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Separation anxiety: Contenders and also-rans grow further apart

Jeff Fogle
VSiN City newsletter

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Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Carson Wentz (11) and running back Kenjon Barner (38) against the Bears.
© USA Today Sports Images

Still choking on chalk, Nevada sports books may need to crank NFL lines even higher. Only Buffalo, Arizona, and Green Bay have covered as underdogs so far all week! Numbers and notes right now in VSiN City.

NFL: Philadelphia and New England still playing the best ball, as headaches continue for oddsmakers
We had decided before the weekend not to make too big a deal about favorites dominating the point spreads because that continuing story is such old news. Then favorites had their best afternoon yet! We’ll simply update the “Sunday only” numbers we’ve been tracking the past several weeks. We’re showing favorites are 48-10 straight up on Sundays of late, 37-18-3 (67%) against the spread.

It’s not supposed to be this easy for the favorite-loving general public to cash so many tickets. But we have a unique situation where almost half the league is in the playoff chase, and must keep winning to have a chance at the postseason…while the other half is incentivized to lose for draft position. The market hasn’t been able to find the right pricing strategy when decent teams with good quarterbacks are facing non-contenders with bad or inexperienced quarterbacks. 

Let’s run this week’s NFL boxscore numbers. We’ll start with Sunday, then throw in the old Thanksgiving Day numbers at the very end. Sunday’s games are presented in Nevada Rotation order. 

Cincinnati (-7.5) 30, Cleveland 16
Yards-per-Play: Cleveland 6.0, Cincinnati 6.1
Third Down Pct: Cleveland 40%, Cincinnati 40%
Turnovers: Cleveland 0, Cincinnati 0
Rushing Yards: Cleveland 169, Cincinnati 152
Passing Stats: Cleveland 18-32-0-236, Cincinnati 18-28-0-209
TD Drive Lengths: Cleveland 89, Cincinnati 75-78-75

The stats don’t equal the scoreboard. But the hidden kicker is obviously the visitor having a rookie quarterback who doesn’t know how to finish drives, while the host had a veteran who could close against a soft defense. The Bengals win “touchdowns” 3-1 in a game where everything else was about even. Cleveland actually won total yardage 405-361. Cleveland falls to 0-11 in the race for the #1 draft pick. Cincinnati is 5-6, staying alive for the last AFC Wildcard spot behind the Jacksonville/Tennessee runner-up. 

Philadelphia (-13.5) 31, Chicago 3
Yards-per-Play: Chicago 2.9, Philadelphia 5.8
Third Down Pct: Chicago 23%, Philadelphia 44%
Turnovers: Chicago 2, Philadelphia 3
Rushing Yards: Chicago 6, Philadelphia 176
Passing Stats: Chicago 17-33-2-134, Philadelphia 26-39-0-244
TD Drive Lengths: Chicago no TDs, Philadelphia 44-56-79-73

We talked back on Tuesday about how “the market” didn’t have these teams as far apart as they had been in prior weeks. Didn’t make much sense. Still doesn't. Philadelphia won total yardage 420-140. Chicago didn’t earn a third down conversion in the first half, and only managed 3 of 13 for the game despite extended garbage time. Philadelphia is now 10-1, but can’t relax in the race for #1 seed just yet. Chicago is 3-8, and is in real trouble against opposing defenses who force Trubisky to pass (rather than letting him scramble). 

New England (-17) 35, Miami 17
Yards-per-Play: Miami 3.7, New England 6.2
Third Down Pct: Miami 18%, New England 42%
Turnovers: Miami 3, New England 2
Rushing Yards: Miami 67, New England 196
Passing Stats: Miami 23-34-2-154, New England 18-28-1-221
TD Drive Lengths: Miami 73, New England 75-88-78-77-38

Basically, a side-by-side clone of Bears/Eagles, except Miami had one long TD drive, after a defensive TD that put them in position to steal a cover until they allowed a late touchdown. Not going to waste your time on the games that are this one-sided. New England moves to 9-2, but may still have to win at Pittsburgh to get the #1 seed in the AFC. Miami is 4-7, but has been “Cleveland of the South” in terms of talent and Power Ratings for several weeks. 

