Sunday's Top Action
December 27, 2013
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BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-5)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Cincinnati -6, 44.5
The Ravens try to keep their playoff hopes alive Sunday with a visit to a Bengals team with a shot at securing a first-round bye in the postseason.
Baltimore was blown out 41-7 at home to the underdog Patriots last week, but could still play its way into the postseason with a win and some help, or even back into the playoffs with a loss plus the Steelers, Chargers and Dolphins all losing. The Bengals need a win plus a New England loss to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC. These teams met in Week 10 with the Ravens blowing a 17-0 halftime lead, but winning 20-17 with a field goal in overtime. This makes Baltimore 5-1 SU (3-2-1 ATS) in the past six meetings, and QB Joe Flacco 7-4 in his career versus Cincinnati. But not only are the Bengals a perfect 7-0 (SU and ATS) at home this season, but they are 18-6 ATS (75%) after leading in their previous game by 14+ points at the half under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Ravens are only 2-5 SU (3-4 ATS) on the road in 2013, but are 15-6 ATS (71%) when facing a team with a winning record in the past three seasons. Several players are listed as questionable for both teams, with the most notable players being DE Arthur Jones (concussion), RB Bernard Pierce (foot) and LB Albert McClellan (neck) for Baltimore, with Cincinnati's biggest injury concerns being LB James Harrison (concussion), LB Vontaze Burfict (head), OT Andre Smith (ankle) and TE Tyler Eifert (stinger).
Baltimore has been one of the worst offensive clubs in the NFL all season, ranking 29th in total offense (313 YPG) and 26th in scoring offense (20.2 PPG). The ground game is averaging a league-worst 3.1 YPC, and its 6.0 net yards per pass attempt ranks 26th in the NFL. RB Ray Rice (645 rush yards, 4 TD) is having his worst year as a pro with a woeful 3.1 yards per carry, which is considerably lower than the 4.5 YPC average he had in his first five seasons in the league. In the Week 10 win over Cincy, Rice managed just 30 yards on 18 carries (1.7 YPC). QB Joe Flacco is also having his worst year as a pro with a career-low 75.2 passer rating with more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18) and a career-low 6.6 yards per pass attempt. Not only was he 20-of-36 for 140 yards (3.9 YPA), 2 TD and 2 INT in the Week 10 win over the Bengals, but he has also been horrendous in his past four trips to Paul Brown Stadium, completing 55% of his passes for 513 yards (5.2 YPA), 2 TD and 6 INT in the home of his AFC North foe. He'll continue to lean most heavily on top WR Torrey Smith (1,101 rec. yards, 4 TD), who was the only Ravens player to top 30 receiving yards in last month's win versus the Bengals with 56 yards and a 7-yard touchdown grab. Defensively, Baltimore has been fierce all season, allowing only 332 YPG (9th in NFL) and 21.2 PPG (T-9th in league) as a result of a great red zone defense (47% TD rate, 7th in NFL). The unit has really stuffed the run (3.8 YPC, 7th in league), while also doing an outstanding job getting off the field on third downs (32%, 2nd in NFL). Baltimore has just five takeaways in its past five road games combined, but has forced nine turnovers in the past five meetings with the Bengals.
