This was a tough week, which means it’s even more important to reflect on my bets and internalize my mistakes. I think my three biggest improvements will be: (1) Not betting into a game with major injury uncertainties unless I’m confident in the bet regardless of the injury report, (2) Not projecting improvement in theory without seeing it actually happen on the field, and (3) Not ignoring major injuries that will have an uncertain impact on a team.
The week started out great with several convincing wins, but blatant misses on both night games left me 5-5 on the week for a loss of 0.22 Units. I’m still very confident in my process and look forward to bouncing back next week. After going 68% against the spread in 2020, we are now 18-13 in the 2021 season with our bets. I know I can do better.
Here I break down every bet I placed and discuss some key takeaways moving forward. If you want access to my picks as I make them moving forward, become a SharpClarke Member today and see my Week 4 Picks.
Week 3 Bets
|CAR -2, LAR +7.5||(-120)||1.8||9.22.21 (DK)||Win||+1.5|
|ATL +3.5 (-115) @ NYG||(-115)||2||9.20.21 (DK)||Win||+1.74|
|WAS/BUF O 45.5||(-110)||1.5||9.21.21 (MGM)||Win||+1.36|
|PIT -3 v. CIN||(-115)||1.5||9.22.21 (FD)||Loss||-1.5|
|LAC +7 @ KC||(-110)||2||9.23.21 (MGM)||Win||+1.82|
|JAC +7.5 v. ARI||(-108)||1.5||9.25.21 (FD)||Loss||-1.5|
|NYJ +10.5 @ DEN||(-105)||1.5||9.22.21 (FD)||Loss||-1.5|
|MIA +4 @ LV||(-110)||1.5||9.24.21 (MGM)||Win||+1.36|
|SF -3 v. GB||(-115)||2||9.25.21 (DK)||Loss||-2|
|PHI +4 @ DAL||(-110)||1.5||9.23.21 (MGM)||Loss||-1.5|
Teaser: CAR -2, LAR +7.5 (-120) (1.8u) – CAR 24-9, LAR 34-24, Win 1.5 Units
This teaser was so comfortable I would have won by parlaying alternate spreads on both games. The Panthers won by 15 despite suffering some serious in-game injuries because their pressure (particularly off the edges) was too much for a 3rd-round rookie quarterback making his first start on a short week of preparation. Meanwhile, the Rams won comfortably so the +7.5 was never in play. But I still liked this bet as a teaser, because (1) the Texans played the Panthers tougher than the final score and (2) the Rams-Bucs game could have gone differently if a few things bounced Tampa Bay’s way early, which would have led to a much closer game. It would have been more profitable to just play the sides but I’ll always take the win, and think the process was sound.
ATL +3.5 (-115) @ NYG (2u) – ATL 17-14, Win 1.74 Units
Winning with an underdog outright is always a good result. When I locked in this line early in the week, +3.5 was very appealing to me because I thought this would be a tough fought game where the winner takes it by a field goal or less. It turns out I was right, but even though the Falcons won I think the Giants were the better team overall on Sunday, despite several injuries. Anyone who took ATL +3 or ATL +2.5 was very fortunate to get the cover in my opinion.
I saw some things late in the Falcons-Bucs game that gave me hope that Arthur Smith might be able to figure out how to implement an effective offense. But this was wishful thinking. The Falcons have no identifiable offensive identity and seem to be clueless as to how to use each offensive player. It was a mistake to project this type of improvement without first seeing it sustained on the field, and I got away with it here but will have much lower confidence on Atlanta moving forward until I see a functioning offense. We have seen Matt Ryan take a while to adjust to new offensive schemes before, and so it shouldn’t be too surprising. Until they put together an effective game plan for four quarters, I will almost certainly be hands-off. Meanwhile, the Giants have now lost two straight games in which they outplayed their opponent and could be undervalued moving forward as a result.
