The Muffed Punt: Revealing the NFL’s cleanest covers and sweatiest spreads

As a sports bettor, I get a lot of questions thrown my way – as I’m sure some of you do too. I’m always asked about my craziest win and my most painful beat, but one of the more common questions/scenarios posed is whether I’d rather win a bet on a last-second field goal in a back-and-forth game OR cash in on a blowout in which my money was safe since the first quarter.

For me, I’ll take the last-second squeaker.

A big part of what makes sports betting appealing is drama. Not so much the drama on the field, but the inner war being waged due to wagers. We’re talking about sweats here people. Good ol’ fashioned edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath, face-dropping, barf-bubbling sweats. The kind of finish that you can’t tell whether people are desperately cheering for a goal-line stand to stay Under the total or rooting for a group of astronauts blowing up a doomsday meteorite that was just minutes from crashing into the earth.

But that’s me. I like to have a fishing story to tell. You never see a group of dudes at the bar huddled around a guy spinning yarn about how he took Seattle to cover the +1.5 versus Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII – a game the Seahawks covered  from start to finish with a 43-8 squash.

And if you’re like me, then you’re probably not betting on Carolina Panthers’ games any time soon. The 8-0 Panthers, according to Covers’ exclusive Bet Graphs (which track the ATS progress throughout a game), are the least sweaty team in the NFL – the Right Guard Sport – when you take into account their ATS success (6-2 ATS – third in the NFL) and the amount of game time in which they’ve covered the spread, which is 62 percent.

That means that of the roughly 490 total minutes of football Carolina has played, it’s covered for bettors in almost 304 of those minutes. It makes sense: the Panthers are playing much better than expected against an average spread of -2.25. Not that tough to tackle.

Given my passion for tight finishes and sweaty, sweaty bets, it’s no wonder I’m a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, who hold the mantle as the “Patrick Ewing of the NFL”. No team has covered the spread longer during their games only to rip the hearts out of football bettors, like Mola Ram in Temple of Doom.

Heading into Week 10, Dallas has played just over 484 minutes of football – the majority of those without QB Tony Romo – and has covered the spread in 317 of those minutes. That’s 65.5 percent of their games, which is second only to the Oakland Raiders (4-4 ATS) at 69.75 percent. But despite defying the oddsmakers’ expectations for that long, Big D has been a big dud at 2-6 ATS.

The worst bet in the NFL – in terms of ATS success (or lack thereof) and time outside the ATS pocket – are the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore, which comes off the bye in Week 10 hosting Jacksonville as a 5.5-point favorite, played five of its first eight games on the road, leading to a 2-6 SU mark and a 1-6-1 ATS record. Breaking down the Ravens’ Bet Graphs, they were only covering the spread in 26.75 percent of those games – almost 134 of 500 total minutes of action.

But let’s not all pile on Baltimore just yet. As mentioned, the schedule was a total B to start the season and the Ravens have played in six games decided by five or fewer points, facing an average spread of -1.25. Opponents haven’t really had to lay it on thick to cover against John Harbaugh’s guys. But that said, bettors aren’t asking for the moon from Baltimore either.

Now, there are a number of factors that go into the percent of game time a team actually covers the spread – most importantly the pointspread itself. The NFL’s top teams obviously face larger piles of chalk each week, taking more time to exceed those lines than say a team that was pegged as a short favorite.

As an example, the New England Patriots – for all their dominance this season – have gone 5-2-1 ATS and were covering the spread in just 258 of their total 480 minutes of game time heading into Sunday. That’s only 53.75 percent, thanks to New England backers battling an average spread of just over a touchdown per game. Even with Tom Brady & Co. scoring 0.514 points per play, it take a few ticks of the clock to come through at the window.

The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, have taken on an average spread of -5.6 points per week, and have managed to cover that number in five of their eight games, meeting oddsmakers’ expectations for only 186 total minutes of game time this season – 38.75 percent. It’s been even worse in the past three contests, with the Cheeseheads going 0-3 ATS and covering for about 18 minutes combined versus San Diego, Denver and Carolina.

