The Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs are the only teams remaining with spotless 4-0 records, yet the Rams' bandwagon is almost filled. The team is the Super Bowl favorite (2-to-1 odds per the Westgate Superbook). The Chiefs, meanwhile, continue to dazzle behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, the 23-year-old phenom with three consecutive games exceeding the 300-yard-passing mark this season. The likelihood of both teams staying unbeaten for the entire season is low — less than one percent according to our win probability model — but they could get close. The Rams have a two percent chance at going 14-2 or better and the Chiefs have over a two percent chance of winning 13 games or more this season.
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 makes 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: 8 wins
Now: 11-5 projected record in 2018
Any discussion of the Ravens' success has to start with the play of quarterback Joe Flacco. The 33-year-old is not quite playing at an elite level, but he is the 13th best passer per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, performing well enough to earn his team a 10-6 record based on his quarterback play alone (62.3 QBR). His most recent outing, a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, saw him complete 28 of 42 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns, including a pair of deep throws — a 33-yard touchdown and another 71-yard completion — to wideout John Brown. Flacco ended Sunday’s victory over the Steelers with successful throws to 11 different receivers, leading the Ravens to the seventh-best scoring rate in the NFL (2.4 points per drive). Baltimore is also making the most of its red-zone opportunities (77 percent result in touchdowns, fourth-best in 2018) with a minimal amount of drives going three-and-out (28 percent, tied for ninth).
The Ravens' defense is even better. According to the game charters at Pro Football focus, Baltimore owns the third-best overall defense in the league, made up of an above-average run defense (12th), a top-10 pass rush (eighth) and the third-best secondary in 2018. Linebackers Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Tim Williams each have at least two sacks, as does defensive back Tavon Young. Linebacker Kenny Young leads the team with 13 stops at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Baltimore is allowing 1.3 points per drive, third-best in the NFL, while allowing a mere 44 percent conversion rate in the red zone. It also leads the league in forcing opponents to go three-and-out (48 percent).
“These ain’t the same old Ravens,” safety Eric Weddle declared after the win on Sunday, and based on the early results it’s hard to argue.
Preseason over/under: 10 wins
Now: 8-8 projected record in 2018
Remember when the Vikings were considered a Super Bowl contender? You should, it was just a few weeks ago. Heading into Week 5, Coach Mike Zimmer and his club are 1-2-1 with troubles on offense and defense.
The Vikings' secondary, ranked as the sixth-best unit heading into the season, has been abysmal. Cornerback Trae Waynes is allowing 2.2 yards per snap in coverage in 2018, the 12th highest among 109 qualified quarterbacks. Teammate Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander rank 93rd (1.8) and 89th (1.7), respectively. Xavier Rhodes, Pro Bowl corner in 2016 and 2017, ranks 45th (1.0). As a unit, they are allowing a passer rating against of 105.1; league average is 93.8.
The running game, according to Latavius Murray, is “nonexistent.” An injury to starting running back Dalvin Cook is partially to blame, but Minnesota is tallying 3.5 yards per carry, the third-lowest in the league, with less than 14 percent of rushes making it to the first-down marker. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are worse at moving the chains via the ground.
If both those facets of the team don’t come together soon, the Vikings could miss the playoffs altogether. Minnesota has to play the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on the road in Week 5 and four teams that are considered average or better in terms of total efficiency.
Super Bowl: New England Patriots (8-to 1 odds)
The Patriots grabbed all the momentum in the AFC East on Sunday after a 38-7 mauling of the Miami Dolphins. Running backs James White (112 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns) and rookie Sony Michel (112 rushing yards and his first career NFL touchdown) took care of business on the ground while quarterback Tom Brady connected with seven different receivers for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He is now the sixth-most valuable passer in 2018 per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. That should improve in Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts after the return of wideout Julian Edelman. Edelman hasn’t played since 2016, a year he led the team in yards per route run (1.98).
“He gets open so quick,” Brady said to USA Today’s Henry McKenna. “I think that’s the thing about Jules — his explosiveness in his routes, coming out of breaks. It’s very comforting to see a receiver get open really early in a route. Julian — we ask a lot of him and he plays a lot of different roles. I think he’s capable of moving in and out of a lot of different locations and specialty plays. So there’s a lot that he does well.”
Defensively, New England boasts the league’s fifth-best run-stopping unit and sixth-best secondary per Pro Football Focus. Linebacker Elandon Roberts and defensive lineman Lawrence Guy lead the team with 11 stops each at or behind the line of scrimmage this season and defensive backs Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones all rank in PFF’s Top 20 for pass coverage.
According to our win probability models, the Patriots have a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs with a 17 percent of winning Super Bowl LII, which implies that anything better than 5-to-1 odds to win it all is good value.
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