NFL Tipsheet Week 15: Dolphins like fish out of water in Minny

Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
Can Matt Ryan take Atlanta to a home win

Mike Carlson marks your card for another massive week of NFL action as the playoffs begin to loom large

"Miami is not as good as their record and the weather factor that helped them against New England last week will hurt them this week."

Time to find out who's who and what's what

I'm bleary-eyed from the Thursday Night shootout: a brilliant effort by the Chiefs and Chargers marred only by a bit of zebra madness: I won't get into the on-field details here, but I wrote about that for my Friday Morning Tight End column, which is at Patreon; you can read this morning's reaction to the game without subscribing by clicking here. If you took the Chargers plus 3.5 you were golden.

More golden than if you took Denver minus 4 last week! Though Dallas minus 3.5 and the Vikings-Seahawks going under 45 did at least rub some of the tarnish off my silver medal.

This is the time of the NFL season when usually you have a good idea of who's who: teams are what their records say they are, in the famous adage coined by Bill Parcells. And in fact we should know pretty well what's what. The current playoff standings, with NFC showing Cowboys/Bears/Saints/Rams and Seahawks/Vikings as the wild cards, and the AFC with Pats/Steelers/Texans/Chiefs with Chargers/Ravens as the wildcards (and note the Steelers/Ravens and Chargers/Chiefs situations are finely balanced) are pretty accurate in terms of who the best 12 teams are.

But the margins are thin in many cases, the match-ups sometimes make things difficult, as with the Rams playing in cold, windy Chicago, and of course for all the talk on the interweb about teams 'tanking' for a better position in the draft, you need only have watched the Jets/Bills last week (another miss for me) to realise that there is very little quit in the NFL. Nor in Iron Mike, so let's get to the picks:

Road trip not what Miami need

Best Bet: Minnesota (-7 at 9/10) v Miami: The Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, which signals they want to go more to a run-first playbook (it's the difference between Pat Shurmur last year and the Eagles' last year) but regardless of how much the strategy changes I think the firing will send a message to the Minnesota players to pick up their game, and at home they ought to be able to do just that. Miami is not as good as their record (take that, Bill Parcells) and the weather factor that helped them against New England last week will hurt them this week. If you don't like that, maybe hedge your bets with New England at Pittsburgh Over (52 at 19/20), which is close enough to evens to almost make this my value bet. The Steelers were originally favourites, but now are home dogs, which is based partly on recency bias and partly on the history between these teams (Tom Brady 6-2 in Pittsburgh) but I think the over is closer to a sure thing.

Cowboys can cover the handicap

Value Bet: Dallas (+3 at 21/20) at Indianapolis: This is a tough one to pick straight-up, because the Cowboys aren't as fierce outside the Jerry-Dome, but they have the capability of controlling the pace of the game with Zeke Elliott against a Colts' defense whose biggest strength is pursuit. It's a must-win for the Colts, and Andrew Luck has been a perfect fit with head coach Frank Reich, but I see this one staying close, so the Cowboys and points is a pretty good bet.

Home comforts to suit Falcons

Outside Bet: Arizona at Atlanta Over (44 at 91/100): The Falcons looked miserable in Green Bay last week: not only was their offense a non-starter but they drew 13 penalties for 101 yards, which is part of the magic of playing at Lambeau Field. But Atlanta is a notorious home team, and though the Cardinals can play some D, I think it's time for the Falcons' offense to at least take the chance to pad their stats. Plus Atlanta's D is just soft enough to allow Arizona the 14-17 they need to cross the over easily. If you don't like that, go back to Minnesota and consider the Dolphins team total Under (17.5 at 4/5) as it could be that the Vikes' D comes out energized. Or go to the college ranks: South Dakota State (+11 at 10/11) at North Dakota State; a regional rivalry game in the FCS playoff semi-final. Go Jackrabbits!

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