It’s amazing how balanced the NFL has been through the first 10 weeks of the season.
Favorites are just 71-69-6 (50.71%) this year while away teams are 72-68-6 (51.43%). Home dogs are cashing 46.81% of the time (22-25-2) while home favorites are paying out 49.46% of the time (46-47-4).
What do all those numbers mean? Simple. NFL linesmakers are very good at what they do. Which means that we, the betting public, need to be very good at what we do. Buying numbers on Sunday 30 minutes before kickoff is generally a bad idea unless you like the underdog. It’s important to study these lines early in the week, try to assess which way the line is moving and what side the sharp money is on and then adjust accordingly.
That’s the purpose of this column. So let’s take a look at three games on the Week 11 schedule that have seen enough action to force some legitimate line movements and prepare ourselves for a profitable weekend.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-3, 4-1 road) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-3, 4-0 home)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: Baltimore -9
Current line: Baltimore -7
Current betting trends: 58% of the public is currently backing the Bengals.
Cincinnati: 7-2 against the spread in nine games played this season.
Baltimore: 5-4 against the spread in nine games played this season.
Interesting trend: The Bengals are 4-0 against the spread in the last four meetings between these two teams.
Analysis: For as sharp as NFL sides tend to get at this point in the season, it looks like the linesmakers may have missed on this one as the early money poured in on the opening number of Cincinnati +9 and steamed the line all the way down to Baltimore -7.
Prior to their Week 10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals had covered five straight spreads and were 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games overall. Keep in mind that this is a team that has lost three games this season by a combined 14 points, but will be without stud cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) for the remainder of the season.
On the flip side sits a Ravens team that is coming off another trap game loss, this time to the Seattle Seahawks. Baltimore’s three defeats this season have come against three teams that rank in the top half in the league in total defense. In those three aforementioned games, quarterback Joe Flacco completed just 53.3 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions. Be advised that entering Week 11, the Bengals rank fifth in the league in total defense.
“Baltimore seems like a team who has struggled mightily to find an identity this year,” Caesars Entertainment Senior Race & Sports Analyst Todd Fuhrman told me Wednesday. “Their unwillingness to lean heavily on Ray Rice is somewhat troubling since he’s the most dynamic playmaker on the Ravens offense. This number at -9 was probably high given how stout the Bengals defense has been, but then again, do you really want to fade the Ravens off a pathetic effort in the Pacific Northwest? A price at -7 should get great two-way action in a pivotal AFC North showdown.”
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-6, 1-4 road) at CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-6, 2-3 home)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: Cleveland -1.5
Current line: Jacksonville -1
Current betting trends: 68% of the public is currently backing the Jaguars.
Jacksonville: 4-4-1 against the spread in nine games played this season.
Cleveland: 3-6 against the spread in nine games played this season.
Interesting trend: The road team is 5-2 against the spread in the last seven meetings between these two teams.
Analysis: Despite identical records, this is a story of two teams headed in opposite directions. The Jaguars are 3-0-1 against the spread in their last four games, while the Browns are 0-5-1 ATS in their last six contests. In fact, Cleveland has only covered one spread this season, which came back in Week 2 against the lackluster Indianapolis Colts.
The Jaguars rank dead last in the NFL in total offense this year, but have been solid on the other side of the football, ranking fourth in total defense and sixth in points allowed (18.4 pts/gm). In addition, Jacksonville is 4-0 ATS in their last four November games and 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine outings following an ATS win.
Meanwhile, the Browns are 0-4 ATS in their last four November games and 1-8-2 ATS in their last 11 home contests. This is a team that lacks playmakers on both sides of the football and ranks 29th in the NFL in scoring (14.6 pts/gm).
Betting this game means you’ll have to sit through 60 minutes of some of the most unimpressive and boring football planet Earth has ever seen, but if you feel compelled to get down, we’d lean towards the hot-handed Jaguars.
Remember, this game opened at Cleveland -1.5 and was quickly bet all the way to Jacksonville -1, meaning the early money loves Jack Del Rio and the Jags.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-5, 2-2 road) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-3, 3-1 home)
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET (Monday night)
Opening line: O/U 48
Current line: O/U 46.5
Current betting trends: 52% of the public is currently backing the UNDER.
Kansas City: The UNDER is 6-3 in nine games played this season.
New England: The OVER is 5-4 in nine games played this season.
Interesting trend: The UNDER is 6-1 in the Chiefs’ last seven games following an against the spread loss and 4-1 in the Patriots’ last five games as a favorite.
Analysis: As we’ve mentioned before in this column, the betting public loves to back OVERS. But after a high-scoring start to the season, the NFL has regressed back to the mean, as OVERS are currently just 74-71 (51.03%) through 10 weeks of football after a four-week stretch that saw UNDERS cashing at an alarming rate.
My man Warren Sharp of SharpFootballAnalysis.com specializes in NFL totals and has been on the right side of more than 60 percent of his plays this season, so I reached out to him in the hopes of gaining some valuable insight into how to attack this Monday night showdown.
“I had my clients take the UNDER at 48 and the line is now down to 46.5,” Sharp told me on Wednesday. “My research supports the UNDER but in addition to my numbers, not only is Tyler Palko the new starting quarterback for the Chiefs, but he also throws with a different hand (left) than did Matt Cassel (right). This changes protections, bootlegs and other aspects of the Chiefs offense, which was already one of the worst in the league. Their game plan must be conservative and it must be to try to burn the clock, keep Brady off the field and shorten the game. The Patriots are very likely to win this one in grand fashion, but they are not the same offense that was putting up 40-50 points a game like they did in 2007. Two trends support a play on the under:
1. Since 2008, home teams who face a very bad offensive opponent (scoring fewer than 16 pts/gm) have seen UNDERS go 12-3 if they are set above 44 points. This trend is 3-0 so far in 2011.
2. Since 2008, teams who scored over 30 points the previous week and over 10 points more than Vegas predicted that they would score, have seen UNDERS go 56-28 in the second half of the season. If their opponent averages fewer than 18 points per game, the under is 11-3.”
Bonus trends for tonight’s game! NEW YORK JETS (5-3, 1-3 road) at DENVER BRONCOS (4-5, 1-3 home)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
Opening line: NY Jets -5/42.5
Current line: NY Jets -6/40
Current betting trends: 78% backing the JETS, 55% backing the UNDER.
New York Jets: 4-5 against the spread, OVER is 6-3
Denver Broncos: 4-5 against the spread, OVER is 6-3
1. The Jets are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games as a road favorite of 3.5-10.0.
2. The Jets are 1-4 ATS in their last five road games.
3. The Broncos are 4-1 ATS in their last five games against AFC opponents.
4. The Broncos are 1-8-1 in their last ten games following an ATS win.
5. The OVER is 7-0 in the Jets’ last seven games on grass.
6. The OVER is 12-2 in the Broncos’ last 14 home games.
7. The UNDER is 4-1 in the last five meetings between these two teams in Denver.