Friday, February 23, 2024

A three pack of plays for NFL’s Christmas Day games

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Sports bettors get a special gift this year, as the NFL is complementing the usual bevy of Christmas Day NBA games with a tripleheader that starts in broad daylight in South Beach and ends well after dark in the Arizona desert.

OK, so all three NFL matchups, which looked great on paper three months ago, are now the holiday gift equivalent of underwear, socks and a tie. Seriously, we’re talking one playoff contender (Miami) that is 8-6 and five sub-.500 clubs that are a combined 24-46.

But, hey, it’s the NFL on Christmas Day, and sportsbooks are open for business. So make like you do when the neighbor brings over the holiday fruit cake: Flash that fake smile, say thanks and hope it’s better than it looks.

With that, here’s our gift to you: A trifecta of NFL betting predictions, one for each game.

Odds updated as of 1:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 22.

Packers vs. Dolphins Odds

  1. Point spread: Packers +3.5 (-105)/Dolphins -3.5 (-115)

  2. Moneyline: Packers +162/Dolphins -194

  3. Total: 50.5 points (Over -104/Under -118)

  4. Packers vs. Dolphins prediction: Dolphins -3.5 (at FanDuel)

Analysis: Many in the NFL betting community currently have a “buy” sign on the Packers. Some even like Green Bay’s chances to win out and steal the NFC’s final playoff berth.

Don’t put us in that group.

Yes, we cashed with the Packers on Monday night, when Green Bay rolled to a 24-12 victory against the Rams. But the defending Super Bowl champs are as beat up as any team in the NFL and have been in a downward spiral pretty much since opening night.

Also, the Packers (6-8 SU and ATS) were playing at home with temperatures in the teens — against a decimated opponent from Southern California.

This week is an entirely different story. Green Bay has to travel on a short week and face a Dolphins squad that is talented, angry and hungry.

Miami is back home after an 0-for-3 road trip to San Francisco, Los Angeles (Chargers) and Buffalo. The defense got picked apart in all three games, giving up 33, 23 and 33 points.

However, the Dolphins (8-6, 7-7 ATS) showed a lot of grit in last Saturday’s 32-29 loss in snowy, frigid Buffalo. They actually turned an eight-point halftime deficit into an eight-point fourth-quarter lead, but just couldn’t get to the finish line.

This week, they face a Green Bay squad that has exactly one victory this season against a team with a winning record. And it required overtime at home (31-28 vs. Dallas).

Meanwhile, seven of the Packers’ eight losses have been by five points or more (including four double-digit defeats).

So we’ll lay the short number with the Dolphins, who are 5-1 at home (including 5-0 in games that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa started). Four of those home wins came against teams at or below .500, with Miami prevailing by margins of 13, 6, 22 and 15 points.

» READ MORE: Eagles vs. Cowboys predictions: Four props for Saturday’s NFC East showdown

Broncos vs. Rams Odds

  1. Point spread: Broncos -2.5/Rams +2.5

  2. Moneyline: Broncos -145/Rams +120

  3. Total: 36.5

  4. Broncos vs. Rams prediction: Under 36.5 points (at BetMGM)

Analysis: Honestly, we’re not sure oddsmakers can set this total low enough.

The Broncos (4-10, 6-8 ATS) rank last in the NFL in scoring offense at 15.6 points per game — and that’s after putting up season highs of 28 and 24 points the past two weeks against the Chiefs and Cardinals, respectively.

Directly above Denver in the scoring column: The once high-flying Rams, whose per-game scoring averaged fell to 16.4 points after Monday’s 12-point effort in Green Bay.

Los Angeles (4-10, 4-9-1 ATS) has been held to 17 points or fewer in nine of 14 contests. Meanwhile, prior to their recent two-game “outburst” at home, the Broncos had scored more than 16 points just twice in their first 11 games.

Denver quarterback Russell Wilson is expected back this week after getting knocked out of the Chiefs game with a concussion and sitting out last week’s contest against Arizona. But Wilson’s return actually has us more confident in this Under, because he’s been terrible all season.

Here’s what hasn’t been terrible: Denver’s defense, which ranks third in the league in points allowed (18.1 per game).

In fact, the only teams that scored more than 17 points in non-overtime games against the Broncos this year have quarterbacks named Patrick Mahomes (34 points), Derek Carr (32) and — oddly enough — Sam Darnold (23).

That would be the same Darnold who supplanted Baker Mayfield as the Panthers’ starting quarterback. Mayfield is now in L.A. piloting a sinking Rams offense that keeps losing key players to injury.

Are we concerned that there’s very little wiggle room with a total this low? Nope. After all, eight of the Rams’ last 12 games have ended with 36 or fewer combined points.

Also, 12 of Denver’s 13 contests this season have ended with 39 or fewer points. Nine of those dozen games had 35 points or less — including two that went to overtime.

That all explains why these two teams are a combined 20-8 to the Under this season.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bucs vs. Cardinals Odds

  1. Point spread: Bucs (+8)/Cardinals (+8)

  2. Moneyline: Bucs -405/Cardinals +320

  3. Total: 39.5 (Over -118/Under -104)

  4. Bucs vs. Cardinals prediction: Cardinals +8 (at FanDuel)

Analysis: Arizona has lost four straight games and has just one victory and two point-spread covers since Oct. 23.

The Cardinals are down to their third-string quarterback in former Penn State star Trace McSorley, who has thrown all of 39 passes in his three-year NFL career. They head into Saturday night’s game against Tampa Bay without starting defensive end Zach Allen, who ranks second on the team in sacks.

On top of that, three other defensive starters (including both cornerbacks) are questionable with injuries — as are two backup cornerbacks.

Yet if you think we’re laying more than a touchdown with Tom Brady and the Bucs, well, you’ve been hitting the spiked holiday eggnog a little too hard.

You have to go all the way back to Sept. 18 — Week 2 of the NFL season — for the last time Tampa covered a point spread on U.S. soil. You also have to go all the way back to Sept. 18 for the last time Tampa won a game by more than six points.

No joke: Since starting the season with blowout road wins over the Cowboys (19-3) and Saints (20-10), the Bucs are 4-8 overall and 1-10-1 ATS.

The one spread-cover: a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks as a 2.5-point favorite in Germany on Nov. 13.

Tampa’s other three victories in the last three months: 21-15 over the Falcons as a 10-point home favorite in Week 5; 16-13 over the Rams as a 3-point home favorite in Week 9; and 17-16 over the Saints as a 3.5-point home favorite in Week 13.

That’s right, Brady and Co. haven’t won a road game — let alone covered a number as a visitor — since starting the season with those consecutive victories in Dallas and New Orleans.

Also, if not for a manic, near-improbable comeback win over the Saints on Monday night three weeks ago — a game they were trailing 16-3 with three minutes to play — the Bucs would arrive in Arizona on a four-game losing skid.

So we don’t care that the Cardinals are off back-to-back blowout losses to the Patriots (27-13) and Broncos (24-15). Nor do we care that five of their six defeats during their current 1-6 slump were by more than a touchdown.

We also don’t care about Arizona’s health issues (by the way, Tampa has a bunch of key guys banged up, too).

We’re taking the points and once again fading the worst point-spread team in the NFL — a team that has lost its last four road games to quarterbacks named Kenny Pickett, PJ Walker, Jacoby Brissett and Brock Purdy.

The Inquirer is not an online gambling operator, or a gambling site. We provide this information about sports betting for entertainment purposes only.

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