The Muffed Punt: The weather outside is frightful, so bet NFL totals

For those of you dreaming of a white Christmas this week, you should probably have a fallback dream, according to weather forecasts across the continent.

Thanks to what meteorologist are tabbing as a “Super El Niño”, the fluffy white stuff will be about as rare as a Whoville “Roast Beast” due to the freak warm weather phenomena playing Grinch to your postcard-perfect Christmas setting this holiday season.

Instead of snow, we’re treated to a lukewarm soggy Yule (they have pills for that) that coincides with Week 16 of the NFL season, which wraps itself around the holiday like an impulse-buy “Snuggie” on Christmas morning.

Of the 16 games on the Week 15 schedule, a dozen are in outdoor venues. Of those 12 locations, nine are expected to be played in rain or have the risk of rain some time during the game: Oakland (Thursday), Philadelphia (Saturday), Buffalo, Kansas City, East Rutherford, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Baltimore and Seattle (forecasts change as often as your kids’ Xmas lists, so always keep checking back).

Weather is always an important factor in making the week-to-week NFL odds, and is especially troublesome come this time of the year when Mother Nature has the consistency of an NFL kicker (see, they’re not very good this season). What was forecast as a partial cloudy Sunday earlier in the week turns into howling winds and driving rain on a dime.

“Weather has a huge impact and we’re always scared putting out a number a week in advance, especially at this point in the year,” Peter Korner, founder of the Nevada-based odds service The Sports Club, says. “It’s the great equalizer and bookmakers are at a disadvantage when it comes to bad weather because bettors have all week to watch the weather and bet when they want.”

The one market effected the most by the weather are the betting totals. Rain, wind, snow and even bitter cold can have a major say in how offenses and defenses perform. This season, the weather has been relatively forgiving on NFL teams, with only 16 games being played in rain or snow heading into Week 16.

Those less-than-ideal conditions have produced a 6-9-1 Over/Under record (60 percent Unders) this season, with teams averaging 39.69 combined points in those contests versus an average betting total of just under 44 points.

Looking back even further, games played in bad weather between 2003 and 2014 finished with an Over/Under count of 89-101-3 (53 percent Under) with an average combined score of 41 points versus an average betting total of 41.5 points.

Compare those numbers to this year’s Over/Under mark in dry conditions (sunny, cloudy, indoors) – 102-102-4 O/U (50 percent) with an average combined score of 46.43 points versus an average betting total of 45.15 points – and the Over/Under record in good weather between 2003 and 2014 – 1,480-1,449-63 O/U (50.5 percent Over) with an average combined score of 43.90 points versus an average total of 43.93 points.

There’s definitely a noticeable lean to the Under when the forecast calls for gloom and doom, but according to oddsmakers, there are many different ways to handicap what the heavens are dealing out.

“Like the weather itself, how it effects the game is very unpredictable,” says Korner. “People want to automatically think Under when they see bad weather, but they don’t account for things like defensive touchdowns and turnovers leading to points. And in rain and snow, it absolutely gives the running backs and receivers an advantage because they know which way to go, while the defender can’t be as aggressive and go for fakes, because there’s no traction.”

The average total for those nine Week 16 games with possible rain on the way is 44.75 points (Houston-Tennessee OTB).

Checking out

This is my last task before the Christmas break. I’m taking a few days off to spend with my wife, three kids (Ages: 10, 2 and 6 months) and shower on the regular like a normal human being. 

The dwindling work hours before the break can be some of the toughest to get through, trying to remain focused on your to-do list while also avoiding any other last-minute tasks that may trickle down and delay your holiday even further. It’s basically that scene from Office Space, where Peter is trying to sneak out before the weekend. Damn it Lumbergh…

It’s a similar feeling for NFL teams outside the playoff hunt in the final two weeks of the season. Do you stay focused and finish strong or are you already checked out, sipping sugary cocktails on vacation – inside your head?

If you are looking for an edge when it comes to betting on or against bad teams in the final two games, history doesn’t give us much to go on. Teams with win/loss records below .500 are a collective 153-233 SU and 191-184-11 ATS in Week 16 since 1985, and 132-203 SU and 164-165-5 ATS in Week 17 since 1990 (when bye weeks started). Well, those numbers are the statistical equivalent of fruitcake: good for nothing.

