Week 11 Spotlight: NO @ PHI

The Situation

The NFC playoff picture is so wide open that this game surprisingly carries significant weight. At 5-4, the Saints are well positioned for a postseason berth, but even the Eagles are starting to believe in themselves with two double-digit wins in their last three games, only one game back of a wildcard in the NFC. This is an important game for New Orleans and a crucial game for Philadelphia. The Saints have lost two tough games in a row with Trevor Siemian but are sticking with him over Taysom Hill at quarterback as they hope to get back on track. Meanwhile, rookie head coach Nick Sirianni and second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts have turned a corner after a rough start to the season and are finding their rhythm, based mostly on a balanced and efficient offense. With plenty of juicy matchups on the table in Week 11, this one may fly under the radar. But you can pretty much guarantee both teams will be focused and ready for a huge matchup.

The Numbers

My ratings, based only on 2021 season performance, have New Orleans as a significantly better team. They are ranked 8th and the Eagles are ranked 23rd. With a lot of middle-tier teams, the gap between the two is not as significant as it looks, but my numbers still favor the Saints by over a field goal on the road. Of course, the Eagles are playing their best football and the Saints have some key injuries, which accounts for the discrepancy between my numbers and the line.

Baseline: NO by 4.11.

The NO Offense

The Saints have been a little off the radar the past few weeks and I imagine most casual NFL fans and bettors have not actually watched their tape against Atlanta or Tennessee. They are not particularly enticing from a fantasy football perspective, especially without Kamara, and they do not register as an exciting team with Trevor Siemian. But I’ve watched every snap closely come away very impressed with Siemian. I think they are playing better offensive football now than they were with Winston. Most people just see that they’ve lost two consecutive games and think Taysom Hill should be starting, who went 3-1 in relief last year.

But Sean Payton knows what he is doing. Siemian is a better quarterback. He is decisive, confident, and mostly accurate. His receivers have dropped five passes in two games. These have been on-target throws that typically would have led to first downs. When a team built around running the ball and passing efficiently suffers this kind of variance (drops are typically not predictive), it can really hamper a team’s production. Siemian has overcome these mistakes for the most part. Against Atlanta he led three straight touchdown drives to take the lead after being down 23-6, only to lose on a bomb play from Matt Ryan. Against the Titans he came back from a 20-6 deficit to fall short on a failed 2-point conversion. He is getting the job done, even without Alvin Kamara last week.

Of course, Siemian is not an all-star quarterback. This team is built around winning the offensive line battle and finding ways to use all available weapons. Taysom Hill, Harris, Callaway, Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Ingram, and Tre’Quan Smith all play their roles. But they have already lost one offensive lineman for the year and may be without Terron Armstead in this matchup. That would be material. Still, the Eagles defense is not particularly formidable. They have not been the same since they lost Brandon Graham, and I expect them to struggle to keep up with all the weapons while Siemian has a fairly clean pocket. The Eagles rank 22nd in pressure rate and, even without Armstead, the Saints’ offensive line is fairly strong.

Overall, despite being underrated by bettors and the public, the Saints offense truly does take a step back without Kamara and/or Armstead. If both play, I expect a strong performance. But if both sit out, there is reason for caution on this side of the ball.

Projection: NO offense will meet expectation or exceed expectation if Kamara and Armstead play.

The PHI Offense

The Eagles offense has found its mojo in recent weeks by running the ball all day. In their last three games, they have run 59 pass plays (including sacks) and 124 run plays (including Hurts rushes) for an incredible 67.8% run rate. But they have run successfully in those games against three teams who struggle to stop the run. Hurts has not been pressed to carry his team and has performed well with such a strong complement from the run game. He has faced shorter third downs. These teams have also had to commit extra defenders to stopping the run, leaving Hurts free on zone read keepers. It has been all good for the Eagles offense that struggled to find its identity early in the year.

That likely will not happen in this game. The Saints are the best defense in the NFL against the run, and should lock up the rotation of running backs the Eagles put on the field. The Eagles have two choices: stubbornly stick to their run-heavy game plan and hope that Hurts can get outside frequently enough to keep New Orleans on its toes, or go in with a pass-heavy attack and try to beat the Saints downfield. If they try to throw downfield, Hurts will not have Goedert over the middle and his top receiver will face off against Lattimore, who is playing elite football this season. Hurts will have to make exceptional plays outside the pocket. He is capable, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Of course, these teams faced off last year. The Saints had a strong rushing defense then and in Jalen Hurts’ first start, the Eagles rattled off 36 carries for 246 yards in a 24-21 win. Perhaps the Saints struggle relatively with this type of zone read rushing scheme (as opposed to vanilla hand-offs challenging the middle). It’s worth noting that possibility. But they also went into that game with no tape on Hurts. This year they have plenty. I give the benefit of the doubt to the Saints coaching staff.

Projection: PHI offense will underperform.

The Game Flow

If the Saints finally start a game well, it’s tough to see the Eagles coming back to win from behind. The Eagles have won four games. In two, they led wire to wire. In one (against the Falcons), they took a 7-3 lead after two drives and never lost the lead. In their only real comeback (against the Panthers), Carolina ended the game with 5 punts, 2 turnovers, and 1 field goal for 3 points in their last 8 drives. The Saints likely will not let that happen. Meanwhile, we have seen New Orleans erase double-digit deficits in back-to-back weeks. So if the Eagles start hot, don’t count out the Saints. But more than likely, this will be a tough struggle for the offenses and neither team will race out to a big lead. In a tight game, I favor the better defense, offensive line, and coaching.

The Prediction

The Saints establish an early lead by shutting down the run and capitalizing with Taysom Hill in the red zone. They turn red zone trips into touchdowns while the Eagles settle for field goals or fail on fourth down. The Saints take a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter and hold on for a 24-16 win.

The Bet

I like New Orleans on the money line as a short dog. This game opened with the Saints as a small underdog, and “smart” money has pushed towards the Eagles. I apparently placed my bets early, putting 1u on (+108) and then an additional 4u on (+105) when things looked to be heading towards New Orleans. But you can grab (+114) at this point (on FanDuel) and I obviously prefer that. I don’t think the NO +2 line gives much value so I prefer to take the higher payout on the moneyline here, but NO +8 makes an excellent teaser leg if you are so inclined.

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Week 10 Spotlight: KC @ LV

The Situation

In the biggest game of the season for both teams, the 5-3 Raiders host the 5-4 Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. It doesn’t get much better than this. All four teams in the AFC West have 5 wins and all four teams (outside of maybe the Broncos) genuinely view themselves as the best team in the division. The winner of this game can go a long way towards proving that. But these two teams come into the game on vastly different trajectories. The Chiefs were preseason Super Bowl favorites and the Raiders were uniformly expected to be the worst team in the division. If you look at pedigree, coaching, quarterback, and talent, it’s tough not to say the Chiefs are the vastly better team. But if you look at how these teams have actually performed on the field in 2021 so far, that’s a tough argument to make. Derek Carr and the Raiders always play their best football against the Chiefs, so Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will need to fix their recent issues in this game to secure the crucial win and avoid looking at the AFC playoff picture from the outside looking in.

The Numbers

My ratings, based only on 2021 season performance, have Kansas City as the slightly better team, but the gap is more than offset by home field advantage. My numbers suggest the game should be essentially a pick ’em.

Baseline: LV by 0.81.

The KC Offense

Early in the season I was extremely high on this offense. They marched down the field with ease, like the Chiefs have for the last three years. They shot themselves in the foot several times with some high variance turnovers that were not predictive of poor performance. I wasn’t worried. This changed starting with the Bills game. They have genuinely struggled to move the ball. Travis Kelce looks like he’s lost a step. This is a major concern because he has always been the go-to player for Mahomes when defenses take away the big play. In past years, if you put two high safeties deep and rushed four, Mahomes would pepper Kelce for 7-10 yard gains until you got out of it. This has not happened in 2021, and so defenses have not had to adjust.

Given that defenses have been successful stopping Kansas City with coverage and rushing four, the Raiders are ideally suited for this matchup. They exert pressure at the league’s fifth-highest rate yet blitz less than any team in the NFL. It’s almost like they designed their defense to stop the Chiefs. They have played consistently well all year, particularly against the pass. Kansas City will get Clyde Edwards-Helaire back, and this could not have come at a better time. They will need to run the ball and they will need to run the ball successfully here. If they cannot run the ball, the Raiders will not have to adjust and it will be another long day for this offense. But if they can run the ball and force the Raiders down towards the line of scrimmage, there is a chance the Chiefs get back on track here.

But I wouldn’t count on it. Edwards-Helaire is an inconsistent runner. He can churn out tough yards but does not punish defenses for leaving gaps. I think the Raiders will be happy to give him some yards and focus on stopping the pass. They will force the Chiefs to play their best football, and there is simply no reason to think they can play their best football right now. Andy Reid will have to pull out all of his tricks, and Mahomes will have to play his best football and hope his receivers stop dropping passes and fumbling the ball. It’s never comfortable betting against Mahomes, because he is still the best player in the NFL. But he is in a true slump, and this is a tough spot.

