Week 3 was full of surprises, none bigger than the Buffalo Bills upset over the Minnesota Vikings. The Bills were 17-point underdogs, a spread so large no NFL team had pulled off an upset that big since the Washington Redskins defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Dec. 1995. The loss prompted the Westgate SuperBook to drop the Vikings odds of wining the Super Bowl from 10-to-1 to 16-to-1, the second-biggest drop of the week after the New England Patriots (6-to-1 to 8-to-1).
Team strength is a vital metric to know when betting on NFL games. It influences the weekly point spread and the team’s odds to not only win the Super Bowl, but the division and conference as well. Staying ahead of the curve on these movements help make more-informed decisions, which leads to more profitable wagers.
Here are some trends to note for the upcoming week and how you can capitalize while lines are still favorable for bettors.
Preseason over/under: 6 wins
Now: 11-5 projected record in 2018
The 3-0 Dolphins, not the 1-2 New England Patriots, are at the top of the AFC East.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sensational, completing a career-high 73 percent of his passes for 687 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, leading to a 121.8 passer rating, fourth best in the NFL this year. His chemistry with receivers Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson has been key, with those two wideouts ranking No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, for yards per route run in 2018. Kenny Stills has also been dependable (2.2 yards per route run, 21st out of 76 wideouts).
The defense is also outperforming expectations. Pro Football Focus rated their pass rush as the 23rd best in the NFL this preseason to go along with the 26th best secondary and the league’s worst run defense. Yet Miami is allowing just 1.3 points per drive, tied for the third-best mark in the NFL through Week 3, in addition to a red-zone defense allowing just 44 percent of opportunities to result in a touchdown; league average is 60 percent in 2018.
Overall, the Dolphins have outscored opponents by 7.1 points per game more than an average team after adjusting for strength of schedule, good enough to rank them 10th all time in franchise history and better than any of the last 12 Miami teams to make the playoffs. They are also 3-0 against the spread in 2018 but will be the underdog in their match up with the Patriots on Sunday (+7).
Preseason over/under: 8 wins
Now: 5-11 projected record in 2018
Let’s start with the obvious: the organization traded three-time Pro Bowl and 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for draft picks. That, in turn, turned what should have been an above-average pass-rushing unit to mush. Oakland’s defense has been credited with 23 total sacks, hits and hurries in 2018, prompting the game charters at Pro Football Focus to rank them second to last in this area, whereas Mack has 18 total pressures for the Bears by himself in three games.
Looked at another way, the Raiders' pass defense has allowed a 106.4 passer rating against this season, roughly turning the three quarterbacks they have faced in 2018 — Jared Goff, Case Keenum and Ryan Tannehill — into a better version of the best passer from last season (Alex Smith, 104.7 rating).
The offense is sputtering, too, scoring a below-average 1.6 points per drive with a 56 percent efficiency rate in the red zone (19th). Quarterback Derek Carr shoulders most of the blame here. According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, Carr’s performance is good enough to earn a 7-9 record over a full season (42.5 QBR, 22nd out of 31 qualified passers) and his numbers under pressure have been abysmal with just a 32.1 passer rating over 24 attempts. If he threw each of those attempts into the ground he’d end up with a 39.6 passer rating, a much better alternative than his four interceptions.
The Raiders are a two-point favorite at home against the Browns, but they are 1-2 against the spread this season and, based on recent performance, should probably be a slight underdog to Cleveland in Week 4.
Super Bowl: Philadelphia Eagles (14-to 1 odds)
Quarterback Carson Wentz returned from injury and powered the Philadelphia Eagles to a 20-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. That pushed the team’s record to 2-1 and improved their Super Bowl odds from 16-to-1 to 14-to-1 per the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, which implies a six percent chance at repeating as NFL champions. However, based on what we have seen from them so far, their chances of winning back-to-back Super Bowls is closer to eight percent, or 11-to-1 odds. Only the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars are more likely to be the last team standing at the end of the playoffs.
The upside for the Eagles is huge. Wentz’s first performance back — 25 for 37, 255 yards and a touchdown plus an interception — earned him a 39.3 QBR rating from ESPN, meaning the performance would be good enough for the team to go 6-10 over a full season. But Wentz led the league in QBR last season (78.5) before his injury in Week 14, indicating there are likely better performances ahead.