December football is all about two things: motivation and momentum.
The talent differential between NFL teams and players is razor thin. So when we get into Money Time in late December motivation levels and momentum can make all the difference between routs and upsets. Teams that have been steamrolling through the past six weeks - teams like the Steelers, Giants, Patriots and Packers - tend to continue to roll now that the stakes have been raised.
Conversely, you have to consider motivation over matchups in Weeks 16 and 17. There are plenty of teams, like the Jets and 49ers, which have completely mailed it in on this season. They have nothing to play for. So the players on these teams are going to pay more attention to holiday and offseason plans than they will be executing on Sundays. (Or Saturdays this week, as it were.) Some guys are playing for their next contract. Some guys are simply trying to make it through these last two weeks trying not to get hurt. And still others are coaching and playing for their very jobs.
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A critical component in betting late in the season is to understand that whatever you think you know about what these teams need and how they have been playing, the sportsbooks know as well. And the spreads and prices on "hot" and "cold" teams will be inflated because the books know which squads the public wants to bet. Momentum and motivation are tough to hide. And the books will make you pay to play on or against teams with obvious advantages and deficits.
Also, one of my long-standing maxims in betting, in all sports, is to fade teams in "must-win" situations. Great teams, reliable teams, moneymaking teams; they don't put themselves in situations where they absolutely have to win games to make the playoffs. The Patriots don't leave things to chance. They just get it done. So be wary of betting on teams in the final two weeks of the season because they "have to win".
And consider: losing teams that have had horribly disappointing seasons would love nothing better than to salvage some pride and play the role of spoiler in the last couple games. Because if a team can't make the playoffs the next best thing is knocking off a rival and keeping them out of the postseason as well.
Here is Doc's Sports NFL Power Rankings for Week 16:
1. New England Patriots (12-2) - I can't say this enough: enjoy Tom Brady while he lasts, folks. This Patriots dynasty has been one of the best things to ever happen to NFL bettors. And the fact that the Patriots continue to cash tickets and operate at a high level in the face of their own unbelievably high expectations is unlike anything I've seen during the 20 years I've been betting on sports. The Patriots are on a 10-1 SU and 9-2 ATS run. They are also 24-10 ATS in their last 34 home games but are 0-4 ATS in their last four home games against the Jets.
2. Dallas Cowboys (12-2) - I want to think that the Cowboys are due to cover a spread after three straight ATS defeats, two of which came in games that Dallas won outright. Dallas is 0-4 ATS in its last four games after covering 10 straight to open the year. This is the fourth time that the Cowboys and Lions have faced off since 2011. The favorite is 0-3 ATS in those meetings, and all four have been decided by four points or fewer. The underdog is 5-1 ATS in this series going back to 2006.
3. Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1) - I have no idea what the hell Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell were doing in the fourth quarter of that Rams game (besides obviously trying to let the Rams steal a backdoor cover). But the fact that Carroll essentially sealed the game with a fake punt was genius. He knew that Rams interim coach John Fassel was the special teams coach. So it stood to reason that with his added duties this week Fassel's Rams wouldn't be as sharp on special teams. Carroll took advantage because that's what great coaches do.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) - The Bengals were absolutely balling out in the first half against Pittsburgh last week. So the fact that the Steelers not only came back and won but also covered the spread in that game is a lot more impressive than people are giving credit for. Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents by an average of 11.6 points per game over the last five weeks and they are 16-8 ATS in their last 24 games against a team with a winning record. Pittsburgh is also 13-3 ATS in its last 16 games in December.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) - Does home-field advantage even matter any more in NFL betting? The visitor is 43-16 ATS in Kansas City's last 59 games. That is a ridiculous 72.8 percent winning trend by simply blindly betting the road team when the Chiefs play. That also fits with similar trends laid out by the Dolphins, Buccaneers and Cowboys over the last several seasons. The home team in the Chiefs-Broncos series is 0-4 SU and ATS in the last four meetings and the road team has won and covered in five of the last six meetings.
6. Oakland Raiders (11-3) - The Raiders offense didn't rebound as expected last week in San Diego, and Oakland's attack has been held to just two touchdowns over the past two weeks. Granted, both of those games were on the road against division rivals. And the Raiders are 3-0 SU at home against nondivisional opponents over the last month alone. Oakland will need to avoid the letdown that comes with clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2002, and I expect them to be in a shootout with Andrew Luck this weekend.
