Week 17 of the NFL is here and I’ll be breaking down all of Sunday’s games from a betting perspective. After a disappointing performance in Week 14, I’ve rebounded nicely with back-to-back winning weeks. Last week, my plays on The Nickel Package podcast went 4-1 (damn you 49ers!), and I added an additional three plays into my Recommended Wagers to finish 6-2 ATS.
If you read my article last week, you gained a little bit of insight into how I wager on games towards the end of the season. A lot of spreads are inflated because of the “need to win” factor, and it’s very important to recognize that you’ll be paying a premium to wager on teams that can improve playoff positioning or qualify for the playoffs. Don’t assume that a team will win a game just because they need to, and conversely, don’t assume that a team will roll over because the game is meaningless. There were many examples of this last week—Redskins cover against Cowboys, Bills rout the Dolphins, Giants upset the Lions, Eagles destroy the Bears, etc.
I don’t like this week’s board nearly as much as last week’s board. Most of this week’s line value comes with teams that I’m just not interested in betting on because they’ve burned me at some other point this season. That being said, there are definitely a handful of games that catch my eye and I’ll be looking to finish the season with a third consecutive winning week.
The Nickel Package Record: 46-31-3 ATS (59%)
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: 58-44-3 ATS (57%)
Washington Redskins @ New York Giants
Friday Line: Giants -3.5, total of 45.5
Public Consensus: 65% on the Giants, 58% on the under
The Pick: The Giants did the world a favor by eliminating the Lions from postseason contention last week, but let’s not overreact to that game. New York managed just 279 yards of total offense in that contest, and only managed to pull out the victory because of a miraculous defensive touchdown that sent the game into overtime. In typical Lions’ fashion, Detroit lost that game—the Giants didn’t win it. A closer look at New York’s last three contests shows that they’ve only picked up 45 first downs, while allowing opponents to move the chains a monstrous 74 times. Eli Manning is still the same plug that he’s been all season long, with an embarrassing 17:26 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and things can only get worse with Victor Cruz’s absence. Manning has been able to rely on running back Andre Brown in recent weeks, but Brown suffered a concussion in last week’s game and the Giants may choose to err on the side of caution and shut him down for the season. Meanwhile, the Redskins have lost seven straight games, but have been much more competitive since Kirk Cousins took over for Robert Griffin III. Washington has lost their last two games by a single point each, but could have easily been on the other end of the stick for each of those games. Regardless, they’ve covered in both of those contests and the team is clearly playing hard for their second-string quarterback.
The Giants walked into Washington in early December and defeated the Redskins 24-17, but similarly to many other Giants’ games this season; New York was held under 300 yards of total offense. RG3 threw a costly interception, Pierre Garcon lost an untimely fumble, and the Giants were able to come from behind for the victory. A lot has changed since then—mainly key injuries to the Giants and rediscovered motivation for the Redskins. Redskins 20, Giants 13
The Wager: It’s always risky to wager on meaningless games late in the season but I see some major line value with Washington. The Giants may be 6-9, but a close look at their victories reveals some extreme luck. Washington is a better team right now with Cousins under center and based on the Giants’ track record within the division (see below); I’m willing to back the Redskins here. Redskins +3.5 (widely available), I wouldn’t bet Washington at anything lower than +3.5
The Trend: The Giants are 2-9 ATS in their last 11 divisional games as a favorite of 3+ points.
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons
Friday Line: Panthers -6.5, total of 46
Public Consensus: 64% on the Falcons, 90% on the under
The Pick: Carolina scored with 23 seconds remaining last week to emerge victorious in their huge rematch against the Saints. The Panthers may have pulled out the victory but they were far from impressive in that contest, netting a measly 222 total yards while being outgained by 143 yards. Carolina’s offense really struggled when Steve Smith went down with a knee injury. The Panthers will have had a full week to prepare for life without Smith, bit with that being said, the drop-off from the former Pro Bowler to Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn is massive. Carolina’s offense has struggled away from home in recent weeks, managing just 43 points in their last three road affairs, and I wouldn’t bank on them suddenly turning things around with their top playmaker (aside from Cam Newton, of course) on the sideline. Atlanta’s defense is a complete train wreck, but they did manage to hold the Saints to just 17 points back in Week 12, and there’s a chance they could play inspired here against another divisional rival. Heading into Monday night’s game against the 49ers, the Falcons’ defense had actually forced 11 turnovers in their past three games, although they gave up a ton of yardage in that span. A look back at the earlier meeting between the Panthers and Falcons this season shows a lopsided 34-10 Carolina victory, but a closer look at that contest shows that it was a one-score game early in the fourth quarter, with the Falcons slightly ahead in yardage.
