NFL Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 12/10/2013
Was Week 14 the best regular season Sunday in NFL history? That's saying a lot, but I'd argue that it was the best slate of 1 p.m. games that I can remember. The winter weather played a big role in several East Coast games, so let's hope that's what happens at the Super Bowl. Here's what we saw Sunday in the early games:
--The Lions and Eagles playing in a blizzard. At one point, the officiating crew had to stop play because they couldn't see the goal line. Players were disappearing into the snow while trying to make tackles. It felt like the Lions fumbled on every other play, and they had to play without Reggie Bush because he was hurt in warm-ups, whether that was weather-related or not. Despite the conditions, the game went “over” the total of 51 even though it was just 8-0 at halftime. The Eagles put up 28 points in the fourth quarter as LeSean McCoy rushed for a team-record 217 yards. They now lead the NFC East alone, while the Lions are in a three-way dogfight for the NFC North.
--The Patriots got a bit of help from the referees -- a pretty bogus pass interference call -- and rallied from a 26-14 deficit to Cleveland with just a little more than two minutes left. The Pats, who also recovered an onside kick, did this without Rob Gronkowski, who is done for the year after his knee was exploded by a legal hit from the Browns' T.J. Ward. That crushes the Pats' Super Bowl hopes, in my opinion.
--The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't deserve to beat the visiting Dolphins but appeared to have done so on a crazy Cal-Stanford type lateral play, albeit off a pass not a kickoff. Antonio Brown made it to the end zone, but he stepped out of bounds at the Miami 12 -- oh so barely. That changed a ton in the playoff race, all but eliminating Pittsburgh and keeping the Fins tied for the final wild-card spot with Baltimore (although Ravens hold tiebreaker).
--And speaking of the Ravens, I've never seen anything like their ending against Minnesota. There were an incredible five touchdowns scored in the final 2:05 of the fourth quarter, including back-to-back kickoff returns by Baltimore's Jacoby Jones and Cordarrelle Patterson. Nothing like that has happened in NFL history.
Still, just three of the 12 playoff spots have been clinched: the Seahawks and Broncos have locked down wild cards, while Indianapolis clinched the AFC South on Sunday despite losing to Cincinnati. Really there are only three division races left, however.
In the NFC East the Eagles (8-5) have a one-game lead over Dallas (7-6) after the Cowboys defense embarrassed itself again on Monday night in Chicago. Philly is a 4.5-point favorite this week at Minnesota and apparently won't have to worry about an injured Adrian Peterson. There is no line on the Cowboys hosting the Packers because there's a decent chance Aaron Rodgers could finally return. Philly is -180 to win the East with Dallas at +150 on Sportsbook.ag.
In the NFC North, the Lions and Bears (both 7-6) are tied again with the Packers (6-6-1) very much alive. The Lions are going to win pretty much every tiebreaker and are six-point home favorites next Monday night against the Ravens. Chicago is a 1.5-piont dog at Cleveland, and Jay Cutler will start if he's healthy even though Josh McCown had five touchdowns Monday night. The Lions are -200 to win the division with the Bears at +220 and the Packers +650.
In the NFC South, the Saints (10-3) bounced back from a rout in Seattle to handle Carolina (9-4) and retake the lead there. New Orleans is -5.5 this week at St. Louis while Carolina is -11 -- the biggest spread of the week so far -- at home against the Jets. New Orleans plays in Charlotte next week. The Saints are -1000 to win the division and the Panthers +650.
Week 15 Enticing Underdogs
My first losing underdog week in a while as I missed on Tennessee +12 at Denver -- I guess Peyton Manning can do well when it's freezing out -- and Washington +3.5 at home against Kansas City. Not sure I've ever seen a team (or its fan base) quit on a game more than Washington did Sunday. It will be an upset if Mike Shanahan coaches this week. I hit on Cleveland at +11.5 at the Patriots.
Tampa Bay (+5) vs. San Francisco: Everything points to a flat effort for San Francisco, doesn't it? The Niners just played back-to-back physical division games against St. Louis and Seattle. Now they have to travel across country and play at 10 a.m. Pacific time. Plus, it's still pretty hot in Florida. The Bucs have won three straight at home, and this is their finale there (Greg Schiano's too?). I expect a strong effort. They may not win, although I very much could see that, but they should stay within a field goal.
NY Giants (+7) vs. Seattle: This is a similar situation to the Niners. The Seahawks are going to naturally let down a little after back-to-back huge games against the Saints and Niners, and they have the early Pacific start time as well. The Giants are out of the playoffs so can play with nothing to lose. Early money is huge on Seattle, so this should get above a touchdown, where I love it.
NY Jets (+11) at Carolina: I expect a very sluggish effort from the Cats after their eight-game winning streak went splat last week in New Orleans. The one thing the Jets can do is stop the run, which should keep them close. These teams are a lot alike except for at quarterback, but maybe New York rookie Geno Smith has some confidence after playing solid against the Raiders on Sunday. The Jets should stay within 10 as Carolina won't wake up until the fourth quarter.
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