The Muffed Punt: Picking NFL winners has never been so simple

“Good teams win. Great teams cover.”

It’s an age-old adage shared among sports bettors – our version of “Where’s the beef?” or “Don’t eat yellow snow”.

Sometimes it’s on the back of a t-shirt while you’re standing in line at the book and sometimes it’s overheard at the end of the bar following a late field goal to push the favorite past the number.

And, when it comes to the NFL the past two seasons, great teams not only cover but also win outright. It seems the cream of the crop has risen to the top, with the NFL’s elite living up to its billing. This season, teams with four or more wins heading into Sunday’s action are a collective 29-7 SU and a nearly equal 28-8 ATS – covering at a jeans-moistening 78 percent. Pointspreads be damned.

This trend is nothing new. At this time last season, teams with four or more wins in the standings were a collective 38-11-2 ATS, covering the spread 77.5 percent of the time. And that success (while tempered by the gambling gods) continued for the most part, with teams finishing with double-digit wins boasting a record of 102-67-7 ATS (61 percent winners on the season) despite pointspreads puffing up with every victory.

None of those 10-plus win teams finished below .500 against the spread in 2015, with a couple going 8-8 ATS. This season, it’s more of the same. Heading into Sunday, there are seven teams with four or more wins and Oakland at 3-2 ATS is the only member of that group not to produce four paydays in the first five weeks.

It’s not great for sportsbooks (boo hoo), who consistently see public money on these teams every weekend. But, thanks to the rest of the league, bookies are making their millions on the proverbial catastro-f#ck that is the NFL’s middle class.

In fact, through five weeks and a Week 6 Thursday nighter, all but one team with a winning record has a sub .500 ATS mark and all but one team with a losing record is making money for football bettors. Those two mutants are the Baltimore Ravens (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS) and the enigmatic San Diego Chargers (2-4 SU, 4-2 ATS), who just scored a win over the defending Super Bowl champs.

Now, those elite NFL teams mentioned before don’t come cheap. You’ve got to be prepared to eat about as much chalk as a school teacher with pica. Just look at Week 6 lines like Pittsburgh -7.5 at Miami or New England -8 versus Cincinnati. Those lofty spreads are designed to weather the public storm and attract money on the other side.

Sports betting is never just as simple as betting on the team with the better win/loss record – that’s why the pointspread was invented and why Las Vegas has roads as smooth as Tom Brady’s bottom. But, as it’s shown so far this NFL season and going back to 2015, “great teams cover” and then some.

Dog catchers

Tying into the above statement, as it pertains to large pointspreads, it’s been better to give than to receive when wagering fat favorites. Heading into Sunday, underdogs of +4 or higher are just 12-17-1 ATS (10-20 SU) – covering at just a 41 percent clip.

But not all dogs are bad. Teams getting between +1 and +3.5 points from the oddsmakers are a very lucrative 31-16 ATS (28-19 SU), cashing in at a 66 percent rate. San Diego did so as +3 home dogs to Denver Thursday.

For those of your with keen betting instincts, I couldn’t help but see your eyes light up like god damn Fremont Street when you saw that those short dogs had gone 28-19 SU. That means that if you passed on the points and went straight for the sportsbooks’ jugular, betting $100 on each of those underdog moneylines, you would be up $1,949 heading into this Sunday’s action.

There are plenty of little pups on the board, with seven Week 6 games currently floating spreads between one and 3.5.

The devil you know

Divisional foes get to know each other really, really well. Kind of like your college roommate: you didn’t really like the guy but you knew everything about him – like that time he pissed his pants in the canoe at camp because he was afraid to stand up and pee in the middle of the lake.

With that in mind, (familiarity, not pissing your pants) you would think division matchups would be tight defensive battles with the teams knowing each and every move the other was about to make. But no. That’s not the case. At least not in the AFC.

Divisional games in the AFC have gone 7-3 Over/Under this season while NFC divisional contests are a ho-hum 8-7 O/U. Given the difference in results between the two conferences, don’t be surprised if a few more Unders start rolling in when AFC divisions duke it out – like Thursday’s 21-13 final score between the Broncos and Bolts.

There are currently two AFC divisional games on the board: Kansas City at Oakland (47) and Indianapolis at Houston (48.5).

Monday money

We’ve been tracking Monday Night Football underdogs and their sports betting success since last season, and guess what happened last week when the Buccaneers took on the Cam-less Panthers as 6-point road pups?

