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Submitted by SportsMasters Consensus on Friday, December 21, 2012 at 12:33 PM

We’ve arrived at a challenging week for sports bettors because the NFL schedule is dotted with “lame duck” teams who have nothing to play for. They’re out of the playoff picture…and can either try to play spoiler this week, or start worrying about next year by giving minutes to backups. Sharps have stayed on top of all the major storylines, and have made it clear where they think the edges lie on this weekend’s card.

Note that this week’s NFL betting schedule is jammed into two days. The fun begins Saturday Night with Atlanta and Detroit, and ends Sunday Night with San Francisco at Seattle in a game that may foreshadow a playoff showdown. There was no Thursday game this week. There will be no Monday Night game either because the league didn’t want to play on Christmas Eve.

As always, we take the games in rotation order so you can make notes in your Vegas schedules…

ATLANTA AT DETROIT (Saturday Night): Atlanta opened at -3, and was bet up to -3.5 as they try to clinch the #1 seed in the NFC (either San Francisco or Green Bay could catch them if the Falcons lose out). Detroit is way off the pace at 4-10. You regulars know it takes a lot of money to move off a three in the NFL. We’re hearing that sharp support for the Falcons was a mix of that motivation edge, and “position-taking” on the assumption that the public was going to bet the “must-win” favorite in a prime time TV game. Even sharps without an opinion on the game could position themselves for value on Atlanta -3 and Detroit +4 or better were the line to move. There hasn’t been much early interest in the total. From this point forward, if we don’t mention the Over/Under it’s because sharps hadn’t bet the option in that game.

TENNESSEE AT GREEN BAY: The only move here has been on the total, as an opener of 47 has been bet down to 46. We’re hearing that’s because of the forecast for temperatures in the low 20’s. and the thought that Green Bay will run clock if they get a lead. The Packers are favored by a whopping 12.5 points against a lame duck visitor from the other conference. In essence, sharps are showing support for the Packers by betting the Under rather than laying the very high team side price.

OAKLAND AT CAROLINA: Not much interest in this game. The line has dropped from Oakland +9 to Oakland +8.5 on the news that Terrelle Pryor would see extended playing time for the Raiders. That at least tells you one Raider will be trying to impress! We’re hearing from our sources that sharps are more comfortable betting Carolina as underdogs and cheap favorites off this recent surge than they are laying more than a TD in a meaningless game. Carolina will be in the basic strategy teaser window if the line stays at -8.5. Sharps are historically less aggressive with teasers in meaningless games because the value of each point isn’t quite the same. They would still like Carolina here though in teasers based on what we’re hearing.

BUFFALO AT MIAMI: The totals guys bet the Under here, with an opener of 43 dropping down to 41.5. We’re hearing that’s mostly keyed by respect for Miami’s defense. Here’s another game with nothing at stake. Sharps are expecting both teams to play out the string and get the game over with. Not much interest on the team side with Miami holding strong at -4.5 for an extended period off an opener of -5. Let’s get to some games that matter!

CINCINNATI AT PITTSBURGH: Here we go. This is a huge game in the AFC Wildcard race because the Bengals and Steelers are fighting for the sixth and final available spot (assuming Indianapolis wraps up the #5 seed with a win in Kansas City). This is basically a playoff game NOW. Sharps have bet that way, taking the dog and the Under. Cincinnati +4 on the opener is down to Cincinnati +3.5. The total opened at 43 but is down to 41.5 because of playoff intensity, chilly temperatures, and a field surface that often inhibits scoring. It’s worth noting that the team side line hasn’t moved all the way down to the key number of three yet. Were that to happen, we have heard that many sharps would come in on the Steelers because of their big game experience in recent seasons.

NEW ENGLAND AT JACKSONVILLE: New England opened at the VERY high line of -14.5 on the road. The line hasn’t moved…which, in this case, actually represents unspoken support for the favorite. If sharps liked the dog, they definitely would have taken the hook and bet the line down to 14 or even 13.5. That DIDN’T happen. Sharps expect a one-sided game. Few professional wagerers like laying big spreads in the NFL though because of relative parity and garbage time. Were the public to lay the points on Sunday (which is fairly likely), we’re hearing some sharps might come in at Jacksonville +16. The total has been bet up from 49 to 50 or 50.5. As we saw in that Green Bay-Tennessee game, sharps are showing “support” for a big favorite by playing the logical total tendency rather than laying a high price.  

INDIANAPOLIS AT KANSAS CITY: Indianapolis opened at -6, and has been bet up to -7 because a win clinches the #5 seed, and because Kansas City may be trying to lose to lock in the #1 draft pick next year. It’s telling though that sharps didn’t drive the line past the key number of seven. They’re still skeptical of this soft Colts defense…and they know Andrew Luck has been turnover prone on the road. We wouldn’t be surprised if the public bet the Colts higher on game day. We’re hearing sharps will think about the Chiefs if the line goes to +8.

