Sunday's Top Action
December 13, 2013
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-3) at MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-6)
Sportsbook.ag Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: New England -2, Total: 45.5
The Patriots have to deal with yet another key injury when they try to wrap up their 10th AFC East title in 11 years on Sunday visiting the Dolphins.
Last week, New England pulled off an incredible comeback with 13 points in the final 1:01 to defeat the Browns 27-26, but lost All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL. Miami also suffered a key loss last week with top RB Lamar Miller suffering a concussion, but he is expected to return for Sunday's game. If Miller cannot play, backup RB Daniel Thomas proved more than capable of handling the workload with 105 rushing yards in his team’s 34-28 win in the Pittsburgh snow. Despite gaining just 252 total yards in their last meeting, the Patriots were still able to beat the Dolphins for the seventh straight time with a 27-17 victory in Week 8, erasing a 17-3 halftime deficit. New England is 22-5 ATS (82%) versus teams with a win pct. of 51% to 60% in the second half of the season since 1992, but Miami falls into the category of underdogs (or pick) in a game involving two average teams (+/- 0.4 YPP) after 8+ games, after allowing 400+ total yards in their previous game, who are 110-66 ATS (63%) since 1983. In addition to losing Gronkowski, the Patriots have five other key players considered questionable for this game in CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee), OT Marcus Cannon (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) and WRs Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip). Miami just placed CBs Dimitri Patterson (groin) and R.J. Stanford (leg) on injured reserve this week, and another cornerback, Jamar Taylor, is questionable with a hamstring injury.
The Patriots offense ranks fifth in the league in scoring (26.8 PPG) and eighth in total offense (386 YPG). However, starting with the win over Miami in Week 8, they are averaging 32.8 PPG on 438 total YPG in the past six games. QB Tom Brady has led this resurgence with 1,977 passing yards (330 YPG), 13 TD and 4 INT during this stretch. Brady has also had great success against the Dolphins in his Hall of Fame career, posting a 17-6 record with 4,942 passing yards (215 YPG), 40 TD and 19 INT in 23 starts versus his AFC East foe. When Brady was held to 116 passing yards in the win over Miami on Oct. 27, he did not have the services of RB Shane Vereen, who has become Brady's favorite target in the passing game. Vereen has 40 receptions for 373 yards in his five games this season, including a dozen catches for 153 yards in last week's win.
With TE Rob Gronkowski out and WRs Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both questionable, Brady will lean more heavily on possession receivers Julian Edelman (775 rec. yards, 5 TD) and Danny Amendola (448 rec. yards, 2 TD). New England's rushing offense has been pretty average this year (4.2 YPC, 15th in NFL), but was able to grind up 152 yards on 4.1 YPC in the Week 8 win over Miami. RB Stevan Ridley (611 rush yards, 7 TD) led the way that day with 79 yards on 5.6 YPC and a touchdown, but his role has been reduced due to fumble problems, as he's now splitting carries with RB LeGarrette Blount (460 rush yards, 3 TD). Defensively, the rash of season-ending injuries the Patriots have suffered (LB Jerod Mayo and DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly) are a big reason why the team ranks 24th in total defense (372 YPG) and 31st in rushing defense (136 YPG). They are also 31st in third-down defense (44%) and subpar in the red zone (58% touchdown rate, 20th in NFL). But New England has allowed only 22.1 PPG (10th in league), and a lot of that has to do with its 24 takeaways which rank second in the AFC.
Miami's offense has struggled for most of the season, ranking 24th in total offense (325 YPG) and 21st in scoring offense (22.0 PPG). Its red-zone efficiency (55% touchdown rate, 17th in league) and third-down offense (36%, 22nd in NFL) are both below average as well. QB Ryan Tannehill (3,315 pass yards, 6.8 YPA, 20 TD, 14 INT) threw a pair of touchdown passes within the first 20 minutes of the Week 8 matchup in Foxboro, but he was atrocious the rest of the way, finishing 22-of-42 (52%) for 192 yards (4.6 YPA) with two interceptions and six sacks taken. But he has been much better since that game, completing 67% of his passes for 258 YPG (6.9 YPA), 9 TD and 5 INT. He's done this by spreading the wealth mainly to WR Brian Hartline (team-best 67 catches and 855 yards), TE Charles Clay (team-high 6 TD) and WR Mike Wallace (762 rec. yards, 3 TD).
Miami's rushing offense has just 96 YPG this year (23rd in NFL), but is gaining a solid 4.3 yards per carry (14th in league) thanks in large part to Tannehill's 6.0 YPC average on his 37 rushing attempts. Defensively, this club allows only 21.2 PPG (9th in NFL) thanks to a strong red-zone defense (51% touchdown rate, 10th in league). The rushing defense has struggled with 119 YPG allowed (23rd in NFL), but the pass rush has been fierce all season with 40 sacks (5th in NFL). Miami has also been opportunistic with 22 takeaways, forcing at least one turnover in all 13 games.
