Week 4: NFL weekly with TJ Calkins

TJ Calkins in a car wearing a cap backwards

Welcome back for week 4. Last week we saw what the Panther offense does with simple competence at the quarterback position and what we should expect the new but temporary normal to be. We saw the Chiefs make a massive statement in a dominant win over Baltimore and we saw some fails from the schedule makers in two egregiously bad prime time games.

We are now at the point where we have enough information to have true expectations from each team and not just the teams at the polar ends of good and bad. This goes for the oddsmakers as well and some of the lines will be sharper, creating more games to sit out from. We have a quarterback situation to monitor that will determine along with some strong plays on the league’s top teams and some very sound underdogs. Let’s get to the slate.

Plays Of The Week

My early week choices for plays of the week were two very strong underdogs in Carolina +4.5 and Jacksonville +3, and I remain heavily on them. There is some competition for the top choices this week, as the Rams have dipped under double digits and are an extremely attractive favorite there. The Patriots and Chiefs are also very strong favorite plays with their respective overs. Cincinnati is an extremely strong underdog, but they play Monday night and will be a next day play after all of the above.

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Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: Houston -4 and 46
  • Current Line: Houston -4.5 and 47

The Panthers offense showed what it was capable of with competent quarterback play last week, dropping 38 points on the road in Kyle Allen’s first start in relief of Cam Newton. That was quite the easy matchup, but this offense has elite skill position players and will continue to score on anyone so long as the quarterback simply gets it into the hands of the playmakers. Last week saw Greg Olsen lead the charge, catching six balls for 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This week will see the wide receivers have the favorable matchup and they will do the damage alongside all world running back Christian McCaffrey. This offense as a whole is still not viewed properly and the Panthers +4.5 is an elite play. They likely score enough to make the over hit easily as well.

The Texans are a middle of the pack to above average team with exciting playmakers on offense but are a team that often plays to the level of their opponents, as evidenced by the combined point differential of their first three games being just 10 points. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a high-end option, but appears to be playing injured and they allow far too many drive ending sacks. Through three games, they’ve allowed three 100+ yard games to specific wide receivers, in addition to three more 45+ yard games to three other specific wide receivers. That trend will continue in this one as the Carolina wide receivers are the difference.

Betting Leans:

  • Panthers +4.5
  • Over 46
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Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: Baltimore -5 and 46.5
  • Current Line: Baltimore -7 and 45.5

The Browns have been a let down from expectations and have started just 1-2. The offensive line worries have become quite a reality and surprisingly, Baker Mayfield has been subpar through three games. Coach Freddie Kitchens has been woeful with play calling to this point, but media questioning on the subject this week will at minimum make him aware of the issue this week in the case he didn’t see a problem after two games. The skill position players on the Browns remain high end and the offense will go as far as the offensive line allows it to. We can’t assume we know which week will see the passing game issues sorted out and for that reason the Browns are currently a team to avoid from a betting perspective.

We have seen quarterback Lamar Jackson is capable of big passing plays with a clean pocket and receivers running uncovered against two extremely soft matchups in weeks 1 and 2. Last week showed us that some adversity and a negative game script alters the expectations considerably. The Browns front has been stout against the run this far and the outcome of this game is likely left in the hands of Lamar Jackson and his ability to make plays through the air and not just with his legs. This is somewhat of a coin flip scenario, further making this game a fade from a betting perspective.

Betting Leans:

None

 

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: New York -2.5 and 46
  • Current Line: New York -3 and 49.5

This is a fairly fascinating game as who the Redskins end up starting at quarterback will dictate what the correct bet is. Incumbent Case Keenum was in a walking boot mid week coming off his five turnover performance on national television. The team is optimistic he plays, and if that’s the case, even Keenum and company have enough juice to outscore the Giants inept passing defense. If Keenum isn’t ready and raw and green rookie Dwayne Haskins is under center, the wager completely flips and the Giants would become the play. The Redskins remain an unsexy team that lack star power, but are certainly not among the league’s worst and offer sneaky value.

