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 15:Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-4, 54)Buccaneers’ ball-hawking defense vs. Saints’ turnover troubles
The obvious mismatch in this NFC South showdown is the Saints’ powerful passing attack versus the Bucs’ busted pass defense. However, a quick look at New Orleans’ numbers against the Giants last week will take the shine off that battle. Drew Brees passed for 354 yards but was picked off twice – his ninth interception in the last three games – while New Orleans also lost two fumbles.
Tampa Bay may be getting burned by opposing QBs but they have capitalized when those arms made mistakes. The Bucs have picked off 17 passes this season – fourth in the NFL – and took three of those back to the house. Veteran corner Ronde Barber leads the team with four INTs and is probably the one player in the NFL that knows Brees the best. He recorded an INT in Tampa Bay’s loss to New Orleans in Week 7.
Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns (-2.5, 43.5)Redskins’ hobbled QB Robert Griffin III vs. Browns’ sack attack
Despite some tight lips in the nation’s capital this week, it appears that Robert Griffin III will play on a gimpy right knee Sunday. Griffin suffered a sprained ACL against Baltimore last week and is officially listed as questionable. The dual-threat rookie QB went through Wednesday’s practice without issue but will be tested by a relentless pass rush in Cleveland.
The brightest spot for the Browns is their ability to get to the quarterback. Cleveland ranks seventh in the NFL with 34 sacks this season, including five versus former QB Brady Quinn in a win over Kansas City last weekend. You can expect the Browns will bring pressure early and test the mobility of RG3 and his wonky knee. Add to that some slick playing conditions in Cleveland, with a 54 percent chance of rain and winds getting up around 15 mph.
Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers (-3, 45)Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera vs. Chargers’ coach Norv Turner
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is well schooled in the “Book of Norv”, having spent four seasons as Turner’s assistant with the Chargers, two as the Bolts’ defensive coordinator. When Rivera took the gig in Carolina, he raided the cupboards and took offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and secondary coach Steve Wilks with him.
Turner isn’t just going up against three former pupils but also his own son, Scott, who is the Panthers offensive quality control coach. The two usually talk every day but have had radio silence since last Sunday. Turner is on his way out of San Diego after a disappointing season and won’t be throwing any wrinkles into this usual bag of tricks. There won’t be many surprises for the Panthers coaches Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots (-4, 47)
Niners’ crappy kick coverage vs. Patriots’ sound special teams
In a game this tight, every yard is going to matter and field position may just dictate the winner. The Niners are a solid unit on both sides of the ball but their glaring weakness is on special teams. San Francisco has allowed foes to average 28.1 yards per kick return – worst in the NFL. The 49ers gave up some big returns to Miami last weekend, allowing an average of 30.6 yards per return on five kickoffs.
New England’s special teams are far from dangerous but they do have touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns this season. The Patriots have shown more life on punt returns, averaging 14 yards per return. On the other side of the ball, New England allows just 20.3 yards per kickoff (third lowest) and 5.9 yards per punt (fourth lowest).