Tuley’s Takes: Don’t overlook the also-rans as the NFL season winds down
Four games remain in the NFL regular season, which is the time when the betting masses tend to jump on playoff contenders, because they’re in “must-win” situations, rather than teams that are out of contention and may be tanking for a better draft position. But professional bettors, known as sharps, know not to make knee-jerk decisions. Case in point was Miami defeating Philadelphia last week as a double-digit underdog. The Eagles were trying to win the NFC East; the Dolphins have been a season-long also-ran. Previously winless Cincinnati also won, as did the woeful Washington Redskins, so these teams are still trying.
Philip Rivers knows the Chargers’ playoff prospects are virtually gone, but that’s not hampering the quarterback’s outlook for Jacksonville on Sunday.
As for the L.A. teams on Sunday, both are coin-flips. The Chargers are three-point favorites at Jacksonville, and the Rams-Seattle game at the Coliseum was pick ’em as of Thursday morning. The best bet in those games is the Chargers-Jaguars over-43. Games between also-rans often turn into playground-type shootouts, so expect Philip Rivers and Gardner Minshew to be filling the air with footballs.
Here are five NFL underdogs I like this Sunday.
Washington (+13) at Green Bay
I made a mistake last week, taking the Raiders as double-digit underdogs because I trusted them more to cover versus Kansas City than I did the Redskins and Dolphins in their games. I should have focused on their opponents and questioned why Carolina and Philadelphia were favored by so much. I’m on the Redskins this week not because I’m confident in Dwayne Haskins but because I still don’t believe the Packers are as good as their 9-3 record and will be content to grind out a win, just like when the Redskins were able to stay close in their 19-9 spread-covering loss at Minnesota on Oct. 24.
Denver (+9.5) at Houston
The Texans are my biggest Super Bowl future bet, and I was on them against New England on Sunday night, but I’m going with the Broncos here because this line has been over-adjusted. Even though the Texans have some impressive wins, they don’t always win by big margins at home, such as in their non-covering wins over Oakland and Indianapolis. The Broncos have been surprisingly competitive and are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games, including upsets of the Cleveland Browns and Chargers. Denver also should have defeated Minnesota, so I expect the Broncos to keep this within a touchdown, too.
Cincinnati (+8.5) at Cleveland
The Bengals’ move back to quarterback Andy Dalton paid off in their 22-6 win over the New York Jets. This is a “swagger play” on them coming off that confidence-inducing victory. And it is just as much a bet against the Browns, who have done nothing to warrant being favored by more than a touchdown.
Detroit (+13) at Minnesota
This is another game with the line set too high. The Vikings have already failed to cover twice as a double-digit home favorite — Week 8 against the Redskins and Week 11 against the Broncos — and they defeated Detroit by only 12 in Week 7. Granted, that was Oct. 20 against Matthew Stafford, but third-stringer David Blough looked serviceable in his debut on Thanksgiving. With a full week of practice with the first-teamers, Blough and the Lions should be able to keep this close, too.
The Rams desperately need Jared Goff to perform like a franchise quarterback they are paying him to be.
Indianapolis (+3) at Tampa Bay
These teams are heading in opposite directions. The Colts are on a two-game skid after divisional losses to Houston and Tennessee while the Bucs have won two straight, over Atlanta and Jacksonville. But the Colts are the better team, and I’ll gladly take the points.
Last week in The Times: 3-2.
Dave Tuley writes for VSiN.com.
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