The NFL betting market has experienced more volatility this week than any other week this season. Winter storms and sub-freezing temperatures across the country are shaping up to create extreme conditions for some football games.
Seven outdoor games are expected to have extremely low temperatures that will be compounded by wind chill, creating Arctic elements ranging from 10 to minus-20 degrees. Those games could also involve six backup quarterbacks, which only furthers the unknown and creates a softer market that had oddsmakers more willing to move their numbers throughout the week.
“It’s sort of a guessing game. You can’t just rely on power ratings,” SuperBook oddsmaker Jeff Sherman told ESPN, discussing the difficulty of posting odds for games with unique weather. “We will absolutely move off a number if we respect the bettor.”
We are programmed to believe that the house always wins. That is certainly the case with the casino floor, given the inarguable math of dice, a roulette wheel or a deck of cards. Sports are not as clean as those table games, but the edge still typically resides with the sportsbook.
However, when a game features more variables like bizarre weather and key injuries, the house lacks its usual advantage. These games, much like bowls, involve so much uncertainty that it essentially becomes apples and oranges when comparing it to a conventional matchup with healthy rosters and normal weather.
“It’s not fool-proof, but if you beat the market, you can have an edge,” professional bettor Chuck Edel told ESPN, also sharing that he pays an assistant to track weather for every single college and NFL game. “People who are getting the information first, whether it’s injuries or weather, are going to have much more advantageous positions. And if you’re doing your job, you can always get off the number and play the other side [if the weather forecast changes].”
This week has seven games with totals in the 30s, which is the most since 2011. Most of the totals have already moved significantly. For example, the Saints-Browns game opened at 38.5 and sharp money has moved the market to 32, which is the lowest NFL total since 2008.
The numbers you need to know
What a wild week for this much-anticipated showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys (-4.5, 47). Dallas botched its end of the bargain by losing in Jacksonville last Sunday, and now MVP candidate Jalen Hurts is out with an injury for the Eagles. Total bummer.
However, all tickets cash the same and now we must find a betting edge. Any statistical reference is difficult because backup QB Gardner Minshew gets the start. However, teams 9-1 or better that are at least 3-point underdogs are 4-16-4 against the spread and 2-22 straight up in the Super Bowl era. Essentially, the betting market is often right this late in the season. However, Minshew is the fly in the ointment, but Dallas was a 2-point favorite prior to the Hurts injury news surfacing.
It is not a big play for me, but I will lay the points with Dallas. Minshew is a competent backup, but he’s not an NFL starter. On top of that, Hurts is an outstanding quarterback and does so much for this team. His absence will be felt more than the points-spread adjustment. As long as the Cowboys approach this game with proper intensity and focus despite Hurts’ absence, America’s Team should cover against America’s quarterback, the mustached Minshew.
New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns (-3, 32)
Saturday, 1 pm ET, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
This could be the coldest game of the weekend, thanks to a 30-mph wind with gusts up to 60 mph. There is also a potential for a few inches of snow. I imagine we will get a heavy dose of Taysom Hill at quarterback for offensively challenged New Orleans, which has seen four straight games go under the total. Deshaun Watson is gradually shedding the rust, but this Browns offense will still lean on the ground game in these elements. Also, WR Chris Olave is out for the Saints. I lean under 32, but my favorite play is Cleveland, as I will fade a dome team in these insane conditions.
Pick: Browns -3
Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens (-6.5, 34.5)
Saturday, 1 pm ET, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
This is another scenario of a dome team having to endure brutal cold conditions. The Falcons are also starting rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, who will make his second career start after passing for 97 yards last week. Atlanta is already a run-heavy offense, and that fits well with Baltimore, which will also start a backup QB in Tyler Huntley. However, he might be limited, as he is nursing a shoulder injury. Additionally, after losing last week in Cleveland, John Harbaugh said he wished he didn’t abandon the run. I am going to take the under and hope the Falcons defense, which ranks second-worst in efficiency, can do enough.
Pick: Under 34.5, Ravens -0.5 in 6-point teaser leg
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7.5, 40.5) at Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, 8:20 pm ET, State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
By now we know all about Tampa’s woes. At 3-10-1 ATS, the Bucs have the worst cover percentage in the entire NFL. The best cure for that could be a third-string quarterback. Penn State product Trace McSorley will make his first career start for Arizona, and while he will be at home, this is a tough ask. The Bucs should snap out of their funk and at least win the game, although Todd Bowles certainly looks lost way too often. But Arizona coach Cliff Kingsbury is not exactly locked in, so I will take Tampa on a teaser.
Pick: Bucs -1.5 in 6-point teaser leg
Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers (-2, 38)
Saturday, 8:15 pm ET, Arizona Stadium, Pittsburgh
Is this Raiders team really going to walk into Pittsburgh with single-digit temperatures and beat a Steelers team that will honor legend Franco Harris, who passed away this week? If they do, then hats off to them. However, I think the Raiders are sloppy and undisciplined, which is why they’ve blown so many big leads. I expect Pittsburgh to run all over the Vegas defense this week and grind out a win.
Pick: Steelers -2
Denver Broncos (-3, 36.5) at Los Angeles Rams
Sunday, 4:30 pm ET, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California
Russell Wilson is expected to return, and that’s enough for me to lay points on the road. The Rams are a shell of themselves with Baker Mayfield extremely limited. Additionally, the Rams announced that they have shut down Aaron Donald for the rest of the season. Denver’s offensive woes are well-documented, but the defense ranks third in efficiency. The Rams have a distinct coaching advantage, but I was impressed with the Broncos’ performance last weekend and I hope they bring a similar effort and intensity to LA
Pick: Broncos -3