Being a sports fan, a sports bettor, or a fantasy sports player means always being one injury away from frustration, devastation, and possible regurgitation.
If you haven’t built a “perfect” DFS lineup where like six of your picks smashed and two were solid enough and you were in line to win big money if only your final roster spot hadn’t gone to a player who hobbled off the field in the first quarter with 1.7 fantasy points, well, you haven’t truly experienced DFS.
Of course, this is part of the deal. Every winning DFS lineup won because it avoided the injuries that befell the other entries. For every time you’ve bet an “over” that got ruined by injury, you’ve hopefully bet an “under” where the injury saved you. (And you felt horrible about it, surely.) And then there’s the whole being-a-fan thing. “This is our year!” feels so true — until the first mention of your best player’s meniscus.
The reason we’re talking injuries to lead off the NFL column this week, as you might have guessed, is one Derrick Henry. He won’t be breaking the 2,000-yard barrier this year. If you locked up a potentially great sweat on a +6000 MVP bet a couple of weeks ago, well, hit the showers, the sweat’s over. And if you have a ticket on the Tennessee Titans to win the AFC South — I mean, they still should. They’re three games ahead of the only other team in the division that isn’t completely hopeless. You got this. Just not with as much certainty as you thought you did before you heard that Henry needed foot surgery and would be out for approximately the remainder of the regular season.
Now your hopes rest partially on Adrian Peterson, who was last seen in a Detroit Lions uniform and is about to join his sixth team in six seasons. What, Frank Gore wasn’t available? Marshawn Lynch is having too much fun palling around with Peyton and Eli on ESPN2? The Tennessee GM couldn’t find Fred Taylor’s number? How ’bout that O.J. guy, what’s he been up to?
A wacky Week 8 in the NFL ended with AP getting hired by the current top seed in the AFC to replace the best running back in the game. Yes, 36-year-old Adrian Peterson is about to become the most sought-after waiver wire commodity in your season-long league. Injuries, man — they’re one more reason you should never bet money you can’t afford to lose.
The Titans at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football was supposed to be the marquee game of the coming week. Maybe it still is. Throw in the Rams trading draft scraps for future Hall of Famer Von Miller on Monday, and it’s certainly the curiosity of the week.
Let’s take an early look at the lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 9:
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 14 games in Week 9 (the Buccaneers, Seahawks, Lions, and Washington have bye weeks):
Jets at Colts (-10.5)
Browns at Bengals (-3)
Broncos at Cowboys (-10)
Texans at Dolphins (-7)
Falcons at Saints (-6)
Raiders (-3) at Giants
Patriots (-4) at Panthers
Bills (-14.5) at Jaguars
Vikings at Ravens (-5.5)
Chargers (-3) at Eagles
Packers at Chiefs (-1)
Cardinals (-3) at 49ers
Titans at Rams (-7.5)
Bears at Steelers (-6.5)
Line move to watch
Since the release of the lines on Sunday night, we’ve seen some big moves already. The Cowboys jumped from -7.5 to -10, presumably on the basis of positive reports about Dak Prescott’s health after a one-game absence. The Chiefs slipped from a 3-point favorite over the Packers to just a 1-point home fave off Monday night’s dud win over the Giants, which served as confirmation that, nope, these aren’t the 2019 or 2020 Chiefs. And I was expecting some movement on the Colts-Jets line and it has indeed begun, shrinking from an 11.5-point spread to 10.5 with folks excited to bet on the suddenly frisky Jets and their 405-yard-tossing backup QB and against the not-as-ambidextrous-as-he-thinks Carson Wentz.
So what moves are still to come? It seems reasonable to expect the Buffalo-Jacksonville line to grow, just like the Rams-Texans line did last week (more on that in the “Bad Beat of the Week” section below). All five of the Bills’ wins this season have been by 15 or more points. The Jags are coming off a 24-point defeat to Seattle. This could hit 16.5 or 17.
You might think the line to watch is Rams-Titans. The Tennessee RB situation is a mystery, the Miller trade makes the L.A. defense that much more fearsome, and we’re awaiting news, as is a weekly custom, on Julio Jones’ status. Sounds like a line that might jump around, right? Don’t count on it. Once the Henry news hit, the line settled at 7.5, and I don’t see the sportsbooks wanting to cross back under 7 nor wanting to cross over 8 (a somewhat key number in the two-point-conversion-happy modern NFL). We might see another half-point of fluctuation here, but that’s about it.
Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider
Bronze medal: Texans +265 (BetMGM) at Dolphins. We’re going big this week. Sure, the 49ers (+125) could top the Cards or the Browns (+135) could bounce the Bengals, but those are barely upsets. Instead, we’re taking three sizable ‘dogs this week. And we start with a game between two teams that won in Week 1 and haven’t finished on the left side of a final score since. There’s a chance Houston QB Tyrod Taylor returns this week, and even if he doesn’t, are the Dolphins a safe pick against anyone this season?
Silver medal: Titans +290 (DraftKings, FanDuel, Betway, Caesars) at Rams. There’s no shortage of instances in sports history in which a team was galvanized by the loss of its best player. Sometimes everybody else steps up when the big dog goes down. At nearly 3/1, there’s value on Tennessee to do just that without Henry.
Gold medal: Jets +425 (Caesars) at Colts. As a lifelong Eagles fan, I can tell you with conviction that Carson Wentz has all the tools and is capable of playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL. I can also tell you with conviction that he rarely plays that way for a sustained stretch of time (like, say, more than two quarters), and that when things start going wrong, they often go horribly wrong. If you think there’s better than a 19% chance Wentz has one of those games, then the Jets, who kinda believe in themselves a little bit now, present moneyline value.
Textbook teaser candidates
Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:
Colts: Can tease down to -4.5 or -3.5 at home Thursday night against the Jets.