However, if we get a little more specific – like looking at particular teams – there are some NFL franchises who go balls-out in the final two weeks and some that have taken their balls and gone home:

Best Week 16 ATS since 1985

Washington 18-10 ATS
Seattle 18-10 ATS
Pittsburgh 17-9-1 ATS
Green Bay 17-10-2

Worst Week 16 ATS since 1985

Oakland Raiders 9-20 ATS
Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers 9-18-2 ATS
Miami 10-18-1 ATS
Dallas 11-18 ATS

Best Week 17 ATS since 1990

New England 17-6-1 ATS
Kansas City 16-8 ATs
N.Y. Jets 16-9 ATS
Green Bay 15-8-1 ATS

Worst Week 17 ATS since 1990

Oakland 7-17 ATS
Indianapolis 8-17 ATS
Miami 8-16 ATS
Chicago/New Orleans 9-16 ATS

Christmas comparisons

My family has been gearing up for Christmas since late November and have made some worthy additions to our Xmas movie catalogue, taking in a ton of holiday classics over the past month. Watching all those Christmas movies couldn’t help stir comparisons to the only other thing I’ve watched in that span, NFL football.

Here are some holiday films and their NFL equivalents:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A misfit reindeer that no one wanted on the sled team overcomes those obstacles to guide Santa through ugly weather on Christmas Eve.

Washington Redskins: A misfit quarterback that no one wanted on the first team overcomes those obstacles to guide Washington through the ugly NFC East and to a possible playoff berth. “You Like That!?”

It’s a Wonderful Life: A down-on-his luck banker wishes he had never been born and is shown by an angel just how bleak the world would be without him.

Dallas Cowboys: An oft-criticized quarterback is injured most of the season and the world is shown just how bleak his team’s record is without him.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town: A brash young upstart defies a cold-hearted ruler by delivering toys to children of a local town.

Carolina Panthers: A brash young upstart quarterback defies a cold-hearted commissioner by delivering footballs to children after each touchdown in their local town.

Bad Santa: An erratic ill-tempered thief poses as a mall Santa to rob stores and somehow maintains his position despite his bad behavior and repeated episodes with alcohol.

Cleveland Browns: An erratic ill-tempered quarterback maintains his starting position because his team has no other choice, despite his bad behavior and repeated episodes with alcohol.

Die Hard: A police officer battles terrorists in an office building despite suffering numerous gruesome injuries, eventually thwarting their evil plan and saving the day.

Pittsburgh Steelers: A NFL quarterback battles opponents on the football field despite suffering numerous gruesome injuries, eventually pushing his team into postseason contention and saving the day.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: A mopey kid in a bad sweater struggles to make the best of the holiday with a ragtag bunch of kids and a wonky Xmas tree, but eventually find the true magic of the season.

New England Patriots: A mopey football coach in a bad sweater struggles to make the best of the NFL season with a ragtag bunch of players after a rash of injuries, but eventually makes magic and heads to the postseason.

The Santa Clause: After the original Santa Claus is injured – and never heard from again – a man is forced to replace the beloved Christmas figure head and do his job in order to save Xmas.

Denver Broncos: After the original quarterback is injured – and never heard from again – a man is forced to replace the beloved football figure head and do his job in order to save the season.

The Madden Project

I’ve been on fire in my NFL Pick’Em Pool the past three weeks, reeling off a 33-15 ATS record since Week 13 – that’s damn near 69 percent baby! Right now, I’m currently tied for fourth overall on the season at 54 percent (leader is at 55.5%) and would be even higher had I not hit the shits between Week 10 and Week 12, going 15-29 ATS in that span. I shouldn’t toot my horn too loud. You could blindly have bet NFL underdogs all season long and be at 113-102-8 ATS – 52.56 percent.

This week’s Madden sims:

Washington at Philadelphia: 27-34, 20-13, 20-27 – Eagles win 24.7-22.3
New England at N.Y. Jets: 37-27, 40-16, 30-27 OT – Patriots win 35.7-23.3
Cincinnati at Denver: 27-23, 17-21, 20-21 – Broncos win 21.7-21.3

Last week: 2-1 ATS
Madden 16 season: 24-24-1 ATS (50%)

Sharps like…

Green Bay Packers. The Cheeseheads opened as 4.5-point underdogs in Arizona and that has been bet down to +4 as of Wednesday afternoon (it’s pretty early in the week, but as mentioned I’m off in about 45 mins).

