NFL Week #12
Are injuries overrated?
What this question really means is — does it matter when the normal starters aren’t playing?
A poker perspective on things provides the best answer: “It depends.”
Consider two teams which posted winning records last season and were also expected to be playoff contenders this year — Dallas and Washington.
In Week #9, Dallas has lost three key players — including their best running back (due to a six-game suspension), an All-Pro offensive lineman, and the undisputed leader of the defense. In the span of three games since then, Dallas has resembled one of the NFL’s worst teams. The Cowboys have lost three straight games, each by 20 points or more. Worse, Dallas tied an all-time franchise record (dating back 57 years!) for the longest stretch to go without scoring a touchdown — nine full quarters. Prior to missing those key players, Dallas was 5-3 and appeared headed for a certain Wild Card spot. Now, Dallas is a heavy underdog to make the post-season. So, injuries do matter — at least to the Cowboys.
But what about Washington? Oddly enough, the opposite has occurred. Four weeks ago, the Redskins limped into Seattle with 3 of their 5 starting offensive linemen injured. Four defensive starters were also on IR, and two more starters were playing at less than 100 percent. And, the Redskins were playing at what’s been one of the toughest NFL stadiums for visitors. The game looked like a complete mismatch.
So, what happened? Washington beat Seattle outright as 9-point underdogs.
A lucky game perhaps? A week later, Washington was just as banged up and headed into the Superdome to face the NFL’s hottest team, New Orleans, winners of 7 straight. With 6 minutes remaining, the Redskins who were +8.5-point underdogs coming in were WINNING THE GAME by 15 points. Sure, they melted down late and lost the game in overtime. But the Washington cover was never in doubt.
Then, on Thanksgiving Day, banged-up Washington won by ten points playing at home, though they were playing a bad New York Giant team.
So, how did Washington post three very strong performances and three straight covers, while Dallas suffered a similar slew of injuries and basically turned into the NFC’s version of the Browns? One team got much worse and the other team seemed to get way better. Why?
The answer is — I don’t know.
I suspect that key players like quarterbacks can’t be replaced (for instance, look what’s happened to Green Bay and Houston). Just as important, leadership can’t be replaced on the field, either. However, utility players which typically are interchangeable aren’t nearly as big a factor to a team’s success. Losing the NFL’s top rusher from last season, plus their top blocker, plus the defensive spirit of the team meant doom to the Cowboys. However, Washington still had the essential nucleus of leadership on the field despite missing lots of starters (none of whom were All-Pro caliber players). Moreover, the drop-off between starters and second-string simply wasn’t that severe. Apparently, the dreaded plague of “cluster injuries” (which means multiple players at one position) isn’t as big a negative as some might think.
Of course, these are just two teams out of many. These could be isolated instances of what occurs when injuries begin to take a toll. Nonetheless, my experience is that injuries are typically overrated (by bettors). This is especially true for marginal and weak teams where the starters aren’t that good anyway, and the replacement players could step in and actually be an improvement. Anyone remember thinking the Patriots season was over in 2002 when starter Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of the game and some untested nobody named Tom Brady filled in?
Yes, injuries are important this time of the season. But let’s not overreact to them, either.
2017 NFL REGULAR SEASON RESULTS
STARTING BANKROLL: $10,000.
CURRENT BALANCE: $11,940. (+$1,940)
OVERALL W-L RECORD: 42 wins / 30 loses / 2 pushes
Week #1 — 3 wins, 4 losses = net -$250
Week #2 — 1 win, 0 losses = net +$350
Week #3 — 7 wins, 2 losses = net +$1,070
Week #4 — 1 win, 1 loss = net -$20
Week #5 — 7 wins, 3 losses = net +$740
Week #6 — 2 wins, 2 losses = net -$40
Week #7 — 3 wins, 4 losses, 1 push = net -$280
Week #8 — 4 wins, 2 losses = net +$360
Week #9 — 2 wins, 2 losses = net -$270
Week #10 — 9 wins, 6 losses = net +$480
Week #11 — 3 wins, 4 losses = net -$280
LAST WEEK’S UPDATE: I posted 3 wins and 4 losses, with a push, for a net loss of -$280. The killer game was Arizona, which inexplicably couldn’t cover on two +7.5 point teasers against the weak Houston Texans. Lesson to be learned here — do not tease shit teams, even if they’re playing another shit team. Tease the good teams down across the key numbers. But shit teams can never be counted on to perform with consistency. The Arizona loss (a field goal would have covered the teaser) amounted to 4.2 unit swing and an $840 reversal.
