Week 13's Sunday slate brings us a plethora of solid matchups, including the upstart Miami Dolphins visiting the San Francisco 49ers and a rematch of last season's AFC Championship between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.
What is worth looking at from a betting perspective? And what are the best plays to help you make smart wagering decisions?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan; fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings; ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder; and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz offer their insight into the games with tips and picks.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
The Dolphins head to Levi's Stadium to face the 49ers (-4, 46.5) The Dolphins, tied for first in the AFC East, are 8-3 and riding a five-game winning streak entering Week 13, while the 49ers have won four straight games and are tied for first in the NFC West. What are your thoughts on the total and spread for this matchup and who are you taking?
Fortenbaugh: Dolphins +4. The San Francisco defense is overrated in my humble opinion. In 11 games, they've played just two teams that rank in the top 12 in scoring. Those two contests resulted in a win against the Seahawks and an embarrassing blowout loss at home to the Chiefs. This line should be San Francisco -3 (-120).
Schatz: I agree that this number is a little too strong in favor of the 49ers. The 49ers and Dolphins are right next to each other in DVOA, with San Francisco seventh and Miami eighth, but that includes the games where the Dolphins had to use Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson at quarterback. Take out Weeks 5-6 from the Miami offense and the Dolphins would rank sixth in DVOA with Cincinnati between them and the 49ers. Really, these teams are very close to each other, and home-field advantage isn't worth four whole points, so give me Dolphins +4.
Fulghum: I will reiterate that it is the 49ers -- and not the Eagles or Cowboys -- that I believe is the best team in the NFC if all things are equal. They most certainly do not have the best quarterback, but they do have the best team. However, this particular number has me backing the Dolphins. Anything more than a field goal and I'll be on the Miami side because that correlates more strongly with the type of game I expect to see relative to expectation. Despite the offensive playmakers on both sides of the ball, I'm handicapping this as an "under" environment. Catching four points in a game I expect to be lower scoring than market is quite valuable. Dolphins +4, under 46.5.
Marks: I'll take the over out west. The Dolphins offense is third in scoring rate since week 7. Tua has been fantastic, getting the ball out in less than 2.5 seconds, and has a plethora of outstanding weapons to work with. Both teams are great in yards after the catch, and with Tyreek Hill playing 40% out of the slot, he should have a solid day against the 49ers' biggest weakness. The 49ers have been great in the second half of their last four games, but that was against the Saints, Cards, Chargers and Rams -- teams that can't hold a candle to the Dolphins' offense.
Snellings: I'll take the Dolphins +4 and the over. The Dolphins are undefeated in games that Tua Tagovailoa has played the entire game. In their four most recent wins, they've scored at least 30 points in all four games while averaging 33.8 PPG. Note that the total score increases as the competition level increases, on the road in particular. In the three road games that Tua has played to completion, the Dolphins have scored at least 31 points in each (average 36 PPG) and the total score has been at least 58 for all three games (average 68.3 combined PPG).
In a rematch of last season's AFC Championship game, MVP betting favorite Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (-2, 52.5) face Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Can Burrow and the Bengals upset the AFC-leading Chiefs or will Mahomes and the Chiefs continue their winning ways?
Schatz: I like the Chiefs as slight favorites in this game and think both the line and the total are right on without a lot of value available. Ja'Marr Chase's return is definitely going to be interesting because the Chiefs rank 26th in DVOA against WR1s. And while the Chiefs bring pressure at a high rate (third in the NFL), Burrow is currently 10th in QBR when pressured. He's even taking fewer sacks recently!
Fulghum: Burrow and the Bengals most certainly can upset the Chiefs. Of course, no one should be shocked if the Chiefs avenge the AFC title game loss. That's why this is such a compelling game. It looks like the Bengals offense will benefit from the return of RB Joe Mixon and WR Ja'Marr Chase. Situationally, Cincinnati is coming off a very physical, hard-fought win on the road at Tennessee, while Kansas City got to sleep-walk to an easy win at home over the Rams. Might the Bengals be a little worn out? I'm not sure. That's while I'll just yield to betting that we see an entertaining offensive game. Over 52.5.