Cincinnati prefers to throw the football with 257 passing YPG (10th in league) and 110 rushing YPG (21st in NFL), but has been able to mix up its play-calling in the red zone which has led to a whopping 74% TD rate (2nd in league) and 26.4 PPG (7th in NFL). QB Andy Dalton (4,015 pass yards, 7.3 YPA, 31 TD, 16 INT) is having his best season as a pro, and although he struggled against the Ravens (24-of-51, 274 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT), he has been on fire recently. In the past three games, Dalton has thrown for 871 yards (290 YPG), 7.4 YPA, 9 TD and 0 INT, lighting up the Vikings for 366 yards and four scores last week. Superstar WR A.J. Green (1,365 rec. yards, 10 TD) remains his top target, but five others have gained at least 440 yards through the air. RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (690 rush yards, 3.3 YPC, 7 TD) and rookie Giovani Bernard (673 rush yards, 4.3 YPC, 5 TD) haven't been spectacular, but have kept defenses honest. Speaking of defense, Cincinnati's stop unit is allowing a mere 4.8 yards per play, good for second-best in the NFL. The Bengals rank fifth in the NFL in total defense (311 YPG) and sixth in scoring defense (19.2 PPG allowed), thanks largely to a tremendous third-down defense of 33% (4th in NFL). They held the Ravens to 189 total yards on 2.8 YPC and 2.9 YPA in Week 10, and are giving up only 16.7 PPG and 299 total YPG at home this year. Cincinnati is also making a ton of big plays over the past six games with 15 takeaways, including at least three forced turnovers in four of these six contests.
NEW YORK JETS (7-8) at MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-7)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Miami -5.5, 41
Despite a bad loss in Week 16, the Dolphins still have a decent chance to make the playoffs if they beat the rival Jets on Sunday.
Miami needs a win plus either a Chargers win or a Ravens loss to earn that final playoff berth in the AFC. Although Dolphins starting QB Ryan Tannehill injured his knee in a pathetic 19-0 loss in Buffalo last week when his team totaled a comical 103 yards, he is on track to start Sunday's game. The Jets have been horrible on the road this year (1-6 SU, 2-4-1 ATS) where they have been outscored 31 to 14 on average. They are also 3-7 (SU and ATS) in the past 10 meetings in this series, losing 23-3 at home in Week 13. However, New York is an eye-popping 12-3 ATS (10-5 SU) in its past 15 trips to Miami, and has been a great payback wager since 1992, as the team is 17-6 ATS (74%) on the road when revenging a same-season loss against an opponent. But Miami is never easy to beat late in the year at home, as the club is 10-2 ATS (83%) since 2011 when hosting a game in the second half of the season, and Rex Ryan is 4-13 ATS (24%) versus poor passing defenses (235+ YPG allowed) in the second half of the year as the Jets' head coach. Both teams enter this game pretty healthy with Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas (ankle) and Jets CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) both upgraded to probable.
The Jets offense has been horrible this season, compiling the third-fewest points (18.0 PPG) and sixth-fewest yards (314 YPG) in the entire league. The ground game has been a strength with 134 YPG (6th in NFL) on 4.4 YPC (9th in league) led by RB Chris Ivory (814 rush yards, 4.6 YPC, 3 TD), but the club continues to struggle moving the ball through the air with 181 passing YPG (3rd-worst in NFL) on 6.0 net YPA (6th-worst in league). QB Geno Smith has completed just 55.3% of his passes for 2,856 yards (6.9 YPA), 12 TD and 21 INT. He has also been sacked 43 times, but has managed to run for 322 yards (5.2 YPC) and five touchdowns. Smith was benched in the Week 13 loss to Miami after completing just 4-of-10 passes for 29 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT, and his road numbers in his rookie season are just atrocious: 180 YPG, 6.6 YPA, 5 TD, 13 INT. His injury-riddled receiving corps hasn't helped his on-field maturation either, as WR Jeremy Kerley leads the team in targets (60), receptions (38) and receiving yards (483), despite his pedestrian numbers. The Jets defense has allowed 25.3 PPG (21st in NFL), but a lot of that is due to poor field positioning from the offense. New York ranks ninth in the league in yards per play allowed (5.1), while leading the NFL in yards per carry allowed (3.3). The Jets have also hung tough in the red zone (44% TD rate, 4th in NFL), and have been above average on third downs (36%, 13th in league). But the biggest knock on this unit is its lack of forced turnovers, having just three games with multiple takeaways, and forcing 12 total turnovers for the entire year. They will need to win the turnover battle Sunday to have a shot at knocking their rivals from the playoff picture.
