December 27, 2015 (9:50 AM ET)
There are 3 NFL picks today. The Vikings selection was released at noon on Saturday.
1) Take Cleveland Browns at +11.5 spread against KC Chiefs for 3% of the bankroll.
The Kansas City Chiefs are undoubtedly the better team but that doesn't mean they will cover this inflated spread today. The price tag to back the Chiefs is through the roof nowadays after having won 8 straight games and covering the number in seven of them! That combined with the fact that Cleveland is riding a winless streak means this line is where it's at instead of +10 and that presents value. The Chiefs will no doubt want to win this game and are likely to do so but whether it comes by 7, 10, 11 or 14 points makes little difference to them and the vast majority of those numbers work for us. Even if they are dominant and leading by as much as 17 points or so late in the game, they may give up a late meaningless TD and give Cleveland bettors a backdoor cover. A lot can go wrong when laying this many points and especially when it is a public darling. The Average Joe won a lot of money against the books last Sunday betting on square picks (large favorites) that covered one after another but that is not the norm and unlikely to be repeated this week. There is great value in fading the public in certain matchups today and we believe this is one of them.
Johnny Manziel has his flaws and critics and rightly so. Nonetheless, the more he plays, the more confident he's growing not only as an NFL starting QB but with this offense. His rapport with the likes of Benjamin and Barnidge who are both tageting 1000-yard seasons is growing! His elusiveness also allows him to pick up first downs with his feet if the coverage is tight. The Chiefs do play great defense but they are not only missing Justin Houston but could also be without Tamba Hali this afternoon. Hali may end up taking the field today but having not practiced all week, he's clearly banged up. It's not uncommon for players to rest midweek but have a full or limited practice on Friday if they are going to play on Sunday. Hali was a DNP (Did Not Practice) even on Friday! We still believe Andy Reid may choose to play him but his effectiness at reduced health remains to be seen.
The Browns defense leaves a lot to be desired but after facing the elusiveness of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks last Sunday, we believe they will be ready for this one. They have not forced a turnover in 3 straight games but it would surprise us if they did not have at least one takeaway this today. When they do get an INT or force a fumble, it is important for them to turn it into points and with Manziel getting more comfortable with each passing week, we believe they have a better chance of doing so than a few weeks ago. Mike Pettine being a defensive guy can't be happy with his team's efforts and will surely have emphasized the importance of tight coverage and limiting yards after catch! He desperately wants to keep this job but is unlikely to do so unless he can finish strong and show some promise for the future. With only 2 games remaining this season, it is time for him and the Browns to put up an inspired performance. Whether it's through them doing that or Chiefs playing down to the level of their competition, we believe the final score will be closer people anticipate in this contest resulting in Cleveland covering the generous number.
The Chiefs are a good defensive team but don't have too many offensive weapons and we don't see them enjoying another blowout victory. We believe they will look to run the ball, take time off the clock and simply get the W while remaining healthy for their home finale next Sunday when they take on division opponents, Raiders. Let's not forget that the weather forecast for this contest is gusty, 45% chance of rain showers with the possibility of some snowflakes as well. Could the weather hinder the total number of points put on board by both teams and keep this a relatively tighter and lower scoring game? It could.
Look for Chiefs to run the ball and limit the number of possessions that either team gets. Alex Smith and the offense are often told to execute a conservative gameplan that relies largely on short passes and rushing. They don't go for the home-run ball all that often and are more concerned with controlling the tempo and keeping the ball than trying risky passes. That type of strategy is solid and often helps the team win but it doesn't give Chiefs backers the best chance of covering big spreads such as this as the interests of the team with those betting on them against the spread are not aligned. One good quarter may be all that's needed for the Browns to sneak in and keep this 'respectable' through losing by 11 or less points. We believe they are more likely to keep this within single digits than being blown out and it is evident that sharp money has come in on this squad given that the spread opened as high as +12.5 in some books but went down to as low as +10.5 before climbing back up with public money to its current number which is +11.5! This game may not be fun for Cleveland backers to watch but the end result is likely to be a winning ticket.
2) Take NY Jets at +3 spread against New England Patriots for 3% of the bankroll.
