12/20/2012 2:52PM

Dave Tuley: Differing team priorities add to volatility in NFL betting lines


LAS VEGAS – The NFL has two weeks left in the season, and it’s that time of year when the oddsmakers have the hardest time setting the lines and handicappers have more things to take into consideration when analyzing the lines.

The top teams are fighting for first-round byes, other playoff seedings, or even to make the postseason, but there can be other top teams that are locked into their seed that might start resting starters or being more cautious with players’ injuries. As for teams that are out of the playoff hunt, this is the time we hear accusations of teams going in the tank to try and get the best draft picks (remember the “Suck For Luck” accusations last year that the Colts ended up “winning”) or otherwise just playing out the string.

Personally, I don’t put much stock in the latter. I feel these players are professionals and even if team ownership were to ask them to lose on purpose (which I highly doubt would happen), I think they’d be more concerned about their own next contract. I mean, sometimes teams keep losing just because they’re bad.

I’m also not one to overreact to teams that are in must-win situations. I’ve always believed that teams just can’t “flip the switch” and win just because their backs are against the wall. If they were capable of doing that, they would have done it throughout the season and wouldn’t be in a must-win situation in the first place. For instance: the Bears, Buccaneers, Colts (for division purposes), and Jets were all in must-win situations last week and came up short. The Bucs and Jets even failed against teams with nothing to play for.

But here’s the thing: even if the oddsmakers believe as I do, the fact is that the public is going to load up on these teams with incentive and bet against teams perceived to be tanking their games, so we end up with overadjustments in the lines that hopefully we can take advantage of.

In Saturday’s “Monday Night Football” game on ESPN (since there’s no MNF on Christmas Eve), the advance line on the Lions-Falcons game at the LVH SuperBook 11 days ago was pick-em. With the Falcons needing to win to clinch home-field advantage, this line was bet up to Falcons –4 before settling back down to 3.5 as of this writing Thursday morning. Don’t be surprised if the public bets it back to 4 or higher by kickoff.

The 49ers are trying to catch the Falcons and are playing the Seahawks, who are trying to catch them or at least hold onto the top wild-card spot. It’s unlikely the Seahawks can catch the 49ers, as they’re 1 1/2 games back and the 49ers host the Cardinals in Week 17 as a 16-point favorite (which will plummet if the 49ers win this week and look to rest starters in the season-finale).The Packers are trying to pass the 49ers if the 49ers lose to the Seahawks to get the NFC’s No. 2 seed, and their line is up to –13 vs. the Titans (it was –10 in the advance line last week).

In the AFC, the Texans are fighting for the AFC home-field advantage, but they’re playing the Vikings, who are in the NFC wild-card hunt, so that 7.5-point spread is right where it should be. But the two teams chasing the Texans (and also battling for the AFC’s No. 2 seed) are the Patriots, who are a 14.5-point favorite over the Jaguars, and the Broncos, who are –13.5 against the Browns.

It’ll be interesting to see how these all play out over the weekend and whether the teams in “must-win situations” can overcome the inflated numbers.

Back to the NFL betting board

I went 0-3 last week (ouch!) and none of them were close. The Giants were shut out 34-0 by the Falcons, the Bills were run over 50-17 by the Seahawks, and those made the Jaguars’ 24-3 loss to the Dolphins look like a nail-biter as the Jags at least kept the 7-point spread within reach until late in the fourth quarter. The week eliminated me from all season-long contests, so maybe I can play spoiler just like these picks.

Jaguars +14.5 vs. Patriots

The Patriots’ loss to the 49ers didn’t diminish this line any, and in fact has seen it increase. Yes, the Jaguars have been awful for the most part this year (and certainly let me down last week), but NFL home dogs of 8 or more are still 23-3 ATS over the last three years, and I’m encouraged by the fact that the Jaguars’ two best games this year were when they covered as double-digit underdogs against the Packers and Texans.

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Bengals +4 vs. Steelers

This isn’t one of those overinflated lines, but these are two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions and a fair price on the underdog. The Bengals are peaking at the right time (if you throw out that ugly first half against the Eagles a week ago Thursday night), while the Steelers haven’t been able to get back on track with the return of Ben Roethlisberger.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Browns +13.5 vs. Broncos

The Browns have been just as much of a money-making machine for bettors this year as the Broncos (both are 8-5-1 ATS) despite the Browns losing last week to the Redskins. This will be a good test for them to see how good they are heading into next season instead of just beating other also-rans. The Broncos are still likely to pull out the victory, but I have a lot of wiggle room here.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-3 for a net loss of 3.3 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 21-22 for a net loss of 3.2 units.