Five Things: NFL Conference Championship Games

Joe Nicely examines five things to keep an eye on in Sunday’s NFL Conference Championship games.

What’s up Combiners? We’ve got a pretty damn exciting Conference Championship Sunday coming up. For the first time in a long time, it feels like we are actually getting to see the four best teams fighting for trips to the Super Bowl. There is a common theme this year, as all four teams have great QBs that direct high-powered offenses. Let’s take a look at five things to keep an eye on this weekend.

1. The Saints Run D vs. The Rams Rushing Attack

In the words of the great Gorilla Monsoon, this is a true “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” matchup. We don’t normally think of the Saints as a defensive team, but as the season has progressed, that’s surprisingly what New Orleans has morphed into. Beginning in Week 10 of the regular season, the Saints defense had an amazing six-game stretch where the held opponents to just over 12 points per game! The New Orleans run defense has been nearly unbreachable and finished the season ranked second in the league in yards allowed per carry.

On the other side of this matchup is a downright dominant Rams offensive line. Linemen are the unsung heroes of the NFL and this unit has shined throughout the season. We all know that Todd Gurley is a generational talent, but this line has helped C.J. Freakin’ Anderson rush for 422 yards and four TDs over L.A.’s last three games.

The battle at the line of scrimmage may very well determine the outcome of this game. New Orleans won round one, holding Gurley to just 68 yards rushing when these teams met in Week 9 of the regular season. If the Saints can contain Gurley (and Anderson) again, they might be marching to another Super Bowl appearance.

2. Bill Belichick vs. Patrick Mahomes

It’s probably not fair to boil any matchup down to a head coach vs. a single player, but this will be an interesting chess match between these two. Belichick obviously has numerous strengths as a head coach, but perhaps his best quality is his ability to take away an opponents best player. In Sunday’s AFC Championship game, he will need to figure out a way to slow down KC’s Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes has been a revelation this season and has played at an MVP level. He can make throws that boggle the mind. His arm is so amazing that his very high football IQ is often forgotten about, but his ability to read and process information will be put to the test by the defensive looks that Belichick throws at him this Sunday. He shredded the Pats when these teams met in Week 6 of the regular season, throwing for 352 yards and four TDs in a loss at Foxboro.

This is nearly as much about Andy Reid’s ability to adapt as it is Mahomes’ play. The offense that Reid has imagined for years has become a fully-formed entity this season. He took a major chance by letting Alex Smith walk and Mahomes has repaid his belief in spades.

3. Marcus Peters vs. Sean Payton

This is a situation that you will hear the media talking about in the lead-up to this game. There were some strong emotions flowing from both L.A.’s Marcus Peters and New Orleans coach Sean Payton after the first meeting between these squads back in Week 9. Peters was absolutely TORCHED by Saints WR Michael Thomas, to the tune of 12 catches for 211 yards and a TD. Payton decided to add a little insult to injury after the game and Peters…didn’t take it well.

While the matchup against Peters and Thomas is highly anticipated, it’s one we won’t actually see much of on the field. L.A.’s veteran CB Aqib Talib was injured the first time these teams squared off, but will be ready to go this Sunday. The Rams will try to get Talib on Thomas as often as possible in this one in an attempt to avoid the Peters vs. Thomas matchup.

4. Kansas City & New England Offenses vs. The Weather

Earlier in the week the expected game-time temperature in Arrowhead Stadium was around -5 degrees with snow. The forecast has improved throughout the week and the game-time forecast is now for a “balmy” 20 degrees.

We all know how weird the weather can be, so we probably won’t know exactly what type of conditions these teams will be facing until the game starts. This is an interesting story line to keep an eye on. Both of these teams are known for their explosive offenses and frigid weather could impact this game in a major way.

These units do most of their damage through the air, but both have ground games that can be effective. Rookie Sony Michel gives New England a legitimate between-the-tackles threat that they’ve lacked over the past couple of years and Kareem Hunt’s replacement Damien Williams has played very well for the Chiefs. It could come down to which team adapts to the weather best.

5. Rob Gronkowski vs. Time

New England’s Rob Gronkowski is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the position. However, years of injuries have taken their toll and Gronk is currently just a shell of his former self and it’s not hard to notice that he’s laboring out on the field this year.

Despite his reduced explosiveness, Gronk is still a huge wild card heading into this matchup. KC has been destroyed by opposing TEs and allowed the most touchdowns in the league to the position this season. Gronkowski himself racked up 97 yards receiving against the Chiefs back when these teams met in Week 6.

So, even though I’m pretty sure that Gronk is being held together with popsicle sticks and duct tape at this point, he could still have a huge impact in this game. He’s had a string of difficult matchups, but this will be Gronk’s most favorable spot since he went for 107 yards and a TD against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14.

It will be interesting to see if Gronkowski has enough gas left in the tank to help the Patriots reach one more Super Bowl. At the very least, he’s a huge X-factor in this matchup.

NFL Conference Championship Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for the Conference Championship.

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (8-2-1) with our two-team teaser of the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. Recommending exotic wagers isn’t something that I often do, but the Divisional Round featured an interesting dynamic that we don’t often see. The general public found themselves on all four road underdogs, while most of the wise guy money poured in on the favorites. The unusual dichotomy of the bet splits presented a unique opportunity to tease the Saints and Chiefs to around a pick’em in both contests.

It is rare to see the public backing the underdog team(s), but the AFC/NFC Conference Championships are beginning to take an identical shape to last weekend. At the time of writing this article, 51 percent of the spread bets and 59 percent of the moneyline wagers are coming in on the Los Angeles Rams over the New Orleans Saints, and while it isn’t as extreme as the first game, the New England Patriots are getting slightly under 50 percent of the spread wagers and nearly 60 percent of the moneyline bets.

The Los Angeles Rams vs. the New Orleans Saints (-3.0) has seen some interesting movement to begin the week. The Saints quickly jumped up to -3.5 within a few hours of the market opening but some public money has sent this line back down to -3.0 at most books. The total has stayed around 57 points all week and is a challenging market to enter. I lean towards the under being the “right” side, but offensive fireworks could ensue, especially from New Orleans.

I think Los Angeles could find themselves in an awkward position this week, one in which they aren’t able to get their ground game going against the Saints’ third-ranked defense in rushing efficiency. Without the ability to get a tempo set on the ground, the Rams’ passing offense could also struggle. If you take away the Week 11 shootout against Kansas City and the meaningless game during Week 17, Jared Goff has been brutal without wide receiver Cooper Kupp. From Weeks 1-10, Goff averaged 313.4 yards, throwing for 22 touchdowns and committing only six total turnovers with Kupp available. But in Weeks 12-16 and the Divisional Round, he has averaged 225.6 yards per game, which includes a total of two touchdowns and nine total turnovers. I think this game could turn ugly quickly and believe the Saints will win going away.

New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-3.0): O/U 56.0

In what has become a yearly tradition, the second-seeded New England Patriots will take part in the AFC Championship game for the eighth consecutive season. However, their opponent and venue will be unique. For the first time in Chiefs franchise history, the AFC Championship game will be held in Kansas City. It will also be the first conference title game held outside of New England, Denver or Indianapolis in 15 seasons.

New England has had an up-and-down year, going 8-0 at home but only 3-5 on the road. Those splits are not necessarily uncommon for an NFL team, but the lack of success outside of Foxboro is alarming. The Patriots graded out slightly worse in offensive success rate during their games on the road, but the biggest issue has been their defense. At home, New England ranked 13th against the run and fifth against the pass. Conversely, though, they rated just 28th in success against the run and 18th against the pass in games outside of Massachusetts.

The general public can be forgetful with their recollection of a season. I know we have seen the Patriots pull Houdini-esque escapes year after year, but their regression has been ignored after the thorough thumping they put on the Los Angeles Chargers. I did think New England looked good against the Chargers, but a lot of that had to do with Los Angeles being in a terrible position. The Chargers looked like a team on fumes, which would make sense given the fact that they were playing their third straight road game and second straight early game on Sunday.

The Patriots should be given credit for taking advantage of an ideal situation, but let’s pump the brakes when it comes to forgiving their backslide this year. Rob Gronkowski has been virtually non-existent for the team since Week 14 and has only caught five passes in the Patriots’ last four games. He isn’t right physically, and the team doesn’t have many weapons to turn to after Josh Gordon’s suspension. Julian Edelman and James White are the only two players producing as of late, and a two-man show will not get the job done against a prolific Kansas City offense.

Bill Belichick is a mastermind when it comes to taking away what you do best, so Chiefs running back Damien Williams will need to be productive to open up the passing game for Kansas City, but it is difficult for me to imagine that the Patriots will have enough firepower to keep up in this battle. New England may be able to dictate some of the early proceedings, which could result in this game being slightly lower scoring than the public is anticipating, but I’d imagine that we see the Chiefs find some rhythm and eventually pull away late.


Rowdy Bold Prediction: Kansas City 31 – New England 23

Recommended Bet: Kansas City (-3)


Bet of the Week Record : 
(8-2-1)

NFL Divisional Round Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for the Divisional Round

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (7-2-1) on the season with a Dallas Cowboys moneyline winner over the Seattle Seahawks. While the Cowboys were safe in the closing minutes of the game, many spread bets were decided in the final minute. The Seahawks were without placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, who hurt his thigh at the end of the first half on a long field goal attempt. You never quite realize just how important a kicker is to a team until you see that most units don’t have anyone else that is capable of making a kick on the entire roster.

After the Seahawks scored with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter to get the game to 24-20, they decided to go for two and not kick the extra point to make it a field goal game. Naturally, Chris Carson rushed up the middle for a successful two-point conversion, and the game ended 24-22. At the time I released my article, the Cowboys were down to -1.5 or less at all books, but many Cowboys wagers throughout the week laid -2.0 for a push or even -2.5 for a loss. The number did jump slightly back up right before the game on Saturday, but the moneyline recommendation required only five to 10 cents of extra juice and kept us safe.

The Divisional Round is unusual for a few reasons. There appears to be some recency bias attached to the teams that were able to advance last weekend. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t the right side of the contest, but the public has backed every road dog for the four-game slate. More often than not, that usually is a recipe for disaster, but your average bettor has been successfully hitting underdog wagers for the past few weeks and will look to continue the trend.

The Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams (-7) will give us a stylistic mismatch that both teams will need to exploit to be successful. The Rams will have a chance to overwhelm a slightly overrated Cowboys defense that ranks just 27th in the league in success against the pass. That statistic will surprise some, but they have allowed 49 percent of passes to grade out successfully. On the flip side, the Cowboys will try to defeat the Rams through a ground-and-pound mentality. Los Angeles is 28th against the run, and Ezekiel Elliott will need to come up huge for Dallas to have a chance. I am afraid that if the Cowboys get behind early, Dak Prescott will struggle to keep them in the game against such a high-powered opposition. For that reason, I think we see the Rams win and cover.

And the Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots (-4) provides one of the more difficult handicaps that we have this week. The math points to the Chargers being the right side, but the personnel advantages, experience and home-field advantage should favor the Patriots. I think these two units are more similar than they are different on the playing field so these edges that the Patriots have could loom a little larger than usual. We are probably looking at around a one-score game for the majority of the contest, but Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is in way over his head against Bill Belichick and could find his conservative play-calling to be the teams undoing. It is a challenging game to handicap all together and might be one that I avoid entirely. Still, though, I think the Patriots will find a way to win and cover, most likely due to egregious coaching mistakes from Lynn.

Bet of the Week:

If you thought last weekend got weird with a moneyline wager, you are in for a treat during the Divisional Round. I’d consider myself pretty reserved when it comes to unconventional wager types. It’s not that I am unwilling to think outside the box, but I do fit into a particular stereotype of trying to find value more naturally.

However, with the overreaction and recency bias that the industry has experienced this week, I think we have a unique opportunity to attack the slate from a different angle. The Saints, Chiefs and Rams all make a compelling case to be added to a two-team six-point teaser. I could justify any combination, but for the sake of the article, I will be going with the Chiefs and the Saints. By teasing the Chiefs to +1 and the Saints to -2, you should be looking at a -120 wager. If you are unfamiliar with how teasers work, both games will need to win for the bet to be graded a winner. If one of the plays pushes, the wager will be classified as no action.

Indianapolis faces a tall task of being asked to go on the road three weeks in a row to advance to the AFC Championship. Their Week 17 game in Tennessee can be considered a virtual playoff game since it was a win or go home situation for both themselves and the Titans, and it takes a lot of energy, both mentally and physically, to get ramped up for three huge contests.

Most people that are backing the Colts see a team that has won nine of their last 10 regular season games after beginning the year 1-5. And while there is no doubt that the Colts are improved and healthy, there is an underlying story worth mentioning. If you exclude the first six weeks of the season for Indianapolis, they have faced the easiest schedule of opposing offenses and the leagues easiest schedule in passing attacks. In those games, the Colts ranked 19th in success rate against the pass.

