It’s a w-UNDER-ful life for NFL bettors in December

December is known for being somewhat of an “Over” month, what with the holidays spurring on our worst judgement.

Our kids are no longer happy with a simple action figure from Santa and demand a $500 hoverboard, so we’re going over budget on gifts. Countless parties stocked with plenty of good food and sinful sweets have us growing overweight. And what would the holidays be without some “Christmas Cheer” – the kind that comes in a brown bottle? We’re a little more prone to overdoing it this time of the year and ending up with a hangover. 

In the world of NFL betting, however, December is all about the Under.

Over the past two NFL campaigns, regular season games played in the month of December (and a week of January in 2015) have produced a 57-88 Over/Under record – staying below the total 61 percent of the time.

Last year, when the calendar flipped to the final page, we highlighted this trend in the Week 13 edition of “The Muffed Punt”, with the final four weeks of the 2014 regular season finishing with a 22-43 Over/Under count – a 65 percent Under windfall. This trend carried through in 2015 with games played in December/January posting a 35-45 O/U record – a 56 percent lean to the Under.

And it’s not just isolated to recent seasons either. Going back to 2012, December NFL games have finished 130-170-1 Over/Under, staying below the oddsmakers total more than 56 percent of the time. Those games had an average of 44.68 points scored versus an average betting total of 45.1.

Those December results are a significant dip when compared to the three months prior. Going back to 2012, September through November NFL regular season games recorded a 370-344-9 Over/Under tally (52% Over). Those games averaged 46.20 total points scored against an average betting total of 45.34. That’s a 1.5-point decline in scoring from the first three months of the season to December over the previous four years, while the average total in that span remains nearly unchanged.

Numerous factors can play into this shrinkage on the scoreboard: playoff contenders tightening up on defense, injuries to key offensive players, losing teams working in younger players to get a look for next season, poor weather conditions. Pick your poison really.

As for the 2016 season, the first three months of football produced an Over/Under mark of 92-84-1 (52% Overs – right on par with the last four years) with an average combined score of 45.87 points against an average betting total of 45.73.

We’ve had just one December game in 2016: Thursday’s fugly matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, in which the Cowboys won 17-15 and played well below the closing total of 43.5 points.

So if you’re already planning to go over the top on gifts, food and booze this December, and if Thursday’s low-scoring mess was any indication of things to come, football bettors may want to overdo it on the Under this month as well.

Home bodies

Week 13 of the NFL features 11 home favorites, ranging in size from -1.5 (Cincinnati hosting Philadelphia) to -13. (New England hosting Los Angeles). On the season, home chalk is a losing proposition with a 55-63-2 ATS mark, covering only 46.61 percent of the time.

Not all home faves are bad though. It seems that shorter home chalk is the biggest disappointment in the eyes of the betting gods this season, with home favorites of -2.5 or less going just 10-15 ATS (40%) through a dozen weeks of football. And expanding that scale to host teams giving between one and 3.5 points, those home faves are just 25-34 ATS, covering only 42 percent of the time.

There are currently five teams that fall into that -1 to -3.5 range this Sunday: Baltimore -3.5 vs. Miami, Cincinnati -1.5 vs. Philadelphia, Oakland -3 vs. Buffalo, Arizona -2.5 vs. Washington, and San Diego giving 3.5 points to visiting Tampa Bay.

Adding a few more ticks to the spread, sizing up home faves between -5.5 and -7.5, and those chalkier residents are a collective 18-14-1 ATS this year (56%). That trend encompasses Atlanta -5.5 vs. Kansas City, Green Bay -6.5 vs. Houston, New Orleans -6 vs. Detroit, and Pittsburgh -6.5 opening the doors of Heinz Field to the New York Giants.

And then there’s the Patriots giving almost two touchdowns to the Rams. New England has been a double-digit home favorite 37 times since 2000, but produced a 16-21 ATS record in those games (43%), including a 7-10 ATS count when giving 13.5 points or more.

Non-conference cash

There are six non-conference games on the schedule this Sunday, which prompted some digging into AFC vs. NFC trends. I just can’t help myself.

There’s an interesting split in totals when it comes to non-conference clashes this season. AFC at NFC games have produced an 11-16 Over/Under record (59% Unders) with an average of 44.2 total points going against an average betting total of 45.83.

Kansas City at Atlanta (49) and Houston at Green Bay (44.5) are the two AFC at NFC matchups in Week 13.

NFC at AFC contests have finished with a 16-8 Over/Under mark (67% Overs), with those games averaging a combined 49.32 points (season average is 45.8 total ppg) versus an average closing total of 46.38 – a near three-point edge for the Over.

