January 3, 2016 (9:07 AM ET)
There are 3 picks today.
1) Take Green Bay Packers at -3 spread against Minnesota Vikings for 3% of the bankroll.
There is no question that the Vikings are having a strong season. No one knows that better than SPS given that much of our NFL profit is thanks to Minnesota this year having successfully backed them numerous times. However, it's worth mentioning that they have defeated only one playoff team this season (Kansas City back on Oct. 18). Looking at the list of other teams they have beaten this season, it hardly reads as a group of the league's elite. They’ve defeated the Giants, Chicago (twice), Atlanta, Oakland, St. Louis, Detroit (twice), and San Diego. When they have taken a step up in competition against the better teams, they have faltered losing to both the Cardinals and Seahawks as well as these same Packers. Overall they are 1-4 against teams currently in line to make the playoffs and 9-1 against nonplayoff squads!
Mike Zimmer's club is an improving one and a team to keep an eye on in the future but they're still not quite there yet when it comes to clutch moments and big matchups. Aaron Rodgers and company have far more experience playing in these high-pressure games and situations and we expect that to be the deciding factor tonight. Afterall, this is the 3rd straight year that Green Bay is playing a Week 17 game with the division title on the line and they won the previous two! Simply put, they are used to playing in big games and often show up for these better than they do against inferior competition. The red hot Vikings have their full attention and will not be overlooked.
Green Bay has dominated the NFC North in recent years, winning five straight division championships! The Vikings have gone 1-10-1 against the Packers in that time, with their lone win coming in the 2012 season. The Packers have dominated this series and should come into this contest extremely motivated as they are coming off arguably their worst loss in the Aaron Rodgers era when they were embarrassed by the Arizona Cardinals losing by 30 points! The Packers offensive-line did nothing to really protect Rodgers in the pocket as he was pressured nearly the entire game. David Bakhtiari may play tonight and that should help. The frustration on the face of Rodgers was visible the entire game and after getting completely humiliated last week, we believe he and teammates will bring their A game. Let's not forget that Rodgers tends to bounce back from poor performances in style as evident by the fact that his team has won 13 of 15 games following a loss where they did not cover the spread!
As if that wasn't enough, the fact that Green Bay has won 21 of its 23 'final home games' says a lot. Mike McCarthy knows how to motivate his side for these late-season crucial battles and that is evident by the fact that they are 14-4 against division opponents in the final 4 weeks of the season! They also have a great ATS (against-the-spread) record in such situations. Keep in mind that they've covered those lines despite historically laying more points than just a field goal at home. The Vikings are a good team but are still a step away from the polished product. The Packers are more likely to make the clutch plays necessary to secure another division crown and with so much to play for, we expect their superior experience to give them a massive edge.
The Packers need to build some momentum prior to the playoffs and can hardly afford another loss this week. Very rarely do we get the good fortune of laying just a field goal with the Packers up in Lambeau. The last time these two hooked up, it was another must-win game for the Pack and they ran out easy winners despite playing in Minnesota. The Vikings have improved since then and this game will not be easy but coming off a prime time beating of the Giants, they are no longer undervalued as they had been for much of the season. Now the entire country can finally see that they are a quality team as we did long ago except they are jumping on the bandwagon too late as usual.
Green Bay is the correct side in this game and in what is the most meaningful game of their season, we expect them to rise to the occasion and come away with the win and cash out. They are 19-0 ATS in division games after a loss as an underdog when they did not cover! Meanwhile the Vikings have failed to cover a spread in their last 13 attempts after a game where they had no turnovers! The fact that their best pass rusher Linval Joseph is 'doubtful' to play and did not practice means their defense is still not at its best. We've backed Minnesota successfully all season long (stayed away in games they did not cover) but on this occasion, feel it is best to side with the battle-tested home team laying only a field goal as perceptions have been skewed after last week's lopsided set of results.
2) Take NY Giants at -5.5 spread against Philadelphia Eagles for 3% of the bankroll.