“We took two early bets on the Packers,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas. “Of course, these weren’t big limit plays since we don’t open our limits until later in the week (limits between $5,000 and $10,000 early in the week) but they were two bets from respected guys who know what they’re doing, so it’s good to adjust off those.”

Biggest line move…

N.Y. Giants at Minnesota. The Vikings opened as 6-point home chalk, with Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. suspended for the game due to his shit fit against the Panthers last week. But the line has been trimmed to -4, with Beckham appealing his suspension and bettors trying to stay ahead of the possible move if he is cleared to play.

Biggest sweat…

St. Louis at Seattle. The Seahawks are rolling on a five-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 171-69 in that span, and can exact some revenge for a Week 1 loss to the Rams. Seattle is laying 13.5 points at home and has covered double-digit spreads the past two weeks.

“There are just three late afternoon games Sunday and the Jaguars-Saints game won’t draw much action and the Packers-Cardinals game will draw good two-way action,” says Simbal. “I think everyone will be laying the points with Seattle and we’ll end up needing St. Louis to cover and break up all those parlays.”

Banker game…

New England at N.Y. Jets. This 1 p.m. kickoff could dictate if the books have a winning day or another crushing Sunday like Week 15. As of Wednesday, 70 percent of bettors are siding with the visiting Patriots and that could get even higher as public money comes in closer to kickoff.

“I think everyone will be fast to lay New England at anything less than a touchdown (-3),” says Simbal. “If the Jets can win that game, we’ll be in a good spot for the rest of the day.”

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

I jumped on the Doug Baldwin bandwagon last week and the ride didn’t disappoint. The Seahawks’ red-hot receiver came through with 18.5 DFS points – not quite the 29.5 points he averaged over the previous three games. But when you’re weekly DFS picks have been about as slim as a tree lot on Xmas Eve, you’ll take what you can get.

DFS Player of the Week: DeSean Jackson WR, Washington Redskins ($6,800)

I don’t like DeSean Jackson. In fact, as a Cowboys fan, I think the former Eagle/current Redskin is my least favorite player in the league. But, ‘tis the season to open your heart and put those petty grudges behind us – especially when said grudge could make you some much-need cash following Xmas.

Jackson has been hot the past five weeks, scoring touchdowns in four of those games and averaging just over 15 DFS points in that stretch. Last week, he put up 153 yards and a score against the Bills and faces a Philadelphia defense allowing the second most fantasy points to receivers on the year.

Injury to note

Greg Zuerlein, K St. Louis Rams (illness)

A kicker? Really? Yes. Zuerlein has been banged up for the past few weeks, with hip and leg troubles and missed practice this week due to an illness. St. Louis’ defense has relied on stingy average starting field position for opponents (just past the 26-yard line – seventh best in the NFL) and rank dead last in field goal accuracy at 68 percent. In the two games without Zuerlein this season, St. Louis was outscored 58-10 (those did come against Cincinnati and Arizona). In the Week 1 upset, he was 2 for 2 on field goals including a 37-yard game-winning boot in overtime.

We know how to pick’em

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. Week 16 has the Dolphins as 1.5-point faves hosting the Colts. Good enough.

And if that doesn’t scratch your NFL cheerleader itch (is that the female equivalent to jock itch? Gross), enjoy our annual “Santa’s Little Helpers” slideshow, spreading Xmas Cheer (leaders) this holiday season.

Sunday’s menu

After some heavy eating over the Christmas holiday, I think my body is going to crave something relatively healthy. And with New Year’s on the way, I’m sure I’ll be looking to make a resolution to drop some weight. Might as well get a head start with this tasty – and healthy – choice:

Song for Sunday

Sportsbooks suffered their worst Sunday of the NFL season in Week 15, taking significant losses thanks to plenty of public favorites covering the spread and many of those game going Over as well – the popular public parlay of fave/Over.

While I have many close contacts in the sportsbook industry, I’m a bettor first and foremost. So, beg my pardon if I don’t shed a tear for the bookies when they have a losing week. You guys have our number most of the time, so I’m going to rub this one in a little. Do the damn thing J.T.!

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 16.

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