‘Must win’ games for a team bring no gambling advantage

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
(Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)

Last week we advised against jumping on “must-win” teams at this point of the NFL season, as they get overpriced in the betting markets.

It paid off as those teams went 3-0-2 against the spread with wins on Washington +13 at Green Bay, Denver +9.5 at Houston and Cincinnati +8.5 at Cleveland, plus a push on Detroit +13 at Minnesota.

However, the other push, Indianapolis +3 at Tampa Bay, was actually on the team thought to have more to play for. Playoff-contending Pittsburgh also covered as 2-point road favorites at Arizona, so you still have to be selective in your handicapping.

As for the L.A. teams, we passed on the Rams and Chargers as favorites, but at least we had the Chargers-Jaguars game as an over of 43 as the Chargers won, 45-10. This week we hope to bet the Rams at the Cowboys as the line opened Dallas as a 3-point favorite, But now it has flipped to the Rams as a 1-point favorite, so the betting value is gone. I also think the line is too short with the inconsistent Chargers only getting 2.5 points against the Vikings.

The Rams could be a good bet against a Dallas Cowboys team that has underperformed lately.

Dec. 12, 2019


Instead, here are five underdogs I like Sunday:

Cincinnati (+9.5) vs. New England: This line opened Patriots -10, but I believe the professional bettors are on the right side, as they were with the Bengals getting bet down against the Browns last week. The Bengals have been more competitive since Andy Dalton returned to the starting lineup. Besides, the Patriots are not in sync right now, with two straight losses and three straight non-covers. I’d expect them to be content just to win. It would be a best bet if it drops to +8.

Denver (+9.5) at Kansas City: This game has also been bet down from double digits, but the underdog still has value. The Broncos have looked great the last two weeks with Drew Lock taking over, and I’m confident the offense can have success against the Chiefs’ defense and keep this close. Besides, Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes isn’t 100%, and the Kansas City offense isn’t as unstoppable as it seemed earlier in the season.

Miami (+3.5) at New York Giants: This game jumped off the screen when the opening lines came out Sunday, as I didn’t believe the Giants should be favored over any team by more than a field goal. Even though the Giants played better than expected in losing 23-17 to the Eagles on Monday Night Football, I feel the same way whether it’s Daniel Jones back at quarterback or Eli Manning playing again. Besides, though the Dolphins are still among the worst teams in the league, they have been competitive lately. I’d make this a pick-’em for the outright win but will gladly take the generous points.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen launches a pass against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at New Era Field.
(Bryan M. Bennett / Getty Images)

Buffalo (+2) at Pittsburgh: The game has been flexed to the Sunday night slot on NBC, in which I believe the better team is a short road underdog. I’ve heard a lot of people knocking the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen for their loss to Baltimore, but I saw no shame in that. They lost only 24-17, barely failing to cover after closing as 6.5-point home underdogs, and they were outgained by only 48 yards. The Steelers are overachieving, but I expect the Bills’ defense to present a new challenge for QB Devlin Hodges and win outright.

Atlanta (+10.5) at San Francisco: The Falcons are another Jekyll and Hyde team. I’m hoping they can take their act, especially on the defensive side, on the road like they did last month at New Orleans and Carolina. I’m still high on the 49ers and was impressed with their road win in New Orleans as well as their loss at Baltimore, but this line is high enough to bet against them.

Last week: 3-0-2.

Season: 36-31-3.

Tuley’s writes for