Opening Lines: Week 7

The Patriots have a bye this week, but Opening Lines won’t take a week off until Brady and Belichick are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. Book it.

The off week for New England offers us an opportunity to take a closer look at how the team has done against the number this year. There is a popular perception in the gambling community that New England is a “public team” that is often given an inflated number due to their popularity. However, the numbers seem to bear that out. Last year, the Pats posted a 10-5-1 record against the spread, and even after a 14-2 season last year and a number of buzz-worthy offseason acquisitions, the Patriots are still 4-2 against the number this year. To put that in perspective, if you blindly bet $50 on the Patriots to cover every Sunday over the past year and a half during the regular season with no regard for the point spread, you’d have an extra $280 in your pocket even after the juice. If New England is a public team, then the public seems to be a lot smarter than the bookmakers lately.

Since Vegas doesn’t take a week off, I’ll also offer a bit more commentary on the other lines I like this week. Several games this week offer tremendous value.

Seahawks (+3) @ Browns

I can honestly say I’ve never been more excited to lay virtual money on the Seahawks. The Browns haven’t come close to beating any of the mediocre teams they’ve played, and both of Cleveland’s wins this year have come against winless, toothless opponents that are among the league’s five worst teams. The Seahawks usually don’t fare well when traveling across the country for a 1 o’clock game, but they should be well-rested off the bye. Cleveland is banged up and lacks playmakers on offense. I think Seattle wins this game outright by at least a score, so I’ll gladly take the points.

Steelers (-4) @ Cardinals

The one constant in Pittsburgh’s season has been the team’s struggles against opponents that can rush the QB. With the Steelers starting the football equivalent of five cardboard cut-outs on the offensive line, Big Ben has spent more time on his back than all the women he’s assaulted combined. However, when the offensive line can keep Roethlisberger upright, the offense has been effective. Arizona has struggled to get pressure on the QB even after facing several weak opponents. I don’t think the Cardinals’ front 7 is good enough to disrupt the Pittsburgh offense, meaning the Steelers likely win this one in a laugher.

Colts (+14) @ Saints

The Colts were victimized by the dreaded backdoor cover last week when Garcon inexplicably attempted to lateral the ball after a short first down reception from their own 35 with more than 2 minutes on the clock while trailing by a field goal. So yeah, that worked out about as well as Rex Ryan’s Super Bowl predictions. But that shouldn’t deter bettors from rolling with them again this week. The Saints are just 3-3 against the spread this year, and their potent offense has shown a tendency to disappear for entire quarters. The New Orleans passing D has underperformed, and the absence of Sean Payton could impact the team’s preparations this week as well. I don’t think the Colts win this game, but I think they’ll keep it close enough to cover.

Cowboys (-10.5) vs. Rams

I hate giving up double digits to any team, but the Rams aren’t doing anything well right now. In fact, they’re not doing anything even half-assed. It’s just full-on suck. They rank 32nd against the run, and only three teams have allowed more TD passes. They also have the league’s lowest-scoring offense, and QB Sam Bradford is now nursing an ankle injury. The Rams have also given up more sacks than any other team, so I’d expect the Dallas front 7 to spend a lot of time in the backfield. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on the Rams’ acquisition of Brandon Lloyd this week either. He’s a good fit in the Rams offense and should pick up the system quickly, but he won’t provide much help if Bradford is already on his back.

Packers (-9) @ Vikings

Donovan McNabb has been so bad at quarterback, even his own mother can’t stand to watch him for a full game. It’s been a long downward spiral since those Chunky Soup commercials, hasn’t it? There is a good chance we’ll see Christian Ponder under center for the Vikes, and while he showed flashes of promise against the Bears prevent D late in the game, he’s not likely to see many clear throwing lanes and four-man rushes against the defending champs. I can’t endorse putting money on a rookie QB playing against one of the league’s best defenses. If this game comes down to Ponder vs. Aaron Rodgers, the Vikes lose by 30.