There’s nothing like a good old fashion distraction to hide the ugliness. I do it with my screaming kids, the President does it to the media pretty much every week, and the New York Giants are doing it in Week 4 of the NFL season.
The talk of the Big Apple is rookie QB Daniel Jones and his triumphant debut as the Giants’ new starter, just squeaking out a victory at Tampa Bay last Sunday. Jones passed for two touchdowns and scrambled for two more, ushering in a new era for New York football and putting the dark days of Eli Manning under center to bed.
But while football fans fall in love with “Danny Dimes” they’re blinded to the fact that the G-Men have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. New York has allowed scores of 38, 28, and 31 points through three games, giving up 6.8 yards per play to opponents (second worst) and getting torched for 16 strikes of 20-plus yards, including allowing six plays of 40 yards or more.
When you’re hemorrhaging those kinds of gains, it’s a lot to ask a rookie passer – without his best weapon (Saquon Barkley out with high ankle sprain) – to pick up the slack. And honestly, had the Bucs made that last-second field goal in Week 3, this line could look very different (lookahead lines had Giants -2 before Week 3).
New York’s Week 4 opponents, the Washington Redskins, don’t exactly fill football bettors with confidence. Washington is playing on a short week after a rough home outing on Monday night, losing to a desperate Bears squad and falling to 0-3 on the season.
The Redskins are sitting near the Giants at the bottom of the defensive results, but some of the blame can be put on an offense that has turned the ball over five times in three games and has forced the stop unit to play more than 33 minutes per outing – fourth most in the league. With Barkley out of order, the New York offense (which is averaging a NFL-high 6.3 yards per run) becomes one-dimensional, allowing the Skins to focus on frustrating the rookie.
This line is starting to tick down at some books, so grab the Redskins at a field goal and brace for some ugliness.
PICK: Washington +3
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT DENVER BRONCOS (-3.5, 38.5)
Do we still think Denver has a good defense? Is that still a “thing”?
I’m not a huge stat head but the Broncos’ DVOA at FootballOutsiders has this unit ranked among the bottom feeders of the NFL. Denver is winless through three games, allowing 22.3 points per game despite giving up only 314 yards an outing (ninth in the NFL). What’s more, the Broncos have yet to record a single sack or takeaway in 2019. That’s bonkers.
A deeper dive shows that this methodical Broncos offense, which chews up nearly 32 minutes of clock, has worked to cloak those issue with the stop unit. Opponents have held possession for a mere 28 minutes a contest, scoring almost 0.8 points per minute or 0.4 points per play. The Broncos’ scoring attack has posted totals of 16, 14, and 16 through the first three weeks and runs into a solid Jacksonville defense in Week 4.
The Jaguars pass rush was the star of the show last Thursday, recording what seemed like 100 sacks (actually nine) against a Titans offense that looks pretty similar to the one the Jags will face in Denver Sunday. Broncos QB Joe Flacco has been sacked 11 times already this season, including five against the Packers last week.
As for the Jaguars offense and rookie Gardner Minshew, they benefit from a mini bye coming off the Thursday game in Week 3. That should help with Minshew’s maturation before this big road game as well as give RB Leonard Fournette some time to recharge after fighting through a frustrating night versus the Titans.
I’m taking the points against a 0-3 team that’s worse than it looks. And it looks pretty bad.
PICK: Jacksonville +3.5
CINCINNATI BENGALS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-4, 43.5)
I’m back on the 0-3 Bengals and the points for the third time in three weeks. And why not?
Cincy woke up just in time to put 17 second-half points up versus the Bills and steal the cover as a 6-point pup at Buffalo last Sunday. In Week 1, the Bengals’ new up-tempo attack caught the Seahawks by surprise, and kept things close enough to cover the +9.5 as the visitors.
Those results improved Cincinnati to 13-5 ATS on the road going back to 2017, including an 11-5 ATS mark when getting the points in those away contests. And that’s where we find the coolest helmets in football again in Week 4: catching four as the road team on Monday Night Football.
While I love the pace of this Bengals offense, it was actually the defense that got the job done for bettors in the final two quarters against the Bills. The team showed sound tackling for the first time in a long time and kept the Buffalo runners between the hash marks.
Pittsburgh’s 24-20 result in San Francisco wasn’t as close as it seems. The Niners fumbled away the ball three times and Jimmy Garoppolo threw two interceptions, yet the Steelers offense managed only 239 total yards (second lowest for Week 3) and went 3 for 12 on third downs.
And as poor as the Pittsburgh offense is under backup QB Mason Rudolph, the Pittsburgh defense may just as bad. The Steelers were gashed for 21 second-half points by San Francisco and have allowed an average of 18.3 points in the final two frames so far in 2019.
Smells like another backdoor cover for my favorite underdogs.
PICK: Cincinnati +4
Week 3: 2-1 ATS
Season to date: 7-2 ATS