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NFL and NCAA Betting Brief: Week of 9/20

Three For The Books

by Matt Midlikowski (@Midlikowski)

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 12-5 (.706) on the season.

Featured Game

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs (-6) (Over/Under 52)

September 22, 1:00pm ET – Arrowhead Stadium [CBS]

The Patriots remain the gatekeepers of the AFC until Tom Brady hangs them up, but it feels like we are getting a sneak peek of the future when Baltimore heads to Kansas City this weekend. Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes appear ready to pick up where that Brady-Manning rivalry left off, with both signal callers on absolute fire through two weeks. Jackson enters as the top rated passer in the league (not bad for a running back), and Mahomes is third, with both piloting Top 5 offenses.

These teams have met just five times since 2011, so this is a relatively fresh match-up, but they did square off in December last season with Kansas City squeezing out a 27-24 overtime win. Baltimore grabbed the win with the points as six-point underdogs, and that is the same point spread for this game. The Ravens gave up 377 passing yards to Mahomes, but limited him to just two passing scores, one of which came with just 53 seconds left that tied the game. Notably, Tyreek Hill racked up 139 receiving yards in that game, but he will miss Sunday with a broken collarbone. Kansas City proved they may have the playmakers to replace Hill in the short-term, but getting it done against Baltimore is going to be harder than it was last week against Oakland.

Baltimore Capsule

Lamar Jackson hadn’t sold everyone on his ability to be a competent thrower ahead of this season, but the critics are getting quieter with Jackson hitting on 72% of his throws for 596 yards and seven scores through two weeks. His ability to run is not in question, and he might be licking his chops when he sees that Kansas City is allowing six yards per carry through two games. Mark Ingram is averaging 5.7 yards per carry so far with two touchdowns, and he should be available Sunday as he has moved to probable after being tagged as questionable earlier in the week. Marquise Brown is averaging an eye-popping 19.4 yards per catch and leads the team in receiving yards. Tight end Mark Andrews has not disappointed those fantasy folks that predicted he would break out. He has a 16-220-2 line through two weeks, and works well with Jackson’s scramble-style throwing. The Ravens do not have playmakers in volume, but six different pass catchers have a touchdown, so offensive scheme is doing a great job of utilizing guys at the right times.

The Baltimore D looks like many of the top-notch units of years past, as they have allowed just 1.7 yards per carry, and held opposing QBs to a passer rating of 70. The big plays have been there with six sacks and two picks, but the consistency has been more impressive with opponents being held to just 23% conversions on third down.

Kansas City Capsule

Anyone predicting significant regression for Mahomes has to be shaking their head at this point, as he has thrown for 821 yards and seven touchdowns, while hitting on 71% of his attempts. Mahomes is probably going to have to do the heavy lifting again as both Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy are banged up ahead of this game, with Williams the more likely to sit. Neither has been very good on the ground with the Chiefs at 26th in rushing, but both are live in the passing game, and all targets are needed with Hill already out. Demarcus Robinson (7-172-2) and Mecole Hardman (4-61-1) have provided the deep threat, and don’t forget Travis Kelce somehow averaging 19.5 yards per catch as a tight end. Sammy Watkins (15-247-3) rounds out a truly capable receiving crew, but the Chiefs will eventually need to look like they can run to keep defenses honest.

The KC defense is Top 10 in points allowed at 18 per game, but big leads have helped turn their opponents one-dimensional. Even while knowing the pass was coming, the Chiefs are allowing a 45% third down conversion rate and a 92 passer rating against. Couple that with a leaky run defense and KC may be in trouble if anyone can keep the game close.

Trend Watch

• Baltimore is 4-0 against the spread in their last four road games, but are just 2-5 ATS in the last seven against an opponent with a winning record.

• Kansas City is on a 9-0 ATS run in September games, but are just 2-5 against the spread in the last seven games at Arrowhead.

• I’m really impressed with Baltimore’s offense converting on third down at a 56% clip and leading the league at nearly 39 minutes in time of possession. Kansas City is significantly better than Miami or Arizona, but they do not look strong up front that Ravens run game could chew up yards all day and play ahead of the sticks. The Chiefs might be the best quick-strike offense in the league, but that won’t help their defense stay fresh, and further gives the Ravens the means to score late. With Lamar Jackson looking elite, it is hard to think that KC will jump out to those huge leads that they are accustomed to.

My Opinion

→ A diverse Baltimore offense will find the cracks in a KC defense that is forced to honor both the run and the pass. Give me Baltimore and the six. Kansas City 29 – Baltimore 26.

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.

Michigan Wolverines at Wisconsin Badgers (-3.5) (Over/Under 44.5)

September 21, 12:00pm ET – Camp Randall [FOX]

This is a tough draw for each team to open Big Ten play as Michigan enters the week at #11 in the AP Poll with Wisconsin at #13. These teams have played in each of the last three seasons with the home team winning each game. Early bettors found Michigan favored to start the week, but it is Wisconsin who is now a 3.5-point favorite. Each team is coming off a bye week, so look for both to be ready.

