The season is just past the halfway point with a handful of teams having just played their ninth game.
As the second half unfolds the Divisional and Wild Card races start to take on a greater sense of urgency. Wins become more precious as games are lopped off the schedule and we often see the true nature of teams during November.
Recent history suggests the teams that make it to the Super Bowl are those that play best down the stretch, like the Colts and the winning catch by T.Y. Hilton vs. Houston. In many ways the first half of the season can be viewed as sort of a preseason itself for the stretch run, although the games count just as much in September and October as they do in November and December.
What separates games in the second half from those in the first are the ability of teams to make tactical adjustments on both sides of the football to emphasize strengths and compensate for weaknesses and injuries. Depth becomes a major determinant over the latter half of the season, and that’s where the ability of the front office and upper management comes into play.
Strength of organization is an often overlooked part of the handicapping process, and whereas its importance is more related to an overall view of the season rather than on an individual game basis, the reliance on or confidence in an organization’s track record can often lead to backing good teams in times of trouble or avoiding teams poised to make a run.
Through 132 games home favorites are 44-33-2 ATS and home dogs are a barely profitable 25-22-1. Home pick ’ems are 1-2 ATS. The two games played in London are not included in these statistics.
OVERs have widened the gap versus UNDERs with a 70-58-4 edge. Ignoring the pushes, that’s 54.7 percent OVERs.
This past week saw a half dozen games affected by late movement in the Totals lines. It started with Thursday night’s game when a rare overtime safety gave Miami a 22-20 win. The closing Total could be found in the range of 41½ to 43 and it fell on 42.
On Sunday the Minnesota/Dallas total ranged from 47½ to 49 for most of the week before late OVER money moved it to 50 by kickoff. The game landed on 50.
The San Diego/Washington game went into overtime tied at 24, making the most likely outcome a winning FG that would have landed the total on 51. For much of the week it was 51½ before late money moved the line down to 49½. Middle players were disappointed when the Redskins scored an overtime touchdown to put the final score at 54.
The Atlanta/Carolina, New Orleans/New York Jets and Baltimore/Cleveland games also saw the final score fall on or within a half point of either the closing Total or the one that prevailed for much of the week.
The point here is that whereas much of the advice concerning shopping for points involves side plays, such as looking to lay 2½ rather than 3 or laying 3 rather than 3½ etc. that same advice applies to playing Totals. Although the occurrence of “key” numbers is far less than for sides you should always look for the best number when playing Totals. And there is usually a much greater variance in Totals than sides. A variance of just a point or a 1½ can make a difference just as we saw this past week.
Cleveland, Kansas City, New England and the New York Jets have Byes this week. Here’s a look at the 14 games that make up the week 10 schedule.
Redskins -2½ at Vikings (48½): Last week Washington won in overtime while the Vikings lost on a last second Dallas TD. Both teams made the Playoffs last season but Minnesota is all but eliminated with its 1-7 record. Washington is only 3-5 but because the NFC East is so weak the ‘Skins are just 1½ out of first with four division games remaining, including next week’s revenge spot at Philadelphia. Minnesota does have solid defensive edges against both the run and the pass. With little realistically left to play for and this being their last prime time appearance of the season don’t be surprised if the Vikings play a complete game. VIKINGS.
Jaguars +13 at Titans (41): The week of rest should have enabled Jacksonville to work on improving an offense that has scored the fewest points in the league. This is a big number to ask the Titans to cover but with a turnover margin of plus 6 versus the Jags’ minus 7 the indicators are there to suggest the Jags are more likely to make mistakes and the Titans have been capable in capitalizing on them. Although double digit favorites are just 8-9 ATS this season, the Jags’ woeful 1-7 ATS mark provides little confidence in playing them as nearly a 2 TD dog, especially considering that the Jags have fallen short of covering the spread by a TD or more in 6 of their 7 ATS losses. TITANS.
Eagles +9 at Packers (53): The Packers are off of Monday night’s game against Chicago. The Eagles are off of their most impressive game of the season, a 49-20 win at Oakland in which QB Nick Foles tied a record with 7 TD passes. Foles passed for over 400 yards while the running game averaged over 5 yards per carry in gaining 124 yards overland. Green Bay has one of the league’s top offenses which has been more balanced than in recent seasons with a ground game averaging 141 ypg. Philly has the league’s lowest ranked defense, both overall and against the pass. This handicaps as one of the week’s highest scoring games. OVER.
Bills +3½ at Steelers (41): Buffalo rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who started the season, has been cleared to return following injury. Pittsburgh was totally embarrassed in its 55-31 loss at New England as their slippage from elite status continues. At 2-6 the Steelers are all but mathematically out of a shot at making the Playoffs. But they are a proud franchise with many veterans who know what it’s like to be playing in January. Buffalo is still a team learning how to win and given to inconsistent play. Notwithstanding last week’s effort, the Steelers remain a fundamentally solid defensive team. STEELERS.
