Tough travels for NFL road teams on Thanksgiving weekend

You don’t have to be a Thanksgiving traveler to sympathize with the plight of Steve Martin and John Candy in the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. You only need to know the feeling of being in one place, and desperately wanting to be in another.

If you haven’t seen John Hughes’ “laugh out loud until you choke and do that scary half laugh, half cough” classic, go find a young priest and an old priest because I fear for your soul. But in short, the movie is about being home for Thanksgiving.

That’s a challenge for shower curtain ring salesmen and NFLers alike, especially those who play on the road during the holiday weekend. For those pro footballers, the Thanksgiving Thursday is a blurry blitz of game prep, travel plans, and family time before rushing off to that week’s destination, which – if recent records would indicate – translates into a rough Sunday for visiting teams.

Over the past two seasons, NFL road teams taking the field on the Sunday after Thanksgiving are a dismal 6-18 SU and ATS, failing to cover 75 percent of the time. Those visiting teams have been outscored 28.46-19.79 in those two dozen games – a difference of 8.67 points – while going up against an average spread of +2.2.

The Thanksgiving travel jinx bites road favorites even harder, with visitors giving the points going just 1-6 ATS (3-4 SU) on the Sunday after Thanksgiving since 2014. Those faves were outscored 21.57-19.57 versus an average spread of -3.2 points.

There are five teams pegged as road favorites for this post-Thanksgiving Sunday’s schedule: Tennessee (-5 at Chicago), New York (-7 at Cleveland), San Diego (-1.5 at Houston), Seattle (-6 at Tampa Bay), and New England (-7.5 at the N.Y. Jets).

Hopefully, for those backing NFL teams traveling on the holiday weekend, your bankroll doesn’t resemble a flaming rental car on the side of a frozen highway when Thanksgiving is said and done.

Now, a little perspective

While the above trend is unsettling for those looking to play on road teams in Week 12, it is a very short term tally and one that actually goes against a contrasting trend that developed with road teams on the Sunday after Thanksgiving from 2005 to 2013.

In that span, NFL teams taking to the highway on the holiday weekend were 58-37-2 ATS (46-51 SU), covering the spread 59 percent of the time. Those visiting squads were outscored by an average final of 21.50-21.06 with an average pointspread of +2.9 points – more than half a point higher than the last two seasons.

Since 2005, road favorites are 20-15-1 ATS (57 percent) on the Sunday after Thanksgiving – were 19-9-1 ATS from 2005 to 2013 – while road pups boast a 44-39-1 ATS mark in that situation (and one game closed at a pick’em).

So what do all these records mean? As we’ve seen with many trends, they go up and down, and most often balance out over time. After a peak for road teams on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we could be in the middle of a valley, considering their production the past two seasons.

Get low

Week 11 of the NFL season was a windfall for Under bettors, with 10 of the 12 games played last Sunday finishing below the betting total. When the dust cleared, Week 11 stood as the sixth-most lopsided day in terms of Over/Under results going back to 1985.

As we noted in the Week 9 edition of The Muffed Punt:

“There has been a decisive edge for the Under from Week 9 to 17 over the past two NFL season, with those games finishing a combined 116-152-4 Over/Under – staying below the number 58 percent of the time. And, going back to 2011, the Under is a collective 417-318-11 (57 percent) in the final nine weeks of regular season action.”

Since we dropped that knowledge, NFL teams have combined for an 18-23 Over/Under count (56 percent Unders) in the last three weeks with the bulk of those Under paydays coming last Sunday.

As mentioned in the above section, trends do tend to even themselves out. With that in mind, we looked back over the past 31 years and the four weeks with the most lopsided Under results to see what happened the following week:

– 12-1 Under (92.3 percent) Week 3, 1991-92 / Week 4 6-8 O/U
– 11-1 Under (91.67 percent) Week 9, 1995-96 / Week 10 7-7 O/U
– 12-2 Under (85.7 percent) Week 1, 1996-97 / Week 2 6-8-1 O/U
– 11-2 Under (84.6 percent) Week 2, 1993-94 / Week 3-7 O/U

Those four follow-up weeks finished with a combined 22-30-1 Over/Under record, playing below the total at a 58 percent clip. Two of the three Thanksgiving Day games went Under, so perhaps there are more low-scoring games to come.

Mini bye

The Thursday games can be a pain in the butt for NFL teams, having to turnaround and play on a short week. However, afterwards those squads enjoy a mini bye week, getting a few extra days of downtime before their next outing.

Here are some interesting trends pulled from our archives on teams coming off a Thursday outing:

– Games involving teams coming off a Thursday contest have gone 111-82-5 Over/Under (58 percent Over) since 2010.