Indianapolis plays zone on defense about 75 percent of the time, and there are a few things that can break apart that style. A speedy wide receiver to stretch the field would be one. Tyreek Hill is most likely the fastest player in the NFL, so the Chiefs have that handled easily. The second thing would be a versatile tight end. Athletic tight ends that can cause mismatches are a killer to the zone. Travis Kelce is arguably the most diverse and skillful player at the position. And last, but not least, a quarterback comfortable in play-action situations. Patrick Mahomes operates out of play-action 27 percent of the time, averaging 8.6 yards per play. Both of those two statistics equate to top-five in the league.

As far as the Saints game is concerned, During the last three starts of the regular season, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles transformed the offense away from their run-first mentality and into one of the more efficient passing attacks. They held a 48 percent passing success rate from Weeks 15-17, good for 11th best in the league and increased their explosive passing by over one percent, rising from 21st overall to 10th.

The issue when breaking down statistics from a short duration of time is that some incongruities can start forming. Foles beat a Washington Redskins team in Week 17 that had nothing to play for and a Texans team that was trending towards being the worst passing defense in the NFL between Week’s 14-17. The Rams performance does deserve some credit, but all three scores were from running the football, and as we described earlier, the Rams are ranked just 28th in efficiency against the run.

Aside from all the givens of where Philadelphia could or should struggle, the most significant liability remains their pass defense. Their winning streak has masked the fact that they are grading out 30th in the league from Week’s 11-17 in success rate against the pass, allowing 7.6 yards per attempt. The Superdome is a quick building to play inside, and the already suspect secondary should get lit up by Drew Brees and company. I don’t like pinpointing the game in Week 11 that saw the Saints beat the Eagles 48-7 at home, but I do not see there being some massive difference with Nick Foles under center instead of Carson Wentz. I doubt we are looking at a 41-point encore, but this has the chance to get ugly again.

Rowdy Bold Prediction:

Kansas City 38 – Indianapolis 24 

New Orleans 34 – Philadelphia 17


Recommended Bet: Two-team six-point teaser (Kansas City +1 with New Orleans -2) 


Bet of the Week Record : 
(7-2-1)

NFL Wild-Card Round Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for the Wild-Card Round

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. After a long season, the playoffs are finally upon us! We finished the regular season with a (6-2-1) record but did suffer a brutal loss during our last article in Week 16. The New York Jets +3 over the Green Bay Packers looked like a foregone conclusion with the Jets leading 35-20 in the fourth quarter, but a combination of boneheaded penalties from New York mixed with a ridiculous performance by Aaron Rodgers forced the game into overtime. Naturally, the Packers received the opening kickoff in extra time, and the rest was history.

If you are going to bet sports, you need to have an extremely short memory. A single bet should never make or break you (assuming you are following proper bankroll management), and these are situations that we need to brush off and quickly forget. When you let a bad beat linger in your mind for too long, that is when you stop accurately accessing lines the way they need to be broken down.

The Wild-Card round of the playoffs features four quality matchups on Saturday and Sunday. Early money has driven the Indianapolis Colts from +2.5 to +1 at most books, with the over/under bouncing back and forth between 47 and 49. I believe the Colts are the right side of this contest and did fancy over 47 when the line first opened up, but this game is going to come down to how the Indianapolis offense decides to attack the Texans defense. If they take an approach of trying to beat Houston with their run game and attempt to set the tempo with running back Marlon Mack, it could turn into a long Saturday for Colts money and over bettors. However, if they let Andrew Luck open up the playbook and come out with an aggressive approach, the Colts and over should both materialize into prosperous wagers.

The Los Angeles Chargers (+2.5) and Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) just missed out on being my main breakdown of the week. Outside of any statistical mismatches being included, the Chargers got the worst luck of the draw of any organization in the playoffs. There 12-4 record would have won any other division in the AFC, but instead, they are forced to travel on the road to take on a robust, hard-hitting Baltimore team. To make matters even worse, the NFL scheduled them as the early game on Sunday morning, which has historically been a massive disadvantage for west coast teams traveling on the road. I am aware that the Chargers have won their last four games that have kicked off at 10:00 PT or earlier and that they are 7-0 this season in games held outside of Los Angeles, but this is an extremely difficult stylistic matchup for the Chargers. Can they win? Of course. But it is going to take a gritty effort. I will be laying the 2.5 points with Baltimore but do hope I am wrong for the sake of my Chargers futures wager that I placed before the season started.