The Giants saw rookie Daniel Jones lead a comeback win against Tampa in his first career start last week. He was able to throw a couple touchdowns and also ran in a pair. While he has mobility, the pair of rushing scores is unlikely to repeat itself. The Giants offense took a significant hit last week with elite running back Saquon Barkley suffering a high ankle sprain that will sideline him at least a month. Wayne Gallman replaces him, and he has a complete, but not end skill set. It’s reasonable to expect some growing pains from Jones in his second game, and a loss for the Giants if Keenum is under center for the Redskins.

Betting Lean:

  • If Keenum, Redskins +3
  • If Haskins, Giants -3
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Los Angeles Chargers at Miami Dolphins

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: -16 and 45
  • Current Line: -16.5 and 44

The Chargers have started 1-2, with both losses coming by just one score, and needing this cushy spot to get back in the win column. They are a poorly coached team that is fairly long on talent. Traveling to the east coast for an early spot is not an ideal spot for them, but they are more playing against the spread here than they are to win the game outright. It’s not a spot to attack from a betting perspective.

The Dolphins remain the league’s worst team, and will be a doormat for the foreseeable future. They did however play competitively for nearly a half last week and showed their first signs of life. They won’t win this game, but the home spot can keep it close enough to fade the game.

Betting Leans:

None

 

Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: Indianapolis -6.5 and 44
  • Current Line: Indianapolis -7 and 45

The Raiders have certainly taken steps forward from last season and are a far more competitive team. They aren’t going to make any noise in the playoff picture, but they’re going to keep games competitive against teams that don’t crush them with the deep ball. This is one of those spots as Indianapolis wants to run the ball and the game will be slower and close. The passing offense is establishing a go to target in emerging tight end Darren Waller and have a rookie running back in Josh Jacobs who can help them play ball control in neutral game scripts. The line is too wide here and the Raiders are attractive.

The key for the Colts is both the availability and health of banged up top wide receiver TY Hilton. He is the lone player they have that can take the top off the Oakland defense and if he is limited or out, the offense will crawl. The play loses its strength if we see TY Hilton gets in a full practice on Friday, but that remains to be seen. Assuming he’s less than 100%, this will be a right game, inside a score either way.

Betting Lean:

  • Raiders +7
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Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: Kansas City -6 and 53
  • Current Line: Kansas City -6 and 54

The Chiefs and the league’s premier player Patrick Mahomes continue to steamroll the league and that will not change this week. Patrick Mahomes is one of the rare instances where a quarterback is more effective on the road than at home so far in his young career, and the outcome will be the same as it has the first three weeks of the season: The Chiefs with an easy win.

The Lions and coach Matt Patricia like to keep the pace of their games down and run more than is ideal, but they won’t have a choice in this one. Luckily for them they have a trio in place that can put some points on the Chiefs. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and his pair of underrated wide receivers, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, are the types of players needed to attempt to keep scoring pace. This will succeed in getting the over to come in, but not for a cover.

Betting Leans:

  • Chiefs -6
  • Over 54
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New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: New England -6 and 44
  • Current Line: New England -7 and 42.5

It looks like the small injury scare that forced top Patriots offensive weapon Julian Edelman from the game on Sunday was just that, a scare, as he was present for Wednesday practice. This is a massive key in a matchup with the Buffalo as the Bills have a lockdown corner in Tre White, but can be exploited by players other than the pass-catcher White takes away. This can especially be done in the slot where Edelman plays and he could be in store for a massive game. Pass catching running back James White should return this week as well and the Bills have allowed a receiving score to a running back in two of three games so far this season. The Patriots offense will continue to hum, leading to a cover.

The Bills are off to a 3-0 start after a very soft opening schedule against three of the league’s worst teams. They put themselves in an unnecessary uncomfortable spot last week as the offense became egregiously conservative after jumping out to an early lead and the game came down to the last possession. They won’t have a choice but to keep aggression as they trail in this one. It won’t be enough to win or cover, but they will assist with the over hitting, much like Detroit against Kansas City. The over is an extremely strong play.