Miami's offense has also struggled for most of the season, ranking 28th in the league in total yards (314 YPG) and 24th in scoring (20.7 PPG). The passing game (224 YPG, 20th in NFL) hasn't been much better than the subpar running game (90 YPG, 26th in league). But the Dolphins had little trouble moving the football up and down the field on the Jets on Dec. 1 with 453 total yards, comprised of 328 passing yards and 125 rushing yards. QB Ryan Tannehill completed 28-of-43 passes with two touchdowns in that game, with all three of his top receivers gaining at least 80 yards through the air: WR Brian Hartline (978 rec. yards, 4 TD), WR Mike Wallace (905 rec. yards, 4 TD) and TE Charles Clay (716 rec. yards, 6 TD). Top RB Lamar Miller (636 rush yards, 4.0 YPC, 2 TD) was able to gain 72 yards on 22 carries versus the Jets' stout run defense. But the offense took a huge step back last week in Buffalo when it gained a pitiful 14 yards on 12 carries (1.2 YPC) and 89 yards on 33 pass attempts (2.7 YPA). Defensively, the Dolphins have given up a good chunk of yardage (358 YPG, 20th in NFL), but have really buckled down in the red zone with a 47% TD rate (5th in league), which has led to the club allowing a mere 21.0 PPG (8th in NFL). Their run defense has been below average (123 YPG, 25th in league), which could obviously hurt against a run-heavy offense like New York, but they were able to hold the Jets to 99 rushing yards (4.5 YPC) in the Week 13 win. The Dolphins have been able to tally at least one takeaway in all 15 games this season, but have forced multiple turnovers in only five contests.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-7-1) at CHICAGO BEARS (8-7)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Green Bay -3, 53
The NFC North division will be decided on Sunday when the Bears host the Packers, who will finally get star QB Aaron Rodgers back on the field.
Rodgers will start on Sunday for the first time since suffering a broken collarbone when these teams met in Week 9, a 27-20 Chicago win. That was just the third time in 12 meetings that the Packers lost in this series when Rodgers started. Bears QB Jay Cutler did not play in that game, but will start on Sunday despite a 1-8 record, 9 TD and 17 INT versus Green Bay in his career. Despite the Packers' series dominance, they are 2-4-1 ATS on the road this year, where they allow 31.3 PPG on 394 total YPG. They are also 1-8 ATS versus poor passing defenses (7+ YPA allowed) in the past two seasons. Bettors can also fade the Bears as well, as they are 1-5-1 ATS at home this season and 1-9 ATS versus good offenses (350+ total YPG) in the past two years. In addition to Rodgers, the Packers should also have the services of top RB Eddie Lacy (ankle), and WR Randall Cobb, who is on track to play for the first time since breaking his leg in Week 6. But the defense will not be at full strength with OLB Clay Matthews (thumb) doubtful, and DT Ryan Pickett (knee), LB Nick Perry (foot) and DE Mike Neal (abdominal) all considered questionable. Chicago is in much better shape injury-wise, as S Chris Conte (head) is questionable, but LB Lance Briggs (shoulder) has been upgraded to probable.