Snellings: I'll take the Bengals +2 and the over. This game has so many layers and so much history for such a short rivalry, but if history is any indication, there are a few things to note. First, in both games last season, the Chiefs blitzed the Bengals in the first half and then the Bengals dominated the second. The scoring split by half was the Chiefs winning the first half by a combined 49-27 and the Bengals winning the second half 34-6 (total 17-3 in both games, including the overtime game). Might be worth considering first-half action on Sunday (Chiefs -0.5, over 26.5). Second, the Bengals got run-stopping nose tackle DJ Reader back last week and promptly shut down Derrick Henry and the powerful Titans run game, so I'm expecting Mahomes to have to air it out. Finally, Chiefs safety Justin Reid has already started a war of words with Ja'Marr Chase and the Bengals' wide receivers by saying he would personally shut down Tee Higgins (later, when told the names of the players, said he meant he'd shut down Hayden Hurst); Reid and Chase have continued the verbal sparring on social media since. Of note, in two games against the Chiefs last season, Chase totalled 17 receptions, 320 receiving yards and five touchdowns, so any Chase over prop bet should be in play.
Marks: I love the over here as well. The Bengals are expected to get Mixon and Chase back, and their offense is scoring TDs on 71% of their offensive possessions in the red zone. Both teams are fantastic on third down, so I don't expect many punts. KC's revenge game should live up to the hype! The Chiefs have 855 more yards than their opponents since Week 7; marinate in that for a moment! KC's defense is the worst in the league in the red zone, allowing opponents to score TDs on 70% of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and the Minnesota Vikings (-3, 44.5) are favorites over the Mike White-led New York Jets in Week 13. The Jets are looking to win eight or more games in a season for the first time since 2015, while the Vikings look to continue their push to try and supplant the Eagles as the NFC's top seed. Will the Mike White lightning strike again in Minnesota or will Cousins lead the Vikings to a win?
Fortenbaugh: Small lean to the Vikings at -3 or shorter. I'm in the camp that Minnesota is the most overrated team in football, but the Vikings have 10 days to prepare for a matchup against a Jets offense that is being overvalued after annihilating the lousy Bears defense at home. I see value at Vikings -3 or less.
Schatz: Yes, please give me the Jets and the points. Believe it or not, DVOA has these teams very close to each other on offense this year. That leaves the big gap on defense, where the Jets have just been much better. The Jets may be slightly overrated due to playing backup quarterbacks this year, but guess what, the biggest gap between a starter and backup for a Jets opponent belonged to Miami. And which was the other team that played Miami without Tua Tagovailoa? Minnesota! So if the Jets defense is a little overrated in our DVOA numbers because of the backup quarterback effect, so is the Vikings defense! I don't think Mike White is as good as he showed against Chicago, but I think he's going to play better than Zach Wilson would play and when combined with the Jets defense that makes New York and the points an easy pick.
Fulghum: I'm not sure if White will lead the Jets to a victory, but I do lean toward grabbing the 3 points in this matchup. I think this is a lower scoring game than market expectation. The Jets defense is legitimately very good. The Justin Jefferson vs. Sauce Gardner matchup is worth the price of admission alone. I'm also not quite ready to think the Jets solved all of their offensive woes. Playing the dreadful Bears defense at home is quite a different assignment than traveling to Minnesota to take on the Vikings and their raucous home crowd. Under 44.5.
Marks: I'll take the Jets +3. I commend the Jets for making the switch last week to Mike White, who went 22-of-28 passing for 315 yards and three TDs. The Jets defense, which is allowing only 27 yards per drive, is too good to go to waste this season. The Vikings defense has struggled the last six weeks, allowing QBs to average a 70% completion rate while tossing multiple TD passes in five of their last six games.
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What are the most important things our analytics say?
Walder: Here are three sides against the spread that our Football Power Index likes.
