Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 13: Thanksgiving Day

Green Bay Packers vs Detroit Lions

Market Watch

There was no look-ahead or opening line for this game due to the uncertainty surrounding the Packers  quarterback situation. Now we know that Matt Flynn will be under center and he gets to face off against the team that made him rich. It seems like a long time ago now, but in 2011 he put up six touchdowns against the Lions. He's bounced around the league a lot since then though, and don't hold your breath if you're hoping for a repeat performance.

After Flynn was announced, sportsbooks made the Lions -6 point favorites. We've seen a move to -6.5, and I won't be surprised if this doesn't close -7 by kickoff. 71 percent of the bets are on the home team.

Bottom Line

Despite what happened the last two weeks, this is not an inflated number. The Lions should be touchdown favorites. They match up really well in all the key categories and still rank among the best in the league in all the "make-or-break" areas on both sides of the ball (third down/red zone).  When you add the discrepancy at quarterback and home field advantage into the equation, the only side to consider here are the Lions.

Delmas, Quin, and Johnson should be good to go, and Burleson has a week of action under his belt. Detroit have also been fantastic versus the run this year, which is the one area where the Packers thrive thanks to Eddie Lacy.  Green Bay get Sam Shields back, and that should help a struggling secondary, but is it enougth to stop this Lions passing game?

If Green Bay can win the turnover battle and keep Matt Flynn upright, they'll have a chance to cover this number. In reality, this is Detroit's game to lose. I'd consider playing them at anything under -7, but an even better option is to pair them in a teaser with the Cowboys - essentially asking them to win the game straight up.

Oakland Raiders vs Dallas Cowboys

Market Watch

There isn't a lot of respect for the Oakland Raiders for this Thanksgiving game.  The look-ahead and opening lines both had them as 9.5 point underdogs. With less than 24 hours until kickoff, we've seen some slight support for them as the line has now moved to -9, and there are even some -8.5s popping up.

Where will this line go? If the sportsbooks were smart, they wouldn't drop it below -9 so they can avoid the teaser window, but if it does continue to drop, don't hesitate to tease the Cowboys under a field goal.

59 percent of the bets are on America's Team.

Bottom Line

As usual, there are lots of problems with the Oakland Raiders. The offense is inconsistent, they take too many offensive penalties, can't sustain drives or protect the quarterback, and sit near the bottom of the league on special teams. They do hope to get Darren McFadden back though, so there's that.

On the flip side, things aren't all peaches and cream for the Cowboys either. They're defense has been bad all season and Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne won't play. The most concerning areas are on third down and in the red zone. When the Cowboys defense needs to get off the field, or keep an opponent out of the end zone, they falter. They are fortunate to be playing the Raiders this week, because most competent offenses make them pay.

Once again, Dallas will rely heavily on their offense to win this game and keep them atop of the NFC East. The Raiders defense have actually been pretty strong on third down this year, while the Cowboys offense has struggled in this spot. What will help Dallas though is the discrepancy in special teams.

Not many teams have a better average starting field position than them this year, so look for the Cowboys to have a distinct advantage at the start of each drive. Tony Romo and company have also been excellent at converting red zone chances into touchdowns. This is not a strength of the Raiders defense either.

Due to the improvement that Matt McGloin has brought, I think the true line on this game should be -7. I wouldn't feel comfortable playing Dallas at anything higher than that, but teasing them down to under a field goal looks like a great option.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens

Market Watch

This is the most difficult point spread to decipher on Thanksgiving Day. Last week Las Vegas had the Ravens as -3 point favorites, and it reopened at the same number after Week 12 action. At the moment, the line sits somewhere in between -2.5 and -3, depending on where you look.

By the numbers, the Ravens deserve to be favored by more than a field goal. I would say that -3.5 or -4 would be right, but the situation becomes more complicated once we factor in how the Steelers have played over recent weeks.

The sharp money is going to grab the Steelers at +3, but I wouldn't blame anyone for taking a long look at Baltimore -2.5, too.

The bets are pretty much split down the middle with 51 percent on Pittsburgh.

Bottom Line

It should be clear by now that the Ravens have a home (4-1) -road (1-5) dichotomy this season. When you add the fact that this is a short week, that home field advantage should be amplified a bit more.

But the trouble we have is what to do about the Baltimore offense. They have been completely inept on that side of the ball for most of the year. Conversely, the Steelers defense has had major struggles as well. Pittsburgh has shown signs of life on defense of late, but the opponents haven't been noteworthy either. I expect an even matchup when those units faceoff.

The deciding factor of this game will be what happens when Big Ben has the ball. Last week they simply took advantage of turnovers and ran the ball moderately well. It's encouraging that they've improved on third down recently, but there is still a lot of mediocrity to this offense. The offensive line is still a huge issue, especially with Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.

The Ravens defense is the only standout area for either team. They should be able to get some pressure on Ben and disrupt enough drives to give their offense a chance. There is no obvious weak link and they are second to none inside their own red zone. No other defense forces more field goals than the Ravens.

If I had a lick of faith in Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, I'd roll with the Ravens in this spot. Since I don't, I'm going to take a pass on what should be an ugly game.