Week 5 in the NFL kicks off with a game of the week candidate in the NFC West Thursday Night showdown between the Rams and Seahawks, but the weekend action features several interesting matchups, headlined by a repeat of last year’s AFC Championship game between Buffalo and Kansas City on Sunday Night Football. The NFL weekend also features a second NFC West showdown between the 49ers and Cardinals, an AFC heavyweight matchup between the Browns and Chargers, and a Packers-Bengals matchup that features an established star at quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and a rising talent at the position in Joe Burrow.
This NFL Games of the Week column may not always point to a spread or total, but it will look for an angle for you to bet so you can make the biggest games even more enjoyable. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Buffalo at Kansas City (BUF +2.5, Total 56.5)
Model Projection:(Buffalo 28.71 – Kansas City 25.86, BUF -2.85, Total 54.57)
BET: BUF +2.5 or BUF ML
Kansas City was a 3.5 point favorite ahead of their offensive showcase against the Philadelphia Eagles, an indication that the oddsmakers may not have realized how the perception of these teams has shifted since the NFL’s AFC Championship game last season. The Chiefs had consistently found ways to beat Baltimore over the past few seasons, but that ended in Week 2 of this NFL season, and Kansas City may have similar struggles as they attempt to replicate last year’s playoff victory against a Buffalo team that has reloaded on defense.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and receiver Tyreek Hill lit up Philadelphia’s defense last week, and with running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire running well behind some big bodies on the offensive line, Kansas City’s offense is the toughest test Buffalo’s defense has faced as they attempt to show they have returned to the ranks of the NFL’s best units. Buffalo’s defensive line is notably better due to the return of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, an improvement from defensive end A.J. Epenesa in his second season, and the addition of defensive end Gregory Rousseau, while cornerback Tre’Davious White, safety Micah Hyde, and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds have continued to play at a high level. There is some concern in the back end of the defense, as linebacker Matt Milano, safety Jordan Poyer, and slot corner Taron Johnson, who are all standout players, may not be available for this NFL showcase game, but the Buffalo defense is deep enough to put up a battle without them.
Mahomes did torch this defense in the AFC Championship Game and a repeat is possible, but Bills quarterback Josh Allen should be capable of keeping up in a shootout if it comes to that. There is a chance the Chiefs will get cornerback Charvarius Ward back, but his absence is far from the only problem with Kansas City’s defense. The lack of talent outside of defensive lineman Chris Jones, safety Tyrann Mathieu, and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is concerning, and the decision to play Jones, one of the best defensive tackles in the game, at the defensive end so often doesn’t seem to put their best pass rusher in the most advantageous positions. Defensive end Frank Clark’s injury status may draw attention ahead of this game, but Clark’s play in non-playoff games since arriving in Kansas City has been less than impressive, and he’s unlikely to turn this unit around. Buffalo’s passing game is headlined by star receiver Stefon Diggs, but Allen has a deep cast of weapons at his disposal, including veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has fit into this offense seamlessly, and tight end Dawson Knox, who has taken on an expanded role in the passing game, which gives Allen plenty of ways to beat this defense.
At this point, Buffalo looks loaded. Josh Allen threw the ball at a high level once the rain let up against Houston last week, which is the second straight game the quarterback has looked sharp. The Bills are on the road, but this matchup features two great offenses and one good defense, and Buffalo is the team with two solid units. The model projects that the Bills will win this game.
I’ll take Buffalo with the points or on the money line.
San Francisco at Arizona (ARI -5.5, Total 49.5)
Model Projection: (Arizona 29.67 – San Francisco 21.74, ARI -7.93, Total 51.41 with Trey Lance)
BET: ARI -5.5
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has tapped into the best version of what he can be as an NFL quarterback, while presumptive 49ers starter Trey Lance showed he has a long way to go in last week’s relief appearance against Seattle.
Murray took over as the NFL’s odds-on MVP after his outstanding Week Four performance at the Los Angeles Rams and will now face a 49ers defense that is depleted at cornerback. A limiting factor in the Arizona offense since Kliff Kingsbury took over as head coach was that they lacked the receiving depth to run Kingsbury’s preferred version of the Air Raid, but that’s no longer the case, as A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore have done an excellent job complementing DeAndre Hopkins in the receiving room while running back Chase Edmonds has emerged as an elusive, explosive threat who can contribute as a rusher or receiver. There are few NFL defenses with the depth to match up to this group and San Francisco’s injury-depleted cornerback room is one of the least-equipped groups in the NFL for the challenge.
