NFL Week 13 Predictions: IF The Playoffs Started Today…

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We’re reaching crunch time of the National Football League season. Technically no one has been eliminated from the playoff race as of yet – even the Tennessee Titans at 2-9 still have a mathematical shot at a Wild Card spot, one that could come through if everyone else passed out in front of them and couldn’t complete the season – but the top of the standings are beginning to get a bit clearer. If the playoffs started today, it is clear that the paths to the conference championships will go through Foxboro and Charlotte.

American Football Conference

Even though they were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in a stunning game against Denver last week, the New England Patriots have a comfortable schedule coming up. A home game against Philadelphia, a road trek against an improving Houston Texans squad, a home game against Tennessee and a roadie with the New York Jets will take them through the remainder of the month, with one win guaranteeing them the AFC East title. If they are able to sweep those four games (which will be tough with the team roster looking like a MASH unit), they should lock up home field for the playoffs.

After the Pats, the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals are fighting it out for the two slot. The key game here will be on December 28 when the two teams meet in the Rocky Mountains. Both teams have similar schedules down the stretch, so the winner of this game is probably going to be your second seed and the loser the third seed. The final division winner will come down between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston, who play on December 20; your winner in that game wins the division.

As far as the Wild Cards I’d love to take the Jets, but they have a brutal stretch of games (New York Giants, Tennessee, at Dallas and New England over the next four weeks) so I have to count them out. Likewise for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have back to back games at Cincy and at home against Denver. I see the Kansas City Chiefs and the loser of the Indianapolis/Houston game on December 20 getting the Wild Card bids.

National Football Conference

Basically running away and hiding from the division, the Carolina Panthers are the lone undefeated team left in the NFL, one year removed from winning the NFC South with a losing record (7-8-1). They have a two game edge over the Arizona Cardinals for the top slot in the NFC, but there is some concern that the Panthers may not drive to the end of the season. With their next win, the Panthers will win the division crown to lock up their playoff slot (which could occur today) and some rest might be in order.

The Cardinals have their own concerns for the second slot on the ladder. The Minnesota Vikings are lurking one game back at 8-3 and will probably decide the second slot when they play this Thursday night in the Desert. Whoever comes out the winner in that game will take the second seed in the conference. The final slot will come out of the NFC East, which is a cesspool. Right now, the Washington Redskins (yes, that team) has somehow worked its way into the lead. Although they are tied with the Giants right now and only a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, the ‘Skins have the easiest trek the remainder of the way; let’s give the East to Washington because whomever it is coming out with that title will lose to the Wild Card team they play.

One of the Wild Card slots is firmly determined. The Green Bay Packers might be a sneaky and dangerous team if they can get in through the Wild Card (and, at 8-4, still have a shot at the division crown). Whoever doesn’t win the NFC North will be one of the Wild Cards. The second slot will come down between two dangerous teams, the Atlanta Falcons and the defending two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Of those two teams, Seattle has the easiest schedule (the Falcons still have the Panthers twice on their board), so put in the dangerous ‘Hawks as the sixth seed.

We’ve still got a month of the season remaining, so this situation will be in flux. Right now, let’s take a look at this week’s games and some of the options you might have on the board (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally bet the games!).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (+3); OVER 45

These two teams will play each other twice over the next five weeks and it could determine the playoff fortunes for one of the squads. The Raiders are building a young, strong offense behind QB Derek Carr, RB Latavius Murray and WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The Chiefs may have a way to shut down the Silver and Black, however, with the 10th ranked defense in the NFL.

You have to be able to score, however. Chiefs QB Alex Smith has watched as his weapons have dropped away during the season, first RB Jamaal Charles and then RB Charcandrick West. Add in the factor that TE Travis Kelce is nursing some injuries and I don’t see how the Chiefs can mount any offensive attack against the Raiders, who definitely aren’t being shown any respect with their home game.

New York Jets vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (+2.5); UNDER 46.5

Both teams in this game need the win to keep the embers of a chance at the playoffs alive. The Giants also still have the potential of winning the NFC East in their sights and winning this game would keep them in that mix. The odd thing about this game is that it started out as a “pick ‘em” and has swung those 2.5 points in just a few days; I don’t see why that has come about.

To be fair, QB Eli Manning has been doing it with smoke and mirrors for the last couple of years in reality, but it is something that he’s become used to. The Giant defense has been stout but will face some challenges from the Jets passing game and especially WR Brandon Marshall. It will definitely be a slugfest and, with the Giant fans holding the “home team” edge for this game, I see them willing the Gotham City Giants to a slim win over their housemates in the Meadowlands.

Dallas Cowboys (+3.5) vs. WASHINGTON REDSKINS; UNDER 41.5

Sure, I know that QB Tony Romo was absolutely crushed by the Panthers defense on Thanksgiving Day and is done for the year. I also know that the ‘Pokes will have had 11 days to prepare QB Matt Cassel for this game, which might be the closest the Cowboys will get to anything with a playoff feel in 2015. Add in the fact that the ‘Skins now have the burden of playing as the favorite – instead of the underdog role that they relish – and I see Dallas pulling off a major upset here, just to make the NFC East a bit more convoluted.

