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Eagles look like a longshot, not a top seed

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins makes an amazing reception for a touchdown wit the Steelers cornerback Joe Haden trying to defend.
© USA Today Sports Images

Granting difficult scoring conditions, the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t look anything like a playoff caliber team in a 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders Christmas night. More context, plus “market” Power Ratings for NFL and major bowls right now in VSiN City. 

Christmas NFL: Eagles not playing like a contender since Wentz injury
Is it possible that the Super Bowl hopes of the Philadelphia Eagles came and Wentz with the knee injury suffered by their young quarterback phenom? A fortunate win over the NY Giants with Nick Foles at the helm was followed up by an even more fortunate victory Monday Night over Oakland. 

Philadelphia (-10) 19, Oakland 10
Yards-per-Play: Oakland 4.3, Philadelphia 3.5
Third Down Pct: Oakland 23%, Philadelphia 7%
Turnovers: Oakland 5, Philadelphia 2
Rushing Yards: Oakland 137, Philadelphia 78
Passing Stats: Oakland 15-29-2-237, Philadelphia 19-38-1-138
TD Drive Lengths: Oakland 58, Philadelphia 74

Horrible stats for the Eagles, who managed just 216 total yards while going 1 of 14 on third downs. If you were travelling or went to bed early. It was a 10-10 game with a minute to go, and Oakland had the ball at its own 46-yard line. Derek Carr threw an interception that set up Philadelphia’s “game-winning” field goal. Then, with three seconds to go, one of those dumb desperation lateral plays was disrupted and returned by the Eagles for a touchdown to finish the scoring. (Eagles took a knee rather than kicking the extra point that mattered to so many.)

Philadelphia fans can send Derek Carr a present (or two) for creating Philadelphia’s straight up win and a miraculous push for bettors who got in early at -9. What’s important for handicappers to note is that the Eagles have been showing multiple negatives over the past month that…when combined…seem to eliminate the #1 seed from serious Super Bowl consideration even with a bye and home field advantage throughout the NFC brackets. 

In Philadelphia’s prior three games…

  • The Eagles defense let Seattle’s struggling offense score on TD drives of 85, 80, and 73 yards. This is the same offense that could only gain 149 yards against the Rams two weeks ago, and 136 yards against Dallas this past Sunday afternoon.
  • The Eagles defense let the Rams gain 6.7 yards-per-play while allowing three additional touchdown drives of more than 70 yards. Carson Wentz got them the win anyway before suffering his season-ending injury.
  • The Eagles defense let the virtually non-existent NY Giants offense gain 504 yards on 6.2 yards-per-play on its way to touchdown drives of 75, 75, 80, and 80 yards. That’s the same Giants team that scored 10 points on 4.4 yards-per-play the week before vs. Dallas, and 0 points on 4.4 yards-per-play the week after in Arizona. 

The defense allowed a few big plays to Oakland, even when getting great assistance from cold temperatures and very tricky swirling winds. Foles showed Monday that he’s limited to dinks and dunks in winter weather in this offensive schematic. 

In January, Philadelphia will be hosting opponents a lot better than Oakland in what are likely to be similar conditions. If the weather’s nicer…then the recently exposed defense becomes a problem again. Odd to see a top seed be a relative championship longshot. Futures prices are likely to confirm that reality this week. A soft early schedule helped hide defensive weaknesses. Foles isn't going to scare whoever he draws in the postseason.

In Monday’s earlier NFL kickoff…

Pittsburgh (-9) 34, Houston 6
Yards-per-Play: Pittsburgh 5.7, Houston 4.4
Third Down Pct: Pittsburgh 58%, Houston 25%
Turnovers: Pittsburgh 0, Houston 2
Rushing Yards: Pittsburgh 104, Houston 176
Passing Stats: Pittsburgh 20-30-0-226, Houston 8-17-1-51 
TD Drive Lengths: Pittsburgh 54-80-42-79, Houston 75

We’ve seen a lot of this type of game in recent weeks. No reason to go in-depth. Big edge right now to veteran quarterbacks who know how to finish drives when facing inexperienced or sub-par quarterbacks who don’t. Total yardage was only 330-227…but offensive touchdowns were 4-1…and Houston’s only TD came after it had fallen behind 27-0. Pittsburgh moves easily to 12-3…which locks Jacksonville out from earning a bye in the AFC brackets…and forces New England to play hard next week against the NY Jets in the battle for top seed. Houston falls to 4-11.

NFL: New Estimated Market Power Ratings
On Tuesdays we update our estimate of how “the market” is rating all 32 pro football teams. Here are the Monday evening lines we’ll be using to build this week’s scale. 

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-9.5/40.5)
Green Bay at Detroit (-7.5/42.5)
Buffalo (-2.5/42.5) at Miami
Carolina at Atlanta (-4/46)
New Orleans (-7.5/50) at Tampa Bay
Jacksonville at Tennessee (NL)
NY Jets at New England (NL)
Houston at Indianapolis (pick-em/44)
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (NL)
Washington (-3.5/38) at the NY Giants
Chicago at Minnesota (-12.5/40)
Dallas at Philadelphia (NL)
Oakland at LA Chargers (-7/49)
Arizona at Seattle (-8/39.5)
Kansas City at Denver (-3.5/39) (ignoring in lame duck spot for KC)
San Francisco at the LA Rams (-4/43) (ignoring with little at stake for LAR)

If you’re new to VSiN City, we use those lines to build “couplets” that we place on a Power Ratings scale. We use a standard three points for home field advantage. Atlanta is -4 vs. Carolina. That would suggest the Falcons were one point better on a neutral field after you factor in three points for home field. We make sure Atlanta is one rung higher than Carolina on our scale.   

87: New England
85: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans, LA Rams
84: Jacksonville
83: Atlanta 
82: Carolina, Kansas City, Philadelphia (with Foles) 
81: Dallas (with Elliot)
80: Baltimore, LA Chargers, Seattle
79: San Francisco (with Garappolo)
78: Buffalo, Detroit
77: Washington 
76: Tennessee, Oakland 
75: Chicago, Denver, Tampa Bay, Arizona
74: Cincinnati 
73: Miami, NY Jets (with Petty), Houston, Green Bay (with Hundley)
71: NY Giants
70: Indianapolis, Cleveland

No reason to sweat any minor differences this week amongst lower division teams. The market knocked the Giants back down after the poor result in Arizona, and lifted Cincinnati back up after the win over Detroit. These ratings should be helpful for anticipating playoff lines as the matchups lock in Sunday afternoon. Then, of course, we’ll use settled playoff lines a week from today to build a new scale entering Wildcard weekend. (Philadelphia could drop off the poor MNF result, but we won’t really know for sure until it host its first playoff game.)

College Football Market Watch: Updating National Semifinals, plus Tuesday and Wednesday bowls
The REAL college football postseason is about to begin! Starting Tuesday, the bowl schedule will be flush with games matching teams from Power 5 conferences. Sure, a few mid-majors still dot the landscape. But, the teams you watched all season are about to be featured, rather than teams that only true die-hards paid any attention to. 

Before getting to the seven games set for Tuesday and Wednesday, let’s update the National Semifinals. We’ve been doing that on Tuesdays for a few weeks now.  Here’s the latest. 

Rose Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Georgia 
Opener: Oklahoma by 3, total of 60
December 5: Oklahoma by 1, total of 60
December 12: Georgia by 1.5, total of 60
December 19: Georgia by 1.5, total of 60
Tuesday morning: Georgia by 1.5, total of 60.5

Clear difference at publication deadlines between Las Vegas and offshore. Vegas stores were still at Georgia -1.5. Offshore was much more solid at Georgia -2. Likely a sign that Vegas will be rising soon. Some degree of public money believes in the SEC as the best conference, which would yield tandem bets on both current favorites. Of course, plenty of time for more point spread drama. 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson
Opener: Alabama by 1, total of 47
December 5: Alabama by 1.5, total of 47
December 12: Alabama by 2.5, total of 47
December 19: Alabama by 2.5, total of 47
Tuesday morning: Alabama by 3, total of 47.5

Not long after our prior look at the Final Four, favored Alabama finally reached the full field goal. It’s telling that the market WASN’T immediately flooded with Clemson money at the key number. Some sharps did act, but not enough to cause a fall back to 2.5. We’ll now have to see if public interest in this favorite will bring -3.5. into play before the New Year’s night kickoff. That’s possible because the public loves laying points with ‘Bama. And this is both a “revenge” game off the loss in last year’s championship game, and a “bounce back” game off the regular season finale loss to Auburn. It’s expected that sharps would step in fairly aggressively on Clemson plus 3.5. Just remember that sharp money gets significantly overwhelmed by the volume of public money in “Super Bowl” type matchups. 

Now let’s run through the seven bowls you’ll be watching the next two days. 

Tuesday: Heart of Dallas Bowl (in Dallas, TX)
Opening Line: Utah -4.5 over West Virginia, total of 54
Current Line: Utah -6.5 over West Virginia, total of 56

West Virginia looked so bad after losing quarterback Will Grier to a broken finger in the Texas game, that smart money hit Utah even after oddsmakers had punished West Virginia in their original assessment. Utah has been a sharp play at -6 or less. It’s expected underdog money would come in at plus seven if the public drives it that high before this early “day after Christmas” kick off. Current weather forecast is for temperatures in the 30’s and a 50/50 chance of rain. Just what West Virginia’s shaky offense needs! 

Tuesday: Quick Lane Bowl (in Detroit, MI)
Opening Line: Duke -3 over Northern Illinois, total of 47.5
Current Line: Duke -5.5 over Northern Illinois, total of 47.5

Duke was a popular betting choice right out of the gate. The MAC has done little to inspire interest on Northern Illinois since. Its champ just got routed by Appalachian State! This isn’t a favorite the public generally embraces as chalk. So, we may not see the six come into play. If Duke does reach -6, it’s likely some sharps would bet the dog for value at the key number. Note that this is an indoor game. Sharps know that’s a low total for a dome bowl…yet aren’t betting the Over. Interesting. 
 
Tuesday: Cactus Bowl (in Phoenix, AZ)
Opening Line: Kansas State -2 over UCLA, total of 63.5
Current Line: Kansas State -6 over UCLA, total of 60.5

The first move off the initial opener was to Kansas State -3. The game sat there as everyone waited to see if Josh Rosen would be able to play. Once it was announced he wasn’t cleared by his doctors for more contact, another field goal was tacked onto the price (though a field goal fell from the Over/Under). That line move was based on “news” rather than intense betting action. Sharps haven’t established a preference for either team at the new price. If sharps wanted Kansas State at -6, they would have jumped in under the key number of seven. No jump. That suggests patient dog money is waiting to see if something better comes into play before Tuesday night’s kickoff. 

Wednesday: Independence Bowl (in Shreveport, LA)
Opening Line: Florida State -14 over Southern Miss, total of 49
Current Line: Florida State -16.5 over Southern Miss, total of 49

The early forecast is for more of the same dreariness we’ve been seeing in the Louisiana/Alabama region the past few days. Though, it looks like precipitation isn’t expected to be an issue. We got as high as FSU -17 a couple of days ago. Monday, dog money started coming in, bring the line down to FSU -16.5. Looks like sharps who preferred Florida State were in at -14 up to -15.5. Public interest then pushed the chalk up to 17, where sharps that bet dogs for value jumped in. As the South Point oddsmakers are always reminding VSiN viewers, sharps bet numbers, rather than teams. That plus 17 brought in Southern Miss money. 

Wednesday: Pinstripe Bowl (in New York, NY)
Opening Line: Iowa -3 over Boston College, total of 45
Current Line: Iowa -2.5 over Boston College, total of 45.5

Two northern teams will be dealing with cold weather. Forecast highs for the Bronx are in the mid 20’s, with a breeze (probably blowing out to right field) possibly being an issue. The turf in this bowl has been known to cause headaches. That’s part of why the Over/Under is in the mid 40’s. Boston College impressed down the stretch, and is a clear sharp play at plus a field goal. The line hasn’t yet dropped below 2.5. And, there are some indications that the public might push the game back to the key number. Big 10 money has a way of finding its way to Las Vegas for the bowls. Indicators are that sharps like the dog at 3 but neither team when 2.5 is on the board. 

Wednesday: Texas Bowl (in Houston, TX)
Opening Line: Missouri -1.5 over Texas, total of 59
Current Line: Missouri -2.5 over Texas, total of 60.5

This should be a fun game for monitoring the markets…and then also a fun game to watch. Missouri definitely gets sharp and public interest at -2 or below. Texas definitely gets sharp and public interest at plus 3, which was in play earlier. Seems like the public still likes Missouri at -2.5. So, we may be hopping between -2.5 and -3 between now and kickoff. Houston’s stadium has a roof if needed for any weather complications. Expect a heavily bet affair in the first prime time game matching major conference teams who aren’t frantically trying to replace a quarterback. 