Buffalo (plus 7.5) 16, Kansas City 10
Yards-per-Play: Buffalo 3.9, Kansas City 4.1
Third Down Pct: Buffalo 35%, Kansas City 15%
Turnovers: Buffalo 0, Kansas City 1
Rushing Yards: Buffalo 104, Kansas City 55
Passing Stats: Buffalo 19-29-0-164, Kansas City 23-36-1-181
TD Drive Lengths: Buffalo 58, Kansas City 85

Holy cow, an upset! Just fell off my chair, you’ll have to give me a second. Though Tyrod Taylor returning to the starting lineup grabbed all the headlines, it was the return of the Buffalo defense that triggered this win. The Bills had been humbled by surging New Orleans at home, then virtually no-showed at the LA Chargers after the coach went to Nathan Peterman. They definitely showed up with fire here…against a slumping Chiefs team that is on the verge of falling out of first place in the AFC West. Kansas City is now just 6-5 after being the World Champions of September. The Chiefs return to the Meadowlands next week to face the Jets, where they lost to the Giants last week.  Buffalo is now 6-5 in the thick of the Wildcard race. The bad news is that two games with New England remain (the good news is that two games with Miami and one with Indianapolis remain!). 

Atlanta (-10) 34, Tampa Bay 20
Yards-per-Play: Tampa Bay 5.5, Atlanta 8.1
Third Down Pct: Tampa Bay 36%, Atlanta 79%
Turnovers: Tampa Bay 0, Atlanta 1
Rushing Yards: Tampa Bay 94, Atlanta 148
Passing Stats: Tampa Bay 27-44-0-279, Atlanta 27-36-0-368
TD Drive Lengths: Tampa Bay 75-80, Atlanta 60-72-78-82

The point spread result got interesting late when much of a 27-6 lead evaporated after Atlanta’s defense fell asleep. But TB’s defense had no way of stopping Matt Ryan. Another horrific defensive day for the Bucs. Atlanta’s peaking at the right time, posting huge numbers here in what could have been a letdown spot in a short week off the win at Seattle. Atlanta is now 7-4, but moving toward last season’s Super Bowl form. Tampa Bay is 4-7.

Carolina (-6) 35, NY Jets 27
Yards-per-Play: Carolina 4.7, NY Jets 6.0
Third Down Pct: Carolina 21%, NY Jets 36%
Turnovers: Carolina 0, NY Jets 1
Rushing Yards: Carolina 145, NY Jets 109
Passing Stats: Carolina 11-28-0-154, NY Jets 19-36-0-282
TD Drive Lengths: Carolina 86-75, NY Jets 65-68-75

Carolina was very lucky to win (and cover) here. You can see the Panthers lost stats badly. They were also outgained 391-299. But a fumble return TD and a punt return TD turned a second half deficit into a lead. A very late field goal kept sports books from getting middled. Be aware that few “bettors” would have “hit a middle” on Carolina -4.5 and the NY Jets plus 6. Five is such an uncommon number that sharps wouldn’t be thinking “middle.” Anyone betting Carolina -4.5 would have been happy with their position as the line rose. Those taking the Jets plus 6 would have felt hosed at the end. Sports books were almost in a position where they would have had to pay out almost every bet. Carolina moves to 8-3 thanks to those bonus points, and is still fresh off a late-season bye the prior week. The Jets are 4-7, but showing up to play each Sunday. 

Tennessee (-3) 20, Indianapolis 16
Yards-per-Play: Tennessee 5.2, Indianapolis 4.2
Third Down Pct: Tennessee 38%, Indianapolis 43%
Turnovers: Tennessee 2, Indianapolis 1
Rushing Yards: Tennessee 92, Indianapolis 89
Passing Stats: Tennessee 17-25-2-184, Indianapolis 17-29-0-165
TD Drive Lengths: Tennessee 4-77, Indianapolis 34

Another road favorite fortunate to get the cover. Here, it wasn’t a defensive TD, but a 4-yard TD drive off a takeaway (virtually the same thing) that helped put the Titans over the top. Total yardage was only 276-254. Really sticks out like a sore thumb because so many true “playoff caliber” teams are coasting past the pretenders. Tennessee moves to 7-4, but hasn’t impressed since the second half of the first Indy game on a Monday night several weeks back. How are you going to win on the road in the playoffs if you have to sneak by Cleveland (OT win) and Indy (lucky 20-16 win) during the regular season? Indianapolis is 3-8.