WINLESS TEAMS UPDATE: The “bet on all winless teams” angle continues to be a loser for the season, which is the first time the system has lost money in several years. Last week, SFO managed to finally win its first game (and covered the spread). But CLE (now the NFL’s only remaining winless team) continues to be a drain. The system is now 6-8 for the season. I tailed this for four weeks (resulting in a slight loser) but can no longer justify wagering on CLE, hoping for a cover. This betting system has lost -2.8 units, so far.
On to this week’s games (lines current as of Saturday night). I made SIX wagers:
Chicago/Philadelphia OVER 43.5
Eagles are a scoring machine. They appear to be getting better with each week. PHI is averaging 30 points per game, but have scored 34, 33, 51, and 37 their last four contests. Sometimes, hot teams hit a road bump and this game might present a problem for Eagles. But PHI looks to be in a scheme where they want to keep the foot on the gas an roll on their best W-L record ever. CHI looked to be coming around defensively much earlier in the season, but have struggled in recent weeks — allowing 20+ to three consecutive opponents (including Green Bay!). It’s hard to see how Eagles don’t put up something at least in the 30s based on these recent numbers. Given this total at 43.5, that leaves CHI needing to produce just a couple of scores on their own, which I think is a realistic projection given the power of the Bears’ running game (ranked #6 in NFL), combined with some gradual maturity by the rookie starting QB which should passing numbers. CHI looked to be getting into better synch the last few weeks and while PHI is a very tough road spot for them to get a win, if Eagles grab a lead which is expected based on this two-TD pointspread, that could also produce a few sloppy scores and perhaps even PHI playing some backups in 2H. Pretty low total given how explosive PHI passing game has been the last month. OVER is the play all the way to 44. No wager at 44.5 or higher.
Miami/New England UNDER 48.5
This game has similarities to the previous matchup (CHI/PHI). But in this case, I think the UNDER has strong intangible value. First, this game total is lined 5 points higher despite both offenses (PHI and NWE) being pretty close statistically. The tipping point for me is the uncertainty at QB position for MIA. Cutler reportedly did not meet the pre-game concussion protocol (I’ve seen conflicting reports he’ll play at the time of this post), in which case backup Moore will start. I think this confusion as to the starter spells disaster for what is already a weak offense, having to face a defense that’s obliterated its last few opponents. After the defense got shredded back in Sept, NWE has held opposing offenses to 17 points or less in six straight games. Another major factor for me liking the UNDER — NWE goes back on the road for three straight games after this week (and will also play MIA again in two weeks). I suspect the objective with the Patriots here will be to get the win and stay healthy without showing a lot of hurry-up offense and pizazz. I’m looking for an ugly, relatively low-scoring game.
NY Jets +5.5 vs. Carolina
I have two wagers in this game. Why are the Jets playing at home and getting +5.5? Moreover, why would the line move from +4.5 to +5.5? What in the hell are these Carolina bettors thinking? The Panther kool-aid must be spiked really sweet to think this team belongs in the class of roadies laying this kind of number. Last time CAR was favored in a similar spot, they lost by two touchdowns to the one-dimensional Bears. I don’t give CAR much credit for beating TB and MIA two out of the last three weeks. I also think the bye last week for Panthers may have hurt their momentum. NYJ at 4-6 are also off the bye and get a chance to regroup. There’s a good reason for optimism in NY given what we’ve seen from a team expected to be really bad, but has played competitively just about every week. Since Sept., there’s been nothing embarrassing about any of the NYJ losses — by 5 twice in road games, by 3 on the road, and a 7-point loss versus New England — mixed in with four wins. So, NYJ have been in every game since mid-Sept. and get a non-conference foe that comes in perhaps just a little too confident. I’d line this game at CAR -3 tops, so getting the +5.5 is more than enough points for me to take the live home dog. I’ll take the most consistent hard-fighting team playing at home which is a PERFECT 5-0 ATS THIS SEASON at Jets Stadium. I’ll also play the dogs getting +3 in the first half. That’s a gift.
