You know it’s getting late in the NFL regular season when the league starts scattering games all over the weekly calendar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This week, we’ve got contests on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. To the poolies cheat sheet we go:
Jacksonville at Atlanta (-11)
Why Jaguars cover: Relatively speaking, this team on fire from a scoring standpoint. After failing to break 20 points all season long, the Jags blew up for 41 consecutive points in Sunday’s 41-14 rout of Tampa Bay. Atlanta has cashed just once in the past five weeks (1-3-1 against the spread) and that required a comeback last weekend against Carolina.
Why Falcons cover: Even after their 41-point outburst, the Jags still sit 28th in league in scoring, at 14.8 ppg. Atlanta’s 7-2 ATS (against the spread) in its last nine December starts and 20-8-1 ATS in its last 29 against losing teams. The Jags are 4-11-1 ATS in their last 16 against winning teams.
Total (42.5): Before last week’s game vs. Carolina, Atlanta was on tear of eight straight unders. Jacksonville has gone over in each of the last two weeks but is still 10-3 to the under on the season. The Jags have watched the total go low in six straight on the highway.
Dallas (-7) at Tampa Bay
Why Cowboys cover: The Cowboys are playing the Bucs, who just gave up 41 points to the awful Jaguars. And the Cowboys have no room to mess around against Tampa after stinging losses to the Cardinals and Giants. At home, the Bucs are in ATS slumps of 6-20 overall and 5-16 when getting points.
Why Buccaneers cover: Well, if they really like Raheem Morris as coach, it would serve them well to show it. The Bucs have dumped seven in a row SU (straight up), going 1-6 against the number over that span. They could be playing for Morris’ job here, so perhaps that’s some incentive. Dallas is just 7-18-1 ATS in its last 26 when laying points and 7-18-2 ATS in its last 27 in December.
Total (47): Tampa has given up 24 points or more in every game of its seven-game slide, including 35 or more four times. The over is 18-8 in Dallas’ last 26 overall.
New Orleans (-6.5) at Minnesota
Why Saints cover: They are hotter than a supermodel on the sun, winning and covering five in a row and six of their last seven. Minnesota, meanwhile, has lost five in a row straight up (1-3-1 ATS) and seems to have a QB quandary – rookie Christian Ponder was yanked after a dismal two-plus quarters against Detroit, and Joe Webb nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.
Why Vikings cover: They are 5-1 ATS in the last six of this rivalry and the Saints tend to play down to the level of competition, at 3-11 ATS in their last 14 against losing teams.
Total (50.5): Total has gone low in four of the last five for New Orleans, but the Saints average 31.9 ppg (second in NFL), and the over is 6-1 in Minny’s last seven at home. The over is also 5-1 in the last six Saints-Vikes matchups.
Carolina at Houston (-6.5)
Why Panthers cover: This team is better than its 4-9 SU record suggests. They’ve lost six games this season in which they’ve led or been tied in the fourth quarter. Once Cam Newton figures out how to stop throwing more INTs (16) than TDs (15), they’ll be the real deal. Carolina’s 15-6 ATS in its last 21 December outings.
Why Texans cover: Even with rookie T.J. Yates at QB, they’re still winning and covering, going 6-0-1 ATS during their current seven-game SU run. This team is contending for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so it has plenty of incentive. The Panthers are on pointspread dives of 4-12 when catching points and 3-9 against winning teams.
Total (45.5): Something’s got to give here. Carolina’s on over runs of 5-0-1 against winning teams, 6-1-1 as an underdog and 7-3-1 on the highway. Houston is on under surges of 5-1 at home and 6-2 as a chalk.
Green Bay (-14) at Kansas City
Why Packers cover: During their eye-popping 19-game SU win streak, they’ve cashed 14 times. That includes four covers as double-digit favorites this season. The Chiefs are in disarray after firing coach Todd Haley on Monday while the Packers are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 roadies and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 in December.