Carolina needs to win to wrap up the NFC South, but needing to win doesn’t always translate into success. The Panthers pulled out a very emotional victory last week and now have added pressure on their shoulders this week. Atlanta has quietly covered the spread in four of their last five games, showing that they’ve been much more competitive as the season has worn on. Meanwhile, Carolina is just 1-3 ATS as a road favorite this year, playing a handful of nail-biters away from home. My gut tells me that this will be a lot closer than you’d think. Panthers 17, Falcons 16
The Wager: Atlanta may be playing better football as of late, but I’m still not confident betting them in any situation. I may have considered it if the Falcons were getting a touchdown or more, but anything less than that seems like a reasonable number. Atlanta is also playing on short rest here and could have completely mailed it in following their loss on Monday Night Football. Pass
The Trend: The Falcons are 17-4 ATS in their last 21 games following a loss of 6+ points.
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans
Friday Line: Titans -7, total of 43.5
Public Consensus: 58% on the Titans, 80% on the under
The Pick: It’s almost unfathomable that the Texans could be in line for the first-overall pick in the upcoming draft, but that’s exactly where they sit heading into Sunday. Houston actually put in a pretty inspired effort against the Broncos last week, before the wheels completely fell off in the fourth quarter. The Texans had trailed 16-13 heading into the final period but the Broncos rattled off 21 unanswered points to secure a 37-13 beatdown. It’ll be a miracle if Houston can get up for this game. Gary Kubiak is gone, Matt Schaub is a lemon, they’re down to their fourth string running back, and the defense has been an abomination. If the Texans fail to cover the spread in this game, they’ll finish the year 2-12-2 ATS, which would be the worst ATS record by any team since 1993. The Titans’ season went into the crapper weeks ago when Jake Locker was ruled out for the season, but at least Tennessee has been competitive as of late. The Titans pulled out a road victory in Jacksonville last week, which doesn’t seem all that impressive, but it’s difficult to win on the road in the NFL. Just ask the Texans, who have lost their last two road games by a combined score of 52-23. Tennessee has a number of impending free agents, who will be looking to showcase their talent in the final game of the season, including Chris Johnson, whose career with the Titans is almost certainly over. The Texans have given up 4.3 yards per carry and 120.5 yards per game on the ground this season, both of which are in the bottom 10 in the league statistically. Houston’s pass defense hasn’t been much better as of late either, in part because of their complete inability to generate a pass rush. J.J. Watt is the league’s best defensive lineman, but somehow, the Texans have managed just four sacks in their last four games, further solidifying the fact that they no longer care.
Aside from this being a divisional game, I can’t envision any way in which Houston can possibly get motivated for this contest. The season was an epic disappointment and they’ll be looking to end this abhorrence as soon as possible. They’ve been held without a touchdown in FOUR separate games this season which is almost impossible in this day and age. Tennessee isn’t much of a team but they’re the only way to look in this matchup. Titans 28, Texans 17
The Wager: If you think I’m wagering on a meaningless Titans/Texans game in Week 17, you don’t know me at all. If my worst enemy handed me $100 to bet this game, I’d give it back to him. Tennessee appears to be the right side, but there’s no chance in hell I’d lay a touchdown with a team that hasn’t won by more than a touchdown since Week 4. Pass
The Trend: The Texans are 3-13 ATS in their last 16 games following a loss of 14+ points.
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Friday Line: Steelers -7, total of 44
Public Consensus: 82% on the Steelers, 59% on the under
The Pick: The 1:00pm ET start time scheduled in Pittsburgh is crucial in breaking down this game. With the early start time, the Steelers still have a shot at the playoffs and will undoubtedly put in their best effort against the Browns. As I mentioned in the intro to this article, I don’t place much emphasis on the “need to win” factor, but I happen to really like this matchup for the Steelers. Cleveland has fallen apart in recent weeks, mainly due to poor quarterback play and their complete inability to run the football. The loss of red zone target Jordan Cameron isn’t helping much either. Subsequently, their defense has been left on the field for excessive amounts of time, and they’ve been unable to thrive under those circumstances. The Browns have lost their last six games while surrendering an average of 31.5 points per game—a far cry from the solid defense that existed earlier this season. To make matters worse for Cleveland, they’ve been completely dominated by Pittsburgh in recent years. The Steelers are 16-1 against the Browns in the Ben Roethlisberger era, including a 27-11 rout in Cleveland back in Week 12. Pittsburgh has limited Cleveland to an average of 9.4 points per game in their past 11 meetings, although the Steelers’ defense of years past was far superior to their current posse. Aside from their utter domination of the Browns, the Steelers have actually played some really good football in the past few months. The Steelers’ offensive line was once thought to be the biggest weakness of the team, but they’ve only yielded six sacks in their past six games, proving to actually be one of the team’s strengths. In that same span, Roethlisberger has thrown for a whopping 14 touchdowns while only tossing two interceptions. Browns’ stud cornerback Joe Haden has been nursing a hip injury in recent weeks, which should allow for Big Ben to continue his recent success.
