Each week, we break down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches from Week 6:
Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings (-1, 43.5)
Panthers’ third-down offense vs. Vikings’ third-down defense
The Panthers offense doesn’t have much to hang its hat on this year, ranking 24th in yards and 27th in scoring. However, Carolina has been able to keep the chains moving when faced with third-down situations, converting on 47.17 percent of their third downs this season. That’s helped the Panthers control the clock for 32:49 a game – fourth-best time of possession in the NFL.
Minnesota’s defense ranks in the basement of the league, giving up 432.8 yards per game and allowing opponents to score an average of 30.8 points. A big problem is an inability to get key defensive stands. The Vikings are watching foes convert on 47.27 percent of their third-down chances, third worst in the NFL. And because the stop unit can’t put on the breaks, teams have kept Minny's defense on the field for more than 33 minutes per game.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets (-1, 41)
Steelers’ discipline vs. Jets’ penalty problems
If you can say anything good about the Steelers’ 0-4 start – and it’s tough to find a positive – it’s that they haven’t shot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties. Mike Tomlin’s troops are forcing refs to throw the flag just 4.2 times per game – tied for second fewest in the league. Those infractions have handed only 185 freebie yards to opponents.
The Jets, on the other hand, should think about adding yellow as an official team color after littering the turf with laundry this fall. New York ranks worst in the NFL with 50 penalties, equaling a league-high 369 yards gift wrapped to rivals – that’s 73.8 yards per game. With a spread this tight, those lost penalty yards could be the difference.
New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots (-1, 50.5)
Saints’ time of possession vs. Patriots’ lack of chemistry
The best way to beat Tom Brady? Don’t let him step on the field. New Orleans has the offense to do just that. It's tops in the league in time of possession, sucking 34:37 off the clock per game. The Saints controlled the ball for 36 minutes in last weekend’s win over the Bears and could keep the clock ticking even longer in New England this Sunday.
Brady and his targets have been struggling to get on the same page all season. Injuries and inexperience have slowed any chemistry on offense, which was apparent in last week’s loss to Cincinnati – completing just 47 percent of passes. And don’t even think of using the driving rain as an excuse. Tommy Boy has done some of his best work in wet weather. All that sitting around watching the Saints Sunday won’t help matters. The returning Rob Gronkowski will be a step behind and Danny Amendola is still trying to get in tune with Brady.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-6, 52)
Redskins’ WR Santana Moss vs. Cowboys’ sucky secondary
I hate to inject some personal opinion into this mismatch, but as a loyal Cowboys fan, I can’t stand Santana Moss. The Redskins WR has acquired the nickname “The Cowboy Killer” during his time in D.C., frequently making the Dallas defense look stupid on huge strikes downfield. He had a score and 64 total yards in two games versus the Cowboys last season, which is mild compared to past chapters of this classic rivalry.
Moss may have lost a step but that might not matter against a Dallas secondary that was picked apart for 414 passing yards by Peyton Manning last Sunday. Of course, Washington is no Denver. But Dallas has watched worse offenses go over the top for big strikes. The Redskins are still putting up 284.8 yards through the air per game - eighth in the NFL - and come off a bye week, ready and hungry to get back in the NFC East race.