Projection: KC offense will likely perform below expectation.

The LV Offense

The Chiefs defense has quietly been playing much better football of late. The early perception was that this defense is a historically bad defense, and that was fairly accurate early on. But they were struggling with injuries to key players, forcing other players out of position, and they faced several difficult matchups against the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, and Bills in their first five games. But outside of a disaster against Tennessee, they have gotten back on track with aggressiveness, capitalizing on opponent mistakes.

This chart shows the Chiefs’ defensive performance relative to each offense it has faced so far this season.

But this is not a good matchup for the Chiefs defense either. As you can see, three of the Chiefs’ four worst performances came against Cleveland, Baltimore, and Tennessee. These three teams are built to run the ball and capitalize on efficient downfield passing in key spots. The way you beat this defense is by playing sound football, diagnosing blitzes accurately, and avoiding mistakes. Teams that struggle against Kansas City are inconsistent teams that cannot run a methodical offense (like Washington with Heinicke, the Giants with Daniel Jones, and the Packers with Jordan Love).

Derek Carr is a smart, experienced quarterback who makes few mistakes. He plays his best football when the team can run the ball and stay ahead of the chains. The Raiders should be able to run the ball here and that is bad news for Kansas City. Carr also excels at making high-leverage throws on third downs, particularly in big games. Expect Waller, Renfrow, and Edwards to come up with huge catches when it matters most. Public perception is unfairly low on the Chiefs defense, but that is offset specifically in this matchup, which projects to be a tough one for the Chiefs.

Projection: LV offense will meet or slightly exceed expectations.

The Game Flow

The Raiders are going to hold the ball as much as possible. I think they’ll be able to churn out long drives and limit possessions in the game. On defense they will force Kansas City to do the same. There is a good chance we see each team touch the ball only 3-4 times each half, and it’s likely to come down to which team can convert in the red zone and avoid costly mistakes. If one team does take an early lead, the other team is very live for a comeback. We saw fireworks in both matchups last year and we could see the same here.

The Prediction

It pains me to write this sentence as a Chiefs fan, because this is a huge game: the Raiders should win this game outright. They are the team that is more likely to play sound, consistent football and get in the end zone. I think they stay one step ahead of the Chiefs throughout the game, and take a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs will make it interesting but ultimately cannot make key stops on third down as the Raiders salt away the victory, 27-24.

The Bet

There are several ways to play this matchup. I’ve been waiting for a LV +3, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. If it does, it’ll likely be (-115) or (-120). So I’m no longer waiting. I’m playing LV +2.5 (-104) (4u) (FD). The money line (+124) also has value, but this is the kind of game where a 1-2 point win is within the range of outcomes. Alternatively, if you like teasers, LV +8.5 makes for one of the best teaser legs of the season in my opinion. The Chiefs are extremely unlikely to win by margin. As for the Total, given my predicted game flow and how the KC defense is underrated, I like Under 52.

For my Week 10 Bets and all NFL Bets as I place them, become a SharpClarke Member.

I take pride in my work but nobody can guarantee success betting on sports. There are too many variables. I offer advice for entertainment purposes. If you have a gambling problem, finding winning bets is not the answer. The only answer is to stop gambling. For help, call 1-800-522-4700.

2021 Week 8 Performance Ratings

Before I get into my Performance Ratings, I’m going to share some insight into my process. I talk a lot about trusting the process, and that’s easy to do because I know my process and believe in it. But it’s another thing to ask my followers to trust the process without explaining it. So I’m giving in. Here is how the sausage is made.

I watch every snap of every game. Every time a team gets the ball on a meaningful drive (ignoring drives clearly intended to get to halftime or garbage time drives after the game has been decided), I evaluate how successfully that team moves the ball. For most drives, the goal is to move the ball down the field and get in the end zone. There are a bunch of different ways to do this, obviously. Some are more repeatable than others. I grade drives as successful when a performance was convincing and repeatable.

Specifically, every drive gets a score from 1 to 10. I am not driven by stats, because all stats contain flaws. I treat each drive holistically, trying to incorporate all of the little things that happen that lead to success or failure. There is obviously a subjective element to this, but over time, and after doing this for over 400 games now, the skewing effect of errors gets smoothed out. It’s always difficult to account for every little detail but it gets easier the more I do it.

I focus on repeatable performance and give less weight to random or unpredictable events. So, for example, my system typically treats lost fumbles by running backs and receivers as random (as opposed to sack-fumbles, which typically result from pressure, carrying predictive value). So if a team is moving the ball at will but fumbles in opponent territory, I typically grade that drive highly even though it ended in a turnover. Similarly, if a team struggling to move the ball gets bailed out by a bad roughing-the-passer penalty, I typically don’t give the offense credit for that first down. I also ignore special teams in my official grades (although I do sometimes consider elements of special teams when evaluating matchups).

The average score for a team’s drives in a game gives them an offensive SharpClarke Rating for that game. The opposing team’s defensive SharpClarke Rating is simply the inverse of this number. A team’s Rating as compared to the opposing team’s average Rating allowed on that side of the ball gives the Adjusted Rating for that game. These numbers capture how effectively a team performed relative to the other teams their opponent has faced. These numbers form my Performance Ratings.

I build off this basic system in a variety of ways, and I’ll go into that more at a later date. But at its core, my process involves creating a numerical data point that reflects true performance in a game on each side of the ball with the goal of answering two questions: How effective was this offense? How effective was this defense? By answering those questions with a data point, I can then work to evaluate what elements are predictive and understand why a team may have outperformed or underperformed in a given game. I can also see the impact of different injuries.

These Performance Ratings do not include manual adjustments based on feel or narrative. They are simply the mathematical result of my process at work, unadjusted. If a number seems off, it’s because (for whatever reason) that team has not looked as impressive to me, averaging all of their performances, than it has to you. It could be that injuries suppressed performance, or they have faced an easier schedule (these ratings are fully adjusted for opponent), or their success (or lack thereof) is not sustainable.

Without further ado… here are the Ratings:

Q1 Performance Ratings

  1. Los Angeles Rams (+1.16)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (+1.10)
  3. Tampa Bay Bucs (+0.98)
  4. Buffalo Bills (+0.80)
  5. Arizona Cardinals (+0.76)
  6. Tennessee Titans (+0.45)
  7. Cleveland Browns (+0.43)
  8. Los Angeles Chargers (+0.41)
  9. Kansas City Chiefs (+0.39)
  10. Green Bay Packers (+0.30)
  11. New Orleans Saints (+0.28)
  12. Pittsburgh Steelers (+0.25)
  13. Minnesota Vikings (+0.19)
  14. Baltimore Ravens (+0.16)
  15. Carolina Panthers (+0.02)
  16. San Francisco 49ers (+0.02)
  17. New England Patriots (-0.01)
  18. Indianapolis Colts (-0.05)
  19. Las Vegas Raiders (-0.08)
  20. Seattle Seahawks (-0.09)
  21. Philadelphia Eagles (-0.30)
  22. New York Giants (-0.30)
  23. Cincinnati Bengals (-0.32)
  24. Denver Broncos (-0.40)
  25. Chicago Bears (-0.53)
  26. Washington Football Team (-0.53)
  27. Atlanta Falcons (-0.56)
  28. Miami Dolphins (-0.72)
  29. New York Jets (-0.78)
  30. Jacksonville Jaguars (-0.99)
  31. Detroit Lions (-1.00)
  32. Houston Texans (-1.01)

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Week 8 Reflections – On Rookie Quarterbacks

Doing things a little differently this week. Instead of a deep dive into every game, I’m going to write about an angle that had a meaningful impact on this week’s results and then write a single one-line takeaway from the other games.

First, a very quick Week 8 summary:

  • 8-5 for +4.74 Units, including losing my hedge bet after bad injury and Covid news.
  • Smashed my Game of the Week with NE +5.5 winning outright.
  • Blocked out all external analysis and relied entirely on my system.
  • Season: 45-41 for -2.29 Units.
  • Went 12-3 picking each game against the spread but once again lost on Totals.
  • As a result, I will be focusing on ATS, moneylines, and teasers moving forward.

If you want access to my picks as I make them, become a SharpClarke Member today and see my Week 9 Picks.

