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As days in the Northern Hemisphere become shorter and—as a result—the chlorophyll in leaves breaks down to turn our greenery into a potpourri of yellows, oranges, reds and purples, we’re gaining a better understanding of who is good and who is bad in the NFL.
Yes, late-summer football is behind us. And when we really start to feel autumn, we also get to feel more confident about our impressions of certain teams.
The Miami Dolphins started 3-0 but are indeed bad. Same with the once-2-0 Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, on the other hand, have redeemed themselves after shaky starts.
The NFL has established a semblance of normalcy, which could bode well for Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, all of whom are below the .500 mark with their picks against the spread this season, thanks in part to a wildly unpredictable September.
Here’s where they stand through five weeks (last week’s records in parentheses).
1. Brent Sobleski: 35-39-4 (5-9-1)
2. Gary Davenport: 34-40-4 (7-7-1)
3. Brad Gagnon: 33-41-4 (7-7-1)
Consensus picks: 31-43-4 (6-8-1)
Will a larger sample size help our trio turn it around? Here are their prognostications for Week 6.
Lines based on consensuses at OddsShark as of Wednesday.
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Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
The home team has won and covered the spread in all five Thursday night games this season, and the majority of our panelists predict that streak will be extended when the New York Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles to kick off Week 6.
“Even if it was all for naught on the scoreboard, I think the Giants gained some momentum with that eleventh-hour comeback in Carolina last week,” Gagnon said. “They’re healthier and have less to lose than the struggling, banged-up Eagles, who are traveling following a home loss. Considering that they’re the first home team to get points on a Thursday this season, this one feels like a no-brainer.”
Gagnon will risk the push in the event that the Eagles come through with a field-goal victory, but Sobleski—who leads the pack in the standings—would need more points to join his colleagues in backing a Giants team that has lost by at least five points in three of its first five outings.
For what it’s worth, each of the last five meetings between these teams has been decided by five points or fewer. Expect this one to be close as well.
Davenport: New York (+3)
Gagnon: New York (+3)
Sobleski: Philadelphia (-3)
Consensus: New York (+3)
Score Prediction: Philadelphia 23, New York 23
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Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Are the Minnesota Vikings figuring it out?
After a tumultuous 1-1-1 start, the Vikings put up a bigger fight than many expected in a Thursday night Week 4 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams before defeating the desperate Eagles on the road in Week 5. Now they’re back at home and looking to make a statement against the 1-4 Arizona Cardinals.
Even though double-digit favorites are only 2-5 against the spread this season, all three of our experts think Minnesota can overcome a 10.5-point line and blow out the Cards.
“The Vikings are due for a laugher at home,” Gagnon said. “That Week 3 home loss to the Buffalo Bills was an anomaly, and quarterback Kirk Cousins is on fire right now. The defense still isn’t where it was last season, but the Arizona offense is averaging just 11.6 points per game (excluding a defensive score in Week 5). Look for them to come back to earth after a five-takeaway aberration in San Francisco, and look for Minnesota to put together its first dominant game of 2018.”
Midway through the week, plenty of sportsbooks were still offering the Vikings -10. That half-point could come in handy and land you a push instead of a bad beat, so if you can get it, you should take it. That said, our crew still sides with Minnesota as an 11-plus-point victor.
Davenport: Minnesota (-10.5)
Gagnon: Minnesota (-10.5)
Sobleski: Minnesota (-10.5)
Consensus: Minnesota (-10.5)
Score Prediction: Minnesota 30, Arizona 13
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Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is recovering from the chest injury that he suffered Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, which leaves plenty of wiggle room for Houston to become a bigger or smaller favorite for its Sunday matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
Watson expects to play, but our experts still unanimously agree that his team is giving up too many points as a 10-point fave. Davenport, Gagnon and Sobleski are all siding with Buffalo on the road.
“Not only have the Bills defeated 2017 playoff teams in two of their last three games,” Gagnon said. “But the Texans haven’t won a game by more than three points since November. They haven’t won in regulation this season. Why are they suddenly expected to win by double digits with a banged-up quarterback fighting for his limbs behind the league’s worst offensive line?”
It’s a fair question, but the Bills are substantially less talented and are traveling to play an opponent that hasn’t been on an airplane this month. This is far from a guarantee, but that spread might be overkill.
