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Week 15 Handicapping: Sunday’s Big Matchups

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The NFL, or No Fun League for those of you who miss the good ol’ days of NFL betting when dynasties ruled and the Detroit Lions won games, must be happy about the parity in the league this season.

Outside of impressive years from the Tennessee Titans (12-1, 11-2 ATS) and the New York Giants (11-2, 10-3 ATS), and the potentially historically awful campaign from the Detroit Lions (0-13, 5-8 ATS), everyone else is pretty, well, average.  

Before you Pittsburgh Steelers backers light your computer monitor on fire, remember parity can be a great thing for sharp players who handicap matters wisely. Because anyone can win on any given Sunday, it takes someone who knows the league inside out to make money.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely part of the club. Here’s a trio of games on tap on Sunday to whet your betting whistle.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-3, 44.5) – 1 PM ET

The Falcons (8-5, 8-5 ATS) look to avenge an earlier loss to the Buccaneers (9-4, 7-6 ATS) when they host Tampa Bay in a pivotal NFC South matchup at the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta needs a much better effort than it gave in its 24-9 loss to Tampa Bay back on September 14, as Falcons backers were done in by two players that likely won’t see the field on Sunday. Former Bucs starting quarterback Brian Griese was 18-of-31 for 158 yards with a touchdown, while running back Earnest Graham ran for 116 yards on 15 carries with a score in Tampa Bay’s cover as 7-point home favorites.

Jeff Garcia is now under center for Jon Gruden, while Cadillac Williams is the featured back along with a hint of Warrick Dunn for good measure. The only chance Griese makes it onto the field to face the Falcons is if Garcia (probable) can’t suit up because of a calf injury.

Bettors should note the home team is 10-0 SU and 8-2 ATS in NFC South matchups this season, meaning Atlanta could be well on its way to staying afloat in the playoff scene.

Minnesota at Arizona (-3, 47) – 4:05 PM ET

Speaking of the NFC postseason picture, don’t think for one second the Cardinals (8-5, 8-5 ATS) are going to lay off against the Vikings (8-5, 5-8 ATS) just because they’ve already clinched the NFC West title.

Ken Whisenhunt knows in the ultra-competitive NFC, Arizona needs the best seeding it can get. Expect the Cards to come out firing because of it, and due to the fact quarterback Kurt Warner has an excellent chance to win the NFL MVP award if he continues his strong play.

Warner went 24-of-33 for 229 yards with a TD and an interception in Arizona’s 34-10 drilling of the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The Cardinals covered easily as 14-point home faves in the win, although Arizona cashed despite only 63 yards on the ground.

The Arizona running game needs to do better against Minnesota, which is no easy task considering the Vikings are ranked second in the league in run defense at 73.3 yards against per game. A solid ground attack would give the Cards’ defense a breather and keep Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson off the field.

New England at Oakland (+7, 39.5) – 4:15 PM ET

Just when you thought matters couldn’t get any worse for the Patriots (8-5, 6-7 ATS), the father of their starting quarterback passes away as they get ready to clash with the beleaguered Raiders (3-10, 5-8 ATS).

This is not to view Matt Cassel’s father’s death from a shallow perspective; it’s only to say New England has faced on inordinate amount of horrible luck this season. Tom Brady’s year-ending knee injury was only the beginning in a season that has seen the Pats defense decimated and a slew of key performers on the sidelines.

This week’s victims: Cassel, of course, who is expected to play with a heavy heart. Linebacker Mike Vrabel (neck) and cornerback Ellis Hobbs (shoulder) are probable, while defensive linemen Vince Wilfork (shoulder) and Ty Warren (groin) are questionable. This does nothing to address the players who are out indefinitely, like Brady, Laurence Maroney, Adalius Thomas, and Tedy Bruschi.

Bettors don’t seem to care the Patriots are the walking wounded. Just over 81% of wagers on the spread have come in on New England, so it’ll be interesting to see if oddsmakers move the line off their pristine 7-point tag before kickoff.

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