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Two moneymaking trends collided in this surprisingly interesting matchup. The Saints once again have the court of public opinion on their side, now that they have won and covered in three straight after a season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers.
However, Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton already has shown an array of talents. Not only does he look unfazed by the jump to the NFL – and has the numbers to prove it – he also seems to have an uncanny knack for doing just enough to help Panthers backers get inside the number and sneak into the money.
Following a season-opening ATS push in a 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Newton and the Panthers have responded with three straight cash-grabbers.
“Well, certainly the Saints look like a contender. They have to be in the top five for sure,” Avello said. “But I have been impressed with Cam Newton on the field. He throws the ball well and with confidence, even when he’s under pressure. I haven’t seen anything wrong with his play at all.”
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
The injury-depleted Steelers need a win but will play with a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger under center and without defensive star James Harrison, who will miss the game with an eye injury.
The Titans have been surprisingly competitive amid the resurgence of Matt Hasselbeck, who many observers figured had put his best days in the rearview mirror and whose primary job in Tennessee would be sticking the ball in the gut of Chris Johnson. The Titans also have the league’s best points-per-game defense (14).
The underdog in this matchup has taken the cash in seven of the past eight meetings.
“Tennessee has been a team that has overachieved,” Avello said. “Right now, the Steelers are really banged up. But you have to be careful with this line because Pittsburgh needs a win after falling to 2-2. I think 6 is the number I find most comfortable in this one.”
Is there anything worse than watching a team you’ve backed shoot itself in the foot with penalties? The distance between you and that winning wager grows every time the zebras push your team back 10 yards for holding.
Penalties can be, and often are, the difference between winning and losing. (Or, for our purposes, the difference between covering the spread and not covering the spread.)
A heavily-penalized team is usually an undisciplined one, and that’s certainly something to take into account when determining who you will bet on from week to week.
Here is a look at the six most penalized teams in the NFL through the first month of the season:
Oakland Raiders (9.8 penalties, 89 yards per game)
2-2 straight up, 3-1 against the spread
The Raiders have a new coach but the same old problem. When Hue Jackson took over in the offseason, he promised to have a smart, disciplined football team. The Raiders led the NFL in penalties in 2010 and for decades they have been among the league’s most penalized teams.
Jackson has had as many as three NFL referees in his practices, and he has preached to his players repeatedly that they must cut back on penalties if they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Raiders have responded by once again being the most penalized team in the league. They’ve had seven or more penalties in all four of their games, including 15 penalties for 131 yards in a season-opening win against Denver.
St. Louis Rams (8.5, 81.8)
0-4 SU, 0-4 ATS
The 0-4 Rams have scored an NFC-low 46 points and have allowed a conference-high 113 points, and the penalties certainly aren’t helping. In the Rams’ most recent game, a 17-10 loss against the Redskins, an untimely illegal shift penalty, followed by a pair of sacks, took them out of scoring position and prevented them from tying the game late.
Most troubling, perhaps, is that the Rams are piling up the penalties at home. The Rams have played three of their first four games at the Edward Jones Dome, meaning the worst might be yet to come.
Arizona Cardinals (7.3, 74)
1-3 SU, 2-2 ATS
The Cardinals committed 11 penalties for 118 yards in Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Giants. False starts and holding penalties were the primary culprit, but a few carless penalties — including one for unnecessary roughness and another for excessive celebration — were particularly dumb.
Not to mention, at 1-3 overall, the Cardinals shouldn’t be celebrating anything excessively.
New England Patriots (7, 67)
3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS
Bet you didn’t expect to see the Patriots on this list, did you? Despite their blue-collar, hard-working, disciplined approach, the Patriots haven’t been able to avoid the yellow flags to this point.
A good portion of the Patriots’ penalties are coming along the offensive line, which has been penalized nine times for 80 yards. Overall, the Patriots have been flagged for holding eight times and false starts five times.
Minnesota Vikings (8.3, 66.8)
0-4 SU, 1-2-1 ATS
The Vikings have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that they’re among the league’s most penalized teams.
But with a low margin for error, the Vikings can’t continue to make the costly mistakes that have been plaguing them all season. In Sunday’s loss to the previously winless Chiefs, a careless facemask penalty extended a Kansas City drive that resulted in a field goal.
Tennessee Titans (7.3, 63.8)
3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS
Aside from the Patriots, Tennessee (3-1) is the only team on this list with a winning record. In Sunday’s 31-13 victory over the Browns, the Titans were flagged just five times for 45 yards, which were both season lows.
In previous weeks, the Titans had 60, 70 and 80 penalty yards, so perhaps they have begun to address the problem.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons 4.5 to 6 (line history)
Everyone seems to agree the defending Super Bowl champions are the cream of the crop this season, while the Falcons don’t look like the same team that went 13-3 a year ago.
Still, don’t go thinking this line will surpass a touchdown spread.
“I think this is a case where the pros are betting Green Bay early so that they can come back on game day and grab the Falcons at a better price,” Scucci told Covers.com. “They know the public is going to bet Green Bay.”
The Falcons were 1-point favorites against Green Bay in last season’s playoffs, a game they got blown out 48-21.