Oakland -4 vs. Denver
OAK is laying -4 in a few spots, as the opening line has been bet from -5 down a full point. Obviously, we must lay no more than -4 (at -4.5 this is a no-play). I was late to the party last week, unaware of just how bad the Broncos are at the moment. Coaching staff is in disarray. Defense appears to have regressed. Running game is non-existent. QB derby between two guys who should at best be third-stringers. OAK is no prize right now suffering a string of losses and posting some awful performances, but now playing at home against rival I think there’s enough unity and confidence to take OAK and get the job done. Also like a small revenge factor, since DEN Beat OAK earlier in the season (QB Carr was injured in that game) and these division rematches often tend to go the other way. DEN is a very different team right now than back in Sept. and Oct. Losers of six straight games, now they head on the highway versus a revenge-minded opponent. I’ll lay the points with the favorite and look for DEN woes to continue against a better-coached team with something to prove and maintain a faint chance of making the playoffs.
Green Bay / Pittsburgh UNDER 43.5
Pittsburgh should roll here, especially with Green Bay’s offensive ineptitude. Look for Steelers to establish an early lead and post a 31-6 type of win, which falls well within the total. Green Bay is averaging just 14 PPG since the bad backup QB has taken over, and those numbers probably won’t improve much in a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the big secret is the emergence of PIT defense the last five weeks, which hasn’t given up more than 17 points against any opponent. Look for Steelers to play this one a little closer to the vest since they have a critical three-game stretch coming up against two division rivals and New England. Once PIT is up by a couple of touchdowns, I expect the game to lock down and lots of clock grinding by the Steelers running game.
Chicago/Philadelphia OVER 43.5 (Risking $220 to win $200)
Miami/New England UNDER 48.5 (Risking $220 to win $200)
NY Jets +5.5 vs. Carolina (Risking $220 to win $200)
First Half: NY Jets +3 (-115) vs. Carolina (Risking $235 to win $200)
Oakland -4 vs. Denver (Risking $220 to win $200)
Green Bay / Pittsburgh UNDER 43.5 (Risking $220 to win $200)
OTHER GAMES AND THOUGHTS
Cleveland is a tempting play at +7.5 playing the cross-state rivalry game against Cincinnati. CLE played JAX tough last week (misleading final score of 19-7….game was tight throughout). The defense is capable of keeping this one close. CIN win at DEN last week was misleading as they were outgained by nearly 2-1 in yardage (a 100-yard interception return was a swing of 14 points). CIN has looked horrid in the stats column and doesn’t deserve to be laying more than a touchdown to anyone. Trouble is, CLE has an abysmal offense and always seems to find a way not only to lose but fail to cover. I usually bet the dogs in these games, but simply can’t bet the Browns right now.
I want absolutely no part of the TB-ATL game which looks to be lined just right at about 9.5 (inching towards 10, which is where it will close). ATL suddenly looking like a Super Bowl contender again, and get the perfect patsy opponent to beat to a pulp. But after losing five straight, TB has won two ugly games now in a row, and could enter this game with an uptick of confidence. ATL playing great at the moment, and TB has enough talent to keep it close, but this looks to be one of the indoor, fast-track games that’s impossible to predict. Better wagering options on the board than this game. Pass.
