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Top 10 NFL observations and takeaways through Week 6

17 Oct 2016

By Gary Trask
Sportsbook at the Wynn

Sportsbook at the Wynn (photo by Leyla Arsan)

As usual, six weeks into the NFL season, we've seen our share of surprises, disappointments, recurring trends and new developments.

So, as we head toward the halfway mark of the 2016 season, here are 10 takeaways and observations (and one fearless Super Bowl prediction) from spending way too many hours of my Sunday afternoons watching six weeks of the NFL very closely — of course, all from a betting perspective.

10. Dogs have been barking
Entering tonight's Jets-Cardinals game, Week 6 in the NFL saw underdogs have another winning week, with eight teams that were catching points cashing a winning ticket. That continues a tendency we’ve seen all season as underdogs are now a profitable 50-38-2 (57%), according to, with 37 outright winners. In addition, home dogs have been even better, going 17-12 (59%).

Typically, each season the split between underdogs and favorites is much more down the middle, so you can expect the favorites to make at least a slight comeback over the final two-thirds of the season.

9. The point spread hasn't mattered
Ordinarily, around 85% of NFL teams that win a game outright also cover the spread, but for some reason, this season that number has increased. Of the 80 games that have been played this season, the point spread has only come into play just six times. There's a good chance that this trend is also starting to come back to the norm, since two of those six instances came in Week 6.

Either way, the lesson remains: Don't bet an NFL underdog unless you think they have a legitimate chance to win the game outright.

8. Keep an eye on divisional road dogs
As we pointed out earlier this year when we presented our Top 10 mistakes to avoid when betting football, you can go broke very quickly if you follow trends blindly.

But some trends do make sense and, if given a reasonable sample size, they should be at least considered during the handicapping process.

One that has popped up in recent years and continued to be profitable this season is betting on divisional road dogs. According to, those teams have gone 11-5 (66%) against the spread this season and 52-26 (67%) since the start of last season.

7. The bad teams are losing and not covering
It's sounds so simple, but another point we made before the start of the season that has come to fruition again this year is that bad teams don't cover on a regular basis.

Six weeks into this season, the bottom five teams against the spread (San Francisco, Chicago, Carolina, NY Jets and Tampa Bay) have gone a combined 6-23 at the betting window and 7-22 straight up. In fact, there are only two teams with winning ATS records that have losing straight-up records: Jacksonville and New Orleans are both 2-3 straight up and 3-2 ATS.

6. The good teams are winning and covering
The other end of the spectrum has also gone true to form. The top five teams against the spread this season (Minnesota, Atlanta, Dallas, New England and Buffalo) have gone 24-5 ATS and 23-6 straight up.

And, you guessed it, there are only two teams that have winning straight-up records and losing ATS records: Seattle is 4-1 in the "real" standings, but 2-3 against the spread, and Kansas City is 3-2 SU and 2-3 ATS.

5. Inexperience at QB has paid off
If you've heard it once, you've heard it 1,000 times. "The NFL is a quarterback league." And while that still may be the case as far as picking a team to go deep in the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, it hasn’t been the case when betting the regular season thus far.

For proof, we once again turn to our friends at, who point out that the seven signal callers that have started an NFL game for the first time this year — Trevor Siemian (Denver), Dak Prescott (Dallas), Jimmy Garoppolo (New England), Jacoby Brissett (New England), Paxton Lynch (Denver) and Cody Kessler (Cleveland) — have gone a combined 17-7 (71%) ATS.

The sportsbook at MGM Grand

The sportsbook at MGM Grand (photo by fictures)

4. Carolina is league's most disappointing team
We wrote about the "Super Bowl Loser Hangover" theory last year right around this time, and it appears to have struck again this season. The theory is that the team that loses the previous year's Super Bowl struggles the following season, especially early on, and that's precisely what the Carolina Panthers have done in 2016.

Coming into the season, the Panthers, who went 15-1 last year during the regular season before advancing to the Super Bowl and getting upset by Denver, were 12-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, 6-to-1 to defend as NFC champs and a resounding -325 favorite to win the NFC South division.

Following yesterday's wild loss at New Orleans, Carolina fell to 1-5 both straight up and against the spread, and they have failed to cover the spread by an average of 7.8 points per game, the worst in the league.

As a result, they are dead last in the division, forcing their Super Bowl (60-to-1), NFC Championship (30-to-1) and divisional (9-to-1) odds to mushroom. says the Panthers currently have just an 8.3% chance to make the playoffs.

Oh, and if you played the Panthers to go over their projected win total of 10.5 this season, you're going to need them to win out in their final 10 games in order to cash that ticket. Good luck with that.

3. Philadelphia is league's most surprising team
Yes, the bloom has come off the rose in the last two weeks as the Eagles have lost two straight after starting the season 3-0, but from this vantage point they are still the biggest surprise of the 2016 season, with apologies to the Cowboys and Falcons (more on Atlanta later).

