My 10 betting lessons from NFL Week 12
If a sequel is made to American Underdog, the movie that highlighted Kurt Warner’s rise from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming a Super Bowl champion, Mike White’s story might someday fit the script.
New York fans were chanting White’s name at the end of Sunday’s game after he passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns in the Jets’ 31-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. White has yet to win a playoff game, and beating the Bears is no awesome accomplishment, but he’s just getting started.
Zach Wilson is probably finished for the season. Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, was benched last week after taking no accountability for his pathetic performance in a loss at New England. Wilson’s career is not done because he’ll eventually get another shot somewhere — and he could go into next season as the Jets’ starter — but for now, he’s an afterthought.
White, who played at Western Kentucky and was a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2018, was an afterthought most of the season and buried on the bench behind Wilson and veteran Joe Flacco. White is working on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The key is he has had to grind for every opportunity in the league and was never handed anything.
“White came in and had a good day,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello said. “Wilson has not proved anything yet in the league.” Avello said his book was heavy on Jets action Sunday, but “it was nothing that was knocking us out of whack, not a lot of liability.”
In fact, only 46% of the bets and 61% of the money were on the Jets at DraftKings. Smart money was on the favorite, and dumb money was on the dog.
Ben Fawkes, VSiN’s vice president of digital content, reported that multiple bettors at Caesars sportsbooks placed wagers of $100,000 or more on the Jets at -7 and -7.5 after it was announced less than an hour before kickoff that Nathan Peterman would start at quarterback for the Bears. It was no surprise that Justin Fields was scratched with a shoulder injury, but it was surprising that Trevor Siemian wound up starting instead of Peterman. There isn’t a big difference between Siemian and Peterman, but considering the NFL’s tight relationship with sports betting companies, the Bears’ pregame quarterback circus is something that should not be happening.
The bigger story was White, and there is a big difference between White and Wilson. White completed 22 of 28 passes in the rain, wasn’t intercepted and was sacked only once. Wilson had four touchdown passes in seven starts this season, and while the Jets did go 5-2 in his starts, they were winning despite Wilson in most cases.
White is the king of New York today, but the Jets’ schedule is about to get much tougher, starting with road games at Minnesota and Buffalo. The Jets are likely headed to the playoffs, and there’s no doubt they are more dangerous dogs with White as their quarterback, so that’s one of 10 betting lessons to take away from Week 12.
Double-digit ‘dogs look tempting … before playing dead.
VSiN’s Brent Musburger hyped his Sunday morning Countdown to Kickoff show with this line: “Underdogs continue to howl in the NFL. After the Lions and Giants cashed tickets on Thanksgiving, the dogs are 90-69-6 ATS this season.”
The biggest dogs of the day were the Houston Texans (+14 at Miami) and Los Angeles Rams (+15.5 at Kansas City), with both teams starting backup quarterbacks. The Texans, who started Kyle Allen instead of Davis Mills, trailed 30-0 at halftime in a 30-15 loss. The Rams, forced to go with Bryce Perkins, were fortunate to hang around in a 26-10 loss to the sleepwalking Chiefs.
Houston (1-9-1) is the worst team in the league. Los Angeles (3-8) looks nothing like a defending Super Bowl champ. It should be noted that DraftKings closed the Texans at +15 and the Rams at +16 — a tick higher than the consensus numbers in the market — so those dogs pushed against the spread for the few who waited for the best numbers. The reality was the day’s two biggest dogs were bad bets.
Betting on the “Red Rifle” is shooting yourself in the foot.
It’s a mystery why the Saints continue to trot out Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback. Dalton was not terrible—a nice way to say he did nothing particularly well—and does not deserve all the blame for New Orleans’ 13-0 loss at San Francisco. However, it has been obvious for a while that Dalton is a bet-against quarterback who’s rarely going to win.
The Saints’ streak of scoring in 332 consecutive games, which was the longest active streak in the NFL, ended after Wil Lutz missed a 48-yard field goal try in the third quarter and running back Alvin Kamara lost a fumble near the goal line in the fourth quarter. New Orleans (4-8) is only somewhat relevant because the NFC South is the league’s worst division.
Dennis Allen should be fired as coach, and the franchise needs a new quarterback. The Sean Payton-Drew Brees era is a fading memory.
Tom Brady is still a reason to believe in the Buccaneers.
A season plagued by injuries just got worse for Tampa Bay, which took a 23-17 overtime loss at Cleveland and lost stud right tackle Tristan Wirfs to a leg injury. Brady passed for 246 yards and two touchdowns, but the Buccaneers were held scoreless on their final seven possessions.
The outlook is bleak for the Bucs (5-6), but they still will probably win eight or nine games to take the division title. I’m not touting Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl threat, yet its defense is tough enough to give Brady a shot at winning a playoff game or two. I’m not counting out Brady—a mistake too many people have made in the past, for some reason—until he’s knocked out. It’s an unpredictable league and strange things always happen in December.