We knew Wisconsin could run, and they have backed that up by averaging 216 rushing yards per game, but it is rather surprising to see 299 pass yards per game from the Badgers. The competition has not been great, but Jack Coan has completed nearly 77% of his passes, and has five touchdowns and no interceptions. Even Jonathan Taylor is in on the pass game fun, as he has three receiving touchdowns to go with his five rushing scores. Quintez Cephus immediately transformed Wisconsin’s ability to go deep, and he has averaged 18.8 yards per catch. On defense, Wisconsin has yet to allow a point and rank first in total yards allowed. Michigan is a clear step-up in level of talent, but the Badgers are allowing just 1.3 yards per rush.

Michigan is 2-0, but haven’t looked sharp, and were very nearly upended by 22-point underdog Army in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have sputtered on offense, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and that has put Shea Patterson in too many long down-and-distance scenarios. Patterson has been clean with no interceptions thrown, but is completing just 62% of his passes, and averaging 205 yards per game. The Wolverines have struggled to find the big play without Donovan Peoples-Jones, and he is again questionable. The Wolverine defense remains Top 20 in total yards allowed, but they are clearly a lesser version of the product that was on the field the last two seasons.

Trend Watch

• Michigan is just 1-6 against the spread in their last seven road games, and 0-5 ATS in the last five at Camp Randall.

• Wisconsin is 4-1 ATS in the last five overall, and 10-3 against the spread immediately following a bye week.

• I think the home team winning streak in this series continues as Wisconsin has the best playmaker in Jonathan Taylor, and has the better depth with guys like A.J. Taylor, Jake Ferguson, and Cephus. Michigan is tough, but their offense is powered by the run, and no one has moved the ball on the ground against Wisconsin so far. The Badger D is not made up of big names, but everyone is doing their job, and UW has allowed a paltry 14.3% conversion rate on third down.

My Opinion

→ I would’ve loved to get money on Wisconsin as the underdog, but will still take them and lay the 3.5 points. Wisconsin 27 – Michigan 20.

Chicago Bears (-4) at Washington Redskins (Over/Under 41.5)

September 23, 8:15pm ET – FedEx Field [ESPN]

This one might be not be a thriller on Monday Night, but it is an interesting line, as many bettors still blindly bet home dogs even though sports books caught up with that trend a few years ago and started trimming lines. Chicago may have been a six-point favorite in years past, so if nothing else, they have a little less ground to make up, and 57% of the action has come in on the Bears.

Chicago has managed just 19 points through two games with Mitchell Trubisky hitting just 58% of his passes for a rating south of 66. David Montgomery is averaging 3.3 yards per carry, and Tarik Cohen has carried just four times so far. Cohen is the second leading receiver with ten catches, but is averaging just 5.6 yards per reception, and there has been nothing outside other than Allen Robinson‘s 11-143-0 line. The Bears have one offensive TD through two games and needed a little help from the refs last week to allow kicker Eddy Piniero to beat Denver with a 53-yard field goal. There are no issues with the Chicago defense as that unit is 4th in total yards allowed, 2nd in third down stops, and allows just 2.9 yards per rush.

Washington has been relatively impressive on offense with Case Keenum averaging 300 yards per game with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He has needed to produce as the Redskins are second to last at 68 rushing yards per game. Derrius Guice hit the IR with a knee injury leaving Adrian Peterson as the lead back. Peterson averaged just 2.5 yards per carry last week and it won’t get easier on Sunday. Chris Thompson leads the team with twelve receptions out of the backfield and his short receiving games has essentially replaced the run. Terry McLaurin has impressed with a 10-187-2 start, but he will have to produce as a focal point of the defense going forward. The ‘Skins defense is porous, allowing the 3rd most yards, 5.2 yards per rush and 31.5 points per game. Washington is allowing an absurd 64% third down conversion rate which is easily the worst mark in the league, and opposing QBs have amassed a 124 passer rating.

Trend Watch

• Chicago is 9-3 against the spread in the last 12 against a sub-.500 opponent, and 4-1 ATS in their last five on Monday Night.

• Washington is 1-4 ATS in the five at FedEx Field, and have never fared well in prime time with a 7-21 ATS mark on Monday Night. I assume that 28-game stretch dates back to the Theismann days, so don’t read too much into that stat but its still really bad.

• Chicago has started 0-2 against the spread, but I think they get their first win this week against a Redskins team that is spongy-soft on defense. Montgomery should see room against the 31st ranked run defense, and Peterson is not going anywhere against that Bears front. With Washington limited to the pass, Chicago will harass Keenum and force his first interception at least. The Bears can double McLaurin and I’m not sure who else can move the ball for the Redskins.

My Opinion

→ As long as Trubisky isn’t a negative influence on this game for Chicago, they should cover the four. Chicago 23 – Washington 16.