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Trends favor Manning, underdog Giants at Buffalo

When the New York Giants are in a funk, it’s usually because Eli Manning stunk it up. That’s the popular storyline, and the media sticks to it. It’s routine to target the quarterback in the blame game.

Manning made for an easy target after his clock-management meltdown in a season-opening loss at Dallas. Manning blew it again the following week by losing a costly fumble in a loss to Atlanta. The Giants were 0-2 when they easily could have been 2-0.

With slumped shoulders and a sad face, Manning deserved most of the blame. At the same time, Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who has appeared increasingly confused on the sideline, does not get a free pass. Coughlin is slipping some, and his job is in jeopardy.

This is a familiar storyline. Manning and Coughlin were under pressure when the Giants opened 0-6 two years ago and 0-2 last season. Eventually, they started to win games. The Giants snapped out of their most recent funk by whipping Washington in Week 3.

Manning is not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but he can be mentioned in the same breath because of this fact: Manning, Rodgers and Brady are the only regular starting quarterbacks to not throw an interception this season. If Manning limits his mistakes and figures out how to manage the clock, the Giants can contend to win the wide-open NFC East.

Against AFC East opponents, the Giants are 15-2 against the spread as underdogs, with an 11-0 mark when getting 3½ or more points. Of course, good-looking trends can turn into garbage, and we’ll see if this one is valuable.

I’ll back the Giants, who have covered their past three road games, as 5½-point underdogs at Buffalo on Sunday. In a trend that dates to 2005, the Bills are 5-14 ATS in the next game after playing division rival Miami.

A week after drilling the Dolphins 41-14, the Bills will be without injured running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. McCoy’s absence is not a bigger deal only because rookie Karlos Williams is turning into a fifth-round steal.

But a New York defense that ranks 31st in yards allowed (410.3) catches a needed break with McCoy and Watkins sidelined. Buffalo surprisingly ranks 30th in total defense (400.7), mostly due to Brady shredding the Bills through the air in Week 2.

Running into Buffalo’s front seven is a bad idea. Look for the Giants to steal a page from the Patriots’ playbook and put the game in Manning’s hands. He has the receiving weapons, including Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Shane Vereen, to put points on the board.

Las Vegas sports books are off their worst NFL week in recent years, so I’m trying to think contrarian and fade popular sides. I was on the Bills last week, but I’ll go against them this time.

Four more plays for Week 4 (home team in CAPS):

Texans (+6½) over FALCONS: Atlanta will be a popular favorite this week, and it’s simple to see why. The Falcons are 3-0 straight up and ATS after taking down three NFC East opponents with fourth-quarter comebacks. Houston’s defense will put more heat on quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons have been in tight games, and this looks like another.

BRONCOS (-6½) over Vikings: Both offenses were weak in Week 1. Minnesota solved its problem by going to Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing with 291 yards. Denver coach Gary Kubiak finally got smart and allowed the slow-footed Peyton Manning to work out of the shotgun instead of under center. The Broncos’ strong run defense should control Peterson and force quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to make plays. After two wins, the Vikings are turning into a popular public underdog.

Rams (+7) over CARDINALS: Once upon a time, St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher was money as a road ‘dog. But Fisher is going broke, and the Rams offense stunk last week. Arizona is a hot team that covers at home — 11-3-1 ATS in its past 15 games in the desert. After two weeks of regression, this could be a spot for the Rams to rebound.

Cowboys (+3½) over SAINTS: Drew Brees is set to start for New Orleans, but is his shoulder strong enough to pick apart a good Dallas defense? The Saints have lost six in a row in the Superdome. The Cowboys have won 10 straight regular-season road games.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 7-8

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him: @mattyoumans247

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