NFC Divisional Playoff Underdogs Face Tough Challenges

NFL teams that are compromised offensively have to be play outstanding in other areas in order to cover a January point spread. That was obvious in the wildcard round last weekend.

Arizona suffered numerous injuries to its quarterbacks and running back, which limited overall offensive output. While fearless and talented, the Arizona defense could not hold their own against Carolina.

When the Cardinals special teams finally gave out, the game was over and a 27-16 loss ended their season.

The Bengals similarly needed great play from the defense against Indianapolis. That did not happen and the Bengals lost 26-10.

Teams such as Cincinnati and Arizona do win games and cover numbers, but the wins come tougher when the competition is stronger, such as during the postseason.

This weekend’s NFC divisional playoffs will have a game where both teams are known for their strong defense and one game where both are known for high-powered offenses.

The Carolina Panthers who are 8-8-1 SU and 9-8 ATS visit the Seattle Seahawks who are 12-4 SU and 10-6 ATS.

The current line at Bovada and topbet has Seattle favored at home by 11 points with the point total on just 40.

Carolina’s field position is critical if the Panthers have any hope of winning. With the Seattle defense playing so well, the offense for Carolina will likely have three and out multiple times. The Panthers likely will also struggle finding wide receivers outside and the ground game will be tested.

Greg Olsen the Panthers tight end could become quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target in the game.

For Carolina to have any upset chance, its defense must dominant. The Panthers defense must stop Seattle from sustained drives.

The Dallas Cowboys 13-4 SU and 10-7 ATS travel to face the Green Bay Packers 12-4 and 9-6 ATS. According to betonline and sportsbook.com, Green Bay is favored by 6.5 points with the point total on 53.

As the underdog, the Dallas Cowboys will need to rush the passer well up the middle. Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay star quarterback has had two weeks to heal his calf injury. However, he will not be the same and will have limited mobility, especially with frigid temperatures expected on Sunday.

Dallas sacked Matthew Safford last week three times in their win over Detroit. They cannot give Rodgers time to look over the field.

Rodgers has such a quick release and strong arm that he often times does not need to set his feet to produce an accurate on-time dart down the field, but he does require space.

If Dallas cannot pressure Rodgers and take away the space he needs, Green Bay will score often, turning the Dallas offense into a pass-first one, which is not their optimal style.

Dallas is 0-6 on the road in the postseason since 1994. Overall, the Cowboys are 4-11 SU and 5-10 ATS in road games in the playoffs since 1978.

NFC Wildcard Weekend Early Look

The NFL regular season has concluded. This weekend the wildcard games take place. In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers will be laying points in their respective home games.

Carolina earned its berth in the postseason with a blowout victory over Atlanta in the Georgia Dome on Sunday, despite finishing the season under .500 at 7-8-1.

Carolina will be laying points against the Arizona Cardinals whom have an overall record of 11-5.

Bovada and betonline opened the line with Carolina favored by 4.5 points by that has been bet up to 5 points.

The total on topbet and sportsbook.com opened and stayed on stayed on 39.

Arizona finished its regular season at 11-5 ATS, which was the best in the NFL. The Cardinals were 4-2 ATS as a road dog, with the two non-covers at Seattle and at Denver.

However, some will have to think twice prior to backing Arizona, whose situation at quarterback remains nothing less than a mess.

The Cardinals hope that Drew Stanton will return after he missed the past two games due to an injured knee.

Ryan Lindley played in Stanton’s absence and lost two straight games to the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.

Carolina is 4-1 straight up and 2-3 against the spread this season as a favorite at home.

Pick: Carolina 27-17

In the second NFC wildcard game, perhaps a bit more intriguing is the matchup on Sunday between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. Dallas opened as a 6.5-point home favorite. The point total is sitting on 48.5.

This season at home as a favorite the Cowboys were 3-3 SU as well as 2-4 ATS.

Over the Cowboys past 20 games as a home favorite Dallas is just 5-15 ATS since November of 2011.

