The Muffed Punt: Division dogs make bad neighbors but good NFL bets

No matter how nice your home is, neighbors are the deciding factor when it comes to your quality of life.

All the granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and heated floorboards can’t make up for the fact that the douche down the hall thinks 3 a.m. is the optimal time to fight with this girlfriend (what language is that?!), or that the family next door sends whiffs of cat piss into your living room every time they open their windows. It’s a painful truth.

A good neighbor helps shovel out your shared driveway in the winter. A shitty one parks behind you and leaves for two weeks in Cancun. And like in life, the NFL has good and bad neighbors. Divisional matchups often times make for interesting games, and in the world of sports betting that means value against the spread.

Divisional rivals know each other better than any other team on their respective schedules. The coaches are wise on what to expect, the players have a history, and after meeting two times a year – every year – familiarity sets these contests apart from others.

The cliché, “You can throw all the records and stats out the window when these two teams meet” – a classic tease from the media – holds water. Or at least it does this season as it pertains to NFL underdogs playing up against divisional competition.

Heading into Sunday’s Week 11 slate, division doggies are 20-26 SU and 25-19-2 ATS – covering 57 percent of the time. That’s a significant boost in success compared to the past 10 NFL season, in which divisional underdogs are just 309-648-2 SU (32%) and 475-456-28 ATS (51%). The difference in winning percentage alone is enough to turn heads – 43 percent in 2015 – especially when you start considering moneyline odds for those dogs to win outright.

But sticking to ATS records, only one division in the NFL, the NFC East, has a record in the red when it comes to betting underdogs winning against the spread versus divisional foes, at 3-4 ATS. That’s funny because the NFC East has bred the most powerful pups in division games over the past 11 seasons. Going back to 2005, NFC East dogs are 70-52-5 ATS – covering 57 percent of the time.

There are a number of divisions dominated by dogs in 2015, most notably the NFC South, where underdogs have gone 4-1 ATS in divisional matchups (3-2 SU). Behind that group is the AFC South at 4-2 ATS, following Jacksonville’s win and cover as a favorite over Tennessee on Thursday, and the AFC West underdogs at 3-1 ATS.

That’s not too far off the norm for the AFC West, looking back at the past 11 seasons of football. Underdogs have gone 67-52-4 ATS (56%) in their divisional games despite a 47-76 SU (38%) record for teams taking the points.

Given those records, NFL bettors have only a handful of divisional games on the Week 11 schedule, and they all come in the later afternoon time slot and beyond. The Chargers are 3-point home dogs to the Chiefs, the Niners are +13 pups visiting the Seahawks 12th Man, the Packers at +1 at the Vikings, and the Bills are getting 7.5 points at Gillette Stadium on Monday night.

Will they be good neighbors and roll over for the divisional brethren? Or will they be bad neighbors and leave their dog out in the backyard to bark all damn night?

Divisional dominance

No division in football has been crueler to the underdog than the NFC North. Since 2005, favorites have ruled with an iron fist, going 98-27-1 SU (78%) and 69-53-4 ATS (56.5%) in divisional outings. The 2015 campaign has produced a 2-4 SU record for underdogs in division games, covering in half of those matchups.

As far as totals go in divisional games, familiarity leans toward the Under. In the last 10 season and 10 weeks, divisional matchups have produced a 467-512-20 Over/Under record – 52 percent Under. The top divisions for total bettors are the AFC East (64-60-3 O/U – the only division to lean toward the Over) and the AFC West (53-66-4 O/U).

Pants-pooping Trend of the Week

Teams complain a lot about the Thursday night games, but those short weeks turn into extra time off to rest and prepare. And that’s bred a nice trend that has the Jets (N/A at Houston) and Bills (+7.5 at New England) looking a little sharper in Week 11.

Teams coming off a Thursday Night Football appearance are 11-7 SU and 12-6 ATS (67%) while posting an 8-10 Over/Under mark the following week.

