Super Bowl 51: Odds steady for New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons

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With each team seemingly as much of a picture of health as it can be after 18 games, the New England Patriots remain a field-goal favorite against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Patriots are listed as three-point favorites against the Falcons with a 59.5-point total in the Super Bowl 51 matchup, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The NFL championship game takes place at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday, where 13 seasons ago the Patriots won the second of their four titles.

New England is 4-6 straight-up and against the spread in its last 10 games as a favorite of four or fewer points. Since Dan Quinn took over the Falcons in 2015, they are 8-2 SU and ATS as a underdog of four points or fewer, but obviously none of those were playoff games, let alone a Super Bowl.

The reason the lines have not shifted is that both teams got through the NFC and AFC Championship Games relatively unscathed. The Falcons, who are 13-5 SU and 12-6 ATS, have two major components of their league-leading offense, WR Julio Jones (sprained toe) and C Alex Mack (left fibula), back on the field at practice.

Quinn was the defensive coordinator when the Seattle Seahawks went to two Super Bowls, routing the Denver Broncos at the end of the 2013 season and coming up one yard short – thanks, Pete Carroll – against the Patriots in 2014.

Quinn-guided teams are 7-1 SU in their last eight playoff games. Atlanta, which has NFL sack leader Vic Beasley Jr. helping it generate pressure with a four-man pass rush – a must since Tom Brady shreds blitzes – is allowing five fewer points per game in the playoffs than in the regular season.

Incidentally, there are +300 odds on Matt Ryan winning regular-season MVP and Super Bowl MVP, which hasn’t been accomplished since Kurt Warner in the 1999 season. Seven of the last eight quarterbacks who collected regular-season MVP hardware after leading their team to a conference title lost in the Super Bowl, including Tom Brady in 2007.

The Patriots are 16-2 SU and 15-3 ATS and their only new injury of note is run-stuffing DT Alan Branch (toe). The bye week should be a salve for WR Chris Hogan (thigh), WR Danny Amendola (ankle) and TE Martellus Bennett (knee).

Brady will be facing an Atlanta defense that finished the regular season with an unsightly 31-to-12 TD/interception ratio. The Falcons’ 4.5 yards per rush allowed was also 26th in the NFL, and they might have been fortunate that neither of their NFC playoff opponents, the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, were strong in the rushing phase.

This will be the 10th time Bill Belichick has had direct control of a defense in the Super Bowl and the previous nine opponents averaged 22.3 points, compared to a cumulative 25.2 through the regular season. Belichick’s team has also prevailed two of three times (against the 1990 Bills and 2001 Rams, with a loss against the 1996 Packers) when it has faced the No. 1-ranked offense. Of course, both wins came down to the final seconds and a placekicker.

Broncos favored on road against Colts for Thursday Night Football

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In a prime-time matchup between inconsistent teams that are playing for pride, bettors might want to zone in on who could be motivated to break some negative betting trends.

The Denver Broncos are listed as a 2.5-point road favorite against the Colts with a 51.5-point total for the NFL Week 15 Thursday Night Football matchup, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

It has been more than a full 365 days since the Broncos, who are 0-8 straight-up and against the spread in their last eight road games, have won away from home. Getting a struggling Colts team on a short week would seem like a golden opportunity for the Broncos to get off the schneid, although Indianapolis is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games after consecutive losses.

The Broncos are also 0-6 SU and ATS in their last six games in Indianapolis, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, but all of those were with Peyton Manning quarterbacking one team or the other. Both teams’ identities have changed dramatically in the last two seasons, and not for the better.

The Broncos, who are 4-9 SU and 3-9-1 ATS, have a promising matchup in the passing phase for a change. Wideout Demaryius Thomas (four TDs in the last six games) is on a tear and the Colts come in allowing an NFL-worst 8.2 yards per pass and missing starting CBs Nate Hairston (concussion) and Rashaan Melvin (hand). Quarterback Trevor Siemian is also coming off a turnover-free game against the New York Jets in Week 14.

Denver has shut down RG Ron Leary (back) for the season, so it’s unclear how much one should expect from RB C.J. Anderson and the running game. Of course, Denver really only needs its offense to produce 2-3 scoring drives a game and not leave OLB Von Miller and the defense in perilous positions.

The Colts, who are 3-10 SU and 6-7 ATS, are struggling to keep pass rushers off young QB Jacoby Brissett and have allowed an NFL-worst 52 sacks. That hardly seems auspicious going into a matchup against Miller and other pass rushers such as DE Shelby Harris and OLB Shaquil Barrett.

With Chris Harris and Aqib Talib on the corners for Denver, it is hard to foresee a breakout from No. 1 WR T.Y. Hilton, whom Brissett has struggled to connect with in recent games. The outlook is much better for TE Jack Doyle against a Broncos defense that does struggle covering inside receivers, so if Indianapolis is to win, it might come through Brissett and Doyle cashing in on any and all red-zone visits. Denver tied for the league worst with 26 touchdown passes allowed.

The Colts face a tough matchup in the rushing phase. Denver allows a league-low 3.3 yards per rush, and Indianapolis will have to spot RB Frank Gore after he had 36 rushes in ankle-deep snow against Buffalo last Sunday.

One should read very little into the Broncos being 8-2 SU and ATS in their last 10 Thursday games and the Colts being an even more sterling 11-1 SU and 10-2 ATS in their last 12 Thursday contests. Both teams have tailed off considerably in the last two seasons.

The total has gone under in six of the Broncos’ last seven games against teams with losing records. The total has also gone under in nine of the Colts’ last 11 games.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com

Rams’ Whitworth rewards local students with bikes

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Los Angeles Rams’ Andrew Whitworth celebrated his 36th birthday in an unconventional way this year. Instead of receiving gifts, the offensive tackle donated nearly 600 bikes and helmets to Grape Street Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Whitworth had 18-wheelers deliver the gifts and was in attendance to tell the children the good news.

In order to not leave any Walmart without bikes ahead of the holiday season, Whitworth went to multiple stores.

The children returned the favor by giving Whitworth a cake and singing him “Happy Birthday.”

Whitworth is in his first year in Los Angeles after signing a three-year contract with the Rams earlier this year. The 12-year veteran’s charity, the Big Whit 77 Foundation,  partners with students to challenge them to get good grades.