Opinions should be updated now

Early season impressions are often hard to change. Yet as bettors, we must remain open- minded and not be stubborn with our initial opinions. At the same time, we can’t overreact and write teams off too quickly or proclaim September success as the signs of a surprise Super Bowl champ.

Yes, some teams do establish an early identity that is maintained throughout the season.  The 2020 Jets for example. But most teams’ fortunes ebb and flow as a season unfolds and plays out. Injuries are the most obvious explanation for why a team’s performance will vary, often greatly, during a season.

In seeking teams whose fortune swings can be more realistically explained and used in guiding late-season wagers there are several factors I consider.

One of the strongest involves first-season coaches and quarterbacks, often a combination of both. It takes time for a coach to fully grasp and adjust to his new team’s strengths and weaknesses. It also takes time for a new QB to get in synch with a new set of receivers, especially rookies.

The Chargers’ Justin Herbert is an excellent example as was Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow before his injury. Coaches Matt Rhule in Carolina and Ron Rivera in Washington have brought their teams along nicely in their first season.

A related factor involves in-season coaching changes. Interim coaches are often auditioning for the permanent position through the on-field play of the team he takes over. Houston’s Romeo Crennel, Atlanta’s Raheem Morris and Detroit’s Darrell Bevell are in such positions as 2020 winds down.

Though not blindly, I’ll be looking to back Atlanta, Carolina, Detroit and Washington down the stretch. I’ll also include the Chargers, although with more of an eye towards next season when a new coach may be in place with a very talented team on both sides of the football that’s been on the wrong side of too many close games these past two seasons under current coach Anthony Lynn. At age 73 Houston’s Crennel is most likely truly interim.

Sunday

Colts -3 at Texans: Houston’s 3-1 after starting 1-6 start but none of the wins have come against a winning team. Indianapolis has not lost back-to-back games this season and their solid defense was tested the past two weeks by Green Bay and Tennessee.

This would normally be a great spot for the hosts, but the suspension of WR Will Fuller greatly hurts the offense which also lost WR DeAndre Hopkins in an offseason trade. This should make Houston more reliant on a running game that’s topped 100 yards just three times.

Indy’s defense should rebound against a more one-dimensional offense than they’ve seen the past two weeks, keying on Texans QB Deshaun Watson. COLTS

Browns +5.5 at Titans: After dropping three of four following a 5-0 start, the Titans are back home following a pair of road wins. RB Derrick Henry is in late season form. As a team Tennessee’s rushed for over 150 yards in three straight and in five of its last seven games.

Cleveland is 8-3 but has just one win over a winning team and that came at home. The Browns have also been effective in running the football. Tennessee’s been the NFL’s best in avoiding turnovers, losing just five all season.

Cleveland’s scoring has been in decline, averaging 31.2 points per game in their first five games but just 18.2 ppg since. Foes have had success in breaking down Browns first-year coach Kevin Stefanski’s tendencies. TITANS

Rams -3 at Cardinals: Los Angeles squandered a chance to stay atop the division with a second loss this season to San Francisco.  Arizona had the chance to tie the Rams but lost on a late FG in New England.

This is their first meeting will meet again in Week 17. Arizona has excelled in running the football and in avoiding turnovers. They’ve received recent criticism in limiting QB Kyler Murray’s aggressiveness in being a playmaker of late. Yet that talent is what’s needed against a formidable Rams defense.

In their lone prior role as a home underdog, the Cardinals upset Seattle and they return home following back-to-back road losses. CARDINALS

Patriots Pick ‘em at Chargers: The Chargers continue to play well for large portions of games yet also continue to fall short at the final gun. At 3-8 they have the statistical profile a team at or above .500.

New England’s Bill Belichick enjoys a huge coaching edge in this game over the Chargers’ Lynn. But that may be the Pats’ lone edge.

Rookie QB Justin Herbert improves each week while the Patriots’ Cam Newton has regressed since a strong September.

Belichick has long had success against rookie QBs, but this season’s team lacks the talent of past squads on both sides of the ball. This line may be telling much as it was two weeks ago when, favored by two at Houston, the Pats lost by 7. CHARGERS

Monday

Bills -2.5 vs 49ers: San Francisco will practice and play in Arizona the next two weeks due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Santa Clara County.

This will be Buffalo’s second game at State Farm Stadium having lost on the infamous “Hail Murray” to the Cardinals in Week 10. At 5-6 the Niners are in the NFC Wild Card race and as defending NFC champs they have the pedigree. And they’re getting healthy.

Backup QB Nick Mullens is not being asked to take many risks with a solid defense still playing well. Their three recent losses were to teams with strong playoff pedigrees the past several seasons (Seahawks, Packers, Saints).

Buffalo appears on its way to joining that group but is not there yet. 49ERS

Washington at Steelers, Total 44: Pittsburgh’s dealt with schedule adjustments multiple times this season but remained unbeaten heading into Wednesday’s game against Baltimore. Washington’s been one of the most improved teams since the middle of October, going 3-2 with both losses by a FG.

The return of QB Alex Smith combined with a defense that’s improved by 60 yards per game during this stretch deserves the credit. Both defenses excel against the pass (ranked first and second) but are average against the run. Both offenses are below average running the football which has this game handicapped as one of short passes and extended possessions which lessens scoring chances. UNDER

Last week: 2-3

Season: 26-44-1