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The case for and against Case

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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The spotlight will be on Vikings QB Case Keenum, especially when you have Drew Brees on the other side of the field.
© USA Today Sports Images

We close out the week with an updated “Market Watch” for the NFL Playoffs and expanded stat previews for Sunday’s matchups (Jags/Steelers and Saints/Vikings). That plus entries from Greg Peterson’s college hoops notebook today in VSiN City.

NFL Playoffs: “Market Watch” for this weekend’s divisional round
Our final look at betting tendencies thus far in this weekend’s NFL Playoff action. 

Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Opening Line: Atlanta -2.5, total of 44.5
Tuesday’s Line: Atlanta -3 (even), total of 41.5
Current Line: Atlanta -3 (even), total of 41.5

The market has settled at midweek prices, pending any surprise injury news or weather. Currently looks like game time temperatures will be near freezing, with windy conditions. Good chance of rain earlier in the day before cooling starts. If the forecast worsens, that total will drop. And there’s a chance the northern home dog will garner more interest against the visiting dome team from the south. Three is such a key number, that sharp action will see interest on the Falcons if -2.5 comes back into play, but the dog at plus three.  

Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
Opening Line: New England -14, total of 47.5
Tuesday’s Line: New England -13.5, total of 47
Current Line: New England -13, total of 47.5

Some stores dropped to Patriots -13, others are still at -13.5. Because this is a night game, temperatures will be much colder than in Philly. Current forecast is for the low 20’s with a chance of snow. Should be breezy, but not outright windy. Current likelihood is for 100% chance of precipitation on Saturday…but much of that may take care of itself earlier in the day. The total ticked back up to 47.5, so it’s hard to get a read on how much the forecast is influencing betting action. Looks like math-based handicappers and the public are tempted by the Over at 47. We’ll have to see if the public wants to lay -13 in frigid conditions come game day. 
 
Sunday at 1 p.m. ET: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
Opening Line: Pittsburgh -7.5, total of 42
Tuesday’s Line: Pittsburgh -7.5, total of 41
Current Line: Pittsburgh -7 (-115), total of 41

Some stores are still at Steelers -7.5. Others are on the key number of seven with increased vigorish. We might see-saw through the weekend. The public is much more likely to want the favorite at seven. Sharp influences like the defensive dog with the hook, particularly with a current game forecast between 15-20 degrees! Should be relatively windless, with no rain though. Easier for quarterbacks to pass in still conditions even when it’s that cold. The Over/Under is already low at 41. Might not come down any further with a clear forecast. If you bet the Jags, that’s about the same as betting Under because you’ll need a defensive struggle to stay close. Tough to imagine Blake Bortles thriving in a frigid shootout. 

Sunday at 4:30 p.m.: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Opening Line: Minnesota -3.5, total of 44.5
Tuesday’s Line: Minnesota -4, total of 45
Current Line: Minnesota -5, total of 46

Thank goodness for the dome, as the current high for Minneapolis is only 5 degrees on Sunday. Clear sharp sentiment for Minnesota and the Over since Tuesday. The New Orleans defense disappointed last week. Those line moves reflect votes “against” that unit. There’s been some buy back on the Saints at five. A few Las Vegas stores have come back to -4.5. Though, on the total, a few stores have scooted even higher to 46.5. During Wildcard Weekend, the only Over was the dome game involving the Saints. 

Be sure you watch VSiN programming from now through the weekend for all the latest market developments. Why would you spend game day anywhere else?!

Now, we finish off this weekend’s expanded stat previews. If you missed our look at Saturday’s matchups, please read our Thursday report.  

NFL Playoff Preview: Can the Jacksonville Jaguars shock the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in the same season?
Sunday’s AFC battle is a rematch of a Week 5 meeting on the same field. Jacksonville (plus 7) shocked Pittsburgh 30-9 thanks largely to a 5-1 edge in turnovers and two pick-six returns. Though, it has to be said that Jacksonville also won rushing yardage 231-70 and yards-per-play 5.9 to 4.8. It was a “blowout” because of all the turnovers. Could very well have been a clean upset anyway because the Jags owned the point of attack. Ben Roethlisberger threw 55 passes in a desperation effort. Blake Bortles only threw 14. Don’t just “throw that game out” because of the turnovers. 