At the end of the day, Cleveland is an awful squad right now. They’re just 1-9 in their past 10 games, and aside from Josh Gordon, they’re pretty much below average at every other position (assuming Haden isn’t playing at 100%). The Steelers have a little extra pressure on their shoulders in this one, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue for a veteran-laden squad that’s achieved a ton of success under Mike Tomlin. Steelers 31, Browns 20
The Wager: Everything in my write-up above would lead you to believe that I love the Steelers, but I’m actually not betting this game. The entire world is going to be lining up to bet Pittsburgh in a must-win game, and if I’ve learned anything from these types of games in the past, it’s that the sportsbooks usually get the better of the public. Something about this game smells fishy, so I’ll lay off. Pass
The Trend: The Steelers are 16-7-2 ATS in their last 25 games after allowing 30+ points in their previous game.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
Friday Line: Bengals -6, total of 44.5
Public Consensus: 55% on the Bengals, 73% on the over
The Pick: Baltimore sucks. There, I said it. It was an absolute miracle that they managed to win the Super Bowl last season, and now we’re seeing what the real Ravens look like. Baltimore needs to win this week to keep their playoff hopes alive, but the “need to win” factor won’t outweigh the fact that they’re a complete atrocity on the road. Baltimore is just 2-5 away from home this season, including losses to the Steelers and Browns in their two divisional road games this year. To make matters worse, Joe Flacco, who was already a pile of trash in the first place, is now clearly being affected by a knee injury that he suffered in Detroit a couple of weeks ago. Those factors may already be too difficult to overcome, and that’s before I even take their opponent into account. Cincinnati still has a chance to secure a first round bye with a win and a Patriots’ loss, so there will undoubtedly be huge motivation for the Bengals in this affair. The Bengals are one of the league’s best home teams, posting a perfect 7-0 straight up and ATS record at Paul Brown Stadium this season. Cincinnati has put up at least 41 points in each of their last four home games, and will be salivating at the opportunity to attack a Ravens’ defense that surrendered 41 points last week. Not only are the Bengals undefeated at home, they’re absolutely lambasting teams in front of their home crowd; outscoring the opposition by an average score of 31-15. Andy Dalton has tossed 15 touchdown passes in his last four home games, and should be able to continue that trend against a Ravens’ defense that has a non-existent pass rush. Baltimore has managed just five sacks in their last four games, while the Cincinnati offensive line has given up just 29 sacks in their 15 games this season.
I can’t make a single argument for Baltimore this week. Teams tend to rebound after a blowout loss, but the Ravens’ ineptness on the road offsets that trend. Baltimore beat Cincinnati at home earlier in the season, but they managed only 189 yards of total offense and only secured that victory because of three Dalton interceptions. I wouldn’t bank on that happening again. Bengals 35, Ravens 10
The Wager: Cincinnati at home has become an automatic bet for me. I’m still kicking myself for passing on the Bengals vs. Vikings last week, and I won’t make the same mistake again this time around. I think oddsmakers have been too slow to adjust to just how wretched the Ravens are away from home. Bengals -6 (widely available), I can’t imagine what this line would have to get to for me to pass on this game
The Trend: The Ravens are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 meetings in Cincinnati.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts
Friday Line: Colts -10.5, total of 45.5
Public Consensus: 60% on the Colts, 58% on the under
The Pick: The Colts are one of the hardest teams to figure out in the NFL. After last week’s victory over the Chiefs, Indianapolis has accumulated four wins against teams with double-digit wins this season (Chiefs, 49ers, Broncos, Seahawks), including victories over the probable top seed in each conference. With that being said, Indianapolis also has a handful of terrible losses, including three games where they’ve failed to score more than 11 points (at SD, at ARI, vs. STL). The Colts have a tendency to play up or down to their level of competition, which leads me to believe that this game could be closer than most people think. The Jaguars have covered in five of their past seven games, and Chad Henne has inexplicably thrown for at least two touchdown passes in four straight games, despite being without the services of Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Jacksonville hasn’t lost by more than 13 points since Week 8 vs. San Francisco, cementing the fact that they’ve been extremely competitive over the past few months. The biggest weakness with this Jaguars’ squad is their complete lack of a run defense, but that won’t hurt them against the ultimate plodder, Trent Richardson, who continues to get more carries than the far more effective Donald Brown. The Jags’ pass defense has improved exponentially in recent weeks, mainly due to the effectiveness of their pass rush, and they should be able to get after Andrew Luck as he faces consistent third-and-long situations as he does week in and week out.
