This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for PennBets.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 8 games, including the Steelers visiting the Ravens in an AFC North showdown and a similar battle between the Niners and Seahawks in the NFC West.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-0) (+4, +170, O/U 46.5) at Baltimore Ravens (5-1)
A compelling matchup because … these two longtime rivals meet for the first time this season with first place in the balance. If Baltimore wins, not only will they move into a tie with the Steelers atop the AFC North, they’ll also have the head-to-head tiebreaker — at least until the teams meet again.
Altruda’s Angle: After holding off the Titans and watching the Seahawks lose Sunday night, the Steelers stand alone as the last of the unbeaten. Pittsburgh played near-flawless football for two-plus quarters and then hung on for dear life as Tennessee rallied last week. The key to the Steelers’ success has been converting on third down. They have a conversion rate of 51.1 percent overall, good for third in the NFL, but succeed at a 67.4 percent clip on third-and-5 or fewer yards. That has contributed to Pittsburgh leading the NFL in time of possession per game (33:25). The Ravens are sixth defensively in third-down conversions (34.7) coming off their bye week, and eager to prove themselves an elite team. Their only loss came at home to Super Bowl champion Kansas City in Week 3, though two of their five wins have been versus NFC East teams. Lamar Jackson did not have a great game in his only start versus the Steelers last year, throwing three interceptions, but Baltimore did get the win in overtime. This has the feel of a bruising divisional game, which means likely little spread beyond a one-possession margin. Look for the Steelers to hang around enough in either direction to cover. Take the Steelers +4.
Gable’s Guess: We actually opened this with Baltimore laying 5.5. A lot of early money coming in on the Steelers drove that down. The total has also dropped in this one. Last week in the first half against the Titans, I think the Steelers showed what they’re capable of when everything clicks. They’re coming off a physical game, while Baltimore’s coming off their bye week. That should not be underestimated when looking at this game. Pittsburgh has one of the league’s best defense. They are first in total yards allowed and second in rushing yards allowed. if there’s a team that can force Lamar Jackson to throw the ball, it’s the Steelers because they’re so good against the run. I would take Pittsburgh with the points.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This will be one of the most anticipated and heavily bet games on Sunday. The Steelers (5-1 against the spread) just beat the Titans 27-24, winning outright as 1-point road dogs. Meanwhile, the Ravens (3-2-1 ATS) are riding a three-game winning streak, having just beaten the Eagles 30-28 their last time out, although Baltimore failed to cover as a 10-point road favorite. The Ravens will enjoy a big rest advantage here as they are coming off a bye week. This line opened with Baltimore listed as a 5.5-point home favorite. Pros and Joes are both rushing to the window to grab the points with the streaking Steelers. This lopsided action has forced oddsmakers to adjust the line down from Ravens -5.5 to -3.5 or 4. Pittsburgh has value as a road divisional dog, a road team with a line move in their favor and a short road dog +6 or less. I’ll take the points and hope for a 3-point game.
Our Pick: Consensus is rare. We’ll follow and take Pittsburgh and points.
Indianapolis Colts (4-2) (-2.5, -150, O/U 50) at Detroit Lions (3-3)
A compelling matchup because … it looked like Detroit coach Matt Patricia was going to be fired after the team started off 1-3, but two straight wins may have saved his job (for now). If the Lions win here against a decent Indy team that is still in contention to win the AFC South, it could go a long way to giving Patricia a little more job security for the rest of the season.
Altruda’s Angle: The Colts are comfortably lurking behind the Titans in the AFC South, which has quickly devolved into a two-team race, as both Houston and Jacksonville are 1-6. Though Indianapolis is coming off its bye week, it has momentum on its side since Philip Rivers recorded his first multi-touchdown game since joining the Colts and did not make a game-altering mistake. Indianapolis is scoring points despite piecing itself together offensively and not being a finished product, crucial for a team that hopes to have linebacker Darius Leonard back after a two-game absence due to a groin injury. The Lions have won back-to-back games, but that has to be taken with a grain of salt considering the wins came over Jacksonville and Atlanta, the latter coming after the Falcons out-Lioned the Lions for figuring out a way to lose. Detroit started fast in its home games before losing to Chicago and New Orleans and there is some concern another quick start may result in Rivers having to win the game, as opposed to not lose it. But the Colts are also 2-0 versus the NFC Central and covered impressively as road favorites at Chicago. The hedge is they do it again in Motown. The pick is the Colts -2.5.
