The Muffed Punt: December is where good NFL bets go to die

The 1985 Chicago Bears, headlined by folk heroes such as Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, William “Refrigerator” Perry and coached by “Iron” Mike Ditka, entered Week 13 of that season with a perfect 12-0 record SU and were an incredible 10-1-1 against the spread.

While the Bears would go 3-1 SU in their final four games of the regular season, en route to the Super Bowl, football bettors would break even at 2-2 ATS. Chicago’s spreads grew from an average of six points in the first dozen games to almost 8.5 points in the home stretch of the season.

Another incredibly profitable bet, the 1989 Denver Broncos with John Elway at the wheel, were 10-2 SU and ATS heading into a Week 13 matchup in Oakland. Denver would stumble down the stretch, going 1-3 SU and 1-3 ATS to finish the regular season and eventually lost to San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIV, going just 1-2 ATS in the postseason.

December is where good bets go to die. The final four weeks of the NFL season have constantly crushed the bankrolls of football bettors looking to ride the hottest ATS teams in the league. Be it the postseason crunch, mounting pressure, or just over-inflated spreads, the best bets in the NFL have been frozen in their tracks in the final month of the season, like Jack Nicholson navigating a hedge maze.

That has 2015 clubs like Cincinnati (9-1-1 ATS), Minnesota (9-2 ATS), and especially the undefeated Carolina Panthers (9-2 ATS) feeling the arctic breezes of December as the schedule creeps into the final month of the year. And for good reason.

Looking back at the Top 19 NFL bets since the 1985 season, those teams entered Week 13 with a 182-33 SU record (.846) and were a combined 171-36-8 ATS – covering the spread 85 percent of the time in the opening 12 weeks of football.

But, once the calendar flipped to December, those bountiful bets went ice cold, like your wife’s feet come bed time (I swear, are your slippers made from frozen peas?!). Those 19 teams finished the year 61-27 SU (.693) and were a measly 46-41-1 ATS, covering at just under 53 percent of the time – just enough to turn a profit.

As mentioned above, plenty of factors can play into that drastic downfall, but the biggest culprit is the always-adapting betting market. Through the first 12 weeks, those 19 franchises took on an average pointspread of -3.5. Those spreads ballooned to -6 in the final four weeks – a jump of 2.5 points.

Take a look at those three aforementioned 2015 teams this week:

The Vikings, at 8-3 SU, are teetering on a pick’em against the two-time NFC champion Seahawks at home – not a spread that isn’t warranted but may be asking a lot of a Minnesota team that has played one of the softest schedules. Minnesota has faced an average spread of just -0.2 this season.

The Bengals opened at -7.5 visiting rival Cleveland and has been bet up as high as -10.5, the third time in the last four weeks Cincinnati has been giving double digits. The Bengals have been up against an average spread of just under -4 this year.

The Panthers are 7-point chalk in New Orleans Sunday, which surprisingly is just the second time Carolina has given more than five points, with an average spread of -2.7 on the year.

And when it comes to the Panthers, three other teams have entered Week 13 unblemished with an ATS record of 9-2 or better. Those undefeated teams – 1985 Chicago, 1991 Washington, 2007 New England – closed out the schedule with a combined 11-3 SU mark, going just 5-9 ATS in those remaining games.

Thing about December to remember

Last December, NFL games finished with a 22-43 Over/Under record – playing Under the total 66 percent of the time. There was a major drop in offensive production, with teams combining for an average of just over 46 points per game through the first three month of the season, then putting up only 42.4 points in the final month of the schedule.

That’s been a trend in recent years, especially with the NFL hitting new scoring heights. Since 2012, NFL games have watched scoring slim up from 46.3 points in the opening three months to 44.7 in December.

That doesn’t seem like a major difference – and it’s not. But considering games played in September, October, and November have a combined 285-258-4 Over/Under count (52.4 percent Over) against an average total of 45.3 points in that span, and December games have finished 95-125-1 Over/Under (57 percent Under) with an average total of 45.2 (essentially the same sized totals), you can see how much impact that slight down shift in point production has made.

This season, NFL games have gone 85-86-5 Over/Under, featuring an average of 46 points scored against an average betting total of 45.2 from the oddsmakers. The average total for Week 13, as of Friday afternoon, is 44.6 points including the closing 46-point total for Green Bay-Detroit Thursday.

Pants-pooping Trend of the Week

The New England Patriots, who tasted defeated for the first time in 2015 against the Broncos last week, are 10-1 SU and ATS coming off their first loss of the season since 2003. The Patriots are also 8-3 Over/Under in those contests. New England is giving 9.5 points to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, with the total set at 49 points.

