The NFL’s worst teams still offer value at the betting window

Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler, center, is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt, left, as he scrambles out of the pocket Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, during the second half of an NFL game in Cleveland.
Photo: Ron Schwane / AP

The divide in betting action between the most and least gambled-on games increases late in the NFL season. The betting public largely ignores teams that have fallen out of the postseason race, unless they’re wagering against them in a game versus one of the league’s powers. That’s a mistake, as the bottom of the league can offer every bit the moneymaking potential as the top of the league, if handicapped wisely.

The Cleveland Browns (0-11) are the lone NFL team mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but there are four others sitting at 3-8 or worse with miniscule chances of extending their seasons. We’ll go through all five and decide if each is bet-on, bet-against or to be avoided altogether.

CLEVELAND BROWNS The Browns are somewhat unlucky to be winless, having gone 0-3 in games decided by less than a touchdown. But all those close calls came more than a month ago, and Cleveland has regressed since then, with five straight losses straight-up and against the spread. The Browns will cover eventually given the inflation of their point spreads— Sunday against the Giants they’re underdogs of at least a touchdown for the fourth-straight week—but it’s too tough to tell when with a team this green and bereft of talent. Avoid.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS Take away an inexplicable 28-0 victory over the Rams in Week 1, and it’s the 49ers, not the Browns, that have been the worst team in the league. San Francisco hasn’t won a game since, and the Niners have covered in only one contest, meaning even oddsmakers haven’t been able to catch up to this club’s level of helplessness. Bet against.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS It’s hard to back a team as perennially feeble as the Jags, who are poised to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight year, but statistically they haven’t played as poorly as other bottom dwellers. Opponents are outscoring Jacksonville by an average of seven points per game, compared with 14 points per game for the Browns and 10 for the 49ers. Jacksonville has traditionally improved toward the end of the season under coach Gus Bradley, who is 10-8 against the spread over the final six weeks through his first three years at the helm. Bet on.

CHICAGO BEARS At full strength, Chicago is competitive. Too bad it’s nowhere near full strength as the season winds down. A season marred by injuries reached its peak last week when Jay Cutler joined fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer on the injury list. The Bears now must turn to Matt Barkley, who has thrown six interceptions with no touchdowns in five career games. Until they get healthier, betting numbers can’t be high enough when it comes to the Bears. Bet against.

NEW YORK JETS The Jets have beaten a pair of teams in the hunt for playoff berths— the Ravens and the Bills—and they probably should have taken down a third, the Dolphins, if not for a late meltdown. New York also went 10-6 straight-up and 9-6-1 against the spread with virtually the same roster a season ago. In other words, the Jets are better than their 3-7 record, and should have a chance to prove it coming off a bye for the final six weeks of the season. Bet on.

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