NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 9/16/2013
If the road to the NFC Championship goes through Seattle, the rest of that conference is in big trouble. What other reaction could you have to the Seahawks' 29-3 destruction of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night? Marshawn Lynch was in full beast mode with three total touchdowns, and the NFL's best defense held San Francisco to just 207 yards. Colin Kaepernick finally looked like a guy who has started less than a full season's worth of games, going 13-of-28 for 127 yards and three interceptions. The Seahawks stuck star cover corner Richard Sherman on Anquan Boldin, and Boldin wasn't a factor. It showed how much the Niners really do miss Michael Crabtree.
Seattle now is the NFC favorite at +300 on Sportsbook.ag, with the Niners at +400. I can't overstate how important it is for the Seahawks to get home-field advantage in the playoffs. That crowd might be the best -- and certainly the loudest -- in the NFL. The Seahawks were the only home unbeaten last year, and I can't see a loss there in 2013. The rest of their home slate: Jacksonville, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans, Arizona and St. Louis. The only team I'd give a chance to would be New Orleans, but that's only if it's a nice warm day. Doubt that will be the case on Monday night, Dec. 2. A Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl is the +800 favorite -- how awesome of a matchup would that be?
Will Any 0-2 Team Make Playoffs?
Since 1990, only around 12 percent of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs. That means bad news for playoff hopefuls like the Giants, Redskins, Vikings, Bucs, Panthers and whichever team loses Monday night between the Steelers and Bengals.
Certainly the loser of Sunday's Giants-Panthers game can forget about extra football. Carolina opened as a 1.5-point favorite. I thought Carolina could be a dark-horse NFC title candidate this year, and it could be 2-0. The Panthers lost in Buffalo on Sunday on a game-winning E.J. Manuel TD pass with two seconds left. He became the fifth NFL rookie since 1960 to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback in his first or second game. The loss dropped Carolina to 2-14 in games decided by seven points or fewer under Coach Ron Rivera.
If the Cats lay an egg this week, I could see Rivera getting fired already because Carolina is on a bye in Week 4 and thus would have an easier time adjusting to an interim coach. A year ago, Carolina fired general manager Marty Hurney after a 1-5 start. To make matters worse, the team lost starting free safety Charles Godfrey for the season on Sunday.
The Redskins look terrible on defense, and it's pretty clear that Robert Griffin III is not a running threat any longer. Aaron Rodgers was just playing catch on Sunday as the Packers rolled. Rodgers tied a franchise record with 480 yards passing, and it was the first time Packers had a 400-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher (James Starks) in the same game. Green Bay had gone 44 straight games without a 100-yard rusher. The Skins are 2.5-point opening home favorites this week against Detroit.
The Bucs figure to drop to 0-3 this week as they are seven-point dogs at New England. I think Greg Schiano is in trouble in Tampa, and it's pretty clear he and QB Josh Freeman can't co-exist. Reports are that Freeman wants a trade. Freeman has a rating of just 63.0, 30th in the NFL. He could probably use a change of scenery (Cleveland?), but you never see trades like this in the NFL.
How about all the 2-0 teams? Will they make the playoffs? You have to like the chances of the Bears, Saints, Seahawks, Patriots, Texans and Broncos. I'm not sold on either the Dolphins or Chiefs yet. Last year the Eagles, Chargers and Cardinals all started 2-0 and missed the playoffs. The Chiefs have a homecoming game for Andy Reid on Sunday night in Philadelphia, a game I will preview here at Doc's. Philly is a three-point favorite. The Dolphins will make believers of me if they can beat visiting Atlanta on Sunday, and they are 1.5-point favorites.
Week 3 Enticing Underdogs
I was 2-1 on my underdog picks last week, with the Bucs covering +4.5 at home against New Orleans and the Titans (+8.5) taking Houston to overtime in a game Tennessee probably should have won. The lone one I missed was the Jaguars +6 at Oakland.
I love the Jags this week as they opened at an absurd +19 in Seattle. This is the prototypical letdown game for the Seahawks after Sunday's big win. Are the Jags the worst offensive team in recent NFL history? Quite possibly, and they might not have Maurice-Jones Drew this week (ankle). But I can't remember ever seeing a 19-point spread.
Indianapolis (+10) at San Francisco: The 49ers are a bit beaten up after Sunday's physical game against Seattle. The Colts aren't as good as they were last year, but Andrew Luck no doubt will be fired up to return to the Bay Area. He should be able to keep Indy within a touchdown or so.
Cleveland (+4.5) at Minnesota: The Browns are right behind Jacksonville as the NFL's worst offense, and I think it's safe to say that Brandon Weeden isn't the long-term answer at QB. He sprained a thumb in Sunday's 14-6 loss at Baltimore and is iffy for this one. I'm not sure it's a bad thing if Jason Campbell starts for him. Plus, the Browns get their top receiver, Josh Gordon, back from a suspension. Cleveland has been terrific defending the run through two games and will make Christian Ponder, not Adrian Peterson, beat it.
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