Dolphins: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em at home against the Texans.
Cowboys: Can tease down to -4 or -3 at home against the Broncos.
Rams: Can tease down to -1.5 or -0.5 at home against the Titans.
Steelers: Can tease down to -0.5 or (foolishly across zero) to +0.5 at home against the Bears.
Saints: Can tease down to pick’em or +1 at home against the Falcons.
Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. For reasons stated in the previous section, Indy, Miami, and L.A. all feel a little risky. And the Saints can be somewhat Jekyll and Hyde and are starting either Taysom Hill or Trevor Siemian. Meanwhile, who the heck knows if the Steelers are actually any good? Do what you want, of course. It’s your money. But this feels like a bad week for teasing.
Most Valuable MVP bet
Week 8 saw losses for the teams helmed by Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow, a win without Dak Prescott for the team helmed by Dak Prescott, and an MVP-candidacy-ending injury to Titans RB Henry. It served as a helpful reminder of how quickly the MVP winds can change. I mean, Josh Allen emerged as the MVP frontrunner while boasting the ninth best quarterback rating in the league, sandwiched between Kirk Cousins and Jameis Winston. Allen seems a lousy investment right now at +200 at most books, and it’s hard to say if the +400 offered at FOX Bet is even any good.
So where else can you go? Aaron Rodgers is +1100 at FOX Bet, which is decent, but do you really see voters giving him back-to-back MVP awards if it’s a remotely close debate? Brady arguably still has value at +600 if you’re confident he’ll play better the rest of the season than he did against the Saints on Sunday. Maybe Matthew Stafford, at the +800 offered at FanDuel Sportsbook, has a hint of value. The team is all-in (even if its social media coordinator has no clue how Rounders ended), and if they finish as the top seed in the NFC, the new QB probably gets more credit than he deserves.
But we’re thinking the best bet right now is a little lower down the odds board. At 20/1 at most books, Lamar Jackson is a juicy +2500 at DraftKings. His team is 5-2 and should be favored in its next four games, at least, meaning his price could be a lot lower a month from now. They do have a tough schedule after that. If they want to get to 12 or more wins, Lamar is going to have to play like an MVP. We know he has that in him. He’s worth a look at 25/1.
How did we do last week?
This column is not really about betting advice — it’s more an overview of the NFL week ahead and a collection of ideas to think about — but we may as well have some accountability. So …
Last week’s best call: We gave you the Packers at +210 on the moneyline over the then-unbeaten Cardinals as our “gold medal” underdog bet — and if you waited until Allen Lazard was ruled out, you could have gotten an even higher number. It’s a good thing Kyler Murray threw that unlikely interception in the end zone to secure us this victory, because the rest of last week’s column wasn’t especially prescient …
Last week’s worst call: Where to begin? We talked up Wentz as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and then he Wentzed in his own end zone. We told you a Bills-Bengals tease looked safe and then Mike White and the Jets screwed up a lot of people’s plans. We suggested Burrow and Brady had MVP value and they both took Ls. And other than the Packers, none of our underdog moneyline picks hit during a week that didn’t lack for upsets. Let’s repeat what we said two paragraphs ago: “This column is not really about betting advice.” We’re going to write those words on the chalkboard over and over as punishment for our subpar performance.
Bad Beat of the Week
With 8½ minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Rams led the Texans 38-0. Then Rex Burkhead ran one in from a yard out. 38-7. The Rams went three-and-out. The Texans scored in four plays. 38-14. The Texans recovered an onside kick, scored in six plays, and converted a 2-point try. 38-22 with 2½ minutes to play. In six minutes of garbage game time, the Rams’ 38-point lead shrunk to 16, and that’s how the game ended.
Awful beat on a game that closed at Rams -16.5 or Rams -17, right? Yes. Absolutely. You were, in terms of assessing the chasm between the two teams, on the right side if you bet the Rams.
Buuuuut … You could have had Rams -14.5 most of the week, and they still covered that line. So, it’s a horrendous beat, but the -16.5 or -17 bettor is not without blame in this instance.
Teams with at least 90% chance to win their division in 538’s model as of right before SNF:
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) October 31, 2021
Once again, let’s check in on the five-team division-winner parlay (Bills, Titans, Cowboys, Packers, Buccaneers) we proposed four weeks ago. It has gone from +246, to +160, to -103, to -123, and now it stands at -171. Four of the five teams lowered their magic numbers last week. The Bucs were the exception, and they might make you nervous with just a half-game lead, but now that the Saints are without Winston, you shouldn’t be too nervous. The injury bug bites the other way with Henry and the Titans, but at least they have a big cushion now over the Colts.
Turning our gaze to a not-yet-decided division, the Rams are as high as +110 at Caesars to win the NFC West, providing maybe a tiny bit of value on what appears a superior team to the Cardinals. But Arizona did beat them head-to-head in Week 4. If you’re betting on L.A. to win the division, you’re betting on them to win in Arizona on Monday, Dec. 13. Will they not return better than +110 on the moneyline in that game?
The Packers-Chiefs total on Sunday is 55.5, the highest on the slate this week. The past three weeks, Chiefs games have finished with 44, 30, and 37 points.
With the Henry injury, the Offensive Player of the Year award, which has gone to a non-QB the last two seasons, suddenly has a runaway favorite in Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, priced at +130 at FanDuel. The next few contenders: Davante Adams at +1400 and Josh Allen and Kyler Murray at +1600 each. Kupp’s numbers are ridiculous: 63 catches, 924 yards, 10 TDs. But so are Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase’s 38 catches, 786 yards, and 7 TDs. He’d need to pick up the pace and have Kupp fall off or miss games, but he’s priced at +5500, which seems well worth a little pocket change.
Photo: Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY