Wacky NFL

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Barely four weeks into the NFL season and it’s already shaping up as one of the wackiest seasons in recent memory.

From a betting perspective, bookmakers have had the upper hand thus far with underdogs enjoying a huge edge over favorites. As a general rule, when favorites cover the pointspread, the general public fares well while the sports books and “wise guys” suffer. When underdogs cash the tickets, the books and wise guys fare quite well with the public at large feeling the pain.

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Thus far in 2010, heading into Monday night’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins, underdogs have gone 38-22-1 ATS (Against the Spread). That’s a rate of 63.3 percent, a percentage that likely is unsustainable for much longer.

Of those 38 underdog covers, 27 of them came in straight up wins. That translates into 71 percent of covering underdogs also winning the game. To put that percentage into perspective over the past 6 seasons, from 2004 through 2009, underdogs covered at a rate of 50 percent (738-736-41). Of the 738 underdogs that covered, 65 percent of those teams (480) also won the game straight up.

The NFL’s long proclaimed selling point of being a league of parity seems to be ringing true based on the first four weeks as only one team, Kansas City, remains unbeaten. The Chiefs are 3-0 and will be returning from the bye week on Sunday.

Just 4 teams remain winless as Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit and San Francisco will be seeking to break their maiden this weekend.

As to the initial comment that this season is shaping up as wacky, consider this.

Two of the four winless teams are favored this week over a pair of teams that are 2-2, as Detroit and San Francisco are short FG favorites over St. Louis and Philadelphia respectively.

Miami, New England, Pittsburgh and Seattle each have byes this week.

Here’s a look at the 14 games to be played, using representative Monday morning lines where available.

SUNDAY

Denver (+7) at Baltimore (Over/Under 39): This is a rough scheduling spot for both teams. Denver is making a second straight trip east after winning at Tennessee last Sunday. Baltimore is off of their intense win at Pittsburgh and next week plays at New England where the Patriots will seek to avenge an embarrassing playoff lost last season to the Ravens. The Ravens have yet to break out on offense and have a league worst -7 turnover margin. But they’ve also faced some of the league’s best defenses. That’s not the case here and we can expect Baltimore to finally score points and force Denver to play from behind against an excellent Ravens defense. BALTIMORE.

Jacksonville (-1) at Buffalo (41): Jacksonville never trailed in the win over the Colts last week although they needed a 59-yard FG to avoid overtime. But they remain a flawed team and have one of the league’s most porous defenses, allowing over 400 total yards per game. Whether Buffalo can take advantage is questionable as the Bills have one of the league’s weakest offenses. But all four teams they’ve played are of a much higher class than the Jaguars and they’ll be looking at this game as one of a handful of winnable contests. Jacksonville was blown out at San Diego in their only road game this season. Though there’s no comparison between the Bills and Chargers, this is certainly is a favorable spot for the hosts. BUFFALO.

Kansas City (+8) at Indianapolis (44): Kansas City is off their bye week which followed their surprising 3-0 start, the third of which was a dominating effort against San Francisco. Indianapolis is just 2-2 with both losses to division foes, including last week at Jacksonville. The Colts responded favorable after their opening loss at Houston with a dominating home effort against the Giants. This is a similar situation and the Colts present the biggest challenge to date to the Chiefs. Kansas City is an improving team, especially on defense, but in going up against the master, Indy QB Peyton Manning, the Chiefs’ defense will be taught a few lessons. INDIANAPOLIS.

St. Louis (+3) at Detroit (43): St. Louis returns the site of their only win in 2009, a total they’ve already doubled with their 2-2 start this season. The Lions are still looking for their initial win although they’ve played competitively in all four losses. That fact is reflected by being favored here. The Rams’ two wins did come at home in each of the past two weeks and, in fact, the Rams have only played once on the road this season, losing a close game in Oakland. St. Louis QB Sam Bradford is showing quick maturity and things look bright for the Rams. But the preference here is to lay the FG with the Lions who are facing the weakest team they’ve seen this season and have also played 3 of their first 4 games on the road. DETROIT.

Atlanta (-3) at Cleveland (41): Cleveland’s efforts in playing well in opening the season with three losses paid off last week with a wire-to-wire win over Cincinnati. Atlanta trailed virtually the whole game before getting a late FG to edge winless San Francisco. The Browns should continue to give max effort as they seem to have started building towards respectability. Atlanta is the more talented and complete team and comes into this game displeased with their effort last week. The Falcons’ defense has played well and will provide a challenge to the Browns’ limited offense. Both teams like to run the ball and have been effective at doing so. UNDER the Total.

Tampa Bay (+6½) at Cincinnati (39): Tampa returns from their bye week to face a Bengals team off of a road loss at Cleveland. Both teams have not had much success scoring this season and the key to a low scoring game here may be the weak Tampa offense facing an above average Cincy defense. The Bengals’ inability to score early in contests (just 29 first half points in 4 games) is reason enough to be concerned about the Bengals winning in a romp although that would not surprise. Rather, the preference is to rely on the fundamental matchups which suggest limited scoring. UNDER the Total.