At the end of the day, this Jaguars’ unit is completely different than the embarrassing squad that was getting shellacked at the beginning of the season. Henne is an upgrade over Gabbert, the defense has improved, and most importantly, the team continues to play hard for head coach Gus Bradley. There isn’t much incentive for the Colts to win this game as they would need a win and losses by both Cincinnati and New England to clinch a first-round bye—an extremely unrealistic scenario. Colts 23, Jaguars 17
The Wager: I’m very tempted to grab the points with the Jaguars here, but Indianapolis has a pretty good track record at home. Andrew Luck is 11-4 ATS at Lucas Oil Stadium in his career, and I can’t guarantee that Chuck Pagano will pull the Colts’ starters if the Bengals are beating up on the Ravens. Pass
The Trend: The Colts are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games at home against opponents with a .400 winning percentage or less.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins
Friday Line: Dolphins -5.5, total of 41
Public Consensus: 65% on the Jets, 57% on the under
The Pick: The Dolphins were flat out pathetic last week. Miami managed a putrid 103 yards of total offense and managed to pick up a pathetic six first downs in their battle with the Bills. Most of Miami’s problems this season have stemmed from their abomination of an offensive line (58 sacks allowed, 11 more than any other team!), and Ryan Tannehill suffered from a collapsing pocket all too frequently last weekend. I wouldn’t expect things to improve significantly for the Dolphins this week as the Jets have generated 41 sacks this season, good for the 11th highest total in the league. Miami could try to run the ball to alleviate some pressure from Tannehill, but the Jets have by far the best run defense in the league, limiting opponents to a stingy 3.3 yards per carry. The weakness of New York’s defense is their secondary, but it will be hard for Tannehill to expose that Achilles’ heel when he’s constantly under duress. The Jets will also be motivated for this contest as it could very well be Rex Ryan’s final game as head coach of the team. I can’t think of a better sending off for Ryan than beating a divisional rival to eliminate them from the postseason. The issue for the Jets in this contest will be generating any type of offense whatsoever. Geno Smith played well against Cleveland last week, but Smith suffers from extreme inconsistency, so it’s difficult to imagine him having a second straight quality outing. The good news is that the Jets can rely heavily on their running game against a Dolphins’ run defense that has been lacklustre all season long. Chris Ivory has averaged a whopping 5.7 yards per carry over his last 113 carries, and should gash a Miami rush defense that surrendered 195 rushing yards to Fred Jackson last week.
Miami may need to win this game, but this will be a really tough matchup for them. The Dolphins have failed to win convincingly at home this season, with their four home victories coming by a combined 14 points. In fact, Miami has won a home game by more than four points all season long. In the end, the Dolphins find a way to eke this one but it will definitely come with a few sweats. Dolphins 14, Jets 12
The Wager: Talk about an inflated line. I am fully aware that the Jets aren’t a very good road team, but Miami shouldn’t be spotting six points against anyone right now. The Dolphins aren’t a team that’s built to run up a margin, so I’ll be surprised if they find a way to win this game comfortably. Hold your nose and take the road team. Jets +6 (BoDog), I like New York at +4.5 or higher.
The Trend: The Dolphins are 2-12 ATS in their last 14 games as favorites of 3.5+ points.
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings
Friday Line: Vikings -3, total of 51
Public Consensus: 84% on the Lions, 75% on the under
The Pick: The Lions predictably crapped the bed last week, rendering their final game of the season complete meaningless. Head coach Jim Schwartz knows that in all likelihood he’ll be fired at the end of the season after Detroit suffered an epic collapse down the stretch. I’d bet the Lions have spent the majority of the last week sulking, rather than preparing for the Vikings. Minnesota got thrashed in Cincinnati last weekend, but I wouldn’t read too much into that game because everyone seems to get throttled in Cincinnati nowadays, and the Bengals were especially angry coming off of a national TV embarrassment against the Steelers. The Vikings have been very competitive in recent weeks, and have gone an admirable 6-2 ATS in their last eight contests. This will be the final game played at the Metrodome for Minnesota, so you can be sure that they’ll do everything in their power to emerge victorious. The Metrodome has been a house of horrors for the Lions as they’ve won just two of their last 19 games in the Vikings’ home stadium. Aside from the Lions’ lack of motivation, I must mention that they’re just a lousy team. Poor coaching, a turnover-prone quarterback, and a terrible secondary have led to the downfall of the squad, and those issues are not issues that can be corrected overnight, especially after losing back-to-back games on heartbreaking field goals. Minnesota has a legitimate concern with the health of Adrian Peterson heading into this contest, but Peterson has expressed his desire to play this week considering it’s the final game at the Metrodome. The Lions are often (incorrectly) applauded for their run defense, but they’re actually a middle of the pack team, yielding 4.0 yards per carry. It’s not like they’ll be interested in stopping Peterson this week anyways.
