Pats-Titans And Itty-Bitty Spreads Everywhere

mac jones rhaimondre stevenson

You need two hands to draw a hand-shaped turkey. But you only need one hand to count the points separating the teams on almost every NFL spread this Thanksgiving week.

The highest spread of the week is 7 points — that’s in Cowboys-Raiders, the Thursday afternoon meat in the Turkey Day football sandwich. Other than that, there’s nothing above 5.5. Eight of the 15 games are a field goal or less. At one sportsbook, Caesars, four games were listed at one time Monday as pick ’ems! I don’t have the information at my fingertips to tell you if that’s a record, but, come on, that’s gotta be a record, right?

Parity shows itself in many forms. Parity is a league in which 25 of 32 teams have between three and seven wins through 11 weeks. Parity is a league in which a team like the Titans can lose to the Jets and Texans (who each have Super Bowl odds of 500/1 or higher) but defeat the Chiefs, Bills, and Rams (none with Super Bowl odds longer than 9/1). And parity is a league in which, sometimes, you get 15 games and every single one has a one-score spread.

Some of that last example is just coincidence, with some of the worst teams in the NFL happening to draw each other in Week 12 — the Jets are at the Texans, the Falcons are at the Jaguars, and the Bears are at the Lions. Those are three of the more uninteresting, unwatchable games you could draw up, but three games that are closely matched on paper. 

But that leaves some of the best teams to square off against each other and make this — again, on paper — probably the best week of the football season so far. Even with Kansas City and Arizona, two division leaders, enjoying a bye week, we still get the following marquee matchups:

  • Titans at Patriots, with the AFC’s best record (Titans, 8-3) taking on the best point differential in the NFL (Patriots, +123). This could be the game that determines Coach of the Year, as Mike Vrabel and Bill Belichick are both +450 at BetMGM, trailing only the Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury at +375.
  • Rams at Packers, as high quality a matchup as Titans-Pats, but with more star power thanks to Aarons Rodgers and Donald, Matt Stafford, Davante Adams, Odell Beckham Jr., and others.
  • Buccaneers at Colts, a fascinating pairing of talented but somewhat inconsistent teams that brings Tom Brady back to a stadium in which he’s played his share of high-profile games over the years.

Then there are solid divisional rivalry games with playoff implications, like Browns at Ravens, Steelers at Bengals, Chargers at Broncos, and Eagles at Giants. Plus, Bills at Saints in the Thursday nightcap isn’t bad.

This is a great week for squinting and trying to decide if your best bet on a given game is against the spread or on the moneyline. In most of these games, there’s hardly any difference. Let’s take a closer early look at the lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 12:

The consensus lines

Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the 15 games in Week 12:

  • Bears (-3.5) at Lions
  • Raiders at Cowboys (-7)
  • Bills (-4.5) at Saints
  • Steelers at Bengals (-4.5)
  • Buccaneers (-3) at Colts
  • Panthers (-1.5) at Dolphins
  • Titans at Patriots (-5.5)
  • Eagles (-3.5) at Giants
  • Falcons (-1) at Jaguars
  • Jets at Texans (-2.5)
  • Chargers (-2.5) at Broncos
  • Rams at Packers (-1)
  • Vikings at 49ers (-3)
  • Browns at Ravens (-4.5)
  • Seahawks (-1) at Washington

Line move to watch

Given Lamar Jackson’s repeated bouts with undisclosed non-COVID “illness” and the fact that Ravens-Browns is a rematch of the instant classic game that inspired headlines like “Lamar Jackson Insists he Didn’t Take a Poop Break,” it feels like there’s potential for pre-game QB uncertainty that shifts that Sunday night line in one direction or the other.

But the more intriguing one to keep an eye on is Packers-Rams. Green Bay is a very short home favorite, but the books can’t agree on a number: The Kambi sportsbooks say -1.5; DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Caesars say -1; and FOX Bet says -0.5. The loss of Packers offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins with a torn ACL is a big deal, and bettors will continue to process that. Is it possible the Rams swing to slight favorites coming off a bye? Then it swings back as people pounce on a rare opportunity to bet on Rodgers as a home dog?

Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider

Bronze medal: Vikings +150 (FOX Bet) at 49ers. It’s 5-5 vs. 5-5, a battle to stay in the playoff hunt, two teams both coming off back-to-back impressive wins. Here’s the thing: Minnesota plays everyone close. Throw out a 13-point win over Seattle in Week 3, and its other nine games have been decided by an average of 4.1 points. This game is a coin flip and home-field advantage means less than ever this year, so +150 on either team is a good deal.

