Take this month’s schedule as an example.
Save for the NBA showcase, most professional and college sports take a knee on December 25, allowing players to be home for the holiday. But when Christmas falls on a Sunday (a registered trademark of the NFL) in Week 16, Jesus’ birthday bash is sharing the spotlight with two huge NFL games.
Saturdays in December are another example of the NFL’s ruthless branding. The NFL plays nice with the NCAA during the fall, leaving Saturdays alone. But once the college kids wrap their regular slate and bowl season begins, the NFL swoops in and snuggles up to Saturday like its boyfriend just dumped it (“He didn’t appreciate you… You’re too good for him anyway… Wanna come over and watch a movie?”).
We’re not complaining, especially when Saturday NFL games give us a spicy betting trend such as this: Since 2007, betting underdogs are 17-7-1 ATS (12-13 SU) in regular season Saturday games – covering at a 71 percent clip.
This weekend, in the first Saturday game of the 2016 schedule, the New York Jets are pegged as underdogs at home, hosting the Miami Dolphins in an AFC East bout. Books opened Gang Green as high as +3 but that has since been bet down to +2.5 with early sharp money taking the J-E-T-S.
Should this trend continue in Week 15, things will get very interesting on Christmas Eve when the bulk of the Week 16 action takes place – on a Saturday – with a dozen games on the board.
That’s also Fantasy Football finals for you lucky ones, which means the ultimate conflict of interest: spend a peaceful Xmas Eve with loved ones or become consumed with destroying your friends and co-workers in your office fantasy league?
Damn you NFL.
Lordy, lordy! Watch out for 40
Last week, we touched on a stunning NFL betting trend involving teams coming off victories in which they scored 40 or more points (H/T Covers Experts’ Brandon Shively).
Heading into Week 14, those qualifying teams were 12-19 ATS (10-20 SU) in the following game since October 4, 2015 –Week 4 of last year – covering at 39 percent. That record included a 2-6 ATS mark and a stunning 0-8 SU count since Week 7 of this season, triggering red flashing warning lights around the Seattle Seahawks (at Green Bay) and Indianapolis Colts (hosting Houston).
Well, we hate to say “We told you so” (that’s not true, we f#cking love it). The Seahawks and Colts both lost SU and ATS, making NFL team off a win in which they scored 40-plus 12-21 ATS in the following game since Week 4 of the 2015 season and a crazy 2-8 ATS and 0-10 SU since Week 7.
Those results put all eyes on the Atlanta Falcons, who squashed the L.A. Rams 42-14 in Week 14, and their Sunday date with the San Francisco 49ers, who are getting two touchdowns in the Georgia Dome.
If any team is going to put this red-hot trend to the test, it’s the Niners. They’re as high as +720 on the moneyline. Just putting that out there…
How to really handicap the MVP odds
This year’s NFL MVP race is much more exciting than previous campaigns, when it was a one or two-horse contest. But, here we are with three weeks left to go in the regular season, and the MVP picture is about as clear as a frozen windshield on your morning commute.
As a Cowboys fan, I’m thrilled to see rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott as the MVP frontrunner (+250). But as a sports bettor with a nose for value, I wouldn’t bet Zeke with Jerry Jones’ pocket change (which I’m sure is more than my annual salary). Nor would I toss any money down on Tom Brady (+260) – the second overall favorite to win Most Valuable Player.
The NFL has a big ole PR pickle getting stuffed down its stocking this December, with Elliott under investigation for domestic assault and Brady being the last person Roger Goodell wants to hand the MVP trophy over to after all the ugliness and suspensions of Deflategate.
Yes, this award is voted on by the writers. But don’t think for a second the NFL front office doesn’t have a say. If you’re betting the MVP prop odds, play the politics.
