Steven Lourie

Dec 182014
 

Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)

The Packers haven’t been nearly the same team on the road this season. That was evident last week in a loss in Buffalo and it’s been evident all year as they’ve beaten just one team by more than 4 points on the road all season, relevant considering this line is all the way up at 10.5 On the season, they move the chains at a 77.57% rate, as opposed to 78.92% for their opponents, a differential of -1.35%. However, there are reasons to like them here as big road favorites. For one, Tampa Bay isn’t great at home, going 14-31 ATS at home since 2009, including 0-7 straight up and 2-5 ATS this season. That makes taking the Packers as massive road favorites less scary, especially with Gerald McCoy out for the Buccaneers.

Two, the Packers are in their 2nd straight road game. Teams are 137-110 ATS as road favorites off a road loss since 1989, including 101-86 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight (and not 3rd straight) road game and they next play a home game. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 195-198 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.31 points per game, as opposed to 272-389 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.27 points per game. On top of that, Aaron Rodgers is pretty good off of a loss in his career, going 20-10 ATS in that spot.

The Buccaneers are also in a bad spot with the Saints coming to town next week. The early line has them projected as 4.5 point home underdogs in that one. Teams are 64-98 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ home underdogs, including 34-69 ATS before being 4+ home underdogs. On top of that, non-divisional home underdogs are 15-32 ATS before being divisional home underdogs since 2002. It’s hard to be confident in the Packers on the road, even against a bad team with minimal homefield advantage, but I like their chances of bouncing back in a big way this week and they should be the right side.

Green Bay Packers 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -10.5

Confidence: None

Dec 182014
 

Minnesota Vikings (6-8) at Miami Dolphins (7-7)

At first glance, this line is actually a little bit too low at 7. The Dolphins rank 12th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 74.16% rate, as opposed to 72.84% for their opponents, a differential of 1.33%. Meanwhile, the Vikings rank all the way down at 27th, moving the chains at a 69.08% rate, as opposed to 72.55% for their opponents, a differential of -3.48%. That suggests that the line should be around 8. However, over the past 4 weeks, the Dolphins move the chains at a 73.33% rate, as opposed to 82.09% for their opponents, a differential of -8.76%.

The fact that they’ve played Denver, New England, and Baltimore over that 4 weeks stretch probably didn’t help, but they also almost lost in New York to the Jets. On top of that, the Ravens aren’t nearly as good on the road and they blew out the Dolphins in Miami. And New England is a tough opponent, but they got completely blown out. They only covered once in that 4 game stretch. They aren’t the same team as they were a month ago, partially as a result of injuries. As bad as the Vikings have been this year, they don’t quite deserve to be touchdown underdogs here.

The Vikings are also in a great spot here in their 2nd straight road game. Teams are 112-77 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 95-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight (and not 3rd straight) road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 195-198 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.31 points per game, as opposed to 272-389 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.27 points per game.

Both of these two teams have easy games next week, with the Dolphins hosting the Jets and the Vikings hosting the Bears. Both teams will be 6+ favorites next week, but the Vikings are in a slightly better spot because they’re the underdog here. Non-divisional road underdogs are 124-94 ATS since 2002 before being divisional home favorites. Underdogs of 6 or more are 145-96 ATS since 1989 before being favorites of 6 or more. Combining the two, non-divisional road underdogs of 6 or more before being divisional home favorites of 6 or more are 39-23 ATS since 1989. At the same time though, favorites of 6 or more (like the Dolphins) are 95-64 ATS since 2010 before being favorites of 6 or more. The Vikings seem like the right side, but I’m not super confident.

Miami Dolphins 20 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Medium

Dec 172014
 

Baltimore Ravens (9-5) at Houston Texans (7-7)

This line was Houston -1 last week and now it’s Baltimore -6 in Houston. That’s a massive line movement, as it’s moved a full touchdown to compensate for Ryan Fitzpatrick’s injury. That’s a massive overreaction. Fitzpatrick is decent, but the Texans’ offense ranks just 19th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains. Meanwhile, both Case Keenum and Thad Lewis, the two candidates to start in this game, showed some decent flashes last season in brief periods as the starter. They’re downgrades from Fitzpatrick, but they’re not Ryan Lindley.

The Texans still have a solid defense (16th in rate of moving the chains allowed) and do not deserve to be 6 point home underdogs here. If Tom Brady got hurt this week, it don’t think that line would move more than a touchdown (that would put the Patriots at -3 at the Jets). The same thing is true with Aaron Rodgers (that would put Green Bay at -3.5 at Tampa Bay). When Rodgers got hurt last year, the line moved 6 points to compensate the following week. The reason this line moved 7 points instead of something more reasonable like 4 is because the odds makers know the public will still bet this spread no matter how high they put it, as they are doing so here. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense as they always lose money in the long run and this feels like a trap line for the public.

The Ravens rank 4th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season, moving them at a 77.46% rate, as opposed to 72.10% for their opponents, a differential of 5.35%. Meanwhile, the Texans come in 23rd, moving them at a 70.66% rate, as opposed to 72.33% for their opponents, a differential of -1.67%. That suggests this line should be about 4 in favor of Baltimore, which suggests that a line of 6 once you’ve taken injuries into account is reasonable, but Baltimore hasn’t been nearly as good on the road this season. On the road, they’ve moved the chains at a 76.23% rate, as opposed to 75.56% for their opponents, a differential of 0.68% that is 10 percentage points lower than 10.48% differential they have at home this season.

These relative road struggles are nothing new for the Ravens. Since Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh came in before the 2008 season, the Ravens are 46-11 straight up, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.33 points per game, at home, as opposed to 34-32, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.24 points per game on the road, a swing of about 9 points. Both of these two teams are in a good spot with easy games on deck, Houston with a home game against Jacksonville and Baltimore with a home game against Cleveland, but Houston is in the better spot here as significant home underdogs. Underdogs of 6 or more are 68-57 ATS since 2002 before being favorites of 6 or more, while home underdogs of 3 or more are 65-45 ATS since 1989 before being home favorites of 3 or more. The Texans should be the right side here.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Houston Texans 16

Pick against the spread: Houston +6

Confidence: Medium

Dec 162014
 

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at Oakland Raiders (2-12)

This line shifted from 4.5 to 6 over the past week with the Bills winning at home in upset fashion over the Packers. I love fading huge line movements whenever it makes sense because they’re usually overreactions, especially when I can do so and fade the public at the same time, because the public always loses money in the long run. The public is on Buffalo here in a big way and the line movement is a bit of an overreaction. The Bills won on the scoreboard, but the Packers won the first down battle 21-13 and moved the chains at a 64.71% rate, as opposed to 54.17% for the Bills.