Davenport: Buffalo (+10)
Gagnon: Buffalo (+10)
Sobleski: Buffalo (+10)
Consensus: Buffalo (+10)
Score Prediction: Houston 21, Buffalo 16
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
The Atlanta Falcons have won just one game and covered just one spread this season. That came at home against a division rival, which could bode well for their chances to win and cover as a 3.5-point favorite when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.
Sobleski doesn’t buy it, and he isn’t alone.
“The Falcons laying 3.5 points against nearly any squad is nearly unfathomable,” he said. “They just gave up 41 points to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their defense is decimated by injuries. Here come the Buccaneers with their second-ranked offense. Some will argue most of those yards came with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center. Newsflash: Jameis Winston completed 80 percent of his passes upon his return and still has all of the same weapons to exploit.”
Indeed, Winston looked good in relief of Fitzpatrick in a blowout loss to the Chicago Bears. And don’t forget that the 2015 No. 1 overall pick posted a 126.9 passer rating in three preseason appearances this summer. Tight end O.J. Howard might not play Sunday, but he has Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Cameron Brate against a depleted defense that is surrendering a comical 32.6 points per game.
Remember how hot the Falcons were in 2016? They lost just one home game by more than a field goal that season. Their opponent? Yeah, the Bucs.
Davenport: Atlanta (-3.5)
Gagnon: Tampa Bay (+3.5)
Sobleski: Tampa Bay (+3.5)
Consensus: Tampa Bay (+3.5)
Score Prediction: Tampa Bay 31, Atlanta 30
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Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
The Carolina Panthers have to be feeling good about themselves following a thrilling victory that featured a walk-off 63-yard field goal. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins are banged up following a blowout loss on the road.
So it’s a little odd to see Washington favored on short rest, even if by only a point at home.
“When looking at two non-terrible teams, I’m always leery of picking the road team straight-up,” Gagnon said, “and that’s essentially the case with Carolina getting only a point. But I can’t roll the dice on the Redskins right now. They were beaten to a pulp on Monday night in New Orleans and are now playing a fired-up team on short rest. That’s not a good omen, especially considering that Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Paul Richardson, Josh Doctson and Shawn Lauvao are all dealing with injuries.”
The Panthers defense might be somewhat vulnerable, but Washington might not have the firepower or the balance to take advantage of that. And Carolina has scored 64 points combined in the last two games—both victories.
This might not be a blowout because of the location of the game, but our gang is still unanimously on Carolina’s side as a slight underdog.
Davenport: Carolina (+1)
Gagnon: Carolina (+1)
Sobleski: Carolina (+1)
Consensus: Carolina (+1)
Score Prediction: Carolina 26, Washington 20
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Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
Sunday’s meeting between the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets might be the trickiest game of the week.
That’s because you don’t know what to expect from the Jets, who have at times looked unstoppable and at other times looked unwatchable. And you don’t know what to expect from the Colts, who at any moment can put on a show with Andrew Luck but still lack support for their franchise quarterback.
Our experts are leaning in Indy’s direction with Gang Green favored by 2.5 points at home, but Gagnon’s swing vote could have gone either way.
“I’m not going to pretend I’m confident here, because I don’t trust either team,” he said. “But the Colts have had more rest coming off a Thursday game, I trust their quarterback more, and they’ve been a little more consistent. They’re due, while the Jets are unlikely to sustain their level of play from last week.”
It’s true that the Jets spanked the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in Week 5, but that game featured three 50-plus-yard offensive plays against a Denver team that was probably exhausted on the road after going toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs one week prior on Monday Night Football.
“The Jets may be a better overall team at this point in the process,” Sobleski said, “but the Colts have been quite competitive for the most part. Indianapolis’ previous two losses prior to the meeting with the New England Patriots were only by seven combined points. Those games came against the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans. New York isn’t markedly better than either of those franchises. This should be a pick ’em, but Indianapolis is getting the points, so it gains a betting edge.”
In a perfect world you’d get three points for an Indianapolis pick, but that half-point isn’t enough for our panel to jump to the Jets.
