Think ‘Unders’ in NFL’ s opening week contests

September 03, 2002 5:02 AM
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For totals players, the start of the NFL season is a good time to look at low scoring games.

As preseason winds down, defenses are a little ahead of the offenses and this can carry over into September. Pro offenses are often complex, taking athletes more time studying, learning and practicing to get in sync. Quarterbacks have to work on their timing to receivers. Wide receivers have different speeds, different cuts, and it takes time to learn pass routes and new plays.

Offensive linemen need practice time to gel together while working on new plays, blocking assignments and even learning the strength and weaknesses of their teammates. Despite the long exhibition season, the starters just don’t see much game action. Offensive coaches also need time to review films of practice and opponents, as well as tinkering with new plays. All this takes time, patience and repetition.

Think about #1 draft pick David Carr of the expansion Houston Texans. He spent the previous four years as quarterback at Fresno State with the same coaching staff and many of the same teammates. Now there’s the pressure of high expectations coupled with the difficulties of heading to the next level of competition.

On top of that, Carr has to get acclimated to a new coaching staff, city, new players, while trying to memorize and a digest a completely new offensive playbook. That’s a lot to ask of a 23-year old athlete and it’s not realistic to expect him to put up similar numbers to last fall (46 TDs).

Usually highly heralded quarterbacks don’t get off to impressive starts when they first hit the NFL. John Elway (7 TDs, 14 INTs) and Troy Aikman (9 TDs, 18 INTs) had poor rookie seasons. Steve Young had 11 TDs/21 INTs in his first two seasons in the NFL, while Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde was a major bust with 18 TDs and 41 interceptions in his first two pro years.

That’s not suggesting Carr will be a flop. Dan Marino had very impressive stats as a rookie (though there is a big difference in talent and experience between the 1983 Dolphins and the expansion Texans). Still, the transition to the pros is not easy for any rookie, especially a key position such as quarterback.

September is a bit easier for defensive players. There are less defensive plays to learn and far fewer options to think about when on the field either stay close to the man you’re assigned to or follow the ball.

With the defenses ahead of the offenses in September, it can be a good time to look at UNDERs. In fact, the last two years the UNDER has gone a combined 20-9 ATS in Week 1 (34-24 since 1998).

Ten of the 14 NFL games went UNDER the total the first week of September 2001. The high-flying Rams going into overtime against the Eagles in the opener. The Rams won 20-17, going UNDER the total by nine points. There were four games that went more than two touchdowns under the total when Seattle beat Cleveland 9-6, Pittsburgh shut down Jacksonville 21-3, the Falcons lost 16-13 in OT to the 49ers and Tampa Bay won 10-6 at Âí­Dallas. Savvy bettors didn’t even have to sweat those UNDER tickets.

Last September, the Steelers, Buccaneers, Saints, Vikings, Packers, Bears and Ravens all started the season 3-0 in games UNDER the total. That’s 21-0 in games UNDER before linemakers adjusted and made a number that those clubs could finally go OVER. It took until October before any of those teams cashed an OVER ticket.

Once October rolls around, linemakers generally have had at least four pro and college games to examine per team, which gives them a good idea of a club’s strength and weaknesses. But September can often mean many surprises in the NFL as well as low scoring games.

 

Weeks 1-2

from 1998-2001

Year record ov/ un

1998: 17-12 UND

1999: 17-12 UND

2000: 14-15 OV

2001: 18-10 UND