Those who like the better defense that is getting points will look at Detroit. However, the Lions are only 2-3 ATS as road dog this season.

Dallas is coming off a big win over NFC East rivals the Washington Redskins. The offense for Dallas is very balanced with Tony Romo having another strong season. However, it has been the play of running back DeMarco Murray who has been the team’s best offensive weapon. Murray ran for 1875 years on the season to break a single season rushing record at Dallas that had been held by Emmitt Smith.

Prediction: Dallas 34-28

The AFC games have the Baltimore Ravens visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals visiting the Indianapolis Colts.

Tomorrow those games will be reviewed with a prediction for both.

Week 17 Ends the NFL Regular Season with Still Much Undecided

The last week of the NFL regular season has arrived. It is quieter in comparison to year previous. Nine of the 16 games in Week 17 of the NFL have meaning for the playoffs, with two others featuring teams that are playoff bound where their games do not mean a thing.

Three quarterback changes have been made since the start of the week.

However, surprisingly, the action in Week 17 this season has seen four games produce line movements of 1.5 points or more. Normally, the last week of the NFL season sees line movements that are atypical of a normal NFL Week since many variable come into play based upon the players playing or resting for the postseason.

Sharp bettors are holding back waiting to hear information that would give them the decided edge on any number prior to the books getting the same info.

The week’s biggest movement on a line had the Baltimore Ravens go from a home favorite of 9-points versus Cleveland, to 13.5 points, after it became known that Brian Hoyer would not play quarterback and Conner Shaw a rookie must take his place.

Cleveland is 0-4 SU in its past four games, while Baltimore can still make the playoffs with a win.

It is not often that sharp money finds itself at the worst of the line because their information often is spot on. However, they were late by 15 minutes, with info on the lacerated spleen of Alex Smith forcing him to sit out the Chiefs Sunday game versus the Chargers.

There was big movement on boards such as Bovada and topbet on Kansas City laying between -3 and -3.5 points and when most of the books moved it to -4, the news Smith would not play became public and the line retreated to -1.

In the 49ers meaningless affair with Arizona, San Francisco opened at -4.5. Arizona can still clinch the title of the NFL West with a win and a Seattle loss.

Ryan Lindley was announced during the week as the starter, after most thought Logan Thomas would start. With Lindley was announced the line jumped to -6 and since has gone up to -6.5.

New England has clinched home field advantage in the playoffs through the AFC Championship and therefore is just 3-5-point favorites over Buffalo when they could have been 9-point favorites. However, no one is sure how long the starters will play.

The Cowboys could still have a bye next week, but the likely scenario has they at home next week as the NFC East champs playing a wildcard opponent.

Rams Laying 4.5 points to NFC West Leading Cardinals

The St. Louis Rams will be out for revenge when they host NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome.

The Rams have two straight shutouts to improve their overall record to 6-7 straight up and 7-6 against the spread. The Rams are 4-0 ATS over their past 4 games played.

Arizona is leading the NFC West with a record of 10-3 straight up and 9-4 against the number.

The defense for St. Louis is at last playing the way many had predicted. Robert Quinn the team leader on defense has 10.5 sacks from his defensive end spot.

The St. Louis defense has recorded 13 sacks between the past two games, after recording only one during their first five games of the season.

Arizona had lost two straight games before defeating Kansas City last weekend 17-14.

Kerwynn Williams filled in for the injured Andre Ellington at running back and had 100 yards rushing in the game.

His performance helped to relieve some of the pressure that has built up on Drew Stanton the Cardinals starting quarterback who has been inconsistent since taking over for injured Carson Palmer.

The two teams played November 9 in Arizona with the Cardinals winning 31-14 thanks to two defensive touchdowns during the fourth quarter.

Arizona is 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS over the past three head-to-head meetings against St. Louis.

Trends to Watch For

The Cardinals have covered the number in 10 of the past 14 games against the Rams.

The Cardinals have covered the spread in 7 of the past 10 games played on the road.

The UNDER in the past 27 games played in December by St. Louis is 21-5-1.

