The purpose of this story each week is to show you potential NFL games where there's no strong reason to bet on either side. Perhaps a trap game for a favorite or an underdog that's unusually motivated. Here are three such matchups in Week 14.
I touched on this game Monday in "Opening Lines & Early Betting Value" and then the Browns were 5-point dogs on NFL odds. The higher this spread goes, the more worried I would be as a Bengals backer. What motivation do the Cincinnati players have at this point? The team's five-year run of making the playoffs is over with the Bengals at 4-7-1. Marvin Lewis is likely a lame-duck coach. Cincinnati's best offensive player, receiver A.J. Green, remains out injured. But on the flip side, the Bengals have allowed just 17.5 points per game since their Week 9 bye compared to 23.6 ppg before it. Cincinnati also comes off a dominant 32-14 home win over Philadelphia to end a three-game slide. Andy Dalton had his best game of the year, completing 23-for-31 for 332 yards and two scores. The Browns have the advantage of coming off the bye week, although I'm not sure more practice time against each other is a good thing in this case. Cleveland also is set to get back quarterback Robert Griffin III for the first time since he hurt his shoulder in Week 1. Certainly RGIII would seem more capable of leading an upset than Cody Kessler or Josh McCown. Then again, he's going to be rusty and these are the winless Browns we are talking about. They didn't lose a game by fewer than 15 points in November. However, underdogs at home in a divisional rivalry game are always dangerous. And the Browns would rather beat no other team to avoid 0-16. I'd just steer clear of this.
New York Jets At San Francisco 49ers (-3)
Is this too risky to bet on or too meaningless? The loser here could be the big winner in terms of improving its draft position with the Jets at 3-9 and the 49ers at 1-11 and on an 11-game losing streak. Working against New York in this game is a short week and the fact the team looked like it had completely quit on the season and second-year Coach Todd Bowles in Monday's embarrassing home blowout loss to Indianapolis. Also, Bowles has announced that second-year QB Bryce Petty will start from here on out. There is certainly no reason to keep putting veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick out there, but Fitz at least is capable of a big game once in a while. Petty hasn't looked ready for the NFL in limited action, completing just 54.2 percent of his passes with three interceptions and dreadful rating of 59.8. But do you dare back the 49ers? When's the last time a team on an 11-game losing streak was a betting favorite on NFL picks? The Jets are probably more talented than the Chicago Bears, but the 49ers were crushed in Chicago last Sunday, 26-6. San Francisco had all of six net yards passing on a snowy day. Colin Kaepernick was benched for Blaine Gabbert in the game, but Kaepernick will start here. Ironic in a way as he was rumored to be a trade candidate to the Jets this offseason. Don't be surprised if he ends up in green next offseason. Plenty of good seat available for this one!
San Diego Chargers At Carolina Panthers (-1.5)
Here's another one where teams are playing out the string, although neither the Chargers nor Panthers have been eliminated from the playoffs yet. That's a formality at this point. Any shot San Diego had was lost in last week's 28-21 home defeat to Tampa Bay. Philip Rivers has had some interception issues this year and he was picked off in the Bucs' end zone with under three minutes left. San Diego fell to 7-15 under Coach Mike McCoy in games decided by eight points or fewer since the start of last season. McCoy will be fired this offseason. How keen will the Chargers players be playing in a 10 a.m. Pacific time kickoff and in chilly Charlotte weather (and it might be sleeting)? Then again, the wind seemed to go out of the Panthers' sails last Sunday night when they were crushed 40-7 in Seattle. That game was potentially lost when Coach Ron Rivera benched Cam Newton the first series for a dress code violation. Backup QB Derek Anderson threw an interception on the first play and it led to a Seattle field goal. There has to be something more to Newton's punishment. This just seems like a dysfunctional team right now and I wouldn't trust it. And, hey, what if Newton is suspended the first half this week for wearing a tam o'shanter?