What closely tracking the spread has taught us at the NFL's three-quarter mark

Twelve weeks down, five to go. The NFL season is reaching its conclusion and, despite all the chaos in the spread results and standings, it's fair to say we've learned a few things about the betting trends in the league.

Last time we did this, the focus was on identifying the teams that are primed to surprise, because the easiest way for a team to beat the spread is to be undervalued in the first place. During that quarter, it certainly proved true for the Chargers, who were left for dead after a string of close games, and the Bears, who were playing scrappy football against superior teams. While L.A. kept its success going and will now start getting tougher spreads to show for it, Chicago fell off a bit of a cliff after its bye. Such is the world of gambling.

Now, with another four weeks in the books, let's take a look at what has transpired, and what might lie ahead. As always, all spreads are drawn from CBS Sports.

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NFC contenders are flexing

It's been a great stretch for the top teams in the National Football Conference. Even now that people have caught on to their success, surprise contenders like the Eagles and Rams have gone into matchups as multi-TD favourites and cleared those spreads with ease. The Vikings, Panthers, and rejuvenated Falcons have been reliable as well. Sometimes life is simple and the best teams just play like they should. Keep riding these teams while you can!

The Pats are who we thought they were

After sowing some doubts in the minds of bettors early in the season, the Patriots have righted the ship and are dismantling teams by a predictable margin, as per usual. Nobody likes to run up a score like Bill Belichick, which has helped New England cover even the fattest of lines, like the 17 points they were favoured over Miami last weekend (they won by 18). Things could get a little tougher with playoff threats like the Bills and Steelers on tap, but you can always talk yourself into these Patriots as a decent bet.

KC should level out from its free fall

The Kansas City Chiefs have been an infuriating mess this past quarter, which both makes you want to have absolutely nothing to do with them while also being a sign that you probably should have something to do with them. As we've discussed many times, gambling is about buying low and selling high. Andy Reid's team is too talented to not snap out of this soon. And with playoffs now on the line, they're worth a second chance.

Cincinnati could be the middle-of-the-pack darling

Cincinnati has kind of fallen under the radar all season. Nobody really would've been surprised if they were a playoff contender, given past seasons, but nobody would've been shocked to see them fall off the map either. The reality has trended towards the latter, but the Bengals, especially of late, has been a team that keeps things close and covers where it should. Other than a tough game in Minnesota, they should be pretty competitive and threaten to pull off wins in all of their remaining games.