WAS @ BUF Over 45.5 (-110) (1.5u) – BUF 43-21, Win 1.36 Units
This was another easy win where the teams put up 41 points in the first half and finished with 64 points, well over the total. But unfortunately this might be the last time I get to capitalize on two angles I loved going in: (1) the Washington defense was overrated to begin the year and (2) Josh Allen’s slow start was nothing to sweat. Both of these narratives were corrected in a big way in this game so I think market perception has caught up to reality.
The reason I played the Over (as opposed to the Bills spread) was because Taylor Hienicke is a high-variance quarterback. He makes a lot of plays happen, which makes him a live backdoor candidate against a big spread. But when pressed he is also capable of huge mistakes and turnovers. Both of these angles lead to a lot of points, but not always for Washington. The Over was clearly the right way to play this game.
PIT -3 (-115) v. CIN (1.5u) – CIN 24-10, Loss 1.5 Units
I bet this early in the week in the face of major injury uncertainty and that was a huge mistake. The Steelers have a bad offense and rely on an elite defense to win games. Against a quarterback who has typically struggled with pressure behind a poor offensive line, I hoped that even a less-than-full-strength Steelers defense would win the day. But without T.J. Watt, Highsmith, Tuitt, and Alualu, this Steelers defensive front just is not a dominant force. And with a bad offense, there really was no angle here.
The Bengals didn’t do anything particularly well in this game. But they were the better team and capitalized with enough big plays to punish the Steelers for their mistakes. But the reaction to Pittsburgh right now is almost certainly an overreaction. Last year they didn’t have a good offense but their elite defense led them to a 12-5 record. If they return three or four of those defensive studs (in particular, Watt and Tuitt), I anticipate the defense will be elite once again. If perception is so far down on the Steelers at that point that nobody wants to bet them, there could be value at the right price. But I’m not going to force it in the short term. And I’m going to be much more careful about betting in general before significant injury news is resolved.
LAC +7 (-110) @ KC (2u) – LAC 30-24, Win 1.82 Units
My highest confidence play of the week came through easily here, as the Chargers won outright as 7-point underdogs. But the Chargers were also very fortunate in this game. On their first three drives, the Chiefs were pretty much unstoppable moving the ball. They collected 8 first downs on first and second down before they even faced a third down. But each of these drives ended in a fluky turnover – two fumbles and an interception that popped off the receiver’s hands. Without these fluky turnovers the Chiefs probably would have taken a big lead into half time and put this bet in jeopardy. The Chargers actually punted on 4 of their first 6 drives, as the Kansas City defense performed better against a pass-heavy team.
Regardless, the Chargers were the right side for this very reason. They were capable of capitalizing on Kansas City’s mistakes and really played well down the stretch. They needed a defensive penalty on fourth down to win, but they also forced that penalty with a gutsy call. Herbert continues to show improvement but the narrative that he outplayed Mahomes in this game is a little overblown. He is still learning some of the decision-making soft skills that elite quarterbacks possess. He needs to know he can’t throw to Allen in the flat on 3rd and 4 when the defender is ready to hit Allen as he makes the catch. But the progression is happening and the talent is there. This will likely be the last time we get the Chargers as 7-point underdogs for a while.
JAC +7.5 (-108) v. ARI (1.5u) – ARI 31-19, Loss 1.5 Units
I’m guessing most people didn’t actually watch this game. On first look, most people see that Arizona covered despite a lucky field goal return touchdown by Jacksonville at the end of the first half. And that’s fair. But several high-variance events actually went against Jacksonville too. In the first half, the Jags were putting together a really strong drive when Lawrence hit a receiver in stride and the receiver bobbled the ball, leading to an interception on the ARI 10 yard line. The Jags missed 2 extra points. The awful pick-six on a flea flicker buried them, and two more turnovers prevented the backdoor cover.
