Week 12 of the NFL is here and I’ll be breaking down all of Sunday’s games from a betting perspective. I finished with a positive 3-2 ATS record on The Nickel Package podcast last week, but unfortunately I added a play on the Chargers on Sunday morning to finish 3-3 ATS with my Recommended Wagers. My overall season records are still well above .500 and I really like this week’s board so hopefully I can turn in a strong performance.
The Nickel Package Record: 31-22-2 ATS (58%)
As always, you can check out The Nickel Package podcast, which includes my top five plays in order of confidence. Each week, Joe Fortenbaugh from the National Football Post joins me to analyze those picks and provide additional insight to the games I’ve selected. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, listen to the player below or download the MP3 file here.
Recommended Wagers Record: 37-30-2 ATS (55%)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Detroit Lions
Friday Line: Lions -9, total of 49
Public Consensus: 66% on the Buccaneers, 87% on the over
The Pick: Tampa Bay is slowly starting to turn things around, but I can’t help but feel that they’re severely overmatched in this contest. The Lions are one of the highest scoring teams in the league, and the Bucs simply aren’t equipped to get involved in a shootout with Detroit. Tampa Bay is down to their fourth string running back in Bobby Rainey, and although Rainey torched the depleted Falcons defense last week, his success is unlikely to be duplicated against a strong Lions rush defense. Detroit gives up just 94.6 yards per game on the ground and has only surrendered five rushing touchdowns all season long. In the last four weeks, the Lions have held opponents to an extremely stingy 2.2 yards per carry. If the Bucs are unable to muster yards on the ground in this contest, there will be a lot of pressure on rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to move the chains. Detroit’s pass defense is suspect, but Glennon will find it difficult to operate in a raucous Ford Field environment, especially if he’s facing consistent third-and-long situations. The Lions have faced Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, and Ben Roethlisberger in their past three contests so they’ll be ecstatic to see Glennon under center this week. Tampa Bay’s only realistic chance of keeping this game close is if Darrelle Revis can shut down Calvin Johnson. Revis is amazing but he’s not God—Megatron won’t have a monstrous game but he should still put up decent numbers. The Lions have allowed the fewest sacks in the league this season and their pass protection is a big reason why Johnson is continuously able to get open down the field. Detroit’s offense has produced consistently all season, registering 32 points per game, and has outgained opponents by an average of 119 yards per game on the season. I don’t see why things would be any different this week.
The Bucs are predicated on running the ball and stopping the run. Unfortunately for them, this week they’ll need to pass the ball and stop the pass in order to be successful. Tampa Bay will fall behind early and Glennon will have to engage in a shootout with Stafford in order to keep this game close. Good luck with that. Lions 34, Buccaneers 18
The Wager: As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, laying points with Jim Schwartz is a recipe for disaster. Schwartz is a complete clown and subsequently, the Lions tend to play a ton of close games when their statistics indicate that they should be blowing opponents out. I’m also a little skeptical about the Lions looking ahead to Green Bay on Thanksgiving. Pass
The Trend: Lions are 4-1 ATS in their last five games following an ATS loss.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
Friday Line: Texans -10, total of 43.5
Public Consensus: 71% on the Jaguars, 92% on the over
The Pick: Here’s another game that’s a complete mismatch. The Texans are far better than their 2-8 record would indicate, and the Jaguars, well, they’re the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s only win this season came two weeks ago when the Jags were coming off of a bye and managed to take down Tennessee after Jake Locker got hurt. This is a team that’s starting Chad Henne at quarterback—Chad freaking Henne! The Jaguars’ offensive line has given up 33 sacks this season and will have to contend with Texans superfreak J.J. Watt. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that Henne is going to be under duress all game. Henne could always hand the ball off to Maurice Jones-Drew, but I don’t see the 99-year-old running back mustering anything on the ground against Houston. MJD has been limited to a pathetic 2.9 yards per carry this season and there’s no reason to expect anything to change this late in the year. On the other side of things, Houston should be able to move the ball with ease against an abysmal Jaguar defense. The Jaguars have registered just 15 sacks in 10 games, all while allowing opposing quarterbacks to compile an average QB rating of 105.4. Case Keenum will have a clean pocket to deliver the football to Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins all afternoon. The Jaguars’ run defense isn’t any better either as they surrender 4.3 yards per carry and a whopping 139.1 yards per game. Ben Tate is playing with four broken ribs but even that shouldn’t prevent him from tearing up a pathetic Jaguar front seven.
Look at how the Jaguars and Texans have performed against some of the same opponents this season:
Arizona – Texans lost by 3, Jaguars lost by 13
Indianapolis – Texans lost by 3, Jaguars lost by 34
Seattle – Texans lost by 3, Jaguars lost by 28
San Diego – Texans won by 3, Jaguars lost by 18
Kansas City – Texans lost by 1, Jaguars lost by 26
Even if the Texans have given up on their season, they should have no trouble routing the Jaguars. Aside from one fluke win, the Jaguars have lost every game this season by double-digits. That trend continues on Sunday. Texans 35, Jaguars 16
The Wager: The public is puzzled as to how a 2-8 Texans team could be favored by double-digits. It’s simple: Jacksonville blows. Yet again, oddsmakers are encouraging the public to get on board with the dreadful Jags and I’m looking the other way. This line isn’t nearly big enough to overlook the talent discrepancy between these two teams. Texans -10
The Trend: Jaguars are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games against a team with a losing record.
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Friday Line: Packers -4, total of 43.5
Public Consensus: 66% on the Packers, 62% on the over
The Pick: My first instinct is almost always to take the Packers at home, but this Green Bay squad is horrible right now. When Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone, oddsmakers adjusted Packers’ point spreads by a full ten points, which may not have been enough when you consider that backup quarterback Scott Tolzien is a heaping pile of trash. Tolzien was a practice squad quarterback three weeks ago so it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that the Packers fell to the Eagles and Giants in back-to-back weeks. Fortunately for Tolzien, the Vikings’ defense is an atrocity, surrendering a league worst 23 passing touchdowns on the season. Tolzien will have the opportunity to work the ball down the field but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he’ll be successful. The Vikings’ run defense is surprisingly stingy, holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry and limiting Marshawn Lynch to a measly 3.2 yards per carry in Seattle last week. Minnesota will aim to duplicate that success as they’ll stack the box to put the clamps down on rookie sensation Eddie Lacy, forcing Tolzien to beat them through the air. On the other side of things, it turns out that the Packers’ defense is very similar to the Vikings’ defense. Green Bay’s pass “defense” is giving up a heaping 7.8 yards per attempt and has forced just four interceptions this season. Christian Ponder has been a turnover machine in his career on the road, but it’s hard to have any faith in the Packers to create takeaways right now. Ponder will also have the luxury of handing off to Adrian Peterson, who’s averaged 115.5 yards per game in 13 career games against Green Bay. Peterson will allow Ponder to work in manageable situations and occasionally pick up some first downs.
I’m pretty torn on this matchup. I want to pick against Minnesota simply because they played at Seattle last week and have to make a long road trip to Lambeau Field, but I have visions of Adrian Peterson carving up a porous Packers’ defense. In the end, I’ll side with the Packers purely because they’re the home team but I have zero confidence in this selection. Packers 28, Vikings 24
The Wager: Both quarterbacks in this contest have a high potential of completely blowing up, and that’s not the type of game that I like to wager on. There are just too many uncertainties in this contest for me to advocate a play on either side. Pass
The Trend: The Packers are 4-1 in the last five meetings between these teams.