Late in the year, a lot of outcomes can be attributed to motivation. The Lions thought they were going to playoff team but saw their world come crashing down last week. Meanwhile, the Vikings continue to play hard under Leslie Frazier and will look to generate some momentum heading into next year. Vikings 34, Lions 24
The Wager: Everyone’s wondering how the Vikings are favored in this spot, but for all of the reasons mentioned above, the answer is pretty simple. Detroit’s season is over and they’ll want to get out of town as soon as possible. This one’s a no-brainer for me. Vikings -3 (widely available), I wouldn’t go any higher than -3 though
The Trend: The Vikings are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
Friday Line: Packers -3, total of 53
Public Consensus: 80% on the Packers, 62% on the over
The Pick: All aboard the Packers’ bandwagon! Aaron Rodgers makes his return after a lengthy absence due to a broken collarbone, and everyone on the planet now believes that all of the Packers’ problems will miraculously disappear. Well, they won’t. Rodgers is a game changing quarterback—there’s no doubt about that—but to expect him to immediately return to elite form in his first game back is a bit much. The Packers also have another key injury on offense as Eddie Lacy battles an ankle problem. Lacy is expected to go on Sunday but I doubt he’ll be anywhere close to 100% for this contest. A completely healthy Lacy would have trampled the Bears’ “run defense” this week, so Chicago has definitely caught a huge break. The Bears are fresh off of giving up a massive 54 points last weekend, and with a veteran-loaded defense, Chicago will be out to prove that they’re actually capable of making some stops. The Packers also only happen to have to second-best offense in this matchup. Chicago struggled to move the ball against Philadelphia last week because their pass protection was constantly breaking down, but they won’t suffer the same fate this week because Green Bay’s best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, is out with a broken thumb. Matthews missed the first meeting between these two teams and Josh McCown had all day in the pocket to carve up the Packers’ secondary. The Bears should also find some enormous success running the football. Green Bay surrenders 4.6 yards per carry and will struggle to contain the league’s fourth-leading rusher, Matt Forte.
Green Bay is undoubtedly a better team with Rodgers back in the lineup, but expectations have to be tempered in his first game back. The Packers still enter this contest with a ton of holes, and run into a Bears’ team that will be motivated following a blowout loss in primetime. Playing in front of their home crowd, I like the Bears to capture the NFC North crown. Bears 28, Packers 26
The Wager: This isn’t a game that I’m particularly interested in wagering on. I think this game should be closer to a pick’em than the Packers laying a field goal, but I’ll fully admit that I crap my pants just thinking about betting against Aaron Rodgers. Jay Cutler is just 1-7 in his career against the Packers. Pass
The Trend: The Packers are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
Friday Line: Patriots -8.5, total of 47
Public Consensus: 70% on the Patriots, 81% on the under
The Pick: There isn’t much of a chance of the Patriots securing the #1 seed in the AFC (Denver would have to lose to Oakland), but given that possibility, New England will be playing hard in this contest. Bill Belichick has never been one to rest starters even when there isn’t much to play for, so don’t expect the Patriots to take the Bills lightly. Buffalo is coming off of a shutout victory against the Dolphins; only the second time all year that the Bills have held an opponent to under 20 points. That was more of a testament to Miami’s uselessness than it was to Buffalo’s skillfulness, and that game was at home, where the Bills have been strong all season. Buffalo now heads out on the road where they’re just 2-5 on the year (wins over Jacksonville and Miami—big deal), being outscored by an average of 9 points per game. E.J. Manuel participated in Thursday’s practice and is expected to start for the Bills, which doesn’t bode well for Buffalo since Manuel sports an awful 64.4 QB rating on the road this season. That QB rating doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story as Manuel has an awful 5.7 yards per attempt and has registered just four touchdowns in five games away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo rode their running game to success last week but New England should be able to put the clamps down on Fred Jackson, as they’ve been far better at stopping the run in the last month. As for the Patriots’ offense, it seems as though the loss of Rob Gronkowski wasn’t that big of a deal after all. New England has moved the ball with ease in back-to-back weeks without Gronk, and they’ll be smart enough to occasionally run the ball to keep Buffalo’s defense honest (Miami ran the ball just 12 times last week).