That being said, it’s not quite a big enough line movement for me to be excited about the Raiders this week, even if it is at the key number of 6. The Bills rank 26th on the season in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 65.76% rate, as opposed to 67.74% for their opponents, a differential of -1.98%. Meanwhile, the Raiders rank dead last on the season in that aspect, moving the chains at a 62.95% rate, as opposed to 72.67% for their opponents, a differential of -9.71%. That suggests this line should be right around where it was last week at 4.5. However, this line would have to be a touchdown or more for me to be confident in Oakland.

The Bills are in a bad spot this week, as they have a much tougher game in New England next week.. Favorites of 6 or more are just 47-81 ATS before being underdogs of 6 or more since 2002. Even worse, teams are 18-33 ATS since 1989 as road favorites of 4+ before being road underdogs of 4+. The 49ers lost straight up here in Oakland in this exact same spot as 8 point favorites a couple weeks ago, ahead of a much bigger game in Seattle. The 49ers are more talented than the Bills. However, the Raiders aren’t exactly in a great spot with a trip to Denver on deck (though they weren’t against San Francisco either with a trip to Kansas City on deck at that point). Teams are 47-87 ATS since 2010 before being double digit underdogs. I’m still going with the Raiders, but, again, I’d need a touchdown to put money on it.

Buffalo Bills 13 Oakland Raiders 10

Pick against the spread: Oakland +6

Confidence: Low

Dec 162014
 

Detroit Lions (10-4) at Chicago Bears (5-9)

This line was 4.5 last week, but it’s since moved to 7 in favor of the Lions, a line movement of 2.5 points that crossed both significant numbers of 6 and 7. It’s easy to understand why the line moved after the Bears were embarrassed on national television by the Saints. However, I love fading a significant line movement whenever it makes sense, especially if I get to fade the public in the process, as the public always loses money in the long run. This week’s game meets all those conditions as the public is all over the Lions, despite the line movement, and the line movement was unwarranted and an overreaction.

Yes, the Bears looked bad at home last week against the Saints, but the Lions didn’t exactly look good either, needing 3 Minnesota missed field goals and two Minnesota interceptions, including one that set the Lions’ offense up at the Minnesota 11, to beat the Vikings by 2 at home. The Vikings won the first down battle in that game by 10, 21-11. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Lions moved the chains at a 57.14% rate, as opposed to 74.19% for their opponents, a differential of -17.05%. That’s actually worse than the Bears, who moved the chains at a 62.07% rate, as opposed to 78.38% for their opponents, a differential of -16.31%. And the Bears did so against a much better team, as the Saints rank 9th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season, while the Vikings are in 27th.

When you look at how both of these two teams have done on the entire season in terms of rate of moving the chains differential, it becomes obvious that there’s significant line value with the Bears, especially after that unwarranted line movement. The Lions rank 15th on the season, moving the chains at a 70.60% rate, as opposed to 70.41% for their opponents, a differential of 0.20%. The Bears, meanwhile, rank 22nd, moving the chains at a 74.43% rate, as opposed to 75.92% for their opponents, a differential of -1.48%. There’s no way the Lions deserve to be favored by a touchdown here.

On top of that, the Lions are in a terrible spot. Favorites of 6 or more are just 47-81 ATS before being underdogs of 6 or more since 2002. Even worse, teams are 18-33 ATS since 1989 as road favorites of 4+ before being road underdogs of 4+. The 49ers lost straight up in Oakland in this exact same spot as 8 point favorites a couple weeks ago, ahead of a much bigger game in Seattle. The Lions could easily slip up here with a much bigger game in Green Bay next week, especially since the talent difference between the Bears and Lions isn’t nearly as much as the Raiders and 49ers.

Update: The Bears made the surprise move today to go to Jimmy Clausen instead of Jay Cutler at quarterback. I apologize to anyone who put money on Chicago +7 at my recommendation. I didn’t see this coming. Clausen is definitely not an upgrade on Cutler, who hasn’t been the problem in Chicago, leading this offense to be 11th ranked in rate of moving the chains differential. This move was likely just made as a wake up call to the rest of the team and it may do it’s job, at least for the time being, as everyone is getting fired in Chicago this off-season. The line has moved to 9 as a result and I still like Chicago at +9 with Clausen, which is the good news for anyone who took Chicago +7. I’m not as confident as I was before because I don’t think 2 points is enough of an adjustment for Cutler being out, so we’re losing some line value, but the Lions are still in a terrible spot and we’re still getting some line value by fading a Detroit offense that hasn’t moved the ball well all season as massive road favorites. There’s also some small Josh McCown potential with Clausen, who looked good in the pre-season, in Trestman’s system. Chicago is still the pick here and it’s still a money pick, but not as high a confidence pick as it was before.

Detroit Lions 20 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +9

Confidence: Medium

Dec 162014
 

Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (9-5)

The Cowboys got an impressive victory in Philadelphia last week and that moved this line from even to 3 over the past week. I love fading significant line movements whenever it makes sense. This is a significant movement, going as it’s now at a key number, and fading it does make sense. That line movement is a massive overreaction to what happened last week. Sure, the Cowboys won in Philadelphia, but that doesn’t erase the fact that they got blown out at home by those same Eagles in Dallas on Thanksgiving. They aren’t as bad as they looked on Thanksgiving, but they aren’t as good as they looked last week. It’s important to remember that.

On the season, the Cowboys rank 10th, moving the chains at a 76.58% rate, as opposed to 74.64% for their opponents, a differential of 1.93%. The Colts, meanwhile, rank 3rd, moving the chains at a 75.79% rate, as opposed to 70.07% for their opponents, a differential of 5.72%. This line suggests these two teams are even, which isn’t true at all. We’re getting significant line value with the Cowboys before you even get into the fact that they are 7-23 ATS as home favorites since 2010, a big part of the reason why they lost to Philadelphia here 3 weeks ago. A similar thing could happen this week only the Colts are a better opponent than the Eagles.

