The Muffed Punt: In the ‘Season of Giving’ it pays to take big NFL underdogs

‘Tis the season for giving, not just with Christmas on the way but also in the wonderful world of NFL betting. Oddsmakers do their best Santa Claus impersonation in December, but instead of stuffing the stockings of good girls and boys with toys and goodies, they’re stuffing the odds board with handfuls of points for bad NFL teams.

Pointspreads are like coats: they are getting bigger the colder it gets. December, especially the final three weeks of the schedule, is known for its lofty spreads. You have good teams in playoff contention pushing toward the postseason, meeting up with crap teams just counting down the days until the season ends – like some sort of depressing advent calendar.

That gives us sizable spreads like the New England Patriots giving 14.5 points to the Tennessee Titans at home, and the Seattle Seahawks handing over 15 points to the visiting Cleveland Browns Sunday.

Two-touchdown pointspreads are still relatively rare air in the NFL, which prides itself on parity. Before Week 15, there were just three closing spreads of 14 points or more this season, and only 90 in the past 11 years going back to 2005. Of those 90 spreads of 14 points or more, 38 have occurred in the final month of the schedule. That’s more than 42 percent of those big spreads coming in the closing month of a four-month regular season.

Those 38 December (including two January 14-plus spreads) dogs getting two touchdowns or more from oddsmakers are 25-13 ATS since 2005, covering the spread 66 percent of the time. That’s a sharp increase in ATS success when compared to the overall record of 14-plus pups in the past 11 seasons, which is 49-38-3 ATS – 56 percent winners against those lofty spreads.

NFL underdogs of 14 or more points were a very hot play heading into 2015. Over the past three football seasons, 14-plus pups posted a collective record of 11-4-1 ATS from 2012 to 2014, biting bookies for a 73 percent success rate. However, this season has flipped that trend on its ear, with all three 14-plus underdogs failing to stay within that mountain of points.

Funny enough, the teams that covered the spread as big favorites in those contests were Seattle and New England – the two teams giving 14-plus this Sunday. The Seahawks shot down spreads of -16.5 vs. Chicago and -14 against the 49ers and the Patriots covered as 14.5-point home favorites with a 51-17 shit-kicking of the Jaguars back in Week 3.

Seattle and New England are no strangers to spreads of two touchdowns or more. Since 2005, the Patriots have been tagged as 14-plus favorites 18 times, boasting just an 8-10 ATS mark in those games. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have given 14-plus points just five times in that stretch and are 4-1 ATS in those games.

Points of interest

A popular strategy when betting NFL games with big spreads is to lean toward the Over, thinking that if the favorite is going to cover the spread it will need to score a lot of points to do so. Well, the 90 games with spreads of 14 points or more since 2005 have produced a 47-40-3 Over/Under mark – topping the total just 54 percent of the time. Meh.

Foreign affairs

It’s Christmas time, which means you’re on the way to visit people you haven’t seen or heard from since, well… last Christmas. And no, the daily game requests your aunt spams you on Facebook doesn’t count as “keeping in touch”.

Week 15 of the NFL season is the football equivalent of that holiday task, with a number of teams meeting foes they haven’t seen in quite some time. There are just two divisional matchups on the board – Chicago at Minnesota and Houston at Indianapolis – and the rest are non-divisional battles, with a handful of non-conference games sprinkled in.

Here are the best/worst non-divisional bets this season:

Best ATS vs. non-division

Carolina 8-1 ATS
Minnesota 7-2 ATS
Pittsburgh 6-3 ATS
Cincinnati 6-1-1 ATS

Worst ATS vs. non-division

Dallas 2-6 ATS
New Orleans 2-5 ATS
Baltimore 2-6-1 ATS
Tennessee 3-6 ATS

Best Over vs. non-division

Cleveland 6-2 O/U
Jacksonville 6-2 O/U
Carolina 5-3-1 O/U
Cincinnati 5-3 O/U

Best Under vs. non-division

Minnesota 1-7 O/U
St. Louis 2-8 O/U
Atlanta 2-7 O/U
Green Bay/Dallas 2-6 O/U

**Fun notes: The Patriots and Colts are both 61-45-3 ATS (57.%) versus non-divisional opponents since 2005. The Redskins are the worst non-divisional bet in that span, with a 40-60-9 ATS mark (40%). The Broncos are 66-40-2 O/U (62% Overs) in non-divisional matchups since 2005 while the Falcons are 46-62-1 Over/Under (57% Unders).

The big 5-0

The Jacksonville Jaguars hung a 50 spot on the Colts last weekend, winning 51-16. That’s just the 73rd time a NFL teams has hit the 50-plus point mark in the regular season since 1985. Looking at those previous 72 teams and their games following those offensive explosions, they’ve gone 47-25 SU, 36-33-3 ATS, and 34-38 Over/Under, scoring an average of 26.4 points in the subsequent game.

