Week 3 continued a topsy-turvy start to the 2021 NFL season. Underdogs won for the third consecutive week and posted a mark of 9-7 against the spread for the second straight week. More impressively, a few underdogs facing playoff teams from last year — the Chargers, Vikings and Bengals — were able to win outright.
Those results have left some bettors happy, some frustrated and some downright confused. The 2021 season has been unpredictable to date, and you need only look at the AFC West standings to see just how backward things have gotten. Through three weeks, the last-place team is none other than the Chiefs.
AFC West standings
Practically nobody would have predicted those results at this point in the season, but that’s what makes the NFL so great; parity.
That said, after three full weeks of results, gamblers have a lot more data at their fingertips. They’ll be able to make more informed decisions about each team and can actually analyze if a performance by a particular team was an outlier, be it good or bad. It’s also easier to see which teams have been lucky and unlucky at this early stage in the season.
As always, it’s important not overreact to any recent results or to put too much stock into a team’s record. For example, the Broncos are 3-0 on the season, but the teams they have beaten — the Jaguars, Jets and Giants — are a combined 0-9. So, are the Broncos actually good, or did they just domiante weaker competition? We’ll find out when they face the Ravens as one-point favorites in Week 4.
Also, continue to keep an eye on injuries. Teams that are missing multiple starters on defense or offense are always vulnerable. We saw that with the Steelers’ banged-up defense against the Bengals last week. Additionally, teams with quarterback questions and injuries at the position deserve extra scrutiny.
Here’s a look at Sporting News’ best bets for Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season, including picks against the spread, moneyline bets, over/under wagers and some player props.
(All odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.)
Rams (-4.5) vs. Cardinals
The Rams have proven to be one of the best NFL teams so far in 2021, and they have a good chance to remain as the last unbeaten standing in the not-so-distant future. Their Week 4 matchup with the Cardinals could look tough on paper, but recent history favors the Rams in this one.
Los Angeles has never lost to Arizona during Sean McVay’s time as the coach of the Rams. He holds an 8-0 record against Arizona and the Rams have won those games by an average of 20 points. Only one of the games was decided by fewer than 10 points.
It’s worth noting that Kyler Murray was only the Cardinals’ starting quarterback in four of those games, but his numbers have still been poor against the Rams defense. He has logged a completion percentage of 58.7 against the Rams and has generated six total touchdowns compared to seven turnovers.
Brandon Staley may be gone, but Raheem Morris has proven adept at getting his defense to perform in key spots. He should find a way to keep Murray off-balance. Murray has thrown four interceptions through three games this season, so he is liable to make some mistakes against the Rams’ strong secondary.
After all, we saw what the Rams did to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers last week. The defense limited Tampa Bay to 17 points before the Bucs made things respectable with a garbage-time touchdown in the Rams’ 34-24 win.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams’ offense is averaging 304.3 passing yards per game, good for the sixth-most in the NFL. The Cardinals have been solid against the pass this year, but they may have trouble slowing down the Rams’ arsenal of weapons. They simply don’t have the cornerback depth needed to cover the likes of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson and a seemingly rejuvenated DeSean Jackson.
The Rams can win this one by a touchdown; given their history, they should. You can trust them as favorites this week even though they’re facing another undefeated team.
Chiefs (-7.5) at Eagles
The Chiefs haven’t been trustworthy against the spread of late. In fact, since the beginning of the 2020 season, they are just 8-14 and they’re 0-3 ATS this year. They also have the second-lowest cover percentage in the NFL (36.4) in that span. Only the Jets (31.6) are worse.
That said, Kansas City should be hyper-motivated to win their Week 4 contest. They’re sitting at 1-2 on the season and are in last place in the AFC West. They’re guaranteed to remain there for another week, but they have to start thinking about catching the Raiders and Broncos, who are both 3-0.
The Eagles will give the Chiefs a good chance to win. Philadelphia just struggled immensely to stop the Cowboys’ offense. The Cowboys run the ball better than the Chiefs, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be able to take advantage of the Eagles’ 26th-ranked run defense that allows 133.7 rushing yards per game.