Gable’s Guess: Going into this one, Detroit has lost six straight home games and the Colts have lost seven of the last eight road games. Something obviously has to give here. The Colts should be well-rested defensively and they’ve been very good this year. They’re only allowing 19.2 points per game and 288 yards per game, but they’re actually playing a lot to the over. The Colts are 6-2 to the over in their last eight games as a road favorite and the Lions are 8-1 to the over in their last nine home games. So, a nice trend there for anyone who follows that. This will probably be the last time Philip Rivers and Matt Stafford will ever play each other. I think there’s probably some value here on Detroit +3 as the home dog. But, I would lay the points with the Colts here.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This non-conference showdown features two teams coming off wins looking to make a playoff push. The Colts (3-3 ATS) are rested, most recently having beaten the Bengals 31-27 but failing to cover as 7.5-point home favorites. The Lions (3-3 ATS) are riding a two-game winning streak and just beat the Falcons 23-22 as 1-point road dogs. This line opened with Indianapolis listed as a 3-point road favorite. The public is leaning on the Colts laying a short number, yet we’ve seen this line either stay at 3 or drop to 2.5 depending on the shop. Essentially all liability and juice movement has been toward the Lions. I’ll follow the sharp action and grab Detroit at home at the key number of +3.
Our Pick: It’s a square play, but go with the Colts and lay the points.
New Orleans Saints (4-2) (-4, -216, 43.5 O/U) at Chicago Bears (5-2)
A compelling matchup because … both teams are trying to hang tough in their respective divisions, the Saints with the Bucs and the Bears with the Packers. Whichever team fails to win will lose crucial ground both in the division and the NFC wild-card race. The Saints are probably a little better than their record reflects, while the Bears are probably a little bit worse.
Altruda’s Angle: As a Chicago resident, I can say the angst expressed by Bears fans is palpable. They are stuck in the competency level of purgatory — good enough to be a playoff team but not good enough to be an elite team and do any damage. In other words, welcome to 2018 redux, only with Nick Foles under center … for now. There are only so many times Chicago’s defense can bail out its offense, and that doesn’t include providing the only touchdown like it did Monday night versus the Rams. The Saints have not only won three straight games, but they have also averaged 30.7 points while doing so without stud receiver Michael Thomas, whose status for this game is uncertain. Alvin Kamara has gobbled up some of the targets that would go Thomas’s way, totaling 16 receptions for 139 yards in the last two games, and rookie Marquez Callaway has stepped up as No. 2 wide receiver option as Emmanuel Sanders remains on the COVID-19 list. This game comes down to offensive confidence, and the Saints have it while the Bears do not. While the under is tempting given Chicago’s offensive struggles with New Orleans expected to lack its top receiving options, the better play may be to wait to see if there’s buy-in to drive it up after falling from an open of 47. The pick is the Saints -4.
Gable’s Guess: An interesting thing about the Saints: they only have a +6 point-differential on the season despite their 4-2 record. That’s not that great. They have had to overcome a key injury to Thomas, who has been out since Week 1, and Drew Brees is not really throwing the ball downfield too much, instead using a lot of short drop-offs to Kamara. As for the Bears. I think it says a lot when your defense outscores your offense, which is what happened to the Bears on Monday. You aren’t going to win too many games that way. Nick Foles has had five interceptions in his last four games and as many INTs as TDs this year. He really needs to step it up. I’d be looking to lay the points here with the Saints.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: This NFC showdown is shaping up to be a classic buy-low, sell-high situation for value-minded bettors. The Saints (2-4 ATS) are starting to gain some momentum after a slow start. New Orleans has won three straight and just took down Carolina 27-24 last week, although they failed to cover as 7-point home favorites. On the flip side, Chicago saw their two-game win streak snapped on Monday night, losing to the Rams 24-10 and failing to cover as 6.5-point road dogs. This line opened with New Orleans listed as a 2.5-point or 3-point road favorite, depending on the shop. Heavy chalk betting has pushed this line up to Saints -4.5 at some shops. The Bears have value as a buy-low home dog with an inflated line off a primetime loss. I’m going to buy low on Chicago at +4.5.
Our Pick: The Bears were not impressive on Monday. Take the Saints.
Los Angeles Rams (5-2) (-3.5, -191/, O/U 46) at Miami Dolphins (3-3)
A compelling matchup because … This will be the first start for Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a player who was going to be the No. 1 overall pick before injuries cut his last season at Alabama short. It won’t be easy for Tagovailoa right off the bat, as he’ll be going up a defense featuring debatably the best player in the NFL, defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Altruda’s Angle: Despite being winners of three straight, there’s some pause before simply jumping on the Rams. They’re coming off a short week after a Monday night victory, traveling cross-country and dealing with an early East Coast kickoff even with the extra hour of sleep (turn your clocks back). Additionally, their last trip east was a horror show, as Buffalo ran them off the field in the first half before they nearly escaped with a win after a huge rally. The move by Dolphins coach Brian Flores to start Tagovailoa is curious at best given his team is in the thick of the playoff race, coupled with the fact Ryan Fitzpatrick did nothing to warrant being benched. Even with an extra week of first-team reps during the bye for Tagovailoa, that’s still not enough time to simulate Donald bearing down on you. The Rams showed they were ready for primetime by stifling the Bears, and they should extend that momentum in South Beach. I would take a same-game teaser of the Rams +2 and UNDER 52 points.