Seattle (-7) 24, San Francisco 13
Yards-per-Play: Seattle 5.0, San Francisco 4.2
Third Down Pct: Seattle 38%, San Francisco 31%
Turnovers: Seattle 1, San Francisco 1
Rushing Yards: Seattle 90, San Francisco 84
Passing Stats: Seattle 20-34-1-228, San Francisco 24-40-1-196
TD Drive Lengths: Seattle 16-71-63, San Francisco 75

Not much noteworthy here, except Jimmy Garappolo threw a TD pass as time was running out for SF’s only trip to the end zone. Most of that 75-yard drive was C.J. Beathard’s. Beathard got hurt on the 23-yard line. Garappolo was 2-2 for 18 yards and the garbage time TD. Seattle won total yardage 318-280 even with that 75-yard Niners drive in the mix. Seattle is 7-4, still in the playoff hunt despite a season of sluggishness. San Francisco is 1-10, keeping the pressure on Cleveland to keep losing. 

LA Rams (-2.5) 26, New Orleans 20
Yards-per-Play: New Orleans 6.7, LA Rams 5.7
Third Down Pct: New Orleans 23%, LA Rams 21%
Turnovers: New Orleans 0, LA Rams 1
Rushing Yards: New Orleans 123, LA Rams 88
Passing Stats: New Orleans 22-32-0-223, LA Rams 28-44-1-327
TD Drive Lengths: New Orleans 75-75, LA Rams 86

That YPP line is misleading because the Saints busted one 74-yard TD run late in the first quarter, then didn’t score another touchdown until garbage time when they were down 26-13. LAR won total yardage 415-346 even with garbage time, which paints a much more accurate picture of the stranglehold it held on the afternoon. Both defenses did a good job of getting stops on third down and forcing field goal tries (the Rams made four). Worth remembering for future reference that the sun angle is brutal here through much of the game at this starting time. The Saints had real trouble offensively and defensively getting blinded as first-time visitors. If the Rams get to host a playoff game in this TV window (very likely if they win their division and host a Wildcard opponent) that could wreak havoc with somebody like Carolina, Atlanta, Detroit, or whoever (less-so if it’s the better-prepared Saints in a return visit). Big test passed for the Rams after the poor showing at Minnesota last week. 

Arizona (plus 6) 27, Jacksonville 24
Yards-per-Play: Jacksonville 3.8, Arizona 4.9
Third Down Pct: Jacksonville 8%, Arizona 41%
Turnovers: Jacksonville 3, Arizona 2
Rushing Yards: Jacksonville 91, Arizona 108
Passing Stats: Jacksonville 19-33-1-128, Arizona 22-38-1-236
TD Drive Lengths: Jacksonville 75-38, Arizona 41-75

A lot of postgame references to Blaine Gabbert having revenge against his former team. He didn’t exactly sparkle. But Blake Bortles had another horrible game that the Jags couldn’t overcome. That’s 128 passing yards on 33 attempts and 1 of 12 on third downs against a non-playoff team. We talked a few seconds ago about Tennessee’s lame results on the road. The Jags gained 3.7 YPP in Cleveland last week, 3.8 in Arizona this week. Jags fall to 7-4, now tied again with Tennessee atop the AFC South. Arizona is 5-6. 

Oakland (-5) 21, Denver 14
Yards-per-Play: Denver 3.8, Oakland 5.5
Third Down Pct: Denver 36%, Oakland 38%
Turnovers: Denver 1, Oakland 1
Rushing Yards: Denver 59, Oakland 104
Passing Stats: Denver 20-35-1-219, Oakland 18-24-0-348
TD Drive Lengths: Denver 93-75, Oakland 75

A statistical rout until Denver had two garbage-time TD’s after falling behind 21-0. No offense at all when Paxton Lynch was at QB (he got the start). Lynch had a passing line of 9-14-1-41 while getting sacked FOUR times. He left the game with an ankle injury. Trevor Siemian could only get the Broncos to 219 total yards with those late drives. Oakland moves to 5-6, which is in the Wildcard mix in the AFC. Denver is 3-8, but is another team that might as well have been Cleveland the past two months. Market is still overpricing them…as the Broncos fall to 2-8-1 ATS their last 11 games. 