Why Chiefs cover: Bad as they are, they’re still a good underdog. They are riding ATS streaks of 7-2 overall, 5-1 as a home pup, and 12-4 when getting more than 10 points. The Packers are 1-5 ATS in the last six as a road chalk of more than 10 points.
Total (46): The Chiefs have scored 10 points or fewer in six straight games and the under has cashed in six of the last seven for K.C. Conversely, the Packers average a league-best 35.8 ppg, with over hitting in six of their last seven games. An average Green Bay outing wouldn’t leave much work for K.C. to reach the over.
Seattle at Chicago (-3.5)
Why Seahawks cover: They’re hot, and Chicago’s not. The Seahawks have won four of last five SU and five of last six ATS. Running back Marshawn Lynch has 109 yards or more in five of last six games, along with six TDs in that stretch. The Bears have lost three straight without QB Jay Cutler.
Why Bears cover: They’re dying for a win to stay in the NFC playoff hunt and they are 4-1 ATS in their last five when laying points. The Seahawks are riding ATS skids of 16-34-2 on the highway and 8-20-1 as road pups.
Total (35.5): Lots of over trends for both teams. Plus, the over has cashed in six overall and the last four in Windy City.
Tennessee (-6.5) at Indianapolis
Why Titans cover: They’d covered five of six before Sunday’s 22-17 loss to New Orleans and they nearly got the outright upset. Winless Indy (4-9 ATS) has failed to cash in its last four at home and the last four inside AFC South. The Titans are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 in this rivalry.
Why Colts cover: Tennessee QB Matt Hasselbeck’s status is uncertain due to calf injury. Plus, Indy has covered two in a row, following seven consecutive pointspread setbacks. The Colts are also 14-5-2 ATS in their last 21 vs. winning teams.
Total (41): Under has been big for both teams lately, hitting seven straight for Tennessee and five of six for Indianapolis. This division rivalry is littered with unders – 11-2 in the last 13 overall and 6-0 in the last six in Indy.
Washington at N.Y. Giants (-6.5)
Why Redskins cover: As bad as Mike Shanahan’s troops are, losing eight of last nine SU, they’ve at least been a little better lately against the spread by covering three of the last four. They fell just short of pushing Patriots to overtime last weekend. The Redskins also like division play, cashing five of the last six in the NFC East.
Why Giants cover: After knocking off Dallas on the road last week, they are due for a good game at home, where they are just 1-3-1 ATS in the last five. Tom Coughlin’s squad will also be looking for some payback after getting ripped 28-14 at Washington in the season opener.
Total (46.5): The score has played under in seven of the last eight ‘Skins-Giants meetings at the Meadowlands. The over is on runs of 4-0 for Washington and 4-1 for New York.
Miami at Buffalo
Why Dolphins cover: They’ll be inspired by firing of coach Tony Sparano. They covered six in a row before falling to Philadelphia last week. They were due for a little letdown.
Why Bills cover: The Bills have dumped six in a row SU (1-5 ATS) and are due for a decent game at some point.
Total: The under has been the big play for Miami all season, going 10-2-1. The under has also cashed in 10 of Buffalo’s last 11 in December and 8-3 in the team’s last 11 at Orchard Park.
Cincinnati (-6) at St. Louis
Why Bengals cover: Their playoff hopes are dangling by a thread, but this is a good team well overdue for some good luck. They’ve lost four of their last five, but those losses were all by one score or less against playoff-bound teams. St. Louis is the league’s worst team ATS (2-11).
Why Rams cover: Seriously, all the Rams can hope for is that Cincy’s current 0-4-1 ATS funk continues.
Total (38.5): St. Louis averages a league-low 11.8 ppg and the under has cashed in seven of the last 10. However, Cincy’s on several over runs including 8-2 overall and 5-0 as a chalk.
Detroit (-1) at Oakland
Why Lions cover: Defensive stalwart Ndamukong Suh returns from two-game suspension and Detroit needs him to continue its push for a NFC wild-card spot. The Raiders were pummeled over the last two weeks (at Miami and at Green Bay) by a combined score of 80-30. The Raiders are 20-43 ATS in the last 63 in December.
