The Muffed Punt: We’ve been betting the ‘NFC Least’ all wrong

The NFC East is the laughing stock of the NFL. Its four members seem to want the division title about as much as a kid getting clothes for Christmas, and its worst team – the Dallas Cowboys – is 4-8 SU and somehow still has a legit shot at the postseason.

The “NFC Least” hasn’t been great for football bettors either. Only one team is actually in the black, the New York Giants at 6-5-1 ATS, with the division combining for a 20-27-1 ATS record – collectively covering the spread just 42 percent of the time. And that’s counting divisional games as well. Take out those contests where at least one NFC East team has to cover and you have an 11-18-1 ATS puke stain – 38 percent success.

However, if the NFC East has put a lump of coal in your stocking this holiday season (brace for a ton of Xmas references between now and Week 16), you better not cry and you better not pout (I warned you). That chunk of fossilized carbon can become a football betting diamond if you know how to apply the right amount of pressure.

What if I told you there was a certain gambling proposition in which NFC East teams were covering at a bountiful 62 percent on the season, heading into Week 14? Would you slap me on the face like the office perv dealing out mistletoe-induced kisses at your Christmas party or would you go full-on makeout session in front of your boss and co-workers? Well baby, you better break out the ChapStick.

First half lines – spreads specifically for the first 30 minutes of football – have been the NFC East’s wheelhouse this season. Well, at least for three of the division’s four teams. Dallas and New York are both 8-4 ATS versus the first-half spreads while the Washington Redskins are 7-5 ATS in the opening two quarters. The Philadelphia Eagles, whose fan base is notorious for pelting Santa Claus with battery-stuffed snowballs, is just 3-9 ATS on the first half line.

Betting teams like the Cowboys and Giants solely in the first half makes sense, considering how many times they’ve pissed away leads and close games this season. Dallas, on average, has been a 1.2-point underdog for the first half, with an average point differential of -0.7 in those opening frames. New York has faced an average first half line of +0.5 and has covered that with an average first-half point differential of +2.25.

The first-half fun doesn’t begin or end in the NFC East, though. Other teams have been just a profitable in that abbreviated game time. To no surprise, the Carolina Panthers are the best first-half bet in the league at 9-3, facing an average first-half spread of -1.7 and leading by an average of nearly a touchdown at the break.

Other notable first-half bets include the New England Patriots (8-4 ATS) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-4 ATS). On the other end of the scale, the worst team to bet on in the first two quarters – besides the Eagles – are the Green Bay Packers (3-9 ATS). There are five other clubs at 4-8 ATS versus the first half spread.

If you thought the first-half ATS success of the NFC East was about as surprising as that Christmas you got a Sega Genesis AND a Nintendo GameBoy (I’m still shaking), then wait until you get a load of the second-half line winners.

Looking back at second-half spreads – better known as halftime lines – the Houston Texans are “straight cash homey” with a 9-2-1 ATS mark in the final two quarters. The Texans have faced an average halftime line of -0.4 and have an average scoring differential of more than six points in the final two quarters.

Behind Houston are the Minnesota Vikings, who improved to 9-4 ATS versus the halftime line after covering the 6-point second-half spread against the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs (8-4 ATS) – and, surprisingly, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, (both at 8-4 ATS).

The Ravens have actually stood up to an average halftime line of -2.0 while just covering those with an average scoring differential of +2.25. The Niners, on the other hand, have been average underdogs of 3.7 points with a scoring difference of -2.7 in those final two frames.

The bottom of the barrel in terms of second half bets are the New Orleans Saints (3-8-1 ATS) and Detroit Lions (3-9 ATS), who have been underdogs of +1.1 and +1.8 on average but are outscored by 7.3 and 5.4 points per second half respectively. The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons round out the bottom, both at 4-8 ATS versus the halftime line this season.

Pants-pooping Trend of the Week

A spicy trend we’ve been tracking this season is the ATS success of road underdogs of six or more points, which is very applicable to Week 14 which has five teams getting more than six points away from home – six if you include the Vikings’ cover as 10-point pups in Arizona Thursday.

Following Minnesota’s ATS win, road underdogs of six or more points are 29-18-2 ATS, covering the spread almost 62 percent of the time this season. Since Thanksgiving, they’ve gone 5-2 ATS – 71 percent winners.

This Sunday, Tennessee, San Diego, Atlanta, Oakland, and Dallas are all getting six or more as visitors.

Prime numbers

Not only did Minnesota’s ATS win against Arizona extend the trend above, but it also played into the one panning out in the biggest games of the schedule.

The Vikings improved underdogs to 25-14-2 ATS (64%) in primetime games – Thursday, Sunday, Monday nights – but the 23-20 win for the Cardinals (-10) stayed below the closing total of 46.5 points, giving primetime contests a 15-25-1 (62.5% Unders) Over/Under record heading into Sunday’s Week 14 slate.