Green Bay has been without Aaron Rodgers for nearly half the season, but the offense still ranks fourth in the NFL in total yards (395 YPG) and ninth in scoring (25.6 PPG). They have shown an excellent run/pass balance with 132 rushing YPG (7th in NFL) and 264 passing YPG (8th in league). Rodgers has thrown for 8.8 YPA with 18 sacks taken, which is a big improvement from his 7.8 YPA and 51 sacks taken in 2012. He has loved facing Chicago in his career, completing 68% of his passes for 2,757 yards (7.6 YPA), 19 TD and 8 INT. In his past two visits to Soldier Field, Rodgers has thrown for 588 yards (8.0 YPA), 6 TD and only 1 INT. He has plenty of receivers to choose from, with five players catching at least 30 passes this year. That does not include WR Randall Cobb, who has tallied 1,332 receiving yards and 11 TD in 20 games over the past two seasons. Rookie RB Eddie Lacy (1,112 rush yards, 4.2 YPC, 10 TD) ran all over the Bears for 150 yards on 22 carries (6.8 YPC) in the Week 9 defeat, and has galloped for 225 yards on 36 rushes (6.3 YPC) and 3 TD in his past two games. With Chicago's awful run defense struggling to stop anybody, the team is expecting big things from Lacy and backup RB James Starks (405 rush yards on 5.2 YPC, 4 total TD). Green Bay's defense has not really shined in any area this season, allowing 374 total YPG (26th in NFL) on 249 passing YPG (21st in league) and 125 rushing YPG (26th in NFL). The unit has a below average red-zone defense (58% TD rate, 20th in league) leading to 26.7 PPG allowed (24th in NFL). But on the bright side, the Packers' defense has been much more successful in forcing turnovers with 10 takeaways over the past four weeks. With Green Bay recording 21 defensive interceptions in the past 10 meetings in this series, Chicago QB Jay Cutler will have to more careful with his throws.
The Bears have been thriving on offense all season with 27.8 PPG (T-3rd in NFL) and 384 total YPG (8th in league). The air attack has compiled 270 YPG (5th in league) on 7.3 net yards per pass attempt, while the ground game has a pedestrian 114 rushing YPG (18th in NFL), but ranks eighth in the league with 4.5 yards per carry. QB Jay Cutler (2,395 pass yards, 7.2 YPA, 17 TD, 11 INT) has his highest passer rating (88.1) in his five seasons in Chicago, and has been especially sharp in five starts at Soldier Field where he has thrown for 1,404 yards (281 YPG), 7.8 YPA, 10 TD and 4 INT. Cutler has the NFC's best receiver duo to utilize in WRs Brandon Marshall (1,221 rec. yards, 11 TD) and Alshon Jeffery (1,341 rec. yards, 7 TD), while TE Martellus Bennett (744 rec. yards, 5 TD) and RB Matt Forte (547 rec. yards, 2 TD) have provided reliable options for shorter throws. The underrated Forte has rushed for 1,229 yards (4.6 YPC) and seven scores this season, and has usually played well versus Green Bay in his career, totaling 1,156 total yards (but only 2 TD) in 11 meetings of this rivalry. In the Week 9 win, Forte tallied 179 total yards (125 rushing, 54 receiving) and a touchdown. While the offense has been carrying this team, Chicago's defense has been dreadful, allowing 29.7 PPG (3rd-worst in NFL) and 389 total YPG (4th-worst in league), including an NFL-worst 162 rushing YPG on an NFL-worst 5.4 YPC. The unit's red-zone efficiency (59% TD rate, 22nd in NFL) and third-down defense (41%, 23rd in league) have also been subpar, and after forcing a league-high 44 turnovers last season, that number has dipped to 26 this year, with just nine takeaways in the past nine games combined.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (11-4) at ARIZONA CARDINALS (10-5)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Even, 42.5
After tallying their fifth straight win on Monday night versus the Falcons, the 49ers try to improve their playoff positioning against a red-hot Cardinals team still hoping to reach the postseason.
San Francisco needs a win plus a Seattle loss to win the NFC West, and those two results plus a Carolina loss would give the Niners the No. 1 seed. Arizona is coming off an impressive win in Seattle to improve to 7-1 SU (6-1-1 ATS) in its past eight games, but can make the playoffs only with a win plus a Saints’ home loss to the Bucs. The Niners beat the Cardinals 32-20 in Week 6 and are a dominant 8-1 SU (7-2 ATS) in this series since 2009. San Francisco is also 13-5 ATS (72%) versus good passing teams (235+ YPG) in the past three seasons, but Arizona is 40-17 ATS (70%) versus top-notch competition (teams with 6+ PPG margin) since 1992. Both teams are in good shape on the injury front, with the Niners slightly short-handed on offense without backup TE Vance McDonald (ankle) and WR Mario Manningham (knee), and the Cardinals possibly missing three defenders all listed as questionable: LB John Abraham (groin), DE Matt Shaughnessy (groin) and S Rashad Johnson (ankle).
The 49ers have played very well on the road this season, going 5-2 SU (6-1 ATS) where they have outscored their hosts by an average of 27.3 PPG to 15.7 PPG, and outgained them 314 YPG to 275 YPG. San Francisco loves to run the football (141 YPG, 3rd in NFL), which has been a key to its great red-zone success (58% TD rate, 5th in NFL) and has led the club to a strong 25.5 PPG overall (10th in league). RB Frank Gore (1,114 rush yards, 4.2 YPC, 9 TD) has rushed for 293 yards (4.9 YPC) over the past three games, and also piled up 101 yards on 25 carries in the 32-20 win versus the Cardinals on Oct. 13. The passing game has the second-fewest yards in the NFL (179 YPG), but it has still been efficient with 7.0 net yards per pass attempt (9th in the league). QB Colin Kaepernick has completed only 58.1% of his passes, but has thrown for 2,887 yards (7.6 YPA), 19 TD and 8 INT this season. He connected on two touchdown passes to TE Vernon Davis (805 rec. yards, 12 TD) in the Week 6 win over Arizona when Davis finished with eight catches for 180 yards. With Arizona struggling to cover tight ends all season, Davis should have a big day once again. Kaepernick also has two other quality pass catchers in WRs Anquan Boldin (1,030 rec. yards, 6 TD) and Michael Crabtree (255 rec. yards, 15.9 yards per catch, 1 TD in four games). Defensively, the Niners have stopped both the run (97 YPG, 5th in NFL) and pass (209 YPG, 4th in league) with consistency this season, which is why they are so great on third downs (35%, 6th in NFL). They are allowing only 16.8 PPG this year (3rd in league), and have forced at least one turnover in 12 straight games, compiling 25 takeaways during this stretch. But after struggling with miscues for most of the season, Arizona has taken much better care of the football lately.
The Cardinals began the season with 21 turnovers in their first nine games, but have only eight giveaways in their past six contests. QB Carson Palmer (3,867 pass yards, 7.4 YPA, 22 TD, 21 INT) had thrown only two picks over a five-game stretch heading into last week, but he tossed four interceptions in the win against the Seahawks. In the Oct. 13 loss in San Francisco, Palmer threw a pair of picks, but also completed 25-of-41 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, one to each of his top two targets, WRs Larry Fitzgerald (841 rec. yards, 10 TD) and Michael Floyd (950 rec. yards, 5 TD). This duo is a big reason why the team has 240 passing YPG (13th in NFL), and posted a respectable 23.9 PPG (T-16th in league) without a strong running game. Arizona has rushed for a paltry 3.6 yards per carry (28th in NFL) and 97.1 YPG (23rd in league) this season, mostly due to leading ball carrier RB Rashard Mendenhall whose 640 rushing yards have come on a mere 3.1 YPC. Rookie RB Andre Ellington has been much more effective with 5.7 YPC on his 109 attempts, and the 49ers had a hard time slowing him down in Week 6 when Ellington rushed for 56 yards on 8.0 YPC and gained 36 more yards on five receptions. Arizona's defense does not have any glaring weaknesses. The unit leads the NFL in rushing defense (84 YPG) and ranks second in yards per carry allowed (3.7). While the pass defense has allowed 229 YPG through the air, it ranks third in the league with 5.8 net yards per pass attempt. The Cardinals allow just 20.1 PPG overall (7th in NFL) and 314 total YPG (6th in league), and these numbers improve to 17.0 PPG on just 292 total YPG at home. The defense has forced multiple turnovers in nine of their past 12 games, tallying 26 takeaways during this span.