Week 8 Bets

BetOddsUnitsDate PlacedResultNet
GB +3.5 @ ARI(-110)210.24.21 (DK)Win+1.82
ATL -3 v. CAR(-105)1.510.28.21 (FD)Loss-1.5
MIA TT O 16.5 @ BUF(-115)1.510.28.21 (MGM)Loss-1.5
CIN TT U 26.5 @ NYJ(+100)1.510.28.21 (MGM)Loss-1.5
TEN +3 @ IND
10.29.21 (DK)Win+1.55
LAR -14.5 @ HOU(-106)1.510.29.21 (FD)Win+1.42
PIT +4.5 @ CLE(-110)1.510.30.21 (MGM)Win+1.36
PHI ML @ DET + SF ML @ CHI(+135)110.30.21 (MGM)Win+1.35
JAC +3.5 @ SEA(-110)210.26.21 (DK)Loss+1.35
NE +5.5 @ LAC(-106)2.510.27.21 (FD)Win+2.36
DAL -2 @ MIN(-110)210.25.21 (MGM)Win+1.82
NYG +10 @ KC(-110)1.510.28.21 (MGM)Win+1.36
*Hedge: ARI -0, MIN +3.5(-120)1.810.28.21 (DK)Loss-1.8

On Rookie Quarterbacks

During the afternoon games on Sunday I watched my best bet of the week (NE +5.5) and my worst bet of the week (JAC +3.5) unfold. My breakdown of each matchup involved many factors obviously, but they shared a common thread: I saw two rookie quarterbacks showing marked progress that I expected to continue. I was correct in one case and incorrect in the other. This contrast stuck with me and reminded me of the importance of environment in a young quarterback’s development.

Mac Jones is playing behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and is being coached up by one of the greatest coaches of all time. At 69 years old, with his experience and focus, Bill Belichick might have the smartest football brain in the world. Oh, and he developed another young quarterback you might have heard of. Mac Jones is probably not going to ascend to MVP level any time soon. But he was the fifth quarterback taken off the board and is outplaying all of his competition.

Every top quarterback prospect has talent. NFL scouts make mistakes but they aren’t collectively stupid. Yet top prospects routinely fail when put in bad situations. There are exceptions and nuances to every trend, obviously. But in general, young quarterback development comes down to how well they are taught the game as much as their talent. Quarterbacks reach their potential when they are given the reins piece-by-piece, at the pace they can handle, with smart teachers showing them the way, while avoiding bad habits. We’ve recently seen Andy Reid partner with Mahomes in this way and Adam Gase effectively stunt Sam Darnold’s career arc. We don’t know what would have happened in other situations but this happens all the time.

On Sunday we saw this play out in real time. Mac Jones is not more talented than Trevor Lawrence. In my opinion, he didn’t even play all that much better than Lawrence this week. But their situations are drastically different. New England’s defense and running game takes the pressure off Jones. They limited Justin Herbert to 6.4 yards per attempt on 51.4% completions, and picked him off twice. Their running backs ran the ball 35 times for 132 yards. The Jaguars, meanwhile, let Geno Smith complete 83.3% of his passes for 8.1 yards per attempt and forced zero turnovers. Their running backs ran the ball 15 times for 63 yards, with Robinson out for most of the game.

But even taking a broader look, Lawrence is not set up for success. They took multiple delay of game penalties. Receivers had key drops. Players were missing assignments and ended up in the wrong place. The defense had multiple backbreaking penalties that extended drives. Despite losing 31-7, the Jaguars actually gained more yards (309 to 229) and first downs (20 to 17) than the Seahawks. And when you take out first downs gained on penalties, it was 19 to 14 in favor of Jacksonville. They lost because they are poorly coached.

This is why Lawrence’s development will be much more rocky than Mac Jones’. It’s possible that Lawrence never pans out. I personally see enough on the field to have confidence that he will be successful in the NFL, but it will not be a straight up arrow. It’s just really difficult to overcome bad circumstances, and when we are looking for the edge in predicting how things will happen in the future, this is an important angle. This is why I should have had more confidence in the “progressing rookie QB” angle in the Patriots game than in the Jaguars game.

Game Recap Quick-Hits

  • GB 24-21 @ ARI (GB +3.5, W): Cardinals’ flaws in offensive structure revealed with Hopkins in and out of the game and in a mistake-heavy final drive.
  • CAR 19-13 @ ATL (ATL -3, L): Healthy Panthers defense is back to terrorizing opponents with aggressive pressure, helping hide Darnold with 47 run plays.
  • BUF 26-11 v. MIA (MIA TT O 16.5, L): Josh Allen continues to play below 2020 level but the Bills defense is playing elite football.
  • NYJ 34-31 v. CIN (CIN TT U 26.5, L): Despite the close final score, the Jets soundly beat the Bengals on both sides of the ball and got unlucky that it was even close.
  • TEN 34-31 @ IND (TEN +3, TEN ML, W): Dead even match won by the team that made fewer mistakes.
  • LAR 38-22 @ HOU (LAR -14.5, W): For LAR -16 or -16.5 bettors (where it closed), this was the worst backdoor I’ve ever seen as the Rams absolutely crushed the Texans 38-0 before benching their starters; graded as the most lopsided game of the year so far.
  • PIT 15-10 @ CLE (PIT +4.5, W): Browns failed to capitalize on opportunities despite being better overall, but struggle when they cannot run.
  • PHI 44-6 @ DET (PHI ML, W): Eagles did not need to work out any of their offensive identity issues here and did not prove anything meaningful here.
  • SF 33-22 @ CHI (SF ML, W): By far, Justin Fields had his best game as a pro and will be off my “must not bet” list for the first time this week.
  • DAL 20-16 @ MIN (DAL -2, W): Vikings played not to lose and Cowboys played to win with a backup quarterback; the better team won.

See my Week 9 Picks Here.

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Week 8 Spotlight: NE @ LAC

The Situation

The Chargers had two weeks to ruminate on their embarrassing loss to the Ravens and come out of their bye week hoping to get back on track in their pursuit of an AFC West title. After a 4-2 start with wins over the Chiefs, Browns, and Raiders, they have proven themselves a true contender. On the other side, the Patriots come off a commanding 54-13 beatdown of the Jets and still have playoff aspirations at 3-4. They have played two very good teams tough (the Bucs and Cowboys), but are still seeking that win that really puts them on the map in the AFC. These teams met last year and the Patriots with Cam Newton buried the Chargers 45-0. Obviously Justin Herbert and the Chargers from last year’s squad have a bitter taste in their mouth and want nothing more than to rectify last year’s loss. Bill Belichick will try to continue his dominance of young quarterbacks and no doubt will throw some new wrinkles at Herbert.

The Numbers

My ratings favor the Chargers to win at home. Based on year-to-date performance relative to competition, the Chargers are ranked 7th and the Patriots are ranked 21st. But there is not as big of a gap as those rankings would indicate. There are many teams in that middle range, and my projections have the Chargers favored by a little more than a field goal.

Baseline: LAC by 4.78.

The LAC Offense

If you’ve been following me for a while you know I love Justin Herbert. A lot has been made of how this team has relied on 3rd and 4th down conversions for success and how that’s not necessarily sustainable. But on the flip side, the more you practice high pressure situations, the better you get at handling them. The Chargers routinely put themselves in tough spots and Herbert is excellent at bailing them out. They don’t run the ball particularly well, and the Patriots have been decent against the run, so this side of the ball will be all about Herbert.

Herbert has only had what I would consider a “bad” game three times in his career: two weeks ago against Baltimore and in two games last year against the Dolphins and the Patriots. The common thread these defenses share is the combination of complex pressure schemes and excellent coverage on the back end. That has been the blueprint for stopping Herbert. He is a smart player for his age, but he is still early in his second season and is learning (sometimes the hard way) how to deal with disguises and stunts. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at exploiting breakdowns in coverage. But the other side of the coin is that he can underperform when the opposing defense fails to provide him with break downs to capitalize on.

Now the Patriots have not excelled at getting pressure this season, but they have been good enough in key moments to frustrate even strong quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Dak Prescott. And most importantly, they trick quarterbacks into thinking that there has been a breakdown in coverage when everyone is actually in the right spot. This is why Belichick-coached defenses have excelled against inexperienced quarterbacks. This is how a mediocre Patriots team beat the Chargers 45-0 last season. I certainly do not expect a shut out here, as Herbert has improved. But this is far from an ideal spot for him.

Projection: LAC offense will likely perform below expectation.

The NE Offense

I like the Patriots offense to play well here for two very simple reasons: First, they are at their best when they can run the ball and the Chargers allow the highest average yards per carry in the NFL. Second, they are trending positively on offense with a good explanation. If a team is trending positively with no explanation, I remain skeptical. But here, there are multiple explanations. We have a rookie quarterback who is improving every week, supported by an excellent coach who has a track record of helping young quarterbacks meet their potential. It’s not a surprise that Mac Jones is playing better football in Week 8 than he was in Week 1. And, their offensive line suffered injuries recently but is getting healthy.

Here is a chart showing the Patriots’ offensive performance relative to each defense so far this season:

They played well in Week 1 against Miami when their offensive line was at full strength and they were able to run the ball. Then they struggled against some good run defenses in the Jets, Saints, and Bucs. Against Houston their offensive line was massively depleted (missing four starters), and they started to perform well against Dallas before having their best performance of the season (by far) against the Jets. My pure numbers above treat all games as equal; so when there is reason to believe a team has turned a corner there can be value on that team.

Here, the Patriots offensive line is healthy and the Chargers cannot stop the run. This sets up for an ideal matchup that I think the Patriots will exploit. It’s far more likely that they are an offense on the rise, given the circumstances, than they are a mediocre team that had one randomly good performance. It’s important not to read too much into a win against the Jets; but it would also be a mistake to ignore this team’s trajectory and the evidence they put on film.