The UNDER in the past 13 games between the Rams and Cardinals is 9-4.

Shaun Hill a journeyman quarterback for St. Louis has won 3 of his 4 starts since taking over from an injured Austin Davis.

Over his past two games, Hill is 29 for 44 passing with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Arizona defense has bent often this season, but has yet to break. The Cardinals are No. 17 in total defense and No. 24 in yards allowed per played, but No. 3 in total points allowed and No. 3 in turnover margin at plus-10.

Since Hill has taken over at quarterback for St. Louis, they have slowed down the pace, with the run as the first priority.

On defense, the Rams have played stellar football holding three of their past four opponents to a single touchdown or less.

The scoring defense for Arizona has been great the entire season. Eight of the team’s 13 games have stayed UNDER and one was a push.

Pick: I like the UNDER.

Thanksgiving Day Games Top NFL Week 12 Early Line

Week 12 of the NFL still has two Monday Night Football games to be played, but that does not stop the odds makers from looking to Week 13 and releasing their opening lines for what should be an exciting lineup of games.

This week is Thanksgiving and the traditional three games will be played so fans can enjoy their turkey and fixings and see their favorite teams play football.

The lineup of games on Thanksgiving is superb with division rivalries between teams battling to win their respective division or stay alive in the hunt for the postseason.

Here is an early look at the three Thanksgiving Day NFL games.

November 27- Thanksgiving Day

Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions

Bovada and topbet opened the early game on Thanksgiving with Detroit favored at home by -6. Other books had Detroit favored by 7, but within an hour of it being posted on Sunday the betting had pulled it down to -6.5. Detroit has not been profitable when it comes to covering the spread. The Lions are 1-4 ATS over their past 5 games. Detroit returns home following two straight losses on the road, including Sunday at New England. Chicago has won two straight, which has kept the team’s hopes alive for the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys

Dallas opened on sportsbook.com and betonline as a 3-point favorite at home. This is a huge game for the two NFC East rivals that are tied atop the division at 8-3 and the first game of two between them over a three-week period.

Dallas pulled out a huge win on Sunday night over NFC East rivals the New York Giants, while Philadelphia easily defeated the Tennessee Titans earlier on Sunday.

Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

The line on this game opened with San Francisco favored at home by 1 point.

This game is huge in the NFC West and the playoff picture in all of the NFC. San Francisco won its third consecutive game on Sunday but did not cover the points in its 17-13 win at home against Washington.

Seattle narrowed the distance between themselves and Arizona the NFC West leaders by downing the Cardinals 19-3 at home.

Arizona is now on top by just two games at 9-2, while the Seahawks and 49ers are both at 7-4. The team that loses will be in jeopardy of falling out of the playoff picture in the NFC, while the winner will hope that the Cardinals will continue to lose heading down the stretch.

Saints 4.5-point Chalk at Home Versus 49ers

The New Orleans Saints host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at the Superdome. The Saints are 4-4 SU ad ATS this season but have covered three straight games. The 49ers are 4-4 SU and ATS.

New Orleans has tight end Jimmy Graham back healthy and an improved defense as they look to run away with the title in the NFC South.

The 49ers however are headed down having lost their last two games, including a home loss last Sunday to St. Louis 13-10.

According to Bovada and sportsbook.com, San Francisco was scoreless over the last 41 minutes of last week’s game.

Last November 17, the Saints defeated the 49ers 23-20 but failed to cover as a favorite of 3.5 points. The UNDER cashed in that game as the total was 5o and the teams combined for just 43.

The current line at betonline and topbet has New Orleans favored by 4.5 points with the point total on 49.

Trends

  • New Orleans is 35-16 ATS over its past 51 games at home.
  • San Francisco is 4-0 ATS over its past games against New Orleans.
  • The UNDER has cashed in 8 of the past 11 games San Francisco has played overall.
  • The OVER has cashed in 4 of the past 5 games New Orleans has played overall.
  • The 49ers are 2-4 against the number when playing the role of a road dog.