The NFL’s undefeated ATS team, the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 7-0-1 against the spread (recording a push in Week 5), have had a tougher time cashing in with the market reacting to their SU success (8-0 SU). Through the first four games of the season, the Bengals were covering more than 87 percent of total game time but has since watched that drop to 23.5 percent over the last four outings. Cincinnati is giving 10.5 points at home to Houston this weekend.

So what does it all mean in the grand scheme of football betting? I guess tracking these ATS/time percentages will give you an idea of how often a NFL team is competitive, at least in the eyes of the oddsmakers. Here’s a look at the top and bottom in terms of time played covering:

1. Oakland (4-4 ATS) 69.75%
2. Dallas (2-6 ATS) 65.5%
3. Pittsburgh (5-3-1 ATS) 62.11%
4. Carolina (6-2 ATS) 62.0%
5. Jacksonville (4-4 ATS) 60.02%

28. Houston (3-5 ATS) 32.25%
29. Miami (3-5 ATS) 32.25%
30. Philadelphia (4-4 ATS) 32.12%
31. Atlanta (4-5 ATS) 31.0%
32. Baltimore (1-6-1 ATS) 26.75%

Prime numbers

The Bills-Jets game Thursday night followed a season-long trend for NFL primetime games, one we’ve been tracking every few weeks. Those AFC East rivals produced another ATS win for the underdog (Buffalo won 22-17 as a 2.5-point pup) and another payday for the Under (final stayed below the 42-point total.

Those results make Underdogs 17-11-1 ATS (60%) in primetime games – Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights – and gave those showcases a collective 9-19-1 Over/Under mark on the season, with teams playing below the total 68 percent of the time under the lights heading into the weekend.

Let the big dog eat!

Last week, we looked at a current trend of NFL road underdogs of six or more points going 18-12-1 ATS (60%) heading into Sunday’s action. There were three road teams getting 6-plus – Washington, Tennessee, and Jacksonville – and while the Redskins (+13.5) couldn’t keep it close versus the Patriots, the Titans and Jaguars (+7.5) came through for bettors, improving that trend to 20-13-1 ATS (almost 61%).

This Sunday, there are a handful of teams getting six or more points away from home: Detroit +11.5 at Green Bay, Chicago +7 at St. Louis, Miami +6 at Philadelphia, and Houston +10.5 at Cincinnati.

Pants-Pooping Trend of the Week

This week, we have dueling Trends of the Week centered around the Chiefs-Broncos game.

First, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid is notorious for coming off the bye week strong, posting a 13-1 SU record and 10-4 ATS mark off the bye during his time in Philadelphia, but going 1-1 SU and ATS fresh from a week off in his two seasons with the Chiefs.

Second, the Broncos are 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS off a loss since Peyton Manning took over at quarterback. Denver has also played Over in seven of those games following a regular season loss. Manning was back at practice Thursday despite a foot injury and is expected to play against Kansas City and avenge the Broncos’ first loss of the season, dropping a 27-24 decision to Indianapolis last Sunday.

The Madden Project

Hey, remember when chess master and all-around weirdo Bobby Fischer took on a MIT super computer back in late 70’s and whooped that machine’s ass (if it had one)? Well, this ain’t that.

We’re merely simulating weekly NFL games on Madden 16 for Xbox One to see if there is any handicapping value – and so far there really hasn’t (it did go 2-1 ATS last week). Although, the machine is doing better than like half the people in my weekly NFL pick’em pool. Here are this week’s sims…

New England at New York: 41-21/48-35/24-21 – New England wins 38-26.6
Arizona at Seattle: 20-13/21-27/35-34 – Arizona wins 25.3-24.6
Kansas City at Denver: 17-28/20-30/24-21 OT – Denver win 26.3-20.3

Last week: 2-1 ATS
Madden 16 season: 16-14-1 ATS (53%)

Yes We Cam!

How much is a win over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers worth to Cam Newton’s MVP campaign?

Well, the 8-0 Panthers’ dual-threat QB passed for almost 300 yards, threw three touchdowns and added another 57 yards and a score on the ground, bumping him from +600 to win MVP to +400 heading into Week 10. Newton opened the season at +1,500 to win the league’s top individual honor.