Projection: NE offense will exceed expectations.

The Game Flow

This should be a fairly slow game. The Patriots will want to reduce possessions and should be able to by running the ball. They also will want to take away the big play and that will limit the Chargers’ explosiveness. A slow game and fewer possessions favors the underdog, as it should lead to a closer game. But with the game on the line, Herbert is much more likely to win for his team than Mac Jones at this point.

The Prediction

The Patriots successfully bleed the clock and grind out drives but cannot finish with touchdowns consistently. Meanwhile, Herbert makes enough plays to keep his team in it despite having to punt a few times. The teams head into the final stretch tied or within three points, and Herbert pulls out the win in the clutch, 23-20.

The Bet

SharpClarke Members got my bet earlier this week: NE +5.5 (-110) (2.5 Units). Unlike in pervious weeks, I did not add the underdog money line because I think the Chargers are better built for a win in crunch time and so there is more value on the Patriots with the points. I’m seeing +4 or +4.5 now, and those are good bets as well, although the +4 does lose some real value. That said, I don’t hate the money line. I also like the Under 49.5 or Under 50 but I have decided to roll with the spread bet and leave it at that.

For my Week 8 Bets and all NFL Bets as I place them, become a SharpClarke Member.

I take pride in my work but nobody can guarantee success betting on sports. There are too many variables. I offer advice for entertainment purposes. If you have a gambling problem, finding winning bets is not the answer. The only answer is to stop gambling. For help, call 1-800-522-4700.

Week 7 Recap

Week 7 was my reminder of how difficult this game can be. I came into the season with high expectations and I was humbled by a 2-6 week for -8.44 Units that puts me 37-36 on the season for -7.03 Units. I came into this season with hubris and this has been a great learning experience for me. There are plenty of reasons for my underperformance, and I am reflecting on all of them. But this week I am completely shutting out all noise. No podcasts, no outside information at all. I’m going to watch the games, run my analysis, and project the matchups. I’m also going to spend more time on getting my process right than putting out content. So this recap will be a little shorter than in weeks past.

This article breaks down every bet I placed and discusses some key reflections and takeaways moving forward. If you want access to my picks as I make them, become a SharpClarke Member today and see my Week 8 Picks.

Week 7 Bets

BetOddsUnitsDate PlacedResultNet
CIN @ BAL U 47.5(-115)210.19.21 (FD)Loss-2
GB -1.5, MIA +8(-120)1.810.22.21 (DK)Win+1.5
CAR @ NYG O 42.5(-110)1.510.22.21 (DK)Loss-1.5
HOU +17 @ ARI
10.18.21 (MGM)Loss-2.1
PHI +3 @ LV
10.21.21 (DK)Loss-2
DET +15.5 @ LAR(-110)1.510.21.21 (FD)Win+1.36
SF -4 v. IND(-110)1.510.22.21 (MGM)Loss-1.5
NO -5 @ SEA
NO -12.5
10.25.21 (MGM)
10.25.21 (DK)

CIN @ BAL Under 47.5 (-115) (2u) – CIN 41-17, Loss 2 Units

With 7 minutes left in the second quarter, the Bengals had the ball on their own 20 yard line. It was 3-3, and both teams had completed four drives: three punts and one field goal each. This bet looked like a lock. But it’s a 60-minute game, and the Bengals made me regret it. I loved the Bengals here (and picked them in my contest) but did not have faith in Joe Burrow, particularly with his best weapon lined up against Marlon Humphrey. Turns out Ja’Marr Chase is pretty good. I didn’t play a lot of Over/Unders last year, and I’m 3-4 this year. Not a big enough sample size to write them off, but I’ll be cautious. What I learned here is that Burrow has the playmakers (and accuracy) to be explosive despite a slow start to the year offensively.

GB -1.5 v. WAS, MIA +8 v. ATL (-120) (1.8u) – GB 24-10, ATL 30-28 – Win 1.5 Units

It’s been a very teaser-friendly season. I’m now 5-1 on teasers, and this was another optimal play. The Packers score should have been closer, but Washington just was not good enough to finish drives. Either way, the game was never truly in doubt and teasing was the right play (over the -7.5 spread) even though the spread bet covered. Meanwhile, Dolphins-Falcons played tight as expected, with Tua performing at his best in comeback mode against less aggressive pressure. They came out of the London game underrated and getting healthy and I was happy to capitalize.

CAR @ NYG Over 42.5 (-110) (1.5u) – NYG 25-3, Loss 1.5 Units

This bet never really had a chance. I expected a get-right spot for the Panthers offense (whiff) and that the Giants offense would outperform expectation against a good defense (hit). But stalled drives, a red zone pick by Darnold, and a touchdown overturned on replay (leading to a turnover on downs) really buried the Over. The Panthers again suffered drops and strangely benched Darnold with a quarter to play down by less than two touchdowns. There is zero chemistry right now with this offense and they cannot be trusted. Meanwhile, Daniel Jones performed admirably given that he faced one of the tougher defenses in the league (particularly exerting pressure) without four of his best weapons. This Giants offense will surprise people this season. This may be unpopular, but I think the Giants have found their quarterback.

HOU +17 (-110) (2u) @ ARI, HOU ML (+900) (0.1u) – ARI 31-5, Loss 2.1 Units

This one hurt. The game went according to plan early as the Cardinals totaled 1 yard of offense on their first three drives. But the Texans offense was just atrocious. They couldn’t run, even against a team that has been vulnerable on the ground and missing Chandler Jones. My performance grade for the Cardinals offense was pretty average in this game, but a combination of back-breaking penalties and heroics by Kyler Murray ensured that they were still good enough to cover a massive spread (that closed above -20). It’s unforgivable to let a team convert a 3rd-and-24 with a deep pass, but that’s exactly what bad teams do. Even though the Cardinals are fortunate to be 7-0, there is not a ton of value betting against them because a majority of the betting community is (justifiably) skeptical. Knowing that a team is not as good as their record is not value; it’s only value if your perception is sharper than the market. In this case, I think the market has been fair with the Cardinals.

PHI +3 (-110) @ LV (1.5u), PHI ML (+140) (0.5u) – LV 33-22, Loss 2 Units

The Raiders pretty much dominated this game. I bet on the Eagles despite my numbers (which suggested LV -4) because I thought the Eagles had played a tougher schedule than the Raiders and were getting healthy. None of that mattered. Even in the absence of Gruden, the Raiders continue to run an effective offense in which Foster Moreau filled right in for Waller. Meanwhile the Eagles’ struggle for identity continues. They started out well but after Miles Sanders got hurt they could not run, and there is nothing consistent or reliable about their passing game. I have serious doubts about Sirianni as a head coach after some early optimism that may have been misplaced. Moving forward I am going to be putting more stock in my numbers, particularly given that we have a bigger sample size of games now.

DET +15.5 (-110) @ LAR (1.5u) – LAR 28-19, Win 1.36 Units

The poor Lions. They threw everything at the Rams here. Not one, but two fake punts, both of which were successful. A surprise onside kick. Also successful. A screen pass into a heavy blitz that Swift almost dropped and turned into a 50+ yard touchdown. They made big stops. Yet, in the end, they lost another heartbreaker. The fact that all those things went their way and they still lost by 9 reveals the talent gap between these two teams. But it also reveals that these Lions simply play hard every single week. There is a chance a loss like this can really demoralize a losing team, so that will be something to watch. But the fight may just be in this team’s blood. The Rams, once again, were good enough and not much better. Stafford is making plays, and the defense is healthy. As long as those two things continue, they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But they’ll have to play better against the best teams in the NFL.

SF -4 (-110) v. IND (1.5u) – IND 30-18 Loss 1.5 Units

This was a sloppy, rainy game and it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from it. Essentially, both teams struggled to move the ball but the Colts learned that the best play in a game like this is the underthrown deep ball that draws a defensive pass interference. The Niners fell for it time and again, and it cost them this game. Early on I thought my read was right on, as the 49ers marched up the field for an easy touchdown drive that consisted of 6 runs and 2 passes. My game grades will go in my database but I’m not going to be drawing too heavily from this result. It reminds me of the Ravens-Patriots game from last year in which the Patriots won an ugly one. It’s a good, important win for the Colts but let’s move on.

NO -5 (-110) @ SEA (2u), NO -12.5 (+210) (0.2u) – NO 13-10, Loss 2.2 Units

I got excited about this game when the Saints’ injury report dropped. They were excellent in Week 1 against Green Bay, but have suffered relentless injuries and Covid issues that have kept their profile down, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. They got McCoy and Armstead back, and I projected a huge day for the Saints’ run game. But Kamara ran 20 times for 51 yards. They simply could not run. With everything on the shoulders of Jameis Winston, they were predictably mediocre on offense. But the Saints were the better team. Lattimore got caught retaliating against Metcalf in key spots, and lost a hand-fighting battle on the sideline that led to an 85-yard touchdown. Outside of that, the Seahawks averaged 2.5 yards per play. If Winston connected on just one of his (dozen, it felt like) long balls, it probably would not have been close. Geno Smith has now faced two of the toughest defenses in the league, and the Seahawks have tried to hide him. We have not learned much about him, other than Carroll likely does not trust him (but Carroll doesn’t trust Russell Wilson, so that’s not surprising). Meanwhile the Saints lost Andrus Peat, so the “finally healthy” angle took another hit.