Back to bacon

After a break during the holiday weekend, myself and Rob Cressy of BaconSports.com rekindled our bromance for the Week 13 NFL games, featuring my Christmas tree in the background – which has actually been up for a couple weeks now. I feel like an offensive lineman keeping my two-year-old daughter away from the ornaments. I’m not falling for her swim move again.

The Madden Project

Last year, Santa Claus brought our oldest son an Xbox One for Christmas, which is great because for the next few Xmases and birthdays – or at least until the next-gen system hits the market – he’s easy to buy for: games, controllers, Xbox cards.

It’s a bit of an investment at first, but saves you time and pain down the road, like a slow cooker or flossing your teeth. Here are this week’s Madden 16 sim results:

Seattle at Minnesota: 27-21/48-34/17-10 – Seattle wins 30.6-21.6
Philadelphia at New England: 24-21/28-41/28-31 – New England wins 31-26.6
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh: 24-20/21-31/24-42 – Pittsburgh wins 31-23

Last week: 0-3 ATS
Madden 16 season: 19-20-1 ATS (49%)

Biggest line move…

Cincinnati at Cleveland. As discussed above, this game opened with the Bengals as 7.5-point favorites before the Browns loss to Baltimore on Monday and has since climbed as high as -10.5 with most books dealing Cincy -10.

Sharps like…

St. Louis and San Diego. Even bookmakers are a bit surprised by the early sharp money this week, especially the smart money on the Rams. St. Louis opened as a 6-point home dog to Arizona and has been trimmed to +5.5. According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, he doesn’t believe this action has an ulterior motive – like buying back the Cardinals at the lower spread.

“I don’t believe so, because you usually see that with spreads like 7.5 or 10.5 – not spread between five and six,” Simbal says.

As for the Bolts, the smart money has cut that line from +4 to +3.5 on the home underdog. The Broncos travel for a possible letdown spot after stunning the Patriots last Sunday.

Biggest sweat…

Carolina at New Orleans. The undefeated Panthers are touchdown favorites in the Big Easy. According to Simbal, there was only one bet placed on New Orleans midway through the week and 98 percent of the action on this game is on Carolina.

Banker game…

Cincinnati at Cleveland. Every parlay will have the Bengals tied into it, going against their state rivals who march out backup QB Austin Davis instead of Johnny Manziel. We had a fun discussion in the office this week, asking to set the odds on if “Jonny Football” will actually take a snap this week. I said it would be about YES +450. What’d ya got?

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

Hey, I’m starting to get the hang of this whole DFS thing. After totaling about 50 DFS points with picks from Week 1 to Week 9, I’ve done OK for myself in the past three weeks.

In Week 10, I had RB Matt Jones for 26.2 points. In Week 11, I got just 8.2 from RB C.J. Anderson. And last week my selection of WR Eric Decker produced 14.7 DFS goodies with 62 yards and a touchdown. Not bad, considering my previous selections were about as shaky as a coaching position with the Dolphins.

DFS Player of the Week: Vernon Davis, TE Denver Broncos ($5,200)

Davis has been slowly working his way into the Broncos’ system and had a nice day in his first game with Brock Osweiler under center, catching six passes for 68 yards. Last week against the Patriots, he took a step back to fellow TE Owen Daniels, who caught five balls for 48 yards but injured his leg and is questionable for Week 13. The Chargers have allowed the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends this season and Davis is a good talent for a great price.

Injury to note

Willie Snead, WR New Orleans Saints (calf)

Snead has made a name for himself as the Saints’ slot receiver, with 45 receptions for 676 yards and three touchdowns. He has picked up most of his yards on short passes, allowing him to make plays with his feet and has become somewhat of a safety blanket for Drew Brees when the pressure mounts. If Snead is unable to go, Brees won’t have that check down against a dangerous Carolina defense, which has 33 sacks on the season.

We know how to pick’em

The Seahawks and Vikings have been hovering around a pick all week, sitting on the fence for a while before action on Seattle moved the spread to Minnesota +1. As we do every week in this spot, we encourage you to put away those spread sheets and power ratings when it comes to this line and just go with the team you think has the hottest cheerleaders.

Sunday’s menu

My wife is a very talented photographer, which means she’s busy doing Christmas and family photos for folks come December and this weekend she’s slammed with work. That makes it just me and the kiddies Sunday. Chances are I’ll be copping out and hitting Little Caesar’s for some “Hot & Ready” pizzas, but at least I’m a better cook than Homer…

And yes that’s from the gambling one. Classic.

Song for Sunday

Plenty of people were pissed at NFL referees this past week and Thursday’s phantom facemask call to set up Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary is another gasoline-soaked log on the fire. C’mon people. It’s sports – bad calls are about as common as people wearing pajama pants in Wal-Mart. Let the soothing sounds of Howard Jones calm you…

Follow Covers Features Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches Week 13.

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