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NFL Picks Against The Spread: What Bookmakers Think About Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins

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We enlist some professional help to figure out what the odds are for the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, and Redskins this weekend.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When the Vegas oddsmakers like sportsbooks and casinos set the point spread, or the line, for an NFL game, their objective is to make sure the line attracts an equal amount of wagers on both sides of the bet, as this limits the exposure of the oddsmaker.

The opening line is an oddsmakers' best guess as to which point spread will get equal action from bettors on both sides. Because most NFL games are mismatches, oddsmakers use a point spread to balance out the betting action on the two sides. Otherwise, everybody would just bet on the favorites to win, and the bookmakers would be left to cover the difference.

To arrive at a point spread, the Vegas oddsmakers draw on their knowledge of betting behavior and sophisticated statistical models, but it's important to understand that the point spread is not a predicted margin of victory, though the numbers certainly look like it and often come very close to the actual result of a game.

But Vegas isn't the only source of point spreads for a game. Today we'll look at four different stat-based points spreads to see how they differ from the Vegas line in their outlook for the four NFC East games this weekend, and offer up a pick against the spread for all NFC East games.

Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (-7, 43)

For the Cowboys, the Vegas line currently stands at +7, meaning the Cowboys are 7-point underdogs. The following table shows how that compares to three different stat-based models:

Cowboys @ packers Point Spreads, Week 14
Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Dallas +7 +8.5 +7.2
+12.9

The stat-based models shown here suggest the odds of a Cowboys win are even longer than the Vegas line indicates. Which is why I've enlisted professional help from Scott Cooley at Bookmaker.eu to understand why the spread for the game is the way it is:

We opened the Packers -7 with a total of 43.5. Patting ourselves on the back through two days of wagering as we haven’t budged on either number, but the week is early and the big action is yet to come.

I’m expecting an influx of Cowboys’ money at some point prior to Sunday. I think the smart bettors will be on Dallas and the public will follow steam. Last week’s game at Washington saw massive movement as we adjusted a full three points before it was all said and done. The Dallas bettors were dead on then and they’ll be eager to double up against the Packers.

Green Bay’s defense is struggling with versatile offenses, but I wouldn’t give the Cowboys that label without Romo. They aren’t one-dimensional, but they certainly aren’t versatile. On the other side, without question the Packers have lost some of their offensive identity. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Dallas defense will get to Rodgers.

This is shaping up to be another defensive battle for Dallas, and we expect the total to fall at some point. If you like the under, grab it now.

The one weakness of the stat-based models in this case is they are using numbers from the entire season, and in the case of 538.com, data from beyond just this season.

Yet over the last six games, both teams are 2-4, with very similar scoring stats. And with the weather expected to be relatively warm, at least for Green Bay standards, even the Packers' home-field advantage is questionable. Seven points is a lot for teams that currently rely a lot on their defenses. In a tight, low-scoring game, I'm picking the Cowboys to cover. Pick: Cowboys (+7)

New York Giants at Miami Dolphins (+1.5, 47)

The Giants line has bounced around all week, and neither Vegas nor the stat-based model have a clear take on which teams is favored in this game.

Giants @ Dolphins Point Spreads, Week 14

Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Giants -1.5 +0.5 +3.3 -2.4

Scott expects the line to move further in favor of the Giants.

This line has bounced around and seen both teams as chalk. We opened with a pick ‘em, then moved to Miami -1 and are currently dealing New York -1.5.

Despite their inconsistencies, we still view the Giants as the best team in the NFC East. The offensive line is a mess, but the Giants are notorious for masking injuries with success. Given the magnitude of this game for New York and it coming on Monday night, we fully expect the bettors to believe in and back the G-Men. Look for this spread to climb in New York’s favor as the week draws on.

There really isn't much to like about either team. The Dolphins are 1-4 against the spread at home this year, and their putrid offense hasn't scored more than 20 points in their last six games. The Giants have lost three straight and are in the middle of their annual late-season meltdown, but at least they can score more than 20 points. Pick: Giants (-1.5)

Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears (-3.5, 44)

Fairly consistent assessment between the Vegas line and the stat-based lines in this game.

Redskins @ Bears Point Spreads, Week 14

Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Redskins +3.5 +4 +4.1 +5.6

Scott isn't quite sure what to make of this game

I really don’t think the bettors know what to think of this matchup between two enigmatic teams. You put these squads on a neutral field and it has the genuine feel of that classic "tossup" game. I could see this spread and total increasing as the week draws on and more action comes in.

Both teams have alternated wins and losses over the last four weeks, and both teams are nearly identical: Over the season, the Redskins scored six points more than the Bears and allowed four fewer points; they are ranked 17th (WAS) and 18th (CHI) in the Aikman efficiency ratings; there isn't much difference in their DVOA, with the Redskins ranked 18th and the Bears 21st; even their passer rating differential is very similar, ranking 14th (WAS) and 18th (CHI). Almost too close to call, so I'm going with the hotter defense and the home team in this one. Pick: Bears (-3.5)

Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles (PK, 47)

Looking at the numbers for this game is like staring into a cracked crystal ball.

Bills @ Eagles Point Spreads, Week 14

Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Eagles PK -1.5 -1.2 +3.8

Scott is not a fan of the Eagles:

Another game where we’ve crossed over the middle early in the week. Opened Philly -1 Sunday night and moved to -2 within a few minutes. By Monday morning, the guys that see the Eagles as smoke and mirrors grabbed all they could at Bills +2 and +1. The steam continued and by Tuesday evening we had adjusted to Buffalo -1.5.

Philadelphia had no business winning last week, pretty much a gift-wrapped win due to some poor coaching decisions and special teams play. This is not a good team and you can see the discord on the field. Rex always has his guys ready to go, but there might be a little something extra to get one back for LeSean McCoy.

The Bills offense is ranked 7th in DVOA, while the Eagles offense is ranked just 27th. But the picture is reversed on defense, where the Eagles (inexplicably) rank 9th overall, while the Bills rank 27th. However, the Eagles defense has been a hot mess recently (138 points allowed in last four games, second worst in the league), and barring some improbable plays on special teams, the Eagles can't win this one. Pick: Bills