Oh yeah, the Chiefs also have Patrick Mahomes, too. Mahomes has lost back-to-back games just twice in his career. What has he done after those two-game losing streaks? He has helped the Chiefs win by an average of 28 points per game. That includes a 32-point win over the Raiders in 2018 and a 24-point win over the Broncos in 2019.
The Eagles may be able to run the ball a bit on the Chiefs, who struggled against Lamar Jackson earlier in the season and have the NFL’s second-worst run defense, but will they be able to do enough if Mahomes and the Chiefs shred the Eagles’ defense like Dallas did? The Cowboys just scored 41 points on them, so the Chiefs could do the same.
At the end of the day, this seems like a good bounce-back spot for the Chiefs. We’re willing to trust them after fading them against the Chargers last week.
Texans (+16.5) at Bills
I know what you’re thinking. The Texans are not a good team and they’re going to be starting Davis Mills in just his second career NFL game. The Bills have won their last two games by 22 and 35 points respectively.
So, why should you pick the Texans? It all has to do with history and motivation.
Since 2003, teams that are 14-point underdogs or higher have posted a record of 70-61-4 against the spread, per TeamRankings.com. That means the favorite has covered 45.1 percent of the time while the underdog has covered 51.9 percent of the time. That’s a solid advantage for the underdog.
What can we take away from this? It’s simply difficult for a favorite to cover a spread of two touchdowns or more. As such, it’s usually better to go with the underdog, as all it might take is one garbage-time touchdown or fluky turnover from the favorite to earn a cover.
The Bills also are a good team to fade here considering their upcoming schedule. They are playing the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5, so they may be looking ahead a bit to that AFC Championship Game rematch. If they slightly overlook the Texans, that could give Houston a chance to stay in the game longer and prevent the Bills from pulling away outright.
The Texans also have a rest advantage having last played on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 3. So, they’ll be a bit fresher than the Bills.
Buffalo will almost certainly win this game. The -1200 moneyline implies that they have a 92.3 percent chance to do that. But don’t be surprised if the Texans keep it from getting out of hand and cover this 16.5-point spread.
Falcons moneyline (+108) vs. Washington
Neither the Falcons nor the Washington Football Team has played well during the 2021 NFL season. Or at the very least, their strongest units haven’t lived up to the expectations set for them.
The Falcons offense has averaged just 16 points per game and has recorded just 301.3 yards per game, good for the sixth-fewest in the NFL. Matt Ryan hasn’t looked good so far — he has posted a QBR of 34.6 through three games, by far the lowest of his career — so unless he can snap out of his funk, the Falcons offense will continue to sputter.
However, Washington’s defense has been even worse. They were considered elite coming into the season and were expected to be a top-10 defensive unit, bare minimum. Instead, they’ve failed spectacularly and are allowing the second-most yards per game league-wide (432) and fourth-most points per game (30.7).
This game seems like a true coin-flip, so getting Atlanta as a home underdog — Washington opened as a 1.5-point favorite — is a decent value. Washington is just 2-8 against the spread in their last 10 games as favorites (dating back to 2018) and Matt Ryan has a 62-40 career record at home. Perhaps the Falcons will grind out another ugly win, just as they did last week over the Giants.
Seahawks moneyline (+126) at 49ers
This moneyline bet looks like a nice one — if you don’t mind a bit of risk. The 49ers are favored by three over the Seahawks, but there is history between these two teams that demonstrates Seattle may be the better choice.
The Seahawks have won 15 of the last 18 games they’ve played against the 49ers outright. The 49ers have been a bit better against Seattle since Kyle Shanahan’s arrival, but they are still just 2-6 against the Seahawks under his watch.
The issue with the 49ers is that the Seahawks can take advantage of their weaknesses. San Francisco’s cornerback depth is lacking already due to injuries, and they may be without Josh Norman in this contest. K’Waun Williams is banged-up as well and Jason Verrett is out for the season with a torn ACL. That’s three of the team’s top four cornerbacks.
