Week 15 NFL Betting Preview: Unders, Packers Defense, Bill Belichick

Last week was rough to be laying more than seven points on the road as both Kansas City and Green Bay essentially dominated their matchups but yet couldn’t cover their spreads. The Chiefs outgained Miami 7.3 to 4.8 on a yards per play basis and were up 30-10 early in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs driving. Patrick Mahomes threw an uncharacteristic interception in the end zone which led to a number of events and a Dolphins backdoor cover.

The Packers outgained Detroit 6.4 to 5.0 yards per play, Aaron Rodgers completed nearly 80% of his passes and Green Bay only punted twice all game yet, similar to KC, got backdoored with a late field goal. 

Me taking a road favorite of seven or more was a rarity but I thought the matchups were too good to pass up. The handicap was pretty good, but the result was why it is so difficult to cover a big spread on the road in the NFL.

After going 11-5 last week, unders finally took over the lead for the season at 104-100-4. Underdogs only went 6-10 last week but still own the advantage this season with a 112-90-2 ats (55%) record. Road underdogs went 2-5 last week and are now 71-56 ats (56%) with 47 of the 71 covers as outright winners. I have talked about the subset of these road underdogs that has emerged as the most profitable to date. 

Road underdogs of six or less in games with low totals (less than 45 points) are now 15-1 ats with nine outright winners after Washington won last week. The Patriots’ blowout loss at the Rams last Thursday night has been the only loser this season within this subgroup. Again, this is not to be used as a predictive measure but more of an interesting nugget. In theory finding road teams in general has been profitable this season with a lack of home field. Evaluating the road teams with a short spread (six or less) means that team isn’t far inferior to its opponent. Adding in a layer of a low total (under 45) makes each point more valuable in this case. This week the Patriots again fit this category.

Let’s take a second and evaluate the performance of teams in recent weeks (Since Week 9). On a net success rate basis (offensive success rate – defensive success rate), the five best teams in the NFL since have been Buffalo, New Orleans, LA Rams, Green Bay, and Tennessee.

The Bills rank first in the NFL in offensive success rate and seventh on defense. The Bills defense has really improved, going from 29th in the first eight weeks to seventh-best recently. The five worst teams have been San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Dallas, and Detroit.

Shockingly, Tampa has produced the second-worst success rate on defense in the NFL the last six weeks. Context/strength of schedule matters but in general the Bucs defense has really regressed lately, allowing a 52% success rate during this time. Even against Minnesota last week, the Bucs allowed a 52% success rate. Masking their poor performance against the Vikings was the fact that they dodged three missed field goals, a missed PAT, and Minnesota producing only two touchdowns in four red zone trips.

Week 15 Best Bets

Carolina Panthers +9 vs Green Bay Packers

On paper, this looks like it should be a blowout but anyone who has paid attention to the Panthers this season knows not to overlook this Carolina team. The Panthers, and especially Teddy Bridgewater, relish the role of underdog, going 7-3 ats this season. The Panthers will not fear this Green Bay team as they have faced the seventh-toughest schedule in the NFL and have played very competitively in New Orleans (3-point loss), Kansas City (2-point loss), and Minnesota (1-point loss). In fact, they have played four games against top-seven DVOA pass offenses (KC, TB 2x + NO with Brees) so facing this Packers passing offense shouldn’t be new territory.

Bridgewater has been a covering machine throughout his career, posting an absurd 33-13 ats record. There are not many more QBs that I would want in a backdoor cover situation than Bridgewater.

The Packers showed last week against a way more overmatched team in the Lions that they just don’t have the defense to completely slam the door late on an inferior team. They allowed a Lions offense without Kenny Golladay to generate a 0.20 EPA per dropback.

The Packers’ pass rush ranks 22nd in the NFL and that number looks even worse when you consider they have faced a schedule of opposing offensive lines that ranks fourth-easiest in pressure rate allowed. So, they’ve barely been able to generate a real pass rush against offenses that are poor in protecting the QB. The two best offensive lines, in terms of pressure rate allowed, that the Packers have faced are the Lions (eighth-best) and the Colts (tenth).

Carolina ranks fifth-best in the NFL in allowing pressures. Bridgewater with a clean pocket ranks 12th-best in the NFL in QB rating. It is expected that D.J. Moore will return from the Covid list to give him his WR weapons back.

New England Patriots +1.5 vs Miami Dolphins

Death, taxes, and Bill Belichick going up against a rookie QB. The Patriots are 25-5 under Bill Belichick against a starting rookie quarterback in the regular season, including 11 straight wins. Just seven times over those 30 games has the rookie passer thrown multiple touchdowns passes with just one (Russell Wilson) throwing more than two touchdown passes. Since 2013, rookie QBs in their first game against New England have gone 0-11 straight up and have thrown more than 2x as many INTs than TDs while averaging only 162 passing yards.

We just saw what New England did to Justin Herbert two weeks ago, forcing two interceptions and only allowing Herbert to complete 49% of his throws for a meager 3.9 ypa. And yes, the Patriots offense has been trash this season but the one thing, the only thing, this New England offense can do is run. They rank first in the NFL in success rate rushing the football while the one area that the Dolphins defense is susceptible to is stopping the run, ranked 23rd in DVOA run defense.

Arizona Cardinals -6 vs Philadelphia Eagles

The Jalen Hurts story last week was nice, but he was only 2/7 for 29 yards on pass attempts over 10 yards. With a week of film, the Cardinals’ defense will be ready for the RPO/short passing game from Hurts. The Eagles secondary is an absolute dumpster fire right now, with starting safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Avonte Maddox already declared out Sunday. No. 1 CB Darius Slay left last week’s game with a concussion and there are serious doubts if he can play as well. Slay hasn’t been great this season (60th in PFF pass grade among 126 CBs) but he is a veteran who you can stick on DeAndre Hopkins

McLeod is an underrated huge loss as he ranks sixth in PFF coverage grade and the second-lowest QB rating while in coverage among 56 safeties with at least 20 targets in coverage. With a poor secondary and a defense that has struggled against running QBs (9-108 to Lamar Jackson, 13-156, Taysom Hill 5-33), Arizona should be able to cover this number. 

Bonus Teaser: Arizona PK/New England +7.5

Best Bets Record YTD: 16-18-3 (47%)

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