Pittsburgh (-14) 31, Green Bay 28
Yards-per-Play: Green Bay 5.7, Pittsburgh 6.6
Third Down Pct: Green Bay 46%, Pittsburgh 62%
Turnovers: Green Bay 0, Pittsburgh 3
Rushing Yards: Green Bay 80, Pittsburgh 121
Passing Stats: Green Bay 17-26-0-227, Pittsburgh 33-45-2-341
TD Drive Lengths: Green Bay 60-55-76-77, Pittsburgh 59-65-53-68

Pittsburgh continued its knack of no-showing mentally for its worst opponents. Allowing 5.7 YPP to an offense run by Brett Hundley while also turning the ball over THREE times against a soft defense is quite the combo platter. At least some consolation for sports book directors who were fearing one of their worst NFL weeks ever if the Steelers had covered. The Steeler defense can look great in its toughest tests, but turns to Swiss cheese when they think they can go through the motions. Hundley wishes he could face Swiss cheese every week. Pittsburgh moves to 9-2 with the win, knowing a home game against New England is coming up in mid-December. Green Bay is 5-6, with “inconsistency” being an upgrade from the doom and gloom that was first feared when Aaron Rodgers was injured. 

THANKSGIVING STAT SUMMARIES
Here’s a quick look at the numbers for those of you logging data (particularly TD drive lengths) from our VSiN City reports.

Minnesota (-2.5) 30, Detroit 23
Yards-per-Play: Minnesota 5.6, Detroit 5.5
Third Down Pct: Minnesota 46%, Detroit 27% 
Turnovers: Minnesota 0, Detroit 2
Rushing Yards: Minnesota 136, Detroit 53
Passing Stats: Minnesota 21-30-0-272, Detroit 20-35-1-236
TD Drive Lengths: Minnesota 80-39-74-75, Detroit 75-39

Minnesota moves to 9-2 with the victory, still chasing Philadelphia for the top seed in the NFC. Detroit falls to 6-5 in the crowded Wildcard picture, but has one of the friendlier schedules remaining. 

LA Chargers (-1) 28, Dallas 6
Yards-per-Play: LA Chargers 7.8, Dallas 5.0
Third Down Pct: LA Chargers 64%, Dallas 55%
Turnovers: LA Chargers 0, Dallas 2
Rushing Yards: LA Chargers 81, Dallas 79 
Passing Stats: LA Chargers 27-33-0-434, Dallas 20-27-2-168
TD Drive Lengths: LA Chargers 77-92-75, Dallas 81

The Chargers are now 5-6, which would eventually put them just a game out of first place in the AFC West when Kansas City lost on Sunday. They’ve definitely been playing better than the Chiefs lately. The Cowboys fall to 5-6, looking to all the world like they’ve been in the tank since halftime of the Atlanta game. A few in the media have been blaming Dak Prescott. While he has struggled, it’s clear in the boxscores that the DEFENSE has disappeared the last 10 quarters. LAC gained 575 yards without turning the ball over here. Philadelphia had four drives of 75 yards or more last week while also avoiding turnovers. 

Washington (-7) 20, NY Giants 10
Yards-per-Play: NY Giants 2.8, Washington 5.1
Third Down Pct: NY Giants 14%, Washington 29%
Turnovers: NY Giants 1, Washington 1
Rushing Yards: NY Giants 84, Washington 121
Passing Stats: Detroit NY Giants 11-24-0-63, Washington 19-31-1-201
TD Drive Lengths: NY Giants no TDs, Washington 50-60

New York’s only touchdown was on an interception return…so favorite money had to sweat until the very end despite Washington owning the stats. Total yardage was 322-147. Washington is now 5-6, needing a lot of help to make a run at a Wildcard. New York is 2-9, with management possibly holding off on firing the coach just so the players stay in the tank tuning him out. Some good "future" quarterbacks available in the draft.

Today’s “Big Money Monday” showcase is Houston at Baltimore. A full game preview (plus additional stats and trends) for that matchup is available in Point Spread Weekly. Be sure you join VSiN programming all day for comprehensive coverage of Texans/Ravens, and informative preview analysis of Championship Week in college football, plus the Big 10/ACC Challenge in college basketball. 

We’ll pick up with those other sports Tuesday, while also updating our “market” Power Ratings in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if the market starts to expand the distance between have’s and have not’s, given the overwhelming scoreboard evidence that it’s long overdue.

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