7. New York Giants (10-4) - It is easy to gloss over the loss of Shane Vereen, who was put on IR this week, but he was really an important weapon for this lackluster Giants offense. Vereen had missed a majority of the season (he only played five games) with various injuries. But he caught 59 balls for the Giants last year and was a clutch third down weapon for Eli Manning. New York is just 1-4 ATS in its last five games against Philadelphia. But the road team is 16-7 ATS in this series and the favorite has covered four of five.
8. Atlanta Falcons (9-5) - Here is how dominant Julio Jones has been this year: he missed the last two weeks and he still leads the NFL in receiving yards. Jones is back in the fold this week. Atlanta was absolutely embarrassed by the Panthers, 38-0, in their last trip to Carolina last December. The Falcons are 0-4 ATS in their last four trips here. But they delivered Carolina its first loss of the season last Dec. 27 and then trounced Carolina 48-33 when the two met back on Oct. 2.
9. Baltimore Ravens (8-6) - The Ravens blew the ATS win in the final 10 seconds last week against the Eagles. But they were fortunate enough to stop Philadelphia's two-point attempt and hold on for the win. Baltimore is a perfect 7-0 ATS in its last seven divisional games. But they have been awful on the road this year, losing their last four games both SU and ATS. The Ravens are 4-0 ATS in their last four games against the Steelers, covering each time as the underdog.
10. Tennessee Titans (8-6) - Run the ball, play good defense, don't turn the ball over; it's a pretty simple sport. The Titans are major overachievers this year because they've stuck to the plan. And that makes them a tough out every Sunday. A win like theirs in Kansas City - getting that crucial stop in the final minutes to set up the game-winning field goal - is the type of win that has long-lasting ramifications for a team. Because they've succeeded in a spot like that, against an excellent team on the road, they will have confidence to do it again. If Tennessee can bolster its defense this offseason they could become the AFC's version of the Vikings who, recent slide aside, went on an amazing three-year 37-13 ATS rush.
11. Denver Broncos (8-6) - The dream is dead for the defending Super Bowl champions. It will be interesting to see what type of pride these guys play with against the Chiefs and Raiders in these final two weeks. Denver has revenge against the Chiefs for that overtime loss at home three weeks ago. The road team is 6-0 ATS in this series and the Broncos are 15-6 ATS in their last 21 games overall. Denver is still mathematically alive, so I expect a game effort from them. But the question becomes whether or not this team is even good enough to deserve a playoff spot.
12. Washington Redskins (7-6-1) - Dropped passes and Jordan Reed's idiotic punch really sunk the Redskins offense, especially late, on Monday night. But the more troubling aspect was Washington's shoddy rushing defense. They have slid to just No. 22 in rushing defense and No. 29 in total defense and the Redskins looked clueless trying to slow the Panthers. The Redskins are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 road games and 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games overall. Washington is 6-2 ATS following a loss and 8-3 ATS against a team with a losing record. They certainly have more motivation than the Bears. But Chicago has been dangerous the last several weeks.
13. Detroit Lions (9-5) - Another week and another kind of bizarre Lions 'under'. I have been swimming upstream with Detroit's totals all year long. But last week was another perfect example of the type of fluke things that have happened to assist Detroit's 8-0 'under' run. The Lions fumbled through the Giants end zone twice and allowed a punt return touchdown that was called back by a New York penalty. That's 21 more points in a 17-6 game and would've pushed the game 'over' the 41.5-point total. The Lions offensive and defensive yards per point have been hovering around 20.0 for the past month of the season, and I just keep waiting for that to even out.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) - If you're looking at the glass half full, the Bucs covered the spread and stayed competitive with one of the best teams in football, on the road, with their quarterback turning the ball over at will. The road team is now 29-16 ATS in the last 45 Tampa Bay games, and the Bucs are going for the season sweep of the Saints this week. Tampa Bay is just 1-10 ATS in its last 11 Saturday games. But they are on a 6-0 ATS run overall and they are 5-0 ATS in their last five road games.
15. Miami Dolphins (9-5) - I don't want to say that, "I told you so" about Matt Moore. Especially when the win came against the lowly Jets, who are obviously mailing it in. But Moore can play. I am not surprised to see his teammates rally around him and I think Miami is going to fight to the death these last two weeks. The Dolphins are just 2-12 ATS in their last 14 December games and they will be leaving South Beach for the bitter cold of Upstate New York. The home team is 5-1 ATS in this series and Miami is 0-4 ATS in its last four trips to Orchard Park.