Jacksonville (10-6) at Pittsburgh (13-3) 
Las Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 7, total of 41
Records vs. the Point Spread: Jacksonville 9-7, Pittsburgh 7-9

You may see Pittsburgh -7.5 by kickoff. Or, it could just hop back and forth from -7 and -7.5 between now and then.

Yards-per-Play
Jacksonville: 5.4 on offense, 4.6 on defense (vs. the #32 ranked schedule)
Pittsburgh: 5.8 on offense, 5.2 on defense (vs. the #27 ranked schedule)

Both teams played very soft schedules. Jacksonville playing the “easiest” slate has received more media run than Pittsburgh playing one almost as bad. The differentials probably even out once you adjust for context. Though, some sharps place more emphasis on defense, which would give the edge to the Jags, particularly getting a touchdown. The danger of that line of thought is that Pittsburgh seemed to make it a habit of coasting vs. bad teams before kicking it up a notch in top priority games. Steelers may have been thinking they could coast past the Jags way back in Week 5.

Key Passing Stats 
Jacksonville: 7.1 yards-per-pass attempt, 21 TD’s, 13 interceptions thrown
Pittsburgh: 7.7 yards-per-pass attempt, 29 TD’s, 15 interceptions thrown

No surprise that Roethlisberger has better numbers than Bortles. Though, the interception counts are a concern for both, particularly against weak schedules. Bortles did have a knack for posting his best stats in blowouts vs. bad teams. His outlook is less promising than those numbers make it seem, particularly in very cold temperatures. Bortles wouldn’t be very accurate in paradise. 

Pass Defense 
Jacksonville: 6.0 yppa allowed; 17 TD’s allowed, 21 interceptions
Pittsburgh: 7.2 yppa allowed; 20 TD’s allowed, 16 interceptions

Important reminder that the Jags have a Super Bowl caliber defense, even if you make some mental adjustments for their schedule. They held Buffalo to three points last week, on an opposing passing line of 18-40-2-133. A stiff breeze helped. Frigid cold might help them here in terms of potentially dropped passes. Edge to the Jags, though it’s possible both defenses shine in this particular matchup. 

Impact Defense 
Jacksonville: 34% third down pct-allowed, 33 takeaways, 55 sacks
Pittsburgh: 36% third down pct-allowed, 22 takeaways, 56 sacks

Hey Sacksonville, look who had more sacks than you did! The Jags did have a lot more takeaways, and were stingier on third downs. So…edge again to the road dog. 

Raw Touchdown Counts
Jacksonville: 39 offensive TDs, 26 TD’s allowed, vs. the #32 ranked schedule
Pittsburgh: 41 offensive TDs, 34 TD’s allowed, vs. the #27 ranked schedule

As we mentioned yesterday, we’re adding a couple things to our stat previews moving forward. Jacksonville was plus 13 in raw touchdown counts (taking out non-offensive TDs), while Pittsburgh was just plus 7. This is where you have to make a judgment call on whether Pittsburgh’s nailbiters with so many dregs were a reflection of choice or skill set. The market looks to be assuming that Pittsburgh can turn things up when needed, as it did in the six games the Steelers beat the spread by more than a touchdown.

Red Zone Touchdown Rankings
Jacksonville: #2 on offense, #2 on defense
Pittsburgh: #22 on offense, #28 on defense

Well, this is either a HUGE deal, or polar extremes reflecting Jacksonville’s ability to absolutely BULLY bad teams while Pittsburgh was choosing to coast. We hadn’t expected something this dramatic when we decided to include this stat in postseason analysis. At the very least, the differences on defenses are likely to matter. Jacksonville’s defense is great…and has a chance to keep this one competitive all by themselves. Pittsburgh had episodes of greatness, and better make sure it’s tuned into that channel Sunday. 

From a purely statistical or analytics point of view, there’s no case to be made for betting Pittsburgh. No indicator stats suggest they should be favored by a touchdown. The numbers are too soft, and came against a weak schedule. This looks like a relative toss-up keyed by a dog defense. To make the case for Pittsburgh, you have to assume a Bortles implosion is GOING to happen rather something that’s just on the radar…and you have to believe the suggestion that the Steelers have used the Cleveland Cavaliers’ approach of saving their best for the playoffs. Looks like a defensive struggle on the scoreboard unless turnovers or bad punts set up cheap points. It took two defensive touchdowns in the first meeting to reach 39. 

