Houston Texans (11-1) at New England Patriots (9-3)
This is a huge game. The Texans, tied for best record in the NFL at 11-1, will be dogs for the 2nd time this season as they head to Foxboro to play the New England Patriots. The Texans covered in their first instance as dogs this season, beating the Bears in Chicago. Good teams normally cover as dogs and a trend that exemplifies that is that dogs are 102-57 ATS before being favorites since 2011. The Texans host the Colts next week. That being said, I actually really like the Patriots this week, for several reasons.
The first is how good the Patriots are at this time of year. The Patriots are not a smart team to bet against after week 9. In the last 3 seasons between weeks 10 and 17, they are 20-0, outscoring opponents by an average of 19 points per game, with the average final score being 38-19. Even taking the spread into account, they are 13-7 ATS.
Going off of that, Tom Brady is deadly at home in December. The last time he lost a December home game was 2002, his 2nd season in the league and not so coincidentally, the only season in his career as a starter in which he didn’t make the playoffs. That’s his only career December home loss. In fact, in his career, he has a record of 24-2 at home between weeks 13 and 17. The only two losses were that aforementioned 2002 loss to the Jets and a 2005 loss to the Dolphins, which was actually in January. The fact that it was in January may or may not matter, but the fact remains, when the temperature gets cold, he’s always gotten red hot. If you add in home playoff games, that record grows to 36-6.
The Patriots had a little bit of trouble last week in Miami, winning only 23-16 and failing to cover, but that was probably just because they were caught looking forward to this game. That would mean two things. One, this is obviously a hugely important game to them, which isn’t any big secret, but it’s important to note and something I’ll mention later. Two, the fact that they were able to basically lead throughout despite being in a potential trap game situation is very, very impressive. This is a very, very good team, which is actually the 2nd reason I like the Patriots. It’s also worth noting that the Patriots are now healthier as Chandler Jones, Logan Mankins, and Dan Connolly are expected to return this week.
The Texans may have the better record, but I think the Patriots are the better team. They have by far the league’s best points differential at +170. Only Houston, who is 2nd, is within 40 points of them at +130. They also lead the league in net points per drive, DVOA, and weighted DVOA. Using net points per drive, this line should be -6. The Patriots lead the league at 1.05, while the Texans are 3rd at 0.79. If you take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game) and add 3 points for home field advantage, you get that 6 point spread. In reality, this line is at -3.5. We’re getting significant line value with the Patriots.
That line not only checks out with DVOA, which is net points per drive based but also takes into account things like strength of schedule, but DVOA actually says there’s a bigger difference between these two teams than net points per drive. The Patriots rank 1st in both regular and weighted, while the Texans rank 7th in both, a good deal lower than the 3rd they rank in net points per drive. Further showing how good the Patriots are and have been for the last 3 years, they have been a covering machine, with the exception of one situation. They struggle to cover as home favorites of more than a touchdown. However, in every other situation, they are 22-9 ATS over the last 3 years, the 3rd reason I like the Patriots.
The 4th reason I like the Patriots is that the Texans are a one loss team late in the season who are dogs. You might think that betting dogs with great records like that this late in the season is a winning proposition, especially given the trend I mentioned earlier in this write up, about dogs before being favorites. In fact, it looks like the majority of the public does think that, as the Texans are at least somewhat a publicly backed underdog. I love fading the public, especially when they back a dog. The odds makers need dogs and favorites to cover evenly and to make money. The public frequently back a favorite, but when they back a dog, it’s always a good reason to stay away from that dog. The odds makers know what they’re doing and always make money in the long run, which is the 5th reason I like the Patriots.
Back to the 4th reason, dogs with 1 win or fewer this late in the season actually really struggle to cover the spread. Those teams are 2-8 ATS since 1989 and the only two wins were actually by teams starting backup quarterbacks in meaningless week 17 games. Excluding meaningless week 17 games, teams are 0-8 ATS and SU in that situation. This actually makes some sense. It’s so rare that a team with a record like this is a dog this late in the season, but when they are, it’s typically for a very good reason and there are very good reasons why the Patriots are favored and deserve to be this week.
Earlier I mentioned how huge of a game this is for the Patriots, that’s actually the 6th reason I like the Patriots. Now, obviously this is a huge game for the Texans too, but I think that first, it’s bigger for the Patriots and second that I trust Tom Brady in a big game like this more than I trust the Texans. Matt Schaub doesn’t have a ton of experience in big games like this. He’s never even played in a playoff game and while they did beat the Bears by 7 in a similar type game earlier this year, that ending could have been different if Jay Cutler hadn’t gotten hurt and Schaub didn’t exactly play well. In another similar type game, the Texans got blown out at home by the Packers.
Tom Brady, meanwhile, has tons of experience in games like this. Further reason why I trust Brady so much more in this game, his career record against teams with a better record than him is absolutely nuts. Straight up, he’s 25-11. Think about that. Teams have a better record than him and they beat him less than a third of the time. For reference, the rest of the league wins about 37.7% of the time when playing a team with a better record than theirs. Brady is at 69.4%. Against the spread he’s 26-9-1 in those rare 36 games. Even as favorites, he’s 9-4 ATS. The Texans may be dogs, but I think it’s much, much more likely that Brady is the one that has the eff you game. The Texans are above him in the standings and the public is at least somewhat doubting him.
I can see it now, Brady warming up pregame in Foxboro, he’s got that look in his eyes, and you can see his breath coming out through his helmet. There’s nothing scientific about this, but if I picked against him in this situation and then saw that watching the pregame, I’d be terrified. It’s one of the things you learn. Never bet against Brady in a big home game late in the season. He doesn’t lose games like this, not late in the season, not in December, not at home, not against a team with a better record than his. Brady is also 10-6 ATS on Monday Nights. If we had field goal protection with the Patriots at, it’d be a co-pick of the week or maybe even a standalone 5 unit pick of the week. Even at -3.5, it’s a significant play. I also like the over. In the Patriots 20 games between weeks 10 and 17 in the last 3 seasons, the total has gone over 17 times.
Public lean: New England (50%)
Sharps lean: NE 14 HOU 4
Final thoughts: If I had more confidence in the sharps, I’d boost this to 4 units. I really wish this line was -3 too.
New England Patriots 31 Houston Texans 24
Pick against spread: New England -3.5 (-110) 3 units
Total: Over 51 (-110) 1 unit