Big NFL home pups putting the ‘Under’ in underdogs

 

The quality of NFL football isn’t as big a concern to sports bettors as it is to the general public.

That’s why we have the pointspread and total. It’s why we’ll sit through shit shows like Tennessee vs. Jacksonville on a Thursday night, when we should be doing something productive, like finally fixing the dryer door, reading to our kids, or finding out what that stink is in the garage.

Three times this week, while I was away in Chicago (possibly Ground Zero for poor pigskin), the lack of quality in professional football came up organically in conversations.

“I can’t sit through a NFL game anymore,” said one associate from North Carolina. “The NFL is just not exciting this season,” noted another from California. “There are no really ‘great’ teams,” stated a co-worker from New York, not knowing I’m a Cowboys fan (We’re 8-1 dude!).

Whether you empathize with those thoughts or not, Week 11 of the schedule is not helping the NFL’s cause.

There are currently seven games on the board with spreads of 6.5 points or higher (Oakland is giving six points to Houston Monday), a calculated expectation of how close – or entertaining – these contests will be: Baltimore is getting a touchdown in Dallas, Jacksonville is +6.5 at Detroit, Tampa Bay is +7.5 at Arrowhead, Chicago is +7.5 visiting the Giants, and Philadelphia is +6.5 going up against the 12th Man at CenturyLink.

As for the other two teams getting 6.5 or more points, they’re in rare company as their Week 11 matchups are being held at home. The Cleveland Browns are +8 hosting Pittsburgh and the San Francisco 49ers are getting 11.5 points from the Patriots (opened as +14).

It’s tempting to jump all over those big home dogs, but you gotta remember they’re getting that many points for a reason – they’re terrible, terrible teams. In fact, home pups of +6.5 or more are just 29-32 ATS since 2013 (14-47 SU), losing by an average score of 26.6-17.5 – more than a 9-point difference.

But take that average final score, which adds up to 44.1 points, and size it up against the average betting total in those games (46.24) and you’ll discover that since 2013, games involving a home underdog of 6.5 or more points have gone Under the total 64 percent of the time.

Those qualifying contests have produced a 22-39 Over/Under mark, including an amazing 4-16 Over/Under record in the past two years (2015 to 2016), which is a golden 80 percent Under windfall. Those 20 games have seen the average final score plummet to 39.9 points per game versus an average betting total of 46.5, giving Under backers nearly a touchdown of head room (6.6).

There have been four home underdogs of +6.5 or more so far this season (Cleveland +7 vs. Dallas, Pittsburgh +7.5 vs. New England, Miami +10 vs. Pittsburgh, Cleveland +10 vs. New England), and each of those games finished below the total.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland opened with a total of 49.5 points but that has since been bet down to 44.5. New England and San Francisco opened their Over/Under number at 51.5 and that’s down to 51 points.

Is it that bad?

Returning to the above comments about the declining quality of football in the 2016 NFL season, if the pointspread is any indication of how close – or exciting – a game is supposed to be, this is shaping up to be the most entertaining NFL season of the last seven years.

There have been only 35 games with spreads of 6.5 points or higher as of Week 11, which is 10 less than at this point in the 2015 season when 45 contests towed hefty chalk. There were 50 games in this range in the first 11 weeks of the 2014 season, 51 in 2013, 50 in 2012, a whopping 61 in 2011, and 47 games with spreads of 6.5 or higher in 2010.

There is a level of parity among NFL teams that we’ve not seen in a long time, but parity doesn’t always mean quality. Good teams could be getting a little worse, and bad teams could be getting a little better. And what we’re left with is a vanilla mush in which only 10 teams have a winning percentage over .600 – and just three of those call the NFC home.

Pound the ground

I had some pushback when tweeting out the rushing yards trends we’ve been tracking the last four weeks, the one in which NFL teams that surpass the league average in rushing yards in a game are 70-36-3 ATS in those contest this season (66%). That includes an 8-2 ATS record in Week 10 and a 22-7 ATS count (76%) the last three weeks. Yeah, that one.

The main beef that people had was “how are you supposed to know which teams will go over the league average in rushing yards for that game before kickoff?”

You don’t. But you can easily handicap each team’s running offense versus their opponent’s run defense, and look at how they’ve fared for/against on the ground in recent games. That should at least point you in the right direction (I can’t be here to hold your hand the whole time folks).

I’ve been leaning on this trend with my weekly plays and putting it to the true test in my pick’em league, simply picking which team I think has the best shot at rushing for more than the league mean (which is down to 106.5 rushing yards per game in Week 11). It’s proved profitable, leading me to a 24-16 ATS record since Week 9 – 60 percent – which is a drastic turnaround from my previous eight weeks.

This trend continued with Thursday’s game in Carolina, where the Saints lost on the scoreboard 23-20 but covered as 3.5-point road underdogs after rushing for 107 yards – just cracking the NFL season average in ground gains.