Davenport: New York (-2.5)
Gagnon: Indianapolis (+2.5)
Sobleski: Indianapolis (+2.5)
Consensus: Indianapolis (+2.5)
Score Prediction: Indianapolis 24, New York 23
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Frank Victores/Associated Press
Bookmakers believe the Cincinnati Bengals are against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it’s easy to understand why.
Cincinnati has lost six straight regular-season games to Pittsburgh, failing to cover in five of those outings. But this 4-1 Bengals team looks better than the 2017 version that covered as a 4.5-point underdog in a three-point home loss to Pittsburgh last December, and the 2-2-1 Steelers have yet to find a consistent groove.
That isn’t enough for our experts to pick the Bengals as a favorite against Pittsburgh for the first time since 2015.
“I want to believe that the Bengals are going to win here and get the Pittsburgh monkey off their backs,” Davenport said. “But while the Steelers are coming off their best game of the season, the Bengals needed a frenetic burst of fourth-quarter scoring to get past a meh Dolphins team at home last week. Sorry, Cincy: Lucy’s going to pull back the ball at the last second and leave you flat on your back…again.”
Don’t forget that the Bengals also needed 11th-hour heroics to get past the struggling Falcons in Week 4, while the maligned Steelers defense appears to be picking it up. Pittsburgh has allowed only two touchdowns in its last seven quarters against the Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.
We may be waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Bengals, while the Steelers look as though they’re bouncing back just in time. Our experts believe they’ll win outright.
Davenport: Pittsburgh (+2.5)
Gagnon: Pittsburgh (+2.5)
Sobleski: Pittsburgh (+2.5)
Consensus: Pittsburgh (+2.5)
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Cincinnati 27
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
The Cleveland Browns already have twice as many wins as they registered throughout all of 2016 and 2017 combined. Their lone victory over that span came against their Week 6 opponent, the Los Angeles Chargers.
Yet the Chargers are still a one-point favorite for Sunday’s matchup at FirstEnergy Stadium, and the majority of our experts are leaning that way.
“Part of me wants to take the Browns here,” Davenport said. “You have a West Coast team traveling east for a 1 p.m. start, and the Bolts have been known to lay an egg in Cleveland. But this year’s Chargers have won the games they are supposed to—their two losses are to the undefeated Chiefs and Rams—and the offense is playing brilliantly. The Browns may keep this game close, but I don’t think they have the passing-game weapons to win it.”
Meanwhile, Sobleski has a slightly different explanation for his decision to side with the Chargers.
“Philip Rivers is playing better than he ever has,” he noted. “The 15-year veteran is completing 70.1 percent of his passes with a 13-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Browns defense is the NFL’s best at forcing turnovers. The group is young and exciting. But it’s far too reliant on big plays. Otherwise, the unit ranks 27th in total defense. As long as Rivers doesn’t force throws—which he’s previously been prone to do—he should be able to pick apart the Browns’ soft underbelly.”
It isn’t unanimous, because Gagnon still isn’t convinced—based on a three-game sample—that the Chargers are done playing down to inferior competition. And he isn’t even sure the Browns are significantly inferior. Throw in that this’ll feel like a 10 a.m. start for a team traveling across three time zones to play a team that is unbeaten at home, and this isn’t an easy choice.
Davenport: Los Angeles (-1)
Gagnon: Cleveland (+1)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-1)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-1)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 24, Cleveland 21
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Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
The Chargers are far from the only team favored to win on the road Sunday. Six of the 12 teams playing on the road Sunday afternoon are laying points, including a Chicago Bears squad that is giving a field goal to the 3-2 Miami Dolphins in South Florida.
On the surface, that would seem like a stretch. But the Bears are riding a three-game winning streak and are fresh coming off their bye, while the Dolphins have followed up a 3-0 start with back-to-back double-digit losses.
That has our crew siding unanimously with Chicago.
“Two teams moving in separate directions,” Gagnon said. “Chicago is healthier and better-rested than the Dolphins, who really fell apart after losing Laremy Tunsil in Week 5. Even if they get Tunsil back for this game, what does it say about your offense if you collapse the moment you lose an underperforming offensive lineman? The Bears are the real deal, while the Dolphins are impostors.”
