by Bob Dunkel
NFL PREVIEW – WEEK 6
Week 5 resulted in the first coaching casualty of the season as Washington’s Jay Gruden was fired following the Redskins’ 33-7 loss to the Patriots on Sunday. Gruden’s 35-49-1 record over five-plus seasons combined with his 0-5 start this year made this move far from surprising. Bill Callahan will take over on an interim basis, which is ironic given that it was Callahan who took over for Jon Gruden when Gruden bolted from the Oakland Raiders to the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2002. Callahan led the Raiders to the Super Bowl that year where he was beaten by, of course, Jon Gruden.
Doubtful Callahan can repeat that feat in Washington, but he does have a chance to win his first game as head coach this week against the Miami Dolphins, which will be our first look at this week’s Five For The Drive.
WASHINGTON AT MIAMI
Washington (0-5, 1-4 ATS, No. 30 in Dunkel Index); Miami (0-4, 0-4 ATS, No. 32 in Dunkel Index)
In the Redskins last game with Gruden as coach, they actually jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the Patriots and trailed only 12-7 at the half. But an offense led by QB Colt McCoy (now 1-6 as a starter in DC) could manage only 220 yards of offense while going 1 for 11 on third down conversions. Washington hasn’t had any better luck with Case Keenum or rookie Dwayne Haskins at QB, leaving that position a rotation of mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
As bad as the Redskins loss was to New England, it was still better than the 43-0 beatdown the Dolphins absorbed from the Pats back on September 15. Things got a little better for the Dolphins last week, but that was only because Brian Flores’ team had a bye. The week before was more of the same as Miami lost at home to the Chargers, 30-10. It did include the highlight of Miami’s first lead of the season, which lasted all of 3 minutes and 49 seconds. Through four games, the Dolphins have now been outscored 163-26, which is the worst four-game point differential since at least 1940.
Key Trends: Washington is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games following a double-digit loss at home; Miami is 6-19-1 ATs in its last 26 games after scoring less than 15 points in the previous game.
Vegas Line: Washington by 3.5
Dunkel Margin: Washington by 7.5
Dunkel’s Pick: Move over 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns, the loser of this game looks primed to join you in the 0-16 club. It won’t be the Redskins.
HOUSTON AT KANSAS CITY
Houston (3-2, 3-2 ATS, No. 12 in Dunkel Index); Kansas City (4-1, 3-2 ATS, No. 2 in Dunkel Index)
We’ll go from the worst matchup of the week to one of the best between the Texans and Chiefs. Houston has had an up-and-down season so far with last week being a high in a 53-32 track meet over Atlanta. Just a week after being held to a season-low 10 points against Carolina, the Texans erupted behind Deshaun Watson’s career-high 426 passing yards and 5 TDs. Watson became the first player in history to throw for over 400 yards and 5 TDs with 5 or fewer incompletions. And this came against a Falcons team that hadn’t allowed over 400 yards passing since Week 16 of 2012.
Those kind of number have usually been reserved for Patrick Mahomes and the KC offense of late. But that wasn’t the case Sunday in a surprisingly low-scoring 19-13 home loss to the Colts. Mahomes had decent numbers (321 passing yards, 1 TD), but it wasn’t enough to keep from snapping the Chiefs’ record streak of 22 straight games scoring at least 26 points. He was sacked four times and got little help from a running game that had only 36 yards.
Key Trends: Houston is 5-2-1 ATS in its last eight road games; the road team is 5-1 ATS in the last six games between the Texans and Chiefs.
Vegas Line: Kansas City by 5.5
Dunkel Margin: Kansas City by 1
Dunkel’s Pick: Watson and the Texans have the offensive firepower to hang with the Chiefs and keep it within the spread at Arrowhead.