And again, for you skeptics, this is a long-term trend: from 2011 to 2015, teams that topped the season average in rushing yards in a game were 711-391-34 ATS in those contests, a proven 64.5 percent ATS winner.

Biggest move…

Miami at Los Angeles. The Dolphins opened as 1-point road underdogs for their second straight game on the left coast, but that line has since jumped to Miami -2 after Rams announced they’re starting rookie QB and No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff in Week 11.

“We took some bets on the Dolphins but also adjusted with the market,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology. “The market was moving toward Miami so we moved too.”

Sharps like…

Minnesota. The Vikings also opened as 1-point underdogs hosting the Cardinals and sharp money has pushed this spread over the fence to Minnesota -2. According to Simbal, the way in which bets are placed with CG Technology books in Las Vegas – either through accounts or over the counter – tells you just who is betting what.

“So far, there’s 50 times more money on the Vikings through accounts, which are often the smarter players, and three times more money on the Cardinals over the counter, which is usually public bets,” says Simbal. “This is definitely sharping up to be a ‘Joes versus Pros’ game.”

Biggest sweat…

Pittsburgh at Cleveland. With both sharp money and public bets coming in on the Steelers, Simbal says the book is going to need the Browns Sunday – a statement you never want to utter in this business.

“We’re not in a great spot here,” he says. “We had some respected customers lay the -7.5 and the -8.5 and we know the public is going to be all over the Steelers.”

Banker game…

Philadelphia at Seattle. Usually, the Sunday nighter or the Patriots find themselves as the deciding game of the week for bookies, but with two-way action on Packers-Redskins and Rob Gronkowski’s absence actually drawing bets against New England, Eagles at Seahawks is the most important game on the board.

With a good chunk of parlays and teasers tied to the Seahawks at home, books will be keeping a close eye on this matchup. “We’ll need Philly,” says Simbal.

Injury to watch

Telvin Smith, LB Jacksonville Jaguars

Smith’s status for Week 11’s road game in Detroit (+6.5) is up in the air, but not due to injury. Rather, the Jaguars linebacker has been through some massive highs and lows – all of which were bigger than football – in the past week.

Smith, who’s a defensive captain and Jacksonville’s second leading tackler, lost his brother to a shooting in Georgia Sunday and then welcomed the birth of his son Wednesday. He was away from the team all week before reporting Friday and football fans will want to confirm his status as kickoff draws near.

“Is the plan having him play on Sunday?” Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley told reporters. “Well, he’s probable so we anticipate him, but I do know tomorrow is going to be very emotional and you do want to make sure that a player’s got the right mindset playing in the game.”

Smith has been a part of 97.6 percent of the Jags’ defensive snaps this season, has 10 tackles for a loss, and has broken up four passes. He has had at least five tackles in 29 straight games, including leading the team with six in last week’s loss to Houston.

We know how to pick’em

Despite plenty of big chalk on the board for Week 11, there are some lines out there tighter than an offensive lineman and skinny jeans. The Dolphins stayed on the West Coast after beating San Diego last week, opting not to travel across the country three times before playing Los Angeles Sunday. This spread opened Rams -1, but with Goff getting the nod under center for L.A., that line has jumped the fence to Fins -2.

If you’re also jumping back and forth – or sitting on that same fence – take off your handicapping hat and just go with what team you think has the hotter cheerleaders.

Sunday’s menu

I’ve been away most of the week, eating restaurant food and suffering the intestinal consequences because of it. A home cooked meal on a cozy NFL Sunday is just what the doctor ordered. That instantly triggers the smell of a slow-cooked pot roast. It’s like putting on a warm and fuzzy sweater… made of meat.

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

Last week, we left our fate in the hands of the gambling gods and flipped a coin on the Chicago-Tampa Bay game (which was chosen at random). The gods were good. The coin came up Tails, and the Bucs blasted the Bears 36-10 as 2.5-point home underdogs.

That has me up to 3-7 with my weekly pick – but more important, the coin is hitting 100 percent on the season. Can’t argue with results, so once again we ask: heads or tails?

OK, let’s pick a game at random (eyes closed and scrolling our matchup page). Chicago at New York it is!

Heads: Bears. Tails: Giants.

And the flip (courtesy of a 2001 Kentucky State quarter) is… HEADS! Oh shit.

Pick: Bears +7.5

Song for Sunday

As mentioned, I was in stationed in Chicago this week, which opens us up to a slew of musical options for Sunday’s theme song.

The title of this song, by Chicago’s own Richard Marx, has been uttered by myself plenty of times after making a wager I knew was bad the second I clicked submit. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid…

Note: This song selection translated into a lengthy Richard Marx marathon on YouTube. Just a warning.

Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns.

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