NFL Week 5 best bets: Three games with intriguing early lines and odds

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson before an NFL football game.
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson warms up before a game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 25. The Broncos head into their Week 5 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts as the early favorite. (Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

Betting early lines in the NFL has been a bit of a challenge this season. It seems as if every skill player on offense and defense has been designated as “questionable” on the injury report every week. It becomes a guessing game to see who will play and who won’t. But, you have to weigh the risk-reward of getting a good number with some positive equity or waiting it out and possibly missing the boat.

What oftentimes separates sharp bettors who win from bettors who hope to break even is getting to news faster or simply getting a better line. A lot of people are generally pessimistic and won’t want to lock in on a bet early in the week because of fear that some players who are injured won’t play or that somebody will get hurt in practice. While you don’t want to necessarily go all-in on Monday or Tuesday, you also don’t want to let a good number slide.

Here are a few early lines to consider for Week 5:

Denver Broncos (-3, 43) vs. Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan throws against the Tennessee Titans.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan throws against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Thursday Night Football, as you might expect, gives us the best early lines to study. The Broncos are not off to the start that everybody expected with Russell Wilson and all of his weapons at the skill positions, but there are a lot of reasons for optimism. Denver averaged 6.2 yards per play against the Raiders last week, but went just three for 11 on third down and had the game’s lone turnover, which just so happened to be returned for a touchdown.

The Broncos went into the game against the Raiders outgaining opponents by 0.5 yards per play and then outgained the Raiders 6.2 to 5.2 in the same category. This remains a really good defense and the offense should jell at some point soon. I realize the potential pitfalls of taking a rookie head coach in Nathaniel Hackett on a short week, but the Colts stink.

Indianapolis has not been able to get Jonathan Taylor going and he was injured on his fumble late in the game against the Titans. The Colts came into Week 4 last in points per drive with 1.14 and go up against a Broncos defense that had been really stout before surrendering some scores to the Raiders. As far as the Colts defense goes, Shaq Leonard suffered a concussion against Tennessee and is an extreme long shot to be cleared on a short week.

Denver hasn’t had great red-zone results, but this team should at least be 3-1 and gets an opponent in the altitude on short rest.

Pick: Broncos -3

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills (-14, 47)

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett scrambles for a touchdown.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett scrambles for a touchdown against the New York Jets on Sunday. (Matt Durisko / Associated Press)

The Steelers did not look good in their loss to the Jets this past weekend. We got to see the debut of Kenny Pickett and it did not go well, as he accounted for three of Pittsburgh’s four interceptions. Mitch Trubisky was just seven for 13 for 84 yards in the first half before getting benched. At least Najee Harris got going to a degree, but nobody respects the passing game of the Steelers.

Now Mike Tomlin has a quarterback controversy on his hands going into this week with long odds against the Bills. Buffalo is in an awful spot, though. Just after coming from behind to beat the Ravens, the Bills play this game against the Steelers and then visit the Chiefs with some revenge on the brain from last year’s playoff loss.

Situational spots aren’t sole justifications for plays, but there are some elements to this one that will likely affect the game. First, Josh Allen is unlikely to be the Josh Allen we saw against the Ravens. He had 11 carries for 70 yards and really carried the team. I’d be shocked if we see him running around against Pittsburgh risking injury. Second, if the Bills get a lead, they’re very likely to ease off the gas and start looking ahead to the Kansas City game. It will be all about staying healthy at that point. Finally, guys who are banged up have a higher chance of sitting here.

Whoever starts for the Steelers is not going to strike fear into the hearts of the Bills, and Buffalo is unlikely to bring the same offensive intensity or kill-shot mentality into this one. I think that’s good for an under.

Pick: Under 47

Chargers (-3, 48.5) at Cleveland Browns

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws during a win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws during a win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Admittedly, I liked the over between the Browns and Falcons last week and it didn’t get there. However, the fact that it didn’t get to that number seems to have kept this week's total down a little bit. The box score alone would make it seem that the game did go over. The teams combined for 736 yards and 5.8 yards per play. Cleveland actually surrendered 6.1 yards per play to the Falcons. The teams were successful on only 50% of their red-zone trips and the Browns had a turnover on downs inside the five. They also settled for a short field goal.

Justin Herbert looked like himself against the Texans, passing for 340 yards on 27 completions. We should see Keenan Allen back this week for the Chargers and that will definitely help the scoring output in this one. The Browns' pass defense caught a break against Marcus Mariota, but we’ve seen them have major communication issues and blown coverages already this season. Who better to take advantage of those than Herbert and a guy such as Mike Williams?

As long as the weather cooperates, and the early forecast says it will, we should see points here. We may not see a 47-42 final like we did last season, but I think this game gets into the 50s.

Pick: Over 48½

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.