16. Green Bay Packers (8-6) - You've gotta be kidding me Davante Adams. Either you're going to be a player or you're not. Those two dropped touchdown passes were ridiculous. Once? OK. But twice? C'mon. Also, I don't know why teams aren't blitzing the Packers more. Their receivers can't create any separation and Green Bay's whole offense seems to be to have Aaron Rodgers run around for 12 seconds and then throw a pass. If teams can get to Rodgers early then I don't see Green Bay's offense being able to move the ball at all.
17. Buffalo Bills (7-7) - I want to be clear here: I do not like Rex Ryan. Nothing about the man is appealing to me, and I think he is a weak NFL head coach. However, I still think it would be a massive mistake for the Bills to move on from him. I think Buffalo had unrealistic expectations this year, given the difficulty of its schedule. I also think that when you commit to a coach you need to give him three years and then decide. The Bills are not far out of the playoff mix in the AFC. Rather than start a complete rebuild - again - they should sign Tyrod Taylor long-term and give Ryan one more year. Ryan hasn't been great, but the Bills aren't a train wreck. So ride it out and see if he can get over the hump. (The only exception would be if you could sign Mike Smith. In that case, dump Ryan ASAP and roll with Smith.)
18. Houston Texans (8-6) - Finally! Bill O'Brien finally benched the Brock Lobster in favor of Tom Savage. And by comparison Savage instantly looked like a white Warren Moon to Houston fans. The Texans defense has definitely gotten stronger as the season has worn on and their secondary is one of the most underrated units in the NFL. I do wonder about Houston's motivation this week, though. Next week's game with Tennessee is essentially a winner-take-all tilt for the division title. A win this week doesn't do much for the Texans (other than box in the Colts, who have a slender playoff path) so I'm curious to see whether or not the Texans get caught looking ahead against the Bengals.
19. New Orleans Saints (6-8) - The underdog is now 18-5 ATS in the last 23 Saints games. We saw a similar unexplainable trend betting the road team in Dolphins games from 2012-2015. It doesn't make a ton of sense that the dogs would continue to bark at a 75 percent clip in Saints games. But get while the getting is good. The Saints are 7-2 ATS in their last nine divisional games and 20-6 ATS in their last 26 games against a team with a winning record. Drew Brees was also a Pro Bowl snub this week and he got worked over by the Bucs defense in their last meeting. I expect Brees to correct the record with a big day.
20. Carolina Panthers (6-8) - The Panthers, despite their record, have certainly looked like their old selves the last three weeks. Carolina is now 21-6 SU in December with Cam Newton at quarterback. Newton still hasn't been very sharp this season, posting career lows in most major passing categories, but the Panthers won't roll over in a division game. Carolina has revenge for a loss earlier in the season and the underdog is 5-1 ATS in this series. The home team is 7-1 ATS when the Falcons and Panthers play and Carolina is 9-4 ATS in its last 13 home games.
21. Indianapolis Colts (7-7) - Jesus, maybe these guys should just play on the road every week. The Colts have covered the spread by an average of 22 points in their past four road games. The Colts are just 1-6 ATS after a win and they have been fool's gold as the public waits for this team to catch fire. Indianapolis is 18-8 ATS in its last 26 December games, but I don't trust this team any further than I can throw it.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) - According to Cincinnati.com, the Bengals have had 23 fourth-quarter drives in which they were within one score of their opponent this season. They have scored just one touchdown and two field goals in those 23 crucial drives. That's been the difference in their season. They have had more of those drives end in fumbles (four) than they have scores.
23. Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1) - After playing a 6-6 dud in the first meeting, I expect some points this week up in Seattle. And I don't know why, but I feel like Arizona is going to come to play this week in Emerald City. I know I have been dead wrong about the Cardinals this year and they are on a 1-7 ATS slide. But I can still see them mustering up enough pride to go toe-to-toe with a division rival. The road team is 4-0 ATS in the last four in this series, but Arizona is a feeble 1-4 ATS in the last five meetings overall.
24. Minnesota Vikings (7-7) - The Vikings resurgence was certainly short-lived. I will be amazed if the Vikings don't invest pretty much everything - draft picks, free agent money, etc. - in the offensive line this offseason. Sam Bradford might as well be playing behind five traffic cones, and for all of his durability issues it is amazing to me that Bradford hasn't crumbled into a pile of sand this year. The Vikings are last in the NFL in rushing and No. 31 in yards and they have scored just 15.6 points per game in their last five roadies.