FPI prediction: Falcons by 4.8
Did I miss the part when the Steelers became a good team? One win over the Colts in prime time is hardly enough to indicate quality. If we look strictly at overall team efficiency -- which is EPA per play with garbage time downweighted - the Steelers rank 27th and the Falcons 22nd. Nothing about Atlanta is pretty, but getting points at home against a meh-at-best rookie quarterback? FPI will take it.
FPI prediction: Cowboys by 14.1
That 40-3 victory by the Cowboys over the Vikings two weeks ago really sold FPI on Dallas. But there are pretty good reasons to believe in the Cowboys right now. Dak Prescott ranks sixth in QBR and the defense ranks fifth in EPA per play. That's a pretty good recipe to be an elite team! The model isn't buying into the Colts at all.
FPI prediction: Ravens by 11.8
Have the Ravens blown leads? Yes. But it's better to have loved led and lost than to never have led at all. Right?? This team is +48 in points differential, eighth in offensive EPA/P and 13th in defensive EPA/P. They're good! At home, against a reeling Broncos team, FPI thinks this should be double digits.
What is your favorite bet for Sunday?
Fortenbaugh: Bears-Packers over 43.5. I'm betting Justin Fields plays in this game, and if I'm right, this total is going to surge north. For as bad as the Green Bay offense has been since Aaron Rodgers injured his thumb, the Packers did just hang 33 points at Philadelphia last week. Additionally, Chicago currently ranks 27th in scoring defense and 28th in opponent yards per play, so I see Rodgers and company hanging a healthy number here.
Schatz: Let's go with under 20 in the first half of the Commanders-Giants contest. Both of these offenses are better after halftime this season, in particular the Giants, who go from 24th in DVOA in the first half of games to seventh in the second half. Meanwhile, the Giants defense is better in the first half -- average before halftime but worst in the league in the second half. And if you need that last little shove to get you on this bet, consider that division games tend to be slightly lower-scoring than other games.
Fulghum: I think we see another shootout at Ford Field. Detroit home games this season are averaging 62.2 combined points per game. The Jaguars visit the Lions fresh off perhaps the most impressive performance from Trevor Lawrence in his career. It shouldn't be difficult for him to maintain that momentum against a Detroit defense allowing 426.4 yards per game (32nd in NFL) and 28.2 points per game (32nd in NFL). Jared Goff and the Lions offense should be able to match whatever the Jaguars provide on the scoreboard, as the Jags' pass-funnel defense is allowing 5.9 yards per play over the last seven weeks. Only the Bears are allowing more. Jaguars-Lions over 51.5.
Moody: Cleveland winning margin 7-12 points: The Texans have had major issues on both sides of the ball so far this season. Houston ranks 32nd in total yards per game and 31st in points scored per game. While defensively the Texans allow the fourth most total yards and 10th most points per game. I'd be very surprised if Watson loses to his former franchise considering the supporting cast around him in Cleveland. The Browns rank eighth in run block win rate. Nick Chubb should feast like a king against a Texans defense that allows 168.6 rushing yards per game. Furthermore, Houston lacks the ability to finish games. Browns to win between seven to 12 points.
What is your favorite player prop for Sunday?
Fulghum: Patrick Mahomes over 309.5 passing yards (-117). This is obviously a very high number, but this is Patrick Mahomes we're talking about. Mahomes has thrown for no less than 320 yards in any of his last six games and is averaging 325.9 passing yards per game this season. The total in this game is 52.5 (and climbing). No team throws at a higher rate above expectation than the Chiefs. With the Bengals offense getting two weapons back, the likelihood of explosive plays increases, which adds the potential for more play volume on Kansas City's side. Few things in life are as comfortable as betting on Mahomes to throw for a lot of yards in a football game, and we have an environment here with a high total and close spread that should produce another typically Mahomes-ian box score.
Moody: Trevor Lawrence over 252.5 passing yards. Against the Ravens on Sunday, the Jaguars prioritized the passing game, and Lawrence delivered with 321 passing yards. He has completed 76.8% of his passes for 815 yards over the last three games. With an abundance of playmakers surrounding him, Lawrence will have success in the passing game against a Lions defense that has allowed the fourth most passing yards per game.