The Eagles entered Week 1 with a rookie head coach — Doug Pederson — who as recently as 2008 was coaching high school football. Not only that, he was came to Philadelphia after a disastrous run by former head man Chip Kelly, and was changing systems on both sides of the ball.

Then, when Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater went down with a nasty season-ending injury during the preseason, Philly dealt veteran starting QB Sam Bradford to Minnesota, thrusting rookie Carson Wentz into the starting role. Exacerbating matters, Wentz, a first-round pick out of North Dakota State, which plays in the college football subdivision, suffered a rib injury during the preseason and saw very few snaps before the team's Week 1 game against Cleveland.

The team's season win total at The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino was 6.5, and its Super Bowl odds were 80-to-1.

So, it's safe to say that many observers were caught off guard when the Eagles ripped off three wins in a row to start the season, including a 34-3 trouncing of Pittsburgh as a 3.5 home dog.

The market went overboard the last two weeks in pricing Philly as road favorites at Detroit and Washington. But despite failing to win and cover those games, the Eagles have outperformed the point spread by an average of 10.6 points per game this season, tops in the league.

With sudden juggernaut Dallas in their division, the Eagles could very well fall flat on their face from here on out and not make the playoffs, but at this juncture they have been the league's most unexpected surprise.

And here's a question worth asking: If Bridgewater doesn't get injured, is Wentz still holding a clipboard on the sideline, and are the Eagles 3-2?

2. The Vikings are a covering machine
If you happen to be a Mike Zimmer fan and started backing the Minnesota Vikings with your wallet when he became head coach of the team two-plus years ago, you are a very happy bettor right now.

Since the start of the 2014 regular season, Zimmer and the Vikes are 28-8 against the spread. This season they are the lone team in the league that's undefeated straight up and perfect against the spread in five games.

What's even more impressive about this year is that the team ranks second — behind the aforementioned Eagles — in outperforming the point spread, doing so by 10.3 points per game, and, according to, they lead the NFL in margin of victory, winning their five games by an average of 11.4 points per game.

With this kind of run comes more attention from bettors and oddsmakers, so it will be interesting to see if Minnesota can handle being the "hunted" rather than the "hunter" the rest of the way, as they will likely be favored in nine of their final 11 games.

But one thing is for sure: We will not be betting against the Vikings at home under any circumstances. When we read during the preseason that the new U.S. Bank Stadium was built with an "irregular roof" that is "projected to reflect more sound toward the opponents' sideline than it will toward the Vikings' side," we had an inkling that it might become one of the more valued home-field advantages in the NFL. After watching just three games there, we immediately put it up there as the best in the league, right with Seattle, which has gone 81-34 at the boisterous CenturyLink Field since 2002, and 50-64 on the road.

In those first three games at their new stadium, Minnesota outscored Green Bay, NY Giants and Houston, 72-37, and outperformed the pointspread by 22 points.

Race and Sports Book at The Cosmopolitan

Race and Sports Book at The Cosmopolitan (photo by Erik Kabik)

1. We believe in the Falcons
While I've never been prone to back dome teams in the future markets, I'm going to take a stab here with Atlanta to win the Super Bowl at the current price of 20-to-1.

The tipping point came on Sunday, after watching the Falcons almost win in Seattle in one of the worst spots imaginable for an NFL team. Think about it: Atlanta was playing the third leg of a three-game stretch that included upsetting the defending NFC champs (Carolina) at home, upsetting the defending Super Bowl champs (Denver) on the road in the high altitude before traveling to face Seattle, a recent NFC champ (2014) and Super Bowl champ (2013) that has the best home field advantage in football. Making matters seemingly worse for Atlanta was the fact that Seattle was fresh off a bye.

Despite all those things going against them, as well as some rainy and windy conditions, the Falcons (+7) nearly pulled off the upset in the 26-24 loss and totally outplayed the Seahawks in the second half after falling behind 17-3 in the first half.

With the cover, Atlanta improved to 5-1 against the spread this season and 5-0 ATS as an underdog. And they have done so playing four of their six games on the road and against the fifth most difficult schedule in the league thus far, according to, which also tells us the Falcons have a 73.6% chance to make the playoffs and a 70.5% chance to win the NFC South. When you consider their turnover margin is just +1, you realize there has been nothing fluky or lucky about their impressive start.

The problem with backing the Falcons to make a run to the Super Bowl is that it appears the NFC Championship may have to go through Minnesota, as says there's a 42.5% chance the Vikings earn the No. 1 seed. And as we wrote about in item No. 2, it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to win a playoff game in that stadium. That's why the odds on the Vikings to win the NFC have nosedived from 10-to-1 at the start of the season to a minuscule 3-to-1.

So, at 20-to-1, we'll put a Falcons Super Bowl ticket in our back pocket, knowing full well that at that price we should be able to do some serious hedging and maneuvering come playoff time in order to lock in a profit.
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