SPS accurately predicted that the Giants would get blown out last week when we backed the Vikings against them and easily cashed out. However, this is a new week and a new matchup with a completely different situation. New York was not only missing its best offensive player in Odell Beckham Jr. last Sunday but got humiliated on national TV at prime time! Don't be surprised if they come out and play with a chip on their shoulders today. They are far from perfect but this is still a proud squad made up of determined players. They do not want to end the season by being embarrassed in back to back weeks! And the fact that this game is against a division rival gives them an added incentive to play hard so they can hold their heads up. We believe the G-Men will be out for blood and will want to be on the other end of a lopsided scoreline. Against an even more dysfunctional team in the Eagles, we expect them to make a statement and finish what has been a disappointing season on a good note. Let's not forget that while the NFC East crown belongs to the Redskins this year, Big Blue can still leapfrog the Eagles and at least finish the season occupying 2nd place in the division.
Philadelphia's front office relieved Chip Kelly of his head coaching and general manager duties earlier this week and is currently interviewing applicants. This is a team in complete disarray and one that is going through a major transition period. These two NFC foes both have their flaws but the Giants have at least had stability as Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have been there for years and actually hold an NFL record for most consecutive QB starts with the same coach on the sidelines. Continuity is key in this sport and while NY has had its own problems, the Eagles currently have it worse. Some of the players may be happy to see coach Kelly gone but others have been vocal in their support of him and were thankful for the opportunities they received. Quarterback Sam Bradford is one such figure. He was appreciated of Kelly for believing in him and bringing him over and for a man who naturally lacks confidence, we believe his psyche could be even more vulnerable today. It wouldn't surprise us to see Bradford and company turn the ball over this afternoon and for the Giants to capitalize on such mistakes. There is currently great confusion in Philly about not only who the next head coach will be but whether many of the current squad will still be there next season. Meanwhile you have an interim coach in charge for this one game and that doesn't exactly bode well for his authority and the players' prospensity to respond to him.
On the other hand, you have the oldest coach in NFL in Tom Coughlin whom rumors say may be taking charge of his last game as New York's leader. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen as unlike Philadelphia's situation, nothing has been officially yet announced and he's certainly still there on the sidelines unlike Kelly and his confused troops. If this was Coughlin's final game however, that would actually bode well for us against the spread. That's because his players would likely either know about that or at least have a behind-the-scenes hint and that will only further motivate them to send him out a winner. Coach Couglin has shown his defencies in recent years but he still commands respect and attention. There aren't too many coaches out there with 2 Super Bowl rings and the players know that. In what could be his final ever game in charge of the Giants and a home one at that, expect the G-Men to give it their all. We're not so sure the Eagles will be giving 100% in this contest however given that they have little to play for and as the road team, don't have the pressure of home fans demanding a solid showing. How they respond to their interim coach, Pat Shurmur is another question but we forsee some broken plays and disinterested body language at certain stages.
Odell Beckham has had monster season (13 TDs and 1396 yards) and needs just 26 yards to pass Randy Moss' NFL record of most receiving yards in a player's first two seasons! We expect him to get there and put up an excellent performance after missing last Sunday's game due to suspension. Much like his teammates, ODB Jr. has a point to prove this afternoon and will not want to go into this off-season limping. He'll want to atone for his conduct against the Panthers and will be motivated to bounce back and show everyone why he's rated so highly again. Having sat out last week's game, he should be fresh and ready to go and we dont' see Byron Maxwell (questionable) or another Philadelphia cornerback able to keep up with him.
Eli Manning has had an outstanding season and needs just 3 passing touchdowns to equal Y.A Tittle's franchise record which was set 52 years ago! We believe he'll have the opportunity to do so in a high-scoring game against an Eagles team that has allowed the 2nd most TDs (34) this season! With his #1 receiver back in the lineup, he'll not only have his favorite go-to option but it should give others like Rueben Randle more space to operate in. Manning is the more confident and composed QB in this matchup and should have a decisive edge over Bradford. Coming off a game where he made a few unchracteristic mistakes on national TV, we believe he'll limit turnovers tonight and end the season on a high. There is a reason the Giants are nearly 6-point favorites over the Eagles despite coming off an embarrassing defeat and both teams sharing identical 6-9 records. Back them as they pull away and cover the spread barring a late backdoor score by Philly.
