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NFL 'Week 17' • Previews, Articles, Info. • Sunday 1/3/16

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    Does the playoff push equal NFL betting profits in Week 17?

    Week 17 of the NFL season provides many interesting scenarios for bettors. For many teams, the season basically over. While for the lucky few the real fun is just beginning.

    The teams in Week 17 can be broken down into two categories: teams with something left to play for and those with nothing left (either because they are already eliminated from the playoffs or because they have clinched a seed).

    This year, in the NFC the Seahawks, Cardinals, Vikings, Packers and Panthers have something left to play for, while in the AFC the Patriots, Broncos, Bengals, Chiefs, Jets, Steelers, Texans, and Colts are assured of anything.

    This means that quite a number of games this weekend will feature at least one team that’s still fighting for something, and a few will feature two teams that are still in the hunt. Therefor, for this week, we will take a look at how games that feature either or two teams with something to fight for turn out.

    To do this, we gathered data for the past five years on which teams were still playing for something in Week 17. We relied upon posts to identify these teams, and then Covers’ database to check how these games turned out both against the spread and Over/Under. We would have gone back further but because we were identifying these teams by hand it took a while, and we figured five years should be enough to give us some insight.

    As mentioned before, there are really two types of games: games in which only one team has something to fight for and games in which both teams do. Therefore, when doing the analysis we will look at both categories. Since not all games are played at the same time, it is possible that the playoff hopes of each may have changed due to earlier games, but we won’t try to worry about that here – just keep it in mind.

    There were 32 games in the past five years that featured only one team with something to play for. In those games, the playoff-hopeful team was 13-18 (41.9 percent) against the spread (with one push). Those games also went Under 16 times and Over 14 – or 53.3 percent of the time, with two pushes.

    In the past five years, teams with something left to fight for have actually underperformed expectations when playing a team that has nothing left to play for in Week 17.

    This could be due to several reasons. Perhaps the lines assign a little bump to the playoff-hopeful teams as they expect them to be more motivated and play harder, when in reality they aren’t especially more motived. Or maybe they are more motivated, but their opponents, who in Week 17 are division rivals, are also motivated to keep them out of the playoffs. Or perhaps this is just random noise – it is no where close to being statistically significant, and there is no guarantee that this trend will continue in the future.

    Moving onto the next category: games in which both teams have something to play for. These games are much rarer. In the past five years, there have been 13 such games, and true to form there are two this year: Minnesota at Green Bay and Seattle at Arizona.

    In these games, the home team is 8-5 (61 percent) ATS, and nine of the 13 games (69 percent) have gone Under the total.

    Because we have such a small sample size, these results are nowhere close to statistically significant. Still, it appears that in the case where two teams both have something to play for in Week 17, the home team has the advantage and the Under is the smart bet.

    Intuitively this does make sense. Home crowds might give the home team a larger than usual home-field advantage. And although the Under may be a bit tougher to explain, I could see it being the case that coaches may play more cautiously at first, as they have proven to be very risk adverse (not going for it on fourth down when they should, stuff like that).

    A final interesting tidbit: Seattle and Green Bay have each been involved in the hunt four out of the past five years. In their four attempts, Seattle is 3-1 ATS and has gone Under the total all four times, while Green Bay is 2-2 ATS and has gone Over three out of the four times. Something to think about this Sunday.


    Essential Week 17 betting notes for NFL Sunday

    Looking for some quick-hitting betting info for Week 17 of the NFL slate? We break down all the need-to-know facts and figures for Sunday’s NFL matchups.

    New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (+2.5, 42)

    * Led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is 276 passing yards shy of his first 4,000-yard season, New York knocked off New England 26-20 in overtime a week ago to move to the brink of the playoffs.

    * The Bills have the edge in recent head-to-head meetings with the Jets, going 4-0 both straight up and against the spread in the last four.

    New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (+10, 47)

    * New England needs to win or see AFC West champion Denver fall to San Diego in order to clinch the top seed in the conference.

    * The AFC East cellar-dwelling Dolphins aren’t finishing the season with any semblance of strength, having dropped three in a row and seven of nine SU and six-straight and eight of nine ATS.

    New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (-5.5, 53)

    * The Saints don’t necessarily close the season on a high note at the betting window, going just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games in Week 17.

    * The home team has had a decided edge in this series, going 7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings between the two rivals. The Falcons are currently tabbed as 5.5-point chalk for the regular season finale.

    Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-10, 41.5)

    * Baltimore QB Ryan Mallet threw for a career-high 274 yards in his team debut as the Ravens took the Pittsburgh Steelers’ destiny out of their own hands with a 20-17 victory last week.

    * Bengals QB AJ McCarron is completing 67 percent of his throws and has recorded four touchdowns and two interceptions in the last three games, but Cincinnati has scored a total of nine points in the second half of the last two contests.

    Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (+11, 47)

    * Pittsburgh needs to beat the Browns and have the Buffalo Bills knock off the New York Jets in order to earn a wild card spot, and the Steelers are concentrating on their part of that equation. “There’s a scenario that hasn’t transpired in order to get in the dance,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “But the other part of that scenario is us winning,” Tomlin said. “I’m not looking for comfort. I’m just trying to meet the challenges of this week. You set yourself up for failure if you view it any other way.”

    * The Browns have note fared well against teams from within ths division this season, going just 1-4 SU and ATS against the AFC North.

    Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-6.5, 45.5)

    * Jags QB Blake Bortles can set a club record Sunday as he needs 179 passing yards to eclipse Mark Brunell’s single-season mark of 4,367, which he totaled in 1996. He has thrown at least two TD passes in nine of his last 11 games and is one of three quarterbacks in league history (Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford) to record 35 scoring tosses in a season while under the age of 24.

    * The Texans have won eight of their last 10 meetings with the Jaguars but are just 5-4-1 ATS in those 10.

    Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (Off, Off)

    * Zach Mettenberger, who was 24-for-51 for 234 yards in last week’s blowout loss to Houston, will most likely get the start again at quarterback for Tennessee, which has just one win since Nov. 8. Mettenberger, however, will be without his top target, Kendall Wright, who re-injured his MCL in last week’s loss.

    * Indianapolis has to win and needs victories by Jacksonville, Buffalo, Miami, Baltimore, Atlanta, Oakland, Denver and Pittsburgh to earn a playoff berth.

    Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears (PK, 45.5)

    * A horrific start brought Jim Caldwell’s job security into question, but the Lions have won two in a row and five of seven to put themselves in position to escape the NFC North cellar should they record a sixth straight victory versus their division rivals.

    * Home hasn’t provided much comfort for Bears backers. In their previous 29 home games, the Bears have gone just 7-21-1 ATS.

    Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-4, 39.5)

    * Despite having nothing on the line, Redskins coach Jay Gruden on Thursday said quarterback Kirk Cousins will get the start against the Cowboys. “All our guys are starting,” Gruden said. “How I substitute throughout the course of the game will be dependent on how we’re doing health-wise and the situation of the game.”

    * One of the few bright spots for the Cowboys has been the play of running back Darren McFadden, who has rushed for 100 yards in five of his last 10 starts and is three yards from reaching 1,000. Dallas ranks fifth in the league against the pass, yielding an average of 223 yards.

    Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (-3.5, 51)

    * Sam Bradford is finishing the season on a high note, following up his 361-yard, two-touchdown performance versus Arizona with 380 yards and a score against the Redskins.

    * Team co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch have not publicly commented on the job security of Tom Coughlin, while the 69-year-old coach himself dismissed that line of questioning Thursday in an effort to focus on the regular-season finale. “I won’t let myself go in those other directions because we have a job to do, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Coughlin told reporters. “All these other issues will clear up in time, but not before then.”

