As the NFL calendar soon turns to December the level of intensity ratchets up a level as just five games remain.
In the AFC all four Division leaders have at least 3-game leads on the rest of their Divisions with Houston and Baltimore holding the top two AFC seeds and New England and Denver seeded third and fourth.
Barring collapses by that quartet the real battles in the AFC will be for the two Wild Cards. Currently Indianapolis has the grip on the first with its 7-4 record behind rookie QB Andrew Luck.
Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are tied for the second WC with 6-5 records. Pittsburgh holds the tie breaker edge, having defeated the Bengals earlier this season. The teams will meet for a second time in Pittsburgh in Week 16.
It is expected that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will be back for that contest and there is some speculation that he might return as soon as this coming week for Pittsburgh’s rematch at Baltimore.
The Steelers have been totally ineffective without Big Ben in the lineup and it’s looking as though the Steelers will not be able to make the Playoffs without their elite quarterback.
Things are a bit more cluttered in the NFC although Atlanta has opened up a four game lead in the South and its 10-1 record is 1½ games better than San Francisco’s 7-2-1 mark for the top NFC seed.
The 49ers are up by 2½ over Seattle in the West and the New York Giants have a two game lead in the East. Only the NFC Central could see a tie atop the standings as 8-3 Chicago leads 7-4 Green Bay by a single game. The Bears host the Packers in two weeks and will seek to avenge a Week 2 loss to Green Bay.
The Packers do control the first NFC Wild Card while a trio of teams are vying for the second. Seattle, Tampa Bay and Minnesota are each 6-5 and only one game separates them 5-6 Dallas, New Orleans and Washington.
As expected, the performance of underdogs at the betting windows has slowed over the past few weeks. After a torrid start that saw underdogs hitting at better than a 62 percent clip eight weeks into the season,‘dogs are now hitting at just over 56.
Much of the reason for the decline has been the performance of road favorites who had gone 17-5-1 ATS over a five week stretch that ended with a 3-5-1 performance this past weekend.
For the season underdogs are 93-73-8 ATS (56 percent) with most of that success coming from road dogs (61-43-5, 58.7%).
Home underdogs are actually showing an out of pocket loss with their 32-30-3 record, a loss of 1.3 net units. There were many high scoring games in the first month, but as is usually the case things level out. Through this past Sunday the OVERS hold a very slight 88-86-1 edge heading into Monday night‘s game between Carolina and Philadelphia.
Scoring is still relatively high compared to recent seasons with the average game producing 46 total points. However the lines maker has compensated for the higher scores by increasing the OVER/UNDER line. Only 23 games out of 175 (13 percent) have had a closing total less than 40. That percentage is much lower than the 21% in 2011 and 22% in 2010.
Here’s a look at the full slate of games to be played in Week 13.
New Orleans +3½ at Atlanta (56): Three weeks ago New Orleans dealt then 8-0 Atlanta its lone loss of the season as 2½-point home underdogs. The Falcons have not been winning by margins, which is why they are not considered a Super Bowl favorite despite the 10-1 record. The Saints are playing with a greater sense of urgency and are clearly capable of pulling an upset. NEW ORLEANS.
Seattle (NL) at Chicago: Chicago suffered multiple injuries in last week’s win over Minnesota keeping it off the board at press time. Seattle will have a couple of players suspended due to drug violations. Both teams owe their success more to their defenses than to their offenses. Each prefers the ground game to passing the football. UNDER.
Minnesota +9 at GB (47): Green Bay was humiliated before a national audience at the Giants and returns home for the first time in nearly a month. The Vikings remain in the Wild Card race at 6-5, but are a far different team on the road (1-4) than at home (5-1) and will catch the Packers in a foul mood. If both teams play to their potential, this game will not be close. GREEN BAY.
SF -7 at St. Louis (40): These teams played to a rare tie in San Francisco three weeks ago. The Rams have made strides under first year coach Jeff Fisher but as we get deeper into the season the lack of overall talent and depth has become apparent. The Niners enjoy edges on both sides of the football and should eventually wear down the Rams in the second half. SAN FRANCISCO.
