With the Supreme Court now hearing a case that could lead to legalized sports betting across much of the country, it's a fascinating time to follow the action from the gridiron to the gavel.
A ruling in favor of legalized betting is the prohibitive favorite, but proper regulation and a customer-friendly landscape are different propositions as the leagues and governments pursue their pieces of the pie. Regardless of whether they get it right, there's always a bigger piece of the pie on the table for bettors who play their cards right.
Giants +4 vs. Dallas
New Jersey is leading the charge for states' rights to legalize betting, making it a timely coincidence that this week's first pick is on a home team in the Garden State.
Not a lot of 2-10 teams can be expected to bring an "A" effort at this stage of the season, but not a lot of 2-10 teams have found themselves in a situation like the Giants'. Their motivation this week is threefold: After Ben McAdoo had lost the locker room, Steve Spagnuolo brings a spark as the interim head coach; Eli Manning has returned to his rightful place in the starting lineup, which the team and its fans will rally around after a botched decision to bench him turned the Giants into a traveling circus last week; and without a shot at the playoffs, a home game with the Cowboys is their Super Bowl.
The Cowboys aren't in a terrible spot themselves, coming in with extra rest after playing last Thursday night and getting their defensive lynchpin back in the lineup in the form of Sean Lee. But that 38-14 final score from last Thursday's win over Washington is about as misleading as it gets. It goes to show that when you're +4 in turnovers and get a punt return for a touchdown, you can win be a significant margin even when the opposition outgains you by half a yard per play. But special teams touchdowns and a massive edge in turnover differential aren't sustainable in the long run, and a deeper dive suggests Dallas may not have truly solved anything that led to the preceding three-week tailspin.
With a coach who commands respect, a rival coming to town, and Eli back at the helm, the Giants may unleash their best effort as they look to salvage what they can out of a lost season against an opponent that, in its current form, doesn't seem to bring the ability to control the proceedings.
Pittsburgh -4.5 vs. Baltimore
The Steelers closed as 3.5-point favorites in Baltimore in Week 4, implying in a vacuum that they should be about 9.5-point favorites in the rematch with home-field advantage flipping to the Black and Gold. This week's situation and a narrowed gap between these two teams may call for a tighter point spread than -9.5, but not one that hardly reflects the change in venue.
Yes, the Steelers are shorthanded off a short week, losing key contributors on both sides of the ball in JuJu Smith-Schuster to suspension and Ryan Shazier to a horrific back injury suffered during the Monday Night street fight masquerading as football in Cincinnati. And they're as inconsistent as ever under Mike Tomlin, narrowly escaping the lowly Colts and Brett Hundley-quarterbacked Packers in recent weeks while also having bona fide blowouts over both the 8-4 Titans and 7-5 Ravens on their 2017 résumé.
Speaking of the Ravens, possessing the NFL's best defense according to the Football Outsiders DVOA charts has kept them squarely in the AFC playoff picture, and last week's 44-20 win over the Lions sounds convincing. But the defense lost its No. 1 CB and arguably its No. 1 overall player last week in Jimmy Smith, and just like the Cowboys, the Ravens come in off a misleading Week 13 final score. The numbers are eerily similar: a 24-point home victory, a +3 turnover differential, a touchdown with the offense on the sidelines, and a net negative in yards per play. When the market buys into the final score more than the underlying stats, edges can emerge to be exploited.
While the Steelers' showdown with the Patriots next Sunday may determine home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, a home game in prime time against their archrivals should negate any lookahead notions. Tomlin may be in over his head against Belichick and Brady, but in this one we can expect him to remain calm, cool and collected with the superior team and a raucous home crowd on his side.
Pick of the Week: Teaser - Seattle +8.5 at Jacksonville, Philadelphia +7.5 at Rams
This week's best bet channels a little Alfred Hitchock in going with "The Birds," albeit hopefully without too much suspense.
In the first leg, there's no sugarcoating the mismatch between the Seahawks' feeble offensive line and the Jaguars' vaunted defensive line. But there are some silver linings to be found for Seattle. First off, with a total of 40 this projects to be among the lowest-scoring games of the week, and points being at a premium increases the relative value of each point in teasing up through the key numbers of 3 and 7. It could also be worse for the Seahawks situationally - while they have to travel across the country on a slightly short week after cashing last week's wager on Sunday Night Football, the 1:25 p.m. PST kickoff is preferable to the 10 a.m. body clock kickoff they usually face on the East Coast. Lastly, there's no debate when considering the teams' pedigrees, with Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll vs. Blake Bortles and Doug Marrone making that point clear enugh. So there may be a few matchup advantages in play for the Jaguars, but that shouldn't prevent the Seahawks from keeping it within a possession if they don't win outright.
With the Eagles in Los Angeles in the second leg, we get the opportunity to grab the better team at a value after yet another misleading Week 13 final score. Russell Wilson turned in a typically stellar performance against the Eagles on Sunday Night, which plays into the Seahawks handicap above, but Philadelphia going on the road and winning net yards per play in Seattle in primetime made a statement. The Eagles were undone by a -2 turnover differential, including a backbreaking Carson Wentz fumble out of the end zone as he approached the goal line for a possible TD. In another blunder, Doug Pederson's failure to challenge a clear forward pass by Wilson after he'd passed the line of scrimmage as a runner kept an eventual TD drive alive for the Seahawks in the fourth quarter. A week of practicing in California at Angel Stadium has given the Eagles a makeshift mid-season mini camp to re-focus, setting the stage for a second straight road game on the West Coast to actually work out as a positive situational factor. No word yet as to whether Mike Trout will be able to suit up for his favorite team, but regardless they'll field a their share of home run hitters that could put the home team on its heels.
Last week: 3-0
Picks of the Week: 9-3-1