Last week was a bit of a speed bump, as I stumbled to a sub .500 record for the first time since the first half of the season. Still, the only thing one can do is learn from their mistakes, and I intend to turn last week into a learning experience in week 15. The playoff races are heating up, which means this should be one of the most exciting weeks of the year — although it may be hard to top last week in terms of theatrics. I haven’t seen that many games go down to the last drive in quite some time. Here’s hoping for a repeat this week. Let’s take a look at 4 games that can help you make some money:
Our first matchup this week strikes me as the one where the most glaring value lies. The Rams have had basically one good game all year, the rest of the time they have looked like they are committed to not caring about what happens this year, with an eye towards the future. This was never more abundantly clear than on the Monday night game, which will hopefully be the last time we have to watch the Rams on prime time for a long, long time. Seattle is not an elite team by any stretch of the imagination, but they essentially relegated the Rams to observers from the first whistle, and it never seemed like much of a game. To say St. Louis were listless would be overly generous. The Bengals, on the other hand, are in the midst of a heated playoff race, of which they suffered a costly setback from a heartbreaking, last second loss to Houston. The Bengals now find themselves tied with the Titans and Raiders at 7-6, a game behind the New York Jets for the second wildcard spot. The Jets have a bit of a tricky matchup against the Eagles, so this is a great opportunity for Cincy to climb back into the picture. Although they have lost 4 of their last 5, the Bengals have faced some exceedingly difficult competition, including two against Pittsburgh, a road game against Baltimore, and last week’s loss to the winners of the AFC South in Houston. When Cincy plays bad teams, they usually don’t have an issue, as witnessed through their season sweep of the Browns, as well as wins against the Jags and Colts. Andy Dalton may not be as flashy as Cam Newton when it comes to rookie quarterbacks, but Dalton has completely rejuvenated a fledgling franchise, and there are few better QB to WR connections right now than Dalton to fellow rookie A.J. Green. It is scary to think how much better these guys are going to get with a full offseason together. The Rams rank dead last in rushing yards allowed per game with a whopping 156.8, which means that Cedric Benson should have a very busy and fruitful day. Benson isn’t the most dynamic runner in the league, but he is strong and sturdy, and consistently moves the ball down the field. It’s hard to imagine the Rams keeping this one close for very long, as Sam Bradford is extremely banged up, and it would probably be wisest for the Steve Spagnulo to give Bradford a rest considering its a lost season anyway. Even if Bradford plays, his only weapon is Brandon Lloyd, and although Steven Jackson will give it his all, there is only so much he can do behind that offensive line. Further evidence leaning Cincinnati’s way: the Bengals are 6-1-1 ATS in their last 8 road games, and they are 5-1 ATS versus teams with losing records. On the other hand, the Rams have a smattering of statistics going against them, including being 0-6 ATS when they are an underdog of between 3.5 and 10 points, as well as having a 1-6 record ATS versus teams with winning records. All signs point to an easy Bengals victory, so take the bet that requires under a touchdown.
It seems to me, based on this line, that the public must have forgotten that Jay Cutler and Matt Forte will be watching this game from the sidelines. Yes, I understand that the Bears defense is still an impressive unit, and that they will be playing this game at Soldier Field. But let’s keep in mind that Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber are going to be the focus of this offense, regardless of what city its being played in. The other factor in this game is of course the Seattle Seahawks recent resurgence. The ‘Hawks are winners of their last two, both of which were in impressive fashion. Yes, the Rams stink, but the week before Seattle put on an absolute clinic against the Eagles, who despite having a disappointing season, are still a talented and dangerous team. The biggest reason for Seattle’s impressive play of late is without a doubt Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has gone from a punchline to one of the league’s most ferocious running backs, feasting on defensive lines when he’s not feasting on Skittles. Lynch has scored a touchdown in nine straight games, and while the Bears defense is one of the stiffest units in the league, it is hard to bet against Lynch finding the endzone at some point. The Seahawks defense has also looked quite good as of late, and they must be licking their chops as they prepare for the Hanie led Bears. The Bears looked like a surefire playoff team just a few weeks ago, but the cruel injury imp has basically reduced their postseason hopes to fantasies. The Seahawks are still in the picture, although will likely come up just a tiny bit short despite their strong play as of late. Still, they will definitely bring it in Chicago, knowing that the Bears are one of the teams they must leapfrog if they hope to move forward with their improbable season turnaround. Although Sidney Rice remains sidelined for the Seahawks, Doug Baldwin has emerged as a very reliable downfield target, and Golden Tate is showing glimpses of promise as well. Still, Lynch remains the lynchpin for this offense, so don’t be surprised to see him tote the ball at least 25 times and get involved in the passing game as well. Seattle is 4-0 ATS as an underdog, and 7-1 ATS in their last 8 against NFC opponents, while Chicago is 4-10 ATS when they are a favorite of more than a field goal. This will likely be a low scoring, bruising affair, so I’ll take the healthier team with the 3.5 point buffer zone.