    St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (+3, 37)

    * Hardly considered flashy, Case Keenum’s efficient passing ways have enabled Jeff Fisher to move on from offseason acquisition Nick Foles and hand the keys to the 27-year-old. “We’re having fun,” said Keenum, who has completed just 14 passes in each contest of the team’s winning streak – including last week’s 23-17 victory over Seattle. “We’re playing football. We’ve got nothing to lose. … I think that’s the mindset our guys have got.”

    * Missouri native Blaine Gabbert isn’t placing any extra emphasis on facing the team he watched with his family as season ticket holders. “No, not at all,” the 26-year-old Gabbert told reporters. “It’s another division game. It’s a big game for both sides regardless of the situation that we put ourselves in up to this point.”

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-10.5, 46)

    * It’s been far from a lost season for Tampa Bay, thanks to an encouraging rookie season by top pick Jameis Winston (3,717 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions) and a bounce-back campaign from Doug Martin (1,354 rushing yards, six TDs). The Buccaneers have had a tough time turning drives into points, though, and have committed five turnovers in their last two games and 24 this season – including a season-high five in a 37-23 loss to Carolina in Week 4.

    * The Carolina Panthers no longer are playing to preserve a perfect season, but they still have plenty on the line. The Panthers can clinch the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage through the conference championship game with a win Sunday.

    Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-6.5, 47)

    * The Seahawks, who had a five-game winning streak snapped by the St. Louis Rams last week, have locked up a playoff berth and will be on the road for the first round of the postseason.

    * The Cardinals have ripped off nine consecutive victories to set a franchise record for wins and already have wrapped up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

    San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-10, 41.5)

    * Following its bye in Week 10, San Diego was limited to a field goal in three of its next four games and can match the franchise’s worst record since a 4-12 mark in 2003. Philip Rivers has managed to put up some big numbers amid the carnage and can eclipse the franchise single-season record of 4,802 yards (Dan Fouts, 1981) by throwing for 239 yards Sunday, but he was limited to 202 in the earlier meeting with the Broncos.

    * Denver needs a win and a loss by New England at Miami to snag the top overall seed in the conference, but it also can lose the AFC West title with a loss and a victory by Kansas City.

    Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5, 43.5)

    * The Raiders attempt to finish with a winning record on the road, where they have won two straight to improve to 4-3. The Raiders have gone 5-2 ATS away from home.

    * Kansas City is the first team in 45 years to qualify for the postseason after beginning with a 1-5 record have won four of its last five meetings with the Raiders, including a 34-20 victory at Oakland in Week 13.

    Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-3, 45.5)

    * While both teams have already secured berths in the postseason, the ramifications will be huge: The winner will host a wild card team in the first round of the playoffs while the loser will hit the road as either the fifth or sixth seed.

    * Aaron Rodgers has won 10 of his last 11 versus the Vikings, throwing for 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.


    Total Talk – Week 17
    By Chris David

    Week 16 Recap

    The ‘under’ produced a 9-7 record last weekend and that record could’ve been better if it wasn’t for some meaningless scores. For those who had the ‘over’ in the Chicago-Tampa Bay and Houston-Tennessee games, we’re glad to see you received some belated holiday gifts this past Sunday. And for those on the other side of those results, we apologize and hope you keep grinding. On the season, the ‘under’ stands at 119-117-4.

    Week 17 Approach

    Handicapping the final week of the regular season is often a toss-up for both sides and totals.

    WEEK 17 TOTAL RESULTS (2010-2014)
    Year Over/Under

    2014 6-10
    2013 6-10
    2012 8-8
    2011 9-7
    2010 7-9
    Based on the above, you can see that the ‘under’ has gone 44-36 (55%) that past five seasons and that includes a 20-12 (63%) mark the last two years. Based on playoff implications, you have five meaningless matchups on tap for Week 17 and it’s fair to say it’s six.

    New Orleans at Atlanta

    Washington at Dallas

    Detroit at Chicago

    Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants

    St. Louis at San Francisco

    Tennessee at Indianapolis (Colts have an outside shot to make the playoffs)

    My thinking with these games is that most coaches will just roll the ball out and let the teams go after it offensively.

    Last Sunday, we had three meaningless games and the ‘over’ went 3-0 albeit the Bears-Bucs winner was fortunate:

    Detroit 32 San Francisco 17 (Over 49)

    New Orleans 38 Jacksonville 27 (Over 53)

    Chicago 25 Tampa Bay 21 (Over 44)

    Based on the numbers for Week 17, I’d probably toss out any leans on the Redskins-Cowboys and Rams-49ers, but the three other games all have two things in common. They have capable quarterbacks and defensive units that are suspect, which is why two of the totals are listed in the fifties.

    Divisional Angles

    Here is my quick handicap on nine of the 10 other meaningful matchups for Week 17.

    N.Y. Jets at Buffalo: The Bills dropped the Jets 22-17 in the first meeting and the ‘under’ (41 ½) connected due to miscues by the New York offense. This total opened 44 and has dropped to 41. The Jets defense has played better and faces a short-handed attack for the Bills.

    New England at Miami: The ‘under’ is 5-2 the last seven in this series and both clubs enter this game banged up. The Patriots have seen the ‘over’ go 4-1 in their last five but Miami (19.3 PPG) can’t score lately and I don’t expect that to change Sunday.

    Tampa Bay at Carolina: The Panthers blasted the Buccaneers 37-23 in Week 4 and the ‘over’ (40 ½) hit easily. This week’s total (47) seems inflated and hard to imagine Carolina pressing the issue once they get the lead against an inconsistent Tampa Bay offense (22.1 PPG).

    Baltimore at Cincinnati: The ‘over’ is 3-1 the last four in this series but those results should be overlooked with backup quarterbacks on display this week. Bengals are 2-0 to the ‘under’ with A.J. McCarron under center while the Ravens haven’t are averaging 13.3 PPG their last four.

    Jacksonville at Houston: Possible shootout here based on the defensive numbers for the Jaguars (27.9 PPG) and Houston does get Brian Hoyer back at QB. These teams haven’t seen a total this high since 2011 and that also tells me to lean to the high side.

    Pittsburgh at Cleveland: Prior to last week’s lackluster effort and Baltimore, the Steelers offense was rolling. They should get back on track this weekend versus the Cleveland secondary but can the Browns do enough with Austin Davis? The ‘under’ has cashed in five of the last six encounters between the pair.

    Oakland at Kansas City: This series was once a great ‘under’ bet but the ‘over’ has cashed in four straight meetings. The Chiefs quietly own the second best scoring defense (18 PPG) in the league and the Raiders have been surprisingly better defensively on the road (22.9 PPG) than at home (27 PPG).

    San Diego at Denver: Low total (41) for this series and hard to lean high based on the ‘under’ results (5-1-1) for Denver at home this season and their style under backup QB Brock Osweiler. The ‘under’ is 5-1 in the last six head-to-head battles and that includes Denver’s 17-3 win at San Diego in Week 13.

    Seattle at Arizona: The Cardinals ripped the Seahawks 39-32 in mid-November and that total closed at 43 ½. This week’s number is 47 and many believe Seattle could lay up in this game knowing that it’s in the playoffs already and will be on the road next weekend regardless of this outcome. Arizona’s defense has only surrendered 12.2 PPG in its last five, which has helped the ‘under’ go 4-1.

    Under the Lights

    We’ve reached the final primetime game of the regular season as the Vikings and Packers square off for the NFC North division. The ‘under’ has gone 29-21 (58%) in night games this season and both Minnesota (2-1) and Green Bay (3-2) have helped that cause.

    This game opened at 48 ½ and has dropped down to 45 ½ as of Saturday morning. In the first meeting between the pair, Green Bay ran past Minnesota 30-13 on the road and the ‘under’ (45) connected.