The Dolphins are 2-0 at home, while the Bears struggled against the Cardinals and choked against the Packers in their two road games. But that isn’t enough to convince our guys that they should be giving up fewer than three points.
Davenport: Chicago (-3)
Gagnon: Chicago (-3)
Sobleski: Chicago (-3)
Consensus: Chicago (-3)
Score Prediction: Chicago 24, Miami 13
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
The Bears aren’t the only three-point road favorites our experts are unanimously backing.
Davenport, Gagnon and Sobleski don’t believe the Seattle Seahawks are laying enough points as field-goal favorites in Oakland.
“The Seahawks put up a valiant fight against the Los Angeles Rams, and that came one week after they took care of business on the road against a weak Arizona Cardinals team,” Gagnon said. “Why wouldn’t they be expected to take care of a Raiders team that would be 0-5 if not for some lucky breaks in a Week 4 overtime victory against Cleveland?
“The Raiders are bad on both sides of the ball. And while the Seahawks aren’t the team they used to be, Russell Wilson remains special, and he suddenly has a lot of support in the backfield and the receiving corps.”
Because both teams are deeply flawed, anything beyond three points would be a bit of a risk considering the game site. But Seattle still has a significant talent advantage. If you believe the Seahawks are winning this game, taking Oakland with a mere three points would be too cute.
Davenport: Seattle (-3)
Gagnon: Seattle (-3)
Sobleski: Seattle (-3)
Consensus: Seattle (-3)
Score Prediction: Seattle 27, Oakland 21
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Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
For the second consecutive week, the Los Angeles Rams are laying a touchdown on the road.
The majority of our experts bit last week and took the Rams to cover seven points in Seattle, although Davenport went rogue. That backfired on Gagnon and Sobleski.
This week, Davenport has company in betting against the NFC’s top team.
“I was the lone analyst who took Seattle last week against the Rams, largely because the Seahawks were getting a touchdown at home,” Davenport said. “And my thinking is similar here. We’ve already seen the Broncos play the undefeated Chiefs tough at home, their backs are against the wall after dropping a second straight game in embarrassing fashion against the Jets last week, and the Rams could be without Brandin Cooks and/or Cooper Kupp Sunday. All of this isn’t to say the Broncos will win this game. But there’s reason to think they can keep it close.”
Davenport is right: Denver went toe-to-toe with an undefeated team at Mile High two weeks ago. The Broncos struggled on short rest in New York, but the yo-yo nature of the NFL leads you to believe they’ll bounce back and put up another gritty fight Sunday. That’s a big reason Gagnon has swung over, along with the fact the Rams have been hit by the injury bug and are suddenly struggling on defense.
Sobleski isn’t on board, but the backdoor cover is always a risk here as well. To give up that touchdown, you’d better be damn confident in a Rams team that has won its last two games by only nine total points.
Davenport: Denver (+7)
Gagnon: Denver (+7)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-7)
Consensus: Denver (+7)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 28, Denver 24
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images
A lot of books have the Baltimore Ravens favored by only 2.5 points Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, which might make them an intriguing bet. But with a full field goal on their side, the majority of our experts are rolling with the Titans at home.
That might be a safer bet merely because this is likely to be a close, low-scoring game. The Titans have scored 20 or fewer points in four of their five games and have allowed 13 or fewer in two of their last three, while the Ravens scored only nine points last week in Cleveland and have surrendered 14 or fewer in four of their first five outings.
That could make it hard for Baltimore to pull away on the road against a Tennessee team that has won seven of its last eight at Nissan Stadium.
Still, Baltimore ranks sixth in the NFL in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) at Football Outsiders, while the Titans rank 20th. Our top-picking analyst is a dissenting voice in favor of the more talented Ravens.
“An overtime loss to the Browns has many already turning tail on the Ravens, even though they’re a solid team on both sides of the ball,” Sobleski said. “Offensively, Joe Flacco and Co. may not have found the end zone in Week 5, but Baltimore is still 11th in total offense and has multitude of weapons at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Defensively, the Ravens are third overall with multiple pass-rushers and an extremely talented secondary. One misstep doesn’t mean they’re on par, or even close, with the Titans.”
Sobleski is in the minority, but it’s worth noting that lone wolves picking against the grain are 23-15 this season, which explains why all of our experts have better records than the consensus.
