We have a new NFL MVP favorite.
That award appeared all but locked up a few weeks ago with Tom Brady such a heavy favorite that Bovada only listed a prop on Brady vs. the field to win MVP. But Brady's Patriots have now lost back-to-back games, and he had his worst rating of the season (71.4) in Sunday's shocking home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady had two picks, his first game this year with more than one. He did pass Dan Marino, however, for No. 3 on the all-time TD pass list. Brady has 423 with Peyton Manning at No. 1 with 539.
Brady now is +300 to win a third MVP, and Cam Newton, quarterback of the unbeaten Carolina Panthers, is the -400 favorite. I thought Carolina might lose Sunday in New Orleans, but it escaped 41-38 to improve to 12-0 for the first time in team history. The Panthers clinched the NFC South and are the first team to qualify for the postseason. Six of the previous eight teams to start a season 12-0 in the Super Bowl era have reached that game (four won it). Newton threw five touchdown passes against the Saints, including the game-winner with 1:05 left, his second five-TD game in the past three. His 331 yards against New Orleans were a season best. Newton could have had seven TD passes as Ted Ginn Jr. dropped two wide-open throws that would have been scores. The Panthers maintained their two-game lead over Arizona for the top seed in the NFC. They are also Super Bowl betting favorites at Bovada for the first time, priced at +375. New England is No. 2 at +450.
If the playoffs started today, the Patriots would have to play on wild-card weekend as the No. 3 seed. That could be an incredibly dangerous spot to be in should the red-hot Kansas Chiefs land at No. 6 (currently No. 5) or the offensively explosive Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 7) get there.
Here are some Week 14 games and opening lines that caught my eye. As usual, I won't touch on the Thursday game, my Sunday featured game (likely Steelers-Bengals) or the Monday nighter.
Bills at Eagles (-1, 46.5): The big story line for this one all week will revolve around Bills running back LeSean McCoy and Eagles coach Chip Kelly. Of course, Kelly traded McCoy to Buffalo this past offseason for linebacker Kiko Alonso. That hasn't worked out for Kelly as Alonso has been injury-prone and played in only seven games with 21 tackles. McCoy has rushed 173 times for 792 yards and three scores. On his way out of Philly, McCoy basically called Kelly a racist, saying that Kelly got rid of all the team's "good black players." And at least to his credit, although I think he's wrong, McCoy hasn't backed off saying it and claim he was misquoted or whatever. McCoy, the Eagles' all-time leading rusher, is a Pennsylvania guy, so he obviously didn't want to be traded in the first place. "Our guys will be fired up just like he will," Philly defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "That thing works both ways. If a guy wants to come back to his old team, his old teammates, they all want a piece of him, too. So it will be fun." Key trend: Philadelphia is 7-2-1 ATS in past 10 as home favorite of 2.5 points or fewer. The pick: Eagles.
49ers at Browns (-1.5, 41): I'm pretty tired of hearing about Johnny Manziel, but to no surprise Browns coach/dead man walking Mike Pettine has decided to reinstall Johnny Football as the starting quarterback this week. For some reason, Pettine chose Austin Davis over Manziel for Week 13 against the Bengals, and Davis was about as good as you would expect -- so not very -- in a 37-3 home loss. Manziel had been benched the past two games in the wake of that video of him partying during the team's bye week. This could be a big week for the Browns because if they lose here, they should get the top pick in the 2016 draft as I don't see them winning in Seattle or Kansas City or upsetting visiting Pittsburgh in the season's final three games. The Niners upset the Bears in Chicago on Sunday in overtime. QB Blaine Gabbert actually hasn't been all that bad since taking over for Colin Kaepernick. Gabbert had a 44-yard TD run with under two minutes in regulation to tie the Bears at 20 and then hit Torrey Smith on a 71-yard TD pass on the Niners' first possession of OT. Key trend: Cleveland is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 as a home favorite. The pick: Huge on the "under." Take Niners.
Chargers at Chiefs (-10, 45.5): Kansas City, winner of six straight games, is the biggest opening favorite on the board. Quarterback Alex Smith had another very efficient game Sunday in a win at Oakland and now has an active streak of 305 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, surpassing Hall of Famer Bart Starr (294) for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Up next is former Brown Bernie Kosar at 308, and Brady holds the record with 358. No chance Smith throws the ball 53 times against the Chargers to tie the record. The Chiefs believe sacks leader Justin Houston will be able to return after missing the Raiders game. Kansas City goes for the season sweep here as it won in San Diego 33-3 in Week 11. Houston had a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown. Bolts QB Philip Rivers had his worst game of the season, throwing for only 187 yards. Key trend: Kansas City is 6-4 ATS in past 10 as home favorite of at least 10. The pick: Chiefs, although I'm going to shop around for 9.5 points (or buy it).
Patriots at Texans (+3.5, 45): So is it time to panic for Pats fans? They led the Eagles 14-0 on Sunday and then allowed 35 straight points -- the first time the team allowed that many unanswered points since 1993. It was the second week in a row that New England lost a game it led by 14 points, becoming only the fourth team in the NFL to do that over the past 10 seasons. New England had gone 56 straight games without back-to-back losses. The special teams were terrible against Philly as the Eagles returned a block punt for a touchdown and had an 83-yard punt return for a score. Brady had a pick returned 99 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots had allowed three non-offensive touchdowns in their previous 32 games combined. Now three of New England's final four are on the road as it battles Denver and Cincinnati (also both 10-2) for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Broncos would win any head-to-head tiebreaker with the Pats. It's not yet clear if Rob Gronkowski will play vs. Houston after missing the Eagles game with a knee injury). Key trend: Houston 4-6 ATS in past 10 as home dog. The pick: If Gronk sits, I'll take the points.
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