    The Packers were known to be a great ‘over’ bet in recent seasons but the club has watched the ‘under’ go 10-5 this season and that includes a 6-1 mark at Lambeau Field. Minnesota has also leaned to the ‘under’ (10-4-1) this season but as I noted in last week’s piece, the Vikings have put up some crooked numbers on offense under Zimmer towards the end of the season and the ‘over’ is on a 3-1 run entering this game.

    The last two games between the pair at Lambeau Field have both went ‘over’ the number and Green Bay has put up 23-plus points in nine straight home meetings against the Vikings.

    For those looking for seasonal angles on the last game of the regular season, listed below are the matchups dating back to 2008.

    2014 – Pittsburgh 27 vs. Cincinnati 17 (Under 49)
    2013 – Philadelphia 24 at Dallas 22 (Under 54 ½)
    2012 – Washington 28 vs. Dallas 18 (Under 48)
    2011 – N.Y. Giants 31 vs. Dallas 14 (Under 48)
    2010 – Seattle 16 vs. St. Louis 6 (Under 42 ½)
    2009 – N.Y. Jets 37 vs. Cincinnati 0 (Over 33 ½)
    2008 – San Diego 52 vs. Denver 21 (Over 50)

    The ‘under’ has cashed in five straight SNF Finales and six of the last seven games that have been flexed to the Sunday Night spot have been decided by double digits.

    Only one road team has manage to win this game and the Eagles barely defeated the Tony Romo-less Cowboys.

    Fearless Predictions

    The holiday weekend cost us $220 and the Bears-Buccaneers loss was tough to stomach plus the Falcons didn’t help the cause — again. It wasn’t a disaster of a season but certainly not profitable ($1,020) after 16 weeks. Let’s finish strong and head to the playoffs. As always, Press, Pass or Fade but in the end – Good Luck and Happy New Year!

    ‘Best Over’
    Jacksonville-Houston 45 ½

    ‘Best Under’
    Baltimore-Cincinnati 41 ½

    ‘Best Team Total’
    Over 29 Steelers

    Three-Team Total Teaser (9-Point, +100)
    Over 44 New Orleans-Atlanta
    Under 56 New England-Miami
    Under 46 ½ St. Louis-San Francisco


    Week 17 Tip Sheet
    By Kevin Rogers

    Jets (-3, 41 ½) at Bills – 1:00 PM EST

    One year ago, Rex Ryan led the Jets to a 4-12 record and last place in the AFC East. Ryan was let go and one season later, New York is one victory away from clinching its first playoff berth since 2010. The former Jets’ coach crossed over inside the division to patrol the Bills’ sideline in 2015, as Buffalo looks to play the role of spoiler. The Bills (7-8 SU, 7-7-1 ATS) go for back-to-back wins for just the second time this season after holding off the Cowboys last Sunday, 16-6 as 6 ½-point favorites. Buffalo knocked off New York in its first meeting at Met Life Stadium, 22-17, as the Bills built a 22-3 lead prior to a pair of Jets’ second half touchdowns.

    Following a 5-5 start to the season, New York (10-5 SU, 8-5-2 ATS) has run off five straight victories, capped off by a 26-20 overtime triumph over New England last Sunday. The Jets have stepped up defensively during this winning streak, allowing 20 points or less in each of these victories, while cashing the ‘under’ in each of their past two road games. New York has lost the previous two visits to Ralph Wilson Stadium, as the Jets were blown out by the Bills in Detroit last November with the game moved out of Buffalo due to poor weather.

    Jaguars at Texans (-6 ½, 45 ½) – 1:00 PM EST

    The AFC South race has been a fight to the finish, but Houston (8-7 SU, 8-7 ATS) controls its own destiny heading into Week 17. The Texans attempt to sweep the Jaguars after winning at Jacksonville in mid-October, 31-20 as 2 ½-point underdogs. Quarterback Brian Hoyer made his first start of the season for Houston in that win, throwing for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Hoyer returns to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a concussion, as Houston picked up a pair of road divisional victories at Indianapolis and Tennessee.

    For the fifth consecutive season, Jacksonville (5-10 SU, 7-7-1 ATS) has lost at least 10 games, coming off a 38-27 at New Orleans. The game wasn’t as close as the final score indicated as the Jaguars fell behind, 24-6 at halftime to suffer their sixth road loss in seven tries. Jacksonville has drilled the ‘over’ in four of the previous five contests, while hitting the ‘over’ in five of seven games away from Everbank Field. Gus Bradley’s team has lost six consecutive road games against AFC South foes with the last away divisional victory coming at Houston in 2013.

    Steelers (-11, 47) at Browns – 1:00 PM EST

    Pittsburgh (9-6 SU, 8-6-1 ATS) had the inside track at a Wild Card berth heading into Week 16 at lowly Baltimore. However, the banged-up Ravens stunned the Steelers as 11-point home underdogs, 20-17, limiting Pittsburgh to its lowest point total since a Week 8 home loss to Cincinnati (16-10). Pittsburgh’s four-game ‘over’ streak came to an end in Week 16, as Mike Tomlin’s team looks to bust out of a 1-3 SU/ATS road slump dating back to October. The Steelers routed the Browns in their first meeting at Heinz Field by a 30-9 count in November, as Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes off the bench.

    The Browns (3-12 SU, 6-9 ATS) are tied with the Titans for the worst record in football, as a Cleveland loss coupled with a Tennessee victory will give the Browns the top pick in May’s NFL Draft. Former first round pick Johnny Manziel won’t play in the season finale as he is sidelined with a concussion, opening the door for Austin Davis to start at quarterback. Mike Pettine’s squad has won just twice at home this season, beating Tennessee and San Francisco, while allowing 70 points in two divisional home losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati.

    Raiders at Chiefs (-7, 43 ½) – 4:25 PM EST

    The best turnaround story in the NFL this season comes out of Kansas City (10-5 SU, 8-7 ATS) as the Chiefs go for their 10th straight win following a 1-5 start. Andy Reid’s club has allowed 14 points or less seven times in this span, but the Chiefs have failed in their last two home wins over the Browns and Chargers as a double-digit favorite. Kansas City has dominated in the role of a single-digit favorite, cashing in seven of eight opportunities, including in a 34-20 triumph at Oakland last month as three-point chalk.

    The Raiders (7-8 SU, 7-8 ATS) have made plenty of strides in Jack Del Rio’s first season as head coach by winning four games away from the Black Hole. Oakland has alternated wins and losses in each of the past six contests, coming off a 23-20 overtime victory over San Diego on Christmas Eve, but failed to cash as four-point favorites. The Raiders own a solid 4-1 ATS record in its past five road contests, while looking to finish off a three-game road sweep inside the division after winning at San Diego and Denver this season.

    Seahawks at Cardinals (-6, 47) – 4:25 PM EST

    The top two teams in the NFC West are heading to the playoffs, as this matchup only has seeding ramifications. Arizona (13-2 SU, 9-6 ATS) has an outside chance of grabbing home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, needing a victory along with a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay. The Cardinals topped the 31-point mark for the ninth time this season in last Sunday’s 38-8 rout of the Packers as six-point favorites. Bruce Arians’ squad covered at home for the first time since Week 3 against San Francisco, while the Cardinals have gone ‘under’ the total in three of the past four games at University of Phoenix Stadium.

    The two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks (9-6 SU, 7-7-1 ATS) could end up finishing with the sixth seed if they lose at Arizona. Seattle won both meetings last season with Arizona, but the Cardinals knocked off the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in mid-November, 39-32 as three-point underdogs. Pete Carroll’s team had its five-game winning streak snapped in last Sunday’s 23-17 home loss to the Rams as 11 ½-point favorites. The Seahawks have won four consecutive away games, while limiting each opponent to 12 points or less.