Swine time

Due to some technical glitches, my weekly video chat with Rob Cressy of was relegated to an audio podcast. It’s probably for the best. My two youngest kids were both up last night screaming and crying, so I look like the “Ghost of Christmas Ass”, which sounds like it could be a good thing, but it’s not what you think.

The Madden Project

I’m looking forward to some time off over the holidays and trash talking my 10 year old as I destroy him in video games. Listen, parents: You want your kid’s respect. Don’t treat them fairly and hear out their issues. Learn the finishing moves for Mortal Kombat.

Here are this week’s Madden 16 sims:

N.Y. Jets at Dallas: 14-21/28-10/28-24 – Jets win 23.3-18.3
Carolina at N.Y. Giants: 34-31/28-34/27-17 – Panthers win 29.7-27.3
Arizona at Philadelphia: 38-14/25-35/24-21 – Cardinals win 29-23.3

Last week: 1-2 ATS
Madden 16 season: 22-23-1 ATS (49%)

Biggest line move…

There aren’t any huge line moves in Week 15, but the Houston-Indianapolis line opened pick and moved to Colts -2 after being held off the board all week. Matt Hasselbeck is expected to play, which is why the line has swung toward the home team.

Sharps like…

Buffalo Bills. The smart money is on the Bills, moving their spread slightly from -1 to -1.5 at Washington Sunday. Buffalo is a resilient team, going 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games coming off a SU loss.

Biggest sweat…

Green Bay Packers. The Cheeseheads come to the Bay Area to play the Raiders, moving from a field-goal fave to -3.5. According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, plenty of public money will show on the Packers by 4:05 p.m ET kickoff.

“People are dying to bet the Packers right now and wanted a reason to bet them all year,” says Simbal. “This short spread is it. People don’t like to lay the big favorites, like the Patriots and Seahawks this week, so they’ll look to Green Bay.”

Banker Game…

Broncos at Steelers. This game has moved from Pittsburgh -6 to -7 on simply public money pushing the spread. According to Simbal, the Steelers have been the most-bet team in the NFL in recent weeks but the same can’t be said for Denver.

“People have kind of soured on the Broncos a bit,” he says, noting their loss to Oakland last Sunday. “The Pittsburgh bandwagon is filling up. That offense is so explosive and people like to bet on that.”

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

Rob Gronkowski doesn’t spoil parties – he is the party. But Gronk did spoil my DFS PoW for Week 14, coming back from injury to snag four balls for 87 yards and a score, leaving my selection of Danny “God” Amendola – my new nickname for him (Get it? God damn? Get it?) – to scrounge for six catches for 45 yards and 7.6 DFS points. But who am I kidding? I can’t stay mad at Gronk.

DFS Player of the Week: Doug Baldwin, WR Seattle ($7,400)

I’m a little late to the Doug Baldwin party but I think it keeps jumpin’ with Seattle down to scrubs in the run game and Cleveland coming to town. Russell Wilson is focusing all his pent-up sexual energy into his game, although rumors of a possible engagement to Ciara are bouncing around, so we may not have much time to cash in on that. Baldwin has eight touchdowns in the last three games, so even if there is a regression in Week 15, he’ll still catch one or two.

Injury to note

Kam Chancellor, SS Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks defense went to shit when Chancellor sat out the first three games of the season due to a contract dispute and watched Seattle go 1-2 SU and ATS while allowing 61 points in the first two games. Kam could be out of order again versus Cleveland, nursing a bruised tailbone that limited him last week and held him out of practice this week.

Without Chancellor, Seattle will look to backup SS Kelcie McCray to make his first career start. Defensive players are rarely ever given an actual value toward the pointspread, but Chancellor would be among those top defensive talents that are pretty damn close to impacting a line.

We know how to pick’em

There’s a week before Xmas, so you’ve got a lot on your mind. Let these lovely ladies do the handicapping for you. As we do each week, we take the game with the pick’em spread (or closest to it), put away the spread sheets and computer models, and turn it over to each team’s cheerleaders, wagering on which squad is the hottest. The Texans and Colts opened pick, before the line moved to Indy -2. Enjoy!

Sunday’s menu

My wife’s sister is in town visiting from Houston with her kids, so we’ll likely get together for a big meal at my in-laws place Sunday. I don’t know what’s on the menu, but I’m guessing something BBQ’d. There’s something about BBQ is December – it just tastes better. This looks pretty good:

Song for Sunday

Injuries have taken their toll on many top teams, with the Bengals losing QB Andy Dalton and Carolina missing RB Jonathan Stewart, just to name a few. Winning the game is just part of season-long success. You have to survive them.

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 15.


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