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Tampa Bay Buccaneers +8.5 & Detroit Lions PK
Breaking down this matchup the first thing that jumps off the page is the play on the lines. Freeman has had great production so far this season and SF has had big problems getting pressure on opposing QBs. The advantage the SF defense has comes in the red zone. They've been stingy in this area despite letting teams drive down the field a lot. TB has been just the opposite as they can't get across the goal line. In this game I expect TB to have a greater control of the clock with a mix of pass and run and to keep the game close all the way throughout.
Looking at SF's offense is a little bit tricky. They exploded for 3 touchdowns from long drives against PHI in the 2nd half, but they've been horrible in this area in the previous 14 quarters. Is this a sign of turning the corner or was last week an anomaly? I'm sticking with the former. The O-line has been consistently bad and it could be another long day if TB's young defensive front continue to show their desire to get better (especially Clayborn and McCoy). TB's defense has also been very good on 3rd down and in the red zone--in stark contrast to PHI. Even with last week's production, SF still rank near the bottom in points from long drives and ball control.
SF might be 3-1, but a closer look at their numbers reveals a bit of a mirage. They are relying too heavily on variance to pull out victories. In any case, there's no way I think they should be favored in this matchup even if TB is coming off a short week.
Cincinnati Bengals +8.5 & Detroit Lions PK
We have a battle of rookie quarterbacks in this game so expect the unexpected, but at face value the advantage has to go to Dalton and the CIN offense. This kid wants to win badly and show his team he's willing to lay it all out on the line to get a "W". Veterans respond to that kind of leadership and they've been in every game to date this year. On paper, things don't look great when you compare the CIN offense to the JAX defense, but in most areas it's a wash. What I do like is the individual play of guys like Green and Gresham. They are talented young guys that give Dalton a chance on every play. Lewis will continue to stay with the run game and protect his rookie QB with the kind of balance needed to move the sticks.
The other side of things is where I see things breaking down for JAX. Gabbert might have talent, but he doesn't have the same kind of weapons at his disposal and he's probably a little further behind in his development. As a result nothing outside of MJD has been working. The O-line haven't done a good job protecting him, they can't punch the ball in once they get to the red zone, and they have difficulty sustaining drives. The CIN defense proved that they aren't all smoke and mirrors when they slowed down one of the hottest offenses in the NFL last week and currently rank in the top 5 overall. They are tied for the league lead for the most 3 and outs of any defense (24). Granted it has come against a weaker schedule, but JAX don't have the kind of offensive explosion needed to test them.
I'm not big on trends and situational plays, but I can't ignore the following stat--JAX only have one win by more than 8 points in their last 26 home games. I love those odds and I think CIN is a young and hungry team aspiring to get better. They should be good enough to keep this game within a score--if not win the game outright.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +8.5 & New England Patriots -1.5
Yes Mangold might play and Mayo is out and that would no doubt improve NY's chances, but they remain a team that can't live up to Ryan's expectations. I was considering playing NE if it reached -7, but I'm playing conservatively and going with the teaser.