    Mike O’Connor

    CINCINNATI (-9) 25 Baltimore 15

    The Bengals lost in overtime last week in Denver but still hold out hope for a first round bye and will be playing to win this game as a win here, coupled with a Broncos loss to the Chargers, would give Cincinnati the #2 seed. On the other side, the Ravens pulled off a huge win last week as a 10.5 point dog against their biggest rival – the Steelers. While the Bengals want to get back on track with a win here, Baltimore could be a bit flat in this game after three consecutive home games – the last being a big-time win that might have knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs, and now travelling for their final game.

    The Bengals are the superior team and are motivated so I expect to get their best effort in this game. The big question is how AJ McCarron will perform. McCarron was impressive in the first half against the Broncos last week but had a subpar second half and is dealing with a left wrist injury – although that shouldn’t be an issue. Adjusting for McCarron and the Ravens injuries/quarterback the math favors the Bengals by 8.4 points, not a significant difference.

    Cincinnati does qualify in a good 112-62-4 home favorite situation and coupled with what might be a let-down spot for Baltimore, I’ll lean with the Bengals minus the points.

    New England (-10) 28 MIAMI 17

    The Patriots can clinch the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win here and they’ll be focused after their overtime loss to the Jets last week. Bill Belichick means business this week – he had players in full pads on Wednesday with a focus on returning to fundamentals and things have worked out well for the Patriots when Belichick slams the hammer down.

    Add to the fact that the Patriots are facing a listless Dolphins team that is literally limping to the finish line and we have the makings of a game that could get out of hand. Miami has lost seven of their last nine games (1-8 ATS), being outscored by nearly 11 points per game and losing by an average ATS margin of 8.6 points.

    The Patriots are banged up right now along their offensive line, in their receiving group, and in their secondary so this game could be closer than projected and my model, adjusted for injuries, favors the Pats by 9.8 points. There are no situations in play so I’m going to lean with the stable organization and the superior coach/quarterback combination that have something to play for.

    Pittsburgh (-11) 28 CLEVELAND 16

    Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is out for the Browns so Austin Davis will be the starting quarterback in this game. He didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his last outing – a 37-3 loss to the Bengals in Week 13 and he’s stepping into a difficult situation facing a Steelers team that needs this win and some help from the Bills to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s defense will be fired up to get after Davis and he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast around him to help.

    Meanwhile, a potent Steelers offense that generates 394 yards per game at 6.4 yppl against teams that allow 344 yards at 5.4 yppl should have no trouble scoring points against a Browns defense that can’t stop the run or the pass. Cleveland allows an average of 380 yards per game at 6.1 yppl to teams that gain 354 yards at 5.6 yppl while allowing 27 points per game this season to teams that average 23 points per game.

    Pittsburgh needs to win this game and will be eliminated with a loss while the Browns were eliminated a long time ago. That scenario actually sets the Steelers up in a negative 57-95-4 situation that plays against the team that has the pressure to win (in this case the Steelers). However, the Steelers have played the Browns in the final game of the season in four of the last five years and have won those four games by a combined score of 98-35. There is no significant difference between my model and the current line (my line is Pitt -9.7) and there are no other significant situations in play. I don’t like the match-ups but I do like the situation. I expect the Browns to give it their best but I have to lean slightly with the Steelers minus the number.

    BUFFALO (+3) 20 NY Jets 21

    The Jets face a win-and-your-in scenario in what essentially amounts to a playoff game in this battle of familiar faces. Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan faces his former team with an opportunity to bounce them out of the playoffs but Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to Buffalo with an opportunity to cement his first career playoff appearance.

    The Jets played their worst game of the season in their loss to the Bills in Week 10, committing four turnovers, but they were injured in their defensive secondary and along their offensive line. They are a different team right now, healthier and playing much better, while the Bills are banged up. Ryan knows the Jets’ personnel better than anyone and will be doing everything in his power to help this team get motivated to play their best but I’m not sure the Bills players fully have his back. There have been a number of player comments this season directed towards their head coach that lead me to question the character, the resolve, and the mental makeup of some on this Bills team. Ryan hasn’t won anything in a long time and as a result doesn’t have that winning back-history with the Bills. It also appears that he hasn’t built the quality of relationships that he enjoyed in New York, where the players had his back. His first season in Buffalo has been disappointing to say the least, so I’m not convinced the Bills will be up to the task in this game. Wednesday’s endorsement from the Buffalo ownership, which released a statement saying Ryan will be back in 2016 may help to rally the troops some as Ryan will be back next season and the players know that they have to put on a good show in an important game for Ryan.

    The problem is that the Bills just aren’t that good right now and don’t match up particularly well with the Jets in this game. Buffalo runs the ball well but the Jets are excellent at shutting down the run – allowing just 81 rushing yards per game at 3.8 ypr against teams that gain 101 yards at 4.2 ypr. New York will be all-in on shutting down the Bills ground game and have a secondary and defensive scheme that will give Tyrod Taylor problems. On the other side, the Jets offense has been playing very well recently and presents some match-up problems to the Bills corners. In addition, the Bills can’t stop the run – allowing 4.6 ypr to teams that average 4.1 ypr and will have a difficult time slowing down a balanced Jet offense.

    While the match-ups support the Jets, the data supports the Bills. The Bills qualify in a late-season 157-101-9 situation while the Jets qualify in a negative 22-64-4 let-down situation that plays against them. Being essentially a playoff game, I discount the let-down factor some on the Jets situation but I certainly won’t be playing against it. The model supports the Bills in this game as well – summing it up it’s a lean to the Bills plus the points.

    New Orleans (+4) 28 ATLANTA 27

    New Orleans has had a disappointing year but have played better the past month or so behind their typically strong offense. Last week Drew Brees and the Saints offense rolled up 540 yards at 7.9 yppl in their victory against the Jaguars and this week they’ll look to end the season on a positive note in what could be the final game in Saints gear for head coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees. On the other side, despite beating the previously undefeated Panthers in a spirited effort, Atlanta was knocked out of playoff contention and now are playing for pride and a winning record overall in their final home game.

    From a match-up perspective both teams should be able to move the ball effectively with better than average offenses facing below average defenses. New Orleans still has one of the top passing offenses in the NFL that averages 307 passing yards per game at 7.1 yps against teams that allow 243 yards at 6.4 yps so they should be able to have success against a Falcons pass defense that allows 6.6 yps against teams that allow 6.3 yps. Similarly, the Falcons should be able to both run and pass the ball against a Saints defense that has been terrible – allowing an average of 414 yards at 6.7 yppl to teams that gain 357 yards at 5.6 yppl.

    When these teams played back in Week 6 (a 31-21 Saints win), the Falcons were able to move the ball easily but lost three fumbles which stalled drives and eventually cost them the game. Atlanta’s offense has cooled off since then but this defense might be the cure for what ails them.

    The Saints qualify in a late season 157-101-9 situation while the Falcons qualify in a very negative 53-132-3 scheduling situation that plays against them. My model doesn’t see a significant advantage for either side but in what should be a high scoring game, I like the Saints plus the points.

    DALLAS (-4) 21 Washington 16

    Sunday’s game against Dallas means nothing for Washington other than the bragging rights of a winning record as they would finish 9-7 with the win. Washington can’t improve their seed, so they will be hosting a Wild Card Weekend game and while coach Gruden says that he’ll play his healthy starters – it remains to be seen how many of them are fully healthy and will actually play. Those players that are dealing with injuries might not play and even if they do, how long will they remain in the game? On the Dallas side, they’re starting Kellen Moore once again and he won’t have top receiver Dez Bryant as he was placed on IR earlier this week. Moore is completing just 50% of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions and last week could muster just 6 points against the Bills. The Cowboys offense has been pathetic this season and in their last eleven games are averaging just 14.3 points per game. Since Romo’s been out since the Thanksgiving game, they’re averaging just 12.0 points per game in their last five. They haven’t scored more than one offensive touchdown since the November 22 game at Miami in Romo’s return.