Wednesday: Foster Farms Bowl (in Santa Clara, CA)
Opening Line: Arizona -3.5 over Purdue, total of 66.5
Current Line: Arizona -3 over Purdue, total of 65.5

Should be a beautiful night for football. Though, temperatures are expected to fall into the 40s during the evening. That might favor the Big 10 underdog even though the game is being played in Pac 12 country. Arizona was bet up to -4 on the opener (with a few -4.5’s out there too). But sharps have been hitting Purdue ever since. Looks like Purdue at 3.5 or better is a sharp play. Arizona -3 does inspire public interest…which could intensify because there’s plenty of betting time between now and the Wednesday evening kickoff (well, dusk in Las Vegas and at the stadium). 

For those of you into “market” Power Ratings, here’s an estimate for the teams playing in Tuesday and Wednesday bowls based on the lines we just discussed…

Estimated “market” Power Ratings for Tuesday and Wednesday bowls
Heart of Dallas: Utah 75, West Virginia without Grier 69
Quick Lane: Duke 67, Northern Illinois 62
Cactus: Kansas State 74, UCLA without Rosen 68
Independence: Florida State 76, Southern Miss 60
Pinstripe: Iowa 74, Boston College 71
Texas Bowl: Missouri 78, Texas 75
Foster Farms: Arizona 74, Purdue 71

And here’s a quick review of the point spreads and “market” Power Ratings estimates we had already posted for marquee matchups that are coming up within the next week…

Estimated “market” Power Ratings for the highest profile bowls
Sugar: Alabama -3 vs. Clemson (Alabama 91, Clemson 88)
Rose: Georgia -1.5 vs. Georgia (Oklahoma 87, Georgia 88)
Cotton: Ohio State -7.5 vs. USC (Ohio State 90, USC 83)
Fiesta: Penn State -2 or -2.5 vs. Washington (Penn State 86, Washington 84)
Orange: Wisconsin -6 or -6.5 vs. Miami (Wisconsin 84, Miami 78)
Peach: Auburn -9.5 vs. Central Florida (Auburn 86, UCF 76)
Citrus: LSU -3 vs. Notre Dame (LSU 81, Notre Dame 78)

Before we call it a day…a brief recap of holiday NBA…

Christmas NBA: Golden State gouges Cleveland inside the arc in 99-92 win
It wasn’t quite a preview of spring 2018 because Steph Curry was sidelined for Golden State, and because Isaiah Thomas will likely be incorporated into the Cleveland rotation as a significant playoff contributor even though he hasn’t played for they yet. 

Still, a fun holiday treat featuring multiple stars.

Golden State (-4.5) 99 Cleveland 92 
Two-Point Pct: Cleveland 25%, Golden State 62%
Three Pointers: Cleveland 15/36, Golden State 20/37
Free Throws: Cleveland 21/25, Golden State 13/17
Rebounds: Cleveland 50, Golden State 47
Turnovers: Cleveland 14, Golden State 15

Viewers (and twitter) spent much of the game complaining about officiating. Don’t lose sight of some of the lessons in the matchup. Golden State absolutely crushed Cleveland inside the arc. The Warriors play great defense, which can be hidden in their up-tempo scoreboards. Cleveland was only 13 of 52 on two-point shots! 

The bench also loomed large. That could become an issue in the postseason because injuries to stars are so common once everyone’s at war at full speed. Cleveland’s bench was just 4 of 19 on two pointers, while Golden State’s bench was 9 of 13. 

Also note, as ABC’s announcers did, that Cleveland is emphasizing three-pointers more this season than in the past. That will help reduce the wear-and-tear on LeBron James. You saw in the final moments that he’s prone to get pounded on crunch time drives in a way that won’t always earn whistles from officials. 

In other Christmas NBA results:

  • Philadelphia (-1.5) won at New York 105-98 (bucking NY’s home trend)
  • Washington (plus 3.5) won at Boston 111-103 (Celtics 3-8-1 ATS last 11)
  • Oklahoma City (-2) beat Houston 112-107 (third straight loss for Rockets since Chris Paul was injured)

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See you Wednesday to review key stats from all three Tuesday bowl games, to provide a stat-based preview of the Texas Bowl featuring Texas and Missouri, and to discuss handicapping in a tutorial. 

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