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
Friday Line: Chiefs -4.5, total 42
Public Consensus: 62% on the Chiefs, 81% on the under
The Pick: This is an awful spot for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are coming off a 27-17 loss to the Broncos on Sunday Night Football; a result which will surely have demoralized Kansas City’s locker room after a perfect 9-0 start. To make matters worse for Kansas City, they have another crucial matchup with the Broncos on deck next week, making this the ultimate “sandwich game” (or “sangweech game” in the Pizzola household). The Chargers head to Arrowhead this week in desperate need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. San Diego has fared very well against the Chiefs in recent years, winning nine of their last 11 matchups against Kansas City, scoring a combined 68 points in both contests last season. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy spent many years as the offensive coordinator in Denver prior to this gig and knows the Chief defense inside and out. McCoy should be able to devise a game plan to exploit an overrated Kansas City stop unit that hadn’t faced a team with a winning record until last week’s loss to Denver. For all the praise that the Chiefs’ defense gets, they’re third last in the league in run defense, giving up a whopping 4.7 yards per carry. Ryan Mathews has averaged an awesome 5.2 yards per carry over the Chargers’ last five contests, and should ensure that Philip Rivers is in manageable situations all afternoon. Meanwhile, the Chiefs continue to be plagued by a stagnant, predictable offense with Alex Smith under center. Smith is incapable of stretching the field and has to constantly check down to his receivers underneath. It should come as a surprise that Kansas City’s last three wins have come by an average of 5.6 points per game as they’re simply incapable of building margins with their dink-and-dunk offense.
The Chargers are 4-6 and the Chiefs are 9-1, but there really isn’t much separating these two teams. Kansas City has made a habit of scraping by creampuffs all season long and things are about to take a turn for the worse. San Diego pulls off the outright upset on the road. Chargers 20, Chiefs 17
The Wager: For all of the reasons mentioned above I think San Diego is worthy of a play this week. I think the Chargers match up very well with the Chiefs and I see Kansas City coming out flat following last week’s devastating loss. There’s some great line value with San Diego here. Chargers +5.5 (Sportsbook), I like the Chargers at +4 or higher
The Trend: The Chargers are 4-1 ATS in their last five games versus teams with a winning record.
Carolina Panthers @ Miami Dolphins
Friday Line: Panthers -4.5, total of 41
Public Consensus: 86% on the Panthers, 82% on the over
The Pick: I firmly believe that Carolina is as good as their six-game winning streak would indicate, but if there was ever a spot for a big letdown, this would be it. Miami catches the Panthers coming in on short rest and off of a pair of huge, emotional wins against the 49ers and Patriots. Cam Newton has been incredible throughout the Panthers’ winning streak, but the Dolphins were successful in keeping Philip Rivers in check last week, so it’s not a given that Newton will have yet another quality outing. Miami’s pass rush has been outstanding since Cameron Wake returned to the lineup, and the Dolphins have now registered 30 sacks on the season, just seven sacks shy of the league-leading Bills. Newton has been sacked more than three times in just two games this season, but the Panthers went on to lose both of those contests (at Buffalo and at Arizona). In fact, Newton accounted for only two touchdowns and a filthy five turnovers in those two contests. The good news for the Panthers is that they should be able to run the ball fairly effectively. The Dolphins concede 122.6 yards per game on the ground and have given up 10 rushing touchdowns this season, tied for second-worst in the league. If the Panthers can get their running game going, they can neutralize Miami’s strong pass rush and allow Newton to operate in more manageable situations. Newton doesn’t have to be outstanding in this contest because the Dolphins will have a bunch of issues of their own offensively. Miami is still without three-fifths of their starting offensive line, and they’ll surely have trouble keeping Carolina’s vaunted front seven out of the backfield. Ryan Tannehill has proven that he’s completely inept when under duress, and has been turnover prone all season, giving away the ball 16 times in nine starts. Additionally, the Panthers limit opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry, so it’s unlikely that the useless duo of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller will help their young quarterback out by picking up yardage on the ground.
