Each week Matt Midlikowski will break down a combination of three games from the weekend NFL and NCAA Football line spreads. There will be a featured game, with a more thorough breakdown, followed by two additional games with brief nuggets. Get the goods on which lines to play, whether it be the points or the over/under, or both. Currently, Matt is 17-6 (.739) on the season.
Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) at New Orleans Saints (over/under 47)
Sunday, September 29th, 8:20p ET – Mercedes-Benz Superdome [NBC]
There are seven teams at the 3-0 mark as we enter the fourth week of the NFL season. There is still so much football ahead that a perfect record at this point is still relatively meaningless, but the undefeated Dallas Cowboys might be in the best position to leverage their fast start. Dallas heads to New Orleans for a Sunday Night tilt, and a Cowboys win would maintain a comfortable two game lead on Philadelphia, now that the Eagles pulled off an upset in Green Bay on Thursday. Timing seems to be working in the Cowboys favor as the Saints are working with Teddy Bridgewater instead of Drew Brees, leading to Dallas being a 2.5-point favorite on the road. New Orleans was able to stun the Seahawks last week, but needed a punt return touchdown and a defensive score to do so.
These teams met last year with Dallas earning a 13-10 win at home. Defense was clearly the dominant theme of that day with the teams combining for just 376 passing yards and 541 total yards. Dallas racked up nearly 37 minutes in time of possession and New Orleans was not able to get on track with limited opportunities. A similar approach should be on tap this week so expect to see plenty of Ezekiel Elliott (5.3 yards per carry) and safe throws from Dak Prescott,while Dallas’ 10th ranked run-defense looks to limit Alvin Kamara (380 total yards) and put the game in Bridgewater’s hands.
Efficiency is such an underrated concept in the NFL that some fans, and even some broadcasters, mistake efficient for boring. Dallas doesn’t look like Kansas City on offense, but the results are very similar, with the Cowboys entering the week 3rd in total yards while averaging 32.3 points per game. Zeke is the engine of the offense, but Dak has completed nearly 75% of his passes, and Dallas leads the league on third down, converting 58% of the time. Sprinkle in some Amari Cooper (16-238-4) and the Cowboys fans are talking triplets 2.0 in 2019. Michael Gallup leads the team at 17.4 yards per catch, but he will miss this game after having a meniscus procedure. Randall Cobb has been better than expected and his 11-116-1 line doesn’t include over 100 yards of receptions that have been called back by penalty. Even without Gallup, it appears that Dallas has enough playmaking ability to properly attack the Saints 30th ranked pass defense.
The Cowboy defense has held up their end of things as well, ranking 2nd in third down conversions allowed (20%) while limiting opposing signal-callers to an 86 passer rating. With just five sacks through three games and no interceptions, Dallas isn’t making the splash plays but they have been steady and able to limit the big plays against them. If they can write a similar script on Sunday, Bridgewater will have to play a very Brees-like game to move the ball consistently.
New Orleans Capsule
Every NFC South team is sitting at 1-2, so the Saints are still in great position as they wait for Brees to return. They would gladly take a 3-3 record over the proposed six weeks Bridgewater is supposed to be at the helm, but it may be their defense that is ultimately responsible for the win-loss record over that span. Through three weeks, the Saints are 28th in total yards, 26th against the run, and are allowing 27.3 points per game. The pass rush has gotten home with nine sacks to their credit, but the secondary is still allowing a 106 passer rating. The front is giving up 5.1 yards per rush, and opponents have converted on 43% of third downs as they routinely face manageable down-and-distance scenarios.
Bridgewater has been fine in his relief duty with 342 yards and two scores. He hasn’t thrown a pick yet and is athletic enough to do damage with the scramble, but there is something missing on the offense. Kamara is averaging five yards per carry and has 17 receptions through three games, but he has been something of a one-man show. Michael Thomas is leading the NFC with 25 receptions, but is averaging less than ten yards per grab since Brees went out. Tre’Quan Smith is the only Saints receiver north of eleven yards per catch, but he may miss the game with a bad leg. Ted Ginn and Jared Cook haven’t been able to be the complementary piece in the pass game, and New Orleans has just four passing touchdowns through three weeks. If Dallas can bottle up Kamara to some level, it could be tough for the Saints to move the ball.
• Dallas is riding a 9-4 mark against the spread in their last thirteen games overall and are 8-3 ATS in the last eleven against NFC opponents.
• New Orleans is 1-7 ATS in their last eight games overall with an 0-5 record against the spread in their last five home games.
The line opened with Dallas as 2.5-point favorites and has not moved even though 65% of the action has come in on the Cowboys. The over has been an even more popular with 75% of bets on the north side of the 47-point total.
→ Dallas hasn’t played a top-tier opponent yet but I think that actually helps keep the line in check as there are still plenty of skeptics that think the Cowboys are where they are due to that weak schedule. I don’t like the Saints chances to hold Zeke down and Dallas will keep their defense fresh by playing keep away. Prescott is playing well enough to expect he will make the necessary throws and the 2.5 is not too much to lay with Dallas getting a 27-22 win.
Two More Before You Go
Condensed, boiled down, and compact. In a nutshell, The Betting Brief takes a look at a handful of games and breaks them down using the most relevant macro stats and storylines.
Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons (-4)(over/under 46)
Sunday, September 29th, 1:00pm ET – Mercedes Benz Stadium [CBS]
Each team has looked a little rough through three weeks, but the winner Sunday gets back to 2-2 and is suddenly much more relevant in their respective divisions. This is not a match-up we see often, with just two meetings since the 2007 season. These teams have a common opponent already with both losing close games to the Colts.