Gable’s Guess: The Rams defense looked very good on Monday, very solid. The Rams are only allowing 19 points per game the season, which is fifth in the NFL. Offensively for the Rams, QB Jared Goff continues to be decent. They also have their three-headed rushing attack, and it looked very good against a notoriously tough Bears defense. Surprisingly, Miami is only allowing 18.8 points per game. A concern here, though, is injury problems for Miami’s defense. With this being Tua’s first NFL start, anything can happen here with him. Even though it’s a short week for the Rams and they’re traveling across the country, I’d be looking to lay the points with the Rams in this one.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Rams (5-2 SU, 4-3 ATS) are tied for second in the stacked NFC West and are coming off an impressive 24-10 win over the Bears on Monday Night Football, easily covering as 6.5-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the red-hot Dolphins (3-3 SU, 4-2 ATS) have won two straight and three of their last four, most recently crushing the Jets 24-0 and easily covering as 8.5-point favorites. This line opened with Los Angeles listed as a 3.5-point road favorite. The public is hammering the Rams, which pushed the line up to -4.5. That’s when we saw big sharp action hit Miami at an inflated +4.5 and +4, dropping the line down to 3.5. Essentially, we are looking at a sharp line freeze on Miami. This is a really tough matchup for the Rams, who must travel across the country for an early game against a team coming off a bye. I’ll take the +3.5 and back Tua to keep it close.
Our Pick: Tua is too much of a wildcard. Lay the points with L.A.
San Francisco 49ers (4-3) (+2.5, +130, O/U 54) at Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
A compelling matchup because … the last time these teams met was in the final week of last season in a game that came down to the last play. San Francisco won it, took the division and made the Super Bowl, while Seattle was relegated to a wild-card playoff spot and lost in the second round of the postseason after being forced to go on the road to Green Bay. The Seahawks would love to drop the Niners back to .500 here.
Altruda’s Angle: The Seahawks’ defensive shortcomings finally caught up to them last Sunday night in the desert as Kyler Murray rallied the Cardinals past Seattle. Safety Jamal Adams’s potential absence for a fourth straight game could loom large, and the secondary faces another possible loss with cornerback Shaquill Griffin in concussion protocol. At this point, DK Metcalf could play safety or cornerback after his jaw-dropping chase of Budda Baker to prevent a pick-6 against Arizona. The good news for Seattle is the offense rolls on. Yes, Russell Wilson made mistakes, but 34 points and 572 yards of offense should win most games. San Francisco is the best last-place team in the NFL and in the thick of the NFC West race. The 49ers are also short-handed, down running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., but they get back Tevin Coleman. Receiver Deebo Samuel is also out, which puts a bigger burden on George Kittle in the passing game. All personnel issues aside, there is little trust in asking Jimmy Garoppolo to win this game over Wilson. And with the spread less than a field goal, that is more than enough daylight for Wilson and the Seahawks to regroup and cover. I’ll take Seattle -2.5.
Gable’s Guess: The 49ers seem to be kind of finding themselves a little bit after that very bad loss to Miami a few weeks ago. They’ve averaged 11 points allowed per game defensively over the last two weeks. They’ll certainly need that same type of effort here to slow down the Seahawks, who have been very good offensively. Luckily for the Niners, they’re facing a very poor Seattle defense. Seattle is typically a tough place to play in normal circumstances, but I think the 49ers should be able to head north here and pick up a win to keep the momentum going. They seem to have really found something in the last two weeks. So, especially getting the points, I’d be looking to take the Niners.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Seahawks (4-2 ATS) are coming off their first loss of the season, falling to the Cardinals on Sunday night 37-34 and losing straight up as 3.5-point road favorites. Meanwhile, the 49ers (4-3 ATS) are riding a two-game win streak and just demolished the Patriots 33-6, winning straight up as 3-point road dogs. This line opened with Seattle listed as a 4-point home favorite. The public sees Wilson at home off a loss and has no problem laying the short number. However, we’ve seen a notable adjustment toward San Francisco, with this line falling down to 3. The 49ers have value as a contrarian road divisional dog with a line move in their favor and a short road dog. Jimmy Garoppolo is 2-0 ATS this season as a dog and 11-3 ATS as a dog in his career. The lead official is Craig Wrolstad. He has historically favored road teams (58 percent ATS). Give me San Francisco and the points.
Our Pick: The Seahawks are at home and motivated. Lay the points.
Last Week: 3-2, Season: 19-16
Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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The post Expert NFL Picks for Week 8, Including Steelers-Ravens and 49ers-Seahawks appeared first on InsideHook.