This is an important matchup for the New York Jets, for a number of reasons. These two teams have a long and storied rivalry and there is certainly no love lost between the franchises each time they step out on the field. The Patriots have managed to own the series in recent history, coming away with victories in 9 of the last 10 regular season meetings, but now likely find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position missing a number of key starters on the roster. Not only is this the Jets franchise best opportunity to gain a victory over one of their most hated rivals, but a victory in this contest also keeps alive their playoff hopes heading into the last week of the season. This is arguably the biggest game of the Jets season and we expect them to play like it.
Injuries have certainly plagued the Patriots recently. Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty; the Patriots’ injury list reads like a potential Pro Bowl roster! There is no question that New England will be motivated in this contest as they always are against the Jets, however their main concern in this contest is to finish the season and get into the playoffs healthy. The Patriots have already secured their first round bye in the playoffs and really have nothing more to gain. They have decided to limit their starters in this contest in order to stay healthy, which makes us believe that winning this contest is essentially not their top priority.
Besides numerous injuries to his offensive weapons, it’s important to note that Tom Brady has the lowest QB rating of his storied career when targeting passes against two of Jets cornerbacks, Cromartie and Revis! The future Hall of Famer has a passer rating of 68.3 when targeting Revis and Cromartie which is 27.6 points lower than all other corners! Add in the fact that his two favorite wide receivers, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are out for this game, those numbers may not improve. Starting RB LeGarrette Blount is also out of course which means Steven Jackson who's been out of work for a year will get a chance in the backfield and will likely be rusty and out of rhythm in the early going. The Patriots also have numerous other players who are not at 100% as guys like Chandler, Hightower and LaFell are all still dealing with injuries, but will take the field this afternoon. The Patriots are playing with somewhat of a makeshift offense and if the Jets can find a way to limit Gronkowski, they have a great chance to get revenge and more importantly keep their playoff hopes alive by winning against a depleted Patriots team.
New England is the best team in the AFC East division but this particular contest favors the home side that is a lot healthier and also is in a must-win situation despite their impressive 9-5 record. They are currently on the outside looking in regards to the playoffs with both the Chiefs and Steelers sharing that 9-5 record but having the tiebreaker advantage. The Jets need to continue winning to keep their playoff hopes alive and a victory in this contest would go a long way to do just that.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has had an impressive season at the helm for the Jets and has finally given the team consistent play at the QB position. He is making plays not only through the air, but continues to make them on the ground as well, picking up first downs with his legs when needed. He is no doubt more agile in the pocket than he 'looks' and that has been a great addition to his overall game at the quarterback position. Fitzpatrick has also developed great chemistry with both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and he has a solid duo in the backfield in Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. They are an extremely balanced team and one that could be very dangerous against a depleted Patriots squad.
The Jets should come into this contest with a lot of confidence after winning 4 straight games and now have a chance, at home, to knock off the division "giants". Head Coach Todd Bowles would certainly like nothing more than to do something that his predecessor could not; and that is beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots. With the Patriots ailing, this likely could be their very best opportunity to do so. We believe the Jets will win this contest outright, but with a kicker like Gostkowski on the sidelines for the Patriots, it not out of the question for New England to kick a game winning field goal as time expires which makes taking the points all the more precious.
Other notable facts to consider:
- Jets have covered their last 4 meetings with the Patriots.
- Jets are a perfect 6-0 ATS when seeking revenge in their last 6 attempts by the way!
- Defending Super Bowl champs off a home win where they scored 30+ points are just 7-17 ATS dating back to 2000!
3) Take Minnesota Vikings at -6 spread against NY Giants for 3% of the bankroll.
The New York Giants have had a poor season and will likely miss the playoffs again. If there had been one bright spot, it would have to be the electric play of WR Odell Beckham JR. The athletic receiver is a game changer and nearly impossible to contain for 4 full quarters. His presence on the field has often kept the G-Men in games that wouldn't necessarily be close otherwise. OBJ undoubtedly gives New York their best chance to win but will be missing this game through suspension. Just how important is Beckham Jr. to the Giants? He has 91 catches for 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns this season! He has nine TDs in his last seven games and has found the endzone at least once in five consecutive games. That kind of production is incredibly hard to replace especially since another one of their top receivers, Dwayne Harris who is also the punt returner is banged up. Unlike OBJ, he'll likely participate in this game but he's been battling a shoulder injury for the past couple of weeks and is hardly 100%.
