Line It Up: ATL? More Like ATS!

marcus mariota throwing

A lot of folks who cover the NFL are going to be talking this week about Bills vs. Chiefs, the rematch to arguably the greatest playoff game ever and quite possibly an AFC Championship preview. It’s a game worth writing about from a gambling perspective, too, because — I hope you’re sitting down — Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are home ‘dogs.

If by chance that Kansas City-Buffalo game isn’t commanding the bulk of your focus this week, then surely it’s because you’re an NFC East fan and you’re fixated on the Sunday night tilt between the 5-0 Eagles and the 4-1 Cowboys. That could be an NFC title game preview and/or it could end up deciding who gets the NFC’s lone playoff bye.

So, yeah, Chiefs-Bills!!! Eagles-Cowboys!!! Exclamation points abound!!!

But here in “Line It Up,” we’re choosing to focus this week on … the Atlanta Falcons.

Look, this isn’t a football column; it’s a football betting column. And if you’re into football betting, you need to be paying attention to the Falcons.

Atlanta is the only NFL team that is 5-0 against the spread. In Week 1, they lost to the Saints by 1 as 5.5-point underdogs. The following week, they fell 4 points short against the Rams, who were favored by 10.5. They were shorter ‘dogs the next week, in Seattle, just +1, so they went ahead and won outright by 4. Same thing in Week 4: 1-point underdogs, beat the Browns by 3.

Then this past Sunday, the depleted Falcons team was a hefty 10-point underdog in Tampa Bay and lost by 6. (Atlanta might have won on the moneyline, too, if not for the NFL’s “no breathing on Brady” rule.)

The Falcons have covered five games by a total of 24 points. They’re not a lot better than the oddsmakers are giving them credit for being. But week in and week out, they are better.

There are no sure things in sports wagering — heck, even the Detroit Lions landed on an “under” for the first time all season by contributing zero points to the total against the Patriots on Sunday. But so far, if you’ve been betting on ATL ATS, you’re sitting on a pile of money.

Are the 2-3 Falcons Super Bowl-bound? No. Are they even headed to the playoffs? In the NFC South, where they’re just a game out of first place, anything’s possible … but probably not. Most likely, this is a team that will finish somewhere around 7-10 and we’ll all forget they ever existed.

But if you’re a sports gambler, the 2022 Atlanta Falcons are your current world champions. And they’re getting 6 points on Sunday. If past results predict future performance even a little bit, there’s about 99% chance the Falcons lose this one by a field goal.

Let’s take a look at the rest of the opening lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 6.

The consensus lines

Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the 14 games in Week 6 (with the Lions, Raiders, Titans, and Texans all enjoying the first bye week of the season):

Commanders at Bears (-1)
49ers (-6) at Falcons
Patriots at Browns (-3)
Jets at Packers (-7.5)
Jaguars at Colts (-1.5)
Vikings (-3) at Dolphins
Bengals (-1.5) at Saints
Ravens (-5.5) at Giants
Buccaneers (-8) at Steelers
Panthers at Rams (-9.5)
Cardinals (-2.5) at Seahawks
Bills (-2) at Chiefs
Cowboys at Eagles (-5)
Broncos at Chargers (-6)

Line move to watch

This is almost too obvious to bother writing about, but the Dolphins-Vikings line can go in any number of directions depending on who’s named Miami’s starting quarterback. One assumes Tua Tagovailoa won’t be cleared. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater will, maybe not. Maybe we’ll get another week of 25-year-old rookie seventh-rounder Skylar Thompson. Maybe Dan Marino gets a desperate phone call.

The possibilities are endless, but this could move to pick’em if Teddy Covers is given a clean bill of health or Minnesota -6 if Thompson gets locked in as QB1.

Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider

I’m feeling reluctant on the ML ’dogs this week, in part because this column’s perfect record this season in gold-medal picks is gone after the Bengals came up just short against the Ravens on Sunday night (though the silver-medal selection of Cowboys +220 at Rams hit!), and in part because there just aren’t any great numbers this week. It feels like it would be cheating to include the Jags (technically underdogs at +105 at WynnBET) or the Chiefs (+115 at DraftKings). Here’s the best I can do with what’s left:

Bronze medal: Panthers +350 (BetMGM) at Rams. This was a stay-away until Carolina fired Matt Rhule on Monday morning. Now they get the new-coach bounce — which has added value when you combine it with the Rams looking about as (Super Bowl) hungover as Arthur Hobbs after an expensive date.

Silver medal: Cowboys +200 (BetMGM) at Eagles. Philly may be undefeated, but the team’s close shave in Arizona Sunday dispelled any expectation that it’ll stay that way all season. This Dallas squad that has won four straight since Cooper Rush took over — including victories over both of last year’s Super Bowl teams — has to be taken seriously.

Gold medal: Seahawks +130 (WynnBET) vs. Cardinals. No, this isn’t a huge price. But any plus-money on the home team when the road team is coached by Kliff Kingsbury has inherent value.

Textbook teaser candidates

Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:

49ers: Can tease down to pick’em or +1 visiting the 5-0 ATS Falcons.
Packers: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 hosting the upstart Jets at Lambeau.
Buccaneers: Can tease down to -2 or -1 against the rebuilding Steelers.
Rams: Can tease down to -3.5 or -2.5 against interim coach Steve Wilks and the Panthers.
Chargers: Can tease down to pick’em or +1 hosting the division-rival Broncos.

Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. It should go without saying that you’ll need the extra points if you dare pick against the Falcons. For my money, a 6-point tease with the Packers (who are not losing to both New York teams back-to-back) and Bucs (yes, the Steelers appear to be that bad) feels like a safe start, but the third team is something of a dice roll.

Chalky survivor pool candidate of the week

As we predicted last week, the Jags were the most popular pick in Week 5, and that means the herd has been thinned considerably. But for those lucky few who’ve made it to Week 6, the Rams, Bucs, and Packers figure to get a fairly even distribution of love. If forced to choose the chalkiest pick, I’ll say the most folks back the Bucs on account of belief in their opponent, the Steelers, being nonexistent after their shellacking in Buffalo in Week 5.

Most valuable MVP bet

Josh Allen, fresh off a 424-yard, 4-TD passing afternoon, remains the clear favorite to win this thing, but at prices no higher than +200 anywhere, the value has been bet out of the Allen-for-MVP ticket. There is an alternative, though: If you’re convinced the Chiefs are going to beat the Bills in Sunday’s marquee game (on top of being convinced they won’t lose to the Raiders to cap Week 5’s action on Monday night), Mahomes at +500 at FanDuel or such Kambi-affiliated books as BetRivers is going to seem like exceptional value a week from now. That’s a big “if” to get there, though.

Gadget plays

It’s mea culpa time here at US Bets (and at various sportsbooks). Last week in “Line It Up,” I championed Washington’s Brian Robinson Jr. as a sharp Comeback Player of the Year bet, with operators pricing him between +600 and +700 for the award. But, as I learned via email from the sportsbook that took my action, “it has been ruled that he is not eligible for the award. Because of this your bet will be void and funds returned to your account.” Yeah, turns out rookies can’t receive votes for CPOY, no matter what they’re perceived to be coming back from.
The Bills-Chiefs total is set at 53.5 or 54, depending on the book. Just nine months removed from their 42-36 playoff thriller, I have a hunch about 90% of the bets are going to be on the over.
On the opposite side of the public interest spectrum from Buffalo vs. Kansas City, Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime follows up the touchdown-less Colts-Broncos affair with Bears-Commanders this Thursday. The odds are actually quite intriguing, though. FanDuel, DraftKings, FOX Bet, and BetMGM favor the home Bears by 1. PointsBet favors the Commanders by a half-point. Caesars and WynnBET have it a pick’em. Sure, it’s a horrendous game, but at least they’re evenly matched, right?

Photo: Matt Pendleton/USA TODAY

Author: Ryan Gonzales