Week 11:  1-4-1
Overall:  32-24-3

Not going to lie to you, after the performance in Week 11, it was best that I took a week off on Week 12. When your analysis of the action isn’t exactly working, it is best to step away from the fray for a spell until you’ve righted the chakras. This week, the chakras seem to be aligned and things should get back on track.

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NFL Week 10 Predictions: Always Beware the Half-Point

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For those that watch the National Football League closely, one of the things that is often looked at, after the injury report, is the lines on the games (you know, if you can legally do that type of thing where you’re at). The information, for the most part, is pretty straightforward, but there is those times when the sharps hedge their bets and put a mysterious “.5” on the end of their point spreads. Whereas a rookie bettor may not keep an eye on this, an experienced player always is wary of that half-point.

You will usually see that half-point come up in the OVER/UNDER numbers, but it is something that can occasionally have an impact on the spread. For example, one of this weekend’s big games is the New England Patriots heading to the Big Apple to take on the New York Giants. At this time, the Pats are a 7.5 point favorite over the G-Men and that half-point makes a huge difference because a touchdown victory in the game still means that, as a bettor, you’ll lose your bet. In many NFL games, a touchdown in difference is not uncommon, similar to that of a three-or-four point difference in score. When you see a 3.5 or 4.5 point spread in that it (like the 7.5 point spread), that means the sharps are hedging a bit on what could be one of the common outcomes of a football score.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Miami Dolphins (+6) vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES; OVER 50

It has been a close race to see which division in the NFL will replicate what the NFC South did in its 2014 of futility. If you’ll recall, last year the Carolina Panthers finished the season at 7-8-1 (a losing record) but were the South champions and, as such, hosted a playoff game. There are two divisions this year that are looking to repeat that dubious distinction.

One of them is the Eagles who, at 4-4, are in the thick of the division title chase in the NFC East (they wouldn’t even be in second in any other division except the pitiful AFC South, where they would actually lead the Indianapolis Colts (4-4)). Only a half-game behind the Giants and a game up on the Washington Redskins, the Eagles know pretty much their only shot at the playoffs will be winning the East. While some might not think these inter-conference games mean anything, they do go on the record and a loss by the Eagles here would be potentially disastrous to their dreams.

The Dolphins have been showing signs of life under new Head Coach Dan Campbell, going 2-2 since canning Joe Philbin back in October. Averaging 25.5 points per game since the coaching change, QB Ryan Tannehill has been showing some of the skills that were seen when he was drafted and RB Lamar Miller has been thundering out of the backfield. The Dolphins may not win this game, but they will keep it close in a shootout with the Eagles.

Dallas Cowboys vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (+1); OVER 43.5

This is honestly one of the tougher games to pick on the Week 10 schedule. The Cowboys, in the midst of a six game losing streak, are looking for a victim to right their ship. Unfortunately, their ship is sailing at the Buccaneers, who have been impressive and maddening and sometimes in the same game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has stated that, once QB Tony Romo is ready to return to action, then Head Coach Jason Garrett will put him back on the field with no concern whether the ‘Pokes can make the playoffs or not. That seems to be about par for explaining the inanity of the Cowboys’ season.

No matter who has been under center since Romo’s injury, the ‘Boys have had difficulties. First with Brandon Weeden and then Matt Cassel, the Cowboys offense has sputtered, averaging only18.8 points per game. The Bucs have shown the ability to surprise, defeating the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago, as rookie QB Jameis Winston becomes more accustom to the NFL game.

I find it a bit surprising that the Cowboys are favored in this game. While there have been some close calls over their six game skid, the ‘Boys don’t seem to be completely behind Cassel, seemingly biding their time until Romo makes his return. When the spread is this close, I normally lean towards the home team. Watch out for that half-point on the OVER/UNDER, as we discussed above; a 23-20 game will be exciting, but it will also be a loser if you pick the OVER (we believe this will be a shootout).

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. BALTIMORE RAVENS (-4.5); UNDER 47.5

This is a great bet, but it won’t be a great game to watch. Both teams are going to slog it out, especially the Ravens after the season-ending injury to WR Steve Smith. Ravens QB Joe Flacco and RB Justin Forsett both have been carrying the load for the team and, coming off a big win over the San Diego Chargers last weekend, are looking to get a win streak going with their second home game in a row (and the midpoint of a three-game home stand).

Jacksonville may be turning a corner, but the finish of that turn isn’t going to be this weekend. At 2-6, they still have a shot at AFC South division title (the Colts, 4-5, lead). They barely average 20 points per game, however, and have a veritable “who’s that?” making up the offense with QB Blake Bortles (believe it or not, Bortles is second on the team in rushing (178 yards) behind RB T. J. Yelden (470 yards on the season)).

