Eye test still a reliable method

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Handicapping pro football is appealing for so many people because it can be done in a variety of ways.

The math specialists build statistical models to generate numbers that take the human element out of the equation. The situational handicappers focus on travel spots, motivational levels and how teams are trending heading into a contest. Trend specialists look at historical data and how teams in a specific situation have fared in the past.

But in this wacky 2020 season, the eye test still holds merit, especially when evaluating teams toward the bottom of the league.

The Washington Football Team continues to play hard for new head coach Ron Rivera. The scoreboard showed a 14-point win for the Ravens last week, but Washington had six more first downs, won the time of possession battle and only had seven fewer yards on offense.

Rivera has surrounded his team with veteran coaches while he undergoes cancer treatment. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese are each in their 22nd year of coaching in the NFL. Offensive line coach John Matsko is in his 29th year. Washington’s young roster is playing hard for these guys, and bettors should feel confident in the effort they are giving.

Joe Burrow picked up his first NFL win last week, but my eyeballs were focused on what happened after the game. Head Coach Zac Taylor handed out game balls in the locker room, and before he was done addressing the team, the players immediately gave a game ball back to him with a round of applause.

Taylor picked up a lot of criticism for how he handled last year’s 2-14 squad, but that gesture from his players shows they are bought-in for this year.

Prior to the start of the season, there were six teams with a regular season win total of six or fewer: Dolphins, Bengals, Jaguars, Giants, Washington, and Carolina. So from a numbers perspective, those teams were all grouped in the same neighborhood. Let’s toss the Jets in there as well, because they unequivocally belong there.

For me, the eye test does not matter when you are evaluating the top two-thirds of the NFL. Use the data and situational handicapping to evaluate games involving those teams. But for the bottom-third of the league and the teams mentioned above, I think you have to introduce some human element into the equation.

Have they bought into their new coach’s scheme? In Carolina, absolutely. Giants? Not so much. Are they giving quarterbacks a chance to succeed? Cincinnati drafted WR Tee Higgins to pair with Burrow for the next four years. The Jets spent $52.5 million on an unorthodox running back that averaged 3.2 yards per carry last year.

When looking to back or fade teams at the bottom of the league, I think you have to read the tea leaves more than you would for the better teams in the NFL.

Sunday

Colts at Browns +1.5: The Colts have played the Jaguars (and lost), Vikings, Jets and Bears. You are not going to find an easier start to the season than that.

I will take the home underdog, and if the number stays in this neighborhood, Cleveland also makes a great teaser leg. BROWNS

Cardinals -7 at Jets: Buy-low spot on the Cardinals, who have been humbled in back-to-back weeks. Carolina had a fantastic game plan that took Arizona out of their element last week. Something tells me Adam Gase and the Jets will be unable to duplicate it. CARDINALS

Eagles at Steelers -7: Lane Johnson missed a chunk of the Eagles’ win over the 49ers on Sunday night. If he is unable to go, that leaves the Eagles with only one out of the five starting offensive linemen they entered this season with. STEELERS

Giants at Cowboys -9.5: The Giants have scored three touchdowns in four games this season. Their defense is playing admirably, but that will not be enough to keep up with an angry Dallas squad. COWBOYS

Rams at Washington +7.5:  Brutal travel spot for the Rams with this being their third cross-country trip in 21 days. They don’t need style points; they just need a win. Washington will play to the final whistle. WASHINGTON

Monday

Chargers at Saints, Total 51: When Aaron Rodgers and the Packers went to New Orleans two weeks ago, the total was 52. Now, a rookie quarterback making his third career start comes to New Orleans while missing his talented running back, and the total is 52. UNDER

Last week: 2-4

Season: 11-13

About the Author

James Bunting

James Bunting covers college basketball, baseball and the NFL for Gaming Today. He has worked as a freelance sports writer for several outlets over the last decade, focusing specifically on the sports betting industry in the last five years.

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