Early leans & analysis Wk 15
Early leans & analysis

NFL 2021

Week 15

What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday.

We’re intent on providing our readers with the best possible selections and doing so on Sunday instead of Friday just makes more sense. We made that change two years ago and ended up going 81-57 (+64 units) in 2018, 65-59 in 2019 (+16 units) and 55-62 in last year's unusual pandemic season. Again, we’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on Friday but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST

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Sunday, December 19

BUFFALO -10½ over Carolina

1:00 PM EST. At the time of this writing (Thursday) there are many unknowns in this game. First, there is the status of Josh Allen. Dude seems optimistic that he will play Sunday despite a foot injury. Allen suffered a left foot sprain and was in a walking boot on Monday so who knows. We’re going to assume that he’ll be ready to go but if he’s not, we couldn’t care less. Why, you ask?. Well, for one, the books don’t care and we know that because they put up a number. Therefore, if the books don’t care, we do not either. Furthermore, if Josh Allen doesn’t play, we’ll get a better number because the injury chasers will be out in full force.

The Panthers trap-game win over the Cardinals in Week 10 was a high point to the season, but these last three losses have all been by teams with losing records. As if it wasn’t bad enough picking between Cam Newton and P.J. Walker, Matt Rhules’ latest solution is to use them both. Rhiles went on to say that Sam Darnold could return from his shoulder injury and "could be a factor" since the Panthers don't have enough sub-200 yard games this year.

Carolina reminds us of a signature Kurt Angle moment. No, not the Olympic gold medal win or WrestleMania main events. This one:

The Panthers were looking like one of the surprises of the league after a 3-0 start, but inconsistency at quarterback has plagued them for the entire season and most of the blame needs to go to head coach Matt Rhule and the building of this offense. We’re not defending Sam Darnold—he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league last year and has failed to show any improvement—but nobody would be successful behind this Panthers offensive line. According to ESPN's Next Gen Stats, Carolina is 28th in the league in Pass Block Win Rate and 25th in Run Block Win Rate. Matt Rhule said he wanted to run the ball more—that's why the Panthers canned Joe Brady—but it would be futile behind an offensive line that's 28th in stuff rate. They're also last in adjusted sack rate, so passing the ball won't help either. At best, it's foolish pride for Rhule to continue to throw different quarterbacks behind this line and expect something different; at worst it's sheer negligence.

Rhule has also mismanaged the quarterback situation to an extent that might be beyond repair. Continuing to rotate in quarterbacks during the game like a college scheme isn't viable at the NFL level. Quarterbacks need to be able to get into a rhythm, and Rhule rotating in Newton and Walker within quarters as if they were playing a preseason game is poor roster management. The Panthers are a big mess and will be exposed in a massive way by a Buffalo team that destroys wounded prey. After playing New England and Tampa Bay the past two weeks, this game will appear in slow motion for Buffalo’s solid defense. If Carolina plays better than we expect, the final score will be something like 38-3. If they play like we expect, it'll be closer to 52-3. Recommendation: Buffalo -10½

Arizona -13 -105 over DETROIT

1:00 PM EST. It’s not often we go all Sheriff Buford Pusser and start swinging the big lumber all willy nilly, but the stars are aligned here. First and foremost, we have the Cardinals coming off a Monday Night Football shellacking at the hands of the Rams. To put into words just how much of an impact that ass kicking had on this market when we posted our money line play on the Rams around 4 PM EST, L.A. was +116. At kick-off, the “efficient market” had pounded the Cards into oblivion and the Rams were +160. Gee, do you think the appetite to lay significant road points on a short week with the banged-up Cardinals is going to be one this market will have the stomach for after losing so spectacularly just a few days ago?

Let’s get to the red elephant in the room, which is the diagnosis of Arizona’s star wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Dude will miss the rest of the regular season (at least) with a torn MCL, which he will have surgery on. Expected to miss at least six weeks, the 10-3 Cards hope to have him back for the playoffs. On the surface, it sounds like a major blow to the upstart Red Birds and their attempt to take this thing to the next level. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Hopkins has yet to put up a 100-yard game this season. Oh, dude has already missed three games this season as well. In his two games back after that absence, D-Hop went for a combined 7-for-86 yards. Yes his TD snag in Chicago was a beauty catch, but it was the only major he cashed in on. Of the 13 targets fed to Hopkins in Week 14, he pulled in five balls. It’s a big name loss, no doubt, but it’s not one the Cardinals cannot overcome. As with any major injury, we are mindful of the injury chasers, who appear to be out in full force in Week 15.