3) Take San Francisco 49ers at +3.5 spread against St. Louis Rams for 3% of the bankroll.
The lowly 49ers were expected to struggle this year and certainly have. At just 4-11 on the season, their passionate fanbase has had to endure a lot of disappointing moments. Despite being installed as signicant underdogs, it wouldn't surprise us if they caused an 'upset' and started 2016 with a win! San Fran opened the season with a shocking outright win over the Vikings and we believe is capable of closing it out with a rare W as well. Jim Tomsula wants to keep his job but has been given no warnings nor reassurances that he'll be back. He knows that a home win to finish the season could go a long way toward showing the bosses progress and making a lasting impression. The 49ers are winless in division games (0-5) this season and that is a damning number for the head coach and his troops. He realizes that and knows he needs a win over an NFC West opponent to finish the season! We believe they'll have an excellent opportunity to get that elusive W today.
That's because the Rams are in a let-down spot coming into this contest. After knocking off the team that has made it to the last two Super Bowls, Jeff Fisher's squad could be typically flat. This is a franchise that regularly gets up for the 'big' games but frequently gets beaten by teams with losing records. They often play up and down to the level of their competition and that is not a recipe for consistent success and certainly not for covering spreads on the road. The Rams are 0-3 this season and 0-6 over the last 3 years after a win against a division opponent! Now they not only have to turn around that bit of history and win this game after knocking off Seattle but they have to do so by 4 points or more. That is too much to ask from an inconsistent squad with the worst offense in NFL (just 293 yards per game)! Even if St. Louis does manage to win this game, we very much doubt it'll by more than a field goal.
The only reason the Rams are significant favorites in San Fran is the recent form of the two sides. Fisher's side has won 3 in a row while the 49ers have dropped their last 3 games. Knowing how fickle the average sports-bettor is and their love for jumping on bandwagons, the bookmakers had to install Rams as FG favorites and are still receiving the vast majority of action on the team that could be relocated after this season. Interestingly enough, St. Louis is not a team that one should back when on a hot streak. That's because they are just 1-5 following two or more consecutive wins over the last 3 seasons! Now they not only have to buck that trend as well and win but they have to cover this inflated line in the process!
San Francisco's stock is at an all-time low following 3 straight losses by 9 or more points. But they were competitve until the 4th quarter in Detroit last week and have shown their heart. Blaine Gabbert has only grown more comfortable with this offense and his receivers as the season has gone on and could pose more problems for the Rams than most envision. This isn't a play as much on Gabbert and company however as it is a fade of the Rams and their dysfunctional offense. Todd Gurley has been just about the only bright spot for this team this year but is injured and 'doubtful' to play today. The fact that he did not practice all week suggests that he has little chance of playing but even if he did, he's clearly not 100%. Without Gurley, the Rams have little else going for them offensively outside the speed of Tavon Austin. They have a below average QB and the loss of Stedman Bailey did not help what was already an inefficient offense. If the 49ers can limit the damage of Austin, the Rams will have problems scoring enough points to cover this spread.
The Rams have not turned the ball over in their last 2 games but have benefitted from 5 take-aways in that stretch! Don't expect that 5-0 turnover ratio to continue as it is tiem for Navarro Bowman and the SF defense to make a play or two. The 49ers haven't forced a turnover in their last 2 games but will be more opportunistic against the Rams. Look for San Fran to win the turnover battle in this game and that'll go a long way toward either causing an upset and winning this game or at least staying competitive in it and within the generous spread. The public is backing the Rams in this spot but is a tougher game for them than it looks at first glance. Look for them to come back down to earth while Anquan Bolding and company give the home fans an inspired performance to finish the season. The 49ers won't be making the playoffs but the coach as well as the players (such as QB Gabbert) do want to cement their place for next season and therefore have a point to prove. They'll be motivated to end their losing streak and end the season on a good note and that should be enough to stay within the generous spread.
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