Sunday Night Football odds: Rams field-goal favorites at Bears

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It is, perhaps, a sign of the times – and of the Los Angeles Rams’ capabilities – that a first-place Chicago Bears team is an underdog at home in December.

Los Angeles, with quarterback Jared Goff behind center, are three-point road favorites on the NFL odds for Week 14 against the Bears with a 51-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

This is the first time since 2013 that a Bears team with a winning record has been an underdog in a December game at Soldier Field. The Rams are 12-2 straight-up and 8-6 against the spread on the road over the last two seasons. The Bears, who are getting No. 1 quarterback Mitch Trubisky back from a shoulder injury, are 6-1 SU and ATS in their last seven games at home.

The Rams, favorites on the Super Bowl odds, are 11-1 SU and 5-5-2 ATS this season, but this is only their second game where they have been favored by fewer than 6 points. The main question surrounding the Rams will be how often Goff will have a clean pocket in the face of a pass rush led by Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack.

Chicago’s defensive unit is in the top five of the NFL in total defense and scoring defense. The teams are also Nos. 1 and 2 in the NFL in takeaway/giveaway ratio. Bettors will need to make a call on what they think is more likely – the Rams’ offense and running back Todd Gurley, whose 11 turnovers include zero lost fumbles in the running game, coughing up the ball or the Bears, with a NFL-most 30 takeaways, continuing their ball-hawking ways.

The Bears, 8-4 both SU and ATS, have shown a strong tendency to be a first-half team this season, allowing just 6.2 offensive points in the first two quarters vis-à-vis 13.3 in the last two quarters. Those in doubt about the final outcome could scoot over to taking Chicago to cover as 1.5-point underdogs for the first half in NFL betting at the sportsbooks.

Whether Chicago can avoid another second-half regression could depend on whether dual threat Trubisky and running back Jordan Howard, the main options in a ground game that is sixth-last in the NFL in yards per rush, can produce sustained drives, giving the defense time to rest in between bouts with Gurley.

Another concern regarding the Bears is whether an offensive line that gives up sacks at a higher rate than its Rams counterparts can slow down Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald, whose 16.5 sacks have him on the verge of the NFL single-season record for a defensive tackle.

The total has gone OVER in six of the Rams’ last seven games in December. The total has gone OVER in four of the Bears’ last five home games, with an average combined score of 52.4 points.

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

Cris Collinsworth, Pro Football Focus writers explain how analytics are changing the NFL

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Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s a collaborative effort by Pro Football Focus, the popular football analytics website. To start, here’s PFF Majority Owner and NBC’s Sunday Night Football color analyst Cris Collinsworth.

How data is impacting the landscape of football

When I broadcast my first NFL game during the 1989 season, I had absolutely no idea what to study or how to study. NBC provided me with a handful of newspaper articles, we watched some film at the team facility on Friday before the game, and we interviewed some players and coaches. I took notes, but I didn’t even have a board with the players’ names and numbers on it.

I was thrown into the deep end of the pool. This was going to be the shortest broadcasting career ever. Luckily, I had David Michaels as my producer (yes, Al Michaels’ brother). David had worked for years with Terry Bradshaw, and Terry had created these boards for calling games. The positions were aligned on this board where they would line up on the field. Offense facing defense, back-ups behind starters. All I had to do was fill in the blanks. Once again, my friend Terry was ahead of his time, and David showed me how to use it.

When I think back to those days, it’s pretty comical. Today, I could never read, watch or study all the data that I have available to me. In 2014, I bought controlling interest in Pro Football Focus. At the time we had 60 employees evaluating every player on every play of the NFL season. Now we have nearly 500 employees, providing data to 90 NFL and NCAA teams, multiple television networks and individuals who use it for private purposes. I won’t get into all the details, but if you are a data scientist, mathematician or IT specialist, and you love football, we are hiring.

