Each week, we break 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 8:
Washington Redskins at Denver Broncos (-13, 58.5)
Redskins’ poor punting vs. Broncos’ field position
Washington’s special teams have been anything but, especially on punts. The Redskins rank dead last with an average of 42.1 yards per punt and is allowing opponents to run back those boots for 21.6 yards per return – another league worst. Washington has watched two punts returned for six points, most recently to Chicago’s Devin Hester last Sunday, and had one punt blocked for a score versus the Raiders.
Giving the Broncos great field position is like loading the guns for your firing squad. Denver doesn’t need much help moving the chains, and has one of the better return teams in the NFL. Speedster Trindon Holliday already has a punt return TD this year, with Denver ranked sixth in punt returns. That’s helped give Peyton Manning an average starting field position of 29.06 yards.
Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions (-3, 51)
Cowboys’ terrible third downs vs. Lions’ third-down defense
Dallas has one of the most explosive offenses in the league but has watched that attack stall on third downs. The Cowboys rank in the middle of the pack for third-down conversion percentage (37.5%) on the season, but were dismal on third down last week versus Philadelphia. Tony Romo & Co. went just 5-for-16 on third down and punted the ball away nine times. Dallas has had trouble moving the chains on third downs away from Big D, posting a 30.56 percent third-down conversion rate on the road – fourth lowest in the NFL.
Detroit has limited its foes to just 3.7 third-down conversions per game this season, which ranks second lowest in the league. The Lions defense is holding opponents to a 29.89 percent success rate on those third downs, trimming that to a NFL-low 21.21 percent inside Ford Field. The Lions have forced teams to kick 2.7 field goals per game, which also ranks among the NFL elite.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders (+1, 40)
Steelers’ cross-country hike vs. Raiders’ rush-heavy attack
Pittsburgh is coming off a grueling battle with the rival Ravens in Week 7, stacking up a long list of injuries, and now must travel across the map to take on the Raiders. Not only are the Steelers limping into the weekend but they haven’t fared well when making the cross-country trek. Pittsburgh is 1-4 SU and ATS in its last five trips out west (losses at San Francisco, Houston, Oakland and Denver) and was knocked off by the Raiders, 34-31, in Oakland last season.
The Raiders have fresh legs coming off the bye week and will look to pound a tired Pittsburgh defense with their ninth-ranked rushing attack. On top of dual-threat QB Terrelle Pryor, who has scrambled for 285 yards, the Steelers will have to contain RB Darren McFadden, who gashed them for 113 yards and a score last season. Pittsburgh's run stop unit is not as strong as past years, allowing foes to rush for an average of 109.3 yards per game.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (+9.5, 47)
Packers’ run defense vs. Vikings’ RB Adrian Peterson
Rarely do we have Peterson on this side of the mismatch. Usually “All Day” is exploiting a mushy run defense in our weekly feature. However, with everything going on off the field and the Vikings’ QB woes on it, Peterson hasn’t come near the numbers of 2012. In his last two efforts, he’s mustered a total of 90 yards on 23 carries – an average of 3.91 yards per attempt. That’s below his season average of 4.4. Along with an understandable lack of focus following the death of his son, Peterson is nursing a sore hamstring and missed practice this week.
Green Bay knows what’s coming Sunday. With Minnesota playing musical chairs under center, the Packers can almost forget the passing game and focus solely on stopping Peterson. The Cheese Heads are undergoing a defensive renaissance this fall and boast the third toughest rushing defense in the NFL. Teams are picking up only three yards per carry in the Packers last three games and Green Bay has faced some reputable rushing attacks this season.