The Cowboys are in a good spot with only a trip to Washington left on the schedule. They’ll almost certainly be significant road favorites in Washington next week. Teams are 93-67 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites, including 60-40 ATS before being 4+ road favorites, and 25-10 ATS before being 7+ road favorites. However, the Colts are in an equally good spot with a trip to Tennessee on deck. On top of that, the Cowboys are also 14-27 ATS in week 13 or later as long as Tony Romo is the starter, including 6-14 ATS at home and 5-13 ATS as home favorites. In a tough week for picks, the Colts are my Pick of the Week.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Dallas Cowboys 20 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Dec 162014
 

Tennessee Titans (2-11) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)

This is the worst game of the year. Both of these two teams rank in the bottom-3 in rate of moving the chains differential and have for most of the season. This is the only game this year between two teams that bad. And thanks to the NFL’s rule that everyone get a primetime game, we have to watch this game instead of one of the 14 games that features at least one team still mathematically alive in the playoff race.

Believe it or not, one of these teams is actually better than the other one. Jacksonville is noticeably, but though not really significantly better than the Titans. The Jaguars rank 30th, moving the chains at a 64.76% rate, as opposed to 72.69% for their opponents, a differential of -7.92%, while the Titans rank 31st, moving the chains at a 66.15% rate, as opposed to 75.47% for their opponents, a differential of -9.32% that is over a percentage point worse than Jacksonville’s. Despite that, this line says these two teams are even, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Jaguars.

However, I’m not taking the Jaguars, because they’re in a horrible spot. They have to go to Houston next week where they will be road underdogs. Divisional home favorites are 20-53 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which is one of the most powerful trends there is. Meanwhile, Tennessee is on an 8 game losing streak (last winning week 6 against these Jaguars). Teams tend to cover on long losing streaks, going 64-40 ATS since 1989 off of 8+ straight losses.

It might seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it as teams are often overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. They’re not undervalued, but they could be overlooked and embarrassed. I’m not confident in the Titans though because they’re in a bad spot with a home game with the Colts on deck. Teams are 64-98 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ home underdogs, including 34-69 ATS before being 4+ home underdogs, and 12-25 ATS before being 7+ home underdogs. The Titans seem like the right side though.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 Tennessee Titans 16

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3

Confidence: Low

Dec 162014
 

What is this? This is rate of moving the chains, which is my primary statistic for handicapping games. It holds the assumption that the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). In order to figure out how often teams meet that goal, I take first downs plus touchdowns and divide it by first downs plus touchdowns plus failures to move the chains (successes divided by attempts). Failures to move the chains include punts, turnovers, failed 4th downs, and field goal attempts (being forced to kick a field goal is a failure). I have this sorted by percent for (to evaluate offenses), percent against (to evaluate defenses), and differentials (to evaluate teams).

Offense

First Downs Touchdowns Field Goals Punts Turnovers Failed 4ths Safeties
1 GB 309 47 29 45 10 4 3 79.64%
2 NO 354 44 22 51 23 6 0 79.60%
3 PIT 342 39 28 56 16 6 0 78.23%
4 NE 328 45 33 57 12 4 0 77.87%
5 BAL 308 39 32 46 17 6 0 77.46%
6 DEN 313 48 24 60 16 6 0 77.30%
7 DAL 297 43 25 52 23 3 1 76.58%
8 IND 338 47 28 59 28 7 1 75.79%
9 SEA 289 34 32 54 12 7 1 75.29%
10 ATL 296 37 28 57 20 6 1 74.83%
11 CHI 293 36 12 61 28 12 0 74.43%
12 MIA 302 31 34 51 20 11 0 74.16%
13 KC 272 35 21 65 16 6 0 73.98%
14 SD 278 32 24 66 17 4 0 73.63%
15 CAR 303 29 31 65 21 3 0 73.45%
16 NYG 295 37 18 71 27 11 0 72.33%
17 CIN 274 34 28 65 21 5 0 72.13%
18 PHI 303 37 31 67 34 4 0 71.43%
19 HOU 271 30 29 69 19 7 1 70.66%
20 DET 265 28 35 63 16 8 0 70.60%
21 SF 264 24 28 65 20 7 0 70.59%
22 ARZ 259 25 30 78 11 1 0 70.30%
23 WAS 277 28 24 70 25 10 0 70.28%
24 STL 250 28 26 72 21 5 0 69.15%
25 MIN 253 24 31 69 18 5 1 69.08%
26 CLE 270 27 28 81 20 9 0 68.28%
27 NYJ 255 22 31 72 22 6 1 67.73%
28 TB 239 26 21 66 31 8 1 67.60%
29 TEN 230 24 19 76 25 8 2 66.15%
30 BUF 242 25 36 73 20 8 2 65.76%
31 JAX 241 20 25 80 26 11 0 64.76%
32 OAK 220 23 17 94 27 5 0 62.95%

 

Defense

First Downs Touchdowns Field Goals Punts Turnovers Failed 4ths Safeties
1 BUF 270 24 29 76 30 4 1 67.74%
2 ARZ 260 24 27 70 25 8 0 68.60%
3 KC 270 23 34 71 11 11 0 69.76%
4 IND 275 34 17 80 22 13 0 70.07%
5 STL 266 25 23 69 24 8 0 70.12%
6 CLE 299 31 31 74 27 7 1 70.21%
7 SEA 245 25 20 68 20 5 1 70.31%
8 DET 269 26 22 73 22 6 1 70.41%
9 PHI 295 39 21 81 25 9 0 71.06%
10 DEN 281 33 25 74 21 6 1 71.20%
11 SF 254 30 18 66 23 7 0 71.36%
12 NYJ 258 36 29 71 11 3 1 71.88%
13 NE 297 27 32 56 23 15 0 72.00%
14 BAL 277 28 29 60 19 9 1 72.10%
15 WAS 257 39 20 74 16 4 0 72.20%
16 HOU 301 31 20 68 31 8 0 72.33%
17 NYG 280 34 27 63 23 6 0 72.52%
18 MIN 273 31 26 68 17 4 0 72.55%
19 OAK 280 39 33 71 11 5 0 72.67%
20 CIN 298 29 29 65 19 8 2 72.67%
21 JAX 287 35 32 65 18 5 1 72.69%
22 MIA 271 32 28 53 23 8 1 72.84%
23 SD 271 31 28 59 15 7 1 73.30%
24 PIT 273 37 26 64 17 2 1 73.81%
25 CAR 285 38 25 61 22 4 0 74.25%
26 TB 310 38 36 59 21 3 0 74.52%
27 DAL 278 37 17 58 25 7 0 74.64%
28 TEN 324 39 36 61 16 4 1 75.47%
29 CHI 288 43 34 45 20 6 0 75.92%
30 GB 310 34 23 50 25 11 0 75.94%
31 ATL 319 37 36 49 24 2 0 76.23%
32 NO 309 39 27 54 16 4 1 77.33%