25. San Diego Chargers (5-9) - The Chargers are in a pretty bad spot this week. They have to travel east for the dreaded 10 a.m. PST kickoff. San Diego is leaving sunny weather for the cold (game time temp in Cleveland is 34 degrees). And the Chargers are off a close divisional home loss. San Diego doesn't want to become the first team to lose to the Browns this year and that is motivation enough. But the Chargers, who have a litany of their own off-field distractions, are just 9-21 straight up in their last 30 games (against Cleveland's 1-23 SU mark in its last 24). It is tough to lay points when two terrible teams get together.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (5-9) - It is kind of hilarious that people covering the Eagles this year have spent the last week trying to connect the dots between Lane Johnson's 10-game suspension and Philadelphia's season collapse. The biggest reason the Eagles fell apart after a strong start is that they stopped playing the Browns and Bears, their Week 1 and Week 2 opponents, respectively.
27. Los Angeles Rams (4-10) - I think it really says something about the state of the NFL that the Rams, who have been outscored 141-48 the last four weeks, don't have a quarterback, just fired their coach, and haven't won a game since Nov. 13, still have five teams that are worse off. Los Angeles has been held to 14 or fewer points in seven of their last eight games. The Rams are 0-5 ATS in their last five home games, and I'm sure somewhere in St. Louis there is a lot of people smiling.
28. New York Jets (4-10) - The Jets always seem to play over their heads against the Patriots. But after getting demolished 41-10 against the Colts and 34-17 against the Dolphins - both in front of prime time national television audiences - I wonder what the Jets have left in the tank here. I'm extremely surprised that the Jets players have tuned out Todd Bowles and quit on their young coach so soon into his tenure. But it is kind of a red flag that the Arizona defense may have actually been better the past two seasons (ranked No. 4 and No. 5) without Bowles in charge. The Jets are on a 7-0 ATS run against the Patriots.
29. Chicago Bears (3-11) - Matt Barkley has a little Blake Bortles to his game. What I mean by that is that most of Barkley's stats have been accrued after the Bears are already down big in games, so his numbers are a bit misleading. However, the more I watch Barkley the more I like him. Barkley is making good decisions, he throws a really catchable ball, and he has shown the ability to make several different types of throws. I wouldn't sign him to big money. But the Bears could lock him up for three seasons on the cheap and take that extra money to bolster multiple holes elsewhere.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) - Jacksonville should've fired Gus Bradley a long time ago. But the fact that they did it immediately after a game - Bradley had to ride the plane home with the team AFTER he had been fired! - is just the type of low-rent move you would expect from a fourth-tier sports franchise. I wouldn't expect much creativity from new interim coach Doug Marrone. He is an old school, ground-and-pound type of guy that will have an ultra-conservative game plan this week. I suppose the question now is simply whether or not the Jaguars roster cares about the last two games or not. I suppose we are just guessing about that, though. They have nothing to play for, and everyone in this organization has to be looking straight ahead to an uncertain offseason. Can't be very happy holidays for this group.
31. San Francisco (1-13) - Has there been a less interesting regular-season game this season than San Francisco versus Los Angeles this week? Both teams have quit on the season, and I don't even know if bragging rights or revenge are ample motivation because neither team's fan base cares about this one either. San Francisco is 5-2 ATS in its last seven meetings with the Rams. Considering they are just 10-25 ATS in their last 35 games overall, that is really saying something.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-14) - Because no one cares about the Browns and everyone should be betting against them every single week, I am going to take this time to air a minor grievance against NFL.com. They really need to change their play-by-play feature within the boxscores on the site. I mean, it is a total mess. Go check it out. I can't tell what order the drives are, how much time is left in the game, or basically what the hell is going on. It's really not difficult. ESPN.com has the perfect format for this (and the NFL used to use the same one) because, really, it's not a very complicated problem. C'mon NFL, get it together.
Throughout the season I will have my NFL Power Rankings every Wednesday. My final rankings of the season will be released on Wednesday, Dec. 28.
Robert Ferringo is one of the top football handicappers in the country and tallied an unrivaled $20,800 in football profit between 2011 and 2015, including his amazing 2013 NFL season in which he hit 62.1 percent (95-58). Robert has produced 15 of 23 winning football months and an amazing 38 of 58 winning football months over the past decade. Robert has hit nearly 60 percent winners over his last 750 totals picks and is the most prolific big play football handicapper in the nation, going 110-69 (62%) on all football plays rated 5.0 or higher since 2010. Also, Robert's proprietary KING College Football Betting System has posted three of four winning seasons and is 122-92 over the last three years (57.0 percent).
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