Tom Brady absolutely owns the Bills. In 23 career starts against Buffalo, Brady has tossed 53 touchdowns to just 18 interceptions. In the last three seasons, Brady has posted a QB rating of 96.1 in five starts against Buffalo, while throwing for 14 touchdowns and adding one rushing touchdown. Buffalo is one of the league’s worst road teams and will likely be in for a world of hurt on Sunday. Patriots 33, Bills 20
The Wager: It would seem as though the Patriots should win this game rather handily, but I’m not very confident here. New England has a habit of making things interesting as a big favorite (see games vs. Jets, Texans, and Browns earlier this year). In fact, Tom Brady is 20-28 ATS as a home favorite of nine points or more in his career. I’ll stay away. Pass
The Trend: The Patriots are 19-9-1 ATS in their last 28 meetings with the Bills.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints
Friday Line: Saints -12, total of 47
Public Consensus: 63% on the Saints, 67% on the over
The Pick: Saints’ games have become pretty predictable—bet against New Orleans on the road, bet on them at home. New Orleans held true to form last week. Despite essentially being handed the game by the Panthers, New Orleans couldn’t generate enough offense to separate themselves from Carolina, and ultimately fell short in the final minute of the game. Luckily for the Saints, they return to the friendly confines of the Superdome, where they’re a perfect 7-0 straight up and ATS this season. The majority of New Orleans’ success at home is directly correlated to the play of Drew Brees, who’s compiled an insane 23:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio at the Superdome. The Bucs’ defense has only mustered 34 sacks in 15 games this season, so I’d make an educated guess that Brees is able to continue his epic run at home this weekend. New Orleans has also been running the ball more often as of late and they should find success on the ground against a Bucs’ defense that’s given up over 250 total yards in their last two contests. Tampa Bay will have to find a way to match scores with New Orleans and I just don’t see that happening. Mike Glennon has played much better on the road than at home this season but he was terrible against the Rams last weekend. In fact, the whole Bucs’ offense was deplorable, generating just 170 total yards in that contest. Tampa’s last two score lines have been misleading, as they were within striking distance of the Rams and 49ers in the last two weeks, but the complete lack of recent offense doesn’t bode well for them this week.
Tampa Bay has had a habit of mailing it in under Greg Schiano in recent years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen once again this week. The Bucs could possibly find some motivation in the fact that they’re a double-digit underdog against a divisional opponent, but motivation still probably wouldn’t be enough to overcome the extreme mismatch that this contest poses. Saints 31, Buccaneers 14
The Wager: I really like New Orleans this week but I’m not going to wager on them. For starters, I’m not interested in paying an inflated price with the Saints. Secondly, by this point the Panthers will have probably beaten the Falcons, and while New Orleans would still need to win to clinch a playoff spot, they could be demoralized from having lost the NFC South title. Pass
The Trend: The Buccaneers are 2-7 ATS in the month of December under Greg Schiano.
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders
Friday Line: Broncos -12, total of 54
Public Consensus: 77% on the Broncos, 65% on the over
The Pick: The Broncos have still yet to clinch the #1 seed in the AFC, so there will be incentive to do play their best game here against the lowly Raiders. With that being said, I have to believe that Denver will be reluctant to play their starters deep into the game if they’re ahead by double digits. The Broncos have seen a couple of key players go down with injuries in recent weeks as Von Miller is out for the season and Wes Welker is dealing with a concussion problem. Welker is practicing this week and could suit up on Sunday, but I’d have to imagine that the primary focus for John Fox will be to win without losing any more key players. I’m not even going to bother breaking down the mismatch that the Broncos’ offense poses against the Raiders’ defense. Statistically, Oakland’s defense is actually in the middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed, but they stand virtually no chance of shutting down Peyton Manning. Manning has struggled in back-to-back games; although you would never have known it by looking at last week’s 37-13 final against Houston (Denver had 16 points entering the 4th quarter). Unfortunately for the Broncos, football games aren’t one solely by playing well offensively. Denver’s defense is an absolute disgrace, and things are about to get a hell of a lot worse with Miller on the shelf. Terrell Pryor gets the start under center for the Raiders, and while I’m not a big fan of Pryor, this is his opportunity to play for a job next season. Pryor will undoubtedly be taking this contest very seriously and he should have plenty of opportunities to move the ball against a Broncos’ secondary that gives up 7.2 yards per attempt. Both Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden are healthy which also gives the Raiders the ability to run the ball against the Broncos’ Swiss cheese run defense.