KC is coming off an inexplicable road loss to dismal NYG last week and should rebound here against an opponent experiencing chaos. Some concern that KC has lost 4 of 5 games, but that probably creates a greater sense of desperation and better focus here in this game. BUF has surrendered a hideous 135 points its last three games. Their chances of success won’t improve by playing second-straight week on the road versus a team that’s suddenly in the thick of a playoff chase (Chargers rising fast) where they can’t afford to take any opponent lightly as happened last week against Giants. I’m expecting a top effort here by big favorite KC. Given BUF’s horrific performances on defense the past month and some credible reports of mutiny among the offense (some have reported that OL was so incensed that Tyrod Talor was yanked in favor of the rookie starting QB last week that they intentionally didn’t block), it’s KC or nothing. The only thing that holds me back is I don’t like a team that is 1-4 it’s last five games laying -9 points. There’s also some concern than KC problems are very real and maybe BUF just gave up after falling behind big early and those scores weren’t indicative of the talent of this team. With QB Taylor back under center, I think this could be just a bit too many points to be giving the Bills. A clusterfuck game that might finish 23-20 or 41-10. Who knows?
Most bettors will like TENN laying a soft number (-3) to home dog INDY. But I’d be very cautious with this matchup and re-think eating chalk with the inconsistent Titans. INDY has been feisty its last three games — a 1-point loss to CIN, an outright win at HOU, and a last second-heartbreaking 3-point loss to heavily favored PIT (17-20). These games show INDY could be slightly undervalued at the moment. I’d probably play home dog Colts getting +4, which I don’t think gets there (line could close at +3.5 as favorite money will come late).
There was no valid reason San Francisco should have won its previous game (a rash of injuries, QB about to get benched for the traded acquisition), and they will take a similar hodge-podge lineup into this game, versus an opponent that’s oddly playing better on the road than at home. SEA has won three straight away (lost two straight at home) and laying just inside a TD here (-6.5). Given some injuries on SEA (I did say not to overreact, but they can’t be discounted either), this is probably a case of bet SFO and take the points or skip it. We haven’t seen yet if SFO has the ability to string together strong performances, so I will pass. Similar matchup a few week ago resulted in a 6-point win at ARZ by SEA. Probably a similar result here, so where’s the value based on the current line? BTW, anyone who bets SEA in this game is a square. I’m not saying SFO should be a play, but only a fool would bet SEA in this situation. I won’t be shocked if SFO pulls an upset here.
New Orleans at LA Rams is the game of the week and should be a thriller. I lean NOR here getting +2.5 but will take a pass on betting this game because this is a case where there’s probably more pressure on Rams to perform well after the disappointment of losing last week at MIN. NOR strikes me as a special team — players know they can win with Brees under center, even when behind — and last week’s game will be on the minds of Saints players whenever they’re trailing (NOR was down by 15 with 6 minutes to play, and won). I’m also wary of LAR coming off a tough game versus Vikings defense and will probably air it out more against NOR, which still poses uncertainty. What I mean is — it makes no sense for NOR defense to be this much better. Could they just be rolling 7s every week and getting somewhat lucky by catching opponents at off-peak moments?. Just asking. Total at 53 might not be high enough — I can see a shootout here, espcially with some injuries in LAR defensive secondary. If this wasn’t such a high total (meaning more scoring, so the pointspread doesn’t matter as much), I would be on NOR + half point in the first half. That’s the play if you want action on this game. Take a half point with a team that’s won 8 straight games. Seems obvious. Might pull trigger near gameime if there’s no added vig past -110.
Arizona is dogshit, but no way I am laying this many points with JAX playing in a second straight road game after they struggled badly for 55 minutes at horrific CLE last week. JAX couldn’t move the ball at all. This is not the kind of offense I like to bet on the road, especially when laying points (-5). UNDER looks to be worth a serious look since JAX defense has been a beast (6/11 games JAX has held opponents to <10 points). But total is 38 and given how lousy ARZ is playing (how do they surrender 31 points last week to a team quarterbacked by Tom Savage?) I can’t trust the defense either. Shit game, but also one to watch and bet the second half if ARZ looks feisty. If they show any life, take them in 2H, especially if JAX Is tied or behind. JAX not the type of team that stages comebacks.
Monday night game is HOU at BALT. I would tease down BALT from -7 to -1 in normal circumstances, but this team is so unpredictable, I don’t trust the Ravens to find the stadium parking lot. Betting Tom Savage and Joe Flacco is like trying to pick the best singer in a drunk karaoke contest. No action.