All three prime-time games soared over the total in Week 14 for the first time since way back in Week 2. The same week when Sam Darnold's comeback player of the year odds received a boost from the Panthers dominating the Saints, 26-7. In many ways, it feels like a different season. The surge that made last week the highest-scoring week of the year leaves bettors having to decipher whether all that scoring has staying power.
NFL Decembers have always brought us wild weather, wind and snow. Coaches tighten up and become more conservative as each possession moves them one step forward or two steps back from the postseason. During Weeks 7-13, teams averaged between 21-22 points per game consistently before ballooning to 25.4 last week. When I look at this week's prime-time games, only Monday night's total between the Vikings and Bears is in line with those previous scoring averages.
This week could present a unique opportunity to take advantage of market bias stemming from last week's results. Despite the NFL adding a Saturday night game to the schedule, let's focus on attacking the standard prime-time games. Of the six teams playing in the three games, only Tampa Bay and Minnesota have a profitable record to the over this season.
TNF: Kansas City at L.A. Chargers (Over 52)
The total opened at 49.5 and is rightfully being bet up. The Chiefs' and Chargers' offenses combined for 85 points last week and both seem to be hitting their stride as they jockey for postseason seeding. COVID-19 has impacted both the Chargers' offensive line and the Chiefs' defensive front. It could be a significant step back for Kansas City's defense after showing improvement in recent weeks.
This should be a battle of explosive offenses versus vulnerable defenses that rank outside of the top 25 in defensive success rate. These two teams are averaging a combined 60 points a game over the past three weeks. In Week 3, their previous meeting produced 54 points despite the Chiefs turning the ball over four times, ending drives at the Chargers 36, 29 and 22-yard line. With a piece of the AFC West lead on the line, both teams will try and win on the arm of their star quarterbacks. It will be a treat for the fans and a win for those bettors on the over.
SNF: New Orleans at Tampa Bay (Under 46.5)
Tampa Bay has the highest scoring output of any NFL team on their home field. They average 37.5 points and are led by the odds-on favorite to be the league's MVP. As the Bucs prepared for their playoff stretch run last season, they planted the seeds for the legend of "Playoff Lenny" to grow. The Buccaneers realize the importance of the ground game and I think we will continue to see a shift in their offense in the final four weeks. While the Bucs rank towards the top of the league in pace, they slow down significantly (23rd) in the second half of games. Last Sunday against the Bills was a perfect example.
The Saints' path to victory is always going to be a diverse rushing attack with Taysom Hill under center. In RB Alvin Kamara and OT Terron Armstead's return against the Jets, they rushed for over 200 yards while snapping a six-game losing streak. The Bucs defense brings a much greater challenge, but the Saints were able to rip off 152 yards on the ground in their first meeting. I expect both teams to try to impose their will at the line of scrimmage against two of the toughest run defenses in the league. The Bucs and Saints are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in defensive success rate against the run. The constant resistance should keep the clock running and shorten possessions — the perfect formula for an under.
MNF: Minnesota at Chicago (Under 44.5)
How did the Bears get two prime-time games in a row? If you watched Chicago score 30 points last Sunday night, please forget everything you saw. It won't happen again. Freezing temperatures are expected Monday night in the Windy City while they host a rival opponent that plays most of their games indoors. I would be shocked if we see a good version of Kirk Cousins in a prime-time game battling these conditions.
We know Chicago can't score. They drag down totals better than any team in football. The Bears' average closing total of 43 is the lowest among all 32 teams. Here is the best part: They still have been profitable to the under, going 8-5 this season. In four of the last six weeks, Bears games closed at 40 or below. The Vikings have a history of playing down to their opponents, which screams to me that we are in for a low-scoring affair. Mike Zimmer is the master of making one-possession games. All but one of Minnesota's games have been decided by eight points or less and six of 13 have been decided by no more than a field goal. If Chicago can't score and the Vikings can't pull away, it makes no sense to bet anything but the under.
Stats provided by teamrankings.com, Football Outsiders, and Ben Baldwin (SR based off of 10/90 WP).