Doggy Dog World

This is one trend we’ve been tracking for a while now and it keeps on cashing in. Road underdogs of six or more points are a collective 23-14-1 ATS – covering at a 62 percent clip – this season.

Houston covered as a 10.5-point road pup by knocking off Cincinnati last week, and was joined by Chicago winning outright as a 7.5-point pup in St. Louis and Detroit stunning Green Bay as a 10.5-point underdog at Lambeau Field. Cleveland failed to cover after getting seven points in Pittsburgh.

Going back to Week 9, road dogs of 6-plus are 8-2 ATS with four of those teams winning outright. Falling into this trend in Week 11 are the Redskins (+7.5 at Carolina), 49ers (+13 at Seattle), and Bills (+7.5 at New England).

Points are at a premium in primetime

For those of you just waking up after being lulled into a deep, dark coma by the Titans and Jaguars on Thursday Night Football, don’t worry – you didn’t miss much.

Tennessee and Jacksonville combined for just 32 points, staying well below the closing total of 41.5 points and improving NFL primetime games – Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights – to 10-21-1 Over/Under on the season – a 68 percent winning rate for the Under.

Cincinnati-Arizona (48.5) and Buffalo-New England (48) are the next primetime tilts on the sked.

Dressed for success?

I was really excited when I found out my Dallas Cowboys would be sporting a new “Color Rush” jersey for their annual Thanksgiving Day game next week. But after they unveiled the alternative unis last night, I can’t help but think the creatives at Nike got lazy on this one.

The Cowboys’ “new” Color Rush outfits look pretty much identical to the team’s 75th anniversary jerseys worn during the 1994 season. You may also notice that they’re the same ones Kevin O’Shea’s Pee-Wee Cowboys sported in Little Giants, which was released the same year.

That 1994 Dallas squad won 12 games but finished 8-8 ATS and 6-10 O/U. For my sake, let’s hope the 2015 squad can capture a bit of that ‘94 success against the Panthers on Turkey Day, tabbed as a pick, and not end up like Spike and the bad-guy Cowboys from the kids film (which I’ve seen 100 times). Hey, Carolina actually did run the “The Annexation of Puerto Rico” once…

The Madden Project

I asked my 10 year old what he wanted for Christmas and he said Madden packs. The conversation is as follows:

Me: “Why do you want those?”

Him: “So I can get new players for my team.”

Me: “Doesn’t the game come with all the players? What the hell are we paying $90 bucks for?”

Him: “Yeah but not for Ultimate Team! You don’t get everyone! You can get like Bo Jackson and Dan Marino and a 100 Odell Beckham so you can do ‘The Catch’. And you have to buy packs to get…”

Me: “Oh my God, stop. You’re getting socks and undies.”

Of course, I’m going to end up getting him some XBox gift cards so he can get his virtual ODB on. I’m not a monster. Here are this week’s Madden 16 Xbox One picks:

Dallas at Miami: 27-14/37-27/28-31 – Dallas wins 30.6-24
Green Bay at Minnesota: 37-24/28-10/44-27 – Green Bay wins 36.3-20.3
Cincinnati at Arizona: 10-17/17-10/21-24 – Arizona wins 17-16

Last week: 1-2 ATS
Madden 16 season: 17-16-1 ATS

MVP Watch

I’m gonna sound like an old man, but dances nowadays are terrible. That whole “Whip and Nae Nae” thing is the rhythmic equivalent of writing “BOOBIES” on a calculator, and now modern dance has sunk to a new low with the “Dab”. That’s the one Cam Newton does every time he stretches out over the goal line for a score, basically coughing into his elbow like your mom taught you. See you don’t spread germs that way.

Somehow, this dance was a story this week and not the fact that Newton has come from +1,500 down to +200 to win NFL MVP. The way oddsmakers have this prop priced, it’s a two-man race between Cam and Tom Brady (-220). The next three dudes on the list – Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, and Andy Dalton – are all +1,000 or higher. Cam could have some bettors dancing all the way to the bank.