Tennessee was one of the opening week surprises as they dropped 43 points on the hype-heavy Browns, but they have scored just 24 points since in back-to-back losses to Indy and Jacksonville. The offense has been pedestrian in averaging 307 total yards per game, and the pass game sits at 194 yards per contest, good for 28th in the league. Marcus Mariota has kept it clean with no interceptions, but he is completing just 60% of his passes, and has not found a wide receiver for a touchdown through three weeks, while being sacked a league-high seventeen times. Delanie Walker (16-158-2) leads the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, but he is listed as questionable with a knee injury. In an offense that is short on consistent playmaking, any absence is going to be very problematic. Derrick Henry has found the end-zone in all three games and powers the 12th ranked run game. The defense has been solid with Top 8 marks in yards and points allowed, and have limited opponents to a 28% conversion rate on third down.
Atlanta has been one dimensional on offense, ranking 6th in passing, but 27th on the ground. Matt Ryan is averaging nearly 310 yards per game, but the volume attempts have led to six interceptions to go with his eight touchdowns. Julio Jones has led the receiving effort with a 19-265-4 line, but Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper are both north of 175 receiving yards with two touchdowns each. Ridley has a banged-up hip but is expected to play Sunday. The Falcons have been on the wrong side of the time of possession battle and that has led to their defense being on the field a bunch, but that unit has been more than respectable with Top 8 ranks in passing and total yards allowed while ranking 12th against the run.
• Tennessee is 1-4 against the spread in their last five games overall and 1-4 ATS in the game following an ATS loss.
• The Under is 4-1 in the last five Atlanta games at home.
• The line opened with Atlanta as four point favorites and has remained there with 64% of the bets coming in on the Falcons. The Over has received 54% of public bets.
→ With both teams searching for some consistency, I want the more proven players and Atlanta has them, most notably in Ryan and Julio. The Tennessee run game is legitimate but hasn’t been explosive and Atlanta has been decent against the run. I think the Falcons will be able to get out to a lead and that will put the ball in Mariota’s hands. That hasn’t worked out well for the Titans in the past and it won’t this weekend. Atlanta 24 Tennessee 16.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4) (over/under 44)
Monday, September 30th, 8:15pm ET – Heinz Field [ESPN]
I’m sure the Monday Night Football folks were reasonably happy with this pairing when the schedule was released, but things haven’t broken well for this match-up. Ben Roethlisberger and A.J. Green are absent, and at 0-3, each teams playoff chances are very nearly absent. Pittsburgh is one of the public betting favorites each week so it is not surprising to see them getting 58% of the action despite not looking four points better than anyone at this point. Both of these teams have some glaring deficiencies, but someone is going to get their first W, although a tie would also seem appropriate for a couple teams that can’t seem to do much right at the moment.
Cincinnati’s biggest problem heading into the season appeared to be replacing A.J. Green’s production, but Andy Dalton has not missed a beat and has this pass game ranked 3rd at 308 yards per game. John Ross is averaging 22.5 yards per catch, and Tyler Boyd leads the team with 24 receptions, but it is the run that has been absent. Joe Mixon sits at 2.7 yards per carry and is still south of 100 yards on the season with Cincinnati entering the week dead last on the ground. As a one-dimensional unit, the Bengals have lost the time of possession battle, struggled with consistency, and are averaging just 18 points per game. The defense isn’t faring much better, ranking outside the Top 25 in total yards and points allowed with opposing QBs able to put up a 108 rating so far.
Pittsburgh is seeing similar struggles, especially with the run, and they enter the week 29th in rushing. Mason Rudolph is hitting on just 56% of his passes and would be averaging less than 200 yards per game if not for a 76-yard catch and run by JuJu Smith-Schuster last week. James Conner is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and the Steelers are second to last in time of possession, just slightly ahead of Miami in that category. Too much pressure has been put on the pass, especially with Big Ben out, and long down and distance chances have Pittsburgh converting just 25% on third down. The defense has wilted after being on the field for so long, and 28.3 points per game allowed is the result. The Steelers are 28th against the run and 31st against the pass.
As division foes this series has a ton of familiarity, and Cincinnati has won the last two games against the spread when they were underdogs. The Bengals were without Andy Dalton in December last year, but lost a close 16-13 game to get the ATS win. December 2017 resulted in a similar story with Pittsburgh winning 23-30, but Cincinnati got the ATS win as 4.5-point dogs.
In a somewhat unusual note, each team has played San Francisco and Seattle. Both played the Seahawks tight but Cincinnati went down 41-17 to Niners with Pittsburgh on the wrong side of a 24-20 decision last week in San Fran.
• Cincinnati is 6-1 against the spread in their last seven overall and 7-2 ATS in the last nine against the AFC North.
• Pittsburgh is 1-5-1 against the spread in the last seven against an AFC opponent and 0-3-1 ATS in the last four against a sub-.500 opponent.
• The Under is 4-1 in the last five Pittsburgh games against a division opponent
• The Under is 8-2 in the last ten at Heinz Field between these teams.
→ I think that Cincinnati pass game is the most reliable aspect this Sunday and Pittsburgh has not looked like they can slow anyone. The Bengals are equally porous on defense but Dalton is a better option than Rudolph in my mind and when two flawed teams meet, I want my money on the most likely set of circumstances. This one should be close throughout and I can’t see a Pittsburgh win coming by more than three points. I’m tempted to take the Bengals on a money line bet but I’m taking the points for sure. Pittsburgh 23 – Cincinnati 20.