Raiders +7 at Giants (43): The Giants at 2-6 they still have life in the weak NFC East and have been known to be a strong second half of the season team when they’ve struggled early. The Raiders have had major problems when traveling to the east coast with multiple double digit losses just in the past two seasons. The Giants are the more talented team with an edge at QB. After allowing at least 27 points in each of its first 6 games the Giants held their last two foes, Minnesota and Philadelphia, to just 7 points each, signaling the start of improved play by the defense. GIANTS.
Rams +10 at Colts (43): One bright spot for St. Louis was the ground game which gained 160 yards after gaining 200 against the Seahawks. Indianapolis rallied from 18 points down to win at Division rival Houston. That win followed their upset of Denver just prior to the Colts’ Bye. Which makes this a huge letdown spot, with a Thursday night Divisional road game at Tennessee up next. But the Rams may not be capable of capitalizing. Although the ground game has improved the passing game remains weak behind backup Kellen Clemens. Perhaps the best way to take advantage of the flat spot for the Colts is via the total. UNDER.
Seahawks -6½ at Falcons (44½): The loss of several key players to injury is only part of Atlanta’s problem and the chemistry we saw last season is gone. Seattle will be well prepared for this game as Atlanta knocked the Seahawks out of last season’s playoffs with a 30-28 win that followed the blowing of a 20 point lead. Seattle is a very physical team but has had issues on the road but still finding a way to win. Coach Pete Carroll will have his team well prepared and highly motivated for this game against what is now a very vulnerable foe with QB Matt Ryan having struggled mightily in his last two games. SEAHAWKS.
Bengals -1 at Ravens (44): Baltimore has been held to under 20 in each of its last three losses and Cincinnati has one of the league’s top defenses. Much of Baltimore’s offensive woes come from a rushing game that averages just 72 ypg, making it tough for QB Joe Flacco and a passing game, weakened by the loss of several receivers, to flourish. Normally this would be a good spot for the defending Super Bowl champions as home underdogs. But this is definitely not your father’s NFL. BENGALS.
Lions -2½ at Bears (50): Chicago is off of Monday night’s game at Green Bay whereas the Lions are off of their Bye. Chicago remains without starting QB Jay Cutler with Josh McCown inheriting a gifted set of receivers and a solid RB in Matt Forte. The Lions also boast a potent offense with WR Calvin Johnson off the best day of his career against Dallas prior to the Bye. These teams have combined for 11 OVERs and just 4 UNDERs prior to Monday night. The Bears’ once dominating defense ranks near the bottom of the NFL in many key metrics – right there with Detroit’s. OVER.
Panthers +6 at 49ers (42): This is one of the most attractive matchups of the week as Carolina has won and covered 4 in a row, scoring at least 30 points in each game while not allowing more than 15 points. The 49ers are even hotter, winning 5 straight in which they’ve scored 31 or more points while allowing an average of just 12 points per game. The Niners have extra rest following their Bye and have the more proven pedigree. Both teams have big prime time games next week when the Niners are at New Orleans Sunday night and the Panthers host New England a night later. At a TD or less the preference is to side with the proven entity. 49ERS.
Texans +2½ at Cards (41): It’s 6 straight losses for the 2-6 Texans who are also just 1-7 ATS. Arizona is 3-1 both SU and ATS at home, losing only to powerful Seattle. The Cardinals are off of their Bye which followed their best effort of the season in which they rushed for 201 yards in a 27-13 win over Atlanta. At 4-4 they have a chance at making a run at a Wild Card. Until they show otherwise, the Texans simply cannot be backed even with their extraordinary statistical edges over most foes. The status of Houston head coach Gary Kubiak remains uncertain at press time after his medical episode on Sunday night. He also calls the offensive plays. CARDS.
Broncos -7 at Chargers (57½): San Diego coach Mike McCoy is well familiar with QB Peyton Manning and the Denver offense after serving as Broncos offensive coordinator last season. All 8 of Denver’s games have gong over the Total. While with the Colts, Manning had some very tough times against the Chargers. The generous points are worth taking with the Broncos focus perhaps looking towards next week. And there may be some distracting effects related to Denver’s coaching situation with assistant Jack del Rio serving as interim coach while John Fox is treated for his medical issues. CHARGERS.
Cowboys +7 at Saints (53): Dallas was involved in yet another game decided in the final minute as they defeated Minnesota to improve to 5-4. New Orleans lost at the Jets but returns home where they are 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS this season with the last 3 such home wins by 24, 21 and 18 points. The Saints’ defense has been vulnerable to the run but the Cowboys have rushed for under 95 yards in 8 of its 9 games. Meanwhile Dallas’ defense has surrendered over 390 passing yards 4 times. SAINTS.
Dolphins -3 at Bucs (40½): Both teams are off of overtime games. Miami squandered a 17-3 lead at home versus Cincinnati before rallying to force overtime in which they defeated the Bengals 22-20 on a rare OT safety. Tampa Bay led at Seattle 21-3 but Seattle rallied late to force OT in which they won 27-24 on a FG, denying the Bucs the biggest upset win since Washington upset Dallas as 17½ point underdogs way back in 1995. In the national spotlight for the second time in three weeks Tampa should be poised for a strong effort. BUCS.