New Orleans has put up 72 points over the last two weeks. In those two games, Drew Brees had 608 yards passing with 5 TDs and 1 interception.

The Saints have run the ball well this season. New Orleans’ 4.8 yards per carry on the ground is tied in the NFL for second and the team’s 12 rushing TDs is tied for first.

The 49ers are a different story. San Francisco allowed St. Louis to record eight sacks last week. The offensive line was called for 4 penalties and had another two declined.

Colin Kaepernick the 49ers quarterback fumbled the ball on the goal line before he could score what would have been the winning touchdown against the Rams.

Patrick Willis a linebacker for San Francisco has been out for weeks, but is expected to play on Sunday.

Pierre Thomas a running back for New Orleans and fellow back Khiry Robinson could miss their third straight game.

The two teams played last season with New Orleans winning by 3, but the spread was covered by San Francisco.

The defense for San Francisco, which is ranked No. 2 in yards per game, will keep them close.

The UNDER is a solid play, with a lean towards the 49ers covering the 4.5 points.

Arizona meets San Diego in Late Monday Night Matchup

Two of the teams who were most profitable down the stretch of last season clash meet on the late edition of Monday Night Football, when the Arizona Cardinals host the San Diego Chargers.

Arizona was 6-1 ATS to finish last season, while San Diego ended its season 5-1 ATS.

While San Diego’s offseason went smooth, Arizona lost three of its important defensive pieces due to suspension and injury.

The current line has Arizona favored by 3 points on Bovada and topbet. The point total on betonline and sportsbook.com is sitting on 46.

San Diego has covered the spread in each of their past four games on the road, while the UNDER is 9-4 for the past 13 games San Diego has played on grass.

Arizona was No. 1 versus the run last season, giving up only 84 yards per game. In points allowed, the Cardinals were No. 7 at 20.3.

However, Arizona lost Karlos Dansby a linebacker to free agency, Daryl Washington a linebacker to suspension and Darnell Dockett their defensive tackle to a torn ACL.

The trio combined for two touchdowns, six interceptions and 14 sacks. John Abraham a linebacker with 11.5 sacks last season reported to camp late after a DUI charge. At 36, he likely will not repeat his production from last season.

Arizona, especially Carson Palmer the quarterback, did not grasp fully the new offensive system under Bruce Arians the first year head coach last season.

However, when they finally did, the Cardinals averaged over 27 points per game during the past 8 games. Andre Ellington will be featured in the backfield this season, with John Brown a rookie speedster at wide out adding to the threats on offense.

For Monday’s game, the status of Ellington is questionable due to a foot problem. Reports have even suggested he could miss extended playing time, while others have not even ruled him out for the game.

San Diego will look to control the clock. They will look to Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown in the backfield and quarterback Philip Rivers dumping short passes.

Tyrann Mathieu who tore both his LCL and ACL last December for Arizona could play on Monday.

Mike McCoy the head coach for San Diego brought quarterback Rivers out of the dark following two subpar seasons.

Carson Palmer experienced the same thing with Bruce Arians last season and Palmer’s career was revitalized. With the two coaches and quarterbacks relationships so similar and the results being positive for both, the OVER looks good in this matchup.

Odds to Win the NFC West for 2014

Wilson
Wilson
Don't expect Russell Wilson to listen to the hype. I expect another focused year from him and the 'Hawks.

It’s our last stop in the NFC. Let’s head West and break down the toughest division in pro football.

Seattle +110 – The defending Super Bowl Champions look as good as any defending champ in recent years when it comes to their chances of repeating. Both the offense and defense are largely intact and the business-like approach seems to be there are well. My only question is how much does Marshawn Lynch have left? He declined a bit last year compared to the year before so that’s something to keep an eye on.

The last six weeks of the schedule feature five divisional games including two each against San Francisco and Arizona and one against the Rams. Toss in a trip to Philadelphia and that could be a very tough hurdle.

Season Projection: 13-3

Dorsey
Don't underestimate the loss of Glenn Dorsey to a season-ending injury for the Niners.

