NFL best bets for Week 5: A Jared Goff-Bailey Zappe shootout? Why not?

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase will be a focus during Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. (The Washington Post illustration/AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase will be a focus during Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. (The Washington Post illustration/AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

How have point spreads moved for Week 5 as Sunday approaches? The Bills and Steelers matchup, discussed in greater detail below, moved from Buffalo minus-8 to Buffalo minus-14, but a perhaps more arresting move happened in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans game.

The Jaguars went from a three-point favorite when this game opened to a seven-point favorite, moving from one key number to the next. The move is justified: Jacksonville has been the fourth-best team this season after adjusting for strength of schedule, per Football Outsiders, and Houston ranks next-to-last at 31st. But the cost of betting on the Jaguars notably increased.

Since this piece first published, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved from 8½-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons to 10-point favorites. Atlanta is a team that might offer some value in midseason futures markets. Most of the other midweek moves so far have been minimal.

It’s time to bet on the Jaguars to make the playoffs

As for the best bets campaign, last week wasn’t a perfect showing, but it wasn’t a terrible one, either, with another 1-1 performance. Remember, we are running a marathon, not a sprint, so take the long-term view regarding wins and losses — especially when there is one of each.

The Green Bay-New England over was a relatively comfortable win, even with the Patriots down to their third-string quarterback. After an uneventful first quarter, a steady stream of scoring helped push the game over the 39½-point threshold early in the fourth quarter, giving every over bettor an early sigh of relief. The game even included a full overtime session, just in case we needed a little extra help. The final score was Green Bay 27, New England 24, making it the sixth-highest-scoring game of the week despite oddsmakers assigning it one of the lowest totals.

The Patriots’ scoring was fueled by third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe, who was called into action when backup Brian Hoyer exited with a head injury. That supported my initial position when I advocated this wager. Starter Mac Jones wasn’t playing great, and there was perhaps a bit of an overreaction to how many points his absence might be worth to the total.

The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, let us down. Carolina’s offense, led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, only secured a new first down or scored a touchdown on 11 of 21 series. Mayfield, at the center of the loss, completed just 22 of 36 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, leading to an estimated 12.4 Total Quarterback Rating, a metric designed by ESPN to rate a passer on a scale of 1 to 100. It’s hard to win a game with a quarterback performance like that.

Best bets record: 4-5

Picks were made against the consensus point spreads as of Tuesday evening; odds that have since changed have been updated in bold type, but picks are locked in at the earlier odds.

Player prop of the week

Baker Mayfield over 190.5 passing yards in the Carolina-San Francisco game.

Mayfield will be facing one of the toughest pass coverage units in the league, per Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, which helps explain why this total is so low. However, Carolina’s offensive line is healthy and features two highly rated blockers in guard Austin Corbett (8th at the position per PFF) and center Pat Elflein (12th), which should help Mayfield withstand some of the pressure from the 49ers’ formidable defensive front. The projections also support this view. NumberFire projects Mayfield to throw for 227 yards, the consensus at FantasyPros is 211 yards and Pro Football Focus expects 214 yards. All suggest value in the over.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-3½)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. | NBC

Pick: Cincinnati Bengals +3 (This number has since moved up)

You might think the Ravens have a clear edge in this Sunday night AFC North showdown with an MVP-caliber quarterback in Lamar Jackson under center, but these teams are closer than many would assume. After you remove the benefit of turnovers — events that teams have little control over — the Bengals have scored 17 more points than expected when taking into account the down, distance and field position of each play, while the Ravens have scored 17 fewer points than expected, according to data from stats website TruMedia.

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots (-3)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Over 45½, playable to 48. For the game, the pick is Lions +3, but it’s not a best bet.

Despite just one win, the Lions are averaging a league-high 35 points — and 70.3 points combined with their opponent. It’s a huge gap to the Kansas City Chiefs, who have the next-highest combined total of 56.3. Lions games are also 4-0 to the over this season, clearing the total by an average of more than 21 points.

This week’s opponent, the Patriots, have the league’s 25th-best defense, per Pro Football Focus. The Lions rank 30th. These defenses rank 19th and 31st according to Football Outsiders after adjusting for opponent. It might be Bailey Zappe vs. Jared Goff, but take the over.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (-14)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Lean: Pittsburgh Steelers +14

This isn’t a best bet given the uncertainty under center for the Steelers, but it has been gnawing at my brain since the line opened.

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It’s hard to overstate how mediocre Mitchell Trubisky was as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. He ranks 24th of 32 quarterbacks in Total QBR this season and has seen his teams score exactly as many points per game as you would expect — no more, no less — since he was drafted in 2017. That puts him 32nd among 45 qualified passers during that span. On Sunday against the New York Jets, he was pulled in the second half in favor of rookie Kenny Pickett, who promptly completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards, although he also threw three interceptions.

That doesn’t sound great, but the Steelers scored almost five more points than expected with Pickett under center, compared with nine points fewer than expected with Trubisky. In other words, even with the three turnovers, Pickett turned the offense around. That came after Pickett had no reps with the first-team offense and was hastily thrown into the game, so I would expect improvement going forward.

Based on my power ratings, I have this game as Bills -11½. If Pickett starts, as Coach Mike Tomlin said he would, I think Steelers +14 is worth a look.

The plays above represent our best bets of the week because our analysis shows their value is the most lucrative compared with what we expect to happen on the field. Below, you will find against-the-spread picks for all of the games on this week’s schedule. However, trying to pick every game is something of a fool’s errand. The house wins so often partly because bettors try to make too many plays when the odds aren’t in their favor. Keep that in mind when evaluating the remaining games from the Week 5 slate.

New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers (-8) in London

Sunday, 9:30 a.m. | NFL Network

Pick: Green Bay Packers -8

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-7½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Minnesota Vikings -7 (This number has since moved up)

Tennessee Titans (-2) at Washington Commanders

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Tennessee Titans -2½ (This number has since moved down)

Los Angeles Chargers (-2½) at Cleveland Browns

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Cleveland Browns +3 (This number has since moved down)

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-10)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -8½ (This number has since moved up)

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-7)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars -7

Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints (-5½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: New Orleans Saints -5½

Miami Dolphins (-3) at New York Jets

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: New York Jets +3½ (This number has since moved down)

San Francisco 49ers (-6½) at Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Carolina Panthers +6½

Philadelphia Eagles (-5) at Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -5

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (-5½)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Los Angeles Rams -4½ (This number has since moved up)

Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-7)

Monday, 8:15 p.m. | ESPN

Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -7

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-3)

Thursday, 8:15 p.m. | Prime Video

Pick: Indianapolis Colts +3½ (This number has since moved down)