The Texans are 3.5-point home dogs to the Patriots Sunday night, with a total of 44.5, while the Dolphins – after opening as 2-point faves – are now 1-point dogs hosting the Giants Monday. That total is at 46.5 points.

Pigs in $hit

I look forward to my Friday football chats with Rob Cressy from BaconSports.com. It gets the gears grinding before tackling this monster-ass column. I don’t know if you can tell on this video or not, but I’ve had one of those annoying twitches in the left eye for the past few days. God, those are the worst. You probably can’t see it but I feel like frickin’ Columbo on the screen.

The Madden Project

I took my pick’em pool last week with a 13-3 ATS record (I shit you not), and it was my faith – or blind stupidity – in my Cowboys Monday that secured the win. But it seems like anyone – even a machine – could have made it rain in Week 13. Last week’s Madden picks went 2-1 including the Eagles’ cover versus the Pats.

Let’s see what the magical Madden machine can cook up this week…

Buffalo at Philadelphia: 33-39/27-19/27-30 – Eagles win 29.3-29
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: 24-35/24-17/27-42 – Bengals win 31.3-25
Dallas at Green Bay: 21-37/19-16/6-21 – Packers win 24.7-15.3

Last week: 2-1 ATS
Madden 16 season: 21-21-1 ATS (50%)

Biggest line move…

Detroit at St. Louis. The Thursday night line move was bonkers, going from Arizona -7.5 to as big as -11. But for Sunday, this Lions-Rams game has jumped from St. Louis -1 to +3. See why below.

Sharps like…

Detroit Lions. The Lions opened as 1-point road underdogs in St. Louis and wiseguys jumped on Detroit and moved this spread four points to Lions -3. Detroit is an Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary away from a four-game winning streak.

Biggest sweat…

Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are 7.5-point home favorites hosting the Falcons and according to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, he expects 70 percent of parlays to have Carolina tied in.

“We’re going to need the Falcons in this one, but they can’t seem to get out of their own way,” says Simbal.

Banker game…

New England at Houston. The Sunday finale is normally a big game for books but Week 14’s schedule isn’t doing them any favors. Three of the most publicly-backed NFL teams headline the late games – Denver and Green Bay at 4 p.m. ET and Patriots at night. Simbal says a ton of parlays will be on those three teams both against the spread as well as moneylines.

“You get the Broncos laying a touchdown, Packers laying a touchdown and then the Patriots giving around a field goal,” says Simbal. “If all three come in, that’ll be a big problem. If the Broncos and the Packers can get there, the whole day will hinge on that night game in Houston.”

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

Damn it, Vernon Davis. I should have listen to Mike Singletary before I made him my DFS PoW in Week 13.

DFS Player of the Week: Danny Amendola, WR New England Patriots ($7,000)

I’m surprised Amendola is so cheap this week. His quarterback, Tom Brady, is the most expensive option when it comes to passers, yet his favorite target in recent weeks is out there for pennies on the dollar. Amendola has been targeted 36 times in his last three games (missed Week 12 with a knee injury), reeling in 26 receptions for 258 yards.

He’s averaged more than 15 DFS points in those contests and is playing in his native Houston Sunday night. He is listed as questionable due to that bum knee, which limited him in practice this week, but he sounds like he’s preparing to play.

Injury to note

Adam Jones, CB Cincinnati Bengals (foot)

The Bengals could miss “Pacman” when they go to war with the Steelers Sunday. Jones is the veteran anchor in this secondary and after showing up at practice this week with a cast on his foot, he posted a pic on Instagram of his foot – sans cast. He’s still wearing a boot and missed Friday’s practice, so chances are he’s a no-go for Sunday. Cincinnati, which has allowed only 16 passing plays of 25 yards or more, is going up against a home run-hitting Pittsburgh offense that leads the league with 36 passes for 25-plus.

We know how to pick’em

Each week, we take the game with the pick’em spread – or the closest thing to it – and invite you to turn your handicapping over to your basic animal instincts, by which we mean bet on the team with the hottest cheerleaders. This week, the Colts and Jaguars are sitting on the fence, as of Friday afternoon, so put the spread sheets and hardcore analysis away and enjoy some AFC Southern belles.

Sunday’s menu

If you haven’t been looking at the weather forecasts every Sunday, you should start. December throws a lot of cold, wind and rain at teams and it looks like Chicago (winds over 20 mph), Kansas City (rain), and Green Bay (rain) will see some impact by the element. This is perfect stew weather.

We have a family recipe that’s passed down from generation to generation, so I can’t give you that exact formula, but this looks pretty fitting for a blustery Sunday in December. Stick to your ribs-type food.

Song for Sunday

So, rumors are soaring that DeMarco Murray wants back in Big D, after scorning the Cowboys for the rival Eagles in free agency this offseason. Part of me would love to see Murray return, especially with the way this season has gone.

But, like a high school girl whose boyfriend broke her heart chasing after the next hot thing – only to have him come crawling back – I will be strong, cut my bangs and jump on my bed listening to this joint. Suck it DeMarco…


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 14.

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