The Muffed Punt: Looking for a good NFL bet? Better start with the worst

Switching sides always makes an interesting story. One second, someone or something stands for this, that, and the other thing. Then, out of nowhere, they’re going against that grain, completely flip-flopping.

Hulk Hogan damn near caused riots when he did it in 1996. Rihanna became a household name and sold 2.8 million copies when she did it in 2007. And Star Wars built a massive empire (da da da-da, da, da-da, da da-da) when Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker did it twice in the run of six movies.

In the world of NFL betting, catching a team before they cross over to the dark side – or whatever you want to call it – can be a profitable venture.

Every NFL team has a tipping point when it comes to their pointspreads. A good team can play so well and cover every line in sight, that eventually oddsmakers must puff up their weekly spreads so big that the bubble bursts. And a terrible team can get points by the truck load, transforming them into a solid bet on Sundays.

Take a look at the six teams to enter Week 12 with an unblemished record over the past 10 NFL seasons (2005-2014). The 2005 Colts, 2007 Patriots, 2008 Titans, 2009 Colts, 2009 Saints, and 2011 Packers were a combined 25-11 SU – winning at over 69 percent – but just 15-20-1 ATS in the final six weeks of the season, covering in only 43 percent of those games.

On the far end of the scale, the four teams that entered Week 12 without a single victory in that same 10-season span closed the remaining six games with a 6-18 SU mark – 25 percent winning clip – and were actually a profitable play at 13-11 ATS – 54 percent. That’s a more lucrative proposition than teams with a .900 winning percentage in the final six weeks of the schedule (39-37-1 ATS/51 percent).

Now, not all good teams will go bad – and vice versa. For instance, the Carolina Panthers this season. They improved to 11-0 SU with a dominating win over Dallas on Thanksgiving Thursday, easily covering the spread to improve to 9-2 ATS on the year. However, it would seem like it’s much tougher for good or winning teams to consistently cover the spread in the final third of the season than it is for bad or losing teams.

For example, of the five teams that have gone 6-0 ATS to end the year, three of them had winning percentages of .500 or worse entering Week 12. And the two winning teams that were perfect ATS in the home stretch – 2009 Packers and 2011 Saints – had winning clips of .600 and .700 respectively.

There were 21 NFL teams that posted a 5-1 ATS tear to end the season from 2005 to 2014 but only seven of those clubs were considered “winning” teams. The rest of those profits came from 14 teams with winning percentages of .500 or lower, including five from clubs that entered the final six games with a .200 winning percentage.

Now, bad teams can stay bad. The only three teams to finish the season 0-6 ATS in the past 10 years were the 2014 Titans (.200 entering Week 12), 2012 Buccaneers (.400) and 2005 Raiders (.400). Those teams also combined to go 0-18 SU in that span – we’re talking the terrible trio here.

But even with that in mind, nine of the 20 teams that went 1-5 ATS to close the campaign were winning more than losing heading into Week 12 – including two undefeated teams that took a tumble at the sportsbook: the 2007 Patriots and 2009 Saints.

So, if you’re looking for the next great bet in the NFL – a team to helping stuff your stocking before the New Year – you’re better off starting from the bottom up.

Sometimes it pays to be bad.

Trends-giving

The Thanksgiving night game between the Bears and Packers saw two trends we’ve been tracking intersect in a potent parlay option, with Chicago tabbed as a 7.5-point road underdog at Lambeau Field for a primetime matchup.

The Bears stunned the Green Bay faithful – on Brett Favre night of all nights – and won 17-13. Not only did that improve road underdogs of six or more points to 25-16-2 ATS on the season (61%) but it also stayed Under the 45-point total, giving primetime games – Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights – a collective 11-23-1 Over/Under count on the year (68 percent Unders).

Sprint to the finish

Thanksgiving marks the home stretch of the NFL season, and is a reminder to teams that there’s not much time left to make a playoff push. The holiday can light a fire under some teams and burn up others. Here are the best post-Thanksgiving bets, going back to 2001:

Good ATS

Carolina Panthers (43-28-2 ATS)
Arizona Cardinals (43-34-1 ATS)
Seattle Seahawks/ San Diego Chargers (40-28-3 ATS)

Bad ATS

Oakland Raiders (26-46-1 ATS)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26-45-2 ATS)
Tennessee Titans (27-43-2 ATS)

Over

Philadelphia Eagles (41-28-3 O/U)
Denver Broncos (41-29-2 O/U)
Arizona Cardinals (42-35-1 O/U)

