History sides against favorites in NFL

Nov 29, 2005 4:59 AM

With just five weeks remaining in the 2005 NFL regular season, the favorites continue to win and cover at seemingly unprecedented rates.

Through this past Sunday, favorites were 99-72-4 against the spread, for 58 percent winning wagers. That includes an 11-4 this past weekend, punctuated by a pair of favorites that staged improbable fourth quarter comebacks to force overtime. Normally such games end on a field goal, sometimes by the underdog.

With both St.Louis and San Diego laying over a FG, it seemed likely at least one would fail to cover in the extra session. But in a season in which luck has all gone the way of the public both the Rams and Chargers scored touchdowns to win by six and turn a bad day for the books (9-6) into yet another lopsided losing Sunday.

But let’s not get too sympathetic just yet for the bookies. This might only be just "one of those seasons" that occurs every seven or eight years. The fact is going back to 1989, just two times (115-98-5 in 1990 and 120-106-12 in ’98) have betting blindly on favorites resulted in profits —- and small at that.

It works the other way too. Anybody remember 2002, just three seasons ago? The books were giving comps away left and right to the public. Favorites went just 107-140-6, cashing barely 43 percent of the time.

History suggests that things should even out a bit over the remaining five weeks. But nothing says this has to happen.

Over the past six seasons, favorites and underdogs have been about even in Weeks 12-16. However, favorites of more than a FG have covered at nearly a 54 percent rate. Favorites of more than a TD are about that same rate.

It makes sense as well since the public will continue to back the more high profile, better teams. Often these high priced favorites are playing teams out of contention for the playoffs.

Here’s a preview of this week’s schedule.

Bills +3 at Dolphins (36): Buffalo continues to have one of the league’s most non-productive offenses, gaining just 244 yards per game. The defense continues to have trouble stopping the run. Miami’s offensive exploits at Oakland masked the problems of establishing consistency. Neither offense has been reliable all season. UNDER.

Bengals +4 at Steelers (42½): The Steelers handled the Bengals with ease in their first meeting and a win here gives them a sweep of the series. The Bengals have the more balanced offense and an improved defense while Pittsburgh has the edge in big game experience. Given how favorites have fared all season, the line here is likely to be inflated. BENGALS.

Texans +7 at Ravens (37): Houston’s a bad team, incapable of holding a 24-3 lead against a poor tackling Rams team playing a backup QB. That’s what bad teams do. Baltimore is also a bad team, but just for this season. The Ravens still have character and it showed while being blown out at Cincy last week. Now they face a team they can bully. RAVENS.

Titans +14½ at Indy (49½): Tennessee off a much tougher than expected win over outclassed San Francisco. The defense did force four turnovers, but that unit has been weak all season. Air McNair finally had a huge passing game against the Niners will likely have to toss many passes here to keep pace with the Colts. They should score more than the 10 in the first matchup. OVER.

Jaguars -3 at Browns (35): The Jags will be without starting QB Byron Leftwich for at least a month, but backup David Garrard filled in well gaining a win at Arizona. Garrard will be tested by an aggressive and improving Cleveland defense that has held 7 of 11 foes under 20 points. Jacksonville is unlikely to take too many chances on offense. UNDER.

Cowboys +3 at Giants (42): At 7-4, each side is in good position to make the playoffs in the NFC. The loser will have plenty of competition for the Wild Card. Dallas won the earlier game against the Giants with a FG in overtime. The Giants have played solid defense over the past month. Dallas has had a strong defense all season. UNDER.

Packers -7 at Bears (32) Following seven straight wins, the Bears are getting their well deserved props. Green Bay has suffered numerous injuries but still have been competitive despite a 2-9 record. Seven of their losses have been by a TD or less. Packers QB Brett Favre is well familiar with the Chicago defense and still is capable of the big play. No weather advantage here. PACKERS.

Vikings -3 at Lions (38): Detroit has fired coach Steve Mariucci and some assistants, leaving an interim staff to take over for the balance of the season. This came in the wake of a totally inept performance against Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day where a lack of effort was evident on both sides of the ball. Look for the best effort of the season from the Lions this week. LIONS.

Falcons +3 at Panthers (43): Both teams are playing well with Carolina displaying the better defensive stats and Atlanta faring better on offense. These teams will close the season against one another with a division title possibly at stake. All four NFC South teams must play four divisional games in the final five weeks. Atlanta has won three straight and 9-of-10 against the Panthers. FALCONS.

Bucs -3½ at Saints (39): The Bucs have won just three of five road games this season with only their opening day win at Minnesota by more than a FG. Yet they are much better than the Saints and the linesmaker is making you pay a price by laying just over a FG. Both games the past two seasons have gone UNDER the total with neither team score above 21. UNDER.

Cards —3 at 49ers (44): San Francisco has played much better at home than on the road and the defense has been improving. The offense has suffered from rotating quarterbacks due as much to injury as to ineffectiveness. Arizona continues to make just enough mistakes to lose games. The Cards are not deserving of being a road favorite under any circumstances, much less by a FG. 49ERS.

Redskins -3 at Rams (45): The ”˜Skins blew their home game against San Diego last week to complete a quartet of losses to AFC West teams. The Rams staged a frantic late rally at Houston before winning in OT, but had been badly outplayed most of the game. Both defenses have been vulnerable in recent weeks which sets this up as a shootout. OVER.

Jets +10 at Patriots (42): The season is all but over for the 2-9 Jets. The Patriots lost in Kansas City to drop to 6-5, but still hold a two game lead in the weak AFC East. New England has won the last four games in the series although the Jets have been competitive on the scoreboard. Still, New England is 3-0-1 ATS during that span. The Pats will be well prepared to take care of business. PATRIOTS.

Broncos -1½) at Chiefs (47): The teams had played seven straight "over" contests before Denver whipped the Chiefs 30-10 on a Monday nighter in late September. The Broncos continue to play well, riding a four-game win streak. Both teams have balanced offenses that rely primarily on a strong running game. This total is based upon history and perception yet the stats show the teams combine to average barely 50 points while allowing below 40. UNDER.

Raiders +10½ at Chargers (50½): The Raiders continue to be plagued by mistakes and a lack of discipline that can only suggest coach Norv Turner’s days are numbered. San Diego took advantage of its opportunities and won at Washington in OT. LT may be the best player in football this season and his presence will be the difference. San Diego won the earlier meeting, 27-14. CHARGERS.

Seattle-3½ at Eagles (44):The Eagles have competed well with backup QB Mike McMahon replacing injured QB Donovan McNabb. The Seahawks are just 6-5 ATS with five of their covers coming against weak division rivals and Houston. The Eagles may be down, but they are still a quality team capable of giving a full effort in their third Monday night game of the season. EAGLES.

Last week: 9-5-1

Season: 91-74-10