Betting Leans:

  • Patriots -7
  • Over 42.5
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Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons

1PM EST

  • Opening Line: Atlanta -3.5 and 46.5
  • Current Line: Atlanta -4 and 45.5

The Titans will continue to go as far as the offense takes them. They are a very sound but not elite defensive team. They are truly at their best when they feed running back Derrick Henry, even if to the point of predictability. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and underwhelming pass catchers are more often a liability than not. Will the Titans feed Henry and win this game? That’s a great question, and we don’t know, making this a team to avoid until we see some commitment to what the offense does best.

The Falcons are a poorly coached team with a high end passing attack. The inconsistency and limitation of the running game makes them a team that’s not evenly predictive when facing teams that aren’t a sieve to the pass. This is an easy game to sit out this week.

Betting Leans:

None

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams

4:05 PM EST

  • Opening Line: Los Angeles -9 and 50
  • Current Line: Los Angeles -9.5 and 49.5

The Bucs finally got Mike Evans involved last week, fairly obviously greasing what might have become a squeaky wheel in a good matchup, and jumping out to a 28-10 halftime lead. As we know, they eventually blew that lead and the passing defense was the fail that we saw coming since week 1. In week 1 we saw the 49ers have no need to pass as the defense scored twice. Their week 2 matchup saw them leave pass catchers run wide open throughout but luckily for them, Cam Newton was often incapable of hitting these open targets. Even with that being the case, Newton topped 300 yards passing. Then in week 3, first time starter Daniel Jones dropped over 300 yards and a pair of scores. Now they have to travel to the comfort zone of Jared Goff in Los Angeles, and this pass funnel defense is going to get smoked by the Rams trio of receivers. The offense will do what it can to keep up, and might get the total there, but there is an easy double digit loss incoming.

The Rams offense hasn’t quite been the juggernaut it was for most of 2018, but even with a 3-0 start, this is a get right spot for a big win with a ton of gaudy statistics for Goff and company. Aaron Donald will lead the defense in holding down Jameis Winston and the Bucs scoring pace.

Betting Lean:

  • Rams -9.5
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Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinal Players

4:05 PM EST

  • Opening Line: Seattle -3 and 46
  • Current Line: Seattle -5 and 48

There’s definitely an identity crisis going on for the offense in Seattle. The overrated and awful coaching combination of Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer continue to want to be a running team, but lack both the defensive capability and the offensive line play to do so. Moreover this philosophy wastes elite quarterback Russell Wilson while they try to implement their ill conceived game plan and then turn to Wilson to bail them out after they fall behind. After falling behind to New Orleans last week, Wilson was unleashed and nearly rallied the team back from a 27-7 3rd quarter deficit. Moreover, Carroll’s pet running back Chris Carson has lost three fumbles through three weeks, and he may be forced to turn to the more talented option, 2018 first round pick Rashaad Penny. No matter how it shakes out, whoever is playing Arizona in any given week will be putting points on the board. On the Seattle side it simply remains to be seen if they try to run, fall behind and score the majority of their points late or if the let it fly early and score throughout.

The Cardinals defense will be one to exploit for the entirety of 2019. Their offense will be mostly effective with intermittent growing pains, but they will play with a fast pace no matter what. While this helps the offense, it’s brutal for the defense and they will continue to be scored upon. Overs in Cardinal games will be a profitable business throughout 2019.

Betting Lean:

  • Over 48
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Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears

4:25 PM EST

  • Opening Line: Chicago -3 and 39
  • Current Line: Chicago -2.5 and 38

What a gross game. I hope for your viewing pleasure, this isn’t your only option in the 4 o’clock slot.

The Vikings continue to be content playing slow and with a ball control mindset. Unlike the Seahawks, they have a defense that can afford this strategy and a running back and offensive line that can make it effective. This matchup will see two teams whose strength is the defensive side of the ball, but the Vikings do have the better offense overall, and are the team with a capable quarterback should they fall behind. If feeling a need to fire at this game, the Vikings would be the side to opt for but this is one to stay away from.

If you only watched one football game this season, and it was Chicago playing Washington on Monday night, you could be fooled into thinking Mitchell Trubisky was a serviceable quarterback, Taylor Gabriel was a serviceable second wide receiver, the Bears passing offense was not in serious trouble, or all of the above. The fact is the Redskins just had every lapse in coverage imaginable against the same player throughout the first half of the game, and despite the massive lead they jumped to, the game was not decided until late in the fourth quarter. When playing effective pass defenses, this team will struggle. It remains to be seen if coach and play caller Matt Nagy will commit to using rookie running back David Montgomery as a hammer to hide the limitations of the passing offense. Until he does, there will be true and ugly clunkers from the offense as a whole, with this week being a prime candidate. The defense is one of the league’s best and will often continue to hide the warts on the other side of the ball.

Betting Leans:

None

 

Jacksonville Jaguars at Denver Broncos

4:25 PM EST

  • Opening Line: Denver -3 and 38
  • Current Line: Denver -3 and 39

The Jaguars have a lot of promise in rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew and second year wide receiver DJ Chark. They will need it too as bellcow running back Leonard Fournette is playing the worst football of his NFL career. The thought on him was that if healthy he would always be effective, but that’s not been the case this season. He’s had health but not effectiveness. This is a spot to change that as the defense should create turnovers and give the offense fantastic field position all day in a positive game script. The Jaguars do have some limitations on offense, but the defense will be smothering and even more limited unit on the other side of the ball.

The Broncos are yet to score more than 16 points in any game this season. There are just two other teams in that club. The Dolphins and the Jets, who were forced to play their third string non NFL caliber quarterback in two of those games. This offense will underwhelm all season long and they will be smothered by the Jaguars defense, front to back. The defense doesn’t help the offense much either. While they’ve been sound as a scoring defense, they have zero takeaways on the season and facing a quarterback who’s thrown just one interception in his three games. This team is an underrated level of bad, and one that offers value to attack.

Betting Lean:

  • Jaguars +3
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Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints

8:20 PM EST

  • Opening Line: Dallas -1.5 and 45
  • Current Line: Dallas -2.5 and 47

The Cowboys have played a cake schedule through three game, but have done what they are supposed to do in beating the three awful teams thrown their way. Even without Drew Brees, the Saints are by far their biggest test of the season, and in prime time in the dome. This is a spot to sit out and use the game as a measuring stick for the actual strength of the Cowboys.

The Saints are just trying to get by until Drew Brees returns. They will continue to lean on running back Alvin Kamara and hope the defense can keep the amount of splash plays allowed to a minimum. I don’t believe backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater brings much to the table, and we will get an idea where he’s at Sunday night. I reiterate, sit out.

Betting Lean:

None

 

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

8:15 PM EST – Monday Night

  • Opening Line: Pittsburgh -4.5 and 43.5
  • Current Line: Pittsburgh -4 and 43.5

The Bengals showed some resilience and effort this last week, nearly stealing a win at Buffalo in a game they were trailing 14-0 and that should have been a runaway. They took some lethargy in the play calling on the other side and nearly rallied for a 4th quarter win. They now travel to Pittsburgh for a divisional game against the Steelers and backup quarterback Mason Rudolph making his second career start. This is an exploitable spot for the defense, which isn’t a high end unit, but there will be opportunities available for turnovers. The offense should be able to exploit Pittsburgh via the pass, as all three of their opponents have done so far, relegating them to 0-3. The points are extremely attractive here and the Bengals are in play on the money line as well.

The Steelers are looking at a lost season. As mentioned they are 0-3 and the only AFC to have allowed more points than they are the lowly Dolphins. They still have an elite wide receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster, and they’ll have to rely on him more than anyone to get points on the board as they find out what they have, or ultimately don’t have in Mason Rudolph. Despite the home prime time game, they are looking at an 0-4 start but will offer enough scoring to get the over home.

Betting Leans:

  • Bengals +4.5
  • Over 43.5
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