NFL games with close point spreads should be desirable. When the home team is favored by a field goal, it means it’s a nearly dead-even matchup on paper, and when a week’s slate is loaded with spreads in that vicinity — a 1.5 here, a 3.5 there — it translates to a high likelihood of “witching hour” madness on Red Zone.
What football fans don’t want is a menu stocked with two-touchdown spreads that look like total mismatches and are likely to be out of reach by midway through the third quarter.
But if you’re into betting teasers, the exact opposite rules apply.
Quick teaser definition, for the uninitiated: A teaser is a parlay bet combining multiple games for which the bettor can move all of the lines the same number of points.
The most common iteration is the three-team, 6-point teaser. And the most basic strategic points to remember are that (a) it’s advantageous to cross a “key number” (3, 6, and 7 being the key-est of the key) and (b) a bit of value is lost when you cross 0.
So the most popular three-team, 6-point teasers involve favorites of 6 or more. If you take three teams that are each -8 and make them -2, you’ve just crossed every key number and should have a good chance of winning your bet if indeed the favorites all deserved to be giving more than a touchdown. The payout is nowhere near as big as a three-team parlay with all three teams at -8, of course, but it’s still a plus-money situation. For example, three-team, 6-point teasers at FanDuel Sportsbook pay +140, and at Caesars and DraftKings, they pay +160.
Here’s the thing: The last couple of weeks, the teaser opportunities have been almost nonexistent. In Week 4, there were only four teams favored by 6 or more when the opening lines came out, and no combination of three of them would have won. In Week 3, teaser enthusiasts had only three games to choose from, and if you tried teasing those favorites, you made some bookmaker somewhere very happy.
But that changes in Week 5. This slate is loaded with mismatches (on paper), every teaser aficionado’s dream.
As of Monday morning, we have seven spreads at 6 points or greater, plus an eighth at any sportsbooks that have the Eagles -6 in Arizona instead of the slightly more popular -5.5. It’s a teaser bonanza.
All but one of these games are between 6 and 8.5 points, that sweetest of teaser zones. The lone exception is the biggest spread we’ve seen so far this season, with the still-Super-Bowl-favorite Bills giving 14 at home against the Steelers. Maybe you’re comfortable teasing that down to 8, maybe you’re not. Maybe you’d rather decrease your payout by doing a 7-point tease to get that spread down to 7. Maybe you wouldn’t. You certainly don’t need to include Buffalo. You have lots of other options.
Assuming a 6-point tease, you can get the Packers -1.5 against the Giants in London. You can back the Vikings -1 at home against one of the worst 2-2 teams in modern NFL history, the Bears. You can have the Jaguars -1 at home against the NFL’s only remaining winless team, the Texans. You can tease the Bucs under a field goal to -2.5 at home against the Falcons. You can turn the Rams side into a pick ’em at home against the Cowboys in the marquee game of the week. Or you can bring the Chiefs down to -1.5 at home against the Raiders, a division rival they’ve beaten in eight of their last nine meetings.
Non-gambling football fans see this as probably the weakest slate so far this season. But teaser fans have to be licking their lips. (That doesn’t mean teaser bets are bound to work this week, mind you. The word “tease” is in there for a reason.)
Let’s dig in deeper with a look at the opening lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 5.
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 16 games in Week 5:
Colts at Broncos (-3)
Giants at Packers (-7.5) (in London)
Seahawks at Saints (-4.5)
Steelers at Bills (-14)
Bears at Vikings (-7)
Texans at Jaguars (-7)
Dolphins (-3) at Jets
Falcons at Buccaneers (-8.5)
Lions at Patriots (-2.5)
Titans (-2.5) at Commanders
Chargers (-3) at Browns
49ers (-4.5) at Panthers
Eagles (-5.5) at Cardinals
Cowboys at Rams (-6)
Bengals at Ravens (-3.5)
Raiders at Chiefs (-7.5)
Line move to watch
If the Rams look good against the 49ers on Monday night and improve to 3-1, then maybe that 6-point spread against the Cowboys will hold steady. But the Rams have looked shaky — or in the case of their season-opening loss to the Bills, sub-shaky — in every outing so far this season. If that trend continues in San Francisco, combined with the football world starting to believe in Cooper Rush, Dallas could be down to a 4-point, or maybe even 3.5-point, underdog by mid-week.
Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider
Bronze medal: Steelers +700 (PointsBet) at Bills. For the most part, the ‘dogs that have our attention this week aren’t among those vying to break up the teasers discussed in the opening segment of this column. The Browns (+135) hosting the Chargers, the Seahawks (+180) at New Orleans, the Lions (+124) in New England, the Jets (+140) at home against the Dolphins — those are small underdogs with a realistic chance of winning. Pittsburgh? Not so much. But at PointsBet, the price is arguably too big to resist. The Bills have looked mortal two weeks in a row, and the Steelers, for all of their shortcomings, are going to have some pep in their collective step when rookie Kenny Pickett makes his first NFL start. And let us not forget that just last season, these Bills lost as 14.5-point favorites against Jacksonville. So I’m telling you there’s a chance.
Silver medal: Cowboys +220 (FanDuel) at Rams. See “line move to watch” above. Dallas is quite correctly tabbed as the underdog, but a payout this favorable may not last long.
Gold medal: Bengals +158 (Caesars) at Ravens. With the Titans topping the Colts on Sunday, the gold-medal picks in this column are now three-for-three this season (we won’t discuss the records of the silver and bronze picks), and we’ll try to keep it going with a similarly undervalued road team in a divisional rivalry game. After an 0-2 start, the defending AFC champs from Cincinnati are starting to round into shape, they’ll be coming off three extra days of rest, and, mock the small sample size if you want, but Baltimore is 2-0 on the road and 0-2 at home. Joe Burrow and his assorted weapons will be able to put up points. This is a coin-flip game, and +158 is a heck of a price on either heads or tails.
Chalky Survivor pool candidate of the week
Surviving entries are dwindling in pools across the country. For example, in the Circa pool, more than 75% of the field was gone after Week 3, and more than 21% of those remaining went down in Week 4.
Among those who have made it this far, it’s getting hard to guess which teams are still available. Certainly, the two-TD-favorite Bills will be popular this week. But we have a hunch the Jags will be the chalk. Few remaining participants have used them yet since they were underdogs in their two victories, and there will never be a better spot to back them than at home against the Texans.
Most valuable MVP bet
We’re not even a quarter of the way into the season, and already I’m declaring that only three players have a shot at winning MVP. OK, maybe that’s extreme — but I’d say I’m 95% certain the MVP will be one of these three: Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or Jalen Hurts.
Lamar Jackson fell to longshot status (not according to the odds, but according to my perception of reality) when his Ravens lost to Allen’s Bills on Sunday. They’re 2-2 and play in a tough division where they figure to finish around 11-6, and that’s not going to be good enough with the other candidates helming 13- or 14- or 15-win teams. Throw a 1% or so chance Justin Herbert’s way, and same for Aaron Rodgers, if you want. But realistically, this is a three-man race.
It will partially come down to whether the Bills, Chiefs, or Eagles finishes with the best record. If one of them does so by a margin of two games or more, that QB almost certainly wins MVP. For now, Allen has the best stats of the three, and if it’s a close call, he has the most “voters want to give it to this guy” appeal. Mahomes won MVP once before, and this is Hurts’ first season in the conversation. Allen has been a bridesmaid and feels due for a ring on his finger. At +300 at numerous sportsbooks, the shortest-money choice, he is also the best value play heading into Week 5.
The AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year award is utterly confounding. Good luck getting anyone to explain how the criteria differ from MVP (other than the fact that defensive players are eligible for the latter), but the latest odds at FanDuel have Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, and Jackson tied at +700, followed by Hurts at +800, while the two QBs with shorter MVP odds than Hurts or Jackson at some books have longer OPOY odds (Allen +1600, Mahomes +2300). So, basically, OPOY recognizes receivers, running backs, and running quarterbacks — but not all running quarterbacks. Got it?
Washington Commanders rookie running back Brian Robinson is expected to be activated heading into Week 5, barely a month after two gunshot wounds sidelined him. All that “activated” means is that he’ll be practicing with the team again — Robinson isn’t taking the field just yet. But remember two years ago when Alex Smith all but clinched Comeback Player of the Year honors just by taking a snap? As of Monday morning, Robinson was +600 at BetMGM, +650 at DraftKings, and +700 at FanDuel for that same award.
I’ve been writing about those Detroit Lions overs the last couple of weeks, and they got there again — and then some — in a 48-45 defeat to the Seahawks. Even with their best skill players injured, the Lions are still scoring at will. Now Detroit just needs to figure out how to, y’know, win football games.
Photo: Mark Konezny/USA TODAY