Davenport: Tennessee (+3)
Gagnon: Tennessee (+3)
Sobleski: Baltimore (-3)
Consensus: Tennessee (+3)
Score Prediction: Baltimore 20, Tennessee 17
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Roger Steinman/Associated Press
Wwe’re getting deja vu from Sunday’s matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys in Texas. Another game with a three-point spread in favor of the road team, and another game in which Davenport and Gagnon aren’t biting and Sobleski is sticking with the favorite.
But it’s worth noting that neither of those going with the home squad are overly confident.
“I was back and forth and back again on this game,” Davenport said. “On one hand, I don’t know how the Cowboys are going to move the ball consistently against the Jaguars’ stout defense. On the other, they may not have to if Bad Blake Bortles shows up and starts handing out turnovers like he did in Kansas City. The Dallas defense is pretty good in its own right, so the expectation of a close, low-scoring affair was enough to convince me to roll with the home underdog and take the field goal.”
Gagnon expressed similar sentiments while pointing out that this might not be a bad matchup for the Cowboys.
“I’m not under the impression Dallas will run away with this game, but the Jags are slightly more beatable on the ground than through the air,” he said. “If Ezekiel Elliott can get rolling the way Saquon Barkley did against Jacksonville in Week 1, the Cowboys could shorten this game and take pressure off of Dak Prescott and the passing game. I’m expecting a late field goal to win it one way or the other.”
That said, this might not be a game on which to wager big bucks.
Davenport: Dallas (+3)
Gagnon: Dallas (+3)
Sobleski: Jacksonville (-3)
Consensus: Dallas (+3)
Score Prediction: Jacksonville 23, Dallas 20
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The New England Patriots have lost their last two regular-season meetings with the Kansas City Chiefs by a combined margin of 42 points, and yet 3-2 New England is favored to beat 5-0 Kansas City by more than a field goal Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
The key there is the venue. Yes, one of those blowout losses came in Foxborough, but oddsmakers are betting that was an anomaly for a Pats team that had won each of its previous six home matchups with the Chiefs. During Tom Brady’s 19-year career, the Patriots have lost only 17 home games with Brady serving as their primary quarterback.
Still, that 3.5-point spread is too high for the majority of our experts.
“This should be one heck of game—and one that’s going to feature a ton of scoring,” Davenport said. “Kansas City’s offense is as good as any east of Los Angeles, the Pats aren’t exactly sluggish on that side of the ball and neither team’s defense will be confused with the ’85 Bears anytime soon. This game feels like a back-and-forth high-scoring affair won with a field goal late. And in that case, taking the points is the way to go.”
Sobleski is on the same page, but Gagnon is wondering if the Chiefs are due for a dud against a slow-starting New England team that appears to be gaining momentum.
Davenport: Kansas City (+3.5)
Gagnon: New England (-3.5)
Sobleski: Kansas City (+3.5)
Consensus: Kansas City (+3.5)
Score Prediction: New England 30, Kansas City 27
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Mike Roemer/Associated Press
The week concludes with a matchup that looked enticing a month ago but has lost its luster as a result of the season-ending knee injury that felled San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3. The blowout potential is high with a Garoppolo-less 49ers team headed to Green Bay in prime time, and our analysts agree San Francisco will fail to keep up.
“I’d be more concerned about a backdoor cover if the Packers were laying double digits,” Gagnon said, “but I’m not worried about 9.5 points. San Francisco just lost by double digits to the previously winless Arizona Cardinals at home, for heaven’s sake. The Green Bay offense hasn’t been right, but with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback you’re bound to explode eventually. This feels like the week.”
The Packers have yet to lose at Lambeau Field this year and are two weeks removed from a 22-0 victory over the Bills there. This San Francisco team isn’t as strong as Buffalo and is likely to be overwhelmed by the bright lights in prime time.
Nothing’s guaranteed in this wild league, but we have unanimity to wrap up Week 6.
Davenport: Green Bay (-9.5)
Gagnon: Green Bay (-9.5)
Sobleski: Green Bay (-9.5)
Consensus: Green Bay (-9.5)
Score Prediction: Green Bay 30, San Francisco 17