Note the half-point on both the spread and the O/U…the sharps don’t even have a solid feel for what will occur. Normally this is a game that you’d want to stay away from, but I see some good value in it with a good Ravens team, comfortable at home, handling their business against a not-so-good road team in the Jags.

Last Week:  3-3 Overall:  28-17-2

For the third consecutive week, a .500 record. To be able to make ANYTHING out of sports betting, you have to at least win two of three bets (.667). If you’re winning at a 70% clip, that is outstanding. If you’re winning at a 50% rate, you are actually losing; the juice will eventually eat a bankroll without some winning weekends. Although the overall is ahead of that 50% rate (59.6%, to be exact), that isn’t hitting the optimum two-thirds level a sports bettor would like. Looking to get back to that level and a good Week 10 would help in that effort.

NFL Week 8 Picks: Will Anyone Go Undefeated?

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We’ve now hit the metaphorical halfway mark of the National Football League season and somewhat surprisingly there are still five teams that have undefeated records to this point. The New England Patriots became the first team to crack the 7-0 mark with their decimation of the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night and the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers will look to join them at that mark (as Denver and Green Bay play each other on Sunday night, however, one will be eliminated). So who has the best chance at finishing off the regular season undefeated as the Patriots did in 2007?

As mentioned above, one of those teams will be eliminated on Sunday night (and that will be one of our picks, so we’ll get to that later). A year removed from winning their division with a losing record (7-8-1), the Panthers are a long shot to finish the season clean as, even this late into the season, QB Cam Newton is still getting acquainted with much of his wide receiver corps. At one point this season – perhaps when Green Bay visits on November 8 or when the Panthers visit Dallas on Thanksgiving Day in their fourth game in 18 days – the Panthers will get tripped up.

Some may see Cincinnati as a good candidate, but that isn’t true. At this point, the only team close in the AFC North is Pittsburgh and they are 2½ games behind the Bengals in the standings. If Cincinnati were able to sew up the division crown by the beginning of December – a good possibility as their next three games are on the road against Pittsburgh this Sunday and two home games against Cleveland and Houston – they would probably want to give some players a rest and likely lose a game before the playoffs would begin. November 22 is also a key date as they have to travel to play a tough Arizona team in Phoenix.

That leaves us with (ugh) the Patriots. Tom Brady has entered “Fuck You” mode again and is punishing teams and, by extension, the NFL for how they treated him and the Pats at the end of last season. Nothing would make Brady happier than running the table again (remember, they came up just short of perfection in 2007 when they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants) and this time completing the deal, just to see the look on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s face as he hands him the Lombardi Trophy again. Key dates for the Pats would be in back-to-back games at Denver on November 29 and at home against Philadelphia the following weekend.

I wouldn’t exactly rush out and put a bet on the Patriots running the table again (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally do that), but you never know. This weekend’s games, however, have some pretty good value in them.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

San Francisco 49ers (+8) vs. ST. LOUIS RAMS; UNDER 39

As inept as the 49ers have looked over…well, the entire season, they aren’t this bad a team that they can’t play a close game against the lowly Rams. They have won two of the last three meetings against the Rams and both teams are mired at the bottom in total offense in the NFL. Usually a close game dominated by the running games will be under 40 points (the teams have averaged 36 points per game combined over the last three) so we’ll take the points and go with the UNDER here.

Seattle Seahawks vs. DALLAS COWBOYS (+5); UNDER 41

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is looking like he will give this game a go, which would benefit backup QB Matt Cassel tremendously (no word on when Tony Romo will be back under center for the ‘Boys). The Seahawks aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home in the Northwest, where the ‘Pokes beat them last year 30-23. Both team’s defenses are in the Top Ten in the NFL, which is going to keep the score down and keep the Cowboys in the game until the end. There is a possibility that the Cowboys could win this outright.

Green Bay Packers (-3) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; OVER 45.5

One of these teams will leave Sunday night’s game with the first blemish on their record this season. I would normally take Denver with QB Peyton Manning all day in this game, but the Broncos aren’t exactly the Broncos of the last two seasons. They have scraped by in some ugly games, Manning’s not exactly the howitzer now that he has been in the past and there is a serious lack of a rushing game (a Denver team ranked 31st in rushing? Say it ain’t so…). With mild conditions expected in the Rocky Mountains on Sunday night (temps in the mid-60s, light winds), I believe that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will take the Pack home from Denver early Monday morning as an undefeated team with a shot at also running the table and going 16-0.

Week 6 Results:  3-3
Overall:  22-11-2

It was one of those “meh” efforts during Week 6 (I took my “bye” week for Week 7) with the Dolphins crushing Tennessee in their first game under new head coach Dan Campbell (two losses), the Bears covering the spread against Detroit in a game with no defense (1-1) and dead on picked the Steelers to cover against the Cardinals in Pittsburgh (two wins). .500 weekends don’t do a damn thing for you, however; looking to get back on the right side of the ledger this week.