This is Oakland’s Super Bowl. Their season was over long ago but they now have the enthusiasm to knock Denver out of the top seed in the AFC. Denver hasn’t put together a complete game in a long time and their suspect defense can leave them vulnerable on the road. The Broncos pull out the win but it’ll be far from pretty. Broncos 31, Raiders 27
The Wager: I’m playing this game purely out of principle. Look, I know the Raiders suck. Everyone knows the Raiders suck, and that’s precisely why the whole world will be betting the Broncos here. This line is super inflated and Oakland has strong backdoor cover potential with Pryor under center. I firmly believe that they’re the right side. Raiders +13 (Sportsbook), I like Oakland at +10.5 or higher
The Trend: The Raiders are 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games following a loss.
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals
Friday Line: 49ers pk, total of 42
Public Consensus: 60% on the 49ers, 67% on the under
The Pick: Think about this for a second—Carson Palmer threw four interceptions… in Seattle… the toughest place to play in the league… and the Cardinals won by a touchdown. If you aren’t impressed by that, I don’t want to know you. I had been skeptical about Arizona due to their lack of signature wins this season, but after last week’s performance, I have no choice but to be a believer. The Cardinals boast one of the league’s best defenses and they’ll surely make things difficult for Colin Kaepernick and company this weekend. The 49ers pride themselves on their ability to run the ball but they run into a Cardinals’ defense that gives up the fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL (84.5). Arizona hasn’t given up more than 83 rushing yards in a single game since Week 7! With the 49ers being unable to run the ball, Kaepernick will be facing a load of third-and-long situations, which isn’t a particularly good scenario when you consider that the ‘9ers are dead last in the league with 133 first downs through the air this season. San Francisco’s offensive line has also struggled in pass protection in recent weeks, so Kaepernick will likely have a tough time with a Cardinals’ pass rush that ranks fifth in the league in generating sacks. If Arizona’s offense can avoid costly turnovers, they should be able to win this game handily, but that’s easier said than done with Palmer under center. The good news is the majority of Palmer’s turnovers have come on the road this season, but nine interceptions in seven home games is still pretty uninspiring.
At the end of the day, this is a prime opportunity for Arizona to make another statement. The Cardinals have to avoid a letdown after last week’s victory but they’ll be taking on a 49ers’ squad coming off of short rest, having played on Monday Night Football. The Cardinals outgained San Francisco in their first matchup this season but things unravelled because of costly mistakes. A lot has changed since then and Arizona is a much improved team. Cardinals 20, 49ers 9
The Wager: I’m still trying to figure out why the 49ers opened as the favorite in this game. These teams are pretty much even (I could argue that Arizona is actually the better team), and the Cardinals have one of the strongest home-field advantages in football. Maybe people were impressed with San Fran’s big second half against a garbage Falcons’ unit on Monday night. Who knows? Regardless, I’m taking Arizona at home. Cardinals pk (widely available), I like Arizona at anything below -3
The Trend: The Cardinals are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
Kansas City Chiefs @ San Diego Chargers
Friday Line: Chargers -9.5, total of 45
Public Consensus: 70% on the Chiefs, 97% on the over
The Pick: This is probably the most difficult game to handicap this week. The Chiefs should probably be able to get up for this game—after all, it is a division game and they lost to the Chargers at home a few weeks ago—but it’s hard to predict what Andy Reid will do with his players. Reid has rested his starters in Week 17 in the past so there’s a good chance that most of the Chiefs’ key players hit the sidelines early in this one. Even with a group of backups, I still think Kansas City has what it takes to keep this game close. San Diego has won and covered in three straight games but they were EXTREMELY lucky to do so at home against the Raiders last weekend. The Chargers could also be officially eliminated from the playoffs if Miami beats the Jets early in the day, which would take the wind out of their sails for this contest.
I wish had more to work with here, but I don’t. There are a number of different scenarios that could take place, with most of them amounting to a Chargers’ victory and a Chiefs’ cover. Chargers 27, Chiefs 19
The Wager: This game is unbettable. It’s as simple as that. Anyone who believes they have a good read on this game is just lying to you—there are no facts to work with. Pass
The Trend: The Chiefs are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 road games.