NEW ORLEANS AT DALLAS: We’re currently sitting on the openers of Dallas -3 and 51.5 in most stores. Dallas does need the game in the playoff chase…but every game is a battle for them this year. They’re not the type to win comfortably. And, New Orleans gets a lot of respect from sharps because Drew Brees is still putting up big numbers. We’re hearing that sharps would fade a public move in either direction because they think Dallas -3 is the right number.

WASHINGTON AT PHILADELPHIA: Sharps have been waiting for a definitive word on the status of Robert Griffin III before getting involved here. How he feels on game day is going to matter the most. Sharps don’t see any reason to bet early before his condition is locked in. Washington opened at -6.5 as a road favorite. Stores now are showing either that line or Skins -6. This is a huge game for Washington in the NFC East and Wildcard races. If it looks like RGIII will be at or near 100% health, we would expect sharp money to hit the six in an attempt to beat the public

ST. LOUIS AT TAMPA BAY: Nothing at stake here for two six-win teams who lost badly last week to fall out of the Wildcard picture. Sharps are leaving the game alone thus far, and probably will all weekend. They would fade any public move off the key number. But, this isn’t a game the public is likely to bet.

NY GIANTS AT BALTIMORE: Big support for the Giants here. They opened at +1 on the road, but are now laying -2.5. Both of these teams lost important games by big margins last week. The Giants have shown an ability to bounce back with this coach and quarterback. Baltimore looks like they’re imploding, and the team is losing confidence in Joe Flacco. Sharps gladly “asked the Giants to win” at prices near pick-em, but didn’t carry that support all the way to the key number of three. We have heard that Baltimore money would come in at +3…and that the mere threat of Baltimore money coming back hard over the top is keeping this line at +2.5 right now. Baltimore is just the second team in the teaser window so far in today’s discussion. Sharps would be getting 9.5 points on the opener with a six-point move here, which is something they pay attention to.

MINNESOTA AT HOUSTON: Important games for both teams. Houston can earn the #1 seed in the AFC by winning out, which is something they desperately want to do because nobody wants to visit Denver or New England in January. Minnesota is one of a large hunk of teams at 8-6 in the NFC, fighting for Wildcards. The opener here of Houston -7 was bet up to -7.5 of -8. That’s strong support for the favorite because it moves off a key number. And, it also creates a teaser opportunity on the favorite that sportsbooks are going to have to sweat. Houston was bet hard last week vs. Indy, and ended up getting the money in a 12-point win. We’re hearing the reason for the move was that sharps believe Houston’s run defense can contain Adrian Peterson.

CLEVELAND AT DENVER: Denver has been bet up from an opener of -12 to -13. This is the first double digit favorite that’s moved UP. That’s a combination of a must-win spot for Denver because of the race for the #2 seed (the Broncos earn at least a #2 seed if they win out), and a late season road game at altitude for a lame duck opponent. Cleveland was drilled 38-21 last week at home by a rookie quarterback. A line under two touchdowns doesn’t seem that high when they now travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning! The line hasn’t moved up to -14 though because of concerns about garbage time. Remember that the Broncos gave away late double digit leads on this field recently to both San Diego and Tampa Bay.

CHICAGO AT ARIZONA: Not much interest in this game beyond the Under, as an opener of 37.5 has been bet down to 36.5. Chicago opened at -5.5 and has stood solid. Sharps don’t trust Jay Cutler on the road against a good defense. Sharps don’t trust any Arizona quarterback against a good defense. They know the Bears need the win in the Wildcard race, but are aware of the recent slide out of first place. Under or pass from sharps. We are hearing sharps are expecting the public to back the Bears…and they would definitely take Arizona at +7, and might take them at +6.

SAN FRANCISCO AT SEATTLE: This game was time-changed to prime time for NBC. That will make it the most bet game of the week by a significant margin. It’s a game everyone wants to see and to bet. It’s sitting on pick-em right now, off an opener of Seattle -1. The total has been bet down from 40.5 to 39.5 because the first meeting was such a defensive struggle.

SAN DIEGO AT NY JETS: This game was time-changed to an early Sunday kickoff. It had originally been the Sunday Night game, but NBC opted out so it could have the best game of the day instead of one of the worst! The total has dropped from an opener of 41 down to 38 or 38.5 because of the Jets quarterback switch from Mark Sanchez to Greg McElroy, because of San Diego’s long sustained offensive woes, and because of a forecast for windy and chilly conditions in a stadium where swirling winds have messed up deep throws since its recent opening. The team side line of Jets -2.5 hasn’t budged. That will put San Diego in the teaser window. Sharps will be cautious here though because it’s a meaningless game for the visitor, and it’s their second trip East in the last three weeks.

Looks like a fascinating weekend ahead, with the most important games having a definite playoff feel to them. Remember that the best way to think like a sharp and bet like a sharp on game day is to link up with the experts here at VegasSportsMasters. Complete details on football and basketball releases are always available on our “buy picks” page.

Keep your holidays happy…where hot handicappers are always waiting to hear from you!

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