All of the situational angles favor the Dolphins in this matchup, but I have no interest in picking against a smoking hot Panthers squad right now. Carolina will have something to prove after the national media questioned if they deserved to win on Monday Night Football against the Patriots. It may be closer than you think, but the Panthers will be too much for the Dolphins to handle. Panthers 17, Dolphins 16
The Wager: In my opinion, the oddsmakers have done a pretty good job with this spread. I really don’t have much interest in laying the points with Carolina on the road, but I don’t feel like I’m getting enough points to consider Miami at home. Pass
The Trend: The Panthers are 6-0 ATS in their last six games.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
Friday Line: Browns -1.5, total of 40
Public Consensus: 74% on the Steelers, 68% on the over
The Pick: All aboard the Steelers’ bandwagon! Pittsburgh has won four of its last six games and is coming off an impressive victory over Detroit last week. Unfortunately for the Steelers, that win came at the friendly confines of Heinz Field, and now they have to head out on the road where they’ve been dreadful this season (and in years past). The Steelers have lost four of their five road games this year, with their lone victory coming at the Jets after their bye week. Ben Roethlisberger was stellar last week against Detroit, but he definitely won’t duplicate that performance against a stout Browns defense. Cleveland allowed 41 points to the Bengals last week, but that number is extremely misleading as the Browns relinquished only 224 total yards in that contest. The Browns had two punts blocked and an offensive fumble returned for a touchdown. There’s a better chance of Phil Simms sipping a tea properly than that happening again. Cleveland has the league’s best pass defense, limiting opponents to a ridiculously low 5.9 yards per attempt, and stud cornerback Joe Haden figures to shut down Antonio Brown on the outside. Pittsburgh could try giving the ball to rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, but Cleveland also happens to boast the third best run defense in the league, giving up a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. Much of Pittsburgh’s recent resurrection has been attributed to their defensive play, but that’s a bogus hypothesis. The Steeler defense is slow, they can’t generate any pass rush whatsoever, and they’ve only managed to force a turnover in five games this season. Jason Campbell will have plenty of time in the pocket to connect with his speedy receivers, particularly emerging superstar Josh Gordon.
Aside from an edge at quarterback and running back, the Steelers are worse than the Browns in every other aspect of the game. The Browns and Steelers have faced four common opponents this season—the Browns are +16 yards per game in those matchups (two on the road) while the Steelers are -28 yards per game in those matchups (only one on the road). Cleveland will dominate this game in the trenches as Pittsburgh’s road woes continue. Browns 31, Steelers 17
The Wager: This game reminds me a whole lot of the Jets-Bills game last week. The oddsmakers are begging you to take the Steelers as an underdog here, but I’m looking the other way. Pittsburgh is a huge public team and the books know that action will be coming in heavy on the Steelers come Sunday morning. Browns pk (SIA), I’d play Cleveland all the way up to -2.5
The Trend: The Steelers are 1-5 ATS in their last six road games.
Chicago Bears @ St. Louis Rams
Friday Line: Rams -1.5, total of 45
Public Consensus: 56% on the Bears, 62% on the over
The Pick: The Bears couldn’t possibly be in a worse spot this week. Chicago played through a lengthy weather delay and an overtime period last week and now has to travel out on the road to battle a well-rested Rams team coming off of a bye week. To make matters worse for the Bears, St. Louis has actually played some really good football as of late, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Ram defense has limited opponents to a paltry 283 yards per game over their last four contests, and more impressively, held Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck to a combined 22 points. After struggling to generate a pass rush earlier in the season, St. Louis’s formidable duo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long have come alive in recent weeks, vaulting the Ram defense up into a tie for sixth in sacks this season. Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown has performed admirably in relief of Jay Cutler, but he hasn’t faced much pressure, and he’s bound to have a few collapsing pockets this week. McCown will need to have a huge game if the Bears stand any chance of winning this game because their defense is a complete abomination. Chicago has given up a mind-boggling 727 yards on the ground over their last four games, which means that emerging running back Zac Stacy should have a huge day for fantasy owners. Old man Ray Rice picked up 131 yards against the Bears last Sunday for crying out loud! To make matters worse for the Bears, their pass defense is almost as pathetic as their run defense. Chicago has mustered only 17 quarterback sacks this season while allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for 7.9 yards per attempt. Kellen Clemens has proven that he’s not much of a dropoff from the injured Sam Bradford (if there even is a dropoff) as the Rams are +51 yards per game in the games that Clemens has started. That number is particularly impressive when you consider that the Rams have battled an elite Seahawks defense and a decent Titan defense in recent weeks.