Silver medal: Titans +210 (FOX Bet) at Patriots. New England is playing as well as any team in the league right now. It’s won five straight, allowed 13 points total in the last three games, and remains absurdly healthy for late November. So why bet on the Titans? Because they play up to their competition, because Vrabel figured out how to beat Belichick the last time they met (in a January 2020 playoff game), and because the one rule of the NFL in 2021 is that the moment everyone starts to believe in a team is the moment that team fails. 

Gold medal: Raiders +270 (Caesars) at Cowboys. The Coin says the Raiders are winning this one. Who are we to go against The Coin?

Textbook teaser candidates

Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:

  • Cowboys: Can tease down to -1 or pick’em on Thanksgiving Day against the Raiders.

And … that’s it. That’s all the favorites of 6 points or greater. For any other favorites, you’d have to tease across zero. So, no teasers this week. Unless you want to tease three underdogs up into double digits, of course. Colts +10, Vikings +10, and Browns +11.5, perhaps?

Most Valuable MVP bet

Instead of telling you who you should bet on this week (Brady is the clear favorite, but there’s no value at +300), we’ll focus on someone you shouldn’t bet on: Jonathan Taylor. The Indy RB suddenly has the 10th-lowest odds at +2000 at DraftKings and BetMGM and +2500 everywhere else, and yeah, we get it — the guy just posted 205 total yards and 5 touchdowns against the Bills, had the biggest fantasy week anyone has had all season, and leads the league in rushing yards and TDs.

But his numbers still don’t compare to Derrick Henry’s last year, and Henry didn’t get a single vote. It’s hard for a non-quarterback to win this award. You need to do something historic. Taylor had an epic week in Week 11, but he isn’t having a jaw-dropping season.

And he sure as heck isn’t winning MVP if his team doesn’t win its division. The Colts are currently two games behind the Titans with two head-to-head losses. They also have the Bucs, Patriots, and Cardinals remaining on their schedule. You think a running back on a 10-7 or even 11-6 second-place team is winning MVP?

It’s tempting with several top QBs screwing up each week, but Indy needs to run the table and finish 12-5 with Taylor crossing 2,000 yards — and that’s a lot longer than a 25/1 shot.

How did we do last week?

This column is not really about betting advice — it’s more an overview of the NFL week ahead and a collection of ideas to think about — but we may as well have some accountability. So …

Last week’s best call: Our “bronze medal” moneyline underdog was the Colts at a handsome +270 over the Bills, and if you bet it, you were counting your money in the third quarter.

Last week’s worst call: Our “silver medal” dog was a respectable pick, with the +190 Steelers almost pulling off a miracle. But our “gold medal” selection was shamefully off base. The Jags +245 against the Niners was, like Colts-Bills, over in the third quarter — but not in a good way.

Gadget plays

  • Parity Week in the NFL apparently applies to point totals also. Eleven of the 15 games have totals between 44 and 48.5. Lions-Bears (41.5) and Dolphins-Panthers (43) are the low-side outliers, while Cowboys-Raiders (51) and Colts-Bucs (51.5) come in on the high side. Tampa has the highest points scored per game of any team in the league (30.9) and hasn’t scored fewer than 19 in any game this season. Indy is averaging 28.9 with a lowest score this season of 16.
  • Bad news for anyone who jumped on that five-team division-winner parlay (Bills, Titans, Cowboys, Packers, Bucs) we first mentioned seven weeks ago when the odds were +246: The odds have swung back to plus money. The parlay is now +125, after sitting in the favorite zone for a month and hitting -191 two weeks ago. That’s what happens when four of the five teams lose ground in Week 11, with the Bills looking especially precarious as they suddenly find themselves in second place in the AFC East.
  • How ’bout them Chiefs? They’re suddenly the second favorite to win the Super Bowl (between +700 and +750), the shortest money to win the AFC (+325 to +350), and the favorite again (-135 to -150) to win the AFC West. From a sportsbook’s perspective, those numbers make sense, as they (a) already have some liability on Kansas City and (b) can expect the public to want to keep betting on a team with Patrick Mahomes and that championship pedigree. But have they actually turned a corner while winning four straight? The defense has done so (with a little help from drawing Jordan Love instead of Rodgers three weeks ago). But the offense still isn’t justifying numbers this short. Proceed with caution.
  • Welcome, James Conner, to the Comeback Player of the Year award discussion! The Cardinals running back is +1000 at DraftKings and putting together a case if Dak Prescott keeps playing like he did against Kansas City on Sunday. (Meanwhile, Conner is only +2000 at DK for Offensive Player of the Year, which feels like the worst wager at any sportsbook anywhere right now.)

Photo: Brian Fluharty /USA TODAY

Author: Wanda Peters