– Favorites coming off a Thursday game are 50-46-2 ATS while underdogs coming off a Thursday tilt are 46-51-3 ATS.

This week, the Saints and Panthers are the two qualifying teams, with Carolina edging New Orleans last Thursday.

The Saints are at home giving a touchdown to the Rams Sunday, and favorites of -7 or higher coming off a Thursday game are 17-10-1 ATS since 2010, covering 63 percent of the time. As for the Panthers, they’re getting three points in Oakland, and underdogs of +3 or lower off a Thursday game are just 15-20-2 ATS over the last seven years (42 percent).


Sharps like…

There are three teams drawing sharp money in Week 12: San Diego, San Francisco, and the New York Jets. Wiseguys have trimmed the 49ers from +8 to +7 at Miami, while the Jets have been bet down from +9 to +7.5. However, according to Jason Simbal, the vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, the Chargers have been the biggest sharp selection Sunday, moving from pick’em to -2.5 (-115) at Houston.

Biggest move…

San Diego at Houston. As noted, smart money on the road team has pushed this spread off the fence, from pick’em to Bolts -2.5.

Biggest sweat…

Seattle at Tampa Bay. According to Simbal, there are four times more tickets written on Seattle and 2.3 times more money riding on the Seahawks, who are 6-point favorites in Tampa Sunday. He also noted that the Giants -7 is tied to the most parlays and the Titans are also drawing some big public plays, giving 5.5 points to the hapless Bears on the road.

Banker game…

Seattle at Tampa Bay. With such a one-sided handle, this 4:05 p.m. ET kickoff is the key game for sportsbooks in Week 12.

“If the Giants cover and the Titans cover, we’re going to need the Bucs in a big way,” says Simbal. “If Tampa Bay could somehow win that game, it would be good for all the books – no matter what happens in any of the other games. It will mean that much.”

Injury to watch

Offensive line, Miami Dolphins

One offensive lineman goes down. The line isn’t going to budge. But three go down, and sportsbooks raise an eyebrow.  Miami has a cluster of injuries to its blocking corps, with Pro Bowlers C Mike Pouncey (hip) and LT Branden Albert (wrist), as well as rookie G and Draft Day drama queen Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) all missing practice time this week.

The Dolphins haven’t officially ruled any of the o-linemen out, but it isn’t looking good. Tunsil returned for limited work later in the week but his injured shoulder could be more of a liability, especially if he slides over to left tackle as Miami plays musical chairs up front. Despite these missing cogs, the Fins are still giving the Niners 7.5 points at home.

We know how to pick’em

The Chargers and Texans mix it up in Houston, and books originally opened this game at a pick. Action on the road side, bumped this spread to as big as Bolts -2.5. Here we have a very good road bet going up against a very good home bet: San Diego is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games away from home while Houston is 4-0-1 ATS in its last five inside NRG Stadium.

Rather than bend you’re turkey-soaked brain out of shape, do what we do in this spot each week and forget about the stats and matchups. Pick the team with the hottest cheerleaders.

Sunday’s menu

Just like a mall security guard on Black Friday, I had to call for back up this week. My wife is away on vacation with her family in the tropics, and I’m home on the frozen Canadian tundra with the little ones. But I’m not alone. My mom jumped on a plane and came all the way from the Maritimes to help out – bless her heart.

In honor of her and my former stomping grounds, I’m serving up some seafood chowder – Nova Scotia style.

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

My weekly pick has mutated into some sick self-deprecating experiment. After going 2-7 in the first nine weeks of the season, I said “ah, f#ck it” and started flipping a coin. Hell, it couldn’t get much worse, right?

Two weeks into that strategy and the coin is unblemished at 2-0, most recently scoring a winner on the Bears +7.5 at New York last week.

OK, I won’t waste anymore of your time explaining how I suck. I know you’re here to hear what the coin says…

First we select a game at random (eyes closed on our live odds page). Da-da-da… San Diego at Houston!

And now, the coin will bequeath its knowledge, courtesy of a brand spanking new Canadian dime.

Heads: Chargers. Tails: Texans.

And it is… TAILS!

Pick: Texans +1.5

Song for Sunday

I’ve been battling a cold the past two weeks and it has since migrated from my nose and sinuses to my throat and chest, leaving me with a beyond-baritone bass in my voice that would give the late, great Barry White a run for his money.

And speaking of run, I’m sticking with my handicapping strategy of picking the team I believe will put up the most rushing yards, tied to a trend that has NFL teams covering 65 percent of the time when they surpass the league average in rushing yards (which is 106.5 rypg this week) this season.

Since jumping on this four weeks ago, I’ve gone 34-22 ATS (61%) in my weekly pick’em pool, so I’m not bailing on it yet – no matter how much data Twitter followers toss at me. Just like Barry said, “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns.

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