The Minnesota Vikings can clinch playoff berth with a home victory. They are currently in control of the second Wildcard spot in the NFC and more importantly sit just a single game back of the Green Bay Packers for the division lead! The Packers have a tough matchup as underdogs in Arizona this week and if they lose and the Vikings take care of business against NY, both teams will share an identical 10-5 record atop the division. That is likely in our opinion and would set up a very intriguing season finale when these two rivals meet again next week! For the NFC North crown to be decided on the final game of the regular season will make for great TV and we expect to see that happen.
There is no question that the Minnesota Vikings are a "run-first" type team with Adrian Peterson in the backfield and that has been evident given the fact that the Vikings are outrushing their opponents by 18 yards per contest this season! They have great depth at the RB position as they also utilize Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon who are better pass-catchers than AP. Those two proved their worth not only last year but this season as well when Peterson has dealt with injuries such as in last week's double-digit win over the Bears.
Minnesota's ability to rack up rushing yards has never been debated but the entire organization has to be thrilled with the maturation of Teddy Bridgewater in his sophomore season. His confidence and mechanics have shown vast improvement as he's gained experience. He has four fewer interceptions this season than he did last year and his completion percentage has risen from 64.4 percent last season to 66.3 percent in 2015. The former Louisville standout enjoyed his best game as a pro against Chicago last week, completing 17 of 20 attempts for 231 yards and 4 TDs to go along with one more score on the ground! He has also been extremely protective of the football and has not been picked off in two straight games. Norv Turner has finally understood that he can allow Bridgewater more freedom than he did previously and that has resulted in a very balanced offense that is capable of both running the ball down teams' throats, throwing short screen passes or taking the top off opposing secondaries with speedsters in Mike Wallace and Stefan Diggs. Jarius Wright has also been targeted at times while TE Kyle Rudolph is often their most reliable option in the red zone.
The Vikings have been an extremely profitable team against the spread and have often been undervalued by the oddsmakers this season. They are 20-9 ATS in their last 29 games overall and an ultra-impressive 9-3 in their last 12 games at home! Meanwhile the Giants have certainly not been a team that has been kind to their backers going just 3-10 ATS after giving up more than 30 points and are 0-4-1 in their last 5 road games against teams with a winning home record. Barring a late backdoor cover by the Giants, the Vikings should win this by at least a TD if not more as we foresee them even having a comfortable double-digit lead for much of the game. Bridgewater is finally playing with confidence and that makes this offense very dangerous.
As for the Minnesota defense, they are one of the best in the league but don't get a lot of headlines because they don't generate many turnovers. They haven't needed to however as they play zone coverage and limit opponents from putting up too many points on the board. Of course now against a Giants team that is missing its biggest offensive weapon and numerous others banged up, it wouldn't surprise us if Tom Couglin's side had multiple give-aways. The Vikings defense has been stout under Mike Zimmer's leadership but should be even better oganized this Sunday when they likely get Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph back. That trio missed last week's game but could be back on the field on Sunday. Look for them to limit Eli Manning and company as the Giants may even have been eliminated from playoff contention by the time this game starts! If the Redskins win against the Eagles, they clinch the weak NFC East division and evaporate Big Blue's slim chances. Not only that, the Giants expended a lot of energy in mounting a furious comeback rally against the undefeated Panthers last week only to fall short anyway. That type of defeat is tiring and demoralizing. The Vikings are not only the better team but they will also be the more motivated bunch as they still have a legitimate chance of winning the division for the first time since 2009!
Other notable facts to consider:
- Vikings are 8-1 ATS after a division game over the last 2 seasons!
- Giants are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 games after giving up 30+ points!
- Vikings are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games in the month of December.
- Vikings have been the most profitable team to back in NFL this season thanks to an 11-3 ATS record!
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