One of the biggest and most important handicapping factors down the stretch is isolating which of the bad non-playoff NFL teams are still showing up each week by playing hard and with that required high level of effort and intensity and which of those teams are falling apart especially in the midst of games when things go against them.
The Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Washington Redskins are three examples of teams that I would be very much reluctant to bet on in the last three games of the season. The Bengals, Texans and Redskins all had playoff aspirations prior to the season but all three squads have massively underachieved entering Week 15 with a combined 14-25 SU record.
When teams that had relatively high expectations and goals before the season started and do not match them, usually that is when performance, effort and intensity drops significantly in the month of December as the NFL regular season starts to wind down.
That is why to me it is not a coincidence that when things went south for Cincinnati, Houston and Washington in their games on Sunday, there was not much of a push back from any of those squads once they fell behind to their opponent in their respective games. When teams enter the season expecting to be in the playoffs and yet struggle and have a disappointing season, they are the kind of teams that do not respond well when things start to go bad or have that ability to throw a punch back after taking one.
We saw that with all of these teams on Sunday as Houston, Cincinnati and Washington pretty much curled into a ball and went home once they fell behind in the game. The Texans, Bengals and Redskins all lost their games by double digit margins and combined to go 0-3 SU and ATS on Sunday while losing to the spread by a combined 54 points.
Looking ahead to Week 15 this upcoming weekend, Cincinnati is currently a 10.5 point road underdog at Minnesota. Houston is an 11.5 point road underdog at Jacksonville while Washington is the only team of this group that is favored as they are currently laying 4.5 points at home against Arizona. Cincinnati and Houston have been struggling and for all intents and purposes out of the playoffs for weeks but Washington has really only hit their non-playoff reality over the last couple weeks.
There is probably more residual value in the betting markets right now to fade the Washington Redskins than the other two squads and the current lines posted for next week are indicative of that. On the flip side, there are a few teams who are not bound for the playoffs that are still coming to work with their hard hat and lunch pails on a daily basis and showing you that effort and intensity.
The Arizona Cardinals are one example. Arizona bounced back from a hard fought albeit losing effort against the LA Rams last week by knocking off the eight win Tennessee Titans 12-7 on Sunday. It has been a trying and injury plagued season for head coach Bruce Arians and his team but Blaine Gabbert has been serviceable at QB in place of the injured Carson Palmer while the defense has continued to keep playing hard. The result is an Arizona team that clearly hasn’t thrown in the towel and is one of those non-playoff teams that actually could still be a ‘bet on’ down the stretch.
The Chicago Bears have had a horrific season sitting at 4-9 as they have lacked playmakers on offense while trying to break in their first round draft pick Mitchell Trubisky at QB but the Bears effort level has not dropped for the most part. Chicago has been right there with a chance to win in four of their last five games. Outside of a 31-3 blowout loss in Philadelphia to the Eagles, the Bears lost by 8 at New Orleans, lost by 7 to Green Bay, lost by 3 to Detroit, lost by 1 to San Francisco and finally got off the snide on Sunday with an emphatic and dominating 33-7 road win at Cincinnati.
Chicago isn’t a good football team but they have not quit on their season and that might be enough all by itself to continue cashing some tickets ATS at bargain prices in their final few games of the season. The biggest ‘bet on’ team of all these losing non-playoff squads down the stretch in my opinion could be the San Francisco 49ers. San Fran has received a legitimate spark from the insertion of Jimmy Garoppolo as the team’s starting QB.
I don’t view the 49ers as a 3-10 team that struggled with the Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard combination as their QB. I view the 49ers more as the perfect 2-0 SU and ATS squad they have been in two games since the QB change. All the quotes from 49ers players over the last two weeks have been glowingly positive about Garoppolo and the impact he has made on all his teammates. There is also no doubt he is a better fit for running Kyle Shanahan’s complex offense.
San Francisco is playing hard, playing with passion and playing to win and in the last two victories against Chicago and Houston, they flat out dominated the game in the second half. In addition to scoring more points and putting up more yards, Garoppolo has managed to sustain drives and keep the 49ers defense off the field which has in turn kept San Francisco’s stop unit fresher and stronger later in games.
That’s why it is no surprise that San Francisco has turned in two of their better performances on defense since Garoppolo took over at QB as the 49ers held the Bears and Texans to a combined 30 points. San Francisco is one of those rare cases where a bad team has received a late adrenaline and energy boost which is showing up on the field in terms of a stronger effort.