If those corners out, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf could be in for big games against a leaky secondary. They could post numbers similar to Davante Adams’; he posted is 12 catches, 132 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 against San Francisco.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks don’t have a good run defense and have allowed 155 rushing yards per game. Normally, that would bode well for Shanahan’s run-first offense, but they will be without Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty; Elijah Mitchell (shoulder) was out of action last week, so he may be questionable, too.
The 49ers can get by with Trey Sermon and fullback Kyle Juszczyk as their top running backs. However, they simply lack explosive play-making ability at the position with their backfield hurting, so the Seahawks may be better poised to slow them down.
One more thing: Russell Wilson has never lost three games in a row during his career. He is 8-0 when coming off back-to-back losses. He should have a chance to lead his team to victory in this one.
Panthers at Cowboys: UNDER 50.5 (-110)
Christian McCaffrey played in three games for the Panthers last season and missed 13. In the three games that he played, the Panthers averaged 26 points per game. In the 13 that he missed, their average dropped to 20.9.
The Panthers are now expected to be without McCaffrey for at least a couple of weeks, and he won’t play against the Cowboys. They could struggle to score with him out of the lineup; they had just 17 points on seven drives against the Texans after he left the game.
Dallas’ defense has been much improved this year and has allowed just 22.3 points per game this season. They should have a chance to limit the McCaffrey-less Panthers, and they should be limited on offense themselves.
The Panthers defense is allowing just 10 points per game and a league-low 191 yards per game so far this season. The Cowboys should exceed both of those numbers, but this is the toughest defense that they’ve faced so far. Don’t be surprised if this is a grind-it-out game, much like their 20-17 win over the Chargers.
Taking the under here is a sensible move. The Cowboys may continue to score, but the Panthers seem likely to slow them down at least a bit. Eclipsing a 50.5-point over-under seems like a tough ask.
Player props will be added throughout the week leading up to games.
Mac Jones passing yards: OVER 254.5 (-114)
The Patriots vs. Buccaneers game will be all about Tom Brady, but don’t sleep on Mac Jones putting up some solid numbers. The game script should favor him on “Sunday Night Football.”
The Buccaneers are allowing an average of 63.7 rushing yards per game. That’s the fourth-fewest in the NFL. The team has also been the No. 1-ranked run defense in each of the last two seasons, so the Patriots are going to have trouble running the ball, especially with the team now thin at the position in wake of James White’s hip injury.
As such, Jones will have to throw a lot in this one. That will work just fine, as the Buccaneers have allowed a league-high 338 passing yards per game. Their secondary is banged-up and thin; that’s part of why they signed Richard Sherman on Wednesday. Sherman will be an upgrade for the team, but he may still be learning the scheme. So, it might not play much on Sunday — if he plays at all.
The Patriots will also have to go blow-for-blow with Brady in this one. The best way to do that will be to pass the ball, so expect Jones to come out firing early and often.
Jones has thrown for at least 270 yards in two of his three NFL starts. He also has attempted at least 30 passes in all three games he has played. Bill Belichick will need to lean on him in this one. That may not result in a win, or even an opportunity to keep this one close. It will, however, give him a shot at another 270-yard day through the air.
Ja’Marr Chase receiving yards: OVER 66.5 (-114)
Jacksonville has struggled immensely to cover No. 1 receivers throughout the season. They have allowed four 100-yard games to receivers through three weeks. More often than not, the No. 1 receiver on each team has torched the Jaguars.
100-yard WRs vs. Jacksonville, 2021
Chase figures to take advantage of this. He should be Joe Burrow’s No. 1 target against the Jaguars and he has averaged 73.3 receiving yards per game despite playing the Bears and Steelers in recent weeks.
Chase will be poised for a big day against the Jaguars, especially if Tee Higgins (shoulder) is unable to play on a short week. Higgins didn’t play in Week 3 against the Steelers, so he may not suit up on “Thursday Night Football” either.
This is a good spot in which to trust Chase. This number seems too low, and he’ll only need one long catch to make this feel like a foregone conclusion.