St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
Friday Line: Seahawks -11.5, total of 43
Public Consensus: 76% on the Seahawks, 53% on the under
The Pick: It’s rarely beneficial to lose a home game in the NFL, but it may just have been a valuable learning tool for the Seahawks last week. Seattle has aspirations of reaching the Super Bowl in February which makes it advantageous to deal with adversity along the way. Last week’s loss was nothing more than a blip on the radar. The Seahawks have allowed a paltry 14 points per game at home this season, while scoring almost 30 points per game themselves; and that includes last week’s 17-10 loss to the Cardinals. The Rams may enter this contest riding a two-game winning streak, but both of those victories occurred at home, and I’d be pretty surprised if St. Louis wasn’t completely out of their element here. The Rams have lost three of their last four road games by double-digits, and statistically, they’re below average on both sides of the ball. St. Louis will have a tremendously difficult time dealing with the Seahawks’ front seven, especially without stud offensive tackle Jake Long in the lineup. The Seahawks limited the Rams to just nine points earlier this season, and that game took place in St. Louis, where the Rams are actually capable of moving the ball. Zac Stacy was extremely effective in that earlier contest, but Seattle will stack the box to ensure that that success isn’t duplicated this time around. With Kellen Clemens behind center, the Seahawks can afford to take more risks on the defensive side of the ball. On the other side of things, I fully expect a bounce back performance from Russell Wilson. Wilson has been nothing short of extraordinary in his career at home, posting an asinine QB rating of 113.6, with 32 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions in 15 games. Last week’s terrible performance against Arizona was an exception to the rule; not the rule.
Seattle can clinch home-field advantage with a victory here which gives them even more incentive to bounce back after last week’s lost. Wilson vs. Clemens is a radical mismatch, and that’ll show on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks have covered 68% of their home contests since 2005, and that percentage is likely to increase this weekend. Seahawks 26, Rams 6
The Wager: My record when wagering on double-digit favorites this season is deplorable, and subsequently, I’m hesitant to lay the points here. I love the spot for Seattle but I also want to be careful not to completely dismiss the Rams’ recent success. I may change my mind with this one on Sunday (follow me on Twitter @robpizzola for updates on Sunday), but for now I’ll stay away. Pass
The Trend: The Seahawks are 21-8 ATS in their last 29 games overall.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
Friday Line: Eagles -7, total of 52.5
Public Consensus: 63% on the Eagles, 74% on the over
The Pick: The NFC East crown and a spot in the playoffs comes down to Eagles-Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Public perception of these two teams couldn’t be any further apart right now. Philadelphia is riding high off of a 54-11 annihilation of the Bears last weekend, but it was only two weeks when they were humiliated by the Vikings in Minnesota. Meanwhile, Dallas will likely be forced to start Kyle Orton as quarterback this week in the wake of a severe back injury to Tony Romo. I’ve watched countless hours of programming this week dedicated to how Philadelphia will trounce Dallas, but none of it makes any sense. For starters, Nick Foles’ struggles against the Cowboys are being completely overlooked. Dallas’ defense stinks—I think that’s a given—but they limited Foles to a pathetic 80 yards on 29 pass attempts back in Week 7. The Eagles were also 0-2 against the Cowboys last season with Foles under center, with Foles throwing for just two touchdown passes in those contests. With Morris Claiborne expected to be back in the lineup for Dallas again this week, there’s a chance that they could trouble Foles once more. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, it’ll be virtually impossible to shut down LeSean McCoy with all of the injuries that they’ve accumulated in their defensive front seven. As for the Cowboys’ offense, Orton isn’t a complete scrub. Matt Cassel was able to carve up the Eagles two weeks ago, so what’s to stop Orton from doing the same? Most importantly when it comes to Orton is that he’s only thrown 57 interceptions in 71 career games, so it’s unlikely that he’ll do anything to cost the Cowboys the game.
Talk about an overreaction to last week. You’d think this game was already over before it started. Philadelphia is the more talented team, but the Cowboys aren’t going to go quietly in a do-or-die game, especially since they’ll have to step it up without Romo in the lineup. Jason Garrett will find a way to lose this one, but we’ll be treated to a quality affair on Sunday Night Football. Eagles 24, Cowboys 23
The Wager: I couldn’t believe the posted line in this game—I actually still can’t believe it. If you’re one of the many people laying a full touchdown with the Eagles on the road, may God have mercy on your soul. This is some of the biggest inflation I’ve ever seen. I’ll gladly grab the points. Cowboys +7 (widely available), I wouldn’t bet Dallas at anything less than +7
The Trend: The underdog is 5-2 ATS in the last 7 meetings between these two teams.