NFL Wild-card Stat Preview: Minnesota Vikings start challenge of winning three straight at home to claim Lombardi trophy against visiting New Orleans Saints  
One step at a time. That’s the challenge for a franchise with a noted history of failing to go the distance when well-positioned to win a Super Bowl. 

New Orleans (11-5) at Minnesota (13-3)
Las Vegas Line: Minnesota by 5, total of 46.5
Records vs. the Point Spread: New Orleans 9-7, Minnesota 11-5

A surge of sharp interest in the host and the Over influenced the market midweek. From the Saints’ perspective, this is a big turnaround. New Orleans was a sharp darling before the Carolina game last week, but is now seen as a team that shouldn’t even be priced within a field goal of an opponent led by Case Keenum. As we discussed this past Monday, New Orleans was outgained by Carolina 413-410, outrushed 107-41, and out-performed on third down conversions 47% to 25%.

Yards-per-Play
New Orleans: 6.3 on offense, 5.4 on defense (vs. the #8 ranked schedule)
Minnesota: 5.4 on offense, 4.6 on defense (vs. the #13 ranked schedule)

New Orleans was fractionally better in differential (plus 0.9 to plus 0.8) during the regular season. And, that came against the tougher schedule. Though, if you prefer to put more weight on defense, Minnesota definitely gets the nod there with this elite unit. And, the Saints didn’t play to the potential of that regular season stat line last week vs. the Panthers. 

Key Passing Stats 
New Orleans: 8.1 yards-per-pass attempt, 23 TD’s, 8 interceptions thrown
Minnesota: 7.5 yards-per-pass attempt, 25 TD’s, 8 interceptions thrown

Interesting that it was the Vikings who had the better TD/INT ratio. There may still be a “slam dunk” element in terms of playoff experience for the Saints. Drew Brees vs. Case Keenum is a mismatch in that regard. But Keenum can move the ball safely and score. And, he’s in good performance conditions against a defense that just let injured Cam Newton pass for 306 yards. This may be the linchpin category. If Keenum holds his own, the Vikings win by double digits. If experience matters, the Saints can definitely pull the upset. 

Pass Defense 
New Orleans: 7.0 yppa allowed; 22 TD’s allowed, 20 interceptions
Minnesota: 6.0 yppa allowed; 13 TD’s allowed, 14 interceptions

Fantastic differentials in the TD/INT ratio. It’s possible that the Saints’ worse YPPA average will set up an extra field goal or two for the Vikings. Minnesota’s defense was stout this season against a league average schedule, and only got a little help from road weather. 

Impact Defense 
New Orleans: 41% third down pct-allowed, 25 takeaways, 42 sacks
Minnesota: 25% third down pct-allowed, 19 takeaways, 37 sacks

New Orleans will trade first downs for some gambles on sacks and takeaways. Those gambles didn’t force any turnovers from the Panthers last week, which is why we had a ballgame. Minnesota is more of a “keep things in front of them” defense that happens to be FANTASTIC on third downs. We incorrectly called Philadelphia the best third down defense yesterday. Sorry about that. Minnesota is on a whole different level. And, the Saints were only 2 of 8 last week in a home win. Basically, if Keenum keeps his composure, this area turns into a big edge for the Vikings. If he doesn’t, the Saints will force mistakes that set up cheap points. Repeats the earlier linchpin. 

Raw Touchdown Counts
New Orleans: 46 offensive TDs, 33 TD’s allowed, vs. the #8 ranked schedule
Minnesota: 40 offensive TDs, 23 TD’s allowed, vs. the #13 ranked schedule

Probably a wash once you adjust for schedule strength. Again, if you prefer defense as a tie-breaker, Minnesota wins that tie-breaker. Worth noting that 40 offensive touchdowns is a high amount…and it came against an average schedule. The Vikings aren’t “just” defense. 