 

Differential

1 DEN 6.10%
2 NE 5.87%
3 IND 5.72%
4 BAL 5.35%
5 SEA 4.98%
6 PIT 4.42%
7 KC 4.21%
8 GB 3.70%
9 NO 2.27%
10 DAL 1.93%
11 ARZ 1.70%
12 MIA 1.33%
13 PHI 0.36%
14 SD 0.33%
15 DET 0.20%
16 NYG -0.19%
17 CIN -0.54%
18 SF -0.77%
19 CAR -0.80%
20 STL -0.97%
21 ATL -1.40%
22 CHI -1.48%
23 HOU -1.67%
24 WAS -1.92%
25 CLE -1.94%
26 BUF -1.98%
27 MIN -3.48%
28 NYJ -4.16%
29 TB -6.92%
30 JAX -7.92%
31 TEN -9.32%
32 OAK -9.71%
Dec 162014
 

Last week

Against the Spread: 8-7-1

Straight Up: 8-8

Pick of the Week: 0-1

High Confidence: 0-0

Medium Confidence: 3-4

Low Confidence: 1-1-1

No Confidence: 4-1

Upset Picks: 1-5

On the season

Against the Spread: 125-96-3 (.566)

Straight Up: 135-72-1 (.652)

Pick of the Week: 8-6-1

High Confidence: 8-10

Medium Confidence: 45-27

Low Confidence: 30-25-2

No Confidence: 34-28

Upset Picks: 17-23

Dec 162014
 

During the NFL offseason, we tend to hear a lot about what players are doing wrong, or at least the controversies that come up in their lives. A few years back, it was the horrible news that former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez was being arrested on suspicion of murder. This year, we’ve heard stories ranging from ex-NFL star Darren Sharper’s arrest on suspicion of rape to Colin Kaepernick’s strange involvement with the Miami police. To be clear, Kaepernick has not been charged with a crime, and for that reason shouldn’t be lopped in with men like Hernandez and Sharper—but it still wasn’t a good series of headlines for the NFL.

Indeed, the NFL seems to have a problem with player conduct, and far too many arrests or suspicious incidents occur in the offseason. But this still isn’t a fair picture to pain of the league, when you consider that the majority of players are fairly normal (if, you know, famous and rich) during the offseason! So to counter the negative headlines of the past few off seasons, here are a few more cheerful activities some prominent players have enjoyed during their spring and summer months.

Russell Wilson – Professional Baseball

Nothing new here for Seahawks fans, but given the sports world’s constant lookout for the next Bo Jackson, Wilson’s offseason hobby of professional baseball has to be considered one of the most interesting extracurricular activities for NFL players. A former college baseball star, Wilson is technically a member of the Texas Rangers’ organization and has indicated on multiple occasions that he’s open to pursuing pro baseball in the future (though his primary focus remains on football, and… you know… winning Super Bowls). Wilson did spend time this offseason at the Rangers’ training camps.

Jimmy Graham – Flying

No, Jimmy Graham can’t fly, though he’s such an incredible athlete we can think of a few things that would be more shocking. He has, however, worked hard enough at learning to fly a plane that he obtained a pilot’s license and spends a great deal of time in the offseason flying around for fun. Men’s Journal even quoted Graham as saying “in my life, the sky is literally the ceiling” in a 2013 article detailing Graham’s ambition to one day partake in the Red Bull Air Race Championship.

Miles Austin – Poker

Most would say Miles Austin had a busy offseason in 2014, given the fact that he remained an unsigned free agent until being picked up by the Browns. However, Austin appears to have actually had a relaxing offseason, evidently having taken time off to pursue his other competitive hobby of playing poker. Most notably, Austin appeared in a WPT World Championship event in New Jersey earlier this year. Generally populated by pro players (but not a closed environment to celebrity guests or fortunate amateurs), these events require some serious poker chops, so we’d guess Austin is quite the experienced player. Or, perhaps, he could indeed be one of those fortunate amateurs. As is often seen on the betfair poker platform, the company often teams up with real-life tournaments to allow amateurs to earn a chance at a table filled with longtime pros, like those he took on in Jersey.

Arian Foster & Maurice Jones-Drew

You may know them best as the running backs who sabotaged your 2013 fantasy team, but both MJD and Foster remain capable backs in the league. Also, they have had some of the best individual rushing seasons in the past decade or so. Apparently, the two also enjoy their video games during the offseason, with both apparently being avid Call Of Duty fans. Realistically, there are likely hundreds of professional athletes who spend a great deal of time with video games—it’s relaxing, social, and altogether fun. But few play with enough enthusiasm to make news headlines!

These are just a few publicly known examples of offseason bobbies and activities. But with so much legal trouble reaching the news in the past few years, let’s remember that there are plenty of NFL stars who simply enjoy their fun when they’re away from the game as well.

RussellWilson_1 (1)

Dec 132014
 

Oakland Raiders (2-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

The Raiders pulled the improbable upset over the 49ers last week as 8 point home underdogs and they did so in convincing fashion, but we’re still getting line value with the Chiefs as 10 only point home favorites here. The Raiders still rank dead last in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 63.74% rate, as opposed to 73.35% for their opponents, a differential of -9.61%. The Chiefs, meanwhile, rank 7th, moving the chains at a 74.81% rate, as opposed to 71.06% for their opponents, a differential of 3.75%.

I’m not confident in the Chiefs though, as they aren’t in a great spot either. They have a much tougher game in Pittsburgh next week which could serve as a playoff tiebreaker. Teams are just 99-114 ATS as divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs since 2002. On top of that, this is just the 17th time that a team has been favored by double digits off of 3 straight losses in the past 25 years. Only three teams have covered in that spot over that time period, going 3-12-1 ATS. I’m going with the Chiefs to be the 4th, but I’m not confident at all.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 Oakland Raiders 10

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -10

Confidence: None

Dec 132014
 

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Detroit Lions (9-4)

The Lions are in a good spot here. While they go to Chicago next week, which won’t provide much of a distraction, the Vikings have another tough game on deck, heading to Miami next week. Teams are 89-63 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites and 57-36 ATS before being 4+ road favorites. The early line has the Lions favored by 4.5 in Chicago next week. Meanwhile, the early line for Miami/Minnesota is 7 and touchdown underdogs are 77-98 ATS before being touchdown underdogs since 2008.