Chicago at Carolina (No Line): The status of Chicago QB Jay Cutler, who was knocked out of their game at the Giants Sunday night, keeps this game off the boards on Monday morning. The Bears were an unimpressive 3-0 prior to that contest and are just as unimpressive at 3-1. But there’s hard to find many positives with Carolina’s 0-4 start other than the teams’ stats are not much different and the Panthers have shown a better ability to run the ball. And they were finally competitive in their loss at New Orleans last week. Perhaps that can be taken as a sign of improvement and this can certainly be considered a winnable game against what is not much better than an average foe. CAROLINA.

Green Bay (-2½) at Washington (44): Green Bay coasted to win over Detroit last week and almost blew the game as the Lions rallied to lose by just a deuce. Washington is basking in the glory of their win at Philly, a satisfying win to say the least for Redskins QB Donovan McNabb. But now the Skins will be challenged by another potent passing attack and the Washington defense is allowing over 400 total yards per game, more than 100 yards more than the Packers are giving up. It’s clear that Washington is on the improve, but the Packers are still an elite NFC team. The price is reasonable for a Green Bay team that has won all four prior meetings over the past decade. GREEN BAY.

New York Giants (+3) at Houston (47½): The Giants got a much needed win Sunday night and it was largely due to the surprising effort of their defense that recorded 10 sacks on Chicago quarterbacks. They figure to not have the same degree of success on the road as they face a maturing Houston offense that might have WR Andre Johnson back in the lineup. Even if he is out once again, the Texans now have a solid ground game to compliment the strong passing prowess of QB Matt Schaub. The Giants also have a solid running game to compliment the passing attack led by QB Eli Manning. Houston is allowing a league high 408 total yards per game which sets the stage for an entertaining and high scoring contest. OVER the Total.

New Orleans (-7) at Arizona (46): Both teams have not shown the high powered offense of a season ago. New Orleans may be doing so by design rather than due to any fundamental deficiencies. Arizona’s woes are due to the retirement of QB Kurt Warner and his replacement, Derek Anderson, may well be benched in favor of rookie Max Hall who relieved him in Sunday’s blowout loss in San Diego. Arizona is eager to avenge their one sided 45-14 loss at New Orleans in last season’s playoffs. The intangibles favor Arizona while the Saints are showing signs shown by many recent Super Bowl winners with their struggles the following season. ARIZONA

San Diego (-6) at Oakland (45): San Diego has been statistically the most dominant team in the league thus far, averaging 450 yards of total offense while allowing just 235 on defense. Their average of +215 yards per game towers over the next best such margin by more than 100 yards. Oakland has been competitive in all but their opening loss at Tennessee. Both offenses have shown an ability to run the football. The Chargers have excelled at stopping the run but the Raiders are allowing 162 rushing yards per game, second worst in the league. San Diego has been upset in both road games this season which makes backing them risky against their long-time division rival. Rather, the high total may provide enough of a margin to go low as only twice in their last 11 meetings have there been more than 44 total points scored and those two games produced just 46 and 47 total points. UNDER the Total.

Tennessee (+6½) at Dallas (42): Dallas got a much needed win just prior to their bye and it was a fairly impressive road win at Houston. Tennessee let a win get away last week at home against Denver after leading much of the way in a 26-20 loss. Tennessee has shown the more potent running game while the ‘Boys have been much more prolific through the air. Both defenses have put up very similar stats, allowing about 300 yards per game. Dallas is the more talented team but the Titans are better coached. Dallas’ problems on offense date back to preseason and there’s little reason to believe they will win this game in convincing style, especially against a well coached foe that has already won on the road against an NFC East foe, defeating the Giants. TENNESSEE.

Philadelphia (+3) at San Francisco (No Total): The Eagles are likely back to using Kevin Kolb at QB after Mike Vick was knocked from last week’s game by Washington. The Eagles also suffered other key injuries including RB LeSean McCoy. Hence the winless 49ers are favored by a FG. The 49ers defense continues to play well but the offense has been unable to make key plays. The running game has been surprisingly inept and the Niners are -6 in turnovers thus far. Kolb has seemed out of synch with his receivers both when he started Philly’s opener and in relief of Vick last week. The Niners are desperate for their first win and may have to again rely on their defense as the Eagles have played surprisingly better than expected on that side of the football. UNDER the Total.

MONDAY

Minnesota (+4) at New York Jets (37½): The spot favors Minnesota coming off a bye while the Jets are off of 3 straight divisional wins, 2 of which were on the road. Viking QB Brett Favre needed the time off to work with his new set of receivers. It’s an interesting matchup as both offenses have excelled at running the football while both defenses are among the best at stopping the run. Jets QB Mark Sanchez has performed well following the ugly opening game loss to Baltimore. Favre is likely to be harassed by the Jets defense but may also be able to make a couple of big plays as well against that aggressive unit. The rest will have been of great benefit to the Vikes who seek to even their record while the three straight divisional games should have a draining effect on the Jets. Getting more than a FG represents the best option. MINNESOTA

 

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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