Red Zone Touchdown Rankings
New Orleans: #5 on offense, #11 on defense
Minnesota: #9 on offense, #3 on defense

Great quality here. New Orleans improved its regular season defense across the board. Minnesota may rank higher here on offense than you anticipated. If this really is the new coin of the realm in the NFL, the game will have the feel of the “true” NFC championship war, and it will be won by a very serious Super Bowl threat. Could be a classic.

The market is telling us that it’s now skeptical of New Orleans truly changing its stripes once playoff pressure hits this head coach. Laying -6.5 at home vs. Carolina was reflective of the “new look” Saints with a dynamic running attack and a greatly improved defense. Getting plus 5 on the road at Minnesota is influential bettors saying “we’re not falling for that again.” 

The case for New Orleans (plus) is that Drew Brees is so great…he’s a true pick-em on the road with anybody in a big game. And Brees vs. Keenum is an experience mismatch that could swing the straight up win to the dog. Maybe last week was a case of nerves as a home favorite. It’s easier to play free and easy now that “supposed to win” has turned to “supposed to lose.” 

The case for Minnesota (-) is that smash mouth football is ideally suited to dominate what the Saints usually are. And, Keenum has shown that he can make enough big plays to lead the team to a win of a TD or more in front of a raucous crowd. This is a true Super Bowl caliber team laying a manageable number to a bubble that burst last week.  

VSiN City is back to its standard weekday schedule. We’ll provide stat recaps for all four elimination showdowns when we return on Monday. Enjoy this fascinating NFL weekend! There’s also some great college basketball on the weekend schedule. Greg Peterson has compiled some notes on marquee matchups. 

College Basketball Notebook with Greg Peterson
#4 Michigan State just got pushed to overtime by Rutgers. State rival Michigan will try to give the Spartans a similar battle after suffering a one-point loss at the hands of Purdue to go to 6-1-1 against the spread in its past eight games…Minnesota has lost its two games since the suspension of Reggie Lynch and now has to host #5 Purdue, which has been a favorite in 11 straight games…

#7 Duke, who hosts Wake Forest Saturday, allowed 96 points to NC State last week, and followed that up by giving up just 52 to Pittsburgh. That dropped the Over to 12-2 in the Blue Devils' games this season…#18 Miami and #19 Clemson are two of the top 15 teams in the country in regards to defensive efficiency. Both are looking for separation in an ACC that is loaded at the top once again...Syracuse has been held under 70 points in each of its past six games, but has went 3-3 in those games. The Orange face a team in #23 Florida State that ranks 21st in defensive efficiency, which rivals its own ranking in that category of 24th…Notre Dame is 2-1 without Bonzie Colson, but faces a #20 North Carolina team that allows offensive rebounds on 19.4 percent of opponents’ shots, which ranks third in the country.

#12 Kansas has lost three games in its home state this season. Its cross state rival Kansas State will gun for its first win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse since 2006 whiles trying to absorb the loss of starting point guard Kamau Stokes…#16 TCU lost a double overtime heartbreaker to Texas on Wednesday and has to turn around and try to knock off #9 Oklahoma on the road. Both rank in the top 12 in effective field goal percentage…#2 West Virginia and #8 Texas Tech are a combined 29-3 and both rank in the top six nationally in defensive efficiency. These two will slug it out for conference supremacy in Lubbock.

#13 Seton Hall suffered its first loss in Big East play against Marquette on Tuesday. The Pirates are 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games, and look to bounce back with both a win and a cover vs. Georgetown…#10 Xavier and #25 Creighton will battle for number two in the Big East Saturday. Xavier is coming off a beat down by #1 Villanova, while Creighton dismantled Butler. Xavier and Creighton are both in the top 20 in offensive efficiency. St. John's has started 0-5 in Big East play, and gets the task of trying slow down a #1 Villanova team that has seen the total go over in seven of its last eight games.

#22 Auburn was predicted by one media member in SEC country to go 4-14 in conference play. The Tigers get a Mississippi State squad that is 3-8 against the spread this year as it searches for its fourth win in SEC play…#21 Kentucky has to play in one of the most unique gyms in the nation in Nashville’s Memorial Coliseum. The good news is, Vanderbilt has badly underachieved this year with a 6-10 record overall and has covered the number just once this season.

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