On top of that, we’re getting some line value with the Lions. They rank XX in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 71.32% rate, as opposed to 70.10% for their opponents, a differential of 1.22%. Meanwhile, the Vikings rank 27th, moving the chains at a 68.65% rate, as opposed to 73.37% for their opponents, a differential of -4.72%. I’m not that confident in the Lions because there isn’t anything super powerful on their side and because they are still just 2-11 ATS off of a win of 10 or more since 2011, but they should be the right side.

Detroit Lions 23 Minnesota Vikings 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit -7

Confidence: Low

Dec 132014
 

Houston Texans (7-6) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

The Colts have been very good at home in the Andrew Luck era, going 16-7 ATS at home since 2002. We’re also getting a little bit of line value with the Colts, as they rank 3rd, moving the chains at a 76.26% rate, as opposed to 71.26% for their opponents, a differential of 5.00%. Meanwhile, the Texans rank 20th, moving the chains at a 71.93% rate, as opposed to 72.60% for their opponents, a differential of -0.67%.

However, the Texans might be the better spot. Teams are 99-114 ATS since 2002 as divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs, while teams are 108-77 ATS since 2002 as divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional home favorites. Combining the two, teams are 62-38 ATS since 2012 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. However, the Colts are only projected to be 1 point underdogs in Dallas next week and the Texans are only projected to be 1 point favorites over Baltimore, so that trend might not necessarily be in play. I’m going with the Colts, but I’m not confident.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -6.5

Confidence: None

Dec 132014
 

New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Chicago Bears (5-8)

This might be the toughest game of the week for me to pick. On one hand, Drew Brees is 22-7 ATS off of a loss since 2008 as long as Sean Payton is on the sideline. Brees and Payton generally bounce back from adversity well and coming off of a 41-10 loss to the Panthers last week, the Saints have hit rock bottom. You could see it in Sean Payton’s press conference after the game. You could see it by the moves they made this week, cutting Joe Morgan and benching Kenny Vaccaro. I like their chances of bouncing back this week with a playoff berth somehow still up for grabs in the pathetic NFC South. Teams are 81-47 ATS since 2002 off of an ATS loss off of 28 or more.

However, this line is still too high with the Saints favored by 3 on the road. It barely moved from last week when the early line was 3.5 and that might have even been too high then. The Saints rank 12th, moving the chains at a 79.70% rate, as opposed to 78.38% for their opponents, a differential of 1.31%. Meanwhile, the Bears rank 19th, moving the chains at a 75.30% rate, as opposed to 75.69% for their opponents, a differential of -0.39. The Bears are also in a good spot off of a 41-28 home loss to the Cowboys last week as home underdogs, as home underdogs are 69-47 ATS off of losses as home underdogs since 2002. I’m going with the Saints, but I’m not confident at all.

New Orleans Saints 31 Chicago Bears 27

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3

Confidence: None

Dec 132014
 

Miami Dolphins (7-6) at New England Patriots (10-3)

Both of these two teams are in great spots. The Dolphins are playing arguably the biggest game of their season (a must-win on the road against division rival New England), with no upcoming distractions, as their next game is a home game against Minnesota. The early line in the Minnesota game has them as 7 point favorites. Teams are 108-77 ATS since 2002 as divisional road underdogs before being divisional home favorites, including 18-6 ATS as 6+ point underdogs before being 6+ point favorites, a trend that is 39-15 ATS going back to 1989.

However, it’s not like the Patriots have any upcoming distractions either, with a trip to New York to take on the lowly Jets up next. The early line has them favored by 10. Teams are 89-63 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites, 57-36 ATS before being 4+ road favorites, 23-8 ATS before being 7+ road favorites, though oddly enough just 4-4 ATS before being 10+ road favorites (might just be a small sample size, that spot is 36-22 ATS since 2002).

The Patriots are usually very good at home, in revenge games, and late in the season, which they have going for them here. The Patriots are undefeated at home over the past two seasons, winning 15 games by an average of 13.93 points per game and covering 11 times. Meanwhile, they haven’t lost to a divisional opponent twice in the same regular season since 2000, going 9-0 straight up and 9-0 ATS in same season divisional revenge games since 2001. Finally, they are 33-4 straight up in the 2nd half of the season since 2010, going 23-13 ATS, including 18-1 straight up at home, 12-7 ATS.

This line is too high for me to be confident though. The Patriots are just 10-8 ATS in the 2nd half of the season since 2010 as 7+ point favorites and just 5-4 ATS as home favorites of 7 or more over the past 2 seasons. Besides, Miami is better than their record, as they rank 9th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 74.64% rate, as opposed to 72.06% for their opponents, a differential of 2.58%. The Patriots are obviously very good, ranking 2nd, moving the chains at a 77.58% rate, as opposed to 72.29% for their opponents, a differential of 5.29%, but this line is still too high for me to be confident. The Patriots are my pick though.

New England Patriots 27 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: New England -7.5

Confidence: None

Dec 132014
 

San Francisco 49ers (7-6) at Seattle Seahawks (9-4)

This line moved from Seattle being favored by 6.5 last week to them now being favored by 10. I normally hate going with huge line movements, especially doing so also means siding with the public, because significant line movements tend to be overreactions and traps for the public who go with them. However, in this case, the line movement might be appropriate. The 49ers lost to the Raiders last week and not in a fluky fashion. They lost by 11 and they lost the chain battle as well, moving them at a 67.86% rate, as opposed to 75.86% for Oakland. The Raiders looked like the ones favored by 8 in that one, not the other way around. Sure, they were probably caught looking forward to this contest, but that’s still an inexcusable performance.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, won by 10 in Philadelphia in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. The Eagles got a touchdown basically handed to them off a fluky blocked punt and the Seahawks won the chain battle, moving them at a 75.61% rate, as opposed to a pathetic 52.38% rate for Philadelphia. That moved the Seahawks into 4th on the season in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 75.19% rate, as opposed to 70.44% for their opponents, a differential of 4.74%. The 49ers, meanwhile, rank 17th now, moving them at a 70.73% rate, as opposed to 70.97% for their opponents, a differential of 0.24%. Even with the huge line movement, this line is still very appropriate at 10 in favor of Seattle.