Matthew Stafford, who was as big as 125/1, can be had for around +400 after carrying Detroit to the top of the NFC North. Raiders young QB Derek Carr opened at 75/1 and is currently as high as +900. And Falcons gunslinger Matt Ryan, who opened at 90/1, is about +450 to win MVP. Even Aaron Rodgers is paying +800, which could be a smart bet if you think he can will the Packers to the playoffs on one leg down the stretch.
Chicago. Yeah, that’s right. The Bears are the sharp team of the week, moving from +7 to +5.5. However, this line move has little to do with the Bears’ talents and more to do with the weather forecast in Chicago.
“It’s supposed to be like 60 mph winds and 12 degrees in Chicago,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology. “That’s the reason they’re taking the dog here.”
Money on the Redskins has moved them from -3.5 to -6 for their home date with the Panthers on Monday Night Football.
“(The Panthers) are pretty much touchdown underdogs against the Redskins, who are an above-average team but nothing special, and no one is taking them. No one is betting Carolina at all,” says Simbal.
Books will be sweating out the AFC North grudge match between the Steelers and Bengals, needing a big effort from Cincinnati. The Bengals are field goal pups at home.
“They’re all over Pittsburgh right now,” says Simbal. “Like, 25 times more money on Pittsburgh right now.”
New England at Denver could go a long way in deciding who wins Week 15: books or bettors. According to Simbal, this late afternoon revenge spot for the Patriots is growing in liability as more and more money comes in on the road favorite (New England -3).
“If we can get the Broncos over the Pats, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape for the day,” says Simbal. “Right now, they’re betting New England – not a ton. But there will be more coming in on New England.”
Injury to watch
Kansas City Chiefs, linebackers
The Chiefs lost one of the top defensive players in the league, linebacker Derrick Johnson, and could be without another as they prepare for the Titans Sunday. Fellow linebacker Justin Houston sat out practice early in the week with “illness” and then missed Thursday’s workouts with a knee injury – not a good sign for the injury-prone pass rusher.
On top of that, veteran LB Tamba Hali is walking around on aging knees, leaving KC with a very brittle linebacker corps heading into a matchup with a thunderous Tennessee rushing attack that plows for 4.7 yards per carry (third in the NFL). The Chiefs allow 122.9 rushing yards per game – third worst in the league.
We know how to pick’em
Oddsmakers were pretty definitive with the Week 15 spreads, with no game opening lower than 2.5. So we default to the shortest spread on the board, Dolphins at Jets +2.5 Saturday night.
As we do with this spot each week, if you’re on the fence about this standalone primetime game, don’t give yourself a headache handicapping all the stats and matchups. Just pick the team with the hottest cheerleaders.
Another week, another primetime game for my beloved Cowboys. The one thing I do like about Dallas playing in the night cap is that I have time during the day to cook something really good.
Seeing that it’s as cold as a Belichick press conference out there, some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food may be in order. I can feel the warmth now.
Easy (money) like Sunday morning
I’m treating this like a trip to the dentist: let’s cut the crap – and my crappy 2-8 record – and get it over with.
New England is going mile high to play the Broncos, out for a little revenge after losing to Denver in the AFC Championship last season.
The Patriots were in a similar position two years ago, facing a Denver team that bounced them from the playoffs the previous season, losing 26-16 to the Broncos in the 2013-14 AFC title game. Brady & Co. rocked Denver 43-21 and covered as 3-point home dogs in Week 9.
And if you go back to the 2013 season, New England slapped Baltimore upside the head with a 41-7 road win as 1.5-point chalk in Week 16, avenging a postseason loss to the Ravens in the AFC Championship the previous season.
Pick: New England -3
Song for Sunday
Favorites were the best bet on the board in Week 14, with the betting chalk going 10-6 ATS (11-5 SU). A good chunk of that damage was done by road favorites, which went 5-3 ATS last week and own an 11-7 ATS (14-4 SU) record going back to Week 11.
There are five road faves on the board this weekend: Miami, Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh, and Oakland.
In honor of those road warriors, here’s the theme song for another.
Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns.