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December 21, 2014

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Week 11 NFL picks against the spread for the Sun’s handicapping contest

Putting a Las Vegas perspective on the three games with major implications

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Joe Mahoney / AP

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, in Denver.

The gap between the NFL game with the largest betting handle and the one with the lowest this weekend will stretch as far as the distance from one end of the Strip to the other.

Sun's NFL betting game of week 11

Which team is the best bet in the primetime games of week 11?
New Orleans -3 — 33.1%
Kansas City +8 — 22.5%
New England +3 — 15.0%
Denver -8 — 13.2%
San Francisco +3 — 8.8%
Carolina -3 — 7.5%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

This is about the point of the season where the betting public becomes enamored with the marquee matchups to the point of totally neglecting the lesser affairs. The three sportswriters as part of the Sun’s NFL handicapping contest can’t claim immunity to the bias.

All of them used half of their weekly picks, available at the bottom of the page, to make selections in each of the three games pitting teams ranking in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. The nationally televised trio of San Francisco plus-3 at New Orleans, Kansas City plus-8 at Denver and New England plus-3 at Carolina will get the same treatment at betting windows.

Therefore, let’s switch up the process and look at all six sides through a Las Vegas prism this week before jumping into the picks.

The case for San Francisco plus-3: The 49ers have the Saints’ number. Since coach Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco, his team has beaten and covered in both meetings against New Orleans, including in the NFC Divisional Playoff round two years ago.

The characteristics are there for a repeat, as the biggest mismatch here is San Francisco’s rushing offense — sixth according to DVOA — against New Orleans’ rushing defense — 30th in DVOA. The 49ers are coming off of a disappointing 10-9 setback as 6-point favorites against the Panthers, but Harbaugh is 7-3 against the spread after a loss in the regular season.

Sports books will need San Francisco, as bookmakers are already reporting 3 out of every 4 tickets coming in on New Orleans. It always feels better siding with the house over the public.

The case for New Orleans minus-3: There’s a reason the Saints are the more popular bet, though. They looked outstanding in destroying the Cowboys 49-17 as 6-point favorites on Sunday Night Football last week.

And that compliment extends to any time they’re playing in the Superdome, where they’ve gone undefeated straight-up and against the spread this season. Under coach Sean Payton — who missed all of last season serving a Bountygate suspension — New Orleans has astoundingly won and covered in its past 14 home games.

The Saints’ defensive turnaround has been most visible in the secondary, as they rank fifth in DVOA against the pass. That should spell problems for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards in his past three games. Kaepernick could also be without his favorite target, Vernon Davis, who’s recovering from a concussion.

The case for Kansas City plus-8: An opportunity to get more than a touchdown with the NFL’s last-standing undefeated team may never again materialize. The Chiefs have treated bettors so well, too, supplementing their 9-0 straight-up record with a 6-3 tally against the spread.

Kansas City has already beaten sports books’ preseason win total by two games. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is unofficially the patron saint of bye weeks, going 14-1 straight-up and 11-4 against the spread off of rest in his career.

He’s had 13 days to cook up ways for the league’s second-best passing defense, according to DVOA, to slow its best passing offense. Kansas City’s All-Pros on defense — lineman Dontari Poe, linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry — aren’t hobbled by a sprained ankle like Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

The case for Denver minus-8: No stinkin’ sore ankle is going to slow the man on the verge of his fifth career MVP award. An entire missed season in 2011 obscures the reputation Manning once held as one of the most durable players in the NFL.

He’s fought through more than a couple nagging injuries en route to a lifetime 132-112-9 record against the spread. That includes a 7-3 mark versus the number when playing the Chiefs, a team Manning has beaten in nine of 10 meetings.

Whereas Kansas City has dilly-dallied past opponents in the past month, getting out-gained in three of four games, Denver has obliterated them. The Broncos have the NFL’s best scoring differential at plus-133.

The case for New England plus-3: The Patriots put on one of the most efficient offensive performances of the year their last time out, a 55-31 victory over the Steelers as 5.5-point favorites.

There’s reason to believe it wasn’t an aberration, what with Rob Gronkowski getting healthier, Aaron Dobson getting more mature and Stevan Ridley getting more careful. The guy directing it all, quarterback Tom Brady, is pretty decent, too — especially in spots like these.

Brady is 29-13 against the spread as an underdog in his career and 14-6 versus the number on Monday Night Football. Although Carolina coach Ron Rivera has reversed his team’s fortunes by transforming the defense into what DVOA rates the league’s best and wisely attacking more aggressively, he’s still at a major coaching disadvantage. And New England coach Bill Belichick even had an extra week to prepare.

The case for Carolina minus-3: Belichick benefiting from the bye week might be overblown, as the man commonly accepted as the NFL’s best coach is only 8-12 against the spread in the situation.

Oddsmakers have struggled to catch up to Carolina, as it’s covered by an average of 13.5 points per game during a streak of five straight wins and covers. The spread, along those lines, should be greater than three points for a Carolina team ranked third in the league to New England’s seventh, according to DVOA.

The Panthers’ defense has only given up more than one touchdown twice in nine games this season, and not at all since the start of their current winning streak.

Check below to see where all the contestants lined up on those games as well as the rest of the picks. Games are listed in order of their sports book rotation number.

 

Taylor Bern

Record: 31-29 (1-5 last week)

Lions minus-2.5 at Steelers

Redskins plus-3.5 at Eagles

Chargers minus-1.5 at Dolphins

Chiefs plus-8 at Broncos

Saints minus-3 vs. 49ers

Patriots plus-3 at Panthers

 

Ray Brewer

Record: 29-29-2 (2-4 last week)

Jets plus-1 at Bills

Steelers plus-2.5 vs. Lions

Browns vs. Bengals under 42

Chiefs plus-8 at Broncos

49ers vs. Saints over 47.5

Patriots plus-3 at Panthers

 

Case Keefer (2012 champion)

Record: 28-32 (4-2 last week)

Redskins plus-3.5 at Eagles

Steelers plus-2.5 vs. Lions

Broncos minus-8 vs. Chiefs

49ers plus-3 at Saints

Packers plus-5.5 at Giants

Patriots plus-3 at Panthers

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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