Through the use of a hard salary cap and a draft ordered strictly by the previous season’s standings, the NFL has long sought to achieve what former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue once infamously deemed “perpetual parity.”
As the theory goes, when most of the league hovers around the .500 mark – and even bottom feeders can notch a victory on “Any Given Sunday” – the average fan has fewer reasons to tune out early by abandoning their team’s lost season.
Tagliabue probably wouldn’t recognize the NFL circa 2019, however, as perpetual parity has given way to increasingly stratified standings defined by “haves” and “have nots.”
Double-Digit NFL Favorites in Week 8
To wit, as the Week 8 slate approaches, two teams sport spotless records in the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (7-0) and the upstart San Francisco 49ers (6-0). Meanwhile, the race to “earn” the number one overall draft pick is heating up with a pair of winless teams in the Cincinnati Bengals (0-7) and the Miami Dolphins (0-6).
Throw in three teams with only one loss, coupled with three more that have just a lone victory to their credit, and nearly one-third of the entire NFL occupies one end of the standings spectrum or another.
All of which is to say those double-digit point spreads that used to be a rarity are here to stay.
In 2019, the oddsmakers at online sportsbook Bovada have posted 15 spreads of 10-points or more – including a pair of 20+ lines in Week 3. That’s by far the highest volume of double-digit spreads bettors have faced in recent memory, and the trend continues with four more in Week 8.
Primetime Games Don’t Offer Much Parity
Week 8 kicks off with the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) hosting the Washington Redskins (1-6) on Thursday Night Football.
The Vikings are rolling to the tune of three straight blowout wins, putting up 36.0 points per game and a dominant average margin of victory of 18 points. Quarterback Kirk Cousins seems to have been motivated by public criticism from wide receiver Adam Thielen, as the former Redskins signal-caller has posted his best passing lines wearing purple and gold over the three-game win streak.
Cousins is sure to be motivated with the Redskins coming to town – where Minnesota has gone 3-0 on the year – after his former team continually forced him to play under the franchise tag. Couple the Vikings’ recent rampage through the NFC with Cousins’ resurgence as a play-action passer, and a Redskins team that got shut out at home last Sunday might not be able to hang as heavy (+16) underdogs.
Monday Night Football features a lackluster matchup which would’ve been exciting in a different era, as the tanking Dolphins visit the injury-ravaged Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4).
Miami has looked slightly more competitive of late, holding a 5-point lead entering the fourth quarter of last week’s eventual 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills (5-1), and only losing on a failed 2-point conversion two weeks ago against the Redskins.
Fresh off their bye week, a struggling Pittsburgh team expects to have backup QB turned starter Mason Rudolph back from a brutal concussion suffered in Week 5. Rudolph has struggled thus far in Ben Roethlisberger’s stead, completing fewer than 15 passes with under 175 yards passing in three of his four games.
Nonetheless, a primetime home date with the woeful and winless Dolphins makes Rudolph and the Steelers major (-14.5) favorites.
Undefeated in Foxboro + Winless in London = Heavy Chalk
The third and final International Series game held in London this season showcases last year’s NFC representative in the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Rams (4-3) “hosting” the winless Bengals.
The Rams enjoyed a get-right game last week against the atrocious Atlanta Falcons (1-6) defense, ending a three-game losing jag in a 37-10 laugher. That result may have inflated L.A.’s value just a bit, but with newly acquired lockdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey set to face Bengals QB Andy Dalton – who threw three fourth quarter interceptions in five plays last Sunday – the Rams are laying (-13.5) across the pond.
The Patriots were double-digit favorites on the road in Week 7, but Belichick, Brady & Co. hardly seemed bothered en route to a 33-0 whitewashing of the lowly New York Jets.
Now the NFL’s number one defense – and quite possibly the best defensive squad ever assembled given the Pats’ historically dominant point differential of (+175) – gets to face struggling sophomore QB Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns (2-4). Mayfield has great weapons, but his offensive line is below-average and he’s rushing throws, which leads to too many turnovers. Against the league-best Patriots defense, that proves pivotal.
New England already has two shutouts on the year, and both of those came on the road, so a team that hasn’t surrendered more than 14 points in a game all season deserves to be (-13.5) home favorites here.