NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 11/26/2013
Is there any doubt at this point that the NFC North is the worst division in the NFL and that the NFC West is the best? I don't think so after what happened in Week 12.
Let's start with the “NFC Norris,” as Chris Berman likes to call it. Being that the Detroit Lions were nine-point home favorites against a bad Tampa Bay team, the Bears were only one-point underdogs at a Rams team starting Kellen Clemens at QB, and that the Packers and Vikings were playing one another, well, the division seemed a lock for at least two wins on Sunday. Yet somehow, it ended up with none.
The Lions (6-5) might be the stupidest team in football in terms of boneheaded mistakes. Matthew Stafford threw four picks as the Lions were upset 24-21, blowing a chance to take sole possession of first place. That supposedly good defense made plenty of its own mistakes and allowed Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon to tear them up. The Lions also had a punt blocked and saw Kris Durham fumble as he was heading out of bounds. That's poor coaching, and Jim Schwartz probably has to go if the Lions don't make the playoffs. This week's Thanksgiving opener against the Packers might determine that. Detroit opened as a six-point favorite and won't have to worry about facing Aaron Rodgers.
As for the Packers (5-5-1), they and the Vikings tied 26-26, the first-ever tie of that score in NFL history. Matt Flynn came to the rescue of an ineffective Scott Tolzien as the Pack rallied from 16 down in the fourth quarter to force OT. Flynn finished 21-of-36 for 218 yards and a touchdown and almost assuredly will start this week against Detroit. The guy stinks when he plays anywhere else but looks like a legitimate starter while wearing the green and yellow.
Chicago (6-5) was dominated in St. Louis even though backup Josh McCown again played well. Rams rookie Tavon Austin, who is suddenly playing terrific, had a 65-yard TD run less than two minutes into the game, and that was essentially that. The Rams gashed Chicago for 258 rushing yards, meaning Clemens didn't have to do much. This is the worst Bears defense in many years. It has allowed eight runs of 32 yards or more, which never used to happen with Brian Urlacher in there. McCown will start again this week as the Bears visit the Vikings, with Minnesota opening at -1. Detroit is -110 at Bovada to win the North -- it holds any head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bears -- while Green Bay is +225 and Chicago +250. The winner of Thursday's game probably takes it.
The four NFC West teams, meanwhile, all have playoff hopes and have combined for 13 straight wins. Seattle (10-1) has won six straight, the second-longest current streak in the NFL. The Seahawks can all but lock down the top seed for the NFC playoffs with a win over New Orleans on Monday night, a game I will preview here at Doc's. Arizona (7-4) suddenly looks very dangerous with a four-game winning streak. I had my doubts about the Cards, but they thoroughly dominated the Colts on Sunday, and they were also the last team to beat the Panthers. That Arizona defense is very good, and Carson Palmer is starting to play like he did in his heyday with the Bengals.
The Rams (5-6) will need a lot of help to get a wild-card spot but have beaten the Colts and Bears in their past two games by a combined score of 80-29. San Francisco (7-4) looked like the team everyone thought it would be in easily handling Washington on Monday night. Frisco opened at -10 this week at home against the Rams, and San Francisco will get Michael Crabtree for the first time this season. St. Louis, meanwhile, might not have running back Zac Stacy, who has really come on. The Cards are +3.5 at Philly, and Seattle is -6 against the Saints.
Week 13 Enticing Underdogs
My third 3-0 week last week on underdogs this season with Tampa Bay (+9) pulling the upset in Detroit, the Miami Dolphins (+4.5) losing but just covering at home against the Panthers and Jacksonville (+10) continuing Houston's unbelievably bad season but also hurting the Jags' chances of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Raiders (+9.5) at Cowboys: This would be typical Dallas to blow this game after last week's big win over the New York Giants to tie Philly atop the NFC East. I actually don't think the Cowboys will lose, but I can see them struggling to a win by a touchdown or less. I also expect this line to climb over 10 with all the early action on Dallas.
Rams (+9.5) at 49ers: OK, the Rams didn't play the Niners all that well in Week 4 at home, but they gave San Francisco fits a year ago. Austin is becoming one of the league's top big-play threats, and the St. Louis front seven is as good as any in the league. With the Niners on a short week, I love the points here.
Texans (+7.5) vs. Patriots: This is another line that seems likely to grow at least a few points with the heavy lean on New England. The Patriots appear due for the biggest letdown in the NFL after rallying from a 24-0 deficit last week to beat the Broncos in overtime, the biggest comeback win of Tom Brady's career. New England also has lost its past three road games. Houston should be able to stay within a touchdown.
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