And the Philadelphia Eagles (+5.5) versus the Chicago Bears (-5.5) is our last game that will be played on Sunday. The total currently resides at 41 points, and I think we are in store of a low-scoring affair. Nick Foles leading the Eagles back into the playoffs is why we watch sports, but I can’t help but feel like the magical run is going to come crashing down against the NFL’s best defense. If you exclude Week 17’s performance against the Washington Redskins, Foles has the Eagles grading out 17th in the league in success rate passing during his previous two starts — which includes a Week 16 game against the Houston Texans that rank 22nd in defensive efficiency against the pass. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is a liability for Chicago, no doubt about it, but this probably won’t be the game that he stunts the Bears progression in the playoffs. I look for Chicago to hold Philadelphia in check and most likely cover the 5.5 points while staying under the total.

Seattle Seahawks (+1.5) versus the Dallas Cowboys (-1.5) O/U 43.0

Our bet this week brings us to Arlington, Texas for a repeat of Week 3’s showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. During the early season confrontation, the Seahawks captured a 24-13 home victory. Russell Wilson led the way for Seattle with a 109.8 passer rating, adding 192 yards through the air, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 61.5 percent completion rate was 4.1 percent lower than his season average, but he was his usual game-managing self during the win.

I don’t want to get too hung up on a Week 3 meeting because both of these teams are completely different than they were to start the season, but there are a few points of emphasis that I would like to make. Seattle rushed for 113 yards as a team, but it did take them 39 carries (2.9 average) to eclipse the 100-yard mark. Most of the team’s success starts with their ground-and-pound mentality, but Dallas featured the fourth most efficient rushing defense in the NFL in 2018, and they were able to slow down a lot of what Seattle was attempting to do.

None of this may have registered on the scoreboard, but that had more to do with Dallas’ horrific passing attack in the game. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished the contest 19-for-34, throwing for 168 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The two interceptions proved costly, but they weren’t the only blunders that the offense had on the day.

While Dallas did bludgeon the Seahawks on the ground, gaining 8.7 yards per carry en route to 166 total yards rushing, Ezekiel Elliott committed a pivotal fumble in the second quarter that stunted a Dallas drive in Seattle territory. Those three crucial turnovers negated the fact that Dallas outgained Seattle in yardage by eight yards (303 to 295) and averaged nearly a full yard more per play.

If we fast forward to the present, there are a few additional alarming signs for the Seahawks. They have been impressive this season on offense, ranking eighth in total offensive efficiency and 12th in success rate rushing the football, but the team is just 24th overall in the league in success rate passing, recording a successful play only 44 percent of the time. The reason for the disparity in efficiency versus success has a lot to do with the explosive plays that Seattle has been able to connect on this season. The Seahawks rank 8th in the league in explosive rushes and 10th in passes. Being dependant on big-plays isn’t necessarily a negative, but the Cowboys rank inside the top-six when it comes to preventing long plays of any kind. Without the ability to convert lengthy runs or passes, Seattle could find themselves in trouble if they fall behind early.

The biggest knock on the Cowboys this year has been their inability to pass the football. Through 16 weeks, they ranked 27th in efficiency through the air and 20th in success rate. However, when you condense the statistics to include only Week 9 through Week 16, which is when the Cowboys acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper, they are 7th in the NFL in passing success rate. The one noteworthy thing to mention is that Cooper has performed better against man-to-man defenses than zone, and Seattle plays zone primarily. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means since Seattle’s secondary isn’t the “Legion of Boom” that they once were under players such as Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, but it does present an additional caveat to consider.

Russell Wilson shouldn’t be counted out of this by any means, and there are undoubtedly multiple paths to victory in this tough matchup for both units. But I just think that Dallas has a substantial chance to control the tempo if they can limit their turnovers, and Elliott has a huge possibility to feast against a weak Seattle run defense. I don’t love the fact that some considerable Seahawks money has taken this from -2.5 to -1.5, but it has given us a better price, and I do believe we will see some sharp money come back in on Dallas as the game gets closer. With the moneyline currently sitting right around -120, I think that is probably the best way to play this game as of right now.

Rowdy Bold Prediction: Dallas 27 – Seattle 20

Recommended Bet: Dallas Moneyline 


Bet of the Week Record : 
(6-2-1)

NFL Week 16 Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for Week 16 of the NFL season

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (6-1-1) on the season with an excellent 41-17 Minnesota Vikings (-7) victory. Laying a touchdown worth of points isn’t one of my favorite betting strategies, but sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone when value presents itself.

We were also able to provide winners on our two other recommendations of the Indianapolis Colts -3 over the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers +6.5 over the New Orleans Saints. While those aren’t graded towards the official “Bet of the Week” yearly record, they were winners for anyone that chose to follow the picks.

