NFL underdogs are 30-18 ATS entering Week 4 of the 2021 season – a 62.5 percent cover clip for those point spread pups. That’s the best three-week start for NFL underdogs since 2002, when dogs finished 29-16-1 ATS (64 percent).
But excuse me if I’m not doing cartwheels.
As a guy who prides himself on making his best NFL picks from only teams getting the points (and a guy who couldn’t do a cartwheel to save his life), I’ve seen this song and dance before. You see, underdogs always have an early-season edge.
In the opening month of the schedule, point spreads are made from public perception and offseason projections formulated from last year’s results. The so-called good teams are rarely as good as we think and bad teams – often pegged as underdogs in September – aren’t as bad.
Dogs have barked loudest in the first three weeks of football for a while now, going 283-229-11 ATS in the opening three weeks between 2010 and 2020 – a blind 55 percent win rate for those “bad” teams.
However, the universe demands balance, and the scales start to teeter when the calendar flips to October and beyond, when it quickly becomes clear just which teams are truly good and bad. And whaddya know, my kids are clamoring for costumes and everything suddenly has pumpkin spice in it.
Oh, hello October.
Here are my favorite NFL Week 4 underdog picks and predictions.
NFL Underdogs Week 4 picks
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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Cleveland Browns at Minnesota Vikings (+2) pick
A fumble here. A missed field goal there. Suddenly, Minnesota is getting two points at home as potentially the best “bad” team in football right now.
The Vikings offense is humming, with Kirk Cousins off to a red-hot start and playmakers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen powering an attack with an +0.140 EPA per play through three games. Minny didn’t skip a beat with RB Dalvin Cook sitting out Week 3 and he’s expected back for this non-conference clash with Cleveland.
The Browns may look big and bad after collecting nine sacks in Chicago last Sunday, but there’s no glory in roughing up the Bears and Texans – or collapsing to the Chiefs in Week 1, for that matter.
I’m higher on Minnesota’s defense, which has underperformed through three games, due in part to injuries. However, bodies are coming back – one of which could be LB Anthony Barr – and this stop unit should recognize a lot of the Browns’ offensive scheme, since they practiced against them every day when Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski was the OC in Minnesota.
If I require more convincing on taking the points with the Purple People Eaters, I need only to pray at the altar of Zimmer. Minnesota is 35-21-1 ATS (62 percent) at home since Mike Zimmer took over in 2014, including a 9-3 ATS mark as a home dog.
PICK: Minnesota +2 (-110)
Indianapolis Colts (+2) at Miami Dolphins pick
It’s no surprise the Colts are winless after three games, considering the quarterback company they’ve kept.
Indianapolis has faced Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, and Ryan Tannehill in those opening contests, but enjoys a big downgrade in opposing passer in Week 4, visiting the Dolphins and a QB they know very well: Jacoby Brissett.
The Colts are better than their goose egg. Injuries during the summer really had this team behind schedule, most notably working Carson Wentz into the offense. And while those ailments persist, Wentz is healthier this week than he was last Sunday, when he toughed out two sprained ankles in a rough road outing at Tennessee.
The Dolphins are a dangerous defense that thrives on chaos and takeaways, nearly knocking off the Raiders in Las Vegas last weekend after starting the game with a pick-6 and a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Then Miami buckled and was outscored 25-11 the remaining three quarters, eventually losing a thriller in OT while allowing nearly 500 yards on defense.
A potential letdown awaits the Fins in Week 4. Indy has plenty of tape on Brissett and this Miami attack is nowhere near those of past opponents, ranked 29th in passing DVOA at Football Outsiders and scoring only 38 total points on offense on the year.
PICK: Indianapolis +2 (-110)
Baltimore Ravens (+1) at Denver Broncos pick
A set of rusty lawn chairs would look good against the offenses the Broncos have faced so far in 2021.
Denver has gotten fat from cupcake opponents early on, bulking up its sugary stats like points allowed and yards against versus the likes of the Jaguars, Giants, and Jets. Those foes also have dogshit defenses, so the Broncos’ offensive numbers are looking a little diabetic as well.
The Ravens are not those teams, despite escaping Detroit with a win by the skin of their teeth – or rather the paint of the upright. Baltimore was in a predictable letdown spot in Motown last week after two big primetime games but looks more like a top contender in the AFC with plenty of returning starters in Week 4.
Baltimore’s defense is expected to get LB Justin Houston, NT Brandon Williams, and DT Justin Madubuike back for this trip to Denver and the offense could have WRs Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin in the mix as well.
Those additions on both sides of the ball will help deal with Denver and the clock-eating offense of Teddy Bridgewater. Much like he did in Carolina last season, Teddy B is lulling opponents to sleep with the slowest pace in the league, running a play every 31.99 seconds and mowing through an average TOP of 36:35.
Lamar Jackson knows a thing or two about dominating the football. Baltimore, which sits 11th in TOP in 2021, has been Top 3 in possession the previous three seasons since Jackson took over as QB1. The rash of injuries to the running backs has hurt this season’s minutes but that hasn’t stopped the Ravens from leading the league in rushing and ranking No. 4 in rushing DVOA.
The additional options in the receiving corps will help Jackson keep the chains moving on third downs, which has been a big issue for this offense (30.30 percent success rate). Baltimore deals Denver a wake-up call after living in a marshmallow dream all September.
PICK: Baltimore +1 (-110)
Last week: 3-0 ATS +2.57 units (Risking 1 unit per play)
Season: 8-1 ATS +6.12 units (Risking 1 unit per play)
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