Numbers become crucial past the halfway point

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We’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2014 NFL season and have eight more weeks to decide what 12 will make the playoffs.

Most of us already have decided in our minds who those teams will be, but what we should really be focusing on right now is who is peaking to take advantage at the bet windows each week. What teams are overrated to the number and what teams haven’t convinced the bookmakers they are for real as it probably should relate to the spreads?

After Week 9’s action, things are becoming much clearer, especially out in the desert where the Cardinals are finally winning some people over after disposing of Dallas on Sunday, 28-17, which was their fourth straight win and cover. Their 7-1 record is the best in the NFL and they have a commanding two game lead in the NFC West. Could they really get home field throughout in the playoffs?

“The team I’ve done the most adjusting on has been the Cardinals,” said Jay Rood, MGM Resorts VP of race and sports. “We’ve got them as the fourth choice to win the Super Bowl (8/1) behind Denver, New England and Seattle. I’m sold on them big time. Bruce Arians should win coach of the year just because of all the adversity his team has had to go through between losing several key defenders and using three different quarterbacks, and yet they still keep piling up wins. They could have easily fell apart when they were down 10-0, but they just played their game and went on to hold DeMarco Murray to under 100 yards for the first time this season.”

Murray’s NFL record of eight 100-yard games to start a season came to a halt with only 79 yards on 19 carries, which was the 18th straight game the Arizona defense didn’t allow an opposing back to gain 100-yards. Once Dallas’ bread and butter was put in check, they squeezed back-up QB Brandon Weeden into making mistakes and forced two.

However, despite all those impressive wins, the actual rating on the Cardinals that helps create point spreads still remains low, as in outside of the top-10 and in some cases outside the top-15. Teams like Philadelphia and San Francisco, who Arizona already beat, are still considered 3-points better on a neutral field.

If Arizona keeps covering, that margin will shift considerably. If you believe in what Arizona is doing right now, you’re going to have great value on them over the next few weeks until the rating catches up.

The Miami Dolphins have won and covered their past three games, as well as using a solid defense to stay UNDER the total in all three of those. They’re rated higher than Arizona and the 37-0 thrashing they put on San Diego Sunday will give them another boost of about a half-point to the number.

While we try to figure out who San Diego, Cincinnati and Baltimore really are in the AFC, the Dolphins seem to have a pretty good formula working for them that can be trusted.

After watching Baltimore get torched at Pittsburgh Sunday night, 43-23, there will be a serious downgrade on the Ravens who were considered by some as being a top-5 rated team, which is why they opened as the favorite at Pittsburgh.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have been upgraded due to winning and covering their past three games, albeit all three at home. All three of those games flew OVER the total and there’s some major adjusting to be done on that end as well. Although the Jets – the Steelers opponent this week – appear pathetic, the road game will serve as a major test for Pittsburgh.

After everything we’ve seen from both of these teams, there is some uneasiness to laying 5.5-points on the road here. The Westgate dropped Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl odds from 30-to-1 down to 20-to-1 after Sunday’s win.

The Patriots 43-21 win over the Broncos boost their rating by almost a full-point. Because of the Patriots early season woes, they’ve had some uphill climbing to do in the ratings department, which is why Denver was a 3-point favorite in Foxboro.

New England has now won five straight (4-1 ATS) and the offense is clicking enough to send the total OVER expectations in their last six games. Sure, it’s hard to get the blowout loss to Kansas City out of the equation and the struggle at home against the Jets, but they sure are looking a lot closer to a typical Brady-Belichick team than we started with and the rating still doesn’t reflect it yet. However, Rood disagrees with that notion.

“I’m still not convinced with the Patriots. They look like they have their act together, but when I look at their talent, which appears subpar from what we’ve seen in the past, I just don’t see them as one of the premier teams.”

Despite the 6-2 Lions offense looking horrendous without Calvin Johnson, they still get high marks because of a No. 1 rated defense that has kept six of their eight games UNDER the total.

Johnson will be back and the offense will get better, but knowing that the Detroit defense isn’t a fluke goes a long way in rating them near a top-10 team. They too are also rated higher than Arizona’s current number.

The Bengals are in a similar situation as Detroit with the major exception on defense where Cincy is rated No. 30, allowing 394 ypg. The similarity rests only with A.J. Green not being healthy for the past five games where the Bengals have gone 2-2-1.

Green is getting closer to being 100% which means we should begin seeing the offense click more, which might equate to some value in their next few home games.

Books fare well: Las Vegas sports books enjoyed their third largest win of the NFL season on Sunday as popular favorites sputtered to a 5-6 record against-the-spread in Week 9, including outright losses by a 10.5-point favorite and two other teams, Denver and Dallas, considered to be the best in each conference.

“The Rams (+10.5) and Dolphins (-2.5) wins turned out to be our best games, and probably a little more with the Dolphins early just because it eliminated so many parlay and teasers right out the gate so bettors didn’t have any momentum heading into the late games,” said South Point sports book director Bert Osborne.

“We had a pretty good day and our biggest help in getting there was the Rams winning which knocked out teaser and money-line jeopardy with the 49ers,” said MGM Resorts’ Rood. “Our morning worked out well too, most of which was helped by the Chargers losing. The public couldn’t get enough of San Diego.”

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at Mic [email protected].

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