With Week 16 upon us, I know I sound like a broken record here, but man, this is a brutal betting slate. It makes me wish I didn’t call some of the other weeks a struggle to handicap because this card is appalling. The Los Angeles Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens under 45 points was one of the plays that intrigued me, but it dropped nearly 3.5 points before I could get the article posted. If you can find under 21.5 in the first half, that is probably the way to play the game now, but even that number appears to be gone.

With a couple of days left in the week, it looks like the public is coming in on the Redskins, Chargers, Cowboys, Falcons, Vikings, Bears and Chiefs. I think the opposite side can be argued in most cases, but a lot of those games still present uncertainty. The last couple of weeks in an NFL season will always become difficult because of the lack of motivation some of the eliminated teams will exhibit. It is tough to tell what we should expect, and that backs us into a corner when trying to handicap these contests.

Green Bay Packers (-3.0) versus the New York Jets (+3.0) O/U 47.0

In what has become one of the stranger matchups of the week, the (5-8-1) Green Bay Packers will go on the road to face the (4-10) New York Jets. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was initially ruled out for the game after suffering a groin injury in Week 15’s loss to the Chicago Bears, but after experiencing some backlash for quitting on his team, the 35-year-old has now been ruled active for Sunday’s proceedings.

The loss of Rodgers initially sent this number on a five-point swing in the Jets favor, going from +3 to -2, but it has settled back into its initial price at most books of +3 with the news of Rodgers being active. One of the most interesting things to me is that although a five-point shift is a lot, it never crossed a key number after moving off plus-three. As an example, a movement from -3 to -8 would have a lot more substance than a move from +3 to -2. In our hypothetical situation, you sail past three significant numbers (minus-3, minus-6 and minus-7.) However, in the actual movement of the bet, all we saw was that the price was driven off +3, transferred through 0 and stopped before it reached three on the other end. The only significant move was the move off of three and even going through 0 doesn’t do all that much.

I know that may sound like useless information, but I always find movements interesting because they tip the hand of the sportsbook in a lot of ways. Once you figure out what the public side of the game is going to be, you can start gauging the risk that casinos are willing to take based on their movement. Books never want to find themselves in a situation to be “middled” (landing between the opening number and the closing number), and if they think they are on the right side of a game, you won’t see them budge all that much.

Sadly, that still doesn’t quite tell us exactly where this number is heading and what the casinos will need with a 50/50 split at many books right now. I do think that some signs point towards them liking the Packers with the number failing to get to Green Bay +3 when Rodgers was ruled out initially, but in the same breath, I don’t think much can be taken from it because he was announced back in so quickly, and the number was hovering in a dead zone price wise.

Breaking down a game goes a lot further than movements and bet slips, and there are a few things that stuck out to me from a statistical and matchup perspective. It is always interesting when you start breaking down a game in a more in-depth fashion and find potential matchup advantages that you would never have expected. On the season, the Packers rank fifth in the NFL in offensive success rate running the football at 53 percent but grade out just 18th in the league when it comes to success rate passing at 45%. Defensively, the Jets are 11th in the league in success against the run at 46 percent and fourth in the NFL against the pass at 44 percent. I know Rodgers has been playing injured practically the whole season, and the team is 5-8-1 for a reason, but I was surprised to see just how much the Packers have struggled through the air on the year.

While the early-season injury hasn’t helped Rodgers and his new groin injury will only make things worse, a lack of support on offense hasn’t made it any easier for the two-time Most Valuable Player either. Wide receiver Davante Adams has been brilliant, but outside of Adams and the emergence of running back Aaron Jones in Week 8, other Packers players have offered very little help.

Unfortunately for Green Bay, Jones suffered a sprained MCL in Week 15 against the Chicago Bears and was just placed on the injured reserved list for the rest of the season. I know we live in an age where running backs mean nothing to the point total, but the loss of Jones will be significant now that more of the burden is going to be placed on an injured Aaron Rodgers. Backup running back Jamaal Williams has proven that he can’t handle a full workload, averaging 3.7 yards on 98 carries this season. It seems likely that the Packers will attempt to get Williams going early in the game, but he has looked mediocre all year and has been limited with a toe injury himself.

To make matters even worse, the Packers will be without their second-best wide receiver Randall Cobb and offensive tackle Jason Spriggs. The loss of Spriggs will be negated if Bryan Bulaga can play — which appears like it will be the case, but the team will be left with zero depth outside of Alex Pankey. Rodgers has been hit the third most in the NFL during the last eight weeks, and even though the Jets only rank 24th on the year in sack rate, they rank top-three in QB hits, QB pressures and sacks the last four weeks. A lot of that damage came against Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in Week 15, but the Jets are playing tough and have not given up on the season.

