Look between the lines: Handicapping NFL’s Week 5 slate

James Hernandez has more than 15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at jameshernandez1981@gmail.com.

James Hernandez, Contributor to FOXSports.com

During the NFL season, I will attempt to guide you to the winner’s circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack each week.

Each week I will post my five favorite plays in order of preference, best on top and so on. All right, let’s get into it:

Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) over Indianapolis Colts

Only one team has won all four games this season straight up and against the spread. That team is the Seahawks.

In a very unpredictable start to the NFL season, Seattle has been exactly who we thought they were and amidst all the hype surrounding them this offseason they have lived up to the Super Bowl expectations placed upon them.

Most West Coast teams have a hard time going east and playing the morning game and Seattle was no exception during the first half of last week’s game in Houston trailing 20-3. It seemed as if the Texans were on the way to an outright win when Seattle finally woke up and scored the game’s final 20 points. The shocking finish left the Texans and their fans wondering how they let a potential statement win slip through the cracks.

Bringing the NFL’s sixth-ranked defense and only allowing 47 points scored against them in four games (11.8 ppg), Seattle’s defense is as complete a unit as the NFL has. If that isn’t enough, they get a boost with the return of pass rush specialist Bruce Irvin to team with Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril. The trio will look to put the heat on Luck early and often.

The secondary is getting right as well with the improving health of Brandon Browner adding another dimension to the best secondary in the league. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and company welcome this extremely physical cover cornerback to mix as they continue to eliminate the best receiving options of opposing teams.

Russell Wilson continues to display in-game decision making far beyond his years putting Pete Carroll at ease as he has a coach on the field. The running game, led by Marshawn Lynch, has the ability to gash Indy’s defense.

Look for the Seahawks defense to lead the way in this game and force a turnover or two while Wilson again executes the game plan to perfection and Seattle cruises to another victory and cover over the Colts.

Buffalo Bills/Cleveland Browns under 42

As the Browns continue to have me feasting on crow for picking against them in consecutive weeks, I think this time I may have finally learned my lesson.

On a short week where both teams come into the contest banged up look for both defenses to dictate the pace of the game and keep it relatively low scoring. Is it safe to say that CJ Spiller has been one of the most disappointing backs in the league this season? Yes, without a doubt.

Going into a season where the Bills coaching staff was “going to give [Spiller] the ball until he throws up,” the only vomiting being done is by Bills fans and fantasy owners who look up and see a guy who has carried the ball 66 times for only 230 yards (3.5 per carry) with zero touchdowns and three fumbles. Not only have his durability issues from college resurfaced, but I’m pretty sure he was not supposed to have his starting gig ripped away by a guy (Fred Jackson) who is six years his elder and thought to be well past his prime.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Fred Jackson as much as the next guy just not as my feature back. In a game where the weather looks to be wet and sloppy these elements should play right into the hands of the Browns fourth ranked defense which is only allowing 17.5 points per game and has really performed at an elite level at home.

Look for two inexperienced quarterbacks to play it safe in a low-scoring game that should stay well under the total of 42.

Denver Broncos/ Dallas Cowboys over 56

This is another total that has me shaking my head. How is the number only 56?! Denver, alone, is averaging 44.8 points per game. Dallas is putting up a respectable 26 points per game and with the game being played indoors this game screams shootout.

As Peyton continues to assault opposing defenses at record-setting levels, this may be the week where Monte Kiffin may want to look into taking some personal time away from the team to console his son’s bruised ego. With all joking aside, it is going to be a tough task for the Dallas secondary to matchup with the most diverse offensive weapons in the game. If Philip Rivers was able to put up 400 yards and 3 touchdowns against this unit, just imagine what Manning and his crew are capable of.

Denver’s D gets little credit with an offense that is setting records, but it ranks third in the league against the run and will continue to improve as they will get crucial pieces Champ Bailey and Von Miller back in the near future. For now, both are absent. That should allow Romo to find offensive success as he continues to involve Dez Bryant and Jason Witten against the 25th ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Look for the points to come in bunches as two of the most talented offenses in the league light up the scoreboard in Big D and provide the crowd at Jerry’s World a very entertaining display of offense that will have no problem going over 56 points.

New England Patriots (+1.5) over Cincinnati Bengals

Once again the great Tom Brady is reminding us why he is a top-five quarterback of all-time. After methodically taking apart the Falcons last Sunday night and improving his record to 17-7 against the spread since 2003, he finds himself in that spot again against the Jekyll and Hyde act known as the Bengals.

After looking competitive at Chicago in a loss and finding a way to beat the Packers and Steelers at home, many (including me) believed the Bengals were ready to take the next step and be that team that competes for a division title and a home playoff game. Although last week’s game against Cleveland was only one loss, it told a very detailed and disturbing story of Andy Dalton and his inability to take the next step in becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

We all know Dalton has average arm strength at best. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and head coach Marvin Lewis seem to have made peace with that, but he stares down receivers and forces balls into impossible coverage that generate the turnovers and negative plays that continue to haunt this team.

Look for cornerback Aqib Talib to try and add to his league-leading four interceptions as he and an opportunistic Pats secondary look to give Brady the ball in favorable field position and allow him to work his magic as he continues to make the most of his limited talent. Once again Brady and Belichick will beat a team that on paper is “more talented” than the Pats, but just as they always do, New England will find a way to emerge victorious and continue to defy the so-called experts while improving to 5-0.

Detroit Lions/ Green Bay Packers over 53.5

In a reversal of fortune, it’s the Lions who are 3-1 going into this game and the Packers who find themselves 1-2 and needing a home win to avoid a discouraging 1-3 start to the season.

Both teams come into this contest averaging over 30 points per game, so look for both offenses to be in rare form as Rodgers and Stafford duel for a crucial division victory. With the addition of Reggie Bush, it looks as if the Lions truly have the perfect back to complement Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Bush provides a dual-threat matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Without the veteran presence of Nate Burleson, look for Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew to step up and contribute in the passing game while Bush and Bell handle the ground game.

For the Packers it looks as if Eddie Lacy and James Franklin will be cleared to play Sunday and that should bring some stability to the running game and allow Rodgers to have the time to distribute the ball effectively to Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and company.

Unless Mother Nature herself decides to play a factor and force changes to the game plan and offensive tempo, these two offenses should have no problem scoring points at a rapid rate and easily push the game total over 53.5.