NEW YORK JETS (6-7) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (9-4)
Sportsbook.ag Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Line: Carolina -11, Total: 40.5
After being beaten soundly last week, the Panthers look for a big bounce-back effort Sunday versus the Jets.
New York scored a season-high 37 points in a 10-point win versus Oakland last week, but is just 1-5 SU (2-4 ATS) on the road this year, where it has been outscored by an average of 31 to 13. Carolina fell 31-13 in New Orleans last Sunday night, but has destroyed its past five visitors by an average score of 31 to 10, outgaining them by 431 total yards with a +8 turnover margin. The Jets have the worst turnover margin in the NFL at minus-18 with rookie QB Geno Smith producing 24 miscues (20 INT, 4 FL). New York holds a 3-2 SU edge all-time in this series, but the Panthers are 3-0 ATS at home versus the Jets.
Most of the betting trends points towards Carolina, like its 9-1 ATS record (90%) in the past two seasons after allowing 99 or less rushing yards in two straight games, or its 55-22 ATS mark (71%) versus bad defenses (24+ PPG allowed) since 1992. But New York is 3-1 ATS (75%) as a road underdog of 7.5 to 14 points over the past three seasons, including 2-0 ATS this year. The Jets could be missing both top CB Antonio Cromartie (concussion, questionable) and WR Stephen Hill (knee, doubtful), while the Panthers will be missing RB Jonathan Stewart (knee).
The Jets' offense has been pretty miserable with the league's second-fewest points (17.4 PPG) and third-fewest yards (308 YPG). Their inefficiency in both the red zone (47% touchdown rate, 28th in NFL) and on third down (35%, 24th in league) has not helped the cause. QB Geno Smith has had a few strong games in his rookie year, but still has more than twice as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (9), completing only 55% of his passes for 2,475 yards (7.0 YPA). He's also been sacked 39 times, but has been able to score four rushing touchdowns. In his six road games, Smith has thrown for only 1,091 yards (182 YPG, 6.7 YPA) with 4 TD and 12 INT, while taking 23 sacks. No New York receiver has scored more than three touchdowns through the air, and WR Jeremy Kerley's pedestrian numbers lead the team in both receptions (32) and receiving yards (388).
The Jets have stayed in the playoff hunt due to a quality ground game that ranks 11th in the league in rushing yards (126 YPG) and 13th in yards per carry (4.3 YPC). Smith ran for 50 of the team's 143 yards last week on just five carries, while bruising RB Chris Ivory picked up 76 yards on 18 attempts (4.2 YPC) with a touchdown. Ivory (639 rush yards, 4.4 YPC, 3 TD) has been more effective than speedier RB Bilal Powell (530 rush yards, 3.8 YPC, 1 TD) which is why he gets the bulk of the rushing workload. Although New York's defense is allowing 25.9 PPG (T-23rd in NFL), a lot of that is due to poor field position that the turnover-prone offense has put the unit in. The Jets rank 11th in the league in total defense (338 YPG) and 10th in yards per play (5.1), and have been nasty to opposing ball carriers with 83 rushing YPG allowed (2nd in league) on an NFL-best 3.1 YPC allowed. They have also gotten key stops in both the red zone (49% touchdown rate, T-5th in league) and on third down (35%, 8th in NFL). New York has done this despite forcing only 10 turnovers for the season (2nd-fewest in league).
Carolina has been excellent at home, going 5-1 (SU and ATS) and outscoring opponents by a hefty 16.2 PPG, with 26.7 PPG scored and just 10.5 PPG allowed. But overall, the offense hasn't been great, ranking 29th in passing offense (192 YPG), 27th in yards per play (5.0) and 26th in total offense (321 YPG). But the Panthers have been able to score a respectable 22.9 PPG (17th in NFL) because they rank fourth in the league in both red-zone efficiency (63% touchdown rate) and on third downs (46%). QB Cam Newton has posted average passing numbers (62% completions, 2,776 yards, 6.9 YPA, 20 TD, 11 INT), but has been able to make big plays with his legs all year, helping his team control the football for 33:06 (2nd in NFL). His 495 rushing yards (5.6 YPC) and six touchdowns have contributed greatly to his team's 129 rushing YPG (T-8th in league). With RB Jonathan Stewart (180 rush yards, 3.8 YPC) out, the bulk of the rushing workload will go to RB DeAngelo Williams (662 rush yards, 4.0 YPC, 2 TD) and bruising RB Mike Tolbert (313 rush yards, 3.9 YPC, 4 TD). This ground-heavy attack has kept turnovers to a minimum, as the team has committed only seven giveaways in its past nine games.