Biggest line move…

San Francisco at Seattle. This one opened as low as Seahawks -10 and was bet up as high as -13.5 with one-sided money on the home team. You can’t blame bettors. The Niners are 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight versus Seattle.

Sharps like…

Arizona and Kansas City. According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, smart money has jumped on these two teams more than any other. His books are desperately trying to cling to the key number in the Chief game, moving the juice on KC from -3 (-110) to -3 (-125). As for the Cardinals spread, that opened -2.5 and is now -5.

Biggest sweat…

Kansas City at San Diego. As mentioned the wiseguys are on the Chiefs in this one, and so is the public. The Chargers haven’t shown much fight and Kansas City is coming off an impressive win against Denver.

“Not the kind of games you like to have,” says Simbal. “It will be us against everybody. Usually it’s us and the sharps against the public, but that’s not the case here.”

Banker Game of the Week…

Buffalo at New England. Any parlays and teasers that survive the weekend will be tied into the Patriots on Monday night.

“Anytime (the Patriots) are laying single digits at home, people will bet them,” says Simbal. “We will need the dog with all the live parlays pouring into the Patriots Monday night, that’s for sure.”

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

I was watching my Cowboys stink it up against the Bucs last Sunday when Fox cut away for a highlight from the Saints-Redskins game. There, hauling ass down the sideline was Washington running back Matt Jones, taking a screen pass 78 yards to the house.

I immediately texted Covers editorial content supervisor Andrew “Ninja” Avery, who edits this monstrous rambling mess each week, simply stating, “Matt Jones!”

His reply, “Oh f#cking huuuuuuge”.

Yes Ninja, it was f#cking huuuuuuge. This was pretty much my reaction…

See, Week 10 marked the first time this season my weekly DFS pick actually did something, getting 26.2 points from Jones on the day. That’s exactly half of my season total through the first nine weeks. Gross.

So, how do you follow up that? Here’s how… that sounded cocky but I’m going to ride this one till the wheels fall off:

C.J. Anderson, RB Denver Broncos ($5,700)

It’s crazy to think Anderson was among the top DFS players last season and entered the year as everyone’s hot pick to tear it up. Well, Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking schemes haven’t really worked and Anderson is trapped in running back hell – averaging only 6.3 DFS points per game. However, the Broncos will be looking to dumb things down a little with Peyton Manning out and Brock Brock Osweiler in, which leaves me to believe we’ll see more rushing attempts and some short passes coming Anderson’s way.

Injury you should know

Rodney Hudson, C Oakland Raiders

Hudson practiced Thursday but is still questionable with an ankle injury. Center is one of the most undervalued positions in football betting, and Hudson could be worth even more since he’s working with Raiders second-year QB Derek Carr, who is on fire with three straight 300-yard games.

Without Hudson timing on snaps is off, which means the offensive rhythm is beats behind – especially on the road in a loud environment. Oakland (+1) is taking on Detroit, which sacked Aaron Rodgers three times in last Sunday’s stunner. Keep a close eye on Hudson’s status for Sunday.

We know how to pick’em

There are a ton of tight spreads to choose from in Week 11. Three games opened at a pick’em and two others have bounced back and forth on the fence. But being a die-hard Dallas fan – and with the Cowboys playing the Dolphins – there’s no way in hell we can go with two other cheer squads. So don’t stress yourself over breaking down the stats and trends for this matchup, just go with whatever cheerleaders you prefer.

Sunday’s menu

Since my Cowboys play the early game, I like to make my slow cooker do all the work so I can sit on my ass and watch football. And in honor of Tony Romo’s return to the gridiron, I’m going with some “Romo-tini” pasta in “Romo” tomato sauce. This recipe looks so damn good…

Song for Sunday

Hey, did you hear Romo is back?! For all you Cowboys fans, you can’t say it enough. For everyone else, well, Tony said it best in a Tweet earlier this week. So what should No. 9’s walkout music be this week in Miami? Here’s my suggestion…

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 11.

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