NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 11/19/2013
Wow, did Panthers backers catch a major break on Monday night or what? I personally picked Carolina to win that game, so I was glad to see the officials pick up what looked like a flag for defensive pass interference that would have given New England, down 24-20, the ball at the Carolina 1 with no time left. Hard to bet against Tom Brady there, and it's rather odd the lead official didn't explain why the flag was picked up. I am not a Patriots fan, but it certainly looked like Rob Gronkowski was at worst held by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in the end zone.
The victory vaulted Carolina past a few teams to 11/1 to win the Super Bowl, tied with the Patriots for the fourth-shortest odds. I would not want to have to play Carolina's defense in the postseason, and the Cats still could get perhaps the No. 2 seed and win the NFC South as they have two games left with New Orleans, which Carolina trails by a game. The Panthers should be on an eight-game winning streak when they visit New Orleans in Week 14 as up next for Carolina is at Miami (potential trap game, see below) and home to Tampa Bay. The Saints are -300 to win the division and Carolina +200 on Bovada. It might be worth rolling the dice on Carolina, because I expect the Saints to lose Week 13 in Seattle to leave the Saints and Panthers tied for first.
Carolina is holding its breath Tuesday on an MRI on star defensive end Charles Johnson, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks. He was carted off from Monday's game with a knee injury but did return for the final series, so that's a good sign.
Time for Geno to Go?
The Jets announced that rookie Geno Smith would remain their starting quarterback in Week 12, but his leash looks to be very short now. Smith was a terrible 8-for-23 for 103 yards with three interceptions in Sunday's 34-17 loss at Buffalo as New York continued its amazing win-one, lose-one streak for the season. The Jets are the first team to do that in the first 10 games of the season. Five of Smith's turnovers this season have been returned for scores, including a pick on Sunday.
Coach Rex Ryan may give No. 2 Matt Simms some work with the first team this week just in case. Simms was 4-for-6 for 60 yards and a TD in relief of a pulled Smith against Buffalo. Simms has now attempted 13 regular-season passes in his career. The Jets still hold down the final AFC wild-card spot and can put a huge dent in the Ravens' playoff streak under John Harbaugh with an upset this week in Baltimore (-3.5). New York also may bench starting receiver Stephen Hill as has been a non-factor for weeks.
Time for Cutler to Go?
Bears starting QB Jay Cutler won't play again this week, and I believe if you polled 100 Bears fans, a majority would prefer he didn't the rest of the season in favor of backup Josh McCown. In a monsoon Sunday, McCown led the Bears to a 23-20 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Ravens. On a day every other NFC North team lost, Chicago tied Detroit for first (Lions hold head-to-head tiebreaker) in the division. McCown was 19-of-31 for 216 yards and a TD. He hasn't had a rating below 90 in his four games -- two starts -- thus far. His overall rating of 100.0 would rank seventh in the NFL if McCown qualified.
Cutler already has been ruled out this week at St. Louis, and it appears his ankle sprain is more serious than thought. He's targeting Week 14, a Monday night home game with Dallas. However, if McCown leads Chicago to a win at St. Louis (-1) this week and at Minnesota next, I can't believe that Marc Trestman would pull him. Cutler wasn't his guy, after all, and his contract is up after the season. Maybe the Bears stick with McCown and spend that $20 million or so it would cost to retain Cutler on filling the numerous holes on defense while drafting a long-term answer at QB. The 34-year-old McCown's career arc could be similar to Rich Gannon, who had an MVP season in 2002 with the Raiders. His offensive coordinator that season? Marc Trestman.
Week 12 Enticing Underdogs
I only liked one significant dog last week, and the Chiefs (+9.5) just missed covering in a 27-17 loss at Denver. I'm going to have to alter my "underdog" status as again this week there are just a few spreads of more than a touchdown.
Tampa Bay (+9) at Detroit: Confidence can do wonders for a team, and the Bucs have it right now with back-to-back wins over Miami and Atlanta. If you knew who Bobby Rainey was before a few weeks ago, you probably went to Western Kentucky like he did. Rainey, signed off the street last month, gashed Atlanta for 163 yards and two TDs on 30 carries Sunday. Rainey was the first player since Edgerrin James in 1999 to have at least 150 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in a game in his first 10 games to begin a career. The Lions are vastly better offensively in their dome, but the Bucs should be able to control the ball and stay within a touchdown. It would definitely help if Tampa Bay Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson can play. He was suspended yet again for violating the NFL's policy on player safety but is appealing again. It worked last time. Frankly, Goldson hasn't been all that good this season, so maybe it doesn't matter.
Miami (+3.5) vs. Carolina: While I still think the Panthers will win, by a field goal, this sets up as a trap in every way possible. It's a short week, and the Cats are riding high right now. They have beaten back-to-back Super Bowl contenders in San Francisco and New England. Miami has gotten back on track in winning two of three, both at home. Perhaps the Richie Incognito mess has finally been put behind the players.
Jacksonville (+10) at Houston: This is all about the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. The Texans have flat-out quit on the season, as evidenced by last week's 28-23 home loss to an Oakland team starting Matt McGloin, who wasn't even good at Penn State. He became the first undrafted rookie QB to throw at least three TD passes without a pick in a game since 1967. The game also saw Houston star WR Andre Johnson walk off the field and into the locker room with about a minute left. He should be benched for that. Case Keenum was pulled from the game in favor of Matt Schaub, but Keenum will start again. The Jags are still playing hard and gave surging Arizona all it could handle for most of last week's game.
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