San Francisco +150 – A lot has been made through the first two preseason games about how poorly the 49ers have played as they are 0-2. In most cases I wouldn’t put much thought into it, but this team worries me and here’s why. They are aging rapidly on defense. They’ve lost defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey for the season and will be without Navarro Bowman to start the season. Do they have a viable replacement for Frank Gore should he go down and will guard Alex Boone ever sign?

The Niners’ schedule isn’t brutal but it has some potential road blocks right off the bat. They open at Dallas who will test their struggling secondary. They then have Chicago at home and also have trips to Arizona, St. Louis and Denver in the opening half of the season. Philly and Kansas City visit Levi’s Stadium in that stretch as well.

Season Projection: 10-6

Arizona +750 – The Cards were going to be my surprise pick in this division (and that wouldn’t have been much of a surprise based on their finish last year) but defensive tackle Darnell Dockett went down for the season this week and that’s a massive blow. He anchored the league’s number one defense against the run which is huge against division foes like the 49ers and Seahawks. Carson Palmer looks great so far this preseason and the running attack should be more balanced as well.

Despite going 10-6 in 2013, they get a third-place schedule which will help. The final seven games will decide their fate this season. They entertain Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle but must hit the road to Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and San Francisco. A good start to the season will benefit them in the long run.

Season Projection: 10-6

St. Louis +750 – Let’s get right to it; this team will ride or fall with quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams flirted with taking a quarterback in the May draft but stuck by Bradford who has been hit with injuries and average play. The running of Zac Stacy and a defense that looks to be really good and aggressive will help.

If this team played in any other division I’d probably have no issue putting them in the playoffs. The reality is that they play in the NFC West and it’s going to be extremely difficult to reach the postseason. The Rams’ season may be defined by a stretch of five games from late October through November. They’ll play at Kansas City, at San Francisco and at Arizona while they host Denver and Seattle on the ends of that three-game road trip.

Season Projection: 8-8

Overall: Seattle will be tested but they’ll win the division. My one big concern in the 49ers. I can actually see them sliding down to third in 2014.

Odds to Win the NFC South for 2014

Graham
Graham
I expect Jimmy Graham and the Saints to capture the NFC South in 2014.

With the NFC North and NFC East already knocked out, it’s time to focus on the NFC South where I can listen to valid arguments about all four of these teams winning the division. Off we go…

New Orleans -150 – Jimmy Graham has his new deal and regardless of what position he actually plays, he’ll be the number one threat for Drew Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton. The offense will be good but if Mark Ingram can prove to be an effective runner in 2014 then the offense will be even better. The addition of speedster Brandin Cooks will help with the loss of Darren Sproles as well.

The defense improved a ton in 2013 under Rob Ryan and that should continue this year with more experience in some of the younger guys. The Saints’ season may come down to a stretch of games between October 19th and December 15th. That span includes road games at Detroit, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Home dates during this span include Green Bay, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Carolina. They will need to come through this above .500 or they could be in trouble.

Season Projection: 11-5

Ryan
I'm just not sold on Matt Ryan and the Falcons this year.

Atlanta +450 – The Falcons suffered from Murphy’s Law last year which was really bad as they came off a year in which they were just yards from the Super Bowl. Atlanta is a bit healthier this year, but did lose starting left tackle Sam Baker to a knee injury this past weekend. I don’t know how many more opportunities Matt Ryan will have to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of quarterbacks. Until he gets his team to the Super Bowl I’m not buying the hype.

The defense should be better. The pass rush was poor at best last season and of course the injuries didn’t help there either. Like New Orleans, Atlanta will need to start well because the schedule down the stretch is loaded. They finish with Arizona, at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, at New Orleans and Carolina at home in the finale.

Season Projection: 7-9

Carolina +450 – The Panthers were the surprise winners of the NFC South last season edging out the Saints in the final weeks. In order to repeat they’ll need to replace Steve Smith who anchored the receiving corps for years. Cam Newton will need a running game for him to flourish and that’s possible behind a nice stable of backs.