Hoping for a rebound week with my Week 8 Picks Here.

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Week 7 Spotlight: PHI @ LV

The Situation

If you want to turn your attention away from all the potential blowouts on the afternoon slate this Sunday, tune in to the only game with a spread in single digits, featuring the 4-2 Las Vegas Raiders hosting the 2-4 Philadelphia Eagles. On the surface, the Raiders are the better team playing at home and should hold serve as they fight for a playoff spot in the AFC. They recently lost their head coach but played a solid game last week in his absence. Meanwhile, the Eagles have struggled to find their identity as rookie head coach Nick Sirianni’s growing pains have been on full display. Yet the betting market is treating these teams as fairly equal, giving the Eagles only 2.5 or 3 points as a road underdog. NFL teams have a tendency to perform well the week after losing a head coach or key player but can struggle once the new norm is established. Despite trading Zach Ertz, the Eagles have not given up on this season and hope to right the ship in Las Vegas.

The Numbers

By pure performance, the Raiders have performed better than the Eagles so far this season. But when adjusted for opponent strength, the Eagles rank 17th overall and the Raiders rank 20th overall. Still, balancing true performance and relative performance, my baseline has the Raiders favored at home by a little over a field goal.

Baseline: LV by 4.13.

The LV Offense

The Raiders have not been able to run this year, but Derek Carr has kept them in games with big plays downfield. Carr is an underrated quarterback and, in particular, capitalizes against single coverage when opposing teams blitz. The Raiders use a lot of multiple tight end sets and even use a fullback to help offset the immediate impact of blitzes and this generally buys Carr just enough time to throw downfield to his talented receivers. His best games this season came against three of the most blitz-heavy teams in the league (Baltimore, Miami, and Denver) and a very banged up Steelers defense.

The Eagles do not like to blitz. They get natural pressure with their front four (albeit at a much lower rate without Brandon Graham), and flood the defensive backfield with players to reduce big plays. Carr will have to take the intermediate throws to Waller and Renfrow to move the ball consistently here. When the Raiders have to run their offense this way, they are simply not at their best. And they will get no help from the run game. Behind a bad offensive line, the Raiders have been unable to run all season. Outside of their game against Miami (who have one of the worst run defenses in the league), no running back has topped 53 yards in a game for the Raiders. They are 31st overall with a miserable 3.33 yards per carry. The Eagles should have no problem containing Jacobs and Drake.

The Eagles secondary is not elite, so Carr should be able to make some plays and keep drives alive. But they are just not built to grind out long drives with lots of first downs. And despite fairly average numbers, the Eagles defense has faced a murderer’s row of opposing offenses, including the Bucs, Chiefs, and Cowboys in three of the last four weeks. They completely shut down the only non-elite quarterback they have faced in the last four weeks and should be ready for Carr. I think the Raiders end up settling for too many field goals, punts, or fourth down attempts. It’s easy to underestimate Carr, who never seems to get the respect he deserves. But this not an ideal spot for him and this Raiders offense, particularly without Gruden to help orchestrate in-game adjustments.

Projection: LV offense will perform below expectation.

The PHI Offense

Let’s start with the trenches. The Eagles came into the season playing extremely well up front, manhandling the Falcons and even the 49ers in the first half of Week 2, before the injuries started to hit. Then Lane Johnson took some time off for a personal matter. Despite playing multiple games down several linemen, the Eagles are 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per play, in part because Hurts is great running the zone read. The Raiders defense is 25th in yards per carry allowed, and has not played a particularly difficult schedule of opposing running backs. In fact, they have faced some of the worst offensive lines in the league (PIT, MIA, CHI, DEN, BAL, LAC). Now the Eagles are getting Lane Johnson back, Mailata is healthy, and the Raiders are up against a tough test.

The Eagles can run the ball, but they haven’t been. I’m always wary about banking on strategic adjustments from coaches, but based on the Eagles’ fans reactions when they ran against Tampa Bay, the comments about running more, and just trusting that these coaches aren’t complete idiots, I expect them to run more here. Jalen Hurts is effective running the zone read and they should be able to benefit from offensive line strength and these outside runs to take the edge off the Raiders defense.

Casey Heyward has been an excellent addition to the Raiders’ secondary and they have slowed down opposing stud wide receivers this year. But the Eagles do not have an alpha receiver yet, and so this advantage is negated. Tight ends have performed well instead, so I expect the recently activated Dallas Goedert to be heavily involved. Using a strong ground game to chew up clock and set up easy reads for Hurts is a winning strategy if the Eagles can pull it off. They should be able to against what is an overrated defense.

Projection: PHI offense will exceed expectations.

The Game Flow

I don’t see a huge game flow advantage either way here. Derek Carr is a clutch quarterback. He makes a lot of plays when the game is tight or when his team is losing. But this Raiders team is not good enough at running the ball to press a lead against a feisty opponent. If the Eagles get behind, I expect them to stay aggressive. In other words, no lead is safe. But getting the underdog in those spots is usually favorable, because a lot of outcomes end up in the 1-3 point range. In fact, dating back to last season, the Raiders have ended regulation with a point differential of 2 or fewer in five of their last eight games (three went into overtime).

The Prediction

The Eagles get back on track here by controlling both sides of the trenches, and put away the Raiders 27-17. The Eagles set their season high for rushing yards and Jalen Hurts makes a couple of deep connections to his speedy wide receivers. Meanwhile, with no run game to lean back on and unable to capitalize on single-coverage, Carr is able to to move the ball somewhat but stalls too frequently in the red zone.

The Bet

SharpClarke Members got my bet earlier this week: PHI +3 (-110) (1.5 Units) and PHI Moneyline (+140) (0.5 Units). We are on a roll with moneyline underdogs so let’s keep the streak alive! These lines have not moved much, so you can probably still get the same or similar odds and I would take PHI +3 up to -120 and the Moneyline up to +130.

For my Week 7 Bets and all NFL Bets as I place them, become a SharpClarke Member.

I take pride in my work but nobody can guarantee success betting on sports. There are too many variables. I offer advice for entertainment purposes. If you have a gambling problem, finding winning bets is not the answer. The only answer is to stop gambling. For help, call 1-800-522-4700.

Week 6 Recap

After our best week of the season last week, we stumbled through a disappointing 5-7 week for -1.47 Units. I was right on the money with my biggest play of the week but made several regrettable picks that offset the win. This is my first year going public with my picks, and I’m learning a lot of lessons in this young season. This week I realized that I am being over-aggressive with my picks and taking every single bet where I see even the smallest perceived edge. Last year I was more patient and spent more time playing out the counter-narratives more fully. I stayed away when there were compelling angles on both sides. You may see a reduction in volume of plays moving forward as I become more deliberate in my process but hopefully quality beats quantity as I really only play the games I feel strongly about. It will take discipline and focus but I feel good about that direction.

After going 68% against the spread in 2020, we are now 35-30 in the 2021 season for +1.41 Units with our bets. Looking for another rebound week in Week 7.

This article breaks down every bet I placed and discusses some key reflections and takeaways moving forward. If you want access to my picks as I make them, become a SharpClarke Member today and see my Week 7 Picks.

Week 6 Bets

BetOddsUnitsDate PlacedResultNet
JAC +3.5
JAC +3
10.13.21 (MGM)
10.13.21 (MGM)
10.15.21 (FD)
LAC +3.5(-110)1.510.11.21 (DK)Loss-1.5
KC -6.5(-108)1.510.12.21 (FD)Win+1.39
IND -9(-110)1.510.13.21 (DK)Win+1.36
DET +3.5(-108)1.510.14.21 (FD)Loss-1.5
KC -0.5, CAR +8.5(-120)1.810.15.21 (DK)Win+1.5
NYG +10(-110)1.510.15.21 (DK)Loss-1.5
CHI +5.5(-110)110.17.21 (MGM)Loss-1
DEN -3(-114)110.11.21 (FD)Loss-1
CLE -2.5(-110)210.12.21 (MGM)Loss-2
DAL -3(-115)1.510.14.21 (DK)Win+1.30
D. Henry U 95.5 Rush Yds(-115)1.1510.18.21 (DK)Loss-1.15

JAC +3.5 (-110), JAC ML (+165), JAC +3 (-112) v. MIA (2.5u) – JAC 23-20, Win 2.63 Units*

For the third straight week, my highest conviction play came through. I broke down this game in my Weekly Spotlight and just missed on my 26-20 score prediction. But I was actually impressed with the Dolphins here. The Jaguars came into the game underrated and the Dolphins came into the game heavily injured (most notably at receiver and corner), yet the Dolphins with Tua still fought well and almost won this game. With only two full performances, Tua has shown that he can be accurate and decisive, even if his physical talents are somewhat limited and he is capable of making mistakes under pressure. This offense earns a lot of tough yards with Tua at the helm. Although they will struggle behind a weak offensive line, they will be more effective at masking it when Will Fuller and/or DeVante Parker returns. Meanwhile, Trevor Lawrence continued his strong progression early this season and showed a lot of promise, reading blitzes fairly well in this matchup. That is extremely encouraging for the rookie. As I observed last week, the team is playing hard despite the public narrative around Urban Meyer.

