Home ‘dogs barking | Week 15 NFL picks

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Home ‘dogs barking | Week 15 NFL picks

Denver’s loss at home to the Chargers on Thursday night wasn’t just a case of a big favorite failing to cover and losing outright, it also threw a dent into the AFC playoff picture. Suddenly San Diego is a viable wild-card contender in what’s officially a three-team race for the 6-seed, while Denver no longer controls its own destiny for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

For betting purposes, Week 15 started with a loud contrarian thud, as all three against-the-grain plays (San Diego side, moneyline and the under) cashed with room to spare. The rest of the slate is shaping up as a contrarian’s paradise, with an almost unheard-of nine road favorites. Not surprisingly, the public hasn’t taken the bait, as only two home underdogs (Jacksonville +3 vs. Buffalo; Pittsburgh +2.5 vs. Cincinnati) have received a majority of tickets (58 percent for the Jaguars; 56 percent for the Steelers). Of the other seven home ‘dogs, only Tennessee (+2.5 vs. Arizona) has cracked 40 percent of the ticket count. The Giants (+7.5 vs. Seattle) and St. Louis (+6 vs. New Orleans) have been almost universally discounted, receiving 32 and 14 percent, respectively.

Indeed, Week 15 looks like it could be a goldmine for bettors who like getting points. The home ‘dogs are barking. Onto the picks.

Lions (-5.5) over Ravens

At first glance, this line seems about two points too high. The Lions have not been playing well of late and the Ravens have come on strong, winning their last three to hop into playoff position for the first time since early October. However, a few factors point to Detroit. First, the Ravens have far and away the league’s most extreme home/road dichotomy: 6-1 at home, plus-51 point differential; 1-5 with a minus-34 differential on the road. Second, the way you beat the Lions is by forcing turnovers, and Baltimore’s defense – while solid in terms of yards allowed – has not been a playmaking unit this season, totaling just 17 takeaways (tied for 23rd in the NFL). Then there’s Detroit, which simply put, is the vastly superior team in terms of talent. To say the Lions have been giving the ball away in droves lately is an understatement. Over the last six games, they’ve turned the ball over an astounding 19 times, racking up at least three turnovers in five of those contests. Yet they’ve somehow gone 3-3 in that span, which is borderline unprecedented given that it’s next to impossible to win in the NFL when losing the turnover battle. That they’ve managed an even split is a testament to their talent. Factor in the trash talk that’s been coming from the Baltimore defense (bad-mouthing Calvin Johnson probably isn’t a wise move), the Lions playing at home under the spotlight of Monday Night Football and the fact that they can taste the NFC North crown given Aaron Rodgers’ continued absence, and this game – similar to the last two Monday nighters between playoff contenders – starts looking more and more like a lopsided affair. One last point: the books clearly hung this line begging for action on the Ravens and the public bit, with 59 percent of tickets having come in on the Baltimore side. When a line looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Patriots (+1) vs. Dolphins

There’s no doubt  losing Rob Gronkowski alters the big-picture scenario for the Patriots. As the last two years have illustrated, getting to and winning the Super Bowl is that much harder without the league’s most dynamic red-zone threat. But for the here and now, the Patriots should be able to overcome the void. It’s next to impossible to beat New England in December (NFL-best 16-1 since 2010). And the Patriots have won in bunches without Gronk before (4-1 down the stretch last year; 5-1 to begin this season). Shane Vereen’s emergence as both a safety valve for Tom Brady and a downfield threat is a major factor. The Patriots offense will be OK for the time being. There’s also great line value in this game. The betting market loves overreacting to injuries, and that’s what has happened here. New England, which was a 4-point favorite in the lookahead line before last week’s games, now finds itself in a virtual pickem scenario almost across the board. As good as Gronk is, he’s not worth five points. Last but not least, the Patriots should be a motivated bunch coming into this matchup. Not only can they clinch their 10th AFC East title in the last 11 years with a win, but they also now control their own destiny for the top seed in the AFC. Look for New England to beat Miami for the eighth straight time.

Cardinals vs. Titans – over 42.5

For the purposes of totals, teams tend to be classified as “over” or “under” teams. Games pitting two under teams will usually see totals hung around the key number of 41, while matchups involving an over team will be around 45, another key number. And accordingly, when high-scoring outfits meet is when you see totals set in the low 50s. What’s odd about this matchup is both the Cardinals (5-3 in last eight games) and Titans (5-1-1 last seven) have been predominately over teams of late. Arizona has scored at least 20 points in nine straight games, with an average of 26.2 (including 22.6 in three road games during that span). Moreover, the Cardinals have torched the AFC South this year, winning all three games while scoring 27, 27 and 40 against the Texans, Jags and Colts, respectively. The Titans have bottomed out since their bye, going 2-4. Their poor play, however, has not been attributable to a lack of offense, as they’ve averaged 348.6 yards per game, 5.5 yards per play and 24.5 points over that stretch. The defense, conversely, has been the issue, giving up 28.6 points per game. Even removing last week’s 51-28 blowout loss to the Broncos, Tennessee is still surrendering over 24 points per contest. Finally, interconference games have heavily trended toward the over in 2013, going 13-4 (76.5 percent) the last five weeks and 44-14 (75.8 percent) overall. This total should be closer to 45.

Giants (+7.5) vs. Seahawks

As referenced above, the public is all over Seattle to the tune of a 68/32 ticket split, yet the line in this game has held strong at 7 (and even temporarily dropped to 6.5 at some books mid-week). That’s a tell-tale sign of sharp money on the Giants counterbalancing all of the recreational action on the Seahawks. While Seattle is going to be motivated after seeing its seven-game win streak snapped last week in San Francisco, to get a full touchdown against a team flying cross country for a 1 p.m. kickoff is the definition of a contrarian play. The season may be over for the Giants, but if anything is going to get them up for this game, it’s being a seven-point home ‘dog for the first time since 2007. This line is also clearly shaded toward the Seahawks, who have covered four straight games. The books always adjust for adverse trends – particularly favorites covering. Finally, blindly betting against Seattle on the road has historically been a positive-expectation wager (45-31-1 since 2005).

Steelers (+2.5) vs. Bengals

The Steelers’ playoff chances were dealt a near fatal blow last week after they gave away a fourth-quarter lead to the Dolphins and saw a wild lateral-laden final play come up inches short when Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds just before reaching the end zone. Other teams could be expected to roll over in this spot, but the Steelers are a proud franchise seeking to avoid their first losing season since 2003, which not coincidentally was the year before Ben Roethlisberger came into the league. To catch points at home against a divisional foe in a nationally-televised primetime game is a good spot for Pittsburgh, which knows that its faintest of playoff hopes will be extinguished entirely with a loss.

Overall picks: 24-19

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