    There are a lot of unknowns in this game so this one’s a pass for me. Dallas qualifies in a 701-526-41 fundamental rushing situation and my model predicts a 3.3 point Cowboys win so I’m going to lean their way.

    CHICAGO (-1) 23 Detroit 21

    Another game where the outcome is meaningless in regards to the playoff picture but probably not meaningless to the coaches and players. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell is on the hot seat and a win here might help his cause while coach Fox wants to end his initial season as Bears head coach in a positive way.

    From a match-up/scheme perspective, Caldwell is familiar with Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s offense as it has a lot of elements from Indianapolis’ offense when he was there –although that didn’t prevent the Bears from scoring 34 points in their previous meeting back in Week 6 (a 37-34 Lions victory). On the season the Bears offense has been slightly below average overall and I suspect they’ll have a harder time scoring in this game against a Lions defense that has really picked it up since their bye week. Since then then Lions are 5-2 SU and ATS, winning against the spread by an average of 7.8 points per game and allowing just 19.3 points per game. They have only allowed more than 70 yards rushing twice.

    Improvements have also been seen with an offense that has averaged 26.4 points per game since Jim Bob Cooter took control as offensive coordinator after the bye. Matthew Stafford has thrived, throwing 14 touchdowns and one interception over the past six games.

    The Bears will be missing one of their playmakers on offense as Alshon Jeffery won’t play in this one because of an ailing hamstring and defensively, their best interior defender (nose-tackle and second-round draft pick Eddie Goldman) is out with an injured right ankle. Adjusting for the Lions since the bye week, I have this game lined about right (Chicago -.7) but Detroit qualifies in a negative 22-41-1 situation that plays against certain teams playing in the cold. However, the Lions realize they need to acclimate and will practice outside Thursday and Friday to get ready for the weather in Chicago on Sunday. No real opinion on this one but based on the situation it’s a slight lean to the Bears.

    Oakland (+7) 20 KANSAS CITY 23

    The Chiefs have a Wild Card spot locked up but a victory over the Raiders in combination with a Denver loss to San Diego would give the Chiefs the AFC West division title, the AFC’s third seed and a home game in the wild-card round. While a Denver loss is unlikely (they are 9 point favorites over San Diego) anything is possible (see the Steelers/Ravens last week), and Chiefs coach Andy Reid says that he’ll play the starters and will play to win the game. Some of those starters, however, are banged up and likely won’t play – notable players including Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.

    On the other side, first year head coach Jack Del Rio is attempting to build something with the Raiders and a big first step would be an 8-8 record after losing 13, 12, and 12 games the last three years. They’ll be focused on getting the win here to reach that first year milestone. They’ll also be focused on sending Charles Woodson out a winner as this will be the last game in his illustrious career.

    The Chiefs are the better team but I don’t like the spot for Kansas City and my model favors the Chiefs by just 4.9 points. In addition, Oakland qualifies in a 157-101-9 late season situation. I like the Raiders plus the points.

    Tampa Bay (+10.5) 20 CAROLINA 26

    Carolina can clinch the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win here but they showed some cracks in their first loss of the season last week in Atlanta and I don’t think this win will come easy. Tampa matches up well with the Panthers and will be fired up to end their season on a positive note after dropping their last three games. The Bucs are playing better defensively at this point and are good against the run – the focus of Carolina’s offense. In fact, the Bucs have been one of the better run defending units in the NFL this season – allowing 3.6 ypr to teams that gain 4.1 ypr. From a yards-per-play perspective Carolina has actually been below average passing the ball – averaging 222 passing yards at 6.6 yps against teams that allow 249 yards at 6.7 yps, but they have made the big plays when needed, particularly in the red zone with a 66.1% conversion rate – good for #3 in the league. Tampa’s red zone defense hasn’t been particularly good – allowing a 61.5% conversion rate – but if there is just a touch of regression to the mean this game will be close.

    That’s because the Bucs have the statistical profile of a good team from a yards-per-play angle – featuring a run game that has been one of the best – averaging 140 rushing yards at 5.0 ypr per game to go along with a passing offense has also been productive with a +.2 yps advantage. The problem has been that their red zone offense has been below average – scoring touchdowns 54.2% of the time against defenses that allow touchdowns in the red zone 60.4% of the time. Again, just a touch of regression to the mean and Tampa would be right in the mix.

    Another key stat that explains a lot of the Panthers success but isn’t all that predictive is their league leading +19 turnover differential (including +7 in net fumbles). The Bucs are -4 in net turnovers including -2 in net fumbles and while they have played well from the line of scrimmage, their poor red zone and turnovers numbers have derailed their season. If turnovers are even in this game the final score will be much closer than the point-spread suggests. My model predicts a close game and only favors the Panthers by a half-point and that difference is enough to trigger a math play on the Bucs. However, Carolina qualifies in a good 112-62-4 home favorite situation that will prevent me from playing Tampa. Just a lean to the Bucs plus the points.

    San Diego (+9) 19 DENVER 22

    The Broncos need a win to guarantee their fifth consecutive AFC West title and to secure a first-round bye in the postseason. They can also clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and an unlikely New England loss. On the other side, San Diego has pride to play for but have played competitively despite being banged up and out of playoff contentions for some time now. In their previous meeting in San Diego back in Week 13, the Chargers had problems scoring, mustering just 3 points. That will probably be the case once again in this game against a Denver defense that is the leagues’ best – allowing just 282 total yards at 4.4 yppl against teams that gain 349 yards at 5.5 yppl.

    The difference in this game might be the San Diego defense, which after looking lost for the majority of the season, have played much better in recent weeks. In their past four games the Chargers have only allowed an average of 16.0 points per game. Facing a Broncos offense that has struggled (averaging 5.3 yppl against teams that allow 5.6 yppl and scoring an average of 20.5 points with Brock Osweiler starting) the San Diego defense should do just enough to keep this game within the large number.

    The Chargers will also be the better rested team – they had 10 days between games after playing in the last Thursday night game, while the Broncos, after playing in a competitive overtime game on Monday night have had just six days. Denver is a bit banged up and in the last game of a long season coming off a short week – I see this difference as significant.

    In addition, the Broncos have been a bit lucky this season in regards to their turnover numbers – they are +8 in net fumbles while the Chargers have been unlucky with a -5 season tally. If there is a little regression to the mean in the fumble department and turnovers are just even in this game, the Chargers should cover this inflated number.

    San Diego qualifies in a 500-405-25 situation and my model only favors the Broncos by 4.9 points. This should be a low scoring game and with a point-spread this high in a divisional game I like San Diego plus the points.

    Minnesota (+3.5) 24 GREEN BAY 22

    For the third straight season the Packers will play for the NFC North title in the regular-season finale. Two years ago they beat the Chicago Bears on the road and last year they beat the Lions at Lambeau Field to win it. Minnesota will look to break that streak at two, and they have the ability and match-ups to do it. Both teams are already in the playoffs but the winner of Sunday night’s game will capture the NFC North and the home playoff game that goes with it.

    The Vikings are a resilient team and with a 12-3 ATS record have been playing above expectations all season long. This game sets up well for them as an underdog and travelling to a place where they are 0-5-1 in their last six meetings and against a team that they are 1-10-1 against in the past 12 meetings. Those are just the sorts of stats coach Mike Zimmer will use to motivate his team to have an extra edge in this game. The fact that they were crushed 30-13 earlier this season against the Packers will add further fuel to the motivational fire.

