The way the Cowboys plowed through December, we expect the betting public to be all over them this week. The other Wild Card game with some potential for public overindulgence is in the AFC.
Jason’s record after Week 17: 40-52-1 ATS, 19-28-1 Totals
We swept our Week 17 NFL picks~! Okay, we only made two of them, but it was nice to get in a couple of ATS wins before the playoffs. Let’s see if we can tighten up our game a little bit by putting even more emphasis on sharp and square betting patterns. In this case, we’re looking for teams who might draw too much public action going into Wild Card weekend, making them potential fade candidates for our football consideration.
The earliest NFL odds to hit the board were for Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game (4:40 p.m. ET, FOX) in Arlington between the Dallas Cowboys and the visiting Detroit Lions. Dallas could definitely be fadeworthy as a 7-point chalk; casual fans tend to overbet favorites, and the Cowboys have historically been one of the most popular teams in the world. Detroit, on the other hand, is a defensively-oriented team playing in a city with about one-third of the population base it had 60 years ago.
People were skeptical about betting on the Cowboys in December, though. They dipped to No. 22 on the public money charts over the past 30 days, eight spots behind the Lions. However, the Cowboys beat Washington (+6, –105 at home) 44-17 on Sunday to complete a perfect month at 4-0 SU and ATS. As a result, Dallas wins the NFC East title at 12-4 SU and 10-6 ATS, along with the No. 3 playoff seed in the conference.
So much for Tony Romo and the Cowboys not getting it done in December. Despite suffering two transverse fractures in his back midway through the regular season, Romo (114.4 passer rating) has delivered an MVP-quality performance since his return in Week 10. Meanwhile RB DeMarco Murray overtook Emmitt Smith as the Cowboys’ single-season rushing leader, piling up 100 yards on 20 carries against Washington to finish the 2014 campaign with 1,845 yards.
As for the Lions (11-5 SU, 7-9 ATS), they had a shot at winning the NFC North on Sunday, but they fell 30-20 to the Green Bay Packers (–8.5) at Lambeau Field to end up with the No. 6 seed. That snapped a four-game winning streak for the Lions, costing them a first-round bye in the process. But Detroit still has plenty of positives going into the Wild Card round, especially on defense; Football Outsiders had this unit ranked No. 1 in efficiency (No. 5 pass, No. 1 rush) going into Week 17. Recreational bettors tend not to notice defense as much as they should.
They do notice Detroit’s skill players, however. Calvin Johnson (67 catches, six TDs) is arguably the most famous wide receiver in the game today, while QB Matthew Stafford (85.4 passer rating) has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past four seasons. But this hasn’t been the best season for either player. The Lions offense ranked No. 19 in the league (No. 18 pass, No. 27 rush) going into their loss in Green Bay. This cuts into how enthusiastic we should be about fading Dallas this week.
The other Wild Card game with some potential for public overindulgence is in the AFC, where the Indianapolis Colts will host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS). The Colts are this year’s most popular item on the public money charts, while the Bengals are much like Detroit: a regional team built on defense. We’ll revisit this game later in the week when we make our NFL picks. And may the prolate spheroid be with you this postseason.