There are four NFC at AFC games this Sunday: Philadelphia at Cincinnati (42), Los Angeles at New England (44), New York at Pittsburgh (48.5), and Tampa Bay at San Diego (47.5).

Here are some other numbers of note on betting non-conference contests:

– Eagles 5-1 ATS in last six at AFC. Philadelphia +1.5 at Cincinnati
– Texans 4-7 ATS last 11 at NFC. Houston +6.5 at Green Bay
– Rams (going back to St. Louis) 11-5-1 ATS last 17 at AFC. L.A. +13.5 at New England
– Patriots 5-2 ATS last seven hosting NFC. New England -13.5 vs. L.A.

Sharps like…

San Francisco. The Niners opened +3 at Chicago and sharp money has flooded in on the visiting team, moving San Francisco as high as -2. The Bears are starting Matt Barkley at quarterback while 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has looked good in recent outings, posting 1,110 passing yards, 223 rushing yards, eight passing touchdowns (one rushing score), and just two interceptions in the last four games.

“This is a bad game that we’re keeping our eye on, because clearly the public isn’t going to bet it,” Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, told Covers earlier this week. “So it’s going to be us against the sharps in that one.”

Biggest move…

(Besides the Niners-Bears line) Houston at Green Bay. This spread opened as low as Packers -4 after the Cheeseheads scored a big win over the Eagles on Monday Night Football. The public is pressing hard with Green Bay, moving this line all the way to -6.5, with some books hitting a touchdown.

“Obviously, the Packers are a public team and they want to bet them no matter what,” said Simbal. “But they were kind of hesitant to do so because of how they’ve looked. One big win changes the public’s perception a lot and the Packers are definitely the public side this week.”

Injury to watch

Green Bay Packers, linebackers

The Packers’ linebacker corps has more holes than those big yellow cheeseheads blocking your view at Green Bay games. The Packers could be missing LBs Clay Matthews (shoulder), Blake Martinez (knee), and Jake Ryan (ankle) – all of which are questionable – when they host Houston Sunday. That’s 142 combined tackles, seven sacks, and seven passes defended possibly off the field.

The Texans could take advantage of those gaps and shed sub-par tacklers for big gains, especially in the middle of the field when looking to pass. Houston ranks second-last in yards after catch and has recorded just 11 “big passing plays” this season (passing gain of 25 or more yards).

We know how to pick’em

There were a couple games that opened pick in Week 13 but action throughout the week has moved those spreads off the fence. The Eagles and Bengals were one of those contests, with the line shifting to Cincinnati -1.5 as of Saturday.

As we do in this spot each week, we take the game pegged as a pick’em (or with tightest pointspread) and toss it out the window, instead picking an ATS winner based on which team has the hotter cheerleaders. Eagles or Bengals?

Sunday’s menu

A few weeks back I was in Chicago for meetings. One morning, I headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and spotted quiche on the menu – something I haven’t had since the Ravens were the Browns.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, my food took forever to come out and by the time it did, I had to be somewhere. What ensued was a frantic waddle to the elevator, eating a steaming-hot piece of quiche with my hands serving as fork and plate. The roof of mouth still looks like Tom Cruise’s face in Vanilla Sky.

This Sunday, I’m going to make my own quiche and eat it at my leisure. Like a boss.

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

The coin is human after all – or at least as human as a coin can be. After picking (flipping?) winners in Weeks 10 and 11, the coin called Houston +1.5 incorrectly in Week 12. However, its 2-1 record is still much better than my 2-7 shame, so we’re going to continue turning this weekly pick over to randomness.

First we select a game at random on our NFL live odds page. Eyes closed, scrolling blindly, clicking. And that game is… Kansas City at Atlanta.

Heads Chiefs. Tails Falcons.

This week’s coin toss comes courtesy of a 2006 Canadian nickel (which is worth four cents American). Here goes.

TAILS!

Pick: Falcons -5.5

Song for Sunday

It’s absolutely bonkers to think that we’re already into December. If you can’t believe it, just check out the weather in Chicago and Green Bay for Sunday.

Football bettors get their first taste of snow in 2016, with the forecast in the Windy City calling for the white stuff and temperatures in the high 20s and Lambeau expected to get snow and temperatures in the low 30s.

That brings us to one of the toughest decisions of the week: do we go with Simon & Garfunkel or The Bangles version of “Hazy Shade of Winter”? Bangles. I can’t say no to Susanna Hoffs…

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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