Under

Cleveland Browns (23-45-5 O/U)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (29-43-1 O/U)
St. Louis Rams (30-42-1 O/U)

The Madden Project

The computer is learning. It managed to call three winners – Dallas, Green Bay, Arizona – last week and finished 2-1 ATS. Nice to see I haven’t been dumbing down the Xbox One with my lowbrow Netflix selections, such as Mr. Deeds and This Is The End. Here are this week’s Madden 16 NFL predictions:

Buffalo at Kansas City: 27-24 OT/20-28/10-13 – Kansas City wins 21.6-19
Pittsburgh at Seattle: 34-17/17-23/27-23 – Pittsburgh wins 26-21
New England at Denver: 47-17/34-27/20-10 – New England wins 33.6-18

Last week: 2-1 ATS
Madden 16 season: 19-17-1 ATS (53%)

Biggest line move…

Giants at Redskins. This spread has jumped the fence, with Washington opening as a 2.5-point home favorite before one-sided money moved the line to New York -3 at some books.

Sharps like…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs opened as field-goal dogs at Indianapolis and while this spread has moved off the key number, books are grasping to the three points with all their might – juggling the juice on Jameis & Co.

“We haven’t taken a lot of bets on this one but we had two significant wagers from smarter bettors earlier this week,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas.

Biggest sweat…

Giants at Redskins. This has quickly become a one-sided handle, with all the money on the Giants. Despite the lack of a sharp opinion, sportsbooks will be cheering for Washington hard come Sunday.

“I guess people saw the Eagles and Cowboys lose, and see this as a must-win for the Giants now,” says Simbal, who is dealing New York -2.5.

Banker game…

Cardinals at 49ers. This 4:05 p.m. ET kickoff will have the majority of surviving parlays tied to it following the early games. Arizona opened as a 7.5-point favorite and is now +10.5 after books push the spread past the dead numbers.

“Every single parlay will have Arizona, and the Niners… well they’re the Niners,” says Simbal. “We took a $18,000 bet on the Cardinals moneyline to win $3,000 at -600. We will see a lot of those – not that size – but a ton of moneyline and moneyline parlays, and teasers at -3 and all that fun stuff.”

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

On the heels of my first true daily fantasy triumph in Week 10, I went with DFS-bust of the century, Broncos RB C.J. Anderson, in Week 11. While he didn’t lay a complete egg like past weeks, he managed to scrounge up 8.2 DFS points against the Bears.

Well, this Sunday we’re following the philosophy that “you have to spend money, to make money”. We’re not breaking the bank, but see solid value in a guy who has been producing under the radar all season and comes in at a reasonable cost for Week 12.

DFS Player of the Week:
Eric Decker, WR New York Jets ($7,100)

Decker is about as consistent as they come, and is among the top receivers in touchdowns with seven in his nine games this season. The Jets wideout averages 14.1 DFS points per game and takes on a Dolphins defense that has given up 1.9 passing touchdowns per game this season – sixth most in the NFL. Decker had 46 yards on four catches and a score in the Jets’ win over the Fins back in Week 4.

Injury to watch

Harrison Smith, S Minnesota Vikings

Smith is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league but he’s missed practice with a knee injury and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Falcons. Without him, Minnesota will be forced to play underperforming safety Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo as the last line of defense against an Atlanta attack that can get the ball to the second level.

We know how to pick’em

There are no actual pick’em lines on the board as of Friday afternoon, so we go with the next best thing. The Raiders travel to play the Titans, with the spread opening at Oakland -2 and moving to -1 with money on the home side. As always, we toss all the hardcore capping out the window and bet on which team you think has the hottest cheer squad.

Sunday’s menu

A couple weeks ago, my wife texted me asking what time the Cowboys played on November 29. I informed her that because Thursday was Thanksgiving, they would play then and not on the Sunday. “Oh perfect,” she responded, before informing me we were heading to a benefit at the local bar – knowing that even charity might not be enough to pull me away from a Dallas game. It is.

I did a cancer walk a couple years back while listening to a Cowboys-Giants game and my reaction to this play caught a couple screw-faces from people passing by. Anyways, I’m not on the hook for food Sunday and it’s a bar, so the games will be on. I’m gonna hit up some chicken wings and beer – which is why I replied to my wife’s text with two beautiful words: “You’re driving.”


Song for Sunday

Well, shit. So much for Tony Romo bringing the Cowboys back from the brink. Not only is Romo done for the season after re-injuring his collar bone but Dallas’ playoff chances pretty much went in the garbage along with the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. I’m gonna go lock myself in the bathroom and cry a bit to this gem…

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 12.

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