Rate of moving the chains differential has this line at about 8, but that’s before you take into account Seattle’s fantastic homefield advantage. Since 2007, the Seahawks are 46-20 at home, including playoffs and they aren’t just having success straight up as they are 44-21-1 ATS. They outscore opponents on average by 7.80 points per game at home. This is opposed to a 26-42 record away from home (30-37-1 ATS), getting outscored by 3.26 points per game. Given that, we might actually still be getting line value with the Seahawks at 10. In 3 trips to Seattle in the Russell Wilson era, the 49ers have lost by margins of 29, 26, and 6 and that was when they were better than they are now.

The Seahawks are also in a great spot as they were projected to be 6.5 road favorites next week in Arizona and that was before the Stanton injury. Teams are 89-63 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites, 57-36 ATS before being 4+ road favorites, 23-8 ATS before being 7+ road favorites. That’s a little misleading because a game like that coming up usually means that a team has no upcoming distractions. While that line might be appropriate for the Seahawks trip to Arizona, it’s still fair to suggest that the Seahawks might be a little distracted by their upcoming trip to face an Arizona team that still somehow leads the division at 11-3.

On top of the line movement and the public action being on Seattle, the 49ers have three things working for them. For one, divisional home favorites are 25-49 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (39-38) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate. The only problem is that these two teams are clearly not even. The 49ers were only favored by 1 in the first matchup anyway. The Seahawks should have no problem sweeping this season series and could easily win this one by double digits.

The second thing the 49ers have going for them is that teams are 59-39 ATS since 1989 off of a loss as road favorites of 7 or more, including 16-2 ATS as underdogs. On top of that, the 49ers are in their 2nd straight road game. Teams are 111-76 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 94-54 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight (and not 3rd straight) road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 182-195 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.32 points per game, as opposed to 269-385 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.28 points per game. I still like the Seahawks, but it’s hard to be that confident in them.

Seattle Seahawks 24 San Francisco 49ers 10

Pick against spread: Seattle -10

Confidence: Low

Dec 132014
 

Green Bay Packers (10-3) at Buffalo Bills (7-6)

This line started out at 6 at the beginning of the week, but now is done to everything from 4-5.5 depending on where you get it. That’s despite the public being all over Green Bay, which suggests that the sharps are on Buffalo this week. I love fading the public and going with the sharps whenever it makes sense and it certainly does this week, but I do still wish the line was at 6. The Packers haven’t been nearly as good on the road this season as at home, with just one road win by more than 4 points, and they’re facing a reasonable opponent here who could easily play them close, but I’d need at least 6 points to be confident going against Rodgers this week.

Rodgers has been very good no matter where he’s been this season. The Packers offense has moved the chains at an 81.55% rate at home this season and an 80.00% rate on the road. The difference is their defense has allowed opponents to move the chains at an 81.91% rate on the road this season, as opposed to 73.04% at home. The Bills don’t have a good offense, moving the chains at a 66.49% rate this season, but if the Packers defense plays like it has on the road this season, they shouldn’t have a ton of trouble moving the ball.

Meanwhile, the Bills, more than maybe any other team in the league, have the personnel to slow down the Packers’ offense. Their league best defense in terms of rate of moving the chains allowed at 68.00% allowed the Broncos’ explosive offense to move the chains at a 72.00% rate in Denver last week. If they can slow down the Packers offense and move the ball on a weak Green Bay defense, then I’m happy taking the Bills getting anything more than 4 points here in Buffalo, but I’d need at least 6 to be reasonably confident in the Bills.

The Packers are in a good spot with a trip to Tampa Bay on deck, where the early line has them as 10.5 point favorites. Teams are 89-63 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites, 57-36 ATS before being 4+ road favorites, 23-8 ATS before being 7+ road favorites, though oddly enough just 4-4 ATS before being 10+ road favorites (might just be a small sample size, that spot is 36-22 ATS since 2002). However, Buffalo has an easy game up next with a trip to Oakland on deck, where the early line has them as 4.5 point favorites. The Bills should be the right side, but again I’m not that confident.

Green Bay Packers 23 Buffalo Bills 20

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +5.5

Confidence: Low

Dec 132014
 

Denver Broncos (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (8-5)

Denver is the best team in the league in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 77.73% rate, as opposed to 71.29% for their opponents, a differential of 6.44%. However, this line is still too high at 4.5. San Diego has a solid squad as well, moving the chains at a 73.91% rate, as opposed to 73.51% for their opponents, a differential of 0.40% that ranks 15th in the NFL. This line should be around a field goal, according to that. That might not seem like a significant difference, but considering 3 and 4 are both key numbers, it is, especially with the public all over the Broncos once again.

On top of that, the Chargers have typically been an auto-bet late in the season, since 2007. They’ve gone 25-4 straight up and 20-9 ATS in weeks 14-17 over that time period. They didn’t cover last week against New England, but that’s because New England is the only team comparably good to the Chargers late season over that time period (26-3 SU, 16-12 ATS). They should have better luck this week against Denver, especially since home underdogs are 69-47 ATS off of losses as home underdogs since 2002. The only reason this isn’t a bigger play for the Broncos is because they’ll be 4 point favorites in Cincinnati next week and teams are 89-63 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites and 57-36 ATS before being 4+ road favorites. However, I still like the Chargers as long as the line is above 4 here.

San Diego Chargers 24 Denver Broncos 23 Upset Pick +175

Pick against the spread: San Diego +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 122014
 

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (5-8)

The Packers lost last week in Green Bay, but now they return home. The Falcons are 32-21-1 ATS at home (39-15 straight up) since Matt Ryan and Mike Smith came in back in 2008, as long as Matt Ryan is healthy, including 8-3 ATS as home underdogs, as they are here. The fact that they lost last week actually makes it more likely that they cover this week as they’re very good off of a loss in the Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era. They are 27-14 ATS off of a loss since 2008, including 18-9 ATS at home and 6-1 ATS as home underdogs.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have never been good in these types of games. They are 7-20 ATS since 2007 (when Mike Tomlin took over) as non-divisional road favorites. They always get caught off guard by these types of opponents and I definitely expect that to happen again here with the Steelers sandwiched in between a big upset win in Cincinnati and another very important game with the Chiefs next week that could be a playoff tiebreaker.

