NFL Picks: Strong Defenses Will Make Packers & Cardinals Go 'Under' 51

Sterling Xie

Saturday, December 26, 2015 9:50 PM GMT

Even with a pair of Pro Bowl quarterbacks under center in the Packers vs. Cardinals game, don't expect a shootout in the desert on Sunday afternoon.

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NFL Pick: Under 51

Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

The only game with a combined total over 50 this week is in Glendale, where the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers have attracted plenty of action from bettors in a spotlight game.  The game's total has actually risen since opening the week at 49.5 on the NFL odds board, and currently sits at either 50.5 or 51 depending on the sportsbook.  Regardless, it's clear the public is expecting Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer to put up plenty of points.

On paper, that seems like a feasible expectation.  The Cardinals and Packers are top-10 offenses by just about any measure, whether you prefer conventional metrics (third and 10th by points per game) or advanced ones (third and ninth by Football Outsiders' DVOA).  And with the Cardinals having just put up 40 points on the road last week in a primetime contest, perhaps that exposure has bettors expecting the Palmer-led offense to generate even more fireworks on their home turf.

However, the current line is probably a little too ambitious.  For one, Vegas has already adjusted for Arizona's unexpectedly explosive offense.  The Cardinals hit the over line in each of their first five games this season, scoring over 40 points in three of those contests.  But since that early explosion, the books have skewed against Arizona, and the Cards have hit the over in just four of nine games since.  Bookmakers are no longer underestimating Arizona's offense, and have instead flipped the tables on bettors by setting lines which dare the public to bet against an elite offense.

Similarly, it appears bettors are unable to accept that Green Bay is simply a mediocre offense which has become overly reliant on Rodgers' ability to extend plays and create yardage out of structure.  The Packers continue to see high totals week after week, having played just one game with a total below 44 points this season.  Consequently, Green Bay has hit the over just five out of 14 games this season, though it has done so in two of its past three contests.  Nonetheless, this week's total is the Packers' highest since Week 6, when they failed to hit the over at 51 in a 27-20 win over the San Diego Chargers.

 

Betting Analysis
Specific to this particular matchup, there are reasons to believe Packers-Cardinals will end with a total below 51.  For one, the defenses in this game are hardly sieves.  Both squads possess top 10 defenses by DVOA, a factor which has certainly played a role in both teams hitting the under so frequently this season.   Even though these defenses will both be missing premier defensive backs in Tyrann Mathieu (ARI) and Sam Shields (GB), both secondaries have also exhibited solid depth this season.  For the Packers, rookie cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have played significant snaps earlier in the season when Shields missed time with a concussion.  Last week, Randall generated a pick-six, while Rollins shut down Michael Crabtree (one catch, two yards) in Oakland.

Arizona seems likely to move the ball—the Cardinals offense has gained over 350 yards in all but three games this season—but the offense's flagging red-zone efficiency could prevent them from scoring enough points to push this to the over.  Arizona was an elite red-zone offense early in the season, ranking fourth in red-zone touchdown percentage (65.7 percent) after eight weeks.  However, the Cardinals are down to 59.6 percent for the season (11th overall), having scored touchdown on just half of their red-zone possessions over the past three weeks.

If the Cardinals aren't scoring touchdowns on at least 60 to 75 percent of their red-zone possessions in this game, bettors are unlikely to see the total reach the over.  Mike McCarthy has significantly slowed down Green Bay's offense since taking over playcalling duties two weeks ago.  Over their first 12 games, the Packers ran the ball just 40.7 percent of the time, which ranked a middling 16th in the league.  With McCarthy at the helm for the past two games, though, Green Bay has run the ball on 47 percent of their offensive plays, excluding quarterback kneeldowns.  That renewed commitment to the ground game not only reduces the number of possessions in a game, but hinders the likelihood of Rodgers creating the type of quick-strike touchdowns bettors would need to confidently take the over.

Only four offenses have scored more points per game at home than the Cardinals (30.5), so it's easy to see why bettors have been pushing the over total this week.  However, when factoring in Green Bay's increasingly conservative offensive philosophy and Arizona's declining red-zone efficiency, taking the under with your NFL picks is the smart bet for this game.