Underdogs finally made up some ground

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One thing the NFL has done in recent years has been to backload the schedule with Divisional contests. Of the 96 games between Division foes to be played this season, only 63 were played through last weekend.

Over one third of the Divisional schedule – 33 games – will be played over the final four weeks with five games played this week, eight next week and four in Week 16.

Week 17 will feature nothing but Divisional games with all 32 teams playing on the final day of the season, Dec. 31.

After a six-week stretch in which favorites went 54-25-6 ATS (68.4 percent) using the closing line from the Westgate, underdogs finally made up some ground and stood 8-7 ATS prior to Monday night’s game.

Of the eight underdogs that covered, six won outright beginning on Thursday when Dallas upset Washington as slight 1.5-point home dogs. On Sunday, Minnesota, Miami, the New York Jets, San Francisco and Seattle all pulled upsets. The only two underdogs that covered without winning were Cleveland in a 19-10 loss at the Chargers and the New York Giants in a 24-17 setback at Oakland.

The Giants’ loss turned out to be the last game coached by the beleaguered Ben McAdoo who, along with GM Jerry Reese, was fired Monday morning.

Considered to be solid favorites to make the Playoffs after going 11-5 last season the Giants started 0-5 and stood 2-10 after the loss to the Raiders. The patience of fans had already worn thin but after McAdoo’s decision to bench QB Eli Manning and the way it was handled finally got to ownership and the decision was made to make the changes prior to the end of the season. In McAdoo’s final six games his team averaged just 14 points per game, only once topping 17 (21).

The usual names will be rumored as to who will coach the Giants next season with Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher at the top of their wish list. Given how the McAdoo regime unfolded it would be surprising if the Giants do not turn to someone with prior head coaching experience.

McAdoo won’t be the only NFL head coaching casualty of the 2017 season as more changes will be made following the end of the season. What transpires over the final four games of this season will determine the fates of several head coaches.

Here are thoughts and selections for the 16 games that comprise the Week 13 schedule.

Thursday

New Orleans +1 at Atlanta (54.5): This is the first of two meetings between the teams. Both teams have Playoff talent and with levels of performance and intensity for good teams being situational this spot clearly favors the hosts who, for all intents and purposes, have their season on the line here. ATLANTA

Sunday

Detroit NL Tampa Bay: An injury to Detroit QB Matt Stafford late in the Lions’ loss at Baltimore last week kept this game off the board starting the week. With Stafford at QB the preference would be to lay the short number with the Lions. But with his status unknown the more prudent play would be to anticipate scoring from both teams. OVER

Chicago +6.5 at Cincinnati (NT): Perhaps the biggest edge held by either team is Cincinnati’s defense, which ranks second in the NFL allowing 4.8 yards per play. That edge is magnified when facing an offense that has struggled all season. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to be laying nearly a full touchdown with the Bengals but despite being a team in decline theirs is still a talented roster with plenty of experience. CINCINNATI

Indianapolis NL at Buffalo: An injury to Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor has this game off the board early on. Without Taylor the Bills would likely rely even more on a running game that has averaged 122 yards per game (although Taylor does contribute to that average). The Bills do have the much better defens, which could have success against Indy’s weak offense that, unlike Buffalo, lacks a running game. BUFFALO

Seattle +3 at Jacksonville (39.5): Both offenses have excelled at avoiding turnovers which points to a cleanly played, physical game. With much on the line for both teams we could also see conservative game plans, which further enhances the chances for a tightly played, defense dominated contest. UNDER

Oakland +3.5 at Kansas City (47.5): A second loss to the Raiders all but ends the Chiefs’ chances of making the Playoffs. The preference is to still give the coaching edge to KC’s Andy Reid over the Raiders’ Jack del Rio and despite the identical records the Chiefs have outscored the opposition by 29 points, whereas Oakland has been outscored by exactly the reverse, 29 points. And despite their recent woes the Chiefs are 2-1 in AFC West Divisional play while all three rivals each have two losses. KANSAS CITY