There are two reasons why this isn’t a bigger play on Atlanta. For one, Julio Jones is going to be at the very best less than 100% this week with a hip problem, which is an issue, considering how big of a part of their offense he is. Two, the Steelers are in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 182-195 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.32 points per game, as opposed to 269-385 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.28 points per game. However, road favorites off of a road win as underdogs are just 32-28 ATS since 2002, so it’s not that powerful for a trend. The Falcons should be the right side, especially with the public on Pittsburgh.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 122014
 

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Baltimore is generally very good at home. Since Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh came in before the 2008 season, the Ravens are 45-11 straight up, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.38 points per game, at home, as opposed to 34-32, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.24 points per game on the road, a swing of about 9 points. However, while they are 22-12 ATS as home underdogs or home favorites of 7 or more, they are just 9-12 ATS as home favorites of more than 7.

The Ravens are also in a bad spot as they are non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs, a situation teams are 78-109 ATS in since 2008. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are non-divisional road underdogs before being divisional home favorites, a situation teams are 123-94 ATS since 2002. Combining the two, teams are 62-38 ATS since 2012 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. The early line of the Ravens’ game in Houston next week is only Houston -1 so the Ravens won’t definitely be underdogs, but the logic still stands. While the Ravens have a much more important game next week on the road against a team still alive in the playoff race, the Jaguars have arguably their easiest game of the season, as they will be favored for the first time all year at home for the Titans.

Baltimore Ravens 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +14

Confidence: Medium

Dec 122014
 

Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) at Cleveland Browns (7-6)

This line has shifted from the Bengals being favored by 1.5 earlier in the week to the Browns now being favored by 1.5. That erased a powerful trend working against the Bengals and replaced it with a powerful trend that works for the Bengals. That first trend says that road favorites are 77-120 ATS before being home underdogs since 1989 (the Bengals have the Broncos coming to town next week). The other trend says that divisional home favorites are 25-49 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season.

However, I’m still going with the Browns for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one is that that line movement isn’t that significant because it’s not only still within the field goals, but it’s between 2 points in either direction. The second reason is that the Bengals still have a really tough game against the Broncos next week. Teams are 60-94 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, including 31-65 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs (the early line is Denver -4). The Browns have a much easier game up next with a trip to Carolina on deck.

On top of that, that 25-49 ATS trend only makes sense when two teams are even. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (39-38) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate. These two teams are not even though.

They’re not uneven in the way you think either. The Browns actually rank significantly better than the Bengals this season. The Browns rank 16th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 69.36% rate, as opposed to 69.34% for their opponents, a differential of 0.02%. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 26th, moving the chains at a 71.32% rate, as opposed to 73.85% for their opponents, a differential of -2.53%. That’s before you take into account that Johnny Manziel should upgrade the Browns’ offense in his first start. Manziel won’t necessarily be great, especially not right away, but he’ll probably be better than Hoyer, who was really struggling, leading the NFL’s 25th ranked offense in rate of moving the chains.

If their offense is even slightly improved, the Browns, with a defense that ranks 2nd in rate of moving the chains allowed, are significantly better than the Bengals. Not only does that nullify that trend in my mind, but that means we’re getting significant line value with the Browns. The final reason I still like the Browns is because that line movement is a result of the sharps being all over Cleveland this week. I agree with them and I have a good deal of confidence as long as this line is 3 or less.

Cleveland Browns 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -1.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 122014
 

New York Jets (2-11) at Tennessee Titans (2-11)

The Titans are a really bad team, moving within percentage points of a Raiders team that previously seemed untouchably in last place in rate of moving the chains, after a blowout home loss to the Giants last week. They move the chains at a 66.57% rate, as opposed to 76.11% for their opponents, a differential of -9.53% that ranks 31st (Oakland is at -9.61%). However, the Jets have no business being favored by a field goal on the road against anyone. They rank all the way down at 28th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 67.89% rate, as opposed to 72.70% for their opponents, a differential of -4.81%.

The Jets being favored by a field goal is a drastic shift from last week, when the early line had them as field goal underdogs. I love fading massive line movements because they’re almost often huge overreactions and in this case I think it’s an overreaction to the Titans 36-7 home loss to the Giants. That was an ugly loss, as was their 45-21 loss to the Texans the week before, but teams actually cover at a fairly high rate off of back-to-back losses by 21 or more points, as teams are 41-23 ATS in that spot since 2002. It might seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it as teams are often overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. They’re definitely undervalued and they’ll almost definitely be overlooked and embarrassed.

Adding to the theory that the Titans will be overlooked this week is the fact that the Jets have a much bigger game next week with the Patriots coming to town. Teams are 60-94 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, including 31-65 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs, 9-24 ATS before being 7+ point home underdogs, and 1-7 ATS before being 10+ point home underdogs (the early line in New England -10.5). On top of that, road favorites are 77-120 ATS before being home underdogs since 1989. Combining the two, road favorites are 6-18 ATS before being 7+ point home underdogs since 1989. It’s a very small sample size, but the logic definitely makes sense.

The only reason this isn’t a bigger play on the Titans is because the Jets are in their 2nd straight road game this week, which is an added benefit. Teams are 46-31 ATS as road favorites off a road loss since 2008, including 38-26 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight (and not 3rd straight) road game and they next play a home game. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 182-195 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.32 points per game, as opposed to 269-385 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.28 points per game. However, that aforementioned 38-26 ATS trend is just 5-9 ATS since 1989 when the previous game was an overtime contest and teams in general are 79-97 ATS since 1989 off of a road overtime loss. The Titans should be the right side.

Tennessee Titans 16 New York Jets 13 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3

Confidence: Medium

Dec 122014
 

Dallas Cowboys (9-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)

The Eagles won in Dallas a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean these two teams aren’t even. The Eagles rank 11th, moving the chains at 71.46% rate, as opposed to 70.14% for their opponents, a differential of 1.32%. The Cowboys, very similarly, rank 14th, moving the chains at a 76.11% rate, as opposed to 74.94% for their opponents, a differential of 1.17%. The Eagles’ offense has been especially bad with Mark Sanchez under center, as they’ve moved the chains at a 69.94% rate over the past 5 weeks despite playing 4 of the 7 worst defenses in the league in terms of rate of moving the chains differential (Green Bay, Carolina, Tennessee, Dallas). The reason the Cowboys lost on Thanksgiving is because they generally struggle at home, going 7-23 ATS as home favorites since 2010. The Eagles, meanwhile, are 14-27 ATS at home over that same time period.