The Bears might be the worst 6-4 team in the history of football. Yes, I’m aware that I backed them last week, but that’s only because the Ravens are pathetic on the road. This week, Chicago heads out on the road with a defense that couldn’t stop an average high school offense. Rams 27, Bears 20
The Wager: I’m sure a lot of people will be tempted to take Chicago here, but I personally believe that the Rams are a short favorite. Aside from being in a great spot, the Rams match up pretty well with the Bears. I have no problem laying the points here. Rams pk (BetOnline), I’d play the Rams up to -2.5
The Trend: Teams off a bye that won SU as a dog of 7 or more prior are 7-0-1 ATS.
New York Jets @ Baltimore Ravens
Friday Line: Ravens -3.5, total of 39
Public Consensus: 74% on the Ravens, 62% on the under
The Pick: This is such a tough game to figure out. It would appear as though Baltimore is an obvious play here, especially with their success at home in recent years, but this Ravens team is a complete travesty. Baltimore also hasn’t been particularly impressive at home recently, losing to the Packers and narrowly scraping by the Bengals a couple of weeks ago in overtime. Most of the Ravens’ struggles can be attributed to Joe Flacco playing like a complete pile of horse manure. Flacco has thrown only 13 touchdowns while turning the ball over 15 times in his 10 starts this season. The Jet defense will have a point to prove after allowing 37 points to the Bills last week, so if I had to guess, I’d say that it’s pretty likely that Flacco pisses himself again this week. After allowing 49 points to the Bengals in Week 8, the Jets responded by limiting Drew Brees and company to just 20 points in an upset victory over the Saints. If the Ravens stand any chance of moving the ball effectively in this contest they’ll need a repeat performance from Ray Rice, who broke out in a big way against the Bears last week. Unfortunately for Baltimore, I’d contribute all of Rice’s success in that game to taking on a Bears’ defense that blows. Rice has averaged a feeble 3.0 yards per carry this season and has been held under 45 rushing yards in all but two starts this season. With Rice struggling to pick up yardage against a league-best Jets rush defense, the entire load will fall on Flacco’s shoulders. That surely can’t end well. Sadly, New York’s quarterback situation might be even more dire. Geno Smith has given the ball away 13 times in just five road games, but luckily the Ravens have only managed seven interceptions on defense this season, so there’s an opportunity for Smith not to be completely useless in this contest. New York will undoubtedly try to run the ball as much as possible but that’ll be easier said than done against a strong Raven rush defense.
I really could go either way with this matchup. An under the radar factor that supports the Jets here is that they recently picked up former Ravens’ safety Ed Reed. Reed could be highly influential in New York’s preparation for this game as he knows Baltimore’s schemes inside and out. By now the whole world knows that the Jets have alternated wins and losses all season, and while that trend is completely useless, I expect it to continue this weekend. Jets 16, Ravens 13
The Wager: If I had any faith in Geno Smith whatsoever I would have a HUGE play on the Jets in this matchup. Come Sunday morning I may add a play on New York, but for now I don’t see enough line value to make this an official pick. Pass
The Trend: The Jets are 4-0 ATS in their last four games following a SU loss.