    The Vikings are the better team right now and have some distinct match-up advantages that will work in their favor. First off, the Minnesota defensive line is very deep and very good and has just gotten better as the season has progressed. The Vikings are generating pressure from Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison, and have a tough-to-handle inside pass-rusher in Tom Johnson, who is their fourth defensive lineman with at least five sacks. With Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith back in the Vikings’ defense Zimmer has his full complement of weapons for his blitz packages. Their pass rush is starting to come alive with nine sacks in their past two games, just in time to face a leaky and banged up offensive line that last week allowed Aaron Rodgers to be sacked nine times. Left tackle is a problem for the Packers right now as David Bakhtiari may not be back for this game and his replacement, Don Barclay, allowed four of the nine sacks the Cardinals registered last week.

    In addition, the Packers offense is just not the same due in large part to lack of speed on the perimeter which has caused Rodgers to hold the ball longer and take more hits. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing offense is well below average from a yards-per-play perspective – generating just 215 passing yards per game at 5.7 yps against teams that allow 232 yards at 6.2 yps. Facing a Vikings defense that has only allowed an average of 19 points per game, Green Bay is going to have trouble scoring.

    On the other side, Minnesota will rely on their strong ground game that averages 138 rushing yards at 4.8 ypr to power their offense against a Packers rush defense that is below average (allowing 112 yards at 4.5 yr) and banged up. Packers defensive linemen B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, and Letroy Guion have all been dealing with injuries and have been out or limited in practice this week. I expect the Vikings to move the ball well on the ground in this game.

    In addition, Teddy Bridgewater has picked up his play the last few weeks and has been very good on the road. In the Minnesota Vikings’ last three games, Bridgewater has completed 70.4% of his passes for 734 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. In his last six road games Bridgewater is 4-2 SU and 6-0 ATS and has totaled 1,421 passing yards with six touchdowns and just two interceptions to go along with a 94.6 passer rating.

    The Vikings are catching Green Bay at the right time, are the better team right now, and have the motivation and match-ups to win this game. I don’t have any significant situations that apply and my model thinks it’s a fair line but I like the match-ups and the motivational angle for what I think is the better team. I like the Vikings plus the points.



    NFL WEEK 17

    Sunday, January 3, 2015

    NY Jets (-3) at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET

    The Jets are on a major late-season run with 5 consecutive victories in which they have outrushed the opposition by an average of 125-60 RYPG. QB Fitzpatrick has successfully balanced the offense with a 13/1 ratio. With last week’s victory against New England, the Jets have put themselves in a “win and in” situation, as they search for the promised playoff land. Considering the Bills were a 3 point underdog when they beat the Jets (22-17) in the first meet, it means we take ample value with the Bills at home at this same price point. While the Jets’ line is impacted for need, it clearly does not reflect the letdown situation that compliments this need. For road teams, following a straight-up home dog upset of defending champs, area greater than 80% PLAYAGAINST if their opponent is off a victory. Specifically for the Jets, is there any bigger letdown that can occur following an upset than a win over New England? The Bills will miss the playoff party for the 16th consecutive year. That makes this their Super Bowl, as they aim for a .500 season. But, the intangibles in this game just keep coming. For, the Bills are coached by none other than Buddy Ryan, their 1st year coach, who was unceremoniously dismissed by these same NY Jets at the end of last season. What could be sweeter for Ryan than to knock the Jets out of the playoffs? His teams have always performed at their best in division games, where they are 12-5 ATS. But, the Bills have plenty to offer from a fundamental perspective as well. This will be a game that matches the Bills’ best running game in the NFL at 31/155/5.0 against the outstanding Jets’ rush defense that allows 22/82/3.7 overland. Could the winning card be turned over by 1st year Buffalo QB Taylor, who has authored a solid first year with 64% completion average and a 20/6 ratio? The upset is no surprise to this bureau!

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-10-) 4:25 ET

    This game rescheduled to 4:25 ET to coincide with the timeframe of the Arizona Cardinals. Panthers and Cards are battling for the top spot in the NFC, so there could be plenty of scoreboard watching. We cashed big with Atlanta last week in their upset of the formerly undefeated Carolina Panthers. That creates the undefeated letdown for the Panthers, a highly successful situation which we have used repeatedly this season on both the college and pro gridiron. Nonetheless, one cannot ignore the fact that the Panthers are still 18-1 SU in the regular season and scored 27 or more points in 12 of the last 13 weeks. With outstanding offensive and defensive numbers across the board, it is hard to make a statistical case against them. Though the Bucs have lost 3 consecutive games, including (26-21) at home to the Bears last week (outrushed 174-104 and with a (-3) net TO margin), TBay has still tripled their win total from last season with their 6-9 SU mark. Playing this as THEIR SUPER BOWL, they are the ODDS on pick to come in under this healthy number in this season finale.

    New England Patriots (-10-) at Miami Dolphins 1:00 ET

    The tight-lipped answer by New England HC Belichick in response to the question regarding last week’s OT coin flip spoke volumes. Namely, he would rather lose that game to the Jets, with a chance to play them again in the playoffs, rather than face the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jets got the eventual OT victory (26-20), along with outrushing the Pats 143-63 and outgaining them 428-284. It was an indictment of the injuries along the offensive line and at WR for the Patriots. With the first round bye already secure, it is likely that Belichick rests his walking wounded, rather than risk them in this season-ending contest. That thinking could be more important than the Patriots’ recent 8-1 ATS record following a loss or the fact that QB Brady is 13-2 ATS on the road following a loss as a favorite. For us to win this wager, Miami will need to play this as THEIR SUPER BOWL in avenging a 36-7 earlier loss. For, the Dolphins are on a 4-16 ATS slide, including 2-7 SU (average loss by 10 PPG) and 1-8 ATS of late. They have averaged just 288 offensive yards in their last 7 games, despite their “outburst” of 361 yards in last week’s (18-12) home loss to the Colts. That recent slide includes a mark of 4-14 ATS in division games. On their behalf, Game 16 division teams following a loss are a healthy 71% ATS play at home and the Dolphins do play with the confidence of having beaten New England the last two times they visited Miami.

    Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-9) 1:00 ET

    Can the Baltimore Ravens do it again after playing spoiler in a (20-17) home win against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, severely denting the playoff hopes for the Men of Steel? The Ravens won the yardage battle in that game 386-303 and had a (+2) net TO margin courtesy of the 2 INTs thrown by Big Ben. On their behalf, of the Ravens’ 10 losses, 7 of them have come by 5 or less points. But, coverage here implies that QB Mallet who toned down his fast balls for a rare win as an NFL starter will have to repeat that performance against an angry Bengal team, who needs this victory (or Denver loss) for a playoff bye. They certainly did not look the part of a playoff team in their 2nd half meltdown of the (20-17) OT loss at Denver last Monday night. But, division home favorites following an MNF game have been a righteous play of over 80% ATS. And, one cannot ignore the extraordinary 67% success rate of Game 16 division home teams, if they are headed to the promised playoff land. Must also note that Bengals’ boss, HC Lewis, has been an 89% ATS play facing losing teams, who just pulled an upset! Big Cats bounce back for the home blowout ensuring ample rest for their playoff party!

    New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons (-4) 1:00 ET

    With an outside shot at the playoffs still a possibility, and the motivation of defeating the undefeated Carolina Panthers, Atlanta responded with a (20-13) home victory, in which they outgained the Panthers 373-268. Now, they are 2-0 SU ATS and playing for a winning season, following their 0-6 SU, 1-9 ATS midseason debacle. An earlier loss at New Orleans provides plenty of incentive for Falcons’ QB Ryan, who is a near 75% ATS play with revenge on this field. We’ll call that to override the fact that the Falcons have annually faded in this spot, following back to back SUATSWs. Was New Orleans’ QB Brees really serious, when he said he believed there was a near 100% chance that both he and HC Sean Payton would both be returning to the Big Easy next year? Should that be true, it is not likely that any of the defensive staff of a Saints’ team who has the worst stop unit in the NFL at 31 PPG and 6.9 YP play, will be joining them! We will know for sure on Black Monday!

    Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-6) 1:00 ET

    This contest is played at the same 1:00 ET timeframe as the Colts/Titans game. A Houston victory clinches the division title, while an Indy win and Houston loss gives the crown to the Colts. With Texans’ QB Hoyer being cleared to play, the public will have great support for this potential playoff team with need. At least the Texans will not have to count on QB Weeden to repeat his phenomenal game against the Titans (a 34-6 Houston victory) that lifted Weeden to 1-11 SU ATS recently as an NFL starter. If Houston is to win, it will be with a defense that has allowed 300 or less yards in 6 of their last 8 games. And, remember that Hoyer has been at his best in divisional outings, covering 9/10 recent starts. The Jags, of course, would love nothing more than to play the role of spoiler for a divisional foe that beat them (31-20) earlier this season. Last week, the Jags fell behind the Saints (24-0) and were outgained 537-412 in a (38-27) loss. Don’t expect them to lie down in this finale. As with a victory today, an offense that has improved by 9 PPG behind QB Bortles can double their win total from last season and put the division title in the home court of the Colts.

    Pittsburgh Steelers (-10-) at Cleveland Browns 1:00 ET

    At 3-12 SU, the Browns are tied with the Titans for the worst mark in the NFL. Now, rumors are swirling that QB Austin Davis will get the start, in place of QB Manziel who is undergoing concussion protocol. Regardless, who takes the snaps, it is clear that for a Browns team which is a recent 1-9 SU, 2-7 ATS, this is THEIR SUPER BOWL against a hated division rival, who beat them earlier (30-9) when Big Ben came off the bench with an ailing foot and, in relief threw nearly 400 yards for the victory. But, the Pittsburgh playoff party took a serious hit with the (20-17) loss last week to the Ravens, when they were outgained 386-303 and suffered 2 INTs by Big Ben. That was most unusual for their normally reliable signal caller, who remains 10-1 SU ATS recently in December. The 17 points were highly unusual for the Steelers, who had scored 30 or more points in 6/7 previous games. Playing at the same time as the Jets/Bills, the Steelers’ playoff hopes revolve around, not only this victory, but a win by the Bills over the Jets. Plenty of scoreboard watching on the part of the Steelers, which could take away full focus from the blowout win over a team they have consistently dominated in recent seasons.

    Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-7) 4:25 ET

    Each week, I select an NFL underdog of 7 or more points, who I feel can win the game outright or at the worst, come inside the bloated number. Last week, our Big Dog PICK of the week was the Atlanta Falcons who, as 7 point underdog, ate the whole pie at home in knocking the Carolina Panthers from the 14-0 SU start of their season.

    Today, the Oakland Raiders close their season by visiting the KC Chiefs for this 4:25 ET kickoff. While the Raiders are closing out their season, the Chiefs will be playing in the same timeframe as the Denver Broncos with whom they continue to battle for the Division lead. A win by the Chiefs, combined with a Denver loss, gives the AFC West Divisional title to KC and knocks the Broncos into the Wild Card spot.

    As a result, although the Chiefs have won 9 consecutive games with a 7-2 ATS mark, there is still work to be done. Already this year, 9/10 KC wins have come by 7 or more points. As dominant as that may sound, the noose is beginning to tighten for KC. Their last 2 victories at home have hardly been impressive! Three weeks ago, as 10 point home chalk, they defeated San Diego (10-3) with the Chargers’ QB Rivers firing passes into the end zone in the closing minute to send the game to OT. Last week, they survived the Cleveland Browns (17-13) despite being outrushed by Cleveland 232-136 and outgained 363-258. It was the 4th time in the last 5 contests, that the Chiefs have been outgained. Earlier this season, the Chiefs beat the Raiders (34-20), but even in that contest they were outgained by the Raiders by 129 yards. Furthermore, it has not gone unnoticed by this bureau that the home team is now on a 9-32 ATS run in KC games (KC HC Reid has always been a great traveler). In short, though the Chiefs continue to win, the margins have narrowed and the dominance has begun to fade. As such, playing with need, they are a pure PLAY AGAINST in this spot.

    Oakland is one of the big turnaround stories in the NFL this season. They have gone from 3-13 SU last year to a current 7-8 SU record, entering today’s revenge matchup. Oakland would like nothing more than to play spoiler for the KC Division title hopes, while reaching a momentum building .500 record for the season. Last week, they took a step toward that goal with a (23-20) home victory over San Diego. With 10 days’ rest and plenty of prep time, Oakland will be excited about the prospects of winning and covering their 7th game in 9 tries at this site. Long-term the Raiders have covered 11/15 at Arrowhead.

    This is a prime BIG DOG upset spot for a highly-motivated Oakland team against a KC team, whose dominance has faded down the stretch.

    Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts 1:00 ET

    No line means no pick, as the Colts look to sort out their QB situation! A win by Indy, combined with a Houston loss, gives them the division title at 8-8 SU. Are they really deserving, considering the fact they were again outgained last week by Miami 361-268 in the (18-12) victory which kept their season alive? Indy has now lost the yardage battle 14/15 weeks and is being outgained on the season 389-321 and outscored 26-20. Hardly playoff worthy! At this writing, QB Hasselbeck says he is expecting to be good enough to go, while QB Luck believes he will be available in the backup role. What we do know is that the Titans are enduring another embarrassing season, much like their 2-14 SU year of last. Tennessee is now 5-26 SU, 7-21 ATS as dog and sends QB Mettenberger to the mound, who is 0-9 SU, 2-7 ATS in his recent starts. The Titans bumbled through last week’s (34-6) loss to Houston, being outrushed 128-30 with a (-3) net TO margin. No thank you!

    Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-3-) 1:00 ET

    Last week, the Redskins clinched the NFC “Least” with their Saturday evening (34-28) victory over Philly. It came in a large part as courtesy of a (+2) net TO margin. In fact, any team in the NFL last week who had a positive net TO margin was a perfect 9-0 ATS (see the Top of this week’s Pointspread Prognosis Newsletter for this week’s NFL’s interesting facts for the 2015 season). With that goal accomplished and the No. 4 seed clinched, the Redskins may be resting some players this week. Combined with their recent 3-18 SU road mark, it is easy to see why they are ripe to be blown out this week. The Cowboys threw in another bummer last week in their (16-6) loss to Buffalo, in which they were outrushed 236-121 and outgained 408-307. They are now 1-9 SU with no Romo! In his maiden voyage, 4th string Dallas QB Moore went 13/31/186 PY. But, among the high points in the Dallas season, was an earlier 19-6 victory against these Redskins. With QB Moore still working in a conservative mode, the numbers indicate the Cowboys could be in for a STEAMROLLING victory in today’s finale. The Dallas ground game motors for 120/4.6 overland, while the Redskins allow 124/4.8 on the defensive side of the ball, as well as being outrushed 124/4.8 to 96/3.7. Remember, that any NFL team who has outrushed the opposition by 30 or more yards in a game this season is 124-41 ATS (75%) right on the average for this millennium. Cowboys close the season in style against the Washington team, who has little motivation!

    Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears (P) 1:00 ET

    A pair of 6-9 SU divisional rivals faceoff in this season-ending contest in which the Bears play with revenge for an earlier (37-34) loss in the Motor City. At the midway point of the season, Detroit was on a 2-6 SU, 1-7 ATS slide and had just axed upper management during their bye week, following a (45-10) loss in London to KC. Since that time, the Lions responded with a 5-2 SU ATS run, keyed by that improbable 18-16 upset of the Packers in Green Bay. Now, they enter on a 2-0 SU ATS run, following a (35-27) win at New Orleans and a (32-17) home victory vs. the 49ers last week, despite being outrushed by the 49ers 121-87. Turnaround has been keyed by what was the worst running game in the league the first half of the season. Prior to last week, they had run for more than 100 yards per game, 5 previous weeks. Nonetheless, they still sport the 2nd worst ground game in the NFL at 22/85/3.8. Is it really likely that these Lions will close the season on a 3-0 SU ATS surge with a road victory? The Bears have been far more consistent in their rebuilding season under 1st year HC Fox. The Bears average 30 carries per game (if they do that today, they have a 90% chance to cover) and shored up the defense which was horrible last season. IF you are playing, they are the preferred SIDE against a Detroit team, which has suddenly become a public darling. Bears win last week against the Bucs was for real with a 174-104 overland edge to complement the (+3) net TO margin.

