As we head into Week 15 of the NFL season, in tribute to Bob Dylan, we recognize that The Times They Are a Changin’.
Witness some of these unusual developments in the NFL. Jacksonville, with four wins, opened as a 7.5-point favorite against the Washington Redskins, winners of six games this year but losers of three straight and two starting quarterbacks. The New York Giants, although hot (but likely not in the playoff hunt), opened as a 3-point pick at home against playoff-possible Tennessee. The line moved to 2.5 by midweek. That’s movement.
Other games feature unique angles.
Two teams that felt robbed of victory last week now face each other. The New England Patriots, denied victory on a crazy gadget play against Miami, visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, who got dropped by Oakland after its pro-bowl kicker from last year, Chris Boswell, missed two field goals.
The Steelers need the game more, and they are an astonishing 7-5-1 this year, but New England has played them very tough there. Injuries to Ben Roethlisberger also contribute to the uncertainty and a line move this week. Pittsburgh opened as a one-point favorite and New England went up to a 1.5 point pick. Roethlisberger took a pain-killing injection at halftime last week and it kept him out for nearly the entire second half. What about this week?
Indianapolis opened as a 3-point favorite against the Dallas Cowboys, and it was down to 2.5 by Wednesday.
The announcement of Carson Wentz probably not starting, and Nick Foles in, has pushed the Rams from -9 to -10.5 against the Eagles.
Hottest teams against the spread right now. Giants and Cowboys have won five straight.
In a matchup of two dreadful teams, Detroit and Buffalo, Detroit is 1-11 outdoors in December in recent times. It visits Buffalo Sunday. Only a degenerate would go near this game. And more than a few of them are reading this.
As for Thursday night, Chiefs running back Spencer Ware is considered out, and Kansas City — already decimated by the loss of Kareem Hunt — may have to search for playmakers against the Los Angeles Chargers. Kansas City has the Chargers' number in recent games, but does not look dominant right now.
Observations around the league
We come off one of the bizarre one-week results in history, aka Four on the Floor. An uncharacteristic four teams lost at home to the same teams they'd earlier defeated on the road. This is the parity of the NFL.
Washington was obliterated by the Giants, whom they had beaten on the road. Remember Buffalo smashing the Jets 41-10 in New Jersey with a third-string quarterback? They had their ace, Josh Allen, at home Sunday, and lost the rematch.
Houston, which had toppled Indy to start its nine-game win streak, bowed to the same team, ending it.
And Tampa Bay, which had beaten New Orleans in Week 1, self-destructed in the home rematch. Two missed field goals and a blocked punt turned a 14-3 lead into a 28-14 loss. The Bucs even coughed up the cover, as an eight-and-a-half point dog.
When the smoke cleared, some interesting storylines - and betting lines - await the home stretch.
It's crunch time in Baltimore. Can the 7-6 Ravens bounce back this week after a heart-wrenching loss in Kansas City? The Ravens bullied Pat Mahomes and came within one play of winning last week. His miracle 4th-and-long completion when his team trailed by seven kept the game going long enough for K.C. to tie in regulation and win in overtime, but not cover. Mahomes is looking human, and when the Ravens flooded the line of scrimmage, there were not enough players to block for him. Keep that in mind for the playoffs.
Fleet-footed Lamar Jackson, with whom the Ravens are 3-1 since he took over for injured QB Joe Flacco, was named the starter for Baltimore against Tampa Bay. But keep an eye on Flacco, as Jackson was hurt late in the game against KC.
Flip to the Vikings. I've been saying this all year, particularly on radio: Kirk Cousins will often throw one very bad pass in a game. It happened again Monday night, when he fumbled and Seattle pounced on it for a late TD, cementing a game they already led 14-0. He also gave up a gift touchdown against New Orleans in mid-season and threw a game-losing interception against Green Bay only to be reprieved by a bogus roughing the passer call. The game ultimately ended in a tie. The Vikings do have a favorable schedule over the last three weeks, however.