*Despite listing several bets, I count it as 1-0 for my official record. I don’t want to inflate my numbers when it was all the same play essentially. I only include bets close to 50-50 (-110 or similar) for purposes of record but count all Units won or lost.

LAC +3.5 (-110) @ BAL (1.5u) – BAL 34-6, Loss 1.5 Units

The Ravens defense finally came to play in a very impressive performance here. They smothered the run and forced Herbert into unfavorable 3rd down situations, then played excellent coverage to stop the Chargers in key moments. Inexplicably, on at least three key conversion attempts, Herbert went straight after Marlon Humphrey in man coverage, once to his rookie receiver Josh Palmer. This was an extremely bad approach and failed to capitalize on the Ravens’ relative weakness elsewhere in the secondary. For a smart team, this was a huge whiff.

But I should not have bet this to begin with. This was the first of three bad bets I made that followed the exact same pattern. I saw an edge, predicted line movement (correctly), and wanted to lock in the number before fully fleshing out all the angles. Then I let my bet influence my thinking as I sought confirmation bias throughout the week. Both these teams came into this game overhyped, and there was not a huge matchup advantage for the Chargers. If anything, it was a bad spot for them because they cannot stop the run. Despite having great CLV (closing line value), this was not a great bet and diluted the quality of my week.

KC -6.5 (-108) @ WAS (1.5u) – KC 31-13, Win 1.39 Units

This obviously ended as an easy win, but watching this game was less comfortable than the final score indicated. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were both in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries, and at one point it looked like Hill was out for the game. With a precipitous drop off in talent after their top two weapons, that was potentially a major downgrade for an offense that needs to be elite. But, fortunately, they seem to have emerged healthy. On the other side of the ball, Washington failed to capitalize against a bad defense missing two of its best players because, after some failed deep shots early on, they shelled up and became ultra-conservative. Not a good look, and not how you beat Kansas City. At this point Washington lacks an identity and it shows.

IND -9 (-110) v. HOU (1.5u) – IND 31-3, Win 1.36 Units

This game went about as expected. Both quarterbacks play significantly better when not under pressure, and both defenses have been bottom of the league in terms of exerting pressure. But the Texans were missing their three most important offensive linemen and the Colts defense was getting healthy. Advantage, Wentz and the Colts.

But to be fair, the Texans were better than this final score would indicate. Their defense is designed to take away the big play and they still got burned several times, which is a major problem. But outside of those big plays, they were respectable. They notably chased down Jonathan Taylor on a breakaway run where you might expect a 1-5 team to give up, then almost kept him out of the end zone. On offense, Mills moved the ball well but they had turnovers, fourth down failures, and key sacks that ended drives and left points on the board. A fairer final score would have been 31-17 or so.

DET +3.5 (-108) @ CIN (1.5u) – CIN 34-11, Loss 1.5 Units

When the Lions can’t run, they are a really bad team. I have been impressed with this Bengals defense to date, particularly against the run. They gang tackle and play with discipline. They have not faced the most formidable set of offenses, but they’ve shown up consistently and I believe their offseason acquisitions are truly paying off. Here, with no run game to lean on, Jared Goff struggled. That broke my poor handicap of the game, as I thought the Lions would be able to run a little.

But the Bengals offense was not as convincing as the score would indicate. They followed an impressive opening drive with an egregious interception by Burrow where he just threw the ball to the defender and then three straight three-and-outs. Their defense just gave them enough opportunities, including creating takeaways, and there was no pressure to really perform well. Burrow is live for a few big plays each game, but on a play-by-play basis still looks like he’s processing a little slowly for NFL speed. A stronger defensive line would be able to capitalize where the Lions could not.

Teaser: KC -0.5, CAR +8.5 (-120) (1.8u) – KC 31-13, MIN 34-28 (OT), Win 1.5 Units

Teasers have felt too easy this season, as we move to 4-1 on the year. The Chiefs leg was fairly easy but the Vikings almost put the Panthers away late in that game. But you can seemingly always count on this Vikings team to leave the door open, as a Panthers team that played a very poor game overall took them to overtime and secured my teaser. The Panthers offense could come out of this game underrated because they had an inordinate number of drops that killed their offensive momentum. I do not expect that to continue.

NYG +10 (-110) v. LAR (1.5u) – LAR 38-11, Loss 1.5 Units

With all these blowouts by favorites in Week 6, books will have to set higher spreads moving forward. But the NFL is still a league with parity, and that will generally provide value on the underdogs. Early on, the Giants looked like the right side here as they marched down the field featuring Kadarius Toney, settled for a field goal in the red zone, then forced a punt. But coming into the game heavily injured, they could not sustain drives without Toney and Andrew Thomas, who were both ruled out in the first half. Between drops by Dante Pettis, ineffective running by Booker, and relentless pressure on Daniel Jones, the Giants had no chance. The Rams offense was not particularly consistent, but they didn’t need to be. With so many short fields and no pressure from the Giants offense, this was an easy win for them.

CHI +5.5 (-110) v. GB (1u) – GB 24-14, Loss 1 Unit

This was another bet I didn’t need to make. I liked the matchup of Chicago’s defensive line getting pressure and stopping the run, and I had little faith in the Packers defense without Jaire Alexander. But I have these teams so far apart in quality that I just needed to avoid the spot altogether. Each week I pick 5 teams that are must-avoid against the spread, and I even included Chicago in my 5 this week because I have no faith in Justin Fields. But I ignored my own advice (which is now 21-9 on the season) to my detriment. The Bears were certainly close to covering, but it was a forced bet.

DEN -3 (-114) v. LV (1u) – LV 34-24, Loss 1 Unit

This was the second in my series of identical bet patterns that went 0-3. On Monday night I realized that there was no way Gruden would be coaching for the Raiders in this game and the line at the time (-3) presented some value on Denver. But I had not yet watched the Raiders-Bears game at that point. This was a mistake, because Las Vegas looked much better on film than I expected, and their 20-9 loss to Chicago was a misnomer. I would not have played this later in the week, and so even though I got CLV again, it was not a good bet. This Broncos team has been very underwhelming for weeks now, and absolutely needs to get healthy before they can be trusted. They are night-and-day different when they have the lead, because Bridgewater is so much more efficient when able to manage a game as opposed to compete in a shootout. There will be value on the Broncos eventually, but I will be patient.

CLE -2.5 (-110) v. ARI (2u) – ARI 37-14, Loss 2 Units

I decided I was going to make this bet last week. I loved the matchup on both sides of the ball, as the Browns can run it down your throat and the Cardinals have been susceptible to the run. On a windy day in Cleveland, I was excited about the idea of getting what I perceived to be the better team at home by less than a field goal. But once that idea was formed in my head, I did not let crucial developments impact my thinking. Specifically, as I wrote in my Browns season preview before the season started: “a team built like this is particularly vulnerable to a significant downgrade if one or two offensive linemen get hurt and they no longer can control the line of scrimmage. Bettors underestimate the impact of line injuries, particularly for a team built like this. Capitalize by betting against the Browns if these injuries occur.” Then, when both starting tackles and Chubb were ruled out of the game, I had already made up my mind. This was a red flag. The Cardinals stacked the box and the Browns didn’t even try to run. They started the game with 6 straight passes and had 23 passes to 6 called runs in the first half. It was bad.

But the flip side of my bad read creates a potential overreaction by the betting market. The Cardinals benefitted uniquely from these major downgrades to the Browns (as well as exceptionally poor officiating), creating the perception of a huge win that was not as impressive as it looked. Understanding how teams operate not only assists with predicting games, but identifying overreactions and under reactions to circumstances. The Cardinals have reached overrated territory after this win and everyone is perceiving the Browns incorrectly. They will be strong again not when Baker is healthy; but when their offensive line is healthy. This could create value in the short term depending on the injury report.

One last note on the Cardinals: I try to be objective in my process regardless of past results. I came into the year low on them and they have performed well above my expectations. I am 1-4 on the season betting against them. But moving forward, if I feel there is value betting against them again, I will do so. I am not chasing losses and I am not stubbornly sticking to my priors. I watch every single snap and constantly re-evaluate. But neither will I avoid a good bet just because results have not gone my way in the short term.

DAL -3 (-115) @ NE (1.5u) – DAL 35-29 (OT), Win 1.30 Units

Despite how this one ended, I would make this play again. Patriots bettors (especially those who got NE +3.5 or higher) were in a great position to cover, then the Cowboys scored the overtime touchdown to reward their backers and go 6-0 against the spread. But the Cowboys are simply a better class of team than the Patriots. I was impressed with Mac Jones in this one, but he needs help from his receivers and they just are not talented enough. He has a bright future for sure, but the upside in this offense is limited for now.

