High-rollers seem to have forgotten their basic chops when it comes to NFL rivalry games this season.
I was tricked by the rivalry-syndrome a few times in 2018-19, most-notably by not trusting the Las Vegas lines when the Philadelphia Eagles played the New York Giants. As my Dad used to point out, all National Football League players are elite professionals. We speak of “bad” NFL teams but there are really 0 bad NFL teams, just bad W/L records.
Clubs with poor records and no hope to reach the postseason are often guilty of going through the motions. But rivalry games can give eliminated teams a reason to play hard and contend to win, even against top contenders.
Don’t tell that to a betting public which has stretched the moneyline for Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks vs Arizona Cardinals match-up to nearly 1-to-5 on the host Seahawks.
Even as the ML expands, the point spread holds steady at (-9) as Seattle hasn’t exactly blown-out many teams en route to an 11-3 record. Still, we have to ask – should a division-rivalry game ever be handicapped at more than a TD margin?
Who: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday, December 22nd, 4:25 PM EST
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA
Lines: AZ (+9) at SEA (-9) / O/U Total: (51)
Arizona was able to snap a 6-game skid with a 38-24 win over Cleveland last week. New addition Kenyan Drake scored 4 touchdowns and was given a huge workload in a rare run-heavy game script from Kingsbury, and the outcome left little doubt that Drake, and not David Johnson, is now the 1st-string back in Arizona.
Kyler Murray has given the Cardinals hope with an inspired rookie campaign. Murray is completing 65% of his passes, a number that has steadily improved all season, but his 10 interceptions are keeping his QBR under 90. Murray is also leading the Cardinals in rushing with 504 yards. That’s a surprising number considering the majority of his runs are not by design.
Kliff Kingsbury would be wise to start managing the QB’s runs more carefully. The 2019-20 Baltimore Ravens have shown that a dual-threat quarterback can flourish and stay healthy in the NFL, shattering a myth that “experts” like Pete Prisco and Boomer Esiason have trumpeted for more than 50 years. But a big % of QB injuries happen on helter-skelter scrambles when the signal-caller doesn’t know where he’s headed in advance. Contrary to popular belief it’s easier to get hurt on a pass play than an option play unless wild scrambling is utilized in small doses.
Pass-rushing remains an encouraging department for the Big Red. Cardinal defensive end Chandler Jones sacked Baker Mayfield for his 15th sack of the season last week, good for 2nd in the NFL behind Tampa linebacker Shaq Barrett.
Meanwhile, Seattle must be careful not to look ahead to a hotly-anticipated Week 17 tilt with San Francisco. The Seahawks have an edge over the 49ers in NFC West tiebreakers, as Seattle won round #1 in overtime at Levi’s Stadium in Week 10. But the teams still share the same record, and Seattle still needs to take care of business on Sunday.
The Panthers gave a solid effort against the visiting Seahawks last week, but Seattle was able to prevail 30-24 behind a 133 yard, 2 touchdown effort from running back Chris Carson. Russell Wilson was impressive once again, completing 20-of-26 passes and finding wide receiver Tyler Lockett 8 times for 120 yards and a score. Lockett had been struggling since incurring a minor injury, and snapped a 4-game scoring drought with the receiving touchdown. Lockett needs just 6 yards to pass the 1,000-yard mark while playing a larger role following the retirement of Doug Baldwin.
Seattle will be without a key cog in the secondary on Sunday. Quandre Diggs is nursing a high-ankle sprain, and the defense will miss his presence:
In 5 games with his new squad, Diggs has intercepted a trio of passes, including one INT for a 55-yard touchdown in a 28-12 loss to the Rams 2 weeks ago. Neither is Javeveon Clowney likely to be on-field to chase Murray around:
Clowney was one of two players the Seahawks listed as doubtful for Sunday (the other was safety Quandre Diggs) as he recovers from a core muscle injury suffered Nov. 11 at San Francisco. Diggs’ situation is no surprise as he has a high ankle sprain and has been portrayed all week as unlikely to play, and coach Pete Carroll all but ruled him out Friday saying, “we have not been able to get him on the field at all. It’s looking like it’s going to be hard for him to make it.” Lano Hill is expected to start in Diggs’ place alongside Bradley McDougald.
There seemed to be hope that Clowney would play this week after he sat out the Carolina game with the core muscle injury and an illness. He did not practice all week even though he is no longer ill, and Carroll said Clowney would have to “surprise us’’ to be able to play Sunday.
Seattle has played in so many close games in 2019 that you’d want to be darn sure that the Seahawks are ready to roll before touting them to beat a rival by 10 points or more. I give Seattle about a 55% chance to do it on Sunday, but there’s a wager I’m a lot more sure of in the same game’s markets.
Kingsbury is going to stick to a run-focused offense because it’s a terrible risk (without a worthwhile reward) to let Murray keep dancing around and throwing at this point. 1 crazy play could end the career of Larry Fitzgerald on the spot or hand the young star QB a terrible injury setback. Arizona can’t run for 200+ yards on the Seahawks in a road game, and a wide-open contest would give the Cardinals a better chance to win in Week 16. But with the #1 priority being the future and not the present, coaches have no better choice but to stay conservative. Against Seattle that means taking a 24-7 or 30-6 loss in stride and keeping an eye on the big picture.
The Over/Under line is way too high at (51). Take the low side for a 60% or better chance to win your wager.