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 5:
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins (-2.5, 43.5)
Ravens’ pass rush vs. Dolphins’ poor protection
The Ravens offense is sputtering but the defense remains the backbone of the franchise. Outside of the 49 points given up to Denver in Week 1, Baltimore has allowed an average of 12.6 points and 170.3 passing yards over the past three weeks. A big part of that has been the pass rush, which has a total of 13 sacks on the year, led by veteran LB Terrell Suggs with four QB kills.
Miami’s run game has been stuck in mud, so the Fins find themselves leaning on second-year QB Ryan Tannehill to move the chains. With that knowledge, opposing defenses have unleashed hell on the Dolphins offensive line, which has allowed an NFL-worst 18 sacks. Tannehill has two fumbles on the year and 15 fumbles – losing seven – in his first 20 career starts.
Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys (+7.5, 56)
Broncos’ big-play passing vs. Cowboys’ sucky secondary
The Cowboys’ new Tampa-2 defense has been good between the chains but has been burned over and over again with the deep ball. Dallas is giving up 7.2 yards per pass play and 10.9 yards per completion. It gave up a 26-yard TD toss and a 56-yard TD strike against San Diego last week and nearly let a Week 1 win slip away due to the Giants’ deep threats.
Denver’s offense is airing it out on opponents, averaging an NFL-best 363.8 passing yards and 44.8 points per game. Quarterback Peyton Manning has been killing defenses with 9.42 yards per attempt and, while he’s done most of his damage with short, quick throws, Manning will find plenty of opportunities to exploit a weak Cowboys secondary Sunday.
Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5, 41.5)
Texans’ red-zone weakness vs. 49ers’ rejuvenated offense
Houston’s defense ranks tops in the league in yards against, giving up just 254.2 yards per game, fueled by a pass defense that also tops the NFL with 141 yards allowed. However, the biggest chink in the Texans’ armor is its red-zone defense, which has buckled for touchdowns on 88.8 percent of its foes’ trips inside the 20-yard line.
San Francisco’s offense took a little while to get going but found its stride versus St. Louis last Thursday. The Niners scored touchdowns on all three trips to the red zone in their win over the Rams, improving to a 63.64 percent TD rate inside the 20-yard line on the season. The return of TE Vernon Davis helped, catching a 12-yard pitch from Colin Kaepernick, and Frank Gore finding his stride gives San Fran plenty of options in the red zone.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (+4, 45)
Chargers’ TE Antonio Gates vs. Raiders’ terrible TE defense
There’s plenty of tread left on the tires of Chargers TE Antonio Gates. After being slowed by injuries the past few years, Gates is back to his old tricks this year. He reeled in 10 catches for 136 yards and a massive 56-yard score versus Dallas last Sunday and TD catches in his last two games. The Bolts’ big man has rolled the Raiders in the past, totaling 1,098 yards and 11 TDs on 80 career catches.
Oakland’s defense has been beat up by tight ends already this season, with Jaguars TE Clay Harbor and Broncos TE Julius Thomas each finding the end zone against the Raiders. The Silver and Black are assigning backup safety Brandian Ross to Gates with starter Tyvon Branch out of action. Ross is 6-foot-1 but will dwindle in jump-balls with the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Gates.