Thursday, October 11, 2012

New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks: NE -3 (Pinnacle)

Markets

The offseason line on this game was Patriots -6.  The look-ahead line was -4.  It reopened at the same number, but amazingly "smart money" has come in on the Seahawks.  There are a lot of -3.5 on the board, but -3's are out there and others have the juice somewhere in between.

I understand the dangers of fading home dogs this season, and especially the Seahawks, but I don't understand this line move whatsoever.

Spread-Proof?

I very rarely pick for or against the New England Patriots.  They have been an absolute nightmare for sportsbooks because it doesn't seem to matter what point spread they put up, the Patriots cover more times than not.  Throw in the fact that they are a public team and you have a double-threat on your hands.

On the flip side, handicappers and professional bettors have no idea if there is value in a line or not.  It's a given that every Patriots point spread is inflated, but at what point do we identify value and pull the trigger?  Last week, I thought Broncos +7 was one of those spots, but that backfired epically.

Even more perplexing is that wiseguys have been fading the Patriots all season long!  The last time I checked New England is 4-1 ATS.  Call me stupid, but why is so-called smart money fading them again this week?  If anything, this New England team is better than the version we saw last year.

Home-Field Over-Advantage?

I think the Seahawks home-field advantage has gone a little overboard.  I deserved to lose when I took the Cowboys vs them in Week 2, but I had a right-side winner (loser) when I played the Packers the following week.

I know the Seahawks deserve an extra half-point or two for their great fans, but when it comes to elite teams, crowd noise only goes so far.  I'm not at all intimidated by riding the Patriots as road favorites.

Even with the home field advantage adjustment, I still think there's value on New England at -3.

Patriots Offense vs Seahawks Defense

The battle that the average fan is sure to have the most interest in is Tom Brady vs Seattle's defense.  We all saw what this front four can do against an elite QB in the first half of the Packers game, but Tom Brady is bringing a new weapon to town - a lethal running game.

I even saw one scout say that the Patriots rushing attack might have surpassed their aerial game. I'm not ready to go that far, but it's clear that New England have a new dimension in their arsenal.

The Patriots have always been good at running the ball. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but they ran efficiently in key spots to move the chains or in goal-line situations.

This version of the running game is completely transforming what we think and know of their offense.  Last week Brady switched up formations, changed the tempo, and altered his cadences so much that the Broncos had no idea what hit them.  Rushing lanes were so open, so often, that when all was said and done, they had racked up over 250 yards and 35 1st downs.

When push comes to shove, it's hard to say that the Seahawks have what it takes to contain this powerhouse attack for 60 minutes.  If Brady gets decent pass protection, he'll burn the aggressive corners early and often.  They might be able to jam and disrupt a guy like Brandon Lloyd, but that approach has rarely worked against a Wes Welker. 

Brady loves competition and loves shutting up crowds on the road.

Seahawks Offense vs Patriots Defense

It's not very often that I say the New England defense match up well with anyone, but that is definitely the case this week.  They have made modest improvements vs the pass and getting to the QB, but that's a far cry from what we were saying about them last year.  It was almost impossible not to improve.

Yet, the area that they've improved the most in is stopping the run.  What do the Seahawks do best?  Rush the ball. The Seahawks running game will also have Dont'a Hightower to contend with, as he's on track to play after missing last week with an injury.

As if Russell Wilson didn't have enough pressure on him entering Week 6, now he has to look across to the other sideline and go toe to toe with Tom Brady.  If Seattle fall behind, I see very little chance in them coming back, thanks in large part to Wilson. Another preseason standout, Trindon Holliday, was just cut for ineffectiveness.  If the offense sputters again, I say it's time to make a change at QB. 

The simple truth is the Wilson-led offense is below average at sustaining drives and even worse in the red zone. No team throws the ball less than Seattle and only the Jaguars throw for less yards per pass. With Wilson's legs, you'd assume they'd be better in these categories, but he doesn't have the weapons around him and he's not making enough plays on his own.

Bottom Line

It's time to exorcise the replacement ref demons. It would take a super-human total team effort and a couple breaks to beat the Patriots, but the metrics just don't add up in Seattle's favor. I'm not only picking New England to win and cover this game in spite of the "12th man", but I'm making it a "best bet" for the week.

 NE -3.