I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “schmovered”.

With that “schmover”, MNF dogs are a profitable 17-5-1 ATS going back to last season, including a 4-2 ATS record heading into Week 6. This Monday, the New York Jets cross the country to play the Arizona Cardinals as 7.5-point puppies.


Sharps like…

The Chiefs. Kansas City opened as high as a 2-point underdog in Oakland and, according to CG Technology in Las Vegas, wiseguys have pounded this line all the way to Oakland +1, with a couple shops dealing Raiders +1.5.

Biggest line move…

The Patriots moved from -7 to -9 hosting the Bengals Sunday. Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology says the two-point move was made to protect from teasers taking this game as a pick, but doesn’t see it going to New England -10.

“We’re getting good two-way action at -9,” he says.

Biggest sweat…

The Steelers. Pittsburgh opened -7 and is now -7.5 at Miami with one-sided action from Joe public.

“It’s just been an avalanche of money on the Steelers,” says Simbal. “No real huge bets but just a lot of public bets and every parlay going has that game on it.”

Banker game…

Late afternoon underdogs. Simbal says a lot depends on how the Patriots and Steelers do in the early games. If those two favorites cover, they’ll be counting on the underdogs to spoil the party in the later games.

“If they both cover, we’re sitting in a spot with a ton of parlay liability,” he says. “We’ll need a dog to come through and break those up, like the Redskins or the Cowboys. We were in a similar spot last week, with the Patriots and Steelers covering early. And only one dog covered in the late games, so that wasn’t a great result for the book.”

Injury to watch

Rams defensive line

Los Angeles – formerly St. Louis – has lived and died by its defensive line the past three seasons. That talented group has single-handedly won football games the Rams had no business winning, picking up the slack for a pop-gun offense.

Los Angeles was without linemen Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, and William Hayes last week and got rolled by the Bills 30-19 in front of the Coliseum faithful. All three of those men are big question marks for Week 6’s road game in Detroit, where oddsmakers have the Rams set as field goal pups.

Keep a close eye on the status of Quinn, Brockers and Hayes before putting money down on L.A. this weekend.

We know how to pick’em

As mentioned above, sharp money on the Chiefs has moved them from 2-point road dogs to -1.5 road favorites, visiting the Raiders Sunday. I have a feeling this game is going to settle around a pick’em once the Silver-and-Black money gets involved.

And with that, we turn the handicapping over to each sides’ cheerleaders. Because, when the spread’s this close, sometimes asking “Who will cover?” is about as insightful as asking, “Which team has the hottest cheerleaders?”

Sunday menu

My wife is a very picky eater. If chicken fingers or some kind of variation of chicken fingers aren’t on the menu, we aren’t going to that restaurant. So it caught me off guard when she suggested that I make chili this weekend.

Sure babe, I’ll make my famous “Rose Bowl Chili” – named for the infamous 2006 Rose Bowl between USC and Texas (if you haven’t watched the Football Life episode on the game, stop reading this and go do it. NOW!). You’ll find a recipe for chicken fingers below. Happy wife. Happy life.

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

The Broncos busted me last week, losing outright to Atlanta at -3.5. That dropped me to an embarrassing 1-4 ATS on the season for my weekly picks. You would think having a wealth of information and insight into the weekly NFL betting action would at least have me breaking even, but here we are…

I’m going with Carolina as the short favorite at New Orleans this week. Cam Newton is back under center and I find it hard to believe that the Panthers are actually this bad. Take away the loss to Tampa Bay, in which Cam was out with a concussion, and Carolina’s other three losses have come to quality opponents: Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.

The Saints are coming off a bye week but have been downright terrible versus NFC South foes at home in recent years, going 1-5 SU when hosting divisional opponents since 2014. Carolina loves the Big Easy, going 12-3 ATS in its last 15 trips to the Superdome.

Pick: Carolina -2.5

Song for Sunday

Usually, I have some funny connection between the NFL happenings and my song selection. But, I really don’t have an explanation for this one. It actually came to me while I was lying awake in bed at 4:41 a.m. the other night – an hour after trying to get my 1-year-old son back to sleep. No idea why the song popped in there, but I’m glad it did.

If you grew up in the 90’s, this was a hidden gem on the Bad Boys movie soundtrack. Biggie in top form. Fifteen-year-old me is shooting jump shots in the summer sun in my mind. Enjoy memory lane…

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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