The defense should be excellent again despite the loss of safety Mike Mitchell to the Steelers. If they continue to get pressure on the quarterback and create turnovers then the division is within their grasp once again. The Panthers’ tough stretch comes through the month of October when they have Chicago, at Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans and at Philly. That portion of the schedule should define their season.

Season Projection: 10-6

Tampa Bay +550 – Let me be frank here even though my name isn’t Frank; this will be one of the most improved teams in the NFL in 2014. Lovie Smith’s presence will have that kind of impact. Talent has never really been the problem. Putting it all together with good quarterback play has and that should be solved with the addition of Josh McCown. He will have monster receivers to throw to in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

The defense will move to the Tampa 2 which should fit their personnel a little better and should compliment a good front four. The Bucs have a three-week stretch on the road following two home games to start the season. Those three games are at Atlanta, at Pittsburgh and at New Orleans. They then have Baltimore at home before their bye week. If they can start in the .500 range they should be in contention all season.

Season Projection: 9-7

Overall: I like the Saints to win the division but the surprise may be that I see the Falcons under .500. I expect the Buccaneers to challenge Carolina for second.

Odds to Win the NFC North for 2014

Rodgers
Rodgers
If Aaron Rodgers stays healthy then look out for the Packers in 2014.

On Thursday, I kicked off the annual ‘NFL Division Odds’ series by starting with the NFC East. Today we move over to the NFC North where defense used to be the norm. Not anymore because at least three of the four teams will ride powerful offenses and hope their defenses can do enough to limit the opposition.

On we go…

Green Bay -125 – Here’s the deal with the Packers; if Aaron Rodgers plays all 16 games this team wins the division. It’s really that simple because defenses, especially those in this division, are not going to stop the firepower of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy etc. Where the Packers could fall though is if Clay Matthews continues to spend more time in sweats and not on the field.

Green Bay has five road games in their first eight and among those road trips are the opener at Seattle, plus at Detroit, at Chicago, at Miami and at New Orleans. This may sound crazy but if they come through that stretch 4-4 or better I think that’s pretty darn good.

Season Projection: 11-5

Cutler
Cutler has to prove he is worth his huge new deal.

Chicago +275 – Quarterback Jay Cutler has a monster new contract and now has to go out and prove that he’s worth all of that money. First and foremost he has to stay healthy. All of the offensive weapons are there in the name of Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. If Cutler can’t stay on the field then those weapons lose their potency.

With Julius Peppers off to Green Bay, the Bears brought in Jared Allen to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That will be extremely necessary with Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers on the schedule four times. The Bears have five home games in their final seven which means if they can survive earlier road games at San Francisco, Carolina and New England then they could be in great shape.

Season Projection: 10-6

Detroit +400 – I watched the Lions last night in Oakland and the offense looked great in the first quarter and the defense looked pretty good too. The problem? The Lions killed themselves, especially defensively, with penalties that kept drives alive for the Raiders. This was one of the reasons Jim Schwartz was sent packing and Jim Caldwell was brought in. The talent is there on both sides of the ball so the excuses are limited.

If the Lions are going to make the playoffs, then they need to get out early. Seven of the final eight games on the schedule are tough. Back to back trips to Arizona and New England in the beginning of that stretch and back to back road trips to Chicago and Green Bay at the end of it. I have concerns with those stretches of games.

Season Projection: 8-8

Minnesota +1000 – There are already rumors that the Vikings are leaning towards Teddy Bridgewater and that they are perhaps ready to shop Christian Ponder as well. I’m guessing Matt Cassel will start the season but he could give way to Bridgewater at some point. Regardless of who is quarterbacking. Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson are the two guys that need the ball in their hands.

The defense will be OK but I don’t think it will be formidable enough to deal with the high-powered offenses of the division. The Vikings 2014 season will be told in the first five games. They have road trips to St. Louis, New Orleans and Green Bay and two home games against New England and Atlanta.

Season Projection: 6-10

Overall: This division comes down to one question in my mind; who is on the field more in 2014, Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler? Whomever is, leads his team to the title.