Week 12 in the NFL was a tough one for contest players in Las Vegas. The Top 5 consensus plays in the Westgate SuperContest went 0-5 and 1-4 in the Circa Millions. The leader in the SuperContest is currently at a winning percentage of 69 percent. The Circa Millions leader is below 72 percent after being above 76 percent just two weeks ago. Circa Survivor has been a bloodbath over the last five weeks. It all began in Week 8 when the Jets upset the Bengals. The contest had more than 2,100 participants remaining before that game. Five weeks later, we are down to 28 entries.
There are stretches of an NFL season where you get in a groove and it feels like you have it all figured out. There have also been weeks this season that have been complete mayhem. And then there are the last two or three weeks when it has been a very bizarre mix.
The Raiders beat the Cowboys outright and the teams combined for 28 penalties totaling over 270 yards. The Ravens threw four interceptions — and won — and covered. Baltimore has scored a total of 42 points in its last three games and is currently the No. 1 seed in AFC. The Dolphins have won four games in a row. The Washington Football Team has won three straight. The Chargers beat the Eagles and Steelers and lost to the Vikings and Broncos. The Eagles beat the Broncos and lost to the Giants. The Steelers won four straight then tied the Lions and then gave up a total of 92 points in their next two games, both losses. The Rams acquired Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. and have dropped three games in a row since. Russell Wilson has hit two career lows in his last three games for Seattle. He was shut out for the first time in a 17-0 loss to the Packers and has now lost three straight games. That hadn't ever happened in his career. It's no wonder contest players have been left scratching their heads for the last month.
Thank goodness for the implementation of quarterly prizes, right? Not long ago, the only avenue to salvage a season was the three-week Mini Contest over the final three weeks of the NFL season, as a part of the Westgate SuperContest. I actually won it twice — once as a part of a five-person team and once again as a part of our championship team, Sans Souci, in 2011. We’re in the final week of the third quarter in the Circa Millions, with the final five weeks of the season making up the final quarterly contest.
Over at the Westgate, new life begins for many this week. It is the first of the final two three-week contests and the beginning of the final six-week contest. So there’s quite a bit of cash still on the line for everyone, no matter where you’re sitting in the standings. We've all had 12 weeks of NFL football to digest. It is time to collect all that we have learned over that time and do some of our most astute handicapping down the stretch. As noted, the results have been weird enough so far. Do your homework and hopefully find some clarity to make some sense of it all for the stretch drive. Remember not to fall into the trap of only looking back at what a team did one or two weeks ago. I suggest going back more like six weeks. My co-host on the Pro Football Blitz, James Salinas, who is also a SuperContest winner and terrific contest player, does an excellent job of assessing teams’ behavior over long stretches. What's it been like for this team the last four, six, eight weeks, how has it been physically, emotionally? What has the schedule been like? James is admittedly not a number cruncher but has a great ability to get a feel for a team's state based on what it has been through leading up to the week at hand.
Two games I am looking at early in the week are the Broncos visiting the Chiefs and the Giants visiting the Dolphins. It has been widely recognized for some time now that Chiefs coach Andy Reid is very successful against the spread when coming off an open date. I believe it is to the point where this notion is built into the line in such games. In addition, the betting public has been enamored with betting on the Chiefs regardless of the opponent or situation. Knowing this, I expected this line to come out pretty high — and it did — Kansas City -10. When I make my own lines, I try to come up with a "true" number, not just a number that I expect the book to hang to be in accordance with the market. And in this case, I came up with Kansas City -4. Maybe the Chiefs win this game somewhere between my 4 and the oddsmakers’ 10, but I think 10 is too many here and I'll take Denver to hang tough in a big division game.
If you have been reading this column regularly, you know I try to spot when an underdog winning outright one week moves to the role of favorite the next week. We have only one such case this week with the Dolphins laying 3 points to the Giants. Miami won as a short home dog in Week 12 and has been installed as the favorite this week. Sometimes this can be a blind play for me to go against that team, but in this case, I also like the fact that the Dolphins have won four in a row. Their stock may be a little high right now. Let's note, three of those four wins have come against the Texans, Jets and Panthers. Meanwhile, the Giants have won two of their last three, with wins over the Raiders and the Eagles. I made the number for this game Miami by 2, and when I dived deeper into the stats, they spit out this game being a pick-'em. I think this is a good spot to short the Dolphins, and we're getting the key number of 3. I expect this game to close lower than that.
Good luck, everybody. Pick with conviction. If there was ever a time to lean on the phrase, "Scared money don't make money," now is the time as contest play begins to peak on the stress meter.