PHILADELPHIA AT MINNESOTA
Philadelphia (3-2, 2-3 ATS, No. 14 in Dunkel Index); Minnesota (3-2, 3-2 ATS, No. 8 in Dunkel Index)
These two teams are starting to feel like division rivals after facing each other in the 2017 NFC championship (38-7 Philadelphia win) and again last year in Philadelphia (23-21 Minnesota win). The Eagles took full advantage of the hapless Jets last week and their third-string QB, Luke Falk, in a 31-6 win. They became the first team in history to record 10 sacks and score two defensive TDs in a game. It overshadowed a relatively mediocre day from QB Carson Wentz (189 passing yards, 1 TD), who has yet to return to his MVP-caliber form of two years ago.
Mediocre performances are something Kirk Cousins has also produced since joining the Vikings. But last week was not one of them as Cousins completed 22 of 27 passes for a season-high 306 yards and 2 TDs to Adam Thielen, while Minnesota cooled off Daniel Jones and the Giants, 28-10, on the road. The emphasis on the pass did not take away from the running game either as Dalvin Cook had another big day with 132 rushing yards.
Key Trends: Philadelphia is 1-4 ATS in its last five games after allowing less than 150 yards passing in the previous game; Minnesota is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games after accumulating more than 150 yards rushing in the previous game.
Vegas Line: Minnesota by 3
Dunkel Margin: Minnesota by 5.5
Dunkel’s Pick: With Cousins coming off his best game of the season, the Vikings look to be the more complete team right now and cover the spread in Minnesota.
SAN FRANCISCO AT LA RAMS
San Francisco (4-0, 3-1 ATS, No. 3 in Dunkel Index); LA Rams (3-2, 4-1 ATS, No. 6 in Dunkel Index)
The 49ers are coming off one of the most dominating performances by a team this year in their 31-3 win over Cleveland on Monday night. The defense, led by Nick Bosa, took special joy in shutting down Browns QB Baker Mayfield, with Bosa mimicking Mayfield’s planting of the flag at Ohio State after one of his sacks. Considering Jimmy Garoppolo threw for only 181 yards and Robbie Gould missed 2 FGs, it could have been even worse. But the Niners showed a running game, outgaining the Browns 275-102 on the ground, that put them at 4-0 for the first time since 1990.
The Rams may be wondering about the Super Bowl-loser jinx after Thursday night’s 30-29 loss to the Seahawks when the usually reliable Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard FG that would have won it with 11 seconds left. A bigger negative, though, was a defense that gave up 4 Russell Wilson TD passes a week after allowing Jameis Winston and the Bucs to put up 55 points.
Key Trends: San Francisco is 7-19-1 ATS in its last 27 games versus a team with a winning record; LA is 6-0 ATS in its last six games after allowing more than 250 yards passing in the previous game.
Vegas Line: LA Rams by 4
Dunkel Margin: LA Rams by 8
Dunkel’s Pick: The Rams lost back-to-back games only once last year and did not lose three-in-a-row. They avoid that here as well and send a message they are not ready to cede the division to the Niners just yet with a victory and cover.
DETROIT AT GREEN BAY
Detroit (2-1-1, 3-1 ATS, No. 18 in Dunkel Index); Green Bay (4-1, 4-1 ATS, No. 11 in Dunkel Index)
Even in losing to the Chiefs, 34-30, two weeks ago, the Lions showed giant improvement while going toe-to-toe with one of the AFC’s best. The Lions had leads in the second, third and fourth quarters – the last coming with 2:26 left when Matthew Stafford threw a 6-yard TD to Kenny Golladay. It continues to signal a bounce-back year for Stafford, who has now thrown for 9 TDs against only 2 INTs with a passer rating of 102.6.
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers is starting to look like he’s in a groove as well after a sluggish start. Last week against the Cowboys, he guided the Packer offense even without wideout Davante Adams to a 31-3 lead before hanging on to a 34-24 win in Dallas. Another Aaron – Jones – continued to emerge as a big-time threat as he gashed the Cowboys D for 107 rushing yards and 4 TDs.
Key Trends: Detroit is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games following a bye week; Green Bay is 0-4 ATS in its last four games versus Detroit.
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 5
Dunkel Margin: Green Bay by 1
Dunkel’s Pick: The NFC North has already served up some good matchups early and this should be another one with the Lions keeping it under the spread.