Since Week 11, the Jets rank fourth in the NFL in success against the pass and 14th against the run. The Packers in the same time frame are 32nd against the pass and 12th against the run. Kenny Clark, a key figure of the Packers front-four remains out, and the potential lack of pressure to Jets quarterback Sam Darnold would help the rookie to settle into the game.

After nearly a month without Darnold in the lineup, he returned to face the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, throwing for 170 yards to go along with one TD and one INT. And last week, he put together a 253-yard performance against the Houston Texans, converting on two TD passes with no interceptions. Small sample sizes need to be taken with a grain of salt, but in the last two weeks, the Jets rank 10th in passing success rate and appear to be trending in the right direction.

Some might view Rodgers giving it a go on Sunday as heroic, and others might think it is dumb to put your injured franchise player into a game that doesn’t matter. You can make the argument for either, but I can’t seem to figure out what the motivation is for Green Bay in this game. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks of our era, but even Batman needs Robin from time to time. I am not overly enthusiastic about the selection and still don’t entirely trust the Jets, but I struggle to find a single playmaker on the Packers outside of Davante Adams this week. I would tread lightly on the play if you do place a wager, but there is enough pointing in the direction of the Jets being the right side. I’d anticipate that this number should trickle back down as the week goes on and would jump on three before it does start to decrease.

Rowdy Bold Prediction: New York 23 – Green Bay 20

Recommended Bet: New York (+3)

Bet of the Week Record : (6-1-1)

 

 

Week 15 NFL Picks ATS

The Rowdy Sports Guys at The Combine team up with Kev and Ben Rolfe to bring you their Week 15 NFL picks ATS

Welcome to Week 15 of the NFL season, fellow degenerates. We called on a few buddies today to help us with some Consensus Picks. From RotoBaller, we have Ben Rolfe and RotoSurgeon-Kev along with Combiners RowdyRotoJB, Ronnie Boo-Boo Child, El Presidente, and Spence. The spreads were recorded Friday, 14 December. Here is the final product:

nfl

The Majority Picks

  1. Texans (-7.0)
  2. Texans @ Jets – Under 44.0
  3. Browns (+3.0)
  4. Browns @ Broncos – Under 46.0
  5. Packers (+6.0)
  6. Packers @ Bears – Over 45.0
  7. Cowboys @ Colts – Over 47.5
  8. Titans @ Giants – Under 43.5
  9. Dolphins @ Vikings – Under 44.5
  10. Ravens (-7.5)
  11. Cardinals @ Falcons – Over 44.0
  12. Raiders (+3.0)
  13. Redskins @ Jaguars – Over 36.0
  14. Bills (-2.5)
  15. Lions @ Bills – Over 39.5
  16. Seahawks (-4.0)
  17. Eagles (+13.0)
  18. Eagles @ Rams – Over 52.0
  19. Saints (-6.5)

The Unanimous Rowdy Pick of Week 15

  1. Buccaneers @ Ravens – Under 46.5

 

Agree or disagree with our picks? Which guy do you see finishing with the highest percentage this week? Leave a comment or hit us up on Twitter!

NFL Week 15 Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for Week 15 of the NFL season

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. Last weekend was about all you can ever ask for as a gambler. We found the winner’s circle with two plus-five underdogs that prevailed as outright victors (Colts and 49ers) and scrambled late in the Cowboys versus Eagles game to get the total over 43 points.

Our 3-0 week increases our total to (5-1-1) since starting this write-up in Week 11, and we will attempt to keep the momentum rolling on what appears to be a less exciting weekend of value. Picking and choosing your spots to attack is essential to success in sports betting, which means that just because we expanded our bankroll, we shouldn’t foolishly be putting our funds back on the line without good reason to do so.

Week 15 provides a collection of semi-substantial road dogs for us to have to decipher if there is any value. During the Sunday and Monday games, eight of the 13 matchups feature a home team that is favored by three or more points, with six of those contests coming in at minus-six or higher. That isn’t necessarily a negative, but I am not usually a huge fan of road underdogs that are receiving around 50 percent of the wagers and a touchdown worth of points. On the flip side, I am also not a major proponent of laying points in what looks like the public side of the game. That doesn’t mean I never do those two things, but I am not overly excited about this card, and very few of those situations are jumping out to me.

