For many drivers, the “Check Engine” light is but a mere suggestion.
There are a few minutes of sheer horror upon first seeing that tiny little orange engine silhouette on the dashboard, dreading all the extra costs that we’re about to absorb at the mechanic. But after a few days without your vehicle bursting into flames or suddenly shutting down, that pure panic dissipates and transforms into a bit of a game – a gamble if you would: How long can you drive this thing before doing severe damage to your ride?
Well, the engine light is on Foxborough.
And while most would think the issue is the recently-released exposé from ESPN, unearthing the slow toxification of the New England Patriots’ championship culture from the inside out, it’s not. The light is actually on Tom Brady’s dashboard and has more to do with the legendary quarterback’s bum Achilles than the trainer trying to fix it.
Quite honestly, Brady hasn’t had too many engine troubles in the past. Outside of his blown knee in 2008, No. 12 has run about as well as a 2000 Honda Civic – and you know there are plenty of those suckers still alive on the road, rolling over the 100K mark on the odometer more than a few times. However, Brady’s production dropped off following this recent Achilles injury suffered in Week 11 and hasn’t quite been the same since.
“Brady’s 87.3 passer rating over final six games of the regular season – coinciding with his name next to ‘Achilles’ on the injury report – comprised his worst six-game stretch since the start of the 2013 season (79.5) and his worst final six games of a season since 2009 (86.6),” noted renowned sports medical analyst Dr. David Chao in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Dr. Chao also notes that Brady has posted a completion percentage of only 61.7 with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in that six-game stretch, compared to a 68.7 completion percentage, 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions in New England’s first 10 contests.
Chao singles out a few other pain points for Brady (and does note that he had some WRs out with injuries) and how this Achilles issue hinders his mechanics (like the ability to pass deep), but the overall takeaway is Brady ain’t quite right.
He’s facing an aggressive Tennessee defense, ranked fifth in total sacks with 47 and coming off four sacks against Kansas City in the Wild Card Round. The Titans are dealing with a less-than-mobile Brady, especially if that tender Achilles reacts poorly to what should be a frigid night at Gillette Stadium.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee will go heavy on the run again, not only to utilize its strength against New England’s biggest weakness (4.7 rushing yards allowed per carry) but also chew up as much clock as possible and keep Brady and the Patriots offense off the field (even at less than 100 percent, he's still the damn GOAT). The Titans have been very good at controlling the football the past three games, averaging 31:57 in TOP including 32:28 against Kansas City.
As you can see, there’s a lot behind that warning light – maybe even enough to make it start blinking (which is when you know your car is really in shit). And just like tacking on another 500 miles despite the “Check Engine”, football bettors could be rolling the dice when laying all those points with the Pats this Saturday.
Pick: Titans +13.5
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5, 41)
To me, this total is very telling of how the pointspread could play out at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon.
The Over/Under is currently set at 41 points, which is tied as the second-lowest total Pittsburgh has faced all season – save for the 38.5-point number against the Browns in Week 17 when the Steelers sat all their weapons. The total was pegged at the same 41-point mark when these teams clashed in Week 5, with Jacksonville winning 30-9 as a 7.5-point underdog in Pittsburgh.
At that time, the Steelers offense was out of sorts. The team was averaging just under 20 points through its first six games and that bled over to the sportsbooks, with Pittsburgh posting a 3-3 ATS mark in those outings. And while the offense has found its familiar form – scoring at a 28.8 ppg clip in the final 10 games – all those added points have done little for Steelers bettors. Pittsburgh is just 4-6 ATS in that span, including a 2-6 ATS skid since coming off the bye in Week 10.
Besides the Ravens in Week 14 and the Patriots in Week 15, the Steelers faced a number of offensively-challenged teams in that span: Indianapolis, Tennessee, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Houston, and Cleveland. Those six opponents averaged a combined 18.5 points per game on the season and never really tested the Pittsburgh defense (which allowed 38 and 27 points to Baltimore and New England), yet it couldn’t do enough to get bettors over the hump most games.
Now, by no means does the Jaguars offense have Pittsburgh’s stop unit shaking in its cheats. But I do see last weekend’s 10-3 snoozer against the Bills – and the 17 combined punts – as a product of nerves. Both teams were edgy playing in their first postseason game in some time and that tightness translated into terrible, terrible offense. And this spread is a bit of knee-jerk reaction to that effort.
Before that game, and a weird Week 17 outing with Tennessee in which you weren’t sure if Jacksonville cared or not, the Jaguars' scoring was clicking. They put up scores of 30, 30, 45, and 33 from Weeks 13 to 16. With those postseason nerves settled, I expect a better offensive effort to support what is a tremendous defense. And with that low total projecting a 24-17 Steelers victory, I could easily see Jacksonville sneaking inside of this touchdown spread.
Pick: Jaguars +7.5
Last week: 2-0 ATS
Season: 22-29 ATS
Jason Logan is the senior managing editor for Covers.com. You can tell him how much his NFL underdog picks suck on Twitter @CoversJlo.