However, Carolina’s schedule has been whiffle ball heretofore. Their opponents have gone a combined 5-15 on the season, and they have yet to face an elite QB (facing Blake Bortles, Ryan Mallett, Luke McCown, and Jameis Winston in their four victories). The free ride stops now, though, as the Panthers will line up against Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Aaron Rodgers in three of the next four weeks.
The Falcons and Cardinals are both 4-1 ATS. Prior to their comeback win against Washington on Sunday, Atlanta easily covered against the Cowboys and Texans, but had slim wins over the Eagles and Giants. Arizona has been a favorite in all five of their games. Aside from a home loss to the Rams, they have four victories by a total of 102 points. The record of those four teams is 4-16.
In March Madness, all four number one seeds have made the Final Four in a single year just once. Three made it to Indianapolis last season. During the prior five tournaments, no more than one made the final weekend. The moral of the story is that, each year, there are a different number of truly elite teams. In the NFL this season, there are two squads rolling straight up and against the number. Everybody else is just trying to play Cinderella.
(Photo credit: Mike Morbeck (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)