Total Domination: Week 16
A weekly look at games that could exceed or fall short of betting market expectations. Bettors can leverage recommendations at the sportsbook, while DFS players can use the specific player recommendations mentioned to their advantage. Steve Repsold deep dives each recommendation and advises us the level of bet confidence expressed in units (example: 2u = 2 units).
As the weeks dwindle down, the betting lines tend to get sharper. This is logical; more data and more tape lead to improved projections. You should adjust your investment accordingly. That is not to say that there aren’t still inefficiencies we can exploit. But I think it’s important and wise to be aware of the declining edge. The edge now comes in exploiting overreactions to the recent data. Information is a dangerous thing.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Under 48 1.5u
Attacking the Buccaneers defense has been something I’ve chased repeatedly this season – with excellent results – but it’s time to adapt. The over hit for eight of their first ten games. The majority of these were with totals over 50. It was quite a run. But the under has hit in five consecutive and six of the last seven games. These games have not been anywhere close to the total. Tampa Bay games have averaged just under 35 points total in the last seven games, and that’s including the 38-35 barn-burning loss to the Giants.
Now I am a firm believer in the power of variance and four the seven games also were in Tampa, but the defenses they faced (outside of the Ravens and possibly the Saints) were pedestrian at best. However, their defensive improvement also has strong correlation to the firing of former DC Mike Smith. Fired after Week 6, Smith’s defense allowed 400+ total yards in all five games. Since then, the Buccaneers have only allowed 400 yards three times. It took a couple of weeks to translate, but the point totals allowed began their decline there, too.
Meanwhile, what was a formidable Tampa Bay offense has withered in recent weeks. The last three in particular have been brutal. After averaging 454 offensive yards per game through the first twelve weeks, the Bucs have mustered an anemic 279-yard average in the last three. The passing yards simply have not been there in the last three (maybe four) weeks. There’s a lot of factors at play, not all of which are bad. It’s partly due to them leading games for a change and partly because of increased efficiency in the run game, sparked by the legs of Jameis Winston. The timeline of the decline in offense conveniently coincides with the season-ending injury to star tight end OJ Howard. This is clearly not all on Howard’s shoulders (DeSean Jackson has been absent for much of it as well), but he is a significant upgrade on Cameron Brate – 16.6 yards per reception vs. 9.3 and a 71% catch rate to Brate’s 62% – and an astronomical one over the TE now lining up opposite Brate in 2 TE sets, Anthony Auclair, whoever that is.
The Dallas defense is no slouch either; they’re among the most underrated units in the league. They haven’t allowed more than 23 points in six games and 28 is the most allowed all season (to the Titans of all teams). Between their success and the Buccaneers’ offensive struggles, the Cowboys D/ST is an appealing play. Defenses against the Bucs have been risk/reward plays. They’ve capitalized on the many turnovers but had to deal with large points-allowed totals, rendering them potential liabilities if they don’t get them. That risk is greatly reduced with the Bucs sputtering and on the road. The Dallas offense is in great shape despite the random shutout last week (you don’t need me to tell you Ezekiel Elliott is a great play), but they play slowly and are likely to secure an early lead and let Zeke choke the life out of Tampa Bay.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots Over 44.5 1.5u
Both these teams have been hard to nail down this season. Despite their record and moments of brilliance, the Patriots’ offense has not been the same this season. Tom Brady doesn’t look like the Great Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, well… But you wouldn’t know it from their point totals. Outside of real clunkers against the Lions, Titans, and Steelers (I really wish it were the Bears…), they’ve posted healthy totals. Belichick finds ways.
But their complete lack of defense has in its own way contributed. They’ve been forced to score to keep opposing offenses at bay. They can’t rely on their defense to stop anyone. Even the Bills. The Patriots’ defense allowed 313 passing yards to the combo of Derek Anderson and Nathan Peterman. But the Bills could not get a running game going, compiling only 46 yards on the ground (LeSean McCoy had a hilarious 12 carries for 13 yards stat line). The Bills have rushed for over 100 yards in all but two Josh Allen starts, both coming in his first three games as a starter. He’s a monster on the ground, leading the Bills in rushing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and yards per game. The threat of Allen rushing opens holes for the running backs. His passing is, well, shaky, but arguably improving with three consecutive games over 200 yards passing (a small milestone, I know).
The bottom line to that is, I don’t think the Patriots will be able to contain the Bills’ offense this time. That means they’re going to have to beat them on offense. The Bills’ defense is formidable, but not unstoppable. The Patriots themselves put up 387 yards on offense in Week 8, the second most allowed by the Bills this season. The loss of Josh Gordon is a big one. It’s very strange to me that the news did not move the line at all (still Patriots -13.5). My only guess there is that the sportsbooks had a good idea that the suspension was coming. However, it is interior receivers that have done the most damage to the Bills. Julian Edelman, who was a big part of the Week 8 game with nine catches for 104 yards and two carries for 13, is an excellent play again this week in a game the Patriots need to win after the downer of a loss in Pittsburgh last week.
On the other side of the ball, I think Josh Allen continues his ground game domination and even makes some throws this week. His rushing ability gives him a healthy floor and a high ceiling. You can play him naked (without a stacked receiver) because of it, but I’m inclined to pair Allen’s big arm with deep threat Robert Foster, who has 94 or more yards in four of the last five games. Isaiah McKenzie is also an option, but Foster’s targets are higher value than McKenzie’s. Over the last four games since Allen’s return, Robert Foster has an insane 24 yard average depth of target, while McKenzie has only a 10.8 aDOT – still good, but a worse bet for the massive ceiling we’re seeking.
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