While the slate isn’t the most enticing I have seen this season, three games have caught my attention. The Panthers +6.5 versus the New Orleans Saints is intriguing for a few reasons. New Orleans will be making their third trip on the road in the past three weeks and will have to go into Carolina for a Monday night game that presumably will be the Panthers essential Super Bowl. Carolina isn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture, but they would need a handful of things to happen and should be able to play pressure-free football in front of a raucous crowd. Ultimately, I decided to leave that game off of my official “Bet of the Week” card, but there is some value to be had on Carolina if you can stomach opposing the high-powered Saints during a prime-time game.

The Indianapolis Colts -3 over the Dallas Cowboys is another game that has piqued my curiosity. I initially began the week anticipating this being my selection when they were at -2.5 and even wrote the write up for it, but with the number shifting to -3 and T.Y. Hilton being questionable for the game on Sunday, I will ultimately leave it off my card. I do have a bet on them at -2.5 but can’t fully justify it at its new price.

Miami Dolphins (+7.0) versus the Minnesota Vikings (-7.0) O/U 44.5

As you become more accustomed to my style and how I approach these games, you will realize that I mostly try to find value in underdogs, but this week presents a unique opportunity.

The Minnesota Vikings were embarrassed on national television during Monday night’s road debacle against the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 21-7. The Vikings looked anemic on offense and were verbally destroyed by the disastrous Monday Night Football announcing crew. I think it has become a widespread sentiment that the trio of Jason Witten, Booger McFarland and Joe Tessitore have done a pretty atrocious job this season of calling games — but for the Vikings to be lambasted in front of millions of viewers, it resonates in the mind of the average fan all week, even if they know that the source isn’t the most credible.

And the reason for this is simple. Our eyes were able to confirm the outlandish comments that were being made about Minnesota during the broadcast. Some of them were justified, but they were very harsh to a team that seemingly suffered every bad break imaginable during the game. That doesn’t excuse quarterback Kirk Cousins poor play or offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s lousy play-calling, and someone had to be accountable for the embarrassment that was Monday night, which is why DeFilippo lost his job with what transpired during the game.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Miami Dolphins pulled out one of the all-time great shockers against the New England Patriots, completing a hook-and-lateral on the final play of the game for 69 yards to stun New England. The most iconic part of that play to me will always be running back Kenyan Drake outrunning Rob Gronkowski to get into the end zone and watching Gronk stumble near the goal line.

The differing outcomes last week does have me moderately surprised that we haven’t seen more Miami Dolphins money come in, but I am not concerned when the ticket slips are just about 50/50 on the game. Sharp bettors don’t seem overly interested in grabbing a touchdown with Miami this week, and I think it makes sense from a statistical breakdown of the game.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who is tied for the league-lead in interceptions this year, is doubtful for Sunday’s game –which would be a massive blow to an already struggling Miami defense. The Dolphins rank 24th in overall defensive efficiency on the year and 26th in passing defense. I know the narrative of Kirk Cousins being overpaid and incapable of beating a good team has been shoved down our throats this week, but Miami is an overrated team that is entering a classic letdown spot after last week’s season-altering victory.

The Vikings have struggled to get anything going this year on the ground, but I believe that Dalvin Cook being in and out of the lineup has caused them to grade out 31st in overall run efficiency. If we look at Minnesota’s rushing success rate the last two weeks when Cook has been fully healthy, the Vikings are grading out ninth in the NFL with a 50 percent success rate rushing. The impressive part about that is it features Monday’s fiasco in the statistics and still shows the success they have been having on the ground.

When breaking down Miami’s offense, I struggle to find how they can be successful if Kirk Cousins does get the Vikings off to a quick start. The Dolphins have had most of their success on the ground this season, but if they get behind in a challenging road game, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to have his hands full. Miami ranks 20th in passing efficiency, 28th in offensive line adjusted sack rate and they rank outside the top-24 in the league when it comes to offensive success rate passing and explosive runs and passes.

Both teams have a lot to play for this weekend, but I could see the Dolphins struggling to find any success on offense and forcing throws if the game gets away from them early –which is how blowouts start taking form. I would imagine that Cousins and the Vikings won’t be holding anything back either and should try to make a statement offensively. Like I mentioned above, you won’t find me laying these amount of points often, but sometimes you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone when a situation presents itself.

Rowdy Bold Prediction: Minnesota 31 – Miami 13

Recommended Bet: Minnesota (-7)

Bet of the Week Record : (5-1-1)