Philadelphia Eagles at Buffalo Bills 3 to 2 (line history)
Many wondered what the Eagles have proven this season to justify them being a field goal favorite at Buffalo. Sharp bettors jumped on this line early and while most shops have dropped off the key number, Scucci isn’t ready to make the move yet.
“There’s been a lot of Buffalo money from sharps,” Scucci said, “but I want to see how much money I can get on Buffalo before the public comes in on Philly.”
Coast Casinos are dealing the Bills at +3 even money while most other books list the Eagles as 2- or 2.5-point away favorites.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers -1 to -3 (line history)
The move makes sense from a what-have-you-done-lately-for-me perspective. The Bucs squeezed out a win against the Manning-less Colts on Monday night, while the 49ers won outright at Philadelphia as 9.5-point dogs.
“We opened at 2.5 and we’re at 3 now,” Scucci said. “I’m going to stay at 3 just like the Eagles-Bills game, because I don’t want to move on and off the key number.”
The Bucs are 10-0-1 against the spread in their last 11 road games.
They went 0-16 just three years ago, an unmatched NFL low. They play for a beaten-down city that deserves something to cheer.
They feature a swashbuckling quarterback, superhero-types at wide receiver and defensive tackle, a penchant for dramatic comebacks. Oh, and they’ve gone 11-0-1 against the spread in their last 12 games, counting preseason.
Monday Night Football at Ford Field will be a national lovefest when the Lions host the Bears.
The only people not smiling are Vegas sportsbook managers.
If 4-0 Detroit wins the Super Bowl, “it wouldn’t be pretty,” MGM Mirage sportsbook manager Jeff Stoneback told Covers.com. “That is our largest loser.”
The book opened the Lions at 75-to-1 to win it all. That was right before the Super Bowl. Bettors pounded the Lions and kept doing so even as the odds dipped steadily, all the way to their current 6-to-1.
Maximum win per ticket: $50,000.
“Our biggest liability is at 40-to-1 and 30-to-1, besides that it’s pretty spread out,” Stoneback said. “I’m sure there are people out there who have $30,000 and $40,000 tickets if not $50,000 tickets.
“We just lowered ‘em to 6-to-1 [Monday morning] and it’s funny, we’ve already written 10 tickets on them [in the first hour],” he added. “They’re not a dominant 4-0 team, but with their offense, they’ve got a capacity for comebacks. They’re an exciting team and that’s caught people’s imagination.”
Detroit’s true odds should be 10-to-1, Stoneback acknowledged, but “we shaded them lower because we opened them at 75-to-1 and have taken so much money on them since February.”
The Lions have the fourth-lowest odds, behind the Packers and Saints (4/1) and Patriots (9/2). Next are the Ravens and Chargers (7/1), followed by the Texans (8/1). Detroit is 5-to-2 to win the NFC.
In futures tickets, bettors picked the Packers more than any other team. The Lions, Patriots, Steelers and Jets came next, all within 200 tickets of one another, Stoneback said.
“And obviously the Patriots, Steelers and Jets were low odds,” he said.
The situation isn’t as dire at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, where the Lions opened at 50-to-1 to win it all, 25-to-1 to win the NFC. Now they’re 10-to-1 and 9-to-2.
“We have a little bit of liability on the NFC, not too much on the Super Bowl,” the Hilton’s Jay Kornegay told Covers.com.
“We kind of moved it a little earlier than most people because we thought they were a threat,” he said. “The Lions have legitimate stars, big names, high draft picks. They haven’t even used their No. 1 pick from this year [DT Nick Fairley], and he’s going to make a difference I’m sure.”
The Lions are 22-5-1 ATS since the start of last preseason. Their last ATS loss was on Thanksgiving to the Patriots.
NFL futures usually turn a healthy profit for books, but this year could be different.
Scanning his tickets, Kornegay cracked, “Right now the Giants and Chiefs would be a great Super Bowl for us.”
TOPSY-TURVIEST YEAR EVER?
Not a single 2010 division winner leads its division at the quarter-pole. Reigning division champs are a combined 12-20.
The Patriots are tied with the Bills but lose the tiebreaker due to their Week 3 loss in Buffalo.
Sunday’s slate brings two playoff rematches, the Jets visiting the Pats and the Packers visiting the Falcons.
Oddsmakers made the Pats 9.5-point favorites, the same spread the last time New England played the Jets. Gang Green of course won that game outright and ended the Pats season in the process.
Baltimore avenged its playoff loss by whipping Pittsburgh 35-7 in Week 1. Chicago did not follow suit in Week 3 against Green Bay, losing at home 27-17.
The red-hot Packers opened as 4-point favorites against Atlanta and have been bet up to 5.5 or 6.
NINERS AN EXCEPTION TO RULE
We hear all the time the NFL is a QB league. Heck, I’ve written that. That’s why it’s striking to see San Francisco at 3-1 SU and 3-0-1 ATS, the only team besides Detroit without an ATS loss.
Alex Smith is averaging under 200 passing yards but he’s thrown only one INT and just orchestrated a comeback from 20 points down in Philly.
Just goes to show you what defense, special teams and coaching can do.
“It’s a completely different mindset, a different attitude,” Smith told SI.com.
San Fran opened as a 1-point favorite against the Buccaneers, who must travel cross country on a short week. The Niners are now laying 2.5 at the Hilton, Mirage and Caesar’s.