Stephen Nover is Covers.com`s senior NFL analyst. He is also a handicapper at Covers Experts.
With perhaps the glaring exception of one game, the NFL opening lines for Week 15 appear very solid.
That one game is Denver at Arizona. The Broncos are -2 ½. Should the Broncos, losers of four in a row with a rookie quarterback going through a controversial baptism, be a road favorite here?
“I would say no,” said Mike Seba, senior linesmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the company supplying betting numbers to many of Nevada’s casinos.
Yet the oddsmakers at LVSC sent out Denver -1 to their hotel clients.
“It’s a tough call,” Seba said. “Denver is still alive but its defense the last few weeks has fallen apart. The Broncos defense has been on the field too much because of the problems on offense. Their defense is worn down.”
The quarterback switch from Jake Plummer to highly-touted first-round draft pick Jay Cutler has brought extra scrutiny, especially since Cutler has made some egregious mistakes as he’s gone 0-2 in starts against Seattle at home and San Diego on the road.
“Cutler is a full year behind (Matt) Leinart in terms of development,” professional sports bettor Dave Malinsky said. “The type of experience Cutler has gone through hasn’t really helped him.”
The Broncos could be suffering from a loss of confidence after failing to live up to such high expectations. They last dropped four straight in 1999.
Arizona, on the other hand, is playing its best ball.
The Cardinals have covered their past four games and are off back-to-back victories against St. Louis and Seattle. Edgerrin James has rushed for 96 or more yards three of the last four behind an improved offensive line that has yielded just four sacks the last five games.
All this leads to the next question: Will the wise guys get involved with the Cardinals and push the line to pick ’em, since you know the public won’t get involved with Arizona?
“Most wise guys can’t bet Dennis Green against Mike Shanahan in a small pointspread range,” Malinsky said.
There is some debate as to how high San Diego should be favored at home against Kansas City, a team they lost to by three points in Week 7. LVSC’s recommendation was Chargers -10 ½. Offshore books opened San Diego -7 ½. The line currently is Chargers -8.
“I don’t want to be in a position of opening the Chargers -7 ½ and seeing them get bet up to 10,” Seba said. “They (bettors) play San Diego every week. The public really rides them. I think -9 ½ is the right number.”
If LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t the best running back in the NFL, then Larry Johnson is. And if Antonio Gates isn’t the best pass-catching tight end, then Tony Gonzalez is.
So can we make the underdog work here if the line climbs to double-digits? Kansas City’s defense is better than it has been the past four years. The Chiefs have a veteran quarterback, solid offensive line and ability to keep the ball away from the Chargers, who lead the NFL in scoring averaging 32.7 points.
Malinsky doesn’t believe so.
“There’s little value to the Chiefs,” he said. “Not with the way the Chargers have been smoking and with revenge. You better have a lot going if you’re going to step in against them.”
What happens if the Chiefs were to fall 14 points behind the Chargers?
“Time to change the channel,” Malinsky said.
Miami is 5-1 its last six. The Dolphins just shut out New England, yet are 2-point underdogs to Buffalo. The Bills have been out-gained by an average of 75 yards a game.
“The Bills beat them (the Dolphins) earlier in the year and are at home, so they have to be favored,” Seba said.
Jacksonville rolled past Tennessee, 37-7, in Week 9. This week the Jaguars are 3 ½-point road favorites against the Titans. The loss to the Jaguars was the only time the Titans haven’t covered in their last nine games. They are 6-3 straight-up in this span with their other two defeats coming by one point to Baltimore and by one point to Indianapolis.
“They are unbettable on the road,” Malinsky said of the Jaguars. “It was a big win for Jacksonville beating the Colts. Jacksonville is one of those effort teams. The Jaguars have to have a big effort to be successful and this could be a flat spot for them after beating the Colts.”
At first glance the Monday night over/under on Cincinnati-Indianapolis seems low. The game opened 51 and currently sits at 52. It wouldn’t be surprising if the total climbed several more points higher before kickoff.
“If a game ever looked like a 55, it would be this matchup,” Seba said. “But you have to look at what these teams have been doing lately.”
The Colts have failed to exceed 17 points four of their last five games, while the Bengals have surrendered only 17 points total in their past three games against Baltimore, Cleveland and Oakland.
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