NFL against-the-spread picks: Can the Packers compete without Aaron Rodgers?

·6 min read

Last week was a boon for backup quarterbacks. Four of them helped their teams to wins. 

Maybe it's a little too early to bury the Green Bay Packers. 

On Wednesday the NFL got some shocking news when Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out of Sunday's game. That sparked a million conversations that don't need to be rehashed here; we're just talking about football and what the Packers face this week against the Kansas City Chiefs. It will be daunting. 

The Packers are 7-point underdogs at BetMGM, an 8-point shift in the spread after the Rodgers news. Jordan Love, who didn't play at all last season and played OK in the preseason, will get his first start. The Packers having to turn to Love, the pick that set off all the offseason Rodgers drama, is rich with irony. 

We don’t know what we'll get with Love. He has first-round talent and pedigree. He was a mistake-prone quarterback his last season at Utah State, but the Packers will probably minimize him in the game plan. And the Chiefs might not have the defense that can take advantage of Love’s inexperience anyway.

The other part of analyzing the game is the Chiefs. The line moved from Chiefs -3 to Packers -1 after Kansas City looked bad in an ugly win over the New York Giants on Monday night. The Chiefs are bad on defense and the offense is not superhuman anymore either. They’re just an average 4-4 team. 

If last week around the NFL taught us something, it’s that teams often rally for a week when they lose a key player. It happened last week with the Packers when Davante Adams was out for COVID-19 reasons. They were shorthanded and yet beat a 7-0 Arizona Cardinals team. It is hard for a team to get up like that two games in a row, but the Packers could do it. They know it’ll take a great effort to win without Rodgers at Arrowhead Stadium.

I’ll take the Packers, figuring they'll play hard and well around Love. It’s also a fade of the Chiefs, who have been miserable against the spread for more than a year. The only way to make the Rodgers story even crazier would be the Packers winning without him.

Jordan Love will make his first career start for the Packers on Sunday. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Jordan Love will make his first career start for the Packers on Sunday. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Here are the Week 9 against-the-spread picks, with the lines from BetMGM

Jets (+10.5) over Colts

It’s not that I think Mike White is going to be Tony Romo or Kurt Warner, but he might not be bad and I’m not ready to lay double digits with the Colts.

Bengals (-2.5) over Browns

Either the Bengals were a bit fraudulent and propped up by a huge win over the Ravens that ultimately proves fluky, or they are a young team that had a letdown against the Jets after it got a taste of success. I’ll bet on the latter.

Broncos (+10) over Cowboys

No ATS streak lasts forever. Maybe the Cowboys will run the table against the spread, but I highly doubt it, and that leads to a reluctant pick on Denver.

Texans (+6.5) over Dolphins

I really have no idea what to make of this game between an awful Texans team that has no talent, and a Dolphins team that is doing nothing with the talent it has. Take the points, I guess.

Saints (-6) over Falcons

Here's another case of taking a team with its backup quarterback. I think the Saints will be just fine with Taysom Hill, assuming he plays. It’ll be different, but they’ll figure out a way. I don’t know that I can say the same for the Falcons offense without Calvin Ridley.

Giants (+3) over Raiders

I don’t like talking about a serious news story in terms of how it will affect a football team, but this game will be played and people will care about the outcome. I don’t know how the Raiders can be too excited to play after the horrible situation with Henry Ruggs this week.

Panthers (+3.5) over Patriots

It’s a Christian McCaffrey pick. He has had time to get healthy and the splits of the Panthers offense with and without McCaffrey are pretty startling. Carolina is going to be much better with him, of course. I could see the Patriots forcing a ton of Sam Darnold turnovers too, so it’s not a confident pick.

Bills (-14.5) over Jaguars

This tests the “whoever is playing the Jaguars” theory I’ve been trying out since Week 1. This is a lot of points to lay with a Bills team that is starting to look disinterested for stretches. But I’m still not taking the Jaguars to cover against my Super Bowl pick.

Vikings (+6) over Ravens

Aside from one great game against the Chargers, who can’t stop the run, the Ravens have either lost or won an incredibly close game each week. The Vikings aren’t a bad team and they love close games themselves. The line is too high here.

Chargers (-1.5) over Eagles

At some point I’ll quit thinking every year that the Chargers will be good. But I haven’t kicked that habit yet. If the Chargers have any realistic goal of winning the AFC West, they have to handle business here against a mediocre Eagles team. If the Chargers lose, maybe I’ll finally give up on them. Maybe, I said.

49ers (+1) over Cardinals

OK, this is one time I won’t be picking a team with its backup quarterback ... or a hurt starter. Kyler Murray's status isn't certain yet, due to an ankle injury. I thought this was a good surprise spot for the 49ers anyway. I’m being stubborn about them too. I think there’s still a good team lingering somewhere in there. And Murray does so much for the Cardinals that it’s hard to see them winning much without him (or with him hobbled with a bad ankle).

Titans (+7.5) over Rams

How much should a running back mean to a spread? The look-ahead line for this last week was Titans +4.5. Derrick Henry is out, and the line went up three points. Henry is a phenomenal player, but adding three points and going over the key number of +7 is too much for me. We’ll find out how valuable Henry is.

Bears (+6.5) over Steelers

It won’t be fun to sweat a Bears bet for three hours on Monday night. But are you ready to trust the Steelers offense to win by a touchdown? The Steelers’ 15-10 win last week was a template for what they have to do: Ugly up the game, keep it close and let the defense finish the job. Don’t expect many points.

Last week: 9-6
Season to date: 65-56-1 

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