Speaking of those injury chasers, the market faded the short-handed Lions into oblivion last Sunday in Detroit’s 38-10 drubbing in the Mile High city. We doubt the market darling Lions lost much of their luster in that game, as this is a team that this market thinks it “knows”. While just 1-11-1, Detroit City is 8-5 against the spread and as we said, that blowout loss last week was one of the book’s biggest liabilities of the day in both ticket count and cash. The Lions did what was expected. Good kitties.

Situationally speaking, the scenario for the Cards is one that the scumbag pick sellers eat up. One of the many gambling “dirt sheets” you’ll find online said this, “The situation greatly favors Detroit with the Cardinals traveling on a short week after falling to the Rams in a huge NFC West Division game this past Monday. The Lions have lost seven of their 11 games by 10 points or fewer.” Hmm, sounds familiar, eh? Never mind that the Cardinals have been arguably the best road team in the league this season. Two of their seven wins came with Colt McCoy at the helm and D-Hop missed both those contests. If one could present a reasonable argument of how the Lions can keep pace in what looks to be an armchair classic, we’d gladly listen, but all the value appears to lie with the Red Birds so we’re going to sit back, relax and enjoy the rout. Recommendation: Arizona -13-105

Washington +10 -105 over PHILADELPHIA

1:00 PM EST. Add the Football Team to the list of clubs that are drowning in COVID this week as they have added nearly two dozen players to the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list. Of the 20+ players on that list, a dozen were set to start here in Week 15. Now, it appears WFT will field a glorified practice squad. Given the rate of transmission on his team, head coach Ron Rivera said "Nobody expected this [Omicron] variant. Because it's spreading so quickly around the league right now, that almost feels like a matter of time. I don't think anybody expected it to be like this. Our thought might be that guys that hadn't gotten vaccinated might have come down with it at some point or another, not that it would be a crossover." In case you forget, Rivera battled cancer last year so dude is extremely immunocompromised. As for who will suit up for the Football Team on Sunday, who's to say? All we know is that this is a next man up league and the injury (COVID) chasers are licking their lips.

How many times does a coach have to say there isn’t a quarterback controversy until you’ll finally believe them? For us, it’s going to take a few more tries from Nick Sirianni. Maybe it’s because the Eagles brass dropped Carson Wentz like a sack of rotten onions in favor of the flashy Jalen Hurts just a year ago, or maybe it’s because this is a win first league, but we’re not buying it. The career statistics between Hurts and Gardner Minshew are very comparable. Minshew looked like a field general against the Jets (which we take with a grain of salt), but with Hurts still nursing that sore ankle, Minshew might get the call again here. If he does, that is going to dictate the way we lean in this game.

The two pivots were supposed to split the starter’s reps at practice, which is not normal for a team that has a clear cut #1. Hurts is trying his best to make himself available to play, we don’t blame him. When your team dumps their franchise QB for you after an injury, you might also want to stay on the field. As it stands, we’re going to assume that Hurts get the nod. If he does, the Football Team will be on our radar. If not, we’ll likely pass. Recommendation: Washington +10 -105

SAN FRANCISCO -9 over Atlanta

4:05 PM EST. There are a number of factors at work here that are influencing the 49ers to be underpriced. First, Atlanta is 6-7 and still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Second, the Dirty Birds are coming off a sound performance last week when they traveled to Carolina and beat the Panthers 29-21 but were up 29-14 before giving up a meaningless late TD. Third, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been one of the better defensive masterminds at generating pressure for the greater part of a decade, and the pressure calls he schemed up were amplified to the max in the Falcons' win over the Panthers. Panthers quarterbacks Cam Newton and P.J. Walker were under constant duress throughout the game, and that resulted in not only a sack, but two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Recent results combined with wins and losses influence the market more than anything else. Atlanta has been competitive, they’re only a game under .500, they’re in the playoff discussion and the last time the market saw them, the Dirty Birds left a positive impression.

Meanwhile, the 49ers beat Cincinnati last week but what sticks out is Cincinnati scoring two fourth quarter TD’s to send the game to OT while the 49ers were gasping for air on defense. The week before, the majority of the market backed San Francisco spotting three points in Seattle and what followed was the majority of the market ripping up their tickets in disgust, as San Fran would get shut out in the second half and lose 30-23. This week, the market looks to be about split on this game but we’re going to suggest that the 49ers are underpriced or perhaps more accurately is that the Falcons are grossly getting way too much credit.