Arizona +4½ at NY Jets (36½): Arizona has lost 7 straight following a 4-0 start. They have major issues at QB as they travel cross country to face a Jets team that was thoroughly embarrassed on Thanksgiving night by New England. The Jets have had their moments with impressive wins on the road at St. Louis and earlier at home over Indianapolis. NY JETS.
Carolina -3 at KC (38½): Carolina played Monday night at Philadelphia yet still is favored on the road. Kansas City gave Denver a battle last week but their inability to score touchdowns proved fatal in their 17-9 loss. The Chiefs have failed to score as many as 17 points in 7 straight games, averaging just 10.4 ppg in this stretch. UNDER.
Indy +4½ at Detroit (51): Detroit is playing out the string at 4-7 but still has considerable talent on both sides of the football. They still are playing hard as they showed against the Texans and are eager to end their three game losing streak. Playing with no pressure they should accomplish it. DETROIT.
Jacksonville +6 at Buffalo (45): The Bills defense has failed to perform and the offense has been inconsistent, although key injuries have clearly been a factor. Jacksonville got a nice home win over Tennessee last week but the Jags continue to be one of the worst teams in the league. They are being outgained by an average of 123 yards per game, worst in the league. BUFFALO.
New England -7 at Miami (51): New England has scored at least 37 points in 4 straight games and averages a league best 37 ppg. Miami had a huge statistical edge over Seattle last week but needed a FG at the gun to win 24-21. The Patriots are rested following their demolition of the Jets at the Meadowlands and have played better on defense than their statistics would suggest. NEW ENGLAND.
Houston -4½ at Tennessee (47): The Titans continue to play hard but last week’s loss at Jacksonville has them out of playoff contention. They are catching Houston in a vulnerable spot and are eager to atone for a 41-7 loss on this field last season. They are worth a look. TENNESSEE.
TB +6½ at Denver (50½): Broncos QB Peyton Manning should enjoy going against a Bucs defense that allows a league worst 315 passing yards per game. Such a deficiency renders almost worthless the fact that they lead the league in allowing just 82 rushing yards per game. The altitude and the potential for inclement weather are both negatives for Tampa. DENVER.
Pittsburgh (NL) at Baltimore: The uncertain status surrounding Pittsburgh’s QB situation kept this game off the boards early in the week. Baltimore won the first meeting two weeks ago 13-10. Pittsburgh remains competitive because of its defense while the Ravens’ defense has held up well despite numerous injuries. UNDER.
Cleveland (NL) at Oakland: The uncertain status of Cleveland’s rookie QB Brandon Weeden kept this off the boards at most books early on. Expect the line around a pick’em. Oakland continues to be a disaster as they suffered a third straight loss last week by more than 20 points. To be fair, all three losses were to Playoff caliber teams, a description that does not apply to the Browns. OAKLAND.
Cincinnati -1 at San Diego (46): San Diego faces a Bengals team off 3 straight blowout wins that followed a 4 game losing streak. On talent, the Chargers rate the edge. Cincy is battling for a Wild Card spot. Yet they are on the road facing a team that, despite the record, has outscored its foes for the season. SAN DIEGO.
Philadelphia (NL) at Dallas: The Cowboys remain a poor ATS play at home where they are now 0-5 ATS this season. That includes a pair of straight up losses as favorites. It’s much easier to find reasons to play against Dallas who can very easily win this game straight up yet once again fail to reward its backers, making this a default play on the underdog. PHILADELPHIA.
NY Giants -2½ at Washington (51): The Giants performed as expected Sunday night following a pair of ugly losses and a Bye. Washington swept both games last season from the Giants and nearly won the earlier meeting this season when it took a last minute 77 yard TD pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz to complete a 27-23 comeback win. The Giants were favored by 6½ which suggest this line should be closer to a pick. WASHINGTON.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]