If you love surprises, which bettors generally don't, there's not much to hate with this NFL season. Week 15 proved easy to pick straight up -- with two shockers: and the Bengals beating the Steelers was almost as big a shocker as the Jets beating the Rams in LA. Luckily, when I looked at the games last week I saw the Bears and Cowboys as road dogs pulling off wins, and picked them in my column getting points, which didn't matter as they won anyways. On the Betfair NFL Only Bettor podcast we agreed on the Browns, and sadly my pick of the Colts giving seven to Houston turned into a push. That was the good news.
There I was doing pretty well picking games, but I got fancy. For some reason I decided last week would be Unders Week; I tipped you unders on Tampa at Atlanta (50.5) which at 31-27 cruised past 50. That was the closest of the three! I thought Detroit would struggle to keep up with the Titans, but they did enough, with 27 points, to provide the 5.5 points the Titans, scoring 46 all by themselves, needed to cross 51.5. But the real topper was Buffalo at Denver, which I figured on being a pretty defensive matchup, so I called it under 49.5. As it happened, Buffalo scored 48, which made 17 of Denver's 19 points more or less redundant.
If that story isn't sad enough for you to make a contribution to charity on my behalf this Christmas, I'll try not to repeat it this week.
So here come Iron Mike's Christmas Crackers, I hope not Christmas Turkeys.
And I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, because nothing, not a pandemic and not travel restrictions, can cancel the joy and peace which the holiday represents. Enjoy the day, and enjoy a weekend full of football.
Points will flow in Pittsburgh
Best Bet: Indianapolis at Pittsburgh Over (44.5 at 10/11)
Have I learned my under lesson? The matchups of good teams are the hardest ones to pick, and for most of this season the difference between quality and quantity has been pretty easy to see. But this is another pick 'em kind of game, where the key is probably the Steelers' D getting to Phillip Rivers, and the Indy D getting to the Pittsburgh receivers to make them keep dropping the ball. The Colts can run the ball a bit with rookie Jonathan Taylor, and that has opened things up, and they got big plays from Zach Pascal last week. The Steelers have become a one-dimensional short-passing team: at some point they have to try to stretch a secondary, and Indy might be just the team to do that against. This is a crucial playoff match up for both teams, so they may be pulling out the stops.
My best bet on the podcast, by the way, was Baltimore, even laying 10.5 to the Giants, because this is absolute must-win for the Ravens and it's Colt McCoy for the football Giants. You can listen to my full reasoning below.
Fins on the up and worth a bet in key clash
Value Bet: Miami (-3 at evs) at Las Vegas
There have been very few short odds value bets this season - as I said, it's been a tougher one to handicap than to pick straight up. I see this game as more or less a pick 'em, except that the Dolphins are on an upward path and I don't see the Raiders even treading water. So even though I'm inclined to favour the Dolphins straight up here, they're 13/20, and I think the lure of even money is enough to make me take them laying the field goal, even on the road. I still think it's a low scoring game, so I'll risk yet another under (47.2 at 19/20).
Cowboys can cover
Outside Bet: Dallas (+2.5 at 10/11) v Philadelphia
Can the Cowboys control Jalen Hurts? He's had two decent outings, making the offense work with his running, not his passing, but exhibiting the same sort of leadership, field-general skills he showed in college. You have to keep him in the pocket and make him beat you as a drop-back passer; is Dallas a team that can do that? They eked out a win over the Niners, and Hurts may make the Eagles a more explosive offense than San Francisco's. But can Philly slow down a Dallas offense that even with Tony Pollard, or maybe especially with Tony Pollard, doing the running, went over 30 against a decent Niner D?
The Eagles may be the closest thing in America to an English football club in terms of ethos and fans: they are the team most likely to surprise in a season of futility in a win against Jerry Jones' Evil Empire (formerly "America's Team") just for the hell of it. I'd like this better with three, and you might get that if you wait until Sunday. I also might wait to see what the situation is in Washington, with Team Football (aka WTF). Ron Rivera has said that Alex Smith will start if he's healthy (a calf kept him out last week) otherwise Dwayne Haskins, who may face discipline for going maskless at a party with strippers going topless, but won't face discipline as long as the team needs him to start, will go. Either way Carolina, who are getting 2.5 at 10/11 and are 11/10 on the money line, are due a win. They are a team more disciplined than Jameis, but without Christian McCaffrey, lacking in weapons to get them wins. In this Ron Rivera Bowl, against their old head coach, they're an outside shot to surprise. Merry Christmas, ho ho ho!