PFF has already changed the way I think about building a team and play-calling. I can remember a time when everybody thought Andy Reid was crazy for passing 60% of the time. He doesn’t look so crazy now. I remember when running backs were thought to be the most valuable position; now they are considered the easiest to replace based on our WAR (wins above replacement) metric. I think it is fair to say that now very few NFL contracts are negotiated without PFF data being at the heart of the debate. The agent pitches all the positive data about the player, and the team is loaded with all the not so positive data. Some of those negotiating stories are pretty entertaining.

But as much as the data has changed broadcasting, it has changed the game of football even more. “Gut instincts” are no longer good enough. Decisions must be made based on the data. Every year at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, PFF meets with nearly every team. I always laugh when somebody starts telling me about “old school” coaches in the league. I won’t mention names, but some of the “old school” coaches have recently blown me away with their knowledge of the data.

I sat in on a meeting with a team that had seven data scientists, mathematicians and IT specialists from Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. all in the room, and they were loaded with questions that would make your head spin. Luckily, I had the people in the room with the answers. Of course, there are teams that are not quite that sophisticated, and it is getting more and more difficult for them to compete. The data arms race is very real, and it is widening the gap between those who engage, and those who don’t.

The fans are now engaged in the data arms race, as well. Fantasy football had always created a market for data, but since May 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that effectively barred state-authorized sports gambling, a new aspect in the arms race has opened to fans. Whether anyone likes it or not, there is no stopping state-sponsored gambling on football and other sports. We have seen a real spike in our consumer sales of our Edge and Elite products. Some fans just want to know more about their team, others want to be the smartest person at the water cooler, some want to dominate their fantasy league, and others still are writing their own gambling algorithms. Regardless, there is no going back now. Data has changed the game.

 

For more PFF writers’ analysis, read more from this week’s Football Morning in America here

Patriots settle as small favorites on Super Bowl odds 2019

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For all the narratives that can hang off the great Tom Brady and Super Bowl first-timer Jared Goff, two of the big moving parts in the matchup on Super Sunday involve the rushing phase.

The New England Patriots have settled as 2.5-point favorites on the Super Bowl odds 2019 against the Los Angeles Rams with a 56.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in the Super Bowl 53 matchup slated for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sunday.

The Bill Belichick- and Brady-led Patriots are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight games as a favorite of 3.0 or fewer points, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, while the Rams are 4-3 straight-up and ATS in their last seven games as an underdog. Interestingly enough, underdogs are 13-4 ATS in the last 17 Super Bowl games.

As so often happens, the last two teams standings are in good health. The biggest exception for New England, whose run defense has been league-average much of the season, is that defensive tackle Malcom Brown (calf) was limited in practice. The Rams claim leading rusher Todd Gurley (left knee inflammation) is 100 per cent after he had only five touches during the NFC championship game two weeks ago.

Backing the Patriots, who are 13-5 SU and 11-7 ATS on the year, involves putting stock in Brady and cohorts’ abundant Super Bowl experience, along with the fact the offense has been at peak form, averaging 38.7 points and 465.7 yards per game over its last three outings.

The Patriots’ offensive line will arguably be the unofficial playoff MVP, collectively, if it contains the Rams’ front four anchored by Aaron Donald, the best defensive lineman in football. If Brady, the subject of many Super Bowl props for Sunday, isn’t disrupted and/or the opposing pass rush is sucking wind after a ball-control drive, the Patriots passing game is lethal.

The Rams, 15-3 SU and 9-7-2 ATS, are new to the tumult of the Super Bowl. However, head coach Sean McVay thrives at creating mismatches, and two of the Rams’ season-long strengths, running out one-back, one-tight end sets and using play-action passes, are not tactics that New England has defended particularly well.

Goff also led five game-winning drives during the season, emerging victorious in quarterback matchups against stars such as Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson (twice).

The total has gone OVER in seven of the Patriots’ last eight games in the playoffs. New England’s last four closely contested playoff games have featured 68, 74, 44 and 62 points.

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