Minnesota -2.5 at Carolina (42): The Vikes won on this field early last season when Carolina was going through its Super Bowl hangover. But this line hardly seems justified. The Panthers are a good football team but this line suggests the Vikings would be nearly 9-point favorites if this game were in Minnesota. The Panthers are playing with the greater sense of urgency just to make the Playoffs. Minnesota has a four-game lead in the NFC Central. CAROLINA

Green Bay -3.5 at Cleveland (41): Aaron Rodgers is expected to run the scout team this week in practice. 

Were the 6-6 Packers not so encouraged about Rodgers’ return this could be a spot to at least consider backing the Browns. To be fair, four of their dozen losses have been by exactly a FG. But the other eight, including each of the last four, have been by 9 points or more. GREEN BAY

San Francisco +1.5 at Houston (42.5): The price is cheap enough to back the Texans but the better play may be to play against both offenses. The 49es have scored 15 points or less in five of their last six games and Houston has topped 16 points just once in their last five games since QB DeShaun Watson was injured. UNDER

Washington +6.5 at LA Chargers (46): The key running stats are comparable as are the key defensive stats although the Redskins have held their last two opponents to under 100 net passing yards (Giants and Cowboys). The Chargers have a knack for playing close games and against a capable QB such as Washington’s Kirk Cousins, seeking to rebound following a poor game in Dallas, laying a TD may be too high a price to back. WASHINGTON

NY Jets -1 at Denver (41): Denver is still a tough venue to visit and the Jets are 1-4 SU, 1-3-1 ATS on the road, winning only at winless Cleveland. The running games are similar but the Broncos do have a solid edge on defense. If Denver can avoid turning the ball over, which has been an issue, they could win this game comfortably. DENVER

Tennessee -3 at Arizona (44): Tennessee has won two straight and 6 of 7. But during this stretch the one loss was a 40-17 rout at Pittsburgh and their other road games were a 3-point win at Cleveland and a 4-point come-from-behind win at Indianapolis. The Cardinals defeated Titans rival Jacksonville on this field two weeks ago. ARIZONA

Philadelphia +1 at LA Rams (51.5): Both teams have lost the same number of turnovers (15). Both have been money makers all season, standing a combined 17-7 ATS. This is billed as the battle of the top two picks in last season’s draft, quarterbacks Jared Goff of the Rams and Carson Wentz of the Eagles. And whereas Goff has had a very strong second season after struggling as a rookie, Wentz had a solid rookie season and has improved even more this season. PHILADELPHIA

Dallas -4.5 at NY Giants (41): Dallas has the better running game and a slight edge in the defensive stats. They are off a win last Thursday over Dallas that ended an ugly three game losing streak that saw the Cowboys held to under 10 points in each game. The changes with the Giants should be received positively by both players and fans. With no pressure on the Giants and all the pressure on the Cowboys this game could be closer than expected with an outright Giants win not a surprise in the least. NY GIANTS

Baltimore +7 at Pittsburgh (NT): Baltimore controls its own destiny with the second Wild Card and their 7-5 record. In their earlier meeting in Baltimore the Steelers won, 26-9. This series has had a long history of tight games, more often than not decided by a FG. Since 2008, 14 of their 19 meetings have been decided by four points or less. These teams have similar statistical profiles including top 5 defenses on a yards-per-play basis. Considering the situation for both teams the points are worth taking. BALTIMORE

Monday

New England -11.5 at Miami (47.5): Last week’s 23-3 win at Buffalo extended New England’s streak to eight straight games of allowing 17 points or less, all wins. That after allowing 42, 20, 33 and 33 points in their 2-2 start. It remains risky to lay double digits on the road and given the improvement shown defensively the more prudent approach may be with the Total. UNDER

Last week: 9-6 (w/o MNF)

Season: 95-91-4

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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