Rodgers, who opened at +300 back in July, watched his MVP odds move from +350 to +500. Tom Brady is the clubhouse leader as of Week 10, moving from -180 to -300 following the Patriots’ win against Washington.

Biggest line move…

Houston at Cincinnati. The Bengals opened as big as 13-point favorites for this Monday nighter, but have been bet down as low as -10.5 at some online markets.

Another notable adjustment is the total for the Dolphins-Eagles game, which opened 47 and climbed to as high as 50 points at some online books. In Las Vegas, CG Technology – which operates books at The M, Cosmopolitan and Venetian – went as high as 49.5 with wiseguys blasting the Over.

“I guess they think Sam Bradford has turned a corner,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology.

Sharps like…

Jacksonville. The Jaguars opened as 6.5-point road underdogs at Baltimore in Week 10 and smart money has trimmed a full point off that line, bring the spread down to -5.5. There has also been some wiseguy money show up on Detroit just before the weekend, moving that spread from Green Bay -11 to -10.5.

Biggest sweat…

Carolina at Tennessee. According to Simbal, 95 percent of the total handle on this game is riding on the Panthers. This game also has a ton of parlays tied to it.

“We took 36 bets on Carolina before taking a single bet on the Titans,” says Simbal. “People are finally buying into the Panthers.”

Banker Game…

New England at New York. The NFL schedule makers didn’t do the sportsbooks any favors in Week 10, slotting three of the four most public teams in football right now in the late games. The Patriots -7.5 will be on every parlay that comes to the window Sunday, as will the Denver Broncos. Many of those will also include the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night.

“If the Panthers lose or fail to cover the spread, there won’t be as much live stuff going into the afternoon games,” says Simbal. “If the Panthers get there, it won’t crush the books unless the Pats and Broncos also get there.”

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

This shit is getting ridiculous. We went with Steelers TE Heath Miller last week, and he laid an egg with only 4.7 DFS points. So far this season, my Player of the Week picks have combined for 52.5 points through nine weeks – that’s a piss-poor 5.8 points a pick. To put that into perspective, DeAngelo Williams had 71 percent of that when he put up 37.5 DFS points on the Raiders last Sunday.

I’m not making it easy on myself though. I’ve tried to find a bang-for-buck guy each week, with my best selection being Cole Beasley with 9.2 DFS points in Week 4. So, I’m staying true to that philosophy and snubbing the big-names again this week. Here goes…

Matt Jones, RB Washington Redskins ($5,700)

Jones is pretty cheap as far as running backs come and while he is sharing carries with Alfred Morris, he’s been the go-to guy for Washington this season. He’s been really quiet the past two weeks, combining for only 10 DFS points. But we see Jones taking it to a Saints rush defense that’s given up an average of 18.2 fantasy points per game to RBs.

Injury you should know

Ben Grubbs, LG Kansas City Chiefs

Grubbs didn’t practice this week and is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Broncos with a neck injury suffered versus Pittsburgh three weeks ago. Kansas City had a bye to help plug this hole in the starting offensive line but face the most ferocious pass rush in the NFL, with Denver registering 30 sacks on the season.

We know how to pick’em

Each and every week, we take the game with the tightest pointspread – usually a pick’em – and turn the handicapping over to each team’s cheerleading squad. So if you’re on the fence about the Saints at Redskins (opened pick’em, now Washington -1), leave it to the lovely ladies below. Enjoy!

Sunday’s menu

I just polished off the bathtub of chilli I made in the slow cooker last Sunday, but for some reason I’m still craving Mexican. I saw my wife brought home some taco fixings in last night’s grocery run, so I’m going to get creative and shake the taco game up like Drake – hard or soft, it’s all good.

Song for Sunday

For those who love to handicap weather into their NFL bets, Week 10 really isn’t giving you much. There are big suns across the board, with most temperatures in the mid-50s – pretty good for the middle of November.

There are just two games which may have some weather implications: Minnesota at Oakland (60% chance of rain w/ strong winds) and Arizona at Seattle (57% chance of rain). So, for those of you who love to cap weather and have nine minutes to kill (I’m remember getting leg cramps slow dancing to this long-ass song in junior high), here’s some classic GNR…


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 10.

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