Why Raiders cover: Last week’s loss to the Packers notwithstanding, Oakland’s generally a good bounce-back bet. The Raiders are 7-2 ATS in the last nine off a SU loss and 14-4 ATS in the last 18 off an ATS loss. Detroit’s 1-8-1 ATS in the last 10 as a road chalk.
Total (47.5): The over is on a 7-1-1 run in the Lions’ last nine roadies, 4-0 in the Raiders’ last four overall. The over is also 7-3 at home for Oakland and 5-1 with the Raiders catching points at Coliseum.
New England (-9) at Denver
Why Patriots cover: At some point, the Broncos’ good fortune will go up in smoke. New England is the best team Denver has faced during the Tebow Mania craze, and the Pats have covered eight of their last 11 road games.
Why Broncos cover: Tim Tebow has led Denver to seven wins in eight games. The Broncos have covered in six of those – five from the underdog role. So this game sets up perfect for the Mile High Messiah. The Pats are 2-5 ATS in their last seven when laying points, 1-4 ATS in the last five vs. the Broncos, and 1-4 ATS in their last five trips to Denver.
Total (45.5): In Tebow’s eight starts, Denver has scored 18 or fewer points. But New England averages 30.5 points per game and a defense that’s allowed 20 or more points nine times this year. The over is 12-4 in the Pats’ last 16 roadies and in the Broncos’ last 16 at home.
N.Y. Jets at Philadelphia (-3)
Why Jets cover: Clinging to sixth and final playoff spot in AFC, they need this game. They’ve won their last three while cashing in their last two outings. Philly is just 1-8 ATS in its last nine at home.
Why Eagles cover: There’s no pressure here with a playoff sport out of the question, so they can play fast and loose. All the pressure is on the Jets, and Philly’s talent is far better than its 5-8 SU and ATS record indicates.
Total (44): If Jets are playing the over is in play. The Jets have played over in all three games during their current upswing. The Jets also have the over on streaks of 23-8 overall, 13-3-1 with New York set as a pup, and 9-2 with Gang Green pegged as a road underdog.
Cleveland at Arizona (-7)
Why Browns cover: They’re not very good, but they have covered in three of their last four. That’s about all I’ve got in their defense.
Why Cardinals cover: Upended 49ers last week to continue a nice roll in which they’ve won five of six SU and six of seven ATS. Cleveland’s averaging just 13.7 ppg (30th) and could be without QB Colt McCoy (concussion).
Total (37.5): Cleveland’s scoring impotence has led to under streaks of 4-1 overall and 8-3 when the Browns are catching points.
Baltimore (-1.5) at San Diego
Why Ravens cover: This team is gunning for No. 1 seed in AFC playoff chase and has won four in a row by average of more than 11 points per game. The Bolts are just 2-6 ATS in their last eight games.
Why Chargers cover: They still have a sliver of chance in AFC West, but they’ve got to win outright. San Diego’s a worthy underdog, with ATS runs of 22-9-3 when getting points and 5-1 as a home pup.
Total (44.5): Qualcomm Stadium is the home of unders lately, with total staying low in 10 of the last 11. The Ravens’ defense is yielding just 15.5 ppg (third).
Pittsburgh at San Francisco (-3)
Why Steelers cover: Like Baltimore and New England, they’re battling for the No. 1 seed. So this West Coast trip is a huge one for Pittsburgh, which has cashed in the last four following an ATS loss.
Why 49ers cover: Despite upset loss at Arizona last week, they are still No. 1 in the NFL at 10-2-1 ATS and really want to beat out the Saints for the No. 2 seed and a playoff bye. It won’t hurt to be at home, where San Fran has won and cashed in five straight and six of seven this year. In fact, Jim Harbaugh’s troops are 17-6-3 ATS in the last 26 at home. Plus, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is hobbled, and star defender James Harrison may be serving a one-game suspension.
Total: The Niners’ defense is No. 1 in the league, yielding a meager 14.0 ppg. Pittsburgh is No. 2 allowing just 15.2 ppg.