Tennessee Titans @ Oakland Raiders
Friday Line: Titans -1.5, total of 41
Public Consensus: 55% on the Titans, 95% on the over
The Pick: Let’s settle down with all of the love for Matt McGloin. The Penn State product performed admirably for the Raiders last week, but that’s often the case with quarterbacks making their first career start. Tennessee now has some film on McGloin and should be able to put together a game plan to limit his effectiveness. The Titans have a very strong pass defense in terms of yardage and they’ve allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the league, so I wouldn’t expect McGloin to duplicate his performance from last week. Luckily for the Raiders, Tennessee’s rush defense is just mediocre so Rashad Jennings should be able to help his young signal caller by moving the chains occasionally on the ground. With that being said, I don’t hold out much hope for the Oakland offense, especially with top receiver Denarius Moore expected to miss the game with a shoulder injury. Tennessee doesn’t have a much better option at quarterback in journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it’s important to note that the Titans have produced 27 points in each of Fitzpatrick’s last two starts. The Titans have the benefit of a stout offensive line that should blow the Raiders’ defensive line off the line of scrimmage, opening things up for Chris Johnson who has produced at a much higher level as of late. Playing on the road also hasn’t been a deterrent for this Titans squad as they’ve covered in all four of their games away from home this season, including outright wins at St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
This is a pretty ugly game to break down. Tennessee could be flat following their blown lead against the Colts on Thursday, but then again, they’ve had extra time to prepare for an inferior Raiders squad. My best educated guess is that McGloin gets a dose of reality this week against a slightly underrated Titans unit. Titans 24, Raiders 17
The Wager: There are usually a handful of games every week that I never even remotely consider betting on—this one falls into that category. There’s so much variance in a game between Fitzpatrick and McGloin, so I’d rather lay down my money elsewhere. Pass
The Trend: The Titans are 4-0 ATS on the road this season.
Indianapolis Colts @ Arizona Cardinals
Friday Line: Cardinals -2.5, total of 45
Public Consensus: 72% on the Cardinals, 94% on the over
The Pick: Sooner or later people have to realize that the Colts just aren’t that good. Indianapolis has trailed by an average of 19 points at the half in their last three games, and although Andrew Luck has been able to consistently lead his team back from behind, that’s just not a recipe for success in the NFL. This week Luck will be going up against Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who led the Colts to an 8-3 record as interim head coach last season. Arians knows Luck inside and out and shouldn’t have much of an issue devising a game plan to keep the former Stanford standout in check, especially when you consider that Luck has a mediocre 16:15 touchdown to interception ratio on the road in his career. The Colt offense has been limited since Reggie Wayne went on injured reserve with a torn ACL, and they should continue to struggle again this week. Indianapolis won’t be able to run the ball effectively, in part because Arizona has a superb rush defense, but also because Trent Richardson and Donald Brown aren’t very good (particularly the waste of space Richardson), which means that Luck will be facing plenty of third-and-long situations. Cue the Cardinals pass rush which has been outstanding as of late, averaging 3.5 sacks per game since linebacker Daryl Washington returned from suspension. To make matters worse for the Colts, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has emerged as one of the league’s best cover corners and will make it difficult for Luck to find his receivers down the field. There are obvious question marks surrounding Arizona’s offense—Carson Palmer can be a complete train wreck at times, but considering Kellen Clemens and Ryan Fitzpatrick have torched the Colts in recent weeks, there’s reason to believe that Palmer should at least have moderate success working the ball down the field. Indianapolis hasn’t been particularly good in run defense either, so Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall should be able to help out Palmer by moving the chains on the ground.
Arizona has been quietly getting the job done in recent weeks. The Cardinals have won five of their last seven games, with those two losses coming against elite teams in the Seahawks and 49ers. I like their chances to continue their run this weekend. Cardinals 26, Colts 21
The Wager: Arizona boasts one of the strongest home field advantages in the NFL and I love the fact that their head coach has such familiarity with their opponent. I’ve had this game circled since last Sunday night and I’m ready to pull the trigger considering this line is extremely reasonable. Cardinals -1 (BoDog), I like the Cardinals at -3 or lower
The Trend: Arizona is 3-0 ATS at home this season with posted spreads of three points or lower.