Now, bad teams turn the ball over and that’s part of the handicap. I wouldn’t go so far as to say JAC +7.5 was a good bet. It was likely too aggressive and too early to anticipate seeing an uptick by the Jacksonville offense (there’s a trend here, and I went 1-2 trying to project improvements, which is generally a mistake). But moving forward, I think it would be incorrect to simply write off the Jags. They have life, and when it’s not all on Lawrence’s shoulders they can actually perform at a competitive level. Meanwhile, the Cardinals won by 12 without having a good game on offense. That shows their explosiveness and why it is always dangerous to bet against them.
NYJ +10.5 (-105) @ DEN (1.5u) – DEN 26-0, Loss 1.5 Units
I write down my thoughts whenever I place a bet, and on this one I said “Wilson going against Fangio is not appetizing. I hope I’m not a week early.” Rookie quarterbacks struggle in particular against teams that implement complex coverage schemes and have good cornerbacks. It’s such a strong angle and I went against it because the line was (seemingly) too big. I talked myself into a bad bet.
Everything else about this game was the right read. They played slowly. The Broncos struggled to move the ball against the Jets defense. This game flow was ripe for a 10.5-point underdog to cover. But the problem is the offense was simply anemic. Wilson really struggled to find receivers, who were unable to get separation. After a gauntlet of Carolina, New England, and Denver, now is the time to look for spots to back the Jets. I should have listened to myself. I was a week early.
MIA +4 (-110) @ LV (1.5u) – LV 31-28 (OT), Win 1.36 Units
This game exemplified the fragility of individual bets on the NFL. In the last quarter and overtime, there were dozens of individual moments that would have decided this game against the spread, many of which would have decided it for the Raiders. In those kinds of games, you typically want the underdog, especially at 4+ points. That’s why I played Miami. But being honest, this was a lucky win.
Brissett struggled behind a bad offensive line. The Raiders defense is no walkover and on offense they moved the ball much more easily than the Dolphins. Neither team got much push on the offensive line, but as the game went on the Raiders seemed to be bullying the Dolphins into getting tired. Everything was going their way until a miracle game-tying drive that featured two fourth-down conversions. In overtime it was clear the Raiders were the better team and they deserved the win. Not much to take away here, other than a slight upgrade to the Raiders defense, which has consistently played above expectation this season.
SF -3 (-115) v. GB (2u) – GB 30-28, Loss 2 Units
And now we enter the portion of the weekend where I got my butt kicked. Even though this game ended up close to the spread, I completely misread this game on both sides of the ball. The 49ers are typically a team on offense that can move the ball at will against a team that is weak up front and in the middle. That’s Green Bay. That’s why the 49ers have had such a matchup advantage against them in recent years. But that just did not materialize, because Trey Sermon is not a good running back. The 49ers got creative (they had to), but when your fullback is getting 5 carries by choice, that’s not a good indication of where your running game is at. Without a consistent run game, the rest of the offense predictably struggled.
My read on the other side was much closer. I thought the 49ers defensive line would beat the Packers offensive line, and it was more of an even match. The secondary is where San Francisco predictably lost this game. On one hand, the 49ers bailed the Packers out on several third downs with penalties. But on the other hand, Rodgers created those negative situations for the cornerbacks and they were not bad calls. This game was a well-deserved Packers win and cover and my handicap failed to account for the significance of injuries to the 49ers secondary and running backs.
PHI +4 (-110) @ DAL (1.5u) – DAL 41-21, Loss 1.5 Units
Another big miss. Dallas outclassed Philadelphia in every aspect of this game. I was extremely impressed with the Eagles offensive and defensive lines in the first two weeks, but they came into this game with significant injuries (Brandon Graham, their best defensive player, and two starting offensive linemen). I just assumed they would be able to plug the gaps and continue that dominance. Boy was I wrong. The Cowboys simply rolled them on both sides of the line and the Eagles had no chance.
It can be difficult to predict the impact of specific injuries, especially early in the season. But the takeaway here is that when there is uncertainty in how a team will respond immediately following several injuries, it can be best to wait and see. I also am upgrading the Cowboys defense after this game, as they are playing really good football on both sides.