Down in Carolina, Cam Newton has Michael Vick disease. When Vick had to become a pocket passer rather than run later in his career, his effectiveness plummeted. Newton has not been running as he did in previous years, and his Carolina team has lost five straight, including last week in Cleveland, when it had bad red-zone management. You can understand the loss to Seattle, in which the Panthers came within one play of winning, but setbacks against Tampa Bay and Cleveland in the past couple weeks brings Newton's interceptions and lack of running into focus.
This week's lines, courtesy of Draft Kings. Over-under in parentheses
Kansas City -3.5 LA Chargers (56)
Houston -6 AT New York Jets (41.5)
Denver -3 Cleveland (45.5)
Atlanta -9 Arizona (44)
Indianapolis -2.5 Dallas 47
Buffalo -2.5 Detroit (38.5)
Chicago -5.5 Green Bay (45)
Minnesota -7 Miami (44.5)
Cincinnati -3 Oakland (45.5)
NY Giants -2.5 Tennessee (43.5)
Jacksonville -7 Washington (36)
Baltimore -8 Tampa Bay (46.6)
LA Rams -10 Philadelphia (53.5)
Seattle -5.5 AT San Francisco (43.5)
New England -1.5 AT Pittsburgh (53)
New Orleans -6 AT Carolina (52)
This Week's Picks, excerpted from Beat the Degenerates, which I host along with Scott Cronick, director of entertainment publications for The Press of Atlantic City. Our show airs on Newstalk 1400-AM WOND, 92.5-FM, WONDRadio.com and the Tune In app. Check out next week's show 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Bontempo: New England -1.5 over Pittsburgh
Cronick: Rams over the Eagles -9.5
Dave Weinberg, Press of Atlantic City Eagles beat writer: Jacksonville -7 over Washington
Listener’s picks: Pittsburgh +1.5 over New England
DA KIPSTER, aka Pickett Russell: Cowboys +2.5 over Indianapolis
Brian Cahill, guest Degenerate: Titans +2.5 at New York Giants
Last Week's Highlights
Bennies from Heaven.
Mattias Stetz, COO of SugarHouse Online Sportsbook & Casino, told us about the perilous, yet profitable, world of parlays, after an epic finish from last week's games. You can see lines and make online wagers with Sugar House casino by going to PlaySugarHouse.com.
One bettor hit a five-team parlay after placing $1,000 on the Dolphins, Colts, Browns, Ravens and, finally, the Cowboys. You talk about pressure? The odds were 25-1 and now all four earlier bets had hit. The Cowboys needed to cover 3.5 against the Eagles, and they weren't going to do it. It looked for all the world like a Cowboys’ 3-point win in overtime, or a tie. Yet on Dallas' final offensive play, here came a tip, the ball bounced in the air, and Dallas scores a miraculous TD. It was absolutely the last play in which the offense could deliver an overtime touchdown. You know nothing like that ever happens to us, just people we read about. We are nonetheless happy for anyone showing the guts to put $1,000 on that.
The bettor walked away with $25,000, minus whatever expenses were deducted for blood-pressure medication. Ironically, he was losing four of the five games deep into the second half.
Shades of the hook and ladder. Miami's last-second trick play against New England, scoring a shocking victory, was eerily reminiscent of its famed touchdown at the end of the first half of a 1981 playoff game against San Diego, (voted one of the top 10 games ever by the NFL Network).
Ironically, New England had opted to pass deep a couple minutes earlier rather than run out the clock with a two-point lead. The Pats got a pass-interference call, nearly scored a KO touchdown, but settled for a field goal and then lost outright.
Tom Brady, incidentally, made a rare bonehead play by letting time run out on him in the first half with the Pats about to score. The same goes for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw an incomprehensible pick rather than take a sack that would have preserved a field goal in the waning seconds of the first half. But Seattle rallied for a 21-7 Monday night victory over Minnesota.
Last Week's Picks.
I correctly nailed Seattle over the Vikings on Monday. The listeners scored with Dallas against the Eagles. Cronick missed with the Patriots, Weinberg came up short with the Chargers at -14.5 over the Bengals and DA KIPSTER was victimized by Carolina failing to cover against Cleveland.
Good luck in this week's games.