This game strikes me as one that should be extremely interesting, as both teams are in dogfights to make the playoffs in their respective conferences. The Lions were thrilled to see the Bears go down against the Broncos in improbably fashion last week, meaning they currently hold down one of the two wildcard spots with an 8-5 record. The Raiders got slaughtered in Green Bay, falling to 7-6 and a game behind Denver. The Broncos hold the tiebreaker over Oakland, so in essence the Raiders are two games back with three to play. With Denver facing New England, this is their best chance to gain ground, but the Lions are no pushovers in their own right. The Lions will be boosted by the return of Ndamakong Suh from suspension, while the Raiders are hoping to get back some of their depleted receiving corps. As of this writing, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford are questionable to return this week after missing the last couple of weeks with injuries. Carson Palmer has looked extremely rattled as of late, throwing for four picks against Green Bay, and not doing much better the week before. He only seems to be able to throw touchdowns in garbage time, but that isn’t going to cut it if the Raiders want to catch Denver. If Oakland doesn’t make the playoffs, fans are going to be heartbroken considering how much was given up for Palmer. Still, Detroit is the better team here, both on offense and defensively. Matthew Stafford has managed to stay healthy all year, and he has put up some impressive numbers because of that. The Lions will also be bolstered by the return of Kevin Smith to the lineup, who gives the Lions the balanced offensive attack they have been sorely missing since Jahvid Best was lost for the season early in the year. Teams have really suffocated Calvin Johnson with double coverage, but that has allowed Stafford to find some other receivers such as Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young. The Raiders, meanwhile, are doing their best without Darren McFadden, but as well as Michael Bush has played, there is simply no replacing a running back like McFadden. The Lions should make a strong claim to a playoff spot with a win here, and in what is essentially a pick ‘em game, I’ll take the team with the better quarterback, better set of receivers, and better defense. In addition, the Lions are undefeated ATS in their last 7 when they are a favorite by a field goal or less, and are 6-1-1 in their last 8 games played on grass. The Raiders, meanwhile, are just 7-21-2 ATS as an underdog of under 3 points. Go with the Lions in what should be quite an entertaining game.
For many NFL fans, its hard to believe we’re already at week 15. For the Indianapolis Colts, they can’t believe its only week 15. The only bright side for the winless Indy is that they will be almost certainly be awarded the number one pick in the draft, and many believe that will be Andrew Luck. Of course, considering Peyton Manning should be good to go by next year, this poses an interesting dilemma. But this isn’t our problem right now, our problem is that the Titans, heavily involved in the hunt for the final wildcard spot in the AFC, are favored by less than a touchdown over the punchless Colts. This is music to my ears, as the team from the music city should have no problem covering this number. The Colts have been mailing it in for weeks now, and it is hard to imagine this week being any different. For the Titans, there is some uncertainty as to who will be throwing the balls this week, but the key here is that Jake Locker is not a downgrade from Matt Hasselbeck if last week’s near comeback is any indication. In fact, it is entirely possible that he is a step up. Regardless, the Titans will figure to heavily lean on Chris Johnson, who has finally shown a few flashes of his former self in recent weeks after a pretty lousy season. Nate Washington has stepped it up big time in the absence of Kenny Britt, and Damian Williams is showing some promise as well. For the Colts, Dan Orlovsky seems like a bit of an improvement over Curtis Painter, but then again I probably would be too. The Colts have virtually no running game, and although they boast Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark, those receivers have been more or less neutralized without Manning throwing them the ball. The Titans played the Saints right up to the wire last week, and before that they had won two in a row. You’d have to go back to last season to count the last time Indy won a game. I was surprised this game wasn’t closer to double digits, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’ll happily take the Titans here, as they should be able to win by considerably more than a touchdown. The Titans do well against bad teams, as they are 5-0 ATS versus squads with losing records, and are 7-1 ATS after a straight up loss. The Colts, conversely, are 0-4 ATS in their four against divisional foes, and are also 0-4 ATS in their last four at home. Take Tennessee in this one and rest easy.