Every NFL season, there are a handful of unpredictable storylines we deemed nearly impossible in early September. However, like clockwork, we still manage to spend the first two months in complete shock as it unfolds. So if you don't believe what teams have shown by now, you better come to terms quickly before your bankroll pays the price.
Remember how "bad" the Tennessee Titans were last season? Yet, despite poor metrics and numerous injuries, Mike Vrabel kept finding ways to win games. Nevertheless, we relentlessly deemed them phonies as they finished as the AFC's No.1 seed above the Chiefs and Bills. In the long run, the skepticism rang true as Tennessee faltered immediately in its first postseason game. But the Titans' also finished 6-2 ATS as underdogs, eating up chunks of their doubters' bankroll throughout the regular season.
Of course, surprise teams like the Giants, Seahawks and Vikings aren't as good as they appear in the standings, but that doesn't mean we should be blindly fading them against bad teams. That brings us to one of the early games I targeted in Week 9: Seattle returns to the underdog role as it travels to Arizona.
Seattle Seahawks (+2) at Arizona Cardinals
I am old enough to remember when the market told me the Jaguars were three points better than the Giants. We are getting a similar situation here, as the surprise Seahawks deserve more credit against a last-place divisional foe. DeAndre Hopkins gives Arizona's offense a new gear, but the Cardinals' issues this season run much deeper than one player. Last week's 34-26 loss to Minnesota was the second consecutive week Arizona allowed 34 points. Geno Smith is PFF's second-highest graded passer and is getting solid support in the running game from Kenneth Walker III. Only the lowly Detroit Lions grade out worse in coverage than the Cardinals, so I am confident Smith will be able to connect consistently in high-leverage situations to keep the chains moving. Seattle ranks just outside of the top five in offensive DVOA and likely has the more efficient offense in this matchup despite the return of Arizona's biggest playmaker.
Hopkins' let the league know he was back with a one-handed touchdown catch against Minnesota, but Arizona's offense still struggled in some key areas. For example, they were only 4-of-11 on third downs, and their 34% conversion rate still ranks as one of the worst in the league. In my opinion, we are getting too excited about Arizona's offense moving the ball against a defense that is clearly in the league's bottom half. Even so, if we isolate Week 8, Kyler Murray's offense ranked only 17th in the league in EPA per play. Hopkins is an elite talent, but I question whether he will be enough to save Arizona's season.
Some teams find ways to win and others find ways to lose. I often feel like when the Cardinals are discussed, it's always in the context of why they should have won but didn't. They almost covered against the Vikings, but three turnovers and 10 penalties left them with another loss and a slew of excuses. It's a pattern with this team, making them a solid fade in any close, competitive game like this one.
I didn't think Seattle would win five games this season, but I have to base my wager on who they are right now. I am watching the Seahawks learn how to win, close out games and build more confidence each week. The Cardinals have a 1-3 record at home and are only 3-6 ATS as a home favorite dating to last year. They lost five of those games outright. I will take one more shot with the Seahawks and bet they stiff-arm regression for another week.
Stats provided by pff, rbsdm, football outsiders, teamrankings.com.