This isn’t unique to the Cowboys and Eagles, as the whole NFC East recently has had less homefield advantage than average recently. At home, the NFC East is 73-85 since 2010, outscoring opponents by an average of0.67 points per game and going 59-96 ATS. On the road, they are 77-80, getting outscored by an average of 2.00 points per game and going 83-72 ATS. As you can imagine, road teams in NFC East divisional games tend to do well, going 25-14 ATS over that time period as divisional road underdogs.

The Eagles’ previous win in Dallas actually puts them in a bad spot this week, as divisional home favorites are 25-49 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (39-38) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate.

I like the Cowboys’ chances of getting revenge here and even if they don’t do so by winning, this line is at 3.5 so there’s some wiggle room. Getting that extra half point is very important considering these two teams are essentially even and it’s the direct result of the Eagles’ win in Dallas two weeks ago, which we established is very explainable. The only reason this isn’t a bigger play is because the Eagles don’t have any distractions on the horizon with a trip to Washington on deck. Teams are 89-63 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ road favorites, 57-36 ATS before being 4+ road favorites, and 23-8 ATS before being 7+ road favorites (the early line is Philadelphia -8.5). I’m still taking the Cowboys and the 3 and a half.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Philadelphia Eagles 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 122014
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11) at Carolina Panthers (4-8-1)

Cam Newton is out for this one with a back injury suffered in a car accident this week. That caused this line to move from 5 to 3.5 with Derek Anderson coming in to make his 2nd start of the season. That’s not nearly enough of a line movement to compensate. Sure, Newton hasn’t been at his best this season, dealing with a variety of nagging injuries, but he’s still lead this offense to a solid 73.44% rate in 12 starts this season, despite having limited talent around him on the offensive line, in the receiving corps, and at the running back position. The defense, which allows opponents to move the chains at a 74.82% rate, is a much bigger part of the reason why this team is 4-8-1.

Sure, Anderson beat these Buccaneers in Tampa Bay earlier this season, but that’s not much of an accomplishment, as the Buccaneers are 14-31-1 ATS at home since 2009 (14-32 straight up), as opposed to 26-20-1 ATS (16-31 straight up) on the road. This season has essentially followed that same pattern as they are winless at home in 6 games (1-5 ATS), but 4-3 ATS (2-5 straight up) on the road. Just because Anderson won a close game in Tampa Bay earlier this season doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily win again here in Carolina, especially with Greg Hardy no longer on the field. And even if he does win, this line gives us some breathing room with the Buccaneers.

That win earlier this season by the Panthers actually puts them in a bad spot this week. Divisional home favorites are 25-49 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (39-38) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate. The Anderson lead Panthers and the Buccaneers are essentially even and there’s a good chance the Buccaneers get their revenge this week.

The Panthers were already in a bad spot coming off of a huge upset win in New Orleans last week as teams are 48-70 ATS since 1989 off of an upset win as 10+ point underdogs, including 25-40 ATS off a divisional upset win as 10+ point underdogs. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are in a good spot in their 2nd straight road game. Teams are 111-76 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 94-54 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight (and not 3rd straight) road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 182-195 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.32 points per game, as opposed to 269-385 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.28 points per game.

The only reason this isn’t a bigger play is because the Buccaneers have a very tough game against the Packers in Tampa Bay on deck next week.  Teams are 60-94 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, including 31-65 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs, 9-24 ATS before being 7+ point home underdogs, and 1-7 ATS before being 10+ point home underdogs (the early line in Green Bay -10.5). That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you have a very tough, important game coming up. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. Here, I think it’s both. However, the Panthers aren’t very good either and there’s enough stuff here to be confident in the Buccaneers as long as the line is a field goal or more.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 Carolina Panthers 16 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Dec 112014
 

Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (6-7)

At first glance, this line seems off. The Cardinals aren’t as good as their 10-3 record, but rate of moving the chains differential still says we’re getting a significant amount of line value with them as 4.5 point underdogs. The Cardinals rank 10th, moving the chains at a 71.50% rate, as opposed to 69.85% for their opponents, a differential of 1.66%. The Rams, meanwhile, move the chains at a 70.48% rate, as opposed to 71.28% for their opponents, a differential of -0.80%. This line was 2.5 a week ago and it’s since moved across key numbers of 3 and 4 and I love fading significant line movements like that.

However, I understand why this line is where it is. The Rams are playing dominate football over the past two weeks, allowing opponents to move the chains at a mere 54.55% rate, as opposed to 75.86% for their offense. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that they haven’t allowed a single point in either of their last 2 games, becoming the just the 4th team in the last 25 years to pull off that feat. For the record, each of the previous 3 teams covered by an average of 10.67 points the following week, though that’s such a small sample size.

You can call the past two weeks a fluke and it’s important to remember that in the first 11 games of the season they moved the chains at a 69.50% rate, as opposed to 74.03% for their opponents, a differential of -4.53%. However, keep in mind that over those 11 games, they played 9 teams that currently have winning records and managed to pull the upset 3 times against the likes of Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco. You can say that over the past two weeks they were only playing the Redskins and the Raiders, but it’s not like the Cardinals’ offense is moving the ball well right now. In games that Drew Stanton has started, they are moving the chains at a mere 68.98% rate and they have just 2 offensive touchdowns in their last 3 games and one of those was a garbage time touchdown against a terrible Atlanta defense. That doesn’t exactly seem like a recipe for success going on the road against a red hot defense. The Cardinals’ defense isn’t healthy either with Tyrann Mathieu out and Antonio Cromartie likely out.

The Cardinals haven’t exactly been great on the road this year anyway, moving the chains at a 69.41% rate, as opposed to 71.27% for their opponents on the road this season. On the road with Drew Stanton, they move the chains at a 57.53% rate. The Rams were within 3 of the Cardinals in Arizona earlier this season before the Cardinals had 3 fluky touchdowns, one on a long pass, and two on return touchdowns. And that was when the Cardinals still had Carson Palmer. The Rams are also in a good spot as divisional home favorites before being non-divisional home favorites as teams are 51-33 ATS in that spot since 2008. They have no distractions on the horizon with the lowly Giants coming to town next week. I would have liked the Rams a lot more at 2.5, but they should still be the right side here at 4.5, even if it’s for a no confidence pick.

St. Louis Rams 17 Arizona Cardinals 10

Pick against spread: St. Louis -4.5

Confidence: None