The Falcons show up in San Francisco right when all of the parts of the 49ers offense are coming together. The 49ers struggled with injuries to key players this year, but when the key players are all there, this offense is as good as any.

Congrats to Atlanta for putting together their best DVOA performance of the season last week but it is now time to sell, sell and sell some more. It was only the second time they have finished a game with a positive DVOA, the previous time being Week 7 when they posted a 0.7% total DVOA in a 30-28 win over Miami. The fact that Atlanta somehow put together this performance and remains 32nd in DVOA for the season is objectively hilarious. The Atlanta Falcons are somehow playing the dangerous game of being 6-7 while being dead last in DVOA and having a point differential of -108. The 49ers are about to put them out of their misery. Recommendation: San Francisco -9 -105

L.A. RAMS -4 -105 over Seattle

4:25 PM EST. Ain’t no party like a COVID party, Bay Bay! Count the Rams in on what has become the theme of the week—a roster so totally loaded with COVID that any of y’all could walk by SoFi Stadium and get picked up for the practice squad.

Warm bodies are a premium in the L.A. camp in Week 15. We could list everyone on the Rams who is in league protocols, but needless to say, the only dude’s that matter who aren’t are Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Sony Michel, Aaron Donald and Von Miller. No offense to the rest of the Rams’ roster, but we’d take our chances with those five dudes and any other four frozen or so scrubs you can scrap up to silence the Seahawks and their pompous head coach.

At 5-8, and coming off a win in Houston (WOOOOOOOOOOO!), Pete Carroll is out here stylin’ and profilin’—talking all kinds of nonsense about how his team can win out and sneak into the playoffs. Playoffs??!! PLAYOFFS!!?? This dude must be higher than Mount Rainier. Pete, buddy, lay off the hippie lettuce and take a moment to loosen those khakis. Full offense intended, a win over the Texans means nothing. In fact, it means less than nothing. We don’t care if it was a “complete” victory as Carroll said in the aftermath. What does that even mean anyway? Ah, he’s such a loser it’s infuriating. We don’t know how this dude’s family can stand his ass. Maybe that’s why he’s still coaching at 70—nobody is looking for him to do anything but keep those fat checks coming.

In addition to being totally whacked out of his skull with regards to the Seachickens’ playoff hopes, Carroll also took the time to let everyone know just how much better his team and the great state of Washington has dealt with the pandemic. The ‘Chickens do not (currently) have any members of its roster in COVID protocols (the only team league-wide), but that’s not enough for Pete, he’s got to rub it in, "Our state is not fighting or bickering over taking care of one another. It’s a really smart community that has decided to take this thing on. Not 100%, but more so than most." Washington currently sports the 10th best cases per 100K in the USA (if you were interested in such things). Meanwhile, California, where the Rams play, is tied for sixth. Oh, there are also about 32 million more people in the Sunshine State to boot. The point? Pete is talking out of his ass again. Don’t forget to mask up. Recommendation: L.A. RAMS -4 -105

TAMPA BAY -11 -105 over New Orleans

8:20 PM EST. Usually, we like to make these Sunday Night Football write-ups a little longer than the others, but if you’ve made it this far, you know that we cannot help ourselves. That’s why there are a dozen or so paragraphs on the freaking Jaguars and Texans. However, in this game, we only need four words. Thomas. Edward. Patrick. Brady. Junior. Shit! OK, we lied, we need five words.

We’ll leave Brady’s struggles with the Saints since arriving in Tampa (1-3) to the talking heads, the pick sellers and any other pundits who wish to feast on that low hanging fruit. Hell, we’ll help them make their case for the Saints, who are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven meetings with the Buccaneers. That includes a 36-27 win in New Orleans earlier this season as a 4-point pooch. Also in that run are a pair of regular season victories in 2020—most notably the “shocking” 38-3 bum spanking that Drew Brees and friends put on Brady and his new ‘mates on SNF last November.

We mentioned Brees because it’s worth noting that he was at the helm for both of those wins in 2020, while Jameis Winston (who had a pretty big chip on his shoulder after being cut by Tampa) led the Saints in Week 7. Here in Week 15, a pretty petty Brady will go one on one with Taysom Hill. Do you think Tommy Boy is going to let a third string tight end go throw-for-throw with him when the lights are the brightest? Tha’ fuck outta here. Recommendation: TAMPA BAY -11 -105 

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