Each week, Jason Logan breaks down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches from Week 12:
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-1, 40)
Steelers’ new up-tempo attack vs. Browns' crumbling defense
The squeaky wheel gets the grease and Ben Roethlisberger’s bitching and moaning has Pittsburgh’s scoring attack working like a well-oiled machine under the no-huddle offense. Roethlisberger ran 73 plays in last week’s 37-27 win over Detroit and has the Steelers averaging 71 plays per game over their last three. That’s a huge change in tempo compared to their season pace of 64.8. Over those three games, Pittsburgh has scored an average of more than 30 points with Big Ben tossing a total of nine TDs.
Cleveland was leaning hard on its defense to keep it competitive in the AFC North but the wheels are falling off that bus. The Browns, who have the fourth-best passing defense in the NFL, have been burned for 14 passing touchdowns in their last five contests, including three in last week’s blowout loss to Cincinnati. They take on a familiar foe in Roethlisberger, who is 15-1 SU versus Cleveland for his career.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-10, 43.5)
Jaguars’ special teams vs. Texans’ not-so special teams
For all the things the Jaguars do wrong, they continue to do right on special teams. According to Yahoo!Sports, Jacksonville ranks among the Top 9 in 13 different special teams statistics including ranking tops in the NFL in percentage of kick returns for 20 or more yards - 87.1 percent. Jordan Todman has emerged as a return threat, averaging 28.3 yards per kickoff return – fifth in the league. On top of that, punter Bryan Anger is handling his business when booting the ball away.
Special teams have been an issue for the Texans for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be correcting itself this season. Houston is giving up 26.2 yards per kickoff return – third most in the NFL – and 13.4 yards per punt return – tied for fourth most. Ten points is a lot to cover when you constantly keep giving up great field position to opponents.
Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals (-1, 45)
Colts’ playbook vs. Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians
Remember the Colts’ “Chuck Strong” postseason push last season when head coach Chuck Pagano left to receive treatment for leukemia? Arians was the man at the helm of that inspirational story, guiding a young Indianapolis team to a 9-3 record and earning a head coaching gig of his own because of it. Arians has made magic in the desert, turning the Cardinals into dark horse contenders at 6-4, and has his club on a three-game winning streak heading into Sunday.
Arians has detailed knowledge of the Colts and their star QB Andrew Luck. Luck has looked lost since WR Reggie Wayne went down with an injury, completing just 56.25 percent of his passes in that span. Indianapolis has squeaked out two wins by three points (vs. Houston and Tennessee) and lost a lopsided decision to St. Louis in its last three games. As much as Arians loves the Colts, he won’t hesitate to expose their biggest weaknesses Sunday.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+1, 54)
Broncos’ running game vs. Patriots’ poor run stop
All the attention is on Peyton Manning and Tom Brady Sunday night but the Broncos may not have to put the ball in the hands of their future HOF quarterback to beat the Patriots in Week 12. Denver’s rushing game has slowly gained traction in recent weeks, including a 104-yard, two-TD effort versus Kansas City last week. Rookie Montee Ball could be finding his footing after a ton of preseason hype and Knowshon Moreno continues to pick up good gains when he gets the call.
New England is dealing with numerous injuries in their secondary and will call upon linebackers to help slow down Manning’s dink-and-dump no-huddle attack Sunday night. That will open up plenty of room for Denver’s downfield runners. The Patriots have been bowled over by opposing running attacks this season, allowing 125.7 yards on the ground per game – 27th in the league. Those woes could be especially costly in the red zone, where New England has allowed opponents to score TDs in 70 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line over the last three games.