Deshaun Watson might not make the Browns instantly better.
A skunk was on the loose Sunday in Cleveland’s stadium before being trapped in a box above a tunnel leading to the Browns’ locker room. The stink in the air was a precursor to the story of the week—Watson is returning from an 11-game suspension for sexual misconduct allegations and will take over as the starting quarterback.
Jacoby Brissett’s last start ended with a bang. On fourth-and-10 with 32 seconds left in regulation, Brissett fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to David Njoku. Brissett then drove the offense to the 3-yard line, where Nick Chubb ran it in for the win with 19 seconds remaining in overtime. Brissett has been a quality starter—completing 64% of his passes for 2,608 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions—and a class act.
Cleveland (4-7) is counting on Watson to lift the offense to the next level, though that’s a lot to ask of a player who will appear in a game for the first time in 700 days. Watson does catch a break by facing the hapless Texans, who drafted him in 2017 and traded him to Cleveland in March. Watson did not look sharp in his brief preseason action, and I’m not expecting great things from him down the stretch.
Russell Wilson’s situation is an unmitigated disaster.
The Broncos opened as two-point favorites at Carolina, a line that looked wrong from the start and closed pick’em. Wilson led the league’s lowest-scoring offense at 14.7 points per game, and he produced three points in the first three quarters of a 23-10 loss to the Panthers.
Wilson passed for 142 yards and was sacked three times while getting outplayed by Sam Darnold, Carolina’s third different starting quarterback in three weeks. Denver (3-8) is headed for double digits in losses with games against the Ravens and Chiefs on deck. The Broncos can fire coach Nathaniel Hackett to escape that problem, but Wilson’s five-year, $245 million contract extension (with $165 million guaranteed) is an inescapable mess for the franchise’s future.
“First of all, the Broncos hired the biggest bozo possible to be their coach, then they traded for multiple first-round picks for Wilson and gave him all that money,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “The Broncos might be in the worst shape of any franchise in the league right now.”
Public favorites fatten the bookmakers’ bottom line.
Fawkes reported five teams (Seahawks -4, Buccaneers -3.5, Ravens -3.5, Chargers -3, Broncos -1) drew 70% or more of the bets at DraftKings in Week 12 games. Betting splits information is valuable to contrarian players for this reason—four of those teams lost and all five failed to cover.
“We have been having a good season,” Avello said. “This NFL is impossible to pick. It has been a good run for the books this year.”
Brandon Staley’s bold moves are not always wrong.
The Chargers’ young coach is an analytics-driven gambler who often makes calls that backfire. This time he deserves credit for getting it right. Justin Herbert’s touchdown pass pulled Los Angeles within 24-23 with 15 seconds left at Arizona. Staley went all-in by opting for a two-point conversion, and Herbert connected with tight end Gerald Everett for a 25-24 win. Betting backers of the Chargers, who were favored by 2.5 to 3 points, wanted overtime. It’s another reminder that laying points with the Chargers is risky business.
Josh McDaniels might be finding some answers.
Derek Carr’s five-yard touchdown pass to Foster Moreau with 1:54 to go kept Las Vegas alive. Instead of gambling on a two-point conversion try, Raiders coach McDaniels opted to go with Daniel Carlson’s point-after kick to tie the score at 34. McDaniels made the proper decision because even a successful two-pointer did not guarantee victory.
It was also right of Carr to audible to a running play when the Raiders’ started their second drive in overtime. Josh Jacobs blasted through the line and raced 86 yards for a 40-34 win over the Seahawks. Jacobs finished with 33 carries for 229 yards as Las Vegas rolled up 576 yards on the Seattle defense.
McDaniels needed that type of offensive performance to instill belief and quiet his critics. While Jacobs is a keeper, the front office will have a major decision to make on Carr’s future in the offseason. A lesson for now is the Raiders, who have a realistic shot to win their next four games, are not dead yet at 4-7.
The Packers should consider sitting Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay is 4-8 and out of the playoff picture, so it’s time to evaluate backup quarterback Jordan Love, who passed for a touchdown and played well in relief of Rodgers in a 40-33 loss at Philadelphia on Sunday night. Rodgers, who threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions, exited in the third quarter with an injury to his ribs. He already had a broken thumb.
Rodgers said he wants to play this week at Chicago and, considering he has owned the Bears, why not? Eventually, though, the Packers need to give Love, their first-round pick in 2020, a shot to show what he can do.
DraftKings opened Green Bay as a 2.5-point favorite at Chicago, with the quarterback situation for both teams up in the air. It’s more tempting to bet on the Packers if Rodgers plays, but he’s struggling for a variety of reasons so approach with caution.