San Francisco has some hope that starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will be available for this game and it’s understandable they would hold on to that, as Trey Lance’s performance last week showed why the 49ers would prefer to bring him along slowly. On the positive side, Lance’s imposing physical traits were on display as he led an impressive quarterback-centric run game that freed up lanes for running back Trey Sermon. On the negative side, Lance struggled to process downfield passing concepts, relying on a dropped coverage on a long Deebo Samuel touchdown and screen passes to prop up his statistics. He also showed a lack of touch throwing the ball underneath. Lance’s fellow rookie Justin Fields, another physically gifted rookie, has had some processing issues, which are to be expected from athletic rookie quarterbacks, but Fields has shown a better feel as an underneath passer. Lance needs more clubs in his bag; his film so far has shown he’s only got a driver, and while that’s a Bryson DeChambeau-level driver, he needs to smooth out his short game.
The 49ers would be in a tough spot with a healthy Garoppolo this week. If Garoppolo does play, he will be compromised to some degree, which makes it critical that defensive end Nick Bosa and the 49ers’ defensive front has a huge game. Center Rodney Hudson has emerged as the foundation of Arizona’s offensive line, but second-year right tackle Josh Jones was slow off the snap in multiple pass-rush situations last week and could be targeted as the 49ers look to contain Kyler Murray.
The model has Arizona as nearly an eight-point favorite; I’ll take the Cardinals to cover the spread of -5.5.
Cleveland at Los Angeles Chargers (LAC -2, Total 46.5)
Model Projection: Los Angeles Chargers 26.76 – Cleveland 21.95, LAC -4.81, Total 48.71)
BET: LAC -2
The matchup between Cleveland and Los Angeles has shifted from a pick ’em or one point spread to the Chargers favored by 2. Given the respective performances of Justin Herbert and Baker Mayfield, both in Week Four and the season to date, it wouldn’t surprise The Professor if it closes with the Chargers at -2.5 or -3.
Herbert’s rise to superstardom may be slightly overshadowed by Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray’s breakout start to the season, but Herbert’s play through the first month indicates he will be in the NFL MVP discussion for the next decade. The only quarterback with comparable traits to Herbert is Buffalo’s Josh Allen, but Herbert is arguably a more “natural” talent in terms of throwing ability. Allen took some time to sort out his accuracy, whereas Herbert has been throwing frozen ropes on the money since he was forced into action in Week Two as a rookie. The Los Angeles offense is loaded between receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, running back Austin Ekeler, and tight end Jared Cook; as good as Herbert’s stats were against the Raiders on Monday Night Football, he left a vertical route to Mike Williams on the field after Williams ran by Las Vegas cornerback Damon Arnette, which speaks to the potential of this offense when they’re hitting on all cylinders. This week’s big test will come on the offensive line; rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater has played at a Pro Bowl level as a pass protector and run blocker through four weeks, but he faces Cleveland’s Myles Garrett this week. Slater held up well against Washington’s defensive line, but Garrett has been the best edge rusher in the league so far and will be Slater’s stiffest test to date.
Browns fans have to hope that Garrett and the rest of Cleveland’s talented defense slow down Herbert because quarterback Baker Mayfield is struggling. Cleveland was fortunate to have a running back tandem as capable as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt against Minnesota, as the backs were able to carry this offense as Mayfield played arguably his worst game as an NFL quarterback. Fans could split hairs with some of his performances in the Freddie Kitchens-era, but Mayfield’s ball placement was horrendous in the matchup with Minnesota. Mayfield sailed far too many passes, most notably on a vertical route where Odell Beckham Jr. had cleanly beaten Vikings cornerback Cam Dantzler off the line, and appeared rattled by the end of the game. Minnesota’s defense has playmakers at all three levels, but this Chargers defense, which features standouts in pass rushers Joey Bosa and Jerry Tillery, safety Derwin James, and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., does not lack for talent and should be able to shut down Cleveland’s passing game.
