What used to be the quarter pole of a NFL season is now fractionally below that, as teams across the league have really started to establish an identity by the time they've got four games under their belt. I still wouldn't put a whole lot of weight into everything that's gone on in three weeks.
But when identities are being established, and two of arguably the worst divisions from top to bottom in the league are finding zero success in the same role, it's something to be aware of. Especially when three games fit in Week 4.
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Straight Up (SU), Against the Spread (ATS)
4-0 ATS this year when fading home underdogs from the AFC or NFC East divisions
No one is going to argue that either of the East divisions in football are loaded with talent from top to bottom, but in the four opportunities they've had getting points in front of their own fans have all ended in ATS failure.
The Giants fell to Denver in Week 1, with Week 2 bringing bad results for the Dolphins at home vs Buffalo, the Jets at home vs New England, and the Eagles at home vs San Francisco. Two being division games within the AFC East dilutes this small sample size even more, but the Dolphins and Jets were expected to at least hang tough with each catching less than six points. The two teams combined to score just six points in total on offense – no touchdowns – and the Jets 19-point margin of defeat was still nearly twice as good as Miami's 35- 0 loss.
The Eagles and Giants each held on for at least a half in their respective SU and ATS losses as home underdogs, as Philly did it against San Francisco and is now looking to do the same in Week 4 against the organization that beat the 49ers two Super Bowls ago – the Kansas City Chiefs. KC is a team that continues to not cover the number themselves though at 0-3 ATS this year and having covered just twice (2-12 ATS) since Week 9 of last year.
That KC/Philly spread could get enough steam to where possible -7's start to show up, but sitting around -6 currently and having the Eagles in this fade role, anyone who likes the Chiefs to break out of their own ATS funk this week should probably pounce sooner rather than later.
Kansas City does sit a league worst in opponent yards per play though (7.0), and is tied last with Detroit in points allowed per game (31.7). The saying that defense travels is something KC backers pray isn't true this week, because it's hard to lay any amount of chalk with anyone on the road with defensive numbers like that. Philly's offense is far from what KC's seen from Cleveland, Baltimore, and the LA Chargers though, so there is plenty to chew on with that game.
The other two games that see East division teams catching points have similar point spread numbers as well. The New York Jets are sitting at +7.5 hosting Tennessee, with the Patriots at +6.5 for their SNF showcase of welcoming Tom Brady back into town.
The player vs coach thing is going to be what it's going to be, but given the huge disparity in talent on the field for these teams across the board, having the Patriots line up in a fade spot as an East division home dog isn't the worst thing in the world.
The Brady/Gronk return to New England is going to be something where I'm sure all three parties (+ Belichick) are going to be excited to be going up against each other. There will likely be wrinkles thrown in from both sides, and throughout the week bettors will make their side known on the debate between player vs coach.
But New England's still got to play offense half the time with a rookie QB against a defense that won a championship last year by feasting on turnovers. Rookie QB's and turnovers tend to go hand-in-hand in this league too. This is another game where the spread could approach a full TD as the week goes on, so keep that in mind when you consider what side of the Brady vs Belichick debate you are looking to take on SNF.
Fading home underdogs from any of the other six divisions is 4-10 ATS this year.
It's no different than saying that home underdogs not from the AFC/NFC East divisions this year are 10-4 ATS, and if you eliminate Jacksonville from that group, the number is actually 10-2 ATS for home underdogs this year.
It's a shame that this run had to come up on the radar this week when the only other home underdog currently on the board are the Minnesota Vikings, and at +1, it's a game where the ATS result has no shot at being different from the SU result.
Non-East Division home underdogs are 7-7 SU in those previous 14 games this season, which includes an outright win by this same Vikings team at home last week vs Seattle. That point spread was in the same basic range as Minnesota finds themselves in this week as they host the Browns.
Week 4 will be the first time Cleveland finds themselves out on the road since they lost the season opener in Kansas City in that late Chiefs comeback. It's the first of two in a row for Cleveland on the road against opponents that were likely penciled in as wins for the Browns in the summer when Cleveland's schedule and win totals were discussed.
But road trips to Minnesota and LA to face the Chargers could easily be huge stumbling blocks for this Browns team that's still looked every bit the part of preseason Super Bowl contender. They got tight late against the two-time AFC champs in a late loss, but followed it up with two double-digit home wins as basically expected. Looking at those three box scores and then seeing Cleveland as a -1 road favorite against the Vikings could easily look short to most and may very well play out that way.
Yet, it's the Vikings who find themselves in the decent home underdog role for 75% of the league, they just won a game like this last week in blanking Russell Wilson in the 2 nd half, and have their own QB in Kirk Cousins who's thrown 8 TD's and 0 INT's in three games this year.
Minnesota's 4th in the NFL in yards/game (425) to Cleveland's 7 th (410), meaning the Vikings are plenty fine being in a game that's 31-30 as well.
So it's Minnesota or nothing for me this week, as we can see if this line adjusts any throughout the week and decide on what the best betting route in backing Minnesota. Taking a small piece of the ML now at plus money and letting the spread adjust (if it goes in Cleveland's favor there are more points to take ATS with Minnesota, if it moves in Minnesota's favor you've got a plus-money ML price) throughout the week is another option as well.