Dallas and Arizona are perceived similarly by the public. Both teams came into the season with low expectations that they have shattered in the early going and a large portion of fans and bettors are expecting them to come back down to earth. But the difference in my opinion is that the Cowboys are methodical, consistent, and well-schemed on offense. The Cardinals are getting by on high-variance plays going their way and pure talent. If I had to bet on one of these teams to contend for a Super Bowl, it would be the Cowboys.

D. Henry Under 95.5 Rushing Yards v. BUF (-115) (1.15 Units), 143 yards, Loss 1.15 Units

I don’t often play props but this was a good spot. Teams with exceptional cornerback play can hang with the Titans receivers in single coverage and dedicate additional bodies to stopping the run. If you can flood the line and stop Henry before he picks up momentum, you can slow him down. The Packers did this last year, as did the Ravens and the Bills, even when the Titans smashed the Bills 42-16. In that game, Derrick Henry had 19 rushes for 57 yards. In this one, against an improved Bills defense, he had 19 rushes for 67 yards . . .

. . . plus a breakaway run for 76 yards. Oops. One reason player props can be tough is because one play can ruin them. That happened here, and it’s unfortunate. Even in this massively prolific season he is putting together, he had only one run over 22 yards all season before that. It’s always a possibility of course, but I think the process was sound.

Catch my bounce-back with my Week 7 Picks Here.

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Week 6 Spotlight: MIA v. JAC

The Situation

In the early hours of a football Sunday, London will be treated to another instant classic, this time watching the 1-4 Miami Dolphins take on the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins opened up their season with an extremely tough schedule, and looking ahead they can convince themselves that they can still be a playoff team. But they will need to win this game for that dream to stay alive. The Jaguars have been written off by the public and relentlessly ridiculed after some negative publicity around their head coach, but on the field they have been improving in each game as they attempt to rebuild around Trevor Lawrence. They are playing with passion and I see no evidence on the field that this team has given up on its coach. It’s not the most exciting set-up, but a little wager can make any game exciting. So that’s what we’ll do here.

The Numbers

The Dolphins have played abysmal football all year and rank 32nd in performance. The Jaguars have at least shown signs of life in recent games and currently rank 29th. In other words, my numbers suggest the wrong team could be favored here, unless Tua elevates the Dolphins significantly above what they were with Brissett.

Baseline: JAC by 2.94.

The JAC Offense

The Jaguars looked lost in their opening game against Houston. The game was too fast for Lawrence and, instead of relying on James Robinson (an excellent running back), Meyer put the game entirely on his young quarterback. This was a mistake. He did the same thing against Denver. But since then, this team’s offense has found its identity. They can really run the ball when they win the line battle, and they’ve had several touchdown drives were they just pounded it down the defense’s throat. This has allowed Lawrence to get much more comfortable, and his talent is beginning to show. He looks more fluid and confident, like the game has slowed down for him. He is reading pressure much better and when given time in the pocket he has thrown all over the field.

The Jaguars offense boils down to whether they can be successful on the ground. So it’s a good thing for them that the Dolphins allow the 6th-highest yards per carry. They do not have the size and strength on the defensive line to overpower the Jaguars, and so Robinson should have a good day. The Dolphins also rely on blitzing to get pressure, but without Xavien Howard I don’t think they have the coverage on the back end to get away with it, unless Lawrence is totally blindsided and folds under pressure. His mobility will help him out here, as I think he will get away from pressure a fair amount and extend plays with his legs.

Provided Lawrence can avoid key mistakes, the Jaguars should be able to move the ball well and get in the end zone. That’s a gamble, of course, as Lawrence has played far from mistake-free football to date and the Dolphins do love to pressure. But I lean in his favor, because the Jags have improved every week and I expect that to continue with such a promising young player at the helm.

Projection: JAC offense will meet expectations.

The MIA Offense

I expect Tua to start for Miami, which is good news for the Dolphins. Brissett was aggressive under center, looking downfield, trying to escape pressure and make plays happen. This would have been fine, except the offensive line is one of the worst in the NFL and the receivers weren’t getting consistent separation. So Brissett ended up getting pressured too frequently and holding the ball too long. Tua is more accurate and more decisive than Brissett and should give his team a chance to move the ball against a weak secondary.

But Tua has yet to prove that he can consistently throw downfield. Last year the offense was as vanilla as it gets. He frequently only looked at half the field, threw short, and did not progress through reads. He only had one game against the Patriots and two drives against the Bills to show his improvement this season, but his offensive line did not allow him to evolve. He is not particularly mobile and struggles with pressure. Not a great combination when playing behind a bad offensive line. And he won’t get much help from the run game, as the 26th-ranked Miami rushing attack faces off against the 6th-best rushing defense of the Jags.

So it will come down to whether Tua, coming off injury, can take the heat in the pocket and throw accurately downfield. I would have some hope for this, except his two best receivers (Parker and Fuller) will not be playing. He will need to rely on rookie Jaylen Waddle, tight end Mike Gesicki, Preston Williams, and the running backs. There is some talent there, and I expect some big plays against a poor defense. But this is not an offense built for consistent success. Drives will stall, with a sack or a tipped pass at the line, or a drop, or a throw into coverage. This could be the Dolphins best offensive performance of the season and it still would not be great.

Projection: MIA offense will meet expectations.

The Game Flow

I think this will be a tight game that sees plenty of neutral game scripts. But if the Dolphins take the lead, I do not anticipate they will be able to bury the Jags as they will not be able to run well and they lack the defensive backs to prevent a comeback. This leaves open the possibility that the Jags will come back and win, or at least cover 3 points as an underdog. If, on the other hand, the Jags take the early lead, they could lean on James Robinson and keep the ball away from Tua. Tua’s accuracy helps him in garbage time, but in a tight game I see the Jags causing him trouble.

The Prediction

The Jaguars are the better team and win their first game of the season, 26-20. Lawrence continues to improve as he gets comfortable, and Tua continues to struggle under pressure. But the real difference in the game is that the Jags generate three times more rushing yards than the Dolphins, helping them achieve balanced success that carries them to the win.

The Bet

I gave this bet to my Members earlier in the week and added to it today, so my official bets on this game include: JAC +3.5 (-110) (1 Unit), JAC Moneyline (+165) (0.5 Units), and JAC +3 (-112) (1 Unit).

I would play this up to JAC +3 (-120) or play the money line up to (+125).

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I take pride in my work but nobody can guarantee success betting on sports. There are too many variables. I offer advice for entertainment purposes. If you have a gambling problem, finding winning bets is not the answer. The only answer is to stop gambling. For help, call 1-800-522-4700.

Week 5 Recap

Rebound week was in full swing this week, as we booked a 7-3 record for +6.44 Units that could have easily been 10-1. We hit on two moneyline underdogs and had several comfortable wins. As I promised last week, I shut out external voices early in the week and focused on what I saw on the field. This was the process that led to success last year and it was a good decision. I’ll be hoping to continue the wins in Week 6 by sticking with my method: watching every snap of every game and understanding how these teams truly operate on the field.

After going 68% against the spread in 2020, we are now 30-23 in the 2021 season for +2.88 Units with our bets. Let’s keep it rolling.

This article breaks down every bet I placed and discusses 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 6 Picks.

Week 5 Bets

BetOddsUnitsDate PlacedResultNet
LAR -2(-110)210.4.21 (MGM)Win+1.82
ATL -3(-110)210.6.21 (MGM)Cashed Out-0.05
NO -1.5(-110)210.5.21 (FD)Win+1.82
HOU +9.5(-110)2.510.6.21 (MGM)Win+2.27
TB -10(-105)1.510.7.21 (DK)Win+1.43
MIN -9.5(-110)1.510.7.21 (DK)Loss-1.5
TB -2.5, MIN -1.5(-140)1.410.8.21 (DK)Win+1
PHI ML(+150)110.8.21 (MGM)Win+1.5
PIT ML(+110)1.510.9.21 (DK)Win+1.65
NYG TT O 22.5(-110)1.510.7.21 (DK)Loss-1.5
CLE +2.5(-110)210.7.21 (MGM)Loss-2

LAR -2 (-110) @ SEA (2u) – LAR 26-17, Win 1.82 Units

It’s always fortunate when the team you bet against loses its starting quarterback. But the Rams were the better team all night. In 8 drives with Russell Wilson, Seattle scored a total of 7 points. Granted, there was some negative variance there but it was still not a great offensive performance. The Rams excel at stopping big pass plays and that has been the only way Seattle has found success this season. Geno Smith actually provided a much needed spark even if he was not able to complete a comeback. The Rams offense was less successful than I anticipated, but it mostly came down to missed throws by Stafford. The scheme was working, and it was only a matter of time before he started hitting those throws. I was lower than most on Seattle heading into the game, so this result does not alter my view on either team.

ATL -3 (-110) v. NYJ (2u) – ATL 27-20, Cashed Out for -0.05 Units

I felt really good about this bet when I made it, but the Ridley news spooked me. It probably shouldn’t have, because he has not been a difference-maker this season. But the result confirmed my process was sound. This Falcons offense has looked better each week as it is finding its identity, whereas the Jets still have not put together a single good offensive performance. Everything has been in catch-up mode or garbage time.

