Week 13 is in the books and it was a successful one for yours truly. A 10-6 record in all games put me back over 50% for the season. Of course, it wasn’t so successful for the team I support, New England, who suffered a special teams meltdown that lead to a double-digit underdog win for Philadelphia. It’s an important lesson to learn that when betting in football games. Best bets aren’t just about offense vs defense or a great receiver going against a great cornerback; special teams matters too. It can lead to what analysts like to call “hidden yards” – that is, one team consistently having better starting field position thanks to a good return game or kick coverage. That benefit makes a team more likely to win as the offense doesn’t have as far to go for the score or the defense has more field to play with. Ironically, until last week’s disaster, New England had one of the best special teams units around. But it’s always worth questioning who has the better return unit or more reliable kicker when torn between either side of a line. Hidden yards won’t swing a game by more than a point or two here and there but in a close game that can be enough. Going into Week 14 there is only one team (Cleveland) that are out of the running for a playoff spot and one team (Carolina) who are definitely in. That could be radically different come Tuesday morning as there are a number of clinching and eliminating scenarios that could play out. That, too, is important to remember when thinking about the lines this week. So let’s get into the Best Bets. As ever the lines are from William Hill and the home teams are in capitals…
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-3.5) over New Orleans Saints
At the start of the season I made a long-shot bet that the Buccaneers would win the Super Bowl. The reasoning was that the NFC South, which had been won by a sub .500 team in 2014, was up for grabs and that adding even an average season from Jameis Winston would get the offense to a place where the division title was a possibility. Thanks to the Carolina Panthers turning into the ’85 Bears, that’s not going to happen, but a wildcard is still – just – a possibility. To get that wildcard Tampa have to beat New Orleans, and fortunately for them against the Saints it doesn’t even take an average QB to do well. Their defense is abysmal, ranking dead last in Football Outsiders DVOA and while the New Orleans offense is ticking along nicely, I just don’t think they can overcome the dead weight of the defense.
San Francisco 49ers (+1.5) over CLEVELAND BROWNS
Johnny Manziel is a favourite? The 2-10 Celveland Browns are favourites? I can’t believe the world has come to this. But here it is. The 49ers were once again very competitive against a decent squad as they beat the Bears in overtime. It was their 4th game in a row against teams chasing playoff berths. They dashed the Bears hopes, dented the Falcons and were competitive against the Cardinals. All of those teams are many, many times better than the Browns.
Seattle Seahawks (NO LINE) over BALTIMORE RAVENS
That’s right, there’s currently no line on this game. That’s because the Ravens aren’t sure if they’ll be starting Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen under center, but to me it doesn’t matter which mediocre QB is on the field, they’ll be killed by a red-hot Seattle team. When the Dolphins are getting easy rushes on your QB you know things aren’t going to plan. Sure, Marshal Yanda will create some lanes for Buck Allen but Matt Schaub is a turnover machine and we’ve already seen what Jimmy Clausen can do against the Seahawks (the answer is nothing. At all). With the way the ‘Hawks offense has been playing recently, I think they’ll walk all over a fairly toothless Ravens defense. All of Baltimore’s games this season have been decided by 8 points or less, which is a crazy feat when you consider how many blowouts your usual 4-8 teams will suffer. But I just can’t see them keeping this Seahawks team under 20 points, which means they’re probably going to lose by 10 or more thanks to their hapless offense. We won’t find out the line until a decision is made about the Baltimore QB, but if it’s under 14 I’ll happily take it.
Rest of the Picks:
TNF: ARIZONA CARDINALS (-10) Detroit Lions (PK) over ST LOUIS RAMS CAROLINA PANTHERS (-7.5) over Atlanta Falcons KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-10) over San Diego Chargers Washington Redskins (+3) over CHICAGO BEARS NEW YORK JETS (-7) over Tennessee Titans Buffalo Bills (-1.5) over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) over CINCINNATI BENGALS Oakland Raiders (+7.5) over DENVER BRONCOS GREEN BAY PACKERS (-7) over Dallas Cowboys HOUSTON TEXANS (+3) over New England Patriots New York Giants (-1.5) over MIAMI DOLPHINS Colts @ Jags no line as of yet Last Week: 10-6-0 (2-1-0) Overall 92-91-7 (19-19-1)