Both defenses are well-schemed and talented, but while the Browns have the superior offensive line, the Chargers have the superior quarterback and skill players. It’s a matchup between a top-ten quarterback and a bottom-ten quarterback; the model has the Chargers favored by 4.81 in this game.
I’ll take Los Angeles to cover the spread at -2.
Green Bay at Cincinnati (GB -3, Total 51)
Model Projection: Green Bay 27.18 – Cincinnati 23.81, GB -3.37, Total 50.99)
BET: Aaron Rodgers Over 1.5 Pass Touchdowns (-190) and Under 0.5 Interceptions (-215), Joe Burrow Over 1.5 Touchdowns (-140) and Under 0.5 Interceptions (-140)
Model Projections: Aaron Rodgers Average Game 2.3 Touchdowns and 0.4 Interceptions, Joe Burrow 1.7 Touchdowns and 0.5 Interceptions
Green Bay’s record is 3-1 after last week’s win over Pittsburgh, but it was a costly victory as cornerback Jaire Alexander, one of the NFL’s elite defensive players, went down with a shoulder injury.
It’s a tough week to lose Alexander, as quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati passing game have been productive in the early part of the season. The Bengals are dealing with a key injury themselves, as running back Joe Mixon is week-to-week with an ankle injury, but they could get Tee Higgins back, who gives them one of the league’s top receiving trios with Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd also in place.
With Alexander, left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Elgton Jenkins, and defensive end Za’Darius Smith out, Green Bay is missing four blue-chip players. Fans can quibble about Smith’s exact ranking in the NFL’s deep cast of elite pass rushers, but Bakhtiari, Jenkins, and Alexander are clear-cut top five players at their respective positions. Their absence puts pressure on their remaining elite players on offense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams, to take advantage of a Cincinnati defense that boasts a strong defensive line and safety tandem, but that has questions at the outside cornerback positions. Chidobe Awuzie is back at practice for the Bengals and it would be a boost to get him back a week after fellow cornerback Trae Waynes got on the field, but neither is talented enough to hang with Adams one-on-one. The Steelers had safety Minkah Fitzpatrick double Adams on several routes last week, which allowed Green Bay receivers such as Randall Cobb open space to operate; it will be interesting to see if Cincinnati employs similar tactics to limit Green Bay’s top receiver.
Cincinnati’s defense is notably improved from last year, but Rodgers and the Packers are likely to have their share of success, which makes this a critical measuring-stick game for Joe Burrow. Burrow has impressed in his return from last year’s ACL injury, showing off his trademark high-level processing along with improved arm strength and accuracy on his deep balls. He plays with an uncanny amount of pocket awareness for such a young quarterback and while his offensive line is far from elite, they have been adequate since rookie Jackson Carman replaced overmatched journeyman Xavier Sua’Fila at right guard. With Mixon absent this week, it’s on Burrow to carry Cincinnati’s offense against the NFL’s reigning MVP.
The model has similar spread and total projections to the numbers available at DraftKings, so I’ll point to four prop bets that count on a bounce-back from Aaron Rodgers, who did not throw the ball particularly well against the Steelers, and another strong performance from Burrow. Rodgers had several good moments against Pittsburgh but left several throws on the field that he is capable of making, most notably on a late-game opportunity where tight end Robert Tonyan was behind cornerback Joe Haden, who had no help because Fitzpatrick was doubling Adams. With the injury to Alexander, I expect Rodgers to sharpen up his game this week and for Burrow to match him as the former number one pick looks to join draft classmate Justin Herbert in posting wins in matchups against the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
The price on Aaron Rodgers to go over 1.5 touchdowns is -190 at DraftKings and the price on under 0.5 interceptions is -215. The break-evens on these bets are 65.52% and 68.25%, respectively, but the model has a mean projection of 2.3 touchdowns and 0.4 interceptions, so I’ll take these bets on the reigning NFL MVP even at relatively short odds. I’ll also place similar bets on Joe Burrow, who is priced at -140 for both the over 1.5 touchdowns and the under 0.5 interceptions. Hopefully, this game is high on passing touchdowns and low on interceptions; given that both quarterbacks are known for protecting the ball, it’s a distinct possibility.
This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!