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants
Friday Line: Giants -2.5, total of 44.5
Public Consensus: 67% on the Giants, 58% on the under
The Pick: The Giants have miraculously found a way back into the NFC East Division race by stringing together four consecutive victories, but let’s not get carried away. New York’s four wins have come against Josh Freeman, a Michael Vick/Matt Barkley combo, Terrelle Pryor playing with a sprained MCL, and Scott Tolzien. That might be the easiest four game stretch for any defense in the history of the NFL. The Giants face a huge step up in class this week as they take on Tony Romo, who has the third most passing touchdowns in the league. Romo threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys downed the Giants 36-31 in Week 1. Dallas is coming off of a bye week and should have some extra wrinkles in their offense, especially since Miles Austin is expected to return from injury. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their defense is a complete disgrace. Dallas already had one of the league’s worst defenses and it’s been made exponentially worse with stud linebacker Sean Lee sidelined with a hamstring injury. Eli Manning figures to carve up the Cowboys’ defense, but the good will probably come with some bad as Manning has been picked off 17 times this season. Manning’s interception rate has decreased in recent weeks, but much of that has to do with sheer luck as opposing defensive backs have dropped several interceptions. If the Cowboy defense has one strength it’s that they’re good at forcing turnovers, and their likelihood of creating takeaways will increase exponentially with a healthy DeMarcus Ware in the lineup. The Giants have also been running the ball better as of late, and that success is bound to continue against a Cowboys’ run defense that ranks dead last in the league in terms of yards per carry.
It’s tough to gauge this game because the Giants have been scraping past nobodies in recent weeks. On one hand, a win is a win, but on the other hand, you’d like to see some style points from this New York team against lesser squads. In the end, Dallas always seems to play better away from home and they also tend to excel in the role of the underdog. Tony Romo’s 22-5 career record in November inspires some confidence. Cowboys 30, Giants 24
The Wager: I’m tempted to take Dallas here but I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to bet on the Cowboys without Sean Lee in the lineup. I’ve seen other defenses completely collapse this season when they lost their leader to injury (see Bears minus Lance Briggs and Falcons minus Sean Weatherspoon), so I’ve decided to stay away. Pass
The Trend: The road team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings between these teams.
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots
Friday Line: Broncos -2.5, total of 53.5
Public Consensus: 54% on the Patriots, 81% on the over
The Pick: The Broncos have finally claimed their spot atop the AFC West after a big win over the Chiefs last weekend. I’m not really sure how to read the psychological angle in this game. The Broncos are in a possible letdown spot here, especially with another game against the Chiefs on deck next weekend, but can Denver possibly look past New England this week? I don’t think so. There’s always so much buzz surrounding Brady vs. Manning that I’m sure Denver will get up for this game. With that being said, I don’t think this is a very good matchup for the Broncos. Denver has been vulnerable against good offenses this season, surrendering 48 points to Dallas and 39 points to Indianapolis. New England is averaging 35 points per game over their last four contests and they’ve been slowly getting healthier with the returns of Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Shane Vereen in recent weeks. The Bronco defense is subpar in both pass defense and run defense so the Patriots should be fairly successful in moving the chains in this contest. There are also a lot of factors working against the Broncos on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Julius Thomas has been very limited in practice this week and there’s a distinct possibility that he’ll miss this contest. Former Patriots’ wide receiver Wes Welker practiced on Thursday but there’s a chance that he won’t be 100-percent coming off of a concussion. Peyton Manning still has a plethora of weapons on offense but both Thomas and Welker have been key cogs in the red zone this season, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Broncos’ offense bog down inside the twenty. And there’s the expected cold weather in New England. Manning has notoriously struggled in poor weather conditions and he’s even flirted with the idea of wearing gloves this week.
Denver is still considered the class of the NFL, but I’m not quite sold yet. The Broncos have only played two winning teams this season and this will be their biggest test to date. Manning had a strong game in New England last year, throwing three touchdown passes, but the Patriots still beat the Broncos 31-21 in that contest. I think history repeats itself this weekend. Patriots 28, Broncos 24
The Wager: It’s very tempting to take the Patriots as a home underdog, but I don’t like the fact that New England is preparing for the best quarterback in football on a short week. I’ll continue to think about adding a play on the Patriots, but for now I’ll stay away. Pass
The Trend: The Patriots had been favored in 75 consecutive home games prior to this contest, and are 4-0 ATS in their last four home games.