We discuss the most important lessons we ought to learn from our last week's NFL picks. Join us as we analyze the biggest matchups and learn how to make the most profits!
There’s a lesson that many bettors need to learn from Week 17; a lesson that was ingrained in me very early in my betting career, soon after I moved to Las Vegas back in 1998. That lesson? ‘Must win’ teams don’t always win. Even when they do win, they don’t always win by margin. Bettors who faded ‘must win’ teams in their NFL picks – whether they needed to win to make the playoffs or to get a better seed/playoff home game/first round bye – earned a profit once again this year.
By my count, eight NFL teams faced ‘must win’ situations on Sunday. I did not count Minnesota – Green Bay on Sunday Night, where both teams had ample motivation to win. The Jets and Steelers needed to win to reach the postseason, a duo that finished 1-1 against the spread, avoiding the 0-2 only because Cleveland turned the ball over four times against Pittsburgh. That includes two turnovers near their own goal line and a third one in a ‘goal-to-go’ situation by the Steelers end zone.
Six teams faced ‘must wins’ for seeding purposes. I do not count teams that have a chance to move from the #6 seed to the #5 seed; a move upwards that provides little benefit and creates zero motivation. Of those six teams, only two of them covered the spread. Carolina blew out Tampa Bay, clinching the #1 seed in the NFC. And Houston was ostensibly in a ‘must win’ spot to win the AFC South, although the Colts needed a miracle to overtake them. The Texans won comfortably over a Jacksonville team that fell apart in December.
New England lost SU as double digit road favorites at Miami. Cincinnati was unable to put away Baltimore, winning but failing to cover the ten point spread following a late Ravens backdoor TD. Denver struggled throughout against San Diego, but a Peyton Manning led rally allowed them to escape with a non-spread covering win. Arizona got walloped at home by the Seahawks, unable to clinch the #1 overall seed in the NFC.
Last Week's ATS Losers
Let me take a brief look at those four playoff-bound Week 17 ATS losers, in an effort to show how worried bettors need to be to support them moving forward and facing the upcoming NFL odds boards.
I’ll start with New England; the single most injury riddled team among the serious Super Bowl contenders. The Pats have cluster injuries on their offensive line, at running back and among their receiving corps. Several key defenders have missed time in recent weeks as well. Tom Brady took an absolute beating in Miami, as the Pats offensive line got blown off the football. This team is still the favorite to come out of the AFC – you won’t find ‘value’ with the most ‘public’ team in the AFC -- but they’ll need to get much, much healthier during the bye week if they’re going to be in contention for back-to-back titles.
Cinci was outgained by Baltimore yesterday, and they’re moving into the playoffs expecting to be without starting quarterback Andy Dalton. And Cinci’s postseason track record ( 0-fer the Marvin Lewis era, both SU and ATS) doesn’t inspire much confidence anyway. But the Bengals are relatively healthy; their statistical profile is strong, and Sunday’s non-cover against the Ravens is not a major red flag, in my opinion.
Denver got Peyton Manning back on the field in their win over San Diego after five early turnovers, and proceeded to score points on four of their next five drives. But Manning did not look sharp and his offensive line struggled. A two week layoff followed by another cold weather game leaves me bearish on the Broncos chances following their bye week, even with a truly elite level defense.
Arizona played poorly against the Seahawks and Bruce Arians pulled the plug on trying to clinch the #1 overall seed by halftime, resting starters throughout most of the second half. 'Zona was an elite team all year, but their pass defense is suspect following the Tyrann Mathieu injury. That being said, the Cardinals Week 17 showing appears to be more of an aberration than a harbinger of things to come.