NO -1.5 (-110) @ WAS (2u) – NO 33-22, Win 1.82 Units

This was a comfortable win with the assist from a half-time hail mary from Winston to Callaway. Without two starting offensive linemen, the Saints did not keep Winston particularly clean, and after losing two offensive weapons (Hill and Harris), the offense did struggle somewhat outside of Alvin Kamara. But their defense gave them enough chances to win this game. Heinicke once again displayed his variance, making some incredible plays but also throwing some really bad interceptions. This gives Washington a chance against any defense, but likely means they are not the type of team that can methodically take advantage of a bad defense. We did see some signs of life from the Washington defensive front (finally), but they’ll need to improve in their back seven for it to make a meaningful difference.

HOU +9.5 (-110) v. NE (2.5u) – NE 25-22, Win 2.27 Units

Before the game I called this my favorite bet of the year so far. My first max bet since moving to the 1.5-2-2.5 scale was an absolute smash and was never really in doubt. The Texans got off to a hot start with a surprisingly strong performance from Davis Mills and were even winning this game 22-9 at one point before the Texans turned into a pumpkin.

There were so many angles I liked here. It illustrates the importance of understanding the nuances of teams, as opposed to simply assigning a “power rating” and seeing if there is perceived value in the spread. Everybody wrote off Davis Mills because he struggled against Carolina and in bad weather against the Bills. What I saw was an inexperienced rookie who handled pressure very poorly against two of the best edge rushing teams in the league. Looking past that, he actually saw the field well when he had time. The Patriots defense under Belichick implements complex coverage schemes but has not been able to get pressure on quarterbacks this year. I saw an opportunity to back Mills when everyone had written him off when he had at least a chance to succeed. On the other side, the underrated Texans defense faced off against a heavily injured offensive line for a run-heavy team that would have a hard time consistently winning in the trenches. Giving the Texans more than a touchdown at home against a team averaging around 17 points per game was simply not justified. I was happy to capitalize.

TB -10 (-105) v. MIA (1.5u) – TB 45-17, Win 1.43 Units

I do not often take double-digit favorites in the NFL. In fact, this was my only double-digit favorite of the season. But I was so confident in this matchup that I even played TB -10.5 in a contest. The Dolphins are really struggling and I’m not sure Tua can help them. They don’t do anything well right now. Their offensive line is bad so they can’t run. Their defensive line is not strong enough to stop other teams from running, and they rely on blitzes to get pressure. Smart quarterbacks (like Brady) can easily take advantage. And Brissett does not get the ball out quickly enough to mimic the teams that have had success against Tampa (like the Cowboys and Rams). There really was no angle for the Dolphins here.

Meanwhile, the Bucs were somehow underrated after an underwhelming performance against the Patriots. But they played better than the score indicated and I was not worried. They are still the most complete team in the NFL outside of arguably the Bills, and implement an up-tempo aggressive passing attack that is capable of burying inferior teams. They did exactly that against the Dolphins.

MIN -9.5 (-110) v. DET (1.5u) – MIN 19-17, Loss 1.5 Units

My other big favorite of the week did not come through, but they probably should have. The Lions did not run a single play in the red zone until Mattison fumbled the ball on his own 20 trying to run the clock. The Vikings implemented an overly conservative game plan and shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with holding calls, key drops, an interception off the receiver’s helmet in Detroit territory, and a missed field goal late to put the lead at 13. But to be fair to the Lions bettors, this is part of the handicap when you have Minnesota laying a ton of points. Things have to go right in the NFL for you to win by 10+, and they sure did not go right for the Vikings. They almost blew the game outright.

Two things changed on the injury report late in the week that made me less confident in this bet. Dalvin Cook was ruled out, and Penei Sewell was active. I switched off MIN -7.5 in my contest to TB -10.5 as a result, but still felt comfortable with the CLV I had here, given that the line closed at -10.

I did learn something here, though. I already viewed Detroit as a bet-on team when getting a ton of points because they are live for a backdoor cover. But I learned just how good their punter is. They run the ball well but struggle with consistency in the pass game, which leads to a lot of drives where they get a couple of first downs and then punt. With a decent punter, this creates long field after long field for their opponents. This will be an important angle that favors the Lions getting points and also favors the Under in Lions games. I should have avoided this bet for that reason.

Teaser: TB -2.5, MIN -1.5 (-140) – TB 45-17, MIN 19-17, Win 1 Unit

I had to laugh when this bet cashed. It should not have been close, but after Mattison fumbled this was suddenly in doubt. When the Lions scored to make it 16-17, they went for 2. I was suddenly in the position where I needed them to convert, to force MIN to kick a FG. This ending really shows the fragility of teasers even when they seem like a sure thing. I don’t often play teasers and this was a good reminder why. In-game variance in the NFL is a major factor.

PHI Money line (+150) @ CAR – PHI 21-18, Win 1.5 Units

This was an ugly, defensive game that I imagine very few people actually watched. Darnold has struggled twice now when the team needed him most, and the Panthers have struggled in the second half every game this season. I came in to the season questioning this coaching staff and I still do. In the end, when the Eagles started running the read option with Hurts it made all the difference. It negated the pressure from Carolina. On the other side, the Panthers were unable to make an adjustment and could not finish the game.

The Panthers will benefit from getting McCaffrey back. Hubbard was a good runner but struggled in the pass game. Darnold needs that outlet. If sentiment falls down too hard on Carolina, they could be bettable because they have an exciting, aggressive defense and an offense that plays well when it is in control. But this was the right bet in a classic overrated v. underrated spot.

PIT Money line (+110) v. DEN – PIT 27-19, Win 1.65 Units

Pittsburgh made us 2-0 on underdog money line bets with its best offensive performance of the season. They have been vastly underrated when healthy on defense and it made no sense that they were underdogs at home here. But their defensive performance was a little disappointing. Denver played hyper conservatively in the first half, seemingly going run-run-pass on every possession. This is simply not how you beat Pittsburgh, and this is why I made this bet after they announced Teddy would start. The Broncos actually looked live when they opened it up in the second half. I came away from this one impressed with Denver’s offense, but they will need to become more aggressive from the starting whistle. I’m not sure if that will happen.

NYG Team Total Over 22.5 (-110) @ DAL (1.5u) – DAL 44-20, Loss 1.5 Units

Sometimes you just have to laugh. I needed the Giants to score 23 points. Saquon suffered a random injury after 6 snaps. Daniel Jones suffered a concussion before halftime. Down two starting receivers already, Golladay managed to hobble through 24 snaps and then Toney, who absolutely exploded in this one, got himself ejected before he could help out in garbage time. They missed a field goal. And they got stopped on the Cowboys 2-yard line when Toney either slipped or got pushed in the end zone. And they still scored 20 points.

The Giants offense continues to be underrated, but all these injuries make it difficult to play that angle in the short term. As these pieces get healthy, they will be a feisty team down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Cowboys continue their incredible start. They look good in every facet of the game right now, and everything is clicking. They are making tough catches and creating negative plays on defense in big situations. But I am not anticipating immediate and sudden regression, because they are doing everything well. The more likely outcome is a true playoff run for this team if it stays healthy.

CLE +2.5 (-110) @ LAC (2u) – CLE 47-42, Loss 2 Units

If you have time to watch one game on replay this week, make it this one. What a treat. Two teams that understand their identity, playing hard, with smart coaching and talent. For a majority of the game, the Browns were simply better. I predicted they would be able to exert their will on offense, and they did. They took a 14-point lead in this one and looked to be in control. But then the injuries mounted up, particularly to the Browns’ secondary and offensive line. The game got tighter. The Chargers went for it on fourth down four times on two touchdown drives. They converted all of these attempts, including an arguably bogus 33-yard defensive pass interference call on 4th and 4 that led to a Chargers touchdown.

Still, with everything going wrong for the Browns, this should have been a winning bet as the Chargers had the ball on the Browns’ 2-yard line down 1 with time running out. The Chargers should have knelt the ball to kill the clock and won the game by 2 with a field goal. But instead, the Chargers ran it with no intention of scoring and the Browns defense carried Ekeler into the end zone against his will, giving them a chance to win the game but blowing my cover. Despite the loss, it was beautiful to watch smart football.

Two big takeaways from this game: (1) the Chargers are a clutch team. A lot is made about their aggressiveness on fourth down, but I believe that the amount of practice Herbert gets on high-leverage 3rd- and 4th-downs makes him calmer in those situations and a better player in clutch moments. The Browns were not clutch. They need to be in a good position to win. (2) Staley and the Chargers are changing the way this game is played. We will see more teams using all four downs and more 2-point conversions late in games where offenses clearly have an advantage. This means that underdogs of less than a field goal may have more value than historical models suggest, with more games falling in the 1-2 point margin range. This makes short underdogs more attractive in these matchups between smart coaches.

See my process in action with my Week 6 Picks Here.

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