This is about the time in the NFL season where folks start digging through couch cushions, center consoles and cracks in the wall looking for cash to buy holiday gifts. Buying for friends, family and significant others can get expensive—even if your arresting fear that they'll hate what you buy just leads to a series of gift cards anyway.
For those of you who enjoy betting the NFL ponies—and I'm assuming that's most of you since, like, that's the point of this article—time is quickly running out to make your nut on the Vegas sportsbooks. Only two more regular-season weeks remain, and only one before the Christmas holiday (Though, I suppose if you wanted to bet Week 17 instead, you could always use the "it's in the mail" excuse).
The problem with setting up your gift-giving budget based on a series of football games is that values are fewer and farther between. The oddsmakers know who these teams are. They have algorithms on algorithms on algorithms telling them things we couldn't even begin to fathom.
There's a reason the house almost always wins.
That said, even the most impenetrable force has its flaws. If LeBron James can twist an ankle, a Vegas oddsmaker can mistakenly set a line too high or too low. With that in mind, here's a quick look at the entire Week 16 outlook, highlighting a few lines that stood out.
|Miami Dolphins||Buffalo Bills||MIA -2.5||Dolphins|
|New Orleans Saints||Carolina Panthers||CAR -3||Panthers|
|Dallas Cowboys||Washington Redskins||DAL -3||Redskins|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||St. Louis Rams||STL -5.5||Rams|
|Chicago Bears||Philadelphia Eagles||PHI -3||Bears|
|Cleveland Browns||N.Y. Jets||NYJ -2.5||Browns|
|Indianapolis Colts||Kansas City Chiefs||KC -6.5||Colts|
|Minnesota Vikings||Cincinnati Bengals||CIN -7||Bengals|
|Denver Broncos||Houston Texans||DEN -10.5||Broncos|
|Tennessee Titans||Jacksonville Jaguars||TEN -5.5||Jaguars|
|Arizona Cardinals||Seattle Seahawks||SEA -10.5||Seahawks|
|N.Y. Giants||Detroit Lions||DET -9||Giants|
|Oakland Raiders||San Diego Chargers||SD -10||Raiders|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Green Bay Packers||N/A||Packers (win)|
|New England Patriots||Baltimore Ravens||BAL -2.5||Patriots|
|Atlanta Falcons||San Francisco 49ers||SF -12||49ers|
Lock of the Week: Denver Broncos (-10.5) over Houston Texans
Not quite sure where we begin listing the reasons the Broncos will eviscerate Houston at home—there are just too many. We could point out Manning's 16-3 record against the Texans, which is the most wins he has against any other team. We could note that Manning has thrown a whopping 44 touchdowns against only nine interceptions in those 19 games, though I guess that would be a step down from his current record-setting pace.
Any of those are perfectly fine jumping-off points. None of them top the fact that the Broncos are probably headed toward the AFC's No. 1 seed, while the Texans are a horrible, horrible football team.
Houston heads into Week 16 with nothing to play for. At 2-12, management would be more than fine with consecutive losses to cap the season and lock up the No. 1 overall pick in next May's draft. The players aren't playing for Wade Phillips; everyone knows he has zero chance to return. Ben Tate, who is playing for a payday on the open market, will probably have a nice day against Denver's suspect run defense, but that's about it.
I'm not sure there's any better sign of a team playing dead than the Texans' 25-3 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. Remember, this is the same Colts team that had been backhanded by St. Louis, Arizona and Cincinnati and defeated lowly Tennessee twice by one score over its five previous contests. One of the most dreadful first-half teams in the league over that span, the Colts held a 20-3 lead at the half.
The rosiest picture one could paint for the Texans is they're not quite as bad as their record. They're not the worst team in the league—they're the fourth worst!
On the other side, you have the Broncos. A team coming off a frustrating loss to San Diego with 10 days to prepare for a team with nothing to play for. Denver's loss coupled with Kansas City's win in Week 15 gives every game meaning going forward. The Broncos are one of four teams to lock up a playoff spot, but one more slip-up and they could be hitting the road for the Wild Card Round.
At 10.5 points, you're essentially asking Denver to win by two touchdowns. You'd have to make that three scores to make me even remotely think about going the other way with this pick.
Stay Away of the Week: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
Week 15 was a return to the early season offensive frustrations for the Patriots. Playing against a Miami secondary that had to add practice-squad players from other teams during the leadup to Sunday's contest, Tom Brady threw for 364 yards, but every one of them took effort. Brady dinked and dunked his way up the field with 55 pass attempts, with his final one falling into the arms of Dolphins corner Michael Thomas—the aforementioned practice-squadder who came over from the 49ers midweek.
It was a sobering reality. Without Rob Gronkowski, the entire field shrinks. Miami's safeties were only barely lining up behind its linebackers by the end of the contest, daring Brady to beat them over the top—and he couldn't do it. The Patriots' longest play of the game was 30 yards, and that came after a catch and run.
Left without a consistent run game and its best offensive weapon, New England's offense is consigned to a series of quick strikes to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.
This is all worth mentioning because, when healthy, the Patriots are a far better football team than the defending champs. They've made enough strides on defense to atone for the shortcomings of the sans-Gronkowski offense, though their run-stopping has been virtually nonexistent since Vince Wilfork went down.
But with all of these injuries, New England is thoroughly mediocre—making them a perfect match for the shrug-worthy Ravens. Though Baltimore has won four straight and five in six, exactly zero of those wins engendered much confidence. Going back to Week 5, five of the Ravens' six victories have come by three points or less—and I'm not sure the Jets count as an actual offense.
The 2.5-point line is an accurate representation of where these two teams are. New England is too depleted for anyone to have much confidence, while Baltimore might fool around and blindly walk itself into a playoff berth again. In all likelihood, this is a matchup that comes down to a field goal—which side pulls out ahead is frankly anyone's guess.
One suggestion for the Patriots: Just don't even let Baltimore past midfield. Just don't. You're just asking for Justin Tucker to give you trouble.
Strange Line of the Week: Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (+5.5)
First: I'm so incredibly sorry to anyone whose local CBS affiliate carries this game—especially if you don't have Sunday Ticket or RedZone. There are only two regular-season weeks left. No one should be subjected to that level of punishment (shouts to Browns-Jets as well).
Second: What, Mr. Vegas Oddsmaker in the Sky, makes Tennessee 8.5 points better than Jacksonville on a neutral field? Remember, home teams are given a three-point advantage prior to setting the line. Unless the oddsmakers are merely working under the assumption that the Jaguars are the worst team in the league by far—as Football Outsiders' metrics suggest—there's no real reason for this line to be this high.
The Jaguars have been competitive for more than a month. They're 4-2 after starting 0-8, and while none of those wins came against good football teams, one did come against an awfully important one: Tennessee. While past performance doesn't necessarily indicate future results, Jacksonville's 29-27 road win against the Titans at least has to play a factor here.
Meanwhile, the Titans are 1-5 in their last six contests. They've played every game within one score except during their blowout loss to Denver, but that's all the more reason this sticks out as strange. Even if Tennessee wins, it will likely be by a touchdown or less—making this a glaringly obvious tease if there has ever been.
Of course, the back of your head would indicate that's a sucker's bet. It would tell you that Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts aren't going to be there to help bolster the offense, and Jordan Todman can't possibly go over the 100-yard mark two straight weeks. Then again, that same rag-tag group of replacement-level players nearly beat Buffalo last week.
Are we really that comfortable backing Mike Munchak on the road? Do yourself a favor: Ignore the skepticism and throw this game in your Sunday teaser sundae.
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