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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 14, 2012 at 11:08 PM

What a schedule! Sunday features an incredible FIVE matchups in the NFL that will involve likely playoff teams doing battle in games that matter. There’s a chance that one or two of these teams will slump to the finish and end up missing the brackets. But, as of now, these are 10 of the 12 teams sports bettors are mostly to see playing in January.

*Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (1 p.m. ET on FOX)

*NY Giants at Atlanta (1 p.m. ET on FOX)

*Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET on CBS)

*Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (1 p.m. ET on CBS)

*San Francisco at New England (8:25 p.m. ET on NBC)

We’re going to save San Francisco/New England for our regularly scheduled Sunday Night stat preview. You regulars know we also run the numbers in the Thursday Night, Sunday Night, and Monday Night games in expanded form here in the NOTEBOOK. That won’t change this week. What WILL change is this special early edition that will focus on those four 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.

We’re going to post our key indicator numbers for ALL EIGHT TEAMS, then provide some quick commentary that will help you pick pointspread winners on game day. First, let’s start with the Las Vegas pointspreads as we go to press.

Las Vegas Spreads:

*Green Bay by 3, total of 42.5

*Atlanta by 1.5, total of 51

*Denver by 2.5, total of 48

*Houston by 8.5, total of 48

Remember that Green Bay and Denver are playing on the ROAD, so they’re getting respect from the market here late in the season. If you adjust for home field advantage, Green Bay is about six points better than Chicago on a neutral field, with Denver at 5.5 better than Baltimore. That would be where home team Houston clocks in against Indianapolis too. Atlanta is favored by less than home field as hosts to NYG, meaning the market things the Giants are the better team.

So, already, we’re getting a look at market expectations for January. Atlanta will be a #1 seed but won’t be seen as the best team in the NFC. Green Bay and the Giants will get respect in the NFC. Baltimore and Indianapolis will lack respect in the AFC.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)

Houston: 11-2 (25th ranked schedule)

Atlanta: 11-2 (31st ranked schedule)

Denver: 10-3 (23rd ranked schedule)

Green Bay: 9-4 (9th ranked schedule)

Baltimore: 9-4 (24th ranked schedule)

Indianapolis: 9-4 (32nd ranked schedule)

NY Giants: 8-5 (13th ranked schedule)

Chicago: 8-5 (16th ranked schedule)

These are ranked by won-lost records If you rank them by strength of schedule, you see some hidden power for Green Bay and the NY Giants, the only two teams who are in top 15 of the league in terms of schedule challenges. You also see possible disappointments ahead for Indianapolis (easiest schedule in the NFL thus far), Atlanta (second-easiest), and Houston (may not be as good as 11-2 makes it seem).

It’s never too early to start thinking about the playoffs. We’ve shown you time and time again on these very pages that regular season strength of schedule is a fantastic indicator for postseason success.


NY Giants: +16

Houston: +14

Chicago: +13

Baltimore: +12

Green Bay: +7

Atlanta: +6

Denver: -2

Indianapolis: -16

Wow…the Colts have a horrible turnover differential while playing the easiest schedule in the league! In the past we’ve talked about the trickiness of using turnover differential in your handicapping and sports betting process. There is a skill involved with the risk/reward ratio…but there’s also luck. Studies have shown that about +8 to +10 is the best you can do “on purpose” year by year (though the Patriots have a knack for exceeding that). Use that as a benchmark for rewarding quality while not being over-impressed by luck.


Denver: 390.1 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

Houston: 384.5 yards-per-game on 5.5 yards-per-play

Indianapolis: 382.6 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

Atlanta: 376.2 yards-per-game on 5.8 yards-per-play

NY Giants: 372.9 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

Green Bay: 345.8 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

Baltimore: 344.4 yards-per-game on 5.5 yards-per-play

Chicago: 314.8 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

Granting that New England and San Francisco are being saved for a later discussion…and that Pats/Niners might be the eventual Super Bowl matchup…we can still get a quick sense of postseason threats from those rankings. Denver grades out best of the eight in both yardage and yards-per-play. That’s why they’re laying points in Baltimore this week. Houston, Indianapolis, and Atlanta would all probably drop against tougher schedules. Green Bay would rise up against an easier schedule. This is truly going to be a year where you have to adjust for context as you pick big games matching contenders.

Note the disappointing ranking for Baltimore on this side of the ball when the discussion is limited to contenders only. That’s why they had to fire Cam Cameron. They were supposed to have a new offense that was going to light up the scoreboard. Even with some blowouts over bad teams, they still don’t sparkle in this mix.


Denver: 309.4 yards-per-game on 4.8 yards-per-play

Chicago: 314.2 yards-per-game on 5.0 yards-per-play

Houston: 330.0 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play

Green Bay: 351.8 yards-per-game on 5.3 yards-per-play

Atlanta: 361.9 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

Indianapolis: 362.5 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

Baltimore: 375.9 yards-per-game on 5.3 yards-per-play

NY Giants: 376.2 yards-per-game on 6.1 yards-per-play

If defense wins championships, then several teams will be dealing with big question marks in January. What happened to the Giants?! They didn’t win two Super Bowls by playing shootouts. That defense needs to improve quick. Baltimore is a big disappointment in volume, but holds up better on a ypp basis. Once again, Denver is the sneaky good team here. In yardage differential and ypp indicators, it’s Denver showing up as a potential sleeper.

Normally we’d outline “best expectations” here. That’s tougher to do for FOUR games at once…particularly when JIM HURLEY could well have a huge release Sunday in any of these four matchups! For our purposes today, let’s briefly outline each team’s potential for playoff success. Going in schedule order…

GREEN BAY: may be peaking at the right time, but this still isn’t a vintage team.

CHICAGO: fading at the worst possible time, and Cutler is still a problem in big games

NY GIANTS: needs to pick up the pace on defense quickly, always a threat

ATLANTA: probably a pretender again, will need to prove otherwise

DENVER: graded out very well, one to watch

BALTIMORE: disappointing, but still time to catch fire as a dangerous sleeper

INDIANAPOLIS: might not be a playoff team with a real schedule

HOUSTON: less scary now than before, but the pieces are there to challenge NE in a rematch

JIM HURLEY has huge plans for SHOWDOWN SUNDAY. You can purchase our top plays right here at the website (if you’re reading this before Saturday’s bowls, build your bankrolls with strong selections in Nevada-Arizona and Toledo-Utah State!). This is a great time to sign up for NETWORK’s “end of season” package too. You can take care of that online. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow with an expanded preview of San Francisco-New England, in what will surely be the most watched and BET Sunday Night game in years. We’ll crunch the numbers for you in a way that will showcase the matchup AND get you ready for the potential Super Bowl runs those teams are planning to make.

In the biggest football games of December and January (college and pro), DON’T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

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