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 13:
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-9.5, 46.5)
Vikings’ RB Adrian Peterson vs. Packers’ depleted defense
The best way to beat the Packers is to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. Minnesota failed to follow a similar game plan versus Chicago last week, possessing the football just 22:30 and picking up only 15 first downs. A 25-3 halftime hole forced the Vikings to press on offense, leaving Christian Ponder to throw 43 passes while Peterson got just 18 carries. He’s carried the ball 21 times or more in four of the team’s six wins this season and has never run more than 18 times in each of the five losses.
Peterson should get a heavier workload in Week 13, especially with all the missing cogs on Green Bay’s stop unit. The Packers are still without LB Clay Matthews and star run stuffer, DE C.J. Wilson, is expected to sit with a bum knee. In the loss to the Giants, Green Bay gave up 147 yards on the ground (and two TDs) and allowed New York to control the ball for more than 31 minutes. Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher (1,236 yards, seven TDs), is much more potent than the Giants’ 13th-ranked ground game.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets (-4.5, 36.5)
Cardinals’ chaotic defense vs. Jets’ sloppy play
Arizona is on the verge of matching a franchise-long losing streak, dropping seven in a row heading into Week 13. Despite that winless drought, the Cardinals have never been truly blown out in any of those defeats. Arizona’s aggressive blitz-heavy defense has kept things respectable, allowing an average of just under 24 points per game during this slide – not bad when you consider things like a four-interception day from QB Ryan Lindley in a loss to St. Louis last week.
The Cardinals defense thrives on chaos, sitting fifth in sacks (30), fourth in interceptions (15) and has recovered eight of their 12 forced fumbles. That’s the perfect storm for the Jets, the poster boys for NFL Films’ Football Follies. New York had two fumbles returned for scores on back-to-back possessions and watched five turnovers translate into 35 points for New England on Thanksgiving. It’s gotten so bad that head coach Rex Ryan made up some instructional videos on how to protect the football this week. If all else fails, at least Rex will have more than enough footage for a kick-ass bloopers reel.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Denver Broncos (-8, 50.5)
Buccaneers’ pass defense vs. Broncos’ QB Peyton Manning
Tampa Bay has been the most competitive team this season, losing its five games by a combined total of 23 points or an average of less than five points per loss. However, there is a common factor in all of those losses – good quarterbacks. The Bucs have taken “L’s” from Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan and now face perhaps their toughest task in Denver pivot Peyton Manning.
Manning is finding his stride under center for the Broncos, leading them to six straight victories. He’s passing for an average of 293.5 yards per game and posting a 15-to-5 TD:INT ratio in that span. Tampa Bay won’t pose much of a threat to those numbers, owning the league’s worst pass defense (315.5 yards against per game). The Bucs stop unit has made jobber QBs like Carson Palmer and Christian Ponder look good. Just imagine how ugly it will get with Manning running the no-huddle against a sea-level defense sucking wind in the thin mountain air.
New York Giants at Washington Redskins (+1, 51)
Giants’ late-game heroics vs. Redskins’ late-game gaffes
The Giants’ fourth-quarter comebacks are quickly becoming things of NFL legend. New York is among the best second-half scoring teams in football, averaging almost 13 points over the final two quarters, and is also an elite team in fourth-quarter situations, putting up 7.8 points per final frame. That closing ability was on display the last time these NFC East rivals met in Week 7. The G-Men took a 27-23 win at home thanks to a 77-yard strike to Victor Cruz with just over a minute remaining.
Washington has buckled under the late-game pressure this season and ranks dead last in fourth-quarter defense, giving up an average of 10.5 points in the final 15 minutes. The Redskins, who allow 11.7 points per first half, have softened for more than two touchdowns in the second half of games. Last week, Washington nearly gave up a 28-3 halftime lead to Dallas, getting outscored 28-10 in the closing 30 minutes to hang on for a 38-31 Thanksgiving Day victory.