The Panthers defense didn't have many answers for Drew Brees and the Saints last week, but this unit is still among the best in the NFL, leading the league in scoring defense (14.5 PPG allowed), rushing defense (79 YPG) and first downs allowed (16.8 per game). It is also tied for first in red-zone defense (39% touchdown rate), second in total defense (296 YPG) and fifth in both third-down defense (34%) and passing defense (217 YPG). This unit has also been effective in taking the football away, forcing multiple turnovers in nine of 13 games this season.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (6-6-1) at DALLAS COWBOYS (7-6)
Sportsbook.ag Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Line: Dallas -7, Total: 49.5
Two teams trying to keep playoff hopes alive collide Sunday when the Cowboys host the Packers.
Green Bay is 0-6 ATS (1-4-1 SU) since QB Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and will likely need QB Matt Flynn to start again, as Rodgers is doubtful to be cleared to play for this matchup. Dallas QB Tony Romo didn’t play well in Monday’s 45-28 loss in Chicago (11-for-20, 104 yards), but he still threw 3 TD passes and no picks, giving him 27 TD and just 7 INT this year. Romo has been especially good at home where he's thrown for 285 YPG, 14 TD and 4 INT and has led his team to a 5-1 SU record (4-2 ATS). The Packers have lost nine straight visits (1-8 ATS) to Dallas, but hasn’t played in Big D since 2007. When these teams last met in 2010, Green Bay won 45-7 behind 289 passing yards and 3 TD from Rodgers, while Romo was sidelined with an injury. Both teams have favorable betting trends for this matchup, as the Packers fall into the category of underdogs after allowing 17+ points in the first half of two straight games against an opponent after a double-digit loss, who are 57-27 ATS (68%) since 1983.
However, favorites like the Cowboys who are terrible on defense (370+ YPG allowed) facing a poor defense (335 to 370 YPG allowed) after 8+ games are 41-18 ATS (70%) in the past 10 seasons. In addition to Rodgers' injury, the Packers are still without top WR Randall Cobb (fibula) who was supposed to be back by this point, while both RB Eddie Lacy (ankle) and LB Brad Jones (leg) are questionable for this game. The Cowboys remain thin at linebacker with LB Bruce Carter (hamstring) doubtful and LB Justin Durant (hamstring) questionable, but LB Sean Lee (neck) is expected to play despite suffering what appeared to be a major injury last week. Starting CB Morris Claiborne (hamstring) is also questionable for Dallas.
With QB Aaron Rodgers unable to play, QB Matt Flynn expects to make his fourth straight start. After a miserable performance on Thanksgiving (10-for-20, 139 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 2 lost fumbles), Flynn played pretty well in last week's 22-21 win over the Falcons, completing 24-of-32 passes (75%) for 258 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. However, Flynn needs to get rid of the football quicker, as he has absorbed 12 sacks in these past two games. Flynn did a great job spreading the wealth in last week's win with seven different Packers getting multiple targets and only TE Andrew Quarless (seven targets) seeing more than five passes come his way.
Top RB Eddie Lacy (887 rush yards, 3.9 YPC, 7 TD) rolled his ankle in last week's win, but was able to return to the game and appears like he will be able to start on Sunday. If the rookie cannot go, backup RB James Starks (346 rush yards, 5.3 YPC, 3 TD) is certainly capable of carrying the workload. Defensively, the Packers have been below average, ranking 25th in the NFL in yards per play allowed (5.7) and rushing defense (123 YPG), while ranking 20th in scoring defense (25.1 PPG allowed) and 19th on third downs (39%). Its red-zone efficiency (55% touchdown rate, 15th in NFL) has been adequate, and after failing to force multiple turnovers in eight straight contests, this unit has generated six takeaways in the past two games.
Dallas averages just 328 total YPG (22nd in NFL) on offense, but has been able to post a hefty 27.5 PPG (T-3rd in league) because of an excellent red-zone efficiency of converting 71% of its trips into touchdowns (2nd in NFL). The team has been pass-heavy for most of the 2013 season with 235 passing YPG (15th in NFL) and just 94 rushing YPG (24th in league), but has made a concerted effort to pound the football over the past four weeks with 135 rushing YPG on a hefty 5.7 YPC. This includes 198 yards on 28 carries (7.1 YPC) in last week's loss in Chicago, when top RB DeMarco Murray (843 rush yards, 5.3 YPC, 7 TD) gained 146 yards on just 18 attempts (8.1 YPC). Murray has also been a valuable receiver out of the backfield with 41 catches, which ranks third on the team behind WR Dez Bryant (70 rec., 908 yards, 10 TD) and TE Jason Witten (55 rec., 632 yards, 7 TD).
This Cowboys defense continues to be gashed on a weekly basis though, ranking among the worst NFL defenses in several categories. They rank last in total defense (427 YPG allowed), last in passing defense (299 YPG), last in first downs allowed (24.9 per game) 28th in rushing defense (128 YPG), 28th on third downs (43%), 26th in red-zone defense (61% touchdown rate) and 26th in scoring defense (26.8 PPG). This unit has also not made enough big plays, with a mere four forced turnovers in the past four games combined.