    Philadelphia Eagles at NY Giants (-3-) 1:00 ET

    In this pair of NFC East teams, who have failed in their quest to make the post-season party (each team is 6-9 SU off/BBLs), the public is eager to back the NY Giants in this one. The return of WR Beckham will have the public favoring a NY Giants’ team against an Eagles team who will be without fired HC Kelly (replaced by interim HC Shurmur). The reality is that the Philly Eagles are 14-3 ATS as division road dog and that NFL Game 16 road teams, following consecutive home games, the last of which was a double-digit SU ATS loss, have been a highly profitable performer over the years. Could the Philly Eagles, who have been out-statted in their last 7 contests, finally have played poorly enough to get HC Kelly fired and who will now, with the pressure lifted, play their best game of the season? Certainly no surprise to this bureau if that comes to pass!

    Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-3) 8:30 ET

    This is the Marquee Matchup of Week 17. It has been slated for primetime as the final game of the NFL regular season. There are plenty of implications for this contest, as the winner of the game claims the NFC North Title, while the loser of the contest plummets to the Wild Card slot.

    All eyes will be glued to NBC TV when the Minnesota Vikings visit the Green Bay Packers for this 8:30 ET kickoff. My selection for the contest is the Green Bay Packers who, in the inevitable ebb and flow of the NFL, will reverse their fortunes of last week and CRUSH the Minnesota Vikings into submission.

    What a season for the Minnesota Vikings! It all began when HC Zimmer took the reins 2 seasons ago. Today, the Vikings enter on a 20-5 ATS run, including 12-3 ATS this season. They are the hottest pointspread property in the NFL, including 6 consecutive covers on the road. They have done it the old fashioned way with a running game that carries the ball an average of 30 times per contest for 137/4.6 and a defense that allows just 19 PPG. Not flashy, but very effective! Last week, the Vikings easily subdued the NY Giants by a count of 49-17, combining a (+3) net TO margin with a 218-91 overland edge. That will get you the money in the NFL close to 100% of the time. Their Achilles Heel, however, has been stepping up their game against quality opposition. For the YTD, Minnesota can claim only KC (who was 1-5 SU at the time) as the scalp of a winning team. In other step up games, they have lost to Denver, Seattle, Arizona and this Green Bay team by a score of 30-13 in the first meeting between these two in Minnesota on November 22nd. Are the Vikings ready to take the next step up? Or, will Green Bay smack them down?

    My vote comes for the latter, as the Packers return home off what was truly a most embarrassing performance in their previous game. Going head to head with one of the 2 best teams in the conference, QB Rodgers spent more of the game in a horizontal than a vertical position and saw his Packers outgained 381-178 in a totally embarrassing (38-6) Arizona victory. Nine sacks, 4 TOs and a battered and bruised offensive line totally exposed the Green Bay weaknesses. But, the vote in this spot is for the bounce back in style. The Packers are 21-2 SU in their LHG, while Rodgers is 13-2 SU ATS in divisional contests, following a SU ATSL. That includes 8-0 ATS, if his divisional opponent is coming off a victory.

    The Packers, who are 10-4 ATS as home favorite of late, stake their claim to yet another division title, letting the Vikings know they are still not quite ready for primetime!

    San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-10) 4:25 ET

    An MNF Denver comeback victory had SOS (save our season) written all over it! But, they still must capture this victory to assure that they claim the division title against the hard-charging Chiefs team, who have won 9 straight. A Broncos’ loss and a Chiefs’ win would give the title to KC. Though the Broncos solidified their claim to the No. 1 defense in the NFL with the 2nd half shutout Monday night, they have not been a margin team all season. In fact, only a (17-3) win at San Diego has been a victory by more than today’s number. Since their November 1st home win against Green Bay and only 3 times the entire season have they won a game by double digits. Certainly not ready to trust them today in a scenario that finds them realizing that any margin of victory is sufficient. Though the Chargers are just 4-11 SU, it is clear that QB Rivers will not stop firing till the final whistle. He led the Chargers to a cover last Thursday night, running their recent streak on the road to 5-0 ATS. They will also enter in Mile High atmosphere today, knowing they have covered 8/9 recent meetings against the Broncos on this field. Take it or leave it!

    St. Louis Rams (-3-) at San Francisco 49ers 4:25 ET

    With last week’s improbable Baltimore Ravens’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the contrary Lone Ranger selections of the year in the NFL this season are a now remarkable 14-2 ATS. This week’s underdog upset special sees the St. Louis Rams traveling to face the San Fran 49ers in the season finale for a pair of teams who conclude the season with this contest.

    It does not take much for the public to fall in love with a team who pulled a huge upset, such as St. Louis did in their (23-17) outright win at Seattle. Nor, does it take the public long to look to fade a 4-11 SU team, off 3 consecutive losses (the last of which was a 32-17 defeat at the hands of another losing team). Thus, the stage is set for the great public support for St. Louis as road chalk in their visit to the San Fran 49ers. It was a matchup that saw the Rams win the first meeting (27-6).

    Furthering the case for the public is that after a 0-6 ATS slide (0-5 SU), the Rams have recovered in the last 3 weeks to post wins of 21-14 at home vs. Detroit, 31-23 vs. Tampa Bay at home, before that huge upset at Seattle last week (23-17) as 13 point underdog. A closer inspection of that contest, however, finds that the Seahawks held the yardage advantage 313-207 (the 7th consecutive game in which the Rams have been outgained). Also favoring the Rams is their quest for a .500 season, a defensive line that has recorded 40 sacks, the motivated performance of QB Keenum and the performance of RB Gurley. As for the 49ers, who have the biggest roster makeover in the NFL this year, they enter on a 3-game losing streak, including a 32-17 loss at Detroit which came despite the fact they outrushed the Lions 121-87. Nine of the 11 of the 49ers losses have been by double digits and they are on a 1-10 ATS slide in division play.

    All the above makes this yet another one of the Lone Rangers unlikely, contrary selections. For, as poorly as the 49ers have played overall this season, however, it must be noted they are still 3-4 SU, 4-3 ATS on their home field.

    Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-7) 4:25 ET

    Arizona certainly looked like a Super Bowl contender in recording their 9th consecutive victory with a (38-6) dominance of Green Bay on this field last week. It was a game in which the Cards outrushed and out-passed the Packers 381-178. The defense had 9 sacks and forced 4 TOs. Now, they can claim the No. 1 spot in the NFC should they beat the Seahawks in the same 4:25 ET time slot, as Carolina is losing to Tampa Bay. Big question is whether a scoreboard watching HC Arians pulls his starters, once he realizes Carolina has a comfortable victory. By that time, he may be looking across the field at a Seattle bench, where Seahawks’ HC Carroll is already resting his starters with the realization that he has clinched the Wild Card berth and will be playing next week. Then again, Carroll may be so incensed by the (23-17) home loss to the Rams last week, in which his Seahawks were outrushed 104-60 and had a (-3) net TO margin, that he punishes his starters by forcing them to play the entire game against the ferocious Arizona defensive front. You can see why my interest has waned from the beginning about a contest which when the season began figured to be the Marquee Matchup of the afternoon.

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