St. Louis Rams (4-6) at Arizona Cardinals (4-6)
The rule of thumb in NFC West divisional matchups is to take the home team. Since 2007, no division covers more often at home than the NFC West, going 106-79 ATS at home, and conversely no team fails to cover more often on the road, going 74-102 ATS. Given that, it’s reasonable to think that when these teams get together and play a divisional contest, the home team generally covers and they do, going 38-26 ATS since 2007. NFC West divisional games have also gone under the total 40 times out of 64 since 2007, so I like the under as well.
However, this week it might not be a good idea to take Arizona, the home favorite. This is a sandwich game for them, meaning they are favorites after losing as dogs before being dogs. Teams are 58-81 ATS in this spot since 2008. The logic is that good teams in that situation will see this game as an easy rest game to get back on track and not take their opponent seriously and that bad teams don’t deserve to be favorites in the first place. Arizona is the latter.
They might not overlook divisional St. Louis and in fact, when the middle game is divisional and the two “bread” games are non-divisional, the trend is just 12-16 ATS since 2008, 22-25 ATS going back to 2002 to get a larger sample size. However, that wouldn’t be why they would fail to cover because they are a bad team and bad teams shouldn’t be favored. Home favorites are 27-38 ATS since 2008 before being road dogs in two straight and the Cardinals go to the Jets and Seahawks in their next 2.
In fact, unless they’re favored at home week 15 against Detroit, Arizona might not be favored the rest of the way (5 games). Favorites before being dogs in 5 or more straight are 11-24 ATS since 2008. Favorites after being dogs in 4 straight are also 22-31 ATS since 2008, a situation Arizona is in. All of these are ways of showing that bad teams struggle to cover as favorites.
We aren’t really getting any line value at first glance. Using the yards per play differential method, this line should be St. Louis -2 and using the rate of sustaining drives differential method, this line should be Arizona -4.5 and when you average those out, you get right around the Arizona -1.5 this line really is at. However, that doesn’t take into account that Arizona has no momentum and has been playing terribly ever since Kevin Kolb got hurt. John Skelton has been benched for Ryan Lindley, a 6th round rookie who might even be worse and he’s favored by 1.5 points. That’s the definition of a bad team being favored.
It also doesn’t take into account that St. Louis is getting healthier on the offensive line. Rodger Saffold returned two weeks ago and solidified the left tackle position. Scott Wells, a Pro-Bowl caliber center, returns this week, which will move Robert Turner, who has actually played well in his absence, to left guard. Assuming Wells is truly healthy and Turner continues to play well at left guard, this line really only has a problem at right tackle, which will make life a lot easier for Sam Bradford. Danny Amendola is out for this one, but things are looking up for the Rams injury wise.
I liked St. Louis better when Arizona was publicly backed, because I don’t like betting against non-publicly backed favorites this week because the odds makers have had a rough 3 weeks and seem due for a big week. Non-publicly faded dogs covering especially hurt the odds makers because they need favorites and dogs to cover evenly, but also to make money. The public tends to prefer favorites, but when they prefer a dog, it’s normally a risky bet, especially given what’s happened in the last few weeks. The odds makers always win in the long run. When a favorite not publicly backed covers, they get a favorite who covers and they make money (odds makers always win with equal action because of juice).
Because of that and the fact that this is an NFC West divisional matchup, it’s a small play on the Rams. Rather than putting 2 units on the spread and one on the money line, I’m putting all 3 on the money line. Since 1989, there have been 414 teams who have been favorites of less than 2. Of those 414 teams, only 7 of those teams won by exactly 1 point, about 1.7%. It’s not worth the extra 25 cents for something that historically will only hurt me about 1.7% of the time.
Public lean: Arizona (50% range)
Sharps lean: STL 13 ARI 3
Final update: Sharps love St. Louis, but I think I’m going to leave the units where they are.
St. Louis Rams 17 Arizona Cardinals 13 Upset Pick +115 3 units
Pick against spread: St. Louis +1.5 (-110) 0 units
Total: Under 37 (-110) 1 unit