Best bets for Saturday: Loving the favorites, looking to the playoffs

Well, that was interesting. Spreading the bankroll around on three games in three different sports, NFL bets had winners at a ratio of 2:1 – but our actual NFL pick couldn’t have been further removed from actual events transpiring. Ah well, at least on this Boxing Day, we’ve got a nice tripleheader ripe for the betting.

And here’s what we’re playing, staring with our bets on…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -10½ at Detroit Lions, over/under 55 points

With two games remaining to play, the overrating of the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers by sportsbooks (slightly) and NFL fandom (greatly) is blindingly evident and the formula for betting Bucs games has been incredibly simple: Against remaining playoff contenders, they’re 1-5 SU/2-4 ATS; against also-rans, 8-0 SU/5-3 ATS – and few teams are more also-run than the Detroit Lions.

Judging by the seething vitriol for departed head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions locker room is probably a happier place right now and they’re certainly playing pressure-free over the past three games and so could make a game of this by … what? Wide receivers coach Robert Prince will be the HC this week “thanks” to Covid? Bruce Arians may run an undisciplined team, but how can anyone bet on the interim interim head coach? Take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -10½ – though you may want to buy the ½-point to bring the line to an even 10 points.

Also, pencil in a money line bet for whichever team draws the Bucs in round one of the playoffs (currently that would be the Seattle Seahwaks in the no. 3 spot). Tom Brady or no, this team reeks of first-round exit.

San Francisco 49ers +6 at Arizona Cardinals, over/under 48½ points

After opening as low as 49ers +3½, bettors have pounded the Cardinals enough to run the point spread up to about a touchdown by game day. This action is about the only reason to give one pause about covering the Cardinals in this game, however.

The Cardinals managed to snap a 5-game funk in which they went 1-4 SU/0-5 ATS against NFC West and AFC East teams with back-to-back SU/ATS wins against the Giants and Eagles. Whether beating up on the sub-.500 translates to righting Arizona’s ship is questionable, as the Cardinals haven’t had really convincing wins since weeks 5 and 6 against the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys and, well, that was the Jets and Cowboys.

But none of this may matter: Of all the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus in 2020, no team in any professional sport has been more tormented than the 49ers. (In second place: The Baltimore Ravens, who have played on four different days of the week, but not Thursday or Saturday. This week, their fourth since getting locked out of the Bay Area, the 49ers may pass 90 players listed on roster at some point. Headlining the woes this week is third-string QB C.J. Beathard, who has a career 1-9 record as a starter, is the starter; not sure how he’ll fare against a top-10 unit in defensive DVOA.

In the final analysis, if the Cardinals can’t win this game going away, this simply isn’t a playoff team. And they are a playoff team, right…? Take the Arizona Cardinals -6 vs the San Francisco 49ers.

Miami Dolphins -3 at Las Vegas Raiders, over/under 49 points

There are three suspiciously low lines on away favorites in week 15 betting, and this is one. (The others are Indianapolis Colts -1½ at Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Eagles -2½ at Dallas.) So what’s the case for the Raiders covering the field-goal handicap?

Firstly, there is the location question. Since 2015, Pacific Time Zone-based teams are 36-20 SU, but 27-26-3 ATS in night games. The crazy macro-stat here is that, among these 56 games, in games with kick off with point spreads of 3 points or fewer – with either home or away team as favorite – home teams are an incredible 18-4-3 ATS.

NFLbets is highly skeptical that these particular Raiders, at this point in the 2020 season, can live up to the trend. Since playing the Kansas City Chiefs tough in week 11, Vegas is on a pitiful 1-4 SU/ATS run which includes an last-play victory over the godawful Jets, allowing 40-plus points to the Falcons and Colts and losing in overtime to the Chargers and what must be the worst clutch-time coaching staff in the league.

Of particular testament to Jon Gruden’s utter apathy for half the game is the defense. Fourth-worst in allowing points, the Raiders D is allowing an overly generous 31.9 points per game if we ignore the monsoon game against the Cleveland Browns in week 8. The hope for Raiders backers, then, will be on their side simply outscoring the Dolphins. Since Tua Tagovailoa took over as staring QB, the Dolphins are an impressive 5-2 SU/6-1 ATS but are still a middling 16th in offensive points scored; in fact, at 24.7 points per game, Tua’s offense scores about 1½ ppg fewer than did Ryan Fitzpatrick’s.

Unfortunately for Raiders bettors, the Dolphins defense will have something to say about the scoreboard-spinning plan: This is D is no. 1 overall in points allowed and turnovers generated, no. 2 in passing TDs allowed and interceptions. We’re thinking the frustration sets in early and continues throughout for Gruden & Co. Probably the only thing that can defeat the Dolphins are their own body clocks. Take the Miami Dolphins -3 at Las Vegas.

–written by Os Davis

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